Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

The Players 2014: The Fifty People Who Really Perform in Chicago

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In the foreground, Mike Nussbaum. Continuing in a clockwise circle, Nathan Allen, Charles Newell, Autumn Eckman and Nick Pupillo, Rae Gray and Usman Ally, Alejandro Cerrudo, Ann Filmer, Michael Mahler, Michael Halberstam, Dave Pasquesi, Ayako Kato. In the background, T.J. Jagodowski.

Once was the time, when it came to performing arts, that Chicago was a great place to come from. But thanks to the constant upward trajectory of our community, Chicago is now a great place to come from AND to return to. Every year we see more and more evidence of this, whether it’s the regular homecomings of the likes of Michael Shannon and David Cromer, the Chicago reorientation of international stars like Renee Fleming and Riccardo Muti or the burgeoning national reputations of Tracy Letts and Alejandro Cerrudo, we’ve got quite a perpetual show going on. That means of course, that culling a growing short-list of 300 or so down to the fifty folks who make up this year’s Players, is getting more painful. But we’re crying tears of joy as we do it. What follows are the fifty artists (as opposed to last year’s behind-the-scenesters) in dance, theater, comedy and opera who are making the greatest impact on Chicago stages right now.

Written by Zach Freeman, Brian Hieggelke and Sharon Hoyer, with Mark Roelof Eleveld, Hugh Iglarsh and Robert Eric Shoemaker. Photos by Joe Mazza/Brave Lux

Pictured above: In the foreground, Mike Nussbaum. Continuing in a clockwise circle, Nathan Allen, Charles Newell, Autumn Eckman and Nick Pupillo, Rae Gray and Usman Ally, Alejandro Cerrudo, Ann Filmer, Michael Mahler, Michael Halberstam, Dave Pasquesi, Ayako Kato. In the background, T.J. Jagodowski.

All photos were taken at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago.

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Review: 12 Nights/The Hypocrites

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Photo: Matthew Gregory Hollis

Photo: Matthew Gregory Hollis


In his time, Shakespeare’s plays, particularly his comedies, were meant to entertain the masses. These early situational comedies (yes, sitcoms) were borderline interactive, with a small (all male) troupe playing multiple roles. The Hypocrites’ version of “Twelfth Night” (adapted and directed by Sean Graney and rechristened “12 Nights”) captures this ebullient Shakespearean spirit even as it strips down, modernizes and even mocks many of the original plot points.

Waiting in the lower lobby of the Chopin Theater, the audience is warmly greeted by the show’s energetic ensemble (Tien Doman, Christine Stulik, Zeke Sulkes and Jeff Trainor) before being ushered into a staging area that features free cookies, a disco ball, a chance to write on the walls with markers and some “great ’80s jams.” From this pre-show party those audience members with seats are invited to the actual set, a small section of astroturf surrounded by multi-colored lawn chairs, rainbow-striped walls and dangling air fresheners. The rest of the audience is then invited in to stand and watch from any available spot in the room. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Sugarward/The Side Project

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Codrington DadSpeech“Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown,” not to mention the much less holy head that governs in the name of the crown. I believe that little piece of Shakespearean wisdom sits at the core of Sean Graney’s new play “Sugarward,” which opened on Saturday night at The Side Project, but I cannot be entirely sure. Frankly, I am still somewhat perplexed as to the play’s plot, which is unbelievably convoluted and directionless for such an intimate, two-person (four-character) comedy-drama. The playwright’s laborious, heightened speech detailing a smattering of issues of eighteenth-century British imperialism—the morality of slavery, the limitations of the governorship, the Triangular Trade—is impossibly difficult to follow and hard to enjoy. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Mikado/The Hypocrites

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Christine Stulik, Matt Kahler, Dana Omar, Emily Casey/Photo: Matthew Gregory Hollis


Following in the footsteps of its highly successful and innovative “Pirates of Penzance,” which is being revived and running in repertory alongside of this offering, the Hypocrites are once again turning to Gilbert & Sullivan this holiday season.

Those who only like their Gilbert & Sullivan served up with all of the trimmings, i.e., trained voices, full orchestrations, full chorus, et al, would be well-warned to stay away from Sean Graney’s musically minimalist version of either “Pirates of Penzance” or his newest G & S adaptation of the Victorian duo’s most famous work, “The Mikado.”

As with “Pirates,” Sullivan’s orchestrations are stripped down to the lowest-common-denominator guitar chords, largely strummed by the performers themselves hootenanny style, sometimes incorporating clarinet, banjo, mandolin, ukulele and accordion.

From the opening change of lyric from “If you want to know who we are, we are gentlemen of this land” instead of “from Japan,” it is clear that the Japanese contours of the allegorical work are minimalized. And yet, the Victorian ambiance is retained by the characters having faux British accents and often singing in a highly stylized manner, cleverly making G & S performance traditions themselves part of what is satirized here. Read the rest of this entry »

All Greek to Him: Sean Graney Wrangles the Portfolio of the Tragic Trio into a 650-Page Mega-Play

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By Eric Shoemaker

Sean Graney was not content with “Seven Sicknesses.” It seems that his successful and now traveling adaptation of every Sophocles tragedy merely opened a can of worms—extremely long, bloody, cathartic worms. He wants to go bigger, up to the adaptation of every extant Attic Greek tragedy, to compose a two-part day-long epic event. The script, already read-through by a group of Graney loyals and at a whopping 650 pages, could be a masterwork. Or it could be a pain in the ass for the eternally seated audience.

I chatted with Chicago’s tragic laureate about his penchant for Grecian blood. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Equivocation/Victory Gardens Theater

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Remember, remember the fifth of November, gunpowder, treason and plot… So begins the rhyme that commemorates the central event of Bill Cain’s immensely entertaining ode to art, politics and the perils of negotiating both. It’s a play about learning to lie honestly and artfully.

A past-his-prime “Shagspeare”(a reliably deadpan Marc Grapey) is approached by Sir Robert Cecil (a suitably poisonous Mark Montgomery) to write a drama about a current event, the foiled attempt by Catholic rebels to blow up Parliament. Shag is drawn into a cat-and-mouse game of political intrigue and in the process, discovers himself as a man, artist and father. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Fall of the House of Usher/The Hypocrites

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“Surely, man had never before so terribly altered, in so brief a period, as had Roderick Usher!” says the all-too-curious narrator as his eyes befall a boon friend, Roderick, in Edgar Allan Poe’s gothic short story “The Fall of the House of Usher.” Reuniting with his pal, he observes, not only a change in Roderick’s demeanor, but a stunning physical transformation–a person familiar, but mysteriously altered. Perhaps “stunning” is not a strong enough word to describe the visitor’s initial impression of Mr. Usher in The Hypocrites’ new staging of the tale, however. For, in director Sean Graney’s hour-long adaptation, Usher is portrayed by a woman in top-hatted drag. Well, three women actually, in breathtaking rotation. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Romeo Juliet/The Hypocrites

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Photo: Ryan Bourque


While the theater struggles like never before to maintain its shrinking audience, the not-so-simple question of how to get butts in seats has arisen once again. Is it about time to give up and go back to the drawing board? Not just yet, for a offbeat solution is currently being tested by The Hypocrites in their world-premiere adaptation “Romeo Juliet”: Having tea with the audience.

“Romeo Juliet” is not the first time a theater company has incorporated food and drink into a play, but never has it been served with such cheerful comfort. Read the rest of this entry »

Victory Gardens announces 2012/2013 season

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Victory Gardens announces its 2012-2013 season

Season to include works by Bill Cain, Philip Dawkins, Anupama Chandrasekhar, Samuel D. Hunter, and Marcus Gardley with directors Sean Graney, Seth Bockley, Dexter Bullard, Joanie Schultz and Chay Yew

Chicago, IL— Artistic Director Chay Yew and Executive Director Jan Kallish announce the 2012-2013 Victory Gardens season. The season will include Equivocation by Bill Cain, directed by Sean Graney; Failure: A Love Story by Phillip Dawkins, directed by Seth Bockley; Disconnect by Anupama Chandrasekhar, directed by Dexter Bullard; The Whale by Samuel D. Hunter, directed by Joanie Schultz; and Chicago is Burning by Marcus Gardley, directed by Chay Yew.  Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Pirates of Penzance/The Hypocrites

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Dana Omar, Robert McLean, Ryan Bourque, Lindsey Gavel and Shawn Pfautsch/Photo: Matthew Gregory Hollis


The Hypocrites haven’t simply reimagined this Gilbert & Sullivan classic; they’ve wholeheartedly re-appropriated it, paring its grandiosity down to a much more streamlined, folksier scale. Light-opera purists might scoff at the idea of putting the Major General in Big Bird slippers or introducing the daughters by having them sing “Milkshake,” but those people would be forgetting that G&S had a sense of humor in their own time. Read the rest of this entry »