Ivywild The Hypocrites

WORLD PREMIERE.  April 30th to June 16th.   Ivywild,  based on the actual true story from Chicago’s early 1900’s, is a theatrically staged amusement, a spectacle of delight made for dreamers, boodlers and drunken elephants named Princess.


On Fri., Sat., Mon 730pm; Sun 3pm. 

Tickets $28.  More information 773-525-5991

04/30/13 - 06/16/13

Fri & Sat 730p; Sun 3p; Mon 730p

Amid the myths, searching for the real 'Bathhouse John' -  Chris Jones, Chicago Tribune 5/14/13.  “As historic types, Chicago aldermen do not lack for color. But despite the height of the bar for eccentricity on the City of Chicago's council, Ald. John Coughlin vaults over it with ease. In his time around the turn of the last century — a time shared with "Hinky Dink" Kenna and other characters you'll know and love if you've read Karen Abbott's "Sin in the Second City," Erik Larson's "Devil in the White City" or other chronicles of Chicago's famously decadent Levee district, Coughlin (aka "Bathhouse John") was an alderman for 46 years. He started out as a bathhouse scrubber and finished atop an empire of graft and protection as a "Lord of the Levee," to quote the late Herman Kogan.


Coughlin died in poverty. But before that, he took it upon himself to open a menagerie and amusement park near Cheyenne Canyon, Colo., replete with an elephant snagged from the Lincoln Park Zoo. In 1905, the Tribune reported on the escape of one of Coughlin's deer, which ran through Ivywild, a suburb of Colorado Springs and the name of the latest, rather confounding show at The Hypocrites.


As penned by Jay Torrence, the hugely promising "Ivywild" draws the logical conclusion that Coughlin funded his failed amusement park with the fruits of his various Chicago rackets. In its best moments, it explores the very interesting question as to why such a powerful man would sink his fate into such an eccentric enterprise. A sudden desire for bucolic redemption far from the Levee? A love of the tawdry? General aldermanic weirdness? What?


Alas, the play does not really say, partly because it gets trapped in its own devices to such a degree that what should be a fascinating central character disappears into his own show. "Ivywild," which is directed (overdirected) by Halena Kays, features a truly fascinating set from Lizzie Bracken. In one of the best off-Loop designs of the season, Bracken stuffs hundreds of colored lights and what feels like an entire carousel, not to mention other visual sculptures and accouterments, into the basement of the Chopin Theatre. It is spectacular and desperately pathetic, both at once.


If only the narrative trajectory of the show followed through on those inspired visual notions. Certainly, it is reasonable to tell Coughlin's story without overt realism, but, surely, here was a man of astounding contrasts: part Chicago alderman, part sad-sack P.T. Barnum, part Al Capone. Those edges are not drawn with any clarity in a piece that stars the energetic author (not a smart choice), who is very broad and invulnerable. Ultimately, the show gets played mostly for artsy laughs.


Despite the very honorable attempts of actors like Ryan Walters, Kurt Chiang, Tien Doman (playing, Lord help her, The Amusement) and Anthony Courser (who is just fantastic, and truthful, as Princess the elephant), the piece still can't enlighten or satisfy us as to why the music started at Bathhouse John's park and what made it, and him, come to a crashing stop.


Ivywild: The True Tall Tales of Bathhouse John – Justin Hayford, Chicago Reader 5/14/13.  “"Bathhouse John" Coughlin and Michael "Hinky Dink" Kenna, turn-of-the-20th-century coaldermen of Chicago's vice-heavy 1st Ward, made fortunes squeezing payoffs from gamblers and pimps. Coughlin dressed extravagantly, fancied himself a poet, wrote one hit song, and built an amusement park that burned to the ground six years after it opened. Kenna dressed conservatively. That's about all playwright and performer Jay Torrence's 90-minute script has to say about its central figures—and does it so disjointedly that it's difficult to glean even these basic facts. Director Halena Kays's shadowy, carnivalesque Hypocrites production features winning design and engaging performances (Torrence's impish Coughlin is a marvel). But there's no meaningful context to give the onslaught of fragmentary images any significance”,



Review: Ivywild: The True Tall Tales of Bathhouse John/The Hypocrites - Johnny Oleksinski, NewCity Chicago 5/14/13.  “One hopes the producers and creative team of the deeply problematic “Big Fish,” which recently completed its pre-Broadway tryout here in Chicago, caught a preview of “Ivywild: The True Tall Tales of Bathhouse John,” a new play by Jay Torrence at the Chopin Theatre, before jetting back to Broadway.


You see, a core problem with the wishy-washy new musical with songs by by Andrew Lippa was that the main character’s tall tales—which give the show all of its theatricality—weren’t so tall; they were puny and mistakenly literal. As realized by Susan Stroman, giants, witches, floods and daffodils were rendered feeble and near-magic-less by the traditional musical theater razzmatazz.


Presented by The Hypocrites, “Ivywild,” a work that mangles and enchants a surreal portion of Chicago’s history, is punctuated by three ebullient, restlessly transportive amusement park rides. The first, a life-size kaleidoscope of exotic locales, whisks you away to the watery depths of the sea and sky-high into the clouds. The second is a journey playfully called the Buster Brown. Another is an unpredictable roller coaster, pulsating, curving, strobing and bumping. Halena Kays’ aerobic cast snatches up audience members, all three pre-chosen and donning a small girl’s white dress, to experience the rides onstage while another dress-clad person from the cast reads aloud a narration describing the sensory rush.


Suspension of disbelief, as we know, can be a powerful tool, but in today’s theatergoing culture, it must be coaxed and facilitated; never assumed. Kays and Torrence’s generous sequences invite the audience to experience their world in a most unexpected fashion. As the patron travels under the sea, you snicker while miniature cardboard dolphins are bounced in front of the participant’s visage and paper waves are shaken, relying on his or her gullibility to make them believe that something so meager could be so massively impressive. But through the joke you continue to wonder, “What is it I’m not seeing?” By the final trick, the roller coaster, we’ve given completely into our own childishness, so taken by this dreamland, and are as breathless as that little girl writing away in her diary.


“Ivywild” is the latest Chicago history play by Torrence after “Burning Bluebeard,” a whimsical riff on the Iroquois Theatre fire last season for the Neo-Futurists also directed by Kays. That show, which I regretfully did not see, encapsulated, transformed and reframed a single concrete event, whereas “Ivywild” evokes a wide span of time. With that in mind, Torrence has approached the tales of First Ward alderman “Bathhouse John” Coughlin and precinct captain Michael “Hinky Dink” Kenna (Ryan Walters), co-founders of a fools-gold fun park in Colorado, psychologically, taking us inside the warped, dysfunctional mind of Bathhouse John during the early twentieth century.


Torrence’s play explores Chicago’s corruption in a manner few do: it acknowledges our city’s subconscious affection for those who commit political crimes. Bathhouse John is Willy Wonka-cum-Rod Blagojevich, a politician whose oddities outweigh his indiscretions, and we resent him with a smile. Torrence’s performance is a squirrel wearing a monocle; eccentric, silly, enigmatic all the while with extremely suspect motives. But we’re so endeared to his positivity and happy-go-lucky self-deprecation that his misdeeds matter little. The events of the play—dividing its time between Chicago and Colorado—are nonlinear and the characters, while based in fact, are purely theatrical beings. The park, itself, is characterized by a blood-drenched tutu-clad mute woman, dubbed The Amusement (Tien Doman), with a neck brace and what appears to be a tracheotomy. There’s a drunken elephant named Princess, portrayed by an oafish and slurring Anthony Courser, and Bath’s boyish assistant, Little Walt (Kurt Chiang).


Kays’ direction keeps this story mostly merry, with some deluges into the grim longitudes of self-wrought failure and inevitable demise. We’re first introduced to the freakish band of carnies in a solemn deliberate dance, broken up by a gyrating techno remix of “Hello” by Martin Solveig & Dragonette. Particularly wondrous is Jared Moore’s lighting design, artfully crafting a final moment, in the aftermath of a destructive blizzard, which reminds us that as adult realities, responsibilities and wrongdoings accrue, so too does our longing to return to childhood”. 



The historical Chicago characters at the center of Jay Torrence's new play get a bit lost amid the piece's quirks - Dan Jakes  5/6/13.  “Long before Blago and Betty Loren-Maltese, Illinois was home to "Bathhouse" John Coughlin (Jay Torrence) and Michael "Hinky Dink" Kenna (Ryan Walters), two equally flamboyant Chicago aldermen who reigned over the city's notorious Levee district in the late 19th century. Overseeing a haven of brothels, gambling, organized crime and political corruption, the duo helped normalize profitable vice in Chicago's own 1st Ward Sodom—and as postulated by Jay Torrence's new play, made at least one attempt to create something wholesome in the hills of Colorado. Ivywild chronicles their ill-fated efforts through vaudeville and bouffon montage and tries to exhume their story from local history.


There are easy parallels to draw from Torrence and Hypocrites artistic director Halena Kays's haunting and brilliant Burning Bluebeard, a 2011 Neo-Futurists collaboration that similarly followed a gang of misfit entertainers' posthumous attempt to change the course of history in order to make beauty in a world marked by cruel fatalism and tragic flaws. And there's certainly beauty to be had here—Alison Siple's costume design, including a bloodsoaked feather tutu for a respirator-breathing personification of Amusement (Tien Doman), achieves visual poetry worthy of its own showcase. Jared Moore's ghostly lighting and Lizzie Bracken's spectral amusement park set are likewise transformative, sustaining the Hypocrites' tradition of consistently making tucked-away ethereal wonderlands out of a Wicker Park basement.


Taken as vignettes, many of Torrence's pieces, especially those involving a drunken, disfigured elephant reimagined as a clown (Anthony Courser), sustain themselves on their own giddy irreverence. Yet this time around, little of it seems to feed into a convincing greater narrative or the play's shoehorned, vice-vs.-purity conflict. And therein lies the best and worst of the Hypocrites—and for that matter the Neo-Futurists, with whom there is much crossover affiliation—in a nutshell. Kays and Torrence's surprises, entertaining as they may be—ensemble movement sequences, spoken-word songs, adorning audience members in dresses and taking them on a park ride—begin to feel like quirk for quirk's sake as the central characters and their historical context sink back into the footnotes they're unearthed from”.



IvyWild – Tony Frankel, www.StageAndCinema.com“The more I think about the Hypocrites’ latest theater spectacle, Ivywild, the more entranced I feel about the imaginative proceedings – the way in which the story was told – and the less I care about the story itself.  In an impressionistic, non-concrete manner, playwright Jay Torrence tells the tale of “Bathhouse John” Coughlin, a true-life Chicago alderman who constructed an amusement park and zoo on a tract of land named Ivywild, just outside of Colorado Springs. The “Zoological Park” existed from 1906 to 1916. We know little about Bathhouse after the 90-minute play — told chronologically in poetic, Vaudevillian-like snippets — but as portrayed in this muddled outing at the Chopin Theater, he was an oddball eccentric.


Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema Chicago review of The Hypocrites' "Ivywild" at Chopin Theatre.A confusing narrative begins right at the top when we hear that Bathhouse John “partnered” with another alderman named Michael “Hinky Dink” Kenna, but we have no idea what that really means, even as the dialogue is rich in homoerotic anachronistic innuendos. John is played by Torrence as a mischievous and harmless queen, placing his finger on his pouting lips like a 50s sex kitten, but whether Bathhouse John was gay or not doesn’t seem to really matter. Indeed, If Torrence is attempting to fill in the gaps left by the incomplete annals of history, he is hardly elucidating the zeitgeist of turn-of-the-century Chicago that nourished characters such as Bathhouse. Nor is he creating a backstory for the apparently vice-ridden man who seems part shady politician and part adventurous, loveable, optimistic American dreamer. It seems to me that Torrence and his Hypocrites cronies just want to have fun.


Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema Chicago review of The Hypocrites' "Ivywild" at Chopin Theatre.With Halena Kays at the helm, the Chopin Theater is turned into an imaginarium with the look of a Victorian Penny Dreadful, but not as disturbingly horror-filled as Grand Guignol (although Tien Dornan, who plays a tuberculosis-ridden embodiment of the amusement park, does look a bit like a corpse, and her feathered tutu (astounding costumes by Alison Siple) is stained with blood). Lizzie Bracken’s dark fantasy Carnivàle-type set includes a rusty, old carousel with two swings, a creepy door to (we presume) the afterlife, and antique filament bulbs. The funhouse atmosphere is made all the more wondrous, imaginative and transportive by the five extraordinarily game performers, especially Anthony Courser as the anthropomorphized drunken, snub-trunked elephant named Princess. The ensemble — all of whom are terrific clowns — flips, sings, operates clever little machines, and more. How strange to be so moved by the talent on and behind the scenes, and so unmoved by the script.


Tony Frankel's Stage and Cinema Chicago review of The Hypocrites' "Ivywild" at Chopin Theatre.I invite The Hypocrites (or any of the many Fringe-styled theater outings who create style over substance) to think about their audience more: My theatergoing companions and I sat around afterwards contemplating the story’s gaps: If Bathhouse opened this menagerie in 1906 and had already lived in Colorado for years beforehand, how did he do his duties in Chicago? Did he take a train back and forth? Who ran the zoo in his stead? Why is it implied that Bathhouse and Hinky Dink (Ryan Walters) are lovers, and who is this young man named Walt Coburn (Kurt Chiang) that becomes an assistant to Bathhouse in Colorado? Questions, questions and more questions can have a numbing effect on an audience, even as we are distracted and often impressed by the tongue-in-cheek fun and occasionally sweet theatrical shenanigans. And even though the performers take a few audience members for a spin on the set, the storytellers never give the spectators a chance to get on the ride”.



"Ivywild" (The-Hypocrites): Amusement on Kays-Torrence Ride  - Katy Walsh, www.ChicagoNow.com.  “Director Halena Kays and Playwright Jay Torrence team up together to make another historical spectacle.  Last year, they re-imagined the fire at Chicago’s Iroquois Theatre with the highly successful Neo-futurists’ run of “Burning Bluebeard.”  Now, the true tall tales of Bathhouse John is getting the Kays-Torrence treatment.


Upon arrival, I’m amazed by the big carousel in the room.  Scenic Designer Lizzie Bracken has constructed a solid-wooden, yet worn, merry-go-round smack dab in the middle of the stage.  Actually, it is the stage.  The carousel’s movable platforms become props in the whimsical storytelling.  The entire design team, Alison Siple (costume), Jared Moore (lighting), Kevin O’Donnell (sound), create the ambiance for a story Torrence calls, ’20% silly and 80% tragedy.‘  Siple dresses the ensemble in grimy carnie wear.  The costumes hint at better days of stylish shimmer.  Light bulbs are strung and plastered all around the stage.  Lighting up the amusement park is an on-going shtick. So, Moore’s dazzling efforts is a two-sided bittersweet finale. And O’Donnell brings the audio to wake the ghosts.  High-energy melodies help the carnies get their grooves back.


Torrence (Bathhouse John) narrates the story of the ill-fated Ivywild amusement park.  He endears with a child-like zest to entertain.  Torrence visibly transports into a delusional memory.  His face lights up in a broad grin and his fingers signal a deep thought.  Despite his questionable past, he charms with cotton candy innocence. The entire talented ensemble, Kurt Chiang, Anthony Courser, Tien Doman, Torrence and Ryan Waters, deliver circus theatrics to pull us into this faded, colorful amusement.  In particular, Courser (Princess) is scene-stealing hilarious as a drunken elephant.  He performs tricks and interacts with the audience in an improv bit.  The show even turns virtual reality by using audience members to simulate roller coaster rides.  All the antics have a dizzying impact. We’re never really sure where the ride is going but we’re enjoying the twists and turns.


IVYWILD is really 20% history and 80% lighted-hearted frolic.  And it adds up to 100% entertainment from on another amusing Kays-Torrence ride”.



From The Hypocrites - With the help of his best friend Hinky Dink and a deformed nosed alcoholic elephant named Princess, Bathhouse John is determined to build an amusement park in the mountains of Colorado. Based on the actual true story from Chicago’s early 1900’s, Ivywild is a theatrically staged amusement, a spectacle of delight made for dreamers, boodlers and drunken elephants named Princess.

Jay Torrance

Halena Kays

Anthony Courser; Tien Doman; Jay Torrence; Ryan Walters

Tags: Theater, American, 2013