Theater Review: Nothing Without a Company’s ‘Punk Punk’ Rocks

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Average: 4.5 (6 votes)

CHICAGO – For theater that is audaciously in-the-now and generates a sparkle of life, there are few better storefront (garage, gothic gathering place) groups than “Nothing Without a Company.” Their latest, eclectic kick-in-the-head production is the intensely diverting and weirdly fun “Punk Punk.” Comedy/Tragedy Rating: 4.0/5.0
Play Rating: 4.0/5.0

Coming off the mind bending triumph of their recent “Down the Moonlit Path,” Nothing Without a Company takes on the emotions of forming a band, in this case a punk girl group twosome who have personality issues. Throw in a obsessive Chicago landlord and a freedom derived from not giving a damn, and “Punk Punk” rocks the house with arena show passion and real laughs. It’s impossible to take your eyes off this show, and it never lets up in its anarchistic glee and garage band fervor.

Anna Rose Ii-Epstein, Caroline Wright
Mindy (Anna Rose Ii-Epstein) and Kathy (Caroline Wright) in Nothing Without a Company’s ‘Punk Punk’
Photo credit: Nothing Without a Company

Kathy (Caroline Wright) and mohawk-sporting Mindy (Anna Rose Ii-Epstein) are meeting in their practice space, a garage in an Uptown Chicago alley. They are a fledgling punk band without a name, and their interaction with each other includes a sexual tension. They have songs – which are played throughout the show – and an angst in their relationship that becomes hilarious and strange, when combined with their desire to be ultimate outsiders. Marissa (Jamie Newell) is Kathy’s annoying landlady – middle aged, relationship challenged and not shy about expressing what she thinks the band needs. Through one “punk punk” practice, lives are shattered, intensified and challenged.

First off, Nothing Without a Company (NWaC) celebrates theater by “planting” it around the city. There is no “space” they cannot conquer, and in this case they lead the audience from the Uptown Bar “Fat Cat” to a real garage, in a real Chicago alley, to experience “Punk Punk” in its real environment. The audience are voyeurs to the rehearsal, and all of the players are natural reactors to the emotions that they present.

I especially dug Anna Rose Ii-Epstein as the drummer Mindy. She is striking in her blue mohawk, but she also has the punk attitude that is necessary to prod the more reticent guitarist Kathy. She is the leader of the band, which includes her disdain toward landlady Marissa, who annoys Mindy with her ancient band marketing ideals. Jamie Newell as Marissa is also a discovery – she has worked mostly in voiceover in the last several years, and makes a great comeback for the stage with her freedom and understanding of the character. Caroline Wright as Kathy was the personality that needed most persuading, but she does come out in a moment where she smears cake to create a certain artistic energy.

Anna Rose Ii-Epstein, Jamie Newell, Caroline Wright
Marissa (Jamie Newell, center) Confronts Mindy and Kathy in ‘Punk Punk’
Photo credit: Nothing Without a Company

The book by Hannah Ii-Epstein is a hilarious pastiche of girl insecurity and rocker radicalism. Marissa’s honesty is most refreshing and funny, especially when describing her numerous ex-husbands and her opinions on the band’s songs (combining the two in a flipped-on-its-head monologue). Director Rose Freeman utilizes the garage space perfectly – even the automatic doors – and creates an atmosphere for all the characters to break out in their own way. Sarah Collonge’s lighting design creates a poignancy and glory for the punk girls, and it is markedly inventive.

This is a theater happening that promotes awareness, and speaks volumes with master controls that go to “ELEVEN” – with a fresh altitude, song-scape and sweet vulnerability. “Punk Punk” is a mystery trip to the garage, to a group of women expressing their consciousness, and living their glory daze.

“Punk Punk” is performed by Nothing With a Company of Chicago, and begins at the Fat Cat Bar, 4840 N. Broadway Ave., Chicago – Thursdays at 8pm, and Fridays/Saturdays at 8pm and 10pm through October 10th, 2105. Click here for more information and to purchase tickets. Featuring Anna Rose Ii-Epstein, Jamie Newell and Caroline Wright. Written by Hannah Ii-Epstein. Directed by Rose Freeman. senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

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© 2015 Patrick McDonald,

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