Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: The How and the Why/TimeLine Theatre

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Elizabeth Ledo and Janet Ulrich Brooks/Photo: Lara Goetsch

Elizabeth Ledo and Janet Ulrich Brooks/Photo: Lara Goetsch

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Two scientists—two women from two different generations—are talking about the evolution of human female anatomy and the conversation veers into the subject of love. The older, seemingly unsentimental Zelda (in a strong, poised performance from Janet Ulrich Brooks) corrects the younger, romantic Rachel (Elizabeth Ledo, seething and raw) that, according to neurobiology, love is actually just a form of stress.

That notion informs playwright Sarah Treem’s engaging two-hander, “The How and the Why,” in production at TimeLine. From its opening act set in Zelda’s office (designed like an academic shotgun shack of sorts by Collette Pollard), the emotional meter starts at about nine out of ten on the stress scale and never really lets up, through two acts of intellectually challenging dialogue about evolution—especially as it relates to female reproductive organs and processes—career vs. family choices and, of course, love. Even though these two have never met before, they’re bound by biology and, by extension, by a developing love of their own. Read the rest of this entry »

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: The Normal Heart/TimeLine Theatre Company

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(l to r) David Cromer and Patrick Andrews/Photo by Lara Goetsch

David Cromer and Patrick Andrews/Photo: Lara Goetsch

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With Illinois signing gay marriage into law this month, the crumbling gay community at the center of Larry Kramer’s 1985 play “The Normal Heart” is almost unrecognizable to a new generation. In the thirty years that have passed since the early days of the AIDS crisis, societal acceptance and medical advances have obviously improved immensely, and Kramer’s harrowing play is a must-see testament to the staggering progress that has been made. The TimeLine Theatre Company’s rousing production will serve as a fascinating history to a younger audience fortunate enough to not live through the horrific time, and for those who did, a chilling reminder of the initial ravaging destruction by a virus that has since claimed more than thirty-million lives globally.

Chicago’s big-gun director David Cromer is back on the stage as Ned Weeks, a hotheaded Manhattan novelist/playwright/screenwriter based on Kramer himself. Alarmed by a New York Times article reporting a rising number of homosexual men dying from a new “cancer,” Ned teams with stern polio-stricken doctor Emma Brookner (Mary Beth Fisher) who’s desperate for gay men to wake up to the disease’s rapid spread and likely contraction through sexual contact. Constantly confronted by indifference and red tape from politicians and journalists not wanting to get their hands dirty with a gay cause, Ned and his fellow group of gay activists face an immensely staggering up-hill battle. The gay men he seeks to save are even skeptical of his message due to his call for community-wide celibacy. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: To Master the Art/Chicago Commercial Collective

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Karen Janes Woditsch and Craig Spidle/Photo: Lara Goetsch

Karen Janes Woditsch and Craig Spidle/Photo: Lara Goetsch

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It’s probably a foreign notion to younger audiences that just a generation or so ago the idea of a television food celebrity was as alien as a six-eyed martian. That such notions as locavores, farm-to-table cuisine and even foodies themselves would have sent anyone conjuring them to the asylum, as the prevailing attitude, especially in American kitchens, was one of escape. Escape into the expanding arms of the corporate food culture that championed convenience and simplicity above all, especially over taste and quality of ingredients. That Julia Child accomplished all that she did, in the face of such powerful prevailing trends, is a testament to her fortitude and insight. She was an American revolutionary.

Though it’s not essential to comprehending the show, understanding this enriches the experience of watching the outstanding production of “To Master the Art” at the Broadway Playhouse as it traces Child’s coming of age in the kitchen. A commercial remount of TimeLine’s sold-out hit from 2010, this production returns six of the original ten cast members, most notably Craig Spidle as Paul Child and, above all, Karen Janes Woditsch as Julia Child. As she did then, Woditsch inhabits Child in an uncanny manner; her voice, her mannerisms, her entire presence evoke the food legend. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Blood and Gifts/TimeLine Theatre Company

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Photo: Lara Goetsch

Photo: Lara Goetsch

The hubbub in the men’s restroom at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater a couple years ago was highly energized. During intermission of J.T. Rogers’ “Blood and Gifts,” a thriller of overseas political intrigue reflecting America’s early role in present-day Middle Eastern affairs, the matinée audience was abuzz with verbal crossfire and indignation.

Some decried the play as anti-American, while others refused to embrace its representation of American arms sales to Afghan fighters in the struggle with the Soviet Union during the 1980s. Despite their misgivings over Rogers’ history, factually uncontroversial as it may be, I was tickled pink to hear a bathroom back-and-forth about the play’s content rather than its quality. “Blood and Gifts” has the piss and vinegar to provoke such fevered responses, being refreshingly aggressive during a playwriting era in which nuances have nuances. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Concerning Strange Devices from the Distant West/TimeLine Theatre Company

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Photo: Lara Goetsch

Photo: Lara Goetsch

How we relay history has been forever changed by photography and video. Walk into any American classroom today, collegiate or otherwise, and you’ll doubtless find projected YouTube clips and imagery-laden PowerPoint presentations as essential to the syllabus as the course’s textbook.

Why not? The educational opportunities photography affords are bountiful and, given the rapid expansion of the internet, easy to access. Yes, there is a great deal of knowledge to be reaped from pictures and video, while keeping in mind that, like written-down investigative journalism or an essay, the camera has a bias all its own. Read the rest of this entry »

The Players 2013: The 50 People Who Really Perform in Chicago

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PLAYERSThough we publish a list of “players” every year, we alternate between those whose accomplishments are most visible on-stage (the artists, last year) and those who wield their influence behind the curtain (this year). Not only does this allow us to consider twice as many people, but it also puts some temporal distance between the lists. So, the last time we visited this cast of characters, two years ago, we were celebrating the end of the Richard M. Daley years in Chicago, fretting over a nation seemingly in the mood for a Tea Party and contemplating the possibility of a Latter Day Saint in the White House. Today, we’ve got a dancer in the mayor’s office, the most prominent Mormons are in a chorus line at the Bank of America Theatre and the Tea Cup runneth dry. Call us cockeyed optimists, but things sure look better from here. And so, meet the folks who, today, bring us the best theater, dance, comedy and opera in the nation.

Written by Zach Freeman, Brian Hieggelke, Sharon Hoyer and Johnny Oleksinski
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Review: Wasteland/TimeLine Theatre Company

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Nate Burger/Photo: Lara Goetsch

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It’s always exciting to see a fresh play by a local author. Even more so when that play is executed as finely as TimeLine Theatre Company’s production of Susan Felder’s “Wasteland.” Performed nearly as a one-man show, “Wasteland” is the story of Joe, a U.S. soldier in Vietnam, who’s captured and confined to an underground cell. After months of solitude, Joe begins to hear the voice of Riley, a new prisoner, on the other side of the wall. An unlikely friendship sparks between the two MIA soldiers as they relate the stories of their lives and bicker over the bleak reality of their plight.

What Felder’s dialogue occasionally lacks in substance is more than compensated for in moments of grueling stage direction. Before the first lines are even spoken, the audience is given a lengthy glimpse at the everyday torture of being trapped in a hole and the desperate means it takes to stay sane in such conditions. As the ninety-minute play unfolds, you’re shown, rather than told, the waves of psychosis Joe and Riley go through in their insurmountable situation. Eventually the physical evidence of hopelessness becomes unbearable to watch as filthy water and grime collect on Joe’s clothes and body. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: 33 Variations/TimeLine Theatre Company

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Photo: Lara Goetsch

The character with the most dialogue in Moisés Kaufman’s “33 Variations” does not utter a single word—Music. Personified in TimeLine Theatre Company’s Chicago premiere production by a stationary pianist, every transition is accompanied by live piano and occasionally the gifted and stoic George Lepauw will underscore a scene. And yet, though purposely placed center stage by director Nick Bowling, the piano lends little to the play outside of informational context.

In the same manner author Dan Brown simplified and manipulated centuries of art history into thriller fodder for “The Da Vinci Code,” so too does playwright Kaufman dumb down music here to achieve his own popular entertainment. However, when the life of the play’s main character revolves around Beethoven and his compositions, forcing the music to the third chair strips away her soul. Not to mention her likability. Read the rest of this entry »

TimeLine Theatre Company announces 2012-2013 season

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TIMELINE THEATRE COMPANY ANNOUNCES 2012-13 SEASON

Chicago, IL — TimeLine Theatre Company, named one of the nation’s top 10 emerging theatre companies (American Theatre Wing, founder of the Tony Awards®, 2011) and Chicago’s “Best Theatre” (Chicago magazine, 2011), announces its four-play 2012-13 season. TimeLine is dedicated to presenting plays inspired by history that connect to today’s social and political issues, and its upcoming season includes one world premiere and three Chicago premieres.  Read the rest of this entry »