REVIEW: Almost, Maine (The Gift Theatre)

Gift Theatre creates a real charm offensive

 almostmaine_440

The Gift Theatre presents:

Almost, Maine

 [a special dinner/theatre event]

by John Cariani
directed by Barlag, Belcuore, Blandford, Branham, Dibo, Gawlik, and Jones
featuring: Dan Aho, Burfete, DiNicola, Emmons, Jim Farruggio, Ed Flynn, Aemilia Scott, Justine Serino, and Kyle Zornes
through February 21st
(more info)

review by Paige Listerud

Much about John Cariani’s play, Almost, Maine, mirrors Jules Feiffer’s 1977 play Hold Me!  Both are collections of light, comical sketches regarding the uncertainties of the human heart. The essential difference between them is that the poignant neuroticism of Feiffer’s work grounds itself in the daily struggles of urban—okay, New York City—existence, while John Cariani situates his characters in the benignly rural and utterly imaginary location of Almost, Maine.

securedownload So, Fieffer’s characters fret, not only over their past or latest or lack of personal relationships, but also the political and social uneasiness of their times. By contrast, Cariani’s small town residents exist far, far, far away; not just from anything resembling everyday concerns—quite a thing to think about in a play emerging from 2004—but also reality itself. All the struggles of falling in and out of love dominate the minds of Almost’s inhabitants as if there were nothing else going on in the world. Moreover, the play steps further from reality in the literal use of sight gags based on our clichéd idioms about love.

All of which would be a treacly mess in less proficient hands. But Gift Theatre Company’s numerous directors and actors demonstrate a delicate, persistent care for the material, eliciting every critical ounce of human sympathy from the moment. The pain of abandonment or loss receives the wry and gentle touch called for by the text. Humor is almost born, not from the lines, but in the space between the lines as characters contend with what direction to go in the pursuit of romance. In the process, Capriani’s deeper wit about the precariousness of creating or preserving love shines through. It’s a magical place, Almost, Maine—but magical places can be as dangerous as the real ones. Almost is fraught with the possibility of losing one’s big chance at love, even when it is staring you in the face.

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Since the play has such a short run—and only for benefit purposes–GTC hadn’t planned to have it reviewed. Too bad, they’re getting a good review anyway. At the very least, Almost, Maine is a real charm offensive, a solid showcase for cast and crew. Plus, if it’s perfectly timed to be “date theater” for the masses this Valentine’s Day, at least it’s a work about love that both is and is not about the happy ending.

 

Rating: ★★★

 


THE DINNER:

A four course Northeastern Seafood Dinner For Two @

The Gale Street Inn

  • Crabcake Appetizer
  • New England Chowder
  • Lobster And Mussel Clam Bake For Two
  • Cranberry Cheesecake

Production and dinner are only available as a coupled event:

“The Seafood Duet”
A Very Special Event Generously Sponsored by The Gale Street Inn
To Benefit The Gift Theatre Company

Dinner For Two at Gale Street Inn + Tickets for Two to The Gift = $75.

A Value of $60 for Your Meal + A Value of $50 for Your Tickets = Sweet!
Tax, Tip, Beverage Not Included.
A Non-Seafood Substitute Menu Will Be Available Upon Request.
Sorry, No Refunds.  Exchanges Subject to Seating Availability.

Please give yourselves plenty of time to savor and enjoy your meal before the show! Patrons also enjoy the freedom to park their car in Gale Street’s lot!

For Evening Performances:
Please plan on being seated at Gale Street by 6:00pm and no later than 6:30pm.

For Matinee Performances:
Dinner served after the show starting around 4:30pm.
Before the show, please plan on being seated by 1:00pm.

As a courtesy to you, the audience, and the actors, there is no late seating at The Gift.

For tickets call (773) 283-7071, or
BUY ONLINE!
View Reservation Policies

 

February 10, 2010 | 0 Comments More

REVIEW: I Am a Camera (The Neo-Futurists)

How do you see yourself? How do others see you?

 Caitlin Stainken - "I AM A CAMERA"

The Neo-Futurists present:

I AM A CAMERA

 

created/directed by Greg Allen
through March 13th (more info)

review by Ian Epstein 

I AM A CAMERA appropriately begins with a slideshow.  The audience waits while a projector cycles through images taken from an anonymous childhood.  A slideshow in total darkness draws from the same atmospheric quality of being at a movie theater except that still images force the audience’s attention to examine each frame thoroughly.  Within seconds, the audience begins to wonder if the children in these photographs and the person in that one are the same.  Who are they?  What should I be looking for? 

Caitlin Stainken - "I AM A CAMERA" The anonymity hardly matters as soon as the second image appears, since holding one photograph up to another inevitably invites comparison.  The audience searches in the dark for clues that will shed some light on the relationship between what was there a moment ago and what is there now.  The succession of faces and places begins to hint at a story.

Then the projector stops and the lights come up a bit and Neo-Futurist ensemble member Jeremy Sher – playing Neo-Futurist ensemble member Jeremy Sher — enters from behind a broad white curtain.  A voice commands him to smile from some offstage, unseen, photographic location (the booth).  As he does a song begins to play and it plays and plays and plays and then as it ends there’s the familiar electric blue of a camera flash and the smile fades as Jeremy melts into the darkness and disappears offstage.  Enter Neo-Futurist ensemble member Caitlin Stainken (playing Neo-Futurist ensemble member Caitlin Stainken) – she repeats this process, a kind of unnerving endurance-performance mugshot.  The repetition underscores the fact that the length of a song is a very long time to sit still and stare at someone forcing a smile.  From its first moments, director Greg Allen toys with the tension between frozen images and breathing bodies.

Caitlin Stainken in "I AM A CAMERA"

As the play unfolds, I AM A CAMERA comes to life on a screen, on a stage, in front of a screen, behind a screen, in silhouette, in darkness, in a momentary flash, beyond a screen, back in the audience, in and out of the audience, with the audience on a screen, in photographs scattered across a table, in motion, in stillness, in any combination of these and, of course, here and there it bubbles out of the image world into words. 

Rating: ★★★

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PERFORMANCES: Opening Night: Saturday, February 6, 2010 at 8:00 p.m. Performances continue through March 13, 2010: Thurs/Fri/Sat at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $15, $10 for students/seniors with ID, or pay-what-you-can during previews and on Thursdays.

Limited seating, reservations highly recommended!! Go here to reserve tickets…

 

 

February 10, 2010 | 0 Comments More

REVIEW: The Philanderer (ShawChicago)

A no-frills sophisticated comedy

 shawlogo

ShawChicago presents:

The Philanderer

Written by George Bernard Shaw
Directed by
Robert Scogin
Ruth Page Theatre (1016 N. Dearborn)
Thru March 1st (more info)

By Katy Walsh

Leonard wants to marry Grace as a way to finally break-up with Julia. Although this sounds like the plot of the next Hugh Grant romantic comedy, it’s not. ShawChicago presents The Philanderer, a play written by George Bernard Shaw in 1893. Unlike many contemporary movies, The Philanderer is a sophisticated comedy with many layers of humor. On one level, the love affairs are discussed with polite sensibilities. Whether it’s the prudish time period or British formality, love is an unemotional state. Another dimension of absurdity is the Ibsen Club. Most of Shaw’s characters are members of this new-age association requiring members to denounce being a “womanly woman” or “manly man” to generate true equality of the sexes. The club’s premise must have been shockingly hilarious at the turn of the century. Even in modern times, it’s still funny. Encouraged by the young men, women are smoking and drinking in the “old boys club” and it’s freaking their fathers out.

With the tradition of producing shows more like readings, ShawChicago stages The Philanderer without scenery, costumes or other design elements, thus relying heavily on the talents of its playwright and its cast to stimulate the audience. And this talented cast delivers, providing brilliant dialogue with British wit.

Lydia Berger is outstanding as Julia Craven. Berger scores the emotional character and plays it out to the maximum. Very much a “womanly woman”, Julia’s club membership is threatened by her tendency to resort to crying to manipulate men. Berger is hilarious in her struggle to be less womanly. Kevin Christopher Fox is the philanderer, Leonard Charteris. Fox amuses as the nonchalant playboy. Without any hint of self deprecation, Fox states he’s not gallant, handsome or well-dressed. In a very matter of fact manner, Fox takes no responsibility regarding why women keep falling in love with him. Making a smaller role memorable, Richard Marlatt has a ludicrous melt-down as the bumbling physician, Dr. Paramore. Even though the show is auditory, as Col. Craven, Skip Lundby looks very natural saying words like “vexed” and “confounded.” Despite the presence of the script, most of the cast have memorized their lines. On occasion, when an actor resorts to actually reading, there is stammering.

Throughout, ShawChicago showcases its namesake George Bernard Shaw with The PhilandererWithout the distraction of movement on a stark stage, Shaw’s words are the focus. With clever twists and entertaining banter, Shaw wittingly promotes his social agendas of the time period still relevant a century later: feminism, casual sex, animal testing, medical research, and vegetarianism.

CRAVEN: … How jolly it must be to be able to go to the theatre for nothing! I must ask him to get me a few tickets occasionally. But isn’t it ridiculous for a man to talk like that! I’m hanged if he doesn’t take what he sees on the stage quite seriously.

CHARTERIS: Of course: that’s why he’s a good critic. Besides, if you take people seriously off the stage, why shouldn’t you take them seriously on it, where they’re under some sort of decent restraint?      *Act I: The Philanderer

 

Rating: ★★★

February 9, 2010 | 1 Comment More

Theater Thursday: Lucid (Diamante Productions)

Thursday, February 11

Lucid

 

by Tony Fiorentino
Diamante Productions at the Athenaeum Theatre
2936 N. Southport, Chicago

Come to the Athenaeum Theatre before the show to enjoy fine wine, exotic cheeses, and decadant desserts, catered by Fiorentino’s Cucina Italiana (featuring their notoriously rich "Cannoli Dream"). Then stay for the world premiere of Lucid, followed lucidby a post-show discussion with the playwright, cast, and director. Lucid tells the story of Peter Moore, a discontented artist, saddled by the pressures of an unfulfilling relationship and a mercenary day job. Craving the freedom in his life that he lords over the canvass, he begins to experiment with the art of lucid dreaming, fulfilling his wildest fantasies with an imagined mistress. But soon his nightly trysts come to eclipse the demands of reality, and Peter discovers that he may have permanently blurred the line that separates dream from reality.

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

TICKETS ONLY $20 

For reservations email info@diamanteproductions.com with the subject heading "Theater Thursdays."

February 8, 2010 | 0 Comments More

REVIEW: Wiggerlover (DCA Theatre)

Race relations are a family affair

 photography by Belleville Garringer 

DCA Theatre and Jaz presents:

Wiggerlover

[white boy + black dad = grey areas]

Written and performed by James Anthony Zoccoli 
Directed and edited by
Andrea Fears 
Music by
Gregor Mortis
through February 22nd (more info)

review by Keith Ecker 

There seems to be three ways that art tackles issues of race.

The first is with a naïve lens that diminishes our external differences and plays up the clichéd notion that we are all the same on the inside. These same works tend to give the contradictory message that everyone is special in their own way, which begs the question how can we be the same yet all be unique little snowflakes? These works tend to be trite or targeted toward children or both.

PonyLeaguerThe second intellectualizes the concept of race, analyzing it in an effort to understand it. These are works that bring to mind sociological buzz terms and feel more like lectures than stories. In plays of this ilk, characters serve only as concepts, making the whole production about as interesting as a term paper come to life. What artists who construct these pieces fail to comprehend is that academia and intellectualism are useful to a point, but fall short of providing the critical insight that only comes with experience.

This brings up the third method—the experiential. In the realm of theatre, these are plays that do not have a sermon to deliver or a moral to preach. They aren’t arduous to sit through, and they don’t make you feel stupid by talking down to you. They are entertaining, digestible, full of substance and incredibly thought provoking.

Wiggerlover, a one-man auto-biographical show by James Anthony Zoccoli and playing at the Chicago DCA Studio Theater, embodies this third category.

The play is the story of Zoccoli’s childhood, specifically the year 1979, which for the young Zoccoli was indeed a seminal year. That’s when his white, Polish mother remarried Mr. Bell, a black man. With Zoccoli’s deadbeat Italian father out of the picture, the boy soon begins to call Mr. Bell dad, and in turn, Mr. Bell considers Zoccoli his son. Meanwhile, Zoccoli’s absentee father refers to his mother as a N-word lover, and, to his father’s dismay, Zoccoli proclaims he’s one too.

But life’s not easy when you’re white with a black father. Trying to develop a sense of identity is confusing, especially when the black kids you befriend forever treat you as an outsider.

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Wiggerlover works because of its honesty. Zoccoli has looked deep within himself to understand his identity and has the writing chops to convey this journey in a refreshingly simple and genuine manner. He’s also funny, which saves the show from drifting into sappy Hallmark-card territory. In addition, there’s no ideology being forced down the audience’s throat. Zoccoli knows we’re too smart for that, even if race is a complex topic. It’s great to see someone who respects the intelligence of his audience enough not to hold our hands.

Zoccoli also really knows how to command the stage. He’s a tall lanky guy, which makes him fun to watch. Also, he’s not afraid to show off spastic dance moves or sport a goofy childlike grin. This helps undercut the seriousness of the material, making it much sweeter to swallow than if the story were told with somber sincerity.

The play incorporates video projections and a number of sound cues. All this multimedia is timed perfectly and works to full effect. The disco and early hip hop sound bytes transport you to another time and another place, while also giving Zoccoli an opportunity to shift gears and launch into another fascinating story about his childhood.

Wiggerlover deftly strikes a wonderful balance of hilarious-meets-poignant. Whether you grew up on the South Side of Chicago or the northern suburbs, you’ll find something about his story that rings true to you.

Rating: ★★★★

 

Presented by JAZ

February 05, 2010 — February 22, 2010
DCA Studio Theatre (located within the Chicago Cultural Center)
$20; $15 for seniors and students

Read more about the writer/performer at the Wiggerlover Blog

Running Time: 1 hour (no intermission)

 

February 7, 2010 | 2 Comments More

REVIEW: The Cabinet (Redmoon Theater)

The Cabinet’s surreal artistry returns

 Cabinet Redmoon 09

 Redmoon Theater presents

The Cabinet

 

By Mickle Maher; conceived by Frank Maugeri
Music by Mark Messing
 
Directed by Vanessa Stalling
Through March 7 (more info)

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

The shadowy carnival showman Dr. Caligari, and his prime exhibit, the never-waking somnambulist Cesare, have been the stuff of nightmare ever since the 1919 premiere of Robert Wiene’s spooky silent film “Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari.” A highlight of the German Expressionist movement, the film contrasts light and shadow in eerie, tilted sets; heavy, exaggerated makeup and a spooky, suspenseful story line revolving around a series of mysterious murders.

Cabinet Redmoon Cabinet 02Redmoon Theater‘s The Cabinet alters the story somewhat — here, Cesare becomes the narrator — but remains true to the original’s skewed, black-and-white imagery; sinister, melodramatic characters and surreal, dreamlike pace.

This production (inspired, a press release says, by a request from White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel when Redmoon performed there last Halloween) is all but unchanged from the 2005 production.

Neil Verplank’s magical, 11-by-14-foot, wooden cabinet with its angular doors and drawers once again serves as a unique stage, setting off the rod puppets, shadow puppets and hand puppets beautifully designed for the first production by Lisa Barcy and Scott Pondrom. Clever pop-up books by Laura Miracle and Laura Annis also work into the show. Redmoon’s artistry remains impeccable.

Hissing and spitting, Cesare’s narration, a creepy voiceover by Colm O’Reilly (the only speaking role), seems to come from an old-fashioned gramophone (designed by Christopher Furman) jutting out from one of the doors, while the words of Dr. Caligari are conveyed through rear-projected supertitles at the cabinet’s top. Original music by Mark Messing, in the style of early 20th-century silent-film accompaniments, adds to the dark, uncanny mood.

Cabinet Redmoon 08 (2) Cabinet Redmoon 04
Cabinet Redmoon 06 Cabinet Redmoon Cabinet 03

Five ghoulish, grim-faced, androgynous puppeteers, fully made up, monocled and clad in black, white and shades of gray, slither through a variety of agile acrobatics onstage as they manipulate the more than 50 puppets through the cabinet’s 13 doors and drawers. Missi Davis, Sam Deutsch, Sarah Ely, Matt Rudy and Dustin Valenta contort themselves and pass puppets and props among themselves with clockwork precision.

The change of narrators does cut down the story’s suspense somewhat. Clearly, we’re supposed to sympathize with and fear for the unfortunate sleepwalker Cesare, the helpless tool of the evil doctor, caught in his endless nightmare — yet the mere fact that he’s telling the tale lets us know he comes out all right.

Haunting, and beautifully done, “The Cabinet” is no lightweight puppet show. Though whimsical in design, it feels ponderous and dirgelike — the hour-long piece seems to stretch much longer, as if the audience were caught in Cesare’s endless trance.

 

Rating: ★★★½

 

Cabinet Redmoon 07Notes: “The Cabinet” is suitable for audiences 13 years old and up. Limited free parking is available at the theater.

At 10:15 p.m. Saturdays, Feb. 27 and March 6, Redmoon will host “Boneshaker,” an evening of music with DJ Red Menace, “environmental performances” and an open bar. Admission is free to ticketholders for the 9 p.m. performances of “The Cabinet” on those nights, $5 otherwise.

Scenes from The Cabinet, 2005

February 6, 2010 | 2 Comments More

REVIEW: The Emigrants (Moving Stories Theatre)

The Polish Odd Couple

The Emigrants - AA and XX

Moving Stories Theatre presents:

The Emigrants

 

by Slawomir Mrozek
directed by Goran Milev
through February 21st (more info)

reviewed by Paige Listerud

Chicago audiences rarely get a chance to see the stimulating and provocative work of Polish playwright Slawomir Mrozek. For that reason alone, it’s worthwhile to high tail it to Moving Stories Theatre’s showing of The Emigrants at The Artistic Home. This is the first in a series of World Theater they will be presenting for the 2010 season and if their opening shot is any indication of future productions, we are all in for a real treat.

Written in 1974, The Emigrants reflects both the philosophical and the mundane dilemmas of émigrés from Eastern Block states living in the West. Commenting on his own immigrant experience in a letter, Mrozek wrote, “I never experience such a Image1sharpening of [my] senses and thoughts as in an unfamiliar country, an unfamiliar city, among unfamiliar people, whose language preferably I do not know. [This offers] such intensification of life, of my whole existence.”

That state aptly describes Emigrant XX (Goran Milev, who also directs the productions), the prosaic prole who wants to make just enough money to own a house back in the old, totalitarian home country. Emigrant AA (Joe Mack), a Polish liberal intellectual succeeds him in education and abstract understanding, but hasn’t enough drive to get dressed and step out of the basement apartment they share. Without a dollar in his pocket, XX finds excitement going to the train station and standing among the people there, while AA stays on the subterranean level, imagining himself as an organism in the bowels of a great beast.

Together, XX and AA make up a pre-Perestroika Polish odd couple–getting on each other’s nerves over issues that are either petty, but significant to daily survival, or are deeply profound but, without traction, vanish into airy nothingness. Milev, in particular, strikes all the right notes portraying XX’s new emigrant awkwardness and anxiousness to be acceptable. Compounded by a capacity for taking concepts too far and reluctance in admitting when he doesn’t understand something, XX’s character drives most of the comedy of the piece.

Image7 Indeed, he seems to be its heart and soul, especially when AA determines to make him the center of his new work of political theory. Never mind that AA hasn’t completed any work, intellectual or otherwise, since he’s arrived—XX cannot leave until it is done. Here, the enlightened intellectual begins to reflect the control of the totalitarian state they have both left. But then, as XX astutely pointed out earlier, under totalitarianism the both of them were equal—in slavery. New rules and not-so-new divisions of class and privilege determine their value as human beings in the so-called free world.

It’s here where the production falls short in teasing out all the layers of darkness, paradox, and absurdity. But then, Mzorek packs more into an 80-minute one-act than most playwrights do into two hours. Mack’s interpretation of AA is especially casual—that, and no discernible accent, makes AA like a slightly more educated Dude from The Big Lebowski than a despondent Polish intellectual émigré. A certain lack of fire and intensity, particularly when holding forth dearly held political views, robs Mack of an edge to be realistically threatening once the story turns dark. Both actors do sustain the dynamic tension between them, however, long enough to suggest the pearl of madness at the bottom of AA’s soul–and the pearl of wit that dwells at the bottom of XX’s.

The Emigrant’s run will be short—only until February 21st. For those who crave more intellectual fare and seek a break from the cultural insularity of American life, this small, dense political drama may prove to be a walk on the wild side.

Rating: ★★★

 

the emigrants

February 6, 2010 | 0 Comments More

REVIEW: Distracted (American Theatre Company)

‘Distracted’ isn’t worth your attention

 Fulks, Wilder - H II

American Theatre Company presents:

Distracted

by Lisa Loomer
directed by PJ Paparellil
through February 28th (more info)

review by Keith Ecker 

I’ve been told by medical professionals that I have both Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) and general anxiety disorder (GAD), which is the exact same dual diagnosis given to the little boy in the play Distracted.

Fulks - V III So you’d think that because I could identify with one of the play’s central figures, I’d probably be able to sympathize with its characters; maybe I’d be moved to think about the consequences of medicating children. Well, I can’t sympathize, and the only thing I was moved to do was leave the theater once the lights came up.

There’s a lot to be said about this American Theatre Company production. So much in fact that it’s hard to focus. But as my therapist reminds me, it’s best to break things down into smaller tasks.

Let’s start with something simple, like the space. It’s huge with an exposed concrete floor big enough to stage Xanadu. Of course, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with a large space. It just requires a lot of energy to fill it. Unfortunately, there’s little energy in this play. The mother (Donna Jay Fulks), who tries to “fix” her son’s AD/HD, has the emotional depth of a woman in an Activia commercial. When she should be banging her head against the steel beam that was obstructing my view of stage left, she instead grits her teeth, rolls her eyes and half-asses a mantra to calm herself down.

On a positive note, the use of 16 flat-screen televisions was a novel effect. Not only do the screens serve as figurative distractions—representing cell phones, cable news and instant messaging—they also create digital scenery. A doctor’s office, for example, comes to life when the screens flicker with images of impressionist paintings and a fish tank.

Next, the acting. I’ll start with the positive on this one. The supporting cast, many of whom play multiple roles, steals the show. As the protagonist boringly drifts from one professional to another, teetering on helplessness and frustrated but never quite getting there, the supporting cast infuses real emotion and vibrancy into the piece. Audrey Morgan, who plays the teacher, a doctor and a nurse, and Dina Facklis, who plays the obsessive-compulsive neighbor Vera, have impeccable commitment and comedic chops. When they speak, the play comes to life.

Facklis, Fulks - V Unfortunately, most of the time the acting is dead on arrival. The mother and father (Kevin Rich) are an incredibly unconvincing couple, playing out the tension in the relationship with all the reality of a “very special episode” of a primetime sitcom. True, Fulks had a challenging part. The mother is the sun that the world of the play revolves around. But damn it, feel something! Maybe this is emblematic of Distracted’s suburbia setting, where people harbor a sort of overly reserved kind of existential anger at society that must be suppressed for fear of what the neighbors might think. But hey, we’re all human. And even a soccer mom is going to have a mental breakdown at some point. I’ve seen it happen, and it isn’t pretty. The best we get is a shoe-shopping spree and a small outburst where she confesses to the audience that she feels like her son is ruining her life.

The direction. PJ Paparelli, who is also the artistic director of ATC, makes Distracted move fast. A bedroom morphs into an office which morphs into a classroom. A teacher becomes a nurse, a doctor breaks out of character and everyone stops action to speak to the audience. The smash-cut scene changes work thanks to the coasters on all the set pieces. However, the character switches do not. Paparelli moves so fast that half the time the actors seem confused as to whom they are supposed to be, occasionally stumbling over their lines in an effort to catch up.

Finally, the writing. I’m amazed this play was first produced in 2007 because it feels like it was from the early 90s. I’m 28 years old. Childhood Ritalin prescriptions were commonplace, albeit controversial, when I was 8. This play treats the subject matter as untouched territory while failing to contribute anything to the decades-old dialogue. Worse still, the whole piece feels like a big lecture, a sort of morality play where the audience is talked down to the entire time. And because there aren’t really characters in this piece, just physical embodiments of different points of view, we never have the opportunity to care about anyone.

One last note: If you do find anything redeeming about this play, it will all be dashed by the miserable ending. Distracted just kind of peters out on an anticlimactic note, that note being a song by Eminem, a rapper no tweenage boy has listened to for nearly a decade. I don’t know if the use of Eminem was in the script or if it was a directorial move, but it reminded me of watching my mom try to prove how cool she still is by doing tequila shots.

A good supporting cast and some interesting stage elements can’t save this production. Sadly, the only thing you’ll be paying attention to while watching Distracted is your watch.

 

Rating: ★½

 

Rich, Fulks - H all photos by Christopher Plevin

February 5, 2010 | 6 Comments More

REVIEW: Lucid (Diamante Productions)

The surreal world of “Lucid”

 Lucid cubicles

Diamante Productions presents:

Lucid

by Tony Fiorentino
directed by
Braden LuBell
thru February 27th –
Athenaeum Theatre (more info)

Review by K.D. Hopkins

The play Lucid is supposed to be about the mystery and excitement of what is called lucid dreaming. This is a somewhat controversial technique parlayed by New Age practitioners as a means to fulfill desires both conscious and subconscious. The playwright Tony Fiorentino has attempted to bring this to the audience in the form of a frustrated working drone named Peter Moore. He is a character descended from Roth and John Updike yet updated for our time and current American culture. Moore shares a cubicle and comic relief from the work day with Wally who seems to be an everyday guy but has a Mephistophelian bent with his fantasies and rants against the bosses Lucid 5of the world. Peter and Wally are graphic artists working in anonymity putting doodles and copy on items that end up in the dollar stores of Chicago or plastered on the windows of closed storefronts.

The play opens on the “L” as Wally is regaling Peter with how he stood up to the boss. The dialogue escalates until Wally claims to have taken an ax to the boss. He knows it is a lie but claims that it could happen in the world of lucid dreaming. Wally has taken the class for $300 and wants to share his newfound knowledge with Peter. That benevolence-really malevolence-sends Peter Moore into a descent where he is obsessed with non-reality. On the home front, Peter has what is the new American Dream set on its ear. His girlfriend is pregnant and has moved in taking up the extra bedroom where he once had an art studio. She is portrayed as obsessed with being a family and having Peter as a part of his child’s life. The minute Peter hits the door, he is faced with Becky doing Kegel exercises on the sofa and having ordered takeout to satisfy her eggplant craving. Their relationship is strained even though they each proclaim love and devotion. They all step through the looking glass when Peter gives his seat to a beautiful passenger on the “L”. Peter feels a connection and thinks that she is everything that Becky is not. She leaves her scarf on the train which becomes a fetish for Peter’s fantasies.

Peter is played by Daniel McEvilly. He fits the look of the character and does well especially in scenes with Becky, played by Laura Shatkus. Otherwise his performance came across as a bit too earnest. The artist has attention deficit rather than longings for freedom in his portrayal. This may be due to the writing more than the acting. There are elements of Surrealism and then Transcendentalism and then the Great American Discontent of post war America. They are all worthy subject matter and yet one cringes when Peter and his fantasy lover-Robin quote Thoreau. Mr. McEvilly does a fine job of projecting the rage of the working stiff who is meant for greater things. His scenes with Wally- played by Jake Szczepaniak are at times riveting. They have some great dialogue about art and real life. Sometimes McEvilly veered into preaching but he balanced well off of Mr. Szczepaniak.

The character of Wally is quite complex and well played by Mr. Szczepaniak. Wally is a world class BS artist that hides behind his bravado. He is a Mephistopheles leading Peter into a world that can solve all of his problems without any mention of the cost. When Peter goes too deep into the surreal world of lucid dreaming, Wally tries to take immoral liberties under the guise of being drunk and blacked out. This scene had the possibility of being smarmy but came across as menacing and unsettling.

Lucid _ 1 Lucid 3

Laura Shatkus’ portrayal of Becky is quite good. She has the task of taking on a role that’s written with a misogynistic bent. Pregnant women are usually portrayed as hysterical, needy, and insecure – always at the expense of a very put upon man. Peter goes so far as to count back the days when she got pregnant to claim that the child may not be his. He does not want any responsibility messing up his fantasy life. This is where the play veers dangerously close to melodrama, but Ms. Shatkus’ emotional range and subtlety keep things taut.

The character of Robin is played by Tracey Kaplan. She has a wonderful stage presence that also keeps the drama on course. She is equally charming as the woman on the “L” and the fantasy/muse of Peter’s dreams. The scenes between her and Mr. McEvilly are erotically charged and they play well off of each other. As mentioned before, some of the dialogue is a bit stilted and derivative but great chemistry between actors can be the saving grace. (Speaking of derivative-the homage to “Casablanca” made me chortle rather than feel any regret for the characters.) Robin always appears holding an apple as her symbol of temptation and the great fall of man. It was a bit too obvious and the actors had enough chemistry to not need a superfluous prop.

One would be remiss to not mention the brilliant scenic design by Robert Shoquist. The set is a Kafkaesque mix of cubicles representing the compartmentalization of Peter Moore’s life. It is accented expertly by props designer Lindsay Monahan. There is an assault of the hyper-colored junk that crowds our world including the sound of a Halloween skeleton singing “Just A Gigolo”. The office is a tight box as much as home is a suffocating trap lit beautifully in somber tones by Justin Wardell. The set is on a Lazy Susan mechanism that the actors move between scenes. The physical movement adds to the surrealist tone. One definition of Surrealism is ‘what is beneath the surface is what the mind’s eye sees’. We are taken beneath the surface of Peter Moore’s mind as well as the mechanisms of the drama and maybe the mind of the playwright. This was an enjoyable drama that will be of some interest to those who are into psychology and relationships in our times; that can be a surreal journey in real life.

 

Rating: ★★½

NOTE: This play contains adult subject matter and sexual situations. Parents are advised.

“Lucid” plays on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8:00PM and Sundays at 3:00 PM at the Athenaeum Theatre 2936 Southport. Tickets are available through Ticket Master at 800-982-2787 or at the Athenaeum box office.

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February 5, 2010 | 3 Comments More

Joffrey Ballet announces its 2010-2011 Season!

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THE JOFFREY BALLET ANNOUNCES ITS 2010-2011 SEASON

 

Season to feature two mixed repertory programs:

  • showcasing World Premieres by Liang and Possokhov
  • toasting famed choreographers Balanchine and Wheeldon
  • Plus, the revival of The Taming of the Shrew and the return of America’s #1 Nutcracker

Continuing in The Joffrey Ballet’s mission to provide the highest level of performance quality, the season will feature live orchestral accompaniment by the Chicago Sinfonietta , the official orchestra of The Joffrey Ballet. All performances will take place in The Joffrey’s home venue, the historic Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, in downtown Chicago at 50 East Congress Parkway.

“The Joffrey’s next season promises to be an intriguing array of dance,” noted Artistic Director Ashley Wheater. “We’ll salute the contributions of 20th century, New York masters in the fall, and introduce works by the next generation in the spring, with two full-length story ballets in between. Throughout the season we balance established and rising talent, mixed rep and evening-length ballets, contemporary and traditional. There’s something for both the dance aficionado and the dance novice, and everyone in between.”

2007-nutcracker-med-5098 Joffrey’s “The Nutcracker” – 2007


October 13-24, 2010

  1. Wheeldon’s After the Rain

  2. Balanchine’s Stravinsky Violin Concerto

The Joffrey Ballet’s 2010-2011 Season opens with a mixed repertory program of Company Premieres, highlighting 20th century New York icons. The program will include Christopher Wheeldon’s emotionally resonant After the Rain (2005). Set to the minimalist, classical music of Arvo Pärt, After the Rain is in two sections that are strikingly different in tone, with the first section marked by steel gray costumes and backdrop with three couples creating bold lines and intricate lifts. The second section shifts to a warmer palette as dancers embody an emotional relationship, at times becoming tender and connected while at other times pulling away or struggling to find each other. The bill will also offer George Balanchine’s Stravinsky Violin Concerto, which was revised in 1972 from a previous choreographic endeavor titled Balustrade that premiered in 1941. Using the opening “Toccata,” two central “Arias” and the final “Capriccio” from Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto in D, Balanchine forms contrasting pas de deux for two different couples. Dancers resemble musical notes floating over the stage in Balanchine’s sensual and saucy homage to the genius of Igor Stravinksy. The fall program will include a third piece, to be announced at a later date. This program will be presented October 13 – 24, 2010.


December 11 – 26, 2010

The Nutcracker

Possibly America’s #1 Nutcracker and Chicagoland’s most popular holiday tradition, Robert Joffrey’s production of The Nutcracker will again transform the Auditorium Theatre into a winter wonderland, complete with magical toys, dancing snowflakes and exotic sweets. The Tchaikovsky masterpiece, featuring the full Joffrey Company, ,local children’s choruses and more than 120 young dancers, will be presented in seventeen performances, December 11 – 26, 2010.


February 16 – 27, 2011

 

John Cranko’s The Taming of the Shrew

In February 2011, The Joffrey Ballet revisits the popular The Taming of the Shrew, last performed by The Joffrey in 2002. John Cranko’s world-renowned ballet adaptation of William Shakespeare’s classic story is a romantic comedy about the trials of finding balance in love. With music by Kurt-Heinz Stolze and Domenico Scarletti, The Taming of the Shrew depicts the boastful Petruchio as he attempts to tame the strong-willed Katherine. When it originally premiered at the Stuttgart Ballet in 1969, Cranko’s translation re-defined narrative ballet through witty and subtle choreography that brought the characters and their foils vividly to life. The Joffrey will revive this two-act ballet February 16 – 27, 2011.


May 4 – 15, 2011

 
Commissioned works by Liang and Possokhov

 

The 2010-2011 Season concludes with a mixed repertory program featuring two World Premieres, by Edwaard Liang and Yuri Possokhov. A former soloist for New York City Ballet, Liang’s first work for The Joffrey, The Age of Innocence, premiered in the fall of 2008 and was met with critical and audience acclaim. His theatrical work paired 19th century romanticism with athletic prowess and a contemporary sensibility. Possokhov, a former dancer for the Bolshoi Ballet, the Royal Danish Ballet, and a principal dancer and choreographer for the San Francisco Ballet, has made a name for himself as an austere and charismatic dancer and a bold, innovative choreographer. The Joffrey Ballet is proud to commission these new works, being performed May 4 – 15, 2011.

Location, ticketing and info on the company’s present season can be found after the fold.

February 5, 2010 | 0 Comments More

ATC celebrates 25th Anniversary with SILVER PROJECT

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American Theater Company will be presenting their first installment of the company’s 25th Anniversary celebration, The Silver Project, which will include world premiere plays by playwrights Steven Belber, Itamar Moses, Yussef El Guindi, Stephen Karam and Brian Tucker. The first Silver Project presentation will take place at American Theater Company, 1909 W. Byron Street, Chicago on Monday, February 8th at 7:30 p.m.  (more info)

A little background

To celebrate the company’s 25th Anniversary, Artistic Director PJ Paparelli asked over 30 playwrights across the country to choose a year between 1985 and 2010 and write a short play that explores the company’s mission: “what does it mean to be an American?Directed and performed by over 50 Chicago artists, the plays will be presented in five parts throughout the year and as a complete cycle during the National Theatre Communications Group Conference June 16-20, 2010 here in Chicago.

"ATC is proud to launch our Silver Project with world premieres from five of the country’s most innovative playwrights. From Rudy Guilliani’s radical clean up of New York City to a school satire sparked from the Bush/Kerry debate to collateral damage caused by Hurricane Katrina and 9/11, Part I explores pivotal American events in the 00’s from five diverse perspectives," Paparelli says.

 

The Program

The program for the initial showcase on February 8th will include:

 

Year 2000:  Quality of Life, written by Steven Belber, directed by Jason W. Gerace.
   
Year 2001: There Was So Much We Were Going To Do, written by Itamar Moses, directed by Jeremy Wechsler
   
Year 2003: So Unlike Me, written by Yussef El Guindi, directed by Eric Ziegenhagen
   
Year 2004: Pee in the School by Stephen Karam, directed by Jesse Young
   
Year 2005: Famous Blue Raincoat, written by Brian Tucker, directed by Derrick Sanders

 

Playwrights’ Bios

Steve Belber Stephen Belber’s work as a playwright has been produced on Broadway and in over 25 countries. His plays include Match (Tony nomination for Frank Langella); Tape (Time Out’s Top Ten Plays 2001); McReele (Roundabout Theater); Geometry of Fire, (Rattlestick); Fault Lines (Cherry Lane) and A Small, Melodramatic Story (Labyrinth Theater Company). He was an Associate Writer on The Laramie Project (Drama Desk and Lortel nominations), and co-writer on the more recent Laramie Project Epilogue. Movies include Tape, directed by Richard Linklater; The Laramie Project (Associate Writer/Emmy Nomination for screenwriting); Drifting Elegant and Management, which he also directed, starring Jennifer Aniston and Steve Zahn. Currently developing screen adaptations of both Match and McReele. Television includes Rescue Me and Law and Order SVU (staff writer). He is a proud member of both Tectonic Theater Project and the Labyrinth Theater Company.

Yussef El Guindi Yussef El Guindi’s plays include Jihad Jones and the Kalashnikov Babes, (Golden Thread Productions, InterAct Theater, and Kitchen Dog Theater), Our Enemies: Lively Scenes of Love and Combat (Silk Road Theatre Project, Jeff Nominated), Ten Acrobats in an Amazing Leap of Faith (Silk Road Theatre Project), Back of the Throat (Theater Schmeater), and an upcoming production of Language Rooms (Wilma Theater). His play, Ten Acrobats in an Amazing Leap of Faith, is included in Salaam/Peace: An Anthology of Middle-Eastern-American Playwrights, published by TCG in 2009. Yussef holds an MFA from Carnegie-Mellon University and was playwright-in-residence at Duke University.

Stephen Karam Stephen Karam is the author of Speech & Debate which was produced off-broadway by Roundabout Theatre Company as the inaugural production of Roundabout Underground.  He is the co-author of columbinus (2006 Helen Hayes nomination), which ran off-broadway at New York Theatre Workshop following a co-production by Round House/Perseverance Theaters.  His latest play was commissioned by Roundabout Theatre Company and will have its world premiere in their 2010-2011 season.  Current projects:  screenplay of Speech & Debate for Overture Films and the libretto for an original chamber opera with composer Nico Muhly.

Itamar Moses 3 Itamar Moses is the author of the full-length plays Outrage, Bach At Leipzig, Celebrity Row, The Four of Us, Yellowjackets, Back Back Back, and Completeness, and various short plays and one-acts. His work has appeared Off-Broadway and at regional theatres across the U.S. and Canada. Moses holds an MFA in Dramatic Writing from NYU and has taught playwriting at Yale and NYU. He is a member of the Dramatists Guild, MCC Playwrights Coalition, Naked Angels Mag 7, and is a New York Theatre Workshop Usual Suspect. He was born in Berkeley, California, and now lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Brian Tucker is a graduate of The Juilliard School’s Playwrights Program, in New York, where he was a Lila Acheson Wallace American Playwrights Fellow.  Tucker’s other plays include The St. James Infirmary, Sins of the Father, The Great Defeat of Coltrane Grey, and Bathing Van Gogh.  Tucker’s work in film includes Broken City, currently in development with Mandate Pictures, and an adaptation of the Korean film Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance for Warner Bros.  He resides in New York City.

 

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February 4, 2010 | 0 Comments More

Show openings/closings this week

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  show openings

 

11:11 The New Colony

Aelita & Shiny Boxes Dream Theatre

Almost, Maine The Gift Theatre

Aunt Nancy and Doggie Tales Corn Productions

The Cabinet Redmoon Theater

F.A.T. People Gorilla Tango Theatre

Bourbon Street Burlesque New Millenium Theatre

Frindle Griffin Theatre

Glass Menagerie Chicago Heights Drama Group

The Greatest Porno, EVER! Gorilla Tango Theatre

I Am A Camera The Neo-Futurists

Improvised Disney Gorilla Tango Theatre

Jessica Presents: Yet Again Gorilla Tango Theatre

A Raisin in the Sun The Theatre School at DePaul University

Return to Haifa Next Theatre

Rush Limbaugh! The Musical Second City

Show Us Your Love Bailiwick Chicago

The Skin of Our Teeth Moving Stories Theatre (at  The Artistic Home)

TGIF: RAW Gorilla Tango Theatre

Wiggerlover DCA Theatre  

Wilson Wants It All The House Theatre of Chicago

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show closings

 

The American Pilot Theatre and Interpretation Center, Northwestern University

Ayn Rand Soup Kitchen in Atlas Shrugged Corn Productions

Burlesque is More Annoyance Theatre

I Hate Hamlet Big Noise Theatre

February 4, 2010 | 2 Comments More