Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: The Tennessee Williams Project/The Hypocrites

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Hollis Patrick Gannon and Joseph Wiens/Photo by Matthew Gregory

Patrick Gannon and Joseph Wiens/Photo: Matthew Gregory

Legendary director Elia Kazan once said of Tennessee Williams “Everything in his life is in his plays, and everything in his plays is in his life.”  This insight proves prescient when applied to The Hypocrites production of three of his lesser-known one-act plays.  Presented back to back to back (with each play ending with just a jolt of an introduction to the next), the plays mine the same themes of his better-known work (mortality, sexual predators and self-delusion to name a few), but with a bit more creative flourish. It would be hard to imagine, for example, Marlon Brando suddenly breaking out in song (this is exactly what a brutish sailor does in the similar-to-”Streetcar”-feeling first play).  Not only are these touches entertaining, they also help the viewer gain better insight into the mindset of a true American theatrical genius. Not every outside-the-box wrinkle works as well—it is unclear why in another play the lead character is reduced to swinging ape-like across a series of suspended rings—but one gets the sense that within these plays Tennessee Williams gave himself permission to experiment a little. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Brighton Beach Memoirs/Raven Theatre Company

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Raven BBM horiz 2RECOMMENDED

People who live in the kind of twisted families only Tennessee Williams could write must look at Neil Simon families and think, “well, that sounds nice.” While neither type of family is exactly better off, the Jeromes at the center of “Brighton Beach Memoirs” have a plucky sense of optimism. Despite dire circumstances akin to “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “The Glass Menagerie,” the family in this play never projects the bleakness of their situation, and that feels a little unrealistic by comparison. Raven Theatre dusts off this tried-and-true classic to finish out its thirtieth season. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: A Streetcar Named Desire/Lyric Opera

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Photo: Todd Rosenberg

Photo: Todd Rosenberg

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One of the great difficulties in bringing an iconic contemporary play to the opera house is securing permission from the playwright, without which, an opera is not possible.

In the case of Tennessee Williams, many were interested in writing operas of his plays, particularly “A Streetcar Named Desire,” but these were refused. It wasn’t until over a decade after Williams’ death that his estate agreed to let it happen in what by that time appeared to be primarily a financial rather than an aesthetic consideration.

The restriction was that as much of the actual language of the play be preserved as possible. And there you have the fatal flaw that weighs down “A Streetcar Named Desire,” the opera. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Night of the Iguana/The Artistic Home

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Photo: Tim Knight

Photo: Tim Knight

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Tennessee Williams had a real gift for portraying vacation towns as sad rest homes instead of the glamorous retreats we like to imagine them. When  “The Night of the Iguana,” one of Williams’ last well-received plays, was first presented on Broadway in 1961, it featured Bette Davis in the role of Maxine, a high-spirited widow who runs a cheap resort in a Mexican town. When defrocked Reverend Shannon shows up with a tour bus of church ladies, Maxine tries to convince him to stay and live out his days at her seaside motel, all the while Shannon hopes he can escape his self-destructive lifestyle.

“The Night of the Iguana” is the maiden voyage for The Artistic Home’s new West Town space. After a season-long hiatus, the company is back and opening with a stellar production. Directed by Kathy Scambiatterra, “The Night of the Iguana” features a strong cast led by John Mossman as Shannon, Miranda Zola as Maxine and Kelly Owens as Hannah. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Glass Menagerie/Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company

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Photo: Emily Schwartz

Photo: Emily Schwartz

Has ever a writer loved a character quite so much as Tennessee Williams loved Laura Wingfield? Love is an impossible quality to quantify, try though eHarmony might, but as anyone who’s cried during the final minutes of “The Glass Menagerie” can attest, Laura and her playwright share a most special bond. I think it’s the transmutation of Williams’ affection for Laura into romantic, dramatic, blissful onstage tension that makes her my favorite character of the entire American canon.

While popular theater culture is fixated on deservedly iconic actresses playing wilting Daughter of the American Revolution, Amanda, I immediately crave to learn who is tackling the emotional paralysis of young Laura, whose imperfections are nothing short of perfect in my eyes. In Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company’s new “Menagerie,” Joanne Dubach’s magnificent Laura is driven not by awkwardness or an exaggerated physical disability, but immense kinesthetic fear of social inadequacy. She speaks not quietly or with a weird affectation, but hesitantly as though the words might unexpectedly manifest themselves as vomit. It’s a keenly relatable nervousness we all feel, though crippling for Laura. The actress’ carpet scene with the Gentleman Caller (the All-American and wholly sincere Walter Briggs) is coy, sublimely subtle and magical. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Sweet Bird of Youth/Goodman Theatre

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Diane Lane and Finn Wittrock/Photo: Liz Lauren

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Having directed a brilliant revival of “A Streetcar Named Desire” at Writers’ Theatre a few seasons back—which has also since played the Williamstown Theatre Festival—it was a natural for David Cromer to return to Tennessee Williams. With all the resources of the Goodman Theatre at his disposal, and back in his hometown after successes in New York and Los Angeles as well as a 2010 MacArthur “Genius” grant, Cromer has turned to Williams’ last real success, “Sweet Bird of Youth.” Although Cromer was originally slated to direct the play last year on Broadway, New York’s delay is Chicago’s gain.

Characteristics that have become Cromer hallmarks, including creating a larger-than-life scenic environment (courtesy of James Schuette) are obvious from the moment you enter the theater, as the soft winds of the Deep South are heard and felt and a translucent white curtain gradually reveals an elegant baby-blue-and-white hotel room. A shirtless, at first rather boyish-looking man (Finn Wittrock as Chance Wayne) is lounging in bed and rises to reveal he is wearing solid-white silk pajama bottoms. Soon we discover that hidden amongst his pink sheets is a beautiful female companion in black lingerie (Diane Lane as the Princess Kosmonopolis). As the dark world of this couple is revealed, insidious insight by insight, the juxtaposition of their apparent attractiveness forms an ironic and humorous paradox with what unabashedly despicable people they are. In a brilliant touch, the curtain and wall at times show faint projections of dreamlike images of the past, including our first look at a youthful Heavenly (Kristina Johnson). Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Next Up/Steppenwolf Garage

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Photo: Michael Brosilow

As yet another blistering Chicago summer commences, so too does an outgoing class of talented young theater artists–the future movers and shakers. Reveling in the spirit of commencement, each year Steppenwolf Theatre Company presents the culminating works of Northwestern University’s graduate directing and design students during their month-long “Next Up” festival in the scrappy Garage space. Consisting of three contrasting yet festively complementary works, “Life and Limb,” “South of Settling” and “The Glass Menagerie,” the lineup nicely subscribes to Steppenwolf’s seasonal “war at home” theme, and jointly muses on the nation’s temperamental job market. Graciously thanking the city that has nurtured their artistic growth, all of the plays performed, including one world premiere, actually began their lives right here in Chicago. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Camino Real/Goodman Theatre

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Carolyn Ann Hoerdemann/Photo: Liz Lauren

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That Barcelona-based Calixto Bieito, the notorious and gloriously radical revisionist director of opera and theater, polarizes audiences is undeniable; it’s not clear that even advance warning will prepare certain minds from displeasure with his first American production, a re-imagination of Tennessee Williams’ “Camino Real” at the Goodman Theatre. At an opening in Goodman’s sister theater a week earlier, I overheard chatter among the snack-bar staff and the ushers, murmuring about unhappy audiences in the other theater. That same day the New York Times profiled the production, writing of an orgy (which turns out to be more bacchanalian euphoria than Penthousian porno) and, well, expectations for mayhem were properly raised for its official debut. So what happened? Read the rest of this entry »

Goodman Theatre announces 2012-2013 season

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FOUR WORLD AND TWO CHICAGO PREMIERES HIGHLIGHT GOODMAN THEATRE’S 2012/2013 SEASON

***NEW SEASON OPENS WITH DAVID CROMER’S GOODMAN DIRECTORIAL DEBUT, INCLUDES JON ROBIN BAITZ’S BROADWAY HIT, LYNN NOTTAGE’S LATEST WORK, THE 35th ANNIVERSARY PRODUCTION OF A CHRISTMAS CAROL AND CULMINATES WITH MARY ZIMMERMAN’S WORLD-PREMIERE MUSICAL ADAPTATION OF DISNEY’S THE JUNGLE BOOK***

(Chicago, IL) Artistic Director Robert Falls announced Goodman Theatre’s 2012/2013 subscription season today, featuring four world- and two Chicago-premiere productions. The new season begins in September with Chicago native David Cromer’s revival of Sweet Bird of Youth by Tennessee Williams. Next up in the Albert Theatre are two consecutive Chicago premieres: Jon Robin Baitz’s Other Desert Cities directed by Henry Wishcamper, and By the Way, Meet Vera Stark by Pulitzer Prize-winner Lynn Nottage, directed by Chuck Smith. The season culminates with the world-premiere production of The Jungle Book, a new musical based on the Disney animated film and the stories by Rudyard Kipling, adapted and directed by Tony Award-winner Mary Zimmerman. Three Goodman-commissioned plays take the stage in the Owen Theatre: Black n Blue Boys/Broken Men, written and performed by Dael Orlandersmith, directed by Chay Yew; Christopher Shinn’s Teddy Ferrara, directed by Evan Cabnet; and The Happiest Song Plays Last by Quiara Alegría Hudes. The 2012/2013 Season also includes the 35th annual production of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, directed by Steve Scott. NOTE: one play in the Albert Theatre (in spring 2013) is to be announced. Call now to subscribe to the Goodman’s 2012/2013 Season: 312.443.3800; online subscription sales (GoodmanTheatre.org) start March 6. Individual tickets go on sale beginning in August.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Players 2012: The Fifty People Who Really Perform in Chicago

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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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