Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: Mr Burns: A Post-Electric Play/Theater Wit

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In case you were wondering, yes, the title of this show is referring to THAT Mr. Burns, of “The Simpsons” infamy. But this isn’t a show about him. And it isn’t a show about either the Simpsons or “The Simpsons.” It is a show about us, about people: about our relationships to the stories we tell each other and listen to, about our reasons for telling them and listening to them, and about the echoing game of telephone that is how those stories evolve and change over their time. How playwright Anne Washburn chooses to tell this story of stories is by using the raw material of “The Simpsons.” Because “The Simpsons” is really just like the human condition: it’s universal. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Keys of the Kingdom/Stage Left

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Kate Black-Spence and Brian Plocharcyzk/Photo: Johnny Knight

Kate Black-Spence and Brian Plocharczyk/Photo: Johnny Knight

When a new play is tackling a current social issue, for instance the tensions between atheists, gays and right-wing mega-churches, there is always a difficult line to walk between arguing and conflict. Watching two characters work against one another because they have contradicting needs and desires is conflict. Watching two characters debate each other’s contradicting points of view is arguing. The former is the very essence of drama, the latter is ancillary. One is “Hamlet,” the other is CNN’s “Crossfire.”

Playwright Penny Penniston’s “Keys of the Kingdom,” currently receiving its world premiere from Stage Left Theatre, doesn’t quite walk the line closely enough. Or really, it spends its first half firmly on the arguing side of the line before hoisting itself over onto the conflict side in its second. And once it’s over the line, it stays there: Act Two is compelling, empathetic and goosebumpling. However, as Act Two is only about half as long as Act One, the journey to get there is rather arduous. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Nasty, Brutish & Short Presents/Links Hall

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“Nasty, Brutish & Short” is a wonderful title if not a particularly apt one for this DIY evening of storefront puppet theater. A more accurate title might be “Charming, Slightly-Rough-Around-the-Edges and Of Average Length.” Performing at Links Hall as a part of the Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival, the showcase ensures the “Chicago” part of the festival is well-represented, both in personnel and personality.

Curated by Taylor Bibat and Mike Oleon, the show consists of two programs on alternating nights, each featuring different short pieces.

For Program A, Sea Beast Theatre Company offers three vignettes. They are short, sea-salty nuggets of wit: a boy’s incredibly ill-fated voyage out to sea, a mermaid and a clam both soaking in whimsy and a post-apocalyptic mouse who builds itself a post-apocalyptic robot pal. However, that last show is performed in miniature with live video feed, one that was often hard to follow. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Accidentally Like a Martyr/A Red Orchid Theatre

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(l-r) Luce Metrius, Ensemble Member Steve Haggard, Troy West/Photo: Michael Brosilow

Luce Metrius, Steve Haggard, Troy West/Photo: Michael Brosilow


At first blush a play that is set at Christmastime may seem misplaced when presented a month later, but Grant James Varjas’ play about grief in a gay bar, though by turns funny, touching and painful, is not holiday fare. John Holt’s set, combined with Arianna Soloway’s props, turns the entirety of A Red Orchid Theatre’s Old Town space into a truly believable dive bar that was once the center of the gay community’s evening activities, but has seen better days as its clientele has aged.

The bartender, Jeffrey (Dominique Worsley), holds together the bar, its patrons, and the play itself. Worsley buzzes about and is constantly in motion, making drinks, cleaning the bar, and never for a moment being an actor in a role. He is totally immersed in the character of a man who makes drinks, listens to others, and enforces the rules of the house when necessary. Read the rest of this entry »

Sponsored: Steppenwolf Video of the Week (Airline Highway)

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Steppenwolf’s AIRLINE HIGHWAY brings a party worth talking about to the stage. Set in New Orleans, this new world premiere production is a boisterous and moving ode to the outcasts who make life a little more interesting. Headed to Broadway in the Spring of 2015, now is your chance to see it here in Chicago first—on stage through February 14. Tickets start at just $20: learn more at
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Preview: Song of Eva Peron/Tango Buenos Aires

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As a dance form based on the most subtle, understated, imperceptibly small communication between lead and follow, Argentine tango doesn’t necessarily lend itself to performance on big stages. Traditionally, couples dance in a close embrace, communicating through small movements of the torso; most of the action is in the legs, in long strides or quick, precise flashes of feet that flirt, tap, circle and caress each other. The infinite complexity and nuance that make tango so rewarding to dance are difficult to translate and amplify for the stage, even when spiced up with slick turns, lifts and high kicks.

Tango Buenos Aires does justice to Argentina’s national dance, keeping true to the intimacy and lightning-quick, complex footwork that characterize tango, while amping up dances with flashier movements that play to the back row. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Father Ruffian/City Lit Theater

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Nick Lake/Photo: Cole Simon

Nick Lake/Photo: Cole Simon

What annoyed me most about City Lit’s “Father Ruffian” is that it is something very old doing all it can to convince you that it is something new. By condensing Shakespeare’s “Henry IV” Parts One and Two, adding in a dollop of “Holinshed’s Chronicles,” capping it off with a garnish of “Henry V,” throwing in some iPhones and wrapping the whole thing under a new title, adapter and director Paul Edwards attempts an illusion of newness. Only what he’s done here is not new at all. It is something utterly familiar and woefully disappointing: bad Shakespeare.

For the most part, the show is nothing more than a condensed “Henry IV.” The climactic battle with Hotspur happens midway through Act Two and then we are given a greatest-hits version of Part Two and Falstaff’s death in “Henry V,” all within about thirty to forty-five minutes. It is a production of “Henry IV” that manages to throw in modern touches—iPhones, laptops, the Salvation Army, satellite maps—without ever having any modern observations to go with them. The show has one foot in the past, one in the present, and neither on solid ground. Read the rest of this entry »

Voices Through Time: Erica Mott Gives a Multimedia History Lesson on Female Worker Rights

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Photo: StudioFilmLove

Photo: StudioFilmLove

Erica Mott’s love for performance blossomed from her work in international development and foreign diplomacy. “I was working on microeconomics and microlending in Latin America,” she says. “I found women at the forefront of both cultural and economic production. But cultural production was the driver to bringing people together. It’s what led me back to the arts.”

This background speaks to the intellectual rigor Mott applies to crafting performances; questions around politics, gender and the female body drive Mott’s work, including her most recent and ambitious vision, “3 Singers”—the title refers to both the cast members and three vintage sewing machines with which they share the stage. Mott collaborated with an impressive team to pull together sound design, video work, voice coaching and dramaturgy into a “technopera” that explores the struggle for rights of female textile workers in the pre-Civil War era, the Industrial Revolution and the present day. When asked about the subject, Mott says, “As dancers we constantly ask questions about the body. But every day I wake up and don’t ask questions about this thing I put on my body that passed through the hands of someone else. I got curious about this world that is invisible. And women are often invisible.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Table/Blind Summit at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

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Blind Summit puppeteers bring the cantankerous puppet Moses to life in ""the Table." Photo by  Lorna Palmer

Photo: Lorna Palmer


It’s probably appropriate that a show called “The Table” constantly refers back to the fact that it takes place on, wait for it, a table. The frequent reminders are not only funny, but they are also a grounding force for the show’s fizzy, tip-of-the-tongue wackiness: like a jazz song that returns between solos to its basic refrain. The magic of “The Table” is that it makes no illusions about what it is—a cardboard puppet, three operators and a plain wooden table—while still sustaining the illusion of what we are experiencing: one lonely man’s reckoning with his place in the universe. And also puppet sex jokes.

The story being told is twofold: there’s the story of the last twelve hours of the life of Moses and then there’s the story of the puppet hired to re-enact the last twelve hours of the life of Moses. The thing is that this puppet, also named Moses, isn’t very good at staying on topic. The show is as much an inquiry into his own existence, bound by the edges of, yes, the table, as it is the story of Deuteronomy. And also, lest we forget, puppet sex jokes. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Top Girls/The Arc Theatre

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Kelsey Phillips (center) and the cast of The Arc Theatre's production of TOP GIRLS by Caryl Churchill, directed by Mark Boergers/Photo: Emily Schwartz.

Kelsey Phillips (center) and the cast of “Top Girls”/Photo: Emily Schwartz

“Top Girls,” a 1982 play by the prolific dramatist Caryl Churchill, begins with Marlene (Patricia Lavery) preparing to celebrate her promotion at the Top Girls employment agency in London with six unlikely dinner guests. These women include nineteenth-century explorer Isabella Bird (Meg Elliott), concubine to the Emperor of Japan in the thirteenth century and later Buddhist nun Lady Nijo (Lana Smithner), figure from a Bruegel painting Dull Gret (Kelsey Phillips), Pope Joan (Pamela Mae Davis)—a woman who disguised herself as a man and became pope—and Patient Griselda (Kate Marie Smith), a character based on a character in “The Canterbury Tales.”

While Churchill has included all the right ingredients to make this a truly powerful scene, the limitations in The Arc Theatre’s production don’t serve it rightfully. At the dinner party, all the women talk at the same time, which Churchill intended to be a sort of one-upmanship, where the women dominate the conversation with tales of how their lives and struggles are more interesting than the next. Here however, it just feels like burdensome clamor, with no one trying to truly dominate. Read the rest of this entry »