Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: The Book of Spectres/Grey Ghost Theatre

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Photo by Alan Callaghan

Photo: Alan Callaghan

‘Tis the season for gothic tales and Grey Ghost Theatre obliges with Evan Chung’s original adaptation  of “The Book of Spectres.”  These ancient tales were originally anthologized in the early nineteenth century in “Das Gespensterbuch” (“The Book of Spectres”) by German authors Johann August Apel and Friedrich August Schulze.  Legend has it that the stories were revived and revised on a dark and stormy night by Romantic literary notables Lord Byron, his physician Dr. John Polidori, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft and her half sister Claire Clairmont, as they read them out loud to each other in the Villa Diodati.

The legendary fallout from this infamous encounter includes Byron’s jilting of the pregnant Claire Clairmont, the suicide of Shelley’s wife and daughter, the eventual marriage of Shelley to Wollstonecraft and the subsequent publication of Mary Shelley’s feminist gothic screed “Frankenstein.”  Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Homecoming 1972/Chicago Dramatists

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Photo: Jeff Pines

Photo: Jeff Pines

The story of the solider returning home from war is as ancient as Odysseus and as contemporary as the evening news. The specifics may vary, but the central conceit of the Greek legend is the same as William Wyler’s “The Best Years of Our Lives”: a man leaves home one person and returns home another, having undergone, for better or for worse, a transformation. And for millennia, the change was newfound honor and valor reflecting chivalrous or not-so-chivalrous bravery. Being the hometown personification of war, the solider was a hero. Read the rest of this entry »

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: Freshly Fallen Snow/Chicago Dramatists

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Ann Whitney, Abu Ansari, Mildred Langford, Michael McKeogh and Kelly O’Sullivan

I’ve little patience for dramas that paint scientists, mathematicians, and the like as cold, unfeeling androids. Such an empty storytelling approach is too uninspired and dishonest to reflect a relatable human struggle worth watching. Frequently the emotionless monsters, holed up in their laboratories, noses buried in textbooks, force out unearned sympathy via some debilitating disease or the sorrowful-but-manipulative deterioration of a loved one. It’s a contrived theatrical formula that has been stretched to its limit time and again by plays like David Auburn’s “Proof,” Moises Kaufman’s “33 Variations,” and now, M.E.H. Lewis’ heavy-handed new work, “Freshly Fallen Snow,” which opened on Friday night at Chicago Dramatists. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: A Steady Rain/Chicago Commercial Collective

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Peter DeFaria as Joey and Randy Steinmeyer as Denny/Photo: Jeff Pines


As many productions as  I see, in a theater  community as fertile as Chicago, I still miss many. And sometimes I miss shows that blow up with critical and audience acclaim, to my never-ending dismay. I did not see, for example, “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” at Victory Gardens, “An Iliad” at Court or even “August: Osage County” when it debuted at Steppenwolf. And many many other shows like these over the years. Fortunately, I’m going to get a second chance with some, thanks to the emergence of the Chicago Commercial Collective (CCC), a new company of local producers who hope to bridge the gap between Chicago’s mostly nonprofit theater world and the high-end, import-centric nature of the city’s top for-profit producer, Broadway In Chicago. Most nonprofits operate on a subscription-oriented season schedule which means even their biggest hits can often be extended just a week. CCC hopes to help these shows reach their fullest audience. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: I Am Going to Change the World/Chicago Dramatists

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Nicholas Harazin/Photo: Jeff Pines


Did you ever reflect on a memory and find yourself doubting its reality, wondering if it was just a dream, just a product of  your imagination?

I was drawn to the world premiere of Andrew Hinderaker’s “I Am Going to Change the World” by the premise that its central character was graduating from the University of Chicago and interviewing with Goldman Sachs before his life took an unexpected turn. Since I graduated from the University of Chicago and embarked on a career with Goldman Sachs before my life took an unexpected turn, I needed to see how it ends. The play is driven by some powerful early twists that I won’t spoil, but under the capable direction of Jonathan Berry, it achieves a highly believable exploration of aspiration, reality and the ramifications of a mind with a mind of its own. It wasn’t long before I found myself half-wondering if I’d actually worked at the investment bank those years ago, questioning the “facts” of my life as I remember them. Reality is a fragile construct when you start to think about it.  Read the rest of this entry »

Chicago Dramatists announces 2012-2013 season

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CHICAGO—Chicago Dramatists, known for producing innovative and award-winning new work, is proud to announce its 34th season featuring three world premiere productions by its Resident Playwrights. Chicago Dramatists continues to nurture the city’s most promising playwrights and to push the envelope with the newest plays, helping to advance Chicago’s reputation as a leader in American theatre new play development. The season begins with Freshly Fallen Snow, September 20 – October 28, by Resident Playwright M.E.H. Lewis and directed by Associate Artistic Director Meghan Beals McCarthy. The first show of 2013 is Southbridge, January 24 – March 13, by Resident Playwright Reginald Edmund and directed by Artistic Director Russ Tutterow. The Chicago Dramatists’ season concludes with Homecoming 1972, May 16 – June 23, by Resident Playwright Robert Koon and directed by Associate Artist Kimberly Senior. Tickets for the 2012-2013 season go on sale July 1, 2012. Chicago Dramatists is located at 1105 W. Chicago Avenue, performances are Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. individual ticket prices are $32, and student tickets are $15 for all Thursday performances. For more information or reservations visit or call 312.633.0630.  Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Blizzard ’67/Chicago Dramatists

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I hate winter. Sure, no Chicagoan really loves the season, but I truly hate it. So any play that depicts winter in its worst light has a leg up with me—just a caveat.

Cities kind of hate winter, too. The blizzard of 1967 was the worst snowstorm in Chicago history, dumping twenty-three inches on the city, heaviest during rush hour and doing what Billy Sunday could not, that is shutting down the town. “Blizzard ’67,” the intriguing new play by Jon Steinhagen, depicts the impact of that fateful event on one carpool of four co-workers of varying rank and age at a faceless downtown corporation. The play’s framed in a faux-documentary fashion, with the actors occasionally narrating their own transitional voiceovers. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Educating Rita/Shattered Globe Theatre

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Whitney White and Brad Woodard/Photo: Kevin Viol

Muddled accents and a striking lack of chemistry take a lot of the zing out of this poignant and often hilarious exploration of class, culture and education by British playwright Willy Russell, in which Frank (Brad Woodard), a cynical, booze-addled professor is assigned to tutor Rita (Whitney White), an effusive hairdresser seeking to improve her life via higher education. Like any two-person script, “Educating Rita” relies heavily on the evolution of and the relationship between the characters. Over the course of the show, as Frank and Rita meet repeatedly in his shabby academic office (perfectly imagined by scenic designer Chelsea Warren) and the number of missed connections between the actors mounts, the two-hour-and-forty-minute running time begins to feel especially lengthy. The drawn-out scene changes don’t help. Tightening the pacing and injecting a healthy shot of urgency into the proceedings might bring out some of the excitement in the story. (Zach Freeman)

Shattered Globe Theatre at Chicago Dramatists, 1105 West Chicago, (773)236-0764. $28. Through August 14.

Chicago Dramatists announces 2011-2012 season

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Here’s the press release from Chicago Dramatists:


Chicago’s Home to Playwrights Presents an Electric New Season including a co-production with About Face Theatre  Read the rest of this entry »