Photo: Michael Brosilow
“Why did the chicken cross the road?” It’s a simple enough question and there are any number of suitable punchlines. But when this trivial setup-line is asked, needled, demanded three times in a row in a play by Harold Pinter, it can begin to resemble a form of psychological torture. We may not know why it’s being asked or what the proper response should be, but we know that we feel uneasy. Or we should.
Pinter’s second play, first performed in 1958 to a rather chilly critical reaction, deliberately leaves the audience with a multitude of unanswered questions. Characters contradict each other, are referred to by varying names and conversations rarely consist of straightforward dialogue. By the end of this turbulent three-act show (Steppenwolf’s production is two hours and twenty minutes with two intermissions), it’s normal to feel disturbed and more than a little confused. But what this particular birthday party is missing is a deep-seated sense of dread.
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By Dennis Polkow
If Chicago actor James Vincent Meredith looks familiar, he has been a fixture on Chicago stages for years. But even those who have not caught his distinctive performances across the area may recognize him from his recurring role on “Boss,” the Starz television series starring Kelsey Grammer where Meredith plays South Side Alderman Ross.
“Usually just exteriors are shot in Chicago when a series is set there,” says Meredith, “but the entire series is shot here, so actors and crew members get a chance to show what they are made of by being shot exclusively here.” That has been wonderful for Meredith since it has not only meant that he could continue working Chicago stages while the series shot but it also meant short commutes for the Chicago native.
“I was born in Chicago,” says Meredith, “I went to Evanston Township High School but actually started learning about acting and such at Piven Theatre Workshop, which is based in Evanston. Byrne and Joyce Piven were my main teachers at that time and taught me a lot and gave me confidence that I didn’t know I had, although in high school, everyone has confidence issues. I started acting there and went to school in Champaign and then came back up here in ’94.” Read the rest of this entry »
Margaret (Mariann Mayberry), a local from working-class South Boston, loses her job at the dollar store and reaches out to ex-flame and successful doctor Mike (Keith Kupferer) for help getting another. The result is topical class comment that discredits the “we built this” air of Republican entitlement.
David Lindsay-Abaire’s smart script refuses to surrender to stereotypes and forces the audience to question who to root for. He avoids characterization to accurately dramatize grinding poverty and the condescension of good intention. Director K. Todd Freeman stays on top of the energy and the pacing, while Walt Spangler’s set visually details life with and without money. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Michael Brosilow
Mixing historical figures like General William Tecumseh Sherman along with fictional counterparts who expose a greater range of the impact of Sherman’s march across Georgia and the Carolinas that devastated the South and hastened the end of the Civil War, Frank Galati’s faithful adaptation of E. L. Doctorow’s acclaimed novel “The March” manages to assemble twenty-six actors playing thirty-nine roles onto the stage, across dozens and dozens of days and places, all without driving the audience batty in the process, though it does take a couple of scenes to adjust to the pace of change. Read the rest of this entry »
STEPPENWOLF THEATRE COMPANY ANNOUNCES 2012/13 SUBSCRIPTION SEASON
CHICAGO (March 7, 2012) – Steppenwolf Theatre Company Artistic Director Martha Lavey announced today the 2012/13 Subscription Season, including a Steppenwolf-commissioned world premiere and the work of fifteen ensemble members. The season begins in Steppenwolf’s Downstairs Theatre with David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People, directed by ensemble member K. Todd Freeman. Up next, ensemble member Anna D. Shapiro directs The Motherf**ker with the Hat by Stephen Adly Guirgis. In the Upstairs Theatre, ensemble member Austin Pendleton directs The Birthday Party by Harold Pinter. In April 2013, ensemble member Tina Landau directs the Steppenwolf-commissioned world premiere of Head of Passes by ensemble member Tarell Alvin McCraney, their first collaboration since the widely-praised The Brother/Sister Plays (2010). The season concludes with Belleville by Amy Herzog, directed by Anne Kauffmann. Read the rest of this entry »
Randall Newsome, Sally Murphy, Kristina Valada-Viars and Francis Guinan/Photo: Michael Brosilow
War photographer Sarah, played with a sense of psychic damage to match her physically wrecked state by Sally Murphy, is home in New York with her long-term companion James, a freelance war journalist, who Randall Newsome injects with just enough emotionalism to complement Sarah’s internal struggle. She’s just barely survived a horrible injury while on assignment. Addicted to excitement, they’re the “Sid and Nancy” of journalism, as their pal Richard (Francis Guinan, brilliant as always) describes them in exasperation. But when Richard introduces his young and bright and naive new girlfriend, Mandy Bloom (Kristina Valada-Viars, charmingly bathetic), Sarah and James come to question the decisions they’ve made about life and love. 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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Logan Vaughn, Yasen Peyankov, Scott Jaeck and Tracy Letts/Photo: Michael Brosilow
In Steppenwolf’s latest, playwright Enda Walsh paints a bleak picture of masculinity and what men must endure in today’s world: the cruelty of time, the savagery of economic survival, the political maneuverings of love.
Fitz (Tracy Letts), Quinn (Yasen Peyankov), Dunne (Scott Jaeck) and Burns (Ian Barford) are the remaining suitors vying for Penelope’s hand. They are running out of time; they’ve all dreamt of Odysseus’ return and their subsequent murders. The suitors work together to woo the queen. Read the rest of this entry »
Robert Schleifer and Jessica Honor Carleton/Photo: Michael Brosilow
The characters in Rebecca Gilman’s adaptation of Carson McCullers’ classic novel, “The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter,” suffer in quiet desperation in their small community until two strangers arrive, one from out-of-town, one from another part of town. Drunken labor activist Jake Blount (played with rabble-rousing rectitude by Loren Lazerine) tries with limited success to rally folks toward an uprising (some of his declarations could be straight out of the Occupy Wall Street manifesto). The other newcomer, the well-dressed deaf mute John Singer (played with silent charisma by the deaf actor Robert Schleifer), plays like the fabled gunslinger in a classic Western, only here his weapon is his generosity, and his stoicism even more pronounced. That the characters gravitate toward the voiceless Singer as a sort of would-be savior (without noticing his own inner turmoil) rather than the wanna-be savior Blount reveals the author’s belief in the inevitable futility in the human condition. Read the rest of this entry »
Karen Aldridge, Cliff Chamberlain and Stephanie Childers/Photo: Michael Brosilow
A brilliant tribute to “A Raisin in the Sun,” Bruce Norris’ Pulitzer-Prize-winning play consists of two acts that bookend Hansberry’s drama about a struggling black family’s poignant attempt to make a better life for themselves in the white enclave of 406 Clybourne Street. Norris sets “Clybourne Park” in this very house, where the first act portrays the previous owners’ tragic reasons for moving—and getting back at the neighborhood by selling the house to blacks. The second half jumps fifty years forward to the present day, where the neighborhood has become all-black, financially debilitated and ripe for gentrification in the form of a seemingly well-meaning white couple who would demolish the house, bringing with them new politically correct phrases that only partially cover the same old tensions and motivations. “You can’t live in a principle,” is the chorus of the play. Read the rest of this entry »