Showing posts with label neo-commedia. Show all posts
Showing posts with label neo-commedia. Show all posts

Tuesday, May 21, 2024

REVIEW: Neo-Commedia VIVA LA MORT Via The Conspirators Well Worth The Visit at Otherworld Theatre

ChiIL Live Shows On Our Radar 


MAY 16 - JUNE 9, 

It’s the Conspirators, but With Music! 
A Pop-Icon Returns to Her Hometown to Wreak Havoc on Her Aging Ex

A happy eighth marriage
Photo by Candice Conner, Oomphotography
(left to right) Liam Ouweleen, Libby Conkle
Directed by Wm. Bullion, Lighting by Mike McShane, Costumes by Kit Medic

Guest Review

by Dugan Kenaz-Mara

Viva la Mort was one of the most unique plays I have had the pleasure of reviewing. The show takes up a ton of space, despite being in such a small room. With a high-stakes story, a mood that changes from comedy to tragedy on a dime, and crazy features like killer wolverines and dancing lobsters, it’s a performance that’s sure to delight. 

The first thing that needs mentioning is the style. And not just any style, “The Style”. The Conspirators are known for their neo-commedia techniques: Punctuating every beat with a live percussionist, staring down the audience, and turning emotion up to 11. Most striking is their intense face makeup, which is used to evoke a heightened character in the way a Commedia dell’Arte mask does. I would describe this style as “how it would feel if mimes were allowed to scream”. With the heavy stylizing, it can be a bit tricky to wrap your head around the story at the beginning. On stage, there is always a lot going on, but once you recognize ‘The Style’, it fades into the piece and does a lot to heighten the experience, heightening both the chaos and the order in the characters’ predestination.

Mort sees Viva for the first time in decades
Photo by Candice Conner, Oomphotography
(front left to right) Andrew Bosworth, Libby Conkle, Justin Ly
(back left to right) Dakota Norman, Mitchell Jackson, Corin Wiggins, Eva Andrews, 
Lex Mann Turner, and Madison Rivers

I would recommend looking over the plot of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s “The Visit” if you don’t know that play already. Since this show is adapted from it, I found that knowing the basic plot was fairly helpful in following the story through its many stylistic layers. 

One thing that caught me by surprise was the quality of the music in the play. Viva la Mort is presented as a play with music, and my preconception was that it would be worse quality than a musical where actors would be chosen specifically for their singing abilities. I was pleasantly surprised when the first solo song occurred. Then, at the top of act 2 when everyone jumped in for a jaunty tune (The Barbecue Song) I was sold. The audience was bopping along and the energy was soaring, easily transporting the viewers back to the world of the show. 

The show had quite a few sneaky pop-culture references in it, but didn’t try too hard to point them out, and the comedy in it was strange and intriguing. The performance struck a balance of being self-contained and consistent within the world of the story and going off the rails with the chaos. It never took itself too seriously and broke the 4th wall multiple times, including having a character talk to the percussionist. I loved how even these moments of being ‘out of the play’ were still impactful by highlighting how much work went into the play’s style. When everyone breaks character for a moment it emphasizes how heavily the actors are invested. 

The technical elements were similarly great for the space provided. I loved how drastically the set, costumes, and lights changed alongside the characters as their situation evolves throughout the performance. Viva’s costumes were definitely a highlight, constantly showcasing her personality and extravagance despite changing over and over again. 

Photo by Candice Conner, Oomphotography
Libby Conkle as Viva

Viva la Mort was a high-energy experience, sure to bring you laughter, excitement, and a healthy dose of questioning your morality, all at the same time. 

Dugan Kenaz-Mara is a designer, photographer, educator, and recent graduate of 
Northwestern University.

 Is there still love between us, after all these years?
Photo by Candice Conner, Oomphotography
(left to right) Libby Conkle as Viva, Andrew Bosworth as Mort

The Conspirators are proud to present Viva la Mort, written by Sid Feldman and directed by Wm. Bullion, at the Otherworld Theatre, 3914 N. Clark St., May 16 - June 9. Press opening is Friday, May 17 at 7 p.m. and the regular performance schedule is Thursdays - Sundays at 7 p.m. Tickets are $30 and may be purchased online with student and senior discounts available. Information and tickets can also be found at 

Viva, a superstar singer, Michigander and pop-icon (whose career spans four decades), returns to her hometown and to her just-as-aging ex, Mortenson Miller. Is the return out of generosity or revenge? Content Warning: songs, style, and possibly killer wolverines. Performed—with songs!—in The Conspirators’ inimitable style. 

“Viva la Mort is a bit of a departure for us,” said director Wm. Bullion. “I mean, you WILL laugh, but you may also cry or be terrified!” “While most of our recent work has been clearly political and satirical in nature,” added writer Sid Feldman, “this piece appears on the surface to be more of a traditional narrative. It does have political implications—but they are more disguised.”

The cast of Viva la Mort includes Eva Andrews (she/her, Police Chief Finkle); Andrew Bosworth (he/him, Mortenson “Sonny” Miller); Libby Conkle (she/her, Viva); Amy Delgado (she/they, ensemble/swing); Mitchell Jackson (he/him, Mayor Finkle); Justin Ly (they/them, Fritz); Dakota Norman (he/him, Bishop Miller); Liam Ouweleen (he/him, Johnny/Konnie/Lonnie/Mort US); Madison Rivers (they/she, Howard); Mary Spencer (she/her, Ellen Howard Miller/Eleanor Miller); Madeline Torem (Beatrix/ensemble); Lex Mann Turner (he/they, Howard); Tess Vincent (she/her, ensemble/swing); Christine Watt (she/her, Viva US); and Corin Wiggins (they/he/she, High School Dean Finkle)

The production crew includes: Wm. Bullion (he/him, director); Sid Feldman (he/him, playwright, producer and style coach); Amee Binder (she/her, choreographer); Mary Spencer (she/her, music director); Tommi Zender (he/him, arranger); Duke Mushroom (he/him, arranger); Christine Watt (she/her, dramaturg); Eric Luchen (he/him, scenic designer); Jonathan Berg-Einhorn (he/him, assoc. scenic designer); Mike McShane (he/him, lighting designer); Kit Medic (they/them, costume designer); Sebby Woldt (they/them, sound designer), Leo Bassow (he/him, props designer); Libby Beyreis (she/her, Violence Consultant) and Matthew Bonaccorso (he/him, stage manager).

ABOUT WM. BULLION (Director, Artistic Director)
Wm. Bullion is a veteran tragicomedian, director and actor on the fringe of the Chicago theater fringe and beyond. Bullion is an emeritus member of The Factory Theater, for whom he directed Prophet$ and Born Ready. He started Sliced Bread Productions in 1988 and put up some solid work before it folded in 2008. He co-founded the Conspirators in 2016 and has proudly directed their oeuvre, including The Ineptidemic; Accidental Death of a Black Motorist; The Deckchairs, or Make the Titanic Great Again and The Resistible Rise of Herr Helmut Drumpf—but he was a fool to think starting another theater group in Chicago is a viable, sustainable idea. Yet, here we are, getting grants and making stuff for YOU.

ABOUT SID FELDMAN (Playwright/Style Coach, Producing Director)
Sid Feldman co-founded The Conspirators and has written plays, adaptations, screenplays, reviews and essays. He has produced plays, concerts and events for numerous organizations including New Crime and Sliced Bread Productions (also with Wm. Bullion).

The Conspirators are a (still relatively new) theater and performance collective in Chicago dedicated to provoking thought and action through dynamic, immediate theater art. The Conspirators work exclusively in a style of neo-Commedia called “The Style”—a highly theatrical performance mode developed by movie stars Tim Robbins and John Cusack from the techniques of Ariane Mnouchkine, Commedia dell’Arte, Bugs Bunny cartoons and punk rock, as historically performed by New Crime Prod. (R.I.P.) and The Actors’ Gang. The company also offers Style workshops to interested performers of all calibers.

The Conspirators present the world premiere of Viva la Mort, written by Sid Feldman and directed by Wm. Bullion, at the Otherworld Theatre, 3914 N. Clark St., May 16 - June 9. The press opening is Friday, May 17 at 7 p.m. and the regular performance schedule is Thursdays - Sundays at 7 p.m. Tickets are $30 and may be purchased online with student and senior discounts available. Information and tickets can also be found at

For more show info, go to and follow The Conspirators on Facebook and Instagram.

(Conspirators_Viva_4) Viva’s newest video drop
Photo by Candice Conner, Oomphotography
Libby Conkle as Viva
Directed by Wm. Bullion, Choreography by Amee Binder, Lighting by Mike McShane, 
Costumes by Kit Medic

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