Greenhouse Theater Center presents SQUEEZE MY CANS Review: The Bravery of Storytelling

Cathy Schenkelberg performs her one-woman show SQUEEZE MY CANS, directed by Shirley Anderson. Photo: Caleb Forsythe

What do you do if the “carrot of spiritual freedom” was dangled in front of you, waiting to be seized?

Cathy Schenkelberg performs her one-woman show SQUEEZE MY CANS, directed by Shirley Anderson Caleb Forsythe
Cathy Schenkelberg performs her one-woman show SQUEEZE MY CANS, directed by Shirley Anderson. Caleb Forsythe

Greenhouse Theater Center presents SQUEEZE MY CANS

Directed by Shirley Anderson and written and performed by Cathy Schenkelberg, the artist returns to Greenhouse Theater Center with her one-woman show SQUEEZE MY CANS, which premiered in the space as part of their Solo Celebration! Series last July. Over the course of this 80-minute production, Schenkelberg shares her journey with the Church of Scientology, taking the audience on a wild ride of memories. These memories would often begin in the interrogation room with the Church, as Schenkelberg answered questions about past experiences, as well as various moments in Schenkelberg’s life. As she relived the moments for the Church, she would play out the story for the audience as well.

As Artistic Director Jacob Harvey explains, "Cathy manages to turn her nearly 20-year experience with America's most prominent alien religion into a fearless, hilarious and heartbreaking performance. We are proud to have her back as she continues to tell her story of survival and the power of perseverance."

Setting the Stage

Schenkelberg immediately starts her performance with a high level of energy and suspense. Upon entering the theater, she starts to inspect the area, looking for any listening devices that could allow our conversations to be heard by unwanted parties. As she runs about the space, she warns the audience to turn off all cell phones, as these parties could easily tap into those channels as an alternate avenue.

This introduction sets us up for what we are about to see in a variety of ways. First, the fast-paced speed of Schenkelberg’s warnings and movements certainly matches the pace of the rest of the performance. Second, while the warnings are humorous, they are also valid. Schenkelberg is about to share an uncensored story of her experiences with the Church of Scientology, and no amount of preliminary research could have prepared me for what I was about to witness.

The Design

Helmed by Anderson, the design team utilized the small upstairs space at the Greenhouse in a creative manner. While the space was bare, the team was able to help Schenkelberg build her story through lighting and sound elements.

The stage itself consisted of a chair, a stool, and a large screen at the back of the stage, which was used for projections. As Schenkelberg recalled a memory, key elements would come up on the screen, such as a lake to represent a past fishing trip with her father, or a scene from Italy to represent an encounter with a former lover. As her memories jumped across time, I found the projections helped draw me into the moment, keeping me along with her for the ride.

Lighting Designer Brandon Baruch played a big role in aiding in this convention of jumping through time. While the space itself was bare, Baruch used focused and dimmer lighting to help create the illusion of an interrogation room, and then would aid Schenkelberg in building the environments of her memories. At certain points when Schenkelberg’s memory would run wild with a series of events, Baruch was even able to throw a burst of color into the mix, thus pushing that chaos over the top.

Cathy Schenkelberg performs her one-woman show SQUEEZE MY CANS, directed by Shirley Anderson Caleb Forsythe
Cathy Schenkelberg performs her one-woman show SQUEEZE MY CANS, directed by Shirley Anderson Caleb Forsythe

A Play About Memory

Our minds work in funny ways, and memories can often pop up in unexpected manners – jumping from one moment to the next. The process can be quick, and often difficult to explain to anyone who is not in our own heads, watching the process unfold.

At times it often felt as if Schenkelberg’s play moved in this fashion – allowing the moments in her story to build on each other, bringing us to different points in her life across spans of years. Though the convention is certainly interesting, I found myself wishing Schenkelberg would slow down in key moments. The pace was at times so quick that it was difficult to keep up, and while I was busy trying to understand one detail, I found we were already in a completely different location and moment.

That being said, I was fascinated with her play on time and memory. Schenkelberg challenged me to keep up and follow her through her journey – and the details that I did catch stayed with me as I traveled home and thought back to everything she had experienced.

Cathy Schenkelberg performs her one-woman show SQUEEZE MY CANS, directed by Shirley Anderson. Caleb Forsythe

A Bold Move

What do you do if the “carrot of spiritual freedom” was dangled in front of you, waiting to be seized?

Schenkelberg asks this question of her audience, much as I am sure she has asked herself over the years. Her story is one of bravery and temptation – the Church of Scientology promised her answers, and she kept returning to the interrogation room, giving up her money in order to find them. Sharing a story requires courage, and Schenkelberg takes a risk in sharing her uncensored journey. Based on the applause she received at the end of the production, it certainly seems that the audience is thankful for that bravery.

RECOMMENDED

Note:  An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.

 

WHEN

Through May 19, 2017

Thursdays at 7:30pm
Fridays at 7:30pm
Saturdays at 2:00pm
Saturdays at 7:30pm
Sundays at 2:00pm

Where:

Greenhouse Theater Center

2257 N Lincoln Ave

Chicago

Tickets:

Tickets can be purchased through the Greenhouse Theater Center Box Office at 773-404-7336, online, or in person.

Photos:  

Caleb Forsythe

lauren-katz

About the Author: 

Lauren Katz is a freelance director and dramaturge, and new to the Chicago Theatre Scene. She recently moved from Washington DC, where she worked with Mosaic Theater Company of DC in Company Management, as well as directed around town with various theaters. 

 

 

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