Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Preview: Chicago Dancing Festival

Dance, Dance Previews, Recommended Dance Shows No Comments »
Ben Wardell and Michel Rodriguez

Ben Wardell and Michel Rodriguez

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The best time to be in the city is, unquestionably, the summer. These are the months that remind us why we endure such brutal winters (aside from sheer Midwest obstinacy): Chicagoans emerge to reacquaint themselves with the lakefront and parks, drinking in free arts and culture presented outdoors every night of the week. And the end of August means free dance performances—lots of them—thanks to the Chicago Dancing Festival. The festival was founded by native-Chicagoan-turned-New-York-choreographer Lar Lubovitch and dancer Jay Franke, to introduce more people to the pleasures of watching dance. The project has been a success; audiences have turned out in droves the last seven years to see companies from here and around the country. This year’s festival includes three nights of performances: Wednesday at the Harris Theater—which will be simulcast to the big LED screen in the Pritzker Pavilion—a program of duets Friday at the MCA, and the grand finale at the Pritzker Saturday night. Read the rest of this entry »

Heart of the Movement: Dance for Life Dances For A Cause

Dance, Recommended Dance Shows No Comments »

In the early nineties, a dancer with the Joseph Holmes Dance Theatre named Keith Elliott was, like many artists of the time, losing friends and colleagues to complications caused by HIV/AIDS. “If you knew Keith, he was the kind of person who couldn’t just not do anything about it,” said Anthony Guerrero, the current producer of Dance For Life. “He was a dancer—he didn’t have money—but he could put on a show.” Elliott invited Chicago’s dance community to participate in a fundraiser performance to fight HIV/AIDS and support artists in need. Four companies immediately got involved: the Joffrey Ballet, Hubbard Street, Giordano Dance and River North Dance, who have remained the partnering companies to this day. The first performance was held in 1992 to a sold-out house. Since then, Dance For Life has raised millions of dollars for HIV/AIDS prevention, care and education. Proceeds also go to The Dancers’ Fund, an emergency fund extended artists, administrators, rehearsal pianists, anyone in the dance profession struggling with life-threatening or debilitating illness. The Dancers’ Fund goes beyond medical treatment, covering rent, utilities, food. Last year’s Dance For Life raised more than $200,000 alone. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind/The Neo-Futurists

Performance, Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »

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Friday night with thirty minutes to go before the doors to the Neo-Futurarium open, a line already snakes down Ashland and around the corner onto Foster. With patrons ranging from traditional theater-types to bros to hipsters and various types in between, it’s readily apparent that “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind” (TML from here on)—the longest-running production in Chicago, which recently celebrated a twenty-fifth anniversary—is still drawing in crowds and then shaking them up in the Neo-Futurists’ signature style.

Many know what to expect from the sometimes hectic, rapid-fire “30 Plays in 60 Minutes” structure of TML because they’ve seen it before and many more have only heard secondhand what they’re in for when attending this unique production. After entering the theater, audience members are promptly given a “menu” which lists the name of thirty individual plays, each with a unique number before it. In order to move the show along, audience members are asked to yell the number of the show they’d like to see next in the moments immediately following the end of the previous play. This results in an excited barrage of numbers being shouted from all corners of the audience in between each vignette and serves to not only jolt the audience but to amp up the action on stage as well.

With titles like “The One Time I Didn’t Hate Kids.” and “I don’t need any help.” these brief plays range from sight gags to physical comedy to one-liners to occasional forays into the deeper aspects of the human condition. Each delivers in its own way—though the quirky comedic bits tend to work best, especially when coupled with a more oblique reference to emotional implications. Read the rest of this entry »

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

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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

RECOMMENDED

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

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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

RECOMMENDED

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 »