Saturday, October 1, 2016

Musical "Love in the Mangroves" to open Oct. 6 at The Public House Theatre in Chicago

By ERIC SCHELKOPF 

After a hiatus, director Frank Hunter makes a triumphant return to Hollywood, ready with the next hit song-and-dance spectacle, “Love in the Mangroves.” But the year is 1959, and no one is making those films anymore. 

Hunter finds himself and his crew embattled in an industry where his vision doesn’t fit, and a rapidly changing world where he himself may have to find a new place. That's the premise behind “Love in the Mangroves," a musical set to take the stage soon at The Public House Theatre, 3914 N. Clark St., Chicago. 

“Love in the Mangroves” will open on Oct. 6, and will run at 8 p.m. on Thursdays until Oct. 27. Tickets are $10. 

The musical comes from Not Your Mother’s Baby - a production team headed by The Public House Theater ensemble members Travis Marsala and Adrienne Teeley. Their most recent work was the comic noir, “The Matter at Dead Oak Hollow.” 

I had the chance to talk to Marsala about "Love in the Mangroves."

Q - What was your inspiration for writing “Love in the Mangroves?” What would you like the audience to come away with from the production? 

I think it was several things. I'm turning another decade older this month and even though I'm only turning 30, I feel like the world is changing far faster than I can keep up.

What must it have been like in the late 1950's? Coming out of that "age of innocence?" (Actually, "willful ignorance," but that's a topic for another time.)

Movies like "The Artist" and "Singing in the Rain" cover these fluxes of transition, but they are based around a technical innovation. What happens when we are forced to confront a shift in the cultural zeitgeist?

I hope people leave the theater finding fulfillment in whatever their passion might be. That they go home and create whatever it is they've been longing to create and not wait for someone to give them permission. 

Q - Your recent production “The Matter at Dead Oak Hollow" was also set in the 1950s. Is there something about that time period that you are drawn to?

Again I think it's that feeling of a nation waking up. I think a lot of people long for a simpler time when the jokes were cleaner, TV families were more wholesome, and people dressed nice every day.

But we simultaneously know it was all a facade for a gritty American underbelly. This is all very serious talk for two comedies . . . and not that either show is very political - but when people say "Make America Great Again," this is most often the time era they are pointing towards.

It's fun to take that model of perceived perfection and start peeling away the layers. One of the characters in this show is a recovering alcoholic, one has their marriage falling apart, and they all curse like sailors - but they're going to put an image of perfection on the screen.

Also, my writing partner, Adrienne Teeley, and I just love detective stories in general so the '50s is obviously the best place to tackle the genre in "Dead Oak Hollow." 

Q - What do you think the cast of "Love in the Mangroves" brings to the production? 

It's been wonderful working with this group. For "Dead Oak Hollow," the cast was comprised of improvisors and comedians.

This show has actors with more of a theatrical background, so they bring a very different flavor. They all love the time period, too, and you can see them incorporate how acting in film and theater has changed over the years.

They understood right away that even though we're doing a comedy, there's a lot of serious material here too. 

What do you like about being part of the Public House Theatre and how do you think your theatre group differs from other theatre groups in the area? 

The Public House is the best place to try. When I first joined the ensemble over a year ago, Byron said to us, "I want this to be your 'yes' place" and both he and Sasha have lived up to that promise.

This year, I got to try three very different styles of shows - and because of their openness to Adrienne and I experimenting with different forms and genres we have grown a lot both as individuals and as a writing team.

Although she didn't co-write this show with me, she read it over many times to give me notes.


I think the production company I have with Adrienne - Not Your Mother's Baby - stands out because we love existing in the reality of genres. I'm still formulating how I describe this to people . . . I feel like a lot of comedy these days is a wink and a nod to the audience - almost like the characters exist outside of their own story and are letting the audience know that they know what they're doing is ridiculous.

What Adrienne and I try to do is exist in a reality and be ridiculous within it. We may throw out a joke now and then, like "Okay! Everyone off the stage!" but it's never a wink to the audience - it feels different. A perfect moment of the two styles is in "Airplane" - EVERYONE in that movie is living in the reality of their world even though they are doing the stupidest things.

Then you get to the end of the movie and that guy in the control tower is living in a completely different world - "I can make broach, I can make a hat" - he's not existing within the reality of the story and it's extraordinarily jarring.

If this doesn't make any sense, feel free to cut it. Or print it. Either way works for me. 

Q - Which do you like best, writing or acting? Or do you need both in your life? 

I enjoy writing the most. I often act to protect what I wrote (learned that from the Monty Python boys).

But in any production I've helped write, once we start approaching the end of the rehearsal process, I find myself getting the fidgets. I know I'm better than when I first started and start feeling eager to begin the next project. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0wpCnBLie8 

Speaking of which, we got some awesome stuff coming up next year, so like Not Your Mother's Baby on Facebook! But that being said, I see the value in acting in it - I get to put the words I wrote into my own mouth and feel how it is to be an actor saying them.

That's been an invaluable experience.