Monthly Archives: September 2011
Dynamic dance collaboration by two groups to keep on your radar
Inaside Chicago Dance and Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre
Harris Theater, Chicago
September 24, 2011
Review by Darcy Rose Coussens
Two different companies. Two mission statements. Two acts. One satisfying and heartening night of dancing at the Harris Theater. This weekend, Inaside Chicago Dance and Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre had the opportunity to collaborate and perform at the Harris Theatre near Millennium Park in Chicago. Recognized as one of Chicago’s finest venues for dance performance, this space is usually out of the budget for these professional, not-for-profit companies. However, the MetLife Foundation has awarded a grant to Dance/USA to support New Stages for Dance pilot programs in Chicago, San Francisco, and for the third year in Philadelphia. Through these programs, the cost of venues such as the Harris is subsidized, allowing these companies more exposure.
The performance was a success, especially in that it promoted two companies with a lot to offer. The first act was made up of several different pieces by Inaside. The jazz dance company opened with an exciting swing number full of seamless partnering that will make you want to head out to the Green Mill and try some yourself. I didn’t feel a blast from the past, though– the four-part piece had a contemporary feel that Inaside maintained throughout the entire act. Their pieces varied in style, and they also allowed their youth ensemble to perform. I believe my younger self would have been motivated by both the company and the youth ensemble, because their styles were familiar enough to be accessible, while still experimental and artistic.
Inaside left me with an impression of sunshine between their bright dresses and music that could have been the soundtrack to a romantic comedy. Most importantly, they all smile! I found it extremely refreshing to see dancers enjoy themselves instead of being serious artists, and it certainly helped the audience enjoy them, as well. At times the choreography felt more fit for TV’s “So You Think You Can Dance” than the Harris, but I mostly found it to creatively make use of space and explore partnership.
The second act was Cerqua Rivera’s, and their first number snapped me to attention. Eddy Ocampo choreographed a riveting, political piece juxtaposing the concept of home with that of war. This included projections of children’s drawings of houses and photographs of child soldiers all over the world. These were accompanied by gunshots over the music and the dancers’ disturbing but impressive interpretation of play and self-exploration in a frightening setting.
Their opening number set a very high standard that took the show to an entirely new level, and they definitely lived up to it in all following pieces. A collaboration between acclaimed musician and composer Joe Cerqua and Artistic Director/choreographer Wilfredo Rivera, this company features an excellent nine-piece band with additional vocalists. The live music infused the performance with energy and a quality of style for each piece, and several fantastic soloists were featured. The company truly accomplishes the diversity and representation of different cultures they declare in their mission statement while allowing for beautiful choreography. In each number, however different the style, they establish a vocabulary of movement, which is important in creating the world of each piece. This is a company I would jump at the chance to see again.
Dance/USA’s New Stages for Dance programs are clearly a wonderful idea, and it is fortunate for Chicago that the MetLife Foundation is funding the exposure of groups like these. The numbers were somewhat brief, which allowed both companies to show off many styles of their repertoire and the audience to digest and really appreciate what they saw. It also gave the musicians of the second act their own moments, as they played interludes between each piece. The finale was comprised of both companies and included selected repetition from different numbers, which tied the show together nicely. Inaside and Cerqua Rivera are very different types of companies, but both made a great impression. Although perhaps not entirely polished, Inaside Dance Chicago’s budding youth and blossoming company achieved a delightful performance of varied jazz styles. Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre is a company in full bloom, with outstanding dancers, choreographers, and musicians. This really was a night of constant motion, but it was also a night of beauty, humor, and a celebration of music and dance in all its styles.
by Devlyn Camp
When walking into the small box of the Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company, you might be quite impressed by the set of their newest play, Riff Raff. It takes place in a run-down apartment in New York City where two drug thieves hide out from a heroin dealer. The shoddy living space is littered with food wrappers, peeling wallpaper, and old candles, which is the perfect setting for the story. So walk in and take a glace at the set, but then leave. The show has little else to offer.
My first thought after fifteen minutes was simply “Please stop screaming at me.” The actors, whose characters have just killed someone, continue to panic and scream for the entire first scene while the plot stands still. This is the first glimmering of the next two hours of overacting. Mike Cherry, playing the rougher guy Torch, takes his part from dull to worse as he hollers through his rough New York dialect. As the show progresses, the dialect becomes heavier and grungier, completely distracting from anything he says. Although, most of his lines are simply “Forget about it,” which is said so often that the play should be named as such.
As we sit with these wimpy criminals, the plot takes few turns while they discuss practically nothing. Mike, the man opposite Torch, rants in minutes-long monologues, telling stories that end up having absolutely no value toward their situation. It seems the play is all exposition for something bigger… but by the end we receive nothing.
Laurence Fishburne, the author of Riff Raff, said he took only eight days to write his story. Even that seems like a long time for the result. The dialogue is cheese, the acting is a tough-guy parody, and the story is vacant. The biggest twist: one of the drug thieves turns out to be a user. With so many openings this fall, why waste time with something that is not innovative, unique, or even somewhat entertaining?
Now through October 30th
Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8 PM
Sundays at 7 PM
Tickets $18-22, available at maryarrchie.com
Contact Devlyn Camp
by Devlyn Camp
If ever there’s a black box to be seated in, it’s the Red one.
Opening their season last Saturday, the Chicago-premiering play is moving and meaningful, yet so completely funny. Red Twist’s production of Elling is a stimulated, welcoming look into the unrested minds of two openhearted men.
Played by Jeff-winning Peter Oyloe and set designer/new Co-Artistic Director Andrew Jessop, two uneasy men in an institution, Kjell and Elling, are finally permitted to leave and restart their adult lives. Through their experience together, the audience sees the world from their perspectives of unknowing, realizing the oddness of everyday life.
Elling sends the two childlike adults through a quick birth into a new society where they learn that to act normal is to be normal. Following natural instinct isn’t what is always socially acceptable, which is proven by Kjell’s uncontrolled hyper-concern with sex. Oyloe’s body language perfectly reflects the perplexed nature of Kjell. He rocks and wanders, looking for the answers (and women, if he can figure out what exactly he’s supposed to say to them). Meanwhile, Elling is uptight and unable to leave his home, because why should one have a home if they want to leave it? He’s paranoid and unable to make decisions after relying on his mother for his entire life until her death.
The relationship that develops between the lonely friends speaks for how much we rely on others, and asks what might fill the void when the one we depend on is gone. Experiencing the world and learning how to operate among the unknown is a crucial piece to being alive.
As Chicago theatregoers know, the imagination prerequisite for black box theatre is a must-have to enjoy the experience, but Red Twist takes the small box further now with this production. The brilliant set designed by Andrew Jessop (also in the title role) imagines the one-bedroom apartment into nightclubs, a poet’s library, a cabin and a mental institution. Tables raise from the floor, the wall empties out beds, and kitchen appliances double as makeshift devices. The set is simple, yet remarkably crafty.
“Innovative” doesn’t begin to describe the level of box theatre creativity at Red Twist. They are proof that expensive, thousand-person spectacle shows don’t hold up for a moment next to great drama, originality and a small playbook of people who know how to get the job done.
Red Twist Theatre
Now through October 30th
Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 7:30 PM
Sunday at 3:00 PM
Tickets $25-30, available at www.redtwist.org
Peter Oyloe and Andrew Jessop, photo courtesy Kim Schechter
Contact Devlyn Camp
by Devlyn Camp
Court has a little more to offer than spunk tonight. They’ve got fearless voices, smart comedy, and a joyful presentation of life’s common struggles. Perhaps “spunk” really does cover it. Spunk is an adaptation of three short stories by Zora Neale Hurston. The show taps into its soul through musical numbers by Chic Street Man, and illuminates the characters of the Harlem Renaissance writer.
From the top, the “Folks” want their audience in on the fun. A guitarist (Kelvyn Bell, also the music director) enters, nonchalantly asking “How you doin’?” and opens the book to this fun little world. The Folks enter joyfully, narrating their own stories in a charming, comical fashion, painting Hurston’s pages out in animation.
The three short pieces illustrate struggles that are still relevant today. On the worn, wooden set, they tell a story that ultimately has one message: You reap what you sow. Along with being alive, each person must connect with karma and face their pain. Although however true this is, watching these six actors (and a wooden puppet), it hurts so good. The audience is butter in their frying pan, sizzling and melting into the smooth, thick vocals. The catchy bantering of “I’m Too Good Lookin’ For You” between the guitarist and the main narrator, Blues Speak Woman, causes the audience to have trouble hearing the music over the outrageous agreeing laughter. These quick accounts and peppy tunes prove that while there are the weeds of everyday life to pull, we can still enjoy ourselves, and grow into our own little place in the world.
Now through October 9, 2011
Available at www.courttheatre.org
Kelvyn Bell and Alexis J. Rogers, photo courtesy Michael Brosilow
by Devlyn Camp
Columbia College proves its talent with Liminality Theatre’s production of This Is Our Youth at Stage 773. The entire cast – although only a cast of three – and most of the production staff graduated from the school, and the director himself teaches there. Brian Posen, also the Artistic Director of 773, directs a small play about three twenty-something Manhattan kids. They’re not exactly kids anymore, though, as they must come to face their issues with drug use and family disagreements. Warren (Patrick C. Whalen) is at a crossroads when kicked out of his wealthy father’s home and into the trashy abode of his drug-dealing friend. Dennis (Adam Welsh) is a stoned, stubborn, charge-ahead kind of guy, but only when he feels like it. Welsh enthusiastically sends him on fantastic rants of brilliant insults, ripping through the script with his comedic patter. The dialogue is so real and honest, even including awkward moments of “um” and “ya know”s and also the common “like” about three dozen times. These additions are very honest to how youth speak. The awkward romantic moments between Warren and Jessica (Teagan Walsh-Davis) are less than eloquent and so painfully real, you’ll find yourself thinking “Oh God, I say those things when I hit on a guy. It’s terrible.” It’s delightful.
Youth touches base on topics any down-on-their-luck artist would think about: Will I grow out of who I am? Does any of this really mean anything? As Warren skips around his money problems and drug dealing with Dennis, his comedic relief is brilliant and carries the show through tough issues in his life. He has a few touchy subjects that butt heads with Dennis and his vices to the point when we wonder how his drug “business” becomes less of pleasure and more of a burden. When does a user’s life turn from a nice high to a permanent rock bottom? The best thing to do could be to start over.
As this performance ended, the lights went down and we sat silently, until an old man and his wife in the front row clapped. There must be a message for everyone here.
THIS IS OUR YOUTH
Just two more shows! September 23, 24 at 7:30 PM
Call 773-327-5252 or visit www.stage773.org
THE KID THING
Now through October 16th
Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8 PM
Sunday at 3 PM
Tickets $32, available at www.chicagodramatists.org
The clock is ticking at Chicago Dramatists. For one woman, it’s her maternal clock. For another, time is running out on her extracurricular secrets. At a dinner table for four, these women are catalyzed by the shocking news of their friends’ pregnancy announcement. In most other situations, the announcing couple would be overwhelmed by friends with rapture and party planning, but scene by scene, the relationships between these two lesbian couples are broken down and exposed.
Chicago Dramatists and About Face Theatre are collaborating for the first time to produce “The Kid Thing” by Sarah Gubbins. Even Steppenwolf had a hand in helping bring this story to the stage, proving that it can take a family of theaters to raise a play. Gubbins is presenting a very specific issue in her play: lesbian couples who struggle with potential motherhood. KID confronts the problems with various adoption and surrogacy methods, which parent should carry the child, and also issues after a child’s birth, such as what each mother should be called. How does having one “mom” and one “mother” reflect on a child’s view of typical parent relationships? Outside of the issues same-sex couples have, the play discusses every woman’s concern with motherhood. Some women would rather live quietly with their partner, others practically hear the ticking clock when they pass by the baby food aisle.
Gubbins’s play is quick and so witty. There are several laugh-out-loud (or lol, as we say now) moments tied to extremely poignant thoughts. In its Chicago setting, it’s great to hear these women jive about the typical liberal lesbian’s addiction to Whole Foods fruits and Trader Joe’s trips. The scene-stealing Darcy (Kelli Simpkins) hits the nail on the head joke after joke. She is cutting, quick, and looks right at home wise-cracking with her friends in her man’s suit.
The Kid Thing exposes the real truth behind all relationships, and has intelligent thoughts to be understood for both straight and gay couples. The idea of perfection in love is foolish idealism. Life has too many curveballs to be able to run so simply. The only method of maintaining something close to perfection is being perfectly clear, openly transparent with a partner. Clarity is essential, and without it, misunderstandings divide a couple. Hoping, expecting, living on a prayer doesn’t create valuable results. Taking action for the tick ticking in your intuition does. But which action is the right one to take?
Now through October 9th
Thursday, Friday, Saturday at 8 PM
Sunday at 2 PM
Tickets $15-$25 at www.Stage773.com
or by phone at 773.327.5252 or at the box office
Greene Tree Productions is currently presenting their latest show at the in-transition Stage 773. “Yellowman” is a two person piece with alternating short monologues telling the intertwined stories of Alma and and her boyfriend. Alma is a large, dark-skinned woman who is faced with hateful treatment by lighter-skinned African Americans. She grows up with her friend, later boyfriend, Eugene whose skin is “yellow, like butter.” Their relationship is criticized throughout their youth in South Carolina, until Alma decides to make a change.
Alma is played by Emmy Award-winning actress Deanna K. Reed. She’s the life of the show, with her whimsical giggles and impressions. J. Israel Greene, playing opposite Reed, falls a bit short. During some of his longer monologues, attention seems to be held at bay for Reed to return. Not all blame can be left to him, though. The play, although telling an important story, is told in a dull fashion. The separate, side-by-side perspectives are intriguing, but the tale moves quite slow and lacks much action until the second act. The set is also quite simple, to match the story, although very charming with its glittering glass bottles spread under the wooden platform. Maybe not the most exciting choice for a night out, but “Yellowman” is unique, speaking about a frequently overlooked prejudice, and is, as mentioned before, also very charming.
Stage 773 is unveiling their $1.5 million renovation at their grand opening celebration Sunday, October 16 at 7 PM.
By Devlyn Camp
Now through October 2nd
Thursdays & Fridays at 8 PM
Saturdays at 5 and 8 PM
Sundays at 2:30 PM
Ticket info call (773) 871-3000
or visit americanbluestheater.com
American Blues Theater is jumpstarting their new season with a punching Depression-era one act that speaks volumes for the working class underdog. Clifford Odets’ play Waiting For Lefty is a fictional take on 40-day taxi strike of the mid-30s. Today’s younger generation knows very little about the importance of a strike. In fact, the only recent strike that comes to mind is the 2007-2008 Writers Guild strike, during which the biggest problem for many outside the fight meant the delay of a movie or losing a handful of episodes from their television lineup. In our days of reality programming and closer-to-reality sitcoms, our generation’s strike story is only a flickering light next to 1935′s gunfire and mobbing chaos.
Lefty is a one hour union meeting in which the attendees wait for their leader to arrive to take the next steps. In this hour, each person’s story is told before the crowd in a series of vignettes. The focus is on family. How can a father provide? How far can a mother’s morals be pushed to put change in her pocket? How can a woman grow to start her own family? Gwendolyn Whiteside’s performance catalyzes the audience’s emotional understanding of the time as she makes her financially responsible decision whether to leave her fiance while they dance together to her record player. They fantasize in their cute, lovable way about dressing up and being in the glamorous movies. The song ends and the record bumps as she sits to cry in her chair. It thuds along in the silence like a heartbeat. It becomes clear that this is what the stories are about: the heart. What the heart wants romantically and parentally, and what the heart needs physically to survive.
In a time when real life is far from “just like in the movies,” jobs are lost, families starve, and it seems shaking a fist at God is the only thing one can afford to do. Cheryl Graeff, playing Dr. Benjamin, sends the potential strike into a stir when her job is threatened and her medical skills are overlooked because she is Jewish. Kimberly Senior presents the story in a way of saying that this isn’t just a period piece, it’s a story for today, too. To reach for your rights is human, and everyone should hold up their fist when it becomes necessary. By the end of the act, the American workers don’t have to imagine how to live in the movies because the fight they start will become the stories told on the stage. They didn’t need to wait for Lefty all along. They had the strength among them the entire time. Senior’s presentation is proof that education is at its most powerful when in the theatre.
Alice’s Adventure’s Under Ground
City Lit Theater
By Devlyn Camp
City Lit’s newest production, Christopher Hampton’s Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, is an episodic play that hints at what imagination looks like when played out in an artist’s mind. From the start, the audience gets a look into the pensive, dramatic and inspired mind of Lewis Carroll, using pieces and parts from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There. Five actors tell the story as 32 characters, including Carroll himself. Each scene is a snippet of the familiar story working its way through Carroll’s thoughts to his page. Through unexpected entrances and goofy physical gags, every prop and piece of furniture is an inspiration to his story, leaving no teacup or table unscathed.
Although it must be quite easy to be silly in the fantastical scenes, the five actors deliver dramatic and believable stories. They then quickly turn around to the next scene and send off one punch line after another as a completely different character. Lee Wichman, playing the March Hare among other characters, steals his scenes with his quirky, crazy facial expressions and songs of soup. His frequent scene partners Edward Kuffert and Morgan McCabe also keep the comedic ball rolling in their ridiculous voices and zany physical comedy.
The play is directed by Terry McCabe, who has been directing around the city for over 30 years. McCabe sets the stage wonderfully for Carroll’s imagination to piece its story together. Only a one-act piece, there’s plenty of time in a theatre-goer’s schedule to catch this intelligent, funny trip down the rabbit hole.
Tickets are $25 and are available at www.citylit.org
or by calling (773) 293-3682
September 2 – October 9
Fridays & Saturdays at 8:00 PM
Sundays at 3:00 PM
and Sep. 29/Oct. 6 at 8:00 PM