Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: Abraham Lincoln Was A F*gg*t/About Face Theatre

Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
(left to right) Nathan Hosner and Matt Farabee in About Face Theatre's Chicago premiere of ABRAHAM LINCOLN WAS A F*GG*T by Bixby Elliot, directed by Andrew Volkoff.  Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Nathan Hosner and Matt Farabee/Photo: Michael Brosilow

RECOMMENDED

Any show buys itself some goodwill when it prominently features the Michael Jackson catalogue. The music of the King of Pop threads its way through Bixby Elliot’s bluntly titled “Abraham Lincoln Was A F*gg*t,” here receiving its Chicago premiere with About Face Theatre. A cappella renditions of Jackson’s songs embody the show’s (mostly) goofy and light-hearted approach, while the disassociation between the man’s music and his personal life—which two characters briefly touch on—points toward the more serious subject at hand.

The play, directed by About Face artistic director Andrew Volkoff, opens with a presentation by a seventeen-year-old boy named Cal (Matt Farabee) seeking to prove that Abraham Lincoln was, like him, a gay man. Cal’s relationship with his mother Susan, played by Jessie Fisher, is a strained one, with his homosexuality remaining a taboo subject. This is somewhat owed to the fact that Cal’s uncle Geoffrey (Nathan Hosner) is deeply closeted himself. He’s the kind of guy who thinks that coming to Cal’s birthday and awkwardly trying to pass off his boyfriend (Derrick Trumbly) as his “roommate” is somehow better than acknowledging the truth. The play alternates Cal’s budding romance with his classmate Skylor (Lane Flores) with Cal’s version of Lincoln’s early and later life. Lincoln is played by Hosner and Mary Todd by Fisher. Trumbly plays Lincoln’s, ahem, roommate Joshua Speed. The double-casting creates parallels between Lincoln’s and Geoffrey’s struggle with their sexualities, as well as Susan’s journey to openly accept her son. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Cowboys and Vikings Trilogy/Erica Mott Productions

Dance, Dance Previews, Recommended Dance Shows No Comments »

IN>TIME 13 - Erica Mott: Wastelands, Waters and Words

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While appropriate, the term “layered” is a bit of an understatement when applied to the dance theater creations of Erica Mott. Meanings, ideas and historical references intersect, merge, pile and weave through a fabric of sound, movement, sculpture and projection created by Mott and her collaborators. And Mott’s 2012 exploration of masculinity is given yet another layer of meaning this summer, when it will be restaged as part of the Chicago Park District’s Night Out in the Parks Festival. The first part of the trilogy, “Five Gaits, Four Walls, Fourteen Knots” loses the walls in an outdoor presentation at Indian Boundary Park—the site named in the 1816 Treaty of St. Louis. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Ithamar Has Nothing to Say/Second City

Comedy, Improv/Sketch Reviews, Improv/Sketch/Revues, Recommended Comedy Shows No Comments »
Ithamar Second City_00027

Ithamar Enriquez

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While watching Second City alum Ithamar Enriquez, I couldn’t help but think of “Geri’s Game,” the Pixar short film wherein an elderly man plays an increasingly erratic and high-stakes game of chess against a vicious opponent that turns out to be none other than himself. “Ithamar Has Nothing to Say” is not just a solo performance. It’s also a silent one. Billed as a modern update of the silent masters, Enriquez has sculpted, along with director Frank Caeti, an ode to vaudeville that also celebrates the “Yes And” brand of comedy touted by Enriquez’s alma mater.

Anyone accustomed to sketch or standup may take a little while to adjust to “Ithamar Has Nothing to Say.” The show’s first ten minutes demonstrate Enriquez’s physical dexterity, as he hops all over the stage, seemingly against his will. Transitions between sketches can sometimes be abrupt, though Enriquez keeps the energy going through each. The show uses a good deal of music across a broad genre spectrum, whether it be for the purposes of clever sendup—a The Who-themed spot is particularly hysterical—or to cue the audience into a cultural reference a la Enriquez’s string of handsy movie parodies. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Soon I Will Be Invincible/Lifeline Theatre

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(Clockwise, from L) Corrbette Pasko as Damsel, Phil Timberlake as Dr. Impossible, Sarah Scanlon as Elphin, Frederick Harris as Mr. Mystic, Christina Hall As Fatale, Tommy Malouf as Blackwolf, and Taryn Wood as Rainbow Triumph/Photo: Suzanne Plunkett

(Clockwise, from left) Corrbette Pasko as Damsel, Phil Timberlake as Dr. Impossible, Sarah Scanlon as Elphin, Frederick Harris as Mr. Mystic, Christina Hall As Fatale, Tommy Malouf as Blackwolf, and Taryn Wood as Rainbow Triumph/Photo: Suzanne Plunkett

On paper, superheroes and stage musicals would seem like a natural fit. Both stories feature larger-than-life characters, bright shiny action and, more often than not, a syrupy core of sincerity. However the two most high profile superhero musicals to date, “It’s A Bird…It’s a Plane…It’s Superman” and Julie Taymor’s “Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark” were both kludgy, ill-begotten flops. Unfortunately, Lifeline Theatre’s “Soon I Will Be Invincible” falls into this same category.

Adapted by Christopher M. Walsh from Austin Grossman’s 2007 novel of the same name, with music by Christopher Kriz, “Soon I Will Be Invincible” follows twin narrators Fatale (Christina Hall) and Dr. Impossible (Phil Timberlake). Fatale, an amnesiac cyborg, is the newest member of the New Champions, a team of earth’s mightiest heroes. Dr. Impossible, meanwhile, is their greatest foe. When Superman analogue CoreFire (Jason Kellerman) vanishes, Dr. Impossible breaks out of prison and launches a new plan for world domination. The New Champions, who have some secrets of their own, rush to stop him. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Love and Human Remains/Cor Theatre

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Tosha Fowler  is Benita and  Eric Staves

Tosha Fowler and Eric Staves/Photo: Matthew Gregory Hollis

RECOMMENDED

Playwright Brad Fraser examines the nature of true love through the tortured lens of fetishism, idolatry and narcissism in his spectacularly vivid play “Love and Human Remains.” Cor Theatre is a fresh-faced player in Chicago’s storefront theater scene, but if their programming continues to be as deliciously divergent and artistically shameless as Fraser’s meaty play, any perceived cloak of artful innocence will slip quickly from its shoulders. With a topnotch cast, fearless direction, fierce violence choreography and high production values, Cor’s production makes a siren call for the type of slick, dangerous, brilliantly written Chicago theater that birthed Chicago’s national theatrical reputation. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Borderlands: Three Chords and the Truth/Underscore Theatre Company

Musicals, Theater, Theater Reviews, World Premiere No Comments »
Borderlands_Press_8

Aaron Davidson, Sarah Beth Tanner, Mike Mazzocca, Jon Patrick Penick, Ian Knox/Photo: Zane Rarek

I have to hand it to Underscore Theatre Company; their world-premiere production of “Borderlands:  Three Chords and the Truth” is about as ambitious as it is long. And at more than two hours in length, that is quite a lot of ambition. Picture the characters of “Rent” reunited in a dive bar twenty years later, maybe a little more realistic in what they can accomplish, but still plugging away. And instead of hanging out in Manhattan, they are in Nashville, and their rock opera sensibilities have been traded in for a ukulele, a violin and a few other stringed instruments. If this sounds intriguing, it is, but produced as a full-length musical it lacks enough memorable music and enough character development to truly make it work. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Fantasticks/Light Opera Works

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James Anest and Meredith Kochan/Photo: Mona Luan

James Anest and Meredith Kochan/Photo: Mona Luan

Light Opera Works has launched its thirty-fifth season with a musical that has a great deal of staying power of its own. “The Fantasticks” has the honor of being the longest-running show in history. In New York. In Evanston, it only runs through June fourteenth. And that’s probably for the best. The play is still the solid warhorse that has stood the test of time, but this production lacks some of the magic that one hopes for. In fact, I would go so far as to say that for the first half hour the production verges on boring. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Motel 666/Wildclaw Theatre

Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews, World Premiere 1 Comment »
Photo six, Natalie DiCristofano, Dave Belden, Tony St.Clair/KBH Media

Natalie DiCristofano, Dave Belden, Tony St.Clair/Photo: KBH Media

RECOMMENDED

A playwright friend and I were recently discussing the problems we had with shows that were collections of short plays. While these shows are often promising in theory they usually suffer in either consistency, quality or both. And at a deeper level, they often lack a unifying artistic vision that makes for a satisfying evening. The parts remain just parts, never cohering into a whole.

By chance, I took this friend to see Wildclaw Theatre’s “Motel 666,” which just so happens to be a short horror anthology; and we were both pleased as (probably poisoned) punch to find that the failings listed above were nowhere to be found. Consisting of seven plays by different playwrights, “Motel 666” nonetheless shares a common cast and a single director, Scott Cummins. The plays, which vary wildly in tone and aesthetic, are also united by a common location, a dingy room in the titular establishment, as well as by the continued presence of the motel’s off-putting and possibly otherworldly proprietors, played by Natalie DiCristofano and Tony St. Clair. There is indeed a whole here, and it’s a whole lot of fun. Read the rest of this entry »

Funny Future: Looking For the Next Kevin Hart at the Break Out Comedy Festival

Comedy, Festivals, Improv/Sketch Reviews, Improv/Sketch/Revues, Recommended Comedy Shows, Stand-Up No Comments »
Dominizuelan

Dominizuelan

By Loy Webb

When I was younger, my two sisters and I shared a room. One of our many Saturday rituals was flipping through magazines to find pictures to decorate our walls. Most of the pictures consisted of our favorite members of an R&B boy band called B2K (pretty hot in the early 2000s).

But my younger sister, I kid you not, cut out a picture of Kevin Hart and put it on the wall. She was in elementary school at the time mind you, and nobody knew who he was. He hadn’t had a major movie, a comedy special, let alone the title he has today as one of the world’s top comedians.

And if you walk into our house today, on that wall, between the old pictures of Kanye West, Destiny’s Child, Usher and Jamie Foxx, is a picture of a young Kevin Hart with a blurb on the side that reads “up and coming comedian/actor.”

I remember asking my sister why she put that picture up. She shrugged and said she thought he was cute. But maybe, just maybe, she saw his star potential. I know that’s pretty deep for an elementary school kid, but hey, a child shall lead them right?

Watching the two-day “Break Out Comedy Festival” presented by NBC Universal and Second City this weekend, I felt like my younger sister. I was not just bearing witness to the next generation of comedic talent, but the next generation of comedic stars with futures filled with blinding brightness. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Telephone and Hello Out There/Chicago Theatre-Opera

Opera, Opera Reviews, Recommended Opera, Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
David Govertsen, Mary Lutz Govertsen/Photo

David Govertsen, Mary Lutz Govertsen/Photo: Anne Slovin

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Who knew the composer Gian Carlo Menotti was a serious, prophetic social critic? Not I. I remember watching his charming fantasy, “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” on black-and-white television as a boy in the 1950s. For decades I avoided looking into his one-act comic operetta, “The Telephone.” Perhaps I should have gotten off the esthetic high horse I was riding to investigate it. Menotti saw—in 1947!—that Americans were device-ridden, tyrannized by the telephone. He showed us obsessed, distracted, driven, controlled by the phone to the point that mutual consideration and conversation, formerly the chief charms of sociability, had died.

Menotti felt the telephone had killed the continuity of existence. Life was now a series of interruptions. Leisure, too, was dead. Politeness, decorum, manners, formality suffered. Casual was king. Yes, it was funny, but it was tragic, too. And Menotti lived long enough to see our sidewalks full of zombies seemingly talking to themselves, eyes fixed downward on a small object in the palm of their hand fifteen inches from their face. Read the rest of this entry »

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