Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: The Little Foxes/Goodman Theatre

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(L to R) Shannon Cochran (Regina Giddens), Steve Pickering (Oscar Hubbard) and Larry Yando (Ben Hubbard) in The Little Foxes/Photo: Liz Lauren

Shannon Cochran, Steve Pickering and Larry Yando/Photo: Liz Lauren

RECOMMENDED

There is nothing little about Lillian Hellman’s 1939 potboiler “The Little Foxes.” The characters, the drama, the incestuous pairing of family and greed, it is all larger than life. Director Henry Wishcamper’s new revival at the Goodman, one with a knockout cast, doesn’t try to make the play smaller or more human than it is. This is a play about monsters—Southern, wealthy, money-grubbing monsters. Best to get out of the way and let them fight.

Set at the turn of the century, “The Little Foxes” opens on a dinner party being hosted by the Hubbard siblings: Regina (Shannon Cochran), Ben (Larry Yando) and Oscar (Steve Pickering). They have enticed a wealthy northerner (Michael Canavan) to partner with them on a cotton mill and, since they own most of the cotton in town, this mill is going to make them filthy rich. However, Regina’s share actually belongs to her absent husband Horace (John Judd) who might not play along, so Regina sends her daughter Zan (Rae Gray) to Baltimore to fetch him. This sets in motion a series of betrayals and counter betrayals that unfold luxuriously over the play’s nearly three-hour running time. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Quiz Show/Strawdog Theatre Company

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(L to R) Background: Nikki Klix, Paul Fagen, Sarah Goeden and Foreground: Anderson Lawfer/ Photo by Chris Ocken Copyright 2015 - http://www.ockenphotography.com/

Background: Nikki Klix, Paul Fagen, Sarah Goeden and Foreground: Anderson Lawfer/Photo: Chris Ocken

RECOMMENDED

“You are all complicit in our little adventure,” intones the smarmy MC of the hit game show “False,” where “perception is reality.” Indeed, viewers become part of the act in British playwright Rob Drummond’s darkly riveting examination of celebrity culture, transformed into a submissive, infantilized studio audience that applauds and chants the show’s mantra—“the truth can be cruel”—on cue. But over the course of the play’s ninety minutes, these seemingly innocent rituals of engineered enthusiasm turn hollow and strange, as the game becomes deadly serious.

Obviously inspired by the Jimmy Savile scandal in England, in which a media personality was revealed posthumously as a serial sexual predator, “Quiz Show” expands the celeb-gone-bad premise into a many-leveled meditation on repressed memories, denial and social complicity. The Jimmy Savile story isn’t widely known hereabouts, but our own examples of willed blindness—such as the Jerry Sandusky case at Penn State, pedophile priests and the CPD’s Jon Burge—differ only in details. As one quiz show contestant declares, “The perfect conspiracy happens in the collective subconscious of a nation.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Crimes of the Heart/Step Up Productions

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(l-r) Elizabeth Antonucci, Will Crouse and Amanda Powell/Photo: Michael Brosilow

Elizabeth Antonucci, Will Crouse and Amanda Powell/Photo: Michael Brosilow

RECOMMENDED

Beth Henley’s modern classic “Crimes of the Heart” won a Pulitzer Prize and is a perennial favorite at theaters across the country. So the final show of Step Up Production’s season starts on a good foundation. And in director Brad Akin’s hands, this tale of three Southern sisters goes from solid start to beautifully rendered whole.

Set in 1974, the play never seems dated. It sits comfortably in its intended time. Though the costumes (designed by Raquel Adorno) and set (Sarah Watkins) create a picture of rural life forty years ago, it is how the actors inhabit the play’s universe that makes it seem so real. Clearly immense care has been taken to make every move fit naturally into the play. Sarah-Jayne Ashenhurst and Amanda Powell (playing Lenny and Meg, respectively) seem especially at home on this stage. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Twisted Melodies/Congo Square Theatre

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Kelvin Roston, Jr./Photo: Sam Roberson

Kelvin Roston, Jr./Photo: Sam Roberson

RECOMMENDED

Donny Hathaway is one of the many popular musical geniuses who died too young. His voice was smooth and soulful, and his career was headed upward when he took his own life in 1979. Hathaway struggled with schizophrenia and its effects on his music and his family. In Congo Square Theatre’s “Twisted Melodies,” Hathaway lives again thanks to actor and playwright Kelvin Roston, Jr.

There is so much happening in this play that it is hard to believe that a single actor carries all the action on his own. And yet, Roston does just that. He is aided by an impressive soundscape created by Rick Sims, as well as an elaborate and beautifully realized projected environment created through the collaborative efforts of designer Dre Robinson and choreographer Joel Hall. The technical aspects allow us to see inside the head of a character whose mental activities we could only guess at were he to just tell us about his condition. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Big Fish/Theatre at the Center

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Big Fish

Stef Tovar and Colette Todd/Photo: Johnny Knight

RECOMMENDED

If you saw the pre-Broadway, Chicago run of “Big Fish” and thought it needed scissors and paste, or read the tepid New York reviews, mourning a loss of opportunity when comparing the show to the Tim Burton movie and calling Andrew Lippa’s score a “hack job,” with one “non-tune” after another, then you may wonder why the show has so many ardent advocates. The story of a mismatched father and son, trying to piece together a relationship as the son is about to become a father in his own right, while feeling that he hasn’t received the mentoring and role-modeling to do the job, is indeed a tattered trope. So why the audience fervor?

Because, though the show is short on plot, the passion and motivation for its storytelling springs into sharp relief, with the tale’s “why” taking center stage over the “when” or the “how.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Trust Us/Screw You/The Neo-Futurists

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Dan Kerr-Hobert and Phil Ridarelli/Photo: Joe Mazza of Brave Lux

Dan Kerr-Hobert and Phil Ridarelli/Photo: Joe Mazza of Brave Lux

RECOMMENDED

If all theater is a lie, as repeatedly asserted by co-creators Dan Kerr-Hobert and Phil Ridarelli, then “Trust Us/ Screw You” is a masterpiece of manipulation. It is also an insightful little piece that illuminates audiences to a world where a “mark” (victim) might spend a “sawbuck” (ten-dollar bill) on a gold-colored brick before telling his tale of woe to a “button” (a cop in on the scam). Kerr-Hobert and Ridarelli illustrate this and similar cons on unsuspecting audience members who then trade their money or wallet or watch for a deposit slip which they may or may not be allowed to redeem at the end of the night. Will everyone get their riches back in the end? To tell you might ruin the ending but, then again, the show does run through June.

Kerr-Hobert and Ridarelli have done their homework, resulting in an interesting and entertaining glimpse into the art of the con with two actors perfect in their roles as confidence men. Along the way they also introduce colorful characters like Joseph “Yellow Kid” Weil and the originator of the Ponzi scheme, Charles Ponzi. True to the spirit of the production, not everything here, or everyone in the audience, is exactly as they seem. Also fun is the musical score with composer, musical director and musician John Szymanski providing, along with musicians Curtis Williams and Alisa “Plucky” Rosenthal, a sometimes manic, always well-timed pace to the on-stage swindling. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: One Grand Dance/Hedwig Dances

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Eileen Ryan Photography

Photo: Eileen Ryan

RECOMMENDED

To create a concert celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of Hedwig Dances, founder and artistic director Jan Bartoszek turned to her earliest works. “I think I’ve grown as a choreographer over the years,” Bartoszek says, “but the reasons I wanted to make dance are in these works—ideas about dependence and independence—things I was grappling with in my life. I feel fortunate that I’ve been doing this long enough to look back.” The title piece of the show weaves together reworked excerpts from Bartoszek’s early pieces based in social dance—waltz, polka and tango—in a dialogue about human relationships. The waltz section is a reflection on courtship, and has text taken from a 1950s manual on social dance etiquette. The tango represents fierce independence, dancers who pivot around each other’s axes, but share little weight. And the polka…” One of my earliest memories of dance was of the polka. I grew up in a small rural community; that’s what people did at church and social gatherings.” For Bartoszek, a unifying thread runs from her earliest memories of dance through thirty years of work with her Chicago-based modern company. “Works are connected by the ideas of an author,” she said. “All things I’ve done are essentially one grand dance.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Antic’s Roadshow with Devon Myers/MCL Chicago

Comedy, Improv/Sketch Reviews, Musicals, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
Steven Lyons/Photo: Tiela Halpin Photography

Steven Lyons/Photo: Tiela Halpin Photography

Chicago, as you may be aware, is the center of the universe when it comes to improvised sketch comedy. Stages are filled nightly by young comedians who are trying really hard to break into the upper echelons of the comedy field. Sadly, for the cast of “Antic’s Roadshow with Devon Myers,” trying really hard isn’t enough to make a performance worth watching.

The premise of the partly scripted performance is that an aging D-list celebrity, Devon Myers (Steven Lyons), has been tapped to host a PBS-like program conceived by Preston Antic (Scott Allen Curry). The program resembles what “Antiques Roadshow” would be like were it held on the Island of Misfit Toys. The show’s focus is primarily on the appraisers, rather than the items brought in by the studio audience. Each performer introduces themselves in a pre-written song which details exactly how messed up they are. Read the rest of this entry »

Bringing It All Back Home: After a Neighborhood Tour, “Stomping Grounds” Dances its Way Downtown

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The Chicago Human Rhythm Project is a cultural magnet; the organization pulls percussive and folkloric dancers—along with a good number of drummers—from around the world to collaborate, teach and perform in big celebratory events, like the annual Global Rhythms Festival at the MCA. Lane Alexander, the visionary founder of CHRP, has dedicated a career to the idea that art can unify people across lines of difference, and that rhythmic dance, like traditional food and music, is something all cultures share. “Percussive and sacred dance goes back ten thousand years,” he says. “And four thousand to ten thousand years ago, people who stomped on the ground were shamans and leaders. We might see these people take that place as leaders in our community, toward peaceful reconciliation.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Project(s)/American Theater Company

Theater, Theater Reviews, World Premiere No Comments »
(l to r) Kenn E. Head, Anji White and Eunice Woods/Photo: Michael Brosilow.

Kenn E. Head, Anji White and Eunice Woods/Photo: Michael Brosilow

With its raft of good intentions, talented cast and relevant theme, this is a play that one very much wishes to like. But PJ Paparelli’s and Joshua Jaeger’s interview-based documentary take on the life, death and ambiguous transformation of Chicago’s massive housing projects offers neither a solid storyline nor point of view. Earnest and well-researched, “The Project(s)” comes off as a somewhat muddled and only intermittently engaging telling of a vital and potentially fascinating tale.

The eight performers portray various real residents of Cabrini-Green, Robert Taylor Homes, Wentworth Gardens and other mostly vanished monuments to bad architecture and bureaucratic indifference. Linda Bright Clay, Omar Evans, Kenn E. Head, Joslyn Jones, Stephen Conrad Moore, Penelope Walker, Anji White and Eunice Woods deserve kudos for their tough and tangy portrayals of the dreamers and victims, angry protesters and go-with-the-flow survivors who populated the highrise human storage systems of the postwar years. But under Paparelli’s direction, the characters never develop, and so the production is more of a collage of anecdote and incident than a three-dimensional human drama. Read the rest of this entry »

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