Chicago Theatre Review

Monthly Archives: October 2013

The Unusual Suspects

October 25, 2013 Comments Off on The Unusual Suspects

Heist Play – Ruckus Theatre

What comes to mind at the words Film Noir? Humphrey Bogart in a trench coat? The shadow of a well coiffed dame on the office window of a PI? Shootouts in back allies? The hardboiled black and white thrillers of the late 40‘s and 50‘s are all that true, but those classic, instantly recognizable images are but it suits and trappings. A Noir story is   best defined as a long sinuous snake of a plot, or the aperitif of the mystery lover, or as Rodger Ebert put it, “The most American film genre, because no society could have created a world so filled with doom, fate, fear and betrayal unless it were essentially naive and optimistic.”

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A Puppet’s World is Flat

October 22, 2013 Comments Off on A Puppet’s World is Flat

The Table – Chicago Shakespeare Theatre

CST_TABLE_Photo1_byLornaPalmerAs part of CST’s lauded and much-welcome World Stages Series, the United Kingdom’s eclectic Blind Summit Theatre tours to Navy Pier with a three-person, one-puppet performance that defies description. Not so much a play, and certainly not a “puppet show” in the literal sense, this ingeniously offbeat 70-minute production is part philosophical discussion, part stand-up comedy act.

The technical support for this performance couldn’t be simpler: a table placed front and center on an otherwise empty stage, enough lighting to illuminate Moses, the irascible Bunraku star of this performance piece, and his puppeteers Mark Down, Sean Garratt and Irena Stratieva. As director, Down operates the character’s left hand and large, cardboard head, while providing Moses‘ voice. Garratt controls the puppet’s right hand and “bum” while Ms. Stratieva, bent over the table, manipulates the character’s feet. With the puppeteers clad entirely in black, the effect is that Moses is really in control of his humans.

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Artistically Gut-Wrenching Theatre

October 22, 2013 Comments Off on Artistically Gut-Wrenching Theatre

Lord of the Flies

Unknown(1)In this thrilling environmental production of William Golding’s controversial novel, the audience experiences this

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The Diva Directs

October 15, 2013 Comments Off on The Diva Directs

Master Class – Theo Ubique

get-attachment.aspx(2)Before the houselights even dim, diva Maria Callas steps onto the Julliard lecture hall stage (authentically recreated in detail by scenic designer Adam L.Veness) and speaks directly to her audience. Chosen from hundreds

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A Wheels of a Dream Production

October 15, 2013 Comments Off on A Wheels of a Dream Production


imagesStephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens’ epic musical, with a book by Terrence McNally, is based upon the sweeping, historical 1975 novel by E. L. Doctorow that depicts the challenges and changes that America witnessed at the turn of the century, set against a newly evolving style of ragtime music. Doctorow created a cast of fictional characters drawn from three different ethnic groups who interact with several real historical figures of the period. The result is a musical valentine to the American Dream that paints a colorful portrait of the nation on the brink of change.

Coalhouse Walker, a ragtime pianist from Harlem represents African Americans; Mother, the matriarch of an upper class suburban family exemplifies the affluent Caucasian group; and Tateh, a Jewish widower from Latvia typifies the masses of destitute European immigrants pouring through Ellis Island searching for a better life in America. Their stories all begin in isolation from each other, but eventually they intersect until, by the final curtain, the three groups have melded into one. These imaginary characters and their families exist along side of famous historical folks, such as Harry Houdini, Evelyn Nesbit, Booker T. Washington, Henry Ford, Emma Goldman, J.P. Morgan and other celebrities from 1906. Their journey toward change and understanding is what electrifies this much-accoladed musical (the 1998 Tony winner for Best Book, Score, Orchestrations and Supporting Actress), making it a popular choice for theatre companies the world over.

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In a Dark, Dark Room

October 9, 2013 Comments Off on In a Dark, Dark Room

Northanger Abbey – Remy Bumppo

gregsarahromanticOne of Jane Austen’s lesser known novels, Northanger Abbey was among her earliest works, but was only revised and published after her death by her brother in 1818. The story has been enjoyed as BBC and A&E televised versions, and there have been several other novels inspired by Austen’s work. Most notably are an updated young adult novel called Northanger Alibi, by Jenni James, and Margaret C. Sullivan’s sequel to Austen’s classic, There Must Be Murder. However, except for Michael Napier Brown’s dramatic adaptation, written 15 years ago for the the Royal Theatre of Northampton, Austen’s most theatrical novel ironically hasn’t appeared much on stage. With Tim Luscombe’s new adaptation, all the melodrama and romance found in Jane Austen’s parody of the gothic novel finally sparkles on the boards.

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Cheep Goods in a Gorgeous Gown

October 7, 2013 Comments Off on Cheep Goods in a Gorgeous Gown

The North China Lover

A note to storytellers: just because your tale has a love story, doesn’t necessarily render it important. In order to titillate, to capture our imagination, love stories need to transform their participants for better or worse, inspiring a chemical reaction that lashes out into the world around them. If you have two people, no matter how unlikely a pairing, just rubbing up against each other and keeping their interest on a dead baseline of Ennui listlessly strummed, you don’t have a story, just an incident.

Thus do I level a charge at Marguerite Duras authoress, heroine and narrator of the North China Lover, now adapted by Heidi Stillman for the Lookingglass stage. Duras’s story chronicles her first real love affair in 1930‘s Saigon when, as an impoverished School Girl she fell in with a wealthy Manchurian playboy. While the event itself, and the manner in which she novelized it, may have been a taut and profound, on stage her brisk way of pinning down and mummifying her memories, loses any vividness or urgency it might have had. The cross racial/social affair, usually an sure fire catalyst for audience soul searching or dramatic angst isn’t even the most particular quirk of the story: the novel might have easily been called The Boarding School Lover or The Brother Lover, for all the unaddressed sexual tension floating about. Duras’s intrigue, which by rights out to churn with frustration like a tidal pool instead churns with frustration like an enormous vat of pasteurized butter, regular as clockwork and largely unappetizing.

Stillman has done her level best to bring the very sensory and fragmented novel to the stage. She has given the narration to Marguerite, or M (Deanna Dunagan), herself who guides and helps populate the world where the Child (Rae Gray), M.’s younger self and the Lover (TIm Chiou) become obsessed with each other. Dunagan has some trouble working as narrator, waffling between describing the scene impartially as a writer and letting the mists of time waft her into her former state of emotional entanglement. She comes into her own when required to throw herself into the action onstage, addressing her phantoms, trying to peel back their future to come, to give them so warning, some solace. Our lovers are well molded to their rolls: Gray is pitch perfect as a battered and weary French Expatriate, with her deadpan stare and curdling voice, while Chiau draws attention to himself with his fumbling, apologetic manner, and soft spoken professions of violent affection. Either could have picked up their pace, their interest and ours, a bit more, but constrained by the morass of Saigon heat and French Prose, they prefer to plod along to a luxurious bed, then to a luxurious restaurant, then an awkward home life, and back again.

Since the story fails to inspire, I’m happy to say that lighting designer Dan Ostling paces it through a gorgeous array of light and shadow. His electronic works have a poetry of their own: he brings scenes forward from nothing, veils them in brightness, sets a location by simple quality of light or a falling shadow, constructing the phantom world more deftly than any rolling set piece could convey.

Looking at the poetry of light glide stately through the evening, with the play halting on behind it I consoled myself that perhaps, with time the North China Lover will stop stumbling over its bound feet, that Gray or Chiau or the rest of the cast will one evening have an epiphany, that the show will rise from its sick bed and shake like a spurned paramour turned up with its cardboard suitcase at our door one rainy night. I tend to doubt it though, and fear The North China Lover will remain cheep goods in a gorgeous gown, staring balefully out from the Lookingglass stage.


Not Recommended by Ben Kemper


Lookingglass Theater, 821 Michigan Ave


$36 a ticket.


Additional information about this and other area productions can be found at

A Winner By a Nose

October 7, 2013 Comments Off on A Winner By a Nose

Cyrano de Bergerac – Chicago Shakespeare Theatre

CST_CYRANO_byLizLauren_01Chicago Shakespeare Theater has been continually branching out each season to include international classical and noteworthy contemporary plays and musicals, in addition to those penned by the Bard. Edmond Rostand’s most famous work about a real-life French nobleman, poet and musician with an oversized nose is currently enjoying a lush production on CST’s three quarter-round Courtyard Stage. The play succeeds both because and in spite of its production elements.

Director Penny Metropulos, returns from Oregon Shakespeare Festival after her overwhelming successes here with “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” and her multi Jeff-honored “The Madness of George III.” Once again she partners with her Jeff Award-winning leading actor, Broadway’s Harry Groener, to play the title role, bringing new life and energy to Anthony Burgess’ translation of the Rostand classic. When Groener is the focus of this production the play is everything it should be. Groener, under Ms. Metropulos‘ guidance, delivers each line of poetry as naturally as if it were everyday speech. He mines every golden ounce of comedy and subtle humor from his portrayal, while still able to bring honesty to Cyrano’s moments of melancholy, loneliness and unrequited love. Beyond that, Mr. Groener also proves to be quite the accomplished swordsman, thanks to Rick Sordelet’s expertly devised fight choreography. In short, Harry Groener is the perfect Cyrano and should start dusting off a shelf for one more Best Actor Award.

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Don’t Cross Mama

October 3, 2013 Comments Off on Don’t Cross Mama

The Water’s Edge – Ashton Rep

WatersEdge-12-400x266When Richard pulls back the tarp revealing to his pretty, young companion Lucy an outdoor bathtub, his favorite part of the lake house his father built many years ago, the audience recognizes it’s significant for reasons yet to be revealed. Prolific playwright (“Mauritius”), novelist (Three Girls and Their Brother) and screenplay writer (“Harriet the Spy”) Theresa Rebeck has fashioned a modern retelling of the ancient Greek tragedy “Agamemnon” that’s both fascinating and horrifying, taking audiences on a tense journey of revenge. The classical work inspiring this play tells of the famous Trojan War hero who sacrificed his own daughter to appease the gods. Then, after several years abroad, Agamemnon returns home flaunting his new, young wife Cassandra and Clytemnestra (his first wife and mother of the slain daughter) eventually takes her revenge. As audiences witness Richard’s uncomfortable reunion unfold with his former wife Helen and their two children Erica and Nate, the storyline seems very familiar and we know that this is not going to end well.

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