Chicago Theatre Review

Monthly Archives: November 2013

Magic, Clowns, and a Fiery Tragedy for Christmas

November 30, 2013 Comments Off on Magic, Clowns, and a Fiery Tragedy for Christmas

The Ruffians present Burning Blue Beard

BurningBluebeard-1When you see Burning Blue Beard at Theatre Wit, you’ll notice it is more like entering an amusement park ride than seeing a play. The Ruffians, who present the play, do a wonderful job of creating an environment for the audience to exist in as part of the story. Every moving part of the production adds to the whole, including you as the observer.

Burning Blue Beard is a play about a play….about a play. The show presents an absurdist retelling of how the Iroquois Theatre burned down in Chicago in 1903 during a showing of Mr. Bluebeard, a Christmas Pantomime. Much of the detail from the play is straight from history as the true events provide plenty of emotional fuel to motivate the characters on stage. The players and ghosts from that terrible night in 1903 on Randolph Street can’t help but keep trying to get it right, but every time the show seems to end in flames. Perhaps during the performance you see of Burning Blue Beard the ending will be a happy one. Hope is a big part of this tale.

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The Grandaddy of Them All!

November 28, 2013 Comments Off on The Grandaddy of Them All!

A Christmas Carol – Goodman Theatre

Unknown-1This show is it. This is what Christmas is all about in Chicago. The Grandaddy of all holiday productions, and the show that every other Christmas Carol aspires to be has opened for the 36th year at the Goodman. And it is sensational! It’s eloquent, heartwarming and a feast for the eyes, the ears and the soul. The themes from Dickens’ novella and the lessons he taught aren’t diluted here by raucous musical numbers, Star Trek characters or dancing turkey boys. This is the production that would’ve made Charles Dickens proud.

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Festivities with Figgy Pudding!

November 27, 2013 Comments Off on Festivities with Figgy Pudding!

A Very Merry Madrigal

get-attachment.aspx(5)As we draw closer to Christmas, Hanukkah and Kwanza, the fast-approaching holiday trifecta can take a lot out of us right about now. All the shopping, decorating and holiday parties make it a nonstop season of frenzy that doesn’t stop until January 1st. But an hour spent at the No Exit Cafe will offer a pleasurable respite from all the holiday hustle and bustle, providing some beautifully sung music, a delicious meal or sweet treats and some laughs to recharge your battery.

Directed and compiled by David Heimann, with musical direction by Aaron Benham and Jeremy Ramey (who also provides superb piano accompaniment), this concert is more in keeping with the company’s “cabaret” label, but with a definite Renaissance Faire feel. As you enter the intimate coffee house, ensemble member Sarah Grant (as the company’s court jester) gleefully announces to everyone your name and the kingdom from which you hail. As the lights darken, amiable innkeeper Tom Chiola selects two audience members to serve as King and Queen of the hour’s festivities, and permission is sought from these two crown-wearing patrons for the events to come.

Mr. Heimann’s six-member ensemble of medieval-clad performers delight with songs and poetry from every era. Opening with the traditional “Wassail, Wassail” (during which warm spiced cider is provided to every audience member), toasts are offered, cheer is given and winter’s chill soon melts away. Delicious six-part harmonies infuse a medley of Olde English carols, a welcome beginning to this ultimately eclectic confection of music. Gilbert & Sullivan’s “A Very Merry Madrigal” delights and segues into more period songs and poetry until the ensemble announces a tribute to winter. Irving Berlin’s “Snow” and a wonderfully simple, heartfelt recitation by cast member Greg Foster of Frost’s “Stopping By Woods” make up this section of auditory treats. Then, as the entire company sings their “Dessert Medley,” the audience is treated to a complimentary bowl of figgy pudding, offering additional sensory delight to the song.

The second half of the program is a mixture of the classical and contemporary. Songs like Anne Murray’s “Snowbird,” beautifully sung by Missy Aguilar, “Turkey Lurkey Time” from Burt Bacharach’s musical “Promises, Promises,” sung by Sarah Grant, a sexy “Santa Baby,” purred to perfection by lovely Molly Kral, and “Winter/The River,” beautifully and sensitively crooned by Andrew Sickel and Greg Foster provides variety to the styles of music. Heimann returns to more traditional madrigal harmonies as he closes his show, but he saves a funny, delectably performed “Christmas Can-Can,” for the finale. In this number every holiday celebrated at this time of the year is represented, including those oft-heard complaints about how every year they start earlier and earlier.

It’s an intimate production, with performers not only using the stage but frequently wandering through the audience as they sing. While the variety of songs sounds strange, the effect is “something for everyone” and, as presented, add up to a very pleasant evening of unique holiday music audiences won’t hear everywhere. Combined with this cast’s genuine good humor and friendliness, Theo Ubique offers a winning and welcome break to the usual holiday hullabaloo.

Recommended

Reviewed by Colin Douglas

Presented Nov. 23-Dec. 22 by Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre at the No Exit Cafe, in Rogers Park, 6970 N. Glenwood Ave.

Tickets are available by calling 800-595-4849 or by visiting www.theo-u.com.

Additional information about this and other area productions can be found at www.theatreinchicago.com.


Circles Around “Paulus”

November 25, 2013 Comments Off on Circles Around “Paulus”

Circles Around “Paulus”

THEATER REVIEW: “Paulus” by Silk Road Rising

A Review by Kazuko Golden

In the world premiere of the play, “Paulus,” by Motti Lerner, the lead character Paulus (played by Daniel Cantor) leads us into 58 C.E. where he witnesses the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.  Paulus is then tormented with determining his life’s path forward.  Having fantastical illusions about Jesus revisiting and spiritually motivating him to reinvent what he knows about Judaism and the Roman occupation of Judea, Paulus is internally conflicted and battles both religious and political forces that threaten to execute him if he either denies his traditional heritage and beliefs or rejects vowing faith to the Roman hierarchy.

If you are in need of “popcorn for the brain,” entertainment for the holidays, “Paulus” will not sit lightly with you.  Rather the highly academic nature of the history and religious studies that Lerner, an Israeli playwright and self-described atheist, presents through his script (translated from the original Hebrew by Hillel Halkin) is a pedagogical and philosophical debate about the doctrines of salvation and atonement, as grounded in the doctrine of Christian theology and represented in the crucifixion of Jesus (played by Torrey Hanson).  Further, the discussion about the psychological experiences of those who witnessed the crucifixion and its meaning is articulated fully by Paulus.  As a witness, Paulus is then tormented with how to move forward after this experience.  Those closest to him – Trophimos (Anthony DiNicola); ex-wife, Adima (Carolyn Hoerdemann); and nephew Eleazar (Glenn Stanton) -suffer as well.

The timing of this play is difficult.  Lerner has presented his thought-provoking play right before the beginning of the Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year seasonal celebrations.  As Chicago audiences wander in to take a load off from the hustle and bustle of the busy retail season, this play does not permit them t to rest their brains.   Every minute of this two-hour play is crammed with positioning the meaning of the history of Second Temple Judaism and the apostolic age of early Christianity.  According to Silk Road Rising, “(Lerner) is not interested in relaying facts but in revealing truths.”  The pauses between the political tumult and social upheaval and the fierce theological battles are slow and lingering.

The location of the play is breathtaking.  Pierce Hall is housed in The Historic Chicago Temple Building, home of the First Methodist Church. At one time long ago, the building in Chicago’s Loop area was the tallest skyscraper in the city.  The ornate interior of the church includes 16 stained glass windows depicting scenes from the Bible.

For those with questions about their theological positioning and for those that during this time of the year are interested in seeing a play that presents philosophical pedagogy about the reinvention of religion in the first century, “Paulus” will be an appropriate play to consider seeing.  What is admirable about Lerner’s approach is that his message raises questions from Paulus’s experience that are relevant to contemporary questions about universalism, radical modernization, and the conflicts that arise when individuals attempt to challenge norms and enter into worlds of monotheism and ethnic diversity.  Paulus’s questions about multicultural modes of practicing religion and pedagogical thought are drawn from and mirror Lerner’s questioning.

When: Through Dec. 15

Where: Silk Road Rising, Pierce Hall at Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington St.

Running time: 2 hours

Tickets: $35 at 312-857-1234, ext. 201, or silkroadrising.org

Somewhat Recommended

Paulus - Anthony DiNicola and Daniel Cantor


Vengeance wears a Mullet

November 25, 2013 Comments Off on Vengeance wears a Mullet

Street Justice: Condition Red

Or: Vengeance wheres a Mullet

 

Imagine every trope you can think of from 80’s action movies. brutal, bruce lee inspired hand to hand combat, car-fu, double crossing East German agents, slow motion explosions, bazookas, dastardly english criminal masterminds with a penchant for sword play, and fire forged friends. Now dip all of these in a nice carmel drizzle of mysgoanist and sexual satire (at least we hope it’s satire, please let it be satire) and you have a good slice of Street Justice: Condition Red.

 

Chicago in the mid 80’s: Prim and by-the-book police officer Brad Truman (Colin Milroy) gets paired with hyper-violent and emotionally volatile cop Wade Dalton (Anthony Tournis) in order to teach the former about decisiveness and the latter about discipline. Though initially neither can stand the other in the slightest both are drawn personally into a murder case when the prime witness turns out to be Brad’s sister, Juliet (Lauren Bourke). With the help of aspiring detectives Danielle Dugan and Karen McLaren (Mandy Walsh and Laura Korn), whose natural talents are continually thwarted by the patriarchal CPD and their carnal-minded co-workers, Trumen and Dalton begin to trace the isolated murder to a nest of vipers. Now it’s up to them to stop the lecherous stazi-dominatrix/spy Ursela von Hodenesser (Sara Gorsky) and the suave and supremely evil Mr. Blade (Chris Walsh) before they not only take over the city but imperil the very nation.

 

I’m sure Street Justice would be a fun romp through high spirited violence and nostalgia if it were handled just a little more attention were payed to its presentation. It is harder to make comedy than to make drama, because you can’t just depend upon the material to speak for itself: you have to lead it out and show us its tricks yourself. Milroy and Tournis, who also penned the script together, have made a good send up of 80’s action, with a twisty plot and some solid story development but, contrary to popular belief, explicit anatomical humor, underlining feminine stereotypes, and long running gags about Rape Comas produce uncomfortable shifting and not gales of laughter. Director Mike Ooi also has knitted some wonderful action sequences but has neglected to police and tighten them for qualities sake. Let it be written: if, when driving an imaginary car at high speeds, the driver makes a swerving motion, the passengers must swerve in concordance with the direction the driver is swerving.

 

Sloppy mistakes aside the cast is obviously having a good time with this one. Milroy and Tournis take their archetypal characters up to eleven, with Milroy doing a very credible shock and terror expression when ever venturing into his dark and troubled past and Tournis taking on the voice of a young Keanu Rives and the gumption of an old Sylvester Stallone. Walsh and Korn outstrip them slightly in being able to switch between serious professionals facing a serious problem and trigger happy babes with blades. As is best fitting for an action film, the Villains capture our imaginations more than the heros: Gorsky has a blast investing von Hdenesser’s every movement with a provocative slink, from her maniacal laughing sessions to choke-holding someone between shin and thigh (she also gets to wield a pistol-cross bow, which is a definite bonus for any actor). For his part Chris Walsh takes a leaf from his wife’s book by playing over the top characters with as much earnestness as possible. Mr. Blade’s English charm is never too cheesy nor too sympathetic, but just menacing enough, and his skills with a Rapier provide the most thrilling stage violence in show packed with knives, gunshots and good ol’ straight-lefts.

 

Somewhat Recommended by Ben Kemper

 

Warning: Contains brief nudity, mature content, and shameless mullets.

 

Prop Thtr, 3502 W. Elston Ave

November 8- December 14

Tickets available at www.factorytheater.com

 

For more information go to www.theaterinchicago.com.


Holiday Fun for Younger Audiences

November 25, 2013 Comments Off on Holiday Fun for Younger Audiences

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

rudolphThere’s no lack of holiday entertainment in the Chicago area, but sometimes it’s difficult to find a show that will appeal to and hold the attention of younger viewers. Adapted practically word for word, song for song and character for character from the 1964 animated television special, this musical Christmas confection is the perfect holiday event for children, ages 3-10. First Stage Milwaukee’s Artistic Director Jeff Frank conceived the idea of adapting the stop-action animated holiday classic for the stage. Working closely with Robert Penola, they devised a script that recreated the cartoon’s magic, while still honoring Robert L. May’s original children’s story and Johnny Marks‘ well-known holiday song. Add to this Brandon Kirkham’s spot-on production design, which includes costumes, scenery and puppets, and you have a stage production that looks and sounds as if the animated TV special has actually come to life.

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Grimm never looked so Good

November 23, 2013 Comments Off on Grimm never looked so Good

The Dead Prince – Strange Tree Group

DeadPrince-1Many people forget how dark fairy tales are supposed to be. They were made for instruction and nothing captures our attention quite like death, danger, and dismemberment. Nothing quite entertains us like that either. The Dead Prince dances nimbly across the border between light, humorous storytelling and chilling, bloody drama. It is a tale filled with love and affection for how “Once upon a time” invariably falls out, with the occasional self-aware tweak of wondering why it is invariable.

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Holiday Redemption through Music

November 20, 2013 Comments Off on Holiday Redemption through Music

A Christmas Carol: the Musical

A CHRISTMAS CAROL Larry Adams and Matthias AustinCharles Dickens’ famous cautionary tale about the old miser who learns to love Christmas can be found in more

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A Family Holiday Treat

November 18, 2013 Comments Off on A Family Holiday Treat

The Nutcracker – Marriott

Unknown(2)With Christmas fast approaching, Marriott’s Theatre for Young Audiences brings back one of its holiday favorites. Based upon E. T. A. Hoffmann’s children’s story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” which in turn inspired Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s world famous ballet suite, Marc Robin has created a 60-minute play with music and dance that captures the magic of both pieces.

The story opens on Christmas Eve in the Victorian home of youngsters Marie and her mischievous brother Fritz. Just as dinner is being served, their Uncle Drosselmeyer arrives surprising them with gifts, including a beautiful Nutcracker, which Fritz immediately breaks. After he’s mended Marie falls asleep next to her cherished Nutcracker. She dreams that all the Christmas toys have come to life and a battle ensues between the Nutcracker and the Mouse King over possession of a magical crown. Their journey takes Marie and her new friends to Candy Land, through the Snowflake Forest and to the Kingdom of the Sugar Plum Fairy. After the crown is rightly restored to the Nutcracker, Marie awakens to find that her prince looks very much like the new boy next door, and young audiences will be assured that the magic will continue.

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A murderous story of murderous stories

November 18, 2013 Comments Off on A murderous story of murderous stories

The Pillowman -Innate Theatre

Pillow_promo_2As we enter the tiny space of the Side Projects Theater we are greeted by sinister sounds of electric buzzing, spinning saws, and what sounds to be a lightsaber. We are also greeted by the sight a man hooded man seated at a desk, a faceless figure snatched from the outside world who will probably not be leaving this place upright. This is Katurian (Alex Tey), a writer living in an unnamed totalitarian dictatorship, who, along with his brother Michal (Carl Lindberg), has been arrested by Detectives Tupolski (Joe Ciresi) and Ariel (Geoff Zimmerman) and brought in for questioning. While the detectives play cat and mouse with their prisoner and Katurian tries to figure out exactly what he’s accused of, it becomes illuminated that several of his stories have provided the inspiration for a series of brutal child murders going on in the city. Now Katurian holds his life, his brothers, and the fate of his stories in his hands and must figure out some way to save all three, fend of torture from the detectives, and bring the truth to light.

 

Reading the above you might think of the Pillowman as a Ludnumesque story, full of high stakes and shouting matches and the constant threat of imminent violence. And you’d be absolutely right. But it is also a hysterically funny story, almost unbelievably so for a play about police brutality and child murder. Perhaps the best work by Irish playwright Martin Macdonagh, The Pillowman is a masterpiece of humor run through with high tension mystery, and illuminating truths of a life of misery. Sadly Innate Theater Company has largely missed that memo for this, their inaugural production. They keep the tension taught and the pace at a expert speed of slow menace to eye-blinking violence but they gloss over scores of prime points of laughter, the jokes waving to us like castaways in the ocean before they disappear into the past behind us.

 

Tey and Zimmerman do oft times pause to rescues these lines, the former especially excelling with the sardonic wit of a man in a tight corner. But the rest of the cast need to take time, to savor these jokes, to discover them in the moment and let their dark and whimsical humor land before moving on the the business of torture and death. It’s one thing to scare us and make us cringe, quite another to make us double over with mirth while we’re scared and cringing.

 

For their first show as company, and for the service of such a gripping play, Innate Theater Company has pulled out all the stops. Their commitment to verisimilitude in the tiny space is admirable, especially during the jump worthy flare ups of violence and the visual example of just how many accouterments are needed to hook electrodes up to someone. Less effective are the luxuries laden on when Katurian breaks from the action to tell us one of his grimmer-than-Grimm stories. The whimsical worlds his acts of kiddie cruelty unfurl from could be fully realized in half the time and half the effort it takes to stage them now. And no, thank you, we do not need a soundtrack of lonesome harpsichords and distant screams as his stories are read out. It’s just gilding on the lilly: in this play the humor and the horror are increased ten fold when you fallow the rule “tell, don’t show”.

 

For all its ax-edged drive, its convoluted mystery and constantly shifting criminal justice stance, the Pillowman is about the stories that we tell ourselves, and the ones that we cling to and actualize, for better or worse. Whether that narrative be about a little green pig, or a child trapped in a horrible life with no escape, or two brothers facing oblivion in the basement of a government building, stories capture our imagination, inform who we are and push us towards acts angelic and indescribable. To watch Katurian share his pain, his anger, and his genius with us is to see ourselves beating against the current of our own, probably less whimsical hopefully less horrible, lives, hoping to leave a legacy behind before we are bourn away into the dark.

 

Recommended by Ben Kemper

 

Warning: Show contains live gunfire.

 

The Side Project Theater, 1439 W. Jarvis Avenue, right off the Red Line

 

November 14-December 1st.

 

Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at 7:30 and Sundays at 2:00

 

Tickets $15, on sale at innatetheatre.com or 773 322 8770

 

More information available at www.theaterinchicago.com