Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Transformative Stories: A Reservoir of Healing at Erasing the Distance

-News etc., Profiles, Theater, World Premiere 1 Comment »
Greg Geffrard, TayLar, Angela Alise, Ronnell Taylor, Tiffany Renee Johnson

Greg Geffrard, TayLar, Angela Alise, Ronnell Taylor, Tiffany Renee Johnson

By Loy Webb

“This is turning into a therapy session,” says actress Angela Alise as she wipes the tears from her eyes. “Which it always does with Erasing the Distance,” Erasing the Distance (ETD) founder Brighid O’Shaughnessy responds, laughing at the aftermath her heartfelt answer has created.

It’s that kind of sincerity and empathy that has made ETD more than a theater company and into a reservoir of healing for individuals dealing directly and indirectly with mental illness.

This “therapy session” started when O’Shaughnessy described her encounter with a young woman named Marlena. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: 15 BREATHS/About Face Youth Theatre

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 (center, left to right) Jimbo Pestano and Nikki R. Veit with the cast of About Face Youth Theatre Ensemble’s world premiere of 15 BREATHS, directed by Ali Hoefnagel/Photo: Emily Schwartz.

(center, left to right) Jimbo Pestano and Nikki R. Veit and cast/Photo: Emily Schwartz.

RECOMMENDED

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words sum up life’s most difficult struggle and it is precisely what is at the heart of About Face Youth Theatre Ensemble’s production of “15 BREATHS.”

Through the eyes of nineteen-year-old Harold, we are taken on a journey of his quest for self-determination. He is forced to leave his small town in Texas for the much bigger city of Chicago after it is revealed that he is gay. We encounter a litany of characters that both impede and advance his quest.   Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Whatever/the side project

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(L to R) Aaron Lockman and Grace Melon/Photo: Scott Dray

Aaron Lockman and Grace Melon/Photo: Scott Dray

RECOMMENDED

Given that its first scene contains a teenage girl scheduling an abortion and then her boyfriend showing her a gun—one that might as well come with a giant neon “Chekhov” sign blaring above it—this play is a quiet one. But it’s not a settled quiet, not the calm of a mid-summer afternoon nap on the veranda. It’s the proverbial calm right before the Category 4 storm. Written by Chicago playwright Robert Tenges and directed by Adam Webster, “Whatever” is one long 100-minute drop in barometric pressure.

The play, which not only takes its name from stewing teenage surliness but its attitude as well, centers on two single-parent families and their struggles traversing the spiritual wastelands of suburban Chicago. Chloe (Grace Melon), the girl scheduling the abortion, enjoys an icy detente with her emotionally constipated father Henry (Josh Odor) while waging open war on his newish girlfriend Rachel (Kirsten D’Aurelio). The boyfriend with the gun, Declan (Aaron Lockman) loves Chloe very much, but he’s disturbed, quite medicated and proving maybe too heavy a burden for his mother (Shawna Tucker) to raise by herself. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Chicago Musical Theatre Festival/Underscore Theatre Company

Festivals, Musicals, Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews, World Premiere No Comments »
HowToRunForMayor-3

Molly Parchment, Ryan Semmelmayer, Paola Sanchez Abreu, Brian Healy, Rachael Smith and Mike Foster/Photo: Braden Nesin

How To Run For Mayor

The Chicago Musical Theatre Festival provides an important birthing-space for Chicago-connected, nascent musical theater to access our city’s storefront-ethos, where new plays are frequently produced and honed. Despite the temptation to praise the sheer effort of the production team, adding music to words, vice-versa, or in combination, and of the performers to stretch themselves by quickly learning new material, and reworking it in a workshop situation, it is incumbent upon the reviewer to present a significant opinion of the offerings and their champions, in service to all involved. In the case of “How To Run For Mayor,” playwright Gilbert Tanner and composer/lyricist Aaron Aptaker (who also directs) enjoy this opportunity. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Moby Dick/Lookingglass Theatre Company

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Christopher Donahue, Raymond Fox, Jamie Abelson (background)

Christopher Donahue, Raymond Fox, Jamie Abelson (background)

RECOMMENDED

“Moby Dick” is the leviathan of American literature, diving deeper than any other work into the mysteries of human nature and destiny. Shakespearean in scope, biblical in flavor, Herman Melville’s nineteenth-century novel most memorably gave us the one-legged, lightning-scarred figure of Captain Ahab, whose mad quest for the white whale that “dismasted” him turns the voyage of the Pequod into a Jim Jones-style death cult.

Director-adapter David Catlin, fresh from his spectacular “Lookingglass Alice,” shows he is as comfortable with the sublime as the whimsical, crafting a gripping version of the novel that captures both its epic scale and sharp characterizations. In association with The Actors Gymnasium, Catlin and company have created a kinetic, circus-like theater space that engulfs the audience and makes Melville’s watery world come alive. Set, lighting and sound designers Courtney O’Neill, William C. Kirkham and Rick Sims deserve an ovation for their depiction of the sea’s moods, from tropical languor to typhoons that mirror Ahab’s inner turmoil. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan/Broadway In Chicago

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OnYourFeet

Photo: Matthew Murphy

RECOMMENDED

Seven Grammys. Over 100 million albums sold worldwide. A true-life story that so many can relate to in its triumph and tragedy. That’s the life of Emilio and Gloria Estefan and their incredible rise to fame, brilliantly captured in “On Your Feet! The Story of Emilio & Gloria Estefan,” now in its pre-Broadway world premiere here in Chicago.

From stunning costumes (designed by Emilio Sosa—who also did the costumes for “Motown: The Musical”), gorgeous sets, a phenomenal cast, a solid book and, of course, some really great music, this show is absolutely worthy of a Broadway stage.

The show begins as a show like this should—making the audience feel like they are at a concert. A full band is live on stage, colorful lights fill the room and, if you’re sitting close to the stage, you feel the beat of the drums in your chest as the hit “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You” begins to play. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Body + Blood/The Gift Theatre

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L-R: Stephen Spencer, Nicholas Harazin, Lynda Newton, Cyd Blakewell and Gabriel Franken/Photo: Claire Demos

Stephen Spencer, Nicholas Harazin, Lynda Newton, Cyd Blakewell and Gabriel Franken/Photo: Claire Demos

RECOMMENDED

Priests are common characters in American storytelling but they are rarely ever protagonists. They often have a part to play, it’s just never in their own story. So it is refreshingly bracing when William Nedved’s “Body + Blood” gives audiences something rarely seen on the modern stage (or screen or Kindle, for that matter): a story about a man aspiring to become a priest that a) takes his faith in God seriously, b) has nothing to do with child abuse and c) allows this man to be a complete and total screw-up.

Directed by Marti Lyons in a world-premiere production at The Gift Theatre, “Body + Blood” begins with the first of many poor, or at least poorly timed, decisions made by Dan (Nicholas Harazin) in pursuit of priesthood. On a warm summer evening on the porch of the Chicago apartment that he shares with his girlfriend Leah (Cyd Blakewell), Dan informs her that he plans on joining the priesthood. This, of course, also means that the two of them are done. Since she was expecting a marriage proposal, Leah doesn’t take the news all that well. And when Dan’s big sister Monica (Lynda Newton) arrives with her lovable lug of a husband Mick (Stephen Spencer) she laughs him right out of the building. Too her, this is simply another example of Dan running away from commitment. Even Dan’s spiritual advisor Father Alex (Gabriel Franken) starts to have some serious questions as to what is really motivating this decision. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Borderlands: Three Chords and the Truth/Underscore Theatre Company

Musicals, Theater, Theater Reviews, World Premiere No Comments »
Borderlands_Press_8

Aaron Davidson, Sarah Beth Tanner, Mike Mazzocca, Jon Patrick Penick, Ian Knox/Photo: Zane Rarek

I have to hand it to Underscore Theatre Company; their world-premiere production of “Borderlands:  Three Chords and the Truth” is about as ambitious as it is long. And at more than two hours in length, that is quite a lot of ambition. Picture the characters of “Rent” reunited in a dive bar twenty years later, maybe a little more realistic in what they can accomplish, but still plugging away. And instead of hanging out in Manhattan, they are in Nashville, and their rock opera sensibilities have been traded in for a ukulele, a violin and a few other stringed instruments. If this sounds intriguing, it is, but produced as a full-length musical it lacks enough memorable music and enough character development to truly make it work. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Motel 666/Wildclaw Theatre

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Photo six, Natalie DiCristofano, Dave Belden, Tony St.Clair/KBH Media

Natalie DiCristofano, Dave Belden, Tony St.Clair/Photo: KBH Media

RECOMMENDED

A playwright friend and I were recently discussing the problems we had with shows that were collections of short plays. While these shows are often promising in theory they usually suffer in either consistency, quality or both. And at a deeper level, they often lack a unifying artistic vision that makes for a satisfying evening. The parts remain just parts, never cohering into a whole.

By chance, I took this friend to see Wildclaw Theatre’s “Motel 666,” which just so happens to be a short horror anthology; and we were both pleased as (probably poisoned) punch to find that the failings listed above were nowhere to be found. Consisting of seven plays by different playwrights, “Motel 666” nonetheless shares a common cast and a single director, Scott Cummins. The plays, which vary wildly in tone and aesthetic, are also united by a common location, a dingy room in the titular establishment, as well as by the continued presence of the motel’s off-putting and possibly otherworldly proprietors, played by Natalie DiCristofano and Tony St. Clair. There is indeed a whole here, and it’s a whole lot of fun. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Pied Piper/The Forks & Hope Ensemble

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Photos by Tom McGrath (L to R) Andrew Bailes, Christian Stokes, Julia Meese, Amber Robinson, Casey Pilkenton and Nikki R. Veit

Andrew Bailes, Christian Stokes, Julia Meese, Amber Robinson, Casey Pilkenton and Nikki R. Veit/Photo: Tom McGrath

RECOMMENDED

It has been at least seven-hundred years since the Pied Piper first began playing his (or maybe her) flute. In all that time, I doubt there have been many more imaginative retellings than what is now playing at the Strawdog Theatre. Although at times appearing more like performance art than theater, this stripped-down original production—adapted and performed by The Forks & Hope Ensemble—sacrifices none of the lyrical language in bringing to stage a contemporary take on a classic dark tale. Infused along the way with well-timed pop music selections (courtesy of music director Austin Oie) and well-choreographed dance numbers (from movement and associate director Aileen McGroddy), “The Pied Piper” offers heaps of entertainingly creative energy. It also demonstrates a confident reverence to Robert Browning’s source material, enough so that its dark undertones are never trivialized. Read the rest of this entry »

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