Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: Music Hall/TUTA Theatre Chicago

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(l to r) Jeffrey Binder and Darren Hill/ Photo: Anthony La Penna

Jeffrey Binder and Darren Hill/ Photo: Anthony La Penna

RECOMMENDED

Before the production leaves for New York City, TUTA Theatre Chicago’s “Music Hall” is a show that you should make special effort to get to. Zeljko Djukic’s interpretation of the Jean-Luc Lagarce script (translated by Joseph Long) is unlike anything else you’ll see in this city, refreshingly expanding the audience’s horizon through the pure simplicity of action and inaction.

The beauty of the piece stems from the fact that the audience itself must assemble the pieces of story to find the truth of the tale. When the lights first come up, we are treated to a dumb-show bit of clowning by Michael Doonan and Darren Hill who play the “Boys.” They are preparing a space for the upcoming performance of The Artiste (Jeffrey Binder), an aging, tired drag queen, who presumably had some success early in her career, though how long ago is difficult to determine. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Endgame/The Hypocrites

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(l to r) Kurt Ehrmann, Brian Shaw and Donna McGough/Photo: Evan Hanover

Kurt Ehrmann, Brian Shaw and Donna McGough/Photo: Evan Hanover

RECOMMENDED

The plays of Samuel Beckett are self-contained worlds. They are shorn of history, context and anything resembling realism: life boiled down to its bone-broth essence. So when director Halena Kays gives us a production of Beckett’s “Endgame” that is itself contained in its own little traveling vaudeville stage wagon, it makes a refreshing amount of sense. And it helps that the set by Elizabeth Bracken along with the lights by Maggie Fullilove-Nugent, costumes by Jessica Kuehnau Wardell and makeup by Nathan Rohrer all look fantastic. And seedy. And a little bit scary.

Kays however doesn’t fully embrace the starkness of Beckett’s vision, and it’s to the play’s benefit. Not only do all the characters speak in the playwright’s natural Irish lilt, but they wear the old-timey vaudeville heart of his style on their sleeve. They mug, they perform, they savor their moment in the (literal) spotlight. They seem of a specific place and specific time, and these glimmers of what once was make their irrevocable collapse all the more melancholic. Signs of children, an extinct species here, abound. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Passenger/Lyric Opera of Chicago

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Photo: Michael Brosilow

Photo: Michael Brosilow

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The question on my mind as I listened to the second act of Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s opera “The Passenger” at the Lyric Opera Tuesday night was: Am I listening to great musical art?

The answer, unfortunately, was “no.” I say unfortunately because I had hoped for much more. The state of Holocaust education in this country remains dire after sixty-five years of public agonizing. A great work of art can change that listless, dutiful, fitful, guilty public half-resolve to get down to brass tacks on racism. “The Passenger” is the work of an enormously knowledgeable, sincere, very clever, inventive, imaginative artist. But great music?

“The Passenger” falls short for two reasons. One, its subject matter. Two, its subject matter. What do I mean? First, the Holocaust defies Music. It is a true enormity, a breath-bereaving, disgusting, obscene crime of such evil intensity, vastness and finality as to stultify all creative musical thought whatsoever. Second, Weinberg’s undeniable musical genius was not suited to the painting of unrelieved darkness and nihilism—the end of public and private faith, belief and hope forever. Read the rest of this entry »

Sponsored: Steppenwolf Video of the Week (Marie Antoinette Audience Response)

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Check out what audiences are saying about Steppenwolf’s production of Marie Antoinette, written by David Adjmi and directed by Robert O’Hara. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Property/Lyric Unlimited

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Jill Grove and James Maddalena/Photo: Robert Kusel

Jill Grove and James Maddalena/Photo: Robert Kusel

RECOMMENDED

The theme of familial loss, with the potential for reconnection and affirmation, is universal, crossing boundaries of place and creed. As Lyric Opera of Chicago presents the holocaust opera “The Passenger,” their cultural outreach program, Lyric Unlimited, is producing the world premiere of Wlad Marhulets’ klezmer opera “The Property,” which follows the journey of a family displaced by the atrocities of WWII, as they search to reclaim their past, and pronounce their secrets.

Adapted from Rutu Modan’s graphic novel by librettist Stephanie Fleischmann and director Eric Einhorn, the story follows a grandmother who has just lost her son, and a granddaughter who has just lost her father, as they travel to Warsaw to repossess the apartment where the grandmother lived as a child. The women discover themselves at cross-purposes, floundering in a sea of memory and longing. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Redletter/The Neo-Futurists

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(l to r) Lisa Buscani, Trevor Dawkins, Bilal Dardai/Photo: Joe Mazza

Lisa Buscani, Trevor Dawkins, Bilal Dardai/Photo: Joe Mazza

RECOMMENDED

Decades ago when the Neo-Futurists were new at what they do here, I once duplicated scripts or some such documents for them in my arduous and artless role at the Kinko’s of Illinois flagship location. Some member came in to retrieve the copies when I mentioned that my own writing was very possibly the sort of work they might wish to produce. I was told with a dismissive and arrogant air “we have enough writers.” I confess there’s no connecting that offending individual with the Neo-Futurists’ current production. I’ll even damn my intro as unethical, while also excusing it as wholly appropriate. See, the current production “Redletter” is largely about journalism ethics.

And see it you should. Why? Because it’s entertaining, and ain’t that why you go to the theater? The Neo-Futurists seem to think so; all the shows I’ve seen there over the years have placed a premium on actually delivering an enjoyable experience. That’s not to say this show is slight. It tackles weighty issues of journalistic integrity and responsibility, as exacerbated by the immediacy of new media. But there’s really nothing new under The Sun, at any Times, or on this Daily Planet, and playwright Lisa Buscani knows better than to really place the blame for rampant lapses in reporting righteousness and accuracy on technological advances in the (near ubiquitous) availability of the news and the speed of its delivery. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Royale/American Theater Company

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Jerod Haynes/Photo: Michael Brosilow

Jerod Haynes/Photo: Michael Brosilow

RECOMMENDED

American Theater Company’s production of Marco Ramirez’s “The Royale” has as much heart as its title character Jay Jackson (Jerod Haynes). Inspired by the life of Jack Johnson, the first African-American world heavyweight boxing champion, Jay has gone on to defeat every worthy African-American opponent including Fish (spiritedly played by Julian Parker), a young hopeful who is the only fighter Jay believes is worth his salt. He hires Fish as his sparring partner to prepare him for the fight that will change the course of history.

It’s a fight that only Jay believes he can win. Everyone else seems to think the idea is far-fetched, including his longtime boxing promoter Max (Philip Earl Johnson) and his sister Nina (passionately played by Mildred Langford) who comes with haunting news. It is his trainer Wynton (played with great composure by Edwin Lee Gibson) that reminds him he is alone in the ring, thus the ultimate decision is his. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Sweeter Option/Strawdog Theatre Company

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(l to r) Michaela Petro and Sam Guinan-Nyhart/Photo: Kyle Hamman

Michaela Petro and Sam Guinan-Nyhart/Photo: Kyle Hamman

We savor our mysteries for that flashpoint moment when all the pieces of the puzzle interlock perfectly. Red herrings can show up to dinner, as long as they make sense in the final analysis. Jagged changes in timeline can ratchet up the tension, as long as literality grants the audience equilibrium by the denouement.

Strawdog Theatre Company celebrates its 100th production with the world premiere of playwright John Henry Roberts’ second play, “The Sweeter Option.” This noirish murder mystery is served well by the scenic design of Joanna Iwanicka and the lighting of Jordan Kardasz. Director Marti Lyons’ cast fold and refold flats to create new scenes during the changes, push and pull furniture and props, and always remain in character. Intense moments shatter into darkness, and just as suddenly burst into awakening. Heath Hays’ sound design is a partner to the strategic madness that is just right for a thriller with a murderous, comedic bent. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Really Really/Interrobang Theatre Project

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(l to r) Ben TeBockhorst and Michael Holding/Photo: Emily Schwartz

Ben TeBockhorst and Michael Holding/Photo: Emily Schwartz

RECOMMENDED

Describing what Paul Downs Colaizzo’s “Really Really” is really about is not easy. The play is a Molotov kegger of sex, class, politics and violence. It’s a finger, or maybe another ruder appendage, stuck right in your face and daring you to slap it away. Describe the play as an indictment of “enlightened” narcissism, ambition and class warfare and you leave out that its pivotal event is a rape. Now try saying “it’s a play about rape but it’s not really about rape” out loud without wanting to punch yourself in the face.

That the play refuses to play nice on this (it doesn’t play nice on anything) is going to make a lot of people really really (really) angry. And I also think those people should go and see it. That director James Yost and Interrobang Theatre Project have delivered a dynamite production certainly helps. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Other Place/Profiles Theatre

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PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Brosilow

Lia D. Mortensen/Photo: Michael Brosilow

RECOMMENDED

Sharr White’s “The Other Place” begins as something like a memoir. Julianna, a successful scientist turned big-pharma pitchwoman (played with equal measures of tenderness and bile by Lia D. Mortensen), is filling us in on her life. She is successful in business, traveling from one tropical conference to another pitching a new wonder drug to doctors, but less so in her personal life. She is getting divorced from her oncologist husband Ian (Steve Silver) and tentatively reconnecting with her estranged daughter Laurel (Autumn Teague), even though Ian seems oddly suspicious that Laurel might not be who she says she is. And following an episode during one of her talks, Julianna also thinks she has brain cancer, which is kind of a bummer.

But while the show begins as memoir it does not stay that way for long. Soon enough it becomes a kind of neurological detective story, piecing together bits of truth and sifting them out from expansive roughs of fantasy. The intimate confines of Profile Theatre’s Main Stage make for a fine pressure-cooker in which director Joe Jahraus and his able cast slowly turn up the heat until everything boils over. Read the rest of this entry »