Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Where I've Been

Well, the answer is, not on this blog. To the people who read the blog (and I'm hoping some are left after this three-week absence), I'm sorry to have left for so long. I tend to get very tense when my favorite bloggers don't update daily, so I would judge my own three-week absence as utterly inexcusable.

However, I haven't been completely lazy. Most importantly, I've been moving. My boyfriend Adam and I have finally taken the plunge into domesticity, and have gotten an apartment together in Oak Park. Leaving the city limits initially met with some qualms from me, but Adam's job is in Naperville, and the commute from the north side would have been brutal. Also, seriously, the place is gorgeous, and my commute is virtually the same duration now as it was when I lived in Uptown. And I live right north of the main library and across from a park! Anyhow, as you can imagine, my time and brain have been largely occupied with that. Indeed, I still sometimes burst out with spasms of real-estate speak, despite the fact that we moved into the place on the 15th. It's hard to retrain your mind.

As a side note, one of the bizarre side effects of my lurches into adulthood is that I'm getting excited about things that I never imagined being excited about. The most recent example is cleaning products. It's sad to say, but Mr. Clean Magic Erasers had me almost giddy with joy this weekend. It's like a sponge, but you wet it and rub it on stains on a wall (i.e. from furniture--pretty prevalent at the old apartment) and they DISAPPEAR! It's amazing! And I can rationalize my excitement by the fact that it's not really the cleaning product that excited me so much as not having to scrub. Oy, I'm becoming mature whether I like it or not.

What time I didn't spend moving was occupied with the various theatrical ventures I'm working on, rather than writing about. The biggest time investment was DrekFest, which had three utterly delightful evenings, and presented eight fantastic plays, four of which went on to become semi-finalists. The grand loser was Jake Lindquist's hilarious Man Vs. Carp. The whole event was a whole lot of fun, despite a few mishaps along the way, and I can't wait for next year.

I also spearheaded my first major initiative as Co-Literary Manager at Stage Left: several valiant ensemble members and I slew the dragon that is our pile of script samples. It had grown far beyond the ability of one person to read and sort through them, so a bunch of us took piles of ten and decided which ones merit a further reading. It was huge--and still has to be followed by the huger task of letting the playwrights know if we want to read their plays or not. On into the breach.

Anyhow, more than enough personal nattering has happened. What of the wider world of theatre! Well, August is a pretty quiet time for it. Most of the more established companies are briefly dormant, and as I took the month off from Centerstage, I didn't get to see what the smaller ones were up to. The one show I did see that really stuck out was the remount of Red Noses at Strawdog. Overall, it was really wonderful--a defiant statement in favor of joy and laughter, even when perched on the edge of the abyss. The cast was fantastic and the awesome Matt Hawkins (Is he directing anything in the 2010-2011 season? If not, why not?) staged it with immense creativity and incredible passion and punch. I had some issues with it--there were apparently significant script cuts, and while they did wonders for the running time and sense of pacing, they sometimes left characters and relationships feeling a little sketched-out. But overall I really loved it. After this and The Good Soul of Szechuan, Strawdog is fast getting onto the list of my favorite companies in town. I'm excited to see what they have coming up.

And finally, a small note on the coverage of theatre in Chicago. Chris Jones has managed to make his blog at the Trib into what is probably the most-widely read single source of press coverage on Chicago theatre. It's doubtless where a lot of people turn first, and a rave review from him can seriously alter the fortunes of a show for the better. (Just ask Suicide, Incorporated or Harper Regan.) Some take issues with his critical skills and style, but that's an occupational hazard of the profession. Few would deny that he's one of the fiercest and most public advocates for Chicago theatre. And part of his professional project appears to be a promotion of Chicago theatre as a brand. Someone might reading his articles would probably use adjectives like smart, scrappy, gutsy, intimate, in-your-face, fearless, making up in quality what it sometimes lacks in flash. (Not that he only praises shows with this type of aesthetic, or finds them in shows that don't have them, but he certainly mentions them when they are present and promotes them as Chicagoan.) People could certainly argue over whether such qualities are more present in Chicago's thatre than in other cities'--a question I couldn't even begin to answer. But I still think the promotion of a Chicago brand is a good thing--especially for people whose ideas of theatre are limited to a narrow aesthetic. The coverage promotes Chicago's home-grown shows and hopefully creates interest in everything the city has to offer.

But, as with many concepts, this Chicago brand can be over-used. Another issue is the fact that the nebulous concept of the Chicago brand is often evoked with a simple phrase: "Chicago-Style." And that's unfortunate. I love theatre in this town, but when I read the phrase "Chicago-Style," I think of pizza. And hot dogs. And when you put "Chicago-Style" in both the headline and the final sentence of a review, it's awfully difficult to concentrate on Frost/Nixon and keep the mind off of Lou Malnati's.

I understand that space is at a premium and punchy phrases are hugely useful to getting across ideas, and I certainly am in favor of Chris Jones' work in helping to promote the brand of theatre in Chicago. It's a wonderful thing and I hope he continues. I just think this particular phrase doesn't quite work.



Monica Reida said...

Well, I'm glad I'm not the only person that kept thinking of food while reading the review of Frost/Nixon. I can understand the use of hyperbole in a review, but "Chicago-style" isn't a hyperbole. What other type of theater would Chicago companies produce? Vancouver-style theater?

Monica Reida said...

Also, the three-week absence is completely understandable because you were busy and moving.

I still have no clue what was happening half of the time during Town Our.

Carolyn said...

Bonsoir Zev!
Just coming by to say hello - good to know about the Magic Eraser! hahahaha

Bob said...

I totally maintain that the magic eraser is, indeed, filled with magic.

Happy housewarming to you and Adam!