Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions. 


Friday, March 1

Gapers Block

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr

« Peking Acrobats Thrill Audience at Harris Theater HIJINKSfest at iO Theater: On Comedy & the Pursuit of the Extreme »

Theater Tue Feb 10 2015

An Artiste and Two Boys Create Magic in Tuta Theatre's Music Hall

Tuta musichall-lapenna.jpg
Photo by Anthony La Penna.

A bare stage. There's only a curtain, a stool, a pair of high-heeled shoes, and a trunk. But here three actors create a magical environment, an environment of beauty and bleakness about their fading careers as cabaret performers: The Artiste (gracefully played by Jeffrey Binder) and two Boys, her accompanists and dancers, played by Michael Doonan as First Boy and Darren Hill as Second Boy. (The word Boy is used in French, designating a supporting dancer or singer in a music hall routine.)

Tuta Theatre Chicago is staging Jean-Luc Lagarce's Music Hall at the Den Theatre through March 8. Then it goes to New York, where it will be mounted at 59E59, a slightly-off-Broadway house, from March 25 through April 12. Director Zeljko Djukic has created a charming, touching 85-minute show (that actually could have lost about 10 minutes and been even more charming and touching).

The play is performed in one of the Den's smaller spaces. The audience is seated at the front and side of a small stage, marked by a wooden dance floor and a ceiling-high curtain at the rear. The two Boys come on, make adjustments to the curtain and discuss how the Artiste always begins: "it was always she who decided when to begin -- when the show would go up, she'd walk straight down towards the audience and she'd sit, always in the self-same manner, slow and unconcerned."

Now The Artiste arrives, simply dressed in black, to describe the hardships of traveling, by air, boat or (alas) by foot. The amenities at the houses where they perform have declined along with the mode of transportation. All they ask for are a door upstage center and something on which to play music...and a stool. Often they had to argue the need for a stool. The Artiste tells us about the stool.

"Oh, I've seen my share of stools! Big ones, small ones, 'three-legged', 'four-legged' but the legs not all the same height, and stools with a back to them, and that's not a stool at all, I'd say to them, that is not a stool, and they'd snigger, they would, they'd say 'What difference does it make?' When you've been through hell, you don't fear the devil, and a chair, -- because frankly we should call those things, those damned things by their name, by their damned name! And a chair, they'd tell me, a chair is better than a stool. Try to make them understand!"

The Artiste eventually decides to buy a stool, but then the act is beset by complaints about fire regulations and assurances that their stool will not "burst into flames. Is it inflammable? or flammable? I never know which."

As they prepare to perform the cabaret act, the Boys don color-coordinated trouser-vest costumes, and the Artiste transforms himself into a female performer. A long skirt, the high-heeled shoes, feminine blouse, sparkly earrings, a long scarf or two, eventually makeup. But the Artiste never dons a wig. The actor's closely cropped hair remains, as if to remind us that he or she really is engaging in deception.

The Artiste and the Boys lament the fact that there are "fewer and fewer enchanted audience members" and a resulting decline in the takings, which they divide as their income. "Sometimes, they're not even there, they don't come, of no interest to them and really don't see why -- that's how they put it -- really don't see why they should put themselves out, not there, totally absent, and we, the three of us and the stool, with the dress on my back and intensive makeup on my face, there, waiting...."

Dramaturg Sharon Ammen's notes on the play comment: "Theatre is a great art of illusion. We come together and sit in the dark to watch others perform a virtual history. We can see the actor behind the character--but we agree to believe she is the character." And indeed, we believe Jeffrey Binder is The Artiste and the Boys, both charming and funny in their roles, are cabaret singers and dancers.

The work of Lagarce, who died at age 31 in 1988 after contracting AIDS, is widely produced in France and Europe, but little known in the US. The Music Hall script, translated by Joseph Long, includes brief song refrains, including this lyric from a song by Josephine Baker, which we hear throughout the performance.

"Don't try to tell me that you love me.
Just think of me from time to time...."

Wain Parham's music direction and Christian Gero's sound design create a moving musical rhythm to the performance. Josh Schmidt was music consultant. Natasha Djukic designed costumes and set and Keith Parham is responsible for lighting.

Tuta Theatre's Music Hall will continue at the Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave., through March 8. Tickets are $20-40 and can be purchased online or by calling 800-838-3006.

GB store
GB store

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 »


An Angry White Guy
AREA Chicago
ArchitectureChicago Plus
Arts Engagement Exchange
The Art Letter
Art or Idiocy?
Art Slant Chicago
Art Talk Chicago
Bad at Sports
Bite and Smile
Brian Dickie of COT
Bridgeport International
Carrie Secrist Gallery
Chainsaw Calligraphy
Chicago Art Blog
Chicago Art Department
Chicago Art Examiner
Chicago Art Journal
Chicago Artists Resource
Chicago Art Map
Chicago Art Review
Chicago Classical Music
Chicago Comedy Examiner
Chicago Cultural Center
Chicago Daily Views
Chicago Film Examiner
Chicago Film Archives
Chicago Gallery News
Chicago Uncommon
Contemporary Art Space
Co-op Image Group
Co-Prosperity Sphere
Chicago Urban Art Society
Creative Control
Devening Projects
DIY Film
The Exhibition Agency
The Flatiron Project
F newsmagazine
The Gallery Crawl...
Galerie F
The Gaudy God
Happy Dog Gallery
Homeroom Chicago
I, Homunculus
Hyde Park Artcenter Blog
Joyce Owens: Artist on Art
Julius Caesar
Kasia Kay Gallery
Kavi Gupta Gallery
Rob Kozlowski
Lookingglass Theatre Blog
Lumpen Blog
Mess Hall
Neoteric Art
Not If But When
Noun and Verb
On Film
On the Make
Peanut Gallery
Peregrine Program
The Poor Choices Show
Pop Up Art Loop
The Post Family
The Recycled Film
Reversible Eye
Rhona Hoffman Gallery
Roots & Culture Gallery
The Seen
Sisterman Vintage
Site of Big Shoulders
Sixty Inches From Center
Soleil's To-Do's
Sometimes Store
Stop Go Stop
Storefront Rebellion
TOC Blog
Theater for the Future
Theatre in Chicago
The Franklin
The Mission
The Theater Loop
Thomas Robertello Gallery
Time Tells Tony Wight Gallery
Uncommon Photographers
The Unscene Chicago
The Visualist
Western Exhibitions
What's Going On?
What to Wear During an Orange Alert?
You, Me, Them, Everybody
Zg Gallery

GB store



A/C on Flickr

Join the A/C Flickr Pool.

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...
Please see our submission guidelines.

Editor: Nancy Bishop,
A/C staff inbox:



A/C Flickr Pool
 Subscribe in a reader.

GB store

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15