Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: Another Kind of Love/InFusion Theatre Company

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There’s a problem sometimes at music festivals where you’re too far away from the band to hear them. Sometimes it’s because you didn’t get there early enough to get a good spot. Sometimes it’s because the amplification at said festival really sucks. But other times it’s because the band’s sound just isn’t made for a large festival stage. They are best-suited to playing clubs, not arenas.

This same problem plagues InFusion Theatre Company’s “Another Kind of Love.” Performing in the Chopin Theatre’s main space, with its high ceilings and deep stage, the director and actors fail to bring a show that can fill it. Voices drift up into the rafters and stick there. Performances are flattened out till they become a kind of pizzicato monotone.

Written by playwright Crystal Skillman with original songs by “Passing Strange” co-writer Heidi Rodewald, the play follows the living room reunion of three ex-bandmate sisters: lead guitarist Kit (Annie Prichard), drummer Collin (Amber Kelly), and bassist Tanya (Courtney Jones). Their mother, Melanie Singer, was a famous rock star in her own right before committing suicide when the girls were young. (Set in Olympia Washington, the play leans into its Kurt Cobain parallels.) In fact their band, Dark Hearts, is reuniting to play a one-off benefit concert commemorating their mother’s death. Tanya, fifteen years sober, hasn’t picked up a bass in just as long, focusing instead on raising her daughter Max (Alison Hixon) who nonetheless fancies herself an aspiring rock goddess and worships her aunt Kit. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Wild Duck/Halcyon Theatre

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Arch Harmon) and Gregers (Ted James/Photo: Johnny Knight

Arch Harmon and Ted James/Photo: Johnny Knight

“The Wild Duck” is an incomparable masterpiece. 120 years ago, George Bernard Shaw wrote, “Where shall I find an epithet magnificent enough for ‘The Wild Duck!’” At the Halcyon Theatre Friday night, I saw what purported to be Ibsen’s tragedy. It was a caricature, acted by persons who knew nothing of its terror, power and comedy – had no inkling of its perfection in technical detail, stage direction, speech and gesture, and its uncanny economy of means. The actors were innocent of what took place.

I ask director Tony Adams, his assistant directors, Claire Reinhart and Laura Stephenson, and the dramaturge, Carla Della Gatta, ‘What were you thinking? What possessed you? Why re-make Gina Ekdal into a l9th-century proto-feminist? Did it occur to you that by so doing you destroyed the argument Ibsen built to expose the sentimental, self-pitying, idealist follies of two male fools? That you indulged yourselves in the false idealism he spent his wisdom and common sense to annihilate?’ Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Drowsy Chaperone/Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

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Phillip Kaiser, Amanda Bloom, Sarafina Vecchio, Brett Baleskie, Shari Mocheit, Chris Vizurraga, Dominic Rescigno, Matt McNabb, Erin Long, Sarah Hoch, Colin Funk

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It all began with a stag party skit, which explains the madcap, innuendo-filled, my-uncle’s-got-a-barn quality that blessedly remains, despite Broadway spit-and-polish. Bob Martin was being primed for his marriage to Janet van de Graff. The skit morphed into a show, with Martin joining the writing team and creating a beloved character, Man In Chair, for himself. A show within a show, this Man chats up the audience, coaxing them into listening to an LP of a musical he loves, “The Drowsy Chaperone,” and like “Brigadoon,” the show materializes, ostensibly celebrating the impending nuptials of, wait for it, Robert Martin and Janet van de Graff.

“Chaperone” uses stock, post-vaudeville musical theater characters: A British butler, a Broadway producer with his ditzy girlfriend who wants to be a star, a pair of singing, dancing gangsters, and an Ethel Merman role, the chaperone herself, written for an actress who insisted on essaying a “rousing anthem” in every show. “The Drowsy Chaperone” ran for 674 Broadway performances, and received multiple Tony Awards. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The December Man (L’homme de Decembre)/Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company

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(left to right) Rudy Galvan and Mike Speller/Photo: Emily Schwartz

(l to r) Rudy Galvan and Mike Speller/Photo: Emily Schwartz

Currently playing at Angel Island, Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company’s production of Colleen Murphy’s “The December Man (L’homme de Decembre)” tells the story of a family dealing with the aftermath of the 1989 Montreal Massacre. During this mass shooting, a lone gunman walked into a university and killed fourteen women. The play mainly deals with how the trauma affects Josh (Rudy Galvan), a survivor of the massacre, and his parents Benoit (Mike Speller) and Kathleen (Barbara Roeder Harris) over the course of several years.

It’s a solid production. Matthew Gawryk’s lighting and Eleanor Kahn’s set design work together to create a stark image of a family coping with a level of trauma that they are not equipped to handle. And Andrew Rovner’s sound design – original composition and the occasional sound of a television set – are used to accent the overall feeling of helplessness that permeates the world of the show and its characters.

The cast does decent work here, conveying the frustration and sadness of their situation. But for a script that often treats tragedy with subtlety, the acting often feels like it begins at one level – angry shouting – and stays there throughout, with occasional periods of louder or quieter rage. Overall, the even tempo lowers the stakes of the show rather than increasing them over the course of time. When every character is constantly angry at every other character, that anger ends up feeling less important than it should. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Salts/The Inconvenience

Dance, Dance Reviews, Performance, Performance Reviews, Recommended Dance Shows, Recommended Performance, Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »

The Salts - 3

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Those who say punk rock is dead have been spending too much time at the Wicker Park Urban Outfitters and not enough time right down the street at the Flatiron Arts Building, where the spirit of ’77 is alive and well. Flatiron is the temporary home of The Inconvenience, an interdisciplinary company that takes all the pretension out of the term “interdisciplinary.”

The Inconvenience kicks off their promising 2015 season with a dynamic evening of dance billed simply as “The Salts.” As a collaboration between Erin Kilmurray (who also performs) and Molly Brennan, the performance’s reference points are intentionally iconic: Iggy Pop, Velvet Underground, Patti Smith, Talking Heads. Yet the take is refreshingly modern, with frenetic choreography broken up by humorous interjections and politically charged vignettes. The routines themselves celebrate the spirit of punk: loose yet taut, zealous yet highly accessible. Read the rest of this entry »

Breaking Barriers: The Chicago Inclusion Project Makes its Debut

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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

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 »

Review: Shining Lives: A Musical/Northlight Theatre

Musicals, Theater, Theater Reviews, World Premiere No Comments »
(l to ) Jess Godwin, Bri Sudia, Tiffany Topol and Johanna McKenzie Miller/Photo: Michael Brosilow

Jess Godwin, Bri Sudia, Tiffany Topol and Johanna McKenzie Miller/Photo: Michael Brosilow

Radium has a half-life of about 1,600 years, losing half its radioactive potency over that period. If evil and infamy have a half-life, then the tale of the “radium girls” will still be red hot centuries from now. They were the teenagers and young women who ninety years ago painted glow-in-the-dark numbers on clock and watch dials. They used their lips to sharpen brushes dipped in lethal radium paint, instructed to do so by employers who figured it was cheaper to ignore and obfuscate the danger than to confront it honestly.

Maybe Arthur Miller could have summoned up the requisite insight and outrage to properly convey what was done to Catherine Donohue of Ottawa, Illinois—who at the time of her death weighed sixty-five pounds—and to so many others in the name of corporate profits.

But this world premiere musical adaptation of Melanie Marnich’s 2008 play by Jessica Thebus (who also directs) sprinkles saccharine on the radium, and so fails to do justice to the girls’ slow-motion murder. Marnich and Thebus present their protagonists as proto-Rosie the Riveters, who find fulfillment and solidarity in the rhythm of mass production under the oversight of bean-counting managers and corrupt company doctors. That is, until they sicken and are summarily fired, at which point they sue the company for knowingly poisoning them, leading to years of litigation. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Our New Girl/Profiles Theatre

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(left to right) Miriam Canfield, Layne Manzer, Killian Hughes, Sarah Chalcroft

Miriam Canfield, Layne Manzer, Killian Hughes, Sarah Chalcroft

With “Our New Girl,” a show that’s ostensibly about a nanny that shows up unexpectedly on an overwhelmed (and very pregnant) mother’s doorstep and then insinuates herself a little too far into the family, playwright Nancy Harris has crafted a many-layered script, touching on privilege and upward mobility, the challenges of being a career-oriented woman with children, the savior complex of some Westerners and a number of other interpersonal themes. There’s a lot to take in. Unfortunately, Profiles Theatre’s Midwest premiere, which certainly nails the slowly building dread and anxiety inherent to the script (Jeffrey Levin and Oliver Hickman’s music works frightening wonders here), doesn’t capture many of these deeper layers.

“The last thing I want is a nanny,” declares harried mom Hazel (Sarah Chalcroft, in a powerfully nuanced performance) when wide-eyed Annie (Miriam Canfield) arrives at her door in the opening scene. As it transpires, Hazel’s plastic-surgeon husband Richard (Layne Manzer) has hired Annie before going off the grid in Haiti for his latest round of humanitarian work. It seems the couple’s troubled (or maybe troubling?) son Daniel (a subtly stoic Killian Hughes) has become too much for Hazel to handle on her own. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Woman Before/Trap Door Theatre

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Kirk Anderson, Shawna Franks/Photo: David A. Holcombe

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Initially, Trap Door Theatre’s “The Woman Before” feels like a sitcom. Wife and husband Claudia and Frank (played by Loretta Rezos and Kirk Anderson, respectively) are packing their home for an overseas move when Romy (Shawna Franks), Frank’s lover from twenty-four years prior, shows up at the door. Like a Kramer or a Cousin Balki, Romy has the feel of a new presence that thrusts a mundane group of people into a series of wacky hijinks. Except… “The Woman Before” isn’t a comedy—it’s a monster story. When you invite a monster into your home, horrible things happen. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Inana/TimeLine Theatre Company

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 (l to r) Atra Asdou and Demetrios Troy./Photo: Lara Goetsch.


Atra Asdou and Demetrios Troy/Photo: Lara Goetsch.

RECOMMENDED

Midway through Michele Lowe’s “Inana,” an Iraqi museum curator (Demetrios Troy) argues that the value of art cannot be properly assessed without historical context. His interloper, a renowned forger and his future father-in-law (Anish Jethmalani), contests that beauty affects those who perceive it regardless of circumstance. As a disagreement seemingly without the possibility of resolution, this argument captures the conflict at the heart of Lowe’s play and TimeLine Theatre Company’s production of it.

An ambitious and engrossing love story under the guise of a historical thriller, “Inana” is about the romance between a man and his country, seeking to articulate a specific and yet sadly familiar political context—a grossly misunderstood country on the verge of becoming the focal point of a misguided, self-righteous and not altogether coveted emancipation—while simultaneously exploring the intersections of history, religion and art. Read the rest of this entry »

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