Wednesday, March 31, 2010

New Review Posted: Code of Ethnics

Centerstage has posted my review of Code of Ethnics, a new sketch show. It's only got a few good sketches, but there's reason to hope they'll improve.

Also, I was struck by how different the sketch and theatre audiences are. Very raucous, plenty of drinking. Maybe theatre could use a little more of that energy...

Anyhow, here's the text:

The Chicago sketch-comedy scene is vibrant but rarely reflects the diversity of the city. So the existence of Urban Indigenous, a multi-ethnic sketch troupe, is good news in and of itself. Unfortunately, "Code of Ethnics," the group's first full-length show, only rarely capitalizes on its potential: there are some great laughs, but too often the clever ideas fail to pay off.

Some of the sketches hinge on the exploitation of ethnic stereotypes: the fight between Asian and Latino gangs for the loyalty of a mixed-race man, or an Asian math team captain belittling any non-Asian who wants to be on the team, and hounding the Asian man who got only a 97 on his last test. They are great setups, but too many of the jokes come from simply repeating stereotypes, without any surprises or new insights. Other sketches don't address matters of ethnicity at all, with varying results: a sketch set in an elementary school classroom is more confusing than funny, but a sketch with beverages at the grocery store arguing over which is the best was the funniest of the night. There's clearly talent in the performing and writing, but at the moment there's not enough discipline: directors Josie Dykas and Eduardo N. Martinez need to be ruthless about cutting unfunny sketches and keeping the performers at their best. In all fairness, the audience was having a raucous good time, and I hadn't had anything to drink, which might not have made me the target audience. But for such a young group, there's real potential. Hopefully in their next show, they'll live up to their funniest material and produce great shows.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Catching Up On Seasons

Five more theatres announced their seasons recently. I am shamefully behind on reporting them, but here they are. For those not up for reading the whole thing, the companies, in order, are: Porchlight, Chicago Shakespeare, Writers' Theatre, American Theatre Company, and Northlight.

Porchlight Theatre, performing at Theatre Building Chicago, has four shows in 2010-2011:

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, Sunday in the Park with George is the moving study of the enigmatic painter Georges Seurat. The inarticulate Seurat fights a losing battle to maintain a relationship with his mistress Dot as he creates his painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” amid the scorn of the artistic community. Almost 100 years later, his American descendant, also an artist, is burned out and uncertain of the path he must take. The show will run from September 10 to October 31, 2010.

Quite a show. Not completely successful (especially Act II), but some of Sondheim's most beautiful music, and not that frequently produced. Expect competition for the roles to be fierce.

As an added holiday attraction, Porchlight will revisit the traditional holiday favorite, Miracle on 34th Street from November 19, 2010 to January 2, 2011. This production combines the classic story from the film with traditional holiday music. When a white-bearded gentleman claims to be the real Santa Claus he brings about a genuine ‘Miracle on 34th Street,’ spreading a wave of love throughout New York City. Families are encouraged to bring the kids to see Miracle on 34th Street as their first theatrical experience. Following each performance, the audience is invited to visit with Santa Claus and share a Christmas wish.

Apparently it did quite well for them this season, so they're bringing it back next. Sounds a little theatrically flimsy to me, but popular holiday shows finance a lot of good things.

Porchlight is pleased to present the Midwest premiere of Meet John Doe, a production that has become the rising star on the musical theatre scene, from March 4 to April 17, 2011. Based on the classic movie by Frank Capra, Meet John Doe follows a plucky journalist who fabricates a letter written by "John Doe," threatening suicide over unemployment and slimy politics. Reaction to the letter prompts the paper to hire a public face for the crusade, an out-of-work baseball player who quickly becomes an icon for the oppressed. This new work received seven Helen Hayes nominations in its original production.

Very interesting. I don't know the movie, but it's regarded as a classic of its time. And what better time than ours for a story of the degraded state of politics, economy, and the media?

Porchlight will present its first Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, The King and I, from April 22 to June 5, 2011. This ambitious project will feature grand storytelling in an intimate setting. As America fights its civil war, Anna, an English widow, sails to Bangkok with her young son to tutor the wives and children of the King of Siam. The King wishes Siam to have a larger role on the world stage while simultaneously maintaining its traditions, including slavery, and he increasingly turns to Anna for advice. Featuring such classics as “Shall We Dance” and “Getting to Know You,” The King and I is the story of a man and a woman with matching intelligence and strength, but clashing personalities, prejudices and politics.

Great show, and it's been a while since Chicago saw a large-scale production. I'd be interested to see it in an intimate house like that at TBC.

Next up is Chicago Shakespeare, the behemoth on Navy Pier:

Romeo and Juliet
by William Shakespeare
directed by Gale Edwards
in Chicago Shakespeare’s Courtyard Theater
September 15 – November 14, 2010

Pure and hot, passionate and true—the feverish intensity of youth explodes on CST's stage in the most celebrated love story of all time. Passion stirs the blood of young lovers and feuding families, hurling their fates to destiny—and captivating an audience left breathless. World-renowned Australian director Gale Edwards, whose work has been seen at the Royal Shakespeare Company and across America, makes her CST debut with a startling landmark production—promising to ignite the Bard's poetry on Chicago Shakespeare's stage.

It's rather strange that CST is programming this show again--it was just performed there five years ago. But people will always love this show, and Edwards is a prominent director in world theatre, so it may be worth redoing so soon.

As You Like It
by William Shakespeare
directed by Gary Griffin
in Chicago Shakespeare’s Courtyard Theater
January 5 – March 6, 2011


An idyllic Forest of Arden provides the lush backdrop for Shakespeare's glorious romantic comedy of courtiers, clowns, philosophers and provincials—all bewitched by the trials and triumphs of love. Disguised as a boy, Rosalind escapes the perilous Court—only to find her heart in peril, as she instructs the very man she loves on how best to woo a woman. CST's Tony-nominated Associate Director Gary Griffin stages this tale of mistaken identity and misguided affection, following his wildly successful CST productions of Private Lives and Amadeus.

I've always had a real affection for this show, and it's been ten years since it was seen on the pier (though it was seen at Writers' in 2008). Still, it's a gorgeous show, and not produced quite as frequently as some of Shakespeare's other classic comedies. I'm very excited.

The Madness of George III
by Alan Bennett
directed by Penny Metropulos
in Chicago Shakespeare’s Courtyard Theater
April 13 – June 12, 2011


Tony Award-winning British playwright Alan Bennett (The History Boys) has garnered worldwide acclaim as "arguably the best playwright in England" (The New York Times). This sharply witty, surprisingly heartfelt story chronicles the palace intrigue surrounding King George III's struggle to maintain political power, aided by the love of his devoted queen. The monarch's endearing exultations and fiery rage evoke an 18th-century King Lear. Celebrated director Penny Metropulos, who spent 19 seasons with Oregon Shakespeare Festival, stages this marvelously intelligent masterpiece.

The play has a very good reputation, and was quite popular in the early 1990s (spawning a movie, retitled The Madness of King George), but is rarely performed anymore, probably for money reasons. I'm very excited to see it, particularly after loving Bennett's The History Boys so much. Also, CST always puts plenty into the technical aspects, which will make the pretty costume lover in me salivate.

There will also apparently be a play in the Upstairs Theatre, directed by Artistic Director Barbara Gaines (all still TBA), as well as the World's Stage series, bringing Omphile Molusi's Itsoseng from South Africa, the spectacular Aurelia's Oratorio, from France's Aurelia Thierree, and Martin McDonagh's The Cripple of Inishmaan, from the Druid Theatre in Galway, Ireland, directed by Garry Hynes. The Children's Theatre series will include a new adaptation of The Emperor's New Clothes, score by Alan Schmuckler, book by David Holstein, this summer and a Short Shakespeare version of Macbeth in January.

Writers' Theatre, up in Glencoe, has announced a particularly ambitious season:

She Loves Me
Book by JOE MASTEROFF
Music by JERRY BOCK
Lyrics by SHELDON HARNICK
Musical Direction by BEN JOHNSON
Directed by Artistic Director MICHAEL HALBERSTAM
September 14 – November 21, 2010 | Performed at 325 Tudor Court


Set in a 1930’s European perfumery, we meet shop clerks Amalia and Georg, who more often than not, don’t see eye to eye. After both respond to a “lonely hearts" advertisement in the newspaper, they now live for the love letters they exchange, but the identity of their admirers remains unknown. Discover with Amalia and Georg the identity of their true loves and all the twists and turns along the way!

This is high on my list of favorite musicals ever: Bock and Harnick's most gorgeous music, an utterly charming book, and deliciously romantic. It's the kind of show that turns cynical theatre experts into gushing romantics. Not gonna lie, I can't wait.

Do the Hustle
By BRETT NEVEU
Directed by WILLIAM BROWN
January 25 – March 20, 2011 | Performed at 325 Tudor Court


Sam and Eddie Sisson are more than just father and son, they’re a crack team of hustlers always looking for the next mark. Sam, just a teenager who has practically raised himself, now wants to distinguish himself from his father and strike out on his own. Eddie doesn’t want to let his son go without one final hustle, which could bring in their biggest take yet—but could ultimately tear them apart.

Neveu's a highly respected Chicago playwright, though I've never seen one of his plays, shame on me. Writers' produced his Old Glory in 2009 to good responses, and the premise is fascinating, so I'm intrigued.

Heartbreak House
By GEORGE BERNARD SHAW
Directed by WILLIAM BROWN
April 19 – June 26, 2011 | Performed at 325 Tudor Court


In the English countryside on the estate of Captain Shotover, an extraordinary assemblage of guests gather to reunite. Affairs begin, engagements end and hearts and minds become irreparably ensnared in a young women’s dilemma—whether to marry for love or for money. George Bernard Shaw—the master of wit and social thought—bitingly chronicles the demise of the leisure class in his favorite play, Heartbreak House.

I'm pretty damn excited about this as well. Heartbreak House is in my top three favorite Shaw plays (Saint Joan and Man and Superman are the others, if you're curious), and Shaw himself ranks very highly in my personal pantheon. This play's a stunner--funny, but very dark. It's basically a portrait of Britain in decline and the world about to explode into World War One. It was at the Goodman a few years back and I missed it, so I very much want to see it now.

The regular season will also include one show to be announced--in the 50-seat Books on Vernon space--and this intriguing special event, currently available to be purchased only for subscribers:

The Detective's Wife
By KEITH HUFF
Directed by GARY GRIFFIN
June 7 – July 31, 2011 | Performed at 664 Vernon Avenue


Alice Conroy is the mother of two grown children, owner of a frame shop and wife of a Chicago homicide detective. When her husband is gunned down on the job, she sets out to find out who did it...and why.


Only Subscribers and Members have the exclusive opportunity to guarantee their seats now for The Detective's Wife by Keith Huff, one of Chicago’s hottest playwrights, fresh from his record-breaking Broadway premiere!

This looks quite interesting--Huff had a significant success in Chicago with A Steady Rain (also about Chicago cops), which went on to break records in the Daniel Craig/Hugh Jackman Broadway run. Robertson is one of Chicago's most beloved actresses and Griffin one of the town's most successful directors (though generally with larger-scale shows). And it's a limited engagement in a 50-seat theatre, so tickets will probably be all but impossible to get. If it works, though, it'll be spectacular.

Next up is the ever-controversial American Theatre Company, headed by lovable scamp PJ Papparelli.

the Mamet Repertory
Oleanna
Written by David Mamet
Directed by Rick Snyder
With Darrell W. Cox as John and Mattie Hawkinson as Carol


New England. 1995. A university professor’s tenure dissolves when a student claims sexual harassment. Mamet pits the genders in a moral minefield in his most controversial and provocative play.


Speed-the-Plow
Written by David Mamet
Directed by Jaime CastaƱeda
With Lance Baker as Charlie Fox, Darrell W. Cox as Bobby Gould, and Mattie Hawkinson as Karen


Hollywood. 1985. Two Hollywood producers hit meltdown when their idealistic secretary turns the tables on their plans to make the next blockbuster. Mamet cracks open the ultimate choice for any artist in America: social change or financial gain.

Sigh. More Mamet. I know he's an original voice in American theatre, but I've never thought the voice actually had much to say, aside from a sort of generalized cynicism about people in general and women in particular. Oleanna is one of his most obnoxious plays, a supposed battle of the sexes that the guy wins easily. It plays a lot more like a hit job on feminism and political correctness. Speed-the-Plow, which I've only read, is a funny Hollywood satire, if not terribly penetrating. The cast is great though: Baker was smashing in last spring's Mauritius at Northlight, Hawkinson tore it up opposite William Petersen in Blackbird, and Cox is the city's leading interpreter of skeevy guys, as can be seen in the current Profiles Theatre production of Killer Joe.

a Chicago holiday tradition
It’s a Wonderful Life: The Radio Play
Based on the Frank Capra film
Directed by Jason W. Gerace


Bedford Falls. 1948. Back for its ninth year, ATC transforms its space into a 1940’s radio studio to tell Capra’s classic story of one man’s effect on his community. Free milk and cookies are served after every show.

The theatre's holiday show. Apparently it's quite charming and delightful. Hopefully it also gets into the weird and uncomfortable  dark side of the story as well--it isn't the shiny happy movie that many people remember.

world premiere
The Big Meal
Written by Dan LeFranc
Directed by Dexter Bullard


An American Restaurant. Today. In an electrifying 80-minute theatrical ride, eight actors present the quintessential dinner moments from five generations of a modern American family. From their first kiss to their secret affairs, this strangely recognizable family explores life, love and loss over chicken fingers and mac ‘n’ cheese at America’s dinner table.

A strong idea for a show--if reminiscent of A. R. Gurney's The Dining Room--so it should be interesting. I know nothing about the playwright, but it has potential.

the musical event of the season
The Original Grease
Book, music and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey
Directed by PJ Paparelli


Chicago. 1959. Before two movies and three Broadway productions, Summer Nights happened on Foster Beach and the rule-the-school T-Birds were a group of working class outsiders living on Chicago’s Northwest Side. Including never-before-heard music, lyrics and scenes, author Jim Jacobs teams up with Artistic Director PJ Paparelli to bring to life for the first time since 1971 the original R-Rated version of the world’s most famous movie musical.

I never in my life thought I'd say this but: I am extremely excited to see this new production of Grease. The original Chicago version, nearly 40 years ago (!), was apparently much darker and lewder, with a sharper satirical edge. Hopefully it will also avoid the creepiness of the version we currently know, which basically puts a big smiley-face on the idea that girls should give up their principles and identities in order to make men happy by conforming. Plus, Chicago references are always fun. So yes, I'm very excited for this production.

And finally we have Northlight Theatre in Skokie, where I interned in fall 2008, with a very intriguing slate.

Daddy Long Legs
Based on the novel by Jean Webster | Book by John Caird | Music & Lyrics by Paul Gordon
Directed by John Caird
Presented in co-production with Rubicon Theatre Company, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park and TheatreWorks.
September 16 - October 24, 2010
A NEW MUSICAL FROM THE TONY AND OLIVIER AWARD-WINNING DIRECTOR OF LES MISERABLES AND THE CREATORS OF JANE EYRE


Jerusha Abbott's prayers seem answered when the generosity of an anonymous gentleman allows her to move from orphanage to university. Through her grateful letters, Jerusha shares her life with her mysterious benefactor as she grows into an intelligent, independent New American Woman and discovers a budding romance with a wealthy young suitor. Yet there is one startling fact that Jerusha has yet to uncover-one that will change her life forever. A charming and unique musical love story!

This is a much adapted story (at least one previous stage version and at least four films), and this production has been making the rounds (I believe this is the third production). I don't know much about the show, but Caird has had some major hits. (Though Caird and Gordon's last big show, Jane Eyre, was not terribly successful.) I'm still excited though--it could really be something.

A Civil War Christmas: An American Musical Celebration
By Paula Vogel
Directed by Henry Godinez
November 11 - December 19, 2010

On Christmas Eve in 1864, a fugitive from slavery and her young daughter have become separated in unfamiliar Washington DC. As the desperate mother searches the snowy streets for her child and Mary Todd Lincoln searches for the perfect Christmas tree for the White House, familiar faces from our nation's history cross paths and storylines in this uplifting epic filled with traditional music and themes of family, reconciliation and communal hope. The perfect holiday fare for all ages and faiths!

I've been fascinated by this one since I first read about the initial regional productions a couple of seasons ago. Fertile setting, lots of music, and what looks like an original perspective on history--and Vogel's work is always worth a look.

Eclipsed
By Danai Gurira
January 13 - February 20, 2011

Amid the wreckage of the Liberian civil war, the "wives" of a rebel officer band together to form a fragile community-until the balance of their lives is upset by the arrival of two newcomers, and the return of a former "wife" turned rebel soldier. As the war draws to a close, each must discover her own personal means of survival in this deeply felt portrait of women finding and testing their own strength.

This one has gotten very strong responses in other productions, so I'm excited to see it. One could say that this is riding on Ruined's coat tails, but even if it is (which I don't believe), that can be a good thing--we certainly don't see very many stories from Africa, especially women's stories. And Gurira's work has been very highly praised before, so more of her plays onstage is always good.

Sense and Sensibility
By Jon Jory | Adapted from the novel by Jane Austen
Directed by Jon Jory
March 10 - April 17, 2011
World Premiere!
A lack of family fortune means difficult marriage prospects for the Dashwood sisters- two girls who couldn't be more different. Both are seeking a husband, but find that neither Elinor's common sense nor Marianne's passion offer a key to happiness. Startling secrets and unexpected twists line the path to true love in this tale of flirtation and folly, based on Jane Austen's first novel.

Northlight had a big hit with an adaptation of Austen's Pride and Prejudice in 2005, and Jory is a legend in American theatre--he ran the Actor's Theatre of Louisville for many years and founded the Humana Festival of new plays while there. Looks like it will be a delightful show.

The Outgoing Tide
By Bruce Graham
Directed by BJ Jones
Featuring John Mahoney
May 12 - June 19, 2011
World Premiere!


In a summer cottage on the bank of Chesapeake Bay, Gunner has hatched an unorthodox plan to secure his family's future but meets with resistance from his wife and son, who have plans of their own. As winter approaches, the three must quickly find common ground and come to an understanding-before the tide goes out. This new drama hums with dark humor and powerful emotion.

The description doesn't give much away, and I'm not familiar with Graham's work, but hey, a world premiere starring John Mahoney. I'm intrigued.

So that's all until the next announcement--let's hope the season lives up to its potential!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Killer Joe Moves Downtown

As Chris Jones reported, Profiles Theatre's production of Killer Joe, Tracy Letts' first play, is transferring to the Royal George cabaret space on April 15th. It's a much larger theatre, and a pretty lengthy run. Profiles seems to have the winning combination, in the past year Graceland and The Mercy Seat both saw highly successful, extended runs.

Killer Joe is definitely an acquired taste--it's extremely nasty and exploitative, and full of violence, much of which has a sexualized edge. I thought it was quite powerful, but some really didn't enjoy the experience. My original review is here.

New Review Posted: Les Liaisons Dangereuses

Centerstage has posted my review of Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Dangerous Liaisons), which Remy Bumppo is doing at the Greenhouse Theatre Center. This play (and the film adaptation) is one of my very favorites, and it was great to finally see it live. It wasn't perfect, true, but it's still a smashing entertainment. It's not to everyone's taste, but I had a wonderful time. If you enjoy pretty clothes and ugly souls, go. Here's the text:

For some theatergoers, "Les Liaisons Dangereuses," adapted by Christopher Hampton from Pierre Choderlos de Laclos' notorious 1782 novel, is irresistible: witty people in gorgeous clothes behaving horribly toward each other. It's tremendously malicious entertainment, great fun until the human cost becomes distressingly clear. Some argue that it's all a little hollow, or that the moral reckoning comes too late, but in a strong production — and despite a few problems, this is a very strong production — the play just works. It's hard to argue with a show this tasty.


Le Vicomte de Valmont (Nick Sandys) and Mme. De Merteuil (Rebecca Spence), friends and former lovers in prerevolutionary France, pass their time by seducing, manipulating, and destroying unsuspecting victims. Merteuil, seeking revenge on a man who spurned her, sets Valmont the task of deflowering Cecile (Margaret Katch), 15 and just out of the convent, while he aims for Mme. De Tourvel (Linda Gillum), famed for her happy marriage and strong religious convictions. The plans work at first, but soon go wrong, with ghastly consequences.


Hampton's adaptation remains a wonder; the plotting is clear and frequently gripping, it's full of hilarious, quotable lines, and it generally handles the transition from comedy to tragedy well (though the Valmont/Tourvel relationship doesn't quite work). Embracing the story's excesses, director David Darlow keeps the action fast and fluid (the play feels far shorter than its 2:45 running time), and is helped by superb designs, with Emily Waecker's sumptuous costumes particularly standing out. With one unfortunate exception (Gillum, oddly flat), the performances capture the play's arch, barbed tone perfectly, with Sandys, languid and deadly as a coiled snake, Spence, steely behind her sweet facade, and Katch, far more than the silly girl she appears, particularly standing out.


There's little redeeming social value, but it would be hard to find a more seductive look at humanity's very worst impulses.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Stephen Sondheim Theatre

Joining the ranks of artists like O'Neill, Rodgers, Gershwin, and Hirschfield (and producers and money men like Golden, Minskoff, Schoenfeld, and Jacobs), Stephen Sondheim will have a theatre named for him on Broadway. As Playbill reported, the Roundabout will name the theatre currently known as the Henry Miller's Theatre (a Broadway actor and theatre owner little known today) for Sondheim after the current tenant, Dame Edna and Michael Feinstein's All About Me closes. (While the Roundabout has a long-term lease on the recently-renovated theatre, they are renting it to commercial producers for the current production.) The renaming was announced last night at a Roundabout gala honoring Sondheim on his 80th birthday. Roundabout has said that the renaming is due to a gift from a group of musical lovers to the theatre. The names of the group and the size of the gift have not been announced.

I'm personally pleased--more honors for Sondheim are always a good thing. And if I ever see a show there, you can bet I'll say "I'm going to spend the night at Stephen Sondheim's."

Monday, March 22, 2010

Happy Birthday Mr. Sondheim

Today marks the 80th birthday of Stephen Sondheim. I doubt it causes much controversy any more to call him the greatest living musical theatre artist. Hell, aside from the odd Edward Albee partisan, I imagine calling him the greatest living theatre artist would not raise many eyebrows any more. He has been lucky enough to see his status go from fringe figure to great man of the theatre in his own lifetime.

I'm not going to go into a lengthy discussion of why he's the best, because others have done it far better than I. I can just say that discovering his musicals made me fall even more in love with the art form, and they've brought me great joy, intense feelings that run the gamut, and real moments of transcendence throughout my life. He's an artist, one of the great ones in theatre history, and I'm so grateful that he exists.

So if you own his cast albums, go listen to them today. If you don't, borrow and copy them from a friend, or look up Company or Follies or A Little Night Music or Sweeney Todd on youtube. It will be worth the effort.

And happy birthday, Steve. My wish is that you give us much more to hear and see. Blow out the candles.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

New Review Posted: One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Centerstage has posted my review of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest at Gift. It's an odd one. I mention it at the start of my review, but this play outdoes itself in castration references and descriptions of women dominating and destroying men. You could practically make a drinking game from it. And this production, while well-acted, gave the time to think about these elements. It didn't quite have enough electricity...er, that's the wrong metaphor. It didn't grab you by the throat...that's no better. It didn't cut deep enough...crap,. forget it.

Here's the text:

There isn't space to write about the many bizarre elements in the script of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," Dale Wasserman's 1963 stage adaptation of Ken Kesey's novel from a year earlier: there's distrust of psychiatry and all authority, a rather troubling "magical Indian Chief" character, and an extremely skewed attitude toward women (with a disturbing focus on castration), among many others. It makes watching the play in 2010 an odd experience.


Theaters still produce the play today, however, because of the rich acting roles and potential for hugely entertaining theatrical fireworks. John Kelly Connolly's Gift Theatre staging is moderately successful in that regard; there are many strong performances, but it falls short of gripping.


The play takes place at an Oregon mental hospital in 1959, ruled absolutely by the calm, sadistic Nurse Ratched (Alexandra Main). Randle P. McMurphy (Paul D'Addario), arrives from the work farm, committed after faking insanity to get an easier sentence. He soon discovers how wrong he is, and leads the inmates in a revolt against Ratched's authority.


Everyone in the cast of 20 is doing strong work: D'Addario brings a seedy edge to his iconic role, Main hides her nastiness behind a nearly implacable reserve, though we never really get a sense of what makes the character tick (that may be the fault of the writing), and Guy Massey, as the most articulate of the inmates, is delightful to watch.


But it never quite coheres into drama. Though rarely boring, it's also rarely compelling, and the stakes never get that high. It's always a pleasure to see a small company doing such an ambitious show, and there's lots of great stuff to see, but in the end it's too hard to get deeply involved.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

If Only I Had a Research Grant

Okay, maybe it's just me, but have you ever been struck by a topic and thought of what an awesome topic it would make for someone's Master's thesis? Like, I don't know, a comparison of Jewish male sexuality in Philip Roth's Goodbye, Columbus and Michael Chabon's The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, or the evolution of the dead relative appearing on stage as a character, or something like that. Because I'm sometimes struck by such ideas, and wish I had the ability to follow them to their conclusions, or hire someone to do it for me.

Which is all by way of saying: If anyone wants to write "The Nightmares Came Today": Violence, Disorder, and the Apocalypse in the Works of David Bowie, they should contact me at their earliest convenience.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Blog Exclusive Review: The Somewhat Gelatinous Blob From Beyond The Grave (And Also the Grave's in Outer Space!)

So this is another one of those not-really reviews. Julia Weiss, the playwright, and I actually did a show together at the Cornservatory a couple of years ago, and we've stayed friendly since. But as I wanted to see the show (full title above, henceforth referred to as Blob) and the people at the Cornservatory wanted me to write about it, they were gracious enough to provide comps for me.

The show is a parody of 1950's-era B Movies with absurd monsters at the center. It's a genre ripe for parody--the films' cheapo productions values, confusing plots, clunky dialogue, and bizarre acting style are hilarious on their own. If done sloppily, a spoof would be more grating than funny--it's too easy to go way over the top. At its best, however, Blob simply puts one extra twist on top of the existing absurdity, and the results are sidesplitting. There are parts that go too long or get too broad, but there's more than enough of the best parts to make it a very fun show--especially for those who take advantage of the theatre's BYOB policy.

The plot involves the attack by the B.L.O.B. (Daniel Polonka), which stands for "Boogeranious Lifeform Orginating from Bylopsia X-25," we soon learn) on Washington DC. It's eating people, leaving behind only their metal jewelry, and no conventional weapons can stop it. Mr. President (Steve Thomas) and his advisors (David Kaniuk, Jim McDaniel, and Michael Schmitt) quickly come to the conclusion that the disappearing people must be the result of the "Commumicks": Irish Communists--Communist because they're destroying America, Irish because of the frequent appearance of the color green at the scene of the disappearance. They're so sure of themselves that they ignore the increasingly frantic insistences of Smittie (Kevin Anderson), a goevernment scientist, that they have a B.L.O.B. on their hands. Soon they send Smittie to rescue Midge (Katherine Schwartz), the President's daughter, from the office of the Sherriff (Matt Gripe), where she has been since seeing her boyfriend eaten by the B.L.O.B. Of course love will blossom between them as they race to the Pentagon to save America.

It's incredibly silly stuff, of course. But huge sections of it are deliriously funny. Anderson and Schwartz are just about perfect: they play the scenes straight enough to let the absurdity of the script shine through. It's also some of the best writing in the play, especially Smittie's ludicrously dramatic monologues. The rest of the play often rises to that level--McDaniel is particularly spot-on in his variety of roles. But there are sections where things are played too broadly: there are too many scenes of the B.L.O.B. wreaking destructions on innocents and they all go on for too long, a few characters are saddled with one-joke personalities, and there are points when it threatens to go off the rails.

But it doesn't. Despite the flaws, the whole thing's performed with enough commitment that it all works. (Credit director Anneliese Toft for keeping the cast mostly on the same page.) It won't change your life, but there are many moments when you'll laugh your ass off.

Blob... runs Wednesday-Saturday at 8 PM through March 27th at the Cornservatory, 4210 N Lincoln Ave. Tickets, $7-15, at 312-409-6435 or http://www.cornservatory.ord/.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

New Review Posted: Lower Debt

My review of LiveWire's Lower Debt is up on Centerstage. Sadly the show doesn't have much to recommend it, but I'm impressed that this is the first show I've seen this year in Chicago that wasn't worth a visit. Ah well. Anyhow, here's the text:

To give credit where it's due, Joshua Aaron Weinstein's new play "Lower Debt" is not a solemn tract about the people left behind by capitalism and forced to live in tent cities. Unfortunately it's hard to tell just what it is: poetic monologues sit next to meandering scenes, interrupted by black-and-white filmed sections, while no real plot shows up until about 20 minutes from the end. It's perplexing, to say the least, but not in a particularly interesting way. Despite some worthwhile performances, a strong staging and a few involving moments, it's mostly just dull.


After a pair of monologues with no apparent relation to the rest of the play, Claude (Malcolm Callan), his lover Val (Melissa diLeonardo) and her younger cousin (or sister - it isn't clear) Wendell (Annie Rix) discover an empty lot and claim it, charging rent for its use as a tent city. Meanwhile, CW (Brian P. Cicirello), an advertising copywriter, loses his job and is pulled into poverty by a combination of bad decisions and worse fortune. CW's scenes are shown as black-and-white movies until he arrives at the tent city — an interesting idea hampered by sound that makes it hard to understand most of the dialogue. For most of the show, though, we watch the various residents of the tent city go about their lives. There is vague rumbling about the characters' pasts and possible connections among them, but by the time revelations arrive they're too late — and too confusing — to make it worth the trouble.


There's good work here; Rebekah Scallet's staging is clear and always interesting to watch, Cicirello and Earliana McLaurin give engaging performances, and Anders Jacobson and Judy Radovsky's set is very evocative. But at this stage the script is still a bewildering muddle, and it's hard to care.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Steppenwolf's New Season

Steppenwolf has announced its new season, organized around the theme of "Our Private/Public Self", to much fanfare and Facebook posting. (At least half a dozen of my friends had mentioned it online within hours of the announcement.) Shall we look into why? Full details at their website as well as the theatre blogs of the Chicago Tribune, Time Out, and just about everyone else.

Detroit
By Lisa D'Amour
Featuring ensemble members Kate Arrington and Robert Breuler
In the Downstairs Theatre
Thu. September 9, 2010 — Sun. November 7, 2010


Picture-perfect couple Ben and Mary fire up the grill to welcome the new neighbors who’ve moved into the long-empty house next door. Three barbeques later, the fledgling friendship veers out of control, shattering Ben and Mary’s carefully maintained semblance of success - with comic, unexpected consequences. Detroit is a fresh, off-beat look at what happens when we dare to open ourselves up to something new.

I'm not at all familiar with D'Amour's work--I don't believe she's ever had a Chicago production, or at least a high-profile one--so I don't know what to expect. It's gratifying to see something genuinely new. The description makes it look quite fascinating--we'll see how it goes.

Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
By Edward Albee
Directed by Pam MacKinnon
Featuring ensemble members Tracy Letts and Amy Morton
In the Downstairs Theatre
Thu. December 2, 2010 — Sun. February 13, 2011


On the campus of a small New England college, George and Martha invite a new professor and his wife home for a nightcap. As the cocktails flow, the young couple find themselves caught in the crossfire of a savage marital war where the combatants attack the self deceptions they forged for their own survival. Ensemble members Tracy Letts and Amy Morton face off as one of theatre’s most notoriously dysfunctional couples in Albee’s hilarious and harrowing masterpiece.

Did you hear that? That was the sound of every theatre nerd in Chicagoland having a spontaneous orgasm. For the less nerdy, let me explain why. Edward Albee is a leading candidate for both "Greatest Living American Playwright" and "Crankiest Old Man in the American Theatre," and Virginia Woolf is arguably his greatest play--certainly his best known. It's three-plus hours of two couples destroying each other and themselves--at once draining and exhilarating for the audience. McKinnon is a highly regarded director who's become a favorite of Albee's in recent years. And the expectations for Letts and Morton are stratospheric: he won the Pulitzer for August: Osage County and acts frequently, to great acclaim, and she gave one of the finest stage performances I have ever seen in August, only one of the 35 (!) shows she's done as actor and director at Steppenwolf. Fireworks are certain to result, and you better believe I'll be there.

Sex with Strangers
By Laura Eason
Directed by Jessica Thebus
Featuring ensemble member Sally Murphy with Stephen Louis Grush
In the Upstairs Theatre
Thu. January 20, 2011 — Sun. May 15, 2011


Ethan is a hot young writer whose online journals of "sexcapades" are the buzz of the blogosphere. Olivia is an attractive 30-something whose own writing career is fizzling. They hook up, sex turns into dating and dating into something more complicated. A break-out hit at Steppenwolf’s 2009 First Look Repertory, Sex with Strangers explores how we invent our identity - online and off - and what happens when our private lives become public domain.

This is the first production to make the jump from the First Look Festival (small-scale productions of new works in the Garage space in repertory) to the mainstage, which is certainly a good trend. The play itself got a great response upon opening, and I'm interested to see it on a larger scale. (Grush returns from the original staging while Murphy is new.)

The Hot L Baltimore
By Lanford Wilson
Directed by ensemble member Tina Landau
Featuring ensemble members Alana Arenas, K. Todd Freeman and Yasen Peyankov
In the Downstairs Theatre
Thu. March 24, 2011 — Sun. May 29, 2011


The Hotel Baltimore used to be the swankiest place in town - now it has a date with the wrecking ball. Eviction notices just went out to its residents, who live on the fringes of society and call the seedy hotel home. This acclaimed play from the author of Balm in Gilead is filled with everyday humanity - unexpectedly intimate and moving. Helmed by visionary director Tina Landau, The Hot L Baltimore reveals the private lives of an unconventional community about to be turned inside out.

Steppenwolf has a good history with Wilson--their 1980 production of Balm in Gilead was a huge hit in Chicago and New York and was one of the first to really put them on the map. I've seen a production of this play that didn't really hit me, but this has the potential to be quite good: it's a big ensemble piece, which is one of Landau's specialties, and I'm sure the cast will be filled out with a great group of people. I'm excited to see it.

Middletown
A new play by Will Eno
Directed by Les Waters
Featuring ensemble member Alana Arenas in the Steppenwolf Downstairs Theatre
June 16–Aug. 14, 2011


Mary Swanson just moved to Middletown. About to have her first child, she is eager to enjoy the neighborly bonds a small town promises. But life in Middletown is complicated: neighbors are near strangers and moments of connection are fleeting. Middletown is a playful, poignant portrait of a town with two lives, one ordinary and visible, the other epic and mysterious.

I haven't yet managed to see any of Eno's work, but his THOM PAIN was very highly regarded, and he's generally seen as one of the bright hopes of playwriting. The Steppenwolf Downstairs is a much larger stage than most of his works are seen on--I am interested to see if he effectively scales up from the intimate, even claustrophobic, world of his biggest success.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Court Theatre Announces 2010-2011 Season

As seen on their website and elsewhere, the Court Theatre in Hyde Park has announced their 2010-2011 season. Court consistently produces some of my favorite shows of the year, and they look to be continuing that tradition. One interesting note: They are marketing the hell out of directors this year--rather than a picture depicting the play, they have a big headshot of the director. Fascinating. Below are descriptions with comments.

The Comedy of Errors
September 16 – October 17


by William Shakespeare
directed by Sean Graney


Innovative director Sean Graney (The Hypocrites) re-imagines Shakespeare’s funniest farce about mistaken identity, mental illness, and xenophobia. The story of two sets of twins separated at birth, The Comedy of Errors will be a theatrical event full of energetic slapstick and lyrical comedy, performed by six virtuoso actors. This season opener represents the next step in Graney’s exploration of classic farce at Court Theatre, following What the Butler Saw and The Mystery of Irma Vep.

I'm a big fan of Graney's (as I've said a dozen times by now), and I'm fascinated to see how he tackles this one. I actually don't know the play very well, but this clearly won't resemble other versions of it--I can't imagine the play has ever been described as a farce about mental illness before. Whatever it is, it's unlikely to be dull.

Home
November 11 – December 12


by Samm-Art Williams
directed by Ron OJ Parson


Originally produced by the legendary Negro Ensemble Company in 1981, Home is an enduring and poetic story of hope and the resiliency of the human spirit told against the backdrop of the political and social upheavals of the 1960s and 70s. In 2008, Resident Artist Ron OJ Parson (Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, The Piano Lesson) directed an Audelco Award-winning production of Home at Signature Theatre Company in New York, which the New York Times called “a portrait of the black experience…that finds a homey beauty not in suffering but in carrying on.”

Another play I don't know well, but it was very highly regarded twice in New York, so I'm interested to see it. And Parson casts really well, so even if the script is flawed, it's still going to be fun to watch.

The third play, running January 13-February 13, has not yet been announced, but Newell's directing it. My educated guess is that it will be a play that falls under a traditional definition of "Classic," as The Comedy of Errors is the only currently-announced play that does.


Virginia Woolf’s Orlando
March 10, 2011 – April 10, 2011


adapted by Sarah Ruhl
directed by Jessica Thebus


Sarah Ruhl, one of American theater’s most exciting young playwrights, adapts Virginia Woolf’s gender-bending novel about sex, love, and history. Often called the longest love letter in literary history, Woolf’s Orlando tells the story of an English nobleman, Orlando, who lives for hundreds of years before falling asleep and waking up as a woman. Directed by longtime Ruhl collaborator Jessica Thebus (The Clean House at Goodman Theatre, Dead Man’s Cell Phone at Steppenwolf), Orlando demonstrates Court Theatre’s ongoing commitment to contemporary translations and adaptations of classic works.

I know the Sarah Ruhl haters will be out in force, but I can't help but be excited. Woolf's novel is a glorious mindbender, and among her most accessible, and I can't imagine how it would work staged. (While the film version, starring Tilda Swinton, is pretty exceptional, it depends on a lot of visual elements that couldn't be directly reproduced onstage.) And I think Ruhl's interest in formal invention (not to say whimsy) and cheerful disregard for realistic psychology would be a good fit for it. And Jessica Thebus (who remarkably has not previously directed at Court) knows how to stage a play. So I say bring it on.


The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess
May 12, 2011 – June 19, 2011


by George Gershwin, DuBose and Dorothy Heyward, and Ira Gershwin
Directed by Charles Newell
Music Direction by Doug Peck
Artistic Consultant Ron OJ Parson

Porgy and Bess remains George Gershwin’s magnum opus, with an unforgettable score that includes songs (“Summertime,” “It Ain’t Necessarily So”) later recorded by popular musicians from Billie Holiday to Ella Fitzgerald. Coming off their 2008 Jeff Award-winning production of Caroline, or Change, Charles Newell and Doug Peck come face-to-face with one of the greatest—and most controversial—pieces of American music theater ever created. Often denounced as a racially insensitive portrayal of black southerners, Newell and Peck, in collaboration with Resident Artist Ron OJ Parson and an all-African-American cast, will present a thoughtful, never-before-seen retelling of Gershwin and Heyward’s “folk opera” Porgy and Bess, a classic but contested piece of American theater history.

And the real big deal of the season: the first musical at Court since Caroline, Or Change, with the same director and musical director, and it's one of the titans of American theatre and music. It's some of the Gershwins' greatest music and lyrics, but with a scale far beyond what most theatres can do (and you can bet this version will be a hell of a lot smaller than most opera company versions) and a portrayal of black life often seen as outdated and insensitive. It's a huge undertaking, but it's doubtless going to be something special. I can't believe they're making me wait until next May to see it.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Blog Exclusive Review: Pretty Penny at the Right Brain Project

So to be clear about one thing: this isn't an official review. Randall Colburn, who wrote Pretty Penny, currently getting its world premiere at The Right Brain Project is a friend of mine: he won DrekFest, the annual contest for the most intentionally terrible play in America, at Stage Left in 2009, and we've gotten to know each other since. So while it opened a few weeks ago, when I was out of town, I was very pleased to have the chance to see Pretty Penny as a member of the press on Friday night. Some thoughts:

Early in the second act, when things have already gotten pretty complicated, one character cautions another "Don't let it get real." But of course she already has, and will only go further. Things getting real is the idea of the play--the attraction of masks and alternate identities, the power wielded through sex and lies, and the seduction and danger of breaking those barriers. The complexities of sex and identity in the modern age are dramatized with some frequency, but rarely with such intelligence, maturity, and fearless willingness to investigate consequences without sensationalizing.

The play is about Vick (Katy Albert, doing exceptionally assured work in her Chicago debut) who takes a job as an operator on a no-taboo phone sex line. Jerry (Josh Sumner), the owner, represents her phone identity, "Penny," with pictures he took of Crystal (Susan Myburgh), now a successful model, ten years before. Crystal and her boyfriend Tommy (Nick Mikula) find out, and both get very interested in Penny. Add in an obsessed caller (Buck Zachary), pining for his own missed chances, and a potential real-life date Vick keeps standing up (Stephen Gawrit), and things get really strange.

The play is structured in isolated scenes, and doesn't concern itself with matters of backstory--we never learn why Vick chose to work on a phone sex line or anything about her background and life, for instance. It trusts the audience to fill in the gaps and gives us enough to keep us totally engrossed. In this it's well matched with Robbel's production: the Right Brain Project's space is quite small, and there's just one row of benches surrounding the space on all four sides. Robbel dispenses with props and all sets but a few pieces of furniture, (mime supervisor Elizabeth Bagby makes it look completely natural) and the result is a microscopic focus on the characters and their behavior that pays off exceptionally well. He's also guided the actors to extremely strong, believable work, with Albert the first among equals.

Make no mistake, this is rough stuff. It's very funny and sharp at the beginning, but as the characters get more involved and desperate, it gets intensely uncomfortable--there are two scenes in the second act that had me squirming in my seat. And of course, it doesn't shy from sexual content, of fun and distressing varieties.

But it's not exploitative in any way--Colburn isn't rubbing our noses in depravity, just showing us real people in real situations. It's not a perfect play--I'm not sure the ending worked for me--but it's exceptionally strong, always fascinating to watch, and getting a first-rate production.  It's only running two more weeks, and I highly recommend a trip to see it. But if you miss it, all is not lost--the company is doing another of Colburn's plays, Hesperia, come summer. I'll certainly be there.

Pretty Penny runs Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 8 PM, Sundays at 7 PM through March 20th at the Right Brain Project, 4001 N Ravenswood. Reservations highly recommended, call 773-750-2033 or email tickets@therbp.org. More information here.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Season to Announce Seasons

The month of March has arrived, and with it the season announcements from many of Chicago's theatres. I always love season announcement time--it's so full of possiblity. Plenty of these shows won't end up being what we hope they will, but for now, 2010-11 is a glorious maybe.

So to fuel that expectation, here are season announcements from three companies: The Goodman (which announced a few weeks ago), Lookingglass, and Remy Bumppo (both of which announced yesterday), along with some commentary from me.

First up is the Goodman, which has announced three of the five plays being done in the larger Albert and two of the three for the more intimate Owen. Here's what they have to say:

Candide
Music by Leonard Bernstein
Book Adapted from Voltaire by Hugh Wheeler
New adaptations from Voltaire by Mary Zimmerman
Lyrics by Richard Wilbur
Additional lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, John Latouche, Lillian Hellman,
Dorothy Parker and Leonard Bernstein
Directed by Mary Zimmerman
Starts September 2010
In the Albert Theatre


Tony Award and MacArthur "Genius" Award-winning director Mary Zimmerman's breathtaking new production of Candide is the theatrical event of the season. In addition to the music of Leonard Bernstein, Candide features contributions from the greatest lyricists of the 20th century, from Richard Wilbur to Stephen Sondheim. In this racy musical satire, naive Candide is banished for romancing the Baron's daughter, only to be plagued by a series of absurd hardships that challenge his optimistic outlook of life and love.

Okay, as I've mentioned previously on this blog, I don't think that Candide will ever work. Period. Too much plot, zero character depth, impossible to make the tone work. Unfortunately, Leonard Bernstein wrote some of the most gorgeous music ever for the show, so people keep trying. (Note the huge number of collaborators listed.) Mary Zimmerman is the real wildcard here: I've never seen her work on a play she didn't write that wasn't by Shakespeare (though supposedly she is adapting this one to an extent), and opera and satire are not genres she usually works in. It's an open question whether her distinctive style will mesh with the play at all. But I am certainly curious to see how it turns out. Also, you're not allowed to call something the event of the season before it opens. Hey, at least nothing is listed as "Broadway-Bound" for this season.


Rain
By Regina Taylor
Starts January 2011
In the Albert Theatre
A World Premiere


Rain is Regina Taylor's most personal and intimate work to date. Fiercely independent Iris has made a successful life for herself as a journalist in New York City, but when her marriage fails, she begins to unravel. In search of solace, Iris returns to her mother's house in Texas, but her homecoming proves more confounding than consoling when her mother makes a shocking announcement. As long-buried family secrets come to light, Iris must face her past and make some difficult decisions about the future.

Taylor has a long history with the Goodman, with some productions doing much better than others, but she generally goes for something worthwhile, even if she doesn't reach it. The plot description doesn't give much to go on, so I'm not sure what to think.


Stage Kiss
By Sarah Ruhl
Starts March 2011
In the Albert Theatre
A World Premiere Goodman Theatre commission


In this quirky new comedy by MacArthur "Genius" Award-winner Sarah Ruhl, art imitates life—or is it the other way around? When ex-lovers HE and SHE are thrown together as romantic leads in an outrageously dreadful melodrama, they quickly lose touch with reality as the story onstage begins to follow them offstage. Stage Kiss is a hilarious, off-beat fairy-tale about what happens when lovers share a stage kiss—or when actors share a real one...

Ruhl has her passionate attackers and defenders, and this looks likely to confirm their opinions. It's described as both "quirky" AND "offbeat," which may overload the whimsy for some. However, it does look like a fun idea, and Ruhl's the It Girl these days, so a premiere of hers is certainly a coup.


The Seagull
By Anton Chekhov
Directed by Robert Falls
Starts October 2010
In the Owen Theatre


Goodman Artistic Director Robert Falls directs an intimate new production of Chekhov's masterwork The Seagull, whose unforgettable characters reveal the passion and pathos of everyday life. When famed actress Irina visits her family with her young lover Trigorin in tow, they become ensnared in a tragicomic tangle of romance, intrigue and unrequited love. Don't miss this unique opportunity to experience a 20th century masterpiece, interpreted by one of America's outstanding directors.

As has been mentioned, The Seagull is not a 20th century masterpiece at all, as it was written in 1895. Chekhov is also not hard to find on Chicago stages, so I'm not sure it's a show the Goodman really needs to do. But it sure is a masterpiece, and I'd be interested to see what Falls does with it in the more intimate Owen. I'm also curious as to the translation being used.


Mary
By Thomas Bradshaw
Directed by May Adrales
Starts February 2011
In the Owen Theatre
A World Premiere Goodman Theatre Commission


Outrageous. Ruthless. Explosive. Named "Best Provocative Playwright" by The Village Voice, Thomas Bradshaw pulls no punches in his comic absurdist drama Mary. At the height of what Time magazine dubbed "AIDS hysteria" in 1983, college student David invites his boyfriend home to his parents' house in Virginia where nothing has changed since the 1800s—including the slave quarters. Confronting hypocrisy and oppression with exhilarating wit, Bradshaw's incendiary work is "likely to leave you speechless!" (The New York Times).

Bradshaw is a proud provocateur, and this looks like no exception. The description makes me really want to see what they hurl at us. I believe this is Bradshaw's first production in Chicago, so we'll either see lots more of him or never see him again. Bring it on.

Here's the three-play season just announced by Lookingglass Theatre, all to be performed at their home in Water Tower Place.

Peter Pan
Adapted for the Stage by Amanda Dehnert
From the books by J.M. Barrie
Directed by Amanda Dehnert
Begins October 20, 2010


We’ll start by igniting your childhood imaginations with the timeless story of the boy who wouldn’t grow up. Amanda Dehnert, a nationally-known director with singular vision, will direct her original adaptation of Peter Pan, based on the books by J.M. Barrie. Bombastic, playful, and darkly comic, Dehnert’s adaptation brings innovative theatricality, aerial arts, and a soulful understanding of yearning and regret to this legendary adventure of pirates, fairies and fantasy.

As Rob Kozlowski said, this is a no-brainer for Lookingglass, and it's amazing they've never done it before. Amanda Dehnert's a director with a great reputation, and a really lovely person--we knew each other slightly at Northwestern, where this play was workshopped last season. I'm pretty excited.
 Ethan Frome
Written and Directed by Laura Eason
Adapted from the novel by Edith Wharton
A World Premiere Lookingglass Original
Begins February 23, 2011


In winter, we’ll warm ourselves with a smoldering adaptation of Ethan Frome, a novel by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton. Ensemble Member Laura Eason, recently hailed by the Chicago Tribune as Chicago’s next breakout playwright, will direct her adaptation of this deeply poetic story about fervent desire, illicit passion, staggering regret and the irreversible choices that shape the life of a reticent farmer in Starkfield, Massachusetts.

I'm wondering how this novel, which is apparently very small-scale and psychologically acute, will work on stage, particularly such a large one, and in a company with a reputation for physical storytelling. We'll see, I'm intrigued. That said, I'd love to see a bang-up stage version of Wharton's The Age of Innocence, which has huge potential. Get on that, playwrights of Chicago.


The Last Act of Lilka Kadison
Written by Nicola Behrman, David Kersnar and Abbie Phillips
Directed by David Kersnar
Begins June 1, 2011


We close our season with an original story about a spirited woman in the twilight of her life directed and co-written by Ensemble Member David Kersnar. Now in her 87th year, Lilith Kadison (Lilka) is struggling to reconcile with her distant son, fend off ghostly visitations from her irreverent artistic partner and lover from 1939 Poland, and relinquish her independence to Menelik Moses, an Ethiopian caregiver. A classic hoarder of both objects and memories, Lilka now faces the universal dilemma of what to cling to and what to let go in this powerful piece about art and survival, The Last Act of Lilka Kadison.

Looks interesting--hopefully it will avoid the sentimentality that sometimes plagues tales of elderly people looking back on their lives. Still, it could be hugely moving if it works.

And finally Remy Bumppo, performing at the Greenhouse Theatre Center. They haven't put out an official press release that I've seen, but they've announced the titles.

First is Tom Stoppard's Night and Day, directed by Artistic Director James Bohnen. It's an interesting piece, about a woman, a journalist in a fictional African country, who finds herself in over her head. It's not often done in the United States (and when I read it years ago I didn't really get it), but Stoppard is always worth seeing, and Remy Bumppo does his work very well. I'm interested to rediscover it.

Next is Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest, directed by Shaun Douglass. It's done frequently, sure, but it's been a while since it had a large-scale production in Chicago, and it's just so damn delightful. I haven't seen it recently, so I'm excited to go again.

In the spring of 2011, they're doing Edward Albee's The Goat, Or Who Is Sylvia, about the fallout when a woman discovers her husband's four-hooved mistress. It's an odd choice--the Goodman just did the show in 2003, which makes this a little soon for another large-scale revival. But mostly it's just that I'm not a huge fan of the play. Albee's language is of course gorgeously and very witty, and the dish-breaking, vase-smashing second scene is always riveting, but I just don't think there's as much to the play as many do. To me, it reads like Albee saying "goat-fucker" repeatedly and getting respect anyway because he's won three Pulitzers and is a living legend. I just don't see the profundity. But I'd be willing to have my mind changed.

That's all for now, but I'm sure more announcements are to come. When they do, meet me here.