Greg Geffrard, TayLar, Angela Alise, Ronnell Taylor, Tiffany Renee Johnson
By Loy Webb
“This is turning into a therapy session,” says actress Angela Alise as she wipes the tears from her eyes. “Which it always does with Erasing the Distance,” Erasing the Distance (ETD) founder Brighid O’Shaughnessy responds, laughing at the aftermath her heartfelt answer has created.
It’s that kind of sincerity and empathy that has made ETD more than a theater company and into a reservoir of healing for individuals dealing directly and indirectly with mental illness.
This “therapy session” started when O’Shaughnessy described her encounter with a young woman named Marlena. Read the rest of this entry »
The Moth GrandSLAM 1: Into the Wild
Starting a show by making audacious promises to the audience—you will laugh, you will be amazed, etc.—is usually a misguided path to disaster. But host/MC Don Hall came off as more soothsayer than bloviator as The Moth Chicago GrandSLAM delivered on all accounts. The Moth storytelling series is a well-known mainstay to the Chicago area, with shows every couple weeks at Martyrs and Haymarket. The format is fairly simple: story tellers put their name in a hat, and those drawn get five minutes to tell a story compatible with that evening’s theme. But the GrandSLAM serves as a special event held a few times throughout the year, with the purpose of pitting ten Moth winners against each other for the grand prize of bragging rights. Three sets of judges—including a group of former Moth GrandSLAM winners, members from local LGBTQ storytellers OUTspoken and a randomly selected crew of audience members—scored each story on unspecified criteria. The theme was “Mea Culpa.” Read the rest of this entry »
By Loy Webb
“I choose to reflect the times and situations in which I find myself. That to me is my duty. How can you be an artist and not reflect the times?” A poignant question raised by the iconic songstress Nina Simone, whose music encapsulated the pain, beauty, brilliance and proud blackness of an entire generation during the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements.
Simone was a purveyor of truth and hope during those turbulent times and her impact is unparalleled. However, she’s gone now and as times change and more problems plague our nation, new artists must step up to take on the “artist’s duty,” as Miss Simone dubs it, and reflect the current times.
One playwright, Reginald Edmund, has stepped up to that challenge. His writing persona, uncompromising in truth and unapologetic to whom it might offend, is a complete 360 to his quiet, almost shy personality. Writing is his safe place and thus the obvious method of response to the second-wave Civil Rights Movement, as he calls it.
Feeling helpless after seeing the events in Ferguson, yet inspired by the political and social action that resulted across the country from such atrocities, he felt the need to do something and include other artists as well. That effort turned into “Black Lives, Black Words,” a ten-minute-play reading series where some of the most political contemporary black playwrights explore the question “Do black lives matter today?” Read the rest of this entry »
Playwright Aline Lathrop with director Hutch Pimentel
Polarity Ensemble Theatre’s eighth Dionysos Cup Festival of New Plays, featuring four plays written by local playwrights, began last night at the Greenhouse Theater Center.
Originated in 2006 by artistic director Richard Engling and Polarity’s co-founder Ann Keen, the annual Dionysos Cup highlights four plays from Chicago-area playwrights, which are performed twice over a two-week period.
This year’s Dionysos Cup plays, selected from a pool of around seventy submissions, are “widely divergent” in subject matter, according to Engling. On the program are “Leavings” by Gail Parrish, “…And Eat It Too” by Aline Lathrop, “Girl Found” by Barbara Lhota and “The Charisma of Flying Saucers” by Mary Beth Hoerner. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Courtesy of Paul Gemignani
By Dennis Polkow
“You know, you should start thinking about symphonic suites from your shows because you’re going to need them someday,” conductor and longtime Stephen Sondheim collaborator Paul Gemignani recalls telling Sondheim early on. “He knew that we would need them, but he would not sit down and write them.”
Sondheim, whose initial success was as a lyricist with Leonard Bernstein in “West Side Story” and Jule Styne in “Gypsy,” composed his own music to go with his own lyrics in “A Funny Thing Happened On the Way to the Forum.” From that show on—with the exception of writing lyrics for Richard Rodgers’ “Do I Hear A Waltz?” after the death of Rodgers’ partner and Sondheim’s mentor Oscar Hammerstein II—Sondheim would be the composer and lyricist for a string of shows that managed to revolutionize the Broadway musical.
“He’s one of these people that comes along every so often, like a Gershwin or a Rodgers, someone you can learn a lot from if you’re a composer or if you’re a musician like me. And in this man’s case, not only is he a musician, but he’s a poet. That, to me, makes him very unique.”
Despite his reputation as a lyricist, Gemignani insists that Sondheim’s musical prowess is no less formidable. “I started out with him where people said, ‘He writes great lyrics, but he can’t write a melody.’ Are you kidding me? He is a dramatist who writes to character completely. If you listen to all these musicals he wrote, tell me that the same man wrote ‘Company’ that wrote ‘Into the Woods.’ Tell me that that same man who wrote ‘Follies’ wrote ‘Pacific Overtures.’ They don’t even sound alike. That is the most unique thing about him. It’s like he’s the Shakespeare of music. Read the rest of this entry »
Kyle Zornes and Michael Patrick Thornton
The Gift Theatre announced Monday the addition of nine new playwrights, directors and actors to their ensemble, expanding the group to thirty-one full-fledged members.
The new ensemble members include playwrights Will Eno and Laura Marks; actors Cyd Blakewell, Darci Nalepa, Keith Neagle, Mary Ann Thebus and Kyle Zornes; and directors Marti Lyons and Erica Weiss.
“We’ve been collaborating with the folks consistently for the last few years,” the Gift’s artistic director Michael Patrick Thornton said. “They’re already a part of our family.” Read the rest of this entry »
Mary Beth Fisher and Janet Ulrich Brooks/Photo: Liz Lauren
By Elle Metz
Last year saw a surge of a certain type of film, the mid-life crisis, coming-home movie (see: “The Judge,” “This is Where I Leave You,” or “Are You Here” for examples). The plot, while differing slightly from film to film, follows a similar path: a financially stable but emotionally stunted middle-aged adult is called home (usually for a parent’s funeral) where they’re faced with old romances, disgruntled siblings and a crisis of conscience. Inevitably, their time at home shows them the error of their ways and realigns their priorities.
Starting this month, this story—only fresher and funnier—is coming to the stage at the Goodman Theatre in the form of Christopher Durang’s Tony award-winning play “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike.” The play’s director, Steve Scott, is a prolific Chicago-based director, whose other productions at the Goodman include “Blind Date,” “Dinner with Friends,” “Wit” and the 2011 and 2012 editions of “A Christmas Carol.” To him, “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” reflects his own increasingly confused perspective on the world. Read the rest of this entry »
Emilio Estefan, Gloria Estefan, Ana Villafañe and Josh Segarra/Photo: Bruce Glikas
By Dennis Polkow
Gloria Estefan has made an international career out of singing and dancing, the very essence of what happens in a Broadway musical. As such, it might seem she would be a natural to play herself in “On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan,” which is having its pre-Broadway world premiere performances in Chicago.
“I’m too old,” Estefan admits. “The span of time is me between seventeen and thirty-two, which is the age I was when I had my accident and broke my back and they said I would probably never walk again, let alone perform.
“And it’s kind of weird to play yourself. You know, it’s funny, my daughter is an amazing singer and she’s at Berklee College of Music and is just stepping out. Everybody is saying ‘Oh my God, she should play you,’ because she’s like my clone, this little girl. Ridiculous pipes, she plays every instrument, she’s an amazing drummer, so musical. Her reaction was, ‘Mom, I’d have to kiss Dad!’ She’s not in the play as a character because she didn’t exist at the time that we’re covering in the play. But it’s fantastic to me that she co-wrote an original tune that’s a pivotal scene in the play that is very emotional.” Read the rest of this entry »
Top row from left: Behzad Dabu, Todd Garcia, Emjoy Gavino, Barbara Robertson
Bottom row from left: Yunuen Pardo, Anthony Fleming III, Delia Kropp, Michael Patrick Thornton
Middle: Charin Alvarez, Bryan Bosque
By Mary Kroeck
Emjoy Gavino, Michael Patrick Thornton and Chay Yew are familiar names in the Chicago theater circuit. Gavino is a teaching artist with Barrel of Monkeys, ensemble member of Remy Bumppo and was recently in Court Theatre’s world premiere of “The Good Book.” Thornton had a recurring role on the television show “Private Practice” and is a Jeff Award-winning actor who recently appeared in Lookingglass’ production of “Title and Deed.” Yew is an Obie Award-winning director and the artistic director of Victory Gardens. Individually, these three have impressive resumes. However, one challenge they, and many others in and out of the theater profession, have struggled with, is how to create a more inclusive and diverse environment within the city of Chicago for artists to grow. So, along with other members of the theater community, Victory Gardens and the League of Chicago Theatres are joining together to launch The Chicago Inclusion Project.
“We have exceptional African-American theater companies and Latino companies and LGBTQ companies, but it’s rare for all these different, vibrant communities to have the chance to share the same stage or even be considered for the same project,” says Gavino, The Chicago Inclusion Project’s founder and producer. “That’s our aim. That’s why this initiative is necessary.” Read the rest of this entry »
Ricky Ian Gordon
By Dennis Polkow
Composer Ricky Ian Gordon has written instrumental music over the years, but “there’s no getting around it,” he admits, “I’m most excited by the voice. My mother was a singer, I was her accompanist and a lot of what making music is about to me is my relationship with my mother. Also, when I was eight years old, I became obsessed with opera. But then, I was also obsessed with Joni Mitchell and the Beatles: I was obsessed with words through music. I’m less inclined to go to a symphonic concert than I am to go to the opera. I’m a man of the theater.”
Gordon was writing musical theater pieces early on, “When I thought that musical theater was going in a particular direction. At one point when I was a kid, ‘The Consul’ was done on Broadway. ‘Porgy and Bess’ was done on Broadway—not the recent version that Audra McDonald did, but the actual opera was done on Broadway. Stephen Sondheim’s shows had full orchestras when they originally premiered and were very musically sophisticated. If you listen to Audra McDonald’s first CD, ‘Way Back to Paradise,’ I think it gives you a sense of where we as composers thought the musical theater was going. But that didn’t happen.” Read the rest of this entry »