Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: The Jacksonian/Profiles Theatre

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(l to r) Juliana Liscio and Christian Isely/Photo: Michael Brosilow.

Juliana Liscio and Christian Isely/Photo: Michael Brosilow.

A dark and occasionally funny thriller opens the twenty-seventh season at Profiles Theatre. At first glance, Beth Henley’s “The Jacksonian,” a surreal Southern Gothic tale, seems like an ideal fit for a theater that knows its way around the genre of horror better than most. Yet this deliberately fractured play opts for atmosphere over action and ends up overworking its tense, melodramatic pretense to little reward.

“The Jacksonian” is “Blue Velvet” by way of “As I Lay Dying” complete with inversions of fifties innocence, nitrous oxide and moments of disturbing, sexualized violence, all punctuated by abstract monologues delivered by Juliana Liscio, whose performance as the prophetic daughter of a demented dentist is the real standout of the evening. As her father, Tim Curtis does possess noteworthy comic timing and lightens the play’s overwhelmingly macabre mood. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Our New Girl/Profiles Theatre

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(left to right) Miriam Canfield, Layne Manzer, Killian Hughes, Sarah Chalcroft

Miriam Canfield, Layne Manzer, Killian Hughes, Sarah Chalcroft

With “Our New Girl,” a show that’s ostensibly about a nanny that shows up unexpectedly on an overwhelmed (and very pregnant) mother’s doorstep and then insinuates herself a little too far into the family, playwright Nancy Harris has crafted a many-layered script, touching on privilege and upward mobility, the challenges of being a career-oriented woman with children, the savior complex of some Westerners and a number of other interpersonal themes. There’s a lot to take in. Unfortunately, Profiles Theatre’s Midwest premiere, which certainly nails the slowly building dread and anxiety inherent to the script (Jeffrey Levin and Oliver Hickman’s music works frightening wonders here), doesn’t capture many of these deeper layers.

“The last thing I want is a nanny,” declares harried mom Hazel (Sarah Chalcroft, in a powerfully nuanced performance) when wide-eyed Annie (Miriam Canfield) arrives at her door in the opening scene. As it transpires, Hazel’s plastic-surgeon husband Richard (Layne Manzer) has hired Annie before going off the grid in Haiti for his latest round of humanitarian work. It seems the couple’s troubled (or maybe troubling?) son Daniel (a subtly stoic Killian Hughes) has become too much for Hazel to handle on her own. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Genius/Profiles Theatre

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Genius production photos 002

RECOMMENDED

The title of Kate Walbert’s “Genius”—now receiving its world premiere at the Profiles Theatre—refers to the MacArthur Foundation’s “genius” grants—the prospect of a MacArthur prize provides the turning point in the play. Walbert’s script presents strong ideas about large subjects.

First idea: Talented public men in America betray the women they love over money, other women, fame, position and influence in an instant. They do this because they’ve always done it, and nobody has thought or said much about it. The more intelligent the woman, the better it feels to wipe one’s feet on her.

Second idea: Even the smartest American woman by habit protects and nurtures her man’s over-estimation of his own powers as thinker, creator, artist, humanitarian or scholar.  Superior women ego-stroke without thinking about it because it’s what they’ve always done. Walbert implies it’s time that women who think stop acting as props for mediocre, needy male egoists. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Other Place/Profiles Theatre

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PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Brosilow

Lia D. Mortensen/Photo: Michael Brosilow

RECOMMENDED

Sharr White’s “The Other Place” begins as something like a memoir. Julianna, a successful scientist turned big-pharma pitchwoman (played with equal measures of tenderness and bile by Lia D. Mortensen), is filling us in on her life. She is successful in business, traveling from one tropical conference to another pitching a new wonder drug to doctors, but less so in her personal life. She is getting divorced from her oncologist husband Ian (Steve Silver) and tentatively reconnecting with her estranged daughter Laurel (Autumn Teague), even though Ian seems oddly suspicious that Laurel might not be who she says she is. And following an episode during one of her talks, Julianna also thinks she has brain cancer, which is kind of a bummer.

But while the show begins as memoir it does not stay that way for long. Soon enough it becomes a kind of neurological detective story, piecing together bits of truth and sifting them out from expansive roughs of fantasy. The intimate confines of Profile Theatre’s Main Stage make for a fine pressure-cooker in which director Joe Jahraus and his able cast slowly turn up the heat until everything boils over. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Hellcab/Profiles Theatre

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(PHOTO CREDIT: Michael Brosilow) Jeff Gamlin, Richard Cotovsky

Jeff Gamlin and Richard Cotovsky/Photo: Michael Brosilow

RECOMMENDED

Watching “Hellcab” is sort of like having your heavily tattooed ex-con uncle wish you a merry Christmas. His breath may stink of whiskey and cigarettes, and you can’t look him in the eye without nervously glancing at the three blue teardrops etched on his cheekbone, but you know that deep in his heart he means well. And heck, he’s probably seen more misery in the past twenty-four hours then you’ve seen in the past twenty-four years. If anyone’s earned a little holiday vacation filled with eggnog and cheer and good will toward men, it’s him.

Receiving its third go-round at the Profiles Main Stage, Will Kern’s bilious theatrical nugget is a refreshing blast of stank air. It stars Richard Cotovsky as a lonely, hard-hearted cab driver spending his Christmas Eve on the job. In the course of a brisk eighty-minute runtime, Cotovsky transports a filthy parade of Chicagoans from one end of the city to another. Some appear as good people only to be revealed as jerks, some are outright jerks whose brief time only serves to reinforce the depths of their jerkiness. A diverse array of actors—thirty-three in all—come together to test both Cotovsky’s and the audience’s faith in the inherent goodness of mankind. As Cotovsky played the same roll in 1992’s  original production of  “Hellcab,” he brings a fantastic, Sisyphean sense of resignation to the cabbie’s fate. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Cryptogram/Profiles Theatre

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(l to r) Darrell D. Cox, Abigail Boucher and Aaron Lamm/Photo: Michael Brosilow

Darrell W. Cox, Abigail Boucher and Aaron Lamm/Photo: Michael Brosilow

RECOMMENDED

In the first act of “The Crytpogram” the comedic potential of David Mamet’s easily recognized, clipped, stylized, supposedly conversational dialogue sometimes pops up from the mire of simmering domestic duress. Nearly self-parodic in spots, but too knowing and well-written to be dismissed as such, the terse but dense exchanges are at times just plain funny. Go ahead and laugh. By the third act, the script is as stripped of humor as the stage is of home furnishings. A big reveal midway through the show puts a stop to any comedy. A perilous but unresolved ending suggests tragedy.

Much of the humor derives from how the most mundane aspects of conversation are treated with urgent emergency or relentless inquiry. Once we start to see real threats mount, the stylistic yet human wordplay veers from humorous hyperbole and quizzical riddling toward ineffectual, hopeless, increasingly aggressive, occasionally annoying chatter. Everyone can play around with words when skirting the issue; when the truth starts to crack through, there’s no fun left in the contest. It’s a shift in tone that mirrors the journey of the play’s three characters, and is expertly executed by the playwright and wonderfully realized in this Profiles Theatre production. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Reasons to Be Happy/Profiles Theatre

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Eric Burgher, Domenica Cameron-Scorsese

Eric Burgher, Domenica Cameron-Scorsese

I missed “reasons to be pretty” when Profiles Theatre debuted it in Chicago back in 2011. What many consider to be playwright Neil LaBute’s best work, the show presents the fallout from a man’s offhand comment that his girlfriend’s face is “plain.” Like many of LaBute’s other shows, it examined the emotional trench warfare that constitutes the battle of the sexes in modern day, while shedding some of the more gimmicky premises of his earlier plays like “Fat Pig” and “The Shape of Things.” Unlike the show’s characters, the play embraces maturity. “reasons to be pretty” was a hit for Profiles, who now count LaBute as a company member. So it isn’t surprising that Profiles is now premiering LaBute’s 2013 sequel, “Reasons to Be Happy.”

However, having seen only this new production, I’m now sad that I didn’t get to see the original. And it’s not because I couldn’t understand what was going on; the script does a fine job of standing on its own. It’s because the Profiles production is strangely at odds with the script, and I say strangely considering LaBute’s status of a company member and their impressive track record with his work. It’s the kind of tone-deaf treatment that makes you think these people had never met. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Cock/Profiles Theatre

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RECOMMENDED

Cock - Horizontal ThreeSexual orientation is all too often reduced to an either/or binary—straight or gay, one or the other. Bisexual or pansexual people are presented by both straight and gay communities as confused or greedy. Mike Bartlett’s 2009 piece looks at the ironclad categories we put each other in, the problems that occur when a man begins to doubt the basics of his sexual identity and the push-back he receives from those who claim to love him.

John (Christopher Sheard) attempts to break free of longtime boyfriend M (Jake Szczepaniak). During their relationship respite, John befriends W (Eleni Pappageorge) and sleeps with her. Confused and lonely, he tries to reignite the relationship with M and confesses his relationship with W. He suggests both lovers meet to discuss the situation; M brings his father (Larry Neumann) to the meeting as back-up. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Gidion’s Knot/Profiles Theatre

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Amy J. Carle and Laura Hooper

Amy J. Carle and Laura Hooper

Tiny desks are scattered across the elementary school classroom at the center of “Gidion’s Knot.” And while scenic designer Katie-Bell Springmann has adorned the room with brightly colored school-project drawings of Zeus and other mythological gods, it’s clear early on that the evening will be more on par with detention than recess. A tense mood sits over the room as fifth grade teacher Heather (Laura Hooper) enters her classroom, pacing frantically and fighting back panic-induced tears. Director Joe Jahraus maintains the eerie mood throughout Profiles Theatre’s production of Johnna Adams’ powerful, if not quite consistent, play.

Heather is more than taken by surprise when Corryn (Amy J. Carle) enters her classroom ready to attend their scheduled parent-teacher conference on a Monday afternoon. As we soon learn, Corryn’s son Gidion was suspended the previous Friday and sent home with a note instructing Corryn to come discuss the incident that led to his dismissal. However Heather never expected Corryn to keep the appointment since later that evening Gidion committed suicide, shooting himself in his garage before he could tell his mother what happened that afternoon. Read the rest of this entry »

Deck the Sets: Chicago Stages Go Holiday Crazy

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santaland

The Santaland Diaries at Theater Wit

By Zach Freeman

As any denizen of the theater who’s been in this town for any amount of time knows, Chicago DOES theater. With more than 250 active theater companies and a constantly growing number of venues, if you can’t find a good show to attend on any given night, you’re just doing it wrong. And this holiday season Chicago is really throwing down the gauntlet of performance options with more than forty (yes, you read that right) holiday shows. And yes, almost all of them are Christmas-related. In fact, there are almost a dozen versions of “A Christmas Carol” alone.

But Chicago is a diverse city and our theater companies reflect that. We’re not talking about several dozen versions of the same old stuff, we’re talking about more than forty completely different takes on the holiday season. It’s a lot for any one person to take in, so we thought we’d help you determine which show (or shows) you should be seeing over the next month or so to get yourself into the appropriate holiday mood (whatever that means for you).

We can’t list them all, but here are twenty to get you started. Here we go… Read the rest of this entry »

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