Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: Marie Antoinette/Steppenwolf

Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
(left to right) Ericka Ratcliff (Yolande De Polignac), Tamberla Perry (Therese De Lamballe) and ensemble member Alana Arenas/Photo: Michael Brosilow

Ericka Ratcliff, Tamberla Perry and Alana Arenas/Photo: Michael Brosilow

RECOMMENDED

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 »

Review: Short Shakespeare! Macbeth/Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
Photo: Liz Lauren

Photo: Liz Lauren

RECOMMENDED

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 »

Review: Father Ruffian/City Lit Theater

Theater, Theater Reviews, World Premiere No Comments »
Nick Lake/Photo: Cole Simon

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 »

Review: Lions in Illyria/Lifeline Theatre

Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
(l to r) Mykele Callicutt and Brandi Lee/Photo: Suzanne Plunkett

Mykele Callicutt and Brandi Lee/Photo: Suzanne Plunkett

RECOMMENDED

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 »

Review: Pericles/Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
Photo: Liz Lauren

Photo: Liz Lauren

RECOMMENDED

Whether you are of the camp that considers “Pericles” a Shakespearean romance or a “problem” play (or both), it is impossible to delve into this dynamic story without acknowledging the illogically insistent, magical happenstances that bring the central characters to near-holy redemption by the final scene. Though it is curious that “Pericles” doesn’t appear in “The First Folio,” and queer that there is scholarly speculation that the first half of the play was the work of a fellow scribe, “Pericles” was one of Shakespeare’s most popular plays in his day, and director David H. Bell’s swashbuckling production at Chicago Shakespeare Theater plays with the flash-and-flesh that would thrill the contemporary audience that flocks to see action-hero movies.

A narrating chorus of actors, playing at multiple roles with wildly adaptive temperaments, appearing and disappearing with roaring speed and hanging from rigging-ropes, creates the pirate film anew, spinning this allegorical journey from myth to human pathos. Aided by the scenic design of Scott Davis, the period-shattering, skin-celebrating costumes of Nan Cibula-Jenkins, the fine verse-nursing of Susan Felder, and the mystical, original music of Henry Marsh (intoned or sung in eerie or celebratory beauty by this company of triple-threats), it matters little that the characters themselves may be birthed in the bath of archetype; this glorious fable is greater than the sum of its parables. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Macbeth/Chicago Opera Theater

Opera, Opera Reviews, Recommended Opera No Comments »

macbeth

RECOMMENDED

Shakespeare’s play of the same name came to be called “The Bard’s Opera” because producers would schedule the widely popular piece when revenues were low, giving the players reason to believe that their talents might shortly need to find a new place of expression, striking such fear into their hearts that it was considered bad luck to speak the name of the title character. “Bloch’s Opera” succeeds in a fearlessly visceral way by leaning heavily on the text that shored up the finances of Elizabethan theaters, superstition be as damned as Macbeth himself. Chicago Opera Theater’s production tells the ancient tale in graphic symbolism while using the sort of multimedia gadgetry that allows both a generation steeped in operatic traditions and a newer audience that must be encouraged if the art form is to continue to be riveted.

Given in a series of seven tableaux, with COT’s slightly cut production listed as having a run time of 110 minutes without intermission, Ernest Bloch’s only operatic contribution proves his zeal for the thematic intricacies and rich orchestral scoring of Wagner. Internal melody soars from the pit in reactive counterpoint to the supple vocal lines, both delivered up in instrumental surprises. Bloch’s pulsing orchestral and choral compositions might have prepared us for this singular masterpiece had it followed a lifetime’s work. But the piece was written early in Bloch’s career, premiering in 1910 when he was only thirty years of age. The fact that it is seldom performed, quietly crouching in the shadow of Verdi’s “Green’s Opera,” is a wrong that COT artistic director Andreas Mitisek, conductor Francesco Milioto and Apollo Chorus director Stephen Alltop illuminate. The combined effect of Mitisek’s sexy direction, Milioto’s musical-gumshoe’s instinct for locating and bringing to justice every ounce of romanticism, and Alltop’s unbroken track record for training his chorus to express such varieties of style and color that it rivals any other in the city on this under-appreciated work should cause us all to shake our heads. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Othello/The Gift Theatre

Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
(L to R) Kareem Bandealy  and Michael Patrick Thornton

Kareem Bandealy and Michael Patrick Thornton

RECOMMENDED

“O these men, these men!” sighs Desdemona (played by Brittany Burch), who is soon to be murdered by her jealous husband, Othello. She is confiding her bafflement to her friend Emilia (Darci Nalepa), who will meet the same fate at the hands of her husband, Iago. Othello’s paranoid rage and Iago’s duplicity and hatred are like the storm roiling the sea around the play’s island setting, chaotic and destructive forces that crash down hardest on the women these soldiers of empire are pledged to protect.

The Gift Theatre’s clear, strong and elegant version of “Othello” captures both the furious momentum and thematic nuances of Shakespeare’s examination of race, patriarchy and authority. Director Jonathan Berry and his skilled cast and crew have brought to the Gift’s tiny stage a production that grips us from the first moment and does not let go. Dan Stratton’s abstract and austere set, Christian Gero’s evocative musical segues and Sarah Hughey’s subtle, noir-style lighting never distract us from the dramatic essentials of language, movement and gesture—which is to say, the acting. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream/Piccolo Theatre

Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

Jude Hansen/Photo: Robert Erving Potter III

Jude Hansen/Photo: Robert Erving Potter III

Yes, yet another production of Shakespeare’s anarcho-pagan comedy that dares to ask the question: Is there anything less romantic than patriarchy, religion and capitalism—i.e., the forces that structure society? In a system that translates human relations into property relations and that sees sexuality more as a problem to be managed than a gift to savor, it’s a wonder that the species finds the will to keep itself going. Sometimes it takes a little supernatural assistance.

As “Dream” begins, Hermia (Diana Coates) is being guilt-tripped by her father (David W.M. Kelch) for her unwillingness to marry his choice, Demetrius (Jake Jones), because she prefers Lysander (Elliot Baker). Judging the case is Duke Theseus of Athens (Michael Saubert, Jr.), who declares that she must either obey dad or face death or the nunnery. Hermia points out that Demetrius has been seen running around with Helena (Deborah Craft), who remains madly in love with him. But the law is the law, says Theseus. He is not in a compromising mood, as he has just conquered the Amazon queen Hippolyta, and seeks to transform his fiercely feminist war booty into a loving and devoted little wifey. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: 12 Nights/The Hypocrites

Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
Photo: Matthew Gregory Hollis

Photo: Matthew Gregory Hollis

RECOMMENDED

In his time, Shakespeare’s plays, particularly his comedies, were meant to entertain the masses. These early situational comedies (yes, sitcoms) were borderline interactive, with a small (all male) troupe playing multiple roles. The Hypocrites’ version of “Twelfth Night” (adapted and directed by Sean Graney and rechristened “12 Nights”) captures this ebullient Shakespearean spirit even as it strips down, modernizes and even mocks many of the original plot points.

Waiting in the lower lobby of the Chopin Theater, the audience is warmly greeted by the show’s energetic ensemble (Tien Doman, Christine Stulik, Zeke Sulkes and Jeff Trainor) before being ushered into a staging area that features free cookies, a disco ball, a chance to write on the walls with markers and some “great ’80s jams.” From this pre-show party those audience members with seats are invited to the actual set, a small section of astroturf surrounded by multi-colored lawn chairs, rainbow-striped walls and dangling air fresheners. The rest of the audience is then invited in to stand and watch from any available spot in the room. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Henry VIII/Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
Photo: Liz Lauren

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 »