Dance in Review

John Accrocco

John Accrocco

“Circumference of a Squirrel” by John Walch finishes out The Greenhouse Theater’s inaugural Solo Celebration. This one-character play festival featured only single narrative storytelling. It’s not often you see a one-person fiction play, and while some may cringe at the concept, these short works explored highly relevant themes. 

 

Will Allen stars as Chester. He begins the play telling the audience about a squirrel he saw trying to carry a bagel. Chester is in the present, and by the speech pattern adopted by Allen, we can presume something is a little off. Walch’s script seamlessly flows between Chester’s childhood memories, his relationship with his father and the divorce he’s just been through. He grapples with the knowledge that his father was an ardent anti-semite. It colors the dark, and funny memories of his father paying him in Lifesavers to kill squirrels. 

 

Allen toggles between several characters and memories in the hour-long run time. Each character has a unique, but sincere voice and there’s an almost manic quality with which Allen can articulate them all. His performance only deepens from beginning to end, leading to a bittersweet conclusion. 

 

Directed by Jacob Harvey, “Circumference of a Squirrel” is a well-stylized, and at times abstract look at the ways in which we love. It asks of its audience, whether unfounded racism is forgivable even in the ones we are supposed to love. 

 

Through February 12 at The Greenhouse Theater Center. 2257 N Lincoln Ave. 

 

 

Brett Neveu is a playwright to watch. To call him up-and-coming would be unfair as his work has appeared at The Goodman, Writers Theatre and Red Orchid Threatre. His new play "Her America" is being presented by The Greenhouse Theater Center as part of their Solo Celebration Series. 

 

Directed by Linda Gillum, "Her America" is single character play starring Kate Buddeke. She gives a riveting performance as a not-all-there Midwestern housewife locked in a basement. Buddeke embodies the character effortlessly. Her delivery is familiar and in many lines, hauntingly real. 

 

In the hour we spend with this unnamed character, she uses objects in her basement to freely associate memories and stories from her childhood. To whom she is speaking remains a mystery throughout. Neveu's script is highly detailed which serves to dimensionalize Buddeke's character. Through random memories, she explains the various influences in her life and how she became the person she is.

 

"Her America" files down to a crushing revelation, but along the way uncovers something darker. It says a lot about what life is like in America for those with few options. It's rare when the theater gives a truly empathetic portrayal of rural life. "Her America" was written in a bitterly devisive time and its message is to say that we should be more understanding with each other. 

 

Through February 12 at The Greenhouse Theater Center. 2257 N Lincoln Ave. 

 

 

Wednesday, 28 December 2016 12:02

Review: Light Opera Works' Die Fledermaus

By the end of January, most people are over holiday theater. In the days between holidays, the Loop is a ghost town almost exclusively sustained by last minute ‘Christmas Carol’ and ‘Nutcracker’ matinees. Locals tend to stay local. For Evanston residents looking for quality theater, Light Opera Works is a great Off-Loop alternative. 

 

For the final few days of the year, Light Opera Works presents the classic Johann Strauss operetta ‘Die Fledermaus.’ Artistic director Rudy Hogenmiller presents an amiable English language adaptation by Quade Winter. One of the show’s best draws is the 30-piece orchestra conducted by Roger Bingaman. 

 

‘Die Fledermaus’ or “the bat,” is a typical farce. The first act sets the stage for philandering husband Eisenstein (Michael Cavalieri) to attend a masked ball on the eve of his impending incarceration. His wife Rosalinda (Alicia Berneche) meanwhile carries on an affair with a former flame, Alfred (Tobias Wright). The real candy of Act I might just be Kelly Britt as Adele, a lovely chambermaid with ambitions of her own. Her comedic strength is consistent throughout. William Dywer holds the attention of Act II as the dashing and strong-voiced host of the masked ball. As happens in all farces, the central couple learns a valuable lesson that rekindles their love. 

 

Along with great vocals, Light Opera Works’ production is visually pleasing. Costumes and sets by Jana Anderson and Adam Veness work together to showcase Light Opera Works’ impressive budget. Suburban theatre is rarely this polished. 

 

“Die Fledermaus” at Light Opera Works in Evanston is a good choice for those close to home. The music is soaring and the comedy tickles all ages. A better bet in Evanston surely can’t be found. 

 

Through January 1st at Light Opera Works. Cahn Auditorium 600 Emerson St. Evanston, IL 

 

Thursday, 15 December 2016 12:04

Review: Joffrey's Nutcracker

There's nothing more cloying than an evening of bad holiday theatre. Each December countless Chicago theaters put up their annual Christmas shows. Some are better than others. For a reliable standard, Joffrey Ballet's "Nutcracker" is a safe bet.

 

For 2016, Joffrey presents an entirely new version of the classic Tchaikovsky ballet. Conceived by English choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, this new production is sleek and tailor-made for Chicago. An interesting variation on ETA Hoffman's original Russian fairy tale. In this version, Marie is from a working class family and it's set during the construction of the Chicago World's Fair. The dance sequences in the second act are Clara's dreams of what the Columbian Exposition will hold. Wheeldon's aesthetic borrows from holiday favorites like "A Christmas Carol" and "Meet Me in St. Louis" Sets by Julian Crouch combine the classic imagery of the original and newer conventions like projections. Accompanied by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, this "Nutcracker" is a little more grown up than the pastel versions you might remember.

 

The talent will be of no surprise to Joffrey regulars. Dancing the part of Marie is Amanda Assucena. Her performance portrays the lead character with a more teenage curiosity about romance. Miguel Angel Blanco dances a variation of Uncle Drosselmeyer, otherwise known as the Impresario of the Fair. It's playful and a little creepy. In the dream sequence, Christine Rocas and Fabrice Calmels turn up the heat as the Arabian Dancers. Wheeldon's choreography creates quite a spectacle and the large cast sequences are magical.

 

For those bored with run-of-the-mill "Nutcrackers" (a dime-a-dozen this time of year), this brand new production at The Joffrey will leave an impression. It's refreshing to see a local cultural institution take what they know works and turning it on its head. If only more of Chicago's tried and true holiday shows would take the same path, maybe we wouldn't dread them so much.

 

Through December 30th at Joffrey Ballet. 50 East Congress Parkway. 

 

 

Underscore Theatre and Harborside Films hearkens back to a simpler time, when the biggest national tragedy was a young Olympic figure skater getting clubbed in the knees. The year was 1994 and the world couldn't get enough of Tonya Harding versus Nancy Kerrigan. Some twenty-two years later, this scandal is ripe fodder for a campy rock opera. 

 

Written by Elizabeth Searle and Michael Teoli, "Tonya and Nancy" is exactly what it sounds like. A sharp, 90 minute campfest akin to "Mommie Dearest." There's no dressing this up as anything other than satire. It almost feels like an extended SNL sketch, but that's not to say it's not interesting. It's questionable how much of this skate tale is true, but it certainly serves to humanize both Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. 

 

Since this is billed as a rock opera, the soaring vocals make good sense. In the role of wrong-side-of-the-tracks Tonya Harding is Amanda Horvath, and she lands it well. Despite everything, Horvath's performance gives Harding some extra layers. She's also hilarious. Courtney Mack co-stars as Nancy Kerrigan. Mack also has a tremendously strong voice and it comes across in such campy songs as "Why Me?" While the show may be about two figure skaters, Veronica Garza actually steals the show playing dual-characters, Tonya and Nancy's moms. She seems to relish in playing Tonya Harding's down-on-her-luck mom, and the audience eats her spot-on accents right up. Garza also has an impressive voice. 

 

Director Jon Martinez's choreography stands out as a high point in a show about ice skating that doesn't actually feature any ice skating. It's almost a surprise to see so many group dance numbers in a small space. In fact, the show features ensemble members in a perpetual state of motion which adds a nice visual element. It pairs well with all the lyrcra costuming, which reminisces of a thankfully bygone era. 

 

For those entering this fray with some skepticism, approach this work with confidence. "Tonya and Nancy" is highly polished and well-staged. There's some real potential here. The show may be a little crowded with solos, but otherwise this is a solid script. It's always fun to see a new musical in its debut production. 

 

Through December 30th at Theatre Wit 1229 W Belmont Ave. 773-975-8150.

 

 

 

In 2002, About Face Theater company debuted Doug Wright's play "I Am My Own Wife." It opened on Broadway in 2004, and won both the Pulitzer Prize as well as the Tony award for Best New Play. About Face Theater and director Andrew Volkoff revisit the play twelve years later in an eerily relevant political climate. In it, Wright tells the story of the time he spent in Berlin with Charlotte von Mahlsdorf during the early '90s.

 

Mahlsdorf was the subject of international fame after publishing her autobiography and being awarded the Bundesverdienstkreuz by the German government. Charlotte von Mahlsdorf established The Grunderzeit museum, it housed her collection of historical items spanning decades of German history. Her most unique attribute is that she was a transvestite and managed to survive the nazis and the communists.

 

Playwright Doug Wright turned his interview notes into a mostly one-woman show. His character is played here by Scott Duff and functions as the narrator. Charlotte is portrayed by real life transgender actress Delia Kropp. In little stories about the antiques in her museum, Charlotte reveals more about herself. During both authoritarian regimes, gay people were persecuted. Each item is in some way connected to preserving the history of Germany's lgbt community.

 

Volkoff's production is sleek and well dressed. The lighting design by John Kelly adds a nice dimension to this otherwise minimal staging. Delia Kropp gives a fascinating performance. Charlotte labeled herself as a transvestite and never opted for sexual reassignment surgery. Delia portrays her with soft androgyny. Kropp's authenticity in voice and mannerism is striking. Her lengthy passages of monologue illuminate the imagination.

 

It's by no accident About Face selected "I Am My Own Wife" for their season. As the political tides turn, some lgbt communities are worried their legitimacy may be less certain. Doug Wright's play about Charlotte von Mahlsdorf is a reassuring testament to everyday heros. As his character says in the play, "I need to believe this."

 

Through December 10th at Theater Wit - 1229 W Belmont. 773-975-8150.

 

Wednesday, 09 November 2016 23:56

Review: Porchlight's "End of the Rainbow"

To say Judy Garland led a tumultuous life is an understatement. In a way, she was the mid-century equivalent of Amy Winehouse. A once brilliant, and at times triumphant star who faded out much too soon. Maybe some will only remember Judy as Dorothy Gale, but in her short career Judy was an international phenomenon. Her dependence on prescription pills and alcohol created a tortured existence of financial and emotional instability. Judy Garland died of a drug overdose in 1969. Her New York City funeral is often considered the catalyst of the Stonewall Riots.

 

There have been several TV specials, documentaries, and movies made about Judy's life. Some better than others. A small West End show, "The End of the Rainbow" about the final months of Garland's life became a smash hit in 2010. A huge part of the show's success was star Tracie Bennett's uncanny likeness to Judy. Bennett and "Rainbow" transferred to Broadway in 2012.

 

This show is popular right now in regional productions, but Porchlight Music Theatre's production is the Chicago premiere. Playing Judy is Angela Ingersoll. Under the direction of Michael Webber, Ingersoll turns in a tour de force. She's wise not to veer into impression and makes definitive choices for her Judy, focusing on character rather than accuracy. Though, she really brings it home in the cabaret-style musical sequences. She captures Judy's intimate performance techniques that make an audience feel warm.

 

The book by Peter Quilter is more of a dramatic play than musical, but the songs are all selected from Judy's regular repertoire. Quilter's script is a well-rounded account of Judy's life almost entirely composed of actual quotes and first hand accounts from her life. Judy's demise is an unpleasant story and "The End of the Rainbow" covers it without getting morbid or tabloid.

 

Porchlight's production of "End of the Rainbow" starring Angela Ingersoll is a deeply moving account of the hidden side of show business. It's also a bittersweet tribute to one of Hollywood's biggest legends. For Garland fans young and old, this show is not to be missed.

 

Through December 9th at Stage 773. 1225 W Belmont Ave. 773-327-5252

 



 

Sunday, 16 October 2016 13:43

Review: The Trump Card at Theater Wit

"Atlantic City is like a real life, 3D Bruce Springsteen song, and not one of the good ones. Something off Nebraska," controversial monologist Mike Daisey waxes in his new show "The Trump Card." Daisey, a master storyteller, made a splash in 2010 when his Apple expose "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs" aired on This American Life. It remains the most downloaded episode in the show's history. It was retracted two months later when NPR discovered that some of the details had been fabricated. For some performers, this sort of public shame would be crippling. Daisey apologized and has moved on. 

 

As with his other works, "The Trump Card" positions Daisey at a long table against a black drop, on an otherwise empty stage. He occasionally reads his near two-and-a-half hour rant about Donald Trump, punctuating by wiping the sweat from his brow. Daisey fluctuates between an oral history of Trump, and his own commentary on the Republican nominee's troubled campaign. The genius of his monologue is how quickly he's able to include new and awful facts that seem to be bleeding out of the campaign everyday. While Daisey's contempt of Donald Trump is palpable, he doesn't shy away from skewering his smug liberal audience. He shifts in and out of the narrative, finding pit-stops and inventive metaphors along the way. 

 

Daisey holds his satire of the GOP candidate to a more intellectual standard than Alec Baldwin on SNL. Rather than bemoan what we've come to accept as normal, Daisey makes a case for the average Trump supporter. He even lectures the "American theater-going audience" for their elitism. He paints a somewhat bleak picture of the electorate, but that doesn't stop the laugh-a-minute jokes of this not-to-be-missed performance. "The Trump Card" is an illuminating and frightening look at how even if Trump loses, the conditions that made his candidacy possible will remain. Actors Elizabeth Ledo, Joe Foust and Steven Strafford will host a special Election Night performance here in Chicago where they will be performing parts of Daisey's monologues. 

 

Election Night encore November 8th at Theater Wit. 1229 W Belmont Ave. 773-975-8150. 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday, 16 September 2016 16:17

Review: Shattered Globe's "True West"

In a Sam Shepard play, rarely are things what they seem. His 1980 play "True West" is no exception. Under the direction of James Yost, Shattered Globe Theatre tackles this modern classic. "True West" is often considered part of a family saga by Shepard that includes his 1979 Pulitzer Prize winner "Buried Child." 

 

Austin and Lee are two brothers who couldn't be more different. Austin (Kevin Viol) is an upstanding writerly type who we first meet hunched over a typewriter in his mother's kitchen. Lee (Joseph Wiens) is his hulking older brother with a checkered past. Austin is working on a script in his mother's house while she's on vacation. Hoping for some peace and quiet, he's interrupted by Lee whom he hasn't seen in five years. Over the course of Act I, we watch as Lee and Austin battle for superiority through frustratingly inane questions. The moment of reckoning comes when Lee highjacks Austin's meeting with an important Hollywood executive. 

 

What the play points to in American culture is that bullies win. Bullies get what they want and being a polite makes you weak. This theme couldn't be more relevant as we look to a certain unpresidential candidate running for president this year. No matter how much evolution we have to the contrary, human nature is that the strongest eat first. Austin and Lee can be interpreted as two parts of the same mind. Shepard often opines on the perception of masculinity. "True West" explores the duality we all possess. 

 

There's a special place in Chicago's theater community for "True West." It was one of the first out-of-town successes of a then fledgling theater company, The Steppenwolf. Gary Sinese and John Malkovich starred in the principal roles. It transferred off-Broadway in 1984 and helped establish The Steppenwolf as one of the best regional theaters in America. 

 

Director James Yost's vision for this show is faithful. The set by Greg Pinsoneault drops us right into 1980. Sarah Jo White's costumes are also very authentic. Performances are this production's strongest asset. Kevin Viol's breakdown between Act I and II is hilarious. While Joseph Weins' character stays mostly static throughout the play, his commitment to the grossness of extreme masculinity echos Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalksi. Shattered Globe's production of "True West" shows their knack for bringing topical themes to classic works. 

 

Through Oct 22nd. Shattered Globe Theatre. 1229 W Belmont Ave. www.theaterwit.com

 

 

Wednesday, 27 July 2016 11:42

Review: Byhalia, Mississippi at Steppenwolf

Earlier this year, The New Colony in collaboration with Definition Theatre, produced a smash hit called 'Byhalia, Mississippi.' The New Colony has done a great deal to insert themselves into the Chicago theater landscape over the past few years. Some of their work has even appeared off-Broadway, as was the case with their acclaimed show 'Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche.' What the New Colony is perhaps best known for is their commitment to taking chances on quirky new work from emerging playwrights. 

 

'Byhalia, Mississippi' is about one of the most 'Jerry Springer' scenarios you can imagine. A married white woman, Laurel (Liz Sharpe), gives birth to a black baby in the rural deep south. What could easily descend into a hillbilly soap opera is heightened by a strong theme on the way seemingly decent people handle race. Performances run strong in 'Byhalia, Mississippi' in particular Celeste Wingate as Laurel's mother and Kiki Layne as her childhood best friend. It has a sharp sense of humor when it needs to, but also enough structure in place to carry its complex ideas. 

 

This new play by New Colony artistic director Evan Linder has some serious legs. After a sold-out run at The Den, 'Byhalia, Mississippi' is now being put up at one of Chicago's most esteemed and visible houses. It will certainly be noticed. While a certain degree of cheekiness runs throughout, the playwright is careful not to make his characters cartoonish. There are a few juvenile moments that tend to stick out like a sore thumb, but in time, some of that roughness will surely be smoothed out. This is not a play about infidelity. This is a play about the way people in some parts of America handle race and gender. To that end, this play couldn’t be more relevant. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see 'Byhalia, Mississippi' mounted in New York some time soon. 

 

Through August 21st at Steppenwolf Theater, 1650 N Halsted St. 312-335-1650

 

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