Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: Sons of the Prophet/American Theater Company

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Photo by Michel Brosilow

Photo: Michel Brosilow

RECOMMENDED

The well-intended cliché “God never gives you more than you can stand,” offers precious little comfort for the world’s atheists.  Stephen Karam’s latest deftly examines the nature of suffering, the role of faith and the possibility of finding comfort when the bosom of the Almighty isn’t an option.

Hapless Joseph (an affable Tyler Ravelson) suffers from a mysterious illness while grieving the loss of his father in a tragic accident, caring for his disabled, cantankerous uncle (a hilariously inappropriate Will Zahrn) and supporting his brother Charles (Michael Weingand, negotiating the gap between persuasive and bitchy).  Joseph takes a job with flakey-yet-flinty publisher Gloria (Natalie West) for medical benefits, while sidestepping her efforts to exploit his family’s tenuous connection to famed poet Khalil Gibran. As Joseph’s health spirals, he reaches out to reporter Timothy (a subtly oily Greg Matthew Anderson) for comfort. Read the rest of this entry »

The Players 2014: The Fifty People Who Really Perform in Chicago

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In the foreground, Mike Nussbaum. Continuing in a clockwise circle, Nathan Allen, Charles Newell, Autumn Eckman and Nick Pupillo, Rae Gray and Usman Ally, Alejandro Cerrudo, Ann Filmer, Michael Mahler, Michael Halberstam, Dave Pasquesi, Ayako Kato. In the background, T.J. Jagodowski.

Once was the time, when it came to performing arts, that Chicago was a great place to come from. But thanks to the constant upward trajectory of our community, Chicago is now a great place to come from AND to return to. Every year we see more and more evidence of this, whether it’s the regular homecomings of the likes of Michael Shannon and David Cromer, the Chicago reorientation of international stars like Renee Fleming and Riccardo Muti or the burgeoning national reputations of Tracy Letts and Alejandro Cerrudo, we’ve got quite a perpetual show going on. That means of course, that culling a growing short-list of 300 or so down to the fifty folks who make up this year’s Players, is getting more painful. But we’re crying tears of joy as we do it. What follows are the fifty artists (as opposed to last year’s behind-the-scenesters) in dance, theater, comedy and opera who are making the greatest impact on Chicago stages right now.

Written by Zach Freeman, Brian Hieggelke and Sharon Hoyer, with Mark Roelof Eleveld, Hugh Iglarsh and Robert Eric Shoemaker. Photos by Joe Mazza/Brave Lux

Pictured above: In the foreground, Mike Nussbaum. Continuing in a clockwise circle, Nathan Allen, Charles Newell, Autumn Eckman and Nick Pupillo, Rae Gray and Usman Ally, Alejandro Cerrudo, Ann Filmer, Michael Mahler, Michael Halberstam, Dave Pasquesi, Ayako Kato. In the background, T.J. Jagodowski.

All photos were taken at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago.

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Review: Unwilling and Hostile Instruments: 100 Years of Extraordinary Chicago Women/Theatre Seven of Chicago

Theater, Theater Reviews, World Premiere No Comments »
Jaclyn Hennell as Ann Landers

Jaclyn Hennell as Ann Landers

“How do we tell that story and, like, tell the truth?” one hip young ensemble member asks another in the unwieldy (and unwieldily titled) “Unwilling and Hostile Instruments: 100 Years of Extraordinary Chicago Women.” Gathered in “a rehearsal room at The Hull House Theatre”—actually American Theater Company, where Kerith Parashak’s mazelike set is appropriately packed with Joshua Hurley’s seemingly random and decaying collection of props—they’re rehearsing the show we’re about to see.

It’s a show about history and Chicago and women. But it’s not going to be THAT kind of show, these actors assure each other as they playfully prepare. Because they wouldn’t want to put on THAT kind of show. They just want to cut the bullshit, tell the truth and not be all “…Historical. Like ‘capital H’ Historical.”

Well, it’s an admirable attempt. The thing is, a tongue-in-cheek, self-aware, meta after-school special is still an after-school special. And no matter how hard this energetic cast works to push back against presenting a rather dry pedagogical series of historical pieces linked together via entertaining (though mostly inane) backstage banter, that’s what this world-premiere production (featuring plays by nine Chicago playwrights) currently is. Read the rest of this entry »

Not Just A Play: “Columbinus” Revised and Revisited at American Theater Company

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Photo: Michael Brosilow

Photo: Michael Brosilow

By Johnny Oleksinski

“I never thought I’d go back to this play. Ever, ever,” emphatically states PJ Paparelli, artistic director of American Theater Company. He’s talking to me on the phone during a wintry transit, so there is an added emphasis to his assertion. Well, PJ thought wrong. A revised version of his eight-year-old “columbinus” opens this week at American Theater Company, also directed by him. So, why has he returned to it now? After all, the play has been done here before. When Paparelli moved to Chicago to take up the reins of ATC in 2008, Raven Theatre was in the throes of presenting the Chicago premiere of his widely produced work.

He wrote “columbinus” in 2005 with “Sons of the Prophet” playwright Stephen Karam based on interviews with high-school students around the country and citizens of Littleton, Colorado who had been affected by the 1999 Columbine High School massacre. The play began with a first act set in a fictional high school, and the second segued into specifically Columbine. The New York Theatre Workshop premiere was critically praised and sprouted countless productions nationally.

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The Players 2013: The 50 People Who Really Perform in Chicago

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PLAYERSThough we publish a list of “players” every year, we alternate between those whose accomplishments are most visible on-stage (the artists, last year) and those who wield their influence behind the curtain (this year). Not only does this allow us to consider twice as many people, but it also puts some temporal distance between the lists. So, the last time we visited this cast of characters, two years ago, we were celebrating the end of the Richard M. Daley years in Chicago, fretting over a nation seemingly in the mood for a Tea Party and contemplating the possibility of a Latter Day Saint in the White House. Today, we’ve got a dancer in the mayor’s office, the most prominent Mormons are in a chorus line at the Bank of America Theatre and the Tea Cup runneth dry. Call us cockeyed optimists, but things sure look better from here. And so, meet the folks who, today, bring us the best theater, dance, comedy and opera in the nation.

Written by Zach Freeman, Brian Hieggelke, Sharon Hoyer and Johnny Oleksinski
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Review: It’s a Wonderful Life: the Radio Play/American Theater Company

Christmas, Holiday, Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »

Mike Nussbaum and Cliff Chamberlain/Photo: Katie Sikora

RECOMMENDED

It’s probably blasphemy to suggest that American Theater Company’s radio rendition of this holiday tale is better than the iconic Frank Capra film, but it’s certainly close under the superb direction of Jason Gerace and artistic director PJ Paparelli.

With a swanky look and a fast-moving pace, ATC’s version starts off with a feel-good vamp from the narrator (Chris Amos) that includes quirky messages from audience members, local businesses and game-show contestants. Joining the cast this year is Cliff Chamberlain as George Bailey and Mike Nussbaum as Mr. Potter. Chamberlain does a remarkable job being convincingly boyish and deeply intense without slipping into a stale Jimmy Stewart impression. Nussbaum is both chilly as Potter and honest as Clarence, gracefully pushing past any “Touched by an Angel”-ish associations. Sadieh Rifai and Jessie Fisher bring the female characters to life in full color. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Catholic Repertory/American Theater Company

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Penelope Walker and Kate Skinner/Photo: Peter Coombs Photography

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Kicking off their twenty-eighth season, American Theater Company embarks on a spiritual journey in the aptly titled repertory-style production of “Doubt” and “Agnes of God.” John Patrick Shanley’s 2004 play “Doubt,” in which a nun suspects a priest of molestation, garnered the 2005 Pulitzer Prize and had a lengthy run on Broadway. The lesser-known “Agnes of God” by John Pielmeier was originally presented on Broadway in 1982 and tells the story of a young nun accused of infanticide.

Under the direction of PJ Paparelli, the back-to-back plays begin with a briskly paced “Doubt,” led by Kate Skinner, who gives a strong performance as Catholic School principal Sister Aloysius. Skinner’s sharp coldness takes command of each scene and the audience isn’t likely to be left with any doubt of her suspicions. Sister Aloysius meets her match in the play’s most intense scene between herself and the suspected victim’s mother Mrs. Muller, played by Penelope Walker. The accused Father Flynn is played competently by Lance Baker, who occasionally delivers Shanley’s witty lines rather illogically. The naïve Sister James is played by Sadieh Rifai, who does her best to physically embody her character’s eventual corruption. Read the rest of this entry »

American Theater Company announces 2012-2013 season

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AMERICAN THEATER COMPANY ANNOUNCES 2012-13 SEASON

PJ PAPARELLI’S 5th SEASON TO FEATURE RESTORED & REVISED 45TH ANNIVERSARY PRODUCTION OF HAIR;
THE CATHOLIC REPERTORY: DOUBT & AGNES OF GOD; THE RADIO REPERTORY: THE WIZARD OF OZ & IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE; AND THE WORLD PREMIERE OF THE REVISED COLUMBINUS

Chicago, IL – American Theater Company proudly announces Season 28, which kicks off with two American classics in rotating repertory – The Catholic Repertory: Doubt & Agnes of God – featuring Ensemble Member Sadieh Rifai; and a Chicago holiday repertory – The Radio Repertory: The Wizard of Oz & It’s a Wonderful Life – directed by ATC Artistic Associate Jason W. Gerace. The season continues with the World Premiere of the revised version of the United States Theatre Project’s columbinus, conceived and directed by Artistic Director PJ Paparelli. Following in the wake of contemporary shootings like those at Virginia Tech, Paparelli will return to Littleton, Colorado for the first time in ten years to conduct new interviews with survivors and community members; the revised production of columbinus will be part of the theatre community’s citywide discussion on school violence “Now Is the Time to Act,” together with Steppenwolf and About Face Theater.

Closing out Paparelli’s 5th anniversary season as Artistic Director at ATC is a restored and revised version of the classic American rock musical Hair. Following the success of The Original Grease, Paparelli now teams up with Hair co-creator James Rado to restore original material from the 1968 off-Broadway production that hasn’t been seen in 45 years.  Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Rent/American Theater Company & About Face Theatre

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Alex Agard, Alan Schmuckler, Andres Cruz, Derrick Trumbly/Photo: Michael Brosilow

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That director David Cromer has developed a reputation for an ability to work magic on even the most taken-for-granted shows made his interest in “Rent” particularly intriguing, to say the leastNo ordinary show, part of the mystique of “Rent” was the stranger-than-fiction reality that the composer of this updated transposition of Puccini’s “La bohème” from a nineteenth-century Paris garret with tuberculosis looming overhead to a 1990s flat in Greenwich Village with AIDS as the culprit, died suddenly of a burst aortic aneurysm on the night before “Rent” was to open in 1996. A mere thirty-five years old when he died and so living the bohemian lifestyle described in the show that the set designer made sure that the flat actually looked better than the composer’s own so as not to make him feel self-conscious, the late Jonathan Larson never lived to see or benefit from the extraordinary success of a work that he personified both in his life as a struggling artist and his untimely early death. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Disgraced/American Theater Company

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Usman Ally, Alana Arenas, Lee Stark, Benim Foster/Photo: Michael Brosilow

RECOMMENDED

Amir is an American of Islamic heritage, his parents from the part of the world now known as Pakistan. He seems fully assimilated in all the ways mainstream America would want him to be: he’s disavowed the religion of his people, married a white woman and, most important of all, become an asshole corporate lawyer who wears $600 shirts. For what aspiration is more American than to be an asshole corporate lawyer?

But no one wants the assimilated Amir. Not his nephew who still clings to the Koran. Nor his wife, who’s using Islam in a  contemporary version of radical chic to establish her career as an artist. And in the ultimate act of identity suppression, he’s immersed himself, it seems, in a world of American Jews—at his law firm, among his social circle. Read the rest of this entry »