Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Training Ground: Young Artists Pay it Forward at Chicago Summer Opera’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”

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Timothy Madden and William Ottow/Photo: Daniel Johanson

Timothy Madden and William Ottow/Photo: Daniel Johanson

By Aaron Hunt

Chicago Summer Opera advertises itself as another of our city’s startup, storefront, non-profit operatic enterprises; its title promises a spoonful of gastronomical respite as Chicago’s opera gluttons starve their way through Chicago’s heat and humidity to the cooling, autumnal beginnings of the seasons of Lyric Opera of Chicago and Chicago Opera Theater. Its offerings must be considered in those terms.

Yet, a closer look at Chicago Summer Opera’s mission statement proves that it is primarily a training ground for young artists. In fact, Chicago Summer Opera’s singers are all “aspiring” opera singers, with no one among their ranks having made an “important” operatic debut, and further examination finds that, with the exception of some performers who may have been granted a scholarship, these young singers are paying tuition for classes in repertoire, acting, audition technique and diction. Each singer is promised a role in one performance of one of the company’s operas at the completion of their season’s tutelage. In the industry, this financial arrangement is called “pay for play,” and incurs all the potential positives and negatives implied. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: End Days/Windy City Playhouse

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Photo: Brian Sidney Bembridge

Photo: Brian Sidney Bembridge

RECOMMENDED

Deborah Zoe Laufer’s existential comedy “End Days” sounds like a tongue-in-cheek choice for the Windy City Playhouse’s launch of its inaugural season. If their opening performance in the department-store-sized black box is any indication of their determination to go the distance by providing a completely moveable seating plan of up to 149, an elegant bar, and music and visual art that complement and question the themes of the play, then here is a new kind of Chicago storefront—one that relaxes an audience as they are immersed in the totality of an experience. And before you tell me this isn’t storefront theater, you’ll have to cross the stage to get to the bathrooms. Enough said. Artistic director Amy Rubenstein’s program notes include this important caveat: “We aim not to compete with the excellent art that already exists, but rather to complement.” Read the rest of this entry »

Beginning of Days: Windy City Playhouse Aims to Be A New Theater for New Audiences

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Amy Rubenstein, Artistic Director of Windy City Playhouse, on the set of "End of Days"/Photo: Alex Huntsberger

Amy Rubenstein, artistic director of Windy City Playhouse/Photo: Alex Huntsberger

By Alex Huntsberger

Normally when a new theater company opens in Chicago it is cause for little fanfare. Small storefront companies come and go with the transience of a celebrity parody twitter account. However when the Windy City Playhouse announced its inaugural season last summer, the theater community took notice. Unlike the usual bands of scrappy, broke college grads hoarding pennies and launching kickstarters, The Windy City Playhouse announced that they would be opening with a full four-show season cast with Equity actors in its very own brand-new 150-seat theater. It was bold, it was different, and on March 19 it’s going to become a reality.

The seeds that would eventually grow into the Playhouse were first sowed four years ago, when artistic director Amy Rubenstein and her family moved back to Chicago from L.A. Although she has enjoyed a very successful career in real estate, Rubenstein started out as an actress, gigging around Chicago for many years before moving out west. So when she moved back, Rubenstein started attending theater shows around town with her husband. And she was dismayed at what she found—not on the stage, but in the audience. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Faust (Save Me or I’ll Die)/Runaways Lab Theater

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Faust

RECOMMENDED

Last Wednesday night I found myself in a first-floor apartment on the far North Side of Chicago, standing in front of a sofa conversing with a young playwright talking about her education and her budding writing career while we waited for the performance of “Faust (Save Me or I’ll Die)”—a version of Goethe’s “Faust, Part I”—to begin.

The apartment seemed unpromising as a staging area for a reading, let alone a play with the swift-changing scenes and the multifarious action that characterize “Faust.” We were talking in the living room, no larger than 400 square feet. To the east a small dining room divided a sun room on the northeast side of the apartment from a small kitchen on the southeast corner. I doubt the one-bedroom apartment encompassed 1,000 square feet.

I had been greeted at the building door by the director of the play, Olivia Lilley, a smiling, gracious young woman who took our coats and introduced us to the woman who held the lease on this night’s venue, the young playwright I ended up talking to.

The actors who made up the troupe of the Runaways Lab Theater, formed two years ago by a group of young thespians, were scattered about the premises, laughing and talking. By design, each performance of the company happens in a different place somewhere in Chicago. Paying playgoers are informed by email or text message where that night’s performance will take place. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Rape of Lucretia/Chicago Fringe Opera

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Britten Lucretia 3

RECOMMENDED

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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IMG_2459RECOMMENDED

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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RECOMMENDEDHedwig_Band_1

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 »

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