Home

John Accrocco

John Accrocco

Prepare to be taken on a journey with Timeline Theatre at their production of "Chimerica." Directed by Nick Bowling, "Chimerica" is an epic saga of a play by British playwright Lucy Kirkwood. While a solid three hours of theater may be discouraging for some, this play makes it well worth the time. 

 

Spoiler alert, "Chimerica" is a story about Chinese-American relations, not Chicago. That said, John Culbert's stage design addresses it pretty head-on. One side of the stage is an ironically vintage New York City apartment, a wide gulf separates it from a shabby Beijing tenement. A Macbook sits on the coffee table of the American apartment, a well-known symbol of strife between these two worlds. 

 

Lucy Kirkwood's play makes its American debut at Timeline. It is the story of a photo journalist, Joe Schofield, who took the famous picture of a man standing in front of a tank during the Tiananmen Square Massacre in 1989. We catch up with Schofield (Coburn Goss) in 2012 as he tries to persuade his magazine editor to do a story about the Tank Man 23 years later. Joe's kept a long-time friendship with a professor in Beijing, Zhang (Norman Yap), who is the story's window into Chinese life. Joe falls in love with largely uninvolved marketing expert, Tessa (Eleni Pappageorge) who's on a mission to "figure out" the Chinese for a credit card company. Joe becomes determined to track down the man he accidentally made famous, and in the process, a global chase ensues. 

 

There are a ton of characters in this play. Some more consequential than others. Nick Bowling has assembled a very talented cast of Asian-American actors on which the moral backbone of this story hinges. In fact, there's not a bad performance in this play. 

 

One could dissect the themes of this show for hours, but for the sake of brevity, we won't. What is immediately fascinating is that this is a story told from the mindset of someone caught in the middle. It's a story about how America and China are becoming more alike as well as their inherent differences. It’s a story about what is actually dictating "free press" in America. It’s a story about how foreign countries see American politics, particularly Hillary Clinton. It's also a story with great heart. Lucy Kirkwood is not just delivering a geo-political thesis, but also a compassionate look at the lives of ordinary people. At times this very-right-now drama can seem to go on and on, but in the end it adds up to a very bittersweet conclusion and a lot to take home and unpack. 

 

Through July 31st at Timeline Theatre. 615 W Wellington Ave. 773-281-8463.

 

 

Once in awhile a musical comes around so weird that you have to see it to understand it. Based on a 1960 b-movie of the same name, "Little Shop or Horrors" tells the story of a man-eating plant raised by a nerdy guy working in a flower shop. Legendary composers Alan Menken and Howard Ashman collaborated on a musical version of it as a tribute to 60s rock 'n roll and drive-in movies. It started as an Off-Off Broadway show in 1982 and then transitioned to the Off-Broadway Orpheum Theatre, where it ran for five years.  The film version followed in 1986 and is considered one of the best movie musicals ever made.

 

It's no surprise American Blues Theater had to extend their production by popular demand. Jonathan Berry directs an excellent "Little Shop of Horrors" for American Blues Theater with musical direction by Austin Cook. From the get-go, audiences will find themselves caught in the tentacles of this plant tale. Real-life married couple Michael Mahler and Dara Cameron play Seymour and Audrey. Both have incredible voices and make these characters their own. The result is very charming. The stoop urchins: Chiffon, Ronette and Crystal (aptly named after the girl groups they sing in the style of) are so good they may even outshine the plant. Camille Robinson, Jasondra Johnson and Eunice Woods crush their roles as the doo-wop Greek chorus. It seems like these three fantastic voices are having a blast working together. That said, the voice of the man-eating plant, Audrey II, provided by Lorenzo Rush Jr is really powerful, with a contagious evil laugh.

 

Despite the strong talent on the stage and in the pit, this "Little Shop of Horrors" further succeeds in its well designed set by Grant Sabin. This show requires a good puppet master. Sarah E Ross' Audrey II puppets are awesome. The puppet creates some of the best laughs of the evening, especially in the finale.

 

Like "Rocky Horror", and "Grease" - the music of "Little Shop of Horrors" makes you feel good. The team behind this musical was also responsible for Disney's string of critically acclaimed animated musicals like "The Little Mermaid" and "Beauty and the Beast."  "Little Shop of Horrors" at America Blues Theater is a show you'd have to be a mean, green, mother not to enjoy. (John Accrocco)

 

Through June 26th at The Greenhouse Theatre. 2257 N Lincoln Ave. 773-404-7336

Police brutality is nothing new. Having it broadcast on national news sources, however, is. The deep South in the 1960's wasn't a fun place to be if you were anything but a Christian Caucasian. Shattered Globe Theatre concludes its twenty-fifth season with Matt Pelfrey's adaptation of John Ball's best-selling novel "In the Heat of the Night." The film adaptation starring Sidney Poitier went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. 

 

Pelfrey's script keeps with the original time and setting, but adapts with a degree of hindsight. He's also good at keeping the pot boiling until the final conclusion, even if the dots don't exactly connect in the end. With the success of TV series like "Making a Murderer" and the podcast "Serial" - audiences can't get enough crime thrillers. What these all seem to have in common are police inadequacy. A disappointing trend among rural police forces. "In the Heat of the Night" tells the story of a small town reeling after a local real estate tycoon is murdered. The prejudiced, and largely incompetent law enforcement can't seem to find a suspect. After they accidentally profile an African American from out of town, they get help from an unlikely source. 

 

Louis Contey directs a large, and talented ensemble cast. Unfortunately the script is a bit clunky in parts. Too many entrances, exits and costume changes make for a puzzling caper. There's fun in the noir-esque stylings of Contey's vision, but it conflicts with the bigger themes this source material addressed. Character development suffers and the message of Ball's original novel gets a little muddled in empty one-liners and racial slurs. There's a major opportunity here to make biased police officers more three dimensional and Drew Schad as Sam Wood does his best to navigate the dialogue. Joseph Wiens' performance as Chief Gillespie is intense, but at times cartoonish. Christina Gorman as the victim's daughter is a high point, however brief. 

 

"In the Heat of the Night" is a sultry, and somewhat topical thriller. Its brevity and mathematical approach make for a satisfying murder mystery. What it occasionally lacks in substance it makes up for in exciting stage combat. An atmospheric who-dunnit, akin to "Twin Peaks." 

 

Through June 5th at Theatre Wit. 1229 W Belmont Ave. 773-975-8150.

 

While not explicitly a biography about The Supremes, "Dreamgirls" is awfully close. It's a Quincy Jones-flavored musical about the road to fame, and the pitfalls of show business. Porchlight Theatre concludes its season with a rarely produced modern classic. Choreographed and directed by Brenda Didier, with musical direction by Doug Peck, "Dreamgirls" is a delight. 

 

"Dreamgirls" is really one of the first musicals about the early days of rock 'n roll. Though it's about more than just the rise of the "girl group" in popular music. The book by Tom Eyen uses a familiar story to illustrate how mainstream music helped open minds about race in America. The original Broadway production opened in 1981 and ran for four years. It has since been adapted into an Oscar-nominated film. 

 

Porchlight has assembled an all-star cast for this production. Particularly Donica Lynn as Effy. The three Dreams fill the rafters with soaring vocals. While Lynn may be the voice, Candace C. Edwards and Katherine Thomas as co-Dreams, turn in strong performances as well. Eric Lewis is electrifying in the role of fictional soul legend Jimmy Early. His numbers are thrilling.  

 

Didier's vision for this show is vivid. Her choreography is high-energy and visually pleasing throughout. Peck's musical direction proves a high point as well. It's not often you find yourself thinking about the band in a theatrical performance - but the wall of sound coming from this pit is a funky good time. Rounding out aesthetics are Bill Morey's costumes, which are well conceived and provide an extra layer of authenticity. 

 

Porchlight Music Theatre turns out another gem at Stage 773. "Dreamgirls" is a feast for the eyes and ears. Shows like "The Wiz" and "Dreamgirls" aren't produced nearly as often as they should be, which makes this impressive production all the more rare. The vocals are so good you'll wish you could take the soundtrack home with you. 

 

Through May 22nd at Stage 773. 1225 W Belmont Ave. 773-327-5252

 

Some people can only see what's right in front of them. Abe Koogler explores this theme in his play "Kill Floor" making its Midwestern debut at American Theater Company. The slaughterhouse is a setting once familiarized by Upton Sinclair in his novel "The Jungle." Koogler is updating this disturbing classic for our modern era. While we'd like to think we've evolved since 1906, perhaps we haven't. Maybe because we can't see the inside of a slaughterhouse, we don't think about how horrible factory farming really is. 

 

"Kill Floor" tells the story of Andy (Audrey Francis) who has been recently released from prison. Rick (Eric Slater) is a foreman at the slaughterhouse and gives Andy a job after taking pity on her. A flirtation develops despite that Eric is married, and it's suggested that Andy won't be promoted off the kill floor unless she sleeps with him. B, or Brendan (Sol Patches) is Andy's fifteen year old son who lives with foster parents. B struggles with a closeted homosexual crush, and the reality that most people ignore what makes them uncomfortable. B is also a vegan, making even it harder for Andy to reconnect with him. 

 

Under the direction of Jonathan Berry, this ensemble cast is killing it. Audrey Francis delivers a heartbreaking performance as a woman trying to reclaim her life. She falters naturally between assertiveness and crushing trauma. There's an emotional honesty in her performance that makes for a rare theater experience. Eric Slater and Sol Patches make for an excellent supporting cast. 

 

Koogler's play makes some intriguing points without browbeating the audience with his message. Particularly the comparison between mass incarceration and meat processing. In a way, we're all like the cattle - blindly following one another through winding tunnels, unsure of what's ahead. There's a certain degree of understanding he expects from his viewers. The script strays away from melodrama, leaving some stories untold and ideas unfinished. What's more human than that? 

 

Through May 1st at American Theater Company. 1909 W Byron Street. 773-409-4125

 

Tuesday, 23 February 2016 17:12

Review: The Flick at Steppenwolf Theatre

It's hard to make popcorn look unappetizing, but "The Flick" succeeds. Annie Baker's Pulitzer Prize winning play, begs the question, are you actually friends with the people you work with? Under the direction of Dexter Bullard, The Steppenwolf Theatre confronts this challenging new play. 

 

The play begins in the dark with a grand overture like in the epic films of yore. The Flick is a rundown, single showing room, movie theater in a small New England town. When twenty-year-old Avery takes a job at The Flick, he unknowingly disrupts the dynamic between the lifer employees: Sam and Rose. Avery is a young man struggling with depression. In almost annoyingly repetitive scenes steeped in film trivia, he opens up to his co-workers who he hopes are his friends. 

 

With the prevalence of multiplexes, independent movie houses have been forced to retire 35 mm film in favor of digital projectors. Instead of the bulky reels, movie theaters are basically just pushing play on a DVD. Avery is appalled at the idea of digital film and the future of the art form. Baker argues an intriguing point about the future of movies and in a way, the future of the world.

 

Baker also seems intimately familiar with the struggles of working class America. She's careful not to satirize it, or let her characters off too easy. The most bittersweet moments of her lengthy script occur while the characters perform menial tasks. There's a great deal of comfort in consistency, and it's in these long hours that people reach out to whoever is around them. Often the working world is disappointing, and there's really nothing more depressing than listening to someone complain about work. "The Flick" asks if we're more loyal to our paychecks than our co-workers. 

 

Like "Gone with the Wind" this play takes a great deal of patience. The plot slowly unfolds in scenes lengthened by silence. While some may find this pacing difficult, it's in the stilted lines and long pauses that the emotional honesty of this script lives. Baker spends a lot of time exploring her character's life philosophies. 

 

Performances are strong in this small cast. Caroline Neff as the alt-chic Rose is hilarious and heartbreaking. Danny McCarthy as middle-aged Sam, plays the everyman with such likable charm, that the nihilist ending sneaks up on you. "The Flick" is a play you'll spend a lot of time with both in and out of the theater.  

American Theater Company starts the year with a world premiere by author Dan LeFranc, directed by Joanie Schultz. "Bruise Easy" is a modern day retelling of Electra, set in the seemingly vapid world of southern California. 

 

When Tess (Kelly O'Sullivan) returns to her childhood home to find her estranged brother Alec (Matt Farabee) smoking weed on the driveway, she's mortified. In a series of somewhat unanswered questions, we're given a glimpse into a family torn apart by imperfect parents. Scenes are punctuated by a group of masked "neighborhood kids" who serve as the Greek chorus. With a short running time of 85 minutes, stand-up Tess and screw-up Alec trade barbs and acts of uncomfortable sexual tension. 

 

LeFranc's script is troubled though. While the gimmick of the Greek chorus is at first interesting, it ends up becoming a major distraction and overall pretty useless as a storytelling device. The author tries to communicate his heavy-handed message about suburban ambitions through this technique, which instead should be more apparent in the dialogue between Tess and Alec. 

 

"Bruise Easy" is missing a lot of crucial pieces and leaves viewers without any specific answers. LeFranc fails to develop his characters' narratives, which is a shame because O'Sullivan and Farabee are both really riveting performers to watch. 

 

The dialogue never quite gives us what we want. What happened to their mother? Why is Tess even there? What's the deal with the house? Why can't they go in? Instead, a lot of emphasis is placed on reminding us that it's 2005. Unfortunately many of the ways we're reminded come off as forced. Putting audiences in a certain time period involves more than dated pop culture references. 

 

LeFranc would certainly benefit from either adding more to the script or subtracting the elements that don't work, and clarifying the hazy details. There's just too much dead air here. It's apparent the author knows a lot more about these characters than he's letting on. He seems more concerned with the idea that it's a Greek tragedy set in California than he is the actual lives of the characters. 

 

Director Joanie Schultz's vision for this show also tends to stand in the way. There's an MTV circa-1995 aesthetic that really doesn't match the tone of the script. "Bruise Easy" has an anti-establishment theme running through it, but it's not as cheeky as the interlude graphics and pop music wants it to be. There's a lot going on here, and narrowing what exactly LeFranc wants his audience to leave with will benefit this play in subsequent productions. 

 

Through February 14th at American Theater Company. 1909 W Byron Street. 

 

Monday, 07 December 2015 21:26

Review: Redtwist's "Incident at Vichy"

In a cramped police station in Southern France, a handful of men argue about why they were picked up for questioning. During the Nazi occupation of France in WWII, Germany left Vichy to be governed by France. This didn't exempt the zone from mass deportation of Jews living on false papers. Arthur Miller's "Incident at Vichy" explores the dark themes of a region living in fear, holding a mirror up to our own time.

 

With direction by Ian Frank, Redtwist gives a faithful production of Miller's under-produced 1964 one-act. Redtwist's best asset from show to show is the intimacy of their performance space. For a claustrophobic play like this, a better space couldn't be found. There are almost as many cast members as audience members and when the room is full, there's an inherent sense of panic.

 

White men arguing is pretty often seen in mid-century theatre. Usually it's a vehicle for expressing the playwright's world views. "Incident at Vichy" is a play of its time period. That's not to say Arthur Miller's words aren't chillingly relevant. As each character in question slowly divulges the reasons they may be sent away, they prioritize their own right to life over their neighbor's. In those passionate monologues, Miller cuts right to the heart of human nature, which is sometimes primal.

 

With a large cast and a short play, it's unusual to have so much character development. The ensemble distinguishes themselves well. The play hangs on a stand-out performance by Jeremy Trager as Von Berg (an Austrian nobleman). His character is the only one who seems to express empathy and guilt about what's happening to the people around him. David Giannini and Tim Parker balance out the cast as Bayard and Leduc and turn in strong performances as well.

 

"Incident at Vichy" is a story of people living in fear. It's a cautionary tale of what can happen when people are apathetic. With all this history, it's shocking in America that some would-be politicians are touting mass deportations of minority groups. To that end, Miller's play has never been more essential.

 

Through January 10th at Redtwist Theatre. 1044 W Bryn Mawr. 773-728-75329

 

 

Everyone's mom has a copy of "Tapestry," and by now the songs are almost as familiar as the Star Bangled Banner. What many may not know is that composer Carole King and lyricist Gerry Goffin literally shaped the sound of early rock 'n roll with their songs made popular by The Drifters, The Shirelles and Little Eva. 

 

"Beautiful" is a musical based on Carole King's incredible rise in the music business as a teenager. While the show is a fairly succinct tale, it does neglect that Miss King ran in the same circles as many other music heavy weights such as Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon. Impressive even still is that she sold her first hit song when she was sixteen years old. In an age when many careers were off limits to women. 

 

Douglas McGrath's book is charming and witty. It begins with Carole (Abby Mueller) playing "So Far Away," at a piano, her long frizzy hair moves along with King's signature playing mannerisms. From there it revolves back in time to a less sure of herself King, telling her story through her own songs. McGrath's book has a sincerity not often found these days in blockbuster Broadway shows. He provides heartbreaking context for all the well-known hits written by not just King and Goffin, but also their close friends and competition, Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann. 

 

The numbers are somewhat formulaic in their presentation, moving from real life story to full-scale performances (as they would have appeared on American Band Stand) but the songs are incredibly well sung and choreographed by the ensemble. It's nearly impossible not to sing along under your breath, or in full-voice as some audience members were. Mcgrath and director Marc Bruni have struck a perfect balance that both tickles and leaves the audience feeling an emotional attachment to the characters, so that in the end, "Beautiful" isn't just about Carole King and it's also not just about the music industry. 

 

Local actress Abby Mueller does an impeccable job filling the shoes of Carole King. If you close your eyes, you wouldn't know you're not actually listening to "Tapestry." Mueller's performance pushes past the gimmick of imitation. She connects to the audience and makes the familiar story of a bad marriage very real. When she turns from frumpy housewife into the bohemian California-chic (the Tapestry look) it feels very cathartic, which makes her success as a solo singer all the more triumphant. 

 

Through February 21st at The Oriental Theatre. Broadway in Chicago. 800-775-2000

 

Thursday, 19 November 2015 21:15

Review: Fulfillment at American Theatre Company

Sex sells as the old adage goes. It may be marketable, but you have to ask yourself what it has to say. Likely sex will dominate the discussion among patrons of Thomas Bradshaw's new play at American Theater Company. With bold direction by Ethan McSweeney, Fulfillment will undoubtedly ruffle some subscriber feathers. 

 

The play begins with Michael (Stephen Conrad Moore) purchasing a multi-million dollar apartment in Soho and describing his sexual relationship with his coworker, Sarah (Erin Barlow). She soon puts the idea in his head that he isn't being made partner at the law firm because of his race. Whether it's true or not becomes subject to interpretation as the rest of Michael's life begins to spiral out of control. 

 

Bradshaw's script is flawed in that it's not enough about any one thing to really grasp at a central narrative or question. If it's a play about the inequality of underrepresented groups (African Americans and women) it never really connects the dots in the way that say, Disgraced does. If it's a play about American desire for more and more, why isn't the main character greedier? 

 

The scenes are too copious and too short to get down to anything significant. In fact, there's never really any rational conflict between characters, or at least none that lead to anything consequential. More often it's a story about a man who has trouble with his neighbor and the occasional drinking binge. The unfortunate part is that the dialog is actually really strong and incredibly well-acted, but in the end, it doesn't really add up to much. 

 

Perhaps even more distracting are the numerous instances of gratuitous stage sex and full frontal nudity that cross the line of good taste. It seems to be an overused, if not unnecessary, gimmick on which this play too heavily relies. Maybe if the material was edgy enough to justify the graphic content, it would seem more vital. Mostly it just comes off as a desperate attempt to shock audiences. 

 

Through December 13th at American Theater Company. 1909 W Byron Street. 

 

 

 

 

Page 4 of 6

BLUE MAN GROUP CELEBRATES 20th BIRTHDAY!

16 October 2017 in Theatre Reviews

With two decades in its home at Lakeview’s Briar Street Theater under its belt, Blue Man Group is still going…

Review: "Piaf: The Show!"

11 October 2017 in Theatre in Review

Darn those French and their "musical spectaculars." There are few things Americans do with more flare than the French, and…

First Folio's "The Man-Beast" a passionate tale of horror that delivers big

11 October 2017 in Theatre in Review

Set in the 18th century French countryside, First Folio Theatre vividly brings to life Joseph Zettelmaier’s “The Man-Beast”, a romantic,…

Rigoletto’s classic tale is a feast for the ears

10 October 2017 in Theatre in Review

Court jester Rigoletto prefers to hide his misery behind jokes and mockery of others. But it’s not the only thing…

Hilarious "Bewildered" will make you realize that YOU are the leading lady in your life!

10 October 2017 in Theatre in Review

Hell in a Handbag rings in its fifteenth-anniversary season with real magic in this hilarious spoof of the 60's and…

Review: The Crucible at Steppenwolf Theatre

09 October 2017 in Theatre in Review

It’s the season of Arthur Miller in Chicago. It appears Miller is enjoying a renaissance right now with three of…

Older than Mythologie: Orphée et Eurydice at the Lyric Opera

08 October 2017 in Theatre Reviews

The first time I went to the opera was in elementary school to see La Triviata. It was a school…

Foxfinder is vaguely relevant

03 October 2017 in Theatre in Review

The most depressing thing about the Foxfinder’s premise of “near future” is that it looks remarkably like somewhat distant past,…

Suzanne Puckett; Poetry at its finest

03 October 2017 in BCS Spotlight

You tore him down! Discredited his name ~ Made him lie, cry and beg ~ Hold his head in shame …

Cupid Has A Heart On a unique, energetic night of shock comedy

02 October 2017 in Theatre in Review

As my sidekick for the evening – himself a theater and sketch comedy guy – and I entered Stage 773’s…

Review: Becky Shaw at Windy City Playhouse

29 September 2017 in Theatre in Review

“Sometimes lying is the most humane thing you can do,” declares Gina Gionfriddo’s character Suzanna Slater in her play ‘Becky…

Blue Man Group Celebrates 20 Years in Chicago With Special Birthday Performance October 12th

28 September 2017 in Upcoming Theatre

Blue Man Group, the critically hailed theatrical phenomenon with an open run at the Briar Street Theatre, will celebrate 20…

 

 

10 Years! Fave Issue Covers

Register

Latest Articles

Guests Online

We have 86 guests and no members online

Buzz Chicago on Facebook Buzz Chicago on Twitter