Photo: Liz Lauren
There is churchly ambiance to “Henry VIII,” which opened Wednesday night at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Catholic clergymen clad in red vestments descend the central aisle to the stage in grand and contrived fashion. There’s enough shimmering hung fabric for another papal coronation, and the palpable vibe among the attendees is one of religious obligation—a common drive for Shakespearean theatergoers, believing the Bard to always be of crucial cultural significance, no matter the delivery. That push is even stronger in this particular instance.
Read the rest of this entry »
James Newcomb/Photo: Liz Lauren
As the curtain rises on a nun in rapturous reflection, with the pulsing sounds of Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby” scoring a sprawling, bawdy set of dirty neon and dirty sex behind her—various other states of rapture—and a man, post-coital with his hooker, holding a pistol to his head, the fever dreams of Calixto Bieito’s “Camino Real” so easily recur that you might feel like you’ve returned for another dose of the Spanish director’s controversial staging at the Goodman last season. But then, with its decadent seventies setting, its garish pimp clothes and graphic glimpses of illicit sex acts taking place upstairs, Steppenwolf’s recent “Hot L Baltimore” comes to mind as well. So too, with its moments of slow-motion choreographed ensemble entrances is a bit of Quentin Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs” in the mix. But lest you think that this production of the Bard’s “problem play” is derivative, know this: It is all Robert Falls’ “Measure For Measure.” A fair bit of William Shakespeare, too, but I’d suggest that never in the history of this play has such a raw and raucous production been seen as Falls hoovers in a half millennium of influences and spits out something wholly original. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Michael Brosilow
Wedging a rap into William Shakespeare’s plays is well-tread territory. Every so often, a hoodied Hamlet will hyperactively soliloquize the usual six speeches verbatim with a basic beat that safely scratches at the idea of hip-hop; such productions’ raison d’etre is to showcase that Shakespeare’s twisted tongue isn’t so far removed from modern rap, and transitorily neither are you and hoodied Hamlet. However, while the audience and Hamlet may be, forever, a little more than kin, Shakespearean verse and rap are separated by about four hundred years of cultural upheaval. Anybody with an FM radio and a bookshelf knows that iambic pentameter and a prerecorded bass drum do not a rap make.
But the newest, liveliest music can absolutely activate theatrical storytelling if the actors own the words they express and style they emanate. Those factors are impressively evident in the Q Brothers’ thrilling “Othello: The Remix,” which opened on Saturday night at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. The preposterously talented writing and performing team (alongside Jackson Doran and Postell Pringle) have updated and completely rewritten “Othello” in hip-hop, rap and R&B. And most admirably, these characters’—rappers, girlfriends, geeks, producers, entourages—music is completely true to genre; It’s not a compromised, cutesy approximation of hip-hop to appease happy-go-lucky pier-patrons. The Q Brothers got guts. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Liz Lauren
By Johnny Oleksinski
On January 28, @RobertFalls201 tweets, “Day before rehearsal begin & completely panicked; haven’t prepared enough, have no idea how to START & shouldn’t someone else be directing?”
Wait, the Robert Falls? The same Robert Falls whose “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play and whose “Iceman Cometh” made Chicago ticket-holders the envy of the theatergoing world? That Robert Falls is “completely panicked?”
Yes, the Goodman artistic director regularly tweets the kind of thought-provoking artistic insights that were once confined to program notes, posthumously published memoir-festos and lucky late-night exchanges at the bar, but are now available on the web browsers and mobile devices of anyone who cares to follow. Falls nostalgically compares the sensation of tweeting to his youthful passion for radio; It has certainly opened up the artistic process and personal life of a powerful and gifted director. Yet, despite this useful new conversational mechanism, it’s still rare for an artistic director to have a Twitter account let alone actually make use of it.
Falls and I sit down in the Goodman’s posh Patrons’ Lounge—a room he says he’s only been in a handful of times before and humorously compares to a W Hotel—to talk about his new production of Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure” and about his second life on Twitter: two seemingly unrelated topics, but truthfully, all I know of Falls’ production up till now came from his funny and oft-probing tweets. Read the rest of this entry »
Scott Parkinson (Hamlet) and Shannon Cochran (Gertrude)
Writers’ Theatre presented such a memorable performance of Tom Stoppard’s “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead” a few seasons back that it seemed only fitting that the company should mount a full-scale “Hamlet.” The intimate North Shore theater is perfect for revealing the multiple layers of introspection that the Bard’s most famous play requires.
Although director Michael Halberstam’s production is not a contemporized setting in terms of sets and costumes, it is quite contemporary in terms of its outlook and even its sound world (the court likes background jazz at its parties). There is no ambiguity about Scott Parkinson’s Danish prince being mad: the dark opening scene is cut altogether to dispense with any subtext of a real ghost and instead skips directly ahead to open the play in a bright court in motion around a Hamlet that cannot cope, where it is quickly clear that he is the something rotten in the state of Denmark. Claudius and Gertrude seem so regally at home and so reasonable that Hamlet comes off the villain. To heighten how out of touch Hamlet is, his soliloquies occur outside of time and space while others remain around him, but they literally stop to loud sound cues distractingly indicating precise moments of their freeze-frame and his take-off. Yes, there are some glances to the audience, but this is a thoroughly narcissistic Hamlet who thinks and cares only about himself. (Oddly, this same device even extended over into the soliloquies of other characters.) It is an odd and interesting take, but one which has to be grafted on to a truncated text to work. Read the rest of this entry »
Outdoor theater is fun but has its drawbacks; the most talented ensemble fights for its life against ambient distraction. “Ah fair Imogen, my life, my wife… THIS IS THE ROUTE 50 DAMEN BUS.” Between the cicadas and the sirens, RIFF Collective faces serious challenges.
And against the odds, they succeed in a raggedy, charming way. It’s theater at its most basic, and that’s a compliment. The set is non-existent, the lighting, props and costumes are minimal. Shakespeare’s script is not his best; act one’s hefty exposition is clunky. There’s some confusing double- and triple-casting. The stage manager had to kick a passerby off the king’s throne. Read the rest of this entry »
Michael Perez, Nate Burger, Chris Sheard and Edgar Miguel Sanchez/Photo: Carissa Dixon
In undertaking four plays in three days up at Spring Green’s APT, the odds favored at least one dud. But on paper, “Troilus and Cressida” did not look to be that one. Not only was this the first production ever of this play for this Shakespeare-centric company, but acclaimed Chicago director William Brown was at the helm. At best, this tale of love and betrayal set against the Trojan War gave me a chance to brush up on my Greek history; at worst it challenged my wakefulness through all of its three hours. Though I was perhaps jaded by the riveting performance of “Skylight” I’d just seen at the matinee, Brown and company did little to bring the Bard’s “problem play” out of the woods. In general, the actors were fairly monotonous in their adequacy, failing to inject conversational fluency into the Elizabethan text, and the play’s action was more detached than dangerous. Boy, though, Shakespeare sure thought Achilles was a heel. Read the rest of this entry »
Chicago Shakespeare Theater approached acclaimed local director Rachel Rockwell more than a year ago to propose a stunning new project: a “Shakespeare in the Parks” tour of Chicago for her Shakespearean directing debut production, “The Taming of the Shrew.” It’s a thrilling project for any lover of family theater and community art, especially since it’s the inaugural installment of what artistic director Barbara Gaines described as “a new Chicago tradition” that brings art to the neighborhoods.
Chicago Shakespeare used data from an extensive survey by the University of Chicago to pinpoint areas of the city with the most arts-attending citizens, most of which were located near Lake Michigan and close to the center of the city (no surprise). The company used this data to pick parks in neighborhoods without much access to arts and culture and scheduled “as many as they would let them,” according to Gaines. The idea of a new audience pool thrilled director Rockwell, who says, “These [actors] could perform this play in a McDonalds with no problem. Bring it on!” Read the rest of this entry »
James Ridge/Photo: Carissa Dixon
I did some research on Shakespeare’s “Richard III” for my undergraduate thesis, and the word I kept coming across to describe really successful performances of the role was “bravura.” Laurence Olivier gave the most widely-seen bravura performance in his film, as he sneered and snarled his way to England’s crown. But I almost feel as if I’d do James Ridge a disservice to apply “bravura” to his interpretation of the role. His performance is undoubtedly remarkable. But bravura implies a certain flashiness, and the brilliance of Ridge’s interpretation lies in taking away the theatricality. His Richard isn’t performing for us. He doesn’t say “look at how evil and brilliant I am.” He simply tells us what frustrates him, and what he plans to do about it. He struggles while we watch, and when he succeeds, no one is more delighted or surprised than he. Read the rest of this entry »
Cristina Panfilio and Susan Shunk/Photo: Zane Williams.
As a disclaimer: “Twelfth Night” is one of my favorite plays. I’ve seen multiple productions of it, studied the script extensively, loved it, struggled with it, laughed at it, and generally enjoyed every minute of what is probably Shakespeare’s most beautifully written comedy. The “Twelfth Night” currently playing at American Players Theatre is a brilliantly executed yet unusual interpretation that is well worth seeing.
This “Twelfth Night” is not about Viola. Nor is it about young love. Nor the good life triumphing over Puritan prudery. Nor is the show particularly funny, at least not in a slapstick way. It has little in common with any staging of the play I’ve ever seen. Read the rest of this entry »