Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: A Perfect Ganesh/Eclipse Theatre Company

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Ganesha (Michael Harris) and Margaret (Elaine Carlson) watch Harry (Phil Higgins) and Katherine (Jeannie Affelder) walk through a square in India in Eclipse Theatre's production of"A Perfect Ganesh" by Terrence McNally, directed by Steven Fedoruk. Running July 16-August 23, 2015, at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave., Chicago.  For tickets call the box office at 773-935-6875 or visit www.eclipsetheatre.com.  Photo by Scott Dray.

Michael Harris, Elaine Carlson, Phil Higgins and Jeannie Affelder/Photo: Scott Dray

Rarely in my experience has a play that starts so well gone so flat by the end. The opening scenes of “A Perfect Ganesh” are perfectly hilarious, from the moment old friends Kitty (Jeannie Affelder) and Margaret (Elaine Carlson) arrive at the airport, ready to ditch their dull suburban lives for a two-week jaunt to India. They have a common, semi-concealed motive for the trip: to find healing in the land of the River Ganges for the pain and guilt each feels for a son who has died.

Terrence McNally’s formidable wit flies thick and fast in the exchanges between the bubblingly enthusiastic Kitty and phobically negative Margaret, two very different New England matrons with a Felix and Oscar chemistry. It helps that Affelder and Carlson are consummate pros, effortlessly conveying their characters’ mutual irritation and ennui. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Loving Repeating/Kokandy Productions

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Emily Goldberg and Amanda Giles/Photo: Jeff Meyer

Emily Goldberg and Amanda Giles/Photo: Jeff Meyer

RECOMMENDED

The idea of a musical tribute to Gertrude Stein is, on its face, overwhelming. Anyone with passing familiarity with the late poet’s propensity for playful and often anarchic verbosity might imagine an entire evening of single-sentence observations endlessly rearranged to a cyclical, Terry Riley-like score. And yet what we get instead is a play written by one of Chicago’s most celebrated adaptors (Frank Galati), scored by a Tony Award-winning composer (Stephen Flaherty) and helmed by a theater company intent on keeping the musical a relevant modern form. Under the direction of Allison Hendrix, Kokandy Productions presents a work that begins with a bit too much repeating and concludes with just the right amount of loving. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Moth GrandSLAM/The Moth

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The Moth GrandSLAM 1: Into the Wild

The Moth GrandSLAM 1: Into the Wild

RECOMMENDED

Starting a show by making audacious promises to the audience—you will laugh, you will be amazed, etc.—is usually a misguided path to disaster. But host/MC Don Hall came off as more soothsayer than bloviator as The Moth Chicago GrandSLAM delivered on all accounts. The Moth storytelling series is a well-known mainstay to the Chicago area, with shows every couple weeks at Martyrs and Haymarket. The format is fairly simple: story tellers put their name in a hat, and those drawn get five minutes to tell a story compatible with that evening’s theme. But the GrandSLAM serves as a special event held a few times throughout the year, with the purpose of pitting ten Moth winners against each other for the grand prize of bragging rights. Three sets of judges—including a group of former Moth GrandSLAM winners, members from local LGBTQ storytellers OUTspoken and a randomly selected crew of audience members—scored each story on unspecified criteria. The theme was “Mea Culpa.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Grand Concourse/Steppenwolf Theatre Company

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Mariann Mayberry, Victor Almanzar and Brittany Uomoleale/Photo: Michael Brosilow

(L to R) Mariann Mayberry, Victor Almanzar and Brittany Uomoleale/Photo: Michael Brosilow

RECOMMENDED

I’m writing this twenty-four hours after the final blackout and “Grand Concourse” is still making me unsettled. Set in a Bronx soup kitchen run out of the basement of a Catholic church, the play explores the limits of forgiveness with playwright Heidi Schreck putting her nun protagonist Shelley (Mariann Mayberry) through hell and high water. Shelley’s kitchen caters to homeless transients like Frog (Tim Hopper, with Francis Guinan assuming the role starting August 11) who’s friendly and will sell you a joke book for a dollar but has serious mental health problems. She also has to deal with volunteers like the enthusiastic but unstable Emma (Brittany Uomoleale) who keeps all-but-propositioning the church’s handyman Oscar (Victor Almanzar). Shelley has taken to timing her prayers with a microwave clock, so she doesn’t have much inner grace to begin with, and Schreck treats her more like Job than Daniel in the lion’s den. Read the rest of this entry »

Making Miss Simone Proud: “Black Lives, Black Words” Explores “Do Black Lives Matter Today?”

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Reginald Edmund

Reginald Edmund

By Loy Webb

“I choose to reflect the times and situations in which I find myself. That to me is my duty. How can you be an artist and not reflect the times?” A poignant question raised by the iconic songstress Nina Simone, whose music encapsulated the pain, beauty, brilliance and proud blackness of an entire generation during the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements.

Simone was a purveyor of truth and hope during those turbulent times and her impact is unparalleled. However, she’s gone now and as times change and more problems plague our nation, new artists must step up to take on the “artist’s duty,” as Miss Simone dubs it, and reflect the current times.

One playwright, Reginald Edmund, has stepped up to that challenge. His writing persona, uncompromising in truth and unapologetic to whom it might offend, is a complete 360 to his quiet, almost shy personality. Writing is his safe place and thus the obvious method of response to the second-wave Civil Rights Movement, as he calls it.

Feeling helpless after seeing the events in Ferguson, yet inspired by the political and social action that resulted across the country from such atrocities, he felt the need to do something and include other artists as well. That effort turned into “Black Lives, Black Words,” a ten-minute-play reading series where some of the most political contemporary black playwrights explore the question “Do black lives matter today?” 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: Men of Soul/Black Ensemble Theater

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Kyle Smith/Photo: Danny Nicholas

Kyle Smith/Photo: Danny Nicholas

RECOMMENDED

You know what “Men of Soul” is? It’s a whole lot of fun. The newly put together musical revue of hits from the sixties through the early nineties is an evening’s worth of nostalgia for a time when R&B songs weren’t required to have a rap interlude in the middle.

Black Ensemble Theater’s Daryl D. Brooks has put together a smartly curated show that knows its target audience perfectly. While brief homage is paid to the roots of soul music, the production focuses primarily on the music that played from our radios in the eighties. Lionel Richie, Luther Vandross, James Ingram, Prince and Peabo Bryson are the featured musicians here. Bill Withers gets special treatment in a medley at the end of the show. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Macbeth/The Arc Theatre for Shakespeare on the Ridge

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(l to r) Chelsea David, Lana Smithner, Daniel Mozurkewich/Photo: Tyler Core

Chelsea David, Lana Smithner, Daniel Mozurkewich/Photo: Tyler Core

RECOMMENDED

The show opens beautifully, with the witches translated into chic young hipsters who, perhaps having tired of yoga, are now into necromancy. They fuss about with rune stones and patchouli oil as the audience settles in, chatting quietly with each other, so that one doesn’t know the play has begun until it’s several minutes under way. The effect in the cozy outdoor setting is magical … until director Mark Boergers strides onto the bare stage and asks us to turn off our cell phones, thus killing the vibe deader than Banquo’s ghost. (Memo to directors: This sort of thing happens way too often.)

But the weird sisters—better, weird siblings, as winsome witches Chelsea David and Lana Smithner are joined by the appealingly gawky warlock Daniel Mozurkewich—recover from the faux pas. Their carefully staged encounter with Scottish lairds Macbeth (Joe Flynn) and Banquo (Andy Fleischer) is devilishly good theater. The spooky trio’s dramatic but equivocal pronouncements about Macbeth’s destiny fire his ambition while banking his conscience, setting the scene for murder and madness. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Alligator/Dream Theatre Company

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Anna Menekseoglu

Anna Menekseoglu

RECOMMENDED

Dream Theatre Company has made a name for itself putting on unique performances that list strongly to the sardonic side, and “Alligator” is no different. Jeremy Menekseoglu’s dark script tells the story of Velvet (Anna Menekseoglu), a slightly more-than-angsty young lady who is trying to outrun a dream-haunting monster from her past. Along the way, she meets an especially endearing ex-con, Ben (Eric Barton), whose ankle-monitor alludes to a sordid past but damn if the way he sweetly asks “paper or plastic” isn’t irresistible. Finally, her brother Lone (Menekseoglu) has a poor temper and a gun. This takes place in Texas. Inauspicious circumstances for Velvet. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Il Barbiere di Siviglia/Main Street Opera

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DSC_1851

I went to Palatine Friday night to hear Rossini’s “Barber of Seville.” Telling myself I had no expectations, I had been hoping for at least a fifteen-piece orchestra of solid musicians. That hope was futile.

The orchestra consisted of one decrepit upright piano played by Jason Carlson, a young Northwestern University faculty member. Unfortunately, Carlson had neglected to do a sound check from the back reaches of the auditorium with singers, while one of his students played the piano. Consequently, the singers were often drowned out by the piano reverberating off the front of the stage.

While the singers were competent Rossini executants they could not contend with the banging and jangling of that infernal upright at the front of the proscenium. It was not exactly Carlson’s fault, but rather the responsibility of director Molly Lyons, who is ex cathedra responsible for tutti. Read the rest of this entry »

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