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

Theater Thursday: I Am A Camera (Neo-Futurists)

Thursday, February 4

I Am A Camera

directed and devised by Greg Allen 
The Neo-Futurists 
5153 N. Ashland, Chicago

iamacameraCome see Neo-Futurist founder Greg Allen‘s new show I Am A Camera. After the performance mingle with the cast and crew during which you will be supplied with plentiful amounts of beer from local brewer Metropolitan Brewing while simultaneously being fed different style pizzas from Apart Pizza.

Show begins at 8 p.m.

Event begins immediately following the performance (around 9:30 p.m.)

TICKETS ONLY $20 

For reservations call 773.275.5255 and mention "Theater Thursdays," or order online at www.neofuturists.org.

 

metrobrewery apartpizza
February 4, 2010 | 0 Comments More

Wednesday Wordplay – Warhol, Freud and Facebook crushes

Inspirational Quotes

I was always looking outside myself for strength and confidence, but it comes from within. It is there all the time.
            — Anna Freud

When we are unable to find tranquility within ourselves, it is useless to seek it elsewhere.
            — Francois de La Rochefoucauld

A dog is the greatest gift a parent can give a child. OK, a good education, then a dog.
            — John Grogan, An Interview with John Grogan, 2008

Stress is an ignorant state. It believes that everything is an emergency. Nothing is that important. 
        — Natalie Goldberg

We have, I fear, confused power with greatness.
        — Stewart L. Udall, commencement address, Dartmouth College, June 13, 1965

A person has three choices in life. You can swim against the tide and get exhausted, or you can tread water and let the tide sweep you away, or you can swim with the tide, and let it take you where it wants you to go.
        — Diane Frolov and Andrew Schneider, Northern Exposure, Northern Lights, 1993

Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.
        — George Bernard Shaw

They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.
        — Andy Warhol, “The Philosophy of Andy Warhol

The world is full of women blindsided by the unceasing demands of motherhood, still flabbergasted by how a job can be terrific and torturous.
        — Anna Quindlen, O Magazine, May 2003

I like manual labor. Whenever I’ve got waterlogged with study, I’ve taken a spell of it and found it spiritually invigorating.
        — W. Somerset Maugham, “The Razor’s Edge”, 1943


Urban Dictionary

 

time vampire

Something or someone who literally sucks your time like a vampire sucks blood.

My computer broke again, I spent all night working on that fucking time vampire.

 

text-hole

Someone who texts on their cellphone in really inappropriate places, like movie theatres, concerts, plays, or during sex.

1. The movie was great, except right during the best scene, this text-hole in front of me lit up his phone and started texting away.
2. We were humping away, and she started texting her friend. She was a certified text-hole.

 

Leno Giver

When someone retires from a legendary television franchise, passes the torch to a worthy successor. Then he gets bored and starts a new show which sucks and then asks for their old job back by firing the successor.

He’s a leno giver.

 

Facebook crush

A crush on a FB friend is characterized by the unexplainable urge to revisit the friend’s Photos tab repeatedly and checking to see if other friends have written new messages on their Wall. Usually afflicts users who are only somewhat acquainted.

"I’ve got a Facebook crush on a guy I was going to rent a room from, but in the end we just friended each other."

 

friendly review

A positive review you give to a movie, book, TV series or CD that you don’t like but which a friend has recommended to you, usually because you don’t want to hurt their feelings.

Rod: I watched that movie The Departed last night which John lent me.
Tom: What did you think?
Rod: I hated it.
Tom: Oh boy, he loves that movie. What did you tell him?
Rod: I told him it was great.
Tom: You gave it a friendly review, huh?
Rod: Yeah, you know what hes like.

February 3, 2010 | 0 Comments More

REVIEW: August: Osage County (Broadway in Chicago)

The classic American drama of our generation

 August: Osage County - by Tracy Letts

Broadway in Chicago presents:

August: Osage County

 

by Tracy Letts
directed by
Anna D. Shapiro
through February 14th (more info)

Review by Barry Eitel

After closing a little more than 2 years ago at Steppenwolf, Tracy Letts’ American neo-epic August: Osage County makes a triumphant return to Chicago. Its vacation has been pretty productive. The play moved to Broadway, then London, picked up a Tony Award for Best Play as well as the Pulitzer Prize in Drama, and a feature film is in the works. Now the show is on tour around the nation. August occupies a slightly larger space for its homecoming, the massive Cadillac Palace Theatre. Headed by the voracious Estelle Parsons, this touring August retains the intensity of the original, hitting the snowy streets of the Loop with the force of a tornado.

August: Osage County details a few days in the life of the American theatre’s newest favorite dysfunctional family: the Westons. Think of every social taboo present in Eugene O’Neill’s canon and slam into a single, three-act play. Add pedophilia and T.S. Eliot, and soak in alcohol. Letts’ whirling story sucAugust: Osage County - by Tracy Lettsceeds so well because it’s a churning cauldron of the worst kind of secrets, yet each one blows us away as we hear it painfully revealed on stage. If one wanted to peg a genre for the masterpiece, it could simply be described as a murder mystery. But that glosses over the addiction, the familial power struggle, and the utter loneliness the play dwells on. If anything, August harkens back to the sweeping epics of ancient times, played out in the 21st century on the arid plains of Oklahoma.

The visiting show doesn’t bring together any of the original cast. The Steppenwolf Theatre actors have all moved on to their own projects. Although a remount of the original cast would be spectacular, perhaps it is better that Steppenwolf has focused on continuing their commitment to great theatre of all colors. August’s mother has been doing some great work since her son moved out-of-state. Case-in-point: Letts as “Teach” in the current production of another Chicago playwright, American Buffalo by David Mamet. (our review ★★★★)

The touring production really succeeds in pushing the brilliance of the writing. It is obvious that the Oscar-owning Parsons, who has played pill-popping matriarch Violet Weston on and off since the play’s move to Broadway, has a keen insight to Letts’ characters. She has gotten plenty of practice at self-destructing night after night onstage, and the experience shows. Parsons’ Violet is part nagging mother, part tigress, part wandering spirit. She can violate and disgust the audience one moment, then pull out a flood of pity the next. Although she has the stature of a little old lady, Parsons has the heart of Greek god. Throughout the play, Violet finds the toughest resistance from her daughter Barbara (Shannon Cochran), who may be on a path to Violet’s life of drug-induced isolation herself. Fighting bitterly against an actress as brutal as Parsons is a momentous task, but Cochran remains ruthless. It’s a delight for us to witness these two actresses battle on-stage, like two fierce, starving animals placed in a cage where there’s only room for one.

 

August: Osage County - by Tracy Letts August: Osage County - by Tracy Letts
August: Osage County - by Tracy Letts August: Osage County - by Tracy Letts

Unfortunately, some of the other actors can’t find their stride in Letts’ potent language. Emily Kinny, who plays the 14-year-old pot-smoker Jean, comes off as strained and stilted. When the pressure cooker starts to bubble, she can pull out some excellent work, but she congeals quickly when the stakes aren’t as obvious. Jeff Still, who plays Barbara’s estranged husband and Jean’s father Bill, has a similar problem. Amy Warren seems to be pulling from Kristin Wiig in her interpretation of Karen, the oft-ignored third sister. She rides the comedy too hard instead of depending on the text. Luckily, the tenacity of Libby George (Mattie Fae), Paul Vincent O’Connor (Charlie), and Angelica Torn (Ivy) picks up the others’ slack.

As it has been said over and over again in the press, in college classrooms, advertisements, and the blogs, August: Osage County is the classic American drama of our generation. It need not be said again.

 

Rating: ★★★½

August: Osage County - by Tracy Letts

February 3, 2010 | 1 Comment More

REVIEW: Awake and Sing (Northlight Theatre)

Dynamic ‘Awake and Sing’ nothing to sling oranges at

 Nussbaum, Gold, Whittaker

Northlight Theatre presents

Awake and Sing

 

By Clifford Odets
Directed by Amy Morton
At the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie
Through Feb. 28 (more info)

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

On Broadway, the original, 1935 production of Awake and Sing ran for 120 performances and fixed Clifford Odets‘ reputation as a playwright to reckon with. Chicago audiences were not so impressed. "They threw oranges and apples. I was hit by a grapefruit," recalled Group Theatre actress Phoebe Brand.

Nussbaum, Lazerine, Troy, Gold v From today’s viewpoint, it’s hard to see why — except that, if you still had the price of a theater ticket in Depression-era Chicago, you likely weren’t too sympathetic to the play’s anti-establishment attitudes. The message blurs somewhat in Northlight Theatre‘s powerful revival of this blackly humorous hard-times drama, yet the play still stands on the side of the working class, documenting the warring of capitalism vs. socialism, plodding resignation vs. revolutionary fervor, and long-range hope vs. live-for-today fatalism among them.

Titled for the line from Isaiah, "Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust, and the earth shall cast out the dead," the play recounts the Depression-era struggles of three generations of the Bergers, a lower middle-class, Jewish family, all crammed into a Bronx apartment. We come on them quarrelling over the dining-room table, clashing over politics and personal lives in a manner no less heated for its habitualness.

Central to nearly every dispute, Cindy Gold’s feisty, belligerent Bessie Berger dominates the play, much as her character does her family. Bossy and bitter, Mama Berger rules her clan with fiercely protective, unsentimental tough love. She pinches pennies and prods and castigates her household, doing as she believes she must, while proudly keeping her home spic and span, her children healthy and always a bowl of fruit on the table, if only apples. "Here without a dollar you don’t look the world in the eye. Talk from now to next year — this is life in America," she asserts.

In the production’s main flaw, John Musial’s overly spacious set gives us little impression of the family’s financial struggle. Bessie may be a notable balabusta, but there should be overt signs of shabbiness, patching up, making do, and the cramped confinement of the characters should be mirrored in a constrained space. Musial’s solution — an overhang above the stage — is annoyingly distracting to the audience in the theater’s higher tiers without giving us the sense of overcrowding it was meant to do.

Lazerine, Francis Francis, Whittaker

When her restless and unhappy adult daughter, Hennie, gets sick, Bessie’s first thought is for a doctor. When Hennie turns up pregnant, Bessie immediately begins conniving for a husband for her — running roughshod over Hennie’s own desires but intent on her greater good.

Likewise, she actively opposes her 21-year-old son, Ralph’s, romance with a penniless and orphaned girl — unknowingly allying with her father, Jacob. Though more sympathetic, Jacob also fears Ralph will barter away his potential for an early and indigent marriage, and tells him, "Go out and fight so that life shouldn’t be printed on dollar bills."

Bessie rages at her father and bullies him, yet makes him a home and brags about his brains to an outsider, the janitor Schlosser, portrayed by Tim Gittings. Veteran Chicago actor Mike Nussbaum plays a restrained Jacob, a feeble, old "man who had golden opportunities but drank instead a glass tea." He’s still fixed on Marxist idealism but always a talker, not a doer. He frets at his daughter’s domineering ways, but gives in to her, even as he urges Ralph to defiance.

Ralph wants to make something of himself, but in Keith Gallagher’s hands he’s a moony dreamer, like his henpecked father, Myron, prompting Jacob to tell Ralph, "Boychick, wake up!" Myron Berger, played with mousy bewilderment by Peter Kevoian, went to law school for two years but wound up spending his life as a haberdashery clerk.

Audrey Francis’ fitful Hennie is hard to fathom, giving us few clues as to what motivates her. It’s as if she gave up on life before the play began and just lives on bile. Since she doesn’t know what she wants from life, she’s a pushover for any strong personality, from her mother to Moe Axelrod, the cynical, one-legged war veteran and small-time racketeer who becomes a family boarder. Jay Whittaker’s alternately snarky and passionate Moe provides a keen counterpoint to the mulish and strident Bergers.

Gold, Gallagher Gallagher, Nussbaum at table, h

Straddling the Bergers’ inner and outer worlds is Loren Lazerine‘s smugly complacent Uncle Morty, Bessie’s brother, a well-to-do garment manufacturer, who hands out largesse to his struggling relatives as if he were giving a dog a treat. On the other hand, we have Demetrios Troy’s inchoate and inarticulate Sam Feinschreiber, the greenhorn who marries Hennie and who shows us Bessie’s innate charisma by being almost as devoted to his fierce mother-in-law as to his disdainful, unappreciative wife.

Director Amy Morton ably brings out the realistic depth of these characters, in all their clannish divisiveness, and effectively highlights Odets’ rich and street-smart language. There’s plenty to mull on in this intense production. Yet for all that Artistic Director B.J. Jones writes in the program of the 1930s economic crisis in which this play was born and the current one that inspired him to mount it, Morton’s vision focuses less on the stress and politics of the world events outside the Bergers’ apartment than on the overwrought family dynamics within it.

Perhaps she feared conservatives armed with fruit.

 

Rating: ★★★★

 

February 3, 2010 | 2 Comments More

INTERVIEW: Playwright Lisa Loomer

Playwright Lisa Loomer discusses her new play, Distracted, currently playing at American Theatre Company through February 28th.

Interview by Keith Ecker 

th_tn-500_loomerwm151222666 It’s hard to keep up with Lisa Loomer. The prolific playwright’s work has been produced around the globe in such countries as Germany, Mexico, Israel and Egypt. She’s the recipient of a New York Foundation for the Arts grant, two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts as well as a handful of awards. In addition, her plays The Waiting Room—which is about the effects of cosmetic body modification on women—and Living Out—a piece that explores the relationship between a Salvadoran nanny and the Anglo lawyer for whom she works—are both taught in women’s studies and Latino studies programs.

Always one to gain inspiration from personal experience, it is only natural that Loomer would incorporate this idea of busyness in a play. Her piece Distracted, which is receiving its Chicago premier at American Theatre Company, explores the themes of sensory and information overload in our society, and more specifically, Attention Deficit Disorder. The conduits for the story are a husband, wife and their fidgety 8-year-old son. It’s part of the ATC’s 25th season, which explores the identity of the American family.


ChicagoTheaterBlog: American Theatre Company’s 25th season focuses on the American family. How do you think Distracted fits into this theme?

Loomer: Well, I think it fits all too well. Aside from the increasing number of children diagnosed with ADD and the huge rise in the number of psychiatric drug prescriptions written for children, it’s about how we live right now—our world of screens, our fractured attention spans, our need for stimulation and the effects on the family.

CTB: Distracted premiered in 2007. A lot has happened in the U.S. since then, including the election of our first multi-racial president, the collapse of our economy and, of course, the health care debate. Do you think in light of these historical changes, the play has taken on new significance?

Loomer: I think the play is about a society in a mad rush to keep up. I heard it in the State of The Union speech the other night, “We must keep up with China, with India, we cannot be second.” We need our stimulants and other drugs, our ever-changing Windows, our quick cuts, our frenetic rap. They keep us going. And as we fall behind in the world, as we see ourselves as struggling, I think it makes us run even faster. In terms of health care, I’m afraid I do see the drug companies as preying on this need of ours to perform, to be the best.

CTB: Distracted deals with issues related to ADD. What is it about our contemporary culture that has destroyed our attention spans? Is it Facebook, Twitter, 24-hour news cycles, etc.?

Loomer: Well, first of all, let me say that I do not believe ADHD is simply a cultural phenomenon. Scientists have isolated genes that are involved in ADHD. It is quite real, and I would never minimize its impact on the people who have it or their teachers or families. Whether it is a “difference” or a “disorder” is a question that I pose in the play. And I believe that what is a “difference” in the context of one society might be a “disorder” or “dysfunction” in another. That said, I do think that Xboxes and Twitter and the barrage of 24-hour news, etc. has had an effect on our attention spans. It’s harder to sit still, to contemplate, to wait and to pay attention. And what is attention? For me it is the ability to be present with someone without judgment. And that’s even harder to do when you’re distracted.

CTB: What themes are pervasive throughout your work? Why do you feel you focus on these concepts? Is it a conscious effort?

Loomer: I tend to be moved to write when something bugs me. I seem to have written a lot about balance or the need for balance—the balance of masculine versus feminine, nature versus science, Anglo culture versus Latino culture, the powerful versus the powerless, life versus art. It wasn’t conscious, no. But after a while it became clear even to me.

CTB: Tell me about your writing process. Where do you get your ideas, and how do you flesh them out into a full piece?

Loomer: I tend to get ideas by what I see around me. I wrote Living Out when my son was little and I spent a lot of time in the park, listening to both nannies and moms. I wrote The Waiting Room when the dangers of breast implants were in the news and a friend also wanted me to do something on Chinese foot binding and my mother was dying of cancer. I’m writing now about Israel and Palestine because, well, I read the papers and because I get a dozen passionate e-mails everyday from both sides. Once I do have an idea or an impetus or I’m pissed off enough, a character will appear in my mind and start talking and taking action. And then other characters will appear and start to disagree and get in the way. Once I have a first draft, I will say, “Now what does this want to be about?” And I’ll start to shape.

CTB: You’ve done stand-up comedy. Do you still perform stand-up today? How has this influenced your playwriting?

Loomer: I did stand up, political mostly, for a very short time. Mostly, when I did comedy, it was one-person shows in the vein of Lilly Tomlin. I was an actress, and character comedy and working in political-comedy/performance groups was part of being an actress for me. If stand-up influenced me at all, it made me appreciate the value of cutting. Being an actress had a far greater impact on me as a playwright.

CTB: What advice do you have for aspiring playwrights who wish to see their work produced?

Loomer: Well, my advice is always write what you have to write, write what is yours to write and never write to please or be “popular.” Your job is to do your body of work—no one else’s. I can’t tell anyone how to get produced. But I believe that the more you allow your own voice, no matter how strange, and explore your own interests, no matter how controversial, the more satisfying it will be. I also advise living your life so you have something to write about, talking to everyone about everything and going to the theater.


banner_distracted6

distracted is currently play at American Theatre Company through February 28th.

written by Lisa Loomer
directed by PJ Paparelli

January 28 – February 28 (ticket and show info)

Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm
Saturdays and Sundays at 3pm

run-time: 2 hours, with one intermission

kid-friendly?: recommended for ages 14 and up

February 3, 2010 | 1 Comment More

REVIEW: Jeeves in Bloom (First Folio)

Overblown ‘Jeeves in Bloom’ grows on you

 jib1

First Folio Theatre presents:

Jeeves in Bloom

By Margaret Raether
Based on the characters of
P.G. Wodehouse
Directed by
Alison C. Vesely
At the
Mayslake Peabody Estate, Oak Brook
Through Feb. 28 (more info)

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

In the opening scene of First Folio Theatre’s Jeeves in Bloom, the characters pursue each other around the garden set in a goofy, stylized chase scene so exaggerated it made me want to run out of the theater. The broad, affected campiness Director Alison C. Vesely has imposed on this Equity production really put me off at first, but after a while, the show began to grow on me.

Margaret Raether’s script does P.G. Wodehouse proud. Loosely grafted and considerably pruned from the British author’s 1922 comic novel “Right Ho, Jeeves,” and light as dandelion fluff, this Chicagoland comedy premiere revolves around the amiable but asinine Bertie Wooster, a London man about town, and his keen-witted  gentleman’s gentleman, Jeeves. Bertie’s old school-chum Gussie Fink-Nottle, a painfully tongue-tied nerd with a passion for newts, has unaccountably fallen in love jib3with a dippy debutante called Madeline Bassett, a sappily romantic girl who believes in fairies, and appealed to Bertie and Jeeves for advice on wooing her. Meanwhile, Bertie’s intrepid Aunt Dahlia enlists the duo’s aid in stealing her own diamonds as a means of hiding her gambling losses from her irascible and dyspeptic husband, Tom Travers. However, their schemes inadvertently entwine Bertie with Madeline and touch off the Travers’ volatile French chef, Anatole, with disastrous consequences for Tom’s digestion. (James Leaming doubles as the bluff Tom Travers and excitable Anatole so ably that I didn’t realize he wasn’t two actors until only one of him turned up for ovations.)

Kevin McKillip’s portrayal of Gussie Fink-Nottle really won me over. As he moaned, “If only I were a male newt!” and bodily demonstrated the mating habits of the minute amphibians, I twigged to the value of the histrionic approach. McKillip’s expressive face and physical comedy constantly delight.

Christian Gray’s hammed-up rendition of Bertie takes some getting used to. With McKillip, Leaming and Melanie Keller as Madeline all chewing the scenery, one would think Bertie could be more understated. When he’s not spitting chunks of backdrop, Gray comes off admirably Woosterian. And my reaction to his over-the-top mugging is perhaps not entirely Gray’s or the director’s fault.

Chicago-area Wodehouse lovers must be forgiven if the vision of Bertie and Jeeves imprinted indelibly on our brains is that of Mark Richard and the late Page Hearn, who played those roles with brilliantly nuanced humor over some nine years at City Lit Theatre. They’re a tough act to follow.

jib4

Jim McCance, in what seems like a rather small role for the title character, presents an older, stouter and stiffer Jeeves than Hearn’s (or the image drawn in the iconic Penguin paperbacks by Ionicus), but his deadpan tone and facial expressions are impeccable.

However, the real stars of this production are McKillip and Jeannie Affelder as Aunt Dahlia. Although I always picture Dahlia as an Englishwoman of the large, horsey and hearty type, the diminutive Affelder dominates the stage in a smart and subtly comic performance.

Everything about this production shows an attention to detail, from Elsa Hiltner’s period costumes to the stage properties. Scenic Designer Angela Miller has beautifully integrated a garden terrace into the high-ceiling event hall of the historic Mayslake Peabody Estate, complete with working fountain, statuary and realistic plants.

So, by the time that thorny opening chase scene was reprised at the end of the first act, I could take it without wincing.

Though more of an overblown rose than a tight bud of comedy, “Jeeves in Bloom” is a fun and enjoyable show.

Rating: ★★★

Note: The performance is 2½ hours, with intermission.

jib3

February 2, 2010 | 0 Comments More

Alegria to open in Hoffman Estates (March 3-7)

alegria

Cirque du Soleil presents

 

ALEGRIA

 

in HOFFMAN ESTATES for EIGHT performances only
from MARCH 3 – 7, 2010
at the SEARS CENTRE ARENA

INFO: Cirque du Soleil is pleased to announce that the critically-acclaimed touring production Alegría will perform in Hoffman Estates at the Sears Centre Arena from March 3 – 7, 2010 for eight performances only.
Tickets are available at www.cirquedusoleil.com/alegria or by calling 1-800-745-3000.

alegria-Highbars2 ABOUT: Alegría is a Cirque du Soleil classic and an internationally acclaimed production that has entertained more than 10 million people worldwide since its world premiere in Montreal in 1994. In May 2009, Alegría embarked on a new journey, performing the same mesmerizing production, but now in arenas in North America, giving more people the opportunity to enjoy a Cirque du Soleil show in their own town.

Alegría is a Spanish word that means happiness, joy and jubilation and features an international cast of 55 performers and musicians from 15 countries and showcases breathtaking acrobatics.

Acts include the Synchro Trapeze and the intense and high-energy Aerial High Bars in which daring aerialists fly to catchers swinging more than 40 feet above the stage. The vibrancy of youth is alive in Power Track, a brilliant display of synchronized choreography and tumbling on a trampoline system hidden under the stage floor. In Russian Bars, artists fly through the air and perform spectacular somersaults and mid-air turns, landing on bars perched on the sturdy shoulders of catchers.

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Ticket Information:

Category 1, 2, 3

  • Adults: From $35 to $75
  • Children (12 & under): From $28 to $60
  • Military, Seniors & Students: From $31.50 to $67.50

Premium Tickets

  • Adults: $95
  • Children (12 & under): $76
  • Military, Seniors & Students: $85.50

Show Schedule (March 3 – 7, 2010):

  • Wednesday, March 3 at 7:30pm
  • Thursday, March 4 at 7:30pm
  • Friday, March 5 at 3:30pm and 7:30pm
  • Saturday, March 6 at 3:30pm and 7:30pm
  • Sunday, March 7 at 1pm and 5pm
February 2, 2010 | 0 Comments More

REVIEW: The Brother/Sister Plays (Steppenwolf Theatre)

Ground-breaking production reveals playwright’s brilliance

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Steppenwolf Theatre presents:

The Brother/Sister Plays

 

by Tarell Alvin McCraney
directed by Tina Landau
through May 23rd (more info)

review by Barry Eitel

Tarell Alvin McCraney has received quite a bit of exposure in the theatre blogosphere in recent months. The debut of his Brother/Sister Plays at Steppenwolf Theatre, directed by the distinguished Tina Landau and featuring a powerhouse ensemble of actors, has made him subject to all sorts of interviews, features, and user comments.

BroSis-01 Fortunately, his work does stand up to the hype. At 29 years old, McCraney is on his way to being one of the premier playwrights of this upcoming decade.

There are plenty of comparisons to be made between McCraney’s work and the cream of the crop of African-American playwrights. Like Lorraine Hansberry, he has a flair for fiery dramatics. Like August Wilson, he layers in plenty of history and culture. Like Suzi Lori-Parks, he can whip out beautiful poetry – even in the darkest of situations. But like the works of all of these playwrights, The Brother/Sister Plays are born out of a multitude of influences. Hints of Brecht, Lorca and Yoruba; writers such as Wole Soyinka mark up McCraney’s loose trilogy of plays. McCraney’s plays are far more than a hodge-podge of influences, though. The Brother/Sister Plays show off a unique style, one that is detonated by Landau’s fertile imagination and the cast’s passionate dedication.

The Brother/Sister Plays at Steppenwolf consist of three plays, In the Red and Brown Water, a full-length work, alongside The Brothers Size and Marcus, or the Secret of Sweet. They are playing the three plays in repertory, with Red and Brown Water going up one night and a double-bill of Brothers Size and Marcus the next. Or you can choose to see all three on a marathon Saturday afternoon/evening. Although not a straight-up trilogy, the three plays are written in a similar style along with sharing characters and community (much like Wilson’s 10-play cycle). Each play works well as an individual piece, however. Red and Brown Water follows a young girl through the years as she struggles against her social class and the men in her life. Although all the plays have elements of song and poetry, this one is chock-full of pulsing, celebratory music and lyrical language. Marcus, the next longest play, takes place years later and details the journey of a teenager discovering his sexuality. It is the most plot-heavy of the three, and probably the most accessible. My personal favorite was The Brothers Size, a succinct, biting, actor’s dream of a play. Painted by social issues ranging from unemployment, homosexuality, and racial profiling, the piece pits two brothers against each other. The tight drama reminded me of David Mamet’s testosterone-crammed American Buffalo, currently sharing a building with these plays. (see our review★★★★)

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The writing provides a solid base, but the Steppenwolf production soars because of how well Landau’s viewpoints-focused direction compliments McCraney’s avant garde sensibilities. The three plays are set on a more-or-less bare stage, yet space and time are consistently transcended. (Ah, the possibilities of theatre.) It also helps that the ensemble comprises of some of the best actors in the city. The Brothers Size, for example, works so well because of the searing performances pumped out by Philip James Brannon and the great K. Todd Freeman. Other highlights include the brassy Jacqueline Williams and the introspective Glenn Davis.

With any show that experiments as bravely as The Brother/Sister Plays, there is bound to be a few stumbling blocks. The plays are littered with narrative takes to the audience (Ogun will say, “Ogun smiles,” and then he will smile), which create some fantastic moments but also sometimes feel a little overused. Marcus could also use about 15 minutes cut off, and the overall storyline can become convoluted. The theatrical dividends are well worth the occasional hiccup, though. The Brother/Sister Plays make it clear that McCraney will no doubt become an important dramatic voice for our generation.

 

Rating: ★★★★

 

February 1, 2010 | 7 Comments More

Chicago Opera Theater Gala and fundraiser: March 13th

cot-gala

For more info, click HERE.  General info on COT: www.chicagooperatheater.org

February 1, 2010 | 0 Comments More

Sunday Night Sondheim: Sweeney Todd in Japan

Japanese professional theatre’s rehearsal of “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd”, the finale of Sweeney Todd.

CAST: Masachika ICHIMURA (Sweeney Todd), Shinobu OTAKE (Mrs. Lovett), Midoriko KIMURA (Beggar Woman), Sonim (Johann), Yu SHIROTA (Anthony), Michitaka TACHIKAWA (Judge Turpin), Satoru SAITO (Beadle), Shinji TAKEDA (Tobias), Amon MIYAMOTO (Director)

favorite comments:

- I think I prefer this in English
- that’s cuz you speak English
- Reply: No, I just prefer the singers. I’m usually a big fan of Japanese songs

And here’s the Japanese trailer for the movie opening of “Sweeney Todd”, starring Johnny Depp.

January 31, 2010 | 0 Comments More