(l to r) Sean Benjamin, Kevin Alves, Carolyn Shoemaker-Benjamin, Steve Mosqueda/Photo: Gosia Matuszewska
Self-referential by repeatedly remarked upon design, “The Earliest Known Photo of Men Drinking Beer” tries to say in thousands of words seemingly everything the titular photograph brought to the mind of the playwright. The script even addresses the inevitably of the use of the word “titular” when speaking of the play.
This often farcical production presents the staging of a reenactment of the taking of the famous photograph “Edinburgh Ale” as bound for tragedy. Though the actors break the fourth wall early in the show, they seem nonetheless trapped in a dangerous and frightful exercise which soon escapes the control or even understanding of the participants. The main intellectual considerations are human mortality, the possible permanence of art, and the shaping of history and “reality” by art that outlives its subjects. A staged image from photography’s infancy is an ideal spark for such a discourse and the photo provides one identity for each of the play’s four characters. Each character has at least one separate identity as well. And each of these identities has more than one role within the action… Read the rest of this entry »
“Nothing is more dangerous than stupid men who think they have a good idea,” says a character at one point. The play is based on the true account of a Chicago band of Irish-American crooks that tried to steal and ransom Abraham Lincoln’s body. A “roper” – the old name for an undercover agent – is employed by the secret service to infiltrate the counterfeiters who hang out at a neighborhood bar. It’s all immensely entertaining. Two hour-long acts are separated by an intermission.
Chicago veteran actor and playwright Will Dunne has turned this bizarre tale into an engaging, fun, and even at times moving, theater experience. The witty script crackles as he captures the tough brogue of 1870s Irish Chicago. There’s a serious light-heartedness here, and a forward movement that draws you in. Read the rest of this entry »
Cheryl Lynn Bruce and Tosin Morohunfola/Photo: Michael Courier
415. The number of homicides recorded in Chicago in 2013. 46. The number of homicides recorded in Chicago as of January 1, 2014. 266. The price of a pair of Air Jordans, and the cost of a young person’s life in Marcus Gardley’s “The Gospel of Lovingkindness,” currently playing at Victory Gardens Theater.
This play is rooted in the harsh reality of urban life in Chicago. It focuses on the stories of two mothers, their sons and the “village” it takes to raise their children, a village that has become a place of chaos, where “bullets don’t obey boundaries.”
Mary (Cheryl Lynn Bruce) is on stage – restlessly sitting in a chair – as the audience enters. White tables, chairs, a post box, basketball hoop and a 54/Cermak sign (like the one at the CTA stop) hang from the ceiling like a world tuned upside down or dreams just a bit too far to reach. As the lights dim, a series of monologues serve as introductions to the people in Mary’s life and, one by one, it becomes more apparent why she can’t say a word: her memories have left her speechless and she is forced to awake to a cruel reality no parent should have to face. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Anthony Aicardi
What do you get when you cross poison ivy with four-leaf clovers? A rash of good luck. What do you get if you cross an artist with a policeman? A brush with the law. What do you get when you cross farce with revenge tragedy? “Les Parents Terribles.”
Having blamed the children in his novel “Les Enfants Terribles,” Jean Maurice Eugène Clément Cocteau turns the tables on the adults in “Les Parents Terribles.” The story’s conceit is the descent into madness and disorder within an insular, highly dysfunctional family, brought about by the son’s decision to marry. This is upsetting to the mother, who is, at the very least, much too involved in her son’s life and, at the most socially horrific, his lover. This emotional coupling and its allied rejection has left the father intellectually impotent, seething with jealousy, and dreaming of revenge. The broth is kept at a constant boil by the sister of the mother, who has always been in love with the father, and attaches herself to the family as housekeeper-mensch, weaving her web and awaiting her opportunity. Unbeknownst to patriarch and progeny dueling for mother’s affection, both are bedding the same young lady. There is a great deal of weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth. Aunt lies to sister, sister lives to manipulate, father and son hide their amorous relations, aunt plots against the girlfriend, father plots against son, and if there aren’t any outright disguises, the brilliantly outlandish costumes, and sometimes lack of clothing altogether, remind us that it’s Mardi Gras-time. Read the rest of this entry »
Asskicking Amazons attempts to be many things. Unfortunately it attempts them in generally heavy-handed fashion. Its combination of social commentary, exploitation-flick trappings and soap-opera melodrama could possibly formulate an entertaining amalgam and there are hints in Chicago Mammals’ current production of what a successful combination would look like. The show is overly long and too much of the humor is aimed squarely at easy targets, such as a rightwing Texas legislature power couple who met in their youth and have stayed true to each other, their love of God and their disdain for lefties. Commendably, the show does not reserve its satire or vitriol for only one side of the political aisle.
Set in the near future, the action concerns a protest/fundraiser staged by the feminist gothic punk band of the show’s title. The fundraiser is ostensibly staged to stave off the closing of the state’s last abortion clinic. Myriad social issues are woven into the script—free assembly and free speech; reproductive rights; gender identification; religious/cult allegiance. In some scenes these issues resonate; more often they seem like surface signifiers designed to elicit expected reactions. There’s a real B-movie aesthetic going on, which provides a visual style that nicely correlates with the frequent projections (the show relies heavily on video clips which provide background and context). The dialogue also seems lifted from a B-movie script, which lends an appropriate air of voyeurism and verite, but which does not serve to illuminate the complex issues at hand. Read the rest of this entry »
Joe Penhall is a British playwright and screenwriter, best known for his play “Blue/Orange.” Exploring the dynamic of two doctors working with a schizophrenic patient, the play was awarded Best New Play at the Evening Standard Awards, Laurence Olivier Awards and at the Critics’ Circle in 2000. Penhall adapted it for television in 2005. Penhall’s play, “Love and Understanding,” premiered three years earlier and also considered the challenges of two over-worked doctors, not married but living together, who scramble to survive the reappearance into their lives of a narcissistic, sociopathic friend.
A younger contemporary of famed playwright Sir David Hare, Penhall continues the examination of the psychological underpinnings of a British society remaking itself in the aftermath of World War II. Like Hare, Penhall can place a few characters in physically claustrophobic situations where they cannot ignore each other and therefore have no choice but to make revelations to the audience, though they remain unexamined by themselves. With Chekhovian, split-second twists between dramatic and comedic dialogue, “Love and Understanding” keeps the audience riveted, holding on tightly to the theatrical rollercoaster. Read the rest of this entry »
Five or ten minutes into “Period Piece,” I had nearly resigned myself to a show with little but its heart in the right place. Then, quite noticeably and suddenly, everything else clicked into place and I was off on a spirited, intelligent and emotionally true journey through time on a rather red river of hilarity.
Our hero Tammy DuPont has placed about as many pharmacological, intellectual and emotional dams between her and her monthly magic as playwrights Jenni Lamb and Lisa Linke have placed slang menstruation terms into this frequently uproarious script. A disastrous pitch to her longtime client from Forever Feminine hygiene products, the resultant falling out with her business partner and a surprise visit from her Aunt Flo (oh, that bothersome flow) conspire to force high-powered ad-exec Tammy to rethink her bitter, dismissive attitude about her period. The catalyst for this change of heart is a family heirloom gifted by Aunt Flo: a magical sanitary napkin belt which thrusts Tammy back and forth through time. On several stops through both world and DuPont family history (which generally intersect) Tammy confronts ridiculous, debunked “expertise” on women’s health, sexist doctrine on a woman’s place and her own unresolved feelings of personal loss and shame which are increasingly revealed to be the source of her views on menstruation. Read the rest of this entry »
Anthony Moseley/Photo: Anna Sodziak
Heartfelt and well-intentioned though it certainly seems, “This is Not a Cure for Cancer” is not an engaging or artful piece of theater. That is not to say it is without craft nor lacking in artifice; throughout the performance, video projections, props and costume changes shift the setting and the emotional tone—in a direct, unsubtle but efficient manner. The more-than-capable large supporting cast is more than game in ensemble moments as brain cells and cancer cells and even enjoyable in individual turns as health care practitioners and game-show hosts. The disparate scenes provide cursory introductions to facets of the disease and controversies over varying treatment options. Read the rest of this entry »
Carolyn Klein and Dan Granata/Photo: Suzanne Plunkett
Watching Lifeline Theatre’s “A Tale of Two Cities,” I found myself wondering what Charles Dickens would make of this adaptation of his novel about the French Revolution. Dickens himself was a man of the theater, and his novels often read like plays transformed into prose, brimming with dramatic exaggeration and an inimitable combination of melodrama and comedy. How hard could it be to turn the prose back into theater?
With its mixed success, this production shows that the process isn’t simple. Adapter Christopher Walsh and director Elise Kauzlaric capture the novel’s propulsive drive, the artful intricacy of its plotting, and its perfect balance and symmetry. What gets lost, however, in this tale of heroism, cruelty, romance and redemption during the best and worst of times is any sense of shading of character or complexity of situation. The adaptation—pared down of necessity and faithful to a fault—could use an occasional pause for reflection. While the story is told well, there isn’t quite enough effort to make it relevant and fully alive to today’s audience. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Paul Kolnik
In the 1990s, television veered into new programming territory with the show “The Real World,” offering a form of entertainment for which there was little scripting or preparation, where the viewing public could watch “real” people dealing with their life’s joys, sorrows and daily challenges; reality television was born. This genre ushered in an ostensibly new form of showbiz, where we were invited to see ourselves more directly than we might when experiencing the highly structured and polished presentation of a situation comedy or a weekly, episodic dramatic series. Beautiful, charismatic and opinionated women have been the principal performers—and even producers—of many of these popular spectacles. Names such as Hilton, Richie, Osbourne and Kardashian are folded into this recipe—along with those of real housewives of several major cities—regularly “trending” on the Internet. But it is hardly a new preoccupation to award the status of “celebrity” to someone else’s next-door neighbor. Read the rest of this entry »