Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: Les Liaisons Dangereuses/AstonRep Theatre Company

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(l to r)  Sara Pavlak McGuire and Tim Larson/Photo: Emily Schwartz

Sara Pavlak McGuire and Tim Larson/Photo: Emily Schwartz

For “Les Liaisons Dangereuses” to work properly, you need to credibly believe two things: the danger, and the liaisons. AstonRep Theatre Company’s revival, directed by Charlie Marie McGrath, provides neither. There is no sense of danger, no illicit thrill to watching Valmont (Robert Tobin) and Merteuil (Sara Pavlak McGuire) work their devilish wiles. And there is no erotic charge to the couples’ scenes (nor to any of the scenes really). For a story that features seductions within seductions this production is as seductive as a morning fart.

McGrath has transplanted the setting of the play from pre-Revolutionary France to pre-Revolutionary Russia for reasons that never present themselves. But it does allow for a menagerie of different accents. The main players speak in flat American dialects—which belly flop onto the pristine surface of British adapter Christopher Hampton’s posh, elegant dialogue—while supporting characters for some reason sport French or Russian ones. Trying to figure out how these myriad nationalities add insight or meaning into the story is waste of time—believe me, I tried. I will say though that Tsarist Russia does seem like it was much easier to costume. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Cowboy Versus Samurai/A-Squared Theatre Workshop

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(left to right) Chris Lysy and Cary Shoda./Photo: Giau Minh Truong

Chris Lysy and Cary Shoda/Photo: Giau Minh Truong

That title is a little misleading. Or it’s not so much misleading as it is entirely metaphorical. Michael Golamco’s “Cowboy Versus Samurai,” being given its Chicago premiere here by A-Squared Theatre Workshop, doesn’t actually involve any scenes of cowboys battling it out with samurai. It is not a descendant of “Shanghai Noon.”

Instead, it is a pleasant, sometimes kind of milquetoast story about an Asian-American man, Travis (Cary Shoda), whose quiet small-town Wyoming life is disrupted when a beautiful Asian-American woman, Veronica (Aja Wiltshire) moves into town. This brings the total Asian-American population of said town up to three, the third one being Travis’ goofily militant “friend” Chester (Jin Kim). Travis is instantly smitten with Veronica but it turns out there’s a problem: she only dates white guys. So Travis then puts on his Cyrano de Bergerac pants and starts composing love letters for Veronica on behalf of his sweet, dumb cowboy friend Del (Chris Lysy). Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Lunacy!/Jackalope Theatre

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(L-R): Malcolm Callan, J.P. Pierson, Scot West/Photo: Joel Maisonet

Malcolm Callan, J.P. Pierson, Scot West/Photo: Joel Maisonet

Why is it that conspiracy theories like, say, the one about the US government hiring director Stanley Kubrick to fake the moon landing, continue to endure? Is the belief in a vast conspiracy underlining all things really all that different from a belief in the innate, inalienable righteousness of one’s country? Could a man who lied to America about the moon landing then go on to lie about something bigger? Like maybe a war?

Patriotic paranoia is what rocket-fuels “Lunacy! (A Cryptohistorical Comedy)” from playwright Andrew Burden Swanson and Jackalope Theatre. Directed with gusto (occasionally too much gusto) by Gus Menary, the play is a jittery, paranoid farce. It’s about madmen doing the wrong things for what they think are the right reasons… and the inevitable fallout for those under their command. Read the rest of this entry »

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. 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. Nearly one-hundred-and-twenty 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 remake Gina Ekdal into a nineteenth-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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Drowsy1

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

RECOMMENDED

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 Graaff. 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 Graaff.

“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

Rudy Galvan and Mike Speller/Photo: Emily Schwartz

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. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Salts/The Inconvenience

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The Salts - 3

RECOMMENDED

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 »

Review: Shining Lives: A Musical/Northlight Theatre

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(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 »

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