Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: Dunsinane/Chicago Shakespeare Theater

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Siobhan Redmond/Photo: Richard Campbell.

Siobhan Redmond/Photo: Richard Campbell

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David Greig’s “Dunsinane” is a play playing three different games at once. The first game is that the play is a kinda-sorta sequel to Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” The second game is that it is kinda-sorta a parable for the US and UK’s nation-building misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan. The third game is that “Dunsinane” is most definitely a look inward at the Scottish national character. A ballad for a conquered nation, it trains a sharp critical eye at the motivations of the conquerors and an even sharper one at its own—oftentimes bloody—refusal to be conquered. I can imagine many a production of this play that would not be able to win all three games at once. But the National Theatre of Scotland, in partnership with the Royal Shakespeare Company, delivers one that sweeps the board; and thanks to Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s World’s Stage program it’s doing so at Navy Pier this month. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Short Shakespeare! Macbeth/Chicago Shakespeare Theater

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Photo: Liz Lauren

Photo: Liz Lauren

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Covetousness, fueled by ambition and greed, drives the plot of Shakespeare’s tragedy “Macbeth,” where Scotland’s political system is upended twice, with murder the tool to power, and madness in its wake. Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy, with a potential run-time as long as three hours not counting intervals, has been trimmed to an unstoppable seventy-five-minute banquet of blood by director Kirsten Kelly, and if the speed of this production requires Macbeth to race to madness so quickly that we lose some of his everyman-quality, and if Lady Macbeth is perfectly bonkers from her first entrance, the sheer swiftness of Kelly’s roller-coaster ride is so gripping that we’re happy to wait for a more psychological production next time, when the design isn’t geared for presentation to younger audiences. Princes and henchmen and murderers race up and down the aisles of the theater, swords drawn and battle-cries piercing. Whispered plotting and heralded assassination land in the audience’s lap and violent moments are staged to be as age-friendly as possible. Read the rest of this entry »

Players 2015: The Fifty People Who Really Perform for Chicago

-News etc., Players 50 3 Comments »

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The steady expansion of the performing arts in Chicago continues its marvelous pace, with more and better theater, dance, comedy and opera gracing more and better stages each passing year. The upward progression is so steady that epic undertakings—a new campus at Steppenwolf, a bigger chunk of Navy Pier for Chicago Shakes—seem almost business as usual these days. And that is a marvelous thing. This year we again celebrate the lesser-sung heroes offstage who deal with the less glamorous things like building those new stages, and paying those expanding payrolls without which the stars would have nowhere to shine.

Tragedy has been central to theater since the ancient Greeks first staged it, but the last year has brought a disproportionate volume of real-life tragedy to our community. No doubt, the expanding and maturing performing arts universe means that more members of its community will pass on each year, but the number of those struck down long before their expected hour was overwhelming these last twelve months and struck every corner of performing arts, from theater, to dance, to comedy, to opera. Molly Glynn, Jason Chin, Eric Eatherly, Bernie Yvon, Johan Engels, Julia Neary—and others we’ve unintentionally overlooked—we dim our collective marquee for you. (Brian Hieggelke)

Players was written by Zach Freeman and Sharon Hoyer
With additional contributions by Brian Hieggelke, Alex Huntsberger, Aaron Hunt, Hugh Iglarsh and Loy Webb

All photos by Joe Mazza/Brave-Lux, taken on location at Steppenwolf Theatre, Goodman Theatre, Lyric Opera of Chicago and Brave-Lux Studio Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Table/Blind Summit at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

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Blind Summit puppeteers bring the cantankerous puppet Moses to life in ""the Table." Photo by  Lorna Palmer

Photo: Lorna Palmer

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It’s probably appropriate that a show called “The Table” constantly refers back to the fact that it takes place on, wait for it, a table. The frequent reminders are not only funny, but they are also a grounding force for the show’s fizzy, tip-of-the-tongue wackiness: like a jazz song that returns between solos to its basic refrain. The magic of “The Table” is that it makes no illusions about what it is—a cardboard puppet, three operators and a plain wooden table—while still sustaining the illusion of what we are experiencing: one lonely man’s reckoning with his place in the universe. And also puppet sex jokes.

The story being told is twofold: there’s the story of the last twelve hours of the life of Moses and then there’s the story of the puppet hired to re-enact the last twelve hours of the life of Moses. The thing is that this puppet, also named Moses, isn’t very good at staying on topic. The show is as much an inquiry into his own existence, bound by the edges of, yes, the table, as it is the story of Deuteronomy. And also, lest we forget, puppet sex jokes. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Pericles/Chicago Shakespeare Theater

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Photo: Liz Lauren

Photo: Liz Lauren

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Whether you are of the camp that considers “Pericles” a Shakespearean romance or a “problem” play (or both), it is impossible to delve into this dynamic story without acknowledging the illogically insistent, magical happenstances that bring the central characters to near-holy redemption by the final scene. Though it is curious that “Pericles” doesn’t appear in “The First Folio,” and queer that there is scholarly speculation that the first half of the play was the work of a fellow scribe, “Pericles” was one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays in his day, and director David H. Bell’s swashbuckling production at Chicago Shakespeare Theater plays with the flash-and-flesh that would thrill the contemporary audience that flocks to see action-hero movies.

A narrating chorus of actors, playing at multiple roles with wildly adaptive temperaments, appearing and disappearing with roaring speed and hanging from rigging-ropes, creates the pirate film anew, spinning this allegorical journey from myth to human pathos. Aided by the scenic design of Scott Davis, the period-shattering, skin-celebrating costumes of Nan Cibula-Jenkins, the fine verse-nursing of Susan Felder, and the mystical, original music of Henry Marsh (intoned or sung in eerie or celebratory beauty by this company of triple-threats), it matters little that the characters themselves may be birthed in the bath of archetype; this glorious fable is greater than the sum of its parables. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: A Q Brothers’ Christmas Carol/Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Christmas, Holiday, Musicals, Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
(l to r) Jackson Doran, JQ Postell Pringle/Photo: Michael Brosilow

Jackson Doran, JQ Postell Pringle/Photo: Michael Brosilow

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Recently a friend asked me what my favorite show of 2014 was. I didn’t have a good answer for him. This has a lot to do with the fact that I see more shows than the average theatergoer (complimentary tickets make it pretty easy) and so my mental rolodex is pretty stuffed. But a part of it is that the sheer number of pretty good to pretty bad to pretty mediocre shows can make it hard to differentiate. I can’t recall the diamonds because my brain is so full of rough. These are shows that, regardless of quality, feel like shows that are being done because, well, because a show “needed” to be done. Everyone performs the duties required of their job description—including the audience members—and the whole thing feels like work. Not “work” as in it seemed especially difficult, but “work” as in it’s something you do not because you want to but because it has to be done.

“A Q Brothers’ Christmas Carol” is not one of these shows. It is, in fact, the polar opposite. It is seventy-five-minutes of pure, unadulterated joy. If I could turn in a review that was just 500 smiley face emoticons, I would. That is both what the show is, and how it made me feel. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Mozart’s The Magic Flute: Impempe Yomlingo/Isango Ensemble

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“The Magic Flute” is one of those indelible works of art. Even people who do not like opera will perk up when you mention it’s being performed. Its musical refrains such as the Queen of the Night’s aria and Papageno’s duet with Papagena have imprinted themselves on the popular consciousness. When you see the “Magic Flute” for the first time you think to yourself, “Oh, that’s what that’s from.”

Of course the flipside of this is that it’s easy to become inured to its charms. There are so many productions going up all the time that “The Magic Flute” seems to be just woven into the general social contract, as inevitable as streetlights or the 7-Eleven. Even productions that promise some kind of twist in the staging—such as the pretty ludicrous production I saw in college that came with the sleek, black and chrome modernity of a Sharper Image—offer little more than a change of drapery around the same old view.

So when Chicago Shakespeare brings a thing like “Mozart’s The Magic Flute: Impempe Yomlingo” to town, it is really a cause for celebration. Created by South Africa’s Isango Ensemble in association with The Young Vic, “The Magic Flute: Impempe Yomlingo” brings new, full life to a piece that so often feels like a zombie: perambulatory sure, but still unmistakably dead. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Road Show/Chicago Shakespeare Theater

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Photo: Liz Lauren

Photo: Liz Lauren

In “Road Show,” now playing at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman compress the story of minor American legends Wilson and Addison Mizner into a peripatetic fable. The Mizners lived big, meandering and literally beguiling lives. They crossed paths with, or just crossed, many notable Americans as they made their way. The real Wilson, a Promethean con man, first sought his fortune in Alaska, where he helped create Nome with a saloon and crooked card table. Between 1910 and 1933, he worked both on Broadway and in Hollywood, where he co-wrote sexualized dramas about ambition and cons. When streetcar magnate Charles T. Yerkes died, Wilson married his widow Mary Adelaide Moore Yerkes and moved into her 5th Avenue mansion, selling forgeries of her masters paintings. Wilson had a Johnsonian knack for quips. He presumably was the first to utter “Be nice to people on your way up because you’ll meet the same people on your way down.” Wilson eventually sued the former Mrs. Yerkes for divorce. When his attorney reportedly asked his reasons, Wilson asked “Isn’t marriage enough?” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Merry Wives of Windsor/Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Holiday, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »

(l to r) Heidi Kettenring, Scott Jaeck and Kelli Fox/ Photo by Liz Lauren

There is a grim and calculating excess at the heart of Barbara Gaines’ version of “Merry Wives of Windsor,” overwhelming the music of the playwright’s words and leaving in its place something hard and loud and exhausting. In attempting to popularize Shakespeare’s relatively slight but charming riff on bourgeois life, she has reduced it to one long dirty joke. Worse yet, she has done badly by Sir John Falstaff (a misused Scott Jaeck), turning him into a crotch-grabbing yahoo whose goal seems not so much to have his way with Mistress Ford (Heidi Kettenring) and cuckold her wealthy, jealous husband (Ross Lehman), as to earn a spot on the Elizabethan version of “Jackass.”

As usual with CST’s productions, the externals—especially Susan E. Mickey’s costumes and James Noone’s clever indoor/outdoor set—are little short of perfect. However, they serve mainly to highlight the production’s deficit of purpose and soul. Real theater does more than look pretty; it breathes and flows, thus drawing the audience into its temporary world. But this overdone, trying-too-hard production is as flat as a TV screen and about as evocative as a beer commercial. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: A Q Brothers’ Christmas Carol/Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Christmas, Holiday, Musicals, Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
(l to r) Postell Pringle and Jackson Doran/Photo by Michael Brosilow

Postell Pringle and Jackson Doran/Photo: Michael Brosilow

RECOMMENDED

Everybody has a favorite rap song. Currently, mine is “Holy Grail.” I know it is a bit overplayed, but man can that Jay-Z rap. I also like Chicago Shakespeare Theater, which consistently spins the overplayed into gold. Methinks, however, the two rarely meet. But last night they did meet during the warmup to “A Q Brothers’ Christmas Carol” and you know what? It sounded pretty good. It might not work all the time (kind of like swapping out rum for vodka in your eggnog), but now and then it is downright refreshing.

With more flavors than an ice-cream shop, this show brings reggae, hip-hop, old school rap, dancehall sounds and some gritty industrial touches to the old Dickens classic. There’s even a little Blue Man Group thrown into the Ghost of Christmas Future number. Written collaboratively by the four actors on stage (Jackson Doran, GQ, JQ and Postell Pringle), the script may rhyme, but it also stays true to the spirit of the original. The touches they do add (like a loving gay nephew who repeatedly invites Scrooge to his Christmas party) might feel a little contrived, but fit in well with the overall theme of good cheer (otherwise known as Christmas spirit). This is a show that has a lot of fun with the source material (such as giving Tiny Tim every affliction known to man, including scurvy) but does not shy away from being sentimental. The Q Brothers do well at balancing the traditional and non-traditional and in doing so tease together something unique. Read the rest of this entry »

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