The appeal of live theater to audiences is fairly obvious. The dream is to sit in a (hopefully) comfortable seat and have talented actors whisk you away to the land of make believe for a few hours. If it’s a comedy, you hope to laugh. If it’s a drama, it should make you think and possibly even cry. If it’s a musical, then perhaps you’ll be tapping your foot along to the beat of the songs.
For the actors, directors, and other creatives involved in theater, the appeal is often just seeing if it can be done. Can we take a script, find the right actors, build a set, sell some tickets, and make it all come together? Will the audience get the jokes? Will the actors remember their lines? Will the audience members remember to silence their phones.
There are productions that are a dream to put together. In the Chicago area, Marriott Theatre regularly imports the best talent from Broadway. Paramount Theatre has big budgets that result in sets that put even the elaborate designs you see on Broadway to shame. Chicago Shakespeare Theatre has the clout to attract the best new scripts for Broadway-bound world premieres. Directors at these theaters have at their disposal all the tools necessary to create a hit almost every time out of the box.
MAKING IT HAPPEN
But what about the small independent theaters that pepper the Chicago entertainment landscape. Surely there is space for these organizations. Indeed, I applaud these organizations with even more fervor than their big money counterparts, because they’re making it work with a little duct tape, a few favors, a touch of luck, a dash of glitter, and a lot of prayer. Sometimes getting the show up on time is such a nailbiter that even the atheists get in on the prayers.
One of the things that can be a challenge to independent professional theaters is casting. Even before the pandemic, theaters that pay actors a minor stipend ran the risk of losing talent to productions that pay more, or to the time demands of the actors’ day jobs. With the advent of COVID, we’ve seen some shows struggle to even get a complete cast on stage each night.
Three Brothers Theatre is a charming theatrical production company based out of Waukegan, Illinois. The ten-year-old company operates two locations, both neighboring the Genesee Theatre (but not affiliated with it).
At its 115 N. Genesee Street location (referred to as Stage 115), Three Brothers Theatre offers the original production I want a Sketchopotamus… featuring the Masters of Sketch which runs through January 14th. For its Stage 221 black box location (221 N. Genesee Street), Three Brothers is presenting the comedy Family Holiday, written by award-winning Chicago playwright D.C. Cathro.
Cathro is a talented up-and-coming writer. His other works include the Off-Broadway hit “The Book of Merman” with composer Leo Schwartz. Cathro’s original works have been the talk of The William Inge Festival in Independence, Kansas; The Kennedy Center in Washington DC; and Chicago’s Pride Films and Plays Festival.
The play calls for a cast of diverse ages. Due to complications that called for some late-stage casting changes, director McKenna Lyons has had to be flexible with some of the roles in terms of physical characteristics including age. But remember, the legendary Steppenwolf Theatre started off as a group of 20 years olds playing parts they weren’t technically the traditional age for either.
If you can forgive the players on Saturday Night Live for playing characters outside their natural age range or for not having perfect costumes and makeup, you’ll have no problem letting yourself get lost in the comical world that Cathro has written, and Lyons’ cast brings to life. It’s entertainment. It’s playing pretend. When it comes to any theatre from grade school to the Goodman, you have to be willing to suspend disbelief to really allow yourself the maximum enjoyment experience.
OUT OF THE CLOSET
Family Holiday is a comedy that focuses on the humorous potential of different members of a conservative suburban family all choosing one particular holiday get together to come out of the closet.
A farce with many moments of hilarity, Family Holiday playfully toys with the reasons why some people may have hidden their sexual orientation in the past, but finally feel comfortable revealing their secrets – at least to a select private few. But what happens when others outside that select few might find out?
The cast features Josh Beadle and Carol Alleman as middle-aged parents who have been hiding the truth about their sexuality from each other and their kids. Ryan Blanchard and Caitlin Robb play RJ and Junior, the two adult kids of Ron and Judith. One of them also hides a secret about their sexuality, as does family friend Andy played by Richard Allen III. Rounding out the cast is Laura MacGregor as Ron’s sexually charged mother Nana.
The script gives every member of the cast the chance to shine, and every performer does indeed capture the spotlight at various points.
Blanchard has a certain David Schwimmer quality to him as RJ, the confidant every member of the family wants to reveal their secrets to. Robb as sister Junior has a very real element to her performance that makes her very enjoyable to watch.
The best comedic lines seem to be reserved for Nana and suggest that playwright Cathro might have had an affinity for television’s The Golden Girls. Her lines are particularly reminiscent of the character of Blanche Devereaux played on the classic series by Emmy-winner Rue McClanahan. MacGregor handles them with panache.
Beadle and Alleman both have fun in their roles as a couple with secrets, each making solid character choices. Allen has a wonderful confidence that he projects at all times. He too is entertaining to watch.
INSIDE THE BOX
There is something special about black box theaters. The limits are pretty much left to the imagination of the director and scenic designer. I’ve seen directors really push the envelope with what they are able to achieve in their big open space. For Family Holiday, the theatre is arranged for an intimate production. Every seat is a good one.
Lyons is a strong director who has to be applauded for getting this racehorse to the finish line despite some unexpected chaos in the production process. And to be sure, the show doesn’t just cross the finish line. It is a very good production with a lot of laugh out loud moments that I encourage you to sample.
Lyons has a solid understanding of blocking and creating a balanced stage, with ever moving action. The Script by Cathro has wonderful moments. As good as it is now, I think with further revisions it could continue to get even better. And, stage manager Adara Morrow deserves praise for keeping the ship cruising along each night.
I applaud the entire cast and crew for Three Brothers’ Family Holiday. You’ve weathered the storm and come up with a really fun show. General admission is only $20 and there are further discounts for students and seniors. So, it’s a guaranteed good night of independent theater that won’t break the bank.
Family Holiday runs Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 PM through December 17th at Three Brothers Theatre’s Stage 221 located at 221 N. Genesee Street in Waukegan, IL. For tickets visit www.ThreeBrothersTheatre.com or call (224) 419-4325. Direct additional questions to 3BrothersTheatre@gmail.com.
Peace. Love. Trust.
Rikki Lee Travolta
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This year, I had the great pleasure of appearing in the hilarious Paul Rudnick comedy I Hate Hamlet for Elgin Theatre Company in the greater Chicago area. To our great honor, I Hate Hamlet has been nominated for seven prizes in the 2022 Broadway World Chicago Theatre Awards:
- Best Direction of a Play – Regina Belt-Daniels
- Best Ensemble Performance
- Best Play
- Best Performer in a Play – Rikki Lee Travolta
- Best Supporting Performer in a Play – Trace Gamache
- Best Supporting Performer in a Play – David Gasior
- Best Supporting Performer in a Play – Travis Greuel
If you want to voice your support for the Elgin Theatre Company production of I Hate Hamlet, you can cast your vote at: https://www.broadwayworld.com/chicago/voteregion.cfm