Home

Kimberly Katz

Kimberly Katz

I've seen Hell in a Handbag’s production of “Christmas Dearest” before and the dazzling funny and yet touching show has now officially become part of my true Holiday tradition. The reason being is that it takes the classic tale "A Christmas Carol" and throws some six-inch, size 11 heeled, f*ck me pumps on it, tosses back a martini, lights up an extra-long cigarette and says "We love you just the way you are”.  It is Christmas time - the time for Love and Acceptance is really here happening in Chicago! 

 

David Cerda wrote the script and the book for this adorable musical theater piece and I am continuously blown away by his huge amount of talent. 

 

Always one to give his shows 110 percent of his energy, no matter how many hats he has to wear at once, I must say Cerda was absolutely on FIRE with the spirit of Joan Crawford at the opening night performance!! Joan has been asked to play "Mary, the Mother of God” on the big screen and Cerda plays her searingly with beauty, ugliness and star charisma. 

 

Crawford is cheap and cruel and wants to force the entire cast to work on Christmas Day.  Soon the witchy Crawford is visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. Even the actual "Mary, Queen of Heaven" comes down from her  Royal Heavenly Throne to advise Crawford that she better shape up or she'll be dead soon, along with her dying career.

 

Hell in a Handbag's company of regulars are essential including the ever-reliably hysterical Ed Jones as Crawford's empathetic assistant/slave. New additions also add punch such as recent Northwestern graduate Frankie Leo Bennett as Crawford's now infamous biographer daughter, Christina, and Roosevelt University undergrad Alexa Castelvecchi who has a great voice and  lovely stage presence as a young Crawford who is shown to have once been a caring, generous young girl before "Hollywood casting couches” and politics ruined her psychologically. 

 

Also deserving of extra special mention is "Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come” in the form of Bette Davis, played to laughable perfection by Caitlin Jackson dressed in a fantastically dead on and literally dead "What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?" costume. 

 

The hysterical and perfectly tailored costumes for every single character by Kate Setzer Kamphausen, and equally indispensable wigs designed by Keith Ryan were colorful and perfectly dated in the most kitschy way possible for maximum laughs. 

 

Now there are some great theater companies in Chicago where the founder or artistic director would not be missed if absent from a single production but David Cerda is not one of them. Cerda displayed his complete control over the cast and audience when he reached for a martini accidentally placed a few feet too far from his chaise and got the biggest laugh from the audience when he addressed us with a droll improvised "Eight weeks of rehearsal...". 

 

I highly recommend this darling, genuinely laugh out loud funny and open-minded musical production to everyone ready to rock and possibly drink their way through their heartbroken holidays! Christmas Dearest is being performed at Mary’s Attic in Andersonville through December 29th. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.handbagproductions.org. 

Chicagoans' love for historical dramas and our ghost and gangster bus tours are very popular here, so it is not surprising that this very well written and performed ensemble play about the very real, tragic Iroquois Theater fire in 1903 that killed over six hundred people packed in for an oversold Christmas winter matinee would be such a popular production even during the Holiday season. Powerful, heart-rending, imaginative and filled with dark humor, “Burning Bluebeard” is wonderfully directed by Halena Kays, who is able to so effectively take us back in time to revisit one of the greatest Chicago tragedies in this haunting and magical production.

 

The luxurious brand new and it turns out, unfinished building, The Iroquois Theater, was supposed to be the new "Titanic" of theaters – in this case luxurious and fireproof. So many important things relating to theater safety came out of this tragedy it almost seems destined to have happened in order to teach the world how NOT to construct and maintain theater safety for generations. 

 

Around 3:15 p.m. on December 30th, not long after the second act began, sparks from faulty wiring in a large lighted moon ignited several of the highly flammable scenery props. The stage manager frantically tried to separate the audience from the burning stage by lowering the massive asbestos flame proof curtain, but when it became stuck it did not take long before the quick and furious blaze spread throughout the theater.

 

The theater, which had a max capacity of thirteen hundred, was packed to the gills for this particular matinee performance of Bluebeard with over sixteen hundred audience members, most of whom were women and children. It was so packed that patrons sat in the aisles, squeezed in where they could, blocking doorways in the process. The upper levels were separated from the higher priced seats on the main floor by doors locked with chains so that the children could not "sneak' down to better seats or, as it turned out, escape in case of fire. There were fake doorways covered with heavy black curtains whereas if a perseverant theater goer did manage to break open during an escape attempt, they would find a brick wall on the other side. Wall after wall of glamorous mirrors in the lobby created a funhouse effect further confusing the panicked crowd when they could not find any real windows or unlocked doors.  The fire escapes were not yet completed and reached only halfway down the four story building.

 

Vents in the ceiling were nailed shut and the top of the theater was filled with highly incendiary silk set pieces. The very seats themselves were basically just flammable velvet material stuffed with straw hemp like tinder.

 

Amidst the chaos, unfortunately one of the show’s actors ordered the children, especially those packed shoulder to shoulder in the upper balcony, to sit back down and stay seated until they could exit slowly and safely.  But that was the worst thing they could have done. There were hundreds of performers in this show trapped backstage and when they finally were able to break down the back door which of course was chained and padlocked shut from the outside, it created a backdraft fireball that literally incinerated all of the children and their mothers in the front and upper rows of the balcony so quickly that all of their watches were stopped at precisely the same moment. 

 

Superbly written by Jay Torrence and performed by an outstanding ensemble consisting of Jay Torrence, Leah Urzendowski, Ryan Walters, Pam Chermansky, Anthony Courser and Molly Plunk, one cannot help but feel the desperation of the original theater crowd along with the relief of being alive in a world where lit EXIT signs and having working fire extinguishers are just part of what one expects for normal audience safety.

 

Every member of this troupe plays a unique role but I have to especially point out Molly Plunk who plays the role of an imaginary faerie queen capable of turning back time and causing the whole event to unfold without danger. Plunk’s delicate and whimsical interpretation of this role is key to keeping hope in the audience alive that somehow reliving this tragedy over and over will cause it not to happen again. 

I have recommended this show highly in the past and every friend I've sent young or old has had the same magical experience watching this unique, darkly funny, and fantastic production. Now in its fourth year, due to the show’s growing popularity, “Burning Bluebeard” has moved to yet a larger venue in The Den Theatre. Performed through January 10th, The Ruffians’ collaboration with The Hypocrites’ “Burning Bluebeard” has become a holiday hit in Chicago and is a sure-fire must see.

More show info can be found www.the-hypocrites.com. The show last approximately one hour and forty minutes with no intermission.

  

 

 

Broadway in Chicago and producers Starvox Entertainment and June Entertainment present “Sherlock Holmes”, starring the often very funny David Arquette in the title role that is based on the shrewd detective in the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle mystery novels.

 

Now, I like David Arquette, I think he’s a talented comedic and dramatic actor and obviously he has the chops to pull of this role but so many things conspired to make this production an overly long, campy but not funny mess. I’m at a loss to describe them all. 

 

I’ll just keep it short. First, the stage which was very modern, stark, and cold did nothing to clarify where any of the characters were at any time in the show. The set was accented only by slightly different chairs and red, black and grey lighting changes. Although Arquette, as Sherlock Holmes, struggled to pull off a few laughs here and there with his flamboyant drug using character, everyone else seemed to just be shouting at each other and racing about willy-nilly like the Keystone Cops the whole play, as if pretending to be an old 20’s movie version of the play. Perhaps there may be room to turn Sherlock Homes into a comedy, but the writers missed the mark on this one.

 

James Maslow, stars as the legendary Dr. John Watson, along with Renne Olstead as the well-to-do-American, Lady Irene St. John. Olstead is best known for her roles as Lauren Miller in the TV sitcom "Still Standing”, and as Madison Cooperstein in "The Secret Life of the American Teenager”.

 

I honestly think if they cut the show down to 90 minutes from 2 and one half hours, people might have left saying that it was an interesting and modern take on an old classic. However, this cold, campy and dark version of the show did little to satisfy real fans of Sherlock Holmes. The head-scratching crimes were not as engaging as one would have hoped and the laughs not as big. Though nice to see Arquette on the stage, I hope to see him return in a more entertaining production. You can only do so much with the material given. 

  

This new and original adaptation inspired by Doyle's classic detective tales by playwright Greg Kramer and directed by Andrew Shaver is scheduled to play Chicago's Oriental Theatre (24 W Randolph) November 24 - 29, 2015. For tickets and more show information visit www.broadwayinchicago.com.

“Irving Berlin has no place in American music—he is American music. Emotionally, he honestly absorbs the vibrations emanating from the people, manners and life of his time and, in turn, gives these impressions back to the world—simplified, clarified and glorified.” - Jerome Kern

 

There are shows that make one proud to be an American, proud to be Jewish and proud to be of immigrant descent and Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin currently performed at Royal George Theatre is one show that does all three. 

 

Felder proves yet again that he is a consummate master of the one person show. While his bio/docu/musicals about famous composers, from his George Gershwin Alone, to Fryderyk Chopin, to Ludwig van Beethoven, to Maestro Leonard Bernstein thrilled Chicago and LA audiences and critics alike, this production and his  portrayal of Irving Berlin is quite simply the icing on the cake of his career.

 

Irving Berlin, whose real name was Israel Isidore Baline and whose musical background included that his father was a cantor (singer for the Temple), was only eleven years old when he left his house to find work as a singing waiter because "there were too many mouths to feed" even with his pennies earned as a paperboy.

 

Although Berlin's first hits were more comical and vaudevillian like “Marie from Sunny Italy”, and “Alexander’s Ragtime Band”, to grab people's attention, it was the grief over the tragic death of his first wife that he credits with teaching him how to write a real song.

 

Like a chapter from a sad Lifetime movie, Berlin married his adorable twenty-year-old sweetheart took her to fashionable Havana for their honeymoon and five months later she died from typhoid fever she contracted on their week-long stay. 

 

Later he married socialite Ellin MacKay the daughter of the richest man in the United States, and wrote his classic, timeless love song, “Always”, about his pure joy at finding her. They were married for 62 years, and ironically her father disowned Ellin and Berlin for years for marrying a Jewish immigrant songwriter - until right after the stock market crash in which Mr. MacKay lost his entire fortune but Berlin wisely having purchased the publishing rights to ALL of his songs kept his finances relatively intact during the depression.

 

 

Everything went wrong,
And the whole day long
I'd feel so blue.
For the longest while
I'd forget to smile,
Then I met you.
Now that my blue days have passed,
Now that I've found you at last -

I'll be loving you always
With a love that's true always.

Days may not be fair always,
That's when I’ll be there always.
Not for just an hour,
Not for just a day,
Not for just a year,
But always.

 

Berlin’s songs include, “Blue Skies”, (composed for his daughter), “Heat Wave”, “How Deep is the Ocean”, “Puttin’ on the Ritz”, “Steppin’ Out with My Baby”, “What’ll I Do”, and the scores of “Annie Get Your Gun”, “Holiday Inn”, “Easter Parade,” and many more. We also learn that Berlin wrote “White Christmas” years after his son Irving Jr. was tragically found dead on Christmas morning at just three-weeks-old. In all, Irving Berlin composed 232 top-ten hits and 25 number one songs, and over 1500 published songs including one of his biggest hits, “God Bless America”.

 

I really loved the set which consisted of a lovely Christmas tree and piano with windows that opened onto a wonderful video presentation of the actual people, Berlin, his wives, etc as he tells a story about each. My only note for Felder is that he reconsiders having an intermission in any show he directs or stars in that is longer than 90 minutes as this one was. The audience was rapt the entire time but I felt the break in the middle would have allowed them to enjoy the show even more as a whole evening of entertainment with time to absorb and refresh between the two acts.

 

The artistic team for Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin is outstanding and led by Director Trevor HayScenic Design is by Hershey Felder and Trevor Hay, Sound Design is by Erik Carstensen, Lighting Design is by Richard Norwood and Video Design is by Andrew Wilder. The Scenic Decoration is by Meghan Maiya.

 

 

“Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin” is a rich and fully enjoyable experience that is playing at The Royal George theatre through December 6th. For more show information, visit www.theroyalgeorgetheatre.com

In the first piece titled, "N.N.N.N.", in the Hubbard Street Dance Chicago Fall Series at Harris Theatre, two men and two women dance in silence except for the occasional sounds of their breath and grunts of exertion, which are both a relief to hear and even comical in places. Forsythe seems to have derived an entirely new alphabet of modern dance for this piece! Although the simple movements, a hand placed on one shoulder, a clap, or a skip, seem somewhat easy at first they grow in speed and complexity until the audience is aware that this is not a dance about male/female pairing, it is a dance about egalitarian freedom from those stereotypes and stereotypical romances in dance. The silence throughout the piece is both energizing and unnerving at points. 

 

The second piece of the evening, "Quintett" set to a single haunting piece of music “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me”, an arrangement by English composer Gavin Bryars of a composition by an unknown composer that has a homeless man singing a brief stanza over and over and over again on a 25-minute loop, its volume increasing gradually. This is more in line with what dance lovers expect to see. This piece speaks clearly about love and loss in Forsythe's life, that of his late wife, and is replete with grace, longing and loneliness of the loss. “Quintett” is beautifully danced by its  lead Ana Lopez, clad in a flowing orange colored silk shirt dress, whose long-limbed and strongly expressive dance style takes on a supernatural feeling that the ghosts of those we have loved and lost continue to dance with strength through our minds over and over into eternity. 

 

The third piece, "One Flat Thing" performed to an almost angry sounding, slightly scary industrial score is performed by fourteen dancers on top of an uncountable number of menacing looking metal tables. Sometimes they look like tables in a morgue, sometimes like a grouping of desks in a correctional school. Either way they are both riveting and terrifying in its speed and accuracy. In fact, many of the dancers have suffered "bone bruising injuries" during the practice of this piece as their shins and other body parts accidentally collide at full force with the cold unforgiving metal edges of all these "flat things".  I enjoyed it because the frenzy of maneuvers by all fourteen dancers at once seemed to rage against every type of obstacle that life throws at you, especially the ones that seem designed by corporations or schools that are purposely designed to keep you in line, sitting in your proper seat, or thrown in your way each day. Each year no matter how many you climb, more "flat things/obstacles" are pushed your way in life. 

 

With the exception of the gloriously sad and romantic "Quintett" this was an evening of dance full of excitement and even the  fear of collision, great for lovers of dance and  not for the faint of heart.  

 

I was expecting a great work of art from David Rabe, the American Tony Award-winning playwright, screenwriter and author, famous for his Vietnam trilogy (“Sticks and Bones”, “The Basic Training of Pavlo Hummel”, “Streamers”), as well as other notable plays, like “Hurlyburly” and “In the Boom Boom Room”. I was not disappointed.

 

In “Good for Otto”, Artistic Director Michael Patrick Thornton does a fantastic job directing this three hour long presentation, which literally squeezed actors into every nook and cranny of his tiny but acclaimed stage at The Gift Theatre in Jefferson Park. 

 

David Rabe's writing is so enchanting, so spacious, and much like prose poetry at times that it lulls the audience into a type of trance which makes it possible to watch your own demons and thoughts even as the play is unfolding before you. 

 

Rabe tackles just about every aspect of mental health care including the maddening difficulty of getting treatment at all from insurance companies in this country!

 

Good for Otto is set in a small town based on the Northwest Center for Family Services and Mental Health in Torrington, Connecticut, where the psychotherapist Richard O'Connor worked and whose work, "Undoing Depression," is the main inspiration for the characters in this play.

 

Whether your problem is growing old and depressed in your 70's or cutting yourself at the age of 12, or even reliving your own mother's suicide when you were nine (which the psychologist/ narrator struggles with), Rabe shows that life can't just "go on as usual" unless you actually receive and accept professional help. 

 

Yes, the play is still in a type of workshop phase partly because Rabe's writing is all so lush, so poetic I can see where he is having trouble cutting any of it, yet it needs cuts because some of the minor characters just end up floating around, unfulfilled and confusing in what should be a cannonball of a play on the lifelong importance of treating mental illness - instead of a shotgun which scatters these powerful messages like buckshot. 

 

The entire fifteen member ensemble cast did a great job with a couple standouts. 

 

The beautifully sensitive and expressive twelve-year-old named Frannie and played by Caroline Heffernan was a very heartfelt yet real performance from someone so young. 

 

The other character who both made the audience laugh the most yet at the same time made all of us young, or old and in between, feel the genuine pit and hopelessness of geriatric depression came from Rob Riley.

 

The scene where the psychologist argues with an ice cold double talking insurance rep who flatly denies his multiple urgent requests for one on one treatment for a suicidal child is so common and written in way so true to life it actually sickened me. 

 

Given the fact that so many mentally ill people are now taking their illness to the street and killing innocent people time and time again in this country just shows that we have got to stop making it so difficult to get therapy. After all, therapy is cheap. It doesn't involve multi-million dollar machinery. It's just two people or a group of people talking it out, encouraging each other to keep on living in this crazy world. 

 

It was a great honor for David Rabe to choose both Chicago and The Gift Theater for the first staging of this very important and empowering play. I look forward to seeing it in its polished and more laser-like form here in Chicago again or on Broadway in the near future. 

 

“Good for Otto” is being performed at The Gift Theatre through November 22nd. For tickets and more show information visit www.thegifttheatre.org. 

 

Neil Simon's "Barefoot in the Park" is one of my favorite comedies. 

 

Simon so perfectly captures the dynamics of a new couple moving in together as newlyweds and the pressures that begin to erode or test their love as soon as they move in. Cory and Paul's lack of money for a proper New York apartment presents all sorts of great comedy as they end up in a sixth floor walk up with a hole in the skylight and no heat or bathtub in the dead of winter.

 

Alex Fisher, as the young bride has a great frenetic and appropriately sexy, horny energy as she is faced with challenge after challenge to please her new husband who is a temporarily broke new lawyer. 

 

Colin Sphar, as her husband is funny in places but by the time he gets to his drunk scene, which has a lot of good physical comedy in it by him, we hear a full out lisp in his portrayal that distracts from his performance. The kissing and hugging chemistry between these two is not as white hot as you'd expect in roles that were originally played in the film by super sexy Jane Fonda and Robert Redford. 

 

The scene-stealers in this production turn out to be in the two mature character actors Sarah Minton, as Cory's aging but game for anything single mother and their upstairs, crazy neighbor played by Michael Pascas. 

 

Minton and Pascas are so good at their comic timing and so full of rich character and chemistry we ended up rooting for them to get together more than we were hoping for Cory and Paul, the leads, to STAY together. 

 

Also, Randolph Johnson, as the ATT phone installer, has an adorable, compassionate, calming quality that helps ground the piece every time he enters the scene.

 

The set design is great, with each part of the aging apartment clearly visible and very realistic.

 

Overall the play, which is long and includes two ten minute intermissions, has a lot of good energy and fun, especially if you grew up back in the day when the new wife was supposed to make everything nice and happy at home while the new husband goes out into the world to have all the fun and challenge of a real job.

 

“Barefoot in the Park” is being performed at The Athenaeum through November 1st. For tickets, performance times and other show info, visit www.athenaeumtheatre.org.  

 

From the moment you enter the darkened and eerie Tudor Revival styled Mayslake Peabody Estate and are handed a dance card indicating which group of theater goers you will follow throughout the performance, the tension and excitement of this wonderful production begins to mount. Not long after First Folio Theatre’s “The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe: A Love Story” begins the audience is divided, following different sets of actors from room to room.  

The large, dark house, lit by the light of the full "Blood Moon" on opening night is still haunted by the memory of the husband who lovingly built the entire estate for his wife over a decade and then passed away during a fox hunt the year after it was finished. This site specific mansion is the perfect theater setting for this dynamic and revealing look at Edgar Allen Poe's work as a hugely successful fiction writer as well as his tragic life and loves. 

It is very rare, with the large amount of theater I see, week after week, that I am watching a show and at the same time planning in my mind which friends of mine I would like to come back and see it with again.

I loved how the audience moved from room to room within the mansion, sometimes seeing a portion of a scene while standing in a hallway or while entering the genuine antique chapel built after the estate was sold.  It was a lot of fun and gave the audience a feeling of mystery and danger, as though we were instant comrades and active participants in the play itself. 

Christopher Kriz did a fantastic job with the tricky sound design in each of the authentically scary rooms of this aging mansion. Each sound Kriz creates building the tension and surrounds the tiny audience in such a way that we really felt the Tell-Tale Heart beating in our own ears, not just coming out of a single speaker anywhere. 

I learned so much about Poe's life and work that I had not known before. The sad irony that not only did he watch his mother die of consumption at the tender age of six, he then witnessed the slow death of his adoring stepmother and finally his wife Virginia wasting away and coughing up blood daily from the same devastating disease. 

I also did not realize what an amazing amount, and romantically stunning quality, of love letters and love poetry Poe wrote in his lifetime to his wife Virginia and often to another married woman named Annie whom he loved from afar. 

On the back of the dance card is printed the single sad poem his wife Virginia, his first cousin whom he married when he was 27 and she just 13 years old, although they did not consummate the marriage until she was 16. The tragic fact that they shared just nine blissful years together, four of them while she was healthy and five where she began to deteriorate from consumption. He made the right decision to follow his heart and court her from pretty much the moment they met because he knew on some unconscious level that their precious time together was ticking away quite quickly and he died just two years after her passing at the age of 40.   

Christian Gray, who portrays Poe, does a stunning job of showing the sadness and turmoil inside of Poe while never losing the absolute passion and headstrong devotion for his wife Virginia. Gray seems to drink in like a thirsty vampire the femininely beautiful essence of his wife Virginia from her head to toe in every scene. You sense that Gray, whose eyes are often brimming with tears,  as if struggling to speak - as if his next breath depends solely upon seeing her loving reaction to him and his writings in every moment and every delicate hour that passed between them.  Without Gray's nicely sensual, sometimes earthy and sometimes heart wrenching performance, the "Love Story" portion of this play would not have been nearly as convincing. 

Diana Mair makes a lovely, charming, sensitive portrayal of Poe’s wife Virginia.  Mair's sympathetic, yet lighthearted telling of Poe's tragic early years and her burning love for him comes off with a mature, yet modernly sassy quality that makes you understand how he could be so in love with her and then so completely lost without her as his enthusiastic muse after her untimely death at the age of 22. 

Actor Kevin McKillip, also outstanding, has several great, and fright building scenes as the madman in the retelling of "The Tell-Tale Heart" and as a prisoner locked in a dungeon with the blade of a scythe rapidly approaching to cut him apart in “The Pit and the Pendulum", appropriately performed in a room so dark you could not see the person sitting next to you. 

Here is just one of Poe's hundreds of love letter/poems to Annie, one of his few unrequited loves:

“So long as I think that you know I love you, as no man ever loved woman - so long as I think you comprehend in some measure, the fervor with which I adore you, so long, no worldly trouble can ever render me absolutely wretched. But oh, my darling, my Annie, my own sweet sister Annie, my pure beautiful angel - wife of my soul - to be mine hereafter and forever in the Heavens - how shall I explain to you the bitter, bitter anguish which has tortured me since I left you?”

In a surprising and childlike way Poe signed his letters to her, and to his beloved wife Virginia with the adorable “forever your own, Eddy…”.

I highly recommend this scary, yet passionately romantic retelling of Poe's life and hard won genius. It will definitely make you want to read more of Poe's work, especially his prolific amount of luscious, spellbinding love letters! 

By the end of the play you understand why ALL of the women in his life, were utterly captured and held close by his heartfelt writings to them and adored him so completely during the short time on earth they each shared with him. 

First Folio Theatre’s “The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe: A Love Story” is being performed at the Mayslake Peabody Mansion in Oakbrook through November 4th. For more information on this unique and haunting production, visit www.firstfolio.org.

*One note, on disability access, First Folio may want to add a disclaimer on its website informing the disabled and elderly theatre goers that the play does require climbing some stairs and brief standing in addition to its mention that the show moves around the mansion. 

 

 

"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.

 

Directed by Joel Zwick of “My Big, Fat Greek Wedding fame, and produced by Hershey Felder, “Jamaica, Farewell” is the charming, funny and often suspenseful one-person play about a young woman’s coming of age in Jamaica, performed brilliantly by Debra Ehrhardt. Not realizing it was a solo show upon arrival, I, at first, eagerly awaited the entrance from other actors to get acquainted with their characters. However, ten minutes in, it didn’t matter because Ehrhardt was so entertaining acting out the roles surrounding her character’s life.

The story takes place in 1980 where Ehrhardt, a Jamaican native herself, plays an eighteen-year-old girl who has one big dream – to go to America. As a child her favorite song is “Yankee Doodle Dandy”. Americans are called “Doodle Dandy’s where she comes from. But leaving Jamaica to go to the United States was easier said than done for a young, poor eighteen-year-old girl.

Big changes had recently taken place in Jamaica. Not long before, Cuba gained a new ally when Michael Manley, the leader of Jamaica’s People National Party was elected the first of three times to be Prime Minister. Manley’s diplomatic ties with Fidel Castro was unsettling to the United States. Now there were two Soviet inspired countries in the United States’ back yard that preached democratic socialism. But understanding the advantage of incoming American dollars, Jamaica relaxed their stance, eventually becoming the tourist destination it is today. Still, getting large amounts of money out of Jamaica was another story.

Ehrhardt’s character is a secretary in Kingston. Her father is an alcoholic and gambler and it furniture, among other things her family owned were removed with regularity after a bad night at the card table. One day after overhearing her boss speaking of the need to smuggle money from Jamaica to America, she volunteers and is offered ten thousand dollars to do so. Finally, America is within her grasp. All she’d have to do is drop off one million dollars when she gets to Miami - to Bullett. But now all she has to do is figure out a way to smuggle the money into America. As luck would have it, she meets Jack Wallingsford, who is employed at the United States Embassy. Wallingsford falls for her hard and soon becomes the unwitting aid in her smuggling operation.

The main stage at Royal George Theatre is littered with large tropical leaves and a variety of chests with hanging vines in the background. Though simplistic, along with Ehrhardt’s rich description of her country and the use of projected images, I am able to get a good feel for the Jamaican atmosphere. Ehrhardt’s energy is endless and her story telling both funny and heartfelt. It is a truly amazing story that is based on Ehrhardt’s engaging true life journey from Jamaica to America. It is a story that continues to pick up steam as it is told that includes many surprises and turns. I highly recommend seeing “Jamaica, Farewell” during its limited engagement, performed beautifully and written by Debra Ehrhardt.

“Jamaica, Farewell” is being performed at the Royal George Theatre through October 11th. For tickets and show information visit www.theroyalgeorgetheatre.com.    

Page 5 of 19

Taylor Mac's HIR at Steppenwolf

22 June 2017 in Upcoming Theatre

Rehearsals are underway for Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s Chicago premiere production of Hir, a subversive comedy by celebrated playwright, actor, singer-songwriter…

Theater Wit unveils 17-18 season: My Little Pony-themed Antelope Play, Women Laughing Alone With Salad, This Way Outta Santaland

22 June 2017 in Upcoming Theatre

"Are we still who we thought we were?" "How much do we still value the culture we embraced a year…

The Gift Theatre announces "Open Season" as play chosen to pilot 4802

22 June 2017 in Upcoming Theatre

The Gift Theatre is proud to announce Adithi Chandrashekar's Open Season as the first play chosen to pilot 4802 -…

Writers Theatre to stage world premiere of "Trevor"

20 June 2017 in Upcoming Theatre

Writers Theatre, under the leadership of Artistic Director Michael Halberstam and Executive Director Kathryn M. Lipuma, opens its 2017/18 season…

Chicago Open Air With Ozzy, KISS, Korn & More: Set Times Announced, Battle Of The Bands Underway

20 June 2017 in In Concert

Performance times have been announced for the 40-plus bands playing the second annual Chicago Open Air festival, July 14, 15…

NEWCITY Announces Free Outdoor Summer Concert Series

20 June 2017 in In Concert

An urban oasis for one-of-a-kind entertainment, eclectic dining and luxury shopping, NEWCITY, 1457 N. Halsted, announced today it will host…

Cards Against Humanity Live at Greenhouse Theater Center - Friday, June 23 at 10 pm - Peter Sagal Hosts!

20 June 2017 in Upcoming Theatre

Following a sell-out performance in May, CARDS AGAINST HUMANITY LIVE returns for one night only on Friday, June 23 at…

Sideshow Theatre Company Announces 2017-18 Season

20 June 2017 in Upcoming Theatre

Sideshow Theatre Company is pleased to announce its 2017-18 Season, launching next spring with the Chicago premiere of Mia Chung’s …

Steppenwolf's LookOut Series Announces Concert Reading with Co-Founder Jeff Perry and Broadway Legends

20 June 2017 in Upcoming Theatre

Steppenwolf’s LookOut Series is excited to announce a surprise summer performance of Standup Shakespeare: A Concert Reading with music by…

Moby Dick is a spectacular physical theatre experience

19 June 2017 in Theatre in Review

Winner of four Jeff Awards, including Best Production, and fresh off a national tour, Moby Dick, adapted and directed by…

The King and I at Oriental Theatre a true theatrical gem

18 June 2017 in Theatre in Review

Oriental Theatre is currently housing one of the finest productions of The King and I that you will ever see.…

Always On Our Mind - Willie Nelson and Family Live at Ravinia

17 June 2017 in In Concert

“You were always on my mind …You were always on my mind” Summer warmth and clear skies are finally here.…

 

 August 4th and 5th!

 

 

10 Years! Fave Issue Covers

Register

Latest Articles

Guests Online

We have 39 guests and no members online

Buzz Chicago on Facebook Buzz Chicago on Twitter