Photo: Michael Brosilow
Spotted: Chicago cozying up to Scottish playwright David Greig. Ever since the two lovebirds first met during the National Theatre of Scotland’s touring “The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart,” a coup de cœur, the long-distance relationship has quickly intensified. Greig’s work returned to Chicago a few months later when Remy Bumppo mounted his adaptation of August Strindberg’s “Creditors,” and now Writers’ Theatre begins its production of the playwright’s “Yellow Moon.” Get a room, you two! Read the rest of this entry »
Though 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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Borrowed from its own script, “it’s a blessing to be satisfied with so little” is an excellent way of describing “The Letters” at Writers’ Theatre in Glencoe. Short and sweet at just seventy-five minutes, John Lowell’s 2008 potboiler transforms the bookshop theater space into a 1930s Russian government office in its regional debut with direction by critically acclaimed Kimberly Senior. Set under the relentless rule of Stalin prior to WWII, the Orwellian fear of government institutions smothering its citizens was all too real.
“The Letters” is not necessarily a period piece, rather a study in dramatic structure. Relying on the interview device, Lowell delicately coaxes guilt out of his two characters. Immediately at unease, government transcriber Anna (Kate Fry) nervously fidgets while waiting in her boss’ office. Once the brazen and smug Director (Mark L. Montgomery) enters, tension starts to build. 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 »
The dialogue of Robert Hewett’s “The Blonde, the Brunette, and the Vengeful Redhead” is not particularly well-written, and the story, agreeably reminiscent of a daytime made-for-television movie, is rife with gaping plot holes. But the key gimmick of the play, a light drama sympathetically digging into the consequences of mindless adherence to gossip and the sublime interconnectivity of mankind, renders the emotionally pure yet overcomplicated story all but unnecessary to the one-woman show’s prosperity. “Blonde,” being a cleverly disguised circus act, requires the play’s leading lady to be a savvy contortionist, manipulating her person to become a four-year-old boy, a frail elderly woman, a desperate housewife, and a masculine scumbag over two hours.
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Jonathan Weir and Shannon Cochran/Photo: Michael Brosilow
Although Writers’ Theatre is celebrating its twentieth anniversary season, it only began performing musicals a few seasons ago and with mixed results. But with William Brown on board to direct an all-new production of Stephen Sondheim’s “A Little Night Music” perfectly suited to its intimate stage, Writers is giving us a musical production worthy of an important anniversary year.
“A Little Night Music” is the closest Sondheim work to an operetta, with its consistent use of waltz-like rhythms—virtually everything is in triple meter—and some of his most melodic material, including his most popular song, “Send in the Clowns.” It is also Sondheim’s most elaborate use of the kind of counterpoint that Leonard Bernstein had experimented with in the climax of “West Side Story,” for which Sondheim wrote the lyrics. Musically, it ranks among Sondheim’s most ambitious and adventurous works.
That the acting would be of the highest caliber was no surprise, for that is a Writers’ Theatre trademark. But that the musical component should be rendered so exquisitely was a welcome surprise given the unevenness of past musical productions. Musical director Valerie Maze—who also conducts from the piano and celeste—and her extraordinary tiny orchestra (including a tucked-away harp) render Sondheim’s lush score with surprising richness for such small forces. And each performer sings the score superbly even in the complex ensemble numbers, no small feat for how removed the performers often are from the orchestra. Read the rest of this entry »
Writers’ Theatre announces 2012/13 Season to feature Hamlet, Sweet Charity, Corneille’s The Liar adapted by David Ives and Midwest premieres by John W. Lowell and David Greig
Michael Halberstam, Stuart Carden, William Brown and Kimberly Senior slated to direct
Glencoe, IL—Writers’ Theatre Artistic Director Michael Halberstam and Executive Director Kathryn M. Lipuma announce the 2012/13 Season, which includes Shakespeare’s Hamlet directed by Michael Halberstam with Scott Parkinson in the title role; the Midwest premiere of John W. Lowell’s play The Letters, directed by Kimberly Senior; Sweet Charity, directed by Michael Halberstam with Musical Direction by Doug Peck and choreography by Jessica Redish; the Midwest premiere of David Greig’s Yellow Moon directed by Stuart Carden; and David Ives’ modern adaptation of Corneille’s The Liar, directed by William Brown. Read the rest of this entry »
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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Carrie Coon and Sean Fortunato/Photo: Michael Brosilow
Leave it to Tom Stoppard to make me rethink my position on plays about the scandals and travails of affluent white people and their lovers. But then few writers are as intellectually challenging, insightful or careful with their words as he. (As Stoppard’s fictional counterpart Henry says in the play, “If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little or make a poem which children will speak for you when you’re dead.”)
So even if to a degree the play is fueled by the question of did she or didn’t she “get off” with someone else behind his back, it’s the layers upon layers of reality, fiction and illusion, building as the play goes on, that make it turn in a meaningful way. Read the rest of this entry »
Studio Gang's Bengt Sjostrom Starlight Theatre
By Erin Kelsey
In the theater business, sometimes all you can do is cross your fingers and hope for the best. Michael Halberstam, artistic director of Writers’ Theatre, recalls a recent production in which their set was completed on time only because the weather happened to be cooperative during tech week. While unavoidable, these certainly aren’t ideal conditions for any theater to operate under, let alone one producing shows of the scale and quality of Writers’. To prevent similar problems in the future—and allow them to grow in a way currently not permitted by their spaces—the company is embarking upon a project to construct a new building to be the home of Writers’ Theatre. Read the rest of this entry »