Tag: Heidi Stillman

Review: life sucks. (Lookingglass Theatre)

Danielle Zuckerman and Penelope Walker as Sonia and Pickles in life sucks, Lookingglass           

life sucks.

Written by Aaron Posner
Lookingglass Theatre, 821 N. Michigan (map)
thru Nov 6  |  tix: $45-$65  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   

September 21, 2016 | 0 Comments More

Review: The North China Lover (Lookingglass Theatre)

Rae Gray and Deanna Dunagan star in Lookingglass Theatre's "The North China Lover", adapted and directed by Heidi Stillman from the book by Marguerite Davis.  (photo credit: Liz Lauren)       
The North China Lover 

From book by Marguerite Duras
Translation by Leigh Hafrey
Adapted and Directed by Heidi Stillman  
Lookingglass Theatre, 821 N. Michigan (map)
thru Nov 10  |  tickets: $36-$70   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets  
                   Read review

October 15, 2013 | 0 Comments More

Review: Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo (Lookingglass Theatre)

JJ Phillips stars in Lookingglass Theatre's "Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo" by Rajiv Joseph, directed by Heidi Stillman. (photo credit: Liz Lauren)        
Bengal Tiger at the
            Baghdad Zoo

Written by Rajiv Joseph  
Directed by Heidi Stillman
Lookingglass Theatre, 821 N. Michigan (map)
thru March 17  |  tickets: $36-$70   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
        Read entire review

February 13, 2013 | 0 Comments More

Top 10 Chicago Plays of 2012

Taking into account the nearly 700 productions that we reviewed in 2012, here are our picks for the best of the best. Bravo!!  (FYI: We’re honored to have the national website Huffington Post use our choices for their Top 10 Chicago productions here)

Mary Beth Fisher and Rob Lindley star in Court Theatre's "Angels in America" by Tony Kushner, directed by Charles Newell. Molly Regan, Lusia Strus and Mariann Mayberry star in Steppenwolf Theatre's "Good People" by David Lindsay-Abaire, directed by K. Todd Freman. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow) Rania Salem Manganaro stars in The Inconveniences' "Hit The Wall" by Ike Holter, directed by Eric Hoff. (photo credit: Ryan Borque) Brian Dennehy and Nathan Lane star in Goodman Theatre's "The Iceman Cometh" by Eugene O'Neill, directed by Robert Falls. (photo credit: Liz Lauren) Brandon Dahlquist, Shannon Cochran and Jonathan Weir star in Writers' Theatre's "A Little Night Music" by Stephen Sondheim, directed by William Brown. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)
Adam Poss and Madrid St. Angelo star in star in Victory Gardens' "Oedipus el Rey" by Luis Alfaro, directed by Chay Yew. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow) Chiara Mangiameli and Rick Bayless star in Lookingglass Theatre's "Rick Bayless in Cascabel" by Heidi Stillman and Tony Hernandez and Rick Bayless. (photo credit: Sean Williams) Lyric Opera of Chicago's "Show Boat", conducted by John DeMain, directed by Francesca Zambrello. (photo credit: Robert Kusel) Jason Danieley as George and Carmen Cusack as Dot, in Chicago Shakespeare's "Sunday in the Park with George" by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, directed by Gary Griffin. (photo credit: Liz Lauren) Richard Cotovsky and Preston Tate Jr. star in Mary-Arrchie Theatre's "Superior Donuts" by Tracy Letts.  (photo credit: Greg Rothman)


See summaries and video

January 6, 2013 | 0 Comments More

Review: Rick Bayless in Cascabel (Lookingglass Theatre)

Shenea Booth and Nicolas Besnard in Lookingglass Theatre's "Rick Bayless in Cascabel", co-created by Heidi Stillman, Tony Hernandez and Rick Bayless. (photo credit: Sean Williams)       
Rick Bayless in Cascabel

Written by Heidi Stillman, Tony Hernandez
    and Rick Bayless 
Directed by Heidi Stillman and Tony Hernandez
Lookingglass Thtr, 821 N. Michigan Ave. (map)
thru April 29   |  tickets: $225-$250   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
             Read entire review

April 8, 2012 | 0 Comments More

Review: The Last Act of Lilka Kadison (Lookingglass)


Now extended through August 21st!

Recent Tony Award not Lookingglass’ last act


Marilyn Dodds Frank (Lilith Fisher), Nora Fiffer (Lilka Kadison) and Chance Bone (Ben Ari Adler) in Lookingglass Theatre's "The Last Act of Lilka Kadison". (photo: Sean Williams)

Lookingglass Theatre presents
The Last Act of Lilka Kadison
Written by Nicola Behrman, David Kersnar, Abbie Phillips
         Heidi Stillman and Andrew White
Directed by David Kersnar
at Lookingglass Theatre, Water Tower Water Works. (map)
through July 24 August 21  |  tickets: $30-$58  |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel 

This weekend, most of the people that put Lookingglass Theatre Company on the map were not at the opening for their latest show, The Last Act of Lilka Kadison. Instead, they were sitting in the Beacon Theatre in New York City—that other theatre town—scooping up the 2011 Tony Award for Best Regional Theatre. This marks the fifth such award belonging to Chicago, making one wonder if maybe the whole Tony venture should shift more Midwest. That’s not too likely happen, no matter how much tepid material Broadway churns out (with a few bright spots, of course).

Marilyn Dodds Frank (Lilith Fisher), Usman Ally (Menelik Kahn), Chance Bone (Ben Ari Adler) and Nora Fiffer (Lilka Kadison) in Lookingglass Theatre's "The Last Act of Lilka Kadison". (photo: Sean Williams)Lilka Kadison, then, finds itself in an odd position. Considering the timing, it should prove that Lookingglass deserves that little statue. The play, collectively written by Nicola Behrman, David Kersnar (who also directs), Abbie Phillips, Heidi Stillman and Andrew White, is stylistically different from any Lookingglass piece I’ve seen—it’s in proscenium. But what seems like a conservative choice on the surface is really a storytelling maneuver. Kadison is still infused with the whimsy-tinged yet socially conscious ethos that made the company famous. While the story is jerky, there’s a heart-tugging journey with plenty of breathtaking moments.

As you might expect with a play containing the words “The Last Act” in the title, Kadison is a concise meditation on death. And life. Kersnar and friends based the piece on the writings of the late Johanna Cooper, who worked with Phillips on a radio series called “One People, Many Stories.” The duo recorded the stories of Jews from all over the planet and put them on the radio. The far-reaching narrative of Cooper’s tales resonate with this script, which traverses the Atlantic and the multiple lives of Lilka.

The play splits focus between two periods in the life of the titular female. In one, she’s a young, romantic Jewish girl (Nora Fiffer) living in Poland days before the Nazis strolled in. The other is the “last act,” where we find an embittered, cranky old woman (Marilyn Dodds Frank) left to die in her cluttered house. Her only companion is her live-in caretaker, Menelik (Usman Ally). Moving throughout both these realms is the charming Ben Ari Adler (Chance Bone), Lilka’s first love. He was there to protect her during the invasion and his spirit later haunts her, begging her to tell their unknown story to someone.

Nora Fiffer (Lilka Kadison), Chance Bone (Ben Ari Adler) and Usman Ally (Menelik Kahn) in Lookingglass Theatre's "The Last Act of Lilka Kadison". (photo: Sean Williams) Chance Bone (Ben Ari Adler) and Nora Fiffer (Lilka Kadison) do the dip in Lookingglass Theatre's "The Last Act of Lilka Kadison". (photo: Sean Williams)

Nora Fiffer (Lilka Kadison) and Chance Bone (Ben Ari Adler) in Lookingglass Theatre's "The Last Act of Lilka Kadison". (photo: Sean Williams)

The narrative moves along at a chipper pace, clocking in at 90 minutes with no intermission. The obligatory quirky theatricality here is the show’s homage to Yiddish theatre of the 1930’s. Adler drags around a toy theatre where he puts up elaborate puppet shows and schemes his larger theatrical ventures. Kersnar throws too much time and attention on these moments, though they never get close to boring. The actual love story is ill-developed, jumping through the courtship at an unbelievable pace. I can chalk some of this up to radical world circumstances and the story gets the emotional job done in the end, but I was longing for some more scenes detailing Lilka and Adler’s relationship.

Each of the performers holds their own against the technical hullabaloo going on. Bone is the highlight, exuding the urbanity of an old time movie hero, even when he’s operating puppets or doing some magic trick. Fiffer and Frank are interesting foils and both funny in their own way. Ally steals his fair share of scenes as the much-abused nurse. Props to the writing committee for giving Melenik enough depth so he’s not just another throw-away supporting character.

Kadison works because of its heart, plain and simple—though the delightful stage pictures help. The play’s final message is terse yet touching—give your mom a call.

Rating: ★★★

Extra Credit: Check out this production’s wonderful study guide!!


Chance Bone (Ben Ari Adler) and Nora Fiffer (Lilka Kadison) with their toy theater, in Lookingglass Theatre's "The Last Act of Lilka Kadison". (photo: Sean Williams)

All photos by Sean Williams

June 13, 2011 | 1 Comment More

REVIEW: Trust (Lookingglass Theatre)

An uncompromising, heart-wrenching look at internet predators.



By David Schwimmer and Andy Bellin
Directed by David Schwimmer and Heidi Stillman
At: Lookingglass Theatre Company, 821 N. Michigan
Through April 25 (more info)

By Catey Sullivan 

Toward the final third of Trust, one of the supposed good guys tosses off a line that shows with stark authenticity how victims of internet pedophilia and so called “date” rape are brutally, casually and constantly re-victimized by mainstream society.

Raymond Fox, Allison ToremFourteen-year-old Annie (Allison Torem) has been raped by a 35-year-old she met online when he was posing as a high school sophomore. Her father Will (Philip R. Smith), having just jeopardized a major client at work, finally explains to a colleague that he’s been distracted because of the crime. The co-worker, horrified, sympathizes. Will keeps talking, explaining that Annie’s rapist groomed her for months in chat rooms before meeting her at a mall and then taking her to a hotel room.

Oh,” says the colleague (Keith Kupferer) with palpable relief. “I thought you meant she was attacked. “

It’s then that you realize that Annie hasn’t been victimized only by a pedophile. She’s also getting it from upstanding, law-abiding adults – the sort of good people charged with keeping children safe in any civilized community. Trust illustrates with harrowing accuracy the vast, ingrained and wholly accepted practice of how that safety is violated by a society that routinely diminishes rape’s violence by qualifying it: If the rape happened on a date, if it was by an acquaintance, if the victim wasn’t snatched by a stranger, if she went to the hotel room without screaming, if she sent suggestive e-mails before hand – well then, phew. That’s not so bad. At least it wasn’t the bad kind of rape.

Except for of course, it was. All rape is bad. And those facts are driven home relentlessly in Trust, penned by David Schwimmer and Andy Bellin (based on a screenplay by Bellin and Rob Festinger).

Directed for the Lookingglass Theatre Company by Schwimmer and Heidi Stillman, Trust isn’t a perfect play. It has its movie-of-the-week moments. But it also packs a high-intensity emotional wallop, thanks to an overall excellent ensemble and an extraordinarily powerful performance from Torem as Annie. Moreover, it’s with merciless authenticity that Trust depicts the ever-increasing circle of damage that occurs as a result of Annie’s rape. The high-school soccer player is the immediate victim, but Trust also shows how her attacker (Raymond J. Fox) thoroughly poisons her whole family.

The piece is also uncompromising in its refusal to tie everything up. Unlike on television’s CSI, sex crimes tend to drag on for months and often, even years. The cops are understaffed. The FBI spends most of its budget fighting terrorists. And guys like the one who devastated Annie? The know how to vanish. As Torem’s heart-breaking performance illustrates, they also know how to manipulate the victim until black seems white and bad seems good. Despite what police, her therapist and her parents tell her, Annie “knows” that the man who raped her loves her. Even as her behavior grows erratic and her moods ever darker, she believes all would be well if only she were left to be with the man that she loves as deeply as he loves her.

Were it an easier play, Trust would end when Annie finally faces the worst about her attacker, the promise of recovery a certainty. But to its credit, this is no an easy play. Annie confronts the worst, and then spirals dangerously downward, moving from angry to suicidal in the time it takes to call up a Myspace page.

Amy J. Carle, Allison Torem, Morocco Omari, Philip R. Smith Philip R. Smith
Spencer Curnutt and Allison Torem Trust-porch

With an equally vivid and disheartening sense of truth, Trust also shows how  mass-marketed pop culture  often seems designed to provide pedophiles with constant stimulation. Structurally speaking, it’s a bit contrived that Annie’s father is immersed in an ad campaign that glorifies adolescent sexuality. Contrived or not, it works. It’s tragic and ironic that Will’s career has him bringing the ‘tween market to the Academic Appeal (read: American Apparel) clothing corporation via images of barely pubescent boys and girls posing in their underwear. If Annie’s rapist wants to stoke his libido, all he has to do flip though Elle for Girls.

The taut, 90-minute drama also knocks the foundation out from under the fallacy that allows wealthy, stable and loving families to believe they are immune to tragedies like the one that unfolds in Trust. Victims like Annie, so many misguidedly insist, are the product of neglectful parents, poverty or broken homes. Yet Annie’s Wilmette family is close. They eat together. Her parents monitor her chat room buddies. Against the wiles of a predator, they’re sheep obliviously headed for the slaughter.

There is no happy ending here, just a sense that maybe Annie and her family will somehow survive, perhaps stronger, perhaps wiser, certainly sadder and angrier and robbed of a priceless, innocent confidence in the basic goodness of their world.

With  its final scene, Trust leaves the audience heart-wrenched and exhausted .

Whether the script would have that same emotional heft with an even slightly less seasoned cast is a valid, question. Annie’s parents, her best friend, the assorted social workers and FBI workers – all are saddled with characters who react more than anything else. In an ideal dramatic world, the story that propels the characters as much as the characters propel the story. Here, the latter dominates.

Despite that, Trust works dramatically. It is also visually strong, with appropriately tech-heavy use of computer projections, video (Tom Hodges), and IMs appearing as characters type them.

Slick and riveting, Trust is a show of urgency and – sadly – great timeliness.

Rating: ★★★½



Resource Guide

Our Lead Community Partner, Rape Victim Advocates, has created the following resources on families and technology.

March 14, 2010 | 3 Comments More

Review: Lookingglass’s “The Arabian Nights”

Arabian Nights’ epic tales reveal prosaic and timely gems of wisdom


 The Arabian Nights
Adapted and Directed by Mary Zimmerman
Lookingglass Theatre (buy tickets here )

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

As we watch actors splash around in a giant pool in “Twelfth Night” or fly above our heads in “Mary Poppins,” it’s easy to forget theatre’s humble origins. Storytelling is a worldwide fascination of all cultures and times, currently manifesting itself in Hollywood films, blogs (like the one you’re reading at this moment), and, of course, theatre. Keeping ArabianNights_Lookingglassgrandiose Greek works and Shakespearean epics in mind, playwright and director Mary Zimmerman explores theatre’s ritualistic and narrative roots in her plays. In her play “The Arabian Nights,” she dramatizes a thousand year old non-Western text, “1,001 Arabian Nights.” This is not merely a simple adaptation for the stage. The Lookingglass team performs in an array of ways, tossing into “Arabian Nights” the elements of a World Music concert, dance show, gymnastic event, improv performance, and a really long fart joke, as well as an insightful dramatic piece.

This is the third Lookingglass production of founder Zimmerman’s Near East epic. Each production coincided with a volatile period of American relations with the Islamic world, especially Iraq. The play premiered in 1992, directly after the first Gulf War. The second Lookingglass production took place in 1997, concurrent with Clinton’s order of air strikes on Iraq. Twelve years later, we are reminded of our involvement in Iraq every day.

Arabian Nights 1It’s nice to hear the names of places usually only heard on the nightly news—Iran, Basra, Cairo—in a positive light. I was reminded that when “1,001 Arabian Nights” was first written down in Arabic, the Muslim world was the most advanced society in the world, while Europe wallowed in the Dark Ages.

A7S1018web_normal Zimmerman completely embraces the idea of narrative. The frame of the play is the story of King Shahryar (Ryan Artzburger) and the young Scheherezade (Louise Lamson). Betrayed by his wife, the King marries, loves, and murders a different girl every night. The night Scheherezade’s number comes up, she decides she’ll attempt to delay his knife by entertaining his ear with her trove of stories. This works, and her flair for narrative keeps her head on her shoulders night after night after night. Her yarns range from short, funny tales to sprawling epics exploring love, death, and morality, and all of them are performed for us by the diversely talented cast. On top of Scherezade’s storytelling, many of the characters in her tales relate stories of their own. Because of the multiple stories-within-stories, the whole play is richly layered and complex. Some are childish, some are sexy, some are heartbreaking, all are thought-provoking. On a more or less bare stage covered with Persian rugs (proudly provided by Oscar Isberian Rugs, according to a program insert), Zimmerman’s staging and choreography color the stories with movement. With only some music, a few low tables, and the actors, the tales travel from Egypt to India.

Along with being agile and flexible, the cast also performs with honesty. Although she’s blonde (which was a little distracting), Lamson’s Scheherezade is vibrant and humble, and her love for her stories is moving. There are some standouts among the customizable cast. Allen Gilmore is excellent as Scherezade’s father and one of the funniest actors in the cast, playing a ridiculous jester and lunatic. Usman Ally, Ramiz Monsef, and Minita Ghandi also can switch from comedy to romance to tragedy with skill.

Arabian Nights 1

Basically, Zimmerman reminds us how much stories affect us. We tell and listen to them everyday, through text message or best-selling book. “Arabian Nights” reveals the tales of a culture that has a monumental effect on our daily lives and national policy, from mortar attacks to the cost of gasoline. Yes, gems of wisdom are found in the play, but most importantly, we find that our two cultures experience many of the same values and struggles.


Rating: «««½

Venue: Water Tower Water Works
Run time: 2 hours 30 minutes with one intermission
Lookingglass Theatre (buy tickets here )

Adapted and Directed by Mary Zimmerman
Produced in association with Berkeley Repertory Theatre and Kansas City Repertory Theatre.  “Arabian Nights” features the work of company members Daniel Ostling, Mara Blumenfeld, Andre Pluess, Alison Siple, Sara Gmitter, Andy White, David Catlin, Louise Lamson and Heidi Stillman

June 7, 2009 | 2 Comments More