Sunday, September 26, 2010


You could also call this post "Ch-ch-ch-changes" if you were someone who liked that kind of thing. And if you are, kudos, it's an awesome damn song.

I've been rather neglectful of this blog recently. It's a damn shame, especially since I seem to have a decent number of readers who follow the site even when I don't write anything. Which is pretty cool. I appreciate it. But there have been some changes in my life, which will lead to some changes in this site, that I thought I should discuss with y'all.

The most important change is this: on September 1st, I left theatre criticism. It was a tough decision to make: I think I was pretty good at it, I enjoyed getting my take on things out there, and I loved the free tickets. It felt cool to be at opening nights, and it helped me to see a huge amount of theatre, which has introduced me to the awesome stuff being done in the city and helped me think and talk more intelligently about how theatre is made and how it affects the audience. I loved doing it, and I'd love to keep doing it.

However, criticism was never the only thing I did. I've been working steadily to get into dramaturgy and literary management, and recently restarted an acting career that I'd left behind. And in addition to my decent success in criticism, I've been fortunate to do well in these areas. My dramaturgy got me into the ensemble of Stage Left Theatre, which has been an incredible, sustaining artistic home for me over the past year and a half. I've worked with a number of other great groups, including Theatre Mir and Marriott Theatre, not to mention a hugely educational internship with the literary department at Northlight Theatre.

A few months ago, I stepped in to the position of Co-Literary Manager at Stage Left. It's an incredibly exciting job, but also a huge commitment. And the most crucial part of the job is building relationships with playwrights. Doing this while there's always the possibility I could turn around and criticize one of their shows in public would be a significant problem. This isn't to mention sheer time commitment issues, which are significant.

And just when I was getting used to my new work at Stage Left (not to mention the new apartment, which I discussed a few posts ago), I got let go from my temp job. I'd been working as a temp at one place for 11 months, and they'd kept put off hiring me due to budgetary constraints. Two weeks ago on Friday, I got a call from my agency, telling me that the company had decided to go another direction and I wasn't to return on Monday. I never heard any complaints about my performance on the job--and apparently that wasn't the issue. Someone who had previously worked the position contacted them with an interest in returning, and they took up that offer. (I'm guessing it was cheaper for them, though I don't know for sure.) Luckily I've gotten a decent amount of shorter-term temp work since (I worked two days last week and have four this coming week), and am slowly starting to look for full-time jobs (I wish I were more self-motivated.)

And I'm keeping myself busy with plenty of theatre work--I'm dramaturging Kingsville at Stage Left (which is completely bloody brilliant and I will keep promoting as the time comes closer), acting in Randall Colburn's new play Halfshut at the Right Brain Project (which is really exciting), and in process of finding scripts for next spring's LeapFest. If only some of it paid.

And what of this blog? I'm determined it will continue. There won't be any more straight-up criticism, but I'm going to continue discussing news, analysis, and commentary. I love writing, and have no plans to stop. So thanks to all of you for reading, and let me know if there's anything you want to see on the blog some time soon!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Playing In The Woods, Part 3

And now, the long-awaited (or at least long-delayed) review of Another Part of the Forest, the last show I saw at American Players Theatre. Great apologies for the delay--explanations are forthcoming.


Lillian Hellman's Another Part of the Forest, her 1946 prequel to 1939's classic The Little Foxes, was made for a proscenium stage--preferably one inside. It was the only production we saw that was a matinee Up The Hill, and certain moments suffered from the fact that it's impossible to have a blackout when the sun is shining. (The last moment of the play, particularly, though the musical cue still gave it a nice kick.) And the fact that it was quite hot and sunny didn't help, noticeably thinning the audience after the first intermission. So it's undeniable that the show had a tougher task than any of the others in the festival. But it certainly overcame the difficulties--Lillian Hellman wrote a tasty slab of melodramatic ham, and William Brown's production was just smashing, with everyone involved having a great time and keeping the audience entertained.

The play follows the scheming Hubbard family in 1880, 20 years before the events of The Little Foxes. The play delves into how they made their money and what made them who they became. It's often quite funny, but it's full of the "Old Testament Fury" that Brown mentions in his program notes: they may be absurd, and their antics fascinating, but there's no question that the Hubbards' ruthless scheming and acquisition of money and power is horribly destructive. That doesn't mean it's not fun to watch, though.

However, the melodrama takes a little time arriving. One of the strange adjustments for a contemporary audience watching the show is the delibarateness with which Hellman sets up the story. Act 1 isn't dull, but it certainly take some patience to get through it, as the script methodically sets each part of the plot in place. Authors don't take this methodical approach to exposition any more, but after adjusting, it's fun, raising anticipation for the explosions to come. And when the plot does get moving, it's delightful watching Hellman knock down what she just set up.

The cast has a fine time with their parts, making the characters pop from the stage even when they aren't entering through the aisles. Tiffany Scott makes a grandly manipulative Regina (though not nearly so dangerous as the older version), Marcus Truschinski chills the blood as the calculating elder brother Ben, Eric Parks and Tracy Michelle Arnold are hilarious as the feckless younger brother Oscar and Laurette, his lady love (who's also a lady of the evening), and Susan Shunk brings real pathos to Birdie. But the play belongs to the parents--Jonathan Smoots' Marcus, unshakably powerful in his own home until he isn't, and Sarah Day's Lavinia, seemingly addled and  powerless, but with a few aces up her sleeve.

Some just won't take to the stately pace and reliance on plot twists. But for those who like it, this is a damn fine version of a hugely entertaining show.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Playing in the Woods, Part 2

Athol Fugard, the great South African playwright, attacked the apartheid system with great force in his plays. Indeed, he was one of the country's most renowned artists during that shameful period. (Chicago saw productions of three of his plays from that era earlier this year.) But his work didn't stop when Nelson Mandela was elected president. APT is presenting Exits and Entrances, his two-character play from 2004, in the Touchstone. And while it doesn't have the raw power of his earlier works, it's still and entertaining and moving play, with sterling performances from David Daniel and Ken Albers.

Exits and Entrances is a memory play, exploring the relationship between the young Fugard (Daniel) and Andre Huguenet (Albers), one of the greatest South African actors of his era. By the time the play starts, in 1956, his career is on the decline. His Capetown production of Oedipus the King has a cast of miscast locals including Fugard, only 24, a ludicrously young version of the Old Shepherd, who also serves as Huguenet's backstage assistant. In conversations through the course of the run, as well as a reunion five years later, the playwright learns about Huguenet's life, regrets, and views on theatre, and shares his own theatrical dreams, life regrets, and fierce desire to change the country's horrible injustices.

The script's real advantage is in the characters: Fugard supplies a clear-eyed version of himself as a romantic young man, and a titanic Huguenet. This is the kind of part that actors dream of--grandiosity whipsawing into insecurity, dreams and desires beaten but not destroyed. And Albers makes a meal of it, making us care about this larger-than-life man and feel for his pain and disappointment. Daniel, though clearly somewhat older than his character, provides an appealing audience surrogate, full of ideals and artistic fire.

The script isn't quite as strong plot-wise. While the characters sometimes disagree, their main conflicts are either internal or with South African society. Most of the dialogue, therefore, consists of telling stories from the past and arguing issues. It's interesting to watch, but a little short on drama. Even though the show is less than 90 minutes long, it sometimes sags.

But it's really a chance to watch two actors doing great work up close. And for those who love great acting, it's definitely worth a trip.


As You Like It is not named after its protagonist, like King Lear or Hamlet. But like them, it's unusually dependent on one performance: a production won't get far without a wonderful Rosalind. And the production at APT has found one in Hillary Clemens. She's completely lovable and delightful, with an easy command of the language and wonderful chemistry with Matt Schwader's Orlando. She's a strong center to Tim Ocel's lovely staging of one of Shakespeare's most complex comedies. The play is by turns hilarious, melancholy, philosophical, and life-affirming, and this production nails all of its moods.

Rosalind is the daughter of Duke Senior (Brian Mani), who was overthrown by his usurping younger brother, Frederick (Mani again), and exiled to the Forest of Arden. However, due to her friendship with Celia (Tiffany Scott), she is allowed to stay in the court. Orlando (Schwader) is the younger brother of Oliver (Darragh Kennan), who denies him his inheritance or any education and keeps him as virtual slave labor. Rosalind and Orlando fall in love at first sight when he comes to court and defeats the fearsome Charles (Michael Huftile), in a wrestling match. But just afterward Rosalind finds that she is being banished from the court. She, dressed as a boy, and Celia, dressed as a farmgirl, flee to the forest, where they encounter her father and his transplanted community, a group of lovestruck shepherds, and Orlando, on the run from his murderously angry brother.

The script balances a complex, quite silly plot with deep philosophical revelations and dizzy clowning, and it's tough to get them all right. But Ocel and company do it in the simplest way--playing the characters as real people with real problems. They're immensely likable, and our laughs are of recognition at frailties we share with the characters, rather than condescension. (One occasional exception is David Daniel's Touchstone, the fool: his clowning is often hilarious, but occasionally goes way too far outside the play's world, to jarring effect.)

Clemens leads the cast (which is excellent throughout), with able support from Scott, Schwader, James Ridge as the melancholy lord Jacques, and Nicholas Harazin and Ashleigh LaThrop as an unlikely rustinc couple. It's funny, exciting, and, in the end, deeply moving.


Check back soon for my review of Lillian Hellman's Another Part of the Forest, the last show I saw at APT.