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Monday, 22 January 2018 07:58

Review: All My Sons at Court Theatre

Whenever things get hot in America, Arthur Miller comes back in vogue. It's hard to fathom what he would think of today's world though. Court Theatre features Miller's first hit play 'All My Sons' . Directed by Charles Newell, this provocative new production is vibrant and exceedingly well acted.

'All My Sons' first appeared on Broadway in 1947, establishing Arthur Miller as a major playwright. Though considered among his best, there's an amount of melodrama here that later Miller works would shed. In this dark play, he examines the moral and psychological effects of WWII on ordinary Americans.

John Judd plays Joe Keller, the good-guy neighbor type who has just arrived home from prison. He's been acquitted of manufacturing faulty airplane parts that caused plane crashes in WWII. His partner remains in jail having accepted all responsibility. His adult son Chris, played by Timothy Edward Kane survived the war while his brother Larry did not. On an ordinary summer day Chris invites Larry's former fiance and daughter of Joe's business partner, Annie (Heidi Kettenring) for a visit. Chris' mother Kate (Kate Collins) cannot reconcile that Larry is dead and is slowly unraveling.

Newell takes this script in an interesting direction. The central conflict is Joe, a normal guy with a huge moral dilemma. "I know you're no worse than most men, but I thought you were better." Miller writes. It's through Kate Collins that Newell puts the emphasizes on the women's narrative of this play though. Kate's dialogue swings from reality and delusion so rapidly. Collins' interpretation has an eerie Blanche DuBois quality to it. This is also a story about a woman losing her grip in a time when life was supposed to be cheerful.

Heidi Kettenring brings Annie to the foreground in this version. With 'All My Sons' Miller wanted to show how aspects of the war effected all parts of America. Many women were left widows. Social constructs made finding love more challenging for women. Kettenring captures every scene she's in. Her portrayal of a lonely woman with few options is haunting.

Newell's production is artful. The staging is vivid and unique. When every theater company is offering Arthur Miller, it's cool to see how these works are being reinterprated to appeal to a new generation. For some, two and a half hours of classic American theater sounds like a school field trip. Newell's production proves that there's always a new way to see a play.

Through February 11th at Court Theatre. 5535 S Ellis Ave. 773-753-4472

Published in Theatre in Review

The Diary of Anne Frank - Writers Theatre

According to legend, when Albert Hackett and Frances Goodrich's Pulitzer Prize winning stage adaptation made its German premiere, audiences sat in a state of silent shock after the play ended. Nearly sixty years, countless productions, several films and hundreds of books about Anne Frank and the secret annex have made this story one of the most accessible pieces of Holocaust literature. In 1997, Wendy Kesselman adapted the original script for a Broadway revival that heightens intensity and includes more reference to the family's Jewish faith and to Anne's burgeoning sexuality.

Under the suburb direction of Kimberly Senior, Writers Theatre's production of Kesselman's "The Diary of Anne Frank" is as intimate as a story of this nature must be. Inventive staging immediately places the audience within the confines of the attic, fantastically designed by Jack Magaw. The Writers Theatre book store space is already intimate enough, but what Magaw has done to replicate the secret annex is nothing short of theatre magic. The tight quarters of this set paired with the vibrancy of the cast create an atmosphere in which emotional reaction is impossible to avoid.

What Senior extracts from her actors is a perfect storm of the best and the worst of humanity backed into a corner, in which the stakes really are life and death. Heidi Kettenring has the challenge of turning a mostly unlikeable character, Mrs. van Daan, into one of the show's strongest assets.  Kettenring balances warmth and tension in moments so electrifying that its current is contagious.

The title role is played by fourteen-year-old Sophie Thatcher who is the actual age of Anne Frank at the time of her internment. Thatcher plays the role with such surprising honesty and eloquence for an actress of her age. All her choices seem based on genuine instinct rather than what other historical documents tell us about the person Anne Frank was.

Despite the fact that everyone going into this play knows the tragic ending, and the unfortunate irony that Europe was liberated just a few months after their betrayal, it's easy to catch the show's infectious message of hope. The reason why this story lingers in our minds throughout the generations is its optimism. That no matter how dire the circumstances, faith in the good of people is what keeps the world in balance even when all seems lost.

The Diary of Anne Frank at Writers Theatre. 664 Vernon Ave, Glencoe. 847-242-6000. Through June 28th. 

Published in Theatre Reviews

Every time I think the talented cast of players and directors performing at Marriott Theatre’s intimate theatre in the round have done the very best they can, they top themselves again.

This production of the deliciously classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical about a spunky, intelligent teacher who is recruited from England to teach the children of an arrogant but struggling King of Siam directed with precision and compassion by Nick Bowles was hands down the finest, most soaring yet intimate production of “The King and I” that I have seen in years.

Heidi Kettenring as the show’s star in Anna has more than a fine singing voice for the piece. Kettenring infuses the character with humor, strength, compassion and a feminist fury which reaches its peak of expression in the hilarious and still modern song, “Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?”

“All 
to remind you of your royalty,
I find a most disgusting exhibition.
I wouldn't ask a Siamese cat
to demonstrate his loyalty
by taking this ridiculous position
how would you like it if you were a man
playing the part of a toad.
Crawling around on your elbows and knees.
Eating the dust of the road!...”

king-and-iNew York actor Andrew Ramcharan Guilarte, does a wonderful, sexy and layered performance as the King, never falling into predictable caricature.  Guillarte is a little bit younger than the King is normally played and it makes perfect sense that his character is both falling in love with the educated and mature teacher Anna and also confused by his growing sense of bewilderment at her grasp of political situations that improve the destiny of his own family and finally, his entire Kingdom.

The romantic and sexual chemistry between Kettenring and Guillarte is absolutely dynamite and had the entire audience breathlessly watching each explosive scene between this talented pair.

There is a very funny, yet revealing scene where the King is insisting that Anna’s head never be higher than his own. The King asks Anna to take dictation for an important letter to a visiting dignitary and sits down on the floor. When Anna finally sits down on the floor, the King moves to recline on one elbow and so forth till they are both completely reclining on the floor. Although, it is really a nonsensical demonstration of his manly power, Kettenring and Guillarte manage to make it a funny and sexy “shades of gray” type dance between two people who are each unaware they are falling in love with the other.

I am happy to see that almost all of the roles for the children and wives and concubines of Siam were filled by actors with a variety of different ethnicities. The children in this production are completely delightful to watch from beginning to end. Matthew Uzarraga, who plays the boy who would be King, does a fantastic job bringing his little tyrannical boy to life and when at the end of the show he pronounces that “excessive bowing to the King like a toad” is now forbidden, you really believe this child has learned something major from his now beloved teacher and friend Anna.

Kristen Choi as Lady Thiang knocks it out of the park with her stunning rendition of “Something Wonderful” and Joseph Anthony Foranda is a wise, organic presence. Shirtless like the King, he pulls off the role with quiet sensuality and power as the aging prime minister to the King Kralahome.


Nancy Missimi went all out with the costumes in this piece and I most enjoyed her costumes on the wives, children and concubines of the King. Their dance numbers were wonderfully choreographed by Tommy Rapley and together with Ms. Missimi’s costumes and Tom Ryan's royally glowing set design, the dance numbers reminded me of barefoot dancing flowers, like multicolored orchids and floating water lilies come to life onstage.

I get totally spoiled when seeing a well performed Rodgers and Hammerstein musical because the lyrics for every song are so unique and memorable. “We Kiss in a Shadow” was beautifully sung by Megan Masako Haley as the King’s unwilling young captive, Tuptim, who is in love with another.


“To kiss in the sunlight
and say to the sky:
"Behold and believe what you see!
Behold how my lover loves me!"

And Devin Law as Lun Tha , Tuptim’s secret lover, also performed the classic “I Have Dreamed” to perfection.

“I have dreamed that your arms are lovely
I have dreamed what a joy you'll be
I have dreamed every word you whisper

When you're close, close to me
how you look in the glow of evening
I have dreamed and enjoyed the view

In these dreams, I've loved you so
That by now I think, I know
what it's like to be loved by you
I will love being loved by you”

I can’t speak highly enough about how all of the elements in this production came together to create such an educational, yet romantic,  touching and funny evening of pure  theatrical delight, including the  fantastic, organic choreography by Tommy Rapley and Ryan T. Nelson’s exquisitely detailed musical direction.

Take your children and your grandparents, or even your first date to ‘The King and I” at The Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire with confidence that you will all equally enjoy a magical night of classic entertainment performed at peak quality for modern times.

For more show information, visit www.marriotttheatre.com.

Published in Theatre Reviews

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