Review: Blank Theatre Company Delivers a Bittersweet Hedonistic Spectacle with THE WILD PARTY

As dazzling as it is heart-rending, The Wild Party gives you something to talk about

By: Sep. 05, 2022
Review: Blank Theatre Company Delivers a Bittersweet Hedonistic Spectacle with THE WILD PARTY

Review: Blank Theatre Company Delivers a Bittersweet Hedonistic Spectacle with THE WILD PARTY

When we think of a 1920s soiree, we typically think of glitz, glamor, and dancing to jazz til dawn. Andrew Lippa's The Wild Party is not that kind of bash. Having all the bacchanalian frivolity and little of the joy, this show reveals a darker - and oftentimes, sad - side to the life of a reveler. Blank Theatre Company brought to life this ill-fated festivity with equal care given to both the upbeat and somber elements.

The Wild Party is dripping with discomfort at every turn. From an early scene where Queenie is too exhausted by the stifling heat to even stand and Burrs is - well, celebrating Palm Sunday- the ick factor only progresses. One of the most unsettling elements is the tiny space itself which can hardly contain the cast of fourteen, much less when a dance number is in full swing. Though this may have been an intentional decision - after all, a run-down city apartment is roughly the same size as the stage - be warned that if you sit in the front row, a cast member will inadvertently spit on you at some point.

Review: Blank Theatre Company Delivers a Bittersweet Hedonistic Spectacle with THE WILD PARTY Karylin Veres' Queenie held court as the party's femme fatale. Though I'm disappointed in how this character is written - her entire personality seems to revolve around her long legs, blonde hair, and sex drive- Veres cinched the delivery. Her strong soprano voice dazzled the crowd, and she did a fabulous job of showing us the nuanced side of this conflicted character. Her new love interest, Marc Prince's Mr. Black, did equally well in exhibiting his own juxtaposition: infatuation with Queenie, and mild discomfort at being present at such a wild and sex-fueled rampage. Prince's deep, booming vocals engulfed the space and gave the audience chills - I can still hear his cries of "Poor, poor child," in my head.

When you find yourself really, truly hating a show's villain, you know the actor is doing what they're supposed to. Dustin Rothbart as the violent and impulsive Burrs is no exception. Rothbart gave us a temper that was larger-than-life, making you want to slink from his wake. His raucous rendition of Let me Drown had me spellbound with a maniacal aura that teetered on the edge of genius and madness.

Review: Blank Theatre Company Delivers a Bittersweet Hedonistic Spectacle with THE WILD PARTY Without a doubt, the standout of the evening was LJ Bullen in the role of Kate. With explosive energy and a belt to match, it was impossible to take your eyes off them. Bullen's rendition of Life of the Party hit all the right notes, a perfect mix of playful and seductive.

Some much needed comedic relief arrived when Phil and Oscar D'Armano (Nicky Mendelsohn and Larry D Trice II, respectively) rounded up the troops to perform A Wild, Wild Party at the end of Act I. This showstopper was utterly riveting, making us temporarily forget about the dark subject matter at hand. Though ensemble members in any production may fade into the background when not singing or dancing, this was not the case for Nicky Mendelsohn (Phil D'Armano), Trent Ramert (Jackie) and Samantha Rockhill (Nadine). Each in their own way exhibited perpetual engagement with the action taking place around them, whether it was exchanging heartfelt glances during Two of a Kind or ensuring they didn't break character when transitioning from one song to the next. Being one of the most magnetic presences onstage is an especially impressive feat for Ramert who is mute for the entire production (by the way- what a smile)!

The unlikely duo of Mae and Eddie (Kaitlin Feely and Ian Reed, respectively) delivered an upbeat and surprisingly sweet rendition of Two of a Kind. These two played off each other seamlessly, each ready to have the other's back or calm the other down. An additional wave of levity was brought to us by the confident Madelaine True (Mary Nora Wolf) in her performance of An Old-Fashioned Love Story, another shining example of this musical's is positive, shame-free portrayal of queer characters which is rare for period pieces. Wolf's ability to bring this funny and libertine character to life was truly a delight to watch.

Costumes for The Wild Party ranged from slinky satin nightgowns to the scintillating sequined flapper dresses that have become synonymous with the era. The men's costumes included zoot suits and undershirts, an appropriate variety depending on the scene. Lighting design for this performance was intricate and well-planned, complete with an impressive variety of hues for an intimate space. Finally, the quality of the live music was second to none: the guitar, brass and percussion were all harmoniously coupled with the performers onstage- bravo to music director Aaron Kaplan!

While the cast and crew did a splendid job with the entire production from top to bottom, The Wild Party is not a show for the faint of heart. The exchanges between Queenie, Kate, Burrs and Black were needlessly repetitive in nature, the character development was shallow (if at all present), and the show's ending leaves you with more questions than answers. A trigger warning for domestic violence and gun violence is needed for any would-be attendees. Nevertheless, this relatively new theatre company delivered a tight performance with great energy and flow directed by Jason A Fleece. If you're looking to patronize local theatre in an intimate setting, look no further than this heady production of Blank Theatre Company's The Wild Party.

The Wild Party runs through September 25 at The Reginald Vaughn Theatre in Chicago's Edgewater neighborhood.

All photos by Zeke Dolezak.


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From This Author - Kathleen Anwar

Kathleen Anwar graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a BA in government and a minor in computer science. During her time there, she performed in the Annual Madrigal Dinner (now in its ... Kathleen Anwar">(read more about this author)


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