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Theater Mon Jun 13 2011

NEXT UP Gives Audiences a Thrilling Glimpse into the Future of Chicago Theater

Animals-1.jpg

(left to right) Adam Poss and Amy J. Carle in Animals Out of Paper by Rajiv Joseph, directed by Jaclynn Jutting, part of Steppenwolf's NEXT UP 2011 Repertory. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Steppenwolf's Next Up program -- featuring three productions showcasing Chicago's next generation of artists -- is going strong right now, with just a handful of shows left before it wraps up on June 19. I strongly encourage you to hurry up and get your tickets to see at least one of the shows this week.

Sadly, I haven't been able to see Venus, but the other two plays: Animals out of Paper and Where We're Born had me on the edge of my seat all day yesterday.

Animals-3.jpg

(left to right) Derek Hasenstab and Amy J. Carle in Animals Out of Paper by Rajiv Joseph, directed by Jaclynn Jutting, part of Steppenwolf's NEXT UP 2011 Repertory. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Animals Out of Paper

Using only three actors and a simple but impressively adaptable set, Animals Out of Paper tells the story of the emotional evolution of an ornery divorcée whose three legged dog recently ran away. The play opens with said divorcée, established origami artist Ilana (Amy J. Carle), holed up in her messy studio eating Chinese takeout out of a dog bowl. Her miserable seclusion is soon interrupted by an unwelcome guest -- an energetic and optimistic high school teacher named Andy (Derek Hasenstab), who is also the treasurer of an origami association, and has come to collect Ilana's late membership payment.

You've got to give this guy credit because Ilana's a straight up bitch to him, but he persists, breaking her down little by little with his childlike enthusiasm and admiration, eventually convincing her to take one of his students under her wing. This student, 18 year old Suresh (Adam Poss), is undeniably intelligent, especially when it comes to folding paper, but he's lost his way a bit in the wake of his mother's recent tragic death.

Animals Out of Paper gracefully lets the relationships between Ilana, Andy and Suresh evolve, with each of them teaching the others a thing or two, but not without their fair share of hiccups. The acting is some of the best I've ever seen, and thank god for that, because it is the acting -- the delivery of this excellently-written dialogue, paired with gut-wrenching physical representation of emotion -- that makes this work successful.

The result is a delightful, profound and touching play that proves you don't need a lot of money (or actors, for that matter) to make a powerful piece of art.

Born-12.jpg

(left to right) Max Lesser, Shane Kenyon and Tim Musachio in Where We're Born by Lucy Thurber, directed by Brad Akin, part of Steppenwolf's NEXT UP 2011 Repertory. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Where We're Born

About 15 minutes into this play I remember thinking to myself, "something fucked up better happen", because it was beginning to look like another amateurish coming of age tale. Sure enough, almost immediately after the intermission, all sorts of shit hit the fan, and I found myself gleefully noticing the audience cover their eyes and put their heads in their hands as all hell broke loose on the set over and over again.

Underneath the loads of (splendidly) sick and twisted catastrophe that is in this play, there is a poignant message about tolerance, family and community.

It all begins with Lilly (Caroline Neff) returning to her rural home from college, where she has been "enlightened", for a break. She's staying with her cousin Tony (Shane Kenyon), his live-in girlfriend Franky (Audrey Francis) and their two bro-friends Drew and Vin. Drew (Max Lesser) is a recovering born-again (or something like that) with a soft side and Vin (Tim Musachio) is basically the violent, small-town bigot archetype that us city folks have all heard about and learned to despise.

The events that unfold under Tony and Franky's roof during Lilly's visit start out pretty typical for college-aged kids, with banter, Bacardi 151 and Jimi Hendrix, but things quickly get completely out of hand. The point, I think, is that even simple-seeming people have complex lives and their beliefs, although some may seem ignorant to the educated urban elite attending this play, have deep roots. The characters in this play are human beings, after all, and they're struggling to get by and make the right decisions just like everyone else. They're not just resigned to lives of mediocrity -- not yet.

Underneath the shitstorm of shockingly unhealthy relationships, fist fights and substance abuse in Where We're Born is the always-relevant humanistic story of the struggle to create a path toward a healthy, productive and fulfilling life.

NEXT UP plays Tuesdays through Sundays at 8pm; Saturdays and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets cost $20 per performance, with a pass to all three plays available for $45. Tickets will be available at www.steppenwolf.org, 1650 N. Halsted St. or at 312-335-1650.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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