Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Short But Not So Slight, 'Mary-Kate Olsen Is In Love' Should Bring a Youth-Full House to The Comrades -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Mary-Kate Olsen Is In Love
a recent play by Mallery Avidon
directed by Derek Bertelsen
The Comrades at
Apollo Studio Theatre
Thru March 29

If 10 people individually asked me "Where should I eat?" or even "Should I go to (so & so) restaurant?" my answer would undoubtedly not be the same to all of them.

Through a combination of observation and inquiry, I would try to gain an understanding of the age, appetite, food preferences & aversions, price level comfortability, companions, occasion (casual meal, date night, business dinner, etc.), point of origin, means of transportation, other factors and proclivities, etc., of each person asking, and then aim to gear my recommendation appropriately.

But when I review, and rate, a work of theater--and provide ostensible recommendations to anyone who may land on this blog to see what I saith--it's pretty much one-size-fits-all.

Photo credit on all: Cody Jolly
Especially as I don't consider myself a theater expert with the training to truly judge technical merit, but merely an avid fan and patron who likes to share my opinions, my reviews are just a candid though unavoidably self-centered appraisal based on the level of my own particular enjoyment and/or enrichment.

As portrayed by my @@@1/2 (out of 5) rating at top, which rewards the impressive delivery of the material a bit more than it does the play itself, I enjoyed Mary-Kate Olsen Is In Love, but only moderately.

Yet while I wouldn't insist that this is a work my mom, aunt or others of an older demographic must rush out to see--not that it wouldn't offer them some merits--I can readily imagine that, especially for just $10-$15 per ticket (and even less if discounted on HotTix), plenty of younger, perhaps newbie, theatergoers could really enjoy this show while gaining appreciation for the joys of live theater.

As the Apollo Studio Theater is in the DePaul University neighborhood, and an easy "L" ride from Loyola, Northwestern, Roosevelt, Columbia College, etc., students may do particularly well to patronize this cheeky, but never cheap, ode to celebrity culture (with depth beyond it).

Admittedly, I wouldn't have been enticed by the title of Mallery Avidon's comedy that had an Off-Off Broadway run starting in late 2013, as there are few celebs I could care about less than the Olsen sisters (Ashley is a character within, along with her twin Mary-Kate).

But I was happy to be invited by the show's director Derek Bertelsen, who has helmed several shows I've greatly liked in recent years--including The Children's Hour, Wit and The Lieutenant of Inishmore--and is the founding Artistic Director of The Comrades, a new troupe making their debut with Mary-Kate Olsen Is In Love.

And it's to the credit of everyone involved, including Bertelsen, playwright Avidon and a fine young cast, that MKOIIL was considerably better, and more substantive, than I may have perceived going in. Though rather brief at only an hour, it definitely didn't waste my time, and offered some interesting dialogue and observations.

The conceit and narrative are somewhat surrealistic--something I appreciate far more on canvas than on-stage--but though I was often puzzled by play's blurry lines between fantasy and reality, including from scene to scene, it was pleasant to watch throughout.

Carolyn Sinon finds a nice tonality in playing Grace, a young, well-employed, ostensibly rather fortunate New Yorker who is bogged down emotionally by her unemployed, unmotivated husband Tyler (David Coupe), who is entirely consumed by playing Call of Duty (a war-enacting video game), eating pizza and smoking pot.

In some hazy dreamlike way--at least initially--Grace is visited by the Olsen sisters, with Mary-Kate (Angela Horn) being empathetic, even affectionate, and Ashley (Cydney Moody) delightfully acerbic.

There is also a GI Joe-ish soldier (Mike Newquist) who serves as a commanding voice inside/outside Tyler's head, and four cheerleader-clad "Amazing Girls" (Laura Jewell, Jenna Liddle, Naomi Lindh and Taylor Wisham), who appear to voice both poignant sentiments about young womanhood and such presumably satirical pearls like "It's more important to be hot than smart."

The crux of the play seems to address the angst and anxiety Grace faces in her increasingly tiresome marriage and a life she fears will become tedious.

"I have to be busy, or at least have kids," she posits at one point.

So though Mary-Kate Olsen Is In Love does tap into its title character--and her sister--in ways relating to their childhood stardom, rich rarefied existence and own surmised longings, if this play was called Charlotte Brontë Is In Love and looped in Emily to appeal to a more overtly literate crowd, the gist of the human emotions and situations surveyed onstage likely wouldn't be all that different.

I had the chance to speak with Bertelsen briefly before the play started, and he shared that while he loves the classics of the theatrical canon, not only does he see something smart beneath the surface of this young-skewing title and concept, he wanted to kick off his theater company with something fun and easily-digestible to new--in multiple contexts--audiences.

Probably due to the whims of theater space available and affordable to an upstart company, Mary-Kate Olsen Is In Love plays somewhat atypically only on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday nights.

I can't say it changed my life, but neither did it detract from it, and even if I found some of the play's messaging muddled, I genuinely enjoyed this production enough to merit attendance.

Particularly, perhaps, if you are a woman under 30 or anyone who wholly embraces youthful and/or celeb culture and sensibilities, you well may even more so.

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