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Wednesday, July 23

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Theater Wed Jul 23 2014

Oracle Theatre Transports Us to 1906 Packingtown Chicago in The Jungle

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Photo by Logan Conner.

In a space the size of my bedroom, Oracle Theatre slaughters and carves up cattle, fights for workers' rights, celebrates a wedding, worships at Christmas, and dies in childbirth. And with rolls of paper and paint, they conjure believable scenes of life in Chicago's Packingtown a century ago. (Take that, large downtown theaters that spend tens of thousands of dollars on scenery.)

Oracle's powerful world premiere production of The Jungle, adapted from the 1906 novel by muckraking journalist Upton Sinclair, makes us viscerally experience the poverty, horrible working conditions and labor strife of immigrant workers and their families.

The play begins with four people setting out from Lithuania to a place called Chicago, where they believe they can get work. Jurgis (Travis Delgado) is tall and strong and ready to work hard. His sweetheart Ona (Stephanie Polt) and her cousin Marija (Havalah Grace) are eager to work too. Marija has her Lithuanian-English dictionary so she can learn English. Even Jurgis' sickly father Antanas (Drew McCubbin) is ready to take a job.

Continue reading this entry »

Nancy Bishop / Comments (0)

News Wed Jul 23 2014

Second City Expands, Makes "Room to Grow"

GB-secondcity2.jpgThe Second City is expanding their 20,300 square feet space to accommodate even more classrooms and facilities for students. The company will be leasing the 25,000 square foot former four-screen AMC movie theater next to its current Pipers Alley location, which closed in 2011.

The Second City Training Center is already the largest school of comedy in the world, but this new development will more than double the space and provide room for their growing curriculum.

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Megan Daley / Comments (0)

Art Mon Jul 21 2014

Chicago Tree Project Turns Dead Wood into Sculpture

This summer, the Chicago Park District and Chicago Sculpture International, commissioned artists based in the area to create artwork made out of dying trees. Either due to Emerald Ash Borer or various other tree diseases, these trees were transformed into sculptural pieces of art by selected artists around the Chicago area. Overall, a selection of 10 artists were made and each creative was given a tree to work over and embellish. The artists selected for this project are, Mia Capodilupo, Ron Gard, Kara James, Karl and Indira Johnson, Margot McMahon, Nicolette Ross, Marc Schneider, Vivian Visser, Taylor Wallace and Cheryl Williams.

The vibrant sculptures bring back to life the once sick and dying trees. In addition to this, the public art in conjunction with nature brings forth a beautiful display of creative work throughout the city of Chicago. The project was organized by Chicago Sculpture International which is a group of artists who promote sculpture as an important aspect to our communities and surroundings.

Learn more about the project and their locations by watching the video below and liking the Chicago Sculpture International Facebook page. Here is a map of the tree locations around the parks in the city.

Chicago Park District•Chicago Sculpture International Tree Project from Margot McMahon on Vimeo.

S. Nicole Lane / Comments (0)

Chicago Speaks Mon Jul 21 2014

Chicago Speaks: Icelandic, as Spoken by Recruiter Lena Hallgrimsdottir

Chicago SpeaksAs a global city, Chicago is home to many languages besides English. Chicago Speaks profiles speakers of these languages, and shares some of their personal stories along the way.

When I met Lena Hallgrimsdottir at the Whole Foods in Lincoln Park, I asked her what it was like to have a native language shared by some 300,000 of the world's inhabitants -- fewer people, perhaps, than would visit that Whole Foods location over the next couple of months.

"We always look at it almost as our secret language," she says. "We're very careless. If we were walking around here, we would just be speaking about whatever, without ever worrying that anyone understands."

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Megan Marz / Comments (0)

Column Fri Jul 18 2014

Sex Tape, The Purge: Anarchy, Boyhood, Wish I Was Here, Dormant Beauty

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Sex Tape

It may be an unwritten rule, but I'm pretty sure it's a rule nonetheless. If you're going to make a movie called Sex Tape about a suburban couple who make a three-hour-long sex tape to spice up their marriage, you have to have nudity for it to be both funny and effective. And when I say nudity, I mean committed baring of all parts from both leads, and not some Cameron Diaz ass double. Hire someone who is both funny and willing to commit to the conceit of the film. We know from films like Forgetting Sarah Marshall that Jason Segel (playing Diaz's husband, Jay) is not against going full frontal for laughs. I'm not saying we needed prolonged actual sex acts on screen, but give us some amount of nudity to enhance to laughs, because putting it all out there can be very funny.

Sex Tape actually does have one example of someone going the extra distance, although not in a naked way, and that person is Rob Lowe, who plays Hank, the mild-mannered CEO of a company looking to buy Annie's (Diaz) mommy blog. He has outlined a fairly conservative image he'd like Annie to project, and a leaked sex tape is not part of that image. When she and Jay end up at Hank's house, he has a prolonged conversation with Annie that gets stranger and more deranged with each passing second, and it's hilarious... while the rest of the movie struggles to generate consistent laughs.

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Steve Prokopy / Comments (0)

Art Sun Jul 13 2014

Two Rocks Do Not Make a Duck Exhibition at LVL3

LVL3, the crowd-pleasing alternative gallery space located in the heart of Wicker Park, had its opening reception last night for the exhibition, Two Rocks Do Not Make a Duck. Milano Chow, Sofia Leiby and Malin Gabriella Nordin are the three artists featured in the group show which exhibit detailed drawings, black and white collage and graffiti covered canvases. Typically, LVL3 hosts conceptual artists that spread out onto the floor, their paintings made up of duct tape and crayons or oddly shaped installations that involve teddy bears. Still conceptual, this show appears to be more tame. This is not to be taken the wrong way--this exhibit is absolutely a breath of fresh air, something viewers haven't seen at LVL3 recently.

Lvl3.jpg

Milano Chow, an artist residing in LA, creates large drawings of domesticated settings set through the window pane of a house or a structure. These classical drawings are so precise and so soft that one must take a moment to truly become aware if they are drawings, photographs or digital depictions.

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S. Nicole Lane / Comments (0)

Theatre Fri Jul 11 2014

About Face Youth Debut Checking Boxes

CheckingBoxes.jpgThe Chicago Park District's "Night Out in the Parks" initiative has created opportunities for Chicagoans to experience theatre in outdoor spaces, but also for young Chicagoans to showcase their talents. Checking Boxes, an original production by Shannon Matesky in collaboration with the About Faces Youth Theatre Ensemble, is no exception.

The original play takes a deeper look into the all-American dream through the eyes of LGBTQIA immigrant youth. From coming out to growing up in a society where everyone is striving for the perfect job and the ideal white-picket fence, the characters show how their journeys don't follow a stereotypical path. "Checking Boxes" is based on real-life experiences of the ensemble as well as members of the LGBTQIA community.

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Megan Daley / Comments (0)

Theatre Fri Jul 11 2014

Kokandy's Assassins Takes a Walk on the Darker Side

Assassins.jpgMost theater productions romanticize a fictional hero, exemplifying what it means to be a character fighting for something they believe in, finding their destined path or even leading a revolution. Dorothy finding her way home in Wizard of Oz. Harold Hill becoming the town hero in The Music Man. Tracy Turnbald taking a stand against racism in Hairspray. Rarely do we root for the villain. But Kokandy Productions revival of Sondheim's Assassins demonstrates why we should at least listen to them.

Assassins, originally produced in the early '90s, takes audiences inside the maniacal minds of well-known assassins (and several wannabes.) Real-life villains such as John Wilkes Booth (Eric Lindahl), Lee Harvey Oswald (Nathan Gardner) and Charles Guiteau (Greg Foster) use a carnival as the backdrop to tell the story of how they reached their breaking point. For some, it was out of their own despair and self-loathing, wanting to make a mark of their own on history. For others, it was about making a greater statement. But these people, while misguided, have their own stories to tell, making the overall theme of Assassins even more relevant today.

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Megan Daley / Comments (2)

Column Fri Jul 11 2014

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, The Galopagos Affair & 70mm Film Festival

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

In order for me to take a good hard look at the best and worst in human behavior, I had to see a "lesser" species turn our guns on us in a movie. And no, that's not any kind of crack about gun control; it's just what happens in the movie, and the impact is gut wrenching. Imagine if the man-apes from the opening of 2001: A Space Odyssey went from pounding each other on the heads with bones to picking up machine guns and mowing each other down to establish dominance, and you may have some idea of the impact of seeing the spiritually compromised ape Koba (motion-capture acted by the brilliant Toby Kebbell) riding horseback through a run-down, overgrown San Francisco with machine guns blazing in each hand. You'll probably laugh a little before you shudder.

Dawn of the Planet of the Apes is set 10 years after two simultaneous events occurred (as shown in Rise of the Planet of the Apes): some kind of man-made simian flu was released, killing off nearly all human life on Earth (through the bug and the resulting societal violence); and a drug designed to repair brain cells and increase intelligence was set loose into the ape population, resulting in the world's first talking ape, named Caesar (once again played with a combination of deep thought and unfiltered rage by Andy Serkis), who has since become the ape world's natural leader. It's a little unclear how far-reaching this smart-ape phenomenon has spread, but when the few remaining humans in San Francisco first come in contact with Caesar's tribe, they are shocked to hear them speak, let alone reason and organize. For all we know, Caesar's group is the only of its kind; I suspect in the sequel to this film, we'll find out for sure. But I digress...

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Steve Prokopy / Comments (0)

Column Thu Jul 03 2014

Tammy, Life Itself, Deliver Us From Evil, Snowpiercer, Earth to Echo, Begin Again, A Hard Day's Night & Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia

Steve-at-the-Movies-300.jpg

Tammy


Not that this should influence your like or dislike of Tammy, the new film starring and co-written (with her director husband, Ben Falcone) by Melissa McCarthy, but this was supposed be McCarthy at her most pure and unfiltered — a raw, R-rated, take-no-prisoners variation of the McCarthy personality (Bridesmaids, The Heat, Identity Thief), birthed in improv performances in New York and Los Angeles, and put up on the screen like the perfect trophy head mounted on a hunter's wall. This was supposed to be the best that she's got. Oh boy...

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Steve Prokopy / Comments (0)

Review Wed Jul 02 2014

Eat Your Heart Out: Something to Chew On

There are fine performances in Rivendell Theatre Ensemble's Eat Your Heart Out, directed by Hallie Gordon; more than a few are heartfelt, from a cast giving their gut-load of emotion, and grinding down the observer's derision into an empathy stew for her characters. Going forward, I'll try to keep the food analogies to a minimum, but bear me one more: there is much too much being served at playwright Courtney Baron's banquet.

Eat Your Heart Out - Rivendell Theatre Ensemble
Andrew Goetten (Colin) and Anne Joy (Evie) Photo by Joe Mazza.

Eat Your Heart Out is a one-act play that has three full acts in full swing production, and works well until about three-quarters in, when it runs out of steam, veering from quietly compelling character study successfully intertwining the life events of six people in the tradition of Robert Altman to taking shelter in Marshall Zwick's "thirtysomething" self-righteous cul de sac. Even the background music selected for the closing scene seems chosen from the post-Crash of '87 sincerity bin at Benetton. But, that first three-quarters of the play is certainly something to chew on.

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Alice Singleton / Comments (0)

Comics Tue Jul 01 2014

Postcards from the Mess: Alexander Stewart

Postcards from the Mess is a weekly poem-comic about and inspired by art/artists, music/musicians, performers/performances, etc. This week, it's about Alexander Stewart.

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Click to view larger.

Alexander Stewart's work ranges from film and animation to drawing and printing, but its his exploration within the parameters and limitations of these mediums that brings a cohesion to his pieces. Stylistically, he often employees a clean flatness to his shapes and lines, stripping the images down to a bare elegance. We're presented with gauzy, Xerox-textured panes and hair-like bands, which float in a negative space that maintains its own significant weight.

And all the while, there's a sense of Stewart's mind at play. This is an artist who dismantles everyday concepts of the benign, which have receded into the clutter of our media landscape, and placed them in the foreground, requesting our attention. They're accomplished meditations and inquisitive studies, which dance away from being humorless, cold, or detached.

You can view more of Alexander Stewart's work by clicking HERE.

Grant Reynolds / Comments (0)

Column Fri Jun 27 2014

Transformers: Age of Extinction, They Came Together, Third Person, Ivory Tower, Jackpot, The Internet's Own Boy & On Approval

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Transformers: Age of Extinction

If you've already decided a) "All Michael Bay films suck and I won't go see any of them ever," b) "All Michael Bay films suck, but I can't stop going to see them," or c) "I love Michael Bay and/or Transformers movies," you can probably step away from your computer for a little while, because I don't think I'm going to change your mind on any of these opinions. I guess I'm aiming my sites at the undecided voters with an open mind who are willing to take every movie on its own merit, and don't see or discuss movies simply to show how witty they are and how many clever ways they can find to shit on a film they're too cool to enjoy.

Now make no mistake, I'm not here to defend or endorse Transformers: Age of Extinction; there's just too much wrong with the movie to encourage all but the diehards to see it. But I'm of a firm belief that anyone who dismisses the film with a single sweeping "it sucks" gesture, made up their minds about the film long before they stepped into the theater.

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Steve Prokopy / Comments (0)

Review Fri Jun 27 2014

Meet Cute: the Success of Dating: Adults Embracing Failure

Most romantic relationships are doomed to fail. It can happen instantly, over a doctored profile picture or a terrible first date. Or it can take years, as time, distance, and other worldly forces wear away the bond holding two people together.

Then we do it all over again.

And do it, and do it, and do it, do it, do it.

It's easy to get discouraged in the face of almost certain failure, but with quick-fire humor and surprising depth, Dating: Adults Embracing Failure shows that even heartbreak can be hilarious.

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Mike Ewing / Comments (0)

Theatre Fri Jun 27 2014

Out of the Closets & Into the Streets: a Review of Hit the Wall

hit the wallIt's a shame that Hit the Wall ended its run early at the Greenhouse Theater, before its original closing date scheduled for the same day as the pride parade. Many people forget or are unaware that the pride parade in Chicago occurs the last weekend of June to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall Riots. Hit the Wall retells the story of the riots, reminding us of the power of queer resistance. The play first premiered as part of Steppenwolf's Garage Rep in 2012 and played at Theater on the Lake before moving Off-Broadway to New York's Barrow Street Theatre. It returned home to Chicago this spring with most of the original cast intact.

As the audience entered the theater, it felt as if we were walking into a gay dive bar. The cast lured members of the audience onstage to dance along to a live band. Steve Lenz, who played a romantic beatnik traveler named Cliff, asked people if they had a cigarette. An energetic revolutionary played by Shannon Matesky handed out fliers to recruit people for WILD (Women Internationally Learning Divisiveness), whose rules were to "fight the man, fuck the pigs, and do not trust the gays." During the raid scene, a thick mustachioed, intimidating cop played by Walter Briggs shined his white flashlight on the audience, making us feel as vulnerable to policing as the characters themselves.

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A/C / Comments (0)

Feature Mon Jun 09 2014

I Grew Up in a Big Ol' Gay Disco: an Interview with Oli Rodriguez

By H. Melt

Oli Rodriguez is an interdisciplinary artist working in film, photography, and performance. H. Melt sat down with him to find out more about his relationship to Chicago, the city's queer history, and how it impacts his artmaking.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jul 18 2014

Sex Tape, The Purge: Anarchy, Boyhood, Wish I Was Here, Dormant Beauty

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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Events

Thu Jul 24 2014
Very Fine Cats Indeed @ Co-Prosperity Sphere

Fri Jul 25 2014
Big Trouble In Little China @ Music Box

Fri Jul 25 2014
Chicago Reader B-Side Booze Cruise @ Navy Pier

Fri Jul 25 2014
Michel Gondry's Mood Indigo @ Film Center

Sat Jul 26 2014
Filmspotting Episode #500 @ Music Box

Sat Jul 26 2014
Chicago Summerdance: Chicago House Party! @ Spirit of Music Garden

Tue Jul 29 2014
The Moth StorySLAM @ Martyrs'


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