Nora Dunn/Photo: Charles Osgood
“I love Hollywood. Of course I do…” declares Nora Dunn’s opening character, a gregarious eighty-seven-year-old Hollywood type discussing her behind-the-scenes involvement in the creation of a number of stars from the 1950s. Later Dunn, as herself (or at least a performance version of herself), makes a similar, though tellingly modified, statement: “I love the Hollywood myth.”
The difference between the myth of Hollywood and the reality of Hollywood is the ostensible focal point of this quietly comedic and surprisingly poignant one-woman show, written and performed by Dunn (a “Saturday Night Live” alum with an impressive number of film and television credits under her belt). The true focal point is much harder to nail down. Read the rest of this entry »
Bron Batten and Jim Batten/Photo: Max Milne
“Sweet Child of Mine” is a short, entertaining theatrical piece by Bron Batten and her parents Jim and Linda Batten. It mixes the boundaries of live performance, “home videos,” stand-up, as well as a smattering of song and dance, without any traditional fourth wall. There is absurdism galore. In one captivating scene, Batten reprises one of her many childhood “animal” theater roles: she puts an audience member on a long-distance phone call to Australia to role-play a monologue; all the while Batten stares at him, drinking her native Foster’s beer underneath an animal mask.
This is the first US performance of this award-winning Australian play and Batten is loaded with talent, absurdly comfortable on stage, and despite her deceptive ease (there is a hidden structure to the most informal of her audience participation points), she delivers a highly complex performance. And while the presence of her father on stage offers a measure of comfort at first (he is a huggable, good-willed type), things lose some steam with his choppy transitions and hammy jokes.
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L to R: Greg Hirte, Austin Cook, Matthew Brumlow, Michael Mahler/Photo by Johnny Knight
In 1979, Hank Williams Jr. released the song “Family Tradition” in which he demands of the listener: “Stop and think it over / put yourself in my position. If I get stoned and sing all night long / it’s a family tradition.” At first glance, those lyrics might sound a bit trivial—something any country musician could throw into a catchy song—but once you know the story of his hard-living father, eloquently rendered by playwrights Randal Myler and Mark Harelik in “Hank Williams: Lost Highway” and captivatingly produced by American Blues Theater, it’s clear that that’s a serious bit of songwriting.
Before country music “turned into a pickup commercial” (a fine example of the clever dialogue here by Myler and Harelik) there was Hank Williams (born Hiram King Williams). Considered the father of contemporary country music and one of the most influential country musicians of all time (and perhaps one of the most influential musicians period), Williams penned dozens of popular singles, sold out concerts and was a frequenter of the illustrious Grand Ole Opry. He was also dead at the age of twenty-nine. Read the rest of this entry »
(L to R): Tosin Morohunfola, Cleavant Derricks and Larry Marshall in rehearsal
By Joshua C. Robinson
In the 1860s, George Pullman, a pioneering businessman, created a new position on trains that carried with it an embroiled dichotomy: the Pullman Porter. Pullman only hired African Americans, and while the job seemed lucrative, the porters were treated like second-class citizens by the passengers. They were servants, living in a transition between the slavery they left behind and the freedoms they would help secure through the Civil Rights movement.
Cheryl West’s “Pullman Porter Blues,” opening at the Goodman Theatre this month, is a passionate account of a family pulled between the security of a steady paycheck and basic human rights and the American Dream. Set in 1937, the play takes place while World War II is brewing, the Great Depression is waning and the luxury train business is at its peak. Read the rest of this entry »
Adrian Aguilar and Alexander Aguilar/Photo by Kelsey Jorissen
Say you’re a musical actor. And say your brother happens to be one as well. Say that both of you are actually really good at this whole musical acting thing. Now, suppose that you want to work together (you haven’t for a while). Suddenly, you stumble upon a little-known 2001 musical comedy written by another pair of acting brothers. “Hey!” you might say to your brother. “This just might be the ticket!”
But even formidable talents and a clear brotherly connection can’t shoulder the burden of the stream of stale jokes, mostly leaden songs and gimmicky plot device (two actors play almost a dozen characters) that “Double Trouble” (making its Chicago premiere with Porchlight Music Theatre) puts forth. Even the subtitle of the show—“A Musical Tour de Farce!”—is a groaner.
And it’s not for lack of trying. The two performers here—real-life brothers Adrian and Alexander Aguilar—throw themselves into this show with all the singing, dancing and hardcore mugging they can muster. And between the two of them they can muster quite a bit: Adrian was nominated for a 2012 Jeff Award for Best Lead Actor in a Musical for Porchlight’s “tick, tick, …BOOM!” and Alexander boasts a month-long run on Broadway, where he originated a role in “Lysistrata Jones.” Read the rest of this entry »
The Plagiarists current production of “King Ubu” is an updated version of “Ubu Roi,” Alfred Jarry’s revolutionary social satire and the godfather of all ensuing theaters of protest and marginalization (the various theaters of cruelty, absurdity, surrealism, existentialism, dadaism, et al). But this production raises two questions: how can we possibly capture the original, riot-inducing shock caused by “Ubu Roi’s” premiere? And is this even a desirable artistic goal?
In 1896, Jarry’s seminal play (all puns intended) took stabs at the French bourgeoisie with such relentless insult that after the play’s opening line of “Merdre” (“shit”) a riot broke out in the audience. Here in post-millennial, postmodern Chicago, The Plagiarists open their updated version with Ubu’s clumsy morning self-pleasuring. Shocking? Not really. Offensive? Possibly. Cringeworthy? A little. But riot producing? Definitely not.
In this age of media suffusion we are used to such banal transgressions and yet… “Ubu Roi” is still worth doing and redoing, if only to hold the cracked mirror of its original critique up to current audiences. Because in each era it’s worth considering what Jarry—through the infantile beastliness of Ubu and his merry band of anti-heroes—gleefully asserts: that people are stupid, greedy and selfish and that life and the pursuit of power is boring, nonsensical and meaningless within an ultimately indifferent universe. Read the rest of this entry »
(L to R) Michael Finley, Courtney Jones, Dylan Stuckey and Billy Fenderson/Photo: Johnny Knight
More than 16 million Americans served in World War II; in contrast, United States forces in Iraq numbered 112,000 in 2010 to 2011. While we may still be mired in conflict, we are not surrounded by the level of sacrifice that was necessary in the 1940s. As a result, the public is ignorant of the demands that the military places on the average soldier. Hannah Moscovitch successfully explores the physical and psychological cost for Canadian service personnel, and the lifelong wounds they suffer. Read the rest of this entry »
Most family dynamics are difficult; they’re even tougher when family members are flawed beyond redemption. Playwright Rhett Rossi explores the difficulty of forgiveness, capturing an exquisite balance of absurd humor and heartfelt pathos.
Pedophile Mitch (Larry Neumann, Jr.) has just been released from prison. Much to his surprise, he finds brother Roy (Darrell W. Cox) waiting for him. Roy makes it clear that all is not well between them; he assures Mitch that their reunion may not end happily. It’s a family-drama premise that could become mired in cliché; fortunately, Rossi skips trite truisms and fleshes out the characters, embracing their complete humanity. Read the rest of this entry »
(L to R) Ed Porter, Anita Deely, Michael Dailey, Emily Nicelson and Jeff Duhigg/Photo: Chris Ocken
Rumor has it that the Irish cast in the original production of Tom Murphy’s booze-drenched, pub-set “Conversations on a Homecoming” consumed real alcohol throughout the course of this roughly ninety-minute real-time play. Judging by the volume of empty glasses littering the various tabletops in scenic designer Mike Mroch’s appropriately divey Irish pub set by the end of Strawdog Theatre Company’s current production, this would be quite an accomplishment.
Under the direction of Jonathan Berry, this able cast pulls off the slow build of intoxication that Murphy’s now-classic 1985 play, which finds a group of four young(ish) men meeting in a pub on the outskirts of Galway, Ireland in the mid-seventies to drink and celebrate the homecoming of one of their own, requires. And though the foursome does plenty of drinking, the celebrating is marred by a number of arguments that erupt over the course of the night.
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They say the pen is mightier than the sword, but in Babes with Blades Theatre Company’s premiere of Eric Simon’s “Bo Thomas and the Case of the Sky Pirates,” the two tools are nearly equally matched.
This word- and action-packed production pays homage to the 1940s detective genre, while gleefully pillaging all the significant noir tropes: hats, trench coats, cigarettes, the mysterious femme fatale, the fading detective agency, the scrappy and irrepressible heroine and the increasingly perplexing (and in this case, slightly fantastical) mystery. But in “Bo Thomas” the 1940′s gender roles are completely reversed. Read the rest of this entry »