Antonio Brunetti and Leslie Ruettiger/Photo: Michal Janicki
I’d like to offer an analogy that I think Joan Schenkar, the rare American playwright at the European-leaning Trap Door Theatre, would approve of: “The Universal Wolf” is theater as ouroboros. Insistent on “deconstructing”—a French term for taking the piss, apparently—at every potential dramatic impasse, “The Universal Wolf” consumes itself until its potential for being revelatory has been completely absorbed by its unrelenting need to be referential.
The play has all the hallmarks of a collegiate work. It applies linguistic, philosophical and psychological terms with little regard for their actual usage, leeches on to pre-established mythical structures while simultaneously attempting to break them down, and possesses a grating, indulgent cockiness. All of which causes this already incomprehensible work to border on being distasteful. And not in the way Schenkar likely intended with her broad use of burlesque sexuality and dusty macabre humor. Named for a line from one of Shakespeare’s most ambiguous and—notably—under-produced works, “The Universal Wolf” reeks of half-baked intellectualism’s cheap cologne. Read the rest of this entry »
Tim Martin, David Keohane and Scot West
Is there a more appropriate way to pass the dog days than with Shakespeare’s canine comedy? This early, patchy and problematic work—whose dramatic summit is the appearance of Crab, the melancholic mutt—is essentially a two-and-a-half-hour warm-up exercise for the career to come. Its glimpses of genius in training are scattered within a plot that lurches rather than flows and ends without delivering a dose of poetic justice. To succeed on stage, “Verona” must be played as a pure farce, distracting us from the script’s dropped stitches. It shouldn’t just be the dog that chews the scenery.
Director Lavina Jadhwani—together with costumer Emily McConnell—sets the action circa 1983, with doltish suitor Thurio (Tim Martin) done up “Preppy Handbook” style, and everyone else bringing back long-repressed memories of the Brat Pack and “Beverly Hills 90210.” Maybe it’s meant to link the feudal arrogance of Verona’s privileged gentlefolk with the consumerist excesses of the Reagan era. Or maybe the troupe is just having a little retro fun. Unfortunately, the silliness is only skin deep, plastered atop a sometimes sticky earnestness. The result is a show that’s serviceable and intermittently entertaining, but which never achieves a consistent tone or point of view. Read the rest of this entry »
Dear theater-goer, as “The Titus Andronicus Project” at The Public House Theatre demonstrates, never pay good money to see any theatrical production with the word “project” in its title. That epithet suggests some dubious result of modern industrial teamwork, like the Hoover Dam or a three-year ethno-musicological study of the war songs of the Arawak Indians.
This “project” was the fruit of seven months’ labor by an energetic troupe of young actors calling themselves The Home for Wayward Artists, who, with the best intentions, may have believed they could rescue Shakespeare’s poorest play from the contempt voiced by critics such as George Bernard Shaw, who said of Titus that “Beaumont and Fletcher… wrote a good deal that was pretty disgraceful, but at all events [the later Shakespeare] had educated them out of the possibility of writing Titus Andronicus.” Read the rest of this entry »
McCambridge Dowd-Whipple (front) and ensemble
At first, given the emphasis on magic and the dirgey, chant-oriented music, one could be forgiven for thinking “Storm,” a collaboration between international collective Moon Fool and Chicago’s Walkabout Theater Company, might be a sneak peak of Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s forthcoming adaptation of “The Tempest,” as envisioned by Teller (of Penn & Teller) to the music of Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan. Yet Walkabout and Moon Fool take more liberties with Shakespeare’s text than I imagine even CST is comfortable with. As it stands, purists may want to avoid this one. Everyone else should come right in.
In this production, the choreography is really the main event, though it can be a double-edged sword depending on your proclivity for the highly interpretive. On one hand, the invigorating movement regularly deepens and abstracts the play’s themes of loneliness and the illusion of agency. On the other, like the titular storm itself, it tends to wash away this production’s foundation. As a work in progress, there is no reason to believe that creator/director Anna-Helena McLean won’t temper her own admirable impulses toward acrobatics in order to better facilitate her fascinating adaptation. As it stands, this iteration is a sophisticated yet feral dance performance that contains illusions to Shakespeare. Read the rest of this entry »
Jeremy Trager and Melanie Derleth/Photo: Johnny Knight
If “All’s Well That Ends Well” is, as some critics insist, a “problem comedy,” then director Drew Martin, by setting the play in the Mafia-land of television’s popular series, “The Sopranos,” has smeared, if not completely erased, the comedy’s challenges by darkening the dramatics and upping the merriment, giving Stage Left Theatre a most happy surprise.
In this contemporary setting, it is easier to believe that such a Shakespearian heroine as Helena would be not only allowed, but assisted by familial figures, to publicly pursue, marry and then trick into marital consummation the recalcitrant, reluctant, callow youth of her choosing. Melanie Derleth makes the momentous task of playing Helena seem like a walk in the park; every moment is real and sure, and for the little time she is offstage, the world is a gloomier place. Luke Daigle throws himself fervently at the playing of the most despicable leading youth in the canon; Daigle plays Bertram’s reformation from the heart. Read the rest of this entry »
Amy E. Harmon, Kimberly Logan/Photo: Steven Townsend
Sitting in the audience waiting for Babes with Blades’ all-female production of “Titus Andronicus” to begin, I did what any audience member does and took in the set, designed here by Carolyn Voss. I thought to myself “Hmm, grey stone columns, red Nazi-ish banners, long sheets of plastic painted to look like marble… they’re going with a ‘fascism’ interpretation. Okeedoke.”
However two-and-a-half hours later, as the final quarts of blood were being spilt, I took a look again and saw something else. I saw a serial killer’s basement. (The long sheets of plastic give off a very “Christian Bale explaining to Jared Leto the utter sublimity of Huey Lewis and the News” vibe.) And you know what? For a play that has the murderous glee of a “Call of Duty” game with the body count to match, that’s about right. Read the rest of this entry »
Ericka Ratcliff, Tamberla Perry and Alana Arenas/Photo: Michael Brosilow
Underneath its bass-dropping, high-fashion-flouting, sick-opening-credits-having exterior, David Adjmi’s “Marie Antoinette” is actually pretty old-fashioned. It might as well be an update of Shakespeare’s “Richard II.” It tracks the fall from grace of a ruling figure who, while they might have been a really terrible ruler, is nonetheless deserving of their due as a complex, often sympathetic, human. Substitute Shakespeare’s flowered verse for Adjmi’s Paris-Hilton-gone-clubbing inflections and the two are pretty identical.
What’s fresh about Adjmi’s take on France’s most famously tragic (or is it tragically famous?) queen is that it is tailor-made for a modern understanding of celebrity. Adjmi’s Marie has been born into a life of riches and fame. She knows nothing else, and is as much a product of her environment as she is its progenitor.
Under the gleefully propulsive direction of New York theater artist Robert O’Hara, Steppenwolf’s Marie Antoinette also has the benefit of being portrayed by the fiercely intelligent and elegantly crass Alana Arenas. Her performance alone makes Marie a woman worthy of our attention. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Liz Lauren
Covetousness, fueled by ambition and greed, drives the plot of Shakespeare’s tragedy “Macbeth,” where Scotland’s political system is upended twice, with murder the tool to power, and madness in its wake. Shakespeare’s shortest tragedy, with a potential run-time as long as three hours not counting intervals, has been trimmed to an unstoppable seventy-five-minute banquet of blood by director Kirsten Kelly, and if the speed of this production requires Macbeth to race to madness so quickly that we lose some of his everyman-quality, and if Lady Macbeth is perfectly bonkers from her first entrance, the sheer swiftness of Kelly’s roller-coaster ride is so gripping that we’re happy to wait for a more psychological production next time, when the design isn’t geared for presentation to younger audiences. Princes and henchmen and murderers race up and down the aisles of the theater, swords drawn and battle-cries piercing. Whispered plotting and heralded assassination land in the audience’s lap and violent moments are staged to be as age-friendly as possible. Read the rest of this entry »
Nick Lake/Photo: Cole Simon
What annoyed me most about City Lit’s “Father Ruffian” is that it is something very old doing all it can to convince you that it is something new. By condensing Shakespeare’s “Henry IV” Parts One and Two, adding in a dollop of “Holinshed’s Chronicles,” capping it off with a garnish of “Henry V,” throwing in some iPhones and wrapping the whole thing under a new title, adapter and director Paul Edwards attempts an illusion of newness. Only what he’s done here is not new at all. It is something utterly familiar and woefully disappointing: bad Shakespeare.
For the most part, the show is nothing more than a condensed “Henry IV.” The climactic battle with Hotspur happens midway through Act Two and then we are given a greatest-hits version of Part Two and Falstaff’s death in “Henry V,” all within about thirty to forty-five minutes. It is a production of “Henry IV” that manages to throw in modern touches—iPhones, laptops, the Salvation Army, satellite maps—without ever having any modern observations to go with them. The show has one foot in the past, one in the present, and neither on solid ground. Read the rest of this entry »
Mykele Callicutt and Brandi Lee/Photo: Suzanne Plunkett
The publicity materials for “Lions in Illyria” boast that it is a “brand new comedy for the whole family,” and Robert Kauzlaric’s new adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” lives up to the claim. While the play is part of Lifeline’s series of children’s shows that run as matinees on the weekends, it isn’t just entertainment for kids. Amanda Delheimer Dimond’s direction of this cleverly crafted script creates a world within which kids and parents alike can thoroughly revel in an hour of live theater.
The story is that of “Twelfth Night” and all the regular characters are present, save one (there’s no Malvolio). The rest of the characters are all represented through the efforts of four actors telling the story as if it were an animal tale. Mykele Callicutt is both Orsino and Sir Toby Belch. Brandi Lee is Viola (here altered to Violet) and Maria. Ryan Stajmiger portrays Sebastian, as well as Sir Andrew Aguecheek (who is the butt of the cross-gartering hijinks usually aimed at Malvolio). And Kate McDermott plays Olivia and Antonio. Each actor shifts in and out of their characters and even adopts the narrator’s voice from time to time, and it works seamlessly, never creating confusion, thanks to rapid costume changes and creative staging. Read the rest of this entry »