Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: Native Son/Court and American Blues Theater

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Jerod Haynes and Eric Lynch/Photo: Michael Brosilow

Jerod Haynes and Eric Lynch/Photo: Michael Brosilow

RECOMMENDED

In a “Poem About My Rights” June Jordan pens these words, “Wrong is not my name/ My name is my own my own my own/and I can’t tell you who the hell set things up like this/ but I can tell you that from now on my resistance / my simple and daily and nightly self-determination / may very well cost you your life.”  Jordan’s words, though written long after Richard Wright’s novel “Native Son,” are the unofficial biography for his protagonist’s life. For so long Wright’s protagonist has been told that he is wrong, akin to an abominable black rat not worthy of life. Yet like in Jordan’s poem, when his spiritual awakening manifests, his fear dissipates and he realizes he has the power to name himself. It’s beautiful indeed, yet the road is long and rocky.

The play “Native Son,” adapted by Nambi E. Kelley, opens up with Bigger Thomas (Jerod Haynes) and the highly inebriated daughter of his new boss Mary (Nora Fiffer).  Unable to stand, Bigger helps Mary to her room. While helping her, Mary begins to flirt with Bigger, who is initially reluctant to respond because she is white and he is black. Still, he eventually gives in to his desires, but their moment is interrupted by Mary’s blind mother Mrs. Dalton (Carmen Roman). Bigger’s attempt to quiet Mary by placing a pillow over her mouth ultimately leads to her death.   Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Water by the Spoonful/Court Theatre

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RECOMMENDED

Edgar Miguel Sanchez, Yadira Correa and Charin Alvarez

Edgar Miguel Sanchez, Yadira Correa and Charin Alvarez

Theater, like music, enlightens, opens eyes and can connect partakers viscerally to seemingly disparate segments of the population: people who aren’t “them,” exotic “others” who live somewhere else, have different wants and needs and cuisines.  Quiara Alegría Hudes’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play “Water by the Spoonful” schools us; you will meet people you will never forget, and you will be completely cognizant of the fact that not only are they like you, they are you. They are us. We are them.

This play is not a theatrical theme-and-variations. It is operatic in emotional and intellectual scope. Motifs run through the work. They splash into the experience and then run off, only to roll back in, reworked, refurbished and turned on their heads. This play is Wagner meets free jazz, John Coltrane’s wailing saxophone in the hands of Brunhilde, and we’re all in for the ride. We learn to accept the dissonances, the explosions that happen when ostensibly unrelated sounds crash together to make something new. Themes of neglect, addiction, cultural disconnection, the expenses of war; we see the power of it all to scar, to make wounds that can’t heal, that can only be cauterized, the branding eternal. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Seven Guitars/Court Theatre

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Seven Guitars.jpg

Photo: Michael Brosilow

RECOMMENDED

The Court Theatre has again chosen a production suitable to its environment. “Seven Guitars,” by August Wilson, is set in 1948 in the Hill District of Pittsburgh (where all but one of Wilson’s ten Pittsburgh Cycle plays are set—the exception being “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” which is set directly in Chicago). The action takes place during the second northward Great Migration of blacks, but it is pointedly hugging the promise of Chicago in the forefront of the story.

“Seven Guitars” first opened in 1995 at the Goodman Theatre as Wilson was literally finishing the lines but on the night I attended this production, today’s Court Theatre audience—within walking distance of the first black President’s house, witnessing the current rebuilding south of the Midway and the integrated neighborhoods of Hyde Park—was tapping their feet to the beat, chuckling to themselves repeatedly about the nuance of the inner black familial, and shaking their heads to the straight-talking inner-workings of growing up a southern transplant, as a poor black who “gets it both ways.” Wilson gets the language right. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: An Iliad/Court Theatre

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Photo by Michael Brosilow

Photo by Michael Brosilow

RECOMMENDED

Quite simply, this is one of the great one-man shows. The story is the greatest, oldest ever told—literally, the start of Western civilization is in “An Iliad.” The Chicago actor Timothy Edward Kane is brilliant, nothing short of spectacular. The set design is intriguing, relevant and worthy in relationship to Kane’s high energy blocking with Charles Newell’s subtle and almost subliminal direction. And the fact that this magnetic piece is told at the Court Theatre, the University of Chicago’s theater, within the same blocks as “Iliad” scholars Nick Rudall, the recently passed Herman Sinaiko and James Redfield, makes for a symmetrical commingling of events in this 100-minute retelling through a transcendent, must-see performance.

It goes something like this: the historical event of Troy vs. Greece takes place somewhere around 1250 BCE. Homer’s bardic retelling is around 750 BCE. Plato and the other classic greats use the backdrop of “The Iliad” full-on by 399 BCE. Aristotle defined it as THE epic. Depending on the translation, the poem is more than 15,000 lines, twenty-four books—Homer would recite, sing and chant the piece for the polis in a twenty-four-hour session, or three eight-hour days.  Imagine a fire, the town crowds gathered, maybe a bottle of something being passed around. The oral tradition begun by the poet, to entertain and educate and philosophize. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Mountaintop/Court Theatre

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Lisa Beasley and David Alan Anderson/Photo: Michael Brosilow

Lisa Beasley and David Alan Anderson/Photo: Michael Brosilow

RECOMMENDED

Has any American been so universally idolized in the last century as Martin Luther King, Jr?

On April 3, 1968, five years after “I Have A Dream” and almost a dozen years since the first of his three appearances at the University of Chicago, King delivered a speech in Memphis in support of striking sanitation workers that concluded:

“We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t really matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land.”

Afterward, King returned to his regular Memphis lodging, the Lorraine Motel, where he spent the night in rather meager accommodations. The next day, he was assassinated on its balcony.

With “The Mountaintop,” playwright Katori Hall has written a fable about King’s final night at the Lorraine. An uneventful evening, in Hall’s construction, where the only real action is the reverend ordering a cup of coffee and its delivery by a comely young maid (based on the playwright’s then-young mother, who was prevented from attending King’s final speech by her own protective mother), who he cajoles into sharing a cigarette and a conversation and… Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Misanthrope/Court Theatre

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Travis Turner, Michael Pogue, Grace Gealey, Allen Gilmore

Travis Turner, Michael Pogue, Grace Gealey, Allen Gilmore/Photo: Michael Brosilow

RECOMMENDED

Though its setting is seventeenth-century French aristocracy (it premiered in 1666, near the beginning of Louis XIV’s reign), Molière’s “Misanthrope” is a wholly contemporary play. The misanthrope, Alceste, is channeled in many people we all know, either professional critics or self-styled ones who see themselves as outside of and superior to prevailing society. And the coquettish Célimène, with her entourage of suitors and hints of promiscuity, is the very model of the contemporary female pop star.

Add to this the bracing wit in the text, delivered in rhyming couplets, and you have a work that derives its effectiveness in production from casting and pacing. In this regard, Court Theatre’s new rendition, directed by artistic director Charles Newell, succeeds rather well. Erik Hellman soars as Alceste, with a crisp sense of character undercut by a pervasive self-doubt often conveyed physically as well as in line delivery, and the court of suitors for both Alceste and Célimène are a grab bag of drama queens of various ilk, delivering laughs in gesture as well as word.  Read the rest of this entry »

Court Theatre Announces 2013-2014 Season

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Court Theatre in Hyde Park has announced its 2013-2014 season (also its fifty-ninth), which notably features the Chicago premiere of 2012 Pulitzer Prize winner “Water By The Spoonful” by Quiara Alegria Hudes. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Proof/Court Theatre

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Kevin Gudahl and Chaon CrossRECOMMENDED

“Proof,” David Auburn’s 2001 Pulitzer Prize-winning play about the inspiring yet conflicted relationship between a University of Chicago mathematician and his daughter, is making a homecoming of sorts, returning to Hyde Park for a run at Court Theatre.

Director Charles Newell eloquently writes in the program about how the recent loss of a parent made him want to revisit the play and the way in which it deeply resonated with him based on that experience. One of the interesting aspects of “Proof” is that it is a play that can be appreciated from a variety of perspectives: a parent, a child, a sibling, a significant other.

What really jumps out in Newell’s production is the comic brutality of family relationships: how is it that people we love so deeply can so often drive us crazy? In the case of this show, that question is asked rather literally in the sense that the late Robert (Kevin Gudahl), who appears primarily in flashbacks, had a history of mental illness that affected his work and family life. His daughter Catherine (Chaon Cross) had been taking care of him with all of the inevitable curses and blessings that such domestic proximity generates. 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: Skylight/Court Theatre

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Rook, Johnson h 4

Photo: Michael Brosilow

A night of tumult and passion or an average evening at home, lounging on the settee? In the case of “Skylight,” which opened at Court Theatre on Saturday night, the jury’s out on the matter. The text of British playwright David Hare’s 1994 play is rife with remarkable volatility and intellectual rigor. How could it not be? Hare has conceived two multi-generational adulterous (and tipsy) ex-lovers as the mouthpieces for his political conjecture. Sparks fly in the synopsis.

But director William Brown’s production placates the drama, landing on a casual atmosphere of monotonous awkward small-talk and the garlicky aromas of simmering pasta sauce, rather than those integral simmering tempers and libidos. So, when the duo’s anger does begin to escalate near the end of the two hour forty-five minute play, the aggression is difficult to believe. Read the rest of this entry »