Saturday, October 10, 2009

Yeast Nation: And a Tale of a Jeff, 2 Tonys, a Greg, a Mark, and a cast full of Jan's

Barbara Robertson
Photo by Michael Brosilow

ChiIL Mama had a hilarious, kid-free afternoon, exploring the primordial ooze, at American Theatre Company.   And I'm happy to report that Jeff recommended Yeast Nation has been extended through November 8th, due to record sales weeks and great reviews.

This quirky rock musical explores the emotional and physical quagmire of a colony of yeast, at the beginning of time.   Though all the characters are single celled beings, they are multifaceted.   Humans will relate to the desperation over lack of resources, overpopulation, and hunger.

Humans of this century are not so different from the yeast, where the royal family keeps secret stashes of salt, while the masses starve.   Yeast use blackmail to ensure complicity and manipulate unwilling dates.   A certain subset of humans will also relate to the two yeast who bring the beautiful girl "a fatty from their secret stash" in order to impress her.   Even the age old battles of religious prohibitions and stasis versus progress and free thinking, manage to surface.   

I was eager to see Yeast Nation, as I've been a fan of Greg Kotis and his wife Ayun Halliday, since the early 90's when they were weekly staples in The Neofuturists production Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind.   Back before they had their own building, we'd line up at The Live Bait Theater on Clark Street and the actors would pass out a deck of playing cards, because the deck equaled the number of seats available.   And when they sold out, which they inevitably did, they ordered out.   The pizza would arrive at the end of their 30 plays in 60 minutes, and would be shared by all.

Greg, Ayun, and Greg's co-author, Mark Hollmann defected to The Big Apple years ago.   Lucky for Chicago, we still have a soft spot in these New Yorker's hearts.  Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis, who won 2 Tony awards for their irreverant musical,  Urinetown, came back to embrace their roots in the local theater scene, and make Chicago a funnier place this fall.

Thank you Greg and Mark, for attempting something that seems like an impossible dare.   I'm reminded of improv. class challenges, and can just hear you egging each other on over beers.   In my brain, the fictional dialogue goes something like this.

"Hey, Mark.  I bet you can't create an entire musical starring nothing but single celled organisms."

"Oh yeah?   Well, I accept that challenge, Greg, but on the condition that you write it containing 9 characters all named Jan."

This challenge was not only attempted, but fulfilled admirably.  

Jan the Unnamed Barbara Robertson
Jan the Elder Joseph Anthony Foronda
Jan the Second Andrew Keltz
Jan the Sweet Melanie Brezill
Jan the Wise Phil Ridarelli
Jan the Sly Sandie Rosa
Jan the Wretched/Jan the Youngest Bernard Balbot
Jan the Famished Wendi Weber

This production of Yeast Nation (The Triumph of Life), is technically being called the "Midwest Premier", since Yeast Nation was work shopped extensively, in different incarnations and locations, and performed as a full blown production in Alaska.   However, it still counts as a new musical, in my book, since it's never been seen with this full musical score before.

There was only one child in the audience, Saturday afternoon, but ACT recommends Yeast Nation as kid friendly for the 8 and up set.   Despite the catchy score and singing, dancing yeasts, younger children might find the content a bit over their heads or scary.   Nothing is particularly inappropriate for children, but characters are murdered and lofty themes are explored, reminiscent of classic Greek theatre.

Contact the American Theatre Company box office for detailed production information and tickets.

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