In Concert

The Burn, a lively tale of a high school drama class putting on Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, is spectacularly good. The script by Philip Dawkins was commissioned for the Steppenwolf’s Theatre’s Young Adult Theater Program. But this in no way diminishes it as a creative work – it is far, far more than an educational theater program.

Dawkins brings us four students and a teacher, introducing at first just the social surface, gradually individualizing them, and masterfully drilling down into the characters to reveal what makes each of them tick.

The Burn operates on several levels at once. It provides a portrait of the battleground educators face in classes of students with limited attention spans – a contemporary Blackboard Jungle. These young people display the confidence spawned by that thin yet wide breadth of knowledge so readily garnered online.

The Burn also addresses the perpetual condition of student social strata, amped up these days through social media platforms that can at times feed an unfortunate frenzy of bullying.

And finally, its story parallels the drama of the Miller’s masterwork, The Crucible, a dissection of the violence unleashed when a 17th Century Puritanical community’s dark forces are unconstrained. Miller’s dramatization of  the actual 1692 Salem witch trials in the Massachusetts Bay Colony is now an essential per of our cultural literacy. (Steppenwolf produced The Crucible earlier this season - read our review by John Accrocco.) But the play can be impenetrable. This new take by Dawkins illuminates Miller’s story, and will undoubtedly be produced widely at schools.

In The Burn, Tara, the social standard setter and bully (Birgundi Baker) hangs out with a dumbed-down girls’ basketball team member Andi (Nina Ganet) and with Shauna (Dyllan Rodrigues-Miller), who straddles the respectable world of accomplished student, while also following Tara as a member of her “mean girls” clique. Transfer student Mercedes (Phoebe González) is never admitted to the group, and in fact is harassed in person and on line. Mercedes carries a lot of baggage from a violent event that caused her to change schools, finding comfort by becoming a born-again Christian in the process.

We first meet the students as their good-natured teacher, Erik (Erik Hellman, who also starred in The Crucible) struggles to engage the class in diagramming a sentence. He finally gets their attention by using a more personal sentence about Tara, and thereby hints at the increasingly personal encounters that are to follow. 

A high school, or any theater production, for that matter, is also an intensely powerful emotional experience for the players involved. As The Burn progresses, the students rehearse and play their roles, and must learn to perform as a unit. This shifts the emotional dynamics, and the dynamic of the group begins to shift. Tension mounts as Tara’s hold on the group is threatened, and Erik confronts her bullying behavior.

Dawkins is an accomplished playwright, as well as teaching the art at Northwestern, Loyola and Victory Gardens – and demonstrates the high level of craft he has attained from that background. Like Snap Chat, Messenger and Twitter, the play’s delivery runs at an almost breakneck pace – and in that sense is very fitting for its target audience. But the older crowd should not miss it. I laughed and cried and wanted to stand up and cheer when it was done. So yes, it’s highly recommended! Catch it at Steppenwolf Theatre through March 10.

Published in Theatre in Review

Steppenwolf Theatre Company Artistic Director Anna D. Shapiro announced the additions of Celeste M. Cooper and Cliff Chamberlain to its world-renowned Steppenwolf ensemble.

Cooper, an in-demand Chicago-based actor, recently performed in Steppenwolf’s production of BLKS and Chamberlain, a regular on the Steppenwolf stage, was recently featured in The Minutes by ensemble member Tracy Letts.

“We are thrilled to add Cliff and Celeste to the Steppenwolf ensemble. Both of these actors bring a commitment to excellence in their work that already has brought so much to our stages,” shares Steppenwolf Artistic Director Anna D. Shapiro. “We are honored that they will now be able to call Steppenwolf their artistic home and we are all so excited to see what the future holds for them both.”

Celeste M. Cooper shares, “WOW, this is amazing. I am so humbled, excited, and honored to join an ensemble of artists I deeply admire. I have prayed and dreamed about this moment ever since I saw Steppenwolf’s outstanding production of The Bluest Eye. This blessing seriously means the world to me. Thank you Papa God! Thank you Steppenwolf! I share this honor with anyone who needs confirmation that dreams really can come true.”

Cliff Chamberlain shares, “When I moved to Chicago in 2003, simply walking into the Steppenwolf lobby for the first time took my breath away. Since then, I’ve been an audience member in its seats, a student in its classrooms, and an actor on its stages; heck, I’ve even been a volunteer usher in its lobby (August: Osage County, deep into the run, only way to get tickets, a wonderful memory). To add “ensemble member” to that list, to join an artistic family that has meant so much to me, is unbelievably exciting and an incredible honor.”

Cooper made her Steppenwolf Theatre Company debut in BLKS. She most recently appeared in Strawdog Theatre Company’s production of Barbecue presented in Steppenwolf’s 1700 Theatre. Some theater credits include Blues for an Alabama Sky (Court Theatre/Jeff Awarded Best Production); The Hard Problem (Court Theatre); Measure for Measure (Goodman Theatre); Stick Fly (Windy City Playhouse); Never the Sinner (Victory Gardens Theater); The Hammer Trinity (The House Theatre of Chicago, Adrienne Arsht in Miami); The Mecca Tales (Chicago Dramatists); Our Lady of 121st Street (Eclipse Theatre Company); How We Got On (Citadel Theatre Company); You On The Moors Now (The Hypocrites, Theater on the Lake remount); Ruined (Eclipse Theatre Company, BTAA Most Promising Actress recipient); and her original one woman shows Fight 4 Your Life and The Incredible Cece (MPAACT & Stage 773). Television and film credits include a recurring role on Chicago PD, Spike Lee’s Chiraq, Sense8, and in Fatal Funnel Films’ upcoming feature-length thriller, Range Runners. Ms. Cooper has a BA in Speech Communications and Theatre from Tennessee State University and an MFA in Acting from The Theatre School at DePaul University.

Chamberlain was most recently in The Minutes at Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Additional Steppenwolf credits include The Herd, Belleville, Clybourne Park, Theatrical Essays and Superior Donuts. Chicago credits include The Seagull (Goodman Theatre) and The Sparrow (The House Theatre of Chicago; company member). Broadway credits include Steppenwolf’s production of Superior Donuts.  Television and film credits include Netflix’s newly released series Altered Carbon, Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders, State of Affairs, Grey’s Anatomy, Chicago PD, The Wise Kids, The Keeping Hours and Win it All. Cliff trained at UCSB and The School at Steppenwolf.

Formed by a collective of actors in 1976, the Steppenwolf’s ensemble features the best in American Theatre. Since Anna D. Shapiro began as Artistic Director in 2015, Glenn Davis, Audrey Francis, Sandra Marquez, Caroline Neff and Namir Smallwood have also been welcomed into the ensemble.

Steppenwolf ensemble members include: Joan Allen, Kevin Anderson, Alana Arenas, Randall Arney, Kate Arrington, Ian Barford, Robert Breuler, Cliff Chamberlain, Gary Cole, Celeste M. Cooper, Glenn Davis, Kathryn Erbe, Audrey Francis, K. Todd Freeman, Frank Galati, Francis Guinan, Moira Harris, Jon Michael Hill, Tim Hopper, Tom Irwin, Ora Jones, Terry Kinney, Tina Landau, Martha Lavey*, Tracy Letts, John Mahoney*, John Malkovich, Sandra Marquez, Mariann Mayberry*, Tarell Alvin McCraney, James Vincent Meredith, Laurie Metcalf, Amy Morton, Sally Murphy, Caroline Neff, Bruce Norris, Austin Pendleton, Jeff Perry, William Petersen, Yasen Peyankov, Martha Plimpton, Rondi Reed, Molly Regan, Anna D. Shapiro, Eric Simonson, Gary Sinise, Namir Smallwood, Lois Smith, Rick Snyder, Jim True-Frost and Alan Wilder. *In Memoriam

Steppenwolf Theatre Company is the nation’s premier ensemble theater. Formed by a collective of actors in 1976, the ensemble represents a remarkable cross-section of actors, directors and playwrights. Thrilling and powerful productions from Balm in Gilead to August: Osage County—and accolades that include the National Medal of Arts and 12 Tony Awards—have made the theater legendary. Steppenwolf produces hundreds of performances and events annually in its three spaces: the 515-seat Downstairs Theatre, the 299-seat Upstairs Theatre and the 80-seat 1700 Theatre. Artistic programming includes a seven-play season; a two-play Steppenwolf for Young Adults season; Visiting Company engagements; and LookOut, a multi-genre performances series.

Education initiatives include the nationally recognized work of Steppenwolf for Young Adults, which engages 15,000 participants annually from Chicago’s diverse communities; the esteemed School at Steppenwolf; and Professional Leadership Programs. While firmly grounded in the Chicago community, nearly 40 original Steppenwolf productions have enjoyed success both nationally and internationally, including Broadway, Off-Broadway, London, Sydney, Galway and Dublin. Anna D. Shapiro is the Artistic Director and David Schmitz is the Executive Director. Eric Lefkofsky is Chair of Steppenwolf’s Board of Trustees. For additional information, visit and

Published in Upcoming Theatre

Millennial angst is in the air, and never better captured than in Clare Barron’s autobiographical “You Got Older.” You will laugh at its depictions of a young woman less-than-dexterously navigating her way through the trials of reaching a grown-up state in this first-rate production at Steppenwolf Theatre.

Mae, a 27-year-old unemployed lawyer (dumped, then fired, by her boyfriend and boss) is played by Caroline Neff. Back home in Seattle to nurse her dad through an episode of throat cancer, Mae carries most of the load for the play, a self-portrait of Barron that the author put together a few years ago to clear her writer’s block. Such works risk veering toward a self-indulgent exercise, but You Got Older largely avoids this.

It is true that in “You Got Older” we get more of a slice-of-life than a play with a plot. But most of the scenes - some real, others imagined - are hilariously funny or touchingly insightful (with maybe a couple clunkers). Awesomely fun is a recurring erotic fantasy, which arrives in the form of intermittent scenes with the hyper-masculine, bearded Cowboy in leather vest and chaps, lasso at the ready, who plays out Mae’s deep-seated desires. Gabriel Ruiz is over the top good as Cowboy.

The manly Cowboy contrasts with scenes with a real-life bar pick-up, the inept Mac, whose fetishes dovetail perfectly with Mae’s insecurities. Glenn Davis is comically nerdy, climbing clumsily into her bedroom window, then falling asleep before the tryst even gets started.

In the background, serious life issues play out. Mae’s Dad (Francis Guinan) has throat cancer, and its uncertain what outcome he will have. In Dad’s hospital room we meet Mae’s family following the surgery – two sisters and a brother – with an extended exposure to family culture. This perhaps overly long scene includes a humorous “picnic” (avocados and grapefruit), a peculiar “sniff-out” as the siblings try to determine “the family smell,” and the revelation that the family likes to dance together.

Another scene plays out somewhat gratuitously, as Mae and Dad listen to a four-minute recording of Regina Spekter's Firewood, played on an unamplified iPhone at a level where lyrics are barely audible. Dad has declared it the "theme song" of his illness. The sentimental concept of sharing a meaningful song is conveyed; but the dramatic impact is questionable. A closing dance scene with the four siblings is likewise more important to the author than the audience.  

In one scene of serious emotion, Mae argues with her father over how to approach a job interview. Mae plans to Skype it in; Dad advises going in person. When Mae out-argues him on which approach is better, Dad declares, “This conversation is over,” and withdraws, closing the door in her face.  Mae shouts at the door to no avail, “Admit it, Dad. You’re wrong!”

Neff’s performance is a standout, lacing with dry ironic tone the world weariness that captures the essence of the “generation next’s” view of its forbears, and her own struggles as life turns out to be far less than originally advertised.

Barron won a 2015 Obie Award for the play, and it is easy to see why. Jonathan Berry has pulled a well-crafted ensemble performance by  Audrey Francis and Emjoy Gavino (Mae’s sisters Hannah and Jenny), and David Lind (brother Matthew). The production runs through March 11 at

You Got Older’s production team has perhaps even exceeded the script in excellence: Meghan Raham (scenic design), Alison Siple (costume design), Marcus Doshi (lighting design), Matt Chapman (sound design & original music), Rasean Davonte Johnson (projection design), Gigi Buffington (company vocal coach) and Sasha Smith (intimacy choreography). Casting director JC Clementz deserves special acknowledgement for the great chemistry on stage.  

Published in Theatre in Review

BLKS, a new comedy premiering at Steppenwolf Theater, tracks three young black women sharing an apartment in New York City, through 24 hours laced with sex and romance. 

Packed with high drama and high jinx, this first play by Aziza Barnes makes for an entertaining show. It may sound like a black version of Sex in the City or Friends, and like them it is a comedy of errors. But it also operates on an altogether more serious plain, taking on issues of violence, and with a look at “gender fluid” and “queer” orientation in next generation black community. It is also a window into a world most white people like me can never see.

“This is a play by blk people and for blk people,” the playwright says a note to the audience, tucked into the program. ”I am inviting blk people to live fully here. Those on stage and off.”

Enjoining the audience – and specifically black people -  to her mission, Barnes also has a longer goal. “What's important to me is trying to understand humanity and doing something of consequence that doesn't hurt people—that liberates people,” as she said in a Vice interview this summer.

The play also comes with a very explicit audience advisory for coarse language, sexualized violence, nudity, and frank depictions of consensual sex – and, notably, for documentary footage of police brutality – the liberal use of the N- and F- words, which punctuate the dialog is not so different from the role that “Frickin” plays in contemporary Irish dramatic dialog.     

Barnes also says she wants the play to be funny, and in large measure it is. In this “day in the life” Barnes depicts herself and two friends, with Barnes presumably represented by the protagonist and "everyman" figure, Octavia (Nora Carroll ably carries off a demanding role) who is dithering over her romantic commitment to Ry (Danielle Davis), a self-assured lesbian with a stable job. When the play opens, Ry and Octavia are snuggling, and we are introduced to the two other roommates Imani (Celeste Cooper) and June (Leea Ayers), as they enter with a flourish.

You feel you know these characters and their lives, but what you won’t know until you see BLKS is how it feels to be them. Barnes says this is a play for black people, and that is true. Comments from predominantly black audience members in an after-show discussion generally expressed surprise at how “black” the play was, and a certain amount of discomfort at the use of the word “nigger” in front of non-black audience members. Those assessments also suggest the realism Barnes has going in BLKS.

BLKS also shows us how #BlackLivesMatter, male abuse and #MeToo play out in the lives of these young women – a dark and undeniable backdrop to their efforts to just live a life.   

I found the character of June the most delightful – a straight black professional woman constantly seeking romance, fending off abuse, and taking a position as a highly paid consultant at Deloitte. Leea Ayers's performance was terrific. Kudos to the supporting cast. Namir Smallwood is excellent as he plays three characters (Dominican Dude, Justin, Sosa) in different scenes, and is thoroughly convincing in each, particularly the nerdy Sosa. (I didn’t realize he was all three guys!) And Kelly O’Sullivan plays somewhat thankless roles as That Bitch on the Couch, and Drunk  White Woman – foils to the action, but still, we like her.

Barnes is a rising voice in the poetry world with a popular podcast and award winning poems that explore black, queer, and feminine worlds. BLKS, her first theatrical effort, features fully fleshed out characters, real people that you will enjoy seeing, and will care about.

Artistic Director Anna Shapiro says with BLKS, she was “handed a script that feels both audaciously new and yet, strangely familiar.” It truly does explores the joy and anguish of growing up, and without question Barnes's playwriting marks the arrival of an original voice on stage. 

A stellar cast has, under the direction of Nataki Garett, brought this play to life, in part through workshopping at Steppenwolf. Barnes's poetic voice adapts very well to the stage, and the characters' language is both natural, yet musical and thoughtfully cadenced.

Producing BLKS is part of Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s mission to be “where great acting meets big ideas” and “to engage audiences in an exchange of ideas that makes us think harder, laugh longer, feel more” and “develop new plays, new audiences and new artists for the future of American theater.”

With all that back story and context, the question remains, “Is the play any good? Should I see it?” Yes it is good. And you may want to consider this in deciding whether to go: Steppenwolf has become a reliable curator of theater for us, and you are well advised not to miss out on something carrying its endorsement. So BLKS comes recommended. 

This is also a perfect antidote to the Christmas Carols dominating Chicago stages right now, and a good destination for a New Years Eve date. Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Published in Theatre in Review

Rehearsals have begun for Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s highly anticipated world premiere of The Minutes by Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning ensemble member Tracy Letts. Under the direction of Artistic Director Anna D. Shapiro, the cast features the return of six ensemble members Kevin Anderson (Mr. Breeding), Ian Barford (Mr. Carp), Francis Guinan (Mr. Oldfield), James Vincent Meredith (Mr. Blake), Sally Murphy (Ms. Matz) and William Petersen (Mayor Superba). Completing the cast of this 90-minute political comedy are Brittany Burch (Ms. Johnson), Cliff Chamberlain (Mr. Peel), Danny McCarthy (Mr. Hanratty), Penny Slusher (Ms. Innes) and Jeff Still (Mr. Assalone).

Tracy Letts, the writer of Linda Vista and August: Osage County, debuts a scathing new comedy about small-town politics and real-world power that exposes the ugliness behind some of our most closely-held American narratives while asking each of us what we would do to keep from becoming history’s losers.

Previews for The Minutes begin November 9; opening is November 19 and the show runs through December 31, 2017 in Steppenwolf’s Downstairs Theatre, 1650 N Halsted St.  Single tickets to The Minutes ($20-$99, subject to change) are available through Audience Services at 312-335-1650 or Classic and Flex Memberships are still available and offer discounted prices and flexibility; more information at

"The Minutes explores how we define history and the stories that we tell ourselves. Many of our ensemble members have returned to dig into Tracy's funny and surprising new work. Being in the Steppenwolf rehearsal room is one of my favorite places to be, and surrounded by the incredible cast and so many ensemble members—it's simply the best environment a director could ask for," shares Artistic Director Anna D. Shapiro.

This play marks the fifth collaboration between Anna D. Shapiro and Tracy Letts and the seventh play by Letts to premiere at Steppenwolf. This season is also the 10th anniversary of the internationally acclaimed production of Steppenwolf’s August: Osage County by Letts and directed by Shapiro, which also featured ensemble members Ian Barford, Francis Guinan and Sally Murphy who all reunite for The Minutes.

WATCH trailer here >>


Tickets & Membership Info

Single tickets ($20-$99) are available through Audience Services at 312-335-1650 or Previews: $20 – $54 and Regular Run: $20 – $99. Prices subject to change.
Rush Tickets: half-price rush tickets are available one hour before each show.

Student Discounts: a limited number of $15 student tickets are available online. Limit 2 tickets per student; must present a valid student ID for each ticket;
Group Tickets: all groups of 10 or more receive a discounted rate for any performance throughout the season;

Classic Subscription Memberships offer 7-Play Packages securing dates and seats for the full Steppenwolf experience, as well as Create-Your-Own Packages with 5 or 6 plays. Perks include discount prices, easy and free exchanges and more.

Black Card Memberships are for audiences interested in extreme flexibility with six tickets for use any time for any production. Black Card ticket credits are valid for one year with the option to add additional tickets as needed. Perks include easy and free exchanges, access to seats before the general public, savings on single ticket prices and bar and restaurant discounts for pre- and post-show socializing.

Red Card memberships are available for theatergoers under 30.  To purchase a Card Membership, visit Audience Services at 1650 N Halsted St, call 312-335-1650 or visit

Published in Upcoming Theatre
Monday, 09 October 2017 18:06

Review: The Crucible at Steppenwolf Theatre

It’s the season of Arthur Miller in Chicago. It appears Miller is enjoying a renaissance right now with three of our major companies reviving his work this season. The Steppenwolf takes on "The Crucible" as their Young Adult show. Calling upon Jonathan Berry (one of the city's foremost storefront theatre directors), Steppenwolf bids for a younger audience's attention.

Berry doesn't disappoint. His vision for this show is more like MTV than stuffier productions of yore. The first act begins with hip-hop flavored choreography combined with Izumi Inaba's stylish costumes that create a sort of "sexy Halloween costume" version of "The Crucible". The alternative staging helps guide a younger, perhaps less engaged audience through the multi-cast roles and quick on-stage character changes. Berry also makes a distinct stylistic choice to gender and colorblind cast all of the roles. Performances are convincing enough that it never feels like a gimmick. Instead, it underscores Miller's theme that these characters are all of us.

The only misstep is Naimi Hebrail Kidjo's tepid Abigail. Arthur Miller's scenes between Proctor and Abigail are some of the most electrifying in modern American drama, but somehow, they rarely reach a boil here. Perhaps an underplayed Abigail helps bring the relationship between Proctor and his wife Elizabeth into sharper focus. The scenes between John (Travis A. Knight) and Elizabeth Proctor (Kirstina Valada-Viars) are gripping. Valada-Viars gives a feisty performance, making Elizabeth a stronger heroine than typically played. Knight's John Proctor is youthful and naive, but not without a quick temper and imposing figure.

The ensemble wears many hats, quite literally in some cases. Stephanie Shum swiftly moves through characters without faltering. It's hard to figure why some actors played more roles than others, but the moral backbone of the play is sufficiently taken up by Taylor Blim's Mary Warren.

For many of us, "The Crucible" occupies a greyish area of high school that we'd like to forget. The old timey language and belabored scenes are hard to get into. Even still, this is a show the Steppenwolf is aiming at school groups. Berry's version is cool. It may take some effort to get generation Snapchat into it, but for those who invest, this is a worthwhile production. "The Crucible" and "Death of a Salesman" are essential theater experiences. So much more is defined in a live performance versus a moldy permabound high school book.

Miller is hot right now because his themes are forever relevant. "The Crucible" tells us not to be sheep, but to look around and develop our own code of ethics. Jonathan Berry's modernish version of this classic work is sure to attract audiences without much theater-going experience, and what a cool introduction this would be. The key to instilling the values of Arthur Miller onto another generation is make it seem new, and this production feels fresh.

Through October 21 at Steppenwolf Theatre. 1650 N Halsted St. 312-335-1650

Published in Theatre in Review

Put acting greats Francis Guinan and John Mahoney on stage together and you undoubtedly get a performance that will certainly mesmerize. Add Jessica Dickey’s poignant script that delves into history and what we can take away from it, keen direction by Hallie Gordon and fine supporting performances from Ty Olwin, Karen Rodriguez and Gabriel Ruiz and you have a power-packed production that truly resonates with its audience. Steppenwolf’s latest, The Rembrant, is just that.

Guinan stars as longtime art museum guard Henry. A lot is going on this particular day. Henry’s boss Jonny (Ruiz) has just hired a new guard named Dodger (Olwin) and Henry needs to show him the ropes. The young, mohawk-wearing Dodger clearly isn’t in the same mold as his new mentor Henry and when art student Madeline admire a Rembrant before sketching it, the new guard encourages her to “touch the painting”. “Touch it”, he says, “feel the history.” Upon Henry’s return, he gazes at the same painting, one he has admired for years, Dodger urges him to do the same. Of course, this is absurd, thinks Henry. But Henry is troubled, his husband slowly dying from cancer. He has been a loyal guard for years. He wants so badly to touch the Rembrant – to feel the brush strokes. So, he does.

Once Henry feels the canvas, we are taken back in time to the life of Rembrant (also played by Guinan). We see the strong bond he has with his son Titus (Olwin), a son who wants nothing more to be by the side of his father. Dickey makes a valiant effort in encompassing the thought process behind Rembrant’s paintings. In one painting a man has a large hand and a small hand. This we learn is to keep father and son together forever, one hand belonging to Titus, the other to Rembrandt. The period is well-played and Guinan at the top of his craft.

Then emerges Homer, played wholeheartedly by Mahoney. Homer reminds us death is imminent for all of us. Though the time and the how unknown, the certainty for sure. It is a riveting dialogue that profoundly makes its way throughout the theatre prompting us to think about enjoying the gift of life while we can. We are also reminded of Mahoney’s powerful stage presence.

The play goes full circle, Henry by the side of his husband Simon (Mahoney) as they reminisce about the past, cherishing fond memories and exchanging their feelings for one another in a sad, but moving scene that adds an exclamation point to a very engaging story.

Guinan is sensational. However, he will take leave of the role after the October 22nd performance. Talented Chicago actor Joe Dempsey will reprieve Guinan and take over the role of Henry and Rembrandt as of October 24th. Inventive set design, wonderful acting performances and an engaging story, The Rembrandt is a warm production that connects the present to the past in a very creative way.


The Rembrandt is being performed at Steppenwolf Theatre through November 5th. For tickets and/or more show information visit


*Extended through November 11th

Published in Theatre in Review

Strawdog theatre begins its 2017-2018, 30th Anniversary Season with a Chicago Premiere of Barbecue by Robert O’Hara. Barbecue is performed at Steppenwolf’s 1700 Theatre as a LookOut Visiting Company.

In Strawdog’s Barbecue, a spirited trailer trash family is having a summer barbecue with an ulterior motive in mind: they want one of theirs, Barbara, to get help for her drug and alcohol problems. The most reasonable of them came up with the perfect rehab solution and wants other siblings to chime in. Squabbling around, as they normally do, smoking, drinking and calling each other names, the siblings can’t quite agree on most things except that their sister is an embarrassment to the whole family and definitely needs an intervention. They try to be considerate too, especially since the rehab might give Barbara “freezer burn”.

Without giving away too much, let’s just say that midway through the first Act there’s an intriguing race switch. The switching back and forth between the two races adds a fascinating dimension to the story and infuses the play with another cultural language; and plus, it’s cool to watch.

When Barbara finally shows up at the barbecue, everyone’s ready, albeit with a taser to subdue her if necessary. Taking turns, they present their arguments (mostly made up stories) to their bound and gagged sister, while making interesting bets for the outcome.

Robert O’Hara has such a great way with words; his characters are hilarious and wacky, they’re a fun bunch that’s keeping it real and holds nothing back. Director Damon Kiely chose a marvelously talented cast for the play that includes Strawdog Ensemble Members John Henry Roberts and Kamille Dawkins with guest artists Kristin Collins, Celeste Cooper, Anita Deely, Barbara Figgins, Deanna Reed Foster, Abby Pierce, Terence Simms and Ginneh Thomas. Minimalist set (set designer Joanna Iwanicka, props designer Leah Hummel) is to the point and doesn’t detract from the action on stage.

Act One ends with an unexpected twist. After the intermission, there’re more twists, the order of things gets changed, and the characters are propelled to fame and fortune. Enter Hollywood, wised up Barbara, a black movie star, and the race switch now makes sense. Second act’s takeaway message: “Everything is bullshit”. After all, life is all but a stage.

Barbecue is highly recommended and is being performed through September 30th. For more show information visit

Published in Theatre in Review

Kristoffer Diaz’s “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” is getting a knock-out revival by Red Theater. Named for the colorfully staged, and bombastic entrances of professional wrestlers - with costumes, smoke, lights, confetti, and plenty of trash-talking put-downs of their rivals to rile up the audience - pro wrestling is really a natural event for the stage.

In this send-up of the seemingly testosterone-laden world of pro wrestlers – and a hilarious one at that - director Jeremy Aluma has also plumbed the depths of this play, lauded with an Obie and a Pulitzer finalist after its 2008 premier.

Our narrator and guide, Mace (Alejandro Tey), a young Puerto Rican man with a life-long love of wrestling – explains his career in that vital role as one of the class of professional losers, who are willingly vanquished so that the celebrated star wrestler – in this play Chad Deity – can be further elevated and celebrated. And the pay is good.

With amazing casting by Gage Wallace, the production puts the audience in the role of fans at the arena. Much as I resist such tropes (please, let me hide in my seat!), this production drew me in, then captured me – along with the rest of us watching at the StrawDog Theatre building.   

This was in part due to the charismatic and captivating performance of Alejandro Tey as Mace. He carries on for perhaps 45 minutes, relating his life story, teaching us the fine points of the profession, and explaining the symbiosis between the winner and loser. This almost mesmerizing performance is punctuated by demonstrations of wrestling technique.

But in very large measure Chad Deity succeeds on the seamless performances of the troupe – Mickey Sullivan is top drawer as Eko, the promoter; Will Snyder as The Bad Guy and as Fight Captain; and the night I saw it, Harsh Gagoomal as VP. Special kudos to Dave Honigman as the other Bad Guy and as an off-the-wall Referee who also performs janitorial duties and even wanders into the lobby during intermission. Chad Deity himself – Semaj Miller – tears up the in an over the top performance

Before seeing Chad Deity, I was quite blind to the team work and dynamic between winners and losers. My perception was the wrestling was clowning, not sport. In fact, the throws – and accompanying falls – require careful training. The troupe at Red Theater did its due diligence in learning these skills and clearly put in the hours on the wrestling mat.

The revival of this play is also timely. The panoply of villainous characters challenging Chad Diaz’s script highlights the American male heroes who vanquish the Bad Guys. The play – like real wrestling – trades on caricatures for the winners and designated losers alike. Over time, new models of trending bad guys are rolled out.

In Chad Deity, that new character is VJ, a motormouthed Pakistani who stands in for a variety of Middle Eastern villains. Mace adopts the role of his accomplice, playing a Mexican bandit. Let’s just say neither of them intend to pay for any frigging wall.

The plot may be overly burdened by one additional claim on it: Mace is really a great wrestler, and wants to win, rather than lose well. Just once he would like to take the winners belt. Mace and the play deserve this, but it does seem to slow the action at points.

The Red Theater creative team has converted the Strawdog Theatre space into a convincing live wrestling event. It was an absolute delight. The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity plays through September 16, 2017 at 1802 W Berenice Ave, Chicago, IL 60613. It is highly, highly recommended.

Published in Theatre in Review

Steppenwolf Theatre Company opens its 42nd Season with the Chicago premiere of The Rembrandt, written by Jessica Dickey and directed by Hallie Gordon. Currently in rehearsals, this subtle and elegant play features ensemble members Francis Guinan as Henry/Rembrandt and John Mahoney as Simon/Homer with Ty Olwin (Dodger/Titus), Karen Rodriguez (Madeline/Henny) and Gabriel Ruiz (Jonny/Martin). Previews begin September 7, opening is September 17 and the show has already been extended through November 5 due to popular demand. The Rembrandt takes place in Steppenwolf’s Upstairs Theatre, 1650 N Halsted St. Single tickets ($20 - $99) are available through Audience Services at 312-335-1650 or

When a museum guard decides to touch a famous Rembrandt painting, a remarkable journey across the ages ensues. Spanning centuries of human experience, Jessica Dickey’s The Rembrandt movingly explores the power of creative expression and the sacrifices we make in the pursuit of love and beauty, reminding us that though our beliefs may die with the sound of our voice, it’s the love we share—and the art that love inspires—that finds eternity.

Director Hallie Gordon shares, “The Rembrandt asks you step into the painting and its different worlds. What we find is beauty and meaning in the understanding that no matter where we are, art allows us to unravel the mysteries of being. It could be in a temple or it could be in a dark apartment. We are all attracted to and seeking after that elemental spark of genius, and ultimately that which we leave behind.”

In regards to her process playwright Jessica Dickey shares, “Researching the world of museum guards was a fascinating window into a very particular subculture. The result is an examination of the eternal and the ephemeral that is funny, surprising and filled with yearning. The Rembrandt explores how encountering a work of art can be practice for the real thing—really seeing one another.”  
Jessica Dickey is an award-winning actor and playwright most known for her play, The Amish Project, which opened Off-Broadway at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (Helen Hayes Award, Barrymore Award, among others). The Rembrandt was commissioned and produced (then titled The Guard) by the Ford’s Theatre as part of the Women’s Voices Festival and was awarded the Stavis Award for Playwriting.

Hallie Gordon is an Artistic Producer at Steppenwolf and the Artistic Director for Steppenwolf for Young Adults, where she has directed many productions for the program including Monster by Walter Dean Myers; George Orwell’s 1984 and Animal Farm; The Book Thief; To Kill a Mockingbird; and the world premiere of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. She’s also directed for Northlight Theatre and is an ensemble member for Rivendell Theatre where she directed the critically acclaimed Dry land and Eat Your Heart Out. Most recently for Steppenwolf, she directed Taylor Mac’s Hir, now playing through August 20, 2017.

About the Cast & Creative Team

Ensemble member Francis Guinan has appeared in more than 30 shows, currently in Taylor Mac’s Hir. Ensemble member John Mahoney also has appeared in more than 30 Steppenwolf productions, most recently The Herd, The Birthday Party and The Seafarer. Mahoney won a Tony Award for his performance in The House of Blue Leaves and is well-known for his role on the hit TV series, Frasier. Ty Olwin is a graduate of the School at Steppenwolf, currently in Taylor Mac’s Hir and was in Steppenwolf for Young Adults’ productions of The Burials and Lord of the Flies. Olwin was featured in the 2016 film Personal Shopper starring Kristen Stewart. Karen Rodriguez is making her Steppenwolf debut, and was recently featured in the solo show The Way She Spoke: A Docu-Mythologia at the Greenhouse Theatre and Hookman at Steep Theatre. Gabriel Ruiz is a graduate of the DePaul Theatre School and an ensemble member of Teatro Vista. Previous Steppenwolf Theatre Company credits include How Long Will I Cry?, Motherfucker with the Hat and The Way West. He has appeared in the TV series Boss, Chicago Fire and Chicago Justice.
The Rembrandt production team includes Regina Garcia (scenic design), Jenny Mannis (costume design), Ann G. Wrightson (lighting design), Elisheba Ittoop (sound design and original music) and Gigi Buffington (company vocal coach). Other credits include Aaron Carter (artistic producer), JC Clementz (casting director), Laura D. Glenn (stage manager) and Brian Maschka (assistant stage manager).

Tickets & Production Info

Single tickets ($20-$99) available at 312-335-1650 or Previews: $20 – $54 and Regular Run: $20 – $99. Prices subject to change. Note: There is limited availability Sept 7-Oct 22, but open availability during extension weeks Oct 24 – Nov 5. Rush Tickets: half-price rush tickets are available one hour before each show. Student Discounts: a limited number of $15 student tickets are available online. Limit 2 tickets per student; must present a valid student ID for each ticket; Group Tickets: all groups of 10 or more receive a discounted rate for any performance throughout the season; Classic Subscription Memberships offer 7-Play Packages securing dates and seats for the full Steppenwolf experience, as well as Create-Your-Own Packages with 5 or 6 plays. Perks include discount prices, easy and free exchanges and more. Black Card Memberships are for audiences interested in extreme flexibility with six tickets for use any time for any production. Black Card ticket credits are valid for one year with the option to add additional tickets as needed. Perks include easy and free exchanges, access to seats before the general public, savings on single ticket prices and bar and restaurant discounts for pre- and post-show socializing. Red Card memberships are available for theatergoers under 30.  To purchase a Card Membership, visit Audience Services at 1650 N Halsted St, call 312-335-1650 or visit

Accessible performances include an American Sign Language interpretation on Sunday, October 1 at 7:30pm, Open Captioning on Saturday, October 7 at 3pm and a Touch Tour on Sunday, October 15 at 1:30pm. For more information, visit Assistive listening devices and large-print programs are available for every performance. An induction loop is installed in the Downstairs Theatre and the 1700 Theatre.

Front Bar: Coffee and Drinks

Connected to the main lobby is Steppenwolf’s own Front Bar: Coffee and Drinks, offering a warm, creative space to grab a drink, have a bite, or meet up with friends and collaborators, day or night. Open daily from 8am to midnight, Front Bar serves artisanal coffee and espresso is provided by La Colombe and food prepared by Goddess and Grocer. The menu focuses on fresh, accessible fare, featuring grab-and-go salads and sandwiches for lunch and adding shareable small plates and desserts for evening and post show service.

Sponsor Information

Northern Trust is a sponsor on The Rembrandt. United Airlines is the Exclusive Airline of Steppenwolf and ComEd is the Official Lighting Sponsor for the 17/18 season.

Published in Upcoming Theatre
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