Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

For the Child in the Adult and the Adult in the Child: At Sea with Mary Zimmerman and Lookingglass’ “Treasure Island”

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Mary Zimmerman

Mary Zimmerman

By Kevin Greene

Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel “Treasure Island” is so ubiquitous in the sphere of popular culture that it’s possible to feel as though you’ve read it without ever having actually laid hands on it. The tale of pirates and buried treasure stands as one of the great foundational texts of the last 200 years. Since its publication in 1883, the novel has developed an archetypal reputation, one that has drawn attention from artists and thinkers of all disciplines. It has also proved a surprisingly malleable narrative, appearing in film, radio and theater versions.

With its exotic locations, full-blooded action and larger-than-life personalities, “Treasure Island” presents plenty of challenges for the stage. Yet it was these very challenges that first drew Mary Zimmerman to the story. After picking it up two summers ago, Zimmerman knew immediately that she wanted to adapt it. “I like to stage the impossible,” she tells me during a break in the production’s tech rehearsal. “Theater works by metaphor. You have to bring the world into this black box.”

In this case, the black box in question is Lookingglass, a theater company nationally renowned for their imaginative interpretation of both new and old works alike. Read the rest of this entry »

Finding Your Song: Pegasus Flies Again with Nambi E. Kelley’s “For Her as a Piano”

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Toni Lynice Fountain, Toya Turner, Camille Robinson and Nadirah Bost/Photo: Emily Schwartz

By Loy Webb

Children have some of the most imaginative and exciting minds. Give them a cardboard box, they’ll create castles fit for any king and queen. Give them a blanket, and as it’s wrapped around their necks your world will be safer before bedtime. It is in watching these small, brilliant minds that we learn the secret to great ingenuity is really quite simple.

“When you don’t have much, you have to be imaginative and bold,” Ilesa Duncan, artistic director of Pegasus Theatre Chicago, says during our phone interview. Read the rest of this entry »

Unconventional Women: Artemisia Fest Plays It Unsafe

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By Logan West

On the hottest day of the Chicago summer, Julie Proudfoot appeared perfectly cool and relaxed as I approached her outside an Argo Tea in Lakeview. The founding and executive artistic director of Artemisia, A Chicago Theatre kindly introduced herself and shared her thoughts on the upcoming fall festival. This year marks the fifth anniversary of the Artemisia fest, which has a simple yet unique structure: six female-driven acts (out of hundreds of submissions) are selected for a reading in front of a live audience. Audience members who attend two or more of the pieces will receive a ballot where they vote on which act will serve as the company’s next production. Read the rest of this entry »

Fall Theater & Opera Preview 2015

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HoneybunsYou know what they say: Every time a mime speaks a Dickensian orphan gets sucked into a jet turbine and blasted out the other side as just a scream. However, it is that cozy time of year when the hopes and dreams of summer die and we artists start making people go into weird rooms and watch us do and say things. Not every show can be the immersive interactive ever-changing theatrical wonderland tour de force that my show is. Newcity theater editor Zach Freeman has provided a fine fall stage preview. However, I feel I can offer a few tips—or rather “things”—to do to spice things up on a chilly fall evening at the theater (elaborate hand gesture).

If you don’t want to do my “things” I can understand. All you have to do is something that is even better. So long as you do something. Because, something must be done. Otherwise you would do nothing. Except maybe drink a box of wine, poke that old bag of mulch laying in bed next to you, and call it a night. (Honeybuns) Read the rest of this entry »

Cultural Sharing: Visión Latino Theatre Company Debuts with “Yellow Eyes”

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Playwright Migdalia Cruz and the Cast of “Yellow Eyes”

By Elle Metz

On a warm, sunny Tuesday night, the founders of a new theater company have retreated into the cool, dark Jackalope Theatre in Edgewater. The large storefront windows are covered with black material and rows of chairs cluster around a small stage. It is the second week of rehearsals for Visión Latino Theatre Company’s inaugural play and the show’s actors will arrive soon.

Xavier M. Custodio, Yajaira Custodio and Johnathan Nieves—the founders of Visión Latino—sit around a table onstage and tell how the company began. Their passion for the venture is palpable—all lit-up eyes and fast talking. Read the rest of this entry »

Dark Humor: The Ups and Downs, and Downs, of a Chicago Comedian’s Struggle

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Photo: Elle Metz

Photo: Elle Metz

By Elle Metz

On a bright stage in a dark room at The Annoyance Theatre in Lakeview, two men, bouncing slightly on their toes, peer into the audience. Seventeen people—mostly young and casually dressed—gaze back. One woman sips a light beer. A goateed man sits up straight in his chair. The two performers, Derek Shoemaker and Blair Britt, ask for a suggestion to start their improvisation.

“Cadaver,” someone calls out. Shoemaker and Britt immediately step back to the middle of the stage, facing each other like sparring partners.

Shoemaker has a round face framed by a dark brown buzz cut and perpetual two-day scruff. Tonight he wears maroon slacks, a short-sleeved, blue-and-white-checked button up and red Vans sneakers—a typical performance uniform for him.

In this first scene, Shoemaker plays a police detective and Britt a medical examiner. They’re trying to solve a difficult murder case. Shifting their weight forward and back, the men discuss the case and gesture toward an imaginary body lying on a morgue table in front of them. Britt rants that he can’t find anything wrong with the body. A knowing look crosses Shoemaker’s face.

“We know about your gift,” Shoemaker says. “We know that you can touch bodies…”

“No, I’m not doing that again, alright,” Britt replies. “I’m not!” Read the rest of this entry »

Transformative Stories: A Reservoir of Healing at Erasing the Distance

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Greg Geffrard, TayLar, Angela Alise, Ronnell Taylor, Tiffany Renee Johnson

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 Play Is the Sing: Longtime Stephen Sondheim Collaborator Paul Gemignani on “The Shakespeare of Music”

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Photo: Courtesy of Paul Gemignani

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 »

Mid-Life and Lost: Bringing Christopher Durang’s Tony Winner “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” to The Goodman

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Mary Beth Fisher and Janet Ulrich Brooks/Photo:  Liz Lauren

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 »

Career Candor: Gloria Estefan goes Off the Cuff about “On Your Feet”

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(l to r) Emilio Estefan, Gloria Estefan, Ana Villafañe and Josh Segarra/Photo: Bruce Glikas

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 »

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