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Northlight Theatre, under the direction of Artistic Director BJ Jones and Executive Director Timothy J. Evans, announces the addition of Cry It Out, written by Molly Smith Metzler, to close its 43rd season, May 10 – June 17, 2018. The previously announced The Legend of Georgia McBride, directed by Lauren Shouse, has been re-scheduled to open the season, playing September 14 - October 22, 2017, replacing Bruce Graham’s Sanctions. 
 
Cry It Out was commissioned by Actors Theatre of Louisville and premiered at the Humana Festival of New American Plays in spring 2017. Northlight's production, directed by Jessica Fisch, will be the first outside of the Festival.
 
Cooped up on maternity leave and eager for conversation, Jessie invites the funny and forthright Lina for coffee in their neighboring backyards. They become fast friends, quickly bonding over their shared “new mom” experience—and arousing the interest of a wealthy neighbor hoping for a similar connection. This insightful comedy takes an honest look at the absurdities of new motherhood, the dilemma of returning to work versus staying at home, and how class impacts parenthood and friendship.
 
Molly Smith Metzler‘s plays include Elemeno PeaThe May Queen, Carve, Training Wisteria and Close Up Space (Susan Smith Blackburn Prize finalist).  Regional Theatre: South Coast Repertory, the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference, Chautauqua Theater Company, Geva Theatre Center, and City Theatre Company, among others. Off-Broadway: Manhattan Theatre Club. Awards include the Lecomte du Nouy Prize from Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center National Student Playwriting Award, the Association for Theatre in Higher Education’s David Mark Cohen Award, and the Mark Twain Comedy Prize. Metzler is an alum of Ars Nova’s Play Group and the Dorothy Strelsin New American Writers Group at Primary Stages. She is currently under commission at Manhattan Theatre Club and South Coast Repertory. Television: Codes of Conduct (HBO); Casual (Hulu); Orange Is the New Black (Netflix). Metzler was educated at State University of New York Geneseo, Boston University, New York University’s Tisch School for the Arts, and The Juilliard School.
  
The 2017-18 Season is now as follows:
 
THE LEGEND OF GEORGIA MCBRIDE
By Matthew Lopez
Directed by Lauren Shouse
September 14 - October 22, 2017

A down-on-his-luck Elvis impersonator has an overdrawn checking account and a baby on the way. When a drag show takes over the entertainment at the Florida Panhandle bar where he performs, he’ll also be out of a job…unless he’s willing to step into some high heels. This heartwarming, music-filled comedy celebrates the unexpected path to finding your true voice.
 
THE BOOK OF WILL
By Lauren Gunderson
Directed by Jessica Thebus
November 9 – December 17, 2017

William Shakespeare wrote some of the world’s most beloved plays – but without his friends, they may have been lost to history! Follow the members of Shakespeare’s own company as they cunningly navigate the production of the First Folio in 1623. They may not have any money or clear-cut rights to his work, but they’re armed with wit, humor, a deep camaraderie and a passion to preserve the plays that shaped their lives. With the help of their wives and colleagues, two actors set out not only to print a collection, but to uphold a legacy for the world.
 
SKELETON CREW
By Dominique Morisseau
Directed by Ron OJ Parson
January 25 – March 4, 2018

At the start of the Great Recession, rumors of impending closure surround one of the last auto plants in Detroit. The nation’s financial crisis gets personal as each of the workers confronts the life-altering choices they must make if their plant goes under, while the supervisor is torn between allegiances to his makeshift family of co-workers and management’s “cost-saving” demands. When pushed to the limits of survival, how far over the lines are people willing to cross?
 
The third play in Dominique Morisseau’s Detroit trilogy, Skeleton Crew was named one of Time Magazine’s 10 Best Shows of the Year.
 
THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE
By Martin McDonagh
Directed by BJ Jones
Featuring Kate Fry
March 15 – April 22, 2018

This Tony Award-winning dark comedy is set in the provincial Irish town of Leenane. Forty-year-old spinster Maureen Folan lives with her manipulative aging mother Mag, stuck in a caretaking relationship that has them both seething with resentment. When a romantic encounter finally sparks Maureen’s hopes for an escape from her dreary existence, Mag’s interference sets in motion a chain of events that is as tragically funny as it is terrifying.
 
CRY IT OUT
By Molly Smith Metzler
Directed by Jessica Fisch
May 10 – June 17, 2018

Cooped up on maternity leave and eager for conversation, Jessie invites the funny and forthright Lina for coffee on their neighboring patios. They become fast friends, quickly bonding over their shared “new mom” experience—and arousing the interest of a wealthy neighbor hoping for a similar connection. This insightful comedy takes an honest look at the absurdities of new motherhood, the dilemma of returning to work versus staying at home, and how class impacts parenthood and friendship.
 
Curtain times are: Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m.; Wednesdays at 1:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays at 2:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Sundays at 2:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.
 
Subscriptions to the 2017-18 Northlight Season are available through the box office, 9501 Skokie Boulevard in Skokie, by phone at 847.673.6300 or online at northlight.org. With its wide range of ticket prices, discounted subscription packages and complimentary parking, Northlight remains of one of the best theatrical values in Chicagoland. 
 
Subscriptions range in price from $99-$250.  A limited number of season subscriptions for the Opening Night performances (also includes a reception with the cast) are available for $325, subject to availability.  Northlight subscribers will have the first chance to purchase additional tickets before they go on sale to the general public. For more information, visit northlight.org.
 
Northlight Theatre aspires to promote change of perspective and encourage compassion by exploring the depth of our humanity across a bold spectrum of theatrical experiences, reflecting our community to the world and the world to our community.
 
Now in its 42nd season, the organization has mounted over 200 productions, including nearly 40 world premieres. Northlight has earned 198 Joseph Jefferson Award nominations and 34 Awards. As one of the area’s premier theatre companies, Northlight is a regional magnet for critical and professional acclaim, as well as talent of the highest quality.
 
Northlight is supported in part by generous contributions from Allstate Insurance; the Paul M. Angell Family Foundation; Robert & Isabelle Bass Foundation; BMO Harris Bank; Henrietta Lange Burk Fund; The Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation; The Chicago Community Trust; ComEd, An Exelon Company; The Davee Foundation; Edgerton Foundation for New American Plays Award; Evanston Community Foundation; Full Circle Foundation; Illinois Arts Council, a state agency; Kirkland & Ellis Foundation; The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; Melvoin Award for Playwriting; Modestus Bauer Foundation; National Endowment for the Arts; Niles Township; The Offield Family Foundation; The Pauls Foundation; Room & Board; Sanborn Family Foundation; Dr. Scholl Foundation; The Shubert Foundation, Inc.; The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust; The Sullivan Family Foundation; and Tom Stringer Design Partners.
 

 

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

The storyline in Relativity is a supposed to be a mystery. The great physicist and mathematical theoretician Albert Einstein fathered a daughter, Liserl, out of wedlock in Switzerland with Mileva Marić– but all mentions of her disappear after the age of two.


What happened to her? Several theories have been put forward – that she died of scarlet fever, that she was put up for adoption - but the historical track was largely obliterated with the destruction of many records during World War II. Though Einstein later married Marić, his daughter disappears from the historical record after 1904.


Mark St. Germaine’s Relativity poses one possibility on her whereabouts , and Einstein is confronted with it many years later, by a mysterious visitor to his quarters in Princeton. Margaret Harding (Katherine Keberlein), a journalist who has come to profile him for the Jewish Daily News – and to challenge him on his neglect of his daughter.


Suffice it to say we witness a fair amount of unresolved anger in the encounter, during which Einstein also learns he has a grandchild – also a genius - who is seeking his support in entering a top university. This colorful and intriguing tale is enticement enough to see Relativity. But an added bonus is the fact that the lead is played by the oldest working union actor in the U.S. – the indomitable Mike Nussbaum. Known for his skillful and intelligent delivery including some of David Mamet’s most challenging dramas, Nussbaum at 93 makes a striking appearance. That he can do it at all may be surprising, but Nussbaum delivers a textured and nuanced characterization of the great physicist. He is bring his all to the role, though he doesn’t project at the same intensity as in days of yore – or maybe it’s my hearing going.


The script is okay, with its once over lightly descriptions of Einstein’s unprecedented theorems, and the family angst grows tiresome pretty quickly. There is also a lot of exposition in which the reporter recounts famous quotes and anecdotes from Einstein, who fills in with one liners that elicit some laughs.


Ann Whitney plays a crotchety housekeeper and secretary, the real-life Helen Dukas, and her chemistry with Nussbaum is delightful. Their scenes provide insight into the suffering of an aging genius who is unlikely to discover new universal theories. Nussbaum brings an unusual gift to this aspect of the role, and a hunt for a piece of chalk to write a formula on a blackboard captures the essence of the matter, opening a window into the unsettling existential void.


As always Northlight delivers high production values (Jack Magaw on scenic design; JR Lederle on lighting; Stephen Mazurek fir Projection Design) and director BJ Jones does an excellent job orchestrating the production. Relativity runs through June 25 at Northlight Theatre in Skokie.

Published in Theatre in Review

Devastation permeates the set and plot of the Northlight Theatre’s Midwest premiere of By the Water – a powerful and moving production, written by Sharyn Rothstein and directed by Cody Estle, about a Staten Island, New York, family dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

 

Marty and Mary Murphy (Francis Guinan and Penny Slusher) fight to save in their storm-ravaged home and campaign to keep their neighborhood together even as their life-long neighbors and friends the Carters (Janet Ulrich Brooks and Patrick Clear) vow to leave and family secrets seep to the surface.

 

“In this play, natural disaster serves as a metaphor for the social and political change that forces generations to confront very real issues about their own lives – lives built on values that have become outmoded,” says Northlight Artistic Director BJ Jones. “Sharyn’s sharp sense of humor built on rich character development is sprinkled throughout, and the themes of justice and family values and loyalties emerge full-throated in her dialogue and her surprising plot.”

 

The Murphy’s are magnificently played by Guinan and Slusher, who give impressive performances imbuing the blue-collar couple with authenticity, humor and grit as they struggle to survive not only the brokenness of their community but the underlying betrayals within their family.

 

At the heart of this production is family and the idea that despite the mistakes and disloyalties as exemplified in the tattered relationship of brothers Sal Murphy (Jordan Brown) and Brian Murphy (Joel Reitsma), and the back-and-forth power struggle between Sal and his father Marty, that love and forgiveness can prevail and second chances are possible. Nowhere is this more evident than with Brian, who after a stint in jail, manages to find a second chance at love with Emily (played by Amanda Drinkall).

 

“[By the Water} is about confronting deep-seated personal problems in the face of a generational divide and finding a way to move forward,” Estle notes.

 

Rothstein developed the idea for the play after visiting Staten Island after Hurricane Sandy.

 

“Leaving behind a community, a lifetime of memories, seemed like an enormous leap of faith and an incredibly difficult decision, but the destruction was gut wrenching,” she says. “Yet, in front of one neat, clearly beloved house, a man who looked to be in his sixties was tending his lawn. With his whole neighborhood in ruins, with the majority of his neighbors already gone or figuring out how to leave, here was a man clearly standing firm. The image of him standing there amid so much loss was the genesis of my play.”

 

And that imagery is so indelibly visible in this production, which manages to peel back so many unexpected and complex layers while remaining thoroughly entertaining from its opening moments with the very effective sound effects to its poignant end. What makes this play so touching is not only the dynamic script and incredibly talented cast but the simple yet powerful stage design that evokes loss and pain as well a sense of home and place.

 

The creative team behind By the Water includes: Jeffrey D. Kmiec (scenic design), JR Lederie (lighting design), Rachel Laritz (costume design), Lindsay Jones (sound design) and Mara Filler (stage manager).

 

Highly recommended.

 

By the Water is playing at the Northlight Theatre in Skokie, Illinois, until April 23. Tickets are available at online at northlight.org.

 

Published in Theatre in Review
Wednesday, 22 February 2017 12:56

Northlight Announces 2017-18 Season

Northlight Theatre, under the direction of Artistic Director BJ Jones and Executive Director Timothy J. Evans, announces its 43rd season, opening with the World Premiere of Bruce Graham’s Sanctions, directed by BJ Jones and featuring Mary Beth Fisher. The season continues with the Midwest Premiere of The Book of Will,Lauren Gunderson's new play about the creation of Shakespeare's First Folio, directed by Jessica Thebus; followed by the Chicago Premiere of the third play in Dominique Morisseau’s Detroit trilogy, Skeleton Crew, directed by Ron OJ Parson; and Martin McDonagh’s Tony Award-winning dark comedy The Beauty Queen of Leenane,directed by BJ Jones and featuring Kate Fry. Closing out the season is the Midwest Premiere of the heartwarming, music-filled comedy The Legend of Georgia McBride by Matthew Lopez, directed by Vanessa Stalling.

“Our 2017-18 Season brings back playwrights whose work we have been proud to present over the last few years. We're excited about our next world premiere with Bruce Graham, whose writing never fails to jolt us with topicality and humor. We'll also welcome back Lauren Gunderson, who brought us the wildly successful Miss Bennet; Dominique Morisseau, with the final installment of her Detroit trilogy; and Matthew Lopez, author of Northlight audience favorite The Whipping Man. I will be directing Martin McDonagh's The Beauty Queen of Leenane with the incomparable Kate Fry playing Maureen. It's a play I have always wanted to do, now celebrating its 20th Anniversary,” comments BJ Jones. “What thrills me the most is how generously our audience has embraced our efforts to discover new voices, new work, and new talents. In the last few years we have surprised audiences with work that has found its way into the canon nationwide. Our audience is our collaborator in creating art, and for that we are most grateful.”

 

The 2017-18 Season includes:

The World Premiere of

SANCTIONS

By Bruce Graham

Directed by BJ Jones

Featuring Mary Beth Fisher

September 14 – October 22, 2017

As a university nears the end of its probation for past NCAA violations, the athletic department gets back to the big business of college football: recruitment, alumni donations, and games on ESPN. Administrator Claire Torrance is responsible for improving player academics—despite resistance to her methods from the university dean. But when an overeager freshman tutor gets too close to some of the players, a new scandal threatens to blow up the whole program.

 

This biting world premiere comes from the author of Funnyman, White Guy on the Bus and The Outgoing Tide.

 

THE BOOK OF WILL

By Lauren Gunderson

Directed by Jessica Thebus

November 9 – December 17, 2017

William Shakespeare wrote some of the world’s most beloved plays – but without his friends, they may have been lost to history! Follow the members of Shakespeare’s own company as they cunningly navigate the production of the First Folio in 1623. They may not have any money or clear-cut rights to his work, but they’re armed with wit, humor, a deep camaraderie and a passion to preserve the plays that shaped their lives. With the help of their wives and colleagues, two actors set out not only to print a collection, but to uphold a legacy for the world.

 

SKELETON CREW

By Dominique Morisseau

Directed by Ron OJ Parson

January 25 – March 4, 2018

At the start of the Great Recession, rumors of impending closure surround one of the last auto plants in Detroit. The nation’s financial crisis gets personal as each of the workers confronts the life-altering choices they must make if their plant goes under, while the supervisor is torn between allegiances to his makeshift family of co-workers and management’s “cost-saving” demands. When pushed to the limits of survival, how far over the lines are people willing to cross?

 

The third play in Dominique Morisseau’s Detroit trilogy, Skeleton Crew was named one of Time Magazine’s 10 Best Shows of the Year.

 

THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE

By Martin McDonagh

Directed by BJ Jones

Featuring Kate Fry

March 15 – April 22, 2018

This Tony Award-winning dark comedy is set in the provincial Irish town of Leenane. Forty-year-old spinster Maureen Folan lives with her manipulative ageing mother Mag, stuck in a caretaking relationship that has them both seething with resentment. When a romantic encounter finally sparks Maureen’s hopes for an escape from her dreary existence, Mag’s interference sets in motion a chain of events that is as tragically funny as it is terrifying.

 

THE LEGEND OF GEORGIA MCBRIDE

By Matthew Lopez

Directed by Vanessa Stalling

May 10 – June 17, 2018

A down-on-his-luck Elvis impersonator has an overdrawn checking account and a baby on the way. When a drag show takes over the entertainment at the Florida Panhandle bar where he performs, he’ll also be out of a job…unless he’s willing to step into some high heels. This heartwarming, music-filled comedy celebrates the unexpected path to finding your true voice.

 

Curtain times are: Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m.; Wednesdays at 1:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays at 2:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Sundays at 2:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.

 

Subscriptions to the 2017-18 Northlight Season are available through the box office, 9501 Skokie Boulevard in Skokie, by phone at 847.673.6300 or online at northlight.org.  Renewals are currently available.  New subscriptions will be available beginning in May 2017.  With its wide range of ticket prices, discounted subscription packages and complimentary parking, Northlight remains of one of the best theatrical values in Chicagoland. 

 

Subscriptions range in price from $99-$250.  A limited number of season subscriptions for the Opening Night performances (also includes a reception with the cast) are available for $325, subject to availability.  Northlight subscribers will have the first chance to purchase additional tickets before they go on sale to the general public. For more information, visit northlight.org.

 

 

Northlight Theatre aspires to promote change of perspective and encourage compassion by exploring the depth of our humanity across a bold spectrum of theatrical experiences, reflecting our community to the world and the world to our community.

 

Now in its 42nd season, the organization has mounted over 200 productions, including nearly 40 world premieres. Northlight has earned 198 Joseph Jefferson Award nominations and 34 Awards. As one of the area’s premier theatre companies, Northlight is a regional magnet for critical and professional acclaim, as well as talent of the highest quality.

 

Northlight is supported in part by generous contributions from Allstate Insurance; the Paul M. Angell Family Foundation; Robert & Isabelle Bass Foundation; BMO Harris Bank; Henrietta Lange Burk Fund; The Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation; The Chicago Community Trust; ComEd, An Exelon Company; The Davee Foundation; Edgerton Foundation for New American Plays Award; Evanston Community Foundation; Full Circle Foundation; Illinois Arts Council, a state agency; Kirkland & Ellis Foundation; The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation; Melvoin Award for Playwriting; Modestus Bauer Foundation; National Endowment for the Arts; Niles Township; The Offield Family Foundation; The Pauls Foundation; Room & Board; Sanborn Family Foundation; Dr. Scholl Foundation; The Shubert Foundation, Inc.; The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust; The Sullivan Family Foundation; and Tom Stringer Design Partners.

 

 

Published in Buzz Extra

In the current political climate, where the political left and right are more divided than ever in their world view, Northlight Theatre’s The City of Conversation provides a glimpse at an elite class of Washington, DC, power players and how they charted the course of this country from behind the scenes for many decades.

 

The play, which opens Northlight’s 42nd season, centers on the relationships of a liberal socialite and her powerful but understated influence. The show’s title is a nod to British author Henry James’ famous view of Washington, DC, and the impact of its parlor games, and women in particular, on politics.

 

Written by Anthony Giardina and directed by Marti Lyons, The City of Conversation takes place in an exclusive Georgetown enclave and spans more than 30 years (from President Carter to the inauguration of President Obama) of socialite Hester Ferris’ (played by Lia D. Mortensen) political maneuverings over cocktails and posh dinners.

 

The play kicks off in 1979 during the twilight, and what Hester calls the malaise, of Carter’s term. She is hosting a very important party for her longtime, married partner Senator Chandler Harris (played by Tim Decker). Through the power of gentle persuasion, filtered through a catered meal and cocktails, Hester hopes to wrangle the vote of Republican Senator George Mallonee (played by Tim Morrison) for an important piece of legislation that will buoy Senator Teddy Kennedy’s chances in a primary bid against Carter.

 

Things take an unexpected turn when Hester’s son, Colin Ferris (played by Greg Matthew Anderson), shows up a day early from London with his fiancé Anna Fitzgerald (played by Mattie Hawkinson) who is not only an outsider from a small Minnesota town but also extremely ambitious, which Hester is quick to notice, and is a supporter of Governor Ronald Reagan.

 

The events of that evening set a course resulting in family division as both Hester and Anna wrestle with the rising tide of Reaganism and the resulting power shifts from liberal elites to the “Barbarians at the Gate,” as Anna calls the new crop of conservative outsiders, like herself, taking power.

 

Things come to a head for the family during the second term of Ronald Reagan’s presidency as Hester, Anna and Colin, now a staunch republican, spar over the controversial Supreme Court nomination of Judge Robert Bork.

 

Though Hester’s influence has declined over the years she is still working behind the scenes to stop the momentum of Bork’s nomination. Colin, who works for Republican Senator Gordon Humphrey, begs his mother not to embarrass him by intruding in the process. However, Anna, who is now in a powerful position within the Justice Department overseeing Bork's nomination, discovers Hester’s attempts to derail him and sparks fly as the two women, who are similar in their ambition and that they were once both outsiders who fought their way into the centers of power, engage in a heated argument culminating in an ultimatum and an irreconcilable break.

 

This scene is the strongest of the entire play and certainly generates the most excitement as Hester and Anna throw sharp barbs at each other. Perhaps the one drawback is that there is so much dialogue that both actors feel a little rushed in their delivery so the lines don’t always land as powerfully as intended.

 

A theme running throughout The City of Conversation is that Northeastern elites forgot the plight of the common man whose eventual political rise, however, lead to the decline of their Georgetown class along with the toney parties, described by Hester as an arm of the government. And gone with that brand of cocktail diplomacy are the civility and the mutual respect across the partisan divide that made political battles more of a chess match than the blood sport they are today.

 

The City of Conversation is being performed at the Northlight Theatre through October 23. Tickets are available at northlight.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

"Funnyman", now playing at Northlight Theatre in Skokie, is a familiar tale about an artist who has reached the end of one phase of his career and has to either adapt to the new environs and trends in entertainment or retire to his old world , hopefully with his dignity intact.

 

George Wendt, lovingly known for his co-starring role as Norm in the hit series, Cheers, plays the lead character of "Chick", a vaudeville star abused as a child and later who was exploited as an adult in order to rehash, and cash in on, his tired old catch phrase "Wowsa! 

 

Chick and his faithful agent, Milt Karp, played with real sympathy and humor by talented SNL alumna, Tim Kazurinsky, now makes Chick his only income by doing clownish Bromo Seltzer TV commercials.  

 

After three years with no offers of theater work, Chick is finally offered a groundbreaking role in a French beatnik production that will bring his gifts to a new young audience and reinvigorate his career indefinitely - if he can pull it off. The flamboyantly gay director, played by Rob Lindley was a real comedic standout and his energy onstage reinvigorated the piece throughout the second act. 

 

For much of the first act we only see that Chick is very depressed and like other funnymen we have known and loved - Robin Williams, John Belushi, Chick is only "funny' in public when he has to be - as a defense mechanism to get others to like him and finally, after hearing his catchphrase, to leave him alone. 

 

His grown daughter lives with him after a prolonged absence when she was sent away as child to boarding schools. She presses Chick, Milt, and anyone who knew Chick in the early days and researches the library archives to find out why her father has always been so harsh and unapproachable to her. She also demands to know more about the mystery of how her beautiful showgirl mother suddenly died in a way that no one - least of all Chick - her own father will explain to her.

 

Although 'Funnyman" is billed as a comedy and there are several good laughs in it, the real satisfaction, and finally catharsis, comes to the audience as the underpinnings of the sometimes harsh world of vaudevillian entertainment come to light. 

 

Apparently, Chick was used by his mother and father in what they called a "chaser act", meaning they "chase" the audience out of the theater at the end of the show. The thought being that the audience will be less likely to throw bottles and food at a couple holding a baby!

 

Chick learned as he got older that if he didn't make funny faces at as many as four shows, six days a week, he would not eat. When a four-year-old making funny faces ceased to appease the audience, the family's' routine morphed into what they called a "rough act" where Chick ended up being thrown across the stage for a laugh. 

 

When one day he actually broke his collarbone after being tossed on stage, the stage doctor told his mother that he could not perform for a few weeks until it healed. His mother, whom Chick believes had sadistic tendencies, tells the doctor without flinching or humor, "No, he can go on, we will throw him underhand." 

 

At one point Chick makes the observation that "Nobody takes comics seriously until they do something serious." For that reason this production, which was very satisfying as whole on many levels, reminded me of Michael Keaton's Oscar nominated role in the hit film "Birdman".

 

The audience goes in expecting to see and laugh at the warm, fuzzy, familiar "Norm” from Cheers but leaves feeling they have seen the full dramatic range of what a skilled actor like George Wendt is really capable of when given the right material. 

 

It's a tragic irony reflecting on the seemingly endless well of insecurity that actors experience in general that in Funnyman they also quote the fact that "The hardest thing in the world... is comedy." 

 

Great comic actors like Keaton and Robin Williams have forever been trying to prove that they are as "good" or as "gifted" as their more serious counterparts who tend to receive all of the Oscars and respect, when in reality as a skill, comic timing and comic writing are much, much harder to achieve. Comedic timing is quite simply a much rarer gift to be blessed with in this world, a true prolific comic, or comedian/writer is very, very rare indeed. 

 

Chick's daughter played aptly by Amanda Drinkall finds an old news article about her mother and father performing together and notes that it is quite literally the only photograph of her father truly smiling that exists. Sadly it seems to her that she has never seen that smile on his face in real life - ever.  I don't want to give away this important plot point about the tragedy of his wife's death but it shows that Chick was once a sweet, softie who finally had found happiness with his love, until it was taken away and never returned.  

 

I loved the video touches with "I Love Lucy" and the Bromo commercial reenactment and the references to the golden age of Broadway including all of the agent to artist arguing and pep talking.

 

The set was functionally designed to keep the play moving quickly from scene to scene but I found myself wishing for more color, more definition, more character and less generalized nostalgia in each of the spaces. It felt a little sparse and depressing.

 

I highly recommend seeing this satisfying and ultimately encouraging and heartwarming ensemble type piece about overcoming your greatest fears regarding major transitions in one's life, even if one of your greatest fears, in this case Chick's abusive mother and weak father, are long gone from your life. 

 

The fear of forgiving those events that have crushed you, and moving on to enjoy present life opportunities with your family and friends that are still here and do love you, must be faced and overcome.

 

Funnyman, clearly illustrates that if you cannot roll with the changes, especially in later years, then life itself becomes like Chick's life - a joke which has ceased to make people laugh, a bitterly boring and sad repetition of days without laughter or cheer - which is not a life worth living.

 

Funnyman is being performed at Northlight Theatre through October 18th. For tickets or more show information, visit www.northlight.org.

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

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.

Published in Theatre Reviews

White Guy on the Bus is a powerful and very well-acted drama that asks several questions about modern day racism. In this highly provocative piece by Bruce Graham, we are met with race issues and opinions based on life’s experiences coming from both sides of the fence. We see how perception of race can be altered as one’s life situation changes or after impactful events occur. In this world premiere taking place at Northlight Theatre, award-winning Graham may have unleashed his best work to date.

Francis Guinan leads a very strong cast in this gripping story that mostly takes place in an upper class suburb. Ray (Guinan) is a successful “numbers guy” who makes the rich richer while his wife, Roz, has declined to teach in a privileged suburban school to work in one that is predominantly black in a tough neighborhood. We see a successful family whose son, Christopher, has recently become engaged to Molly. It doesn’t take long before Roz and Molly are engaged in tension-filled debates on race issues and socioeconomic divide – Roz who often speaks from her experiences of working with inner city school kids and Molly who has led a mostly sheltered life and appears to get most of her opinions from college. As the story continues we see that perspective changes with circumstance. And we soon wonder why Ray ditches his Mercedes to take round trip busses through the inner city on Saturdays. As Ray does this he befriends Shatique, a young black single mother who visits her brother in jail each Saturday.

White Guy on the Bus goes from engaging to intense with little warning. As the story progresses so does its intrigue. Guinan is commanding in a lights out performance as a man who is faced with heavy challenges while Mary Beth Fisher is also impressive in her role as Roz, organically delivering her lines to perfection. Patrice D. McClain makes her Northight debut and is very impressive as Shatique, a role that demands much expression and inner conflict. Also putting out a strong acting performance is Jordan Brown as Christopher in his return to Northlight (Sense and Sensibility).

This is a story that raises curiosity from the get go and builds interest with a sure-footed steady pace all the way to its climactic ending. Artistic Director BJ Jones does a stellar job in this play’s direction quickly moving the story back and forth without big scene changes.

White Guy on the Bus is a terrific piece of Chicago theatre that will certainly stick with you afterwards and perhaps have you questioning your own perspectives towards race issues. White Man on the Bus is playing at Northlight Theatre in Skokie through February 28th. For tickets and/or more information call 847-673-6300 or visit www.northlight.org

*Photo - Mary Beth Fisher and Francis Guinan in White Man on the Bus

Published in Theatre Reviews

It is always a pleasure to see a play by Neil Simon and Lost in Yonkers is always near the top of the list. Now playing at Northlight Theatre in Skokie, artistic director BJ Jones and Executive Director Timothy J. Evans bring this classic to the stage under the direction of Devon de Mayo, who is able to bring out all the nuances that have made this Pulitzer Prize play the success that it has been for so many years.

We are taken to a hot and humid New York summer in 1942 where Eddie falls on hard times due to surmounting medicals bills for the care of his late wife. Without much choice he has borrowed nine thousand dollars from local loan sharks and now has one year to pay it back – or else. The only way for Eddie to earn such a sum of money is to take on a traveling sales job, the only problem is that he needs to find a place for his two teenage sons to stay in the meantime. After some convincing, he arranges for the two boys to stay with their tough as nails grandmother, who is as strict as they come. Bella, his lovable, but somewhat broken sister also lives with them and the dynamic becomes even more off kilter when his brother, Louie, a small-time gangster also lives with them from time to time. What we get is a mish-mash of personalities who are thrown together and though nerves are often tested, valuable lessons are also learned.

Alistar Sewell as “Jay” and Sebastian W. Weigman as “Arty” are full on fantastic as Eddie’s two sons, each showing a strong ability in delivering comedic lines and timely expressions. At the same time, Linsey Page Morgan displays her well-rounded talents in portraying the often neurotic and emotionally scarred “Bella”. What you get with this production of “Lost in Yonkers” is heavy-duty acting all around, a heartfelt story and a lot of laughs – not to mention a great taste of New York family life during WWII.

This recommended production of “Lost in Yonkers” is being performed at Northlight Theatre (9501 Skokie Blvd, Skokie) through June 8th. For tickets and show information, visit www.northlight.org or call the box office at 847-673-6300. Tickets are also available at a very reasonable $25-$75 dollars with student tickets being offered at just $15.     

Published in Theatre Reviews
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