A World Premiere by M.E.H. Lewis & Barbara Lhota*
Director: Rachel Edwards Harvith
Violence Design: Libby Beyreis*
At City Lit Theater
1020 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., Chicago
(on the 2nd Floor of the Edgewater Presbyterian Church)
Previews: 4/16, 4/22, and 4/23 at 8pm, 4/17 and 4/24 at 3pm
Opening Night: 4/25 at 8pm
Run: 4/28 – 5/21, Th – Sat at 8pm, Sun at 3pm plus Wed 5/11 & Wed 5/18 at 8pm
This production is supported in part by grants from the Arch and Bruce Brown Foundation and the Dramatists Guild Fund.
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! Full of romance and heartbreak, justice denied and shadowy threats, M.E.H Lewis and Barbara Lhota’s 180 Degree Rule is a marvelous neo-noir. In a rare feat of theater making they, along with director Rachel Edwards Harvith and film director Carter Martin, have interlaced the live action with cuts of film recreated by the cast and projected across that back wall. Along with varied establishing shots, wipes of cigaret smoke, powerful images of characters illuminated in menacing positions, and a disturbingly accurate portrayal of the fatal fire, the film aspect is used to gild rather than distract from the live action.
It’s a radiant love story, a chilling tragedy and a puzzle that gets the blood pumping and the heart thirsty for justice. Lewis and Lhota perhaps did not mean to follow in wake of Citizen Kane but nonetheless they have created, a superb evening of theater, that takes the tools of a genre and outstrips anything that’s been done with it before. The bones are all there, clean and articulated: the mysterious figure, a dangerous world, memories mingled like ink in water, one woman striving for the truth, and another stilled a frozen fastness, still burning. 180 Degree Rule knits it all together and brings it to life. –Chicago Theatre Review
RECOMMENDED & MEMBER PICK! This juicy new play by M.E.H. Lewis and Barbara Lhota is part love story, part mystery thriller, and part acid satire of golden-era Hollywood. The action toggles between the 1930s and 1967, as a film studies professor investigates what became of an obscure female moviemaker. Along the way there are numerous twists—a lesbian love affair, a secret pregnancy, and, when things start to slow down in the second half, a murder involving Nazi sympathizers. Rachel Edwards Harvith’s nimble staging for Babes with Blades demonstrates how entertaining good old-fashioned melodrama can be. As a glamorous movie star and the key figure in the film director’s life, cast standout Lisa Herceg supplies dry wit, a thick German accent, and just the right amount of camp. –Chicago Reader
RECOMMENDED! Keeping with Babes With Blades’ mission, Libby Beyreis’ violence design is well-executed and feels natural and organic to the story…. G. Max Maxin IV has a lot of fun with projection design that goes hand in hand with Carter Martin’s old-timey film clips…. Cast standouts include Jason A. Narvy as Gilbert, Margot’s beard and a dear friend of both Margot and Ruth; (Kate) Black-Spence’s earnest, searching Katie; and (Lisa) Herceg, who plays the exotic German diva Margot to the hilt.
180 Degree Rule is a double dose of nostalgia, a story that could easily be true, and Babes With Blades is an ideal match for presenting these complex characters with love and respect. 3 of 4 stars. –Chicago Theater Beat
RECOMMENDED! Libby Beyreis does some amazing work in violence and fight design/choreography and the lighting (Laura J. Wiley) and sound (Leigh Barrett) along with the costumes (Beth Laske-Miller) and the myriad of props (Kurt Brandt) complete the tech portion of the production. The musical backgrounds utilized as part of the production add a certain charm to the story and the time periods, making for an effective tool. The ensemble players who take on many roles do so quickly and with style. Tommy Burlington, Chris Cinereski, Kimberly Logan, Jason Andrew Narvy and Kelly Yacono. Great job! –Around the Town Chicago
RECOMMENDED! At its heart, this play is a murder mystery asking you to piece together the truth while quietly telling the story of forbidden love.
The constant jumps in time and location… were handled well by director Rachel Edwards Harvith and her design team. G. Max Maxin IV’s projection design and Laura J. Wiley’s lighting design were great leaders through this labyrinth of history.
This play succeeds because it grounds itself in the truth of the characters rather than the mystery or the surreal. (Amy E.) Harmon’s Bennett and Lisa Herceg’s Margot Faber demand that you cheer for them…. Their struggle to be in love despite their fear and despite the hatred of the world at large tied in with Bennett’s never-ending desire to follow her dreams is spectacular to watch.
…After the murder mystery wraps up, Harvith and cast plunge straight back into what makes this play so wonderful in their final moments. They find simplicity, ease, and beauty in their actions and enhance it with projections and find an incredibly heartfelt final moment. 3 of 4 stars. –Chicago Stage Standard
…This was a moving, fun, and beautiful show. I really loved the story. I had never seen a play about women directors in Hollywood and I thought it was a really powerful story. I would like to see more plays on this subject in the future.
I thought that the fights (violence design by Libby Beyreis) were super cool. There was one head bang on a table that looked completely real. I was a little afraid the actor actually got hurt! There was also another fight with Nazis that had a great story behind it and also was a great fight to watch. Those are my favorite kinds of fights, where it is not just about the hitting and the punching; it is also about having a good story to go along with it. I thought all the fights in the show were amazing, but I wasn’t surprised because every single time that part of Babes With Blades shows blows me away!
People who would like this show are people who like awesome fights, sad but beautiful love stories, and pie. I think that people should definitely go see this show. I loved the story and the fights and everything about it. – Ada Grey Reviews for You
In her immense dark glasses and Joan Crawford head scarf, (Lisa Herceg as Margo is) dour and deadpan and devastatingly funny….
Carter Martin’s filmed scenes are beautiful and grotesque when projected on to the modest, domestic space that forms most of the stage (Projection and Scenic Design by G. Max Maxin IV). Two steps down from the “stage,” the City Lit space is crowded with projectors and props tables and film stock. The walls are draped with costumes and hats and a dozen carefully chosen elements that lend a not-quite-real quality to everything. Beth Laske-Miller’s costumes give Margot a timeless quality that renders her remarkable and yet at home in Germany and Los Angeles, as well as in the present and past.
In the supporting cast, Tommy Bullington and Chris Cinereski do solid work in roles where they’re called on to play male stereotypes of the era. (That’s not meant as a criticism. This seems a deliberate and effective move that throws the complex women into productive contrast.) Jason Andrew Narvy is exceptionally good as Gilbert Bailey, Margot’s frequent co-star and beard. –Edge Media Network
While 180 Degree Rule is certainly not the only show to use projections and videos to help tell the story, their seamlessness throughout is a real treat, and adds a great deal…. As always, the combat is handled extremely well and tastefully. –Buzz On Stage Chicago
CRITICS’ PICK! As stylishly staged by director Rachel Edwards Harvith, 180 Degree Rule comes off like a labor of love, thanks to an abundance of creative theater work and engaging performances.
Costume designer Beth Laske-Miller adorns the ensemble cast with lovely period costumes to help delineate the different eras. Meanwhile, sound designer Leigh Barrett and lighting designer Laura Wiley team together to use distorted music and shadowy effects to create a fabulous aura of film noir-like mystery.
The cast of 180 Degree Rule is also strong, with many actors tearing into the emotional drama of the main characters struggling with love, frustration and regret. Particularly memorable are Kate Black-Spence as the plucky 1960s film professor Katie Dunham, who tenaciously investigates the rumored 1930s love affair between a reclusive German film actress named Margot Faber (Lisa Herceg) and the pioneering U.S. filmmaker Ruth Alice Bennett (Amy E. Harmon)…. Then there’s also very characterful work by supporting actors like Tommy Bullington, Chris Cinereski and Kelly Yacono, who each get a workout switching through roles ranging from sycophantic press reps to brutish Nazi thugs. –Windy City Times