Elizabeth is an actor, playwright, musician, and a graduate of De Paul University. She studied theatre and improvisation at the Second City Training Center, the Actors’ Center, and at the Royal National Theatre Studio in London. Elizabeth has performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Tympanic Theatre, Congo Square Theatre, Second City’s Children’s Theatre, Stage Left Theatre, Bailiwick Arts Center, and London’s Canal Cafe Theatre. Six of her plays have been chosen as part of the Abbie Hoffman and the Around the Coyote festivals.
(L to R) Anthony Courser and Leah Urzendowski. Photo by Joe Mazza at Brave Lux.
Review – THE?UNICORN?HOUR at The Neo-Futurists
By Elizabeth Ellis
Spiritual teachers will tell you that “a miracle is a shift in perception.” When you come to see THE?UNICORN?HOUR? — and you will be very happy when you do — you learn from the cast that joy is an active choice, requiring a shift of perception of the world around you. With a loving nod to such positive and thoughtful children’s entertainment as “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” and “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” THE?UNICORN?HOUR? — created by Leah Urzendowski and Anthony Courser — offers theatergoers a rare and wonderful chance to experience 60 minutes of unrestrained happiness, and to revel in the hopefulness of possibility.
As you enter THE?UNICORN?HOUR?’s lobby, you pass by several tables with paper, pencils, and envelopes. Instruction sheets ask you to write down what you fear, and seal it in the envelope to bring with you into the theater space (the “Joy Womb”). Archer Curry has designed a simple yet beautiful set of draped old and faded bedsheets that look so soft and inviting, you want to wrap yourself in them: a joyous and womb-like feeling to be sure. Urzendowski and Courser enter the stage like WWF stars, backlit in hooded capes, throwing them off to reveal silver fringed catsuits. Great joyous interpretative dancing follows, with lifts and pirouettes, plus a chalk-outlined swearing square that Urzendowski uses particularly well. A lucky audience member is chosen to participate in “stunts!,” accompanied by a bubble machine. Each performance features a special guest, who is a surprise to Urzendowski and Courser as well as to the audience. On this night, it was their friend Jeff, who captured everyone’s attention by singing and playing a surprisingly moving rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love” on his ukelele.
As the play moves toward its end, Urzendowski and Courser enter the audience to ask what we fear, and collect the envelopes we brought in with us. Some of the fears that were shared are familiar: snakes, falling, failure, heights. Other fears reflect more unnerving and topical concerns: the long-term effects of the current administration, the disintegration of a family, the loss of a loved one, of never being good enough. In a touching and compassionate turn, Urzendowski and Courser then asked the audience what brings them joy: music, travel, reading, pets. The energy in the theater changed markedly from the concern as fears were voiced to the lightness as the joys were shared. At the show’s end, many of the audience members, inspired by the performers’ generosity, chose to leave behind their envelopes with their fears in them.
Director Adrian Danzig does a superb job of managing to ride a fine line between incredible silliness and a genuine caring for the players and the audience. This clarity, plus the sweet and infectious spirits of Urzendowski and Courser, makes THE?UNICORN?HOUR? a beautiful and welcome respite from the tumultuous circumstances of life today. You will learn that you too can find your own unicorn of joy.