"Over My Dead Body"
The Waltzing Mechanics made their local bow with "El Stories," a series based on true-life transit tales. But their latest foray into
The graves, many of them dating back to the 1840s and containing the remains of early German settlers of the area, were relocated.
The story got enough attention to form a subplot in the recently canceled Starz series
In the end, it's not just a story about the denizens of St. Johannes and their descendants, but a meditation on how best to memorialize our dead that encompasses suburban Chicago and land-starved Hong Kong, where families line up just to reserve hard-to-get columbarium niches for their loved ones' ashes.
The 10-member ensemble, who also created the script, shift into their multiple roles with minimal fuss under the nimble direction of Thomas Murray during the show's 90 minutes.
There is a definite "Our Town" feeling to Dylan Marks' set, which, right up until a cunning final transformation, uses only three chairs with tombstone backs and an archway of silhouetted branches to evoke the somber setting.
Those expecting a one-note screed against the soulless side of progress and government bureaucracy will be disappointed, though former Gov.
However, the show makes room for a wide variety of viewpoints, from spokesman-in-spite-of-himself Bob Sell (Bryan Campbell, in a quietly resonant performance), who finds the battle to preserve St. Johannes and the legacy of his ancestors akin to a religious calling, to those who happily visit their dead in new resting places, where roaring airplanes (well captured by Robert P. Lloyd's atmospheric sound design) don't disturb the peace.
It's an intelligent, heartfelt and earnest-in-all-the-right-ways endeavor that, though it flirts with cheap sentiment a time or two, will almost certainly make you ponder your own postmortem plans.
I left "Over My Dead Body" with a distinct sense of gratitude that almost all of my ancestors are tucked away together in a cemetery in a remote stretch of central Illinois, where it's unlikely anyone will build anything anytime soon.
And I double-checked to make sure that my cremation card from the
Through Jan. 6, Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave.; $20-$25 at 773-404-7336 or waltzingmechanics.org
"The Feast of St. McGonagall"
The Plagiarists have also created a number of documentary and pseudo-documentary shows in recent years, but "The Feast of St. McGonagall" is pretty much a misfire across the board.
Its inspiration is the life and writings of 19th-century Scotsman William Topaz McGonagall, whose terrible verse has enshrined him in history as the Ed Wood of poetasters. The show is styled like a traditional Scottish Robert Burns dinner that moves backward in time with each "course," from McGonagall's death in 1902 to his decision at age 50 to become a poet.
The big question — Did McGonagall know that he was terrible, and if so, was it all some sort of elaborate performance-art prank that ran for decades? — goes unanswered in Jessica Wright Buha's script.
The show offers up fleeting moments of sympathy and wit amid the self-conscious whimsy. But there is no distinct point of view or insight into just what McGonagall's story means to Buha and the company, and the backwards-in-time construction fails to cohere. Gregory Peters' broad, unfocused staging adds to the sense that no one in this show knows exactly what they want to say about terrible art; they just want to say it as loudly as possible.