Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: The King & I/Marriott Theatre

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Heidi Kettenring

Heidi Kettenring

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There are those who may grouse at the remounting of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals that paved the way for J.R. Brown, Guettel and Sondhiem. But “South Pacific” won’t go away, no matter the amount of hair-washing. There will continue to be corn-filled, beautiful mornings, and a tinkley tune set in 3/4 time, slowly swelling in orchestration and tempo until we remember our first carousel ride is not disappearing any time soon.

And just why might that be, you Grumpy Gusses, longing for louder percussion and more overt hurt? Is it the melding of perhaps overly romantic lyric to hummable melody? I won’t pretend that has nothing to do with the equation; we do like to leave the theater humming, Jason, and be able to recite at least a phrase or two of the lyrics, Stephen. But let’s look for just a moment at the themes of the pieces these two giants wove, subtly, into their effervescent canon, in light of the times in which they lived. They chose material that, in lesser hands, might have been considered too subversive to survive at the box office. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Lieutenant of Inishmore/AstonRep Theatre Company

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(l to r) Chadwick Sutton, John Wehrman, Robert Tobin and Tim Larson/Photo: Emily Schwartz

Chadwick Sutton, John Wehrman, Robert Tobin and Tim Larson/Photo: Emily Schwartz

RECOMMENDED

The indiscriminate momentum of violence drives the action and the banality of its coarse adherents provides the comedy in “The Lieutenant of Inishmore.” The humor in Martin McDonagh’s play is as black as the cat that propels lead character Padraic back to his hometown, where he’s feared and loathed by all save young lass Mairead, smitten with Padraic’s self-appointed rise in the ranks and giddy with her own revolutionary aspirations.

The cat’s named Wee Thomas but might more informatively be named MacGuffin. That’s an Irish name right? Scottish? Sorry, I dunno. Point being, the cat explains Padrea’s bloodlust no more than that cinematic sled justifies Charlie Kane’s moral failings. Padraic is irredeemably violent. Concern for his childhood pet is just one of any number of triggers that’ll prompt him to pull out your toenails, rip out the nipple of your own forced choosing, or blow out your brains. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Happy Days/Theatre Y

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Melissa Lorraine/Photo: Devron Enarson

Melissa Lorraine/Photo: Devron Enarson

RECOMMENDED

Director András Visky, in collaboration with designer Péter Szabó, roots this Samuel Beckett adaptation in our time and space through the visceral force of sound, design and Theatre Y’s unique surroundings at the sanctuary of St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Logan Square. The universality of Beckett’s story remains intact as Winnie (Melissa Lorraine), a woman buried up to her waist in act one, and neck in act two, chats to her husband, the seldom-seen but ever-present Willie (Evan Hill) as she goes about her tightly narrated daily routine.

Seeing the mound that buries Winnie interpreted as digital garbage, instead of as earth, provokes the audience into questioning how deep we truly are in our own digital lives and whether they are a part of us, or rather, if we are a part of them. Those familiar with “Happy Days” may notice specific liberties that both the director and the set designer have taken in order to adapt to both the theater location and the theater itself as well as this modern premise.

There is a universality to “Happy Days” that transcends time and space; the audience is not just invited to witness a couple’s life and relationship conclusion, but compelled to think about their own life in parallel. The fact that the pair is played by a real-life married couple breathes real life into this adaptation, making it feel that much more intimate (at least to this real-life married couple of reviewers). The all-engulfing digital mound on stage is never addressed; however, it is cleverly intertwined throughout the two acts and is brought to blinking, flashing life in key moments of despair, making it obvious that while we will always have the quintessential “big problem” of Mother Earth calling us back, we now have an extra pile to deal with. The set is raw, urban and intimate, all qualities of Chicago at one moment or another. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Parade/BoHo Theatre

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Nathan Carroll as Craig

Nathan Carroll/Photo: Allison King

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Director Linda Fortunato and the cast of BoHo Theatre’s production of “Parade” know that the game is to tell a story. The trial of Leo Frank, an inveterate miscarriage of justice that caused a Jewish man living in Georgia to be tried, convicted and executed for the murder of a thirteen-year-old girl, the entire ghastly situation coated in lies and bribes and greed and the ready depersonalization of anyone considered as “other,” is a story indeed, a historical horror that should shake us into the realization that we watch this same sin committed again and again, while so few move a finger in protest. This cast-congregation preach the story like the revival meeting it is. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Pseudo-Chum/The Neo-Futurists

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(l to r) Aaron Lawson, Carolyn Benjamin, Sean Benjamin/Photo: Daniel Neumann

Aaron Lawson, Carolyn Benjamin, Sean Benjamin/Photo: Daniel Neumann

RECOMMENDED

Disclosure, before the sharks circle: I like to be amused. I’m generally not amused by art about art, whether it concerns its own making or whether it ruminates on or examines other art. Sean and Carolyn Benjamin’s “Pseudo-Chum” is highly amusing, and/but it’s also about itself and about other art. Once upon my own youth I had a writing teacher who instructed that the one thing you should not write about is writing. Thanks to this Neo-Futurists production, I’m violating this in the extreme: writing about writing about writing. Is there a solution to this dilemma? As a meta fact there is. I just ain’t gonna mention a single of the play’s cultural references. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Romulus/Oracle Theatre

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Oracle_ROMULUS_cred_Joe-Mazza-Brave-Lux_1

Photo: Joe Mazza

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The setting starts out so lovely. You walk into Oracle’s cozy little cabin of a space off of Broadway and you’re greeted with what looks like a charming Tuscan villa. It’s the kind of place that the erstwhile star of a Nancy Meyers movie might retreat to “find herself.” Sure everything’s a bit grayish and decaying and there appear to be giant ragged holes in that patio umbrella but, look, there’s a bowl of fruit! What a charming still life. What could go wrong with such a lovely bowl of fruit? Well, when the play you’re about to see is set during the death rattle of the Roman Empire and you’re in the hands of a pair of men—Gore Vidal and Friedrich Durrenmatt—who don’t exactly traffic beach-read escapism and, really, when it’s an Oracle show in general, the answer turns out to be: pretty much everything.

The play is called “Romulus” and it is Vidal’s rather loosey-goosey adaptation of the play “Romulus the Great” by Durrenmatt. The latter was a mid-century Swiss playwright who specialized in withering, absurdist take-downs of capitalism, and the former was one of the great lefty lions of said century’s back half. Needless to say, money and empire and Rome and America and conservative values and patriotism don’t exactly fare well. Director Kasey Foster and a spirited cast offer a rousing production that adds a daffiness of its own to Vidal and Durrenmatt’s polemical lunacy. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Audience Annihilated Part 2: Gold Star Sticker/Dream Theatre Company

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Some of the most unsettling characters in horror films aren’t the demonic phantasms or unkillable slashers, but the just-real-enough weirdos who inhabit the margins of the narrative, halfway between daytime reality and surreal terror. For a tense fifteen minutes, Dream Theatre Company will plop you down in their living room to be the object of sneering scorn in “Audience Annihilated Part 2: Gold Star Sticker.”

The sequel to 2011’s “Audience Annihilated Part One: Women Only Train,” “Gold Star Sticker” places the audience in the role of Princess, the kind of terrified bed-wetter child who always draws the parental short stick in these kinds of stories. The aforementioned weirdos are her caretakers—junkie mother (Nicole Roberts), ukulele-toting Juggalo boyfriend (Jeremy Menekseoglu), and an unexplained drug-pushing amputee (Amanda Lynn Meyer) with a very unsettling emphysema lung-rattle and an incredibly sweet satin Cubs jacket. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Velveteen Rabbit/Lifeline Theatre

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(L to R) Jamie Cahill and Christopher Acevedo/Photo: Suzanne Plunkett

Jamie Cahill and Christopher Acevedo/Photo: Suzanne Plunkett

RECOMMENDED

“When you’re real, you don’t mind being hurt.” This central theme permeates an affable and vibrant staging of Margery Williams’ timeless book “The Velveteen Rabbit,” which opens KidSeries’ twenty-eighth season at Rogers Park’s Lifeline Theatre.

The classic tale of toys’ secret lives (some seventy-odd years before Buzz Lightyear) is adapted for the stage by ensemble member Elise Kauzlaric and brought to bright life by Jamie Cahill as the floppy and progressively more existent Rabbit, her peaches and cream face an ideal projection of naïve emergence.

Christopher Acevedo, as the rabbit’s young keeper and caretaker, is a sweetly blank canvas for the young audience’s fantasies. When the boy’s unconditional love for the rabbit gives way to the Scarlet Fever that will condemn her to the woodpile, Acevedo’s performance is never inappropriately worrisome, although the thematic content— and need for subtle understatement—is better suited for an audience closer to five rather than younger. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Animal Farm/Steppenwolf For Young Adults

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AnimalFarm_Production10

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There is something significant about the prolific writer George Orwell using stories as his vehicle for political action. Orwell, who fought in the Spanish Civil War and suffered a gunshot wound to the throat, knew the limitations war had in bringing about genuine change.  Simply exchanging political systems and leaders was equally insufficient. For as writer and feminist Audre Lorde states, “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

To bring about impactful change that would revolutionize the world, Orwell needed a different weapon than the master’s tools. So with pen in hand as his chosen artillery, he took to the battlefield of the blank page and an allegory entitled “Animal Farm” emerged the victor.

Written to pierce the consciousness of men to provoke social action, Steppenwolf for Young Adults’ (SYA) production of the classic novel achieves what Orwell intended. In this soul-stirring adaptation, it won’t be long before you, yourself, will want to join in the revolution happening on stage.   Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Ionesco Suite/Theatre de la Ville at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

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Left to right: Jauris Casanova, Céline Carrère, Stéphane Krähenbühl, San-dra Faure, Olivier Le Borgne, and Charles Roger Bour/Photo: Agathe Pouoponey.

Jauris Casanova, Céline Carrère, Stéphane Krähenbühl, Sandra Faure, Olivier Le Borgne and Charles Roger Bour/Photo: Agathe Pouoponey.

RECOMMENDED

It was a happy coincidence that I happened to catch Theatre de la Ville’s “Ionesco Suite” within a day of seeing Strawdog Theatre’s production of “Fail/Safe.” Both shows traffic in mid-century post-nuclear absurdism, one through skewering the bourgeois with comedic fragmentation and formalist experimentation and one through showing a bunch of B-movie archetypes almost blow up the world. They are about as different as two shows can be while still being about the same basic thing: what it’s like to live in a world that could be blown to smithereens at any second. And whereas “Fail/Safe” portrays the absurdity of this condition (and does a white-knuckle job of it), “Ionesco Suite” goes a step further by embodying it, like the play itself is having a nervous breakdown.

The show, an original creation by Theatre de la Ville’s artistic director Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota, is part collage, part human-centipeding of a number of Eugene Ionesco’s works. Ionesco was a leading light in the “Theatre of the Absurd” movement of the fifties and sixties along with Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, Friedrich Durrenmatt and many others. Their shows eschewed traditional realism (which is great for Chicago, as we’re up to our eyeballs in the stuff) in favor of heightened stylization, all the better to highlight the absurdities on display and heighten their alienating affect. The show includes scenes from Ionesco’s plays “The Bald Soprano,” “The Lesson” and “Jack, or The Submission” among others. It is not an attempt to cut and paste these excerpts into a single cohesive whole, and it doesn’t play like a greatest-hits album either. Really it’s more like reading a fine book of short stories, something along the lines of George Saunders’ “The Tenth of December.” Each segment presents a different view on the same condition, like a series of shadows all cast from a single light. Read the rest of this entry »