Sometimes the title of a show can give you some clear direction as to its content (“Death of a Salesman,” “Hedwig and the Angry Inch,” “Conversations on a Homecoming”). Other times the title is intentionally opaque (“Blood on the Cat’s Neck,” “Pink Milk,” “Simpatico”). But sometimes, oh sometimes, the title of a show can literally tell you exactly what that show is and exactly what’s to be expected. Up until this weekend I thought “Old Jews Telling Jokes” was the best example of this last kind of show I had seen. But Bucket List Productions and Room Escape Adventures have done them one better with “Trapped in a Room With a Zombie.”
What happens in this show you ask? Come on, you don’t really ask that do you? Not with that title you don’t. But I’ll give you the rundown anyway. In this interactive production you (and up to eleven other people) find yourselves locked in the laboratory of a brilliant doctor whose latest experiment has gone horribly awry, resulting in her transformation into one of those undead things we’ve heard so much about over the last few years. And she’s hungry and searching for fresh meat. Luckily for you and your group, she’s chained to a wall and has a very limited reach. However, over the course of this sixty-minute adventure there’s a buzzer that sounds every five minutes, signaling that her chain will now extend an additional foot, giving her further reach into the room and giving you less free room to maneuver your way around. Read the rest of this entry »
Marc Kelly Smith/Photo by Mike Kadela
Marc Kelly Smith is one of the most natural, purely comfortable actors on the stage. It’s a joy to see, and it comes across immediately, this intense ease that allows him to dip into his rich palate of emotional engagement and paint a canvas of real human strife—love, regret, sustained longing and anger. He capitalizes on this loudest of emotions in a way that is reminiscent of Timothy Edward Kane’s recent full-throttled portrayal of Hector in “An Iliad.” Smith is in touch with his own brand of divine rage, but in a way that also speaks to the southeast Chicago native in him, where a grandfather, or father perhaps, would lay one too many harsh hands down on the kid. An Archie Bunker (“All in the Family”) with a stick sort of scene. This all comes through in his ninety-minute show, “Flea Market.”
Marc Kelly Smith is a Chicago icon. He is the poetry slam founder who started an international movement. The artist Tony Fitzpatrick introduced him at the Cultural Center a couple of years ago saying, “He has changed the way poetry is understood.” At the Society of Midland Authors last April, Guggenheim chairman and Chicagoan Edward Hirsch leaned into Smith and said, “You’ve created something really beautiful.” Writer Stuart Dybek turned to his novelist son, Nick Dybek, when Smith was recently performing poetry and said, “He’s the best performer.” In one of the great essays written about Smith and the poetry slam, “The Second Throat,” award-winning poet Patricia Smith wrote, “Darting about the theater, his eyes meaningfully manic, Marc Kelly Smith did what he’s always done so masterfully—he dropped like fuel on a fire that, up until then, everyone thought had been contained.” Currently, he runs the longest-running show in Chicago at the Green Mill every Sunday. Because of this, his own art is often left behind. Which is remarkable, because he’s the most talented one in the bunch. Read the rest of this entry »
The Santaland Diaries at Theater Wit
By Zach Freeman
As any denizen of the theater who’s been in this town for any amount of time knows, Chicago DOES theater. With more than 250 active theater companies and a constantly growing number of venues, if you can’t find a good show to attend on any given night, you’re just doing it wrong. And this holiday season Chicago is really throwing down the gauntlet of performance options with more than forty (yes, you read that right) holiday shows. And yes, almost all of them are Christmas-related. In fact, there are almost a dozen versions of “A Christmas Carol” alone.
But Chicago is a diverse city and our theater companies reflect that. We’re not talking about several dozen versions of the same old stuff, we’re talking about more than forty completely different takes on the holiday season. It’s a lot for any one person to take in, so we thought we’d help you determine which show (or shows) you should be seeing over the next month or so to get yourself into the appropriate holiday mood (whatever that means for you).
We can’t list them all, but here are twenty to get you started. Here we go… Read the rest of this entry »
Image courtesy of Aurora Nova Productions
By Robert Eric Shoemaker
“White Rabbit, Red Rabbit” is a solo piece with no rehearsals, no set and almost no readily available information about it. For its short run of performances at the MCA, co-sponsored by the Chicago Humanities Festival, there are four possible, and very notable, actors lined up for the single role: Usman Ally, Fawzia Mirza, Yasen Peyankov or Michael Shannon. Audience members will have to go to all of the performances to guarantee seeing the one they prefer, because there is no advance notice about who will be going onstage when. In fact, the actors themselves hardly know what is going on.
As Steppenwolf ensemble member Yasen Peyankov bluntly puts it, “I only know what is available through the official website. I will receive written instructions from Mr. Soleimanpour [Nassim Soleimanpour, the play's creator] a few days before the reading and I will be handed the script when I arrive at MCA the day of my reading. I have no other knowledge of the script and I am not supposed to and I will not contact any of the other performers before my performance.”
Read the rest of this entry »
This weekend I watched “Fast & Furious 6,” alternately gaping, cheering and shaking my head in disbelief at scene after scene of various insane stunts that Dom and his team of impossibly awesome drivers effortlessly pull off. “Oh come on,” I would whisper, grinning stupidly despite myself, “that doesn’t make any sense!” Tonight at “Cirque Shanghai: Dragon’s Thunder,” as a fifth motorcyclist entered into a golden contraption referred to as the “Globe of Death,” my friend turned to me and said those exact words. And she was totally right. Read the rest of this entry »
Young Jean Lee/Photo: Blaine Davis
By Zach Freeman
As a twenty-six-year old graduate student studying Shakespeare at Berkeley and working on her dissertation, a frustrated Young Jean Lee, fed up with academia, went to a therapist for help. The therapist started by posing a question to Lee that she was told to answer off the top of her head: “What do you want to do with your life?” Lee was so shocked by her own response (“I want to be a playwright.”) that she asked the therapist for a do-over. Recounting the moment later, Lee jokes that, “If you’re studying Shakespeare and you say that you want to be a playwright and you have no experience playwriting, it’s like being a veterinarian and saying that you want to be a dog.”
Still, over the last decade, the Korean-American Lee has managed to make more than a name for herself in the world of experimental theater, she’s won Obies and created an oeuvre of provocative, high-profile pieces that defy easy categorization. Among others, there’s “The Shipment,” a “Black identity politics show” (her words), “Church,” a surprisingly earnest exploration of Christianity and “We’re Gonna Die,” a show about that one thing that every single living human has in common (hint: see title). Read the rest of this entry »
“What the hell is Mike Tyson gonna do up here on stage tonight?”
This is the thought that Tyson attributes to every member of the audience early on in “Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth.” And from the rowdy reaction of the large collection of fans and other interested parties gathered in the Cadillac Palace Theatre Friday night for the first of a two-night stint in Chicago for this traveling one-man show that has already run on Broadway and in Las Vegas, it seems he knows how to read a crowd.
So, does this show, in fact, consist only of the “undisputed truth?” Well, anything you say is undisputed when you’re speaking into a microphone and there’s no one else on stage to argue with you. And whether everything Tyson says during the course of the evening is undisputable or not is not the point. Undoubtedly former boxer Mitch Green and Tyson’s ex-wife Robin Givens would relish a chance to tell their sides of some particularly juicy stories.
But “Undisputed Truth,” written by Tyson’s wife Kiki Tyson and directed by Spike Lee, is more of a confessional autobiography, a subjective recounting of personal stories in an undisputedly intriguing life, than it is an argument for absolute truth. In fact, the title that Tyson jokingly declares he originally wanted to give the show—“Boxing, Bitches and Lawsuits”—may actually be more appropriate. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Lucy Cash
“The biggest surprise is how much it’s running on its own,” muses Mark Jeffery, performance/installation artist, SAIC professor and curator of a sprawling and ambitious multi-venue performance series taking place across Chicago this winter. This week marks the halfway mark of the third iteration of the biannual performance festival IN>TIME. The first two incarnations in 2008 and 2010, co-curated with Sara Schnadt, were produced by the Cultural Center. When that producer lost her job, along with spades of others at the Department of Cultural Affairs, Jeffery was inspired to cast a wider net for the next IN>TIME and work with multiple venues. Quickly it became clear that many Chicago institutions already devoted to producing performance were enthused to “fold IN>TIME’s work into their programs,” making Jeffery realize how much sustainability for this kind of programming was already built into these sites, from the MCA to threewalls gallery, the Hyde Park Art Center, Links Hall, 6018 North, the Red Rover Series and almost a dozen others involved this year. “What we’re discovering,” Jeffery says, who argues strongly for the position of Chicago as a destination for performance, “is that performance has arrived.” Read the rest of this entry »
How far will an outside producer go in dropping crucial elements in transposing an outside production to Chicago? How much will be lost in making the transition, particularly when it comes from New York?
When it comes to the “Radio City Christmas Spectacular,” apparently quite a bit. The show had always been performed here with some half the number of Rockettes seen at Radio City and with canned music versus the live orchestra that one can experience in New York. But in bringing the show back to the area for the first time in four years, elements that nonetheless made the show, well, spectacular, are noticeably absent this year. Read the rest of this entry »
Performing in a fashionably nostalgic parlor room at the Palmer House Hilton downtown, magician Dennis Watkins—star of the House Theatre’s wildly popular “Death and Harry Houdini”—presents an intimate night of misdirection and sleight of hand. Read the rest of this entry »