In Concert

In 2003, a little show called One Tree Hill hit the WB and its theme some “I Don't Want to Be” was quickly burned onto mix CDs by denim mini skirt, tie-belt, fedora wearing teen in the country. That theme song was sung by Gavin Degraw who stirred up a bit of early 2000 nostalgia as he performed at Ravinia with The Fray on June 25th.

 

Ravinia was packed to the brim to see the piano playing artists. Every seat in the Pavilion was taken, with swarms of people crowding over the railing to try and catch a view of the stage. I wouldn't have thought the headliners would have drawn such a large crowd with lawn seats running at $40 apiece and the heat climbing to just over 90 degrees at sunset. But with every grassy nook taken by late twenty, early thirty-somethings casually sipping drinks while they weren’t legally allowed to drink when the artists first debuted, I found myself pleasantly surprised. 

 

Gavin Degraw opened the evening, playing some of my own favorites from his many albums including “Chariot,” “I’m in Love with a Girl,” “Not Over You,” and his most notable “I Don't Want to Be.” His set played for nearly an hour and a half and he could have played until the gates closed without argument from the audience. The Fray didn't play as long. In fact, their set had more covers than originals. “How to Save a Life,” the band’s second single and the song that propelled them to worldwide fame in 2005, was the only song that seemed to resonate with the crowd. The only other song that the audience seemed to know of theirs was “Over My Head,” and without many other top 40 Billboard topping songs to note, The Fray paled in comparison to Degraw’s soulful set. But the pairing between the singer-songwriter and American rock band went together like red wine and cheese. Both of the artist’s songs were tailor-made for dramatic TV moments. The next time the duo come to Ravinia their sets should be accompanied by a large movie screen with TV clips from early 2000 shows. Think The Fray providing theme music to dramatic scenes on Scrubs and Grey's Anatomy, Gavin Degraw playing over sappy moments on One Tree Hill, The OC, Gilmore Girls. It would probably draw double the audience and it would certainly double the Y2K nostalgia.

 

Ravinia is just getting their summer season going and has an incredible line-up with shows through September that span dozens of interests, musical eras, and genres. Visit www.ravinia.org for schedule and tickets.

 

Published in In Concert

There is an expectation when one sees a play that they will be taken on a journey. Audiences want to get lost in a story line, lose all sense of time enjoy the escapism. When an audience is reminded that they are watching a play, however, and that play goes on seemingly for ages, it ceases to become escapism and becomes a classroom lecture. “Arcadia” is just such a play. Written by Tom Stoppard, it is not an easy play to describe in brief. It confusedly intertwines the past and present with multiple story lines following intellectual theories that verge on the point of being arrogant and difficult to grasp in a play like setting.

 

The play bounces between the early 1800's and the present day in a stately manor in England. At the core of play, the present day is trying to uncover what took place at the manor in the 1800's. In the past, a gifted 13-year-old girl, Thomasina, delves into deep theoretical analysis of higher mathematics and physics, jotting down her theories and equations, unknowingly for the future to see. Paralleling that story line is her tutor, Septimus, who cheats with the wife of a visiting poet while pinning for the master of the manor’s wife, and who was somehow-possibly-connected to the famous Romantic poet, Byron. Flash forward to the present day where an academic hopes to uncover if the tutor, Septimus, might have had some involvement with the death of that visiting poet, and that his possible connection to Byron might mean that Byron was involved in this death as well. But wait! There’s more! Paralleling that story line in the present day, one of the family members of the estate combs through old hunting logs and notes to see that the young girl, Thomasina might have been a genius on the brink of an intellectual breakthrough, and seeks to dive deeply into her notes to potentially uncover her genius and the work during her young and short life.

 

Underneath all of these story lines is the running theme of “Arcadia,” named for a pair of 17th century paintings that picture shepherds around a tomb with the words “Et in Arcadia ego” on it. The incorrect Latin phrase translates to “Here I am in Arcadia” but it’s more accurate translation is “Even in Arcadia, here I am” the “I” being death. Stoppard is quoted by his biographer as saying he “wanted the presence of death in the title.” Spoiler alert, death does happen and is one of the core subplots, a sort of “who-done-it,” but it is just another element to this complicated play. Another reach for the “intellectual stimulation.”

 

Cliff notes would have a tough time summarizing this play. The play has witty, smart, and biting dialogue, well delivered by an articulate and charismatic cast. But look away, or miss a line and you might miss an introduction to a key character, or their relation to the other characters, or their purpose of being in the play at all. If not for the clothing change and syntax you might get lost in which time period you are in. The audience is obligated to follow along with every line and process all the information rapidly in order to keep pace with this play. With a run time of 2 hour 55 minute and only a brief 15 minute intermission that is a tall order for an audience, and even tougher story to convey for the actors. But the new multi-million dollar Writer’s Theater wants just that, for the audience and actors to meet as one, to journey together and become fully immersed with the story. The immaculate theater is nestled in the cozy tree lined streets of downtown Glencoe, and will be a wonderful location for future high-quality theatrical productions on the North Shore.

 

Overall, “Arcadia” would be better as a novel, where a reader can pause to examine the characters, read internal monologues and gain an understanding of the characters’ motivations and thoughts. It would be easier to follow the time changes and carefully consider the many complex theories being presented and explored. I think the length of such a book would rival a Tolstoy novel, though nothing would be lost to the wings. A play that requires such rapt and intense concentration from an audience for such a long duration makes it unapproachable to someone looking to get lost in a story. Watching “Arcadia” audiences do get lost, but for all the wrong reasons. “Arcadia” runs through May 1st. Tickets are available at http://www.writerstheatre.org.

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

Truth should be at the heart of every good drama piece. Truth, honesty, a bit of realism, something that makes the audience connect with the story, or the characters. Terrence McNally's Mothers and Sons playing at Northlight Theatre in Skokie attempts to reach a truthful depth, but leaves audiences shrugging with indifference wondering what exactly to take away from the play.

 

Nearly twenty years after her son’s AIDS related death, Katharine (Cindy Gold) pays an unexpected visit to the New York apartment of his former partner, Cal (Jeff Parker), who is now married to another man and has a young child. Over the course of the play Katharine and Cal exchange stories, sass, and sarcasm as they awkwardly interact and attempt to reconcile. Katharine remains judgmental and curt throughout her visit to the apartment, portraying the stereotypical conservative, old fashioned, bitter woman well. Cal, on the other hand, attempts to be gracious and overtly friendly in the face of this judgmental woman. Things heat up when we meet Cal’s partner Will (Benjamin Sprunger) and their son Bud (Ben Miller). Katharine’s disdain for the household and the situation is apparent but predictable as are the interactions with the two men. The remainder of the play is both forced and at time self-righteous and does nothing to move the needle on the many themes it attempts to tackle.

 

At the heart of the play is a conservative, judgmental woman “challenged’ to accept that her son was gay and that a same-sex couple is raising a child. This theme might have been provocative ten years earlier, but now is played out. Mothers and Sons also touches on homosexuality, AIDS, same-sex marriage, same-sex parenting, loss of a child, loss of a husband, and tries its best to address all of them within the 90 minute run time. There are so many themes that we forget that the son was the driving force that brought this woman to this apartment. He is used more as a prop, much like the journal that was hardly mentioned - though we come to find was the reason for Katharine’s visit. What’s more is the themes and how the play chooses to address them are not profound or thought provoking. Nothing is said that the audience doesn’t already know, or even what the characters don’t already know, which borders on the preachy versus clever. And these themes don’t do anything to change the characters or bring them closer together. At one point, Will’s character is so offended that he asks Katharine to leave, though she stays, shares a self-indulgent “woe-is-me” story that highlights her selfishness more, and suddenly Cal is embracing her as if he understands her after all these years. This sentiment is entirely lost on the audience. Will, the character who was ready to throw the woman out, is suddenly calm, cool, and collected. The young boy offers cookies and milk to everyone, refers to this strange woman as grandma and they all sit around and all but sing Kumbaya. And that is where the play ends. 

 

Isn’t that truth? That in a matter of a single awkward visit, a selfish, self-loathing, gay-hating conservative becomes accepting of gay marriage, same-sex parenting, and her son’s death? And that her son’s former partner who felt the cold sting and shun of this woman would be so moved as to invite her into his home and his family? It isn’t truth. It’s trite and contrived. Call me a cynic, a millennial, jaded, what have you. The truth might be that people like Katharine still exist in the world, but would someone really be swayed in such a short amount of time? Was it out of sheer loneliness on her part and pity on his end that these two characters accepted one another and will move forward? Mothers and Sons did not offer us this depth, so it’s hardly worthy of such deep analysis.

 

Truthfully, there isn’t much one could take away from Mothers and Sons. You could reach and say it was a profound dialogue about how the definition of family continually changes and evolves. You could speculate that people in mourning can come together to find comfort and support in one another. But Mothers and Sons does nothing to challenge the audience or the characters, or create a worthwhile dialogue in today’s world.

 

Directed by Steve Scott, Mothers and Sons runs through February 27th. Tickets are available at http://www.northlight.org/.

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

Santana’s Corazón Tour blew through Chicago as quickly as a summer storm. But for two all-too-brief nights, Santana lit up the Pavilion stage at Ravinia to a sold out crowd of dancing, drinking, smoking, nostalgic concert-goers.

 

For many in the audience, Ravinia was the perfect venue, paying homage to their first time seeing Santana play Woodstock in 1969. Baby boomers swayed and rhumbaed in any space they could find amidst the sold out crowd, unashamed to don twinkling cowboy hats, smoke a joint, and down a glass of cheap merlot. They sang every lyric, grabbed any passerby to salsa with, and threw peace signs to the friendly Ravinia security guards. On the other end of the audience spectrum were young millennials who were introduced to Santana during his resurgence to popularity in the late 1990s, most likely with Santana’s 1999 album Supernatural that included such #TBT favorites as Smooth: https://youtu.be/6Whgn_iE5uc and one of my personal favorite songs, Maria Maria: https://youtu.be/nPLV7lGbmT4. There was not a single person seated in the Pavilion or on the lawn when Maria Maria played. People of every age, race, and gender danced together to the sounds of the guitar, played by the living legend, Carlos Santana.

 

In the unlikely event you have lived under a rock for the past few decades, Santana first became famous in the late 1960s and early 1970s with his band, Santana. The Mexican-American musician pioneered the unique blend of rock and Latin American music that continues to rocks heads, and hips, to this day. He has won 3 Latin Grammy Awards and 10 Grammy Awards, eight alone at the 42nd annual Grammys in 2000. In 2003 Rolling Stone magazine listed Santana as one of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of all time, keeping company with other greats such as Keith Richards, B.B. King, Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix. Santana’s latest album, Corazón, proves that he can still throw down with the best of them in the biz and was born to play the guitar. Ravinia audiences were also treated to a special family event when Santana’s son, Salvador Santana, took the stage to play a brief set, proving that talent and dedication to craft runs in the family.

 

 

Ravinia and Santana to together like salt and margaritas. The cool summer night perfectly complimented the cool blend of guitar, timbales and congas. The next time Santana blows through Chicago don’t miss your chance to see him live, and be sure to give the man your heart, make it real or else forget about it.

Published in In Concert

 

 

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