Category: Second Stage Theatre

Review: Jason and (Medea) – (re)discover theatre

Alex Thompson and Bridget Schreiber star as Jason and Medea in (re)discover theatre's "Jason and (Medea)" by Jessica Shoemaker, directed by Janet Howe. (photo credit: Farrah Underwood)        
Jason and (Medea) 

Written by Jessica Shoemaker  
Directed by Janet Howe  
Second Stage Theatre, 3408 N. Sheffield (map)
thru July 7  |  tickets: FREE   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
        Read entire review

June 23, 2013 | 1 Comment More

Review: Disfunctioning: Two by Ionesco (Rare Terra Theatre)

Graham Brown and Vasht Emigh star in Rare Terra Theatre's "Disfunctioning: Two Plays by Ionesco" by Eugene Ionesco, directed by Dragan Torbica.  (photo credit: Jason M. Hammond)        
       Two Plays by Ionesco

Written by Eugene Ionesco 
Directed by Dragan Torbica
Second Stage Theatre, 3408 N. Sheffield (map)
thru Dec 15  |  tickets: $28   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
        Read entire review

November 10, 2012 | 0 Comments More

Review: Wrong Mountain (Rare Terra Theatre)

Julie Partyka and Michael Dickson star in Rare Terra Theatre's "Wrong Mountain" by David Hirson, directed by Ian Streicher. (photo credit: Anthony Robert La Penna)        
Wrong Mountain 

Written by David Hirson
Directed by Ian Streicher
at Second Stage, 3408 N. Sheffield (map)
thru Oct 14  |  tickets: $18-$28   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
        Read entire review

September 15, 2012 | 1 Comment More

Review: Ruby Sunrise (Proud Kate Theater Project)

Dane Halvorson and Becky Blomgren - Ruby Sunrise, Proud Kate Theater in Proud Kate Theater Project's "Ruby Sunrise" by Rinne Groff.       
Ruby Sunrise 

Written by Rinne Groff  
Directed by Charlie McGrath 
at The Second Stage, 3408 N. Sheffield (map)
thru June 24  |  tickets: $20   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets  
         Read entire review

June 16, 2012 | 0 Comments More

Review: Incendiary (Wishbone Theatre Collective)

 Laurie, Jones and Paul Vonasek in Wishbone Theatre Collective's "Incendiary" by Adam Szmkowicz. (photo credit: Mitchell Harvick)       

Written by Adam Szymkowicz  
Directed by Katie Jones
at Second Stage, 3408 N. Sheffield (map)
thru June 3  |  tickets: $10-$15   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
        Read entire review

May 19, 2012 | 0 Comments More

Review: Liberal Arts the Musical (Underscore Theatre)

Liberal Arts: The Musical 

Created by David Kornfeld, Laura Stratford,
Brendan Siegfried, Alex Higgin-Houser
Directed by Alex Higgin-Houser
The Second Stage, 3408 N. Sheffield (map)
thru May 13  |  tickets: $20   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
             Read entire review

April 19, 2012 | 0 Comments More

Review: Assisted Living (Profiles Theatre)

Assisted Living - Profiles Theatre       
Assisted Living 

Written by Deirdre O’Connor 
Directed by Joe Jahraus 
at The Second Stage, 3408 N. Sheffield (map)
thru Jan 15 Feb 19  tix: $35-$40  |  more info

Check for half-price tickets 
        Read entire review

November 11, 2011 | 1 Comment More

Review: In Pursuit (Hobo Junction)

Hobo Junction - extraterrestrial - In Pursuit
In Pursuit

Written by Breahan Eve Pautsch
Directed by Richard Paro  
at The Second Stage, 3408 Sheffield (map)
thru Sept 11  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Check for half-price tickets

       Read entire review

August 14, 2011 | 3 Comments More

Review: A Girl with Sun in Her Eyes (Pinebox Theater)


Strong performances surrounded by nonsensical plot


Audrey Francis, Vince Teninty - Pinebox

Pine Box Theater presents
A Girl With Sun in Her Eyes
Written by Joshua Rollins
Directed by Matt Miller
at The Second Stage, 3408 N. Sheffield (map)
through August 7  |  tickets: $35  |  more info

Reviewed by Catey Sullivan

A Girl With Sun in Her Eyes only works if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief into a massive bridge across not one but two otherwise utterly unbreachable chasms. The holes come in the form of actions by characters who, in real life, would be more likely to sprout wings and fly than actually behave this way. As fine as the performances are in playwright Joshua Rollins’ drama, they’re stuck in a story that’s held together by glaring contrivances. If Rollins’ characters behaved like people in the real world, there’d be no story.

Consider: Would a tough, veteran undercover police officer – someone who has survived three years posing as a prostitute – leave a suspect alone in a room along with ridiculously easy access to materials that reveal her real identity? Not unless there was no other way to advance the plot she wouldn’t. For that matter, would she Steve Pickering, Vince Teninty - Pineboxstill be working undercover if her cover had been blown? No she would not, although Rollins would have us believe otherwise. Never mind that Officer Lucy has been not only identified but publically threatened by a young man of the ‘hood in which she works. She’s still “undercover”, picking up potential johns at the local strip club, taking them to seedy hotel rooms, leaving them alone to rummage through her stuff, and (number four in the roster of This Would Never Happen gaffes) occasionally opening the door without checking to see who it is first (never a good idea when somebody has recently threatened to kill you.)

Still, Rollins’ plot holes insofar as the cops are concerned crop up fairly late in his 90-minute drama. The biggest problem occurs within the first two minutes, as William, a middle-aged white man in a starkly lit conference room, takes a blow to the skull from a detective clearly operating in accordance with the John Burge School of Interrogation. In real life the extremely well-connected William would demand a lawyer as soon as that first, bone-crunching punch landed. At the very least, he’d name-drop/demand to call his extremely high-placed connections. But William does nothing of the kind. Instead, he submits to extensive torture, stonewalling interminably. He does this because if he didn’t – if he acted like any other well-connected, middle class white guy with no arrest record suddenly getting beaten to a pulp by a rogue cop – the play would be over in less than five minutes. Instead, it winds on for an hour and a half, until William is rescued by the modern-day equivalent of a deux ex machine.

So much for the plot in A Girl With Sun in Her Eyes. There are inconsistencies of character here as well. For example: Would a cop who has no compassion take the time to explain to someone begging for mercy why she has no compassion? No. The compassionless don’t bother to explain themselves; that’s one of the defining characteristics of being hard-hearted. You don’t care what people think and you certainly don’t feel the need to justify your cruelty.

In the program notes (following a Dickensian bit of autobiography replete with references to “meager belongings” and a rather self-important mention about how no one else in his entire family went to college), Rollins discusses the existential matters of chance and how the tiniest of margins – a few feet – can make a world of difference in the direction of a life. But despite its preponderance of characters making bad decisions that snowball into catastrophe, A Girl With Sun in Her Eyes doesn’t even begin to seriously examine the fascinating, miniscule twists of fate and free will that can mean the difference between a prison term and a college degree. It fails because the key decisions the characters make are so patently unbelievable. The result is a series of consequences based on contrivances rather than authentic behavior. And all those contrivances mean the piece is more likely to make you roll your eyes than provoke your thoughts.

That said, there is one solid reason to take in A Girl With Sun in Her Eyes. That’s Vincent Teninty’s portrayal of the hapless William. He exudes hurt and vulnerability throughout, portraying the sort of flawed, damaged antihero that’s easy to feel for. A monologue midway through about being scarred by a former lover has the pathos to bring tears to the eyes. It’s a terrific, complex performance that covers the spectrum from cowering to courageous, from open and empathetic to closed off and bitter.

It’s too bad he doesn’t have a better story surrounding him.

Rating: ★★

Karen Aldridge, Steve Pickering - Pinebox

Pine Box Theater’s A Girl With Sun in Her Eyes continues through August 7th at The Second Stage (3408 N. Sheffield), with performances Thursdays & Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 5 pm & 8 pm, Sundays at 7 pm. Tickets are $35, and are available at

All photos by Heather Stumpf


July 2, 2011 | 0 Comments More

Review: Skylight (Appetite Theatre)


Darkness illuminated


Skylight poster - Appetite Theatre

Appetite Theatre presents
Written by David Hare
Directed by Nick Izzo
at The Second Stage, 3408 N. Sheffield (map)
through June 18  |  tickets: $20   |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

I harbor no illusions about completely understanding the repressed part of U.K. culture and mores. I have a fondness for the ‘Angry Young Men’ phase of British cinema back in the 60’s which provides a platform for my take on Skylight. Playwright David Hare lends a particularly dark and wry slant to this lesser known work. This is a story of the Gordian Knot created by adultery and the aftermath of sex and death.

In the opening scene, we are introduced to Kyra Hollis walking in from the market to a shabby and dark apartment. Basia Kapolka plays the role of Kyra, a schoolteacher and more, to the young man who has followed her into the apartment. It is not made immediately clear the nature of their relationship. Colin Henry Fewell plays Edward Sergeant as gangly and shy. Kyra is startled but not afraid and so I concluded that maybe they were former lovers. Ms. Kapolka’s face goes through a gauntlet of emotions all subtle and beautifully affecting. The dialog is sparse with long pauses and the body language takes on a new gravity.

Edward brings a gift of rapped CDs and a four pack of ale. It becomes more obvious that they have not seen each other in a long time. I thought that perhaps they were long lost siblings from a tomcatting father or she was his nanny that he loved more that Mum and Dad. Kyra and Edward have unfinished business and apparently Kyra was the one who left it undone. He asks her why she left so suddenly as if she had run away or perhaps been sent away. When the discussion turns to Edward’s father Tom, the characters become wary of each other and it becomes apparent that Kyra and Tom had a very deep affair. Kyra and Edward become more defiant in their conversation. It’s as if a flood gate opens; the actors are quite astute at making the emotions of anger, repression and shame flow without drowning each other out.

The dynamic changes when Tom Sergeant appears at Kyra’s door. On the night I attended Director Nick Izzo was the understudy for Jeff McVann. Mr. Izzo did a capable job of portraying a guilt-ridden and absent father, husband, and lover.

The character of Tom is supposed to be sexually dynamic, perhaps arrogant, and assertive. I did not get that vibe from Mr. Izzo. Even his accent differed from the other cast members. Dialect Coach Lise "Kat" Evans has imparted what is a more posh British timbre to the actors’ oratory. Mr. Izzo comes off more Cary Grant than opportunistic investor and restaurant owner Tom Sergeant. It seemed as if there was always some underlying comedy in Izzo’s delivery and movement. The rough edges are a mixed asset for the portrayal of such a character. On the one hand, Tom lives in luxury and entitlement, which gives him motivation for his sexual domination. On the other hand we are led to believe that Tom has built his empire from the ground up and feels a compatriot in Kyra and more entitlement to take her as his mistress while his wife dies from cancer.

Tom Sergeant feels that he did his duty and penance by building a skylight for his wife as she lay dying. Was it to create a view of comfort and beauty or was it to fully illuminate all of his sins so that she could die without illusion? The answer comes off as equal measures of both. Kyra leaves the Sergeant household and businesses as soon as the dying wife discovers the affair. Ms. Kapolka does a luminous job of justifying her actions. The dialog is straightforward and blunt without the treacle of ‘feminine wiles’ added.

There isn’t much sexual chemistry between Izzo and Kapolka. There needs to be a heat between these two characters and that doesn’t translate well with this combination. Ms. Kapolka was more nuanced, seeming literally helpless in the presence of Tom’s character. While Mr. Izzo’s director skills are quite evident, this is not quite the role for him. I am curious to see what kind of synthesis there is between Ms. Kapolka and Jeff McVann. Cary Grant showed up when there should have been Peter Finch or Albert Finney as characters from the council flat slums of Manchester circa 1950.

Kudos for the show going on and for the remarkable restraint shown in not Americanizing the dialog or allowing soapy histrionics. The scenic design is awesome in this show. Jonathan T. Sage has created a clean but shabby world for Kyra’s character who fled the comforts croissants, scrambled eggs served on silver service, and other perks of being a kept woman. The galley kitchen is quite a marvel in Skylight. The creaky icebox and hotplate with the homely dishes are the perfect touch. There is real cooking on this show and the smell can make you hungry until you hear the recipe of canned tomatoes, garlic and jalapenos over pasta.

I recommend this show for the authenticity of the characters and the fine acting of Ms. Kapolka and Colin Henry Fewell. It is worth checking out again to see the shift in sexual tension which is one of the stronger motifs in this work.

Rating: ★★★

"Skylight" from the Appetite Theatre Company at The Second Stage runs through June 18th. The theatre is located at 3408 N. Sheffield in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago. Reservations are available by calling 312-787-9384 or go to

June 6, 2011 | 0 Comments More

Review: Erratica (The American Demigods)


Sex and Shakespeare for the scholastically inclined


Erratica at America Demigods, by Reina Hardy

American Demigods present
Written by Reina Hardy
Directed by Dan Foss
at The Second Stage, 3408 N. Sheffield (map)
through May 14  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

The American Demigods are working with one sharp and sassy script for their latest production at Second Stage Theatre. Dan Foss directs a taut, dynamically funny cast for Erratica, by Reina Hardy. An academic farce, Erratica brings brains and loins together with a typical dash of intellectual neurosis. Hardy, being the founder and Artistic Director of The Viola Project, which introduces young girls to Shakespeare, is eminently familiar with the academic field she spoofs. Her professorial protagonist, Dr. Samantha Stafford (Lisa Herceg), idolizes her subject, the Bard, to the rejection of all others. Yet she finds herself up to her eyeballs in moonstruck, mediocre student-poets, glib, scheming and mercenary publicists, and competitive colleagues who would also like to get into her pants. Even the ghost of Christopher Marlowe (David A scene from the American Demigods' "Erratica" by Reina Hardy, now playing at The Second Stage, 3408 N. Sheffield.Wilhelm) desires her amorous, as well as academic, attention. But all the good doctor wants is love distilled to a purity of lived experience that matches Shakespeare’s sublime and ineffable lines.

Of course, no one can live up to that—but that doesn’t stop the puerile attempts of one of her students, Gregory, to woo her with his verse. We never get to see Gregory. But we do get a full on rant against Dr. Stafford from Elspeth (Victoria Bucknell), his defender, for rebuffing Gregory’s advances by savaging his poems. Though stuck on Gregory herself, Elspeth reviles the professor for reducing Gregory to cringing under the table at Commons “eating nothing but Triscuits and powdered Tang.” If Elspeth cannot have Gregory, she at least wants him to be happy in his own heart’s desire—something that absolutely dumbfounds the professor.

Against her wishes to be left alone, Stafford is pulled into an undertow of messy, hormonally-driven desire. Likewise, her desire for academic purity, such as the publication of her highly intellectual treatise on Shakespeare, meets with the mercenary side of publishing–represented by her leggy, fast-talking and devious publicist Lisa Milkmin (Kelly Yacono). Herceg charmingly delivers Stafford’s smart and sardonic exasperation down pat and, while Bucknell makes a classic comic foil with her character’s adolescent insecurity and Wilhelm bounces off her rebuffs of Marlowe with intelligent, roguish charm, nothing crackles as much as the showdown between professor and publicist. It’s style meets substance—and superficial style is definitely winning.

A scene from the American Demigods' "Erratica" by Reina Hardy, now playing at The Second Stage, 3408 N. Sheffield.Lisa wants Stafford to shape her book into a “Shakespeare for the Cosmo girl.” But failing that, she pressures Stafford into translating the newly discovered “Quinberry Diaries,” a recent academic find of an Elizabethan trollop’s journals that has garnered intense notoriety and landed a career coup for the university’s head librarian, Dr. Hooper. “You’re pleading like an undergraduate,” Hooper smarmily quips once Stafford comes asking for the dairies, “that’s exciting.” If Hardy’s play has any flaws, it’s in the way her cerebral protagonist has to skirt sexual harassment moments like these to keep the whole play light and fluid. Foss’s direction simply drives the play forward and the mysterious theft of the Quinberry Diaries distracts from Hooper delivering even further unwanted sexual advances.

Likewise, for such a smart comedy, the play wraps up a little formulaically, with a character leaping from behind an arras to resolve the final entanglement or Stafford showing sudden sexual interest in Hooper where there was none before. All that can be said is that Hardy’s shrewd dialogue and Foss’s clean-cut direction takes the audience through the journey with zippy alacrity. So, savor the juicy conspiratorial scene between Elspeth and Lisa. Enjoy Stafford’s alcoholic binge breakdown, when she declares, “Vodka’s like black—it goes with everything.” Appreciate the quieter moments when Marlowe tries to get through to her. Life isn’t pure poetry. And that’s a good thing.

Rating: ★★★

The cast of American Demigods' "Erratica" by Reina Hardy, now playing at The Second Stage, 3408 N. Sheffield.

May 3, 2011 | 0 Comments More

Review: The Warriors (The New Colony)


Survivor story speaks from the heart, but the message Is muddled


Mary Hollis Inboden - Anne Peterson - New Colony

The New Colony presents
The Warriors
Conceived by Mary Hollis Inboden
Written by Evan Linder
Directed by Benno Nelson
at Second Stage Theatre, 3408 N. Sheffield (map)
through April 17  |  tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker

I cannot possibly begin to fathom the experience that Mary Hollis Inboden has lived through. The New Colony company member and the conceiver of its new production, The Warriors, was a student at Westside Middle School in 1998 when two students opened fire on their peers. When the carnage had ended, five people, including Mary’s best friend, were killed.

An incident as horrific as the Jonesboro Massacre—as the press dubbed it—sticks with you, sending shockwaves throughout the rest of your life. Although most of us are not survivors of school shootings, we do eventually suffer a life-changing tragedy that stamps itself on our psyches. And with each individual, it affects him or her differently.

Wes Needham, Mary Hollis Inboden - Anne PetersonThat is what The Warriors attempts to explore, the notion that a shared horrific experience affects the lives of those involved in different ways. We do not witness the actions of that day, but we do watch the fallout.

The play begins in the present day with Mary, as herself, on a date with Jeff (Wes Needham). Jeff mentions that he heard Mary’s NPR interview, the one where she is speaking as a school shooting survivor. In the interview, she advises the students at Virginia Tech to band together and collectively cope with their pain. Mary tells Jeff that because she abandoned her Westside peers, she feels her advice was disingenuous.

Mary decides to send an e-mail to her old student body, informing them she wants to discuss the shooting. And so she returns to Jonesboro where she interacts with several old friends, each of whom has dealt with the weight of remembering in a unique way.

Mary Hollis Inboden’s performance is a testament to how much passion she has for the material and compassion she has for the other survivors. Playing yourself as others may see you takes courage, vulnerability and humility. I also commend Mary on her drive to get The Warriors on stage. So many would rather suppress the darkness Sarah Gitenstein, Michael Peters and Mary Hollis Inbodenin their lives. But Mary understands that the past is not your choice, and it is an inseparable part of you, a part that as an artist must be explored and shared.

However, this piece would have been significantly more powerful had it been scaled down to either a one-woman show or a series of monologues. Instead, the characters busily interact with each other, which diminishes the audience’s ability to connect with them and vice versa.

In addition, this kind of personal piece doesn’t seem conducive to The New Colony’s process. Instead of relying on a single playwright, the theatre company collaboratively creates its productions. I’m not clear on how a group of individuals who did not live through the experience and cannot speak for Mary’s point of view can adequately contribute to the piece. Furthermore, by having them contribute, the lines between reality and dramatization begin to blur. And that undercuts some of the play’s intensity.

If we’re going to plunge into personal tragedy, I want as much vulnerability on stage as possible. And although Mary lays her heart on the line, the other characters lack a certain genuineness. It’s not about the acting. It’s about the way the story is told. And I think Mary can tell this tale better herself.

Rating: ★★½

(L to R)  Whit Nelson, Nicole Pellegrino, Michael Peters, Sarah Gitenstein, Wes Needham, Mary Hollis Inboden

The Warriors runs March 17 – April 17 at the Second Stage Theatre, 3408 N. Sheffield Ave. Opening/Press night is Sunday, March 20 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25 and are now on sale. The production runs Thursdays – Sundays at 7:30 p.m. Tickets may be purchased at 773.413.0TNC (0862) or

March 28, 2011 | 0 Comments More