“The Planetary Defense Force in: Crisis on Planet Earth!” provides the slimmest of sci-fi narrative trappings within which to showcase an evening of the casually costumed cast challenging select audience members. The challenge is a modified version of dodgeball. Rounds of this tournament are presented as a series of missions the Defense Force mounts against an evil cadre of interstellar schemers. Among the schemers: an affected and comically caped Brit and the timeless scourge known throughout the galaxy as an attorney. The Planetary Defense Force team members play on the side of the audience participants, and rules change as the matches roll on. Read the rest of this entry »
By Suzanne Karr Schmidt
As a relatively recent Midwesterner, I associate Chicago with outdoor festivals, pop-up art shows and street theater. And while the Berghoff’s Oktoberfest and the Christkindlmarket cater to a certain type of Germanic nostalgia, the most endearing of all Chicago traditions comes in a brightly-painted box.
Most of us have seen the Puppet Bike in action on Michigan Avenue or in Andersonville, or perhaps glimpsed it in its sadly shuttered state in between shows. It doesn’t appear much in our recently punishing winter weather, and can be reclusive in the scalding summer heat. But when serendipity is in your favor, and you happen upon the syncopating Steiff animals in their slightly tatty glory, the show is suddenly for you and you alone. You’re standing there with your mouth open, a child again for a few wonderful moments.
Actual kids love it too.
As of January, the bike has been on the street for ten years, an amazing achievement for Jason Trusty, its founder and the original puppeteer. He initially meant it as a side project that evolved out of a coffee bike concept. Trusty has kept the Puppet Bike supplied with self-nominated puppeteers over the years, a roster limited only to those able to pedal the large, increasingly rickety structure around the city. The list has even included several women. Read the rest of this entry »
Melissa Thodos and company have had several fruitful collaborations over the years, most recently with celebrated Broadway director Ann Reinking. Their winter concert reprises their most recent project together, the warmly received dance-theater piece based on the relationship between Helen Keller and her teacher Anne Sullivan, entitled “A Light in the Dark.” Thodos has worked extensively to make this performance accessible to hearing- and vision-impaired communities with discounted tickets, live audio descriptions of the show and Braille programs. The centerpiece of the program features a new collaborator, one outside the world of the performing arts. Enter architect Jeanne Gang, who, in partnership with physicist Sidney Nagel at the University of Chicago, created vacuum-supported set structures that will respond to the movements of the dancers, in a piece that seeks the intersections between science and dance. Two more pieces round out the program: “Tsuru,” a full company piece by Hubbard Street Rehearsal Director Lucas Crandall and “Panem Nostrum Quoditianum” (“Our Daily Bread”) by River North Dance company member Ahmad Simmons. (Sharon Hoyer)
At the Harris Theater, 205 East Randolph, (312)334-7777. Saturday, March 8 at 7:30pm and Sunday, March 9 at 2pm. $20-$60.
What do you get when you cross poison ivy with four-leaf clovers? A rash of good luck. What do you get if you cross an artist with a policeman? A brush with the law. What do you get when you cross farce with revenge tragedy? “Les Parents Terribles.”
Having blamed the children in his novel “Les Enfants Terribles,” Jean Maurice Eugène Clément Cocteau turns the tables on the adults in “Les Parents Terribles.” The story’s conceit is the descent into madness and disorder within an insular, highly dysfunctional family, brought about by the son’s decision to marry. This is upsetting to the mother, who is, at the very least, much too involved in her son’s life and, at the most socially horrific, his lover. This emotional coupling and its allied rejection has left the father intellectually impotent, seething with jealousy, and dreaming of revenge. The broth is kept at a constant boil by the sister of the mother, who has always been in love with the father, and attaches herself to the family as housekeeper-mensch, weaving her web and awaiting her opportunity. Unbeknownst to patriarch and progeny dueling for mother’s affection, both are bedding the same young lady. There is a great deal of weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth. Aunt lies to sister, sister lives to manipulate, father and son hide their amorous relations, aunt plots against the girlfriend, father plots against son, and if there aren’t any outright disguises, the brilliantly outlandish costumes, and sometimes lack of clothing altogether, remind us that it’s Mardi Gras-time. Read the rest of this entry »
Asskicking Amazons attempts to be many things. Unfortunately it attempts them in generally heavy-handed fashion. Its combination of social commentary, exploitation-flick trappings and soap-opera melodrama could possibly formulate an entertaining amalgam and there are hints in Chicago Mammals’ current production of what a successful combination would look like. The show is overly long and too much of the humor is aimed squarely at easy targets, such as a rightwing Texas legislature power couple who met in their youth and have stayed true to each other, their love of God and their disdain for lefties. Commendably, the show does not reserve its satire or vitriol for only one side of the political aisle.
Set in the near future, the action concerns a protest/fundraiser staged by the feminist gothic punk band of the show’s title. The fundraiser is ostensibly staged to stave off the closing of the state’s last abortion clinic. Myriad social issues are woven into the script—free assembly and free speech; reproductive rights; gender identification; religious/cult allegiance. In some scenes these issues resonate; more often they seem like surface signifiers designed to elicit expected reactions. There’s a real B-movie aesthetic going on, which provides a visual style that nicely correlates with the frequent projections (the show relies heavily on video clips which provide background and context). The dialogue also seems lifted from a B-movie script, which lends an appropriate air of voyeurism and verite, but which does not serve to illuminate the complex issues at hand. Read the rest of this entry »
Joe Penhall is a British playwright and screenwriter, best known for his play “Blue/Orange.” Exploring the dynamic of two doctors working with a schizophrenic patient, the play was awarded Best New Play at the Evening Standard Awards, Laurence Olivier Awards and at the Critics’ Circle in 2000. Penhall adapted it for television in 2005. Penhall’s play, “Love and Understanding,” premiered three years earlier and also considered the challenges of two over-worked doctors, not married but living together, who scramble to survive the reappearance into their lives of a narcissistic, sociopathic friend.
A younger contemporary of famed playwright Sir David Hare, Penhall continues the examination of the psychological underpinnings of a British society remaking itself in the aftermath of World War II. Like Hare, Penhall can place a few characters in physically claustrophobic situations where they cannot ignore each other and therefore have no choice but to make revelations to the audience, though they remain unexamined by themselves. With Chekhovian, split-second twists between dramatic and comedic dialogue, “Love and Understanding” keeps the audience riveted, holding on tightly to the theatrical rollercoaster. Read the rest of this entry »
Five or ten minutes into “Period Piece,” I had nearly resigned myself to a show with little but its heart in the right place. Then, quite noticeably and suddenly, everything else clicked into place and I was off on a spirited, intelligent and emotionally true journey through time on a rather red river of hilarity.
Our hero Tammy DuPont has placed about as many pharmacological, intellectual and emotional dams between her and her monthly magic as playwrights Jenni Lamb and Lisa Linke have placed slang menstruation terms into this frequently uproarious script. A disastrous pitch to her longtime client from Forever Feminine hygiene products, the resultant falling out with her business partner and a surprise visit from her Aunt Flo (oh, that bothersome flow) conspire to force high-powered ad-exec Tammy to rethink her bitter, dismissive attitude about her period. The catalyst for this change of heart is a family heirloom gifted by Aunt Flo: a magical sanitary napkin belt which thrusts Tammy back and forth through time. On several stops through both world and DuPont family history (which generally intersect) Tammy confronts ridiculous, debunked “expertise” on women’s health, sexist doctrine on a woman’s place and her own unresolved feelings of personal loss and shame which are increasingly revealed to be the source of her views on menstruation. Read the rest of this entry »
Heartfelt and well-intentioned though it certainly seems, “This is Not a Cure for Cancer” is not an engaging or artful piece of theater. That is not to say it is without craft nor lacking in artifice; throughout the performance, video projections, props and costume changes shift the setting and the emotional tone—in a direct, unsubtle but efficient manner. The more-than-capable large supporting cast is more than game in ensemble moments as brain cells and cancer cells and even enjoyable in individual turns as health care practitioners and game-show hosts. The disparate scenes provide cursory introductions to facets of the disease and controversies over varying treatment options. Read the rest of this entry »
Watching Lifeline Theatre’s “A Tale of Two Cities,” I found myself wondering what Charles Dickens would make of this adaptation of his novel about the French Revolution. Dickens himself was a man of the theater, and his novels often read like plays transformed into prose, brimming with dramatic exaggeration and an inimitable combination of melodrama and comedy. How hard could it be to turn the prose back into theater?
With its mixed success, this production shows that the process isn’t simple. Adapter Christopher Walsh and director Elise Kauzlaric capture the novel’s propulsive drive, the artful intricacy of its plotting, and its perfect balance and symmetry. What gets lost, however, in this tale of heroism, cruelty, romance and redemption during the best and worst of times is any sense of shading of character or complexity of situation. The adaptation—pared down of necessity and faithful to a fault—could use an occasional pause for reflection. While the story is told well, there isn’t quite enough effort to make it relevant and fully alive to today’s audience. Read the rest of this entry »
In the 1990s, television veered into new programming territory with the show “The Real World,” offering a form of entertainment for which there was little scripting or preparation, where the viewing public could watch “real” people dealing with their life’s joys, sorrows and daily challenges; reality television was born. This genre ushered in an ostensibly new form of showbiz, where we were invited to see ourselves more directly than we might when experiencing the highly structured and polished presentation of a situation comedy or a weekly, episodic dramatic series. Beautiful, charismatic and opinionated women have been the principal performers—and even producers—of many of these popular spectacles. Names such as Hilton, Richie, Osbourne and Kardashian are folded into this recipe—along with those of real housewives of several major cities—regularly “trending” on the Internet. But it is hardly a new preoccupation to award the status of “celebrity” to someone else’s next-door neighbor. Read the rest of this entry »