Tuesday December 12th 2017

“Star Witness”

Somewhat recommended  One of the glorious things about our Chicago Theater Scene is that we have some companies that are more experimental in what they offer the audiences. Yes, the oldies are pleasurably to see again, but in many cases, new work is what people want, and House Theatre of Chicago, now in its 10th season, whose “mission” was, and still is to explore the concept of “community” and “story telling” for the reason of creating a unique theater experience for audiences….. The House, is an award winning troupe who is never afraid of trying something new and they prove it once again with their new production, “Star Witness” written by Joe Meno ( a local playwright).The storyline of this new play is that a little girl has gone missing and the people of Somerset Illinois is worried. Shelley (  the petite and perky Briana deGuilio) and her guardian, Hazel ( the always reliable Mary Redmon), who listen to the Police calls pretty much as their entertainment are fearful that the worst has happened. As the story progresses, we begin to have doubts ( as do Shelly and Hazel) that they will find this girl alive.

This is a mystery of sorts, mixed a little with “The Wizard of Oz” and a great many stories dealing with people who live in trailer parks and have had mothers run away from life, leaving them in the custody of a lonely woman who bakes and smokes all day while listentng to what her local police are doing. The story is kind of weak and director  Sean Graney, who is known for his zany productions, manages to at least make it interesting with his unusual way of doing things. First of all, let me tell you how they are using the Chopin Theater located at Division,Milwaukee and Ashland Avenues. We enter the theater building and head downstairs to their wonderful lower level lobby ( antiques and a bar and very comfy sofas) which has now been transformed into a theater in the round, at least for the first half of the play. The scene is a kitchen of either a very small, old bungalow or a narrow old trailer. As the first act ends, Shelly rides off on her bicycle seeking answers to why she remains in this town and we the audience find ourselves looking into the actual theater where she is onstage peddling her bike as fast as she can in her effort to do so.

Act two beings with the continuation of this until we are asked to vacate our seats and make our way into the other room, a long and dark stage are with the feeling of being below the ground, perhaps in the catacombs or a cave very near water. Here, the lovely, almost innocent Shelly, who is now wearing the “walking boots” that were her mother’s “going out boots” prior to her leaving her daughter with Hazel, meets a man who knew her mother, a boy she went to school with who has returned from the military to work for the richest man in town , and a silent monster, who may be responsible for what has happened to many of Somerset’s inhabitants. Graney is clever in his staging, but due to the size of the stage area , he sound is not as clear as it might have been and it was a bit of a strain to hear the words written by Meno.

The other cast members in this production that moves very quickly , two acts in about 90 minutes ( including intermission), are  Chris Mathews ( as Wayne and Junior), Gary Simmers ( as the Sheriff and Bob White) and Daniel Behrendt ( quite the comical actor as Norris and Randy). I guess, knowing what House has been giving us and knowing that this show was being directed  by Graney, I expected to see something rare and uniques as well as special. Granted, I did see some new talent, a clever stage design ( the kitchen from Act I, is brought into the actual Theater and brought on the stage) The set and lighting was designed by Lee Heenan; The costumes by Alison Siple, Mchael Griggs , the sound designer needs to walk about a bit and see that the sound doesn’t travel that weel in the cavern used for the second act. Mike Tutaj’s projections are very realistic and the music composed by Kevin O’Donnell has the perfect touch of mystery and eerieness. The props handled by  Maria De Fabo and Annie Brady are many and very realistic to the script. I had really hopes that this production, like some of the House productions of the past would truly ‘knock my sox off”, but despite the cleverness of the production, I found the script a bit weak and can only recommend this one somewhat as I do not think many adults over 40 will find this a production to their taste, although I think the 20 something crowd might “get off on it”, despite the fact that there is no real resolution in the life of Shelly and her “adoptive” grandma.

“Star Witness” will continue at The Chopin Theater, downstairs through May 7th with performances as follows:

Thursday,Friday and Saturday evening at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday afternoons at 3 p.m.

Tickets are $25 ( open seating) and can be purchased by phone at 773-769-3832 or online at www.thehousetheatre.com

Rush- student and industry tix are available at $10 ( if available).   More info? www.THEHOUSETHEATRE.com

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