Harry Groener, Nick Dillenburg, Julie Jesneck. Photo: Liz Lauren
Sometimes Chicago Shakespeare produces bold reinventions of classics. Other times it brings in world-theater innovators as one of the most globally minded cultural entities in Chicago. And then sometimes it produces high-quality but highly conventional productions of iconic works. Director Penny Metropulos’ new production of “Cyrano de Bergerac” is the latter, a perfectly straightforward interpretation of Edmond Rostand’s 1897 story about love and deception that engages the wit but fails to move the heart. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Fabio Esposito
“Who can solve the mystery of dreams?” demands actor/director Toni Servillo as the increasingly disheartened Alberto Saporito in Piccolo Teatro di Milano’s production of the darkly comedic Italian play “Inner Voices,” written by the prolific Eduardo De Filippo in 1948. At least that’s how the English translation of the fervent Italian dialogue reads, rapidly projected on three glowing screens above the action taking place on the dramatically raked stage of Chicago Shakespeare’s Courtyard Theater.
This production, running for a mere five days in Chicago, is part of Italy’s “Year of Italian Culture in America.” Billed as “a journey that will reveal today’s Italy, its brilliance and its excellence anchored in the present and driven by an unparalleled past,” the full year includes showcases of everything from theater to science to light installations and poetry readings. And De Filippo’s text, written shortly after the devastation of World War II, is a prime candidate to reveal Italian excellence on stage, particularly as interpreted here by Servillo (in both his capacities as actor and director). Read the rest of this entry »
By Johnny Oleksinski
Playwright and Chicago native son David Ives is receiving a rolling homecoming by happenstance this season and next. Last winter, Chicago Shakespeare Theater presented his adaptation of Molière’s “The Misanthrope,” called “The School for Lies.” Next March, the Goodman Theatre will stage the Chicago premiere of his thunderous Best Play Tony Award-nominated “Venus in Fur” (Nina Arianda won Best Actress). And coming up later this month is “The Liar,” Ives’ modernly classic take on Pierre Corneille’s little-known “Le Menteur” at Writers’ Theatre in Glencoe.
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Photo: Tim Morozzo
Few works of theater have the adrenaline-fueled urgency of “Roadkill.” But it’s not the familiar rush of exhilaration; it’s the primal clamor for survival that pulsates so fervently in this hopeless crypt. During this brusque, profoundly upsetting performance, the heartbeat quickens to prepare for a gutsy sprint away from your captors. Directed and conceived by Cora Bissett with a text by Stef Smith, “Roadkill” is truly that invasive. Sex trafficking, the subject of this British import, is typically resigned to the police blotter, in one ear and out the other. Knowing of the world’s emotional detachment to a rampant international crime with victims so forlornly voiceless, this team has dragged us screaming into an immersive space to tell their story, that of a young life destroyed by child prostitution. Late in this sickening tale, I found myself saying, “Oh, my God. Oh, my God.” in a hushed tone on repeat.
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Photo: Liz Lauren
There is churchly ambiance to “Henry VIII,” which opened Wednesday night at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Catholic clergymen clad in red vestments descend the central aisle to the stage in grand and contrived fashion. There’s enough shimmering hung fabric for another papal coronation, and the palpable vibe among the attendees is one of religious obligation—a common drive for Shakespearean theatergoers, believing the Bard to always be of crucial cultural significance, no matter the delivery. That push is even stronger in this particular instance.
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Though 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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Photo: Prudence Upton
When we think of Charles Dickens, often we only remember Ebenezer Scrooge’s life-affirming nocturnal journey, or SparkNoting “Great Expectations” in high school. This year marked the 200th anniversary of Dickens’ birth, and many publications ran tributary articles about his life’s work and several publishing companies re-released his novels with contemporary cover art. None of those can quite compare to Miriam Margolyes’ eccentric one-woman show about Dickens and his most colorful female characters. This show seems intent on pointing out how the various, and mostly silent, women in Charles Dickens’ life really shaped his work. “Dickens’ Women” makes its final stop at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater after a ten month tour.
Researched and carefully curated by legendary stage and film actress Miriam Margolyes, “Dickens’ Women” seamlessly weaves in and out of dramatic interpretation and exposition concerning Dickens’ fiction and life. Margolyes’ script focuses on the dark nature of Dickens’ struggle to overcome poverty and artistic fulfillment. More than just an animated history of his life, this show almost seems like a live-action essay. The author does a great job of supporting the claims made about Dickens’ personal life by backing up her analysis with famous, and even some lesser-known literary scenes. At times, the characters can run together, but it’s when Margolyes taps into the real comedy or the dark depths of the text that she shines the most. In reading Dickens, readers can often miss his skewering sense of humor, but it’s recreated here tirelessly. Read the rest of this entry »
In the cavernous space of the Broadway Armory, “Black Watch” feels both massive and intimate, at once communicating the tedium and (sometimes literal) explosiveness of war. Following members of a Scottish infantry battalion—the titular Black Watch—as they recount and relive their experiences in Iraq, Gregory Burke’s script, based on interviews with former soldiers, intersperses authentic dialogue (there can’t be another play that uses the C-word with more frequency), captivating live music and stirring choreography to deliver an emotional punch that lands on multiple levels. Read the rest of this entry »
Melody Grove, Andrew Clark, Annie Grace/Photo: Drew Farrell
Coming to Chicago all the way from the National Theatre of Scotland, “The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart” features a fine set of musicians and actors acting out one devil of a tale. Complete with fiddles, drums and other folk-centered instruments, the cast sings and acts out the story of one Prudencia Hart, a professor as prudish as her name. After attending a tedious conference in remote Kelso, she finds herself snowed in at a pub. Although at first excited at the opportunity to record traditional folk music at this Scottish Borders town, she is aghast to find that karaoke here is the music of choice. Worse, she is trapped at the bar with her nemesis, a self-absorbed professor of folk who preaches the virtues of modern tastes. When the locals become bawdy, Prudencia looks for a way out and finds herself in the company of the devil himself.
Given the wonderful Highland music strummed throughout the performance as well as the readily available liquor, the story here is much better than it has to be. Read the rest of this entry »
Chicago Shakespeare Theater approached acclaimed local director Rachel Rockwell more than a year ago to propose a stunning new project: a “Shakespeare in the Parks” tour of Chicago for her Shakespearean directing debut production, “The Taming of the Shrew.” It’s a thrilling project for any lover of family theater and community art, especially since it’s the inaugural installment of what artistic director Barbara Gaines described as “a new Chicago tradition” that brings art to the neighborhoods.
Chicago Shakespeare used data from an extensive survey by the University of Chicago to pinpoint areas of the city with the most arts-attending citizens, most of which were located near Lake Michigan and close to the center of the city (no surprise). The company used this data to pick parks in neighborhoods without much access to arts and culture and scheduled “as many as they would let them,” according to Gaines. The idea of a new audience pool thrilled director Rockwell, who says, “These [actors] could perform this play in a McDonalds with no problem. Bring it on!” Read the rest of this entry »