Simone Lazar/Photo: Cole Simon
The circus has come to Evanston. Actually, it never left; The Actors Gymnasium has been teaching the circus arts in Evanston for almost twenty years. Their latest endeavor, “The Magical Exploding Boy,” is more a showcase of the professional and emerging talents making up the Actors Gymnasium (the program credits five professional artists and four times as many students) than an actual play.
The very loose plot here centers on Dean Evans (a veteran clown who has performed his art extensively in Chicago and New York City) trying (and failing) to make it in the corporate world. Evans, performing mostly as a mime and without makeup, is very amusing in his drift downward. His everyman looks and surprisingly subtle facial expressions go a long way in emphasizing the absurd. Will Howard plays the strong man who, literally, lifts Evans up from time to time. The two of them play well off one another and coax many laughs out of little more than just being on stage together. Tying things together somewhat is the wise, hobo clown Lindsey Noel Whiting who, armed with a ukulele, sings quirky, original songs that drive the production forward. The story still does not always make sense, but to paraphrase one of the songs, the plot points don’t always have to add up. This is a circus act after all; it only has to entertain. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
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 »
“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 »
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 »
Photo: Paul Natkin
Opening with a string of guys diving through hoops and closing with an insanely impressive spectacle by the Chinese motorcycle troupe “Imperial Thunder,” this show forgoes any form of forced plot development to focus on seventy-five minutes of nonstop acrobatics, juggling and generally amazing feats—all staged in front of a backdrop of twinkling stars that constantly shift from one color to another. Read the rest of this entry »
Calling itself the “metropolitan” version of “A Prairie Home Companion,” this monthly live radio-show-cum-podcast takes what Garrison Keillor has been doing for decades and adapts it for a younger, hipper crowd, throwing in more laughs (and more swearing). Led with a mix of wide-eyed earnestness and subtle cynicism by artistic director and head writer Matt Lyle, “The City Life Supplement” even has its very own Lake Wobegone: the fictional north Chicago neighborhood of Ravens Park, where you can get a five-dollar haircut from a Serbian named Milos or listen to your favorite hipster soap opera “As the World Sighs” (set in Wicker Park, natch). Read the rest of this entry »
Anyone who grew up in the western suburbs since the 1920s knows about “Peabody’s Tomb,” as Mayslake was referred to for decades. The sprawling, wooded estate was built by coal baron Francis S. Peabody who died suddenly on the property while hunting in 1922 and was buried in an ornate chapel built right on the spot where he fell.
Peabody’s thirty-room Tudor mansion became a Catholic retreat house run by the Franciscan order called the Mayslake Retreat Center. But the mansion and surrounding property was considered haunted and it became a common dare to sneak onto the property and get a glimpse of Peabody in his glass coffin, urban legend said, with his money surrounding him, but not to be caught by the monks who monitored the property and who would make trespassers pray on their knees on a cold floor all night in the chapel.
“Searching for Peabody’s Tomb” takes all of this local lore and turns it into an interactive tour through the memorable mansion itself in search of the tomb of the man who occupied it some ninety years ago now.
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After its debut performance last year at the Odeum Sports & Expo Center in west suburban Villa Park, the Asylum Xperiment is back for a second jaunt in what is shaping up to be an annual Halloween tradition.
The Asylum Xperiment is a post-millennial incarnation of the short-lived but never-to-be-forgotten Asylum Experience in Berwyn in the late 1990s, a haunted house unlike any other that was steeped not in shock and gore, but in imagination and creepiness. The lines would run around the block at this time of year, surrounding the Victorian tower with a hearse in front of it as the lucky elite who were ushered in were slowly treated to disturbing and eye-popping scenes from room to room that were exquisite in their macabre detail, courtesy of Dave Link. Read the rest of this entry »