Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: Waiting for Godot/Court Theatre

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(front) Allen Gilmore and Alfred Wilson. (back) Anthony Lee Irons and AC Smith/Photo: Michael Brosilow

(front) Allen Gilmore and Alfred Wilson. (back) Anthony Lee Irons and AC Smith/Photo: Michael Brosilow

RECOMMENDED

Samuel Beckett’s “Godot,” as presented by the Court Theatre’s resident artist Ron OJ Parson, has all of the existential tremble without the hard edges of complete despair. Quite the opposite of dark turtlenecks and French cigarettes, Parson’s all-black cast offers an array of emotional leads that highlights the most compelling aspects of the script’s humor. The overall themes are still there: Beckett’s unique view of the world as absurd with no meaning or purpose; the human condition; resilience in relationship; others as hell; it’s all still there. But it is sewn tightly under real embedded comedy and drama, foregoing the usual blend of high allusion and close reads, mixed together brilliantly by Estragon (Alfred H. Wilson) and Vladimir (the wise veteran Allen Gilmore) who employ both classy wit and bountiful rancor. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Circle-Machine/Oracle Theatre

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Photo: Joe Mazza

Photo: Joe Mazza

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Anyone looking for a primer on the kind of work that Oracle Theatre does would be well-served by seeing “Circle-Machine.” Steeped in the language of the European stage, “Circle-Machine” is an epic fable that sits very comfortably in the storefront company’s rhetorically populist but stylistically expressionist wheelhouse. It is, get ready for it, an original adaptation by Emma Stanton, Nigel O’Hearn and director Thom Pasculli of the Charles Mee play “Full Circle,” which is itself an adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s “The Caucasian Chalk Circle” which is itself an adaption of Li Qianfu’s fourteenth-century play, “Chalk Circle.” It is also a treat. Read the rest of this entry »

Sponsored: Steppenwolf Video of the Week (Marie Antoinette Photoshoot Teaser)

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We had so much fun at the photoshoot for MARIE ANTOINETTE, we decided to make a video to share! Check out the fine work of photographer Saverio Truglia with ensemble member Alana Arenas posing as Marie.Wardrobe provided by Ikram. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Selfish Giant/Chicago Children’s Theatre

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Photo: Joe Mazza

Photo: Joe Mazza

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Winter can be rough for parents and their children. Snow and cold and sniffles lock them inside for weeks or months, with only intermittent sledding sessions or the occasional pizza party to bridge the gaps. Even in the Netflix age, most of the entertainment options are a drag; over-produced, high-fructose-infused CGI sequels and spinoffs abound. Just as the holidays have faded and the dog days of winter have descended, Chicago Children’s Theatre’s revival of the 2008 hit “The Selfish Giant” is a welcome preview of the thaw ahead.

Co-creators Blair Thomas and Michael Smith have returned their papier-mache and carved wooden actors to the stage and the result is a ripe, sun-kissed peach blossom of a production. Thomas, whose inaugural Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival wrapped during “Giant”’s opening weekend, has handed the puppeteering duties to the youthful and magnetic Samuel Deutsch. Joining him onstage are lyricist and performer Smith and a cadre of puppet actors in all shapes and sizes, from an eight-foot-tall giant to delicate marionettes of the village children. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Rapture, Blister, Burn

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Mary Ann Thebus, Karen Janes Woditsch, Cassidy Slaughter-Mason and Jennifer Coombs/Photo: Liz Lauren

Mary Ann Thebus, Karen Janes Woditsch, Cassidy Slaughter-Mason and Jennifer Coombs/Photo: Liz Lauren

At one point in the first act, twenty-one-year-old Avery Willard (played with comic bravado and youthful vulnerability by Cassidy Slaughter-Mason) explains her lack of interest in “First-wave Feminism” by saying that suffrage for women is so obvious and beyond debate today that it’s not worth discussing. That notion unintentionally summarizes the basic problem with “Rapture, Blister, Burn,” a Pulitzer finalist by Gina Gionfriddo in a Chicago premiere directed by Kimberly Senior: the conflict it is supposedly concerned with, as explored in Betty Friedan’s “Feminine Mystique” fifty years ago, seems similarly antiquated. I’m not a woman, so consider that a caveat. But the idea that women have just two binary choices in life, to either forego career and any kind of personal fulfillment in order to play housewife and mother, or to pursue a successful career and be destined to a life as a lonely old maid, might have had currency back in the eighties heyday of Phyllis Schlafly, a long-forgotten retrograde who is reverently resurrected herein, but is a simplistic (and in its simplicity, demeaning) conversation today. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Sorry/TimeLine Theatre Company

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David Parkes, Mike Nussbaum, Mechelle Moe and Juliet Hart/Photo: Lara Goetsch

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“Sorry” is the third play in playwright Richard Nelson’s four-part cycle “The Apple Family Plays,” which mixes contemporary political history with the story of a looming family tragedy. The action in “Sorry” takes place in Rhinebeck, New York, in 2012, on Election Day morning. (The first play in the cycle, “That Hopey Changey Thing,” is also set in Rhinebeck, taking place in 2010, at the mid-term elections.)

I don’t deny Nelson’s longueurs are more interesting than the crises and climaxes of ninety-nine percent of other plays, but “Sorry” disappointed me. Not because I expected the sarcastic witticisms, jokes, stories and sight-gags in “Hopey Changey” that broke the tension and moved the action forward so cleverly, but because twenty minutes in, I saw that the playwright had miscalculated. Nelson begins with an earnest, sincere, drawn-out attempt to invest his hour-and fifty-minute-long play with a John Gabriel Borkman atmosphere of impending tragedy—the committal of Uncle Benjy (Mike Nussbaum) to an assisted living residence. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: That Hopey Changey Thing/TimeLine Theatre Company

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(l to r) Mechelle Moe, Mike Nussbaum, Janet Ulrich Brooks and Juliet Hart/Photo: Lara Goetsch

Mechelle Moe, Mike Nussbaum, Janet Ulrich Brooks and Juliet Hart/Photo: Lara Goetsch

RECOMMENDED

In his funny, wise family drama set in Rhinebeck, New York, playwright Richard Nelson blends Dreiser’s naturalism with Chekhov’s impressionistic allusiveness to show us that politics and open family secrets resist honest discussion as firmly as they did in the 1890s, when Chekhov sketched the charm, the disillusionment, the irrelevance of the Russian upper classes. Listening to the intelligent, frustrated Apple family discuss endlessly and hopelessly the American political stalemate of the last seven years, one can’t help wondering, are we doomed to repeat the fate of the Russian rural gentry?

In place of real conversation, Nelson seems to say, in place of informed judgments tempered by the study of history and by ideals of civilized discourse, instead of wisdom founded on reading and reflection (the only thing that sparks “innovation”), we liberals offer ideas just as conventional, poses just as self-indulgent and self-righteous, formulas just as dead, as the prattle of the super-patriots on the other end of the political spectrum.

Nelson gives his audience a tough mouthful to swallow. We’ve all abused Sarah Palin, whose words inspired the title of Nelson’s drama. Yes, Palin cultivates a truculent, insolent ignorance that begs opponents to despise her, but that’s no excuse. Nelson deftly turned my ears red with embarrassment. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Short Shakespeare! Macbeth/Chicago Shakespeare Theater

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Photo: Liz Lauren

Photo: Liz Lauren

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Covetousness, fueled by ambition and greed, drives the plot of Shakespeare’s tragedy “Macbeth,” where Scotland’s political system is upended twice, with murder the tool to power, and madness in its wake. Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy, with a potential run-time as long as three hours not counting intervals, has been trimmed to an unstoppable seventy-five-minute banquet of blood by director Kirsten Kelly, and if the speed of this production requires Macbeth to race to madness so quickly that we lose some of his everyman-quality, and if Lady Macbeth is perfectly bonkers from her first entrance, the sheer swiftness of Kelly’s roller-coaster ride is so gripping that we’re happy to wait for a more psychological production next time, when the design isn’t geared for presentation to younger audiences. Princes and henchmen and murderers race up and down the aisles of the theater, swords drawn and battle-cries piercing. Whispered plotting and heralded assassination land in the audience’s lap and violent moments are staged to be as age-friendly as possible. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Tosca/Lyric Opera of Chicago

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Evgeny Nikitin and Brian Jagde/Photo: Todd Rosenberg

Evgeny Nikitin and Brian Jagde/Photo: Todd Rosenberg

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Puccini’s score for “Tosca” is chock-full of thrilling moments. The crashing opening chords introduce us to Angelotti, whose escape from prison drives the plot. We don’t wait long for Cavaradossi’s throbbing ode to his love, “Recondita armonia.” Tosca’s calls of “Mario! Mario!” are heard from offstage, and by then we are completely beguiled, awaiting the “Te Deum” that ends Act I, as bone-shaking and brain-numbing as any rock concert.

In Lyric’s production, the less familiar music of Act I is enlightened by soprano Tatiana Serjan’s Tosca and tenor Brian Jagde’s Cavaradossi. They chase each other up and down scaffolding, play-fighting like children, and then suddenly confessing love that cannot be moved. Both are attractive, consummate actors, and bring a freshness to their portrayals.

Serjan’s soprano seemed more lyrical than might be expected for Tosca. She has enjoyed repeated success in this role, and ventures into the dramatic soprano repertoire. Her “Vissi d’arte” is a thing of loveliness and pain, beautifully spun. Perhaps I would have been able to appreciate this voice more fully if conductor Dmitri Jurowski, making his Lyric debut, had not indulged himself with our fine orchestra to the point that I frequently could not hear her. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Giordano Dance Chicago/Auditorium Theatre

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Photo courtesy Gorman Cook

Photo courtesy Gorman Cook

RECOMMENDED

The Auditorium Theatre’s “Made in Chicago” series—part of the programing for the 125th anniversary season—has opened the historic, gold-rimmed stage to a couple hometown companies for the first time; to Thodos Dance last fall and, this month, to Giordano Dance Chicago, a company that has been performing high-octane jazz dance for almost half as long as the Adler and Sullivan treasure has been standing. The one-night program includes several pieces from Giordano’s fall program—resident choreographer Autumn Eckman’s sexy, finely honed duet “Alloy,” Roni Koresh’s hard driving, militant “Exit4,” and Ray Leeper’s big Broadway-esque show stopper “Feelin’ Good Sweet”—along with a premiere of a new work by Ray Mercer, former dancer with Deeply Rooted and winner of the Joffrey’s Choreographers of Color Award. Mercer’s full company work, entitled “Shirt Off My Back,” explores how we sometimes give too much in our relationships, be they intimate, platonic or filial. Read the rest of this entry »