A WORLD PREMIERE… BASED ON THE SYNDICATED 1940s COMIC STRIP BY RUSSELL STAMM
By: Barbara Lhota*
Director: Leigh Barrett*
Violence Design: Libby Beyreis*
September 2 – October 14, 2017
At The Factory Theater: 1623 W. Howard St., Chicago
Previews: Sat 9/2 at 8:00pm; Sun 9/3 at 3:00pm; Thurs 9/7 at 8:00pm, Fri 9/8 at 8:00pm
Press Opening: Saturday 9/9 at 8:00pm
Closing Night: Saturday 10/14 at 8:00pm
Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00pm, Sundays at 3:00pm
A mishap in her father’s lab gave Scarlet O’Neil the power of invisibility – a power she promised him she’d never use. But Daddy never knew there’d be days like these….
It’s the 1940s, and Dr. O’Neil’s ex-lab assistant Evanna Keil is desperate to perfect her mind-controlling Ruby Red Lipstick before selling it to the KGB. The ensuing mayhem threatens everything Dr. O’Neil worked for, and everything Scarlet holds dear. Can Scarlet save her deceased father’s reputation, his scientific collaborators, AND their military secrets, plus her kidnapped landlady, a young prodigy, a small dog, the gals at the City News, and all of Chicago – if not the world?
THE INVISIBLE SCARLET O’NEIL to the rescue!
Photo by Joe Mazza
Photo by Joe Mazza
CRITICS’ PICK! – Sometimes you need escapism. Sometimes you need to go out and sit in a darkened theatre and visit a world that is simpler and less scary and that makes you laugh and see women who are smart and self-reliant and unapologetically making their own decisions. If you’re in this expanding demographic, and you need a respite from resisting and fighting and calling and writing, then get yourself over to The Factory Theater and see Babes With Blades Theatre Company’s THE INVISIBLE SCARLET O’NEIL.
Leigh Barrett’s keen direction keeps pace with the rapid-fire style of (Barbara Lhota’s) dialogue without speeding past the ardently feminist messages at the foundation of the script. G. “Max” Maxin IV’s gorgeous back wall projections resemble a comic book brought to life, and operate as a character on their own. As this is a Babes With Blades production, violence plays a significant role in the staging, and Libby Beyreis’ sharp, fun and varied violence design doesn’t disappoint. THE INVISIBLE SCARLET O’NEIL will bring you a great story with terrific performances, beautiful visuals, and a brief but hopeful visit back to an era where the bad gals show us that crime doesn’t pay. –PerformInk
BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO 9/12-10/14/17
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! From the mosaic of screens laid out like the panels of a comic book on the upstage wall, to the onomatopoeic POWs and BAMs during the fight scenes, to the words THE END shining across at the final curtain, The Invisible Scarlet O’Neil joyfully leans into its roots in the funny papers. Chloe Baldwin serves as the backbone of the show in the title role, a plucky young woman determined to help people as a newspaper reporter. The exact nature of Scarlet’s power and how she ends up using it are a mix of clever action by Libby Beyreis, assisted by Chloe Baldwin; lighting by Meghan Erxleben; set design by Milo Bue; and direction by Leigh Barrett.
Two things make these characters stand out from the crowded marketplace of costumed adventurers ubiquitous on screens big and small…. For one, all of the actors give their roles real depth, whether it’s just a glimpse of the human being behind the archetype or a full exploration of their identity. For another (and this is no small matter) most of the characters, and all of the main parts, are female. Certainly, some things have changed since Scarlet O’Neil debuted in the 1940s. Yet even in the present day, leading (and supporting) roles throughout theater, television, and film are written disproportionately for men. This is especially true in the superhero genre. It is refreshing, therefore, to see Babes With Blades present a story where the hero AND her sidekick AND their friends AND the villain AND her hired gun are interesting, compelling women. –Picture this Post
d12 = HECKUVA GOOD SHOW! …Playwright Barbara Lhota does right by (Russell) Stamm’s work. She has a great ear for the colorful dialogue of the funny pages, sprinkling each character’s speech with catchy word play, goofy slang, and in the case of Butafuco, malapropisms aplenty. The text crackles with energy….
Director Leigh Barrett sets a spritely tone early on, encouraging her actors to embrace the fast-paced dialogue and adventure tropes of a comic strip. Her work with Baldwin, Hicks, and Fox is especially fine, as each actress generates screwball energy while still committing to the truth at the heart of her character…. Meanwhile, the violence design, executed by Libby Beyreis, has all the flash and substance of the usual Babes With Blades fight choreography.
…The show nails the look and feel of comic books in its clever design elements. Special mention should go to projection designer G. “Max” Maxin IV; he not only provides Scarlet with thought bubbles that pop up on the back wall, he also delineates every space, from the newspaper office to Hedy Labarr’s hotel suite, giving each background a cartoonist’s look that feels appropriate for the material.
…“The Invisible Scarlet O’Neil” is a romp through Chicago comics history that is sure to leave you with a smile on your face. Whether you enjoy fast-talking newspaper gals, villanous hijinks, or straight-forward sincerity, you will find something to love in this production. Babes With Blades introduces the world to Scarlet anew, and the world is a brighter place for her superheroic presence. –Theatre by Numbers
RECOMMENDED! The Invisible Scarlet O’Neil… finds a wonderfully charming voice with its use of masterful stage design, expert fight choreography, and incredibly sharp writing to produce an experience that does not disappoint… a fantastic adaptation of a comic that commits fully to cultivating the signature lighthearted entertainment of classic vintage superheroines.
The story is very on-the-nose, as to be expected with a superhero story, but the breadth of what Babes With Blades Theatre Company does with this platform is impressive. The dialogue and character interactions are top-notch; physical comedy, sharp witticisms and running gags are all combined with drama that never takes itself too seriously to create a treat of a script that is well acted by all members of the cast.
…The incredible stage design… spares no expense to blur the line between play and super-heroine comic strip. The backdrop is divided into comic book segments where cartoon backgrounds are projected. Choreographed fight scenes are synchronized with splash bubbles of “pows!” and “bangs.” Internal monologues are conveyed through projected thought bubbles and scene transitions are narrated through stylized text that would not be out of place in any comic strip. The stage crew should be lauded for their attention to detail as they nailed almost every aspect of the vintage comic book aesthetic; the elements are just present to accentuate but do not get in the way of the actors’ performances and are varied enough to keep the audience guessing. –The Hawk Chicago
RECOMMENDED! The Invisible Scarlet O’Neil is a light-hearted and highly entertaining tale that packs an important message as well as an action-packed punch…. (Chloe) Baldwin does an admirable job of portraying Scarlet’s bravery and vulnerability in the midst of many dangers…. The physicality and action-oriented approach of the period drive the pace of the production and add to the comic success it achieves under Leigh Barrett’s direction. Barrett’s staging is simple and fluid, with Milo Bue’s set design, consisting of plain white blocks easily reconfigured to go from an office to a hotel scene, adding to the fluidity. A clever visual technique is used by G. “Max” Maxin IV (projection design) to simulate the thought and word bubbles of the comic strip genre that fill in jumps in the action…. World-premiere The Invisible Scarlet O’Neil is a fresh and thoroughly enjoyable theater experience that gives the viewer good-natured laughs while putting a still too prevalent issue front and center. –Chicago Theater Beat
Adapted from Chicago native Russell Stamm’s comic strip, which ran from 1940-1956, the story’s focus on talented, ambitious, compassionate women called on to step back into the margins after the end of World War II resonates soundly in the present day. Also welcome is the variety of women the play features, from the expected plucky Girl Reporter with unexpected super powers to the Warrior Landlady, the larger-than-life characters join forces to confront issues from everyday sexism to super villains.
Kimberly G. Morris does stellar work outfitting the cast. From the gorgeous 40s silhouettes of Jean and Scarlet’s skirt suits to the silver screen elegance of “Hedy Labarr’s” flowing dressing gown, Morris captures not just the glamor of the era, but the distinct lines and color scheme dear to comics.
As the title heroine, Chloe Baldwin completely nails it. Her body language and earnest delivery land almost every one of the jokes, many of which appropriately sit on the line between hopelessly corny and genuinely funny.
Of particular note on an already strong performance is the excellent rapport Baldwin establishes with Margaux Fournier who plays young genius Sarah Blue. And to Fournier’s credit, her wistful admiration for Scarlet mirrors and amplifies the way Scarlet is in awe of the role models in her life, from the genius scientists to the newspaper women who have to claw for every inch of recognition.
Lisa Herceg has personality and comic timing to spare in her dual roles as Hedy and Marcey. Moreover, she’s virtually unrecognizable as the same woman, thanks to how fully she inhabits each character. Lynne Baker shines more brightly as the wonderfully wacky Doris than the dowdy Dr. Hertzfeldt, though that’s likely more attributable stronger writing for the former.
Ashley Fox throws herself entirely into the over-the-top goomba role of Judy Butafuco. Judy’s dialogue is nine-tenths malapropisms, a gag that might have easily worn thin in less capable, confident hands.
On the flip side, Aneisa Hicks bears the burden of playing it straight amidst the chaos as the cool, capable reporter Jean Sharp. Like Fox, Hicks has a great ear for the rapid-fire rhythm of the dialogue and makes for a natural object of Scarlet’s hero worship. –EDGE Media Network
While the original Scarlet O’Neil used her powers to rescue kids in peril, leave it to Babes With Blades Theatre Company to pile on the action as the plucky heroine (Chloe Baldwin) foils an international plot to steal advanced military weapons – and, incidentally, saves a kid, a dog, a movie star, a reporter or two and her landlady…. Barbara Lhota’s “The Invisible Scarlet O’Neil” is a rambling rumpus that combines second-wave feminism with slapstick and shenanigans. At the center of the action are working girls and their social relationships: Scarlet and her pals, underappreciated reporter Jean Sharp (Aneisa Hicks), disgruntled switchboard operator Marcie (Lisa Herceg), sexy starlet with a secret science habit Hedy Labarr (Herceg) and tough and tender landlady, Doris Carmichael (Lynne Baker) – all pitted against Evanna and her loopy sidekick Judy (Ashley Fox). Sometimes silly and sometimes sweet, this play is buzzy swell. –Newcity Stage
CRITICS’ PICK! – Sorry, Wonder Woman, but your long-lost older sister is back to resume her place in superherstory.
Saving the world from enemy aggression is a stroll through the funny-pages compared to translating print-graphic narrative to live-action performance, making technical effects arguably the real star of this Babes With Blades production. These include the projections of G. Max Maxin IV, whose caption boxes, thought balloons and onomatopoeic inserts compress expository information into mere seconds. Likewise contributing to the wizardry are the smart UV-reactive career-girl suits, tailored by costumer Kimberly G. Morris, that allow us to “see” our discorporeal champion, along with solitary adversaries trading punches and grapples with empty air under the instruction of combat designer Libby Beyreis.
This isn’t to slight the human actors – not in a dramatic universe populated by newshounds lifted straight from The Front Page, buffoonish villains like the scheming Evanna Keil and malapropism-spouting Judy Butafuco, a pair of flinty dowagers (played with scene-stealing aplomb by Lynne Baker), a movie star-turned-physicist (Lisa Herceg doing her best Christine Baranski impression) and a smart little girl with a dog…. The results deliver a last taste of frivolous fantasy fun before a weighty fall season. –Windy City Times
K sez: Everyone who liked Wonder Woman will love The Invisible Scarlet O’Neil, Babes With Blades’s adaptation of a 1940s comic strip. The show’s projections, and clever way of indicating invisibility, are a match for the movie’s special effects any old time. Get up to the Factory Theater for some old-fashioned feminist rock ’em sock ’em. Often the Babes have great fight choreography but a weak book; here the book is as strong as – well, as the women it portrays! –Dueling Critics (Facebook post, 9/15, 10:36pm)
In a way familiar to many women, Scarlet leverages the advantage of being unseen. Under the cloak of her invisibility, she aids the vulnerable, while in her professional life as a reporter she fights alongside her compatriots for visibility and recognition…. Chloe Baldwin’s Scarlet is a different kind of superhero, clever and determined, yet at times vulnerable. She draws her strength and motivation from her compassion and connection to others.
…At its heart, (Barbara) Lhota’s play is about intergenerational mentorship. The older women protect and support the younger women and everyone sticks together. Seasoned reporter Jean Sharp (Aneisa Hicks) takes Scarlet under her wing in the newsroom. In return, invisible Scarlet springs into action making a fool out of the scoundrel attempting to put his own name on Sharp’s big scoop. Soon after, when Scarlet meets an orphaned schoolgirl, Sarah Blue (Margaux Fournier) it’s her turn to play role model. The pinky promise they make to work together… encapsulates the show’s central message that women are stronger when they join forces. –Rescripted