Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: Look, we are breathing/Rivendell Theatre Ensemble

Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews, World Premiere No Comments »
(l to r) Brendan Meyer and Lily Mojekwu/Photo: Michael Brosilow

(left to right) Brendan Meyer and Lily Mojekwu/Photo: Michael Brosilow

RECOMMENDED

Just because someone’s died doesn’t make their death a martyrdom. It doesn’t mean they were a saint. Complicated or downright negative feelings that a person had for someone when they were alive – whether they were a son, a student, an awkward teenage lover – can persist even after that person is dead. In fact, they can become even more complicated, more negative. Yet the thought that maybe, just maybe, the deceased was kind of a dumb jerk is not the kind of thing one says aloud at parties. And definitely not at wakes.

In her new play “Look, we are breathing” playwright Laura Jacqmin takes the audience on a deep dive through these post-tragedy feelings of ambivalence, bitterness and an inability to mourn. The play, which is currently receiving its world premiere at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble under director Megan Shuchman, begins with the death of Mike (Brendan Meyer), a high schooler who crashes his car while driving home high and drunk from a hockey party.

The primary voices in the play are those of three women in Mike’s life: His mother, played by Tara Mallen; his AP English teacher, played by Lily Mojekwu and the girl he drunkenly hooked-up with the night of his death, played by Brennan Stacker. These women tell stories about Mike, mostly about what a little turd he was – rude, racist, entitled – and also take us through their lives in the wake of his death. While most people search for the meaning buried in an untimely death, the conflict here is in the struggle to find meaning in Mike’s life. It was short, uneventful, and distinctly lacking in promise. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Between You, Me and the Lampshade/Teatro Vista

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TeatroVista_YouMeLampshade_1

(l to r) Ayssette Muñoz and Sandra Marquez/Photo: Joel Maisonet

RECOMMENDED

We all have secrets. Some bind us to others; some keep us bound in silence to ourselves; very few remain concealed. “Between You, Me and the Lampshade,” a world premiere written by Raúl Castillo, explores the lengths some go to hide the truth and the comedy that goes along with trying to keep something (or in this case, someone) in the closet.

Teatro Vista’s Executive Artistic Director, Ricardo Gutierrez, clearly had a vision for this show. The cast, led by Teatro Vista ensemble member and Jeff Award winning actress Sandra Marquez, brilliantly takes the audience on an emotional roller coaster exploring family, love, immigration and the powerful (yet sometimes frightening) idea of what it can mean to be free.

In southern Texas, Jesse (Marquez) struggles to take care of her son Woody (Tommy Rivera-Vega), while also maintaining a career. When Amparo (Ayssette Muñoz), a stranger with a bad snakebite, breaks into her home in the middle of the night, Jesse decides to help her rather than shoot her and a series of unpredictable events unfold. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Anything Goes/Marriott Theatre

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ANYTHING GOES_Stephanie Binetti and Cast JK

RECOMMENDED

It’s always an event when Chicago can steal director/choreographer Marc Robin away from his duties as artistic director of Lancaster, Pennsylvania’s Fulton Theatre to work his special magic within a theater community that still considers him their own, and Marriott’s “Anything Goes” shows Robin’s gifts at full sail. Just never mind comparing this 1987 version with other productions, revivals or films with which you’re familiar, in terms of musical numbers, characters or plot lines. You’re on a ship, and you left all your cast albums at home. Pull up a deck chair.

Stephanie Binetti’s Reno Sweeney tap dances away from the Merman model, and ups the ante on Ethel’s Broadway successors of sexier sensibilities. Binetti scorches with legs that won’t quit, a voice with a burnishing belt and a warming mix, and a playful way with the character’s brassier lines; this is a performance to see and hear. Sumer Naomi Smart is achingly vulnerable as Hope Harcourt. Although this version robs Hope of her introduction-ballad and tosses her Latin-flavored, edifying, eleven o’clock number to one of the boys for comic fodder, Smart delivers a fully fleshed character; her vibrant soprano makes much of the single, slight ballad afforded. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Red Handed Otter/A Red Orchid Theatre

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Ashley Neil, Luce Metrius, Bob Kruse, Guy Van Swearingen

Ashley Neil, Luce Metrius, Bob Kruse, Guy Van Swearingen

In our world of bullet points and sound bytes, the second act of an entertainment seems presented with the challenge of proving its worth. A bristling Act I is often sadly followed by a deflated Act II, and these annoyances prevent us from contact with our smartphones. Enter the eighty-ninety-minute play, musical or opera, sans intermission: All the story, constant thrills, you’re sated and somewhere else in two hours. Still, it is incumbent upon the presenting artists to keep the pedal to the metal if they aren’t going to let us pee. A Red Orchid Theatre’s production of playwright Ethan Lipton’s “Red Handed Otter” is chock full of disarmingly talented actors and designers. But the resonant premise is insufficient to the responsibility of ninety minutes.

In “Red Handed Otter,” a zany family-by-circumstance, all marginalized, societal misfits, has learned to communicate through stories about their animals. (Or lack thereof.) Their dreams and fears may be attributed to their pets, or they may talk about them in a way that conveys emotion, without taking responsibility for their tone. We’ve all met someone with so many charming stories and phone-pics about and of their pet-compatriots that it seems we never hear about their particular, personal journeys. This is not to say that their tales and photos aren’t fun, or that we don’t enjoy and care about them, and this is why “Red Handed Otter” has something going for it, out of the gate. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Herd/Steppenwolf

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(left to right) Audrey Francis (Claire), Cliff Chamberlain (Mark), Francis Guinan (Ian), Lois Smith (Patricia) and John Mahoney (Brian)/Photo: Michael Brosilow

Audrey Francis, Cliff Chamberlain, Francis Guinan, Lois Smith and John Mahoney/Photo: Michael Brosilow

RECOMMENDED

The family-sitting-room genre is built on secrecy. Sometimes it’s a literal secret, one that lurks from the opening curtain until just the right moment—usually right before an intermission—for it to be revealed. Other times, and this is the case with Rory Kinnear’s “The Herd,” it’s not an actual secret so much as it is a repression of truth. People feel a certain way, but they keep it to themselves. Only once the gears of plot have started to grind against their psyche do they finally unleash these private, pent-up thoughts. It makes for a handy catharsis, to have a son/daughter/husband/wife finally tell their mother/father/husband/wife what they really think.

Kinnear’s play, his first, is an efficient catharsis delivery device. It doesn’t surprise, but it doesn’t disappoint either. Kinnear is a major stage actor in the UK—his bio in the program is equal parts modest and mic drop—and he has written a play for actors. Despite the English setting, it’s a play perfectly suited to the Steppenwolf style. Director Frank Galati and the cast revel in the play’s climactic inter-family throw downs. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Penelope, O Penelope/Theatre Y

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Melissa Lorraine (foreground) and Kevin V. Smith (silhouette)/Photo:

Melissa Lorraine (foreground) and Kevin V. Smith (silhouette)/Photo: Devron Enarson, Dev Photography

People will probably never stop basing plays (and movies and books) on “The Odyssey.” Homer’s ancient epic poem chronicling Odysseus’ long return home from Troy is elemental to our understanding of heroism, adventure and longing. French playwright Simon Abkarian focuses his play “Penelope, O Penelope” on the journey’s end: when Odysseus finally makes it home to Ithaca, reunites with his son Telemachus and—at least in Homer’s version—brutally murders all the suitors gathered around his wife, Penelope. Abkarian adopts the basic situation—lost soldier/father, mourning mother, lecherous suitor, a son who also does stuff—and spins it into his own tale of love, loss, sex and violence.

Unfortunately the results are often stultifying and ponderous, at least in director Eva Patko’s production with Theatre Y, the show’s US- and English-language debut in a translation from Theatre Y’s artistic director, Melissa Lorraine. Lorraine also plays Dinah, the show’s Penelope figure, while actor Rich Holton plays both her long-lost husband, Elias, and erstwhile son, Theo. As Dinah’s landlord/suitor, Ante, Kevin V. Smith gives the play’s most dynamic performance. He’s a wretch, but a sympathetically pathetic one. A late scene between Elias and Ante crackles with gangster-noir energy. It’s the show’s high point, of which there are too few. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: A Doll’s House/Definition Theatre Company

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doll99

Photo: Joe Mazza – Brave Lux Photography

RECOMMENDED

The depth of a woman’s love is unmatched. For the man lucky enough to capture a woman’s heart, she will move heaven and earth for him, even at times to the detriment of both her physical and spiritual self. Unfortunately for some, the men she’d cross oceans for might barely jump puddles for her.

Although Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House” premiered in Copenhagen in 1879, Definition Theatre Company’s adaptation, written and directed by Michael Halberstam, still rings true. While some may argue that the language and fashion of the times is dated, what is not dated is the character Nora. Her story, with subtle changes, is the story of so many women in 2015.

Nora (played with deep sincerity by Miriam Lee) has so much pure love in her heart for her husband Torvald (played with commanding presence by Tyrone Phillips) that she is willing to go against moral and legal code to help save his life. This choice has come back to haunt her in the form of Krogstad (a poised Christopher Sheard) whose job is on the line because of Nora’s illegal act. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Carousel/Lyric Opera of Chicago

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Steven Pasquale and Laura Osnes/Photo: Brad Trent

Steven Pasquale and Laura Osnes/Photo: Brad Trent

Wonderful things can come of Lyric’s decision to present musical theater. New audiences may be caught up in the ambiance, and elect to attend an opera. Lyric’s opera audiences could see musical theater in a new light, and take in a show at Marriott. Lyric’s resources could serve to enlighten and enliven both forms. But finding the right formula for burgeoning, rather than poorly imitating, is tantamount. Lyric’s first responsibility should be to the singing.

If audience ears are attuned to a Billy Bigelow of the John Raitt/Gordon MacRae/Howard Keel-ilk, why has Lyric cast an actor with such a slight voice as Steven Pasquale? Notwithstanding the current Broadway wisdom that amplification has made voice classification obsolete, as in pop music, and tenors are suddenly baritones, shouldn’t an opera company present a carnival barking-Bigelow with some vocal heft, even if tenorial? Pasquale swaggers well, and his theatrical timing is fine and fresh, but Lyric’s audiences cannot see facial expressions, and immediacy of voice equalizes that conundrum. Projecting through an echo chamber, in a production that is already suffering from over-miking, does not serve. Matthew Hydzik’s Enoch Snow is young and handsome, and his voice has more focus and power. His Bigelow might have been of more interest. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Slamazons!/The Annoyance Theatre

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Slamazons

By no coincidence whatsoever, my saddest, oldest, drunkest (SOD) friend is a big fan of pro wrestling, so a trip to the Annoyance to see some ladies go at it seemed like just the ticket. Directed by Jillian Mueller, “Slamazons!” tells the tale of a women’s wrestling league, complete with a real wrestling ring in the middle of the theater. Most of the action takes place in the ring, including wrestling matches, tryouts and all the drama innate to the world of wrestling. The protagonist is Major-ette, a not-quite ex-marine who has turned to the world of wrestling because she couldn’t ejaculate into a cup, the final step of boot camp. It seems ridiculous—you would think that they kicked her out just because of the patriarchally dominated military industrial complex’s archaic means of weeding out women—but I have it on good word from former marines that yes, the last step of boot camp is spurting one off into a cup. No janks, no tanks. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: El Stories: Talking to Strangers/Waltzing Mechanics

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Talking-to-Strangers1

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Alongside the Neo-Futurists, Waltzing Mechanics are purveyors of micro theater. Their latest edition in the “El Stories” series ought to be called “Not Talking to Strangers,” following the conventional wisdom of public transit, which dictates that you keep to yourself and make believe you are anywhere else.

If there’s a moral somewhere in “El Stories” it’s that shared spaces are vital for forcing valuable and otherwise unforeseeable communal experiences onto us. It is how we learn about our city and forge bonds with the people in it. The moments we most want to avoid while they’re happening (urine, loquacious robbery, harmonica solos, etc.) are the same ones we wear later as badges of pride.

The conceit of the Mechanics’ direct-to-stage storytelling means that not all stories read like stories. Several are, as one surrogate narrator puts it, hardly even anecdotes. It is an evening of identity by composite and so the fact that various tales lack compelling structure, meaningful interactions or even a defining dramatic moment is wholly natural. Read the rest of this entry »

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