Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Preview: It’s About Love Again This Year/RE|Dance Group

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REDance Group Its About Love image

RECOMMENDED

Michael Estanich’s newest creation for RE|Dance glides on gentle waves of sweet nostalgia and romance, ruffled at points by eddies of humor and the chop of desire. Dancers clad in ankle length dresses or button-down shirts and trousers with suspenders travel through scenes of youthful love, or perhaps more accurately, sepia-toned reflections on youthful love to Bach, birdsong and The Magnetic Fields. In the background, a great monument of peeling wallpaper stands as a symbol of memory and quiet reminder of time as the backdrop to fleeting human emotion. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Dunsinane/Chicago Shakespeare Theater

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Siobhan Redmond/Photo: Richard Campbell.

Siobhan Redmond/Photo: Richard Campbell

RECOMMENDED

David Greig’s “Dunsinane” is a play playing three different games at once. The first game is that the play is a kinda-sorta sequel to Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” The second game is that it is kinda-sorta a parable for the US and UK’s nation-building misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. The third game is that “Dunsinane” is most definitely a look inward at the Scottish national character. A ballad for a conquered nation, it trains a sharp critical eye at the motivations of the conquerors and an even sharper one at its own—oftentimes bloody—refusal to be conquered. I can imagine many a production of this play that would not be able to win all three games at once. But the National Theatre of Scotland, in partnership with the Royal Shakespeare Company, delivers one that sweeps the board; and thanks to Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s World’s Stage program it’s doing so at Navy Pier this month. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: On Golden Pond/Theatre at the Center

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Dennis Kelly and Luke Michael Klein/Photo: Bridgit Earnshaw

Dennis Kelly and Luke Michael Klein/Photo: Bridgit Earnshaw

The legacy of the 1981 film version of “On Golden Pond,” with iconic, Oscar-winning performances by Henry Fonda and Katharine Hepburn, weighs heavily on the heads of the actors who take on the roles of Norman and Ethel Thayer, and the theater mounting the production. With Henry’s daughter Jane playing the Thayer’s daughter Chelsea, the two were afforded the unique opportunity to play out characters and situations that mirrored their famously troubled relationship. Jane, who purchased the rights to Ernest Thompson’s play, accepted the Oscar on her bedridden father’s behalf; within months, Henry was dead.

Theatre at the Center opens its twenty-fifth anniversary season with “On Golden Pond.” Dennis Kelly and Ami Silvestre, married in real life, essay the roles of Norman and Ethel. Young Luke Michael Klein’s Billy muffles his strong heart with bravado, yet is easily disarmed by unconditional acceptance; the best scenes in the show are those played by Klein and Kelly.  As Bill, Dan Rodden reveals just the right amount of backbone, wrapped in kindness and humanity. Norm Boucher takes a cheerful stab at the mailman Charlie, but his accent is a fair-weather friend. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Alonzo King LINES Ballet/Harris Theater

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LINES-Meyer

RECOMMENDED

The power, reedy elegance and remarkable precision of LINES Ballet returns to the Harris in two weeknight programs. On Wednesday, the San Francisco-based company participates in the Harris’ wallet-friendly happy-hour series Eat + Drink to the Beat, performing King’s nod to ballet history and the emergence of neoclassicism, “Concerto for Two Violins,” along with his newest work “Shostakovich.” Thursday evening is a full program that includes the gorgeous, technically intricate and emotionally transcendent “Writing Ground,” set to music from various religious traditions and inspired by the poetry of Colum McCann. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Four/Jackalope Theatre

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Michael  Kurowski and Robert Howard/Photo: Joel Maisonet

Michael Kurowski and Robert Howard/Photo: Joel Maisonet

Christopher Shinn’s “Four” first premiered in 1998 and over a decade later it seems very much a product of its time. First of all there’s the setting: Hartford, 1996, the Fourth of July. But there’s also a tone and an approach to its characters that calls to mind the nineties indie film scene. It’s a languidness of pace, a chattiness to the dialogue, the sense that something’s on the horizon but even when it gets here it might not break the surface.

Director Nate Silver does a capable job of tapping into these subsumed desires but he never encourages the play to breach its own still waters. His production for Jackalope Theatre is well-staged, well-acted, well-designed but on the whole it remains rather inert. It slowly goes limp when it should climax. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Book of Merman/Pride Films and Plays

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(l-r) Sam Button-Harrison, Dan Gold, Libby Lane/Photo: Pride Films & Plays

Sam Button-Harrison, Dan Gold, Libby Lane

RECOMMENDED

After a successful run at Mary’s Attic, Pride Films and Plays has relocated “The Book of Merman” to the Apollo Theater Studio. The extremely intimate space is terrific for a show that has only three performers. However, for a show that is based upon a woman whose primary vocal quality was “Loud,” as pointed out in a number of pre-show videos of Ethel Merman’s television performances, the space may seem a bit cramped.

While Libby Lane’s portrayal of theater’s great belter may be missing a bit on the volume side of things, she captures the sound and attitude of the musical legend. I’m guessing that David Zak directs Lane to approach the part by sacrificing some decibels as a favor to the audience, and in order to present a more melodious sound. The melodies themselves are easily recognized as poor-man’s versions of songs from “Gypsy” and “Annie Get Your Gun.” The production can’t actually use the original tunes, but these altered versions are amusingly familiar. Because the show is poking fun at “The Book of Mormon,” the first words in the production are naturally “Hello! Hello!” And from that point on, the lyrics tend toward the clever, providing constant laughs throughout. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: This Is Modern Art/Steppenwolf for Young Adults

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(l to r) Jerry MacKinnon, J. Salomé Martinez Jr and Jessie D. Prez/Photo: Michael Courier

Jerry MacKinnon, J. Salomé Martinez Jr and Jessie D. Prez/Photo: Michael Courier

RECOMMENDED

“Vandals cover Art Institute of Chicago’s wall with graffiti,” the headlines read in February 2010. Yet again five of this city’s degenerates decided to add to the already five million dollar bill for graffiti removal. It’s a potential felony, with fines up to $1,500 and possible prison time. Who in their right mind, knowing those odds would risk their personal freedom for such “trash,” as opponents of this practice would label it? The artists who reject the term vandal and are on a mission to prove that what they do is not a generic, knockoff or derivative form of modern art. That it is, in fact, modern art.

The Steppenwolf for Young Adults production of “This Is Modern Art” is an impassioned tribute to these often rejected artists. The play, based on the events of February 2010, is an attempt to fill in the gaps.

Rhonda (Brittani Arlandis Green) and Marco (Chris Rickett) brag about the new modern art exhibit at the Art Institute, while Seven (Jerry Mackinnon) vehemently argues that graffiti is just as valid. After his argument is rejected by Rhonda and Marco, we follow Seven and his crew—made up of JC (J. Salome Martinez Jr), Dose (Jessie D. Prez) and his girlfriend Selena (Kelly O’Sullivan)—as they make plans to do what no other artist in Chicago has ever done: create art outside of this esteemed museum’s walls. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Cold/Dream Theatre Company

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Jeremy Menekseoglu and

Jeremy Menekseoglu and Nicole Roberts

The threadbare line between cynicism and sentimentality gets even thinner at Christmas. TV and movies would have you believe that the world is divided between smoldering Scrooges and gee-whiz George Baileys. “God bless us everyone” is fine and all but what about the people for whom the holidays are an actual struggle and not merely a convenient catalyst for emotional transformation? Of the many problems that flag Jeremy Menekseoglu’s “Cold,” the most glaring is its inability to rise above the basic tenets of your average Hallmark Christmas Story.

“Cold” is an uncomfortable play, and not always for the right reasons. Like a well-meaning younger cousin who’s just learned to play the guitar, it is an earnest production but one that lacks depth, taste and skill. Case in point: a guarded man is accosted by a flirtatious woman who drags him unwillingly into a whirlwind evening that causes him to question his life of isolation. Only then does he discover that she’s emotionally unstable and has used him to avoid her own crushing loneliness. He eventually resolves to risk being disappointed by actively pursuing her. She resists but eventually acquiesces after some shared emotional insight. Sound familiar? It should. This is the start of a real story. Unfortunately, it is as far as “Cold” gets. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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