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Appellations of Predilection: "Eleemosynary," at the Green Room PDF Print E-mail
Theatre - Reviews
Written by Mike Schulz   
Wednesday, 27 February 2008 02:19

Susan McPeters, Angela Elliott, and Abby VanGerpen in Eleemosynary Before praising the Green Room's lovely, charming production of Eleemosynary - the Lee Blessing comedy/drama that ran February 22 through 24 - I feel compelled to also praise the show's Friday-night audience. Actually, I feel compelled to praise the audiences at each of the productions I've attended in this Rock Island space; for fellow theatre devotees who tend to grow hostile near patrons who routinely cough, shift in their seats, slowly open cellophane-wrapped candies, and forget to turn off their cell phones, the Green Room is easily the area's venue of choice.

From 2002 to 2005, back when it housed the Brew & View, the building was a safe haven for movie-lovers. The intimate space and outside-the-mainstream film selections combined to create an experience as refreshing as it was cozy; you had the sense that those around you wanted to be there as much as you did, and would be equally respectful about sharing the entertainment without being a personal irritant. Happily, this collective courtesy has extended to the building's new incarnation; I've now seen four Green Room presentations - boasting near-full to sold-out houses each time - and haven't encountered one audibly rude or even distracting audience member at any of them.

There were plenty of delights to be had at Friday's Eleemosynary performance, but the biggest one may have been watching this touching, funny generational saga work its small-scale magic on the Green Room's attendees. A series of monologues by, and dialogues between, the willfully eccentric Dorothea (Susan McPeters), her emotionally reticent adult daughter Artie (Angela Elliott), and Artie's brainiac daughter Echo (Abby Van Gerpen), Blessing's 75-minute one-act is unapologetically devoid of action, and even of confrontation - Echo finally begins shouting at the mother who abandoned her roughly three minutes before the curtain call. Yet under Derek Bertelsen's direction, Eleemosynary, talky though it is, seemed to positively captivate the audience, and given its trio of performers, this could hardly be considered surprising.

Van Gerpen's sweetness and natural stage charisma would be enough for any production, but fortunately for this one (and its audiences), she also appears to possess loads of acting talent. In a role that took her from infancy to young-adulthood, Van Gerpen physicalized her prodigy with wonderful abandon - she had a child's defiant, temper-tantrum stance down pat - and managed to suggest intimidating smarts without ever coming across as bratty; the actress' put-upon tirades when her character competes in the National Spelling Bee were hysterical because Echo's sense of entitlement felt both deserved and honest.

Yet Van Gerpen was somehow even better whenever she removed her egghead eyeglasses and addressed the audience as an older, more empathetic version of her wunderkind. Replacing the young Echo's precociousness with poise, and speaking to us with a naturalistic directness that revealed true comfort with both her material and her space, Van Gerpen made an effortless bond with her listeners, and her lightly authoritative monologues were matched by those of Elliott, who gave a haunting performance by never letting the audience catch her performing.

Elliott's portrayal, in truth, was a great argument for more local stage venues the size of the Green Room, as you felt Artie's sadness, resentment, and self-effacing humor through the tiniest shadings in expression and timbre; the actress achieved extraordinary effects by seeming to do next to nothing at all. Minute by minute, Elliott was firmly committed to her role - she didn't utter a single sentence that sounded false - and a few of her readings were almost shockingly fine; even when Blessing's dialogue veered toward the melancholic, Elliott's level-headed yet wistful deliveries scraped off the sentimentality.

A more presentational presence than her co-stars, McPeters didn't appear quite as relaxed in her monologues, and before speaking, frequently took a second-long pause that somewhat marred the play's conversational flow. (Friday's Eleemosynary performance was one of those rare times I wished theatre were more like film, as an editor could have easily tightened the work by simply snipping out those empty moments.) Yet despite coming off as a little stiff - her character was one of the more physically and emotionally reserved eccentrics I've seen on stage - McPeters did create a singular figure whom the audience was alert to. Delivered so sensibly, Dorothea's utterings had their own kind of daffy logic, and the actress was especially good when squabbling with Artie; their repartee had the convincing, passive-aggressive fervor of a mother-daughter argument that seems to have been continuing for decades.

Eleemosynary was filled with such recognizably familial moments, and Bertelsen, with his graceful, unfussy staging, appeared keenly aware of the play's many missed (and occasionally realized) connections. The most invigorating connection made on Friday night, though, wasn't between the show's actresses, but rather between the Green Room performers and their attentive, enthusiastic audience; the venue may have changed, but the building, thankfully, is as safe a haven as it ever was.

 

Eleemosynary's Susan McPeters - alongside Christopher Thomas, Erika Thomas, and Jonathan Turner - also performs in the Green Room's March 1 Cabaret Night at 7 and 9 p.m. For information, call (309)786-5660.

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written by Bruce, February 27, 2008
the green room is not real theatre
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written by Bruce, February 27, 2008
The Green Room is a gimmick. They trick people into coming to their shows, but is not real theatre. It is the same trick used over again! Watch us a do a show without a set! Oooh, that is so clever. Now watch us do another show with no set and we'll set it in a concentration camp and not connect it, in any way at all. I don't believe the Green Room brain trust can do any real theatre with a set or lights, or costumes. Wake up QC! Don't waste your money and time by supporting this joke of a theatre.
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written by Bruce is a crank, February 27, 2008
And a moron. Theater is an actor and an audience.
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written by dv, February 27, 2008
i really think Bruce's comment is so far off base as to be ludicrous. he must be attracted to bright lights and shiny objects. Vegas as theater perhaps?
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written by Catie, February 27, 2008
With the opening of the Green Room, the Quad Cities was given an opportunity to see a type of theatre that was missing in our community: new, fresh theatre from a new perspective with a focus on the actor/audience relationship, not spectacle. Thankfully, I have not yet been let down.
Our friend "Bruce" however, represents what seems to be an alarming group of the population, who believe that without this spectacle and glitz, there is not actually a show.
I believe differently. Those who attend the theatre, those who understand it and work in it and (dare I say) love it understand that theatre isn't about the lights or sets or costumes.
Theatre is about the love of the spoken word, the need to tell a story. It is about the connection that one feels to ones audience, the ability to become someone else--out of yourself--and to take that character with you, to teach you something about yourself.
Theater affords the audience the chance to walk the path less chosen, to explore the deepest recesses of our own minds, to face fears, confront demons, and to realize the necessity for change in thier own lives.
Theatre serves to shine a spotlight on the world around us, pointing out its flaws, embracing its good points and reveling in its joys. With all of this, why should it matter if there is, actually, a spot light available?
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written by Bruce, February 27, 2008
You call a theatre with 2 lights and shows without sets new and fresh. I never said that you need spectacle and flash. What I am saying is The Green Room has been relying on the "look we do shows, without props and sets" aspect for too long. How many glorified rehearsals that people pay $10-15 to see, are they going to put people through. I doubt the directors of the Green Room could do a real show with a real set.
SUSAN
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written by trixie, February 27, 2008
What Derek & Tyson are doing at The Green Room is proving that you don't have to have an elaborate set,fancy lighting and a gazillion costumes to stage intelligent theatre.In fact,sometimes that can get in the way of what a playwright is conveying.Instead,the focus is on the actors (gulp) and the words they are bringing to life.I look forward to attending future productions there and feel you won't see any reviews dwelling on the sets or the costumes which is code for "the acting sucked."
Stephanie Burrough
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written by Stephanie Burrough, February 27, 2008
Bruce,

Technically, the Green Room IS Real Theatre. Your first statement is untrue and can be corrected by anyone who has taken a theatre/history class or feels like looking up the word "theatre" on Wikipedia.com.

Not even Shakespeare used sets, lights or costumes in the sense that you are referring to them, and Shakespeare certainly produced real theatre. At least, so our history books would have us believe :) Extravagant sets actually didn't arrive on the theatrical scene historically until the sixteenth or seventeenth century, and the purpose of them was to showcase spectacle in extravagant Renaissance Italy. And while our generation can certainly appreciate extravangance, we can also be interested in the intimate moments afforded by more simple sets and settings.

Your opinions on the need for a set to create a theatrical experience are certainly yours to have. Some people love the spectacle of musical theatre, and people prefer the intimacy of a black box theatre like the Green Room has to offer. It's all about preference, and we are allowed our own choices in regards to what stimulus we prefer from moment to moment. In other words, I can respect your zeal.

But to my point: I must defend the Green Room theatre because, as a lover of theatre and an experienced theatre-goer, I think that they do provide something of quality to the Quad Cities public. I argue that they certainly could produce great work with more extravagant trappings, but they don't need to as far as I'm concerned.

Of course, this is just my opinion, and anyone who hasn't formed their own based on their own experience should attend one of the Green Room's shows to find out for themselves.
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written by Katie, February 27, 2008
I'd rather watch an entire well-performed season done on a bare stage than sit through one Music Guild show with lots of lights, elaborate sets, and little talent. Theatre isn't about accessories.
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written by Tyson Danner, February 27, 2008
Many thanks for the comments raised. I'm glad to see that our work is provoking discussion, as I believe any theatre should.

One of the great benefits of our space is that our audiences have the opportunity to connect with the actors and material in a very human way - unhindered by the spectacle of snappy lighting effects and beautiful sets. (I don't mean to deny the function of lights and sets. Theatre companies wouldn't be bothering if they didn't work. But it's not the only road to genuine theater!)

The beauty of true theatre is that it doesn't need full lighting and sets to exist. We feel that theatregoers have plenty of local options to fulfill their desire for that kind of theatre. What we're about is presenting another opportunity for those audience members who want it and, if our attendance, critical praise and audience feedback have been any indication, we're quite proud to say that it's working.

Bruce, I hope you come to one of our productions and see for yourself. I would hope that, if we were truly operating on a gimmick and tricking people into coming to our productions, the public would respond and simply stop coming. However, as we prepare for the shows that will finish out our first year, we see only increasing attendance and interest in our work. The beauty and the drawback of theatre is that it is a living art, and can only be accurately experienced in person. Hell, man, send me an e-mail and I'll even set you up with a free ticket to a dress rehearsal.

If we had the funding, would we buy more lights? Oh yeah. Would we have more realistic sets on some of our productions? Probably. Would we ever stop placing the emphasis of every single production on the craft of acting and the raw emotional connection we try to forge with our audience? Hell, no!

Tyson Danner
Artistic Director
The Green Room Theatre
Stephanie Burrough
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written by Stephanie Burrough, February 27, 2008
Addendum: I have also seen musical theatre performed in a black box with minimal lighting, sets, costumes, etc. The Green Room has done this sucessfully, and I believe the newly-formed Riverbend Theatre Collective will be testing similarly unique waters once they start producing shows this summer.

Summary: Musical theatre is also an art form capable of the same levels of theatrical diversity before described.

Moral: Don't be a (theatre) player hater.
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written by Bruce, February 28, 2008
I find it interesting Stephanie that you use wikipedia as a source, when it is widely known to have false information. Everyone who has commented has raised some intersting points. Howevever, I still feel that the Green Room is a one trick pony. I have been to several productions and each time I was underwhelmed. Someone mentioned Music Guild, I believe that the quality of their shows have been on the rise.
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written by stay away, February 28, 2008
Well then Bruce, don't go back to the Green Room. It's more than obvious your mind is made up about the type of theater that "works" for you, and it's not what you are finding there.
Others don't have to drink your kool-aid or convince you to drink theirs.

It is too bad that you are not able to integrate another style, but to each his/her own.

I do think - that as abhorrent as I initially found your comments to be - they actually spawned a discussion that happily made me realize/remember the level of artistic intelligence that exists in the QC.

And, although Wikipedia may not be to your liking -- perhaps a good dictionary or spell-check should be. (insert smirk here).

Jackie Madunic
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written by Jackie Madunic, February 28, 2008
Bruce,

As an actor who has proudly been a part of 2 of the 4 productions at The Green Room Theatre, I must strongly beg to differ with your opinions about what entails good theatre. It seems to you that if you do not have an elaborate set, an expensive lighting system, gorgeous costumes and lots of props, a show is somehow lacking, and, in your words, a "gimmick." In truth, some of the finest performances I have seen in the Quad Cities in the past year had nothing to do with sets or lighting. It was the actor's performances and their connection to their own and other characters on the stage in addition to the audience that made the show so riveting. For example, I saw "Tuesdays with Morrie", a My Verona Production,at Comedy Sportz theatre. Just 2 actors on a very small stage and no set blowing my mind with their beautiful, heartbreaking and amazing performances. Another example is "Othello," from Prenzie Players. No "set", per se, but each actor was so completely immersed in what they were doing on stage, so in the moment and so connected to the audience's energy that I truly "believed" in what was happening on stage and began to care about the characters. To me, THAT is good theatre. I, too, have seen several productions (including professional ones)that had fabulous sets, costumes, sound and lighting, but I didn't "believe" in the performances and for me it just made it "average." As a final example, I attended the first production at The Green Room, which was "Into the Woods." I was so moved and absolutely riveted by the show that I knew I wanted to be a part of that organization. I think it really is okay to be different. It's the differences that keep things interesting around here. Sorry you were "underwhelmed" by the shows you saw, Bruce. The feedback Derek and Tyson have received has been overwhelmingly positive. But we are ALL entitled to our own opinion. This is just my two cents worth.

Allison Collins-Elfline
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written by One Trick Pony, February 29, 2008
Whether or not you like what The Green Room is doing, one thing is clear - they are offering a choice. You can choose the Music Guild/Circa model, or you can choose something different. Even if you dislike the Green Room's product, aren't you glad you have that choice? If you prefer shows at Music Guild (which you are certainly right to do if that floats your boat) aren't you glad the Green Room confirmed exactly what you prefer?

For what it's worth, the quality of Music Guild may be on the rise as you say, but does anyone really want to see another production of My Fair Lady? Even the most talented artists appear hollow in the face of such stale, hackneyed dreck.
Allison Collins-Elfline
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written by Two Trick Pony, February 29, 2008
Addendum - I have always been amused by the attitude of "I didn't like it, therefore it is crap". Is it impossible to admit that an experience wasn't to your liking, yet it still has significance and artistic merit? I find myself hating things all the time, but admitting they are still worthwhile. I'm just sayin'.....
Allison Collins-Elfline
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written by Allison Collins-Elfline, February 29, 2008
Bruce,

I just started my own theatre company (Riverbend Theatre Collective) whose shows will appear in the QC starting in May, and I do hope you will find yourself in the audience of one our productions. My company is in it's first year of producing, and much like mine, I'm sure The Green Room can't afford to purchase a host of lighting instruments, fancy costumes, or set pieces. If they could, they would. But I also think it's a preference of the Artistic Directors to make a choice to do something different, that the QC has been so desperate to see: Quality Theatre without all the stuff to cover up a lukewarm production.

Myself, I do appreciate the glitz and lights of a technically saavy show. A few years ago, my husband and I spent a week in New York, where we saw Wicked, Rent and Stomp. While I enjoy and appreciate the music and glamour of Wicked, I would've much rather seen Stomp or Rent a second time. I'd rather see good talent then lots of explosions, lights, and costumes. It's been said by my fellow theatre colleagues previous, but I think most theatre artists in town would prefer an engaging cast and good material that speaks to them rather than a sub-par show with flashy costumes and lighting cues.

Everyone is entitled to their own opinions. But I think what my friends at The Green Room are doing is admirable and gutsy. I hope that my fledging little company can only be so lucky.
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written by rob elfline, February 29, 2008
What fun!

The Green Room officially has their very own hater (much as the Prenzie Players discovered their anonymous hater in this same forum)! Congratulations Green Room - this means you have officially hit it big in the Quad Cities.

By the way, I'm curious what the Prenzie hater thinks of the Green Room. What say you Prenzie-hater? Seen any Green Room shows?

Long live useless negativity!!!!
Jackie Madunic
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written by Jackie Madunic, February 29, 2008
Addendum: Actually the Green Room has helmed 5 producions. They added "Fully Committed" starring an AMAZING actor named Eddie Staver, who also performed to standing room only houses and standing ovations.
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written by Theatre Fan, May 14, 2008
Someone in an earlier post mentioned the level of talent at Music Guild. I agree that there are bound to be productions with talent that doesn't shine through on stage. This is true at many local theatrical groups, including semi-professional and collegiate theatre. However, there have been many, many other shows at that theatre with talented actors and actresses who have gone onto bigger and better things, theatrically. I have also attended shows at The Green Room and Genesius Guild, and I have seen some good shows as well as some less than desirable shows. In essence, one bad show does not a horrible theatre make.

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