Piven Theatre Workshop Presents MAD DANCERS, A Review

      

For the last 35 years, the Piven Theatre Workshop has been entertaining the public with a multitude of plays. Located in the heart of Evanston, Piven Theatre and Director Jennifer Green brings us Yehuda Hymans' award winning and metaphoric play, "The Mad Dancers." This play is inspired by Rabbi Nachman's fable, "The Seven Beggars."

The story begins as we meet the Rebbe, played by Ravi Batista, telling his followers and scribe stories while on his deathbed in the 19th century.

Trying to continue his story, the Rebbe begins to search for the one who will be able to fufill the rest of his story. Rebbe's search finds him in the 21st century. We meet Elliot Green, played by Dieterich Gray, a simple gay man stuck at his desk job at IBM. He is the typical in-a-rut employee, with no hope of getting out of his every-man situation. It is the task of the Rebbe to make Elliot believe he is the one to continue the Rebbe's legacy. By paralleling the Rebbe's universe with Elliot's, the play merges their lives together. Elliot meets seven beggars during his journey. The beggar's parts are played by the Rebbe and they lead Elliot towards his destiny. Elliot is hesitant but manages to advance forth.

A devil-like nemesis, the Old Gentleman, portrayed by Bernard Beck, represents an immoral distraction for Elliot. At one point the Old Gentleman tempts Elliot to attend a night club where he is further tempted to ignore the journey at hand, and is distracted by a feast of food, drink and women. The Rebbe manages to persuade Elliot to complete his journey. In the end, Elliot becomes the Rebbe's successor.

Although this is a complicated story to follow, "Mad Dancers" presents a rich tapestry with many textures. It takes the audience to different times and places around the world. Director Jennifer Green and her cast make this two-hour, two-act play compelling with great acting, and very unusual lighting techniques. In many scenes, the actors have complex tasks. They deftly use lights, dance and well-choreographed movement to keep the audience engaged in Elliot's journey.

At times, the story uses metaphors when Elliot's own moral compass is questioned. There is the devil-like character that asks Elliot to ignore the larger picture and to forget the people around him including the beggars who are inflicted with different ailments. All the beggars ask Elliot to give a part of himself to them. In return, they tell Elliot, "You should be exactly as I am." The drama is heightened as the Rebbe and the devil-like man are pitted against one another. This leaves Elliot trapped in the middle, having to make his own decisions. As in many fables, right eventually overcomes wrong.

 

"The Mad Dancers" entwines an old fable and current issues of homosexuality and role definitions. The Rebbe, presented in a non-traditional way, is played by a woman, which echoes the Shakespearian tradition of gender reversal. Seeing this play gave me new insights.

Piven Theatre Workshop founders, Joyce and the late Byrne Piven have developed a strong group of actors, including their son, Jeremy Piven. In this play, it's obvious that the training of actors of high quality continues.

 

"The Mad Dancers" runs through June 24th at The Piven Theatre Workshop, 927 Noyes Street Evanston, Illinois. Thursday, Friday and Saturday performances begin at 7:30pm. Sunday matinee begins at 2:30pm. To reserve tickets,

call: (847)866-8049. Ticket prices are $25. Students and senior tickets are $23. Group rates of ten or more are $15 per person. For more information check out:

www.piventheatre.org .

 

Photos: Christopher Ash

 

Photos: Christopher Ash

 

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