‘Montauciel Takes Flight’ Makes Science Soar at Lifeline Theatre

Montauciel Takes Flight at Lifeline celebrates science and the spirit of invention. You know a children’s show is successful if the kids are singing the songs on the car ride home. The charming original musical Montauciel Takes Flight, by James E. Grote (book) and Russell J. Coutinho (music and lyrics), directed by Aileen McGroddy, is based on the true story of the first living creatures to ride in a hot air balloon. The play tells the story of the Montgolfier brothers, paper manufacturers in 1783 France who launched a balloon containing a duck, a rooster and a sheep named Montauciel, a name that means “climb-to-the-sky.” The balloon and its animal occupants landed safely after traveling over two miles, ushering in a new era of manned flight.

The heroine of the musical Montauciel (Kirra Silver), is a curious young sheep who loves science. Silver communicates a youthful enthusiasm for science and learning that immediately draws children into the narrative. Her genuineness makes her character relatable to kids. She never plays down to them, rather she invites them to share in her excitement. Silver is well supported by the cheery ensemble playing her human and animal compatriots: Jordan Arrendondo (Joseph Montgolfier), Carisa Gonzales (Bessie), Scott Ray Merchant (Etienne Montgolfier) and Jennifer Vance (Rooster).

There’s a strong opening number about “the age of enlightenment” during which Montauciel muses that some folks fall in love with science and learning, while others seem afraid of science, preferring the old ways. Embracing the wonders of science is part of the show’s message. When Montauciel hears intriguing explosions coming from the Montgolfier paper mill she leaves home in hopes of meeting a fellow science enthusiast. When she arrives she discovers the sounds were coming from Joseph’s lab. He’d rather do science than make paper and so he hires her to work in his place so he can spend his time experimenting. She’s disappointed but soon learns making paper involves science too. After a quick lesson in how old rags are turned into paper pulp it’s her turn to instruct her new employers (some human and some animal) about “the six simple machines” in the show’s most memorable number. The song admirably manages to turn this unwieldy list into a catchy tune. Indeed, my children were singing about “the wheel and the axle, the lever and the pulley, the inclined plane and the screw (and the wedge)” the rest of the afternoon.

Montauciel also covers the scientific method, teaching her friends to formulate and test a hypothesis. She gently coaxes Joseph Montgolfier toward understanding science is more than just setting off cool explosions and he invites to join him in his work. Soon their experiments attract royal attention and the inventors go on an adventure to meet King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette, played by a talking portrait with mouth holes, much to the delighted squeals of the children in the audience.

Lifeline’s signature aesthetic features costumes and design elements that elevate everyday things with a little theater magic. I appreciate this because it shows children how simple it is to take the objects around them and transform them into elements of a story. It’s thrilling when the characters create their wondrous balloon from found objects. The blue sheet backdrop representing the sky starts to billow when the animals start their journey and suddenly we are all  flying. After the show my children were excitedly discussing the types of paper and fabric the Montgolfiers used to make their balloons and speculating how they might conduct their own hot air experiments. Montauciel Takes Flight makes both science and theater accessible to kids.

Most children’s productions at Lifeline are adaptations of well-known books making Montauciel  a slight departure, though a well-executed one. As a parent I celebrated that this play links science to everyday problem solving and brings to life an exciting but oft overlooked historical event, the invention of the hot air balloon. Parents may well find themselves just as inspired by the show’s spirit as their kids.

 

BIAS ALERT: My children are close friends with Lifeline House Manager, Susan Tecktiel, a beloved babysitter to them since they were toddlers.

Performances: Saturday and Sundays at 11am & 1pm Through Feb 18, 2018

* This show is recommended for kids 5 and up. Children under 2 are not permitted.

Photos by Suzanne Plunkett

Book by James E. Grote
Music & Lyrics by Russell J. Coutinho
Directed by Aileen McGroddy

CAST AND CREW
Jordan Arredondo (Joseph & ensemble)
Carisa Gonzalez (Bessie & ensemble)
Scott Ray Merchant (Étienne & ensemble)
Kirra Silver (Montauciel)
Jennifer Vance (Rooster & ensemble)
Ty Carter (Understudy)
Whitney Dottery (Understudy)
Suzanna Ziko (Understudy)
Russell J. Coutinho (Music & Lyrics)
Aileen McGroddy (Director)
Jacqueline Marschke (Stage Manager)
Megan Elk (Music Director)
Amanda Herrmann (Properties Designer)
Eleanor Kahn (Scenic Designer)
Jeffrey Levin Jeffrey Levin (Sound Designer)
Emily Swanson (Costume Designer)
Eric Watkins (Lighting Designer)

‘The Light’ At the New Colony Is Rallying Cry for Radical Love

In one of the most dramatically effective moments of Loy Webb’s, The Light, Genesis (Tiffany Oglesby) describes to her fiancé, Rashad (Jeffery Owen Freelon Jr.), how black women have been socialized to believe they have just two options in the wake of trauma: be strong or fall apart. In response, Rashad suggests he can carry some of that burden and offers his love as “option three.” With this Webb embarks on illuminating not only a series of important emotional truths but also some serious political ones. But, as the play’s title would suggest, for all its weighty content, at its heart this play is an uplifting character driven romance.

Continue reading “‘The Light’ At the New Colony Is Rallying Cry for Radical Love”

Rescripted Recognized: 2017 in Review

This has been an incredible year for the team at Rescripted. As we embark on 2018, we’d like to take some time to revisit not only some theatre highlights of the year, but accomplishments we have made as an organization in our first six months! The plays mentioned below are honored as Rescripted Recognized, productions that were memorable for their cultural standouts, for their artistic achievements, for their strong performances, and in some cases even for their controversies. 

Continue reading “Rescripted Recognized: 2017 in Review”

Aziza Barnes’ ‘BLKS’ Gets Up Close and Personal

This review is written by Logan McCullom, an alumni of The Key: Young Critics Mentorship Program.

Stumbling through the seemingly unending crowds and stairs that make up Steppenwolf’s theatre, I was frazzled and bewildered by how many folks I saw waiting to be seated for the opening night of BLKS. At first glance I found the title to be easy and not very enticing at all, but it was quickly redeemed as I saw the set. Like the title would prove to be, it was comprised of… well… everything. There was no shortage of couches, there were even couches on the walls! Set designer Sibyl Wickersheimer draped long blue curtains on the stage, making distinct isolations that served as different rooms within the same stage. It was messy, chaotic, a perfect representation of life on your own, and I loved it. Continue reading “Aziza Barnes’ ‘BLKS’ Gets Up Close and Personal”

Northlight Theatre’s Artistic Director Statement on ‘Book of Will’

The following is a response and public statement from Artistic Director of Northlight Theatre, BJ Jones. There have been concerns shared from the artistic community on the composition of the cast, see local casting director Lavina Jadhwani’s editorial here. Rescripted encourages artists to respond to discussion generated by our website, in the hopes of facilitating a more open dialogue between institutions and artists. As noted below, the conversation will continue with a panel in late January co-hosted by Jessica Thebus and Aaron Todd Douglas. Continue reading “Northlight Theatre’s Artistic Director Statement on ‘Book of Will’”

Fists Up: An Interview with Fight Choreographer & Actor Almanya Narula

This week Editor-In-Chief Regina Victor sat down with notable fight choreographer, dancer, and actor Almanya Narula to discuss the art of stage combat, her history as a performance artist in Bollywood and the United States, and what the field needs now. Victor and Narula first met on the set of Ricardo Gamboa’s Brujos. Victor was impressed by Narula’s ability to design impressive combat that was easily taught in a short time frame, as well as the vast career Narula has cultivated in a male-dominated industry.  Continue reading “Fists Up: An Interview with Fight Choreographer & Actor Almanya Narula”

‘Book of Will’ Fails to Diversify The Bard

By Lavina Jadhwani

“Casting should be diverse. Shakespeare is meant for everyone.”

This simple statement, written atop the casting breakdown of Lauren Gunderson’s new play, THE BOOK OF WILL at Northlight Theatre, filled me with so much hope.

I am a woman of color who regularly directs Shakespeare and regularly encounters pushback when trying to convince producers and audiences that the words people often assume were written primarily for white, cis, able-bodied men can be shared by, well, everyone. That’s why I was so moved by Gunderson’s sentiment and so excited by the casting announcements made by the Denver Center and Oregon Shakespeare Festival regarding this play. (The world premiere in Denver included two South Asian actors — my desi heart soared!!) My heart sank, however, when I saw the casting announcement of a local company, Northlight Theatre, which included an all white cast and production team. Nevertheless, I attended the production in hopes of learning something new about this play and the world of William Shakespeare. I wanted to keep an open mind. And honestly — I wanted to support my friends. Continue reading “‘Book of Will’ Fails to Diversify The Bard”

Key Reviews: ‘The Heavens Are Hung in Black’ and ‘Two Mile Hollow’

The Key: Young Critics Mentorship Program brings students to various productions around Chicago, teaching them about arts criticism as they try their hand at writing reviews. The opinions of the students are their own; we workshop the pieces in seminar every other week, and then they edit their reviews before publication. This week we are sharing their second round of reviews on The Heavens Are Hung in Black at Shattered Globe Theatre, which closed Oct. 21st, and Two Mile Hollow at First Floor Theater which closed Nov 4thWorkshopped and Edited by co-facilitators Regina Victor and Oliver Sava. 

Continue reading “Key Reviews: ‘The Heavens Are Hung in Black’ and ‘Two Mile Hollow’”

‘Fade’ Explores A Poignant Friendship Where Race But Not Class Intersect

Victory Gardens Theater and Teatro Vista’s co-production of Fade, by Tanya Saracho, directed by Sandra Marquez is a compelling journey through class, race, and ambition.  Marquez’s finely tuned direction enriches Saracho’s nuanced approach to the heightened and complicated world of power that these characters navigate. Continue reading “‘Fade’ Explores A Poignant Friendship Where Race But Not Class Intersect”

A New Translation of ‘Yerma’ Misses the Point

Federico García Lorca’s rural tragedy Yerma, is a deeply poetic exploration of a country woman’s isolation in mid-1930s Spain, and offers a cutting and emotional critique of Spanish Catholic Orthodoxy while the specter of Franco’s fascism looms; Lorca would be assassinated by Franco’s fascist supporters two years after the premiere of Yerma in his home province of Granada. Theatre Y and Red Tape’s co-production of a new English translation, adapted by ensemble member Héctor Álvarez and directed by Max Truax, is a confusing and perhaps unsuccessful update on Lorca’s classic text.

The play follows Yerma, a young married woman who greatly desires a son, and who for reasons unknown, though whispered about, does not have one despite two years of marriage to Juan, a wealthy sheep herder and farmer. Yerma’s world is one that is strictly divided along patriarchal gender lines: men rule the house and labor in the field, and women have children and care for their house and family. Lorca’s world is one that is dominated by Spanish Catholic Orthodoxy, and honor, purity, and piety drive the repressive sexual mores of the village. Throughout the play, Yerma struggles with her lack of children, unsure if she is barren (which is the English translation of her name) or if her husband is, while being unable to find out because she is bound by her marriage. She is pained by the passionless-ness of her life with Juan, and by the unfeeling platitudes of the village in the face of her longing to fulfill the one desire that would legitimize her as a woman. As the years pass, Yerma grows more and more bitter and resentful at her lack of children, and the increasing paranoia and coldness from her husband. She weathers multiple temptations to be unfaithful to her husband, including a passionate longing for Victor, a fellow villager, as the gossip of the village complicates her reputation. As the play reaches its climax, Yerma is driven by the crushing weight of her husband’s dominance, both over her daily life and the narrative around her childless-ness, to commit a violent transgression, which seals her life-long isolation and abandonment.

I had previously attended a production of Yerma in the original Spanish at the National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque, NM, so when I arrived at The Ready, Theatre Y and Red Tape’s new space, I was interested to see what this new English translation, Chicago produced and directed production would bring.

This new adaptation by Héctor Álvarez altered Lorca’s original text in the pursuit of a Yerma that is more immediate and recognizable to 21st century Chicagoans. Truax and Álvarez shift the focus of the play away from Yerma’s relationship to her community and its morals and onto the personal frustration of Yerma’s sexual and maternal desires. While undoubtedly the two are connected, this shift results in the portrayal of Yerma as unsympathetic and unbalanced, and injects inevitability into the violence at the end of the play. Such inevitability seems to undo the work that Álvarez’s adaptation and Truax’s direction purport to do, i.e. critique contemporary toxic masculinity and misogyny.,. It is just as toxic to portray an allegory of women as inevitably violent and unbalanced as it is to uphold a society in which women’s only available options are limited to marriage and childbirth or lifelong celibacy. It seems that this production of Yerma is more interested in skewering men and masculinity and not in centering and uplifting a woman struggling in the midst of immense social pressure, at the cost of Lorca’s existing critique. All of this is not to say that Yerma must be sanitized and noble; however, if her tumultuous emotions and her final transgression are simply a component of her existence as a woman, and not the product of intense social isolation and the resulting emotional stress, is that not in line with the misogyny that Álvarez and Truax seek to expose?

Other perplexing choices include the questionable portrayal of one of the village women as sexually deviant, and therefore dangerous, because of her sexual attraction to Yerma. Truax’s choice to have this character portrayed as sexually aggressive and disinterested in Yerma’s consent or personal space sacrificed the legitimacy and reality of LBGTQ sexuality for shock value, while Yerma’s heterosexual encounters with Victor are portrayed as forbidden but entirely mutual. This removes responsibility and onus for social transgression from Victor and places it with Yerma. Throughout the play Victor is portrayed as much a victim of social stigma as Yerma, though then and undoubtedly now Victor’s white cis-male social standing would be completely intact, and his transgression a matter of ownership and not purity and inherent worth.

The set and costume design seemed heavily inspired by Pina Bausch’s 1975 choreography of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, which Truax would doubtless be highly familiar with, given his training in postmodern choreography. The floor was covered from wall to wall with mulch-like bark pieces, and the women were dressed in simple white slips, the men in trousers with bare chests. Nicholas Tonozzi provided stirring musical composition, and the lighting by Taylor Ovca was splendid. Choreography by Benjamin Holliday Wardell, despite the perhaps treacherous terrain of the space, given that the actors had to navigate the audience being in the middle of the playing space. Wardell’s work translated successfully , as did the fight choreography by Morgan Massaro. The actors all played their parts beautifully as well, featuring Katie Simpson (Yerma), Victoria Walters Gilbert (Dolores), Katie Sherman (Maria) and Barbara Button (Pagan Old Woman) in leading roles. Each member of the chorus and ensemble acted wonderfully, as did Brendan J. Mulhern (Victor) and Cody W. Beyer (Juan) despite some awkwardness inhabiting Lorca’s heightened language.

As I left, I did so with many questions about the choices made in this production, though with none as to its stylishness nor with any as to the talent of these actors.

Fridays and Saturdays 7:30pm
Sundays 4pm
$25 General Admission
$20 Students and Seniors (with ID)
$15 Industry

@The Ready
4546 N. Western Ave,
Chicago, IL

For tickets visit http://www.theatre-y.com

Cast:

Katie Simpson-Yerma
Katie Sherman- Maria
Victoria Walters- Dolores
Barbara Button- Old Pagan Woman
Kris Tori- First Girl
Laurie Roberts- Second Girl
Cody Beyer- Juan
Brendan Mulhern- Victor
Tanner Bradshaw- Man 1
Héctor Álvarez- Man 2
Adrian Garcia- Man 3
Eric Roberts- Man 4
Arch Harmon- Man 5
Nicholas Wenz- Boy

Team:
Max Truax- Director
Héctor Álvarez- Translator/Adaptor
Nicholas Tonozzi- Composer & Music Director, Music Recordings
Eric Backus- Sound Designer
Kevlyn Hayes- Assistant Director
Joanna Iwanicka- Set Designer and Painter
Melissa Lorraine- Artistic Director & Costume/Make-Up Designer
Megan Massaro- Production Stage Manager/ Fight Choreographer
Taylor Ovca- Lighting Designer
Benjamin Holliday Wardell- Choreographer
Emily Altman and Vivienne Marie- Scenic Painters
Sue Kapp- Costume Construction