Photo: Liz Lauren
Glancing above and around the stage at Lookingglass Theatre Company on Saturday night, one could spy a handful of animal topiaries of varying size and species—giraffe, rhino, bird—a kind of grass menagerie with a dual purpose. For one, it’s the livelihood and artistic respite of an Iraqi gardener-turned-translator, Musa (Anish Jethmalani, persistently disturbed). In a bold move of topicality on the part of the playwright, Musa planted and shaped this garden on the grounds of the now-dead Uday Hussein’s (Kareem Bandealy) palace.
In Rajiv Joseph’s 2003-set “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo,” the bright promise of a post-Saddam Iraq has not been achieved, and the violence of war and insurgency are escalating. Soldiers are afraid, citizens are terrified and, in times of fear, escape is paramount. This lifelike collection of sculptures (set by Daniel Ostling) is Musa’s escape until a horrible, scarring tragedy occurs in its midst. The dreamy garden is also a heavenly afterlife for a slain Bengal tiger. In the play’s first scene, Tiger (Troy West) is provoked by a thoughtless Marine (Walter Owen Briggs); he bites the the guy’s hand off, as is his nature, and is shot to death in retaliation. After roaming the streets, Tiger’s ghost stumbles upon the garden, convinced that it’s heaven and that God is just around the corner.
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Returning to the Lookingglass stage fourteen years after its debut (and a decade after it won director Mary Zimmerman a Best Director Tony on Broadway) “Metamorphoses” feels as contemporary as ever. Interpreting a series of loosely connected tales/myths taken from Ovid’s “Metamorphoses,” Zimmerman’s work intertwines comedy and tragedy along with the whimsical and contemplative to create a moving and engaging piece of theater that connects modern-day theatergoers to stories that are over two-thousand-years old. The audience sits around a rectangular pool of water surrounded by a thin walkway. The ensemble—and this is truly an ensemble piece—winds around (and frequently through) the water, occasionally splashing the first few rows of the audience (who are provided with towels) in moments of extreme playfulness or torment. Read the rest of this entry »
In 1915 the USS Eastland, a poorly designed, overloaded passenger vessel, flipped to its side and sank, killing 844 people. Lookingglass’ commemorative musical successfully employs this almost forgotten tragedy to tell poignant tales of longing, regret and bravery in the face of the unexpected.
Unhappily married Ilse (Monica West) struggles with adultery; young Bobbie ( Claire Wellin) chafes under her family’s control; rescue diver Reggie (Doug Hara) longs for recognition. All forget their foibles as they confront mortality. The piece could devolve into melodrama but doesn’t as Andrew White’s very human book creates realistically flawed characters that connect. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Sean Williams
By placing the audience around communal tables (loaded with purchasable wine and beer) in a setting that manages to feel like a restaurant with a theater in it rather than the other way around, this delectable mix of Cirque du Soleil and fine dining helps establish a relaxed sense of camaraderie between audience members well before the on-stage theatrics begin. The thirty minutes prior to showtime are spent marveling over margaritas and appetizers with fellow patrons rather than just settling into assigned seats. Read the rest of this entry »
Lookingglass Theatre Company announces its 25th Anniversary Season
Directors include Lookingglass Ensemble Members Mary Zimmerman, Heidi Stillman, Christine Mary Dunford, and David Schwimmer
Chicago, IL—Lookingglass Theatre Company proudly announces its 25th Anniversary Season, kicking off with the return of Metamorphoses written and directed by Ensemble Member Mary Zimmerman, coinciding with the 10th anniversary of the Broadway run. The season continues with the Chicago premiere of the Tony award-nominated Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, a 2010 Pulitzer Prize finalist, written by Rajiv Joseph and directed by Heidi Stillman. Ensemble Member Christine Mary Dunford will direct the world premiere of her adaptation of the bestselling novel Still Alice. In the final show of Lookingglass’ 25th Season, David Schwimmer will direct the world premiere of Big Lake Big City by Keith Huff, the award-winning playwright of the Broadway cop drama A Steady Rain. Read the rest of this entry »
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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Anthony Flemming III/Photo: Sean Williams
Playing out in real time, this ninety-minute show captures an imagined closed-door meeting called by Branch Rickey, the Dodger’s General Manager (played with cigar-chomping gusto by Larry Neumann, Jr.), on the eve of the historic signing of Jackie Robinson (Javon Johnson) to the Dodgers in 1947. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Sean Williams
With a cast of seven handling a vast array of characters (with refreshingly little regard for gender/age/ethnicity) this remounting of John Musial’s “The Great Fire” (directed by Musial) features plenty of comedic asides, a helping of emotional depth, memorably striking choreography, a few clever musical interludes and even a hilarious miniature puppet show. Ultimately, though, these diverse bits don’t always connect properly, leaving this ninety-minute Chicago “creation myth” feeling disjointed and less impactful than it could have been. Read the rest of this entry »
Chance Bone, Nora Fiffer/Photo: Sean Williams
Time and adversity can easily destroy culture; witness the pillaging of Iraqi museums at the beginning of the current war. Lookingglass’ latest is a tender look at one woman’s struggle with her past and her efforts to honor her heritage.
Lilith (Marilyn Dodds Frank) is an octogenarian living in clutter with her new caregiver (Usman Ally). Haunted by the specter of an old love, street performer Ben Ari (Chance Bone), Lilith drifts between present day and visions of her life as a young girl in wartime Poland.
David Kersnar’s staging guides the piece seamlessly between realities. Jacqueline and Richard Penrod’s set and Tracy Otwell’s design ingeniously illustrate the toy theater aesthetic popular in the 1930s. Bone is an appealing, versatile storyteller and the relationship with sheltered Lilka (Nora Fiffer) is charming yet vulnerable. Frank and Ally’s clever, sarcastic banter belies a grudging respect. It’s a story about stories that’s enchanting. (Lisa Buscani)
“The Last Act of Lilka Kadison,” Lookingglass Theatre, 821 North Michigan, (312)337-0665. Through July 24.
Here’s the press release from Lookingglass Theatre Company:
Lookingglass Theatre Company announces 2011-2012 season featuring three productions about history-making moments in America, including work by Lookingglass Ensemble Members John Musial, J. Nicole Brooks and Andy White
Chicago, IL—Lookingglass Theatre Company proudly announces its 2011-2012 season, featuring three productions about three moments in American history—The Great Fire that razed Chicago, Jackie Robinson’s game-changing signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers, and the 1915 Chicago tragedy of the sinking of The Eastland. This upcoming season, Lookingglass will tell the stories of those who, whether famous or forgotten, were caught in the crucible of the moment. Read the rest of this entry »