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REVIEW: Harper Regan (Steep Theatre)

Kendra Thulin shines in U.S. premiere

Harper 3 

Steep Theatre Company presents:

Harper Regan

 

By Simon Stephens
Directed by Robin Witt
Through Feb. 27 (ticket info)

reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

My long-suffering husband, whose theatrical taste runs to comedies and musicals, tends to react to the odder dramas I drag him to with a question, "Why did they produce this play?"

I can’t answer on behalf of Steep Theatre Company, whose U.S. premiere of the quirky, dysfunctional-family drama Harper Regan is one of a raft of British plays in Chicago this season, but I can make some guesses. One is that Simon Stephens is one of England’s hottest playwrights, and the chance to introduce one of his newer works — "Harper Regan" premiered in 2008 at London’s National Theatre — had to be very Harper 1tempting. Another is that it has three very juicy roles for women and a lot of other parts that could be doled out to ensemble members. (Having grown accustomed to the shrunken casts of these straitened times, it’s refreshing to see a different actor for every part in a play, though several male roles might easily have been doubled.)

Exquisitely acted and painstakingly directed as it is, however, Harper Regan may be more satisfying for its cast than for audiences. The plot follows the breaking up or breaking out, depending on how you look at it, of Harper Regan, 40-ish, middle-class and troubled. Her father is dying, her boss is a creep, she hates her job, her husband’s out of work, she’s not getting along with her 17-year-old daughter, they had to move from her northern England hometown to unfamiliar suburban London, she’s not speaking to her mother, and she is deeply insecure.

In an exceptional performance in the title role, Kendra Thulin shows us Harper’s discomfort and self-doubt in every line of her body, cringing and hesitating as, having asked her supercilious employer (Alex Gillmor) for time off to visit her ailing father, she listens to his hectoring refusal. Later, apologizing to her daughter for some sharp words, she says, "I’m so weird, aren’t I?"

Harper 2Caroline Neff is intense and believable as Harper’s nerdy, conflicted daughter, more comfortable with her iPod than her mother. Chelsea Warren’s costumes, notably for Harper and her daughter and mother, show a fine attention to detail.

Act I lags somewhat as the initial facts of Harper’s life slowly emerge, mostly in talky monologues and peculiar conversations she has with unsettling strangers. At last, she leaves home, not telling anyone she’s going. In Act II, we get more disturbing revelations: Why her husband can’t find work. Why they had to move. Why Harper and her mum are at odds. And, most importantly, we see that Harper is even weirder and more unstable than she seems.

Melissa Reimer puts in a strong performance as Harper’s estranged mother. Peter Moore performs sensitively as her down-and-out husband. Curtis M. Jackson is realistic as a teenager she meets near home, while Dan Flannery seems stiff as an older man she encounters during her time away. Julia Siple, Jonathan Edwards, Brendan Melanson and Adam El-Sharkawi fill out the cast.

Marcus Stephens’ stark, leaf-strewn concrete set echoes the harshness of Harper’s world, yet seems inappropriate for many of the indoor scenes, among many off-kilter aspects of this unlikely psychodrama.

 

Rating: ★★½

 

Notes: Adult language and themes.  All photos by Lee Miller

WITH ENSEMBLE MEMBERS Jonathan Edwards, Alex Gillmor, Brendan Melanson, Peter Moore, Caroline Neff, Melissa Riemer and Julia Siple
AND Adam El-Sharkawi, Dan Flannery, Curtis Jackson and Kendra Thulin
PRODUCTION MANAGER Julia Siple* STAGE MANAGER Jon Ravenscroft SCENIC DESIGN Marcus Stephens LIGHTING DESIGN Brandon Wardell COSTUME DESIGN Chelsea Warren COSTUME ASST Gwen Smuda SOUND DESIGN Matthew Chapman PROPS DESIGN Jesse Gaffney DIALECT COACH Eva Brenneman DRAMATURG Gemma Hobbs            *denotes company member

January 23, 2010 | 3 Comments More

REVIEW: Mary’s Wedding (Rivendell Theatre)

Even Rivendell can’t save this wedding from mediocrity

 picture by Mark Campbell

Rivendell Theatre presents:

Mary’s Wedding

 

by Stephen Massicotte
directed by
Mark Ulrich 
thru February 20th (ticket info)

review by Paige Listerud

What can be said about a simple and elegant production of a mediocre play? It is like trying to praise the beauty of an exquisitely hand-carved chair that, nevertheless, shows one leg significantly shorter than all the rest. A clunky, fundamental flaw overrides whatever other virtues one could acknowledge about graceful line or sleek finish. So it is with Rivendell’s production of Mary’s Wedding, a one-act dream play about two young Canadians striving to maintain their love affair during the First World War.

photographer: Mark Campbell Stephen Massicotte received Canadian playwriting and literary awards for Mary’s Wedding, recognition that, no doubt, has won its career of productions throughout Canada, the US, and the UK. However, in spite of a sure-handed facility with dramatic structure that blends one character’s storyline with the other—no small talent, to be sure—the play is encumbered by basic shallowness.

First and foremost, the romance between Mary (Cassandra Bissell) and Charles (Shane Kenyon) is the most generic sort. She has recently arrived from England, upper-crustiness intact, and he is a common, horseback-riding, farm boy “colonist”—these stereotypes in the play are as entrenched as anything along the Western Front. What draws these two together remains one of its most underdeveloped features. Sadly, while Bissell and Kenyon’s interactions show freshness and innocence, there is not enough chemistry between them to make up for the text’s deficiencies. Be prepared for tepid barn scenes, “startling” horseback rides, boring tea parties, and a disapproving, upper-crusty mother.

The audience must slog through 30 minutes of that before finally getting on to the war. Once there, creaky exposition comes across more like cliff notes to Canada’s participation in the Great War than any young man’s authentic first person experience. Trenches, lice, poison gas—even “my first kill”—gets ticked off like a laundry list. Throw in Gordan Muriel Flowerdew and the Battle of Moreuil Wood and you’ve got something that will easily serve as a Canadian after-school-special.

Photographer: Mark Campbell Photographer: Mark Campbell
Photographer: Mark Campbell Photographer: Mark Campbell

These are terrible things to say in the face of a cast and crew striving for a balanced, lean, heartfelt, and poetic production. By that, I mean true poetry—not the faux poeticism of repetitions in the text that lose their power to resonate and can, in fact, become as irritating as nails on a blackboard. Mark Ulrich’s directorial choices are, for the most part, clean, spare, and agile, eliciting the play’s dreamlike structure. Shane Kenyon is adeptly profound at portraying Charles’ encroaching war-weariness, while Cassandra Bissell brings the play’s emotional impact home during its final moments. The trouble is in waiting for the play to get there, enduring all its speed bumps along the way.

As a theater company, Rivendell Theatre has moved far beyond works like these. It shows a cohesion and professionalism that has lifted it to a higher level of excellence for small theaters in this city. It can take pride in its achievements and elevate its vision of what it can accomplish in future productions. And it can leave less fulfilling works behind—perhaps even in the dustbin of history.

Rating: ★★½

Scene from Mary’s Wedding on YouTube

January 23, 2010 | 6 Comments More

REVIEW: Annie (Broadway in Chicago)

A familiar show for kids of all ages

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Broadway in Chicago presents:

Annie

 

Book by Thomas Meehan
Music and lyrics by Charles Strouse and Marin Charnin
directed by  Martin Charnin
thru January 24th at the Auditorium Theatre

review by Aggie Hewitt

anniecast3_minimized In this dark re-imagining of the Broadway classic Annie, executive producer Kary M. Walker gives us an in-your-face look at the cold realities of depression era life, exploring big business, child abuse and of course the vague references to Annie’s Electra Complex buried deep within the play’s subtext.

Just kidding! It’s Annie! Shiny, happy Annie. The 1977 musical about the spunky little red head who’s prediction that “The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow,” actually comes true.

This play means different things to different people. To kids who go to see it, it must be a great night. They came to the Auditorium Theatre on the night of the Annie Chicago premier dressed in white tights and pink coats, ready for a night at the theater, and I doubt they were disappointed. Lynn Andrews’ hilariously annieandsandy_minimizedcruel and pathetic Miss Hanigan was a stand out, and her clownish rendition of “Little Girls” was a highlight.

In kid’s entertainment, the children on stage are more appealing to the parents than the little ones in the audience. Of course kids like seeing other kids with grown up jobs, like acting in a big budget musical. They also like stories they can relate to, that are about children. But as far as the cutesy singing and dancing in Annie, that’s tailored to adult taste. Annie is an adult impression of an ideal child, as are her fellow orphans. For the adults who watch Annie, the kids are the best part. In this production, Madison Kerth is a confident Annie with a powerful singing voice and a very good actress as well. The children perform “A Hard Knock Life” with frustration and that adorable, Annie-esque gallows humor for kids, which has made this show a funny hit for 32 years. And the stand out of the whole production is the super cute seven year old Mackenzie Aladjem, playing the youngest orphan-girl, Molly. With her messy brown hair and her runt-of-the-litter quality, this little thing stole every scene she set foot in.

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zanderlynnandcheryl_minimized annieandmolly_minimized

The two black sheep in the audience that night were companion and me, who both long ago traded pink coats and white tights for Marc Jacobs knock offs and black leggings. During intermission, my friend turned to me and said, “I want to see what happened before Annie. What did Daddy Warbucks do that was so bad he needed to bring an orphan home for the good P.R?” Twenty-Somethings in 2010 may have trouble trusting Annie—The world famous musical who’s original Broadway production made 22 million dollars. We see Daddy Warbucks (played here by David Barton) as a weird combination of Woody Allen and Rupert Murdock. But it’s best for guys like us to check our cynicism at the door, or if that’s not possible just not go. It’s to easy to be cynical about a show like this. Its fun for kids, and it’s shiny and bright. The actors hit their marks and sing like birds. It’s Annie, the same Annie you remember from when you were a kid. This play is not necessarily regarded as a children’s show, it’s more a musical that kids will love. At this point, Annie is something for families and hard core musical fans. There is nothing wrong with that.

Rating: ★★★

anniecast5_minimized

all all pictures by Peter Coombs

 

January 22, 2010 | 1 Comment More

REVIEW: The Artist Needs A Wife (side project)

Cohesive set adds clarity to an otherwise jumbled script

Freud stabs painting

the side project presents: 

The Artist Needs a Wife 

by Jesse Weaver
directed by
Carolyn Klein
thru February 14th (ticket info)

review by Ian Epstein

The side project’s production of The Artist Needs a Wife, by Jesse Weaver, tells the claustrophobic tale of Freud and Mott (played by John Ferrick and Chris Hainsworth).  Freud and Mott are two older, similar looking, starving artist types.  The duo lives in a decrepit hovel that doubles as a garden level apartment with walls so leaky, rusty, and paint-smeared that the canvas of Freud’s many-year masterpiece looks like a natural extension of the wall itself.  His muse is a woman named Whore (Allison Cain).  If she hadn’t dried up at the same pace as Freud’s inspiration to paint, the pair might’ve produced something like a de Kooning together.  Instead, there’s a lot of struggling. 

In fits and starts, Freud and Mott come and go, looking for a touch of Michelangelo’s genius at the bottom of a box of corn flakes or hidden among the pages of a Polish mail-order bride catalog.  When they don’t find inspiration in these places, they make bold dramatic gestures: stabbing the empty box of cornflakes to the wall with a carving knife or tearing the apartment to pieces.  And in a moment rife with dramatic possibility, one even orders the redheaded bride that the other was eyeing in the catalog.  Suddenly the image in the catalog is flesh, and Whore has competition in the form of a sexy little redhead (Ann Sonneville) with a thick stutter.

Katja with knife at Mott's throat Mott punches Whore

All of this sounds great, but the script feels like a sprawling rough draft with too little knowledge of its many subjects to be either funny or serious.  It reaches towards the kind of tension that builds up in the back and forth of a Pinter exchange supplemented with a healthy dose of the absurd – but it doesn’t grab hold of anything.  There isn’t a particularly developed stage vocabulary for lack of inspiration so this prominent thematic thread is hard-pressed to hold an audience’s interest for what feels like an unending two-hours-and-fifteen-minutes.  Whenever passage of time comes up, the actors dismiss it with affected lists — a trait that might work if the actual chronology of the characters were made legible anywhere (the walls, the plot, their intimacy).   There are words misused without intending to be, confusion about Polish being written in Cyrillic (which it isn’t), and profanity that reads like a loud placeholder for what a truly ticked-off down-and-out artist might yell.  All of this leaves the audience excusing too much of the playwright’s shorthand to enjoy the show.

William Anderson‘s set, with its moldy colors, its cramped, cockeyed amenities, and its fragmented ceiling tiles may be the only piece of this production that strikes a tone appropriate to the subject matter.  It is especially admirable for its clarity, economy, and versatility. 

Rating:

FEATURING: Allison Cain, John Ferrick, Christopher Hainsworth, and Ann Sonneville 
CREATIVE TEAM: Carolyn Klein (director) William Anderson (sets), Emily Duffin (props), Miles Polaski (sound), Greg Poljacik (fights), Seth Reinick (lights), and Mieka van der Ploeg (costumes)

Tickets: $18 General, $12 Industry   (with H/R, business card or student ID)
Group discounts available

January 22, 2010 | 0 Comments More

REVIEW: The Exonerated (La Costa Theatre)

Grueling In storytelling, “The Exonerated” lacks dramatic structure

exonerated

La Costa Theatre presents:

The Exonerated

 

by Jessica Blank and Erik Jenson
directed by Sonia Alexandria
Thru February 7th (ticket info)

review by Paige Listerud

The vibe created by La Costa Theatre’s The Exonerated feels downright 60s-radical–whether it be in the relaying of 6 true cases of wrongly accused men and women from the late 60s and early 70s, or the soft, plaintive guitar performance in the darkened theater space before the show begins. The language used by the wrongly accused/proven innocent reflects the Boomer generation and their perspective on violent, endemic racism and homophobia. Their voices, as performed by cast, ring authentically but that same period element distances the storytelling from the audience.

It relinquishes this play to being a thing of the past, even though it was only just produced in the first years of this century; even though the gross gaps in our justice system still haven’t been rectified.

lacosta But more than an old hippy feeling compounds the challenge of revitalizing these stories and making their pain immediate. Unfortunately, The Exonerated, which stirred some of New York’s biggest stars to perform in it, which was made into a movie with Aidan Quinn and Susan Sarandon, and was presented to Gov. George Ryan as he pondered a moratorium on the death penalty in Illinois, sorely lacks critical dramatic structure to make it an enduring work of theater.

Sonia Alexandria strives to keep the direction clean and simple; the minimalism of the barest of sets and strategically crafted lighting creates the right ascetic tone for the production. The effort to craft each story with the actors’ voices and bodies alone is the right move. The trouble is stories exposing some of the grossest injustices inherent in our legal system—stories which should raise hackles on the audience’s heads–get lost in a spliced-up jumble that contains no dramatic arc and raises no stakes. Impact gets lost just where one needs and wants and longs for impact.

Such a deep structural failing cannot be redeemed by the unaffected and earnest performances of a capable cast. That’s too bad, because some manage to achieve deeper resonance than just outrage at what has been done to them. Cliff Ingram’s Delbert Tibs and Theresa Ohanian’s earthy young hippy Sunny remain in the mind long after the lights come up.

For anyone who thinks law enforcement plays out just like the cop shows on TV, The Exonerated will act as an all-too–necessary antidote. For those long familiar with the arbitrary nature of our justice system and the tenuousness of everyday freedom, at the very best The Exonerated will come across as just another day in racist, classist, homophobic America.

Rating: ★★

January 21, 2010 | 0 Comments More

REVIEW: I Am My Own Wife (Boho Theatre)

Peter Robel shows grace & poise in this exquisite one-man show

my-own-wife

Boho Theatre presents:

I Am My Own Wife

 

By Doug Wright
Co-Directed by Peter Marston Sullivan and Stephen M Genovese
Thru February 13th (ticket info)

Review by Aggie Hewitt

Watching a one-man show is as terrifying as watching Philippe Petit walk on a high wire between the Twin Towers. At any moment he can come crashing down, flailing and unstoppable, leaving the audience with a bloody mess that they never asked for. When someone chooses that kind of undertaking, they make an oath to their audience. They say, “I promise not to fall. I promise you I can do this.” A one-man show is dangerous. Not in an artsy way, where it’s so provocative that it’s very existence is dangerous, it’s dangerous because it can be so embarrassing. The actor has nothing to hide behind. Even with a spectacularly written show, like Doug Wright’s I Am My Own Wife is, no amount of great writing is going to stop an actor from becoming Tobias Funke if he derails mid-performance. Sometimes people go to the theater for a grown-up version of a rollercoaster: with every rise and fall of the actors ability one can feel their body tense with the fear of witnessing something truly shameful. That doesn’t happen at Boho Theatre, where Peter Robel, playing all the 35+ characters makes it all the way across the high wire, with such grace and poise that you will forget to be scared at all.

wife I Am My Own Wife was originally created by Doug Wright, with developmental help from Moises Kaufman and the actor Jefferson Mays. It explores the life of German transvestite Charlotte von Mahlsdorf as she survived both the Nazi and Communist regimes, and Doug Wright’s obsession with her. The play has that lovely, sad bookishness of a Moises Kaufman play, and his presence is felt in the narrative. The scenes taken from real transcripts of interviews between Doug and Charlotte have a documentary feel to them, a feeling that is almost academic. It’s Doug Wright’s love of learning about Charlotte, and not his love of Charlotte herself that makes this play an intellectual treat. The more you learn about Charlotte, the more you want to fact check yourself, to learn everything possible about this enigmatic character. When the lights come up at the end of the second act, the only thing you know for sure about Charlotte is that you want to learn more about her. What better way for a biographical piece to end?

All of this great writing would fall flat however if it were not being presented by a great actor. With something as audacious as a one-man show, the last thing you’d expect an actor to do is to take back seat to the story, but that is exactly what Peter Robel does in this performance. During the course of what must be an exhausting show, Peter Robel never once stops to let you see him working. His acting textbook pure; it’s as if Uta Hagen came down from heaven and instructed him in great storytelling. Since I assume she didn’t, a lot of credit probably goes to co-directors Peter Marston Sullivan and Stephen M Genovese.

The play works so well because even though Peter Robel’s performance is as amazing as watching a marathon runner pushing himself past normal human capacity for endurance, each choice that is made ultimately serves the play. The reason that this one-man show isn’t embarrassing is that it’s a great story, told by smart people. Every mind that went into this production, from Doug Wright to John Zuiker, who designed lovely and elegant set was focused on telling a simply and well-crafted story. This is a production that proves that when integrity is in the intentions, wonderful theater can be achieved.

Rating: ★★★★

January 21, 2010 | 1 Comment More

REVIEW: The Wedding (TUTA Theatre Chicago)

Over the Top and Into Your Panties

 wedding1

TUTA Theatre presents:

The Wedding

 

By Bertolt Brecht
Translated by Martin and Rose Kastner
Directed by Zeljko Djukic
thru February 14th (ticket info)

by Paige Listerud

You can keep Mother Courage or The Threepenny Opera—for me, right now nothing expresses Bertolt Brecht’s rage against the bourgeoisie like The Wedding, his early 70-minute lampoon of the middle class at play. But then, the folks at TUTA really know how to bring it. Their production onstage at Chopin Theatre’s downstairs studio is an almost ceaseless cascade of escalating inappropriateness. Like so many over-the-top family get-togethers, once drinking is in full swing, the loosing of social bounds leads to some pretty dark places.

wedding4 It’s a show to return to again and again. Zeljko Djukic’s superb cast wrings high schadenfreude out of every moment of humiliation and disappointment. Meticulous is the word that could describe each ensemble member’s performance—the most minor reactions between them give both humor and weight to wedding party developments–only it’s too dry and sanitized a term to describe all that really goes on. No, satire evolves both naturally and perversely from both unspoken and exposed disillusionments with relationships, marriage, and family. More essentially, they know how to play people both bored and boring, utterly irritated with each other from start to finish, doing everything to break each awkward silence and reaching extremes to fill each oppressively meaningless minute.

For sheer outrageousness, Andy Hager takes the crown, mostly because his character’s voyeuristic craving for poon tang doesn’t know the meaning of discretion and, since Paris Hilton or Lindsay Lohan are nowhere in sight, he must do the best he can with women in present company. Add a down-low tango, mixed with a naughty little ditty about bangin’ girls and you’ve got the kind of depraved degenerate you’d like to pass the time with at the next stultifying wedding you must attend—if only you could keep him far away from your sister.

wedding2 Djukic’s direction is a confident but invisible hand in the middle of all the mania, allowing mischief to blossom in the most unexpected corners while never allowing it to distract focus. And he knows how to coax the action back to its comic center once things have gone too far and Brechtian darkness beneath the levity shows its ugly head. Original music by Jesse Terrill contemporizes Brecht’s farce and provides the characteristic distancing necessary to comment on the action. A Greek chorus unto herself, aided by only scant few lines, the Bridegroom’s Mother (Laurie Larson) comments on the action by the force of baleful looks alone.

But an otherwise unstoppable production grinds to a clunking pace once Bride (Jennifer Byers) and Bridegroom (Trey Maclin) finally have been relieved of their obnoxious guests. If the dramatic choice is to show lack of chemistry between the newlyweds, it might be well to reconsider it. After all, passion is always a two-edged sword with Brecht. Love suffers from entropy as surely as any edifice and passionate hatred often emerges from the same messy, primordial, and unpredictable place as passionate love.

 

Rating: ★★★½

The Wedding runs January 14 – February 14, 2010, at Chopin Theatre Studio, 1543 W. Division, Chicago. For tickets call 847-217-0691 or go online to www.tutato.com

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January 21, 2010 | 4 Comments More

REVIEW: Dreamgirls (Broadway in Chicago)

Talented Cast Shimmers and Shines

 

dreamgirls3

Broadway in Chicago presents:

 

Dreamgirls

 

Book and Lyrics by Tom Eyen
Music by
Henry Krieger
Directed and Choreographed by
Robert Longbottom
thru January 31st (ticket info)

By Keith Ecker 

dreamgirls4 If there is one thing the stage production of Dreamgirls will always have over the film, it is the sequins. Video cannot convey the absolute beauty of the costumes that adorn the actresses, costumes that appear just as glittery as Bob Mackie’s most flamboyant creations. William Ivey Long gets a hat tip for costume design, which comes as no surprise considering the man is a veteran of Broadway. He’s won five of the 11 Tony nominations he’s received and is an inductee in the Theatre Hall of Fame, a hall that I am sure is just as glamorous as Long’s aesthetic sensibility.

Of course, Dreamgirls is more than just elegant gowns and flared pants—it’s about the singing. And this show, produced by Broadway in Chicago at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, definitely delivers. These actors can wail. From guttural growls that convey the rawest of emotions to controlled, sustained tones that capture the world-weariness of the characters, the Dreamgirls cast sports an impressive set of pipes.

The play is a fictional tale based on the true tribulations of such early R&B acts as the Supremes. At the opening, three female singers from Chicago, known as the Dreamettes, hope to get their big break at the legendary Apollo Theater in New York. Effie (Moya Angela) is the full-figured lead with an Aretha Franklin-like strength to her voice. Her friends Deena (Syesha Mercado) and Lorrell (Adrienne Warren) serve as her back up. Effie’s brother C.C. (Trevon Davis) writes all their music. The group doesn’t make the cut at the Apollo, but thanks to their newfound manager, Curtis (Chaz Lamar Shepherd), they get a 10-week touring gig backing up-and-comer Jimmy Early (Chester Gregory). Effie doesn’t take well to the idea of being second banana, but she goes along for the good of the group.

Curtis eventually spins the Dreamettes off into their own act, now known as the “Dreams”. Despite having a romantic relationship with Effie, he bumps her from lead for the more camera-friendly Deena, who Curtis then begins courting. Becoming increasingly agitated and unpredictable, Effie is replaced, leading to the musical’s famous torch song “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going.”

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The Dreams wrestle with fame, Curtis continues his greed-induced destructive path and Effie must find herself after being forced to realize she is not the center of the universe. And did I mention the sequins?

Angela as Effie is brilliant. Her rendition of “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” is a showstopper. As she staggers, sways and belts out the tune during the complete and utter breakdown of Effie’s ego, your gut is as wrenched as your ears are pleasured.

Equally impressive is Gregory’s portrayal of Jimmy Early. The role is incredibly demanding, requiring superb vocal control, an impeccable sense of soul, physical endurance and strength and precise comedic timing. Gregory nails it, juggling all these attributes at once. A perfect example of this display of multi-talent takes place during the number “The Rap,” where Jimmy throws off all restraints and reclaims his sense of soul. For those unfamiliar with the play, I’d rather not spoil the scene, but I will say there’s ample dipping.

The set design is minimal, providing an open space for lots of jumping, jiving and sashaying. Most of the set is composed of five very tall video screens, which are used to full effect. At one point, a camera cleverly positioned above the stage displays a Busby Berkeley-style chorus number as if the performers were a cluster of synchronized swimmers.

There were a few sound issues. During the first act, mics were set too low and sometimes cut out. There was also a technical gaff during the reprise of “Cadillac Car.” But such issues aren’t likely to recur.

Beautiful both visually and aurally, Broadway in Chicago’s production of Dreamgirls is sure to please both the casual theatergoer and the diehard musical fanatic.

Rating: ★★★★

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January 20, 2010 | 4 Comments More

Wednesday Wordplay – Harry Potter and Martina Navritolova

Inspirational Quotes

All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.
            — Arthur Schopenhauer

I dwell in possibility…
            — Emily Dickinson

There is nothing like a newborn baby to renew your spirit – and to buttress your resolve to make the world a better place.
            — Virginia Kelley

Every day holds the possibility of a miracle.
            — Elizabeth David

I have enjoyed greatly the second blooming… suddenly you find – at the age of 50, say – that a whole new life has opened before you.
            — Agatha Christie

First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.
            — Epictetus

Really listening and suspending one’s own judgment is necessary in order to understand other people on their own terms… This is a process that requires trust and builds trust.
            — Mary Field Belenky

What helps luck is a habit of watching for opportunities, of having a patient, but restless mind, of sacrificing one’s ease or vanity, of uniting a love of detail to foresight, and of passing through hard times bravely and cheerfully.
            — Charles Victor Cherbuliez

Make it a rule of life never to regret and never to look back. Regret is an appalling waste of energy; you can’t build on it; it’s only for wallowing in.
            — Katherine Mansfield

The moment of victory is much too short to live for that and nothing else.
            — Martina Navratilova

It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.
            — J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, 1997

Tears may be dried up, but the heart – never.
            — Marguerite de Valois

A person reveals his character by nothing so clearly as the joke he resents.
            — Georg Christoph Lichtenberg

 

Urban Dictionary

mid-day crisis

when one is in a desperate need for a siesta because they become extremely tired in the afternoon and coffee isn’t cutting it any longer.

"working at panera sucked today after that wild night of drinking. i had the worst mid-day crisis ever."

working hard or hardly working

Funny play on words used by successful management types. Can be combined with finger guns for the ultimate combo.

Supervisor: Hey Joe! Working hard or hardly working? Hahahaha.

January 20, 2010 | 0 Comments More

Shows Opening/Closing this week

chicago

Show Openings

 

“Master Harold”…and the Boys

TimeLine Theatre

The Alcyone Festival 2010 - Halcyon Theatre

The Castle - Oracle Theatre

Desperately Seeking - Chemically Imbalanced Theater

Dreamgirls - Cadillac Palace Theatre (Broadway in Chicago)

First Words - Greenhouse Theater Center (MPAACT)

The Dames Storm Division - New Millenium Theatre

Glitter in the Gutter - Annoyance Theatre

Harper Regan - Steep Theatre

Hughie/Krapp’s Last Tape - Goodman Theatre

King of the Mountain - Chemically Imbalanced Theater

Nighthawk Sandwich - Storefront Theater (DCA Theatre)

Phedra - New World Repertory Theatre

Real Bros of DuPage County - Gorilla Tango Theatre

Savage in Limbo - Village Players Performing Arts Center

Short Shakespeare! The Comedy of Errors - Chicago Shakespeare

WHACK! - Gorilla Tango Theatre

The Year of Magical Thinking - Court Theatre 

 

chicagoatnight 

Show Closings

 

Annie - Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University

The Capitol Steps - North Shore Center for the Performing Arts

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan - Dance Center of Columbia College

Give Us Monday - Gorilla Tango Theatre

Icarus - Lookingglass Theatre

Little Women - Circle Theatre

Mamma Mia! - Rosemont Theatre

Mark and Laura’s Couples Advice Christmas Special - Gorilla Tango Theatre

 

Openings/Closings list courtesy of League of Chicago Theatres

January 20, 2010 | 0 Comments More

REVIEW: 24th Annual Young Playwrights Festival

The voices of the future are here.

 

YPF24 (2010)

January 7-31, 2010

Fridays and Saturdays @ 8:00 p.m.

Sundays @ 3:00 p.m.

special first preview performance on Thursday, January 7 @ 8:00 p.m.

Click here to purchase tickets

(All seats just $15 each)

 

review by Oliver Sava

The three works that comprise Pegasus Players‘ 24th Annual Young Playwrights Festival offer unique views on youth, mortality, and abuse, and were all written by high school students. Aided by professional writing mentors, the playwrights are given the opportunity to see their ideas take shape under the guidance of some of the city’s top directing, acting, and design talent. The results are positive across the board, but like any group of adolescents, maturity varies from script to script.

 


nowhere-people

The Nowhere People

Gabriella Bonamici‘s heartbreaking drama about widower Ernie (Benjamin Sprunger) and his mission to communicate with his dead wife, Ann, is the highlight of the evening, expertly directed by Kimberly Senior, who has steadily created a career around her ability to capture grief on stage (see: Timeline Theatre’s All My Sons and Next Theatre’s The Overwhelming). Luckily, Ernie’s neighbor Danny (Alice Wedoff) has a ghost of her own, and she’s been building a ghost-machine to open a portal to the spirit world and send it back. Bonamici’s script moves with fluidity and ease, filled with humor while never losing the gravity of the loss of a loved one on the human spirit. The script also handles exposition beautifully, gradually revealing essential information about the characters as the dramatic tension builds, and each discovery adds a new layer to the conflict. As landlord Sid (Michael Gonring) becomes increasingly concerned with Danny’s mental health and the ghost-machine’s uncanny ability to knock out the building’s power, Ernie has to decide between his own life and the answers he so desperately seeks. Sprunger and Wedoff have great chemistry, bonding through their joint experiences of loss and their common goal of reaching into the afterlife, and both actors are fully committed to the slightly far-fetched circumstances. The actors shine because of the script, a subtle yet powerful examination of the ghosts that haunt us all, and the extraordinary measures people go to escape the past.

 

Rating: ★★★½


 

 Roller Coaster

roller-coastTrapped atop a roller coaster, Effie (Rinska Carrasco) and Milo (Gonring) discover the unexpected connections they share while learning a bit about themselves. Gixiang Lee‘s hilarious script balances high school dramedy with a hefty load of cultural references that actually serve to flesh out the characters rather than simply give the piece an air of relevance. Effie enthusiastically singing Salt N’ Pepa’s "Push It" as they are elevated to the top of the coaster while Milo clings for dear life, terrified at what awaits below. Total opposites, but you know what they say about opposites. Lee’s script isn’t realistic, the Effie and Milo’s relationship is almost completely based on coincidence, but it is her fearlessness with the comedy that makes the piece so memorable. Milo’s list of fears, ranging from heights to large rabbits to "the small but ever present threat of death from falling out of bed," is brilliant, and the T.P. Employee (Sprunger) that comes to their non-rescue is played with a ridiculousness that borders on caricature but works in the context of the play. The humor might not be the most sophisticated, but Lee creates sympathetic characters that are easy to root for, making Roller Coaster an excellent comedic piece with real heart.

 

Rating: ★★★



deliver-me

deliver me from evil

 

In therapy after being hospitalized for attempted suicide, Magdelina (Wedoff) reveals a history of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse inflicted by her mother (Gilmary Doyle) in Kat Blackburn‘s deliver me from evil.The strain of past trauma begins to weigh on Magdelina’s relationship with girlfriend Soda (Caren Blackmore), and she must confront her demons in order to salvage the only loving relationship she has ever known. Petra (Carrasco), Edward (Gonring), and Jenny (Mildred Marie Langford) represent the childish, masculine, and feminine aspects of Magdelina’s tortured psyche, giving form to the poetry in her journal. These sequences, combinations of interpretive movement with symbolic imagery, have varying degrees of success. One particularly chilling entry features the four teens cutting together, the act taking on a communal nature reminiscent of ritual sacrifice, but at times the poetic sections feel a little too much like they were ripped from a teenager’s journal – angstful , angry, and lacking in maturity. The actor’s do a fine job with the material, but deliver feels the most like a play written by a high school student of the three.

Rating: ★★½

January 19, 2010 | 0 Comments More

Theater Thursday: Glitter in the Gutter

Thursday, January 21

Glitter in the Gutter

by Kellen Alexander 
Annoyance Theatre
4830 N. Broadway, Chicago

glitterinthegutterEnjoy a pre show reception with food and drink and then get your wig caps and stilettos on to visit Pepper LaRoo and Velveeta Fitzgerald, inseparable drag queen roommates that dream of hitting it big. Inspired by John Waters, "Designing Women" and Dionne Warwick, Glitter In The Gutter offers a fresh look at drag culture while paying R-E-S-P-E-C-T to it’s roots. The first ever live drag queen sitcom followed by a post-show dialogue with members of the cast and director.

Event begins at 7 p.m.
Show begins at 8 p.m.

TICKETS ONLY $15 

For reservations please call 773-561-4664 and mention "Theater Thursdays."

January 18, 2010 | 0 Comments More