Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Preview: Chicago Inspired/Thodos Dance Chicago

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Photo: Cheryl Mann

Photo: Cheryl Mann

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Thodos Dance’s winter concert at the Harris gathers short rep pieces from a half dozen Chicago-based choreographers, including a new work by founder Melissa Thodos. The program includes Brian Enos’ “Lullaby,” “A Salute to Old Friends” by the iconic and groundbreaking Chicago legend Sybil Shearer, plus new works by company members John Cartwright and Tenley Dorrill. There’s also a new full company piece commissioned from Garfield Lemonius. Top billing goes to a trilogy of rarely performed short, sassy pieces by Bob Fosse, originally created for television variety shows in the 1960s. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Royal Society of Antarctica/The Gift Theatre

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Alia Peck and Paul D'Addario/Photo: Claire Demos

Alia Peck and Paul D’Addario/Photo: Claire Demos

The television series “Lost” followed people trapped on a tropical island. Primarily driven by character development, the series ran for six seasons. The Gift Theatre’s World Premiere of Mat Smart’s “The Royal Society of Antarctica” follows people trapped in a land of ice. Primarily driven by character development, the show runs for three hours.

A young woman signs on to clean toilets in Antarctica to find out what happened to her mother, who gave birth to her there and then disappeared, which, I’m guessing here, makes her a protagonist; her arrival and departure frame the three-act piece. But unless the antagonist is her father, who isn’t there, or her mother, who we presume is dead, or Antarctica itself, it’s challenging to elect that construct.

So perhaps the piece is an ensemble play. The secondary characters are extremely compelling, and some have more concrete arcs than the alleged protagonist. I’m reaching, but maybe the anti-protagonist is an Everyman character, who leads us into the story, listens to and observes the characters encountered, and emerges enlightened. Read the rest of this entry »

Lend Us a Tenor: Brandon Jovanovich Books an Unusual “Passage”

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Brandon Jovanovich/Photo: Kristen Hoebermann

Brandon Jovanovich has played heroic tenor roles here and around the world but this month is revealing two other sides of himself: playing the role of Walter, a German diplomat and husband of a former Auschwitz guard in “The Passenger,” the rediscovered Holocaust opera by Max Weinberg at Lyric Opera, and singing diverse material of his own choosing on Harris Theater’s final “Beyond the Aria” recital of the season with soprano Amber Wagner and Ryan Center baritone Will Liverman on March 10.

“It’s a heck of a piece,” says Jovanovich of “The Passenger” in his Lyric dressing room, with scores for oratorios he is also working on visible on the piano. “There is a lot of jazz in it, some swing, there’s some funk happening there. There is some dissonance but it is also transparent in a lot of spots. It’s important to let the music speak for itself and not work against it. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Yankee Tavern/American Blues Theater

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yankee3

(l to r) Darci Nalepa, Ian Paul Custer, Steve Key and Richard Cotovsky

 

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Steven Dietz’s brilliant 2008 play, beautifully realized by American Blues Theater, is about the after-effects of 9/11, a catastrophe that produced not only terror and death, but also an online galaxy of “truthers” who saw that day not as an outside attack but as an inside job. Widely dismissed and ridiculed, their counter-narrative is nevertheless potential dynamite, raising very basic questions about what is real and who can be trusted.

Richard Cotovsky is terrific as the truther Ray, a shambling, shaggily intense conspiracy buff and chronic talk-radio caller who loves to share his theories about Yoko Ono and the Bay of Pigs. He lives in the abandoned hotel above the Yankee Tavern, an un-trendy dive in lower Manhattan (convincingly rendered by designer Grant Sabin) that sports a dial telephone, a Jimmy Carter campaign poster and a jukebox that died mid-song when the first airplane slammed into the North Tower. The joint is owned by Adam (Ian Paul Custer), who’s about to celebrate both his marriage to Janet (Darci Nalepa) and his newly earned degree in international studies. A fourth character—the quietly creepy Palmer (Steve Key)—gets a drink at the bar and heads out, but not before indicating that he knows a little more than he should about… well, everything and everyone. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: It’s About Love Again This Year/RE|Dance Group

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REDance Group Its About Love image

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Michael Estanich’s newest creation for RE|Dance glides on gentle waves of sweet nostalgia and romance, ruffled at points by eddies of humor and the chop of desire. Dancers clad in ankle length dresses or button-down shirts and trousers with suspenders travel through scenes of youthful love, or perhaps more accurately, sepia-toned reflections on youthful love to Bach, birdsong and The Magnetic Fields. In the background, a great monument of peeling wallpaper stands as a symbol of memory and quiet reminder of time as the backdrop to fleeting human emotion. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Dunsinane/Chicago Shakespeare Theater

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Siobhan Redmond/Photo: Richard Campbell.

Siobhan Redmond/Photo: Richard Campbell

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David Greig’s “Dunsinane” is a play playing three different games at once. The first game is that the play is a kinda-sorta sequel to Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” The second game is that it is kinda-sorta a parable for the US and UK’s nation-building misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. The third game is that “Dunsinane” is most definitely a look inward at the Scottish national character. A ballad for a conquered nation, it trains a sharp critical eye at the motivations of the conquerors and an even sharper one at its own—oftentimes bloody—refusal to be conquered. I can imagine many a production of this play that would not be able to win all three games at once. But the National Theatre of Scotland, in partnership with the Royal Shakespeare Company, delivers one that sweeps the board; and thanks to Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s World’s Stage program it’s doing so at Navy Pier this month. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: On Golden Pond/Theatre at the Center

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Dennis Kelly and Luke Michael Klein/Photo: Bridgit Earnshaw

Dennis Kelly and Luke Michael Klein/Photo: Bridgit Earnshaw

The legacy of the 1981 film version of “On Golden Pond,” with iconic, Oscar-winning performances by Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn, weighs heavily on the heads of the actors who take on the roles of Norman and Ethel Thayer, and the theater mounting the production. With Henry’s daughter Jane playing the Thayer’s daughter Chelsea, the two were afforded the unique opportunity to play out characters and situations that mirrored their famously troubled relationship. Jane, who purchased the rights to Ernest Thompson’s play, accepted the Oscar on her bedridden father’s behalf; within months, Henry was dead.

Theatre at the Center opens its twenty-fifth anniversary season with “On Golden Pond.” Dennis Kelly and Ami Silvestre, married in real life, essay the roles of Norman and Ethel. Young Luke Michael Klein’s Billy muffles his strong heart with bravado, yet is easily disarmed by unconditional acceptance; the best scenes in the show are those played by Klein and Kelly.  As Bill, Dan Rodden reveals just the right amount of backbone, wrapped in kindness and humanity. Norm Boucher takes a cheerful stab at the mailman Charlie, but his accent is a fair-weather friend. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Alonzo King LINES Ballet/Harris Theater

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LINES-Meyer

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The power, reedy elegance and remarkable precision of LINES Ballet returns to the Harris in two weeknight programs. On Wednesday, the San Francisco-based company participates in the Harris’ wallet-friendly happy-hour series Eat + Drink to the Beat, performing King’s nod to ballet history and the emergence of neoclassicism, “Concerto for Two Violins,” along with his newest work “Shostakovich.” Thursday evening is a full program that includes the gorgeous, technically intricate and emotionally transcendent “Writing Ground,” set to music from various religious traditions and inspired by the poetry of Colum McCann. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Four/Jackalope Theatre

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Michael  Kurowski and Robert Howard/Photo: Joel Maisonet

Michael Kurowski and Robert Howard/Photo: Joel Maisonet

Christopher Shinn’s “Four” first premiered in 1998 and over a decade later it seems very much a product of its time. First of all there’s the setting: Hartford, 1996, the Fourth of July. But there’s also a tone and an approach to its characters that calls to mind the nineties indie film scene. It’s a languidness of pace, a chattiness to the dialogue, the sense that something’s on the horizon but even when it gets here it might not break the surface.

Director Nate Silver does a capable job of tapping into these subsumed desires but he never encourages the play to breach its own still waters. His production for Jackalope Theatre is well-staged, well-acted, well-designed but on the whole it remains rather inert. It slowly goes limp when it should climax. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Book of Merman/Pride Films and Plays

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(l-r) Sam Button-Harrison, Dan Gold, Libby Lane/Photo: Pride Films & Plays

Sam Button-Harrison, Dan Gold, Libby Lane

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After a successful run at Mary’s Attic, Pride Films and Plays has relocated “The Book of Merman” to the Apollo Theater Studio. The extremely intimate space is terrific for a show that has only three performers. However, for a show that is based upon a woman whose primary vocal quality was “Loud,” as pointed out in a number of pre-show videos of Ethel Merman’s television performances, the space may seem a bit cramped.

While Libby Lane’s portrayal of theater’s great belter may be missing a bit on the volume side of things, she captures the sound and attitude of the musical legend. I’m guessing that David Zak directs Lane to approach the part by sacrificing some decibels as a favor to the audience, and in order to present a more melodious sound. The melodies themselves are easily recognized as poor-man’s versions of songs from “Gypsy” and “Annie Get Your Gun.” The production can’t actually use the original tunes, but these altered versions are amusingly familiar. Because the show is poking fun at “The Book of Mormon,” the first words in the production are naturally “Hello! Hello!” And from that point on, the lyrics tend toward the clever, providing constant laughs throughout. Read the rest of this entry »