Tag: Jeff Parker

Review: Parade (Writers Theatre)

Patrick Andrews and Brianna Borger star as Leo and Lucille Frank in Parade at Writers Theatre           

By Jason Robert Brown (music, lyrics)
     and Alfred Uhry (book)
Writers Theatre, Glencoe (map)
thru July 9  |  tix: $35-$80  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   

June 12, 2017 | 2 Comments More

Review: King Charles III (Chicago Shakespeare Theater)

Robert Bathurst, King Charles III, Chicago Shakespeare Theater           

King Charles III

Written by Mike Bartlett
Chicago Shakespeare at Navy Pier (map)
thru Jan 15  |  tix: $48-$88  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   

November 18, 2016 | 0 Comments More

Review: Wonderful Town (Goodman Theatre)

Bri Sudia and Lauren Molina and cast in Wonderful Town, Goodman Theatre           

Wonderful Town

Music by Leonard Bernstein 
Lyrics by Betty Comden, Adolph Green
Book by Joseph Fields, Jerome Chodorov
Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn (map)
thru Oct 23  |  tix: $25-$103  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   

September 23, 2016 | 0 Comments More

Review: Mothers and Sons (Northlight Theatre)

Cindy Gold and Jeff Parker in Mothers and Sons, Northlight Theatre Skokie          

Mothers and Sons

Written by Terrence McNally 
North Shore Center for Performing Arts (map)
thru Feb 28  |  tix: $25-$79  | more info
Check for half-price tickets 

February 19, 2016 | 0 Comments More

Review: The Secret Garden (Court Theatre)

Tori Whaples and Elizabeth Ledo star in Court Theatre's "The Secret Garden" by Marsha Norman and Lucy Simon, directed by Charles Newell. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)        
The Secret Garden

Book and Lyrics by Marsha Norman 
Music by Lucy Simon  
Directed by Charles Newell
at Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis (map)
thru June 21  |  tickets: $45-$65   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
                   Read review

June 11, 2015 | 0 Comments More

Review: Days Like Today (Writers Theatre)

Jonathan Weir and Emily Berman star in Writers Theatre's "Days Like Today" by Alan Schmuckler and Laura Eason, directed by Michael Halberstam. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)        
Days Like Today

Music and Lyrics by Alan Schmuckler 
Book by Laura Eason 
Directed by Michael Halberstam
Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor, Glencoe (map)
thru July 27  |  tickets: $35-$70   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
                   Read review

July 4, 2014 | 1 Comment More

Review: Sweet Charity (Writers’ Theatre)

Tiffany Topol as Charity in Writers' Theatre's "Sweet Charity" by Neil Simon and Cy Coleman, directed by Michael Halberstam. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)       
Sweet Charity 

Book by Neil Simon
Music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Fields
Directed by Michael Halberstam
Musical direction by Doug Peck
Writers’ Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe (map)
thru March 31  |  tickets: $35-$75   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
        Read entire review

February 5, 2013 | 0 Comments More

Review: Venus (Steppenwolf Theatre)


Heightened theatrics, linguistic acrobatics detract from heightened tale


(left to right) Ann Sonneville and John Stokvis in Venus by Suzan-Lori Parks, directed by Jess McLeod, part of Steppenwolf’s NEXT UP 2011 Repertory.  Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Steppenwolf Theatre presents
Written by Suzan-Lori Parks
Directed by Jess McLeod
at Steppenwolf Garage Theatre, 1624 N. Halsted (map)
through June 19  |  tickets: $20 (all 3 for $45)  |  more info

Reviewed by Catey Sullivan 

Look at the set of Suzan-Lori ParksVenus and you can see the all-but unthinkable humiliation of its titular heroine embodied in designers Scott Davis and Emily Tarleton’s creepy vision of a 19th century doctor’s laboratory. The room is filled with jars of pickled organs, the results of post-mortem dissections and “macerations” – the process of letting flesh putrefy so that the bones beneath it can be measured accurately.

The preserved specimens include the organs of Saartjie Baartman, a young woman taken from South Africa in 1810 and put on display throughout Europe as a sideshow attraction. Throngs of Anglos paid to see the “Venus Hottentot,” billed as a “wild female jungle creature” of the “Dark Continent.” Saartjie was displayed in an iron cage, and marketed with breathless, sensationalism as a monstrous display of Mildred Marie Langford in Venus by Suzan-Lori Parks, directed by Jess McLeod, part of Steppenwolf’s NEXT UP 2011 Repertory.  Photo by Michael Brosilow.grotesque femininity (an early example of the hypersexualization of dark-skinned women that continues to the present day). People were urged to queue up for a chance to fondle the Hottentot’s “great heathen buttocks” , said to be so freakishly large they rated comparison with a hot air balloon. Throughout Europe, men and women alike bought tickets to gape at Baartman’s labia minora, which were said to dangle like monstrous turkey wattles.

After Baartman died, her body was dissected, her organs measured and displayed in a French museum. Even in death there was no dignity for Baartman: Post-mortem, the most private of her private parts were still on display. In the Steppenwolf Garage Theatre staging, Baartman shares a stage with the remnants of her own body, creating a portrait of a woman who suffered the ultimate objectification. If much of today’s pornography dehumanizes women by reducing them to airbrushed images of body parts (and much pornography does exactly that), the reduction of Saartjie Baartman went far further by depriving her even of a face. She became, ultimately, a collection of parts in jars.

History has somewhat restored Baartman’s personhood. Her life is the subject of at least three plays, Parks’ being one of the earliest. Unfortunately – and despite that marvelous set and several fine performances – Parks’ play obscures the vivid, enraging heart of Baartman’s story. Baartman’s is an amazing, inherently dramatic and historically important tale that needs no heightened theatrics or linguistic acrobatics. Yet Parks weighs it down with plenty of both. In doing so, the playwright detracts from her subject’s humanity.

Directed by Jess McLeod, Venus begins with a confusing kaleidoscope of words and movement which does little to establish any kind of meaningful foundation for what’s to come. A “Negro Resurrectionist” (Michael Pogue) in contemporary dress shines a flashlight through the dusky, 1810 doctor’s laboratory, eventually discovering (or perhaps awaking? It isn’t clear.) an alabaster-white chorus of two (Ann Sonneville and John Stokvis), The Baron Docteur (Jeff Parker) and Venus herself (Mildred Marie Langford). During this hallucinogenic Night at the Museum pastiche, the audience also meets a sixth character, (Carolyn Hoerdemann), an androgynous, ominous person whose role isn’t immediately apparent. As preludes go, the percussive, stylized movements and poetry-slam style verbiage may well leave you wishing that Parks would just get to the point.

And so she does, sort of. When Parks sticks with a straight-forward dialogue and simply shows what happened to Baartman, Venus is strong stuff. Langford continues a stellar season (she did deeply moving work with in TimeLine’s In Darfur earlier this year), instilling Miss Saartjie Baartman with a sweetness and a humanity that makes her plight all the more heartbreaking. In an early scene when Baartman is lured to London, Langford displays the starry-eyed hope of a young woman promised riches – Baartman was a slave, which made the promise of financial freedom all the more tantalizing – for merely working as a “dancer” for two years overseas.

If anything, Parks downplays what happened next. On exhibit, Baartman was forced to squat naked in her cage, and display her genitals for endless crowds of people. The “dancing” involved stripping and shaking her buttocks while onlookers spat, or worse, at her. And although Britain outlawed slave trade in 1807, Baartman was kept as a slave. After London grew bored with her, she was purchased by a French animal trainer. When the French grew tired of her, she became a prostitute. Within five years of her arrival in London, she was dead, reportedly of syphilis. Parks glosses over much of this, instead spending much of the play showing a dysfunctional but not joy-free love story between Baartman and The Baron Docteur, who claimed to love her even as he planned to dissect her.

It’s always clear that the relationship is horribly unequal, but in Parks’ telling Baartman actually seems relatively happy in it. Instead of addressing the almost unthinkable sexual humiliation Baartman was subjected to, Parks presents a rather meaningless (meaningless because it’s never really explained) scene where the Docteur masturbates with his back to Baartman while urging her to do likewise. Thus does the Docteur seem kinky, unkind and entitled, and the relationship woefully unbalanced in terms of power. Such relationships are unpleasant, but they’re not the stuff of sexual slavery or soul-annihilating humiliation.

The largest problem here is that Parks’ Venus presents Baartman’s story from a safe distance. The ghostly chorus of two, the choreographed blocking, the rhythmic sing-song dialogue – all these things work to present a slightly abstract and somewhat prettified narrative. That ‘s an ill fit for the story of Saartjie Baartman.

Rating: ★★½

(left to right) John Stokvis and Mildred Marie Langford in Venus by Suzan-Lori Parks, directed by Jess McLeod, part of Steppenwolf’s NEXT UP 2011 Repertory.  Photo by Michael Brosilow.

All photos by Michael Brosilow 

June 12, 2011 | 0 Comments More