Kate O’Hanlon and Tristan Bruns/Photo: Javier Villamil
Tristan Bruns can tap dance like nobody’s business, which I imagine is why he founded Tapman Productions, LLC. It is also clearly why he is the star of “The Adventures of Tapman,” a one-hour playlet about a superhero that defeats his foes through fancy footwork.
There is a lot to like about “The Adventures of Tapman.” More than anything it is a fun time. Bruns is often on stage alone performing well-timed choreography that mimics fighting. The clicks, clacks and stomps hit at just the right moments to add sound effects to what otherwise would be elaborate shadowboxing.
At other times Bruns is joined on stage by other dancers. Kate O’Hanlon, as Modern Marvel, is a modern dancer who does more than hold her own, with taps on her feet too. The kids from M.A.D.D. Rhythms Junior Squad are featured as sidekicks to the show’s villain, the MADD Tapper (Kelsey Schlabaugh). While clearly student tappers, the kids are better than many I’ve seen over the years. The MADD Tapper confrontations, sadly, are the only times that the dancing is distracting, largely because the precision present elsewhere seems to be lacking. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Mark Campbell
By Aaron Hunt
The Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire is kicking off its fortieth anniversary season and I had the chance to speak with executive producer Terry James. “I came here as an actor in 1981. It was just a theater and a resort in the middle of all these beautiful fields.” Given his thirty-year stint at Marriott, James is perhaps the best positioned to talk about the magic formula that continues to keep Marriott—one of the few remaining in-the round, arena-style houses in the country—Greater Chicago’s longest-running, and most-subscribed musical theater, with 507 Joseph Jefferson Award nominations and 93 wins to its name.
“I think part of the reason we’ve been successful is because of the mix of programming that was developed over the years,” James told me. “We’re doing a classic, a seldom-done show, a new take on a show, a new work; we don’t do the same type of show all the time.” Read the rest of this entry »
(front) Allen Gilmore and Alfred Wilson. (back) Anthony Lee Irons and AC Smith/Photo: Michael Brosilow
Samuel Beckett’s “Godot,” as presented by the Court Theatre’s resident artist Ron OJ Parson, has all of the existential tremble without the hard edges of complete despair. Quite the opposite of dark turtlenecks and French cigarettes, Parson’s all-black cast offers an array of emotional leads that highlights the most compelling aspects of the script’s humor. The overall themes are still there: Beckett’s unique view of the world as absurd with no meaning or purpose; the human condition; resilience in relationship; others as hell; it’s all still there. But it is sewn tightly under real embedded comedy and drama, foregoing the usual blend of high allusion and close reads, mixed together brilliantly by Estragon (Alfred H. Wilson) and Vladimir (the wise veteran Allen Gilmore) who employ both classy wit and bountiful rancor. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Joe Mazza
Anyone looking for a primer on the kind of work that Oracle Theatre does would be well-served by seeing “Circle-Machine.” Steeped in the language of the European stage, “Circle-Machine” is an epic fable that sits very comfortably in the storefront company’s rhetorically populist but stylistically expressionist wheelhouse. It is, get ready for it, an original adaptation by Emma Stanton, Nigel O’Hearn and director Thom Pasculli of the Charles Mee play “Full Circle,” which is itself an adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s “The Caucasian Chalk Circle” which is itself an adaption of Li Qianfu’s fourteenth-century play, “Chalk Circle.” It is also a treat. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Joe Mazza
Winter can be rough for parents and their children. Snow and cold and sniffles lock them inside for weeks or months, with only intermittent sledding sessions or the occasional pizza party to bridge the gaps. Even in the Netflix age, most of the entertainment options are a drag; over-produced, high-fructose-infused CGI sequels and spinoffs abound. Just as the holidays have faded and the dog days of winter have descended, Chicago Children’s Theatre’s revival of the 2008 hit “The Selfish Giant” is a welcome preview of the thaw ahead.
Co-creators Blair Thomas and Michael Smith have returned their papier-mache and carved wooden actors to the stage and the result is a ripe, sun-kissed peach blossom of a production. Thomas, whose inaugural Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival wrapped during “Giant”’s opening weekend, has handed the puppeteering duties to the youthful and magnetic Samuel Deutsch. Joining him onstage are lyricist and performer Smith and a cadre of puppet actors in all shapes and sizes, from an eight-foot-tall giant to delicate marionettes of the village children. Read the rest of this entry »
Mary Ann Thebus, Karen Janes Woditsch, Cassidy Slaughter-Mason and Jennifer Coombs/Photo: Liz Lauren
At one point in the first act, twenty-one-year-old Avery Willard (played with comic bravado and youthful vulnerability by Cassidy Slaughter-Mason) explains her lack of interest in “First-wave Feminism” by saying that suffrage for women is so obvious and beyond debate today that it’s not worth discussing. That notion unintentionally summarizes the basic problem with “Rapture, Blister, Burn,” a Pulitzer finalist by Gina Gionfriddo in a Chicago premiere directed by Kimberly Senior: the conflict it is supposedly concerned with, as explored in Betty Friedan’s “Feminine Mystique” fifty years ago, seems similarly antiquated. I’m not a woman, so consider that a caveat. But the idea that women have just two binary choices in life, to either forego career and any kind of personal fulfillment in order to play housewife and mother, or to pursue a successful career and be destined to a life as a lonely old maid, might have had currency back in the eighties heyday of Phyllis Schlafly, a long-forgotten retrograde who is reverently resurrected herein, but is a simplistic (and in its simplicity, demeaning) conversation today. Read the rest of this entry »
David Parkes, Mike Nussbaum, Mechelle Moe and Juliet Hart/Photo: Lara Goetsch
“Sorry” is the third play in playwright Richard Nelson’s four-part cycle “The Apple Family Plays,” which mixes contemporary political history with the story of a looming family tragedy. The action in “Sorry” takes place in Rhinebeck, New York, in 2012, on Election Day morning. (The first play in the cycle, “That Hopey Changey Thing,” is also set in Rhinebeck, taking place in 2010, at the mid-term elections.)
I don’t deny Nelson’s longueurs are more interesting than the crises and climaxes of ninety-nine percent of other plays, but “Sorry” disappointed me. Not because I expected the sarcastic witticisms, jokes, stories and sight-gags in “Hopey Changey” that broke the tension and moved the action forward so cleverly, but because twenty minutes in, I saw that the playwright had miscalculated. Nelson begins with an earnest, sincere, drawn-out attempt to invest his hour-and fifty-minute-long play with a John Gabriel Borkman atmosphere of impending tragedy—the committal of Uncle Benjy (Mike Nussbaum) to an assisted living residence. Read the rest of this entry »
Mechelle Moe, Mike Nussbaum, Janet Ulrich Brooks and Juliet Hart/Photo: Lara Goetsch
In his funny, wise family drama set in Rhinebeck, New York, playwright Richard Nelson blends Dreiser’s naturalism with Chekhov’s impressionistic allusiveness to show us that politics and open family secrets resist honest discussion as firmly as they did in the 1890s, when Chekhov sketched the charm, the disillusionment, the irrelevance of the Russian upper classes. Listening to the intelligent, frustrated Apple family discuss endlessly and hopelessly the American political stalemate of the last seven years, one can’t help wondering, are we doomed to repeat the fate of the Russian rural gentry?
In place of real conversation, Nelson seems to say, in place of informed judgments tempered by the study of history and by ideals of civilized discourse, instead of wisdom founded on reading and reflection (the only thing that sparks “innovation”), we liberals offer ideas just as conventional, poses just as self-indulgent and self-righteous, formulas just as dead, as the prattle of the super-patriots on the other end of the political spectrum.
Nelson gives his audience a tough mouthful to swallow. We’ve all abused Sarah Palin, whose words inspired the title of Nelson’s drama. Yes, Palin cultivates a truculent, insolent ignorance that begs opponents to despise her, but that’s no excuse. Nelson deftly turned my ears red with embarrassment. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Liz Lauren
Covetousness, fueled by ambition and greed, drives the plot of Shakespeare’s tragedy “Macbeth,” where Scotland’s political system is upended twice, with murder the tool to power, and madness in its wake. Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy, with a potential run-time as long as three hours not counting intervals, has been trimmed to an unstoppable seventy-five-minute banquet of blood by director Kirsten Kelly, and if the speed of this production requires Macbeth to race to madness so quickly that we lose some of his everyman-quality, and if Lady Macbeth is perfectly bonkers from her first entrance, the sheer swiftness of Kelly’s roller-coaster ride is so gripping that we’re happy to wait for a more psychological production next time, when the design isn’t geared for presentation to younger audiences. Princes and henchmen and murderers race up and down the aisles of the theater, swords drawn and battle-cries piercing. Whispered plotting and heralded assassination land in the audience’s lap and violent moments are staged to be as age-friendly as possible. Read the rest of this entry »
Samantha Beach, Joseph Stearns and Bries Vannon/Photo: Johnny Knight
If you have ever attended a small party at which everyone else got stoned and drunk while you remained completely sober, then you know what experiencing Signal Ensemble Theatre’s “Red Bud” is like. I say experiencing, rather than watching, because the hyper-realism that permeates this production affects, alienates and engrosses the audience all at once.
Set at a campsite near a motocross race, the play shows an hour and fifteen minutes in the life of four long-time friends who gather annually for the camping and the race. I can’t say that it is an hour and fifteen minutes of continuous action. Really, it’s just an hour and fifteen minutes of time passing. And that’s what makes it stand out.
Director Brant Russell’s cast takes this slice-of-life script by Brett Neveu and embodies it fully. The pacing is slow, and then gets slower. Conversation throughout the play has its ups and downs, and the lulls often tell you more about the characters than the words said between them. In one segment of the play, the audience looks on as three guys set up a two-man dome tent. No words are spoken. All the little things that go wrong when setting up a tent do so. And the moment is beautiful. Read the rest of this entry »