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 »
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 »
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 »
Nate Santana and Nina O’Keefe/Photo: Michael Brosilow
Coming at you with the beauty of a well-placed left-hand hook, the Griffin Theatre presents Clifford Odets’ heavily metaphorical masterpiece “Golden Boy.” A cautionary tale on the perils of choosing the false gods of fame and fortune, this play has been staged many times since its initial 1937 production. A recent 2012 Lincoln Center revival earned eight Tony nominations. It is hard to imagine that performance in any way outclassing what is playing right now on Belmont.
Nate Santana is impressive as violinist turned pugilist Joe. On the eve of his twenty-first birthday, Joe burns with a desire to truly begin his life, to move forward “like a bullet.” His Italian immigrant father, Bonaparte (Norm Woodel in an emotional performance that hits every mark) sees that future consisting of Joe’s continued mastery of the violin and spends a fortune on one for his birthday. Others, like Bonaparte’s good friend Carp (Jerry Bloom), are not so sure and wonder if “muses put bread and butter on the table.” Joe echoes that sentiment and is quick to turn his back on his family in order to pursue fame and glory in the boxing ring. Read the rest of this entry »
Eleanor Marx (Dana Black) is the heir to her father Karl’s throne, if such a thing is possible in socialism. She translates her father’s work and travels the lecture circuit, stumping for the cause. Marx also acts and translates novels and plays, starring in Ibsen’s groundbreaking work, “A Doll’s House.” But even the most preoccupied souls suffer loneliness, and Marx starts a relationship with married writer and philosopher Edward Aveling (John Ferrick). The two attempt to defy convention by living together outside matrimony, even when Aveling’s infidelities and fiscal imprudence plague the relationship. Even the most unconventional relationships face traditional problems. Read the rest of this entry »
Joe Giovannetti and Breahan Eve Pautsch/Photo: Sooz Main
Billed as a psychological thriller, “Mishap!” is a mannered but engaging rumination on human relations, contrasting the genuinely dramatic tragedies and complexities of family life with the glib shenanigans of morning-news television programming. Or does it contrast cliched realities of the personal lives of public figures with the laughably melodramatic flourishes of soap operas? Presented in its U.S. premiere by Akvavit Theatre as the final installment of their “Nordic Cycle,” Bjarni Jónsson’s short and spirited play jumps back and forth over the line between public and private life, all the while spotlighting the confined theatrical setting used to great effect by director Chad Eric Bergman and his cast who seem always in uneasily close proximity to each other. Read the rest of this entry »
Paige Collins and Dan Toot/Photo: Michael Brosilow
Chicago winters teach a myriad of things: the fine art of layering, new terms like “polar vortex” and, among other things, how to be resilient. The House Theatre’s production of “Rose and the Rime,” directed by the company’s artistic director Nathan Allen, also teaches its audience quite a few lessons. Namely, that winter is a cold-hearted Witch, or at least that the season is caused by one.
From the moment the audience enters the theater, patrons are submersed into the scenery. “Snow,” made of white gift-wrap tissue, lightly falls from the ceiling and one might feel like one is in a live snow globe. Once the show begins, the audience leaves the blistering, seemingly endless winter of Chicago only to be transported to Radio Falls, a town truly under “The Curse of Winter.” Read the rest of this entry »
Sexual orientation is all too often reduced to an either/or binary—straight or gay, one or the other. Bisexual or pansexual people are presented by both straight and gay communities as confused or greedy. Mike Bartlett’s 2009 piece looks at the ironclad categories we put each other in, the problems that occur when a man begins to doubt the basics of his sexual identity and the push-back he receives from those who claim to love him.
John (Christopher Sheard) attempts to break free of longtime boyfriend M (Jake Szczepaniak). During their relationship respite, John befriends W (Eleni Pappageorge) and sleeps with her. Confused and lonely, he tries to reignite the relationship with M and confesses his relationship with W. He suggests both lovers meet to discuss the situation; M brings his father (Larry Neumann) to the meeting as back-up. Read the rest of this entry »
To add to Chicago’s celebration of Black History Month, Porchlight Music Theatre sends a jazz-jolt to Chicago’s February theater scene with a musically rousing, historically revealing production of the “Fats” Waller-inspired “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” Originally conceived as a cabaret show, “Ain’t Misbehavin’” was so popular that it transferred to Broadway, winning three Tony Awards in 1978, bested in the Musical Theatre categories only by the Comden-Green/Coleman “On The Twentieth Century,” which carried away five brass and bronze, nickel-plated medallions. A glimpse into the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s and thirties, when segregation’s stigmatization fell away from dusk till dawn at the Cotton Club and the Savoy Ballroom, even while the sun’s first rays reinvented racism afresh, Porchlight’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’” pulled the sold-out audience to its feet long before the final medley gushed into the curtain call on the night I saw it. Read the rest of this entry »
Eric Lynch/Photo: Liz Lauren
At its best, theater uses its characters and their stories as vessels for big ideas, for provocations that make audiences think about new concepts, or to consider old notions in new ways. And, at its best, it does so organically, with characters and a narrative on its own so compelling that the ideas sort of sneak up on the audience. Very few plays reach such ambitious heights, though, and it’s not at all unusual for the narrative to take a back seat to the ideas the playwright’s eager to discuss.
This is the case with “Buzzer,” now at the Goodman. Jackson is a young black man (played effectively by Eric Lynch) who escaped the rough New York ghetto of his youth to go to prep school and Harvard and now is a prosperous lawyer moving back to his old neighborhood, for no other reason than real estate, to be an unabashed force for and benefactor of gentrification. With him comes his attractive white girlfriend Suzy (Lee Stark, suitably earnest) and his best friend Don (a lively Shane Kenyon), a white rich kid who’s lived his adult life to date in a spiral of addiction and rehab. Not surprisingly, complications arise both externally, when Suzy experiences a fear-tinged discomfort over a daily gauntlet of catcalls from a group of neighborhood guys hanging out near their apartment, and internally, where the seemingly equal love Jackson holds for Suzy and for Don strives for an unrealistic equilibrium. Director Jessica Thebus drives home Jackson’s dilemma by at times arranging the actors in a neat (love) triangle on a stage set with audiences on all four sides, designed by Walt Spangler as a sort of Ikea model apartment amidst the graffiti-tagged street signs of a neighborhood still in the early phase of its gentrification. That the characters never seem fully real, more archetypes than human beings, is the central fault of this production. But the concerns they exist to stir up, though not new, remain urgently relevant in a culture that still seems to think it’s understandable to kill a young black man for wearing a hoodie or for playing loud music obnoxiously. Read the rest of this entry »