Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: Medea/Dream Theatre Company

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The character of Medea haunted Greek culture like a nightmare, embodying patriarchal anxiety and guilt. It’s a fitting subject for Dream Theatre Company’s resident playwright Jeremy Menekseoglu, who has taken Euripides’ familiar tale of the horrific vengeance of a woman wronged and transformed it, for better or worse, into a graphic horror story suited for an age not of gods, heroes and Fate, but rather of family dysfunction and random violence.

Rachel Martindale is a seriously crazy Medea, enraged at her husband Jason of Golden Fleece fame. Jason–played by the same Jeremy Menekseoglu, who also directed and designed the production–has dumped her for the young and pretty Glauce, princess of Corinth (Amanda Lynn Meyer). With a royal marriage in the offing, the graspingly opportunistic Jason has use neither for his aging wife–whose sorcery skills saved his fleece many times during his Argonaut days–nor their two neglected young sons, Mermeros and Pheres, played convincingly by Anna Menekseoglu and Madelaine Schmitt, respectively. The parentally challenged Jason cannot even remember their names, referring to them simply as “your sons.” Medea also is not the epitome of unconditional love, waterboarding her children as a disciplinary measure. What most distinguishes this version from the Euripidean original is that the kids are not props and plot devices, but rather the moral center of the play–the tragedy is theirs, not their absent and abusive parents’. Read the rest of this entry »

Three Days of Pieces &/or Music &/or Love: Questions, Answers, and the Twenty-Sixth Annual Abbie Fest

Festivals, Theater No Comments »
Mary-Arrchie Artistic Director Richard Cotovsky as Abbie Hoffman

Mary-Arrchie artistic director Richard Cotovsky as Abbie Hoffman

By Raymond Rehayem

Nope, Mary-Arrchie artistic director Richard Cotovsky doesn’t spend three days non-stop in character as the late political prankster for whom his long-running theater festival is named. “I do the Abbie Hoffman for the opening and closing. That’s really it.”

Following a 2pm Friday gathering at Daley Plaza (“It’s just a lot of yelling and screaming,” says the founder) festival participants—and anyone else who’d care to join—march down to Mary-Arrchie for the opening. Two and a half days later, the closing ceremonies commence. In between, a seemingly countless number of performers present “anything they want. The only criteria is that it’s an hour or less.”

Now in its twenty-sixth year, “The Abbie Hoffman Died For Our Sins Theatre Festival” was initiated to commemorate the anniversary of Woodstock, yet was named after Hoffman—whose most enduring contribution to Woodstock was getting booted off stage by Pete Townshend. In keeping with the festival’s jam-packed nature, I asked a slew of participants the following questions:

A) bbie was known as a radical. What is most radical about your piece?

W) oodstock’s known as Three Days of Peace, Music, and—depending on which movie poster you read—Love. Which of these three concepts does your piece most address? Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Hank Williams: Lost Highway/American Blues Theater

Musicals, Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
(l to r) Greg Hirte, Austin Cook, Matthew Brumlow, Michael Mahler/Photo: Johnny Knight

Greg Hirte, Austin Cook, Matthew Brumlow, Michael Mahler/Photo: Johnny Knight


It’s Audrey (played by the willowy Cora Vander Broek), Hank Williams’ put-upon first wife, who best sums up her husband’s fatal contradictions: “You wear a $500 custom suit—and I bet you haven’t changed your underwear in a week.”

American Blues Theater’s “Hank Williams: Lost Highway” is a warts-and-all musical portrait of the man who in the late 1940s essentially invented modern country and western, serving as the genre’s first superstar, legend and martyr. Directed by Damon Kiely, the play has the very American ambivalence of all such stories, simultaneously celebrating the art while lamenting the self-destructiveness of the artist, and underscoring the vital link between the two. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Season Four/PRODUCE

Dance, Dance Previews, Recommended Dance Shows No Comments »
Photo:  Julie Ballard

Photo: Julie Ballard


The fourth and final season of critically acclaimed dance-and-music-improv mashup PRODUCE is a must-see. Hosts Lauren Warnecke, dancer, writer and educator behind Art Intercepts, and Anthony Ingram, member of Signal Ensemble Theatre, lead a cast of dancers, visual artists and musicians through an improvisational odyssey, informed by the creative energy of the moment and audience feedback. The idea behind the series is to not only push the boundaries of the participating artists by radically mixing ingredients and seeing what flavors result, but also to demystify the creative process for the audience, pulling off any veil of intimidation surrounding artists to reveal the playfulness and fun of creative production. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Raven & the Messenger/The Annoyance Theatre

Comedy, Improv/Sketch Reviews, Improv/Sketch/Revues, Recommended Comedy Shows No Comments »
Photo: Shannon Jenkins

Photo: Shannon Jenkins


As the saying goes, truth is often stranger than fiction. When it comes to the world of religion, the line between the two (truth and fiction) becomes blurrier and blurrier. And for a large number of figures within various religious frameworks, it can even become impossible to separate truth from fiction, to separate history from mythology, and to separate man from his claims to the mind of the divine.

The Reverend Jim Jones is certainly one of those figures and in this darkly funny little musical currently playing at The Annoyance, with book and lyrics by Charlie McCrackin and peppy music by Lisa McQueen, the blurry origin story of Jim Jones is given a surprisingly robust and unflinching examination.

“You can’t tell a story about Jim Jones that doesn’t end in Jonestown,” says our narrator near the end of this frequently absurdist recounting of a meeting between Jones (a wild-eyed and appropriately harried Paul Jurewicz) and the self-named Reverend Major Jealous Divine (a captivating Greg Hollimon). As written by McCrackin, the crux of the story essentially plays out as the origin story for a supervillain, where we already know that our protagonist’s actions will eventually lead to the deaths of nearly 1,000 people. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Hitch*Cocktails/The Annoyance Theatre

Comedy, Improv/Sketch Reviews, Improv/Sketch/Revues No Comments »
Bruce Phillips and Alex Young

Bruce Phillips and Alex Young

This Hitchcock-themed improv show features not one but two drinking games happening simultaneously. The first is the more familiar audience drinking game. In this case you’re asked to drink every time a pun is spoken, a Hitchcock film title is said or someone is murdered, among other impetuses. The second, and less familiar, is a drinking game that happens on the stage, because the cocktails portion of this punny title includes not just the audience but the actors as well. In this case, the actors are working with a wet bar and are drinking throughout the show with one rule: any time a character is given a drink, he or she must finish it before the scene ends. And these actors love to serve each other.

As can be expected, this leads to some increasingly hit-or-miss comedy bits, with a number of risky endeavors paying off with huge laughs and several others petering out. Studies show that the biphasic curve holds true for the enjoyment of alcohol on an individual level—essentially, you will feel better as your blood alcohol content (BAC) approaches .055 and worse from then on—and so too goes this show. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: The Long and Forgotten Winter/RE|Dance

Dance, Dance Previews, Recommended Dance Shows No Comments »
Photo: Shelby Kroeger

Photo: Shelby Kroeger


The long-distance choreographic team of Lucy Vurusic-Riner and Wisconsin-based Michael Estanich have produced, over the last five years, a body of work that is notably calm and introspective. Perhaps the emotional depth and delicate reflection of pieces like The Attic Room, Inhabitants of Tall Grass and last year’s Homeland can be attributed to their process of generating movement material together, then writing and processing at length separately. Read the rest of this entry »

Acting With and For Hope: Collaboraction and Park District Invite Chicagoans to a Different Kind of Crime Scene

Profiles, Theater No Comments »

Crime Scene 2013 Parks Tour

By Raymond Rehayem

“We’re telling the real story… we see this stuff. We’re telling the grown-ups what’s really happening, the adults don’t really know. That’s because most of the violence that’s going on is with the youth.” So says Monique, a young performer explaining how she and the other nearly two dozen ethnically diverse local teen girls (and one white teen boy, see below) contribute to the upcoming Collaboraction/Chicago Park District theatrical event “Crime Scene Chicago: Let Hope Rise 2014.” The teens comprise the Crime Scene Youth Ensemble, key participants in the multifaceted “touring theatrical reaction to violent crime in Chicago” which unfolds over a month, starting at Collaboraction’s Wicker Park space and touring to a quartet of Park District venues over four subsequent weekends. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Hellish Half-Light: Shorter Plays of Samuel Beckett/Mary-Arrchie

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(l to r) Stephen Walker and Adam Soule/Photo: Emily Schwartz

Stephen Walker and Adam Soule/Photo: Emily Schwartz


Samuel Beckett was a genius, one of the great talents of the twentieth century, like Ernie Kovacs or Thelonious Monk. So when a theater company does a fine job staging some Beckett, where do I get off saying much more than thanks? Beyond offering Mary-Arrchie Theatre my gratitude for mounting six fairly short, very Beckett pieces in one quick evening, I offer you—the reader and perhaps a genius in your own right—the following details. If you read these things for recommendations, I recommend you skip my review and just go to the show. Simple enough. You’re welcome.

“Hellish Half-Light,” named for a line in the sixth and most technical of these miserable marvels, strings the works together seamlessly, as if they were written to be performed in this order. Director Jennifer Markowitz has sequenced the pieces so effectively that their combined presentation has a rhythm that matches Beckett’s own merciless yet intoxicating cadence. These brief pieces succinctly distill Beckett’s bleak outlook on life while emphasizing the humor, making this barely hour-and-a-half presentation a treat for fans of Beckett and also a great introduction for those familiar only with the title of his most famous play. Those who disdain Beckett will suffer as much as any of the multiple characters each member of this adept cast portrays. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: JUBA! Masters of Tap and Percussive Dance/Chicago Human Rhythm Project

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Photo: Paolo Bernadotti

Photo: Paolo Bernadotti


The only downside to Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s wrap-up performances of their annual Rhythm World festival is trying to decide which show to attend. The series of showcases at the MCA theater are as much party as performance; the audience is always packed with tap dance and percussion enthusiasts—students and teachers of all ages from around the world who come to Chicago to spend the summer teaching, learning and jamming. JUBA! is the closing party—three nights of virtuosic music and rhythmic dance by the best hoofers alive—and the atmosphere is always electric. Read the rest of this entry »