Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: This is Not a Cure for Cancer/Collaboraction

Theater, Theater Reviews, World Premiere No Comments »
Anthony Moseley/Photo: Anna Sodziak

Anthony Moseley/Photo: Anna Sodziak

Heartfelt and well-intentioned though it certainly seems, “This is Not a Cure for Cancer” is not an engaging or artful piece of theater. That is not to say it is without craft nor lacking in artifice; throughout the performance, video projections, props and costume changes shift the setting and the emotional tone—in a direct, unsubtle but efficient manner. The more-than-capable large supporting cast is more than game in ensemble moments as brain cells and cancer cells and even enjoyable in individual turns as health care practitioners and game-show hosts. The disparate scenes provide cursory introductions to facets of the disease and controversies over varying treatment options. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Kate and Sam Are Not Breaking Up/The New Colony

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Photo by Anne Petersen

Photo: Anne Petersen

RECOMMENDED

Here’s the basic plot: not long after word of their breakup hits the interwebs, ex-mall cop (and current lonely loser) Bill (Rob Grabowski) kidnaps celebrity (ex)couple Kate Thomas (Mary Williamson) and Sam Lewis (Nick Delehanty), drugging them and dragging them to his shitty apartment for sketchy (and potentially dangerous) couples counseling with his Sam-and-Kate-obsessed teenaged friend Becky (Stephanie Shum).

Initially, it sounds like a concept that could wear thin rather quickly, but in playwright Joel Kim Booster’s “Kate and Sam Are Not Breaking Up,” what starts out as a seemingly lightweight comedy centered around celebrity worship and a tween-book-series-turned-movie-franchise (the wonderfully realized “Ghost Forest”) ever-so-slowly creeps its way into a much darker exploration of obsession, self-loathing and, ultimately, redemption (spoiler alert—there’s someone in the program with the title Violence Designer). And yet, in every disturbing corner that this production turns, its solid comedic core follows carefully throughout. Read the rest of this entry »

A Half-Price CTA Pass: Collaboraction’s Thirteenth Annual Sketchbook Festival

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"Most Delicious"/Photo: Anna Sodziak

“The Most Delicious”/Photo: Anna Sodziak

By Johnny Oleksinski

Last year’s Sketchbook, Collaboraction’s annual festival of new work, was remarkably impressive. The unexpectedly profound and profoundly enjoyable “Honeybuns” by Dean Evans emerged from that collection, earning itself widespread critical affection, a fall 2012 remount and an upcoming run at Theater On the Lake. Even the space’s memorable design was tremendously special. Stacks of colorful building blocks were situated in the room’s corners for seating and patrons lounged around, drinks in hand, casually enjoying the calamities of such an ambitious undertaking. This year, though, none of the full-length plays sparkled with the ravenous creativity of Evans’ one-man mime comedy, leaving much to be desired. Honoring Sketchbook’s origins in brevity, this year’s selection of seven-minute plays, titled “The Brown Line,” is the heartiest section of the four-part festival. The theme for its thirteenth year is “Destination,” the buzzword is “devised” and each of the groupings are named after a CTA train route: Green, Black, Brown and Blue. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Crime Scene: A Chicago Anthology/Collaboraction

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Photo: Cesario Moza

Photo: Cesario Moza

RECOMMENDED

Three plays currently playing in Chicago urgently grab hold of prescient national issues both imperative and sickening: “Teddy Ferrara” at the Goodman Theatre, “columbinus” at American Theater Company and, completing the triptych, the forceful “Crime Scene: A Chicago Anthology,” which opened on Monday night at Collaboraction.

Besides topical relevance, what invisibly binds these brave theatrical expressions is their messages, powerful and ambiguous. Certainly, they all endeavor to create a more hospitable world and harmonious local community, but, more importantly, they understand that the “how” necessitates a proactive conversation; not finger pointing or rigid thesis statements. These shows never tell you exactly what to think, and, in so doing, stimulate lingering vigorous thought.
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Review: Honeybuns/Collaboraction

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Dean Evans/Photo: Evan Hanover

RECOMMENDED

He’s back! Honeybuns, that gap-toothed, canary-yellow bouffon with a demented sense of humor and an insidious libido has triumphantly returned to his rightful place on the barren stage of Collaboraction. That’s right—no sets and no plot. Other than two oversized white hands, a deceptive gift and an eleven o’clock soapbox, Dean Evans, a masterful clown and Neo-Futurist, needs little more than his bustling person and a meticulously sculpted character to inspire an uproar of laughter and impart more clever wisdom than a Maya Angelou commencement speech.

After an abbreviated summer stint—”Honeybuns” was the unexpected hit of Sketchbook 12 Reincarnate—Collaboraction has wisely resurrected Evans’ seventy-minute love letter to the human psyche for the entire month of October to the delight of his devotees and to the dismay of clown-hating, narrative junkies. During the summer run of “Honeybuns,” this critic proclaimed it the “one true surprise I’ve had all year in the theater.” Well, I have certainly had a few gleeful shocks since that scorching July marathon, but still none quite like “Honeybuns,” the biggest, brightest present under the tree. Read the rest of this entry »

Unfiltered Honesty: Teatro Vista and Collaboraction Team Up for Yo Solo Festival

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Juan Francisco Villa

On a Friday night at Calles y Sueños in Pilsen, a small crowd gathers for the monthly Noche de Monólogos (Night of Monologues), a night of performances and open mic that on this night ranges from fiction reading to monologues in character to non-narrative movement-based performance. Organizers of the event speak in Spanish and English, as do the performers. People greet each other with hugs and kisses; throughout the night, audience members occasionally yell encouragement to performers and applaud with a level of enthusiasm you might get from a proud, affectionate family.

This month’s Noche de Monólogos was a preview of the upcoming festival of Latino solo shows, “Yo Solo,” a collaboration between Teatro Vista and Collaboraction. The festival will be a series of six solo performances by Latino artists arranged in three repeating programs, each of which is a pair of two of the shows. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Sixty Miles To Silver Lake/Collaboraction

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Photo: Saverio Truglia

“Sixty Miles To Silver Lake,” billed as a coming-of-age depiction of Denny (Ethan Dubin) as his divorced father Ky (Sean Bolger) drives him from his soccer game to his dad’s home in Silver Lake, is actually only about the self-centered schmuck Ky; we don’t get the personality of the son. Dubin is a superb actor in reacting to his father’s clumsy attempts at hilarity and explaining sex. The play, with its fifties-era thinking; the meaningless work the father does and the father’s progressive disintegration, reminds me of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” But here, the father has no redeeming characteristics, and the gay- and women-bashing gets tiresome.  Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Dark Play Or Stories For Boys/Collaboraction

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Photo: Cesar Moza

RECOMMENDED

“Dark Play or Stories for Boys” is a cautionary tale about teenagers’ willingness to avoid face-to-face conversations and retreat to the worldwide web in order to feel what they want to feel. The omnipresence of the internet today, and the resulting confusion about what’s real and what’s not real, perpetuates cruelty that only shows through their stifled cries. Director Anthony Moseley’s intimate staging and the undeniable rawness of the actors render “Dark Play” a deeply felt Chicago premiere. Read the rest of this entry »

The Players 2012: The Fifty People Who Really Perform in Chicago

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Darren Criss (#4) with Team StarKid

With our criteria shifted back to artistic accomplishment in theater, dance, comedy and opera this year, our task got infinitely tougher. Because while the number of performing venues grows at a steady rate, the increase in the number of noteworthy artists seems to grow exponentially. For everyone we name on the list below, we had to leave off five, an embarrassment of riches for Chicago. We made a conscious effort to introduce a meaningful number of new faces to the list this year; the necessary absences should not be construed as a loss of worthiness as a consequence. We often find trends when we do the research these lists require; this year we’re starting to see a more meaningful effort to redefine performance itself in the internet age, from the runaway success of StarKids, to the more calculated endeavors of Silk Road. So what defines a “player”? Consider it some complex stew of career achievement, recent “heat” and, in some cases, rising stardom.

Written by Zach Freeman, Brian Hieggelke, Sharon Hoyer and Dennis Polkow

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Taking it From the Street: Free Street Theater Mirrors its World

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“No wimps at F.S.” reads one of many doodles on the wall of Free Street Theater’s rehearsal space in the attic of the Pulaski Park Field House. This bold, unofficial statement of intent summarizes Free Street Theater’s formal mission: to teach “acting and writing skills to youth so they can open their potential to be creative, active participants in their own lives.” Its latest production, “You Ain’t Seen This,” which the website calls an exploration of “reflection, identity and choice,” is soon coming to an end; after two months of writing, rehearsal and performances in spaces all over the city, they are re-blocking the show for its final indoor performances. These will take place today  and Wednesday in the new space of mixed-media theater company Collaboraction, whose creative director, Sam Porretta, co-directed the piece. “It’s becoming a new show,” says co-director Ashley Winston, former ensemble member and arts educator. They describe the whole Summer Intensive program as “down and dirty”; the ensemble auditioned the week before the writing began, and the “whole piece is generated from their work.” Read the rest of this entry »