Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Preview: The Long and Forgotten Winter/RE|Dance

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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 »

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

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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

RECOMMENDED

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

RECOMMENDED

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 »

Review: The Merry Wives of Windsor/First Folio Theatre

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The Merry Wives of Windsor Production Photo E
RECOMMENDED

You learn a lot about the level of commitment of a company of actors—to say nothing of the commitment of the audience enjoying them—when both are willing to engage in the rain because, as the Bard himself would say, “the play’s the thing.” Thus, as rain began falling during Act II of First Folio’s opening night of Shakespeare’s “The Merry Wives of Windsor,” the cast took no mind of it, and audience members simply covered up or took out umbrellas.

This went on for a time before the show was interrupted since, as First Folio managing director and show producer David Rice put it over the loudspeakers, “Ladies and gentlemen, this is a small squall that will pass quickly, please come into the mansion until it does.” The “mansion” is none other than the former home of coal baron Francis S. Peabody, a delightfully opulent environment to come into out of the rain. Yes, the powers that be have sophisticated weather-tracking devices and have storm evasion and the safety of the venues’ performers and audiences down to a science.   Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Marvelous Marvelettes/Black Ensemble Theater

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RECOMMENDED

When Mary Wilson of the Supremes came through town late last fall, she recalled that the Supremes had no less than seven flops before catching on while another Detroit all-female group, the Marvelettes, had five consecutive hits, including Motown’s first-ever No. 1 hit.

This is history seemingly long-forgotten nearly fifty years later, that there was a time when Motown Records’ founder and president Berry Gordy was actually attempting to model the Supremes on the success of the Marvelettes. So much so, in fact, that he brought the Supremes to the same songwriting team that had written hits for the Marvelettes before the Supremes began charting.

While the Marvelettes have been largely relegated to an early footnote and a chorus of that first hit, “Please Mr. Postman” in Gordy’s own vacuous and self-serving “Motown the Musical,” leave it to Black Ensemble Theater to out-Motown Gordy himself by offering a three-dimensional portrait of Gordy and the inner workings of Motown in its world-premiere production “The Marvelous Marvelettes” by Reginald Williams and directed by Rueben D. Echoles.   Read the rest of this entry »

Review: My First Time/Broken Nose Theatre

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MFT6

RECOMMENDED

Usually when you hear someone use the phrase “the universality of the human experience” it’s a load of hooey. People use it to justify why their production of “Timon of Athens” should be considered relevant to today’s inner-city youth. It’s a weak bromide offered by the Powers That Be to justify telling their stories instead of yours. Anytime I find myself about to use it, I stop and seriously reconsider my position.

That being said, Broken Nose Theatre’s “My First Time” really benefits from the universality of the human experience. And I mean that. Seriously. The show, which Broken Nose is remounting after originally producing the Chicago premiere, began its life as a website: myfirsttime.com. Founded in 1998, the site invited people to anonymously submit stories of how (and why and when and with whom) they lost their virginity. As of this writing, the site has had more than 50,000 entries.

Finally, in 2007, producer Ken Davenport turned it all into a play, drawing from individual tales as well as audience surveys and general statistics. The show reminds me of the work of Dan Savage in its desire to sample from and normalize the vast array of humanity’s sexual experiences. It includes good sex, bad sex, loving sex and rote sex. There are stories of gay awakenings, of why people decided to wait. There is incest, there is rape. There is pretty much everything. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Intimate Apparel/Eclipse Theatre Company

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Kelly Owens and Brandon Greenhouse

Kelly Owens and Brandon Greenhouse/Photo: Tim Knight

RECOMMENDED

As I sat watching “Intimate Apparel” presented by Eclipse Theatre Company, the words of renowned Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie echoed in my mind: “Because I am female, I am expected to aspire to marriage. I am expected to make my life choices always keeping in mind that marriage is the most important.” Adichie’s idea—that we as women, no matter how successful we are in our own right, are somehow invalidated if we are not married—is the same societal fallacy that Esther (Kelly Owens) faces in Lynn Nottage’s play set in New York City in 1905.

Esther, a successful seamstress of intimate apparel—especially for an African-American woman during that time –has recently turned thirty-five. Feelings of jealousy, longing and inadequacy emerge as she sits sewing a camisole for a young woman in her boarding house getting ready to be married. Mrs. Dickson (Frances Wilkerson), the African-American woman who took Esther in at seventeen and runs the boarding house, insists her time will come. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Much Ado About Nothing/Midsommer Flight

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Ashlee Edgemon and Martel Manning/Photo: Zack Whittington

Ashlee Edgemon and Martel Manning/Photo: Zack Whittington

RECOMMENDED

Some of the nicer things in life really are free, such as Shakespeare served al fresco on a summer evening by the talented and community-minded Midsommer Flight theater collective. Now in its third year, the troupe is presenting a rollicking, high-energy “Much Ado About Nothing” at Schreiber, Gross and Touhy Parks on the North Side.

I saw the production at Schreiber, an unpromising square of hardpan near Clark and Devon. The feng shui could have been better. Performing without a backdrop or well-defined stage, the actors struggled at first against the background hubbub—including one ad-lib moment when a passing cyclist, noting the kiss planted by Benedick (Martel Manning) on the pretty Beatrice (Ashlee Edgemon), shouted with perfect comic timing, “Give her another for me!” But once the plot picked up steam after a halting, exposition-laden opening, the audience became hooked on Shakespeare’s trenchantly comic take on the war between the sexes. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Stoop Time/You&Me Productions

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Joni Arredia

Joni Arredia

“Stoop Time,” a new play staged by You&Me Productions, opens up with friends Jo (Angela Bullard) and Nora (Joni Arredia) having drinks, sharing laughs and recounting stories on Jo’s stoop. Their jovial drunken night is interrupted when a stranger, Reyna (Krystel V. McNeil), comes desperately seeking her lost necklace. Upon helping Reyna to find the necklace, Jo invites her to stay the night, but not without protest from both Nora and Jo’s ex-husband Wolfe (Colin Reeves). Wolfe reminds Jo that she always takes people in. Jo insists that Reyna is not a “stray,” that something is different about her. She turns out to be right. Reyna’s father Richard (Watson Swift), was the head doctor of the hospital Jo worked at while doing relief work in Haiti with Hut Outreach, when she was a nineteen-year-old student at DePaul University. Read the rest of this entry »