Upcoming Dance

Ken Payne

Ken Payne

In Irish Theatre of Chicago’s newest production “The White Road”, performed at The Den Theatre in Wicker Park, we get exactly what we are hoping for – an intense adventure that pits man against nature at its most vicious form. Based on the true heroics of Irish-born polar explorer Ernest Shackleton, “The White Road” tells the story of yet another incredible undertaking where all hope lies solely in one’s will to survive.

Setting sail from South Georgia on December 5th, 1914, Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctica expedition triumphantly leaves shore aboard The Endurance with a crew of twenty-eight with the intent on crossing the Antarctica continent from one coast to the other by way of the South Pole. Hopes are high and excitement is in the air as the crew embarks on a journey never before accomplished.  

Said Shackleton beforehand, "After the conquest of the South Pole by [Roald] Amundsen who, by a narrow margin of days only, was in advance of the British Expedition under [Robert Falcon] Scott, there remained but one great main object of Antarctic journeying - the crossing of the South Polar continent from sea to sea". 

As history tells, it was a plight that was never meant to be.

Upon approaching Antarctica they are met with pack ice that surrounds their sea vessel threatening to sink it. Completely alone and hundreds of miles away from any form of civilization, this is where one of the greatest tales of survival begins.  

In the two-hour-plus play, we meet a variety of characters that make up this memorable crew – and we like them all. From a nature photographer who keeps the camera rolling at all costs to life and limb, to an enthusiastic stowaway boy starved for adventure, to a whaler/banjo-plucker who lifts the men's spirits with song, we don’t just see a nameless crew, instead we really get to know a unique and diverse lot of individuals. Piven ensemble member Paul Dunckel’s performance of the fearless expedition leader makes Shackleton highly likeable, as the wise and self-sacrificing explorer. Dunckel leads this talented cast with the constitution and perseverance one would associate with an expedition leader, whereas he can convincingly make the tough decisions whilst his loyal troops still rally behind him.

Along with Dunckel, Irish Theatre Company ensemble members Kevin Theis and Matthew Isler are accompanied by Nicholas Bailey, Steve Herson, Neal Starbird, Michael McKeogh, Joseph Stearns, Stephen Walker and Gage Wallace, comprising this fine cast that generates a whirlwind of strong performances.   

Making this play even more entertaining is the way the set is used to put us aboard The Endurance smack dab in the middle of the frozen, glacier-filled waters. Sound effects are strategically used in tandem with projections to successfully create storm effects while creative choreography takes us on a deadly hike through icy mountains.

This is one of those true incredible adventure stories that are long forgotten by most that, thanks to storytellers like The Irish Theatre of Chicago, we now get to experience and share in the surprisingly unbelievable depth of human spirit brought on by fantastic circumstances.

I should note that though this is a wonderful story taken from the pages of early 20th century history, if you are thinking of bring a young adult, be aware that there is a scene containing as a crew member streaks across the deck of the ship. 

Fittingly directed by ensemble member Robert Kauzlaric and written by Karen Tarjan, the world premiere run of “The White Road” is being performed at The Den Theatre through June 13th. For tickets and/or more information visit www.irishtheatreofchicago.org

powder-blueYou might not think of Starved Rock as a place to get your rock on, but last weekend the popular national park was jumpin’ to The King’s music during a three-day event that had premiere Elvis Presley impersonator Michael St. Angel belting out one classic after another. Often making the rounds from table to table during Starved Rock Lodge’s Tribute to the Stars Series dinner event, St. Angel had the blissful audience clapping along and often joining in for some of those choruses we know so well. With an abundant repertoire of Elvis classics and even some Bobby Darin, Jay and the Americans and Engelbert Humperdinck sprinkled in, guests enjoyed an action-packed two-set performance that ended in two standing ovations.

This is the third year in a row performing at the Starved Rock Lodge for Michael St. Angel where he entertained for both matinee and evening shows. St. Angel’s first set included many of Elvis’ earlier hits including “Return to Sender”, “It’s Now or Never”, “Viva Las Vegas”, Darin’s “Mack the Knife” and also a very inspired rendition of Jay and the American’s “Cara Mia”. With the look, moves and a voice that puts him among the best of Presley impersonators, St. Angel’s tribute is thoroughly fun to watch and take part in.

Part two of Michael St. Angel’s enactment of The King was more about the Vegas years. Re-entering the room clad in Elvis’ trademark white jumpsuit to the theme of 2001: A Space Odyssey, St. Angel immediately jumped into “See See Rider” and aptly followed up with many greats such as “The Wonder of You”, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Suspicious Minds”. Infusing even more energy into his show as the night went on, fans feasted on St. Angel’s enthusiasm and charisma to which it seemed there was an endless supply. Of course – the crescendo - it wouldn’t be a true Elvis concert without “American Trilogy”, and St. Angel didn’t disappoint, performing the song flawlessly before ending his show with the same song Elvis often ended his concerts, “Can’t Help Falling in Love”.

Michael St. Angel, located in the Chicagoland area, plays roughly fifty to sixty shows per year. Depending on the gig or request, St. Angel can perform with or without a full band and is available for corporate events, private parties, weddings and/or summer festivals. Should one not opt for a full band, St. Angel is accompanied by a serious sound system that is sure to rock the house regardless. Fans are also encouraged to drop by and check out Michael’s act on the fourth Friday of each month at Chef Shangi-La’s in North Riverside.

You can’t help but notice the fervor St. Angel has for Elvis’ music during his performance – and that’s what you really want in a tribute entertainer. It’s clearly not just a job but a passion – the passion to pass on Elvis’ legacy in a way fit for a king – or The King.  

For upcoming performances and more information on Michael St. Angel, visit his website by clicking here. For upcoming Starved Rock Lodge entertainment click here.

 

“Look, We Are Breathing” at Rivendell Theatre is a powerful drama that deals with the coping of loss. Written by Chicago playwright Laura Jaccqmin, “Look, We Are Breathing” examines the grieving process when the one taken away so unexpectedly never really amounted to much nor has shown the potential to ever become much of anything at all. This is the case when high school hockey player Mike is killed in a drunk driving accident on his way home from a party. Always a troublemaker with a bad attitude, rude and the perennial class clown, Mike is disrespectful to his parents, his teachers and is one to take advantage of a girl’s innocence given the chance. He’s exactly what we don’t want to see in a teenage boy. Passing thoughts wonder if maybe the world would be a better place without someone like Mike.

This hard-hitting four-character play deals with the aftermath of Mike’s tragic accident. A series of flashbacks throughout the play help us get to know Mike while narratives from his English teacher Leticia, his mother Alice and his one-night stand, Caylee, provide us with more of an understanding of Mike’s behavior and the effect it had on those close to him – and those who wanted to be close to him.  

The set is simplistic. A chest-like trunk sits center stage that is used at times for a dining table or a car when need be. But the sets simplicity in this case is a plus as it helps direct focus where it should be – on the characters and story. Cast members Lily Mojekwu (Leticia), Brennan Stacker (Caylee), Tara Mallen (Alice) and Brendan Meyer (Mike) make a special point of making eye contact with the audience members in this intimate thirty-six seat theatre, as they explain themselves and open up as though expecting comforting words in return.

This play works because of its absorbing story and the very heavy-duty acting performances by each and every cast member. “Look, We Are Breathing” is a gripping story that is sure to draw in the average theatre goer, and might relate especially to those who have suffered recent losses. Towards the play’s end Caylee talks about what could have been rather than reflecting on Mike’s past behavioral issues and lack of promise of any sort. Then we stop and think - Even when you question if someone's life is worth it, when they are young, they have no time to grow out of it – and that’s the truest tragedy. They have no time to grow up to be the ENT doctor, to build meaningful friendships, to become a loving parent or to contribute in making this world a better place. We learn compassion and empathy as we grow older and “Look” understands that rather than judging one’s short past.

True to their claim that Rivendell Theatre Ensemble is Chicago’s only Equity theatre dedicated to producing new work with women in core roles, “Look” presents three strong characters in a mourning mother, a girl who believes there was more to a relationship than there really was and a teacher who tries desperately to get through to a student who has built many walls.

“Look, We Are Breathing” is playing at Rivendell Theatre (5779 N Ridge Ave, Chicago) through May 16th. For tickets and/or more show information call 773-334-7728 or visit www.RivendellTheatre.org.            

                                                                                                                                                      

When it comes to family, can there be boundaries crossed to which mercy and forgiveness should no longer considered? And should this barrier be traversed upon, is it even possible to wholeheartedly exonerate those who do even if one wants to? In Rory Kinnear’s debut play The Herd (aptly named for so many reasons) these questions are raised as we are confronted with a fractured family, presumably from an upper-middle class suburb in England, who get together to celebrate Adam’s twenty-first birthday. Adam is disabled and has the mental function of that less than a one-year-old, much like writer Rory Kinnear's adult sister, thus the seed of inspiration for this hard-hitting dramedy that perfectly utilizes the perfect amount of comic bite to ease the tension and often uncomfortable moments in this well-crafted story. Though Adam has recently been institutionalized and home visits have become a rarity, his presence is strongly felt throughout even though we never see him. 

Three generations of family have converged at Adam’s house as they await his arrival from the hospital via his caretaker. His mother, Carol, frantically races around to make everything perfect and her parents (superbly played by the great John Mahoney and Theatre Hall of Famer Lois Smith) are patient and ever optimistic of the day’s events. Adam’s thirty-two-year-old sister Claire has brought her new boyfriend over to meet her family and has some other news of her own to share. We soon learn how much Carol has sacrificed in her life to care for Adam and the stress that comes with such a burden. Yet it is also apparent it is a burden of love. Molly Regan is a turbine of passions and steadfastness in her portrayal of Carol, making a tough role appear seamless.

In anticipation of Adam’s appearance, balloons, party favors, a large birthday cake and happy faces all around seemingly provide a happy environment but that quickly changes when Adam’s father, Ian, who abandoned the family some time ago, shows up unannounced. It doesn’t take very long before layers are quickly peeled between he, Claire and Carol soon becoming an emotionally charged free for all.

As internal issues come to a head between the three, it is Carol’s parents, Brian and Patricia, who attempt to douse the flames whether it be by way of humor or simply sound observation. It is refreshing to see how the grandparents assert themselves as the voice of reason in this story as Kinnear places an obvious importance on the wisdom of elders in an age where the aging are so often disrespected and disregarded.

the-herd1

The way humor is so often used as an escape for such heavy subject matter in Kinnear’s “The Herd” is very true to life. He is not afraid to joke about death nor is Kinnear afraid to tap into the unpopular inner thoughts we might have, such as wondering if Adam’s death will allow Carol to live again. Smith’s sharp waggishness along with Mahoney’s spot on comic delivery only strengthen already strong characters that we can quickly trust and rely upon.

As the play nears its end, we are hit with the decision of whether to forgive or not. Frances Guinan makes a compelling case as Ian and, though he opens up and lets himself become vulnerable in seeking forgiveness and once again gaining acceptance, we wonder if he can be trusted despite his apparent sincerity. Guinan is marvelous as he rolls up his sleeves and, as he does in so many roles, really puts his heart and then some into his performance as Ian.  

Kinnear’s “The Herd” at Steppenwolf is highly recommended. Its all-star cast, engaging dialogue, moving story and elaborately designed set all contribute into making this a nearly perfect theatre piece.

“The Herd” is playing at Steppenwolf through June 7th. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.steppenwolf.org.   

In celebration of Roosevelt University’s 70th anniversary, the Auditorium Theatre brings in two iconic stage and television veterans for its one night performance of “An Evening with the Roosevelts”. Ed Asner, known mostly for his portrayal of “Lou Grant” on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and much more recently as “Santa Claus” in the holiday hit Elf, takes on the role of Franklin Roosevelt while Loretta Swit, identified mostly as “Margaret ‘Hot Lips’ Houlihan” in the 1970’s breakout hit M.A.S.H. plays Eleanor Roosevelt. 

The one evening performance is broken down into two plays – the first has Asner portraying the former President in “FDR” followed by Swit as the famous First Lady in “Eleanor”. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Asner touches on his battle with polio, his running for governor then president and the attack on Pearl Harbor that forced America into the second World War. Wondering beforehand if Asner would be a good fit as FDR, I left with mixed feelings. Asner’s gruff and forward delivery along with a very visible dedication to the role seemed to work well enough to make one eventually get past the obvious disparity in appearance. Still as spunky as ever, the eighty-five years young Asner can be a fireball when called upon and he also generates a fair share of laughs from the crowd. His intensity is admirable, his emotional capacity impressive and his timing still impeccable. Hobbling around the set with a pair of canes, Asner also adds a physical dynamic that is as believable as the lines he delivers. Unfortunately, as good as Asner is, the material and formatting come off a bit lackluster. Slow-paced and a lack of redeeming values and poignant realizations leave this show less than memorable outside of Asner’s passionate performance.

Loretta Swit can also be a pleasure to watch as she portrays Eleanor Roosevelt in her compliment to Asner’s “FDR”, but the same holds true as far as her show’s lack of engaging material and its tendency to drift back and forth. The Emmy-Winning actress’ one-woman show starts after the death of Franklin Roosevelt. “Eleanor” begins when President Truman asks her to head the American delegation to the newly created United Nations. Eleanor ponders the offer for some time before accepting the offer, realizing the massive potential such a position could have on women’s rights. We also learn about FDR’s affair and the conflict within herself on whether to leave him or not. Swit is charming and graceful as the First Lady but she is also no nonsense when need be.

To see two such famously polished actors perform such important roles from our great American History is still novelty enough despite the not so engrossing scripts. Plus, each show contains plenty of factual tidbits that may be unknown to some, making this special event a great history lesson – or refresher, as well. 

The Auditorium Theatre has plenty lined up right around the corner with scheduled performances by Damien Rice, Lila Downs, Chicago Rhythm Fest and The Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg. THE NFL Draft will also be taking place at the Auditorium Theatre beginning April 30th, making its first appearance in Chicago in just over fifty years. For more Auditorium event information visit http://www.auditoriumtheatre.org/.  

Badfic Love, the new play directed by Aaron Henrickson and written by Adam Pasen, proudly delves into the nerdy world of fan fiction – its readers, its creators and its auditors. What is fan fiction some might ask? For those of you who are not familiar with this somewhat underground phenomena, fan fiction is the act of fans taking characters or settings from an original work (in this case Harry Potter) and creating their own storylines, steering the story into whatever direction they want, despite the fact that the work they create is hardly ever authorized.

In Badfic Love, Kyle works by day at Staples, but his nights are consumed as he is part of an organization (FIC) that monitors fan fiction writing, making sure to keep readers safe from the bad. The group particularly targets Michelle whose self-made continuation of Harry Potter is the epitome of what the organization stands against with its ridiculous storyline and poor grammar. Kyle, thoroughly condemning Michelle’s writing plans on spoofing (“sporking”) her work in his highly-followed blog to the delight of the other FIC members. However, the story takes a turn when Kyle instead falls for Michelle. What would happen to the characters should Michelle stop writing?

A good portion of Strange Bedfellows Theatre’s Badfic Love has Michelle’s fanfic of Harry Potter acted out as her story progresses. Utterly hilarious are Conor Konz and Jake Szczepaniak as Harry and Draco in this twisted adventure where the two former enemies become gay partners and Michelle writes herself in as the hero in every battle. Konz not only strikes an uncanny resemblance to Harry Potter but nails the campy dialogue going far over the top with reckless abandon while Szczepaniak is simply hysterical in his line delivery and physical comedy. But together, they are simply dynamite.

Also funny are the many references to the iconic fantasy epics such as Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and of course Harry Potter. Kyle and other likeminded individuals spend their time at a coffee shop called Middle Earth. Kyle’s favorite table is in the back just under a large picture of Legolas. Benny, a member of FIC, tries in vain to create force fields over doors or pick things up with telekinesis. Proudly donned Marvel t-shirts are worn and insults are thrown around that only have meaning if familiar with the fantasy from which they are spawned.

For the most part, the show is nonstop funny. It would be hard not to be with such an entertaining cast. Badfic Love does slow down a tad towards the end - character and plot resolution, etc, etc, but not enough to take anything away from this very amusing tale of nerdy creativity, being an outsider and finding love.

Besides the show’s fun costumes, projections and sound effects are also used to help in creating the alternative reality of our newly fashioned Harry Potter and Draco, not to mention a handful of well-choreographed fight scenes where blows are met with the trumpeting sounds reminiscent of the 1960’s Batman series. With C2E2 a couple weeks away, Badfic Love is the perfect show to take in to help in preparing your inner geek.   

Badfic Love is at the Den Theatre (1333 N Milwaukee) through May 2nd. I should also mention that doors open a half hour before each performance for the Badfic Love Wizard Rock Concert Series (free with Badfic Love ticket) where bands including Diagon Alley, Tonks and the Aurors and Hawthorne and Holly will be performing Harry Potter-inspired rock music. A graphic novel of Badfic Love is also available for purchase. For tickets and/or more information visit www.strangebedfellowstheatre.com or call 773-697-3830.  

Northlight Theatre follows up the hard-hitting drama “White Guy on the Bus” with another extra-base hit with the charming comedy "Outside Mullinger". Set in the Midlands of Ireland, Artistic Director BJ Jones directs this humorous love story that, though mostly transparent in its direction, offers a handful of fun surprises. Outside Mullinger is written by Pulitzer, Oscar and Tony Award Winning author John Patrick Shanley (Moonstruck and Doubt). Needless to say, Shanley has done it again.

“Having survived to my 60th year, I wanted to express joy,” says Shanley on writing Outside Mullinger. “I wanted to laugh, I wanted to name what is possible and beautiful about being alive.”

Set in the Midlands of Ireland we are introduced to two families that own neighboring farms that have been handed down for generations. Though Anthony and Rosemary have been neighbors for years, the two have secretly longed for each other, neither one the wiser. Despite the fact that they are somewhat outwardly gruff with each other, we see an underlying affection that is just dying to bust out. When Rosemary learns that Anthony's father "Tony Reilly" might not leave him the farm, she intercedes, changing paths in the process and ultimately creating new opportunities to express suppressed feelings.

The story is well written but its very talented cast is what truly makes this show a memorable delicacy. Acting and writing great Bill Norris is simply superb as "Tony Reilly", skillfully dishing out his lines with seasoned prowess and a profound candidness. Mark Montgomery is also right on mark and is highly likeable as Anthony and Kate Fry shines brightly with her razor sharp delivery and unbridled conviction as Rosemary. The chemistry and banter between Montgomery and Fry is nothing short of convincing, making the story as believable as it is cute and funny. Also contributing to the story’s sincerity is a rotating set that switches from one realistic farmhouse kitchen to another.   

If you want a love story with just the right amount of laughs, challenges, tenderness and emotional depth, Outside Mullinger is a play with quick-witted and heartfelt dialogue that will certainly be enjoyed.

Outside Mullinger is being performed at Northlight Theatre through April 19th. Northlight Theatre is located at 9501 Skokie Boulevard in Skokie. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.northlight.org.

Attempting to tackle a slew of tough issues, Picture Imperfect is an emotional drama with good intention that raises awareness to the difficulties of...well, single motherhood, autism, drug abuse, gambling, abandonment, the hardships in dealing with Child Protective Services, spousal manipulationand eventually mental illness. Thoughall important issues, co-writing duo Joel Z. Cornfield and Richard James Zieman may have diluted their intended focus by planting too many different seeds in the garden. Still, as many subjects that are touched upon in its hour and forty-five minute duration, this story, partially inspired from true events, has its share of intense-filled moments, some stemming from sheer misfortune but most from a chain of poor decision making. 

 

Cole is an autistic boy who expresses his thoughts with a paintbrush and canvas. His mother Mary is trying hard torebound from a string of unwise decisions that puts Cole's future into the hands of the Child Protective Services and, Eric, the eldest son, has all the athletic talent in the world but turns to a life of heroin abuse. George, the boys' gambling addicted father, has left four years ago where he has latched onto a stunning young beauty and convinces her to make pornographic videos for money. After his lengthy hiatus, George soon after returns to his family but with suspicious motives. With the threat of losing her son, Cole, to the system, Mary tries to recreate a healthy family environment. Our George and Mary here are about as far as they could be from the same named beloved couple in It's A Wonderful Life - rich in morale fiber, clean-nosed, thoughtful and family oriented. Perhaps the playwrights purposely played on such a disparity to demonstrate the immense contrast in character and circumstance - the results of love,understanding and sacrifice versus a selfishness to the point of destruction.

 

This is Dr. Joel Cornfield’s first contribution to the theatre is a tragedy piece but as the writer puts it, “There’s hope springing from tragedy.”

 

Barring a handful of passionate exchanges betweenmother and son and wife and estranged husband that get pretty penetrating, the two brightest spots in this play are Sarah Bright's demanding portrayal of Mary and Jamie McKinney's heartfelt performance as Eric. Alyssa Thordarson also delivers and is very convincing as Pam, George's seemingly unlikely mistress. The three are able to carry the cast to make this a respectable production along with its story that does just enough to keep it interesting. I do commend the writer's desire to bring to the table so many subjects that warrant concern and more awareness, but in this case slightly less may have been so much more.

Picture Imperfect is being performed at The Athenaeum Theatre through April 4th. For tickets and/or more show information call 773-935-6875 or visit www.athenaeumtheatre.org.

Kicking off their 25th anniversary season, Theatre at the Center makes a strong impression by presenting Ernest Thompson’s touching classic On Golden Pond. This 1979 Tony-Award winning play was later adapted for the big screen where it starred Henry Fonda, Jane Fonda and Katharine Hepburn and won an Oscar. On Golden Pond is a warm and moving story that deals with the challenges an elderly couple are going through during their twilight years and also focuses on a tempestuous relationship between father and daughter. It is also a story of reconciliation and rebirth.  

Each year Norman and Ethel Thayer spend the summer at their quaint home on Golden Pond. Norman, pushing eighty-years-old is quite the curmudgeon and is still armed with a quick wit while Ethel, ten years his junior, finds all the little things in life wonderful. The pairing is super and utterly complementary to each other. While planning out his 80th birthday party, the often cranky Norman constantly speaks to Ethel as though it will be his last, which is taken with a grain of salt by his always optimistic wife. Norman’s memory is slowly fading and he has heart palpitations, which doesn’t help his outlook on the future. When his daughter, Chelsea, and her boyfriend, Billy Ray, come up to the lake house to join the party, we realize the tension that exists between father and daughter and slowly begin to understand that it stems from Norman’s desire to have had a son. Soon, Norman and Ethel’s summer is interrupted when Chelsea asks that Billy Ray’s thirteen-year-old son stay at the lake house for a month while they travel to Europe. Norman, who was reluctant at first on the idea, quickly bonds with the boy and we see a change of heart and a new attitude on life begin to manifest.

On Golden Pond is filled with many life lessons and we are better for having seen it.

Dennis Kelly is superb as Norman. The veteran actor is able convey a truckload of meaning in just a simple line. Equally as impressive is Ami Silvestre as Norman’s bouncy and vibrant counterpart, Ethel, Silvestre is so cute you just want to shrink her and tuck her away in your shirt pocket. But together the two are simply off the charts. Their playful zinging back and forth and the concern and love for each other they are able to display is not only believable it is magical. Norm Boucher also delivers in a key contributing role as Charlie, family friend and neighborhood mailman by boat.  

Set in the interior of the Thayer’s summer lake home, we get plenty of heartfelt moments and surprisingly a good share of laughs that really balances out the show. This insightful love story is rich and the characters are perfectly layered creating an all-around well-themed, highly entertaining play that anyone of any age is sure to enjoy.

A quick thirty or so minutes from downtown Chicago, On Golden Pond is being performed at Theatre at the Center (1040 Ridge Road, Munster, Indiana) through March 29th. For tickets and/or more information visit www.TheatreAtTheCenter.com or call 800-511-1552.

*Photo - Dennis Kelly and Ami Silvestre as Norman and Ethel Thayer

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