Wednesday May 24th 2017

“Festen”

The Storefront Theater! A Chicago tradition that I adore visiting. Tonight, I had my eyes opened to one of these quaint little venues, one that has been around for ten years, yet has escaped my notice. Well, I have been to the charming Steep Theatre Company on the red line Berwyn stop and I will continue to make their productions a priority. Their current production is a Midwest Premiere of “Festen”, a dramatization by David Eldridge based on the film ( and play) by Thomas Vitenberg,Morens Rukov and Bo hr.Hansen. This is a dark comedy dealing with a dysfunctional family that has all come home to celebrate their Patriarch’s 60th birthday. This, just after the recent funeral of one of the siblings. As the evening’s festivities take place, a toast is made with a special letter being read and from that moment on, we get an in-depth look at just how dysfunctional this family is, and why!

Directed by Jonathan Berry in this very intimate space, we the audience truly become “the fly on the wall” as we watch the arrivals, the sexual prowess, the intimate feelings and the unveiling of past indiscretions as well as the destruction of the family itself. Let me tell you about Steep- a small storefront with a beautiful lobby area and once we enter the stage area, for this play which is done with audience members on two sides ( 56 total chairs-very comfy, with plenty of leg room) we see a hardwood floor with a large table and several chairs. The set (designed by Dan Stratton) is very simple, but since this is a play that requires our focus on the words and characters, it is only proper that nothing distract us from where our eyes and brains should be. What is unusual about the set, is that the table is converted to a bed for what appears to be three bedrooms with action taking place in all three bedrooms at the same time- great scenes that really do require intense focus as some of what transpires in this early scene comes back to be of great import later.

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The cast is excellent and each character, no matter the number of lines is important to the telling of this story.Helge, the Patriarch/father is powerfully played by Norm Wooded and his wife, Else is portrayed by Melissa Riemer. Else is probably the sanest charcater with the exception of her being aware of the secret that comes out and doing nothing about it. Michael Salinas does a solid job as Michael ( the son who did not attend his sister’s funeral) and his wife is played by Sasha Gioppo. Their daughter, in tonight’s performance was played by the adorable Leah Uteg . Older brother Christian ( a dynamic performance by Kevin Stark) is the person who opens up the “can of worms” during what is supposed to be a special weekend in the country and the final sibling, Helene ( deftly handled by Julia Siple) it turns out has her own rebelious ideas. The other “members” of this family are Grandfather ( Toby Nicholson), Peter Espisito (Poul, a sort of complainer, who it appears is just a hanger-on),Helmut ( James Allen) who runs Helge’s restaurants), Kim, the head chef in the household( Peter Moore) , Lars ( Alex Gillmor as the Man’s Man who runs the household), Gbatokal ( Helene’s new boyfriend who brings changes to all) and last but not least, the maid, servand and often Christian’s love, Pia ( played to perfection by the lovely Marika Engelhardt). For the majority of the play, these characters are gathered at the celebration table drinking their wine and enjoying the wonderful meal. The meal itself is done in pantomime, but if you watch closely you will begin to  imagine that they are truly cutting their meat or sipping their soup. Sarah Burnham’s props are excellent and plenty enough. It might have been far to cumbersome to have attempted every plate and actual food. Ryan Borques fight choreography is well done and considering how close the audience is to the action, remarkably done. Christopher Kriz has selected some mystical music as interludes and in the scenes themselves and I was quite impressed by the lighting (Sarah Hughey).

Not wanting to take away some of the mystery involved in what takes place in this 90 minute adventure into revelations and reckonings, I will only tell you that your experience will be a worthwhile trip to Berwyn and Broadway. You are also in luck! Because ticket sales have been great and the fact that they have only 56 seats, they have extended the show until July 10th and have added Sunday evening shows ( with the exception of Memorial Day week-end-no Sunday). The performance schedule is:

Thursday,Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m.

Tickets range from $20-$25 ( a value for theater of this quality) and the theater is located at 1115 West Berwyn, just East of the Berwyn Red Line stop and just East of Broadway, so it is easy to get there by public transportation. There are some metered parking places on Berwyn ( after 6 p.m.- they are still FREE) and street parking in the area.

To order your tickets call 1-866-811-4111 or visit wwwsteeptheatre.com

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