It is always an interesting night of theater when one enters some of our lesser known Storefront Theater companies. For those of you who have not ventured into these small, intimate venues, they are often companies that bring us original and offbeat works, many of which are written by one of their own company members. One of the new troupes ( or newer as they have done several shows) is The Ruckus, a young group of industrious Michigan ex-pats who have the desire ( perhaps, even their mission) to create, invent and perhaps even explode in bringing their new works to their stage- to develop works that will build a new relationship between performer/artist and audience. In other words, they will ( or at least strive to) create a “ruckus’.
Their current production “Escape from the Haltsburg Boys Choir” started this process even before they opened. the original title was “Escape From The Vienna Boys Choir” which caused a stir with the attorneys who represent this well known , and very real, organization and for this they received some great ( and free) publicity.Playwright Aaron Dean, in order to keep the peace and be allowed to have his play seen, changed the title and there is NO mention of Vienna in the play, which by the way is a play with music. The music is written by Jason Rico, who also co-wrote the lyrics with Dean. Now onto the play itself. This is , in my opinion, a work in progress, and must be evaluated and treated as same. It is a bit long ( over two hours) and while it is an interesting story about a Choirmaster ( played with just the right touch of evilness by Jeffrey Fauver) who in his desire to please the Emperor wants to have the most brilliant of boys choirs in all of Europe, uses any means possible to seek out these young lads and take them from their families. For the boys ( who are all played by girls) it is a tale of coming of age as well as learning about human nature.
Four of the boys, led by Johanne ( a strong and solid performance by Kate Black) plan and make their escape; Arthur ( Liz Goodson), Nils ( the adorable Alyse Kittner) and Sebastian ( Heather Moats) trod through hills and mountains meeting witches ( Sarah Bockel, who also plays Elsa, the woman of Johanne’s life), and other off-beat characters to make their way to freedom. Some of the other boys ( Megan Gotz and Susan Steinke are left behind to suffer death through various means) and Dean uses a series ( many more than needed) of “flashbacks” to tell his story. Some of these become very confusing as even when we think they have reached their freedom, we go back to another part of their plan to make the escape. The music, provided by musicians who because of the size of the theater ,are out in the lobby, is fairly pleasant, although not memorable ( no one hums on the way to their cars) and the overall picture would probably be better painted by director Daniel Caffrey, had he had a larger stage to work with. Try to imagine having a cast of thirteen work in an area that is probably 14 feet wide by perhaps 40″ in depth , with beds ( 4) , mountains, gates and trees to fill the stage. In addition, when the gates are closed, with the trees hung on them, most of the 35 seats in the theater are blocked of the action that is performed on the other side of the gates.
As I said earlier, this play with music has some potential and perhaps if they could remount it on a larger stage with some scenes snipped here and there, this could be a much stronger play, one that has legs and could be around for many years. Meanwhile, Ruckus has indeed mounted a worthwhile production that is worth a try. Many new plays, find themselves maturing as they perform, working off audience reaction and feed-back. I for one would be interested to see how it progresses as it also comes of age.I give them credit for taking on a difficult challenge so early in their brief history and I am sure that as time goes on, we will see them take on many more, mstly with great success. “Escape”will continue through January 30th with performances as follows:
Thursdays,Fridays,Saturdays and Sundays at 7:30 p.m. at the Side Project Theatre located at 1439 West Jarvis in Rogers park with tickets priced at $15 ( a great value for live musical theater). Tickets can be purchased by calling 773-769-RCKS ( 7257) or online at www.RuckusTheater.org
There is street parking ( non-metered, at least right now) and of course the RedLine stops at Jarvis, just a short half block away.