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Thursday, October 30

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Culture Thu Oct 30 2014

Halloween! Visit Logan Square's Dr. Frankenstein

By Amien Essif

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Photo by Amien Essif.

Nelson Gonzalez's front-yard Halloween display is so gruesome that parents on Bernard Street in Logan Square come over to complain every year. But every year, well over a thousand kids trick-or-treat down Bernard Street, many, if not most of them, just to see his horror show.

Gonzalez leads me to his shed at dusk to show me what's in store for his neighbors this year. Under the stark utility lights, an orange-suited convict with a lineman's build sits in an electric chair, a permanent howl stuck to his lumpy face. He's not a dummy. He's a robot that Gonzalez refers to as "electric chair guy," part three of his animated display that will also include a skeleton dropping from a gallows and another getting the French farewell--a life-size blade clacking down on his neck.

This Friday, on Halloween, from 4 to 10pm, Gonzalez will execute the three ghouls on a circuit run by a computer program, over and over, mercilessly. Electric Chair Guy is the one his neighbors have tried to censure. The scene starts with a warning siren, then the sound of an electric current. Pretty soon, the body is jolting back and forth in its straps and shrieking. When his soul departs, the contraption goes quiet, and a billow of smoke escapes from his eye sockets.

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A/C / Comments (0)

Theater Wed Oct 29 2014

Aston Rep's The Lieutenant of Inishmore: Four Dead Fellas, Two Dead Cats...

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Photo by Emily Schwartz.

"Four dead fellas, two dead cats ... me hairstyle ruined! Did I miss anything?"
That's the culmination of Martin McDonagh's grisly black comedy, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, now being crisply staged by Aston Rep at the Raven Theatre.

The trauma begins when pony-tailed Davey (Matthew Harris) finds a dead black cat in the road. The cat, Wee Thomas, is the beloved pet of Padraic (John Wehrman), a soldier with the Irish National Liberation Army (INLA) in Northern Ireland. (He's known as Mad Padraic because he's so volatile the IRA wouldn't take him. That's why he fights with the more radical INLA.) Davey and Padraic's father, Donny (Scott Olson) consult about how to tell Padraic that his cat is poorly and "just a tadeen off his feed," so that Padraic won't rush home, find Wee Thomas with his brains squeezed out, and avenge his death. Donny instructs Davey to find another black cat to replace Wee Thomas.

The 90-minute production, set on the island of Inishmore in Galway, plays out in nine scenes. The time is 1993, when the Irish peace process was in very early stages. (The Good Friday Agreement, which ended the almost 30 years of civil war known as the Troubles, was not finalized until 1998.)

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Nancy Bishop / Comments (0)

Theater Mon Oct 27 2014

The Devil Wears Red Sneakers in Don Juan in Hell, a Shavian Dream Debate

The Devil, wearing red sneakers, is host to some of the finest artists and geniuses of time immemorial. The notorious Don Juan surprises us by not being happy in Hell. He wishes to spend eternity in Heaven, even though everyone knows it's boring up there. And he expounds in several long speeches about why he wants to change residence.

GB-George_Bernard_Shaw_1925-Nobel.jpgA word of admonition. George Bernard Shaw's Don Juan in Hell is not for everyone. If your preferred entertainment involves crashes, explosions and gunfire, or fast-paced comedy, you'd better head for the multiplex. This 105-minute Shavian exercise is talky, talky, talky--and brilliant. Don Juan in Hell is a rarely performed extract (act 3, scene 2) from Shaw's play Man and Superman, in which its hero, John Tanner, falls asleep and dreams of himself as Don Juan in hell, debating the Devil. Man and Superman is usually presented without this scene because of its length. So it's a rare treat to see it staged by Shaw Chicago at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts.

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Nancy Bishop / Comments (0)

Column Fri Oct 24 2014

Dear White People, Ouija, Birdman, Listen Up Philip, John Wick, Stonehearst Asylum & 23 Blast

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Dear White People

Winner of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival's Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent, Dear White People is meant to be many things to many people, but if its only achievement is sparking conversation, I think writer-director Justin Simien can say he accomplished his mission. Simien has wisely set his feature film debut on the campus of Winchester University, as college campuses are both hotbeds of ideas and a place where emotions tend to run hotter than in the real world.

The film follows four black students, the most interesting of which is Samantha White (Tessa Thompson), a bi-racial woman who inadvertently wins the election for head of the traditionally black resident hall. She's also an outspoken voice on campus (via her radio show) on all things racial, and she's secretly dating a white guy. She comes to this story a fully formed character whose past and current ideas are filled in as the film progresses.

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Steve Prokopy / Comments (0)

Film Fri Oct 24 2014

Creative Writing: Chicago Film Shows More Than Words in a Writing Class

"What can go wrong? It's just a writing class."

That's the tagline of the trailer for Creative Writing, a new film by Chicagoan Seth McClellan. His 70-minute film opens today at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

The film is an honest, realistic portrayal of the writing aspirations of a diverse group of middle-class students in a community college writing course. The students participated in the writing as well as acting and use their own names in the film. As the film's preface says: "Though the actors play versions of who they really are and our story is based on what actually happened, this is fiction."

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Nancy Bishop / Comments (0)

Theater Thu Oct 23 2014

Amazing Grace: A Musical with an Everlasting Message

I went into Amazing Grace completely blind as to its purpose and detailed moments of the plot line, which was okay with me. I had no expectations or preconceived notions of its plot line. The mystery that shrouded the events portrayed in the musical intrigued me, the title not alluding to its complex, lyrical storyline. The minimalist program design showcases only a compass and the title of the renowned song, so I thought this was going to be a jubilant, historical journey of the ballad's emergence to become the well-loved hymn.

What I witnessed during the musical's two and a half hour duration, however, was a tale of the triumph of good over evil as it depicted the eradication of slavery, and an in-depth, insider view into the struggles slaves had endured with a fictional, but all-too-real portrayal of societal times that actually occurred in both English and American history, and still does occur around the world today.

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Sarah Brooks / Comments (0)

Dance Wed Oct 22 2014

Giordano Dance Opens Fall Season With Ray Leeper Premiere

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Photo by Gorman Cook.

Giordano Dance Chicago returns to the stage October 24 as the company tackles old favorites and a new piece by award-winning choreographer, Ray Leeper.

"Ray's connection with GDC began many years ago when my father, company founder Gus Giordano, pulled the 12-year-old Ray up on stage during a workshop at a dance convention," said Giordano Dance Chicago artistic director Nan Giordano in a statement. "Since then, the relationship has grown."

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Miriam Finder / Comments (0)

Preview Wed Oct 22 2014

"How Do You Do?" Find out at 20x2 Chicago Oct. 25

20x2 Chicago - how do you do?Gapers Block is proud to present 20x2 Chicago, a live event where 20 people are asked the same question and given two minutes each to answer in whichever way they choose. The results may take any form, from spoken word to music to film, and can be as varied as the emotions and reactions they evoke. This edition's question is "How do you do?" See the answers on Saturday, Oct. 25 at Schubas, 3159 N. Southport Ave.

20x2 is a mainstay of afterhours programming at SXSW Interactive in Austin, TX, and Chicago is the show's first official offshoot. At the last edition on April 19, the question was "Where are we?" Responses ranged from location quiz based on photos to a tearful tribute to a father who purposefully got lost to a recitation of Carl Sanburg's poem "Chicago." Who knows what the speakers will come up with this time?

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Andrew Huff / Comments (0)

Theater Wed Oct 22 2014

Porchlight Stages Rousing Version of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd

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Photo by Brandon Dahlquist.

Does anyone ever return from the netherworld not seeking murderous revenge against those who condemned them? The legend of the revenge of The Demon Barber of Fleet Street was introduced in a penny dreadful novel in mid-19th century London. From page to stage to movie and television, Sweeney Todd has lived a vibrant life ever since, slicing his way into the jugular of our permanent consciousness.

Todd uses his "friend," his razor, to slit the throats of his victims while his compatriot bakes them into tasty pies. The story punches into every universal fear -- quick, violent death, and cannibalism (either being consumed or consuming). There's been little revision from early performances of the Christopher Bond play. The contemporary version adds music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Only the songs and performers change in the many dramatic lives of Sweeney Todd. The terror and our inclination to root for an anti-hero remain the same.

Porchlight Music Theatre's rousing production of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street introduces us to the barber formerly known as Benjamin Barker (a stage-commanding David Girolmo). He's on a mission for revenge, having returned to London after spending 15 years in prison on a trumped-up charge, stripped of his wife and baby daughter by the sadistic and powerful Judge Turpin (Edward J. MacLennan).

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Alice Singleton / Comments (3)

Dance Mon Oct 20 2014

The Second City & Hubbard Street Dance's Collaboration is a Stunning Success

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The first collaboration between Hubbard Street Dance and The Second City started with one small phone call, but it grew into a giant success with The Art of Falling.

The roughly two-hour show is full of laugh-out-loud moments, strategic and exceptionally creative dance movements and sharp writing and delivery by Second City actors. The show is directed by Billy Bungeroth of Second City and was worked on by the largest creative team in the history of Hubbard Street Dance.

As the title suggests, the show revolves around stories of falling: falling in and out of love, falling from the sky and falling down in general. It additionally, as perhaps expected, pokes fun at dance and comedy in turn, but showcasing differences between the two groups is not the main point. Rather, the focus is on what the different artists accomplish together.

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Miriam Finder / Comments (0)

Column Fri Oct 17 2014

Fury, Whiplash, The Good Lie, The Best of Me, The Book of Life, St. Vincent, Keep On Keepin' On & 20,000 Days on Earth

Steve-at-the-Movies-300.jpgHey everyone. I haven't done this in quite a while, but between unexpected travel in the last week and the still-going Chicago International Film Festival eating up my days, I haven't had time to compose full-length reviews of the many, many movies open up this weekend — many of them quite great. So I'm going to try and blaze through the many offerings with just a two or three paragraphs each. We'll see how that goes. Enjoy!

Fury

Writer-director David Ayer (End of Watch, Street Kings, writer of Training Day) has always been a stickler for authenticity (if you ignore his last film, Sabotage), and his latest work — the World War II tank barrage Fury — is no exception. With Brad Pitt leading a five-man crew during the final push into war-torn Germany in 1945, the film concentrates on bloodshed, explosions and ear-splitting volume that might make you want to consider earplugs. The film captures the claustrophobic quarters inside the tank and the pure destructive power it represents as these men barrel into one situation after another, outnumbered, outgunned and poorly armored.

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Steve Prokopy / Comments (0)

Theater Fri Oct 17 2014

Goodman's Smokefall: Following One Family Across Time

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When the Goodman Theatre staged the world premiere of Noah Haidle's play Smokefall last year in its smaller theater, the play received great reviews and audiences responded enthusiastically. The theater has remounted the production with the same cast this year in its larger Albert Theatre. Director Anne Kauffman has managed the move to the larger stage with grace.

Smokefall's main attraction is the charming, funny performance by veteran actor Mike Nussbaum, who will blow out 91 candles in December and romps around like a 70-year-old. Or a 60-year-old, if needed.

Smokefall is a sweet, funny story of love and life, hope and despair in four generations of a midwestern family. The family home in Grand Rapids, Michigan, is the setting and on Kevin Depinet's large modern-dress set, everything is slightly askew. The angled trajectory of the set's second level (which -- spoiler alert -- collapses in the middle of the play) suggests the rickety and fragile nature of family relationships.

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Nancy Bishop / Comments (0)

Review Thu Oct 16 2014

Joffrey Ballet's "Swan Lake" Is Stunning on Opening Night Debut

Joffrey Ballet in Christopher Wheeldon's Swan Lake - Victoria Jaiani (3) - Photo by Cheryl Mann.jpg
Photo by Cheryl Mann

I wish I were a dancer, I thought to myself as I sat in the gilded Auditorium Theatre as the curtain fell following an exquisite performance by the Joffrey Ballet of the world-renowned ballet Swan Lake, completely in awe. Sitting elated, The show barely had time to officially wind to a close before audience members cried out exalted "bravos!" that rang throughout the theatre rich with history and artistry.

World-renowned, London-based choreographer Christopher Wheeldon dreamt up a masterful adaptation that proved to be equally stunning as it was technically gorgeous. In the Joffrey Ballet's 60-year reign, Swan Lake had yet to be performed, and this ballet lived up to its longstanding expectations. For 10 ethereal evenings, the reworking of the classic and pivotal ballet will help the Chicago arts institution of the Joffrey Ballet to celebrate its 20th anniversary of being centered in this great city that we are lucky to call home.

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Sarah Brooks / Comments (0)

Preview Thu Oct 16 2014

Chicago Mammals to Stage All Girl Edgar Allan Poe

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The Chicago Mammals is staging its third All Girl Project, opening Friday, Oct. 17 with All Girl Edgar Allan Poe, a festival of one-acts inspired by Poe's works interpreted in movement, music, poetry, dance and monologue.

The first two projects were All Girl Moby Dick in 2012 and All Girl Frankenstein last year. Artistic director Bob Fisher is planning All Girl Dracula for 2015.

All Girl Edgar Allan Poe will feature the following pieces:
The Raven, adapted and directed by Anne Wilson
The Tell-Tale Heart, adapted by M.E.H. Lewis and directed by Leigh Barrett
The Black Cat, adapted by Erin Orr, Amy Harmon and Liz Chase and directed by Chris Conley
The Pit and the Pendulum, adapted and directed by Charlotte Drover
The Imp of the Perverse, adapted and directed by Sasha Warren
The Masque of the Red Death, adapted and directed by Whitney LaMora and choreographed by Sasha Warren

The company notes that the project provides artistic opportunities for Chicago actresses to play, produce, devise and perform in roles that are rarely (if ever) performed by women "with an emphasis on turning traditional tales into raw, emotive, phantasmagoric concepts that can only be described as 'Mammalian'."

All Girl Edgar Allan Poe will be presented at 8pm Fridays and Saturdays through Nov. 8 at the Chicago Mammals' Zoo Studios: 4001 N Ravenswood, suite 205. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased online or at the door.

Nancy Bishop / Comments (0)

Column Fri Oct 10 2014

The Judge, Dracula Untold, Kill the Messenger, You're Not You, Pride, 50th Chicago International Film Festival Preview & Music Box of Horrors 2014 Preview

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The Judge

If you ever wanted to see the legendary Robert Duvall shit himself like only he can (literally and figuratively), then I've got a movie for you. And I'm not talking about catching a brief glimpse of mild discoloration in his boxers. Oh, no. I'm talking wet, dark, splattering crap exploding out of his ass and onto the white bathroom tile, as well as the feet of his estranged son (Robert Downey Jr.). Come gather 'round, children, and let me tell you about The Judge.

Part family drama, part courtroom procedural, part character study, The Judge is the story of hot-shot Chicago lawyer Hank Palmer (Downey), who returns to his smalltown hometown on the occasion of his mother's funeral. Turns out, many years ago, Hank left home mostly to get away from his hard-driving judge father Joseph (Duvall) to prove to him (and the world) that he could be successful. Hank seems to specialize in clients who are undoubtedly guilty, but he still manages to cast his spells over judges and juries to get them off. In one early scene, Hank pees on the shoes of opposing counsel in the men's room, setting up a family history of bodily excretions on other people's shoes.

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Steve Prokopy / Comments (0)

Film Wed Oct 08 2014

Chicago International Film Festival's Mimi Plauché Talks About CIFF's 50th Anniversary & This Year's Films

By Steve Prokopy

Steve talks with CIFF Programming Director Mimi Plauché about the festival's anniversary, special programming, and her favorites from this year's lineup.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Oct 24 2014

Dear White People, Ouija, Birdman, Listen Up Philip, John Wick, Stonehearst Asylum & 23 Blast

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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Events

Thu Oct 30 2014
Aaron Draplin Lecture @ Film Row Cinema

Thu Oct 30 2014
Anda Korsts: Video Metropolis @ Gene Siskel Film Center

Fri Oct 31 2014
Nocturna All Hallow's Eve Ball @ Metro

Fri Oct 31 2014
Halloween Party @ Flats Studio

Fri Oct 31 2014
Boneshaker @ Redmoon Theater

Fri Oct 31 2014
Vocalo Thriller Dance Party

Fri Oct 31 2014
Moonlight Manor @ Moonlight Studios

Fri Oct 31 2014
Sing-A-Long Chicago @ Auditorium

Fri Oct 31 2014
The Trip to Italy @ Film Center

Sat Nov 1 2014
Chicago Ukulele Cabaret @ Silvie's

Sat Nov 1 2014
Dan Harmon & Harmontown @ Music Box

Sun Nov 2 2014
Central Manufacturing District Walking Tour

Sun Nov 2 2014
Closing Reception: Soul Kitchen @ Kitchen Space

Wed Nov 5 2014
Sound Opinions: The Beatles vs. The Stones @ Old Town School of Folk Music


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About A/C

A/C is the arts and culture section of Gapers Block, covering the many forms of expression on display in Chicago. More...
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Editor: LaShawn Williams, ldw@gapersblock.com
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