Tag: Joe Zarrow

Review: This (Windy City Playhouse)

Brian Grey, Amy Rubenstein, Joe Zarrow and Tania Richard in This, Windy City Playhosue          


Written by Melissa James Gibson
at Windy City Playhouse
3014 W. Irving Park (map)
thru Aug 28  |  tix: $25-$55  | more info
Check for half-price tickets   

July 15, 2016 | 0 Comments More

Review: Principal Principle (Stage Left Theatre & Theatre Seven of Chicago)

Arya Daire as Ms. Banerjee in the world premiere of Stage Left Theatre and Theatre Seven's "Principal Principle" by Joe Zarrow, directed by Scott Bishop. (photo credit: Emily Schwartz)        
Principal Principle

Written by Joe Zarrow
Directed by Scott Bishop
at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map)
thru May 18  |  tickets: $18-$27   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
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April 23, 2014 | 0 Comments More

Review: Arcadia (New Leaf Theatre)

A scene from New Leaf Theatre's "Arcadia" by Tom Stoppard, directed by Jessica Hutchinson. (photo credit: Tom McGrath)       

Written by Tom Stoppard  
Directed by Jessica Hutchinson  
at Lincoln Park Cultural Center (map)
thru June 16  |  tickets: $15-$25   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
        Read entire review

May 19, 2012 | 1 Comment More

Review: Walk Two Moons (Adventure Stage Chicago)

Tanya Chu McBride - Walk Two Moons       
Walk Two Moons 

Adapted by Tom Arvetis
Based on book by Sharon Creech
Directed by Matthew Reeder
at Vittum Theatre, 1012 N. Noble Street (map)
thru Dec 8  |  tickets: $12-$20   |  more info

Check for half-price tickets 
        Read entire review

November 6, 2011 | 1 Comment More

Review: The Chicago Landmark Project (Theatre Seven)


Chicago: A city with a past


Joe Zarrow and Tracey Kaplan - Chicago Landmark Project

Theatre Seven of Chicago presents
The Chicago Landmark Project
at Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. (map)
through July 10  |  tickets: $15-$30  |  more info 

Written by: Brooke Berman, J. Nicole Brooks, Aaron Carter, Lonnie Carter, Brian Golden, Laura Jacqmin, Jamil Khoury, Rob Koon, Brett Neveu, Yolanda Nieves, The Red Orchid Youth Ensemble and Marisa Wegrzyn.
Directed by
Jen Green, Lawrence Grimm, Jonathan Green, Brian Stojak, Ed Cisneros, Richard Perez, Rebekah Scallet, Eric Ziegenhagen, Jen Ellison, Megan Shuchman, Brian Golden, Vance Smith

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

I love my city. Chicago is a scrappy rough and tumble kind of town, and if the natives embrace you-you’re in like Flynn. Theatre Seven of Chicago presents the psyche and environs of Chicago with The Landmark Project. Through twelve vignettes written in collaboration with numerous artists and performers, Theatre Seven has successfully illuminated the diversity of Chicago’s history and people in a thoughtful and entertaining way.

The short plays go through a good representation of the diversity and quirks that are unique to Chicago. This is a neighborhood town. All of the glitz and hipster attitude is a recent occurrence. It used to be that when you met someone from another neighborhood, the first question was, "what parish do you belong to?" That sensibility still exists in spite of gentrification and all of the polishing that the investment class seems to think is needed for a ‘world class city.

"Lincoln & Webster: Oz Park," by The Red Orchid Youth Ensemble (l to r) Elenna Sindler, Elita Ernsteen, Alina Taber, Eden Strong, Jaiden Fallo Sauter. Part of the Chicago Landmark Project series. (Photo: Amanda Clifford)The cast is a big one, but the feeling of community glows from the stage. The Red Orchid Youth Ensemble were part of one of my favorite sections of the show. They represent a city kid’s eye view of "Lincoln and Webster" which is Oz Park. The ensemble hearkened back to the days of "Zoom" on PBS. I’m talking the 70’s version of the show with the secret language of Ubi Dubi and joy in being a kid. These kids were amazing. They were jubilant, wise, innocent, and quite funny.

“State & Madison: The Chicago Grid,” written by Marisa Wegrzyn, goes back to the origins of how Chicago got the grid street system. Tracy Kaplan and Joe Zarrow manage to convey the dirt street ruins from which arose this city as Irene and Edward Brennan in 1901.

The nod to the intelligentsia vibe of Hyde Park is given a sardonic and funny treatment in "63rd and Woodlawn: Robust Coffee Lounge", written by Brian Golden. It’s the land of University of Chicago and academic competitiveness. A man is faced with his past and a secret life that isn’t so secret. The dialogue is laced with the wry jostling of academia and an authentic bourgeois tilt that has always been Hyde Park.

Chicago has a complicated history with race and ethnicity. The story of "63rd and Kedzie: Arab American Community Center” turns the spotlight on a neighborhood that has been in flux for the last 40 plus years. It is known as the Marquette Park and Gage Park neighborhood. When I was in high school, it was the brewing ground for the neo-Nazi movement in Chicago; where Dr. King was hit in the head with a brick for protesting the virulent segregation policies. The story of "63rd and Kedzie" continues today with the Arab American community being the latest ethnic group under the microscope. This story is written by Jamil Khoury and the conflict is subtle yet powerful. The sense memory of that neighborhood back in 1975 comes to a fresh simmer. The dialogue is honest and there is no holding back on the confusion and anger of both sides. Peace and understanding can begin with one person. That is a lesson that still needs to be heard in some parts of Chicago.

"Division and California: Steel Flags" features a wonderful story of youthful awakening and the power of keeping secrets. A young Puerto Rican girl disappears and her sister keeps the secret that she ran away with a boy. The family is alarmed, putting up flyers, and agonizing over what could be a horrible fate. It is a finely paced story of the Puerto Rican community and the female bonds that are common in any ethnicity. This story features Marcel Asilis and Damariz Posadas as Cookie and Sonia whose bond is tested by a secret and defiance. There are some hilarious moments when the grandmother gets after Cookie with a shoe. She can sense that the truth is either a relief or the beginning of a long row to hoe.

Another favorite features two boys playing catch circa 1948 in "Devon and Kedzie: Thillens Stadium". This lovely story took me back to the days when baseball was not just the national pastime but the neighborhood pastime. The boys, played by Destin Teamer and Kevin Woodrow are tuned into the complexities of the game of baseball and barely notice that they are Black and White. They discuss which is the greatest Negro League player and who they pretend to be. The White boy says that the families are getting together for a picnic and it is only for a moment that the Black boy hesitates. This is his baseball buddy and not the enemy that they would be in some other part of the city. It should be noted that the Thillens Stadium is still going strong, proving the bonding power of sports.

"Logan & Milwaukee: Logan Square Farmer's Market," by Laura Jacqmin features (l to r) Greg Williams (Milton), Victoria Blade (Lizzie). Part of the Chicago Landmark Project series. Photo Credit: Amanda Clifford.

All of the stories in The Chicago Landmark Project are authentic renditions of the feel and history of the respective neighborhoods. For the most part, all of the places remain more or less as they are portrayed. However, the final story is called "Belmont and Western: Riverview Amusement Park". This is the story of a haunting where there now stands a police station, grocery store, and toy mega-mart. My grandpa would take me to Riverview, at the time the nation’s largest amusement park, almost every weekend. I remember the thrill of seeing the eyes of Aladdin’s Castle moving from side to side and knowing that it would soon be cotton candy and kiddie rides galore. Riverview closed in 1967 before I was tall enough to ride The Comet or the Bobs roller coasters. When we drove by after it closed without warning, it seemed haunted and lonely to me.

In the segment, three teenagers come to where Riverview once stood. Sam Bailey is brilliant in the role of Karen. She projects intelligence and maturity while in the company of two confused teenage boys. Andrew Raia plays Hunter and his character has a not so secret crush on Karen. Arthur Soria is hysterical as the hip hop spouting Alvaro who loves to razz on Hunter and then pull the ‘I’m a person of color and therefore hipper than thou’ card. Suddenly lights start to flash and amusement park noises are heard. A man appears from nowhere, holding a teddy bear which he gives to Karen. This is to the chagrin of both Hunter and Alvaro. Desmond Gray plays Elijah, a swain and apparent apparition. Elijah proceeds to school the trio on the darker history of Riverview – there was a dunking tank called ‘Dunk the Nigger’ at Riverview – and the full gamut of ethnic stereotypes. Yet everyone loved to go to Riverview. The amusement park is all about illusion and fantasy and the theory goes that there is something for everyone. (I recall hearing that in a Riverview commercial during the old ‘Family Classics’ show.)  Elijah asks Karen to accompany him and Hunter’s real feelings come out. Who will Karen choose? The fantasy man or the boy next door? Check out The Chicago Landmark Project to find out!

The Chicago Landmark Project is comprised of twelve short plays. They are divided in half as Part A and Part B. I recommend that you see both to get the full flavor of this wonderful project put together from the Chicago theater community. It is worth the time and the tickets to see the great young talent and the veterans portray Chicago. I came away feeling the grit of Chicago under my nails. Yes. it’s metaphorical but that is Chicago in a nutshell. It’s poetic, funny, solemn, hard working, and the city of big shoulders with just the right hint of danger.

Rating: ★★★

Chicago Landmark Project - Theatre Seven - poster"The Chicago Landmark Project" presented by Theatre Seven runs through July 10th at the Greenhouse Theater Center at 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. Program A will run Thursdays -Saturdays at 7:30pm. Program B will run Fridays and Saturdays at 9:00pm and Sundays at 2:30pm. For more information call 773-404-7336 or visit www.theatreseven.com

Note: It’s great as a child’s first exposure to grown up theater but the children should be 10 and up. Someone brought a baby to the show. I love babies and feel that children should be exposed as early as possible to the theater. However, if they are still wearing diapers and prone to cute monosyllabic babbling-please find a sitter. You deserve to enjoy both parts and hear every great line.

Photos by Amanda Clifford.

June 12, 2011 | 0 Comments More

REVIEW: A Crowded House (State Theatre of Chicago)


Inside each room lies a literary genius gasping for breath


State Theatre - A Crowded House - Image

State Theatre presents
A Crowded House
Adapted from a collection of Virginia Woolf novels
Directed by Lisa Siciliano and Tim Speicher
Gunder Mansion, 6219 N. Sheridan (map)
through November 13  |  tickets: $12  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

That Virginia Woolf created anything is a testament to her drive, razor-sharp intelligence and prolific, intense imagination. That her work emerged as a leading voice in Modernism, despite immense social and mental health obstacles, is nothing less than incredible. Being raised in an ultra-literate Victorian household certainly gave Woolf the educational foundation on which to succeed, but recurring nervous breakdowns and perennial depression plagued her from adolescence.

A bit of hallmark Victorian shame and silence, especially regarding mental illness, swathes and muffles the rough sketch of Virginia Woolf (Casey Searles) that is A Crowded House; but that tactic seems only appropriate. State Theatre selected the period perfect Gunder Mansion to present her life, through her work, en promenade. While I’ve seen other theater companies defeat themselves with that sort of set up, State Theatre fulfills their mission with great poetry. One is almost overwhelmed by the production’s impressionistic simplicity and also its meticulous attention to detail. Not one, but eight playwrights sculpt the miniature dramas that take place in each room and each room represents one of Woolf’s novels. But more than that, like Woolf’s novels, each room becomes a moment in time or a place in the mind, a A Crowded Room - State Theatre - posterthought or emotion that exists to be revisited. Mrs. Dalloway (Catherine Bullard) is our guide; Woolf’s perfect hostess, hosting the tour of her creator’s mind—another nice bit of turnabout.

Co-directors Lisa Siciliano and Tim Speicher succeed in truly breaking down barriers between audience and cast by establishing each character immediately. “The Voyage Out” by Lisa Siciliano throws the audience into the middle of a wedding party celebrating Virginia and Leonard’s nuptials, as well as the publication of Virginia’s novel by the same name. While a tactic like that can feel stagy, it’s surprising how quickly one acclimates to their eccentric, literary milieu. Outrageous Lytton Strachey (Zach Kropp) and Clive Bell (Caleb Probst) dominate the social scene–poor, sweet Leonard (Joe Zarrow) rendered quite meek and unadorned in their company.

But one quickly realizes, by inference, the critical if quiet role that Leonard plays in Virginia’s life and work. “Night and Day” by Rob Smith drives home the monstrous arrangement between Virginia and her half-brothers. George and Gerald Duckworth, who molested both Virginia and her sister Vanessa after their mother’s death, control the publication of her works—at least until Leonard sets up an independent press to produce them instead. Likewise, in “Mrs. Dalloway” by Greg Edwards, Leonard becomes protective of Virginia when the party celebrating the publication of her novel breaks down entirely. The frenzied self-absorption of their guests and the pressure to be all things—great writer, great hostess—finally gets to Virginia.

The perpetual fragility of Virginia’s mental state is the running thread behind each play—in ways large and small A Crowded House attempts to unravel the reasons behind Woolf’s eventual suicide. Indeed, one whole room is devoted to Virginia’s mentality. Even the erotic reverie that is “Orlando” by Lisa Siciliano, regarding Woolf’s affair with Vita Sackville-West (Cara Olansky), centers on Virginia’s isolation from everyone—even the lover closest to her.

Obviously, this is not the whole Virginia Woolf. State Theatre runs the risk of portraying her as just another woman writer, fulfilling the “madwoman in the attic” stereotype. At the same time, Casey Searles is at her best in Virginia’s final act. All that the woman wanted to do was write, but mental illness was stripping that away from her. All that can be offered in reply is silence. The gorgeous shadow puppetry of Tim Speicher’s “Between the Acts” gives us that silence . . . and wonder . . . and beauty.

While one might wish for other, more diverse elements of Woolf’s life and work to be fleshed out, A Crowded House is one to see.

Rating: ★★★


November 9, 2010 | 2 Comments More

REVIEW: The Pigeons (Walkabout Theatre)

Buying In and Selling Out—All Over a Cup of Coffee

Pigeons horiz 2

Walkabout Theatre presents
The Pigeons
by Joe Zarrow
directed by Cassy Sanders
Swim Café, 1357 W. Chicago (map)
thru June 7th  |  suggested donation: $10-$15  |  more info 

reviewed by Paige Listerud

Without a doubt, one can arrive unprepared for Joe Zarrow’s new play, The Pigeons, produced by Walkabout Theatre, at Swim Café’s space. It’s easily the cleverest, foxiest and physically wildest farces I’ve seen since, well, forever. The production’s biggest drawback may be the space itself. As a lucky critic on opening night, I got central place out of the severely limited seating—other audience members had to Pigeons vert settle for seats way off to the side of the dramatic action because of the café’s bowling-alley structure.

Walkabout chose Swim Cafe to ultra-locate Zarrow’s play in West Town, grounding its gentrification issues directly for that neighborhood. The Pigeons is about West Town’s café society confronting the dilemmas of buying in and selling out. But, honestly, this play could be revised to fit any up-and-coming neighborhood with its hypocritical, image-obsessed, anti-gentrification hipsters. They are a countercultural generation beset by worthy opponents for the same living spaces: the materialistic, self-absorbed yuppies for whom money equals sex and commitment, and the cunning, ethnic enthusiasts for the American Dream, manipulating their way to it by any—and every–means necessary.

Take Martin (Kevin Crisper) for example. He’s a community-conscious eco-hipster needing a place to stay in his gentrifying hood, so that he can keep his job and fulfill its mission to green the area. But he’s also something of a man-whore, whose dalliances with the ladies may be as much about attaining said living space as actual attraction to the ladies in question. Then there’s Martin’s buddy, Lloyd (Keith Neagle), a graphic artist and budding textile artist (okay, he likes crafts) who is totally in love with his slacker lifestyle. Lloyd’s been couch surfing in Martin’s various apartments since, well, college. Any café serves as his office and living room since he can reliably sit in one, with his books and notebooks, over one cup of coffee for up to six hours at a stretch. Lloyd maintains the purity of his ideals, in contrast to Martin, but that may be as much about the fact that he can retreat to his Dad’s home in Wilmette as any true courage of conviction.

Zarrow’s crafty, shrewd and artful dialogue knows whereof it speaks. Even Veronica (Emma Stanton), proprietor of the independent alternative café, in which Martin and Lloyd execute their warring discourses, is more obsessed with image, both the café’s and her own personal image (they are one!), than with selling coffee and paninis. Even slacker Lloyd gets roped into serving the customers while Veronica exits for image consultations with her advisor, Jorge. He discovers too late his gross error in serving Bex (Mary Hollis Inboden), a shapely, success-at-all costs real estate agent who places her complex latte order with him while awaiting a client. “I’m sorry,” says Lloyd, once corrected by Veronica, “I wasn’t aware of your socio-economic profiling policy.”

Bex and her shallow, materialistic, and seductive go-getter agenda may be everything Martin, Lloyd, and Veronica hate, but she’s nothing compared to Chad (Travis Williams), her yuppie frat-boy client. Who knows what subconscious manias really drive Chad, but any interaction with caffeinated beverages leads to behavior that requires a restraining order. The café’s perennial visitor, The Pierogi Lady (Mary Mikva), needs no stimulant other than her aspirations for a piece of the American pie.


Pigeons horiz 1 Pigeons horiz 3 

All together, Zarrow has created characters one finds in the farcical action movies of “Rat Race” or “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World, only he shows greater sophistication in his handling of themes. All the play needs now are some minor editing adjustments—Lloyd’s death scene goes a little too long, as do Veronica’s plans for homelessness at the end.

Director Cassy Sanders demonstrates she has the wherewithal to wind up her sterling, energetic, and savvy cast and let them fly. As Bex, Inboden had me with real estate speak like “Slippy-Whipper” and “I am a real estate agent—I have an instinctual connection to the land.” As Chad, Williams bowled me over with, “Bros before condos” and his own self-congratulatory plans to help out the “poor Spic kids” in the neighborhood. Crispin’s Martin is as self-compromising a philosopher as any, especially when it comes to getting what he desperately wants. “Our dreams are better than his dreams,” he says of Chad; once he confiscates Chad’s money, “What we have here is some real Robin Hood re-distribution shit!” For his part, Neagle makes me wonder just what Lloyd’s “macchiato incident” at Starbucks was really all about. Only the roles of Veronica and The Pierogi Lady seem a little on the thin side, which may have little or nothing to do with Stanton and Mikva’s interpretations of them.

Overall, audiences would do very well to squeeze their way into Swim Café’s space and enjoy the riveting, intelligent, and manic farce that Walkabout and The Pigeons provides for their neighborhood. And I think you can also get some coffee and a pastry before the show.

Rating: ★★★½
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May 5, 2010 | 0 Comments More