Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: Waiting for Godot/Court Theatre

Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
(front) Allen Gilmore and Alfred Wilson. (back) Anthony Lee Irons and AC Smith/Photo: Michael Brosilow

(front) Allen Gilmore and Alfred Wilson. (back) Anthony Lee Irons and AC Smith/Photo: Michael Brosilow

RECOMMENDED

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 »

Review: Circle-Machine/Oracle Theatre

Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
Photo: Joe Mazza

Photo: Joe Mazza

RECOMMENDED

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 »

Review: The Selfish Giant/Chicago Children’s Theatre

Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
Photo: Joe Mazza

Photo: Joe Mazza

RECOMMENDED

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 »

Review: Rapture, Blister, Burn

Theater Reviews No Comments »
Mary Ann Thebus, Karen Janes Woditsch, Cassidy Slaughter-Mason and Jennifer Coombs/Photo: Liz Lauren

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 »

Review: Sorry/TimeLine Theatre Company

Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
AFP_Sorry_1379

David Parkes, Mike Nussbaum, Mechelle Moe and Juliet Hart/Photo: Lara Goetsch

RECOMMENDED

“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 »

Review: That Hopey Changey Thing/TimeLine Theatre Company

Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
(l to r) Mechelle Moe, Mike Nussbaum, Janet Ulrich Brooks and Juliet Hart/Photo: Lara Goetsch

Mechelle Moe, Mike Nussbaum, Janet Ulrich Brooks and Juliet Hart/Photo: Lara Goetsch

RECOMMENDED

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 »

Review: Short Shakespeare! Macbeth/Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
Photo: Liz Lauren

Photo: Liz Lauren

RECOMMENDED

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 »

Review: Red Bud/Signal Ensemble Theatre

Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
(l to r): Samantha Beach, Joseph Stearns and Bries Vannon/Photo: Johnny Knight

Samantha Beach, Joseph Stearns and Bries Vannon/Photo: Johnny Knight

RECOMMENDED

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 »

Review: The MLK Project: The Fight for Civil Rights/Chicago Children’s Theatre at Writers Theatre

Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
Caren Blackmore/Photo: Tom McGrath

Caren Blackmore/Photo: Tom McGrath

RECOMMENDED

I will never forget the tears I shed reading the story of Demario Bailey, the Chicago teen gunned down three days shy of his sixteenth birthday, because he refused to give up his winter coat. My tears however were not just for Demario, or his twin brother Demacio who was by his side during the whole tragedy, but for the teens who would now spend the rest of their lives in prison. I began to ask myself, how could we go about saving both of them—those who die at the hands of the trigger and those who pull it?

As I watched Writers Theatre “The MLK Project: The Fight For Civil Rights,” presented by Chicago Children’s Theatre, I couldn’t help but think that Alaya’s (Caren Blackmore) journey of self-discovery might be one solution. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Princess Mary Demands Your Attention/Bailiwick Chicago

Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
(l to r Baron L. Clay, Jr., Pam Mack and Armand Fields/Photo: Michael Brosilow

Baron L. Clay, Jr., Pam Mack and Armand Fields/Photo: Michael Brosilow

RECOMMENDED

Aaron Holland, Bailiwick’s resident playwright, took it upon himself to read one of the world’s longest books, Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.” Grasping Tolstoy’s purpose “to blur the lines between fiction and history, in order to get closer to the truth,” Holland used the classic as a jumping-off place for “Princess Mary Demands Your Attention,” borrowing vigorously from his personal life, recasting the Russian royals as contemporary archetypes to allow for an accessible examination of the lives of fatherless children, religious confusion, love affairs gone awry and the human search for equilibrium. Holland’s gifts for gut-splitting humor and an uncanny sense of dialect that fits in with the rhythms on which the laughs ride are rare magic. His bold attempt works well most of the time, but some of the writing, particularly the monologue sections, feel overindulgent. Read the rest of this entry »