Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: The Rape of Lucretia/Chicago Fringe Opera

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Britten Lucretia 3


If you are a newcomer to Benjamin Britten’s masterpiece “The Rape of Lucretia,” and aren’t familiar with the semi-legend told by Roman writers and remembered in paintings of naked, Rubenesque ladies fighting off swarthy, leering soldiers, make sure you attend Chicago Fringe Opera’s contemporary re-envisioning. If you know and love the opera as given traditionally, swallow hard twice, open your mind, and go anyway.

With a mission statement that calls for productions of American and English vocal works revisited and refurbished, CFO opens a neon door for a generation that grew up on television’s “CSI” and “NCIS” to pass through and connect to the material. Their first outing proves their ability to make good on their promise, and to attract a new audience to an operatic production which doesn’t feel remote to them. The night I saw the show the seats were packed with a youthful gathering that held their breath throughout, and then applauded and yelled during the curtain call like they were at a football game. Read the rest of this entry »

Unfolding Their Own Myth: Definition Theatre Company Stakes Out Fresh Theatrical Space

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Kelson McAuliffe, Tyrone Phillips, Julian Parker, Jessica Dean Turner, Mercedes White, Aurora Adachi-Winter, Neel McNeill/Photo: Joe Mazza

Kelson McAuliffe, Tyrone Phillips, Julian Parker, Jessica Dean Turner, Mercedes White, Aurora Adachi-Winter, Neel McNeill/Photo: Joe Mazza

By Loy Webb

There is a contagious energy that fills the room upon meeting Definition Theatre Company (DTC). One look at their bright hopeful eyes, erect self-confident posture, and fiery passion for theater, and their ebullient spirits latch on to you. Gnawing at your inner soul, inspiring you to dream bigger and aim higher.

Most chalk this up to naive youthful enthusiasm, cautioning them to be more realistic in their endeavors and mindful of the traditional trajectory others before them have taken. However while these young people are big dreamers, they are not naive. They just understand the power of “unfolding their own myth,” as the poet Rumi states.

Founded by six University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign BFA alumni who are rising artists in their own right—Tyrone Phillips (artistic director), Julian Parker (executive director), Kelson McAuliffe (development director), Jessica Dean Turner (social media director), Aurora Adachi-Winter (casting director), Mercedes White (marketing director) and a later added seventh company member Neel McNeill (Managing Director)—the company was born out of their frustration with the lack of opportunities for multicultural artists in the American theater. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: King John/Linchpin Theatre

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Kudos to newborn Linchpin Theatre for making its debut with Shakespeare’s “King John,” a play that is about as popular these days as its protagonist. The Victorians loved the work’s pomp and panoply, but the appeal has faded in today’s theater world of small stages, casts and budgets. David Fehr’s solid, well-paced production—set in a World War I universe of French battlefields and pointless destruction—shows what we’ve missed by neglecting this uneven but important history play.

The first half is mesmerizing in its dissection of medieval realpolitik, as English and French monarchs threaten, cajole and scheme for position. The focus of their conflict is John’s imperiled nephew, the young Arthur, Duke of Brittany and pretender to the English throne. He is supported (to a point) by King Philip of France, who wants his own protégé to control England and its wealthy continental possessions. Acted by Janeane Bowlware in one of the play’s several trouser roles, Arthur is a child who plays with action figures, just as the proud and ruthless rulers toy with him. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Hedwig and The Angry Inch/Haven Theatre

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The glam-rock bio-concert, “Hedwig and The Angry Inch,” boasts a fervent cult following, to say the least. But the show about a transgender East German expat rocker inspires a different sort of fandom than, say, “Rocky Horror;” a fandom that carries with it certain pressures.

The audience at Theater Wit mouths the lyrics and hums with maybe a quarter the enthusiasm of a “Time Warp” sing-along, but all the while they scrutinize every joke and character mannerism. They don’t recognize the actors in front of them. The reason this musical is so beloved is that its writer and original star, John Cameron Mitchell, adapted the seventy-minute Off-Broadway show into a beloved film. So fans of the movie have to get over the fact that the shorter musical contains no realistic scenes, scenery or carbon copying; it’s all songs and banter in-between. The stage “Hedwig” is a purely theatrical experience and, frankly, I like that better. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Football Play/The Den Theatre

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“The Football Play” at the Den Theatre is like when your attention-deprived five-year-old wants to put on a show in the living room. It’s incoherent and overloaded with misplaced energy. This experimental play conceived by Trent Creswell is loosely structured around the idea that theater is a lot like football. It’s an interesting concept to consider, but often the sketch-comedy style of this piece does not support this, or any argument. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Danny and the Deep Blue Sea/Kokandy Productions

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Photo: Joshua Albanese Photography

Photo: Joshua Albanese Photography

When a chance meeting in a bar turns into an emotional landslide, it’s often called a one-night stand, or dating. In John Patrick Shanley’s one-act play “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea,” we’re taken to the pits of desperation when tough guy Danny (Brandon Galatz) starts a casual conversation with tough gal Roberta (Jodi Kingsley) over a few beers. At once their interaction seems stunted but curious to the weary onlooker, however it’s fairly soon established that Danny is extremely unstable. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Brewed/The Ruckus and Tympanic Theatre Company

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Photo: Gerard Van Halsema

Photo: Gerard Van Halsema


When the first line of a play is “motherfucker,” you know you’re probably in for a good time. “Brewed” is a bizarre female-centric new play by local playwright Scott T Barsotti being presented in collaboration with The Ruckus and Tympanic Theatre Company. Tympanic is a relatively new company who specializes in developing odd and obscure works. Under the direction of Anna C. Bahow, “Brewed” is a lively production full of everything from ultra violence to the supernatural and even some dark family issues.

In “Brewed,” six sisters are mysteriously drawn together for a reunion. At once, there seems to be a strong animosity between them that remains unclear until the ending. From the start it’s fairly apparent this is an alternate reality, done well in that the boundaries of this universe are clearly defined and abided by in strong character development. There’s Juliette (Dana Black) the older one who seems to keep it all together, Collette (Charlotte Mae Ellison), the young ditz, Roxette (Susan Myburgh), who’s brought home a new friend, Nannette (Meredith Rae Lyons) the queen of Nascar, Paulette (Erin Myers) the angry one, and wheelchair-bound Babette (Stevie Chaddock Lambert), around whom the play revolves.

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Review: Something Blue/Artemisia

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Julie Proudfoot and David Blixt

Whenever a couple’s quarrel unexpectedly crashes its way onto my television screen, I fast-forward. Perhaps I do it because watching lovers fight is awkward. Or perhaps I do it because the heartbreak is a reflection of my own life. Maybe it’s awkward because it’s a reflection of my own life. I don’t know. But, whatever the reason, I usually skip on through. The scene is only a minute long, after all, and its effects will become apparent later. But, try though I might, there is still no “next” button at the theater.

During “Something Blue,” a world premiere by Artemisia, I was craving that glorious button with an addict’s one-track mindset. For Julie Proudfoot’s play is a ninety-minute force-feeding of grating couple fights. And, as in life, those tedious arguments onstage amount to absolutely nothing of dramatic consequence—only a whole lot of vain pettiness from all involved parties.

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Review: HooDoo Love/Collective Theatre

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LaRoyce Hawkins, Toni Lynice Fountain and Lynn Wactor/ Photo: Michael Brosilow

With Collective Theatre’s inaugural production of Katori Hall’s “HooDoo Love,” the new company has brought the extraordinary playwright, at last, to Chicago. Well, it’s about time! An Olivier Award winner, Hall is an emerging artist whose voice is unmatched in its savory language and resonating pulse. Her deep-rooted respect for the venerability of her hometown, Memphis, Tennessee, and of her African-American heritage is proudly and maternally apparent in her work, and has landed Hall a high-profile residency at the Signature Theatre Off-Broadway.

She won the West End Olivier in 2010 for her best-known play, “The Mountaintop,” whose Broadway production, starring Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett, got an unexpectedly cool reception. That play, an embellished imagining of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last night spent on earth, demonstrates Hall’s particular acuity for crafting tight-knit environments. Dr. King’s unremarkable Memphis hotel room in “The Mountaintop” envelops the audience as it takes a kaleidoscope of twists and turns. The richness of Hall’s fallible King and a sweetly down-to-earth angel establish place far better than any elaborate scenery ever could. And Hall’s formidable skill for building community through character bleeds into much of her other work like the hot-blooded “HooDoo Love.” Read the rest of this entry »

Nordic and Naked: Akvavit Theatre Brings Cutting-Edge Finnish Theater to Chicago with “Kokkola”

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Photo: Sooz Main

“As I was taking a shit just now, I suddenly realized that this can’t be just a coincidence that I’m sitting here taking a shit and at the same time thinking about it.”—The first line of “Kokkola”

In the “bald and bold” style of the Coen Brothers’ “Fargo,” as director Chad Eric Bergman describes it, Akvavit Theatre stages the United States premiere of the Finnish work “Kokkola,” translated by Nina Sallinen, with aplomb.

The young Akvavit Theatre company, founded just last year, bills their production as similar to the darkly comic film because of its very Nordic “sisu,” which is Finnish for steely perseverance in the face of all adversity. “The film calls it as it sees it,” says Bergman, a Finnish characteristic shared by “Kokkola” a hilarious “arctic tragedy.” Read the rest of this entry »