Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: October Sky/Marriott Theatre

Musicals, Recommended Shows, Theater Reviews, World Premiere No Comments »
Cast of October Sky 1

Patrick Rooney, Nate Lewellyn, Alex Weisman, Ben Barker, and the cast of “October Sky”/Photo: Liz Lauren

RECOMMENDED

From Homer J. Hickam’s memoir, to a Universal Studios film, comes a musical retelling of an ageless, American story of the right, and the ability, to rise above one’s circumstances through a vision bred of curiosity, hard work and determination, and the support of families, large and small. “October Sky,” with a book by Aaron Thielen, music and lyrics by Michael Mahler, and directed by Rachel Rockwell, makes its world premiere at Marriott.

Musicals have awkward births; stories of second acts that didn’t work, beloved songs discarded and lost for decades, and directorial revolving doors are myriad. “October Sky” is an exception that proves that rule. Thielen’s book is perfectly paced, focusing on the characters that drive the central arc, granting others a fond resonance while keeping them in supporting positions. Mahler works a compositional miracle here, dipping into Appalachian folk music, bluegrass, and rockabilly, all informed by the contemporary, musical theater idiom; the result is a mixture of uptempo gems and the type of soaring ballads that weds the Great American Songbook to popular music. Rockwell’s direction is subtle, drawing performances from her ensemble that delicately suggest an era and destination; from the accents to the intentions, she opens the story’s lens. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Price/TimeLine Theatre

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Mike Nussbaum. Photo by Lara Goetsch

Mike Nussbaum/Photo: Lara Goetsch

RECOMMENDED

There’s a scene in Myla Goldberg’s “Bee Season” where a character explores a storage locker. Instead of finding the typical packrat arrangement, he discovers a museum of trinkets, a tribute to the tragic obsession and neuroses of his wife. It is a dramatic passage built on vivid description. It is the only time I’ve ever been made physically ill by literature. I was reminded of this passage when I entered TimeLine Theatre for their production of Arthur Miller’s “The Price,” a masterpiece so grotesquely, richly and unbearably detailed that it might make you vomit. And I mean that in the best way possible. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: After Miss Julie/Strawdog Theatre Company

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Strawdog

Maggie Scrantom and John Henry Roberts/Photo: Chris Ocken

RECOMMENDED

Strawdog Theatre Company lives up to the theme of their twenty-eighth season, “The Tipping Point,” by thrusting audiences into the basement kitchen of an English aristocrat just before the UK’s 1945 general elections, the elections that would finish Churchill and his conservatives in favor of the Labour Party. This production of Patrick Marber’s “After Miss Julie,” a modern take on August Strindberg’s 1888 classic, firmly reminds us of the countless filaments of personal struggle that light the way to tipping points, confusing, along the way, individual desires with social mandates and larger national movements. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: It Came From Kentucky/The Annoyance Theatre

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John Horton and Marybeth Kram/Photo: Molly Kom

John Horton and Marybeth Kram/Photo: Molly Kom

RECOMMENDED

Aliens and hillbillies in a musical together. That’s what you get when you go to see “It Came from Kentucky” at The Annoyance Theatre. Initially, you might think that this is a plot devised by a group of improvisers as they sat around getting drunk. You’d likely be surprised to learn that directors Sam Locke and Dustin Levell actually put together a piece that revolves around actual events that occurred in Hopkinsville, Kentucky back in 1955.

This musical comedy celebrates the diamond anniversary of the Kelly-Hopkinsville Encounter, and claims to tell the “true” story of what happened when visitors from another planet descended on the backwoods inhabitants of the Bluegrass State. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: This House Believes the American Dream is at the Expense of the American Negro/Oracle Theatre

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Photo: Joe Mazza

Photo: Joe Mazza

RECOMMENDED

“This House Believes the American Dream is at the Expense of the American Negro” is a lengthy title for Zachary Baker-Salmon’s well condensed, seventy-minute adaption of the historic 1965 debate between legendary writer and civil rights activist James Baldwin (Johnard Washington) and—as some label him—the father of modern conservatism, William F. Buckley, Jr. (Jeremy Clark).

The debate took place at Cambridge University to a packed room of Union Society members and undergraduates. However the play begins the moment you walk through Oracle Theatre’s doors. You are told that the audience will decide the winner of the debate and handed two ballots: One you cast before the play, the other after, to see if your position has changed.

The play is quite entertaining, educational and relevant in reviving an important question we must ask ourselves about who has paid the cost for our American dream? Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Ashes to Ashes/Citizens’ Relief and INTUIT: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art

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Simone Jubyna and Mike Driscoll/Photo: Leonard M. Cicero

Simone Jubyna and Mike Driscoll/Photo: Courtesy of INTUIT

RECOMMENDED

Harold Pinter’s plays often seem longer than they are thanks to the fact that he intentionally calls for prolonged pauses and silences within his scripts. Because of this, those who attend “Ashes to Ashes” at INTUIT: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, may feel that they have witnessed an epic piece of theater, although they’ve only been seated for about fifty minutes.  Thanks to the topics within the play, no matter how brief the duration, it remains a piece of epic proportions.

The two-person cast of Mike Driscoll and Simone Jubyna bring to life Pinter’s married couple, Devlin and Rebecca, respectively. The two sit in two chairs with two lamps nearby. Jubyna never rises from her seated position, while Driscoll occasionally paces, stares at a piece of art on the wall, and returns to his chair. The action is obviously simple. The concepts and issues being addressed are not. On its surface the play is about a man interrogating his wife about a love affair, a potential infidelity. At a deeper and more satisfying level it is about being a survivor, about one woman’s attraction to the darker side of our natures, about PTSD and how the families of its sufferers struggle to understand. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Things You Shouldn’t Say Past Midnight/Windy City Playhouse

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Peter Meadows (foreground), Emily Tate, Patrese McClain and Shane Kenyon (mid-ground), Robert Spencer and Chris Sheard (background) in THINGS YOU SHOULDN'T SAY PAST MIDNIGHT at Windy City Playhouse. Photo by Michael Brosilow

Peter Meadows (foreground), Emily Tate, Patrese McClain and Shane Kenyon (mid-ground), Robert Spencer and Chris Sheard (background)/ Photo: Michael Brosilow

RECOMMENDED

Earlier this year Newcity ran a story about the opening of the Windy City Playhouse and the launch of their first season. In it, artistic director Amy Rubenstein called it “the gateway theater,” saying she hoped that people who don’t typically see theater would check them out—with their full bar, club-like setting and high-quality escapist productions—and be inspired to see more theater. Though we reviewed their first two shows favorably, I hadn’t been to the space yet myself. After seeing “Things You Shouldn’t Say Past Midnight”—a quick-moving, lighthearted, sometimes circuitous and slightly dated, but always entertaining production—I’m happy to say that this theater is delivering on their ambitious plan. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: In Love and Warcraft/Halcyon Theatre

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loveandwacraft2

RECOMMENDED

Before the performance of “In Love and Warcraft” began on Sunday night, one of the show’s actors explained Halcyon Theatre’s philosophy of radical hospitality: the cast, crew and company bend over backwards to make the audience feel at home in their shows. This includes leaving free seats available for people who can’t afford to see the show otherwise, talking to audience members before and after the show, and working with the local community outside of the production. This attitude permeates the play itself; taking place in Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church’s basement, it almost feels like you are in the comfortable living room of a kind-of-religious friend who also likes nerdy plays. It helps that the show’s material, a story of… well… love and Warcraft, is refreshingly approachable and relatable. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Fly Honey Show/The Inconvenience

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FH6.PRESS

RECOMMENDED

For the most part, The Inconvenience’s sixth annual “The Fly Honey Show”’s blatantly burlesque and abounding pop cultural references can make it feel specifically millennial. However, in the moments when performers stand firmly outside of the glib pastiche with personal honesty and poetic earnestness (“Join the hive… the whole damn tribe. All my honeys, let’s shake a good wing for a good thing, all of my honeys, let’s thrive.”), it is clear that “The Fly Honey Show” is not just an exercise in genre but a genuine effort to bring viewers (millennial and otherwise) into The Inconvenience’s glittering underground hive for a reprieve from conventionality’s tyrannies.

Mary Williamson, a powerful host, tirelessly herds the audience through more than twenty acts of spoken word, mash-ups, striptease and comedy. She makes you feel at home in your body as she and the other barely clad bodies dancing throughout the theater are in theirs. Of her fly side-ponytail she says, “It’s business on this side and nonna your goddamn business on this side, because I’m a layered and complicated individual.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Celebration/A Red Orchid Incubator

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Elliot Baker

Elliot Baker/Photo: Matthew Vuckovich

RECOMMENDED

Harold Pinter’s plays famously hint at something ominous below the surface of dialogue that poetically chases itself around but ends up nowhere (“They believe in me.”—”Who do?”—”They do. What do you mean, who do? They do.”—”Oh, do they?”). Yet the Pinter production currently playing at A Red Orchid Incubator is so intensified by visual and sonic vibrancy that the vague sense of anxiety, lurking below the vapid lines, becomes a visceral experience. This clash of sound, sight and dialogue makes director dado’s production of “Celebration” (2000) wickedly more absurd than what any normal person could ever imagine while reading the script (Pinter’s last for the stage).

Throughout the hour-long play, three couples trace disturbing power dynamics (“But darling, that’s naked aggression. He doesn’t normally go in for naked aggression. He usually disguises it under honeyed words.”), lose themselves in tangents or fall into memories that hint at perverse pasts. Although the play lacks any ostensible plot, the actors fill up their characters with such vulgarity and vapidity that the disgust you feel will compel you through to the very end. Read the rest of this entry »

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