As of January 1, 2016, Gapers Block is on indefinite hiatus. The site will remain up in archive form while we evaluate our options, which may include a redesign or sale. ✶ Thank you for your readership and contributions over the past 12-plus years. ✶
I think I'll take the plunge and write the last post on Gapers Block before it goes on hiatus in an hour or so. I've been A/C page editor for a year and theater/arts writer for almost three years. Shorter tenure than many of the veteran GB writers, but I have written 284 posts during that time. I'm going to miss Gapers Block very much. It has been invigorating intellectually and emotionally to have a place to write regularly about the arts I love--theater, art, design, architecture, sometimes books or music.
My first post was in May 2013 for the Book Club page. It was a feature on Richard Hell, the punk rock performer of the '70s, best known for his "Please Kill Me" shirt. He talked, answered questions and signed copies of his new book (I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp) at the Book Cellar on Lincoln Avenue and I felt fortunate to see the bass player and singer with the Voidoids, Television and the Heartbreakers. The fact that the Book Club editor let me write a feature about him made it even more rewarding.
Preston, Addison, Dawan and McCullough. Photo by Michael Brosilow
Dynamite Divas, Black Ensemble Theater's contribution to holiday celebrations, is subtitled "A Tribute to Women of Soul." And it's a worthy tribute to those talented and charismatic singers, with performances of songs of the '60s and '70s by Roberta Flack (Melanie McCullough), Nancy Wilson (Rhonda Preston), Gladys Knight (Rashada Dawan) and Aretha Franklin (Shari Addison). The four performers sing powerfully and create realistic personas of their characters. Their songs alone would have earned four stars for the musical aspect of this show.
Unfortunately, that fine music is layered with a silly plotline about a billionaire inventor (Mr. Maurice, smarmily played by Rueben Echoles) and his worldwide telecast of the dynamite divas. Echoles, a multitalented artist, also directed, choreographed and designed costumes and wigs. The production, written and produced by BET's founder, Jackie Taylor, would be better off with less of Mr. Maurice and his story.
Mary Beth Fisher and Tom Irwin in Steppenwolf Theatre's Domesticated.
Domesticated opens with an all-too-familiar press conference you've seen both on cable news and in TV dramas: a middle-aged politician apologizing (or trying to, anyway) for a sex scandal as his wife looks on. Can Steppenwolf's Bruce Norris, the Pulitzer-winning playwright of Clybourne Park, turn one of our oldest tropes into an edgy conversation starter?
Their 27-year-running late night show, Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind is seemingly as relevant and cutting edge as ever. Several of their Best of 2015 performances sold out and last week it was announced that the Neo-Futurists' Neo-Access Program and Neo-Futurist Kitchen Festival would receive grant funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Palace of the Occult takes place at a 1933 Berlin society gathering and tells the story of the popular psychic, Erik Jan Hanussen, who later became Adolf Hitler's psychic adviser. The production is based on the life of an obscure character who may have played a significant role in World War II.
Neil Tobin, a Chicago performer, magician and psychic, wrote and performs Palace of the Occult, which takes place at the opening of the venue. He presides as Hanussen, the Jewish clairvoyant whose prophecies of victory gave Hitler confidence in his war strategy. Hanussen tells stories and performs magic and psychic demonstrations, some of which involve audience interaction. Jack Dryden, Carter Petray and David Weiner play other roles.
Maul Santa (The Musical), with book by Ricky Glore and music by J. Sebastian Fabal, is a cross-genre production that plays until Dec. 19. Featuring a "real life" Santa and Mrs. Claus (and their two-elf entourage), Maul Santa seeks to answer the question, "What if the legendary gift-giving figurehead of Christmas got trapped in a mall with a bunch of zombies during a zombie apocalypse?"
Funny idea. But as with most new productions, the devil is in the details, and the details here fall short.
Must-see: If you like '60s pop rock, or Carole King's music or life story Maybe-see: If you liked Jersey Boys Don't-see: If you're a musical snob or are looking for a tour de force performance
Broadway in Chicago's production of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical is playing at the Oriental Theatre through February 21. The Tony Award winning musical written by Douglas McGrath features the greatest hits of King's songwriting and performing career from "Some Kind of Wonderful," and "Will You Love Me Tomorrow," to "You've Got a Friend" and "Natural Woman." Director Marc Bruni's production is almost worth attending for the songlist alone.
Armour, Stoughton and Gavino. Photo by Johnny Knight.
In staging Noel Coward's 1920s comedy, Fallen Angels, director Shannon Cochran has shaken it up and mixed a cocktail of '20s fun and fashion with a wink of sly gender role reversal.
Remy Bumppo's new production runs almost two hours but the time will fly as you try to keep up with the antics of Julia (Emjoy Gavino) and Jane (Eliza Stoughton), two English housewives anticipating a reunion with Maurice (Joshua Moaney), the French charmer with whom they both had "very intimate relations" before marriage. (As an aside, I wish Maurice had appeared earlier in the story so I would have had more time to appreciate his suave fashion, language and footwork.)
For the past 38 years, the Goodman Theatre's adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol has been an annual Chicago tradition. After four decades you'd think Chicagoans might grow tired of it, but even during its opening week in mid-November 2015, the city's oldest still-running theatre is still packed with people. The reason is simple: Goodman's A Christmas Carol is arguably one of the best--and most accessible--literary stage adaptations in the world.
It's also the best version of the story I've seen. Albert Finney's musical, Disney's earnest Mickey's Christmas Carol, the light-hearted A Muppet Christmas Carol, Patrick Stewart's TV movie in 1999, and ten years later, that awkward performance capture vehicle from Robert Zemeckis. None of those attempts come close to Goodman's ability to capture the heart of Dickens' story and translate it into an emotional experience for a modern audience. The primarily feeling emanating from the stage and audience alike can only be described with the word mirth (which is the first time I've used that adjective in my life).
Balaban, Brodess and Kupferer. Photo by Michael Courier.
If you grew up in Chicago, the story of the senseless murder of young Bobby Franks by Leopold and Loeb was a nightmare for parents. The story still resonated, no matter how much it faded into the past.
These two young college students had adopted an attitude of superiority over the common people, a feeling that they were "übermensch" or supermen, no doubt caused by too much reading of Nietzsche. Thus they could randomly choose and murder a child in their wealthy Kenwood neighborhood and believe they would never be caught. Unfortunately, one of the übermenschen dropped his glasses at the murder site and gave the police a critical clue.
Never the Sinner is the story of the 1924 "crime of the century," its prelude, publicity and trial aftermath. It's retold in a tightly woven and acted play at Victory Gardens Theater. The script by Chicago native John Logan, written when he was a student at Northwestern University, is directed by Gary Griffin, whose usual métier is musicals. Griffin proves he can direct a perfectly wrought drama with equal skill. The 85-minute drama focuses on the relationship between the two young men. It's tense and thrilling even though the outcome is known from the start.
Mary-Arrchie Theatre's new production of Ibsen's Ghosts takes the great Norwegian playwright's scandalous 1881 play, shakes it up and spits it out in a witty contemporary form. And then punches you in the gut with its ending.
Greg Allen's clever adaptation of Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen is set "in a moribund historic store-front theater on the North Side of Chicago in its final season before it gets turned into bicycle storage for luxury condos." That about sums up the current state of Mary-Arrchie Theatre in its last season after 30 years of staging fine, thought-provoking theater. Fittingly, Ibsen's Ghosts is carried out meta-theatrically as a play within a play and the actors occasionally break the fourth wall to acknowledge the audience. This isn't done to excess, however, so it doesn't lapse over into cuteness.
Brendan Connelly and McKenna Liesman as Romeo and Juliet. Photo by Joe Mazza.
R+J: The Vineyard brings a new twist to the story of star-crossed lovers. Set at the turn of the century in Martha's Vineyard, the show explores the dynamics between the deaf and those who can hear. A truly captivating work, the show weaves two languages together to tell a story that is accessible in both languages.
Janette Bauer and Aaron Sawyer's adaptation of Romeo and Juliet is 90 minutes of captivating storytelling. Sawyer, who also directed the show, did a wonderful job of creating the story visually and physically. In scenes that take place in American Sign Language, non-signing audiences are still drawn in and can follow the story.
This weekend, nine actors and 10 dummies from Europe will descend upon the Museum of Contemporary Art to perform a modern play called The Ventriloquists Convention. The piece is an international collaboration, written by American writer Dennis Cooper and directed by Franco-Austrian artist Gisèle Vienne, who studied music, puppetry and philosophy and who works as a choreographer and director.
I spoke with Vienne about the play, about the difference between puppetry and ventriloquism, and about our mysterious human need for idols, aka puppets. She has worked with Cooper before, directing his macabre one-man puppet show (Jerk, 2008) about a serial killer who reenacts his murders with his newfound prison puppeteering skills.
Vienne describes this new collaborative work, The Ventriloquists Convention as "a mixture of humor and loneliness. It's kind of funny and dark." When pressed to describe who the intended audience is for Ventriloquist Convention, Vienne's passion for the work shines through. "It got enthusiastic responses form audiences in Europe. It is very unconventional. The only important thing is to be very curious and open minded to discover something that you hopefully haven't seen before. Everyone who is curious should come because we will satisfy your curiosity!"
Chapter Two, Neil Simon's tribute to his whirlwind romance and subsequent marriage to actress Marsha Mason, was clearly written in the 1970s. The plot revolves around a mistaken phone call that resulted in a subsequent and immediate "five minute date" in one of the character's apartments.
I don't know about you, but my experience of dating in 2015 rarely revolves around wrong numbers and the meeting of charming strangers. Mine more often involves obsessive online research of potential dates, the use of some mediated communications (text, facebook post, tweet, etc.) and the ability to communicate with one's potential partner with immediacy and in multiple forms of media. (Or the engagement of what I fondly refer to as "L.U.D.I.S.," or the "Lesbian Underground Dating Information System," e.g. everyone you date knows someone you know somehow through one of their exes. But I digress.) That said, Chapter Two is a delightful throwback to a simpler time, when dating actually involved seeing someone for a few hours over an evening and not just swiping one direction or another prior to a hookup.
Going into this production, I was skeptical about whether theater could be as beguiling on screen as when it's performed live. With the atmosphere of the Music Box Theatre at 3733 N. Southport Ave., I was hooked into the old-style bar/lounge and the theater complete with red curtain. During intermission, behind-the-scenes footage and interviews enlighten us as to exactly what they did to make it work. The lighting, the cameras, costumes and acting were all adapted for the NTL production, adding more depth and interaction with the characters on stage. I saw how much work needed to be done to bring us through the emotions and character changes. I would say it was a success. And a learning experience.
Although nothing can replace the reality of live theater, with props, stage and lighting in front of your eyes, if you and your friends are looking for another type of performance or perhaps have always wanted to see a UK/European production, National Theatre Live can bring that experience to you! In an effort to bring the ultimate viewing experience, they bring you up close and personal with actors and producers in carefully planned close-ups, all-stage views and more as you interact with the storyline along with the rest of the audience.
Over his roughly seven years as a part of Chicago's comedy circles Dave Maher had gained a reputation for many reasons: as the smartly unhinged, wildly funny comedian with a big heart and warm smile, he was an evergreen fixture on the scene. Notably though Maher was also regarded as something of a world-class contrarian in conversation, routinely contesting various individuals' opinions, often vehemently. This was done, however, not as a show of supposed self-superiority but more to put himself in a position where he could possibly be convinced by their counter-arguments. Music, movies, books, poetry, everything was fair game.
But that was then, before the night of Oct. 22, 2014 when Maher fell into a diabetic coma—one which held him in its grasp for nearly a month, threatening to take his life in the process. It was in this moment that the universe apparently saw an opportunity to prod him further. Fully embracing its trickster nature, it slipped on an Arlecchino mask and tacitly suggested to Maher that there were bigger questions to be asked; questions about life, and fate, responsibility, and absolution.
The Theatre School at DePaul University will present the 27th Annual Awards for Excellence in the Arts at a gala Monday, Nov. 9. Proceeds from the event will benefit the scholarship fund, which supports students to train at the theater school. The gala will recognize distinguished artists and visionaries who have proven dedication and talent in support of the arts.
With the recent explosion of Dracula and vampire narratives, in particular, in our collective culture, a straightforward exploration of Bram Stoker's classic seems ripe for adaptation. Given the popularity of cable series such as True Blood, Penny Dreadful, The Vampire Diaries, heck, even the epic '90s series Buffy and its spinoff Angel--There's a lot of material to unpack. That's why I was very excited to see The Chicago Mammals' adaptation of Bram Stokers' Dracula, with all female players--All Girl Dracula.
WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH
This slogan of the Ministry of Truth (Minitrue) in George Orwell's novel, 1984, sums up the themes of Newspeak, doublethink, censorship and repression that permeate his novel. Steppenwolf for Young Adults recreates this dystopian era and gives it a strong contemporary twist in its new staging of Orwell's 1949 novel. It's a provocative play and brought out some thoughtful questions from high-school-age audience members at the Saturday afternoon opening.
Andrew White's careful adaptation of 1984, directed by Hallie Gordon, brings the story to life in the person of Winston (Adam Poss), who secretly hates Big Brother and the IngSoc party, misses chocolate and fears rats. He lives in Oceania, one of the world's three great powers, and works for Minitrue, an organization dedicated to erasing the past and discouraging memories. Winston changes past news reports to match new government edicts and replaces images of those declared unpersons. When he and Julia (Atra Asdou) meet and fall in love, their actions break all the rules of the party, which has obliterated love, warmth, pleasure and intimacy from the world.
Spooky and scary events allow us all a little fun in this so-far warm fall weather. With the witches in place in the hallway and the squirrels already eating the pumpkins on the porch, I hope I'm not the only one looking forward to some bloodcurdling scares this Halloween season. So here's a list of 14 thrilling theater productions and other artistic events (in no particular order) so that you can celebrate Hallow's Eve this year.
Chicago's only "Retrotainment" venue gives you reason to enjoy burlesque, comedy, circus, magic and the speakeasy lifestyle every night for the rest of October. No One Here But Witches features witch-themed cabaret Monday nights at 7:00pm. Each other 8pm nightly production brings another magical experience at the Uptown Underground featuring "gore-lesque", freak-show striptease, circus arts and more. 21+ Advance reservation recommended. Click here for more information.
The venerable Newberry Library, best known for its genealogical and local research facilities, now has on display a fascinating exhibit about Chicago's early theater history, leading up to the founding of the Goodman Theatre in the 1920s.
Stagestruck City: Chicago's Theater Tradition and the Birth of the Goodman takes up three rooms at the Newberry's landmark 1887 building on Walton Street between Dearborn and Clark.
Making use of materials from the Newberry's archives, the exhibit tells the story of Chicago theater history starting with pre-fire days, the late 19th and early 20th century. Most of the performances in those days were by traveling stock companies, although there were some local productions. Famous actors such as Edwin Booth (shown at left) performed in Shakespearean productions at the McVickers Theatre (on Madison Street between State and Dearborn). One playbill illustrates his 1876 performances in Much Ado About Nothing, Hamlet and Richard II. (Yes, Edwin Booth was the brother of the Lincoln assassin, John Wilkes Booth, whose reputation unfortunately overshadowed that of his talented actor brother.)
It isn't every day that treason and love are combined in musical theater, but playwright Jed Levine and composer Brad Kemp have blended their script and lyrical writing abilities to comic effect. It's just the age-old story of good girl Mary who worked hard for her piece of the American pie and scored a nice office job at the NSA, where she spies on innocent people, and stuffs down her emotions via peanut butter cups...until one day she gets a case spying on a former crush. Enter Steve, a guy who somehow got to be part of WikiLeaks based on his activist past, even though he seems to have no skills beyond optimism. The plot thickens from there, in a very farcical manner, with a large ensemble cast chiming in with their catchy tunes.
The new production Unspeakable opened Tuesday night to a full house eager to understand the life and work of Richard Pryor, presented as a "dramatic fantasia." Film critic Pauline Kael once said of Pryor that he was "a master of lyrical obscenity; the only great poet-satirist among our comics."
Yet for all of the light he shone with his comedy, he was a broken and deeply flawed man. As a result of the abuse and neglect he suffered while young, Pryor continued the cycle, abusing women, becoming an addict and neglecting his children. So many things about Richard Pryor's life must have felt unspeakable to him, from his traumatic early experiences being raised in a brothel by his grandmother, abandoned by his alcoholic parents, to being sexually abused during his formative years. Maybe because he couldn't talk about those things, he needed to find an avenue for his outrage at the world. The prejudice and disadvantage he experienced gave him the courage to look beyond his comedic ambitions and address the rampant racism in society through the art of comedy. And he did it so well, breaking down taboos and holding a mirror up to humanity in turn.
Left to Right: Rusell Mernaugh as Mischa Bachiniski, Tiffany Tatreau as Ocean O'Connell Rosenberg, Lillian Castro as Constance Blackwood, Emily Rohm as Jane Doe and Jackson Evans as Ricky Potts. Photo by Liz Lauren.
In a U.S. premiere of the Canadian musical at Chicago Shakespeare, Ride the Cyclone twists and turns through musical excellence. Described as "'Glee' meets 'Survivor'," this show does not disappoint with its hairpin plot twists, its tour through musical genres of the last two centuries and an upbeat and outstanding cast of performers and tragic/comic themes.
Oracle Productions' adaptation of Shakespeare's Richard III as No Beast So Fierce is minimalist, dance-theatre-inspired and trimmed down to a crisp 90 minutes. Its most interesting feature is that the Duke of Gloucester, later Richard III, is played by a woman--Katherine Keberlein, who recently won a Jeff award for her performance in Brecht's The Mother at Oracle. Keberlein plays Richard as a woman fighting for control in a male world but she lacks the fierceness and evil strength that we expect to see in actors playing Richard.
Francis Guinan, Stephen Park, Kate Arrington, and Tim Hopper in Steppenwolf's East of Eden. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
You remember John Steinbeck. He's the author of those books your high school English teacher forced you to read, Of Mice and Men (if you were lucky) and The Grapes of Wrath (if you weren't). But Steinbeck actually considered those novels "practice" for his true masterpiece, East of Eden, a retelling of the biblical story of Cain and Abel set in World War I-era California.
Oh no! The Zombie Apocalypse has overrun Manhattan and the well-loved Seinfeld television series has been infected with the disease. Can the characters be saved from "Zombie-citis"? Beginning October 10, this unique show at Gorilla Tango Theatre Bucktown will start the Halloween season off with Zombie Central.
Zombie Seinfeld is a display of a truly hilarious zombie parody that helps the audience determine if anti-zombie vaccines exist, learn tricks for noticing zombie morphing and, yada, yada, yada. It's not clear whether playing "zombie-pretend" will help you get things you wouldn't normally have access to.
They laughed a little louder, they cried a little softer, they lived a little stronger because they stood together...sisters.
This quote from an unknown author exhibits the connection between sisters Lizzie (played by Jennifer T. Grubb) and Laura (Stephanie Stockstill) in the musical adaptation of the 1862 poem Goblin Market by Christina Rossetti. It was made into a "mini-musical" by Polly Pen and Peggy Harmon, with music by Pen. As I watched its staging, I appreciated the connections and execution, but I would have liked to feel more closure in the open-ended interpretation.
Four Watsons, multiple Merricks and Elizas. Technology disruptions swirl through several eras in the new Theater Wit production of the awkwardly named The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence by Madeleine George.
The play is 140 minutes (one intermission) of fast-moving, time-switching scenes with quick costume and set changes. One of the Watsons is Mr. Watson, who occasionally is paged by Alexander Graham Bell, "Come here, Watson. I want to see you." (A misquote, according to Watson himself appearing on a 1930s radio program at Bell Labs.)
Signal Ensemble company portrait, 2009. Photos by Johnny Knight.
Tonight I witnessed the beginning of the end. Signal Ensemble Theatre, the company whose productions I've photographed more than any other, announced that this season will be their last.
Over the past 10 years I have taken production photos during dress rehearsals for 25 of their shows. That's 25 times in my life I have shown up at their space (on a quiet corner on Berenice Avenue near Ravenswood) and been their first audience, watching the show through my lens as they performed it. Besides the production photos, I've done 27 of Signal's PR/poster photo shoots, 13 headshot sessions for their ensemble members, and five weddings that involved at least one member of their artistic family.
Caryl Churchill said in a 1960 essay, "The role of the playwright is not to give answers but to ask questions." I suspect most of those who attended Remy Bumppo's new production of Churchill's 2012 play, Love and Information, would agree. Lots of questions, few answers.
The production is made up of about 50 seemingly unrelated scenes in random order, some no more than a few seconds, and the longest lasting a few minutes. They are played out by 10 actors, all of whom play many roles, in an anonymous space fitted out with steel shelving units and corrugated file boxes of different sizes. The boxes themselves suggest data--as in all the boxes it takes to store the paperwork for a legal case or a consulting engagement--or the memories of a life. The scenes, skillfully choreographed by director Shawn Douglass, add up to a pastiche of love, memories and the need to make human connections in an era fraught with technology.
L to R, White, Sturgis, Young, Crane. Photo by Liz Lauren.
Disgraced won a 2013 Pulitzer Prize for playwright Ayad Akhtar. But that doesn't mean you won't be squirming in your seat in mental discomfort as the 85-minute play progresses. The play tackles questions of Islamaphobia, Muslim-American identity and identity politics in general. The smartly written script offers equal-opportunity political incorrectness, something to offend everyone.
Kimberly Senior, who has directed Disgraced since its first 2012 production in Chicago at American Theater Company, directs Goodman's new production. She directed its Lincoln Center debut in late 2012 and then its Broadway production in 2014. Since then, it has become one of the most-produced plays in the country.
Chicago Shakespeare's bewitching new production of William Shakespeare's The Tempest was adapted and directed by Aaron Posner and Teller (the silent member of the Penn & Teller duo). The play has all of its poetry and more music and magic than traditional productions of this late Shakespearean tale of revenge.
Prospero's island has been transformed into a travelling tent show laden with trickery and magic. The spirit Ariel (Nate Dendy) seems to appear out of nowhere again and again and is capable of amazing sleight of hand. Prospero, played with wicked charm by Larry Yando in his 24th CST production, is the wizard and rightful Duke of Milan.
Joe (Scott Westerman, right) is egged on by Kit Carson (Frank Nall) as he engages in a gum-chewing contest with Tom (Jae K. Renfrow, left). Photo by Tim Knight.
Walking into The Artistic Home theater, you literally enter Nick's saloon in San Francisco. Large lettering identifies the bar owner, playing cards are set out, light illuminates the back window. It was clear that each prop and scenic detail had been strategically set up to bring the audience back to 1939. In the 45-seat theater, I felt like I was a part of the production.
The actors brought to life exactly what I had read in the script just hours before. The emotion portrayed in Kitty Duvall and the transformation of Joe throughout the performance were truly how I pictured it. I believe that the playwright, William Saroyan, would approve this rendition of his work. The details, even down to the newspapers displaying "The San Francisco Chronicles" masthead in 1939-style font, were exemplary.
Presented by Badass Broads and Fury Theatre, Nobody's Wench summons ye theater fans to its production of Six Tales of Pirate Women on the Rolling Seas with its premiere on September 19, International Talk-Like-A-Pirate Day. Pirate women from history are presented with the hearty har-har of a pirate's truth and the walk-the-plank swagger of true pirateers who didn't pay attention to gender in those days.
Short Attention Span Theatre (SAST) features plays that have been submitted and then chosen for production with its edge and local Chicago talent seeping through the intriguing stories. In its fourth year, Tickets for SAST productions are $15 or pay-what-you-can at the door.
Upon entering The Den Theater for the Hypocrites' new production of American Idiot, the audience is treated to a live band playing a variety of songs from the punk oeuvre. The cast mingles onstage, forming an audience for the band, which also serves as pre-show music. They also mingle with the audience, with a familiarity that reminded me of the late '80s/early '90s punk scene in Chicago. (Everyone sort of knows everyone else...and if not, you will by the end of a night in the mosh pit with them.)
Malic White with the cast/band of The Hypocrites' Chicago premiere of American Idiot. Photo by Evan Hanover.
What follows is a raucous and riotous punk opera journey through the life of a disaffected suburban young adult and his best friends/bandmates as they live life, struggle to deal with adult issues and grapple with very serious matters in a post-9/11 world.
In Geneva, a little known political drama by George Bernard Shaw, the dictators who start World War II are summoned before the international Court of Justice in The Hague to be tried for crimes against humanity. But before the dictators appear, we enjoy 90 minutes of dialogue about democracy, corruption and humanity, written as only GBS could do.
Shaw Chicago's new production of the 1938 play is another in its concert readings, performed by 12 costumed actors who clearly revel in the richness of Shaw's dialogue and characterizations. Director Robert Scogin takes advantage of the script's humor, political passions and ethnic stereotypes to stage a production that is funny and smart, and loaded with Shaw's diatribes against every form of political organization and chicanery.
Left to right, Bowman, Isely, Curtis, Liscio, Sledd. Photo by Michael Brosilow
The dentist has a lot of tricks in his bag, but they're not enough to save him from his fate, or for that matter, to save this rather uneven production at Profiles Theatre.
Beth Henley's 2012 play, The Jacksonian, is a bit of noir, a bit of Southern Gothic decay, and set in a nondescript motel of that name on the outskirts of Jackson, Miss., in 1964. Joe Jahraus' direction is paced right and moves the action easily among the three settings in this 90-minute production. The five-member cast is capable, with Tim Curtis providing a strong performance as the drug-addled dentist Bill Perch, whose dental practice as well as his marriage are in decline. Juliana Liscio as his daughter, Rosy, gives a touching performance. (Liscio is a new high school graduate, ready to begin college as a Loyola theater major.)
The show begins and ends with intertwining strands of DNA on a screen being watched by three awed Blue Men. Though those men never speak and seem alien at times, with their intense eyes and bald heads almost like inquisitive birds, we soon see that they are a lot like us. They like to bang on things. They are affected by each other. They like to play and interact. They are curious. They depend on one another for entertainment.
They entertain with giant LED balls, strobe lights, PVC plumbing tubes, Dayglo paint, black lights, electronic and live music, zithers, xylophones, drums, video screens in the shape of giant iPods, oversized streamers, interactive art, Jello tossing, audience interaction, and hypnotic fractals. You don't need to go to Burning Man to get your fill of these things. You can head straight to the Briar Street Theatre four nights a week and take part in the joyous ruckus that is known around the world as Blue Man Group.
I have lived in Chicago for their entire 18-year run here, and have avoided seeing the show, assuming I knew what they were about. Nevertheless, when an opportunity to attend the show emerged, I questioned my assumptions and decided I had been an asshat. "Are blue men not clowns?" I asked myself. So I signed up for a night of revelry with my most joyous and clown-embracing friend, and off we went to get blued.
Mark Ulrich and Martin Yurek. Photo by Michael Brosilow
If you're a news junkie who enjoys being immersed in fascinating facts about our political and criminal history, then I have a theater recommendation for you. Assassination Theater: Chicago's Role in the Crime of the Century spells out in rapid-fire data points how we have been misled all these years about the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy. And that of his brother Robert five years later.
Journalist Hillel Levin, who has explored the activities of the Chicago Outfit before, has created a gripping two-hour-plus documentary-style production that details the assassination and its aftermath, including an autopsy that was covered up by the White House and FBI leadership. Their goal was to confirm the single-bullet, single-crazed-shooter story and to keep the American people from thinking that a conspiracy was involved.
As much as I love theater, I haven't ever really immersed myself in it. Theater can bring every art form together with actors, improv, music and dance, costumes, sound and set design. There is so much to notice with every step of the performance, so much to appreciate in every production. So much I feel I am missing out on.
Even if you aren't an experienced theatergoer, this is the best time (for both of us) to get involved. Starting Thursday, September 10, the League of Chicago Theatres will re-launch Theatre Thursdays. One Thursday a month, a world-premiere production will be featured to highlight the incredibly bold, rare work that takes place year-round in the Chicago area.
Patrese McClain and Shane Kenyon. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
Three couples, three bedrooms and a conference call. That's the scenario. It's two hours of pillow talk (and pillow shouting) among people who are trying to get their needs and desires met, but keep running into complications. Things You Shouldn't Say Past Midnight, the new sexy comedy at the Windy City Playhouse, is a comic farce with a coarse edge. Noel Coward it isn't.
The two-hour play from the script by Peter Ackerman is funny and vulgar but the vulgarity is all verbal; the actors are in some stage of love-making under the covers, but there's no nudity. Director Peter Brown tightly directs the six actors and their timing is perfect throughout. The funny lines pop and snap.
Briana Finegan and Nora Bingham in "The Applicant." Photo by Ariela Subar.
I've attended a few short-play productions, where works of 10-15 minutes each purport to capture or represent another work of art or event. Most of them are unsuccessful in staging works of substance, plot or character.
That's not the case in First Floor Theater's Third Annual Litfest, Kafkapalooza. Eight different playwrights dramatize or "are inspired by" one of the stories of Franz Kafka, the late great Czech storyteller, who tried to keep his unpublished works from being published after his death. Fortunately, Max Brod, Kafka's literary executor, ignored his wishes. And so we have a play such as "The Applicant" by Amanda Fink, inspired by the story, "Poseidon," as well as "Justice for All" by Karen Kessler, inspired by "The Penal Colony," and "Red Right Hand" by Ike Holter, inspired by Kafka's best-known story, "The Metamorphosis." (The latter two stories were published during Kafka's lifetime. My knowledge of Kafka's publishing history is enhanced by my serendipitous purchase of a used copy of Franz Kafka: The Complete Stories at the Printer's Row Lit Fest in June.)
In this production about two well-off middle aged ladies from Connecticut who travel to India to find some healing for the tragedies that have befallen them, there is a surprising amount of humor. Margaret, played by Elaine Carlson, and Kitty, played by Jeanne Affelder, are unknowingly protected in their travels by the beloved elephant-headed Indian god, Ganesha, played by Michael Harris. The handful of other characters in the play are all played by Phil Higgins.
Phil Higgins at various times is a Dutch stranger, the husband to both of the main characters, the dead sons of both of the main characters, a puppeteer, a young man dying of aids, a Bronx accented flight attendant, a leper, a sassy hotel porter and a stressed out airline employee. He switches between the roles with ease, sometimes playing it comical, sometimes moving. Although it is impressive to see the range of characters Higgins is capable of, his youth sometimes worked against him, making him seem slightly off for the role, as in the first scene where he played a distant wealthy pipe smoking husband. Nevertheless, he provides some much-needed levity throughout the show.
Pride Films and Plays' new production of The Boy From Oz is an exuberant, splashy musical based on the songs and story of Peter Allen, the Australian songwriter and entertainer, whose life became intertwined with Judy Garland's and Liza Minnelli's.
Chris Logan plays Allen (he's onstage constantly for the two-and-a-half-hour show) and heads a cast of 18 actors, singers and dancers. David Zak's skillful direction of this sort-of-bioplay is greatly enhanced by well-choreographed dance numbers and great costumes, courtesy of Cameron Turner (choreography) and John Nasca (costume design). A six-member band makes the music come alive.
Cody Proctor, Stacy Stoltz, Matt Fletcher, Norm Woodel, Nate Whelden and Katy Carolina Collins. Photo by DEF.
Early in Anton Chekhov's The Seagull, Konstantin, the tortured artist playwright, laments the need for new expression in theater: "... to my mind, the modern theater is nothing but tradition and conventionality." I mused about that speech during Sideshow Theatre's Stupid Fucking Bird and decided Konstantin would have liked this production, even though Con, his counterpart, is still raging about the need for new expression in theater.
You might think Aaron Posner's 2013 script, Stupid Fucking Bird, is kind of a modernization of Chekhov's original. The seven characters are kind of related to the Russian originals. The story line sort of follows Chekhov's. A seagull appears in different forms throughout the play. But the language, costumes, attitudes and pop music interludes make it an entirely different show.
Pippin opened up this week at the Cadillac Palace Theatre to a full house of enthusiastic fans ready to celebrate the 32nd longest running Broadway play and enjoy the iconic figures portrayed in it. There was quite a lot of kerfuffle over the charming Josh Rubinstein appearing as Charles, since he was the original Pippin in 1972. But Adrienne Barbeau brought down the house with her grandmotherly spunk, especially when she whipped off her Queenly garments to reveal the trapeze artist costume beneath and took to the trapeze with ease with partner Kevin Langlois Boucher just before orchestrating a giant sing-along with the audience. Not bad for a woman in her 70s.
Feast, the new production by the Albany Park Theater Project and Goodman Theatre, is indeed a feast of color, sounds, cuisines and ethnicities, celebrating Chicago's diverse food culture. It's totally appropriate that it comes to us from Albany Park, one of Chicago's most diverse neighborhoods. Feast tells the stories of how food, its paucity and its plenty, plays a role in family lives and celebrations.
The Albany Park Theater Project, a multiethnic youth theater ensemble, first mounted the show in 2010. This year's revival is based on additional research by company members and is staged in the round for the first time, which helps to create a communal atmosphere.
Directed by APTP artistic director David Feiner, the lively 90-minute production begins in a world marketplace where the 25 performers sing and perform percussive dances. Other scenes move to a farm in the Philippines where we learn about a boy and his cow. (The young actors use their sound effects enthusiastically to narrate the life of the cow and the boy.) Then the acrobatic Meena cavorts with her shopping cart in a supermarket as she spends her LINK card, and the brainy Maia fills out the family application for food stamps (with the help of a big dictionary).
Casey Edwards and Guadalupe Bollas. Photo courtesy ATC.
A political massacre that took place 36 years ago in another state is being dramatized with power and feeling by a cast of 11 Chicago high school students at the American Theater Company. The young actors deliver the story of the 1979 Greensboro, NC, massacre with chilling signifiers of its 21st century relevance.
Greensboro: A Requiem is the current production of the ATC Youth Ensemble, directed by Kelly O'Sullivan, from the documentary script by Emily Mann. Ensemble members visited Greensboro, the third largest city in North Carolina, to do research and interview some of the people involved. They also researched the history of the Ku Klux Klan, investigated police complicity in events, and watched videos of the actual Greensboro massacre, recorded by local news crews at the time.
While the plot, setting, and characters are pure Chicago, this isn't the Chicago of sitcoms and rom-coms; it's the Chicago of immigrants and their children, their communities, and their ...superpowers. In The Real Life Adventures, a 13-year-old Mexican-American boy living in Pilsen and Little Village spends his days playing baseball, helping his abuela with her elote cart, and hiding the fact that he has telekinetic powers. When his mother, an undocumented factory worker, mysteriously disappears, Jimmy is determined to find her. With the help of two "pirates," he finds himself facing a pack of mutant Chihuahuas and a ruthless sweatshop owner in a high-stakes battle to reclaim the streets of his neighborhood.
Tekki Lomnicki is both the art director and an actor in her upcoming show Phobias, A Solo Performance Complex, which runs for the next two weekends, July 17 through July 26, at Prop Thtr, 3502 N. Elston Ave. Tekki seems comfortable switching gears from playwright to director, then hopping on stage to tell us about her phobias and hang-ups. Perhaps she is brave because she has a mission, one that is stated clearly on the Tellin' Tales website, and which she happily shares: The mission is to shatter barriers between the disabled and able-bodied worlds through the transformative power of personal story.
Can you explain your mission and how it works?
We believe that by sharing our stories, we close the gaps between people. Once an able-bodied person hears that a person with a disability goes through some of the same things he or she does-- such as loss, love and insecurity--there is more of a connection and not so much "otherness."
Goodrich and Goodman. Photo courtesy of Ring of Fire Chicago LLC
Ring of Fire: The Music of Johnny Cash, now extended through August at the Mercury Theatre on Southport, deserves to be called a jukebox musical. It's a rousing evening of Johnny Cash's music--some 30 songs by Cash and other songwriters--performed by a talented band of Chicago musicians. It's a musical tribute with almost no storyline to complicate the musical evening.
The Cash persona is most ably performed by Kent M. Lewis, who really sounds like Cash and almost inhabits his personality. He serves as a narrative voice too, particularly when Michael Monroe Goodman portrays the younger Cash. Sometimes the distinction between the two Johnnys isn't clear. But both are outstanding singers and musicians.
With a title like Grand Concourse (named after the Bronx's largest thoroughfare), you might expect Steppenwolf's newest production to be massive in scope and scale. Instead, Heidi Schreck's (Nurse Jackie) brisk, funny play features a small cast in a tiny church soup kitchen, and an intimate look at the relativity of suffering and the versatility of love.
E. Faye Butler describes herself as an actor who sings, not a singer who acts. She's a theater and musical star in Chicago and nationally and has won many awards and honors for her work. She currently plays the cleaning lady, Cassandra, who knows the source of her name only too well, in the current Goodman Theatre production, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. I interviewed her about that role and her other stage and cabaret work. She let me in on a few secrets about her voice, her vocal practices -- and her dreams. (Also see our review of the play.)
First of all, where did you grow up? Are you a Chicago native?
Absolutely. Born and raised right here on the South Side. Born In Lake Meadows, lived and went to school in South Shore. All my neighbors were Jewish and there were very few African Americans then. We lived right across the street from the South Shore Country Club, now it's the South Shore Cultural Center. Cassius Clay was my neighbor; he lived right next door to me. That was before he was Muhammad Ali. It was hard for me to call him Mr. Ali. I always thought of him as Mr. Clay. Yes, that's where I grew up. I still live in Chicago and still live on the South Side.
It starts out like a '70s British working class film, but it's set in 2010. The council flat is scruffy and so is its inhabitant, who is on the dole because of a disability. But it soon becomes clear that we're going to dive from social realism into sci-fi and fantasy, because Luke (Curtis Edward Jackson) is a genius and he's built a time machine.
Brilliant Adventures, the grim and grimly funny new Steep Theatre production, was written by Alistair McDowall and directed by Robin Witt. It was first performed in Manchester in 2011 and won the Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting. It is a deeply classist play that explores the lives of those who live in Middlesbrough, a failed industrial city on the River Tees in northeast England.
Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike is not a Chekhov parody, but Christopher Durang's play set in an old farmhouse in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, could have been set in a dacha in the Russian countryside. It retains much of the melancholy of Chekhov's dissatisfied characters.
Steve Scott's new Goodman Theatre production is funny and charming and much of its wit rests on the many theatrical references and stage in-jokes (fond references to Chekhov and Greek tragedies, and to theater masters such as Stanislavski and Meisner). In addition, monologues by three of its characters are compelling and humorous set pieces.
The plot centers on three 50-something siblings, all named for Chekhovian characters.
"It's been our cross to bear, that our parents gave us names from Chekhov plays. The other children made such fun of us," says Vanya (Ross Lehman). "Such was the burden of having professor parents.... Father was so angry when you didn't know something. But what 7-year-old knows who wrote The Imaginary Invalid? Father was enraged when I said Neil Simon."
What distinguishes contemporary faith from the traditional? It's often the ability to ask questions, to explore how meanings have changed, while still maintaining respect for its beliefs. That's the question explored in Victory Gardens Theater's new play.
The Who and the What is a smart, funny play about a conservative Pakistani-American family and their attempts to come to grips with modern realities while maintaining respect for tradition. Playwright Ayad Akhtar has written believable characters who fight articulately about what they believe in. Director Ron O J Parsons has crafted a thought-provoking and moving play with Akhtar's four characters.
Two sisters--Zarina (Susaan Jamshidi) and Mahwish (Minita Gandhi)--discuss their love lives or lack thereof as Zarina prepares dinner. Zarina is a writer, currently fighting writer's block as she tries to finish her novel about "gender politics." She won't talk about the book, but admits that it's about women and Islam. Her younger sister is engaged but knows she shouldn't marry before her older sister.
Abelson and Fleming as Ishmael and Queequeg. Photo by Liz Lauren.
Lookingglass Theatre's new production of Moby Dick gives a modern infusion of energy and fluidity to Herman Melville's 19th century whaling tale. The sprawling 700-page novel is smartly encapsulated into a two-and-three-quarter hour play without losing any of its sense of awe and terror at the power of the great sea creature sought by the monomaniacal Captain Ahab. David Catlin's adaptation and direction are both superlative and his dialogue retains much of Melville's poetic language.
Lookingglass's black box theater in the old Water Works on Michigan Avenue becomes the interior of a great whale with steel hoops extending from stage rear to the top of the theater. You really feel you're in the belly of the beast. Ropes, rafts and pulleys are manipulated by the excellent cast of seven seamen plus three actors who become characters as well as forces of nature, as the script requires.
Animal, vegetable or mineral? You never know what might make it into a production of Barrel of Monkeys' That's Weird, Grandma. Anything is possible because the authors will be 3rd, 4th and 5th graders in the creative writing workshops led by actor-educators in Chicago Public Schools around the city. The stories produced at That's Weird, Grandma are written by kids for kids (and adapted to be performed by kids at heart) to allow everyone to enjoy clever sketches that truly entertain.
Starting at 6:15 tonight, That's Weird, Grandma begins its neighborhood tour through Chicago Park District's Night Out in the Parks. The Night out in the Parks series has provided more than 1,000 events and programs at over 250 community parks throughout the city each summer for the past two years. Now, Night Out in the Parks will host productions ranging from movies, traditional performances, community workshops, concerts and more. CPD partners with more than 80 arts and community organizations to succeed in this initiative supported by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. All productions are located in Chicago Parks and are free to the public.
Keith Neagle (Nat), Jodi Kingsley (Diane), and Emily Nichelson (Julia). Photo by Michael Brosilow.
Though well-known as a 1963 Alfred Hitchcock film, the story of killer birds attacking people and running amok actually comes from a novelette written by British author Daphne du Maurier in the early 1950s. Du Maurier's work is the inspiration for Conor McPherson's stage adaptation, The Birds, which makes its Chicago premiere this month at the Griffin Theatre Company.
The first question, invariably, that anyone would pose, is how do they depict the birds? If you were hoping for the campy spectacle of taxidermied crows dangling from the rafters by fishing line, terrorizing the actors, you're out of luck here. Instead, director Kevin Kingston opts to portray the titular birds off-stage, with sound and light. It's a choice all but necessitated by the medium, and it fits with this version of the story, as this isn't a madcap struggle against dive-bombing seagulls, but a No Exit-esque cabin fever drama.
Ladies and gents, a night out on the town may be in order, and if you want to laugh with your friends until your face hurts, you should take them to a play about an all-male review called Roast Beef and be sure to sit in the first two rows. But be forewarned, there will be a few men in thongs throughout the production, so don't take your out-of-town relatives who want to see what you are up to in the big city. That said, there were a few grandmas in the crowd who were really enjoying themselves, so if they are really fun and open-minded relatives who don't mind frequent references to genitalia in your presence, by all means bring them along.
Eugene Lee (Alexander Ames) and Edgar Sanchez (J). Photo by Liz Lauren.
It's fitting that the Goodman Theatre's production of stop. reset., written and directed by Regina Taylor, coincides with the playwright's 20th season as an Artistic Associate with the theater. Taylor, who has presented a significant breadth of work over that span, here gives us a story that probes the meaning of legacy and integrity, and how to hold onto our memories and accomplishments while remaining receptive to the future and everything that it holds.
stop. reset. concerns a near-future doomsday moment for an African American book publishing company run by the aging Alexander Ames (Eugene Lee). Printed books are finished, his employees, and seemingly the whole world tell him; the focus needs to shift to what's next. The keys to understanding what that may entail lie with an enigmatic teenage janitor, J (Edgar Miguel Sanchez), a cyberpunk-y rebel who spends most of his energy tuning in to an elaborate Ghost in the Shell-style virtual network. Moving through this perhaps-not-far-off descendant of today's Internet is like moving through water. Identity, history, and status are all fluid.
AstonRep takes on the challenge of the slashing wit and amoral sexual tensions of the French drama Les Liaisons Dangereuses, in its new production at Raven Theatre. The play, adapted by Christopher Hampton from the 1782 novel by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, was set in France, just before the 1789 revolution. AstonRep translates it to 1917 pre-revolutionary Russia, where the aristocracy was considered equally decadent and susceptible to revolution.
The script is notable for the scintillating dialogue and cruel sexual tricks devised by its two leading characters, the Marquise de Merteuil (Sara Pavlak McGuire) and Vicomte de Valmont (Robert Tobin), who conspire to seduce and humiliate three people for their own amusement. McGuire is a devious and beautiful trickster, able to switch from kind and helpful to evil and demonic, as the situation requires. Tobin is almost her match as Valmont, but I really wanted his character to exhibit more menace. He is almost too, dare I say, nice.
Based on a True Story is an entertaining slice of improv on Saturday nights. Under the Gun Theater hosts the show at 956 W. Newport Ave. in Wrigleyville. It's a little hidden oasis tucked among a roiling sea of zombielike frat boys roaming the sidewalk looking for a way in to any establishment that sells liquor. Busting through the drunken crowd to the haven of the second floor, everything becomes fun and light again, with the rotating cast of around 30-plus members making up for your travails.
At the top of the show, the host introduced the guest of the week, Zach Zimmerman, a new ensemble member at Under the Gun. He is an actor, writer, improviser and good sport when it comes to having his life cheerfully dissected by his colleagues. Each week the show starts with a casual interview between the host and someone from the Chicago arts community. The host delves into the guest's background, with the attentive ensemble nearby looking for a good occasion to break out into an improvised set, drawing inspiration from the guest's stories. Although they rarely depicted the literal facts of what Zimmerman described in his interview, they were quite adept at catching on to the funny and interesting bits of his tale and expanding upon them. Perhaps one of the funniest permutations of Zimmerman's interview was when the ensemble re-enacted a traditional alum parade at Princeton University, headed up by the oldest white man who avoided arrest for public intoxication by getting drunk in a box.
Director Kevin Mullaney has struck on an improv format that keeps the material fresh and the cast hopping, which makes it a great night out with friends. Upcoming guests are Susan Messing tomorrow and Ric Walker on May 30.
Based on a True Story runs through summer. Tickets can be purchased for $12 here.
Timeline Theatre's Chicago premiere of Inana by Michele Lowe is a ripped-from-the-headlines love story. And it also reminds us that Americans are sometimes the barbarians at the gates. In this case, the gates of an Iraqi museum of cultural artifacts. Kimberly Senior's direction succeeds in making this a lesson in recent history as well as a memorable personal story.
Yasin Shalid (Demetrios Troy) is chief of the Mosul Museum. He and his arranged bride Shali (Atra Asdou) have just arrived in London on their wedding trip in February 2003. The story moves back and forth between their hotel room and Mosul where Yasin organizes the packing and shipping of cultural and historical artifacts to the National Museum in Baghdad, where steel-lined vaults are buried deep in the ground. The past scenes acquaint us with the back stories of both Yasin and Shali and illustrate the worries of everyday Iraqis about the impending invasion by the U.S.
Most people look at Lillian Hellman's 1939 play, The Little Foxes, as a play about a dysfunctional family battling over sex, money and property. You know, the kind that made Steppenwolf Theatre famous. But this one is being staged at Goodman Theatre and it's a sumptuous setting in every way, not one of those stories about grungy, downtrodden people.
My opinion, however, is that this is really a play about the economy. Hellman sets it in 1900 when the South was dying after the failure of Reconstruction, whose planners had hoped that the region would turn into a new industrial power. That didn't happen. (In fact, slavery was detrimental to the southern economy. It inhibited manufacturing and technological innovation as well as the growth of cities.) And Hellman wrote the play in 1939 when the impact of the Depression on people and society was much on the mind of Hellman and her audience members.
Photo by Jennifer Frankfurter.
Show trailer follows review.
MacSith, a sci-fi Shakespearian tale that blends the plot of Macbeth with the trappings of Star Wars, is a geek's dream come true. E.D.G.E. Theatre is presenting MacSith at Pendulum Theater Space, 1803 W. Byron Ave., Thursdays through Sundays until June 14. Orion Couling and Jared McDaris have adapted this imaginative script, which explores intergalactic warfare and the corruptive influence of power on humanity.
While Shakespeare covered the themes of manliness and honor in this bloody tale, director Couling does not shy away from those concepts either. In fact, Couling has a history of teaching youngsters how to embrace their inner warrior with stage combat (with his theater company Edge of Orion) while also developing their sense of honor by using the power of social theater to promote non-violence. This is a classic geek bait and switch move, which Shakespeare himself would have approved of. Couling explains where he got the idea: "This script came out of a desire to have fun teaching the Bard yet still do really exciting work that was not all just men in tights and women in bodices. So I tried out three different genres including Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica in three different Shakespeare plays including Much Ado About Nothing and Twelfth Night. This one stuck."
American Theater Company's brave new world premiere, The Project(s), is a lesson in Chicago history and an explanation of some of its present troubles. Writer/director P.J. Paparelli conceived the play to dramatize the experiences of residents of Chicago's public housing projects, past and present.
His docudrama isn't a dreary recitation of blame and political failure. The problems are not ignored, but the resulting production is a lively and thoroughly engrossing story in words, rhythm and music. The ensemble is made up of outstanding performers with diverse theatrical backgrounds. Each plays many roles as residents, victims, observers and public officials. The result is a fascinating and illuminating drama about the creation and destruction of community.
The stage is set. Three claw-footed bathtubs. The kind your grandmother had. Props. Three scrub buckets, newspapers and a tea set. Costumes. Bridal gowns and veils, usually sopping wet.
If this doesn't sound like a promising start for a night at the theater, The Drowning Girls at Signal Ensemble Theatre will quickly change your mind. The play is a beautifully performed, balletic story of an English serial killer in the 19th century, who swindled from and then drowned his three wives. Actually, it's the entrancing story of the three wives, who perform all the parts in the play from the brides submerged in their tubs to the husband(s), parents, lawyers, judge, reporters and scrubwomen. They re-enact their meetings, weddings and deaths, and their characters spur an investigation that leads to the murder conviction of George Joseph Smith, whose crimes were called the "Brides in the Bath Murders." He wooed the daughters of wealthy families and managed to have the women's inheritances or savings signed over to him and insurance policies signed to his benefit.
The wrenching thought of a newborn baby dying after nine hours in her mother's arms. Baby booties in the graveyard. The name Hope on a gravestone. It's hard to imagine a mother ever overcoming her grief at the loss of a child. Pegasus Theatre's Ghost Gardens explores how people in a dying community fight to overcome grief, illness, hopelessness, and air poisoned by a local giant corporation.
The world premiere script set in Detroit is written by Steven Simoncic, a playwright in residence with Pegasus and several other Chicago theaters. Ilesa Duncan's direction and a couple of good performances are not able to overcome a script that is rambling and disjointed. Ghost Gardens doesn't persuade us that its residents have created a community -- and the play's clever use of modern technology isn't enough to save the production.
The jazzmen sit on a sofa in a small New York apartment, transfixed by the image on the TV set. It's September 1956 and Elvis Presley is playing his first gig on the Ed Sullivan Show. The trumpet players don't know it at the time, of course, but this is a tipping point in their world -- and in the music business. "Anybody here know how to play guitar?" says a jazzman. "Too bad. This kid will do to horn players what talkies did to Buster Keaton."
Plenty of other factors brought about the rise of guitar-based rock and roll, the demise of jazz in big bands and small, and the relegation of jazz sidemen to dark clubs and low-paying gigs. American Blues Theater's new production of Warren Leight's Tony-award winning play, Side Man, tells the story of a few horn players who thrived in their own way in the 1940s and '50s jazz era. They worked their 20 weeks per year, then met at the unemployment office every Friday to collect their checks. Their motto was "keep your nut small" -- live as frugally as possible -- so you can live on a sideman's salary.
Anton Chekhov's 1900 play Three Sisters is considered one of his masterpieces and The Hypocrites do it justice in their fine new production. The play is heartbreakingly sad and yet occasionally funny, with intimations of changes to come in Russia. One character says, "Violent change is at the door, the people are marching, and a real rain is coming to wash away the laziness, indifference and neglect that we've let define us. The time has come for all of us to either bend our backs in labor or be left behind forever."
Director Geoff Button adapted Chekhov's script to use more modern language without trivializing it or breaking the mood of the story. Both his adaptation and direction are very strong. The eponymous Prosorov sisters lead the excellent 14-person cast in a story that progresses over several years in a provincial Russian town at the turn of the 20th century. The sisters, all in their 20s, yearn to move back to Moscow, which they left 11 years ago when their father assumed the command of a brigade in the rural area. Now their father is dead and the town is dominated by the presence of the military base and its officers.
Will the sisters ever get back to Moscow? Probably not, because they keep making life decisions that will keep them in the stifling rural atmosphere.
Family secrets and dreams are explored in Raul Castillo's Between You, Me and the Lampshade in a world premiere being staged by Teatro Vista. Set in a barren area of Rio Grande County in south Texas, the play addresses immigration issues as well as family tensions.
Jesse (beautifully played by Sandra Marquez) is an attractive Mexican-American woman with a teenaged son, Woody (Tommy Rivera-Vega), and a career as a social worker. ("Likes to fix other people's problems. Not so good at taking care of her own," Woody tells a friend.) They live in a trailer outside town. Late one night, a Mexican border crosser named Amparo (Aysssette Munoz in a fine performance) breaks into the trailer. Jesse confronts her with a gun. The young woman doesn't speak English and has suffered a serious snakebite. How Jesse tends to Amparo's wounds and her dilemma plays out for the next 100 minutes.
A meditation on time and life--and the problem of deciding when, if ever, you're a grownup. That's kind of the story of Jordan Harrison's The Grown-Up at Shattered Globe Theatre. Directed by Krissy Vanderwarker, the cast of six actors moves through 18 scenes of varying lengths. In each, Kai (Kevin Viol) has moved on in his life, aging a bit but still trying to believe in the magic of the future. The 75-minute play is impressionistic, sometimes entertaining, but the scenes don't create a coherent plotline and the story doesn't build our interest in Kai.
We first meet him as a 10-year-old listening to his grandfather (Ben Werling) tell a story about a magic doorknob. The man who built their house was an old sailor who had sailed as a cabin boy on a pirate ship. He survived a shipwreck with the only part of that great ship that survived: the crystal eye of the mermaid figurehead from the ship's prow. This magic doorknob can open the door to anywhere, his grandfather says.
Imagine a secret society that tasks itself with the mission to abolish terrible fan fiction from the internet, a group that embraces the sci-fi and fantasy fiction 'canons' with such rigidity that any variation on their beloved tales must be mocked out of existence, even while their own inside jokes and pitiful puns are riddled with the indecipherable, ludicrous mash-up of their geek culture. Then picture an unlikely Mary Sue sort of heroine who simply must write about the unspoken love between Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy because it makes her and her diehard fans happy. By this point, you can clearly see the window for comedy that has been opened. But until you see the show yourself, it is doubtful you could also imagine how the rich layers of theme and subtle ironies fold in so seamlessly with scenes that involve feuding superheroes being taught lessons about grammar. But just because you can't imagine it ahead of time, doesn't mean it didn't happen.
Strange Bedfellows Theatre's new production, Badfic Love, written by Adam Pasen and directed by Aaron Henrickson, makes it happen by pairing an award-winning story with a lively and capable cast.
Todd Rosenthal's set design for The Hotelman Arms hotel in The Upstairs Concierge is handsome, done in Prairie Style with Frank Lloyd Wright-type stained glass window panels, faux oak staircases, moldings, cabinetry and doors. Even the typography of the "Your New Family Home" motto signage is an arts and crafts font.
The multiple doors and staircases are clues that this is not going to be a drama that would have attracted Frank Lloyd Wright, however. They're signs of a farce to come, as we learned from those witty French farces by Georges Feydeau.
Unfortunately, Goodman Theatre's new world premiere of Kristoffer Diaz's The Upstairs Concierge is not a witty French farce. Its celebrity- and baseball-driven plotline doesn't work as a contemporary comic romp. The plot is a mish-mash and the dialogue is flat and rarely funny.
End Days by Deborah Zoe Laufer is the first production in the sparkling new Windy City Playhouse in the Irving Park neighborhood. It's a worthy outing for this new Equity theater company. End Days is a play about people who fear the end of the world is coming -- or vehemently reject that idea -- and they all seek solace from a wild variety of counselors.
Is the end of the world approaching? Sylvia Stein (Tina Gluschenko) believes so and since Jesus (yes, Jesus, played by Steven Strafford) follows her around and assists in her preparation, it's no wonder she continues to pass out flyers and engage in public prayer. Sylvia's Goth atheist teenaged daughter Rachel (nicely played by Sari Sanchez) thinks her mother is a madwoman and resists her demands for prayer and repentance. Her father Arthur (the excellent veteran Chicago actor Keith Kupferer) really doesn't give a damn. He has trouble getting out of his pajamas or leaving the house. It turns out he's suffering from PTSD as the only survivor on his company's floor in the World Trade Center on 9/11.
For Radiohead fans, it was exciting to discover the Tympanic Theatre Company was putting together a festival of short plays (titled Today We Escape) based on Radiohead's OK Computer album. While it's not my favorite (In Rainbows wins that honor for me), I do love a number of the songs on it, including Karma Police and No Surprises. The thought of a local company pairing young playwrights and a fresh, young company with source material that I thoroughly enjoy seemed a brilliant idea to me. Seemingly a match made in heaven.
Neagle, Anderson, Houton and Cumming. Photo by Johnny Knight.
The first time I saw a Tom Stoppard play was on my first trip to London in 1981. We saw a production of On the Razzle, adapted from an 1842 Austrian farce that also inspired Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker. (Going "on the razzle" is an English term for drinking and partying.) The play was silly and charming and the linguistic acrobatics were breathtaking. I'm not even sure I loved the play but the dialogue was dazzling.
Stoppard's plots and characters have evolved and deepened over the years, but stunning verbal acrobatics are still a hallmark of his writing. Stoppard's Travesties in a new production at Remy Bumppo Theatre is a brilliantly conceived, acted and produced surrealist comedy -- and the language still makes me gasp.
Time and measurement are of the essence in Sideshow Theatre's new production of Anne Carson's Antigonick, described as freely translated from Sophocles' original Antigone. Throughout the 75-minute production, a mute character named Nick (David Lawrence Hamilton) is on stage, by turns taking measurements with a tape, keeping time with a metronome and taping up information sheets that enumerate the dead. Nick is constantly busy.
Carson's translation, or reimagining, is witty and colloquial with clever wordplay and literary allusions. (Kreon announces his nouns and verbs for the day. We're asked, What is a nick of time?) Antigonick moves along briskly, allowing us little time to ponder the questions of morality vs. patriotism that it presents. But those are the ideas that the play will leave you with, ideas that resonate and trouble today as much as they did millennia ago.
The term "black humor" could have been invented to describe Samuel Beckett's mid-century play, Endgame. Its humor is grotesque, absurd, sometimes cruel. But humor nevertheless. And the new Hypocrites production takes full advantage of all those aspects of the human comedy. It's 90 minutes with four wounded souls in an apocalyptic setting, the "endgame" of the title.
Fans of Beckett's work may wonder what's in store when they enter the Hypocrites' space. It's decked out like a carnival or a cabaret with playground toys, tiny pendant lights and hanging toys. Candles, party hats and candy sit on the bar in front of each row of seats. The walk-in music is a tape of French pop songs. A set of pink illustrated wooden folding doors enclose the stage and are folded open by a crew member as the play begins.
This Is Modern Art (based on true events) is a provocative play intended for a "young adult" audience that raises philosophical and political questions that are already generating heated discussions among theatergoers of all ages. Steppenwolf's new production, written by Idris Goodwin and Kevin Coval, tells the story of a crew of graffiti writers who take a big leap and create a "piece" that grabs the attention of the whole city.
Director Lisa Portes deftly orchestrates the four actors in the events that lead up to their big score: a 50-foot mural on the east wall of the new Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago. (The event actually happened in February 2010.)
The August Wilson Monologue Competition finals for Chicago high school students is set for 6pm Tuesday, March 10, at the Goodman Theatre. Twenty finalists will compete by performing a 2-3 minute monologue of their choosing from one of the 10 plays in the late playwright's Century Cycle. Three winners will receive cash prizes ($500 for first place, $250 for second and $100 for third) plus expense-paid trips to compete in the national finals in New York on May 5.
It's May and December. Lake vs. ocean. Heavy metal or country. It's an unlikely romance between two losers who turn out to be winners in The Orchard Theatre's new play, Norma and the Maniac, produced in association with Redtwist Theatre.
The first full-length work by playwright Ray Nelson, the eight-scene, 80-minute, play is the story of how two lonely people meet by accident (it's not meet cute) and go off on a cross-country adventure that ends well, beyond all odds. The dialog is fast, witty and sometimes insightful -- and the two actors convince us they are enemies, then friends, then lovers.
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).
It's an orgy in which cast and audience explore gender roles, sexuality and kink told through classic scenes from Shakespeare's 37-play canon. It's the Bard's bawdiest bits in (re)discover theatre's updated show, Fifty Shades of Shakespeare, opening Feb. 7 at The Pony.
To Relax and Laugh, written by Barrie Cole and directed by Jen Moniz, is part of Rhinofest, the 26th annual Rhinoceros Theater Festival, Chicago's longest running fringe theater festival. The show runs for the next three Fridays at Prop Thtr.
Cole, the playwright, writer and performer best known for her hilarious and often jolting stream-of-conscious revelations, has produced a two-woman show that stays true to her quirky approach while transcending style altogether. It gets to the heart of a dysfunctional, beautiful friendship between a dubious therapist and her repressed charge.
Four survivors sit huddled around a fire, which provides the only light on the scene. Matt (Daniel Desmarais) is recreating a story from the past: an episode from "The Simpsons." Jenny (Leah Urzendowski) occasionally interrupts or adds a line. It's an eerie view of the near future or of our preliterate past--and of the power of storytelling.
In Theater Wit's Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play, playwright Anne Washburn foresees a time when power plants are down and the electric grid is dying. Director Jeremy Wechsler stages this dystopian comedy/drama with style and flair -- and suggests that survival might depend on our carrying on the mythology of the 26-year epic television series, "The Simpsons."
The setting is an insular Italian-American community on the Gulf Coast in 1950. Tennessee Williams' play, The Rose Tattoo, is a tragicomic tale of love lost and love gained. Its Sicilian characters are superstitious and passionate in their joy and in their grief. The play is an emotional roller-coaster and suggests to me that our techno-laden lives might be healthier if we let in more human spirit.
Greg Vinkler directs this Shattered Globe production with clear fondness for the quirks of the Sicilian community. The cast is excellent all around with outstanding performances from the leads: Eileen Niccolai as Serafina Delle Rose, the grieving widow; Nic Grelli as Alvaro Mangiacavallo, the earthy visitor who lifts her veil of grief; and Daniela Colucci as Rosa, Serafina's daughter.
Fans of lady arm-wrestling can celebrate Valentine's Day and avert Friday the 13th disasters at CLLAW XXI: My Bloody Valentine on Friday, Feb. 13, at Logan Square Auditorium, 2539 N. Kedzie. The event will feature Chicago's most belligerent lady arm wrestlers in appropriately outlandish costumes plus live musical entertainment, a kissing booth, and the chance to win a five-minute date with one of the wrestlers.
Writers Theatre continues its annual tour of The MLK Project: The Fight for Civil Rights for the ninth year with a special free performance at the Chicago History Museum on Monday, Jan. 19, which is celebrated as Martin Luther King Day. A community discussion will follow the performance and audience members will also receive free museum admission for the day.
Written by Yolanda Androzzo and directed by Jimmy McDermott, the one-woman show weaves together history, poetry and hip hop. Caren Blackmore plays Alaya, a Chicago student who goes through a personal transformation while studying the civil rights movement and interviewing local heroes of the movement. While she starts out being angry, she realizes that she can use her voice and her hip hop to bring about change.
Stephanie Diaz, "Mariposa Nocturna" at Free Street Theatre.
The puppets are coming to Chicago. They'll be here Jan. 14-25 at 12 different venues around the city during the first Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival. The 12-day citywide festival will showcase puppet styles from around the world, such as marionettes, shadow puppets, Bunraku puppets, tiny toy puppets, and distinctive, innovative styles of contemporary puppetry.
The festival will feature the work of about 50 puppetry artists and a dozen puppet theaters from Chicago, New York, London, Grenoble, Montreal, the Netherlands and other US cities.
Chicago Shakespeare's new production of Pericles begins as the prince arrives in Antioch to bid for the hand of King Antiochus' daughter. Pericles must solve Antiochus' riddle, because those who fail to do so are beheaded. The stage décor includes a half dozen heads on poles as proof. Pericles (Ben Carlson) reads the riddle and knows, to his horror, that it describes the incestuous relationship of Antiochus (Sean Fortunato) with his unnamed daughter.
Pericles flees, fearing for his life, and thus begins a series of comic and tragic misadventures. Over the course of this two-act play, Pericles travels an odyssey of sorts, involving storms and shipwrecks, merriment and sorrow, that ends happily 155 minutes later. This play, while not as poetically written as Shakespeare's greatest plays, gets a beautifully designed production by Chicago Shakespeare. David H. Bell's direction takes utmost advantage of the best scenes, such as the celebrations and the famous brothel scene in act two.
Some spirits are too broken to ever be tamed, some souls too piecemealed to lasso into oneness.
A vagrant by the name of Hector (Joshua Torrez) stumbles onto and insists on taking refuge at the farm of private school teachers Ty (Juan Francisco Villa) and his wife Georgiane (Sari Sanchez). Hector is injured — physically scratched up and scarred from his escape from his urban detention center, emotionally and intellectually scarred from a complete society that intentionally failed him every step of the way of his young life. Upon finding Hector hiding in their horse barn, Georgiane immediately cares for Hector's scrapes with disinfectant and his hunger with apple pie, but as a former "project girl," she's well aware that there isn't much that she or anyone can do for Hector's soul, and she wants him up and on his way, sensing that Hector is dangerous, buck-wild, and brings trouble to the couple and the sleepy hollow life they've finally assimilated into.
This is William Mastrosimone's story of Tamer of Horses, directed by Ron OJ Parsons, currently being staged by Teatro Vista.
The setting is a dingy therapist's office in Dublin. Ian (Coburn Goss), a former priest, is preparing his new office for his first client. Over the course of the 100-minute, five-scene, production, the office is the scene of poignant therapy sessions with John (Brad Armacost), Ian's breakup with his fiancée Neasa (Carolyn Kruse), and his hookup with Laurence (Shane Kenyon), a young man who he meets in the park. Conor McPherson's Shining City is beautifully and subtly written and may remind you of the ghosts of your own haunted past.
Irish Theatre's director Jeff Christian does a credible job directing this script, which is a series of conversations, sometimes quiet, sometimes emotional. Nothing much happens. Everyone is lonely and needy. As the play opens, John comes to Ian for help with the guilt he feels over the death of his wife, Mari, in a taxi accident and her continued haunting presence in his house.
Joe Mack and Hillary Marren. Photo by Tom McGrath.
One motel room is like another. It's a line that's threaded throughout Desperate Dolls, a new play by Darren Callahan that had its world premiere under the direction of Michael Driscoll at Strawdog Theatre on Monday. The point is certainly well made, considering the entire plot unfolds on a single set--a motel room, portrayed as several different motel rooms scattered around 1968 Hollywood, a time and place that is said to be composed entirely of motel rooms that all look alike and contain horror stories of their own.
Played confidently by Joe Mack, Sunny Jack's self-proclaimed "triple threat" status as director, producer, and writer has more to do with the size of his budget than the size of his talent. His foray into female-centric films is played up as well-intentioned, but if you respect women, this might not be a good enough excuse. Auditioning them for his B-movies in--you guessed it--a motel room, he signs three ambitious and curvaceous young "dolls" who also become his friends, with benefits not defined in their contracts.
On a barren and worn wharf in Aulis, the Greek fleet waits to depart for battle in Troy. You may remember the story. Agamemnon is king of Mycenae. His brother Menelaus was married to the beautiful Helen, who was kidnapped and whisked off to Troy to marry Paris. Now the Greek fleet, commanded by Agamemnon, is ready to set sail for Troy to right the wrong and bring back Helen.
But there's no wind to power the sailing ships and the goddess Artemis (the gods always get involved in these tales) demands that Agamemnon sacrifice his daughter Iphigenia to get those winds blowing.
Court Theatre portrays the story of Iphigenia in Aulis in a low-key, minimalist 90-minute staging, directed by Charles Newell. The translation by Nicholas Rudall is clear and straightforward, sometimes poetic. The language is enhanced by the perfect vocal cadences of all the actors and chorus members.
Next Theatre, which has been producing award-winning, socially provocative plays in Evanston for 34 years, is shutting down. The theater ceased operations as of yesterday -- in the middle of the season with two plays yet to be produced.
Board president Rob Andalman said the theater's audiences have shrunk dramatically in the past few years and its contributors have not made up the difference. Next has been performing at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center in Evanston, on Noyes Street near Ridge Avenue. The theater season was to include Shakespeare's Richard III, opening in January and the world premiere of Turtle by Jake Jeppson, which had been set to run in April.
Wicke and De la Guardia. Photo by Justine Albert Photography.
It's Berlin, New Year's Eve 1931. A group of artists and filmmakers celebrate the new year of 1932 in the apartment of Agnes (Amanda de la Guardia). They're leftists and consumed by discussions of politics as well as art.
Tony Kushner's 1985 play, A Bright Room Called Day, begins in the waning months of Weimar Germany, as Hitler's National Socialists are on the rise. The Berlin scenes are sometimes interrupted by 1982 scenes where Zillah (Jaci Kleinfeld), a young American woman, talks about the current US political environment and the transgressions of the Reagan administration.
Spartan Theatre Company makes a valiant effort in staging this 2.5-hour play, but Kushner's sometimes-lyrical dialogue can't overcome his didactic political sermonizing. Director Laura Elleseg does a creditable job of maintaining the dramatic pace and the acting generally is good. But there are usually reasons why a rarely performed play is rarely performed. A Bright Room Called Day is such an example. Even Shakespeare wrote a few turkeys.
No one seems to be listening to the animals of the Anyway Cabaret. But they'll keep performing it anyway.
It's a line that's repeated in the first big number of TUTA Theatre Chicago's production of The Anyway Cabaret (an animal cabaret), which opens the company's 14th season. The animals of the Anyway Cabaret" have a message for the audience between their rapid-fire quick changes and haunting sounds of gunfire. But, the message might just get lost if the audience can't get beyond the silliness.
"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.)
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.
A 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.
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.
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).
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.
It's an idyllic late spring day in 1940 at the country home of the wealthy Farrelly family near Washington DC. The Farrellys are awaiting the arrival from Europe of their daughter, husband and children; they have not seen her in 20 years. It's a family reunion, but it turns into a preview of World War II.
Lillian Hellman's Watch on the Rhine, first produced in April 1941, was a warning to Americans about the growth of fascism in Europe and its potential in our own country. The compelling pre-war conflict is dramatized in The Artistic Home's new production, directed by Cody Estle.
Waiting nervously to welcome them is Fanny Farrelly, the opinionated matriarch, played with withering wit and charm by Kathy Scambiaterra. The longtime housekeeper Anise (Lorraine Freund) tries to keep her calm, as does her son David (John Stokvis). The family has two long-time guests, the Count Teck de Brancovis (Joshua J. Volkers) and Countess Marthe de Brancovis (Tiffany Bedwell), who clearly have overstayed their welcome.
Kyle Hatley, Demetrios Troy and Jamie Vann. Photo by Lara Goetsch.
The names and events are vaguely familiar, if you were consuming political news in the 1980s and '90s. Iran-contra. BCCI ("the world's sleaziest bank," according to a Time magazine cover). Bert Lance. The Church committee. Wackenhut Security. The CIA and Central American drug cartels. The Sandinistas. The Iran hostage crisis.
The governmental scandals those terms represent were linked by a software platform called PROMIS (owned by Inslaw, a not-for-profit software company), which was designed to connect various government agency databases. (Remember, this was in the 1980s. The lack of interagency connectivity was considered one of the flaws that left us vulnerable to the attacks of September 11, 2001.)
Timeline Theatre dredges up those memories in telling the tense and tightly wound story of a freelance journalist named Danny Casolaro, who tried to put the tangled pieces together for a big story. He ended up dead on the floor of a hotel room in Martinsburg, W.Va., in August 1991. The question asked in Danny Casolaro Died for You is: Was it suicide or murder?
Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Chicago's 40-year-old theater famous for its in-your-face style and pugnacious representation of contemporary American theater, is growing again. The company has announced a $50 million expansion plan that involves new theater spaces and a parklike southern area. The company also announced changes in its top administrative and creative positions, to take effect in 2015.
Some of the expansion plans were already known but the leadership changes came as a surprise announcement. Steppenwolf, famously founded in a church basement in Highland Park in 1974, is probably Chicago's best-known theater beyond our borders and a major contributor to Chicago's reputation as a hot theater town.
Anna Shapiro, an award-winning director of Chicago and Broadway productions, will become artistic director next year, replacing Martha Lavey, who has held that post since 1995. David Schmitz, a 10-year Steppenwolf administrative veteran, will replace David Hawkanson as executive director. Both Lavey and Hawkanson will be involved in Steppenwolf's expansion project.
House Theatre warns its patrons in advance that its new production, Season on the Line, is "an epic love letter to the American theater." And it is indeed a love letter. A big sprawling messy exuberant love letter, sealed with a big wet kiss.
The play, written by House ensemble member Shawn Pfautsch, takes us through the tribulations, artistic and economic, of the Bad Settlement Theatre Company, based somewhere in or near a big city with an influential theater critic. In a fit of authenticity, House has even provided Bad Settlement with business cards and a website, badsettlement.org.
This three-hour epic (plus two intermissions) is Shakespearean in its ambitions. The show takes us, act by act, through the company's current season, opening with a rousing success in its diverse reimagining of The Great Gatsby (3-1/2 stars from that critic). In act 2, a less successful Balm in Gilead opens to a 1-star review and an abbreviated run. But Season on the Line revolves around the artistic director's obsession with producing a great new version of Herman Melville's Moby Dick as the season finale.
King Lear, perhaps William Shakespeare's most-revered play, is an existential tragedy. It's a story of power and family lost, mind and health destroyed. But it's also a retirement story and a family tragedy. It's amazing how deeply and warmly current issues are treated in this 400-year-old masterpiece.
Fathers mourn relationships with their children. Siblings fight over the estate before the parent dies. Old men suffer the tears and trauma of aging. And most profoundly, we see the onset of dementia in someone who has been a brilliant and powerful leader.
Chicago's Larry Yando may not be old enough to be called a legend, but his performance as Lear is legendary in this new modern-dress Chicago Shakespeare Theatre production, directed by Barbara Gaines. He is a bored and fickle king in the opening scene, tossing aside faulty remotes as he clicks through Frank Sinatra songs to find one he likes: "I've Got the World on a String." Then he's decisive as he divides his kingdom among his three daughters and their husbands. Finally, he's forced into exile with his Fool (wisely and wittily played by Ross Lehman, another Chicago Shakespeare veteran). As Lear's mind fails, he suffers degradation into a wild man in the wild. At the end, he is left a bereaved father who has lost all.
Tales of the whale--the commercial treasure and leviathan of the sea--and the sailors who set out in wooden ships to hunt them, are endlessly fascinating. Herman Melville's Moby Dick stands as one of the great adventure stories of world literature.
A story that inspired Melville is being staged now by Shattered Globe Theatre in the exciting adventure/survival play, The Whaleship Essex by ensemble member Joe Forbrich. The two-hour-plus drama is staged with meticulous attention to nautical detail through the use of lighting, projections and simple wooden benches that serve as the whaleboats in which the whalemen leave the ship to capture whales. Or survive a shipwreck, as the case may be.
Veteran director Lou Contey skillfully orchestrates a cast of 15 through the story, which begins in 1850 in Nantucket, Mass., an island off the coast of Cape Cod and the center of the whaling industry. The brief 1850 scene establishes the main story line about the Essex, which sailed out of Nantucket in August 1819 on what was to be a three-year voyage. It was never seen again. The play tells the true story of the ship that was attacked and sunk by a sperm whale in the southern Pacific Ocean. The aftermath, in which the battered ship sinks and the sailors fight for survival, is the main thread of the story.
Asher Lev is an artist, a fresh-faced, cherubic artist whose paintings horrify his deeply religious Hasidic parents and community. "My gift is demonic and divine. It has the power to hurt and the power to heal," he says at the end of this eloquent 90-minute rumination on the challenges of art and faith, family and responsibility.
Timeline Theatre is staging the Chicago premiere of My Name Is Asher Lev, written by Aaron Posner and adapted from the best-selling 1972 novel about the Brooklyn Hasidic community by author and rabbi Chaim Potok. The three-actor play, directed by Kimberly Senior, is staged on a two-level set with three musicians at side stage. Andrew Hansen's original score for clarinet, cello and violin creates a subtly beautiful undercurrent to the dialogue and ends the play with a klezmer flourish.
Seanachai Theatre Company, one of Chicago's acclaimed small Equity theaters, is changing its name to Irish Theatre of Chicago for its 20th anniversary season.
The current name -- Seanachai -- means "storyteller" in Gaelic. Co-Artistic Directors Michael Grant and Ira Amyx said that they've been considering changing the name for several years. "While our name is changing, our mission remains the same, and (telling stories) is still at the heart of what we do. It is our hope that our new name and logo will support our future plans and make it easier for our current and future patrons to find and follow us."
Consider for a moment the single most impressive ingredient one can add to food or drink, or really anything for that matter. It is readily available, though seemingly scarce, and most often wasted.
We'll play the sphinx no longer and tell you it is the ingredient of time. It suffuses products with nuance and richness otherwise absent from that made in haste, resulting in tender, smoky briskets and deep, complex scotches. Or the reward is more valuable for the time taken to attain it, offering release as warring patience and hunger are reconciled. That first bite of Hot Doug's or Kuma's is made sweeter by the waiting.
In art, time adds value and gives opportunity for reflection. Temporal remove has helped even our initial reactionary responses to practically every major epochal shift in the arts. Taking time to sit with a work and one's thoughts can greatly broaden the experience of the piece. The brain becomes flush with considerations of time and place, of semiotic interpretation versus emotional reaction.
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.
It'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.
Ariel Dorfman's political play, Death and the Maiden, was written in 1991, soon after the end of the rule of political strongman Augusto Pinochet in Dorfman's Chile. But the underlying theme of the drama, which just opened in a gripping production at Victory Gardens Theatre, can apply to other governments and even to personal relationships.
Victory Gardens is taking full advantage of the celebrity wattage of the play's star, Sandra Oh, in marketing and special events around the production. Oh plays Paulina Salas, a woman who was tortured and raped during the era of a dictator "in a country that is probably Chile." Sometimes these "movie star" stage turns are unfortunate, but Oh is an accomplished stage actor, as well as a TV and film star. Her performance in Death and the Maiden is strong and subtle and carries the 90-minute production to its unsettling ending.
Tim Musachio and David Vogel. Photo by Tim Knight.
Sam Shepard is known for his in-your-face, verbally and physically violent brawls between brothers or between fathers and sons. His plays like True West, Curse of the Starving Class and Buried Child helped Steppenwolf create its reputation for confrontational theater. He also influenced playwrights like Martin McDonagh, whose 1997 play Lonesome West pits brother against brother in a Shepardesque (and very Irish) way.
The Artistic Home takes up the fourth Shepard play in that lineage, The Late Henry Moss, and gives it a rousing 2.5 hour production in its storefront space on Grand Avenue. Despite opening night lighting glitches, the production clearly shows the acting chops of this ensemble.
As the play opens, Henry Moss (Frank Nall), although already dead, dances to "Besame Mucho" with his lover, Conchalla (the sexy and charismatic Yadira Correa). Then he takes on the corpse position, completely covered by a blanket on a cot in a rundown cabin in the New Mexico desert near Bernalillo. His older son, Earl (David Vogel), sits on a chair at his side. Earl has arrived from New York, summoned by neighbor Esteban (Arvin Jalandoon), who thought Henry was "in trouble." Soon his younger brother Ray (Tim Musachio) arrives from California and the fraternal fun begins.
Last Tuesday's show, The Jewboy Cain Interview (A Marty Grosbeck Special) was reminiscent of an SCTV sketch, with Marty Grosbeck (played by David Isaacson) bringing a Eugene Levy-esque feel to the talk show host character. Jewboy Cain, played by Jeff Dorchen (who'd performed earlier the same night at Write Club, and won his bout) plays the character like a mix of Weird Al Yankovic, Steven Wright, and Jeff Bridges' portrayal of Bad Blake in Crazy Heart.
Our memories can beguile us, deceive us, even betray us. On the other hand, we also create those deceptions by repressing memories and even creating memories that never existed. The Half Life of Memory, Jason Lindner's fascinating new work produced by Cold Basement Dramatics, is a memory play... with a bang.
Salek (very well played by Mark Maxwell) is a retired physicist who worked on the Manhattan Project. His memory is radioactive. Or so he thinks.
Salek is retired and in declining health. He lives in a nursing facility and dreams about visits by his colleagues from the past who try to make him relive his memories -- of helping to build a bomb that killed hundreds of thousands of Japanese in 1945 -- and to create a new bomb from his radioactive brain.
A new theatre company is coming to Bridgeport! The Bridge, founded by Chicago writer and performer Kestutis Nakas, will officially open its doors with a performance of The Golf Ball, an original adaptation of Anton Chekhov's The Seagull.
"The goal is to provide professional theatre at movie ticket prices," said Nakas.
The first production is set for June 13 at the Community Center of First Lutheran Church of the Trinity, the host of the company. According to Nakas, there is a need in the community for the arts, specifically theatre, and hopes the art form will find growth there.
Seth Bockley is a Chicago-based playwright, playwright-in-residence at the Goodman Theatre and author of Ask Aunt Susan, which opened at the Goodman's Owen Theatre this week. He has been involved with the Goodman for several years as part of their playwrights unit, where Ask Aunt Susan was developed after Bockley saw the stage possibilities of the Nathanael West novella, Miss Lonelyhearts. We interviewed him two days after the new play opened. (See the Gapers Block review of the play.)
Ask Aunt Susan is a satire on our use of technology and the internet. Did you intend it to make us think about our obsessive internet use and perhaps pull back a bit?
The play has that implication. There's a reason to be suspicious about these internet connections. They can become substitutes for real human connections. The play shows the darker and dangerous side of that addiction, the dark underbelly of the internet.
The play shows two different generations and their use of technology. Aunt Susan, a young man, and his girlfriend Betty. And Steve and Lydia are two capitalists, who have found a way to make money from the internet. How do you view those generational differences?
The generational difference is not clear-cut. Ask Aunt Susan isn't just about a young person, a symbol of the generation. The real technology guru is Lydia, the femme fatale businesswoman. The real luddite is Betty, who is very anti-technology.
Seth Bockley's new play, Ask Aunt Susan, is a smart, funny 90-minute tear through today's era of digital connections and a cri de coeur for a slower pace and a little more humanity in our personal relationships. Or is it?
As the play opens, multiple video screens assault us with existential questions: "Are you lonely?" "Are you sad? Afraid? In debt? Obese?"
An anonymous young man (Alex Stage), immersed in his laptop, sits in a diner consuming coffee and creating content and code. His company has been found guilty of defrauding Yelp with fake user reviews (for a price, of course). His girlfriend Betty (Meghan Reardon), an aspiring actor, is interested in learning "to radiate love," not so much in technology.
The young man's boss, the manic Steve (Marc Grapey), as a joke, tells the young man that he wants him to start writing an online advice column as Aunt Susan. Young man answers a few messages in a corny, affectionate, greeting-card style. They're posted on an Ask Aunt Susan community site, and traffic quickly increases. Young man feels the power of his words and becomes Aunt Susan, reveling in his ability to help people overcome their problems and grief. He's famous, but he wonders, "Anonymous fame? Is that even a thing?"
Here's a solution for the problem of homelessness. Gather up the homeless and give them the choice of joining the military, leaving the country, or moving to a center for special training. The latter group is assigned to wealthy people to perform household and personal chores. In Sideshow Theatre Company's Tyrant, Congress does that one year from now with the US Rectification Act, which allows "rectifees" to be "actualized" by the presumably well-intentioned 1 percent (or perhaps 10 percent).
Kathleen Akerley's world premiere play shows us the result 20 years later. Martin (Matt Fletcher) is one of those well-intentioned philanthropists, who has been recognized for having actualized the most rectifees to date. "Actualization" means buying the rectifee and providing food and shelter. Buy? Yes, that does sound like what we thought was outlawed in 1863 and certainly in 1868 with the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. But the homeless problem became very serious and Congress found a workaround to the 14th. (The play makes no mention of denial of civil liberties. The future arrives as predicted and somehow we learn to live with it.)
Charles Ives Take Me Home at Strawdog Theater is a strong show with no lack of laughs or message. This is a three person show consisting of:
• Composer Charles Ives (Jamie Vann) who see the world from a Zen place of inner peace.
• John Starr (David Belden), whose life and surroundings need to be bent to his own ideas and as a father the social structure of dominating his daughter is well in place.
• Laura Starr (Stephanie Chavara), daughter of John and the energetic driving piece to puzzle.
Court Theatre opened its new production of David Henry Hwang's 1988 hit play, M. Butterfly, in Hyde Park last weekend. The powerful and tragic story is always fascinating but Court's production Saturday night did not flow as smoothly as most shows by artistic director Charles Newell. Everything about this play should work to seduce, mislead, confuse and surprise us. Perhaps it's because we now know the story so well, but the Court production doesn't quite hit the mark.
Sean Fortunato, one of Chicago's talented actors, plays a wrenchingly sad and tortured Rene Gallimard, the mid-level French foreign service officer posted to Beijing with his European wife Helga (very well played by Karen Woditsch). The play opens in 1980, as he is imprisoned for treason for passing diplomatic secrets to his Chinese inamorata, the butterfly of the title. Rene tells us his story is based on Puccini's Madame Butterfly, with himself as Pinkerton and his lover as Cio-Cio-San, the Chinese feminine ideal in the opera. The play proceeds in flashbacks to the early 1960s, and in dreams, sometimes back to his childhood and teenaged years.
Drew Schad and Kate LoConti in Shattered Globe Theatre's production of Mill Fire. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
Playwright Sally Nemeth's Mill Fire would be perfect for these times and this place - if "these times" were 1996 and "this place" was the Lifetime for Women movie channel. Mill Fire was dated, stereotypical and melodramatic before Nemeth typed her last line.
The time is 1979, the place L.A. (Lower Alabama), and everyone knows everyone. All of the women stay at home, and all of the men work at the mill. We have our stereotypical young couple in Marlene (Kate LoConti, who happens to bare a striking resemblance to Deadwood's Molly Parker. Like Parker, LoConti shows a fine acting range and I hope she can find better parts moving forward in her career) and Champ (Drew Schad). Marlene and Champ are young, horny and in love. On the other end of the spectrum there's Sunny (Rebecca Jordan) and Bo (Ken Bradley). Sunny's a mean lush of a woman (though a tidy homemaker) married to a subtly implied impotent Bo; his impotence is blamed on a Vietnam War injury, but with a wife like Sunny to come home to, who really knows what the cause of Bo's impotence is?
Longshoreman Eddie Carbone's (Ramon Camin) life is of simple décor. As with most working class sons of first generation immigrants, he wakes up early to chase the work. Some days the work at the docks is plentiful, some days, not so much. But Eddie and his friends and neighbors chase and gently push their way to some kind of an American Dream. After all, they're still better off than the word that comes from their ancestral homeland of Italy, which lies in a heap of destitution and desperation, the world's big "F-U" for being on the wrong side of World War II.
Matters not that his wage earning is catch-as-catch-can, Eddie carries on his grateful prose that his father set sail years before and saved him from the Neapolitan wretchedness that wife Beatrice's (Sandra Marquez) cousins, Rodolpho (Tommy Rivera-Vega) and Marco (Eddie Diaz) are running from when they arrive as illegal immigrants, living with the couple and their orphaned niece Catherine while things shake out for the better.
The theater community in Wicker Park will get a big boost with The Den Theatre's expansion into a new street-level space at its current home on Milwaukee Avenue. The Hypocrites, one of Chicago's highly praised and innovative storefront theater companies, will make its new home there.
The Hypocrites is currently resident in the lower level space at Chopin Theatre, 1543 W Division St. Chopin also is home to the House Theatre and productions by other theater companies.
The new venue at 1329 N. Milwaukee will be a fully adaptable 6,000 square feet that will feature seating for up to 200 patrons, plus a bar and other amenities. The inaugural production in August will be the world premiere of All Our Tragic, a 12-hour theater adaptation of all 32 surviving Greek tragedies into a single narrative. The show is being adapted and directed by Hypocrites founding artistic director Sean Graney. Graney is currently promoting the production and raising funds with this video.
Death-Defying Acts is a 1995 set of one-act plays by three brilliant playwrights: David Mamet, Elaine May and Woody Allen. That would mean an evening of incisive wit, devastating comedy and a twist or two of angst, right? Unfortunately, the new production at Saint Sebastian Players doesn't quite live up to expectations.
In Mamet's The Interview, The Lawyer (Brooks Applegate) is interviewed by The Attendant (Kathryn Haynes) about his life and crimes. The setting is gray, and yes, Kafkaesque. Did he borrow his neighbor's lawnmower and bury it? The Lawyer tries to argue his way out of it. The Attendant ignores him from time to time and relaxes, reading copies of the comic book, Ghost Rider. Ultimately, he is admitted -- or sentenced. His crimes? "You passed the bar, but failed to live forever." The play is occasionally funny but has little of the toughly poetic Mamet dialogue we expect.
In May's Hotline, Ken (Josh Leeper) is a nervous new counselor in a suicide call center. His colleague Marty (Brian Vabulas) and supervisor Dr. Russell (Joe Ogiony) guide him through his first calls.
Loneliness, regrets, friendship, humor, and a little maternal instinct season A Red Orchid Theatre's new play, Mud Blue Sky. Director Shade Murray gets the most out of Marisa Wegrzyn's fine script, which revolves around airport life.
The tiny Red Orchid space on Wells Street is perfect for the claustrophobic story of three very mature flight attendant friends on a layover at a hotel near O'Hare. Beth (Natalie West) and Sam (Mierka Girten) are still flying ("the taxi's coming at 5:30 tomorrow morning"). Angie (Kirsten Fitzgerald) lost her job recently and now lives in a Chicago suburb.
As the play opens, Beth arrives in her room exhausted and suffering from back pain; she can't wait to change clothes and relax. Sam wants to hit a bar and meet their friend Angie. But Beth declines and we find out why when she leaves to meet her young friend Jonathan (Matt Farabee) to buy a joint. Matt, in a rented tuxedo, is not having a good prom night; his date ditched him. Beth is his regular customer, and, it turns out, was his first sale, when they met at the Denver airport. Jonathan was carrying pot in his underwear and Beth saved him from being discovered by the TSA drug dog. That led him to start selling pot at school, and, all of a sudden, he says, "I was cool."
"If you could kindly remember what we've told you to forget, please," is the undercurrent that takes hold of Jaime (Brett Schneider) in The Great God Pan just as he's settling into a new job as an internet wunderkind journalist and the idea of girlfriend Paige's (Kristina Valada-Vlars) "unplanned" pregnancy. The job is what he lives for, while he is still so unsure of committing to the woman he's been with for six years that upon Paige's pregnancy announcement, Jaime negotiates for "one week, just one week" before he will let her know if he's ready and willing to stay and be a permanent fixture in her and the child's life.
The House Theatre opened its new show this week and it pulsates with light, sound, color and movement. Dorian is an adaptation of Oscar Wilde's 1890 novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, written by Ben Lobpries and Tommy Rapley and directed by Rapley.
The well-known story of Dorian--the man who didn't age while his portrait did--is beautifully staged in "promenade style" by House. The main-floor theater space at Chopin Theatre is opened up by eliminating all but a few rows of seats. The stage becomes an art gallery, and sometimes a performance or a club scene, with members of the audience mingling with the actors.
Basil, the artist who paints the portrait and falls in love with his subject, is played by the talented Chicago actor Patrick Andrews. Dorian is played by Cole Simon, a relative newcomer to Chicago, just as his character is a newcomer to the art and social scene in the play. Dorian begins as a rather shy and naïve person and becomes arrogant and self-centered as praise is heaped on his beauty. Years after the portrait is painted, his friends have aged, but Dorian appears the same, while the portrait, hidden from view, takes on strange characteristics.
Is blood thinner than water, rather than, as the proverb would have it, thicker? Gift Theatre's new play Thinner Than Water by Melissa Ross makes us ponder this question as water washes over the family members metaphorically as well as realistically.
It's hard enough for any family to be fully functional, for siblings and cousins to get along with their counterparts. Rich, poor; young, old; educated, street-smart; liberal, conservative, religious, secular. So many opportunities for family dissension. But the recipe for a hyper-dysfunctional family might start like this: Take one distant and unloving father and three mothers--and add one child from each.
As Thinner Than Water opens, the three half-siblings are arguing about who will handle details of their father's terminal illness. (They all refer to him as Martin, not Dad or any fond nickname.) Renee, the oldest (a strong performance by Lynda Newton) grudgingly acknowledges that, as usual, she will get stuck with most of the work. Renee seems to be the most put-together of the three: she's married with two children.
A woman arrives alone at a roadside motel somewhere in Iowa. She pays the motel manager for a week with a wad of cash. "Really? No credit card?" he says. She has luggage and immediately orders in a large supply of snacks and wine coolers -- and pays the delivery guy with cash.
She's Clem, played by Elizabeth Birnkrant, and she isn't explaining why there are two child car seats in the back of her Volvo SUV. Step Up Productions' new world premiere of Darlin' by Chicago playwright Joshua Rollins begins with Clem as the mystery woman, who meets the other denizens of the no-name motel and learns that each deals with questions like, "How did I get here? How did this become my life?" Later we learn that Clem is fighting these same questions.
Parrish Morgan & Keith Cavanaugh in SAVIOUR?; photo: Kenneth Simmons.
With the inaugural election of President Obama and thereafter, the term "post-racial America" was forcefully integrated into our country's cultural and political lexicon; many, from television news pundits to academic professionals to average voters, supported the notion, especially since the nation's first black president had been elected.
For playwright and frequent MSNBC political commentator Esther Armah, this notion of a "supposed" post-racial America is the subject of her latest work, SAVIOUR?. "In the age of Obama, 'post-racial' means as a playwright I get to look at white privilege--white identity," said Armah.
Directed by Jonathan Wilson, SAVIOUR? is the story of a black attorney (Parrish Morgan) who represents a white client (Keith Cavanaugh) in a case involving reverse discrimination; along the way, the play explores the lives of these characters who are from two different worlds, navigating through the complex world of "class and privilege" in America.
SAVIOUR? opens March 21 and closes May 11 at eta Creative Arts Foundation, 7558 S. South Chicago Ave.; performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and 3pm Sundays. Tickets are $30; senior, group and student discounts are available. For more information, call 773-752-3955.
The Artistic Home is staging Les Parents Terribles, a sexy family farce by Jean Cocteau that will warm you up in this long deep-freeze winter. Director John Mossman keeps his five actors moving at a frenetic pace as he tells the story of one family's tangled love lives. The play begins manically and never slows down.
Kathy Scambiatterra plays Yvonne, an unhealthy or hypochondriac mother who wants to keep her 22-year-old son, Michael (Julian Hester), entwined in maternal affection. Possibly too much maternal affection. She's horrified when she finds out that Michael is in love with Madeleine (Allie Long), a bookbinder. Her husband George (Frank Nall) is an inventor who is building an "underwater submachine gun." And he's been having an affair with Madeleine, but doesn't want Michael to know that.
The play tells the story of Carmichael, a man who has been searching for his missing hand ever since a bunch of hooligans caused it to be lopped off by a railroad train in his childhood. Twenty-seven years later, he arrives at a hotel in an unidentified town and meets a couple who have a hand to sell.
This is McDonagh's first play set in the US. His work usually features Irish characters and settings, such as Beauty Queen of Leenane, The Cripple of Inishmaan and Lonesome West. As one critic put it, McDonagh "seemed to scrape his sentences off the cruddy cobblestones of his parents' bleak, rural West of Ireland." He has written and produced two films (In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths) set in Belgium and the US.
The first thing you notice about trip.'s 4PLAY sex in a series is the lack of a traditional stage. Black boxes line the sides of the theater, some up so high audience members' feet dangle down as they perch on them. You can sit anywhere you want. And as everyone mills about, it's unclear at first who's a part of the show and who isn't.
Once the lights go up, the cast members reveal themselves, sitting, walking and interacting among the crowd. When an actor asks the person next to you to hold their drink during a bit of dialogue, you feel less like a member of the audience and more like a friend of a friend tagging along to a house party or a bar.
The street where I live is quiet. It's lined with trees that bloom in the summer and filled with people who walk their dogs and decorate those same trees with Christmas lights in the too-long Chicago winter. My one-way street has speed bumps, but no buses. I walk alone on my street at night sometimes, and I don't feel in danger.
Two blocks away, it's very different. The busy street fills the air with a riot of noise around the clock. Sirens wail constantly, signaling some new tragedy. Buses fly by. Homeless people stand on the corners begging for change. Neon signs tell me that bodegas and ethnic markets are open; that pawn shops are selling their wares; that dives are slinging drinks. Two blocks from my street, I don't feel safe. My senses are heightened in this electric environment and I am, however wrongfully, quick to judge.
Gentrification is no stranger to Chicago. Everyone has a story like this, but we don't talk about it. It's too messy to bring up issues of wealth, race, sex, understanding and violence and the cost of making the way for a "better" future. The Goodman Theater's production of Tracey Scott Wilson's Buzzer opens that conversation with a powerful, forceful hand.
Saint Sebastian Players are taking a brave step in presenting a three-hour march back into an important period of history that impinges on how we think about privacy and patriotism today. A three-hour historical play, you're thinking? Yes, and it's a fascinating, totally immersive story that will have you hanging on every word spoken In the Matter of J. Robert Oppenheimer. Written by German playwright Heinar Kipphardt in 1964 and translated by Ruth Speirs, the play and its 14-member cast are carefully directed by Kaitlin Taylor.
Oppenheimer (Gary Barth) was the theoretical physicist (considered "the father of the atomic bomb") who led the Manhattan Project: the team of brilliant physicists who developed the atomic bomb at Los Alamos, NM, in the 1940s. Their work resulted in the US dropping bombs on two Japanese cities in August 1945 with the stated purpose of ending the war quickly.
If penises could talk, what would they say? How would they say it?
In Messiah Equiano'sThe Penis Monologues, they have plenty to say; with topics that address a variety of subjects from promiscuity to STDS to commitment-phobia to interracial dating, the show, a "direct response" to The Vagina Monologues, is designed to highlight the male experience featuring universal issues that affect men from all backgrounds.
Here, the director and playwright talks about the show, challenges he faced, and what he has learned along the way.
Mary-Arrchie Theatre takes on a difficult task in staging this 2003 adaptation of the Fyodor Dostoyevsky novel, Crime and Punishment. But with intelligent direction by Richard Cotovsky, this talented and respected off-Loop theater gives the audience a gripping 90 minutes. We meet Raskolnikov (a strong performance by Ed Porter), the poor, sickly, arrogant former law student who commits the crime, suffers guilt and psychological trauma and, finally, punishment.
Two Chicago playwrights--Marilyn Campbell and Curt Columbus--wrote the adaptation, which was originally produced by Writers Theatre in Glencoe on their tiny back-of-the-bookstore stage, with Scott Parkinson playing Raskolnikov. It has since been produced many times, including off-Broadway and in regional theaters.
Porchlight Music Theatre's contribution to Black History Month is a rousing revival of Ain't Misbehavin', a musical revue and tribute to the music of Thomas "Fats" Waller and the Harlem Renaissance. Fats himself would be proud of this production, performed at Stage 773 with an excellent live band led by über-pianist Austin Cook. The show, with book by Murry Horwitz and Richard Maltby Jr., was first performed in 1978 on Broadway.
Waller was an influential jazz pianist, composer and entertainer who wrote more than 400 original songs. Thirty of his songs and those he covered are showcased in this lively production set at an after-hours party in a Harlem club in 1944, the era when the white elite went to the Harlem clubs to take in black entertainment. At the opening and close, we hear Waller's voice on a radio broadcast.
February marks Black History Month, which has historically been designated as a time for celebration and observance of the achievements and contributions made by blacks in America. Culturally speaking, Chicago always boasts a diverse mix of special events, shows, and performances; here, I've listed a few highlights worth checking out.
Theater is a choice platform that artists often use to open a dialogue about issues that people tend to otherwise brush under the rug. Buzzer by Tracey Scott Wilson is a play that aims to open audience's minds to the complex issues underlying urban gentrification. While the play takes place in Brooklyn, the issue of neighborhood gentrification is no stranger to Chicagoans.
In the production, Jackson, now a successful graduate of Harvard Law returns to the neighborhood in which he grew up. He brings along his white girlfriend and best friend (who has a set of troubles all his own) and soon, the three face exploding tensions in the surrounding neighborhood and amongst themselves.
Eric Lynch, who plays the smart, successful and charismatic Jackson in Buzzer gave Gapers Block a preview of how the issues of sex, race, love, fear and money are tackled in this dark comedy.
The Golden Dragon by German playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig is a fanciful story presented by Sideshow Theatre Company. It's a sort of dark fairy tale about the workers, residents and guests at a Thai/Chinese/Vietnamese fast food restaurant in a warehouse building in a certain global city. We are not sure where, but it doesn't matter.
The play is made up of the intertwined stories of 15 or 20 characters, played by five actors who quickly move from role to role without regard to gender, nationality or costume. Scenes are quick cuts from one event to another as if cinematically edited.
The characters include the cooks and servers in the restaurant, a young couple who live in an apartment above, the young woman's grandfather, a man in a striped shirt, a woman in a red dress whose marriage is fraying, the owner of the adjacent convenience store, and two flight attendants who frequent the restaurant and live upstairs. Not to be forgotten is a young boy with a terrible toothache, whose tooth is pulled by one of the cooks with a red wrench. Strange things happen to the boy and to the tooth, involving more than a touch of magical realism.
MadKap Production's new play, Mr. Shaw Goes to Hollywood, is a bit of Hollywood fluff leavened with the wit of George Bernard Shaw, who probably was and certainly considered himself "the world's greatest playwright."
This is a smart, funny play set in 1933, with lots of celebrity name-dropping and appearances by Shaw and Clark Gable, among others. The 130-minute production (with one intermission) plays out in 24 short scenes, broken by blackouts; director John Nasca does an excellent job of pacing his actors. The 1930s music before the play and at intermission enhances the mood.
In Our Country's Good, Shattered Globe Theatre looks at the trying times found by new residents--convicts and soldiers alike--in the colony of New South Wales, Australia, after the first fleet of English ships arrives. The time is 1788 and both convict and soldier long for their homeland. The play opens with a prisoner being flogged. Prisoners are mostly petty thieves, pickpockets and prostitutes and are subject to severe punishment such as flogging for petty theft or adultery, or hanging for robbery, burglary or forgery.
Photo by Michael Brosilow.
Some of the officers want to find a way to educate or entertain the prisoners to take their minds off the misery of limited food and water and to give their days some purpose. Captain Phillip, the governor (Drew Schad) expresses a humane view of the convict population, when he says "How do we know what humanity lies hidden under the rags and filth of a mangled life?"
For child welfare social workers, at any given point, a workday can range anywhere from typical to mundane to completely unpredictable; and with politics, laws, courts, family members and other factors added to the mix, things can even get complex.
In Luna Gale, Mary Beth Fisher is "Caroline," a veteran social worker who is assigned to a case involving an infant who is the daughter of a young, drug-addicted couple. Here, Fisher talks about her role, general thoughts on child custody, and what she hopes audiences will take away from the play.
What attracted you to Luna Gale?
What drew me in was Rebecca Gilman. I've worked with her before and she's a playwright I admire so much and I just really love her work.
Has the hustle and bustle of the holidays made you want to delay "decking the halls?" Take a respite from Rudolph? For a break from the traditional holiday experience of jingling bells, roasting chestnuts, and taking sleigh rides, One Night Only is a refreshing and entertaining alternative.
Created and produced by Second City's Michael Girts, One Night Only, comprised of "some of Chicago's most esteemed comedy and musical professionals," returns from Off-Broadway to the Windy City; this eight-night series, which mixes dancing, rhyming, and singing, kicks off tonight and runs through the remainder of the holiday season.
Hell in a Handbag's Christmas Dearest and About Face Theatre's We Three Lizas share a basic premise: They are both based on the Charles Dickens classic tale A Christmas Carol. Both are original musicals, they fuse comedy, and they camp and drag with "traditional" holiday tropes to envision a holiday show that's off the beaten path. And that's where the similarities end.
Christmas Dearest, a sendup of A Christmas Carol starring David Cerda as Joan Crawford as the Virgin Mary (a meta-mashup of pop culture and Christmas themes), is a clever and campy alternative to the usual holiday fare, with the Garland-Rooney spirit of "Let's put on a show!" "Handbag" avoids the typical drag traps and creates an alternative reality that is at once surreal and lowbrow campy.
Oh, those Irish playwrights. What is it about that damp Irish air that brings such theatrical genius? Twenty-first century playwrights like Martin McDonagh, Conor McPherson and Brian Friel are heirs to the standards set by their progenitors -- writers like Sean O'Casey, W.B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett and J.M. Synge.
Photo by Joe Mazza.
Seanachai Theatre Company, our local Irish theater, brings us Conor McPherson's Irish Christmas story with a Faustian twist. The script provides humor, despair and ultimately redemption. The play is set in a shabby, rundown house in Baldoyle, a coastal town near Dublin. The living room set is cluttered with bottles, overflowing ashtrays and general mess.
Seanachai's The Seafarer, directed by Matt Miller, is an excellent production, finely acted and directed. It's a worthy successor to -- and perhaps even better than -- the 2008-09 Steppenwolf production of the same play. Brad Armacost is outstanding as Richard, the older brother, now blind because he fell into a dumpster on Halloween.
How many times have we pulled back the curtain on a famous artist's life, only to find them drunk on the floor (and probably having sex with somebody else's wife)? I've lost count. If our poets and painters hadn't embodied the stereotype with such devotion, we'd have thrown out this tired plot long ago. As it is, Red Theatre unveils the life of bright Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, who famously quoted, "I want to be the drunkest man in the world."
Dylan, a biographical play by Sidney Michaels, explores the interaction between a genius artist and the world he lives in through glimpses into two of Dylan Thomas' American tours. These trips were intended to introduce Thomas to the American public that already adored his work, and to perhaps alleviate some of the financial stress Thomas and his wife, Caitlin, were facing back in Wales. However, Dylan's alcoholism leads him to ruin, as he fumbles his way through public appearances and spends every last penny he earns on whiskey.
The Ruffians' Burning Bluebeard bills itself as an "avant-garde alternative to the holidays" and that is a fine start to describing it...but what transpires onstage is a transcendent, haunting paen to the spirit of enchantment that permeates the best live performance and the best of the winter holidays.
Set on the stage of the burned Iroquois Theatre, the piece recounts the history of the infamous fire that occurred there on December 30, 1903. The history, which seems well-researched from a quick glance at Wikipedia and Google, was the worst theater fire in history. The fire killed 600 women and children, who were in the house for the matinee performance. It was a terrible tragedy that closed down all of the theaters in Chicago for a period of time, revealed massive corruption in the fire inspection department of the City and helped to reform fire code for theaters. The Iroquois itself stood at the site of today's Oriental Theater downtown in the Loop.
The set of Burning Bluebeard is meant to capture the splendor and decay of that space post-fire. Designed by Dan Broberg, it provides a perfect backdrop for the ensuing action. With a giant arch set off by a plaque with two chubby cupids on it, the bare lath walls are covered in hundreds of looping wires and ropes, apt foreshadowing of the action of the play. A smoky veneer covers the stage and the set smells of freshly burnt wood. A dozen bare bulbs hanging from cords flicker with amber filaments. Five black bodybags are littered about the stage.
Silk Road Rising is a theater company that specializes in the stories of the countries and cultures of the legendary trade route that linked Asia with the Mediterranean. Their past productions have been interesting political and social commentaries such as Back of the Throat by Yussef El Guindi (a comical and terrifying story of an Arab-American man after 2001) and Merchant on Venice by Shishir Kurup (a delightful adaptation of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice set on the California beach).
So it's puzzling that the theater would present a clearly theological and even polemical story such as the new production of Paulus, written by Motti Lerner and directed by Jimmy McDermott. The play presents a psychological study of Paulus (the Greek name taken by Saul of Tarsus, aka Paul the Apostle and St. Paul). The setting is some 30 years after the death of Jesus Christ (Torey Hanson), and an older Jesus appears here to consult with Paulus (Daniel Cantor).
DiNicola and Cantor. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
The story line is complicated and sometimes hard to follow as Paulus preaches to Christians and Jews to persuade them to agree on a universal god, whether or not they abide by the 613 tenets of the Torah and other Jewish law. The action goes back and forth in time, and we see Paulus and his interactions with the Romans, the Pharisees, the Zealots and the Sanhedrin. Hananiah, the Jewish high priest (a strong performance by Bill McGough), sees Paulus' approach as a threat to Jewish identity. In each scene, some group is out to get Paulus.
Appropriate is one of those dysfunctional family dramas, but one filled with witty dialogue and some fine comic and dramatic performances. Written by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and directed by Gary Griffin, Appropriate is a co-world premiere by Victory Gardens Theater with Actors Theater of Louisville and was part of this year's Humana Festival of New American Plays.
Fitzgerald, Graeff and Kupferer. Photo by Michael Courier.
Appropriate is the story of a white Southern family whose members reunite at the family plantation in southeast Arkansas some time after the patriarch's funeral. Toni (Kirsten Fitzgerald), a divorced single mother of a teenaged son, Rhys (Alex Stage), has taken care of her father in his illness and now is trying to manage the disposition of the estate--including its debts. Her brother Bo (Keith Kupferer) arrives from New York with his wife Rachael (Cheryl Graeff) and their children to help knot up the loose ends.
Walking into Collaboraction Room 300 on the third floor of the Flat Iron Arts Building from now until December 14th will feel a little bit like entering your college boyfriend's apartment.
That is, if your college boyfriend drinks Cherry Coke like water and eats popcorn like it's newly approved by the FDA for lowering heart disease. On the stage, a shabby couch draped with a multicolor afghan. Aluminum cans and trash strewn about. Down to the taupe blah of the walls and the Windows 98-era screensaver bouncing around on the desktop, scenic designer John Wilson has spared no details to introduce you to Bill (Rob Grabowski): diehard fanboy and amateur kidnapper.
This is the New Colony's Kate and Sam Are Not Breaking Up.
The Chicago premiere of Good Thing by Jessica Goldberg, directed by Will Crouse, opens the Poor Theatre's second season. Unfortunately both the script and the performances need more work.
Good Thing is about two kitchens and two married couples. The set by Isabel Strauss is well done with the two settings effectively separated by lighting (designed by Danny Osburn).
Kelleher and Fisher. Justin Barbin Photography.
Living in the neat, modern kitchen are the Roys, John (Doug Schuetz) and Nancy (Melonie Collmann), both high school counselors in upstate New York. He works at the local high school and she works with inner-city students. They've been married 20 years and are having some problems--brought on by his drinking and infidelity and their inability to have children. There are hints that his infidelity was with a student but that is never clarified.
Ron Hirsen's Elegy is a commemoration of Kristallnacht, the November pogrom of 1938, but it is not only that; it is also an exploration of the healing power of art.
The play opens in 1970s New York City with Helmut (David Wohl) and Hilde (Iris Lieberman), Holocaust survivors, and their adult son Jerry (Justin Leider), but moves back and forth through time and space to expose the lives of the characters as they confront the horror of discrimination, the loss of loved ones, and the picking up of the pieces after World War II.
Arthur Miller's classic drama All My Sons is set in 1947, in the aftermath of World War II. Its story weaves together a mother's grief at the loss of a son and the manufacturing negligence that caused the deaths of dozens of wartime fliers.
Eclectic Full Contact Theatre's cast and director do an outstanding job of telling this story, and parsing out the details suspensefully throughout the two acts. Director David Belew keeps the action moving along smoothly and maintains the mood of tragedy that looms over the play from the first scene.
Elliott, Kurysz and Green. Photo by Jazmin Corona Photography.
The play is set in the cozy backyard of the home of Joe and Kate Keller (David Elliott and Julie Partyka). The story opens on a summer Sunday morning; a storm has knocked down the tree the family planted as a memorial to Larry, a fighter pilot whose plane disappeared three years ago. He is considered missing in action. Kate believes he is alive and will come home; the rest of the family knows her hope is futile.
From the moment an audience member enters The Neo-Futurarium for a showing of the The Sovereign Statement, they are entered into a life-sized board game on the subject of autocracy.
Upon walking into the theater's lobby, "The State Park," I was treated to a DMV-style "registration" whereupon I was issued a passport, five voting slips and an ID card (a two of hearts from a standard deck of playing cards). I was then treated to an evening-long meditation on themes of democracy and the building of a nation. The piece, which is steeped in the neo-aesthetics of chance, self-referentialness, dissolution of the fourth wall, and audience participation, served as a cautionary tale in the development of new nations and the use of figureheads to effectively govern.
Created by ensemble member Bilal Dardai and directed by Brandon Ray (the new artistic director at Red Tape Theater) the piece features a cast that includes longtime ensemble member Phil Ridarelli. Ridarelli and Dardai are outstanding in their roles as "Protagonist" and "Narrator". Ridarelli, in particular, was well-cast in his turn as a first-bumbling but ever-increasingly egomanicial ruler of Neovokia (the nation that the audience created that evening by popular vote). Also mentionable were Jen Ellison and Gwynn Fulcher in their roles as both second-to-the-chairman and overthrower-of-the-established-government.
I don't want to give too much away, as much of the fun that comes from seeing a Neo-Futurist play this well done comes from the element of surprise, but I will say that all player did a fantastic job throughout the show of keeping the themes alive and moving the action forward in a way that was at once playful and thought-provoking.
The one flaw in the piece, if there were any, was the neat tying-up of plot conflicts at the end of the show. Again, don't want to reveal too much here, but the notion that the only thing one can do a sovereign nation is destroy it didn't sit well with me. And perhaps that is Dardai's point--that there is no good way forward in all things government.
Those few moments aside, The Sovereign Statement is a fun and shining example of Neo-Futurism at is best.
The Sovereign Statement plays on Thursdays - Saturdays at 8pm at The Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland Ave. Tickets are $20, $10 for students and seniors and pay-what-you-can on Thursdays. Tickets are available at neofuturists.org.
The Goddess is a play that might be about a famous blonde movie star with double initials, or, it might be the story of a small-town teenager from a broken family, mesmerized by movie magazines of the 50s, who eventually fought her way to a movie career. Either way, Paddy Chayefsky's play is about love and rejection, alcohol, drugs and celebrity--a story that can't have a happy ending.
McEvilly and Stark. Photo by Tim Knight.
Emily Ann Faulkner (Lee Stark) fascinates the boys in her high school but really is focused on a way out of her dead-end small-town life. She meets and marries a handsome soldier (Daniel McEvilly) who happens to be the son of a movie star. (McEvilly has a nice monologue where he reflects on the meaning of life, and on his life. He spent a year and a half fighting in the Spanish Civil War, came home and went to war again.) Emily sees him as a path to her future. He isn't, of course.
Mom Baby God, a political theater piece about anti-choice politics, hits Chicago this week for the Midwest premiere of its national tour. Produced by Northampton, Massachusetts' Double LTR Productions, a company dedicated to performance and activism, the story follows an ambitious teenaged anti-abortion activist as she meets the characters and explores the political terrain at a fictional Students for Life of America conference.
Smartt, Burrows, Weinstein. Photo by Joshua Sugiyama.
Mom Baby God was written and is performed solo by Madeleine Burrows, who funded the national tour with a $7800 Kickstarter campaign. It was directed by New York-based, award-winning director Emma Weinstein, and Allison Smartt serves as production manager and sound designer.
Last night, I almost saw Theatre Y's production of The Binding. Almost, because there were only three of us in the audience. Even for the old chapel of St. Luke's Lutheran in Logan Square, which can only seat about 20 people, three is pushing it, so they cancelled the performance. But what I saw before I filed out of the cold room will take me back next weekend. Or the weekend after that. I will return every Thursday-Sunday at 7pm until I see the show.
Written by Evan Hill, and directed by Melissa Lorraine, The Binding explores the biblical narrative of Abraham, just at the moment when God commands him to kill his only son, Isaac. The play, written completely in poetry, also features eerie music and a small cast of characters that, even at first glimpse, stay with you. In a recent interview with Laura Molzahn of the Chicago Reader, Melissa Lorraine shared, "Inside a theater, I feel I hear clearly. Theater consumes untruth." Indeed, the darkness of the chapel, the feathers strewn about the floor, and the chalk markings on the walls draw viewers to confront their own inner demons almost as soon as they've walked through the door.
That's what I did, as music chimed through the chilly darkness, as the actors waited patiently on stage for the audience to come. It seems to me they will wait there for as long as it takes, perhaps for all of eternity. The Binding will play at St. Luke's (2649 N. Francisco) through November 3rd, if you seek to end your October on a haunting note. You can find out more about Theatre Y and upcoming productions by visiting their website.
The weather is getting crisp, the leaves are turning colors and costumes of all kinds are festooning store windows. Must be getting close to Halloween! If you're like me, you want to start celebrating early. Check out some of these performances to whet your Halloween whistle.
If you like a side of showtunes with your horror? Check out Zombie Prom at Mayne Stage (Oct. 19, Oct. 25 and Oct. 31, $20) with a special zombie prom-themed afterparty on Halloween and The Musical of the Living Dead at Stage 773 now through 11/9 ($25).
Signs of Life, a musical about the Czech ghetto Terezin, has made its way from New York for a limited run at the Victory Gardens Theater (2433 N. Lincoln.) This weekend comp tickets are available if you enter the code OCTOBER at checkout. Valid for tonight's (Saturday) performance at 8:30, tomorrow's 3pm performance, and possibly next weekend as well.
Step Up Productions' new play The Benchmark tries hard and has many virtues, but ultimately fails to engage us. Richard A. Roberts has written what is essentially a one-man play with strong messages about how our society has failed to take care of its people, failed to overcome poverty, provide health care and good education, and stay out of international entanglements.
Photo by Liz Lauren.
Daniel Houle plays Mark, a homeless man, with an eloquent 85-minute Bartlett's Quotations-laden monologue about those failures. Director Tara Branham choreographs Mark's life, day and night, season by season, in a small but very atmospheric stage design in one of the Athenaeum Theatre's studio spaces.
Other people pass and occasionally engage with Mark. Amy Geist as a nearly mute Bag Lady hovers nearby, constantly rearranging her small trove of possessions and rooting through a trash bin for leftover edibles. (Next time you throw away a half-eaten sandwich, remember that it might be a homeless person's next meal.)
Mark O'Rowe is one of the new generation of Irish playwrights whose work was first seen in the 1990s. In Terminus, being presented by Interrobang Theatre Project, he displays his fascination with language and his passion for words. Terminus isn't so much a play as a series of stories, intertwined in monologues by three characters, known only as A, B and C. Their stories, set in the streets of Dublin, begin separately and gradually become more connected, until they are finally merged in a glorious fantasy of blood, sweat, tears and sex.
Petro, Crowley and Hall. Photo by Claire Demos.
A (Christina Hall) is a telephone trauma counselor and former teacher, who recognized the voice of a former student who calls to talk about an abortion. "How pregnant are you?" she asks. "Nine months?" She chases the young woman all over Dublin to keep her from taking the life of the child. A also has a daughter with whom she tries to maintain a relationship.
In "mathspeak," f(x) + f(y) > f(x+y) or, the sum of the parts is greater than the whole. That's the business message behind the fun and doughnuts in Shattered Globe Theatre's new '80s comedy/drama, Other People's Money, a story that reminds us how corporate raiders worked: Buying what they saw as undervalued companies. Selling off the parts to generate more money than the whole company is worth, in the process, of course, laying off employees and sometimes doing permanent damage to the town where the company was located.
Photo by Emily Schwartz.
Other People's Money tells this story with wit and gusto. The subject is an old Rhode Island company, New England Wire & Cable, whose CEO, Andrew Jorgenson or "Jorgie" (Doug McDade), is getting close to retirement. Enter Lawrence Garfinkle, aka "Larry the Liquidator," (Ben Werling plays him with relish, charm, braggadocio and a huge appetite for doughnuts) who has been buying up shares of NEW&C with the goal of owning and "restructuring" the company [as in f(x) + f(y) > f(x+y)].
Hank Williams: Lost Highway is a toe-tapping musical biography about the country blues singer-songwriter who performed in the 1940s and early 1950s, an important time in American musical history. In a way, it's a jukebox musical, with 28 Hank Williams songs played during the two-plus-hour, two-act play. But it has a strong underlying story, a tragic one about a boy growing up in a poor family in Alabama and learning to sing in church, as so many blues musicians did. Williams (Mathew Brumlow) learned to sing and play guitar as a teenager, which is also when he learned to love alcohol. The intertwined loves of music and booze are the heart of the Hank Williams story.
Hank and Tee-Tot. Photo by Johnny Knight.
Presented by American Blues Theater, written by Randall Myler and Mark Harelik and directed by Damon Kiely, Lost Highway is a drama with plenty of superbly played music. Kiely and music director Malcolm Ruhl do a terrific job of showing how Williams' band is built from the core of three teenaged friends to become a successful five-piece show band, the Drifting Cowboys. Williams starts out playing with Jimmy (Michael Mahler) on guitar and vocals and Hoss (Austin Cook) on upright bass and vocals. The band is soon expanded by Leon (Greg Hirte) a talented fiddler. Later John Foley, a veteran Chicago musician, completes the Drifting Cowboys as Shag, on console steel guitar, harmonica and spoons.
Last week, on the History in Pictures Twitter page, there was a link to a photo of a soldier in battle fatigues with a scared smile on his face--handwritten on the front of his helmet is "War is hell." This could have been a soldier from Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, or any of the wars to which English-speaking troops have been sent. This image is titled "Soldier in Vietnam. 1965."
It could have been titled "Soldier in Iraq, 2012." The soldier could have been Private Daniel Reeves (Andrew Goetten), an unrepentant dead-end teenager who should never have gone to war and now stands accused of a horrific crime against Iraqi civilians.
The cast of 9 Circles; photo by Jonathan L. Green.
Sideshow Theatre Company's new production 9 Circles, written by Bill Cain, uses the mechanism of the nine circles of hell in Dante's Inferno to lead us through Reeves' short life from accusation to trial and execution. In each circle, Reeves and a surreal series of professionals explore his reasoning, his memories and his options. Through his meetings with his prosecutor and shrink (Amanda Powell), his army and civilian lawyers (Andy Luther), a lieutenant and a pastor (Jude Roche), we learn that Reeves was a poor Texas teenager with a drug and criminal record when an Army recruiter decided he was fit to wear the uniform.
For Chicagoans, the word "Pullman" brings to mind, the unique architecture of the neighborhood located in the far south side of the city; however, for African-Americans, it means much more: the legacy of the Pullman Porters.
In the late 1860s, engineer George Pullman, creator of the "Pullman sleeping car," employed large numbers of black men (former slaves) as Pullman Porters, who worked as "humble" servants to patrons who rode sleeper cars during America's thriving railroad industry. "Many Black Americans wanted to get this job," said Tony Award-winning actor Cleavant Derricks, who stars as Sylvester Sykes in Cheryl West's Pullman Porter Blues, opening this weekend at The Goodman Theatre. "It was dignified, you had to wear uniforms [and] you got to travel and see the country."
Pullman Porter Blues, directed by Chuck Smith, is the story of a family of men representing "three generations of African-American Pullman porters on the cusp of unionization in the 1930s." Here, Derricks talks about the cultural importance of the story and its place in American history, working with director Chuck Smith, and what he wants audiences to take away from the play.
Beginning tomorrow night, Public House Theatre takes on that familiar target, "big bad Corporate America," in its new play, How to Lose Jobs and Alienate Friends. Written by the theater's writers' room and directed by Byron Hatfield, the play mixes seminars for the audience with workplace romance, YouTube diversions and cat memes to explore today's often-frustrating business world.
The play is the story of Chris, who thinks he is being hired for an accounting job and finds he is the new head of social media for Organitek. He soon discovers that no one really knows what his job is and then he can't determine what his new company does or what products it makes. (Yes, it's a global conglomerate straight out of the 70s, when a big oil company bought a mass merchandiser and a box company and no one thought anything of it; in fact, that's a true Chicago story. Mobil bought MARCOR, a merger of Montgomery Ward and Container Corporation of America. It didn't end well.)
Cast of How to Lose Jobs and Alienate Friends; Photo by Patrick Lothian.
How to Lose Jobs is the first play produced by the theater's new internal system, which includes a producers' group, directors' table, writers' room and a core group of actors to generate and produce new material. The play combines long-form narrative with sketch-comedy style.
How to Lose Jobs and Alienate Friends runs September 6 through October 13 at Public House Theatre, 3914 N. Clark St. Performances are Fridays-Sundays; times vary. Tickets are $15 and may be bought online or by calling 800-650-6448.
Inventing Van Gogh is an intriguing story of Vincent van Gogh's mysterious last painting, one of his many self-portraits. Strange Bedfellows Theatre performs it in a time warp that moves easily back and forth between present day and the latter part of Van Gogh's life in Arles between 1888 and 1890. Aaron Hendrickson directs.
The play moves so easily back and forth in time that Patrick (Patrick Cameron), a contemporary artist hired to paint a forgery of Van Gogh's rumored last work, sometimes shares a scene with Van Gogh himself (Riley Mcilveen). Renne Bouchard (Adam Schulmerich), the art authenticator who hires Patrick, believes they can deceive the auction market and sell the "newly discovered" self-portrait for millions. A strong influence in Patrick's career is his former professor Jonas Miller (Sean Thomas), a Van Gogh scholar who dies while on a hunt for the painting. Miller's daughter, Hallie (Christine Vrem-Ydstie), plays Patrick's friend and also a woman who sits for Van Gogh.
In one delightfully anachronistic scene, Van Gogh brings a stack of his recent paintings to Patrick, a fellow painter. He wants to know what Patrick thinks of his work. Patrick does not hesitate to tell him: "You paint too fast. A painting a day? Really? You're a draftsman."
The sign outside the theater says, "This is a rock musical. It will be loud." And it starts loud with a four-piece rock band playing preshow music including the classic "Seven Nights to Rock."
Rooms: A Rock Romance is a fairly traditional musical, punctuated by some great rock and punk rock songs performed on stage with a band. It is, at its heart, a love story about two people with different visions of life. Monica (Hillary Marren) wants to be a rock star, to travel and perform all over the world and Ian (Matt Deitchman) is a musician who prefers to stay at home in his own room with his guitar.
"I was born on the other side of a town ripped in two," Hedwig sings in the opening song of the rock-opera Hedwig and the Angry Inch presented by Haven Theatre and now playing at Theater Wit. "I made it over the great divide -- now I'm comin' for you."
Born in communist East Berlin, Hedwig (played by Ryan Lanning) leads a traumatic childhood, to say the least. To escape from a cold mother and bleak life, Hedwig finds a comforting spot in the house -- the family's oven -- and listens to rock and roll musicians like Tony Tennille, Debby Boone, and Lou Reed. Rock music becomes Hedwig's hope, as does Luther, an American GI. With gummy bears in hand, Luther meets Hedwig in an abandoned bomb crater. As it goes, Luther (aka "sugar daddy") asks Hedwig to marry him -- only problem, well: penis. Luther worries that customs will do a full body search and deny them marriage.
At its core Hedwig is about a person who must make choices, for freedom, for love, for rock and roll. It's about self-love and the ways we figure it out. Hedwig decides to go ahead and fake a passport and get a sex-change in order to leave Germany (also, in the throes of love -- it's complicated). But, the operation doesn't go as planned. "My sex change operation got botched -- my guardian angel fell asleep on the watch," Hedwig sings. "Now, all I got is a Barbie doll crotch -- I've got an angry inch!"
Mahal is a family story. A Filipino family with strong roots in the Philippines adjusts to life, love and loss in its new country. The family members (the father, two sons and a daughter) are each recovering in their own way from the recent death of the mother. Some family members even call the mother's phone number to hear her voicemail greeting, and leave messages for her until the mailbox fills up.) Danny Bernardo, Bailiwick resident playwright, is the author of this world premiere. Director Erica Weiss was director and co-creator of A Twist of Water, a recent hit for Route 66 Theatre Company.
"Mahal" means "love," and the way family members express or withhold love is the root of this story. The Reyes family has retained many aspects of their Filipino culture--greetings, language and cuisine, of course. It's amazing how for people from all ethnicities and nationalities, many family memories revolve around food.
Bailiwick Chicago's Mahal; photo: Michael Brosilow.
Some things about The Casuals might make you uncomfortable--nuclear testing, for instance. Government agencies that hide the truth (and insist you don't ask questions). Stories that may be lies or truth. A mother who tells her son how his father died a hero. An uncle who tells his nephew's wife how his brother really died.
The Casuals, set in 1955 Nevada, is a new play presented by Jackalope Theatre Company. The script is by Chance Bone and Andrew Burden Swanson, with direction by Jonathan Berry.
Several stories are entwined in this two-hour drama. Richard "Rich" Hughes (Ed Dzialo), a veteran and former military radio host, deals with an unexpected visit from his nephew Tom (Morgan Maher), who stops with his new wife, Jessica (Ellie Reed) while on their honeymoon road trip. Rich also has a warm connection with a widow, Lucille (Somer Benson) and her 12-year-old son. Lucille's late husband Les (Brad Smith) has a mysterious connection with Rich's past.
Sam Kurzydlo, Ellie Reed, Morgan Maher & Ed Dzialo; photo by Alex Hand.
Put three generations of women in a house together and you're sure to have an eruption of personalities; eventually, long kept secrets slip out and lies are undone. Beaten, a world premiere drama by Scott Woldman, gives the Artistic Home actors a searing and emotionally charged script, and they all come through with fine performances.
The multigenerational family is made up of the grandmother, Eileen (Kathy Scambiatterra), the mother, Madelynne (Kristin Collins) and daughter Chloe (Kathryn Acosta). Each makes us believe in her own tangled past and present. Eileen sets the mold for herself in the first scene when she carves a potato to serve as a one-hit marijuana pipe since her daughter confiscated her bong. She suffers from cancer and sees no reason to stop smoking pot or cigarettes or drinking beer or vodka. She doesn't hesitate to express her feelings about how Madelynne is handling her life or raising her daughter.
Kathy Scambiattera and Kathryn Acosta; photo courtesy of The Artistic Home.
At first it seems that we might be in for a comic version of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, where a father and son try to survive in a post-apocalyptic wilderness.
Sideshow Theatre's one-woman show features Karie Miller as Woman, a "prepper," living in her underground bunker, getting ready for the sure-to-come apocalypse. We, her audience, are there to learn how to be preppers, too. The warnings and the signs are grim but Woman keeps us entertained with many laugh lines and humorous incidents.
This 70-minute world premiere was written by Carrie Barrett and directed by Megan A. Smith, who keeps the general tone of the play light despite the grim undertones.
Karie Miller; photo by Jonathan L. Green.
What is The Burden of Not Having a Tail? That becomes clear early in the play. Woman, who is big on audience participation, asks us all to feel behind us for our "heinie nub" (just at the base of your spine, however, she describes this location differently.) "Our tails used to help us wag our troubles away," she says. But now, we have one less thing to help us survive.
Nearly 40 emerging and established playwrights will demonstrate how their craft works Tuesdays through Saturdays in July. Each playwright will work for a half day in the storefront window at 72 E. Randolph. Viewers will be able to read the work in progress on a large screen.
Playwrights selected for the project will receive a $50 per day stipend for a four-hour time slot (10am-2pm or 2pm-6pm); they will also be promoted through on-site signage and social media, as well as on the project's website. Participants include the Goodman Theatre Artistic Associate Regina Taylor, Nambi Kelly, Danny Bernardo, and more. The League of Chicago Theatres says its goal is "to support the playwriting community" and "encourage audiences to engage more deeply with Chicago theatre and the creative process of playwriting." The first Chicago Storefront Playwright Project took place in December 2012.
What year is it? The opening in 1929 is the only time you'll be sure.
The Half-Brothers Mendelssohn begins with a dignified scene. It's a funeral. The corpse (Joseph Stearns) is at rest in a raised coffin. The mourners are dressed in black. The funeral program informs us that The Rev. Christopher Herbert (Cory Aiello) will give the eulogy and his daughter Margaret (Audrey Flegel) will play selections from Felix Mendelssohn on a piano that someone forgot to have tuned. There also will be "Words From Family Members."
Yes, there will be words. Dueling speeches from two widows, in fact (Kate Nawrocki and Jenifer Henry Starewich). And there, 10 minutes into the play, sanity ends.
Stuart Ritter and Brandon Ruiter; photo by Emily Schwartz
The Half-Brothers Mendelssohn is presented by the Strange Tree Group at Signal Ensemble Theatre. The actors perform on a floor-level space with audience seated on three sides. The position of honor belongs to the time machine. The action rockets back and forth from 1929 to 1908, trying to solve problems brought about by the abrupt 1908 departure of Alice (Nawrocki) from her marriage to Joseph Mendelssohn (Stearns). Alice and Joseph's son, Theo (Stuart Ritter), is a physicist who has built a time machine. It's an amazing visual assemblage of gears, clocks, lights - and a typewriter. No merely projected image, this.
Julia Sweeney & Jill Sobule; photo courtesy of The Silverman Group.
Before grabbing a Heineken and a slab of ribs to celebrate the Fourth of July (or if you're like me, an avocado wrap with barbecue sauce), grab a glass of wine and a ticket to "The Jill and Julia Show" at the City Winery Wednesday, July 3. You will find in this funny informal show about love, family and the conundrums of life, witty monologues by Julia Sweeney coupled with equally as witty tunes by Jill Sobule.
The Pride is set in two eras, 50 years and eons of attitudes apart.The title reflects how societal and political changes have affected gay people and their straight friends over the years. About Face Theatre times this perspective on gay life to coincide with the 44th Annual Chicago Pride Week.
It's written by English writer Alexi Kay Campbell in a series of scenes occurring in the two time frames. Director Bonnie Metzger, who manages this flow admirably, also directed Philip Dawkins' play The Homosexuals for About Face in 2011. That play described the lives of gay Chicagoans in the 21st century.
John Francisco, Patrick Andrews and Jessie Fisher in The Pride; photo by Michael Brosilow.
The time-shifting scenes in The Pride are set in London in 1958 and 2008; the players are two sets of characters who each have the same names in both time periods: Oliver (Patrick Andrews), Philip (John Francisco) and Sylvia (Jessie Fisher).The seeming emphasis on the names heightens our awareness of the societal changes that enable the modern Oliver, for instance, to live his life in a different way than the other Oliver could have.
If you have been or have known a new mother, you remember how hormonal craziness can rage in the days immediately after birth. So no one takes Mari (Hillary Clemens) seriously when she wakes up the morning after an at-home childbirth and says, "That is not our baby!"
Mari keeps the blanket that wrapped the new baby and sniffs it frequently for the 'new baby smell'--she's sure the baby in the cradle smells different.
Hillary Clemens & Cyd Blakewell; photo by Claire Demos.
The title Mine takes on ominous overtones and great intensity under Marti Lyons' direction, which is enhanced by its confined performance space in this tiny storefront venue. Playwright Laura Marks has drawn several realistic and sympathetic characters, consumed with contemporary fears, ratcheted up by the angst of new parenthood.
Chicago Dramatists' world premiere production of Homecoming 1972 by resident dramatist Robert Koon puts us back in the Vietnam era. It reminds us of the dissent and confrontations of that time and how much that mood differs from today's high-tech multiwar era.
Kimberly Senior skillfully directs this play and helps us see each of the characters' qualities. But the overtones are loneliness and sadness. The double-edged homecoming is that of Frank (played by Matt Holzfeind), a Vietnam veteran who returns home with physical and psychic wounds and is unable to deal with daily life. It's also the high school homecoming in the small Minnesota town. The 90-minute play is performed in a series of two-person scenes, fluidly moving from one to the next on the efficiently designed set.
Frank's brother Joe is a highway patrolman who got a farm deferment; he stayed home and married Maria, the young women who both men loved in high school. At this point, a Bruce Springsteen fan would start to think, "Wait a minute--this sounds very familiar." And in fact, the play is a scripted retelling of Springsteen's song "Highway Patrolman" from his haunting, acoustic 1982 Nebraska album. Whether or not you've seen the play, the lyrics tell the story.
Jim Yost was a pretty big fish--a successful director in a small city pond in Charlotte, NC. After 10 years of directing there, he decided he needed a more adventurous theater scene and "more like-minded people" to work with. After considering a move to New York, he chose Chicago, instead. "New York seemed overwhelming and in some ways unattainable; Chicago seemed more manageable," he said. He packed up and moved to Chicago in 2012, with no job or no theater connections--just a desire to expand his theater horizons and his career. Less than a year later, he directed his first full-length play and merged his company with Interrobang Theatre Project. I talked to Jim Yost to find out what inspired him to make his move to Chicago.
Jim, let's start with your background. Tell me about yourself.
I moved to Chicago a year ago from Charlotte, where I had a theater company called Barebones Theatre Group. We produced there for about 10 years. Barebones did work very similar to Interrobang. We did very simple productions, character-driven stories, but challenging to the audience. Not typical theater fare. We built up a following there and had our own venue- a warehouse that we ran for five years.
"I'm sorry I slept with your boyfriend," she says. "But, if it's any consolation, I had diarrhea that day."
"I'm sorry I didn't love you for who you are," she says.
"I'm sorry," she says.
The woman (Molly Plunk) is a contestant in The Miss Neo Pageant, the Neo Futurist's newest show, playing through June 22 on Thursdays -- Saturdays at 7:30pm. We have already seen Plunk dance, in a swimsuit -- her pageantry side. Now, it's more intimate. Created by Megan Mercier and directed by Stephanie Shaw, the show is a deconstruction of an ideal. The show gives us pageantry, but also flip(pers) it.
The other Miss Neo contestants (six in total) are woman with titles like "Miss Crispy" (Leah Rose Urzendowski Courser) who reminds me of P!nk in the best possible ways, "Miss Unbridled Rage" (Jessica Anne) responsible for a hilarious and real take-down of Anne Hathaway, and "Miss Not Gonna Cry" (Tif Harrison). The pageant has swimsuits and costume changes and Rockettes-style kick lines. It has Q&A rounds with randomly chosen female audience members, panty-trees, and feminism. The show explores female interactions while still competing against each other, mostly for attention, you know, the way girls are taught to interact with each other.
It's a prospective parent's worst nightmare: Will our baby be perfect? A missing finger or toe and many congenital diseases can be adapted to or treated, but in Smudge, Ka-Tet Theatre asks us to think about how we would deal with an even more dramatic birth--an infant that may not be quite human.
"This thing doesn't need a mother," Colby (Stevie Chadwick Lambert) says midway through this one-act, 90-minute play. "It's got tubes."
Stevie Chadwick Lambert and Scott Allen Luke; photo by Andrew Cioffi.
Smudge by Rachel Axler takes us from the late-in-pregnancy moment when Colby and Nick (Scott Allen Luke) try to decipher the ultrasound of their future progeny. "Is it upside down?" Colby asks, rotating the image. In the next scene, the baby is born and whisked away to the ICU to be cared for. Colby and Nick bring the baby home and choose the name "Cassandra" (a Trojan princess with the gift of prophecy). "Cassie" is placed in a bassinet covered in tubing, with a constantly beeping monitor. Colby refers to the infant as "it" but all we know for sure about the child is that it has one eye and is missing some limbs.
Being the child of an uber celebrity certainly presents unique and extraordinary challenges--and when sharing the parent's famous name is added to the spotlight, scrutiny, lofty expectations, and endless comparisons are inevitable. For singer and actor Richard Pryor, Jr., notoriety as the son of one of the world's most legendary stand-up comedians and entertainers is unavoidable, but he certainly understands that it all comes with the territory. "It's something that you try to escape," said Pryor. "I tried to escape it but it's there--it's in you--it's a part of you."
Pryor makes his Chicago stage debut this weekend in Lipstick Goes on Last, a "fierce farce about alternative families, friendships, and fidelity in the 70s;" here, he talks about growing up with his famous father, inheriting the "entertainment gene," frustrations with Hollywood, and the important message the show has for audiences.
Group interpretation, original oratory, extemporaneous commentary. These are some of the graphic titles projected to introduce new scenes throughout Speech & Debate at American Theatre Company (ATC). That may sound like a yawnfest for speech majors but in the hands of four talented performers, they signal funny but searing explorations of teenagers trying to sort out their identities. This is doubly tough in an era where online activities further complicate the growing-up process.
Speech & Debate is written by Stephen Karam, whose play Sons of the Prophet will be presented by ATC in 2014. Karam and director P. J. Paparelli cowrote columbinus, recently presented by ATC and now on national tour.
Speech & Debate brings together three students in an Oregon high school who are misfits of one kind or another. They find they have similar interests in fame and free speech and determine to expose the online life of one of their teachers. Don't think of this play as a show for teens. The characters are not juveniles nor are they portrayed as adorable problem children. They are real people and the play's insights and commentary are relevant to theatergoers of all ages.
Orange Flower Water is a wrenching marital drama where the bed is the heart of the matter, both literally and metaphorically. The bed is the centerpiece of each scene, with quick changes of covering signaling changes of venue. The four characters are two couples who live in the same neighborhood and whose children play soccer together. One of the partners in each couple wants to end their marriages. James Yost, in his first Chicago directorial outing, directs this smartly written play by Craig Wright, author of television scripts written for "Six Feet Under," "Lost," "Brothers & Sisters," and "Dirty Sexy Money."
Keith Neagle and Ina Strauss; photo by Claire Demos.
The 90-minute drama is a co-production between the Barebones Theatre Group, a recent transplant from Charlotte, NC, and the Interrobang Theatre Project, a three-year-old Chicago company. Barebones is merging with Interrobang for the 2013-14 season and Yost will be co-artistic director of the merged company, along with Jeffrey Stanton of Interrobang.
Chicago Dance Crash, whose Gotham City was hailed by the Chicago Tribune as one of the city's best in 2012, returns with The Cotton Mouth Club, its summer performance, choreographed by artistic director Jessica Deahr and Robert McKee, in a show that combines the "prohibition-era" with the 80s, taking the audience on a journey through swing, jazz, ballet, breakdance and more. Here, McKee talks about the show, how the movie Idlewild served as inspiration, and the important message audiences will take away from the performance.
Daniel Gibson and Mary Tarpley; The Cotton Mouth Club.
When did you first know you wanted a career in dance? Was it one person or several people whom you were inspired by?
I started dancing as a kid, watching lots and lots of Michael Jackson videos, and learning the choreography and performing it for my family at family gatherings, reunions and things like that. It's kind of something that's always been in my blood. I went on to college to study more technical forms of dance--ballet, modern, jazz, and things like that.
Ivywild, the new play by the ever-audacious The Hypocrites, is part carnival, part Chicago history lesson. And it is a delightful 90 minutes of fact mixed with fantasy. The full title of the show is Ivywild, The True Tall Tales of Bathhouse John, written by Jay Torrence and directed by The Hypocrites' artistic director Halena Kays.
Photo courtesy of The Hypocrites. L to r: Ryan Walters (Kenna), Jay Torrence (Coughlin), Kurt Chiang (Little Walt).
When you walk into the lower-level performance space at Chopin Theatre, you know you are in for some fun. The set is a carousel with swings, made of faux antique materials; light bulbs are festooned everywhere. Platform pieces move around and provide performance space. Before the performance begins, two audience members are asked to don white pinafore dresses so they can participate in simulated rides in the amusement park. The audience, seated close to the action as usual in this space, feels like part of the show.
Torrence plays "Bathhouse John" Coughlin, the First Ward Alderman during the 1890s and early 20th century when the 20-square block area around Cermak Rd. and Michigan Ave. was the levee district, populated by saloons, brothels, gambling houses and plenty of corruption to fund it. Michael "Hinky Dink" Kenna, the precinct captain and later the second First Ward alderman, is played by Ryan Walters. (Until redistricting in 1923, each Chicago ward had two aldermen.) The two amass great wealth through the levee district businesses, political corruption and general debauchery.
Every Saturday at midnight, for three years and six successful seasons, audiences have flooded the iO Theater for Chicago's own premier late night talk show, "The Late Live Show" hosted by Joe Kwaczala.
Since 2010, "The Late Live Show" has offered iO's weekly audiences live late night talk show just like the pros. This small, independently-produced show has attained national recognition and welcomed such distinguished guests as Paul Feig, Danny Pudi ("Community"), Lucas Neff ("Raising Hope"), and local all-stars such as superchef Rick Bayless, Olympic speedskater Shani Davis, and best-selling author Rebecca Skloot. This sketch comedy show has become a staple in the Chicago, and has gained recognition at festivals from coast to coast. Its credits also include a writing team that has produced writers now working for such shows as "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" and "The Onion News Network."
This Saturday, after three years of laughter, "The Late Live Show" will put on its last hurrah, with a "finale full of jokes, characters, interviews, sketches," and a few special surprises, as the crew looks back at the show's run. As part of their finale and 50th show, host Joe Kwaczala and his staff will welcome back returning favorites, Adam Kempenaar and Josh Larsen from the Filmspotting podcast.
Don't miss your chance to see the last run of this hilarious late night performance this Saturday, May 11 at 11:59PM. "The Late Live Show" is held in iO's Del Close Theater, 3541 N. Clark St. and is only $5 online or at the door (free for iO students).
During Hollywood's "golden era," roles for black actors were notoriously scarce in both quantity and quality; as such, they were mostly relegated to playing butlers, maids and mammies, and in many cases, they were left to struggle as "unknowns" in the industry. And while actresses from that period including Pearl Bailey (St. Louis Blues), Lena Horne (Stormy Weather) and Dorothy Dandridge (Carmen Jones) achieved fame, many, like Nina Mae McKinney and Theresa Harris, who did get roles, went virtually unrecognized.
In Lynn Nottage'sBy the Way, Meet Vera Stark (fueled by Harris' story), the plight of the unnoticed--and often uncredited--black actress in Hollywood during the 1930s is explored. Here, Chicago's Tamberla Perry, who stars in the title role, talks about the play, working again with director Chuck Smith, and challenges black actresses face today.
The ballet, created in 1997, begins its last stint in regular repertory this evening -- one day after Shakespeare's 449th birthday (and his death day), and the day deemed "Talk Like Shakespeare Day." Set to Lubovitch's choreography and music composed by Academy Award winner Elliot Goldenthal, the ballet tells the tale of the Venetian Moor, Othello, his love, Desdemona, and the web of lies spun by Iago that brings the entire cast of characters to a tragic end, wrought with betrayal and envy.
I've said before that Shakespeare was a man for all ages who wrote plays for all time. Sometimes, they were his own creation; other times, they were stories written by others that the bard simply made relevant to the time in which he lived. Othello is one of those stories. The original tale was written by Cinthio in 1565. I once made the popular but foolish mistake of thinking that this story was Shakespeare's own genius at work. I was promptly corrected by Lar Lubovitch, the choreographer for the upcoming performance of the play by the Joffrey Ballet. Now, Othello has been remade a third time. Chicago Shakespeare Theater's production of the Q Brothers'Othello: The Remix, now extended through June 15, translates the sometimes tricky prose of Shakespeare's play into a language that the modern world understands: rap.
When Steppenwolf's house lights dimmed for the first act of Tarell Alvin McCraney's Head of Passes, I was immediately transported to the South, to the mouth of the Mississippi River, on an afternoon when the air was heavy in the way it can be only before a thunderstorm. This heaviness not only gave the play its setting, but also its tone, suspending the audience in a disbelief broken only once in two hours by the single 15-minute intermission.
Head of Passes begins on the eve of Shelah's (Cheryl Lynn Bruce) birthday, a date this spiritual woman and mother of three has been too busy to remember. Her middle son, Aubrey (Glenn Davis) is in high spirits as he seeks to make his mother's birthday one she'll never forget -- despite the leaks in the living room, representative of the cracks developing within their family -- complete with cake, scotch, laughter and family. However, these are not the reasons that Shelah will remember this night, and the tragic turn of events haunts her long into the future.
In any given circle of close female friends, various personalities commonly exist; from "Good Glenda" to "Practical Paula" to "Seductive Susie" and others, the differences in these women's styles are what make the group fun, interesting, and unique.
But what happens then, if or when, there is a "Fat Frances" in the group?
In Robert Bledsoe'sPlus Size, directed by Lee Peters, the so-called "designated fat friend" syndrome and its effect on women, friendship and weight loss is addressed.
It is a rare thing when a play comes around that captures true events so poignantly that it leaves its audience speechless. The American Theater Company's production of Stephen Karam and PJ Paparelli's Columbinus is this rarity. The play retells the events of the Columbine High School shooting of April 20, 1999 using a simple set, incredible acting, and the journals and video tapes of the real-life shooters, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris. I saw and reviewed the play two months ago, and its power has stayed with me.
It is a shame that this production will not show for longer, as I believe every person in Chicago and the world has a duty to see it and understand its message. I am thrilled that ATC has decided to extend the show through this Sunday, April 7.
No single performance of this production should be discounted in any way, but this weekend's final performances offer an even greater experience. Tom Mauser, the father of Columbine victim Daniel Mauser will attend the 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. performances on Saturday, April 6, as well as participate in a post-show talk back with the cast of Columbinus. Before Saturday evening's performance, ATC will co-host a reception for Mauser with the Illinois Council Against Handgun Violence, a great opportunity to confront and discuss the relevant issues of gun control facing not only Columbine, Colorado, but also the United States of America in both legislation and our personal lives.
Our first introduction to the twin Eastern European city-states of Beszel and Ul Qoma comes in the company of two angry and grieving American travelers. Mr. and Mrs. Geary have arrived in Beszel to identify the body of their daughter Mahalia, a graduate student found bludgeoned to death. Because of the urgency of the ensuing police investigation, the Gearys have been admitted to Beszel without the weeks of cultural orientation most visitors must undergo. They have only a cursory grasp of the unconventional way in which Beszel and Ul Qoma coexist, but if they don't pay attention and adapt quickly they'll commit a breach of diplomacy that could put their lives at risk.
It's sink or swim for the audience, as well, in Lifeline Theatre's terrific production of The City & The City. Adapted from the brilliant 2009 novel by China Miéville, Christopher M. Walsh's brisk, effective script immerses us quickly and shrewdly in the protocols of life in Beszel, where a literal misstep can spell disaster. With the Gearys as our perplexed stand-ins, Walsh and director Dorothy Milne dare us to keep up, and one of the pleasures of this play lies in those "A-ha!" moments when the peculiar nature of these intertwined cities (which I will strive not to spoil) begins to clarify.
If you live in the city, which I am assuming you do because you are reading this, then you have heard of, seen, or been involved in some sort of violent act, and that is the topic of Collaboraction's Crime Scene, as the title may suggest. Anthony Moseley is the visionary for this piece that tries to "do something" rather than just entertain or tell a story, and what it does is start the conversation. What is violence? How can it be controlled? Who is contributing to it? And whether your conversation after the show will be about the show or about real violence, which is what the show is about, it doesn't really matter because it gets you talking, and it absolutely will.
This is not a performance I want to touch in terms of artistic quality, although it is, by no stretch of the imagination, quality. It is not about the story though, it is not really even about violence,. I say that because it is a confrontational performance that uses violence to speak against violence, this is about the viewer 100%. How do you feel? How do you react? When I was there I heard laughter when someone was killed on stage, if that person walks away to think about that reaction, I think they would find their relationship to violence a little more easy to locate, or examine. There are no answers to violence, and none are presented to us save the song "Let Hope Rise" which recreates the whole "We Are The World" type sob story, and very directly show how little can be done.
This weekend may be your last chance to see it so make some room in your calendar on
Thursday April 4th 8pm
Friday April 5th 8pm
Saturday April 6th 8pm
Sunday April 7th 7pm
This show is a must see and I would like to plug their IndyGoGo Crowd-Funding campaign - please Help this show continue being seen by seeing it and funding it's becoming a traveling show. Click here to help them out financially.
Outside of Geneva, Switzerland, is a giant, revolutionary machine called the Large Hadron Collider. This machine is a particle accelerator that mocks the conditions directly following the Big Bang that supposedly created the universe. To operate the machine, physicists fire two beams of sub-atomic particles called hadrons (either protons or lead ions) directly at each other. The beams gain energy as they travel around the massive, circular tunnel and when they collide, newly created particles explode in every direction in a miniature representation of the beginnings of the galaxy. This whole concept is crazy but incredibly powerful. In the same way, Next Theater Company's production of Jonathan Safran Foer'sEverything is Illuminated is a play that forces extreme opposites to collide with spectacular results. The first act left the audience bent in half laughing, and yet in the second, there wasn't a dry eye in the theater.
This play, based on a novel, is a Holocaust tale, but unlike many movies and documentaries that have painted the picture of widespread horror, this story focuses on the tragedy within each individual who lost someone dear to them. It raises questions concerning the boundaries of courage and cowardice in the worst of times, when a man is forced to choose between his family and his neighbor. Although this genocide lies in the past, the wounds of those who remember never really heal.
(L to R) Kasey Alfonso, Justin Adair & Robin DaSilva in SJCChicago's Smokey Joe's Café.
Photo: Anthony Robert La Penna.
Ever heard an old tune you knew, but later realized you didn't actually know you knew it? That's the effect of music and its ability to transcend generations--to take you back to a time when lyrics had sentimental value--when a song knowingly, or unknowingly, invaded your memory, whether or not you even wanted it to.
This is exactly the feeling you get from Smokey Joe's Café: The Songs of Leiber & Stoller, the musical based on the popular catalog of the famed songwriting duo, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, now playing at the Royal George's Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre.
Gjenganger--a word I can't pronounce, no matter how hard I try; a word that is an adaptation of another difficult word: Gengangare--most often translated as "ghosts", but more exactly meaning "those who walk again." Gjenganger is a word that is the title of three unique plays by Jon Fosse, each of which is familiar to the other in the way that it seems they are different repetitions, again, walkers of each other, hence the title.
The plays are brought to the Chicago theater scene by Akvavit Theater Company, whose mission is to produce contemporary Nordic plays to encourage a discussion about how the culture is perceived and how it exists on a more global scale. Akvavit Theater's production of Gjenganger, composed respectively of William Bullion's A Summer's Day , Breahan Eve Pautsch's Autumn Dream, and Paul S. Holmquist's Winter, gives Chicago theatergoers a breath of fresh air and an opportunity to experience a type of theater quite different from anything else in the city.
Where can you find a duke cleverly disguised as a priest, a cunning nun out to save her condemned brother by whatever means necessary, a handful of satirical plays-on-words, and enough whorehouses to be disreputable even by the lenient standards of the 1970s? Only in Robert Falls' production of William Shakespeare's Measure for Measure at the Albert Theater at the Goodman.
After the final curtain and a standing ovation, the man sitting behind me, whose commentary I had been tuned into throughout the entire production, said that he felt as if he'd been assaulted by the theater. The smile on his face told me he meant this in the best way possible. In my own way, I felt the same. The on-stage events were a loud, blaring, spray-painted, bell-bottom-wearing, nothing-barred strike to the audience's sense of morality and righteousness, but we couldn't stop laughing.
If I had stars to give, I'd throw five to this production. From the set to the acting, the lighting design to the interpretation of the script, the play was nothing short of what I would expect from the Goodman.
(left to right) Julian Parker and Kristin E. Ellis is Theater Seven of Chicago's production of BlackTop Sky by Christina Anderson, directed by Cassy Sanders, as part of Steppenwolf's Garage Rep 2013. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
Theater Seven's BlackTop Sky has all the charm of "Good Times" and none of the one-liners. The minimal set includes little more than a couple benches and scattered litter to give it an authentic "Chicago Housing Projects" feel. On one of the benches lives Klass, aka "Pigeon," (endearingly performed by Julian Parker) because of the feathers molting from the down jacket that he wears 12 months a year. Our protagonist, 18-year-old Ida (Kristin E. Ellis), opens the play, standing on a bench, by telling us about her witnessing the cops rough up a street vendor and feeling helpless about it. In the process of telling the story she drops her keys and Klass picks them up, and after a few tense interactions between the two over the next few days they eventually become friends, to the dismay of Ida's boyfriend.
(left to right) Harter Clingman and Danni Smith in Bailiwick Chicago's production of See What I Wanna See with words and music by Michael John LaChiusa, directed by Lili-Anne Brown and music direction by James Morehead, presented as part of Steppenwolf Theatre Company's Garage Rep 2013. Performance through April 21, 2013. Photo by Michael Brosilow
If I had done any research at all, I wouldn't have gone to See What I Wanna See. I jumped at the opportunity to review it because it's part of Steppenwolf's Garage Rep series, which I am a big fan of, but I am not a big fan of musicals, so if I'd actually read the press release before RSVPing, I wouldn't have gone. That said, I'm glad I went. Theater has come a long way since Oklahoma, thank God.
Oh, St. Patrick's Day in Chicago. It can't be beat. This year, why not celebrate with an age-old Chicago tradition: Improv Comedy.
In celebration of St. Patrick's Day weekend, ComedySportz will be hosting six comedy shows beginning Thursday, March 14th and running through Saturday, March 16th dedicated to the two great Irish traditions- drinking and joking around. Shows will build off Irish themed suggestions from the audience, so come ready with your Irish trivia! ComedySportz's ususal games, scenes, and songs will be altered for the special occasion. Make sure to show your Irish spirit and wear green to the show for the chance to compete on stage to win a St. Patty's Day prize, and as an added bonus, guests will get a souvenir picture of themselves in the clubroom.
Finally, Irish drinks won't be left out! ComedySportz's bar will be stocked with green beer, of course, and St. Patrick's Day staples -- shots of Jameson and cans of Guinness -- will also be on special for $5 each.
Tommy Ford is famously known to television audiences for his role as one-fifth of the ensemble cast of the hit 90s FOX sitcom, "Martin"; he later moved on to major roles on shows including "New York Undercover" and "The Parkers," and can be seen in the upcoming TV movie, In the Meantime. While this actor, director and producer has enjoyed a solid career on the small screen--and the big screen--he also puts in work on the stage. Ford, who was in town last fall for the premiere of Dreams, (directed and produced by Chicago's own, Joel Kapity), returns to the Windy City for the stage play Standing in the Shadows of Love (written and produced by Chicago's Tracie Armour-Adetunji), which also stars Tony Award-winning actress and singer Jennifer Holliday (Dreamgirls). Here, he talks about the play, which tells the story about one family's struggle through a life-changing event.
Standing in the Shadows of Love is a story about how a family's troubles while dealing with one of its members wrongful imprisonment. Tell us about it.
It's a whole lot of drama. But it's a wonderful story; it almost reminds me of the Prodigal Son. People get caught up in their own world and their own issues and forget that family is so amazingly important to have--that you have someone to lean on and to love you in spite of yourself. It's a story about family, loyalty and honesty.
Time for a bit of nostalgia. The Second City first opened its doors to Chicago in 1959. What was a small cabaret style theater then has been pushing the envelope ever since. With a mission to cater to the younger crowd and current events-based comedy, the small theater has become one of the most influential and recognized comedy theaters in the world. By the time the sixties rolled around, The Second City's sister theater in Toronto was performing and creating cutting-edge comedy series as well.
Between the two theaters, their famous comedic reputation, and their training centers, many of Second City's alumni have gone on to become comedy elite appearing on everything from Saturday Night Live to Comedy Central. Fifty-two years in the business has turned out comedy geniuses like Steve Carell, Tinay Fey, Stephen Colbert, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd and Gilda Radner, just to name a few.
The Second City is truly a Chicago landmark, and in celebration of their 52nd year in comedy, it will be hosting a "best of" show. "The Best of Second City" will feature some of the best and most beloved sketches, songs, and improvisations for the past half-decade-plus in comedy.
There are two chances to be part of this walk down memory lane: Thursday, March 7, and Sunday, March 17. Make sure to grab your tickets now. Don't miss out!
Every heart in the audience felt that frenzy after the first baritone notes rang out through the piercing silence of the theater. We met William (Lee Gregory), a modern man bathed in a square of nearly blinding white light, characteristic of the lighting design of the opera as a whole -- reminiscent of Caravaggio's chiaroscuro, the dramatic, high-contrast style made famous in paintings of old.
This modern man receives a message from his childhood friend, Roderick Usher (Ryan MacPherson), the namesake of the 1839 Edgar Allan Poe story on which the opera is based. Roderick has become ill with a madness imparted by the very house he lives in and the death of his twin sister Madeline (Suzan Hanson), and he begs William to save him from his insanity.
Shavac Prakash (top) & Scott Baity, Jr. (bottom); Photo by Cesario Moza
Collaboractions' new and original production, Crime Scene: A Chicago Anthology creates a bridge between entertainment, social justice and public service -- there is sophisticated lighting and choreography, touching musical interludes, comic relief and captivating, hyper-dramatic moments that we expect from theater, but to call this play entertainment is almost blasphemy. Luckily for us, it is still entertaining. Crime Scene has a clear agenda, though -- to call attention to Chicago's serious and escalating crime problem by re-enacting three key homicides that took place in the city over the past few years.
"The inspiration from Crime Scene came from a need to create work connected to important issues in our community", explained director Anthony Moseley. "I believe theater can serve a critical role in addressing the issue of violence by offering Chicagoans a transcendent artistic experience that forces us to confront and question the core elements of senseless violence."
Of course it's complicated; it always is. It's the thing that no one really understands, no matter how much poetry they write, drunk karaoke songs they sing, or first dates they go on. It's a thing that most everyone wants but doesn't know how to get and is even more in the dark on how to hold on to. It's about chances and taking them. It is what it is.
It, of course, is love, and it is what Theater Wit's impressive new show Completeness serves up on a biologist's table for us to dissect. Written by Itamar Moses, Completeness is a modern take on the state of romantic relationships, more specifically, the rationalizations people make about their love lives. It's about smart people in love and lust and having sex and breaking up.
The show centers on Elliot played by Matt Holzfeind -- who does an excellent job of making the audience fall in love with him (then kinda disliking him). Elliot is a brilliant and neurotic graduate student in computer science. He is both charmingly open and brazenly self-centered. We love him, we hate him. We want him to be happy, we don't care.
I went into Lookingglass Theater Company's production of Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo with high hopes. After all, I've heard great things about the company and Bengal Tiger was a 2011 Tony Award Recipient. I figured they don't just give those awards away to anyone. Robin Williams was also in the play at one point, and he's a pretty darn good actor. However, I came out of the production thoroughly offended and with a sour taste in my mouth.
It wasn't the acting, the lighting, or the set that did it for me -- all of these were incredible. It was the script itself. Maybe I missed something somewhere along the way.
I understand that theater has many purposes, some of which are expressing things that aren't so popular or attempting to reach a kind of conclusion about uncomfortable topics. Still, there is a certain amount of care that should come along with pushing the boundaries, and this play did not show it.
The issues brought up by the play do need to be discussed, but there's a thin line between raising questions and drawing conclusions. The latter is presumptuous, especially in a situation as delicate as the one in the show.
Charles Duttonknows acting; the three-time Emmy Award winner, who is also a successful director, is one of the most accomplished and versatile actors today. Best known for his critically-acclaimed 90s sitcom, "Roc," and for Tony Award-nominated roles in The Piano Lesson and Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Dutton has enjoyed a successful career as a star of stage, screen and television.
With two performances to benefit the Chicago Youth Leadership Academy, a joint program of the Chicago Police Department and the University of Chicago for at-risk youth, Dutton returns to town tonight with From Jail to Yale: Serving Time on Stage, his honest, autobiographical, one-man stage play that details his journey from Maryland's prisons to playhouses at Yale School of Drama and beyond. Here, he talks about how he became an actor, why he brought the show to Chicago, and the pandemic of youth violence in America.
When you were incarcerated, you became interested in theater after reading a book on black playwrights--was there a particular play or playwright that grabbed your attention?
It was Douglas Turner Ward's play, Day of Absence. It is a political satire that I thought was hilarious. Once, I was in "the hole" for six days and was allowed to take one book with me. I reached for a revolutionary book but I accidentally picked up this anthology of black playwrights. I read it and I said that when I got out of isolation, I was going to get the craziest guys I knew in the prison and start a drama group.
Signal Ensemble Theater's tenth season kicks off the new year with the production of Jon Steignhagen's Successors -- the quintessential Chicago play complete with Chicago humor, Chicago politics, and the intermittent rumbling of the Brown Line going by in the background.
The dialogue-laden play tells the story of the family behind the DeKoven political dynasty. When Kenton DeKoven, the third generation patriarch of the political machine, decides to step down, three of his obsessively office-hungry children fight tooth and nail for the position, threatening to tear the family apart for good, and exposing deeper emotional issues between its members. Successors offers a good amount of laughs with far-fetched ideas of how to continue the DeKoven political line.
The play's writer, Jon Steinhagen, also stars in the show as Lou Tedesco, the hilariously offensive cousin of the DeKovens. His snappy, quick, and over-the-line bickering with his mother, Mae DeKoven Tedesco (Barbara Roeder Harris) is one of the highlights of the play.
Successors plays through March 2 at Signal Ensemble Theater, 1802 W. Berenice Ave. Tickets are available for $20 ($15 for industry members, students, seniors and large groups).
At first, it's odd to hear tangled Shakespearean language coming from the mouths of senators in suits and traffic police, but with the seasoned cast's appropriate inflections and gestures, the Bard's script comes to life. The audience finds themselves in an ambiguous Rome, stranded somewhere in limbo between the past and the present, hearing the hushed beginnings of a revolution spoken by Marcus Brutus (John Light) and Caius Cassius (Jason Kolotouros). Election time nears, and an aged leader, Julius Caesar (David Darlow), is the popular incumbent. Caesar meets his senate on the marble steps of the curiam, the broad columns rising up on either side of him casting a tone of fascism and dictatorship into the air, and the bold red and gold banners giving a strength to the leader that his own bones no longer possess.
Dialogue permeates the entire first act, laying the ground work for the dramatic death of Caesar and the action-packed aftermath. The ghostly soothsayer utters her famous premonition to "beware the Ides of March," which triggers dreams and unrest on the part of Caesar's wife, Calpurnia. Cassius' cunning is revealed to the audience as he manages to convince the entire senate, with the exception of Brutus, of their duty to free their people from the despot that Caesar may become -- to "strike the serpent in the egg" before it has a chance to bite.
"Friends, Romans, Countrymen" -- words familiar to each of us, although we may not know why. Marc Antony's famous speech begins this way in William Shakespeare's classic tragedy Julius Caesar. After years of studying English and literature, some have learned to decode Shakespeare's eloquent but sometimes seemingly archaic style of writing. The Chicago Shakespeare Theater is offering a contemporary retelling of the play, directed by Jonathan Munby, to satisfy both the classical scholar and that part in all of us that seeks something relatable in a drama.
The play tells the story of Julius Caesar, consul of ancient Rome, who denies the warnings of a soothsayer to "beware the Ides of March." Caesar's fellow senators are the ones who do him in, and his death sparks the beginning of a new Rome.
The show plays through March 24 at CST's Jentes Family Auditorium, 800 E. Grand Ave., on Navy Pier. Tickets ($48-$78 with discounts for groups, students, and young professionals) can be purchased by calling the theater's box office at 312-595-5600 or by visiting the theater's website.
On April 20, 1999, when I was 9 years old, I arrived at my elementary school in Lakewood, CO early like I always did. I liked to play outside on the blacktop with my friends before class began. It was such a normal morning. By the end of the day, all of the doors to the school would be locked and none of us would be allowed to leave the building until our parents came in to get us.
On April 20, 1999, Colorado changed forever. At 11:19am, 10.3 miles south of my elementary school, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris began the massacre that claimed the lives of 12 students and one teacher, and injured countless others at Columbine High School. Before Columbine, a school shooting had never been heard of in Colorado. Since 1999, there have been many.
The shooting happened 13 years ago, but I woke up this morning feeling as though it was yesterday. Last night, I was a guest at the American Theater Company's performance of Stephen Karam and PJ Paparelli's Columbinus, a three-act "theatrical discussion" of the tragedy based on old and new interviews with survivors and their parents, and one of the best productions I have ever seen.
In his poem "Among School Children," Yeats famously asked, "How can we know the dancer from the dance?" In the case of the latest production of Rebecca Gilman's play Boy Gets Girl at the Raven Theatre, I found myself considering the question not as a philosopher of aesthetics, but rather from the much simpler and much angrier perspective of one faced with the question of who was responsible for what I had just watched. Who is at fault when an ambitious piece of political theater fails so spectacularly at providing even a glimmer of insight? Who is to blame here: the dancers or the dance?
FELA!, the Tony award-winning Broadway musical about the life and politics of Nigerian singer and "AfroBeat" pioneer Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, returns to Chicago; joining the show's national tour for its latest run is Grammy Award-winning recording artist and Chicago-area native, Michelle Williams.
Williams, who became a household name as one-third of the chart-topping R&B and pop group, Destiny's Child, will play the role of activist Sandra Izsadore, Kuti's love interest. "I am thrilled to join the cast of FELA!," said the singer and actress. "The sounds, the passion and the politics of Fela Kuti have long intrigued me and speak to my heart."
A five minute walk took us down an awkwardly long and winding hallway to Studio One, a 67-seat black box theater and Henry Moore's temporary home. We sat down in the last row of chairs, which were reminiscent of those in an old airliner, and settled in to see a play about which I only knew three things: 1. It was about Irish gypsies; 2. It involved art; and 3. It was based on a true story.
The true story took place in 2005, when one of Moore's bronze statues, Reclining Figure, was stolen from the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds by a group of Irish Travelers. It is believed that the sculpture was melted down for scrap and sold for only a fraction of its estimated value. Seidelman's play brings these events and characters to life in a fast-paced, whiskey-filled, understatedly witty and passionate tale of a young man who loves art more than anything else in the world.
When I heard Joel Hodgson was going to be performing his one man show, "Riffing Myself" in Chicago, I jumped at the opportunity to interview the man. For those of you who are either not old enough to know Joel or just missed out on all fun because you were doing something else, he is the man behind MST3K.
What, you may ask, is MST3K? Well, it is a cult comic series that begin in 1988 and featured mad scientists who shot Joel, and later, Mike into space forcing them to watch the worst movies ever made. The reason for this was so that the scientists could unleash the movie onto unwitting audiences and ultimately rule the world. Joel was accompanied by two robots which, as the shows intro explains, he made and together they make comedic comments about and during the movies, otherwise known as riffing. Oh yeah, MST3K stands for "Mystery Science Theater 3000," and fans of the show are called Mysties.
How do we better ourselves? Or, to frame the question in the context of the addicts who populate Stephen Adly Guirgis' darkly comic drama, The Motherf**ker With The Hat, how do we get better? How do we stave off that most chronic of conditions: human weakness? It's a basic yet abstract dilemma that is given both vibrancy and gripping relevance in the latest production of the play at the Steppenwolf Theatre. For the users and losers grappling with their weaknesses in Guirgis' world of last chances, the difference between transcending and succumbing is nothing short of the difference between life and death.
Walter Mosley is one of America's most celebrated novelists; with critically-acclaimed books and other works that have been adapted for the film, theater and television, the award-winning, bestselling author and playwright remains one of the most popular writers today.
Mosley, who has written over 30 books, achieved commercial fame for his crime fiction novel series starring the character "Detective Easy Rawlins"; from that series, Devil In A Blue Dress, which starred two-time Academy Award winner Denzel Washington, was made for the big screen.
To pay homage to Mosley, the Congo Square Theatre welcomes the author to Chicago with "Mosley on the Square," Thursday, Jan. 17 through Saturday, Jan. 19. This 3-day tribute, with events held at the Harold Washington Library and the Chicago Cultural Center, will feature film screenings, staged readings, book signings and more.
Admission for all events is free; for a complete schedule, visit Congo Square Theatre or call 773-296-1108.
The life and times of Jesus Christ the Nazarene was quick and efficient; we're perpetually reminded that his conception and birth date rearranged the forces of nature and physics, and his golden years from age 30 to 33 were spent multitasking as social activist, political muckraker, necromancer and miracle worker. But Jesus was not the founder of Christianity -- that was the Apostle Paul, whose one and only meeting with Jesus could never be confirmed, and who opened up the church doors to the Gentiles, thus ensuring that Christianity would be the exclusive faith of Gentiles in perpetuity.
The last time I visited my hometown in Florida the main thing I wanted to do -- besides see my family -- was go to the Columbia, a Spanish restaurant that serves the best deviled crabs (Cuban-breaded) and yellow rice on the beach. As I sat down at one of the restaurant's boardwalk tables, I knew exactly what I wanted to order: palomilla, a thinly sliced beef with a mountain of white-onions and an ocean of lime juice. For three months I had been dreaming of this little slice of citrusy beefed perfection.
Our waiter came around and I quickly told him what I wanted. For the next 30 minutes I ate Cuban bread and looked at the ocean and loved my life. Then, it happened, our main dishes came to the table and this isn't what I ordered, it must be a mistake. Instead of immediately flipping the table and pulling a Teresa Giudice ("You prostitution whore!"), I took a deep breath. What the waiter put in front of me wasn't palomilla -- it was some type of chicken dish. After a few minutes of my sweaty palms combing the menu, I realized that the chicken dish was actually what I had (accidentally) ordered. Somehow in the mix of salt breeze and sunshine I had lost the last bit of brains I had and made a basic tourist move.
Since this was my fault, I couldn't send it back (I've never sent anything back, but still). I begrudgingly started eating the chicken. After a few bites, I decided that I at the very least I had tried something new. Still, I had wanted palomilla and not getting it, framed my whole experience. This palomilla mix-up is similar to how I felt about i put the fear of mexico in 'em, the new play by Teatro Vista at Chicago Dramatists. The show wasn't exactly what I had thought I ordered, but I still went for it.
(left to right) Liz Zweifler, Jennifer Joan Taylor and Ron Wells in The Den Theatre's production of THE QUALITY OF LIFE by Jane Anderson, directed by Lia D. Mortensen. Photo by Joe Mazza.
"We're all in the same canoe, so take the stick out of (your) ass and join us..." declares Jeanette (Liz Zweifler), one-half of the Mongolian yurt-residing couple to her bible thumping, "Jesus is Magic" visiting conservative cousin-in-law Bill (Stephen Spencer) in the flawlessly written and performed gem The Quality of Life.
Bill is politely goaded by wife Dinah (Jennifer Joan Taylor) into leaving their Ohio home to visit her hut-residing cousin Jeanette and Neil (Ron Wells) in California, Jeanette's husband of twenty-nine years. Both couples have had a tragic turn of events -- Jeanette and Bill are mourning the loss of their daughter Cindy, who was brutally murdered by a psychopath; Jeanette and Neil are facing Neil's eminent demise from prostate cancer and the loss of their home and possessions to a wildfire.
Actor Laurence Fishburne is best known for his work on Broadway, television and the big screen, having starred in movies such as Contagion, The Matrix, Boyz N the Hood, as well as his Academy Award-nominated performance in What's Love Got To Do With It; however, what you may not know, is that he is also a playwright. Riff Raff, Fishburne's only play to date, centers on the relationship of three men who are immersed in New York's gritty criminal world. Next week, the play will have another run in Chicago, this time via Dream FIERCE Productions; here, Semaj Miller, artistic director, talks about the play and its relevance to the community.
Dream FIERCE Productions' Artistic Director Semaj Miller; photo: Terrance Pitts.
Dream FIERCE Productions is dedicated "to theatrical productions that speak directly to the diverse communities throughout the Chicagoland area." Do you feel that this is something that is lacking here?
Regarding the kinds of show that are available, I wouldn't necessarily say that anything is lacking; Chicago is blessed with some of the most talented artists in theater. My concern is that the people that need to see these shows the most are not in attendance. And that's where Dream FIERCE Productions comes in.
(left to right) Preston Tate, Jr. and Richard Cotovsky in Mary-Arrchie Theatre Co.'s production of Superior Donuts by Tracy Letts, directed by Matt Miller. Photo by Greg Rothman.
I had the privilege of reviewing the Steppenwolf production of Superior Donuts in 2008. A critical and financial success, the Steppenwolf version moved to Broadway, with most of its Chicago cast, including actor Michael McKean as donut shop proprietor Arthur Przybyszewski recreating their roles in New York. I was anxious to see what four years would do the play; would I have a different perspective? How would a smaller (and more local) production stand beside Letts' guided production? Well, the "lyrics" remain the same, but the "song" is personal this time. The '08 production was larger in scale, and a metaphor for the runaway and get outta my way American Dream -- if you're not corrupted by the gold rush, you're bulldozed over by it.
Levi Holloway, Michael Salinas, Sandra Delgado and Rom Barkhordar
The lynchpin in the Great American Dream Press Kit is, and has always been, reinvention. "Give me your tired, poor, huddled masses", and I'll make your forget all those tyrannical inhumanities you and yours have suffered under from the ages.
Well, it's a nice hook, and a great selling point of yesteryear; today's (fewer and fewer) immigrants know that maybe you can go home again someday, and to read the fine print on the Statue of Liberty -- America's a great place to be, but the Land of Promise cannot wash away the atrocities of genocide.
(L to R) Carmine Grisolia (Doctore Mendez), Jamie Vann (Mazzy), Nikki Klix (Laurel Ann) and Elizabeth Dowling (Sydney Briar). Photo by Tom McGrath.
Eat your radio. And your TV. And your iPod, and any other noisemaker, always on, even when off; delivering words and words and words - "no dead air" is the FCC golden rule. Every nonsensical, meaningless non-event has to have meaning because the talking heads have to have something to talk about. It's a 24-hour news cycle that keeps us current, and according to writer Tony Burgess, the perpetual cycle of words and non-stop chatter and opinion and updates will deliver our apocalypse. Who knew that Talk Radio could be so toxic? (Yeah, I know. Anyone who's ever made the drive from Chicago through downstate Illinois with nothing but the AM dial to keep 'em from veering off and driving into a cornfield).
Halloween is by far the best holiday for many reasons. It exists purely for fun. It is not partial to particular religion, culture, race, or what have you. Anybody can celebrate Halloween by dressing up as anything his or her heart desires. It's the one day of the year that it's socially acceptable to walk around looking like a freak show.
If you take Halloween seriously, boy do I have the place for you.
Fantasy Costumes, at 4065 N. Milwaukee Ave., certainly does Halloween justice with its impressive selection. The 18,000-square-foot store occupies an entire city block and boasts "over one million items in stock."
Black n Blue Boys/Broken Men, written and performed by Dael Orlandersmith (pictured) and directed by Chay Yew, runs September 29 - October 28, 2012 at Goodman Theatre.
Hanna Rosin caused a storm of controversy with her book The End of Men (and the Rise of Women). Chicago writer Michael Miner followed up with his essay, "Death of a Cowboy," both authors surmising and theorizing why men may very well be obsolete, counter-productive to life, their endangerment probably a good thing if life for our planet and the women on it is to be further sustained.
Now comes Dael Orlandersmith, lighted torch in-hand, setting fire to the Goodman stage, acting as Medium in speaking the words of boys and men, from different points on the globe, channeling the fear and loathing (both self and environment) of those boys-to-men, and turning Rosin and Miner's missives into present day historical anthropology -- it's reality, and we're sifting through the rubble, searching for fragments of the human male.
To say Orlandersmith is a force of nature does not do justice to her writing and stage presence; Orlandersmith extends the conversation started with Anna Deavere Smith's Fires in the Mirror and Twilight: Los Angeles, and reminds us that we refuse to be warned, to listen, to take heed, to change the circumstances that makes a boy's life suck, ensuring that he will grow up doomed to repeat the cycle over again, until we shrug up our collective shoulders and nod in agreement that boys are the problem, and their "not being around anymore" may be the only solution.
The ensemble of Red Tape Theatre's production of THE SKRIKER by Caryl Churchill, directed by Eric Hoff. Photo by Austin D. Oie.
The Skriker is an unsuccessful mish-mash of alleged horror, suspense and audience para-interactivity. A run time of 115 minutes (over the stated 90 minutes), Red Tape's interpretation and prop add-ons weigh the production down to nonsensical tedium.
The plot centers around an ancient Celtic troll/spirit/fairy/something, paranormal and evil (it's never quite clear what she begins as that transforms into different people and things). This paranormal thing gloms onto Lily and Josie, two lower-class London teenage moms, and manages to seduce, entrap and turn the girls against one another. The Skriker's speech vacillates between fragmented Celt and '60s East End Cockney.
Matthew Holzfeind (front, center) as Andrew Jackson with the cast of Bailiwick Chicago's production of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
"Bloody rockin' good" is Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, which captures the lyrical essence of the seventh United States president -- the first "rock star politician/people's president," a populist, a slave owner, an Indian killer to the point of genocide (making good ol' Andy "America's Hitler") and a bigamist -- two times! But you'd get no apologies for Prez Jackson, he did what he had to do, and that was get rid of Indians by any means necessary, keep the South plentiful with slaves, win the Western territories, kill the Spaniards, and rid the country rule by eastern dandies like that George Washington feller. His plate was full, and he intended on making good on all his promises.
(From Left to Right) Amanda Powell, Meg Warner, Mary Cross, Rebecca Spence, Ashley Neal. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
The "a girl in trouble" plotline should make WRENS a "period piece;" the setting is the eve of the Allies victory in World War II. WRENS is the acronym for Women's Royal Naval Service, whereby young women and girls on the cusp of womanhood from all over the British Commonwealth joined up to take up mundane support tasks normally performed by those enlisted young men needing to go fight at the front lines.
Seven young women share a barrack, by day going off to perform their military duties, by evening returning "home" to make uncomfortable small talk and read correspondence from family and betrothed. Some are more open-minded and worldly than others - wispy Dawn (Rebecca Spence), the patrician rich girl Cynthia (Jodi Kingsley) housewife Jenny (Ashley Neal), spry and spunky Scottish orphan Meg (Amanda Powell), with Gwyneth (Mary Cross), liberal writer Doris (Meg Warner) and worldly and keeps-to-herself Chelsea (Katrina Kuntz) rounding out their crowded temporary domicile.
Whether you're a Republican, Democrat, Green Party or Undecided -- but come on, decide already! -- The Neo-Futurists new show 44 Plays for 44 Presidents is sure to get your vote. The show -- which is a remount of the popular Neo production 43 Plays for 43 Presidents put on in 2002 -- documents US history by doing chronological shorts for every president that has worn the jacket.
The Neo-Futurists are on the cutting edge of experimental comedy and this show gives the audience a presidential-suite experience. Directed by Halena Kays, the show's use of set and energetic audience interaction made the presidential transitions easy to follow and engaging. My favorite scenes included some red balloons, a live video feed, and a bit about Richard Nixon.
(left to right) Joel Ewing and Hilary Williams in LiveWire Chicago Theatre's production of The Mistakes Madeline Made by Elizabeth Meriwether, directed by Krista D'Agostino. Photo by Ryan Bourque.
Thirty-nine minutes into The Mistakes Madeline Made, and I began to think that maybe I'd been hoodwinked into some sarcastic staged version of writer Elizabeth Meriwether's hit FOX TV series "New Girl", which as with the beginnings of TMMM, is funny and sharp, but a big ol' ball of popcorn for the 5-Hour Energy generation. And I can fold laundry as I watch it, something I can't do in a theater.
And then, the roof fell in. Madeline peels the dirt off to reveal its true grime underneath its superficial dirt.
A Taste of Theater will provide Chicago with hearty samplings of both the local and national theater scene; this two-day festival, complete with panels, playwrights and performances, will showcase both established and up-and-coming artists, all vying for the chance to work with legendary playwright Shelly Garrett, who here, talks about theater and his role in the festival.
When did you first know you wanted to be a playwright?
I think it was 1986 -- when I did my first play called Snuff and Mini-Skirts -- and it sold out in Los Angeles in a small 99-seat theater. It sold out in six weeks and I said, "You know, this is kind of fun." So I wrote another one called Beauty Shop and the rest is history.
MPAACT, one of the city's premiere artistic companies for "Afrikan Centered Theatre," kicks off its lineup this month with three new works for the 2012-2013 theater season. Opening October 12 is Idris Goodwin's Blackademics, a "modern black psychology" story of two friends with differing political and personal views; capping off the season is Leaves, Trees, Forest, written by Paul Notice and directed by company member Carla Stillwell, and Reality Check, Kevin Douglas' sketch comedy that tells the story of how modern technology has altered reality in today's society.
Blackademics runs Thursdays through Sundays through Nov. 25 at The Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave; tickets are $15-$23 and are on sale at the box office, 773-404-7336. For more information on shows and scheduling, visit MPAACT.
Principal castmembers of Kinky Boots. Photo by Brianna Kelly
Kinky Boots is a highly anticipated, relevant new musical about acceptance that teaches "you change the world when you change your mind," according to castmember Billy Porter. It boasts a seriously talented cast and crew, with a combined plethora of various awards.
The musical is adapted from a 2005 independent British movie, which is based on a true story. When producer Daryl Roth saw Kinky Boots at a film festival, she immediately realized the potential of its "musical DNA." So she asked fellow producer Hal Luftig to help her bring it from the silver screen to the Broadway stage.
The pair enlisted Tony Award-winning writer and actor Harvey Fierstein (La Cage Aux Folles, Newsies, Torch Song Trilogy), to write the book adaptation. Beloved pop icon Cyndi Lauper was brought on as composer and lyricist to write the musical's original score, and Jerry Mitchell (Hairspray, La Cage Aux Folles, The Full Monty) serves as both the director and choreographer.
(left to right) LaRoyce Hawkins, Toni Lynice Fountain and Lynn Wactor in The Collective Theatre's production of HooDoo Love by Katori Hall, directed by Co-Founder Nelsan Ellis. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
"HooDoo" you love -- and is it worth taking, and giving up a soul to know what it's like to feel love? So the questions runs like the Mississippi River "up south" to Harlem and Chicago from 1930s Memphis in playwright Katori Hall's thoroughly consuming and mesmerizing dossier, HooDoo Love.
Six Dead Queens is a royal hoot and a definite must-see. The audience gets "The Bachelor" -- in Hell, served sixteenth century style. For those more than familiar with the Showtime series, The Tudors -- well, you know the lineup of the lives, loves and deaths of Henry VIII's hand-picked women -- a rose in one hand and a one-way ticket-to-ride the River Styx in the other. Hank V-8 was the ultimate bad boyfriend cum-husband, a man who dealt with his hurt feelings through execution or banishment, though one wife was "lucky" enough to beat banishment and death when Death chose to banish and execute Henry, instead.
In David Hirson's Wrong Mountain, "the American definition of success" is explored; here, director Ian Streicher talks about the play and his take on the Chicago theater scene.
Wrong Mountain - Michael Dickson as Guy and Julie Partyka as Claire; photo by Anthony Robert La Penna.
The show recently opened--how have things been going so far?
It's going well. It's a big play--it's got 14 actors playing about 20 parts in 25 scenes in 10 locations--so it's a very big enterprise for a storefront theater. It's been a challenging project but it's been going pretty well.
The eta Creative Arts Foundation, 7558 S. South Chicago, is easily recognized as one of the city's most prominent theater companies for African-American culture; recently the company kicked off its 2012-2013 season, "Shades of Blues: A Season of Resurrected Works and Reclaimed Music," with The Amen Corner, James Baldwin's classic work that centers on church and family within the black community. Rounding out the season are Ceremonies in Dark Old Men, Wine in the Wilderness and Florence, Jar the Floor and Katori Hall'sHoodoo Love.
The Amen Corner runs Thursdays through Sundays through October 21; tickets are $15-$30. For show times and more information, visit the website or call 773-752-3955.
Though musicologist Dr. Katherine Brandt (Janet Ulrich Brooks) is on a deadline, her body keeps moving the goalposts, closer and closer to a permanent succumb; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease) accelerates through her, bringing the promise of a body that physically deteriorates while leaving her mind intact. Katherine has known what fate holds when she makes her way to the hospital for daughter Clara (Jessie Fisher) to the hospital for a "pre-flight" checkup with her nurse Michael (Ian Paul Custer), who despite his attraction to, and the protestations of Clara, gives Katherine the go-ahead to travel to Bonn for what is unspeakably agreed upon will be her final archeological find: the mystery behind Ludwig von Beethoven's (Terry Hamilton) masterful "33 Variations" from wealthy music publisher Anton Diabelli's (Michael Kingston) mediocre composition.
For dancer and filmmaker LaNita Joseph, when it comes to African-American women and hair, there is no room for "relaxers"; "I think all black women should go natural," she said. Here, Joseph, founder and artistic director of the Anita Davis Dance Theater, talks about The Monologues of My Nappy Hair, a "dance drama" that addresses and challenges the standards of beauty and image in today's society.
This work was created as a result of your personal experiences -- was there one particular incident or a series of incidents that led to the idea for this show?
I would say a series of incidents over the years -- ever since I've been black... [Laughs]
There has always been a rich cultural history surrounding African-American hair and hairstyles -- as these discussions have evolved over the years, what kinds of things have you noticed? Do you think things are better?
I think they're a little bit better. I think our history with our hair has been a roller coaster -- but I don't think it's been the best it's ever been since before slavery or during the Civil Rights Movement, which is probably when natural hair was the best. But natural hair and loving blackness is slowly but surely coming back.
Kate Healy's Lie Light, one of the offerings at the Chicago Fringe Festival is set in a bar, and it is basically the talk you had at your local watering hole the other night. You know how it goes. Your buddy is still going on about the charming but maladapted gal he ended things with a few months ago after several years dating. He's hashing out his feelings with you at the very gin joint where that gal tends bar, of course, a place he doesn't realize might not be the best spot to bring his new lady. You nod, listen, and give him advice you are certain he won't heed. The whole experience is neither interesting nor enjoyable, but you're willing to tough it out because you care about your buddy's well-being and you can always have a beer or four if his banal bromides become unbearable. The four characters in Lie Light have neither of those things going for them, which makes this hour-long play feel much longer.
With all the theater offerings that Chicago has year-round, a fringe festival doesn't exactly seem necessary. And yet, the Chicago Fringe Festival, an 11-day festival that runs through September 9 in Pilsen, charges on for a third year. Yes, 24 acts hail from the Chicagoland area, which seems a few too many and a byproduct of selecting by lottery instead of jury, but the presence of 22 acts from elsewhere in the US, as well as The Interpreters from South Korea and Le Petite Famille from France and Canada, should provide plenty of opportunities to catch a glimpse at what theater folk are doing away from the southwestern shore of Lake Michigan. All told, a slate of more than 200 performances by about 180 performers, and the ability for patrons to show up just one day and get to see 5 or 6 groups, should serve to satiate even the heartiest of theater-going appetites.
Rob Fenton (Jim) and Carolyn Braver (Esme), photo by Johnny Knight
Any sacrifice for parental love; any sacrifice to know the love a parent, no matter how wretched and unnatural that love can be, or how much one chooses soul sacrifice for.
Fritz (Joseph Stearns) is the in-the-flesh mournful prose heralded in a Hank Williams drinking song; an "old man" (as he's put in check with by those not much younger) whose official career is Perpetual Bar Fly -- holding solitary court blathering on and unsuccessfully flirting with bartender Toasty (Meredith Bell Alvarez). One could say Fritz is wasting his life away, if he had a life or desired a life's pursuit. Even in his bone-dry give-and-take with Toasty, from the beginning there's an undercurrent of rage, like the donut right beneath the glaze, you can see that rage without having to focus your site, much. Fritz's rage is born and bred in not "what should have/would have been," more like "what was supposed to be" if everybody else did what (they) were supposed to do. He's a man who never wanted nothing he could be held responsible for, but he'll gladly take -- with or without permission -- from others everything he can get his hands on that's not nailed down.
It's official: Po' White Trash is The New Black. There. I said it.
This is the second lower-caste-white-folks-as-jovial-cultural-fodder production that I've reviewed this summer. Then there is "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo" -- the 6-year-old recently "retired" plus-szed beauty queen and spawn of this year's Redneck Games burping champ, and of course all of those "Real Housewives" who are indeed "white trash," but they live above the Mason-Dixon line and they've got credit cards and de-plasticized furniture, so we give 'em a pass and categorize them as "eccentric." But I digress.
The Great American White Trash Musical's story opens with Miss Betty (Danni Smith), job-for-life manager of Armadillo Acres (until the inevitable tornado or hurricane hits the trailer park) deftly singing out the sweet nobility and complexities of trailer park life. Betty introduces to the park's Greek Chorus Linoleum (her mama gave birth to her on the kitchen floor, everyone calls her Lin (Ashley Braxton), and by the way Lin's in the middle of a hysterical pregnancy), and Donna, AKA "Pickles" (Jennifer Wisegarver), who for eight years has convinced the whole town and trailer park to burn their lights in perpetuity because her man is on death row and there's not enough electricity running through the country grid to service the customers and also allow the prison to fire up "Old Smoky."
The program reads "Antigone: A New Adaptation by Jack Bourgeois." Translation: Bourgeois took one of Sophocles' Theban plays, a work of drama over 2,000 years old, and completely rewrote the text. Hubris on his part? Fortunately not. Updating the play's setting (to a 1964 Thebes) and language (to more-or-less modern speak) serves it well. Unburdened by Sophocles' occasionally confusing verse, the well-known story comes through clearly: Creon decrees that one of Antigone's brothers, each of whom was slain by the other's hand in a war over their father Oedipus' crown, not be given burial rights, and Antigone defies the decree even though such defiance is punishable by death. And yet, while the plot is perfectly clear, the dialogue is still admirably heightened, especially that of Creon.
The Flex Pass is $50 and is available through the Lifeline's website or at the box office at all participating theaters. During the Glenwood Avenue Arts Festival Aug. 18-19, it will be available for just $45 at the Lifeline box office.
Usman Ally, Caroline Neff, Ora Jones, and Carrie Coon; photo by Michael Brosilow
"And you may ask yourself, how did I get here?" wailed David Byrne, while Stephen King penned, "Wherever you went, there you were." Checkov's love/loathing -in-the-time-of-war Three Sisters makes King's philosophical prose the appropriate answer to Byrne's lament.
It's the Prozorov family -- sisters Olga (Ora Jones), Masha (Carrie Coon), Irina (Caroline Neff) and brother Andrey (Dan Waller) -- sharing the large country estate inherited from their late parents. Easy as it is to settle into home at the Prozorov's -- the army's officers make it their headquarters, the Prozorov's late mother's former lover and family/army physician Dr. Cherbutykin (Scott Jaeck), seems determined to live out his last days at the estate swath in the sullen memories of the lover that goes (not so far) away -- the estate is emotional vacuum that sucks the joy from almost every resident and replaces that regret, lament, unrelenting grief and in some spirits, a homicidal urgency.
Harold Pinter's story, originally written and performed in 1963, is simple enough: man nor woman just ain't meant for domestication. Bovine we are not, and the idea of living out day-to-day matrimonial obligation is as appealing as a life sentence of hard labor on a Deep South chain gang.
Pinter's The Lover is short (about 50 minutes), bitter, and to the point: Richard & Sarah (Mick Weber, Ravi Batista) have been married for a decade, that is one certainty. For how long both have been entertaining an extramarital affair is anyone's guess - we're never made privy to how long and what for; but Sarah has taken the high moral ground and informs Richard of her afternoon delights with her virile consort. While Richard toils the corner office, Sarah is getting her hair parted down the middle by her thrice-weekly visitor. Of course, as a good wife would do, she warns Richard not to come home early nor to expect a hot dinner waiting because Sarah will deeply reposed in post-coital bliss, and the last thing she wants to see is Richard inconvenienced. Sarah is a thoughtful, loving wife, and Richard, the dutiful and thoughtful husband always complies, even when he threatens to do otherwise.
A Steady Rain; from l to r: Randy Steinmeyer and Peter DeFaria.
There is certainly no shortage of "cop dramas" in pop culture; with typical stories of the antithetical veteran/rookie or rogue/"by the book" police officers, it is easy to feel as though you've seen and heard it all before. In Keith Huff's award-winning play, A Steady Rain, starring Peter DeFaria and Randy Steinmeyer, the story goes much deeper, provoking thoughts and questions that go beyond the badge; recently, I sat down with the two Chicago actors to discuss the play's Chicago return and just why it is more than your garden variety story about cops.
Sibling squabbles and secrets abound in Paul Oakley Stovall's Immediate Family, now playing at the Goodman Theatre.
Directed by Tony award-winning actress and "The Cosby Show" star Phylicia Rashad, Immediate Family, described as "Modern Family" meets "Soul Food," is the story of the Bryants, a middle-class African-American family who, after being apart for several years, reunite at the family's home in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood.
Shanésia Davis and Phillip James Brannon in Immediate Family; photo: Michael Brosilow.
Regina Taylor'sCrowns, now in its 10th year, is the definitive story of the cultural tradition of wearing "crowns" and their significance and symbolism for African-Americans in both the church culture and the community at-large; recently, I sat down with two of the stars, E. Faye Butler and Tony-nominated actress Felicia Fields, to talk about the play, their characters, and what it means to have "hattitude."
(left to right) Ryan Lanning, Elizabeth Hope Williams, Ryan Hallahan and Tracey Kaplan in Theatre Seven of Chicago's production of Exit, Pursued by a Bear by Lauren Gunderson, directed by Cassy Sanders. Photo by Amanda Clifford.
Only the truly gifted can successfully make a hamburger from a societal sacred cow -- think Parker & Stone taking the most delicate of subjects, once relegated to tearjerker morality plays, and throwing it into the "South Park" blender. Remember Eric Cartman's afternoon adventure as special guest at the NAMBLA convention? The scene in the movie The Other Guys in which comedic actor Steve Coogan's sleazy hedge fund manager gets caught by police officers Farrell and Walberg (very) briefly watching kiddie porn on his laptop? Yep, grizzly topics, and the most talented staff has to perform a creative smash-and-grab -- get in, make the joke, and get out of Dodge, and fast. If you've got to stop and give the audience stage directions, well, the battle and the war hit the lost bin. I'll admit I wanted to see Exit, Pursued by a Bear, to see how long I could remain squirm-free in the seventy-five minute performance time.
Tom Stoppard's Arcadia merges past and present along the most gorgeous linear arc that can be drawn between two opposite points. It is the story of the quietly sensuous collision of past and present, events that comingle with the past, waiting for the future to provide the tools that will solve the problems, and a present searching for answers that link back to the past. That's the mathematical; the more basic elements presented in Arcadia are emotions unrequited, and what seems to be an eternal search to find the formula that satiates human longing.
Director Jessica Hutchinson seamlessly guides the ensemble through precision pacing, successfully juxtaposing the events occurring at a Sidley Park country estate circa 1809 and present day.
A new work by Chris Bower and Matt Test, Birthday Boy is currently running as part of The Other Side of the Elephant, along with a selection of other short, original works produced by Curious Theatre Branch at the Prop Theatre, 3502 N. Elston Ave. Bower's and Test's voices shine through in the piece; their absurd, dark humor front and center throughout, slapping the audience in the face -- but in a good way, like getting slapped with a bolt of the very finest velvet.
In the opening scene we see Matt Test as Peter, who has just turned 13 and is wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with this fact. "I'm 13!!!!!" It reads on the front. A stuffed goose named Henry hangs on the wall, which just happens to be the same name as Peter's father, played by Chris Bower. Soon we see a half drunk woman in a leopardskin coat, sunglasses, a string of pearls, and red lipstick smudged across her lips stumble into the room accompanied by an attractive young woman bearing a pile of gifts. The inebriated woman is Peter's mother (Cat Jarboe), and the attractive young woman is his nanny (Kevlyn Hayes.) It turns out that the date on the invitation to Peter's birthday party was wrong, so nobody else is coming.
The dialogue is devastating, funny, and cutting: "It's true his cake is going to be terrible," Peter's mother says, "just like everything, just like life." The gifts are all disappointing: a $30 gift card from Restoration Hardware, "you can buy new knobs that look like old knobs for your dresser," Peter's mother says; a $20 gift card from Jo-Ann Fabrics, "you can get some fake fur or a glue gun," Peter's mother says; and a $30 gift card from Aldi,"they have that soup that you like," Peter's mother says. The only decent gift comes from Peter's nanny -- a framed photo of herself in a sexy pose with Henry (the goose.)
Mortar Theatre's Bombs Babes and Bingo (L to R) Stephanie Shroud, Richard Perez and Megan Tabaque. Photo by TomMcGrath.
Can the brain lie to itself? The definitive answer is "yes," from taking the obvious and rationalizing it to something else, or completely out of existence, to utter denial of the experience that's had, and having, the brain always lies to itself; it has to, to better serve its host, to keep moving forward. But on occasion, the brain can get stuck on stupid, embedded in an anatomical quagmire where no matter the jumbling of experiences, the jostling of gray matter, memory is faulty, unreliable, manipulative and manipulated. We're "fixed" to enhance to goodness, rationalize away the badness -- or simply forget; three speeds: rationalize, deny, lie -- all set to turbocharged.
Red Tape Theatre's Elephant's Graveyard by George Brant with Ensemble Cast (photo by James D Palmer)
What the folks down home won't do for a little excitement -- anything to justify their existence, and everything to prove that they actually exist. Even the risk of being poisoned and suffocated with WWI mustard gas beats staying around a place that even Death forgets to visit sometimes. In a split second you can go from a benign spectator, watching the excitement of, and living vicariously through someone else's minds' eye, to the performer, the chorus, even the ringmaster of events. Just when you think you've got the whole town figured out, cataclysm strikes. The circus comes to town, and nothing or no one is ever the same.
From the boardroom to the breakroom, to relationships and reality television, some African-American women are inevitably stamped with the "angry black woman" label; earlier this year, as a result of the coverage surrounding Jodi Kantor's The Obamas, First Lady Michelle Obama found herself addressing this stereotype that has long plagued black women in society.
But what is the source of the stereotype? Is it solely the media spotlight on the issue? Is the anger real, perceived, or simply misunderstood? What role(s) does the black community play as a whole? These questions and more will be addressed in poet and playwright Larryann Aaron'sAngry Sistah, a "dramedy" about the sociology of the "angry black woman," its impact on "relationships, families and communities" and other misconceptions and generalizations that center on the culture of black women.
See Angry Sistah at the Lacuna Artist Loft Studios, 2150 S. Canalport; shows run Friday and Saturday, June 15 and 16 at 7:30pm, Saturday, June 23 at 7:30pm and Sunday, June 24 at 3:30pm. Tickets are $20; for more information, call 708-969-6832.
As a '90s child and a cynic, I was apprehensive when I sat down in the front row at Gorilla Tango Theater to see Attend The Tale of Danny Tanner: A Full House Musical. The show, which runs every Wednesday through June 27 at Gorilla Tango, takes a creative and twisted look at what it might be like if TV's lovable super-dad had a dark side. When all was said and done, I was able to see the light, and quickly admitted that this show isn't just good, it's pretty brilliant.
Right out of the gate, we learn that Danny Tanner has a secret dark side that includes murder, lying and, like any good musical, singing. Tanner, played by Rob Speer, was delightfully creepy, and nailed the underlying OCD that all of us assumed Danny Tanner must have had. Nobody is that concerned with cleanliness unless they haven't properly dealt with their wife's death.
Anytime there is a production mounted with people and subject matters not regularly seen on stage or screen, it gets the carp running and audiences flowing (see: Tyler Perry, both stage and movie incarnations). Except, the audience looks "different" than the regular attendees, and is "coming out" to see themselves reflected in spaces normally not reserved for their stories.
During the '88 Miss Saigon on Broadway debacle, producer Cameron Macintosh defended his "reverse color blind," stating the two reasons why white performers were the predominant hiring preference over performers of color (particularly Asians): 1) their weren't many "qualified," and 2) most theatrical productions are about families, and of course families are made up of one race, and the overwhelming majority of playwrights, August Wilson the exception, are white (and male). The answer to the conundrum as defined by Macintosh, people of color must write, produce and present their own work, and market to their own communities.
Seventeen(!) entries make up the review That's Weird, Grandma (TWG), staged by Barrel of Monkeys (BOM), an education-arts theatre company whose mission includes fostering and supporting the creative voices (in an open teaching environment) Chicago Public School students since 1997.
BOM sponsors a six-week residency in creative writing for grades 3-5, culminating in the staged works held at the Neo-Futurarium. At the end of each residency, a collection of stories is selected for performance. This season's collection included vignettes from the sublimely ridiculous to the poignant reflection of loss.
Whenever you hear the name "Madea," the hilarious, no-nonsense, advice-giving matriarch in Tyler Perry's plays, you immediately think of--Tyler Perry; however, when it comes to his productions, there is definitely another name you should also know: Cheryl Pepsii Riley. Here, the New York-born singer and actress, who co-stars alongside Perry in Tyler Perry's Madea Gets A Job, discusses messages, music and of course, Madea.
Cheryl Pepsii Riley; photo: Steven Williams.
You're coming to town this week for Tyler Perry's Madea Gets A Job--how has the tour been going so far?
It's been wonderful; actually we were there at the beginning of the tour a couple of months ago and we're coming back. Chicago has always been so good to Tyler Perry; you guys always come out and support.
For parishioners, the church serves as a place of praise--a sanctuary for salvation--where people go to receive support from the pastor and the congregation; however, sometimes unbeknownst to the congregation, the pastor may need a little support, too.
In Carla Stillwell's Bodies, the latest production by the MPAACT, Rev. Joseph Black successfully manages his "church family" but within his own family, things aren't exactly running so smoothly. With questions surrounding the reverend's brother's personal life, the play tells the story of just how far a family will go to protect its name.
Bodies opens tonight at 7pm at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln; regular shows run Thursdays through Sundays through June 24. Tickets are $21-$30; for more information and show times, call 773-404-7336.
(L to R) Bear Bellinger, Adrian Aguilar and Jenny Guse. Photo by Jeremy Rill.
Rent will forever be defined as playwright Jonathan Larson's magnum opus, to date the ninth longest running stage production in history. Sadly, the night of final dress rehearsals for its off-Broadway debut, Larson succumbed to an aortic dissection, the direct result of a misdiagnosis of Marfan's syndrome. Larson's anthem, "Seasons of Love (How Do You Measure...)" certainly confirms his awareness of time itself-ticking, moving and sifting through the grates of this lifescape we cling to so tenaciously; it makes perfect sense that Larson would scribe the pebbles of his own (shortened) hourglass.
Front: Matthew Crowle and Stephen Schellhardt. Back: McKinley Carter and Christine Sherrill
[title of show] is a big ol' ball of popcorn! Pure entertainment, leave your worries in the theater lobby and enjoy the joy. Not a profound moment to be had in its 95 minute-run, and there are no political or social takeaways beginning at minte-96, but the cast members voices are strong, the musical numbers are gripping, and though the story is not O'Neil or even Sondheim, it's also not a garden-variety telling of a tale. What Busby Berkley did for Great Depression audiences, [title of show] gives its audience members respite from the daily grind of worry and anxiety. Sit back, relax and head-bop along.
The plot is simple enough: [title of show] is a play within a play; a writer (Matthew Crowie) and his lyricist-friend (Stephen Schellhardt) blithely decide to meet a three-week submission deadline and write the "best musical ever!". Along with their respective actress best friends Susan (McKinley Carter) and Heidi (Christine Sherrill), we're taken on a lyric-laden path of the highs and (sometimes really) lows of a Broadway-bound dream. Warning to those who find discomfort in a cast that crosses "the fourth wall": this fourth wall is smashed to smithereens, before the first song.
In Shattered Globe Theatre's Her Naked Skin, the year 1913 finds Great Britain's suffragette movement in full force, as women in every class distinction take to the streets, and eventually to its "ladies'" prisons, in protest to demand the right to vote, to serve politically, to make their own life choices, to stand toe-to-toe with the male populace.
The suffragette's fight is far from dainty, as Britannia's iron jawed angels are met with crushing blows from the resistance of Parliament, the fists of intolerance at rallies, the frequent arrests and finally revolving door imprisonment at Holloway, where inmates are met with equal treatment at the hands of hostile matrons, sexually abusive guards, and a physician who smashes through their teeth and lungs to force feed hunger strikers — for humanitarian reasons, of course.
You know what's great about being a college student? Those sweet discounts that you wont see again until you're a senior citizen. Before you start counting down to your 55th birthday though, the Neo-Futurists are throwing another discount on the collegiate buffet of deals.
This summer, students of the colleges and universities listed below can receive $5 off admission for Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind: 30 Plays in 60 Minutes on their school's dedicated weekend. This is the longest running show in Chicago, going on more than 23 years, and is a must see for any one living in or visiting Chicago.
Every performance is truly unique as the cast runs through an ever-changing menu of 30 short, ensemble-written scripts, whose order is ultimately chosen by the audience. Scenes can be funny and absurd, personal and touching, and wildly clever. The performers have combined such an array of concepts the audience is constantly kept on their toes. You wont find a show quite like this anywhere else.
Stories of rampant gun violence in Chicago have unfortunately become a regular occurrence, having long-lasting effects on families, communities, neighborhoods and society at-large. But how, if at all, does it affect funeral and mortuary professionals--the eventual recipients of the victims of the violence?
This concept is explored in Nicole Anderson-Cobb'sTangled, a 'dramedy' about a family of African-American female funeral directors and their take on the problem of guns and violence from both a personal and business perspective.
Tangled runs Thursdays through Sundays through May 19 at the eta Creative Arts, 7558 S. South Chicago; show times vary. Tickets are $15-$30 and are on sale at the box office. For more information, call 773-752-3955 or visit the theater's website.
Dreamgirls is indeed one of the ultimate stories that centers on the ups and downs of music and show business; now, the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical that inspired the 2006 film of the same name and resulted in a Best Supporting Actress Oscar win for Jennifer Hudson, will have an encore run in Chicago.
Directed by John Ruffin, Dreamgirls, which debuted in Chicago in March, is returning by popular demand for two shows this month; and just like the Broadway and film versions, it contains plenty of energy, along with powerful singing, acting and musical numbers by a Chicago-based cast.
Tennessee Williams' Pulitzer Prize-winning play, A Streetcar Named Desire, is indeed one of theater's most classic works; with social issues like culture and class at the heart of the story, it remains a popular, long-time favorite among theatergoers. Here, Iman Crutcher, co-founder and artistic director of Earth Pearl Collective, talks about the organization's adaptation of the play, as well as its mission to promote and enhance theater and performance art among queer women of color.
Cast members from A Streetcar Named Desire; photo: Val Johnson.
A Streetcar Named Desire is a classic play--why did you decide to perform it under the Earth Pearl Collective's umbrella?
We knew that we wanted to produce a show that was a classic so that we could merge our audiences. At our Monday variety shows that we do once a month at Hamburger Mary's, we definitely have queer women of color coming out to those performances and we have a lot of issues and things we wanted to bring to the general public's attention as well--we felt like we needed to do something that gets everybody in the same space. When we started thinking of classic plays, Tennessee Williams' [plays] were actually the first ones we picked up and started reading through.
(L to R) Andrew Goetten, Kyle A. Gibson, Lindsey Dorcus, (standing in center of circle) Justine C. Turner , Paul Fagen, Nigel Brown. Photo by Chris Ocken.
John Webster crafted the uber-tragedy The Duchess of Malfi in 1612, based on the true life events of Giovanna d'Aragona, widow of noble-borne Alfonso Piccolomini, who secretly married the lesser-borne Antonio Bologna (of the same name in the play). After a brief and secret courtship, Bologna (Stephen Dunn) and the Duchess (Justine C. Turner) seal their earthly bond, ignoring political and sexual jockeying from brothers Ferdinand (John Taflan) and The Cardinal (Christopher Walsh), who vow to destroy anyone, including The Duchess, that gets in the way of the fate they have planned for their sister's hand and wealth.
front: Ben Burke, Erin Creighton, John Sessler, Sasha Smith. Back (holding phones up): Zach Drane, Natalie June
Oh, what price paid for fame and for-choon! Long before the rumors of the mythical and mysterious "Illuminati" of modern times, where celebrities are rumored to pay homage (see: Blue Ivy Carter, Nikki Minaj's Grammy Award performance) and human sacrifice (see: Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston; On Deck: Lindsay Lohan), the thirst for exclusive club membership must be satiated by any means necessary. Writer Charles B. Griffith gave the musical theater world a taste of things to come with the 1960 movie The Little Shop of Horrors, directed by Roger Corman with an unknown Jack Nicholson portraying the sadistic cruel-to-cruel dentist. Made for less than $30,000, Corman's LSH raked in the money and went on to being performed on Broadway and worldwide stages, as well as a movie remake in '86.
left to right: Danny Bernardo, Dipika Cherala, Joel Kim Booster, Evan Tyrone Martin, Amira Sabbagh, Christine Bunuan, Jaii Beckley and Joyee Lin. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
As I watched Re-Spiced: A Silk Road Cabaret in all its subtle magnificence unfurl, my mind clicked with alternate subversive titles, like Where Do These Westerners Come up With These Crazy-A** Ideas About My People, Anyway?, and It's a White Supremacist Manifest Destiny World, After All! I quickly regained my critical focus, shaking off those alternative titles, deeming both too long to fit a marquee.
Where do the most insidious and more detrimental stereotypes get their staying power? Borders are redrawn, people mix and migrate, but ethnic and cultural stereotypes die hard, for they serve the purpose to define and divide us, and there is eternal afterlife for any given stereotype that is put to song and dance. For a few weeks, the Silk Road players run through a millennium of pop production, delivered in cheery and worthwhile song and dance cabaret in faux nightclub setting that makes an audience member bop and weave to the beat of great performances that makes one almost forget that they've spent the living years grooving to the beat of global-scale racial oppression with the Monroe Doctrine as our sheet music.
It's all about meteors and music and asteroids and acting in Starball: A Dreamy Musical Astronomy Show, the critically acclaimed theatrical production whose mission is to heighten audiences' understanding--and interest--in the sky above. Presented by the Adler Planetarium and Ethereal Mutt Limited, the show, which is making its return to Chicago, is put on by performance artists and writers who are not only experienced in the theater but who also have backgrounds in science.
It is not that Marc Bamuthi Joseph sees the world differently, but that he sees the world - and some of the world's problems and challenges - more clearly than others. Much of his past work and his current performance project investigates and dissect issues of the environment for the underserved and communities of color. The rise of the green movement - despite the movement's power and importance - has also created a limited, often one-sided interpretation of and reaction to environmental issues.
"It became clear," Bamuthi began, "that there was a homogeneous population with a certain kind of literacy and a certain kind of vocabulary that bordered on jargon in terms of environmental consciousness and environmental actions."
Bamuthi's latest project at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (MCA), red, black and GREEN: a blues, a multimedia performance work combining text, dance, and visuals and in collaboration with Chicago-artist Theaster Gates, addresses the discrepancies of the goals and actions of the environmental and green movements with the various communities often ignored.
In The Sweetest Swing in Baseball, the latest work by Chicago-based playwright Rebecca Gilman and directed by Audrey Francis, life can be full of strikes and curveballs; read on as Elizabeth Antonucci, artistic director for Step Up Productions, talks about the play, its message and how she hopes to hit a home run as a rookie in the Chicago theater scene.
Cast: The Sweetest Swing in Baseball. Photo: Rich Hein
You've stated that you are "committed to bringing truthful, powerful, and relevant theater to Chicago"--relevant in what way(s)?
"Relevant" in meaning that there's so much going on in the world and in everybody's lives--everybody feels hurt, mistrust and all these different emotions. I feel like there are so many great theatrical scripts out there that speak to this time in our lives and who we are in society and bringing those to light is what we're really interested in doing. I think that's what's important to us as a theater company--evoking that emotion out of people and really having them come along on the ride with us. That's something I've always wanted to do so I figured through this company is the best way to do it.
If you want to hear a cast of gifted singers belt some classic showtunes, you should've gotten a ticket for "Showboat" at the Lyric Opera. If you want to experience a really fun, dysfunctional night of musical comedy, check out "Brunch Punkx" at The Annoyance. There may be the occasional off-key note, but the show is so bizarrely comical and the performers so talented that you don't even mind.
"Brunch Punkx" follows a rag-tag group of aspiring brunch chefs as they struggle to find their calling after their culinary school's brunch program shuts down. The group eventually establishes itself as the newest "it" craze in foodie circles, and word of their culinary prowess reaches a former child star who's locked up for a homicidal rampage, and wants the Brunch Punkx to cater her last meal. The plot is a little convoluted, but the hijinks of the group are so enjoyable to watch that you don't even mind how they got there because they're so fun to watch unfold. The songs are catchy and the lyrics sharp, and musical theatre aficionados will enjoy playing "Guess the Pastiche" with the musical numbers that lovingly pay tribute to other musicals.
(L to R) Jerry O' Boyle, Craig Spidle and Rebecca Finnegan; Photo by Brandon Dahlquist
It makes perfect sense that three decades after his "love makes a family" play, Torch Song Trilogy, that writer Harvey Fierstein would kindly remind us that a) marriage is forever, and b) a wedding is a black hole sucking in money, spitting out familial anxiety and resentment, and c) love can, will and does conquer all - at least it does in Fierstein's A Catered Affair.
Mortified, famous for allowing adults to expunge their inner-child shame since 2002, is bringing the show to Chicago for the filming of their new documentary, Mortified Nation. Shay DeGrandis produces Mortified in Chicago.
From left to right: Tien Doman, Chris Rickett, Thomas Kelly, Dan Kerr-Hobert; Seated: Guy Massey; Seated on floor: Robert Fenton; Photo credit: Joe Mazza
Sometimes it takes opposites to tell a story. The Neo-Futurists' original production of The Strange and Terrible True Story of Pinocchio (The Wooden Boy) as Told by Frankenstein's Monster (The Wretched Creature) does exactly that, as Carlo Collodi's original 1883 Italian story is narrated to the audience by Frankenstein's monster (played by Guy Massey) and proceeds to compare the tales of the two created, motherless figures of modern popular mythology. Despite the seemingly arbitrary framing device, Pinocchio/Frankenstein is a brilliant deconstruction of Pinocchio as well as the way fairy tales, children's stories, and cultural icons are depicted.
Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, the Nigerian singer, songwriter and pioneer of the "AfroBeat" sound, was more than just a man and his music--he was also a man with a mission--and a message. The story of his life, the critically-acclaimed, Tony Award-winning musical FELA!, is coming to Chicago.
Directed by legendary choreographer Bill T. Jones and starring Sahr Ngaujah in the title role, FELA! illustrates the legacy and artistry of the late Kuti and his fearless advocacy against an oppressive and capitalistic system in his homeland, and how he used his infectious music to deliver his message and inspire a nation.
FELA! runs March 27 through April 15 at the Oriental Theatre, 24 W. Randolph; tickets are $25-$90. For more information, call the box office at 800-775-2000.
Erica Cruz Hernandez, Emma Peterson, Jackie Alamillo, Natalie DiCristofano, Meghann Tabor and Natalie Turner-Jones in Chicago Fusion Theatre's Las Hermanas Padilla. Photo by John W. Sisson, Jr.
A couple of decades ago, social satirist Paul Mooney gave an exhaustive commentary on the state of how race patronage works in show business, specifically Hollywood. In his act, Mooney lowers his voice to become the voice-over for the marketing campaign for the 1990 movie Darkman - "Who is Darkman" Who is Darkman?" in a deep and slow bluster, Mooney mimics the announcer, recounting his enthusiastic anticipation of wanting to see this "Darkman." Of course Mooney comically implodes upon the revelation that "Darkman," well, ain't "dark," but Liam Neeson.
The United States is in the midst of a national crisis. People are being detained without due process, the media is being censored and a new regime is rising and most of the country is unaware it's even happening.
Carlton Burg, a bureaucrat from the State Department is in possession of the top secret Enemies List consisting of millions of American's names - citizens that have participated in some way in any number of groups the new government has deemed oppositional. The publication of this list could awaken the public and start the revolution. Unfortunately, Carl is detained in a small police station in Lodus, Missouri and with the Feds on their way, he must rely on his fellow detainee, an eccentric, foul-mouthed redneck woman named Tanya to carry on his mission.
Written by Jason Wells, and developed at the Steppenwolf Theater as one of the three-play First Look Repertory of New Work, The North Plan takes a sinister hypothetical scenario of the not-so-distant future and infuses it with comedy - both dark and light. Directed by Kimberly Senior, the show accomplished multi-layered scenes of mischief, tension and impact.
(left to right) Antoine Pierre Whitefield, Brigitte Ditmars, Kristin Collins, Stacie Barra, Michael Boone & Scott Allen Luke. Photo Courtesy of the Raven Theatre
"It's a love story," "No, it's a mystery," "No, it's a comedy," "...a comedy-drama,", "It's a drama about a love story"....
Those first few lines of dialogue from writer's Jon Steinhagen's "Dating Walter Dante" are equally poignant and ironic, for the Raven Theater's presentation could have been a superlative suspense drama rather than a mostly good stage play.
Steinhagen writes a story in need of flushing out in one direction; my vote is the dramatic, if only for the fact that the story of Walter Dante plays out as a lurid, blood-soak-sexed-up "get ya' villains and victims right here folks!" in perpetual rotation with every newscast and Nancy Grace minstrel show.
What motivates someone to dedicate their life to documenting the horrors of warfare? With Pulitzer finalist Donald Margulies' Time Stands Still, Steppenwolf Theatre explores the lives of foreign correspondents and the complicated questions and issues raised by the very nature of the work they perform.
Directed by ensemble member Austin Pendleton, the story takes place in the Brooklyn loft of recently-injured war photojournalist Sarah Goodwin (Sally Murphy) as she re-adjusts to life in New York City with the help and care of her long-time boyfriend and fellow war correspondent James Dodd (Randall Newsome). She is forced to confront James' desire to settle down, and the surprising new relationship between her friend and editor Richard Ehrlich (Francis Guinan) and his much younger girlfriend, Mandy Bloom (Kristina Valada-Viars). The plot emerges from the tensions between the four characters' contrasting perspectives as their lives intersect in the subsequent days, weeks, and months after Sarah's arrival home.
Not a damned thing when sifted through the all-American strainer that splatters immutable stains over victim and perpetrator equally, encasing both with historical and modern-times tribalism, a perfect mound of vanilla ice cream, covered in chocolate and sprinkled with the poison of centuries of minor slights and gargantuan horrors, a concoction that perpetually screams out, "Take a bite of opportunity from me, and I'll take a chunk of humanity from you." David Mamet's Race sublimely rolls out onto the Goodman stage like a wave of every black-white encounter washed ashore at Plymouth Rock.
A billionaire walks into a law firm sparsely populated by two partners and their recently hired associate. The billionaire is in deep and well-publicized trouble, a scandal of epic proportions that crosses the boundaries public gentility and the boundaries of a place for everyone, and everyone in their places. He has crossed into the racial twilight zone. His crime: he's been accused of raping a black woman who accompanied him to his hotel suite. What's immediately established: the accuser had accompanied the billionaire on numerous occasions to a hotel suite, and with the exception of their last meeting, the billionaire financially compensated his now-accuser.
Collaboraction opens Dark Play or Stories for Boys tonight for its first preview performance. In its Chicago premier director Anthony Moseley and playwright Carlos Murillo worked closely to give Chicago a unique experience. This play that has been performed in a variety of locations but never in Chicago, until tonight.
Written by Carlos MurilloDark Play or Stories for Boys follows a teenage boy's foray into the virtual world. His fictional internet identity begins as a harmless game, but the game takes on a frightening reality when real emotion overtakes his online relationship. When Nick's virtual world collides with the real world, his fantasies of love, intimacy, obsession and betrayal spiral into consequences that lead him to the brink of death.
In America, to discuss race is to discuss the proverbial "elephant in the room"; however, for Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet, it is a subject that should not--and cannot--be ignored. Recently, I sat down with actor Geoffrey Owens to talk about his character in Mamet's Race, a play that boldly confronts the political and sociological aspects of race in society.
As you know, race has always been that one subject that sparks a variety of emotions in people; when you read the script for Race, what were your initial thoughts?
My initial contact with the play was actually seeing it on Broadway; I remember thinking, "Wow -- [Mamet]'s talking about it." And then when I read the play, of course, I was able to get a more careful and closer look at it. I think what's remarkable about it is not necessarily his opinions or the characters' opinions about it, but the fact that he's talking about it at all.
It is indeed difficult to get people to discuss it.
Race, unless it's a forum, or an officially sanctioned discussion or symposium, is that topic people do not talk about -- especially in a mixed setting. People are just very afraid to talk about it out in the open. The fact that he puts all of these issues onstage -- some of them, anyway -- is pretty remarkable.
Daniel Beaty stars in Emergency, his critically-acclaimed, award-winning, one-man show that explores the concept of identify and personal freedom. Using the African-American experience as the foundation, via a slave ship that sails in front of the Statue of Liberty--and through acting, poetry and song, Beaty portrays a cast of over forty characters, ranging from a homeless man, a scientist and a young boy, to ask the question, "How free are we?"
Emergency runs Thursday, Jan. 5 at 6:30pm and Friday, Jan. 6 at 7:30pm at the DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 E. 56th Pl.; tickets are $15-$40. For more information, call 773-947-0600.
The Addams Family is in Chicago for a short run at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. The musical is based on the characters first brought to life by the cartoonist Charles Addams in 1933, and subsequently adapted for television in the 1960's TV show and brought to the silver screen in two films in the early 90's, and is now in it's second year on Broadway.
The music itself leaves something to be desired; I can't say that I'd want to listen to a cast recording of songs like "Trapped," "Full Disclosure," or "What If," but the piece is inventive and whimsical, and features some astounding acrobatics, particularly in Act II. Douglas Sills brings a Spanish accent to Gomez, the charming patriarch of the family, and Sara Gettelfinger's interpretation of Morticia put me in the mind of Bebe Neuwirth.
The story centers on Wednesday Addams (Cortney Wolfson) and her love interest, Lucas Beineke (Brian Justin Crum). Lucas comes from a "normal" family from Ohio, and Wednesday is anxious about how her family will react to their engagement. This works as a plot device to keep the action moving forward, but I found the love story to be the least interesting aspect of the piece, and the characters of Wednesday and Lucas to be less than compelling.
George Hamilton and Christopher Sieber; La Cage Aux Folles. Photo: Paul Kolnik.
Jean Poiret's La Cage Aux Folles, the Tony award-winning Broadway musical centering on the story of a gay couple--Georges, manager of a Saint-Tropez nightclub that features drag performances and Albin/Zaza, the club's main attraction--has always been a popular, fan favorite; however, the show's current revival, directed by Terry Johnson and starring George Hamilton and Christopher Sieber, respectively, isn't really that much to sing or dance about.
This past weekend, fans of the Black Ensemble Theater enjoyed the opening of the new Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center, 4450 N. Clark St., with the kickoff of the 2011-2012 season entitled "Legendary Season of Rhythm and Blues."
The Jackie Wilson Story, an audience favorite that was revamped for the new season, premiered at the new, sleek and modern 299-seat venue, to a host of both old and new fans. Written, directed and produced by theater founder and director Jackie Taylor, the story serves as the ultimate tribute to the late soul singer.
After a successful run last year, A Klingon Christmas Carol is back for the holidays. The first play ever to be produced entirely in the Klingon language, A Klingon Christmas Carol, Commedia Beauregard's production mixes the classic Dickens tale with the language and culture of the Star Trek warrior race to tell the story of SQuja' and three spirits who attempt to save him from a life of cowardice and dishonor. The play is performed entirely in tlhIngan Hol (aka Klingon), with English subtitles projected above the stage for those of us not fluent in the language.
A Klingon Christmas Carol runs from Nov. 25 to Dec. 31, with previews Nov. 16, 18 and 19, at the Greenhouse Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets are $32 ($10 for the previews) and are available online or at the theater box office.
The MCA Chicago continues its year of in-depth, audience-focused changes with its latest MCA Stage production, The Matter of Origins. Choreographed by original Dance Exchange artistic director Liz Lerman, this multimedia-heavy and theatrical performance continues to push the boundaries of contemporary dance. The work is co-presented with the Chicago Humanities Festival, whose 2011 theme of Technology runs through the core of the dance work.
In a press release, Lerman said that The Matter of Origins examines, "how the human mind flips and stretches to comprehend things that are incredibly small, large, fast, or far beyond the categories of known experience." For the traditional dance fan, the performance offers a one-of-a-kind experience that draws on both history and the reactions of audience members.
There is no denying the impact of hip hop in today's society; what was once deemed by many as a passing fad has evolved into a global cultural phenomenon that is embraced by fans all over the world. And with rappers like Chicago natives Common, Lupe Fiasco and Twista, the Windy City has certainly made a mark in the industry, as well.
Despite its phenomenal status, however, hip hop often gets a bad rap; for South Side native and hip hop lover Wendell Tucker, a few bad notes are not enough to stop loving it.
Cast: Keep a Song in Your Soul: The Black Roots of Vaudeville
Reggio "The Hoofer" McLaughlin was born to dance--tap dance, that is. Here, he talks about performing in the Chicago premiere of Keep a Song in Your Soul: The Black Roots of Vaudeville, a story of the music and dance history of blacks in the historical vaudeville era.
You got your start dancing in Chicago's subways--talk about that experience.
I started dancing years ago; when I started, tap dancing was outdated. Nobody even thought of it anymore but I always wanted to do it. My older sisters took classes at a Chicago Park District [facility] and when I saw it, I fell in love with it at first sight.
Were there not many opportunities to tap available to you?
The only opportunity I had was what I made for myself. I loved it so much that I just started dancing in the subways and in the streets because I loved how it made me feel--and how it made people feel--you know, it put smiles on their faces.
"The hot cow's back!" my friend whispered to me about 30 minutes into Octavarius: Trial of the O'Leary Cow.
It's odd for a man dressed in a cow suit to be called "hot," but the costume worked for improv performer Nick Mikula. A member of comedy troupe Octavarius, Mikula played the title role in the show, staged on October 9--the 140th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire.
(L to R) Deanna K. Reed and J. Israel Greene in Yellowman.
Photo: Anthony Robert La Penna
Racism is certainly a subject that is pervasive in American society; however, the subject takes on an entirely different dynamic when it occurs within an ethnic group. Here, J. Israel Greene, Artistic Director for Greenetree Productions, discusses Yellowman, Dael Orlandersmith's Pulitzer Prize-nominated play about race and skin color within the African-American community and their effect on society at large.
Yellowman approaches race/racism from an intraracial angle; do you feel this is an area that isn't discussed enough?
I always try to describe it as "having secrets within the family"--and I consider the black community a family within itself. And I think it's kind of the way we treated this--as a "secret." It's a secret we've kept covered up and we felt it was time to put this out there for the world to see.
So, you wanted to tell the story of racism--from a different side of things.
Yes. You usually think about race only in "black and white" terms but it's far greater than that.
When it comes to HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) football, if the game is considered the first down, then the halftime marching band show is definitely a touchdown. Here, Don Roberts, creator and director of Drumline Live, the stage adaptation of the hit movie Drumline that starred Nick Cannon, discusses the HBCU marching band tradition and its impact on popular culture.
How and when did the idea to bring the movie Drumline to the theater stage come about?
The vision came during the course of the movie; I was the executive band consultant, which meant I was responsible for anything band-related--making Nick Cannon look like a drummer and things like that. A conversation came up about how great it would be to put something like this on stage and that never left my mind. Around 2005, we formed a corporation called Halftime Live and did a small tour of the show in the Southeast corner [of the United States] and out of the blue, we got a call from Columbia Artists Management, Inc. (CAMI), asking us if we would be interested in partnering with them to put the show on the road. And from that moment on, we've been partners.
You served as an executive consultant for the movie version--did you face any challenges when you created Drumline Live?
There were challenges--the biggest one was the question people would always ask: "How do you put a marching band on stage?" CAMI handled that part and told us to just focus on creating and directing the show.
The 2011-2012 theater season kicks off in a big way for the Black Ensemble Theater; in addition to celebrating 35 years of musical stage plays, the theater company will also celebrate the highly-anticipated grand opening of the new Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center, 4450 N. Clark Street, on November 18.
For Jackie Taylor, the new facility is not only a milestone, but is also an opportunity to broaden the Black Ensemble audience as well as its theater education projects. "The new building will allow us to expand our audiences and pursue our educational efforts, while our shows will remain true to the Black Ensemble style, delivering 'feel good' stories with outstanding music," said Taylor, the theater's founder and executive director.
(left to right) Cliff Chamberlain, Kirsten Fitzgerald, Brendan Marshall-Rashid, Stephanie Childers and Karen Aldridge in Steppenwolf Theatre Company's production of Clybourne Park by Bruce Norris, directed by ensemble member Amy Morton. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
The hotly debated R and G words are taken by the horns in this candid and confrontational two-act play by Bruce Norris.
Set in 1959 in the fictional Chicago neighborhood of Clybourne Park, first introduced to us in A Raisin in the Sun, the first act picks up where Raisin left off, introducing us to the white family who is moving out of their house -- the house that The Youngers in Raisin are so looking forward to moving into.
Get ready to "ease on down...King Drive," for The Wiz, Chicago Style, a Chicago-centric version of the legendary Tony Award-winning musical, The Wiz, later turned into the cult classic feature film that starred Diana Ross and Michael Jackson.
Of course, Dorothy, Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion and Tin Man are still around, but in this Windy City adaptation, Chicago staples including The Jesse White Tumblers and Chicago "Style" Steppers are also part of the show, with a special surprise guest as "The Wiz."
Catch the encore performance of The Wiz, Chicago Style at the Harold Washington Cultural Center, 4701 S. King Dr., Friday, Sept. 30 at 7pm. Tickets are $20-$25 and are available at the box office; for more information, call 312-835-1878 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
For many, the '70s sitcom "Good Times" is seen as the standard when it comes to showcasing life in Chicago's public housing projects; for Shepsu Aakhu, the story is deeper, richer--and untold. Here, the playwright and MPAACT Executive Director discusses Speaking in Tongues: The Chronicles of Babel, and its mission to tell an authentic tale of life in public housing.
A play about life in a public housing project is not something often heard about; how did you get the idea to write Speaking in Tongues: The Chronicles of Babel?
We [MPAACT] do plays about black life and its myriad of representation. The joy for me with this play is that these are really my own family stories.
So the play then, centers on your real-life family that grew up in housing projects.
Yes--these are my family stories. I have two aunts that lived in buildings that faced each other and having gone to Holy Angels, I spent an enormous amount of time in the projects with them.
L to R: Courtney Crouse, Evan Tyrone Martin, and Harmony France in Violet.
The look of the Mercury Theater last night set the mood for the mid 1960's in the south: a framed photo of LBJ rested on the table next to the press packets; the set included two televisions simultaneously rolling archival footage of the march on Selma and other iconic moments in the civil rights movement; and ambient bus station sounds filled the theater, including an old timey ring tone which I initially mistook for my cell phone.
I generally keep from reading other reviews of plays and musicals that I've been assigned to cover, not because I think I'm so unbelievably proficient in the art of writing reviews, but because it's easy for me to second guess my own opinion and I don't want to open myself to influence that might change the language and opinions I express in my own review. The last time I saw a Bailiwick production I was so blown away by it that I wanted to pay for my own ticket and see it again, so I was confused by my not-so-hot reaction to Violet, and felt I had to do some research. After all, this musical has won awards.
Lynn Nottage, a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and Broadway favorite, is known for writing thought-provoking plays about African women and the African-American experience. Here, Phyllis Griffin, Associate Professor at the Theatre School at DePaul University, discusses directing Nottage's Intimate Apparel and why it was chosen to kick off the school's 2011-2012 theater season.
Phyllis Griffin, DePaul University
How did you become involved with this project? Were you always a fan of Lynn Nottage?
I had been aware of Nottage's work and have become a fan of hers since directing this play. I think she's a powerful writer with interesting subject matter.
Of all Nottage's plays, why was this one specifically chosen for performance at DePaul?
Intimate Apparel is regarded by many of us in the Theatre School as her strongest play. We also chose it because I'd be able to work with a cross section of actors within the casting pool--I hadn't really been able to do that for a long time because normally, I had selected plays that are totally African-American. I did this in an effort to support the black actors at the theater school because I believe they need to be in that kind of environment at least once before they step out of the building.
Soul mates don't die, directed by J. Preddie Predmore and produced by MacMillan's company, Never Assume Productions, illustrates how soul mates connect regardless of sex or mortal form. Set to debut at The Doppler Stage on September 3, it tells the tale of two star-crossed newlyweds who are ripped apart when their sexually oppressed guardian angels meet and fall in love. Love can be a funny distraction.
For more information about MacMillan and his show, visit his website. Also, check out his blog, which documents his epic bike trip.
This week, the 2nd annual Chicago Fringe Festival kicks off in the Windy City. The festival, which runs September 1-11 in the city's Pilsen neighborhood, is a premiere showcase for the arts, and will feature a variety of unique performances from the world of dance, theater, comedy and much more.
Robin Gelfenbien in My Salvation Has a First Name: A Wienermobile Journey
Tickets to the Chicago Fringe Festival are $10 for general admission/individual performances, with package rates available. Show times and locations vary; visit the website for a full performance schedule and locations or call 773-428-9977 for more information.
Fans of unconventional theater take note: Chicago's got a new shadow puppet show.
Experimental multimedia puppetry group Manual Cinema presents ADA/AVA, its ﬁrst evening-length original shadow puppetry work, at the Charnel House (3421 W. Fullerton) this Thursday, July 28 through Sunday the 31st. Manual Cinema combines overhead projector shadow puppetry, actors in silhouette, and live music performance to create handmade, cinematic stories exploring new frontiers of immersive storytelling.
The Sharks dance the night away in West Side Story. Photo credit: Joan Marcus.
When I was a kid (in the age before DVRs, Netflix, and bipeds), I watched West Side Story once a year on broadcast TV. It was a family event; all of us huddled together on the couch, waiting for the next commercial break to use the bathroom, even though we all knew what came next and how it ended. In my high school production I played the role of Snowboy's girlfriend (I don't remember what my character's name was -- I had no lines and appeared in three scenes), and by the time I graduated I felt like WSS wasn't just a musical based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, but part of my own story; over the course of the 54 years since WSS premiered at the Winter Garden Theater in New York, I think many of us have come to feel the same way.
What I find most remarkable about the current Broadway In Chicago production of WSS is both obvious and groundbreaking -- for the first time that I'm aware of, the Sharks speak Spanish! I'd never found the absence of Spanish, save for a few throwaway words here and there like "querida," and "te adoro," to be odd, but hearing Spanish in full sentences onstage is like hearing the script for the first time. The choice to use Spanish without the aid of supertitles, used primarily in opera, makes perfect sense -- even if your grasp of Spanish is limited (as it is for me), it's safe to assume that most patrons know the story well enough to follow along. And honestly, in a city like Chicago, with significant Puerto Rican and Polish communities, no supertitles are necessary to translate a word like "Polaco."
The Blues Brothers, the 80s iconic film starring John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd, is quintessentially Chicago--and for many, is one of the best action comedies ever. In Brad Henshaw's The All New Original Tribute to The Blues Brothers, homage is paid to the film that made Jake and Elwood Blues household names.
L to R: Daniel Fletcher and Brad Henshaw as Elwood and Jake Blues in The All New Original Tribute to the Blues Brothers. Photo Credit: Dan Rest.
The production began with the Blues Brothers, Jake (Henshaw) and Elwood (Daniel Fletcher), descending from the ceiling to the "Peter Gunn Theme" and from there, the soul--and of course, the blues--begins.
(left to right) Audrey Francis and Vince Teninty in Pine Box Theater's world premiere of A Girl With Sun in Her Eyes by Joshua Rollins, directed by Matt Miller. Photo by Heather Stumpf.
You watch "Law & Order", right? Come on, admit it. You love it.
Well, see, this is kind of like that. Seeing a A Girl With Sun in Her Eyes is kind of like watching "Law & Order", except more powerful because everything's happening right there in front of you. The violence is much more palpable. You can smell it.
Described as a tale of, "military life, long-distance marriage, and an unflinching account of the war in Iraq," this show is playing the last performance of its run this Sunday evening at 8pm. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased online or at the box office. The Annoyance Theatre is located at 4830 N. Broadway, near the Lawrence red line stop.
Let X is a hysterical 90 minute struggle with reality and the understanding that sometimes the only way to get back on track is to completely lose control. David, a train conductor and sometime playwright, is trapped in a loveless marriage to Christine. He'd love nothing more than to seduce his wife's best friend Lily, a mathematician - he's even written a play about it - but her obnoxious husband Max constantly humiliates him into inaction. It's hopeless... Or is it? David - who is, after all, a playwright - decides to revise the script of the very play in which he is appearing. With the help of a cantankerous (and strangely omniscient) Stagehand, he goes after his girl, abruptly changing the story, confusing his fellow characters, and bringing an angry Playwright storming on stage to retaliate and try to win her back.
Let X performs Mondays through Wednesdays at Strawdog Theatre (3829 N Broadway St.) now through July 20 at 8pm (no show July 4). Tickets are $15.
It is easy to forget what led to the power and passion that unfolded onstage in HOPERA: Unleashed. Composer and vocalist Adrian Dunn's fusion of hip-hop and opera was the perfect blend, so much so that the merging of two genres that come from separate worlds becomes lost and forgotten.
The performance marks the return of the company's 2009 performance, Hopera: A Fallen Hero and features a series of numbers from the first studio album of hip-hop opera company, HOPERAWorld, released earlier this month.
The Black Ensemble Theater, led by Jackie Taylor, hits Chicago with another summer of sultry shows with its "Sex in the Summer in the City" series. Now in its third year, the series kicks off on June 27 at 7pm with the sizzling Sex Party, a performance that features excerpts from all the shows in the series.
Written by members of the Black Ensemble Theater's Black Playwrights Initiative, "Sex in the Summer in the City" is a three-show series of one-act plays that take a provocative look at "lust, pain and conflict" in relationships. The first show, Virgin and Other Profanities, written by Dawn Bless and directed by Daryl Brooks, runs June 29-30; it tells the story of two roommates whose relationship is tested due to their sexual differences.
(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.
Chicago is definitely a musical that despite its many revivals will always be revered among theatergoers--and if the packed house at last night's opening at the Oriental Theatre was any indication, the long-running Broadway hit will remain a fan favorite for many years to come.
A story of murder, adultery and greed, and set in Chicago in the 1920s, Chicago centers on Roxie Hart (Tracy Shayne), a fame-seeking adulteress who murders her lover and is sent to jail. During her incarceration, she becomes entangled with a cast of characters including Matron "Mama" Morton (Roz Ryan), the prison "mother" at Cook County Jail who grants favors, but never without reciprocity; Billy Flynn (award-winning actor John O'Hurley), a slick, sensational lawyer whom Roxie hires to handle her trial; and Velma Kelly, a fellow, fame hungry chanteuse whose fading star fades even faster upon Roxie's arrival. Through a series of musical numbers, the audience learns that in the end, the pursuit of fame often comes with a price.
Chekov fans will want to visit the Raven Theatre by July 23 to check out The Cherry Orchard, his last play, directed by Michael Menendian.
In keeping with Chekov's favorite theme of family discord amidst financial woes, The Cherry Orchard tells the story of the Ranevskayas, a Russian family of wealth and history whose estate faces financial ruin unless strong measures are taken to save it.
When I walked into Gorilla Tango Theater to see You're Being Ridiculous, My First Time, I was admittedly skeptical; a show with that premise could go very wrong, very fast. Much to my delight, what unfolded was an endearing, funny, well written and well produced show, worth the $15 ticket price.
A trailer for Sketchbook 9, to give you an idea of what Sketchbook is.
Collaboraction theater company's wildly popular annual Sketchbook festival begins tonight at the Chopin Theater. Sketchbook is a lively multi-media event, combining several art forms including theater, music, visual art, new technologies and bombastic partying, anchored by a show that features several short plays. Selected from hundreds of submissions, Sketchbook brings together the collective talents of more than two hundred pioneering directors, designers, actors, musicians and artists from Chicago and around the country for a jaw-dropping evening of creativity, experimentation, and celebration.
FBI Man (Sorin Brouwers) pauses dinner between Randy (Andrew Goetten), Melanie (Heather Townsend), Trevor (Lucy Carapetyan) and William (Dan Smith) to share surveillance equipment in Dog & Pony Theatre Company's Midwest premiere production of Roadkill Confidential at The Building Stage, May 4-June 4. Photo Timmy Samuel
This is a very difficult review to write because Roadkill Confidential is such a dense and complicated play, filled with unlikable characters doing unlikable things. The catch is the lush, multimedia Dog and Pony-esque style to it, which adds an eerie, schizophrenic vibe. This style, supported by an impressively adaptable and visually compelling set featuring stacks of televisions and a pile of wooden chairs, gives this play presence and makes it, well, palatable.
L to R: David Lawrence Hamilton, Mary Helena, and Barth Bennett in the Lincoln Square Theatre production of A Lesson Before Dying.
Lincoln Square Theatre has taken on Romulus Linney's play A Lesson Before Dying (written, incidentally, by actress Laura Linney's late father), a play of no small consequence based on the novel by Ernest J. Gaines in which a young black man named Jefferson is sentenced to die for a crime he did not commit in Bayonne, Louisiana, in 1948. I wasn't sure what to expect -- I'd never heard of Lincoln Square Theatre, and when I located the address, was confused for a moment when I saw a banner for the play hanging outside the Berry Memorial United Methodist Church. The theater itself is housed in the basement of the church; "this is either going to be good," I thought, "or really, really bad."
The seven person cast is supported by a creative artistic staff that includes Director Kristina Schramm, Costume Designer Erica Hohn, and Dialect Coach Rachel "Goose" Haile, who also worked on Passing Strange, currently in production at Bailiwick Chicago. The spare but roomy stage is used to maxiumum effect, subtly separated into three main areas that represent the jailhouse where Jefferson is being held, the dilapidated room that school teacher Grant Wiggins teaches in, and a restaurant where Wiggins meets with his girlfriend Vivian Baptiste, played by Elana Elyce.
David Lawrence Hamilton plays Grant Wiggins, a central role which ties the piece together; I don't think there was a scene he didn't appear in. Playing the challenging role of Jefferson, the unjustly accused youth, is Barth Bennett, who brings to the role a quiet anger interjected with dramatic bursts of defiance that shakes the audience out of any complacency they might have brought with them to the theater.
L to R: Carol Rose, Tony Clarno, Jessica Diaz, Robert Colletti, Kelly Davis Wilson, Adrian Aguilar,
and Tyler Ravelson in The Original Grease at the American Theater Co.
In 1970, Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey wrote a play about teenagers based on their own high school experience at Taft High School in Chicago. It ran at the Kingston Mines Theatre Company for what was supposed to be one weekend in January of 1971, turned into eight months, got enough notice to get produced on Broadway, and became the 1978 film Grease, starring a 24 year-old John Travolta and 30 year-old Olivia Newton-John as Hollywood's best-known teenage couple. When Grease moved to the silver screen, it became a different story; all of the Chicago references were removed, along with any cursing, and even entire songs, rendering what was once a celebration of working-class adolescence into cartoonish nostalgia.
In the intervening years, the play has been produced innumerable times, but this is the first time that the original script and score have been performed, which is reason enough to go see it. It took me a while to get the film cast out of my expectations (I couldn't help it, I've watched that movie so many times I can recite entire scenes from it. [And in an unnecessary side note - as a child I didn't understand what the lyrics "can't go to bed 'till I'm legally wed" meant, and was very concerned that Sandy wasn't getting enough sleep]). Once the play began, however, it was easy for those silver-screen ghosts to make way for the live action unfolding in the small but expertly used space at the American Theater Company.
L to R: Manny Tamayo, Anthony Tournis, Paul Metreyon, Esteban Andres Cruz, and Scott Pasko in Easy Six.
The Factory Theater's latest production, Easy Six, is an original piece written by ensemble members Ernie Deak and Scot OKen spoofing Rat-Pack era films like Ocean's 11, with the all the raucousness, ad-libbing, and pun-infused script that we've come to expect from the Factory. Manny Tomayo, as Mickey Bocks (a spoof character of Frank Sinatra) introduces the audience early on to a gag that repeats throughout the piece where he hands someone his dentist's business card because they'll need it when he's done punching their lights out. I was thrilled beyond measure to discover that included in the press pack that I received at the beginning of the show was an honest-to-goodness business card for Dr. Billy Batz DDS that reads:
"Licensed, Bonded, Insured. Fun at parties.
He'll fix your teeth, when Mickey knocks them out!
Office hours: M-F 8:45am-3:15pm
Saturday: I'd rather not, but, Noon-4pm
Sunday - Are you kidding me?
Certified member of the Ultimate
Dentistry Confirmation Association
Eat apples... they're good for you!"
Not only is the Factory Ensemble willing to go to these lengths to commit to a joke, but they're also not afraid to make fun of themselves. After a particularly egregious pun, one cast member yelled out: "who wrote this shit?", which I learned later is an inside joke between Factory Ensemble members referring to a night in which a drunken audience member shouted that phrase from his seat shortly before being escorted from the theater.
(left to right) Erin Barlow (Kathë), Ryan Bollettino (Herr Doktor) and Geoff Button (Woyzeck) in The Hypocrites production of Woyzeck by Georg Büchner, adapted and directed by The Hypocrites Artistic Director Sean Graney. Photo by Ryan Bourque.
About Face Theater and The Hypocrites began their "Woyzeck Project" this month, a city-wide festival celebrating the classic proletariat tale, Woyzeck-- an avant-garde working-class tragedy, left unfinished by Georg Büchner upon his death in 1837.
The festival is anchored by About Face's production of Pony and The Hypocrites' world premier adaptation of Woyzeck. I caught both of them in a double feature of sorts last Sunday at Chopin Theater.
Whether you're an opera aficionado or an opera virgin, consider exposing yourself to an avant-garde take on it this week with Mexico City's Teatro de Ciertos Habitantes' El Gallo: Opera for Actors-- part of the MCA's Global Stage Series. This piece of experimental theater, opening this Wednesday with a short run (through May 1), features a music director and five singers pushing themselves to their limits, "teetering between insanity and euphoria as they work through their deepest
inhibitions." Sung entirely in a made-up language, El Gallo features a score and libretto by British composer, Paul Barker, who conducts the music-- performed live by Chicago's MAVerick Ensemble.
Colm O'Reilly, as Bernard, in There Is a Happiness That Morning Is at the DCA Theater.
Theater Oobleck's latest production, There Is a Happiness That Morning Is, is unexpectedly captivating in its intimacy, and powerful in its language. Playwright Mickle Maher tackles the entire script in rhymed verse, which left to a lesser writer would be a disaster, but through Maher's skillful hand is clever and deft. The 90 minute play unfolds in a single room, where Bernard (Colm O'Reilly) and Ellen (Diana Slickman) lecture to the audience as English professors speaking to a college classroom. Bernard and Ellen are longtime lovers, and have risked their careers by having sex on the main lawn of the college campus, only to be discovered by the dean of the school, who has demanded that they publicly apologize or lose their jobs.
Maher uses as his inspiration two poems by William Blake: Infant Joy, from Songs of Innocence, and The Sick Rose from Songs of Experience. The poems are so central to the piece that they are included on the front and back pages of the playbill, and are transcribed onto the blackboard by the actors. Bernard's take on the previous evening's events are expressed through analysis of Infant Joy, and Ellen's through The Sick Rose.
Second City's new show, South Side of Heaven, directed by Billy Bungeroth, is a goofy yet unapologetically irreverent pastiche of comic bits with themes ranging from local sports and politics to death and bigotry, all in keeping with Second City's Chicago-centric proclivities. The show is surprisingly dark, and pulls no punches--always returning to the old Buddhist mantra that life is full of misery and pain (so why not make fun of it?). There is plenty here to offend, but the offensive material is executed so damn strangely, we're left furrowing our brows in confusion rather than anger. And I mean that in a good way. It certainly catches you off your feet.
Allison Torem with ensemble member Jon Michael Hill in Steppenwolf Theatre Company's production of The Hot L Baltimore by Lanford Wilson, directed by ensemble member Tina Landau. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
Uncertain times like these seem to prompt us to revisit classic stories of loss and desperation, which, unfortunately, seem uncannily appropriate again. And the point of this, I think, is not to wallow in our misery but to acknowledge that history does indeed repeat itself and to remind us that there are more important things than money and power-- things like simple human interaction and compassion.
Steppenwolf's adaptation of Lanford Wilson's The Hot L Baltimore does this beautifully. Although the afros and booty shorts immediately remind us that the play is set in 1973, the spirit of the conversations and the wistful optimism reflected in them mimic the spirit of the downtrodden American people today.
Jackie Taylor, founder and executive director of the Black Ensemble Theater, has an intense love for music; from the live band that is a staple of her shows to the singing from the ensemble cast members, for her, music really is the soundtrack to life. In her latest work, All In Love Is Fair, which she also wrote, produced and directed, things are no different; this time out, the music of Luther Vandross serves as the backdrop for love--and also for the fictional, small town of Love, Illinois, where the story takes place.
All In Love Is Fair follows six couples (one, a love triangle) in various stages of relationships and how they each deal with love and romance. Rhonda Preston and Zachary Boyd's "Zeland" and "Rena," who are celebrating their golden anniversary, serve as the model couple, while "Diedra" and "Cortez" (Dawn Bless Comer and Daryl Brooks) are completely on the opposite end of the spectrum as the antagonistic couple that obviously wasn't ready to be married.
Award-winning writer and filmmaker Jackie Alexander'sBirthright is the third production in the ETA Creative Arts Theater's 2011 season. Directed by Vaun Monroe, the play is the story of a beloved local reverend and how he deals with his unraveling dark past.
Birthright runs through May 8 at ETA Creative Arts Theater, 7558 S. South Chicago Ave. Show times are 8pm Thursdays through Saturdays; Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $10-$30 and can be reserved by phone, 773-752-3955.
Bertolt Brecht's The Caucasion Chalk Circle is presented by Theatre Mir in a quirky, amusing, and thought-provoking performance. Caught in the middle of a civil war, a lowly servant girl, Grusha, is compelled to rescue an abandoned baby of royal blood. She sacrifices a chance for escape and selflessly takes the child along on a journey of survival.
Under Jon Berry's direction, actors are recycled throughout the performance, transforming into different characters, stagehands, and musicians. The haphazard transitions on the Viaduct Theatre's stage- when actors are "off stage" they are often visible, preparing to join in the song or switching characters- prove distracting at times, but the multi-talented cast manages to sell each of their performances.
The musical numbers provide light-hearted and sometimes comedic moments to a heavy plot, and although the vocals are not on par with the acting, Chance Bone's original score is entertaining nonetheless.
The Caucasian Chalk Circle runs through April 3rd, Thursdays through Sundays, at the Viaduct Theatre.
This Saturday night Collaboraction will throw its most revolutionary fundraising party to date with their 9th annual CARNAVAL: Let Them Eat Cake! party at the Double Door. The venue will be transformed into a party battle zone with live musical performances, radical costumes, burlesque, immersive theatrical interludes, two floors of dancing and bottomless drinks.
"With revolution in the air, Collaboraction gathers its diverse and vibrant colony of artists to create an immersive artistic experience that vibrates with bacchanalian insurrection. Part party and part living art installation, our 9th annual CARNAVAL will be a debaucherous deconstruction of the history of revolution in France and throughout the globe," said Anthony Moseley, Artistic and Executive Director of Collaboraction, in the press release.
In his debut one-man show, Tim Paul's Retarded, Annoyance Theatre veteran Tim Paul reveals what happens behind the closed doors of a group home. Supplemented by pop-cult video segments to add context, he recounts true (and horrifying) stories from his years working at a group home for adults with developmental disabilities and behavioral disorders, exploring society's all-too-comfortable relationship with the r-word. The result is a challenging piece of theater with its fair share of tongue-in-cheek laughs.
Tim Paul's Retarded opened last Sunday and will run every Sunday at 9:30pm through April 3 at The Annoyance Theatre (4830 N. Broadway). Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at theannoyance.com or by calling the box office at 773-561-4665.
The cast of Hair at the Oriental Theatre. Photo credit: Joan Marcus.
Before you ask -- yes, there are naked people in the Broadway in Chicago production of Hair, running through March 20. It was the first thing my theatergoing companion asked me about when I invited her to join me for last week's preview. Having grown up with the music of Hair, but never having seen the film or the stage production, I didn't know about the nudity. Sure enough, at the end of Act I, the stage lights dimmed to a predawn glow and the entire cast stood before us, naked as the day they were born. My friend Grace turned to me and whispered: "See, I told you there were naked people." And God bless them for keeping it true to the original hippie-dippie, freeloving original; if it was me up there I would have demanded a merkin. Who knows, maybe they were wearing merkins, I'm no expert on the subject. "Wow," I said to Grace, "that's more naked people than I've seen all year" (and I work in a gym).
If you missed the first half of the Congo Square Theatre's "Festival on the Square" series, there is another chance to catch the event.
This weekend, the theater company will feature performances from open mic shows to staged readings, including 911's Children: After the Fires, written and directed by company member Anthony Irons and the hip-hop themed Smash Hit, directed by Congo Square member Aaron Todd Douglas. The weekend is also highlighted by 1st Impressions, a variety of artistic performances by Deeply Rooted Dance Theater Artistic Director, Kevin Iega Jeff, actress and playwright, Nambi E. Kelly, and renowned actress Regina Taylor.
The "Festival on the Square" runs Friday and Saturday, February 25-26 at the Chicago Center for the Performing Arts, 777 N. Green St. All performances are free to the public ($10 donation recommended).Visit Congo Square Theatre's website for full schedule and show times; RSVP separately for each event at email@example.com.
Officer #2 (Christopher M. Walsh, left), the Commissioner (Eric Paskey, center front), the Madman (Joseph Sterns, back, red tie), Sporty (Anthony Tournis, right, white shirt), and Officer #1 (Elizabeth Bagby, back right) sing a song together. Photo by Johnny Knight.
There is no apparent anarchy in Signal Ensemble's tidy and well-rehearsed version of Dario Fo's Accidental Death of an Anarchist. That is not to say it is not in the spirit of anarchy, or that it is not an effective play-- because it is, without a doubt. The impeccable craft, attention to detail and obvious investment of countless days memorizing lines only makes a stronger case for this timely (if not timeless), sharp, satirical production.
This clever, faced-paced story pokes fun of police corruption, inspired by the real-life case of anarchist railway worker Giuseppe Pinelli, who fell-- or was thrown-- from the fourth floor window of a Milan police station in 1969. The events of the play itself, however, are fictional. The play opens with Inspector Bertozzo (Vincent Lonergan) interrogating "The Madman" (Joseph Stearns). The Madman, a scam artist with a role-playing fetish, constantly outsmarts the dim-witted police staff-- pretending to be a judge, wreaking havoc, getting them to re-enact incriminating events and eventually completely lose it in front of a suspicious reporter (Simone Roos).
Pictured is an image from Dated: A Cautionary Tale for Facebook Users, a tragicomic monologue with multimedia projections, written by Ira Gamerman. Photo by Kirstie Shanley.
If you are one of the many people who have heard about Chicago's vibrant independent theater scene, but haven't made it out to see anything because your perception of theater has been tainted by cheesy musicals, you may want to free up a night this month or next to check out Collaboraction's Sketchbook REVERB.
"Sketchbook has proven to be this place where we've found a way to make theater super tasty and consumable to a young diverse audience," explains Anthony Moseley, director. "The audience is not just made up of people who go to a lot of theater."
Laika, Rob Neill, Eevin Hartsough. Photos by Evan Hanover.
Laika Dog in Space is a lot of things. It is more than a play; it is an event. A class, even. A field trip. It is a variety show of sorts, with an art gallery/museum for a lobby and a live band.
Upon arrival to the Neo Futurarium, where Laika Dog in Space is playing, audience members are invited to explore the "state park" (a.k.a. the lobby), where there are a few dioramas on shelves against one wall and framed photos of all the famous dogs from pop culture on another wall, complete with clever descriptions underneath. Snoop Dog is even included.
Chicago Dramatists take on the oldest profession head on with their current performance, Bordello, written by Aline Lathrop.
The entirety of Bordello takes place in the kitchen of Pussy Willow Ranch, located 60 miles outside of Las Vegas in the great state of Nevada.
It isn't easy dissecting this play. First of all, I am a man, and any thoughts I have about what I experienced have to be put into perspective. Having said that, Bordello is not a sexy romp through the lives of some of Nevada's premier sex workers-- not that I thought it would be. It is more like a glimpse into the lives of some people who happen to work in a place that happens to be a bordello.
The blizzard that is moving in on us at the moment is causing several cancellations and closures in the art world today and tomorrow. Here's what we have so far:
The Art Institute closed at 2pm today and will be closed tomorrow, so the Peter Fischli artist talk scheduled for tomorrow at 6pm has been canceled.
The MCA closed at 2pm today and will be closed tomorrow.
Steppenwolf has canceled their shows tonight and their matinees tomorrow.
Goodman Theatre's Wednesday, February 2 Performance of the Trinity River Plays has been cancelled.
Tonight's Chicago Symphony Orchestra performance with conductor/pianist Mitsuko Uchida has been rescheduled for Monday, February 7, at 7:30pm. Wednesday's performance by the Cleveland Symphony Orchestra will go on. More info at CSO's website.
UIC's Gallery 400 is closed today as of 2pm, and so the Eileen Myles lecture scheduled for 5pm today was postponed. If you plan on viewing Kerstin Honeit: Ambiguity is My Weapon or Bless This Mess in the next two days, call them ahead at 312-996-6114 to find out their open hours.
Please comment on this post with information about other cancellations. The Great Chicago Blizzard of 2011 may have won the battle this week, but art will win the war. Maybe. Or maybe everyone will continue to move to L.A.
Sara Gorsky and Michaela Petro. Photo by John W. Sisson, Jr.
What's sexier than lesbian vampires? Wildclaw Theater has certainly capitalized on the steamy aspects of J. Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla in their adaptation of the story, re-worked by Aly Renee Greaves. The plethora of cleavage, gore, double entendres and good old-fashioned camp is pretty much what this play has going for it. Audience members looking for subtle drama and narrative buildup will likely leave disappointed, but those who go to the play hoping to be suffocated by fog machines and splashed with fake blood, a la the Shamu show at Sea World, will be thrilled.
Carmilla, a gothic novel first published in 1872, predates Bram Stoker's Dracula by 25 years. It tells the story of a young English woman (Laura, played by Brittany Burch) living in a remote castle in Eastern Europe, in an area that is becoming plagued by mysterious deaths.
Disguised as the young man Ganymede, Rosalind (Kate Fry, center) listens to Orlando
(Matt Schwader) unwittingly proclaim his love for her as Celia (Chaon Cross) looks on in amusement, in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's As You Like It. Photo credit: Liz Lauren
There's something about hearing lines of dialogue spoken out loud for the first time that I've seen in print a thousand times that gives me a direct sense of connection to the past. Before last Saturday's performance, I'd never seen Shakespeare's As You Like It, but I'd heard this line countless times: "All the world's a stage." Hearing it come from an actor standing less than twenty feet from me on an actual stage (Ross Lehman in the role of Jaques) made me realize how clever the line really is, and how little the English language has changed since the 1600's.
The piece is filled with all the cross-dressing and mistaken identities that you'd expect in a Shakespeare comedy, and is amazing to watch unfold on the intimate stage of the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, which is modelled after the Royal Shakespeare Company's Swan Theatre. The set design is both spare and sufficient, and everything from the lighting to the fight choreography lets you know that you're in professional hands. Every inch of the theater space is used, including the aisles and the overhangs; this is no sleepy performance, the action moves in fast and sometimes unexpected directions, the actors so close to the audience that at times I could have reached out and touched them.
Mascot, a one-act, one-man play running at the Prop Theater for the next four Saturdays, is the creation of writer Chris Bower of Ray's Tap Reading Series in collaboration with Found Objects Theater Group. In it, actor Matt Test draws us into the interior life of a man whose greatest passion is football, and who has become estranged from his wife and son. The action takes place in the man's living room, represented by a sparsely decorated set consisting of an armchair, a TV, and a metal clothes rack dominated by the presence of a soiled bear mascot costume.
In the man's darkly comic monologue we learn about his wife, his son, and the circumstances that led to the restraining order that keeps him from watching his son's high school football games. At times the set goes dark, sending the audience even deeper into the man's mind as he becomes a disembodied voice not only estranged from his family, but from the audience's sight.
Baltimore-based theater group, The Missoula Oblongata, is bringing their newest play, Clamlump, to Ball Hall on Monday, Feb. 14. The description of the play is pretty mindboggling except for the bit about it being set "deep in the hollows of a boarded up stadium," but if you check out TMO's website I think you will be convinced to go whether or not you understand what you're going for. The play will feature a live score performed by Travis Sehorn and an opening act by ventriloquist, April Camlin. BYOP(illow) to sit on. Click here to visit the Facebook event page, or here to visit The Missoula Oblongata's website. Ball Hall's address is secret because the city will try to get their hands into the venue's (empty) pockets if they are given the opportunity. If you wanna go, you've gotta find out where it is for yourself. You can thank the city for that. Admission will most likely require a small donation, but has not yet been specified.
Theater is one of the best ways to warm up on these oppressively wintery Chicago evenings. Better yet, how about a story about people looking for other people to keep them warm? Bus Stop, William Inge's heartwarming, all-American tale of human connections and social blunders in the face of a brutal Midwestern snowstorm certainly fits the bill, although some may find it brutally old-fashioned.
Bus Stop, a collaborative directorial debut by veteran actors Lia Mortensen and Ryan Martin, is the first show at The Den Theatre-- a promising new venue capable of seating about 100 with a spacious stage and a cavernous lobby. It is a solid first show with an inviting small-town diner set by Caleb McAndrew and Aimee Plant.
Pictured from left to right: John Mohrlein (Clarence/Mr. Potter), Gwendolyn Whiteside (Mary Bailey), and Kevin R. Kelly (George Bailey) in ABT's It's a Wonderful Life. Photo by The Stage Channel.
From now through December 31, American Blues Theater's It's a Wonderful Life, transports viewers to another era, for a 1940s-style live radio show, featuring the classic holiday tale of George Bailey. The iconic charm of The Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., provides an ideal location for the production, and the performance, directed by Marty Higginbotham, warms hearts again this season.
The cast greets theater-goers with lively, casual conversation and Christmas carols from the piano as they enter the house. Actors weave through the aisles handing out "Audiograms" on which audience members write messages to friends or loved ones, which are read intermittently during commercial breaks. On the stage stand three vintage microphones with broad rectangular heads. The piano sits off to the left, near the authentic-looking "On Air" and "Applause" light-up signs. A Christmas tree, a couch, and the sound effects corner complete the stage area. As audience continues to trickle in, the cast engages visitors in Christmas carol sing-along. After a few directions from the announcer (Ed Kross), the show begins and you're plunged into the famous tale.
The Black Ensemble Theater presents its sixth annual Black Playwrights Festival. The festival is produced by the theater's Black Playwrights Initiative (BPI), whose mission is to foster and unite Chicago's African-American playwright community; in addition, the BPI provides workshops, classes and other resources for black writers.
This year's festival opens on Monday, Dec. 6, with readings from works by Black Ensemble Theater Associate Artistic Director, Rueben Echoles, and playwrights Runako Jahi and Wendell Etherly. The evening will also feature a tribute to writer and Chicago native, Eric Monte, of Cooley High and "Good Times" fame.
Putting on a U.S. Premiere stage production that could legitimately be called an "intimate opera" seems like challenge enough. But Chicago Opera Vanguard's latest show, Boojum!, ups the ante by tackling a subject that makes practically no sense at all: Lewis Carroll's mock-epic poem The Hunting of the Snark.
Of course, to say that Boojum! is about the grand, silly poem is to sell the show's story short. The show uses the mysteries behind the quizzical poem to delve into the still deeper mysteries of its author, Lewis Carroll, and the real man behind that famous pen name, Rev. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. As the show reminds us, Dodgson is a mortal, while Carroll will never die. The relationship between these two sides of the same man, as well as the curiosities of Dodgson's personal life, are subjects as central to the production as the snark hunt itself.
Pictured: (in the background) Pat King (Nick), Marsha Harman (Mercy) and Joel Ewing (Abel) in the foreground.
Photo by Tom McGrath of TCMcG Photography.
Tucked away in a cozy, Christmas-y back room at Lincoln Park pizzeria Ranalli's, Redeemers-- a site-specific one-act-- delivers an intimate, occasionally delightful story of inter-office politics gone terribly wrong. The story is told to us by the three colleagues who started it all by means of a sort of desperate, ill-prepared confession.
New Leaf Theatre's current production of Redeemers, written by Bilal Dardai and directed by Jessica Hutchinson, opens subtly as audience members (of which the room can fit only about a dozen) gradually realize there are actors sitting amongst them, who are acting. The actors in this case are Pat King and Joel Ewing (playing Nick and Abel, respectively). They're not doing much at first, per se, but the way they kind of glare at each other from across the room and exchange sporadic quips and insights as they sip their drinks is just perfect.
Christopher Piatt hosts The Paper Machete at Ricochets.
The atmosphere at The Paper Machete, a free weekly live magazine at Ricochets, is like sitting in the rec room of your best friend's house, if your best friend was an emcee with a microphone and a weekly lineup of writer/performer guests who talk about everything from local politics to the latest movie releases. Roughly a third of last week's audience was comprised of either performers or friends of performers, which added to the laid-back vibe. I shared a table with a stranger, and ordered my first beer just before the show started at 3pm, which seemed early for beer-- but it's getting dark early, so I can justify it.
The show is hosted by former Time Out Chicago theater editor Christopher Piatt (pronounced pie-it), who began the series in January of this year along with his co-producer Ali Weiss, and business manager Maggie Boyaris. Last week's lineup included: theater legend Sheldon Patinkin, who told the audience about the first time the words "fuck" and "shit" were uttered on the Second City stage; Neo-Futurists Dana Slickman and Rachel Claff, who reminded us that the world is not our living room; writer/performer Patrick Gill, who I'm pretty sure convinced me that I need to go see Cher's new movie, Burlesque; 848's Kelly Kleiman, who told us why everything sucks, and that the word "nepotism" is closely related, if you will, to the word "nephew"; comedian Adam Guerino gave us his take on the recent media focus on potentially gay children that was kind of started by that woman whose son dressed as Daphne for Halloween; manicurist and celebrity star-fucker Marlena Biscotti (a.k.a. Kristin Studard) told us what it's like to make love to Prince; writer and editor Jonathan Messinger took on citizen journalism; and musical guest Lili-Anne Brown ended the show with some gorgeous vocals.
Rebekah Ward-Hays (right, front) and cast. Photo by Timmy Samuel
There are people whose sense of identity is validated by their possessions. Most of us, actually, are defined by them to a certain extent. That's what display cases and bumper stickers are for. In times of uncertainty we can be comforted by our collections. Conversely, it can be very upsetting to lose them.
The play opens with a statuesque redheaded woman (Avery, played by Rebekah Ward-Hays) boisterously auctioning off a man's suit-- hat, shoes and all. "He couldn't have gotten too far without his shoes," she proclaims. Soon thereafter we learn that the suit belongs to Avery's late father, and that she killed him, left town, and left the rest of her family behind to pick up the pieces.
It's a dream come true for 12-year-olds: take Super Mario Brothers and combine it with nudity. Throw in a locked door and it's a pre-teen wonderland that most greasy-haired guys can only dream of. Boobs and Goombas is (thankfully) not just for sticky-fingered boys, it's a fantastic new show that has been playing to cheering crowds at the Gorilla Tango Theater. Set to run only through October, the show has been such a hit that (lucky for you!) November and December dates have been added.
I wasn't expecting to love Boobs and Goombas as much as I did. I was ready for a standard cabaret style burlesque show made up of rotating performances that have little to do with each other (besides the Nintendo theme) with a host acting as ringleader introducing the lovely ladies- a fun show but also nothing really new either. It was a pleasant surprise to find out that Boobs and Goombas is actually an original play with a plot propelling forward amongst the pasties.
Nathan Robbel is the artistic director of The Right Brain Project. Halfshut, the final installment of his three-part collaboration with playwright and former Gapers Block A/C writer, Randall Colburn, is being presented now through December 4. I interviewed Robbel via email today about his work.
What inspired you to collaborate with Randall Colburn on this project for a whole season instead of a single play? How did the projects come into fruition?
It was really Hesperia that drew me to Randall. The play really spoke to me and I was inspired by the aesthetic I saw as a possibility to carry his words. We knew we wanted it to go up in the summer, and at the time, we had nothing for our winter 2010 slot. Randall shared Pretty Penny with me, and even though it was in an early draft, I loved elements of it tremendously. When he was hip to workshopping it, we set out to make it happen. Because the themes of the two shows were similar, it just felt natural to turn the season into a trilogy of sorts. Randall and I tossed around a few ideas to take the themes of Pretty Penny and Hesperia to a different level, and we began working on Halfshut in early summer.
Some art makes you think. Some art is beautiful or terrible or transcendent and lofty. Every once in a while, art really makes a difference in the world. The Nairobi Project does none of these things, but I'll bet it'll make you laugh your ass off.
The premise of this play is that it was written by a twenty-two year old Kenyan named Victor Gido, who, after what we can assume were several attempts to sell other plays to American producers via spam emails, was finally discovered by Steve Gadlin. After a series of slightly nonsensical emails between the two, Gadlin paid Gido $50 to write a play about "a millionaire named Quack Quack Quimby who has forgotten the true meaning of the Jewish holiday Tu Bishvat. His daughter goes to great lengths to remind him of its meaning, and make him happy once again. We'd like the play to end with him on his deathbed, reciting a monologue about his regained love for Tu Bishvat, and also admitting a lifelong homosexual affair with his trusted assistant, The Wizard Dumbeldore."
Elaborately costumed performers re-enact the 1809 Napoleonic Battle of Aspen-Essling, one of Europe's bloodiest conflicts. Suddenly, cameras roll on to the stage, someone shouts out directions to the actors on stage, and the scene shifts from a supposed re-enactment to a scene from a live filming. In EMPIRE (Art & Politics), collaborators Superamas create a hybrid theater production that acts not only as a counter-history to European modernity, but also as a comedic meta-narrative.
How is reality constructed and manipulated through the stories we share? EMPIRE (Art & Politics) moves from a re-enactment to a behind the scenes glimpse of the film process to a premiere party for said film. Along the way, the story morphs from one idea to the next and it is ultimately up to the audience to determine the truth in the tale. Combining elements of theater, new media, visual art, and contemporary dance, Vienna and Paris-based collaborative Superamas explore themes of everyday life. In the case of their latest production, the way we create, interpret and ultimately understand stories is as relevant to Napoleonic-era Europeans as it is to modern day, hyper-connected global citizens. EMPIRE (Art & Politics) is running in conjunction with the exhibition Luc Tuymans, and as part of the MCA Global Stage series at the MCA Stage. The MCA Stage is located at 220 E Chicago Ave. Tickets are $28, $22 for MCA members and $10 for students. Purchase tickets through the MCA Box Office or by phone at 312-397-4010.
What you have here is a surreal, action-packed comedy on speed or mushrooms or something with a healthy dash of politics sprinkled on top. And yes! It's sexy! And there's murder! Above all, this production squeezes every last drop of juice out of an unbelievably talented little troupe of actors-- six, to be exact, playing a whopping 28 roles, running around like lunatics somehow seamlessly performing all the scene changes and costume changes in front of us.
Alaska-born, Native American choreographer Emily Johnson and her company, Catalyst, will peform "The Thank-you Bar" October 7-10 at The Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago. The Chicago premiere features dance, live music, storytelling, and visual images for an intimate, onstage audience. The work, featuring Johson's choreography, as well as music by James Everest and Joel Pickard (Blackfish), weaves themes of displacement, longing, and language with history, architecture, and igloo-myth.
A popular performance that has been designed for small audiences, the October 7 and 8 performances have sold out. Tickets are still available for the 9 pm performance on October 9, which will feature a special performance by Blackfish, as well as two performances that have been added to the original schedule at 3 and 5 pm on October 10. Admission is $26-30 for each performance of "The Thank-you Bar," and $15 for the Blackfish concert. Tickets are general admission and space is limited. To purchase tickets or for more information visit The Dance Center of Columbia College website, or call 312-369-8330. All performances take place at The Dance Center of Columbia College, 1306 S. Michigan Ave.
Of all the sources to inspire a titillate-and-tease burlesque show, "The Big Lebowski" has got to be one of the most bizarre. In truth, that's probably half of the reason why "Rollin' Outta Here Naked: A Big Lebowski Burlesque" works so well. The concept is so unexpected that it's hard to wrap your head around what kind of theater you are about to witness. Bowling? Striptease? A roving band of nihilists with a pet ferret? Leave it to the Vaudezilla burlesque troupe to not only to make sense of it all, but to make it one hell of a Saturday night.
I've never really read comics. Not as a kid, not as an adult. One might think that would undercut my immersion into Redmoon's latest, an outdoor spectacle in the windows of the Museum of Contemporary Art's façade, but the remarkable thing about The Astronaut's Birthday is the warm Technicolor cloud of nostalgia it leaves in its wake. I've never read comics, I've never been into sci-fi, but as I watched this ramshackle tale fold and unfold across 18 comic book-style window panes, I felt as if I had. I began to remember rainy Saturdays, lying next to a dusty stack of flimsy pulp comics, the synthetic sounds of lasers and rockets and clashing and whirring ringing in my ears. That never happened, but that doesn't matter. There's a lot that doesn't matter here: the chilly breeze, the distant sirens, and even the story -- fittingly simple, unobtrusive, there as a vehicle for the visual. There's a reason Redmoon calls their work live spectacle.
Had I known that The Real Inspector Hound by Tom Stoppard was a play about how the efforts of critique are fruitless and irrelevant, I may not have jumped on the chance to critique it. If you're not familiar with Stoppard's story, written and produced for the first time in 1968, it's a "whodunit" play, within a commentary on the biases of critics. But there I found myself last Thursday, in the Signal Ensemble Theatre's new permanent space in North Center, being sucked into two simultaneous plays and questioning my role as a "critic" in the room.
While the 1920s Harlem Renaissance may be more well-known, Chicago's Black Renaissance has also cemented a firm place in the history of American culture. From fine arts to the literary scene to jazz, blues and gospel music, from the 1930s through the 1950s, black artistry was an undeniable presence in Chicago.
For Margaret Mahdi, founder of the Mahdi Theatre Company, this era in the city's history is an important story that should be told. In the musical play My Black Chicago, produced, written and directed by Mahdi, the history of blacks in the arts in Chicago is recognized. "As a theater company, we wanted to highlight the great trailblazers of our time; as artists, we wouldn't be able to act, sing, or dance if it weren't for them," said Mahdi.
It wasn't until I saw The Nine's raucous staging of Suburbia this past winter that I realized how irrelevant Eric Bogosian's plays have become. But while that production had its problems, it still utilized its bare-bones budget and empty playing space to breathe life into a grating, dated piece of work. The State Theatre's current production of Bogosian's Talk Radio (which is, arguably, his best and most relevant play), which follows Barry Champlain, a shock-talk DJ on the night before his popular radio show goes national, overpopulates, overcrowds, and over-conceptualizes by burying the text beneath bundles of wire, video screens, and Mac computers that have no place in a play set in 1987.
Zoe (Corri Feuerstein) kicks some ass while Sylvia (Sara Sevigny) enjoys a cocktail.
The best thing about The Factory Theater is that every production comes from original writing by ensemble members. The League of Awesome marks the first Factory writing credits for Corri Feuerstein and Sara Sevigny, who also appear in the play as Zoe and Sylvia respectively, and is the directorial debut for Matt Engle.
The storyline is typical Factory-style madcap: there is a villain afoot in the city by the name of Drake Hurtcliffe (Dan Granata), aka The Sorrowmaker, and the local cadre of superheroes -- The League of Awesome -- is out to get him. The league is a band of women: Zoe, aka The Beacon (Corri Feuerstein); Kitty, aka Cat Scratch (Erin Myers); and Rumble (Melissa Tropp). It soon becomes apparent that Sylvia, a bookworm with a drinking habit, has superpowers of her own that involve a near-photographic memory of The Hardy Boys book series. She becomes part of The League, as does her sister Penny (Angelina Martinez), who has the power to get terrible songs stuck in other people's heads, rendering them immobile.