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 »
Written by Austrian playwright Ewald Palmetshofer (and translated beautifully by Neil Blackadder for this English-language world premiere) “hamlet is dead. no gravity” is a dark, postmodern look at the meaning of life. Staged in a stripped-down church space with set design consisting of little more than some scaffolding, spotlights and four chairs, six characters alternate telling the audience their role in a past event. Even this basic point is not readily understood as the disjointed narratives are slow to build a coherent story around a pair of siblings bumping into old friends at a funeral (all the while suffering the effects of a poorly cooked roast eaten at their ninety-five-year-old grandmother’s birthday party). These are, as their mother points out, strange times where “the old have birthdays and the children are buried.” Read the rest of this entry »
The best twists in a story are not those that reveal some new and unexpected turn of events but those that reveal something new and unexpected about a character. Something that makes you (or at least the really loud audience member sitting directly behind you) gasp sharply and whisper “Ohhhh noooo” or, alternatively, “Ohhhh yessss” at its revelation. Playwright Rebecca Gilman’s latest work, now appearing at the Goodman Theatre in a world-premiere production directed by Robert Falls, has many such moments. And in the tightly crafted world that Gilman has created and that Falls has brought to life, each realization hits the mark.
The titular Luna Gale is an infant, brought to an Iowa emergency room by her meth-using teenage parents Karlie and Peter (Reyna de Courcy and Colin Sphar) and promptly put into the custody of Karlie’s mother Cindy (Jordan Baker) by veteran social worker Caroline (Mary Beth Fisher). But when the overly religious Cindy pushes for full adoption with the help of her pastor (Richard Thieriot), Caroline begins to wonder if living with her grandmother is really that much better for Luna in the long run. Especially if Luna’s troubled parents can turn their lives around for the sake of their child. Read the rest of this entry »
The release reads, “First of its kind in the U.S., the 2014 Chicago Contemporary Circus Festival brings shows from around the world together January 6th through 12th.”
If, like me, you are not the type to enjoy clowns and dancing elephants, make sure you read further; this is not your average big-top, “shiny shoe” circus. This is the circus peculiar to much of Europe, Quebec and a slow trickle in the United States, a circus unlike that of Vegas’ “Cirque du Soleil”—it is innovative, small, plucky and growing steam.
Curated by Matt Roben and Shayna Swanson, two mightily seasoned performers in their own circus-y rights, the Chicago Contemporary Circus Festival is the nation’s first contemporary circus festival. The focus of contemporary circus is to create artistically insightful and emotionally affecting work, such as one-man contortionist acts or late-night cabaret mime. This circus has existed in Chicago for years, but never has such a streamlined attempt been made to make the City of Big Shoulders THE city for circus; as Roben puts it, the festival is an attempt to make Chicago “the epicenter of circus for the United States.” Read the rest of this entry »
As numerous denizens of a nearby municipality aver, the titular Innsmouth is indeed a “queer sort of town.” As imagined by horror luminary H.P. Lovecraft, its secrets, when finally revealed, were enough to make a young man on an unintended night’s stay in the creepy port town faint dead away. “Can it be possible that this planet has actually spawned such things; that human eyes have truly seen, as objective flesh, what man has hitherto known only in febrile phantasy and tenuous legend?” asks the breathless narrator. This is heady stuff alright.
In playwright Scott T. Barsotti’s adaptation, making its world premiere at the Athenaeum Theatre via horror-centric company WildClaw Theatre, this narrator is a young woman named Regina (the wide-eyed and ingenue-ish Brittany Burch) and, as she wanders this mysteriously desolate town on the East Coast, she is often quite literally breathless, inhaling a strange tincture to strengthen her weak lungs. The townspeople she encounters seem to be afflicted by some terrible wasting disease (Aly Renee Amidei’s makeup and mask design are stellar), stumbling along coughing and scratching at their open wounds. Read the rest of this entry »
For anyone who’s ever pined for a movie star from a past era or maybe got a little too turned on by famous figures in history class, “The Dead Prince—A New Muzical” just might be the show for your deceased-person desires. The rest of you however probably won’t find the Strange Tree Group’s new tuner quite as zany as that substitution ‘z’ suggests.
The musical begins with a troupe of forest-dwelling storytellers (led by Elizabeth Bagby) tumbling out of their gypsy caravan to proclaim just how eager they are to deliver the evening’s fairy tale. They then proceed to sing about getting ready to tell the story instead of, you know, just actually starting to tell the damn thing. Once the group finally gets that initial song out of their system, the audience is introduced to Sara (Ann Sonneville), a past-her-prime princess desperate to find the right man to help rule her kingdom. Joined by her doting, bushy-haired, mandolin-totting minstrel (Zachary Sigelko), Sara sets out on a last ditch effort to land herself a prince by seeking the help of a magic mirror named Maldorf (Michael Thomas Downey), who—bad news for Sara here—reveals that she can never be with her true love because the dude is already dead. At one time a powerful wizard who cheated death by concealing himself in the mirror, Maldorf strikes a deal with Sara: if he leads her to the deceased prince’s tomb, she’ll crack the mirror and set him free. Read the rest of this entry »
Here’s the basic plot: not long after word of their breakup hits the interwebs, ex-mall cop (and current lonely loser) Bill (Rob Grabowski) kidnaps celebrity (ex)couple Kate Thomas (Mary Williamson) and Sam Lewis (Nick Delehanty), drugging them and dragging them to his shitty apartment for sketchy (and potentially dangerous) couples counseling with his Sam-and-Kate-obsessed teenaged friend Becky (Stephanie Shum).
Initially, it sounds like a concept that could wear thin rather quickly, but in playwright Joel Kim Booster’s “Kate and Sam Are Not Breaking Up,” what starts out as a seemingly lightweight comedy centered around celebrity worship and a tween-book-series-turned-movie-franchise (the wonderfully realized “Ghost Forest”) ever-so-slowly creeps its way into a much darker exploration of obsession, self-loathing and, ultimately, redemption (spoiler alert—there’s someone in the program with the title Violence Designer). And yet, in every disturbing corner that this production turns, its solid comedic core follows carefully throughout. Read the rest of this entry »
The Chicago Mammal’s “All Girl Frankenstein” is more akin to sculpture, film, dance, performance art or poetry than strictly narrative-based theater. But, as a Rorschach test of an idea filtered through the highly stylized sets, costumes and sound design of the Mammals’ vigorously creative ensemble, “AGF” is a strangely affecting piece of art. And, though the experience is in fact highly theatrical, AGF owes a great debt to film and the notions of manipulating time through editing as well as the stylized and strategic use of sound design.
In fact, “AGF” is not so much an adaption of “Frankenstein” as it is an evisceration, dissection and celebration of particular themes: sex, death, creation, unrequited love, filial and family duty, and yes, prurience, extracted from the original text and then grafted onto other theatrical forms such as commedia dell’arte, dance, film and perhaps even Butoh to create a loose and highly original riff on the seminal Victorian text. Such creative bricolage is a hallmark of what could be considered postmodern. But The Mammals seem far less concerned with classification and more interested in exploring—and even indulging (by their own admission)—what they enjoy, as opposed to creating anything immediately artistically classifiable.
And I’m not quite sure I could classify this if I tried. But I do know that I liked it. Read the rest of this entry »
I kept thinking about the story of my parents’ oft-discussed first meeting—at a dance hall in Fargo, North Dakota sometime at the dawn of the JFK era—as I watched one of the best plays of the year, Noah Haidle’s “Smokefall,” in its world premiere at the Goodman earlier this week. And how, if not for a thousand factors of chance, that meeting had not occurred, or had not gone well, and my world, the world of my wife and children, of my brothers and their families—the life that is everything to me and nothing of consequence to most others—does not exist.
An existential scream baked inside a birthday cake, “Smokefall” forces contemplation of the nature of domestic life, and the meaning of life, through a production that commences with a surreal-tinted realism (telegraphed before the curtain by Kevin Depinet’s slightly off-kilter wonder of a set) and progresses through a slightly too-long shtick-driven duo of fraternal twins inside the womb with a predilection for singing Sondheim and into a second act where time, space and generations overlap and blend together. Read the rest of this entry »
When I reviewed “500 Clown and the Elephant Deal” four years ago, I remember wishing I knew more about Madam Barker, the sexy, charming “vocalist of the apocalypse” the show centered on. This show answers my questions, but knowledge costs mystery. That character was someone you wanted to know better but couldn’t; that was part of the attraction. Maybe some questions are better left unanswered.
In this show, we learn that Madam Barker (Molly Brennan) is the product of an immaculate conception, served as a captain on a whaling ship, and did a stretch of time in Chicago as a bootlegger during Prohibition. She announces that this performance will be her last and refuses to speak of it again to her supporting ensemble. Somewhere in there, she divulges her fear of the real world and touches on the benefits of fantasy versus the slow death of reality. The character has transformed from a sly, blowsy question mark to a peppy yet neurotic force of nature. A Tanqueray-sodden force of nature, but a force of nature nonetheless. I miss Madam Version One; she’s the woman who’d get you drunk on crappy red wine and then sleep with you after a nasty breakup. Read the rest of this entry »