I really enjoy seeing shows at Lifeline Theatre partly because they always have very cool and complex sets that they make the most of and partly because of the unique little touches they add to make the theatre more user-friendly, like a shuttle to take you to their free parking lot in a neighborhood where finding parking right before show time can be impossible.
I also like the way they put blankets on each seat in case you get chilly during the show! They also have the most reasonably priced snacks ever in a theatre where a soda or snack only costs one dollar instead of three for a bottle of water and five for a bag of trail mix like at the bigger theatres. All these details along with consistently quality productions make this a very welcoming theatre space to frequent as well!
“Soon I will Be Invincible” is based on the book by Austin Grossman and this dynamic production at Lifeline Theatre is no exception because set designers (Alan Donahue) and lighting (Becca Jeffords) have done a terrific job transforming the space into a multidimensional futuristic world with many visually exciting set, light and sound changes.
I thought the story would be more suited to young people and Comic Con nerds and in many ways the play was a comic book lover’s dream come true, but it also held a lot of interest for older playgoers in that it explored the psychological struggles of a team of superheroes who are past their prime and trying to make a comeback of sorts by saving the world once again from Dr. Impossible - played with a lot of great “evil” presence and humor by Phil Timberlake.
Fatale is a newbie to the superhero team, originally created by Dr. Impossible himself and is a replacement because one of their main members - Corefire- was missing in action and presumed dead. Fatale was played with great sensitivity and with a great singing voice by Christina Hall.
Fatale describes at length her sadness at not having an exciting and mythic “origin story” like the other super heroes. Fatale only remembers that she was in a car accident in Brazil and when she awoke had been implanted with a large numbers of bionic parts by Dr. Impossible. Fatale talks about the constant pain she is in from having all of these mismatched and unfixable, metal parts as part of her human/robotic clone body which I really think many of us older play goers also feel in our own bodies as we age and begin to lose our “superpowers” like running, playing certain sports and climbing stairs with ease, etc.
Also, the whole theme of wanting to “save the world” and trying and failing to do so over and over again is a theme many theatre goers of my generation identify with. Every day there is more news coverage of very real evil villains/people/ tyrants, but we as peaceful citizens with no apparent “superpowers” are thwarted from actually doing anything to help the victims around the world. Perhaps this is because of the “superpowers” to kill and destroy life that these criminals actually do have, including chemical warfare, heavy artillery, and now the prevalence of kidnapping, torture and rape (termed “child marriage” in third world countries), which is actually allowed by their judges and armed “police”.
I also enjoyed that the play introduces the element of magic as a power heretofore unrecognized by even the superheroes because it does not have the same clear destructive effects as a giant burning hot laser beam, for example.
In the end Fatale does help save the day and realizes that she is happy enough in the now moment to stop searching for her “origin story” and live amongst the superheroes with self-confidence and pride no matter whom she was originally created by or why.
I liked the songs in the play; I felt they really added a good flow and much more human and flowing emotional storytelling to what could have been an unpleasantly “robotic” and slightly stiff production in its execution.
I highly recommend this play for young and older viewers alike. I know that comic book enthusiasts will feel that they are seeing a rare treat created just for their enjoyment and others will appreciate the very important subtext in this play which is that you don’t have to be a successful “super heroine” twenty-four hours a day in order to feel good about yourself and whatever natural powers you do have for creating good in your life.
“Soon I will Be Invincible” is being performed at Lifeline Theatre through July 19th. For tickets and more information, visit www.lifelinetheatre.com.
If you are Jewish, you will especially appreciate and love this play which is full of biting humor and keen observations about how modern day Jews define themselves philosophically and how that vision of themselves plays out in their family relationships.
“Bad Jews” is set in a beautiful New York pied de Terre or studio apartment on the Upper West Side of New York bought by the parents of brothers Liam and Josh and they are being visited by relatives following the death of their beloved grandfather
Their first cousin Diane Feygenbaum is a rabbinical student with an Israeli boyfriend who insists on being called by her Hebrew name Daphna a has to share the studio with them for a few nights and is outraged by the fact that spoiled cousin Liam has actually missed his grandfather’s funeral because he lost his cell phone while skiing in Aspen.
During the course of the play we find out that Daphna is very intent on inheriting the gold Chai (Hebrew for the number 18, and symbol of Life) medallion necklace worn by her grandfather during the holocaust. In fact, he had to hide it under his tongue for two years in the Holocaust death camp he was kept in while the rest of his family members were killed. It turns out Liam has a plan to give the medallion to his “shiksa” girlfriend instead of an engagement ring just as his grandfather gave it to their grandmother 50 years prior.
A ferocious verbal fight breaks out and the true feelings of each cousin for the other and their Jewish values, or lack thereof, pour out with the fury and passion that sometimes occurs particularly after the death of a loved one.
Liam, played by Ian Paul Custer and Daphna played by Laura Lapidus are both hysterically on point in their portrayals. The fantastic monologues for these two characters, written to perfection by Harmon and well directed by Jeremy Wechsler are cutting but truthful, funny yet excruciatingly honest.
Non-Jews will find this play funny and full of Jewish stereotypes handled with great political correctness. Jews will see themselves in all their self hating and neurotic glory, with intelligence bursting at the seams.
I think Daphna could have been played with a little bit more compassion and a little less self righteous bitterness. At one point she mentions poignantly her education about the holocaust and her grandfather’s “tattoo’” or concentration camp number burned into his arm. We realize as an audience just how deeply touched and perhaps scarred emotionally a sensitive child is by being thoroughly exposed to the horrors of the holocaust at the tender age of 13 , as every Jewish child who studies for a bat mitzvah is required to do.
There are a lot of self-hating Jews out there. I was one of them for a while, in part because of the patriarchal and misogynistic attitudes towards women in the Old Testament that Liam brings up during the play to combat Daphna’s self righteous religious rants. Ironically, it took the realization that Jesus or “Yeshuah” (Jesus’ Hebrew name) was the greatest Rabbi, indeed the greatest Jew who ever walked the earth that made me the proud, comfortable, self loving Jew I am today.
The title by Harmon, “Bad Jews” is both eye catching and absolutely perfect because by the end of the play it is clear there are no bad Jews, only good Jews who are internally judging themselves or being judged by others too harshly.
Skillfully directed by Jeremy Wechsler, I highly recommend this thought provoking and hysterical piece of theater for its brilliant writing and two fantastic performances created lovingly and delivered with mind blowing rapid fire delivery by Lapidus and Custer.
“Bad Jews” is being performed at Theatre Wit through June 7th. I highly recommend this play. For tickets and other info visit www.theatrewit.org.
"Anna in the Afterlife" is a play based on author Richard Engling’s friendship and collaboration with Fern Chertkow, a dear longtime friend, writer, and colleague who took her own life in 1988.
There was so much in this play that I enjoyed in terms of its emotional themes and the exploration of what happens to your consciousness immediately after death. The play also admirably tries to answer the question of what happens after death if you commit suicide.
Richard Engling played himself in this production which I think was meant to be sort of an homage to the Woody Allen type of storytelling but unfortunately Engling’s writing is so much better than his acting ability for the stage that all of the very talented supporting actors were forced to sort of dance around him, helping him into each moment on stage instead of playing the characters directly to each other as trained actors normally would.
The stage and lighting design were lovely to look at and helped define the storyline which jumped around in time a little too often to follow the main idea of the play. Literally jumping back in time to meeting his friend in Paris then back to his struggles in the afterlife then to visit all three splintered personalities of his friend as a little girl, young woman and deceased spirit, became very confusing after a while but were still interesting and evocative scenes in and of themselves.
The play in its current state can be moving at times and even has the ability to connect with its audience in areas particularly if you have recently lost a loved one and can easily identify with the soul searching and guilt that seems to universally accompany any death. Anna in the Afterlife might hit home especially if a friend or family member has suffered from cancer or another painful disease or has taken their own life.
The play definitely needs a rewrite though to make it more comprehensible as there is much to learn from this piece and many interesting ideas to ponder about grieving and the nature of life and death and consciousness. Also, Engling should step outside of the next production and cast a really talented and mature stage actor who can play his life in such a way so that we feel more compassion for his character’s flaws and struggles.
Directed by Susan Padveen, Anna in the Afterlife is playing at the Greenhouse Theatre Center through May 24th. For tickets and/or more information visit http://greenhousetheater.org/.
Buzz News Chicago's Kimberly Katz speaks with Wayward Pines star Matt Dillon at C2E2 on the new Fox series directed by M. Night Shayamalan.
Buzz News' Kimberly Katz talks with M. Night Shayamalan at C2E2 in Chicago on his new Fox series Wayward Pines starring Matt Dillon
I truly adore anything with Cole Porter’s amazing music performed as well as the cast at The Marriott Theatre. Porter’s songs “I Get a Kick Out of You”, “You’re the Top”, “Easy to Love” and “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” are lovingly performed and choreographed to perfection.
“Anything Goes” is the still fresh and funny tale of a group of passengers setting sail for romance and adventure on a spectacular ocean liner from New York to London. When some of the passengers complain to the Captain there are not enough celebrities on board, the Captain realizes that even criminal celebrities are exciting enough to qualify and invites the two “infamous crooks” on board to dine at his table to appease the rest of the guests hunger for drama and notoriety.
Stephanie Binetti (who plays the siren Reno Sweeney) is absolutely sensational in this role. I loved that she was more glamorous than strident, less Ethel Merman and more Liza Minelli, as it were.
Jameson Cooper as Billy Crocker started out a little bit lukewarm in my eyes but after he warmed up and performed his beautiful, heartfelt rendition of “So Easy to Love”, he really won me over. One could certainly see how Cooper as Billy Crocker can so easily charm Hope Harcourt, played by the lovely Summer Naomi Smart, with his genuinely romantic and earthy interpretation of these classic lyrics.
I never get tired of the dynamic and original staging in the round at The Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. This makes the big dance numbers (which there are plenty of) especially rich. Having the large cast move up and down the aisles throughout the show makes every single seat in this intimate playhouse a great seat!
Moonface Martin is played with amazing comic timing by Ross Lehman. At the same time, Moonface’s blonde bombshell moll, Erma, played by Alexandra E. Palkovic, adds just the right of amount of real old time sex appeal to this show.
I highly recommend this fun, soaring production of one of Broadways’ most beloved shows for the entire family, especially for young people who have never been exposed to the wonder and magic of well done theater in the round!
“Anything Goes” is being performed at The Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire through May 31st. For tickets and/or more show information, visit http://www.marriotttheatre.com/show/anything-goes.
From the moment actor Anthony Crivello as Jazz great, Louis Prima, is wheeled onto the stage on a hospital bed speaking to us from a coma, and snaps his fingers to begin the story of his life, the audience is absolutely enthralled by his manic yet superbly commanding presence until the last moment of the show 90 minutes later.
“Live at the Sahara” looks like another hit for very talented producer, Hershey Felder. Academy Award Winning director and writer Taylor Hackford and writers Jake Broder, and Vanessa Stewart have written a fast moving, compelling 90 minute version of Prima’s life beginning when his big band goes out of style and Prima reinvents his act by taking on a seventeen-year-old songbird he renames Keely Smith.
Vanessa Claire Stewart not only helped write this dynamite and very entertaining and touching true love story, she also stars beautifully and believably as the modernly talented Keely Smith.
The show is packed with Prima and Keely hit songs from their once very successful Vegas cabaret act performed with his over the top enthusiasm and her cool cat like deadpan nonchalance like, “What is This Thing Called Love”, “I Can’t Believe Your In Love With Me”, “Hey Boy, Hey Girl”, “Night Train”, “Ai,Ai,Ai” and of course their most famous “That Ol’ Black Magic”.
Prima helped Keely become a star then deeply resented and even hated her for it. Keely gave him two daughters and helped him completely revive his sagging career with her wonderful voice and youthful, ahead of her time hipster energy, but in the final analysis Prima cheated on her and drove her into the arms of friend and producer Frank Sinatra (played with swagger by Paul Perroni). Erin Mathews was a delight in her many ensemble roles as Keely’s mom and later as the many women who came between Keely and Prima.
I loved the seven-piece band that played the entire show onstage and became part of the play many times. The staging and costumes were true to period but I got the feeling this is just a build up for what should be a very nice, large Broadway show in the future. I wanted to see more of the duo in their complete stage act, about ten minutes more and more of the supporting characters. Also, I felt the show and script were so interesting, detailed and well written that there could have been a nice twenty-minute intermission without disturbing the flow at all. It actually makes Crivello’s performance even more impressive that he maintained his energy at such a high level almost nonstop.
Anthony Crivellos’ performance really has Tony Award written all over it (he previously won a Tony Award for best featured actor as Valentin in Kiss of the Spider Woman). Crivello is so full of Prima’s hard to copy musical manic energy and rhythms it was mind blowing to watch. In the final scene where Prima has lost Keely, and his second family of daughters and suffered a heart attack leaving him comatose for three years before his death, Crivello sings another version of “Just a Gigolo” with a heart breaking and teeth grinding pathos that just shakes the audience to its core, making you realize his own tragic fatal flaw was written by him in this song years earlier.
“Just a gigolo, everywhere I go
People know the part I'm playing
Paid for every dance
Selling each romance
Every night some heart betraying
There will come a day
Youth will pass away
Then what will they say about me
When the end comes I know
They'll say just a gigolo
As life goes on without me”
Throughout Prima’s life, his friends and the women who loved him tried to convince him to settle down into the gift of family life but his ego and desire to be the sole STAR, even at the expense of his own wife’s devoted love and friendship, ruin every opportunity for healthy continuity.
Prima tried and failed to be a Svengali to one more young songstress after driving Keely way for good but never realized that Keely was his once in a lifetime, irreplaceable, creative soul mate.
I highly recommend seeing “Louis and Keely, Live at the Sahara”, it is a solidly written, dynamically played production that is filled with great classic music and a true life story of genius and showbiz both victorious and tragic.
“Louis and Keely, Live at the Sahara is playing at Royal George Theatre on an open ended run. For tickets and show info visit http://www.theroyalgeorgetheatre.com/.
Title and Deed is a one man show, a 65 minute monologue delivered on a bare stage with a few subtle lighting changes and the gentle rolling of the lead actor’s wheelchair to signal movement throughout the play. Will Eno’s writing is often compared to Beckett but I found Eno’s work to be much more sensitive, compassionate and outright funny than Beckett’s plays.
Chicago actor, Michael Patrick Thornton, (one of the founders of The Gift Theatre Co.) is brilliantly cast in the role of the “Traveler” from another world who is traveling feeling estranged from his own homeland, hoping that “the change of locale that comes with international air travel will somehow change him”.
Thornton is confined to a wheelchair - although the play does not call for the use of a wheelchair, and once seeing the play with him at the helm, one cannot imagine the play succeeding as well in its message without the lead character being disabled. Thornton has a remarkable sense of humor and a sad voice, rough with heartfelt regret, which lobs Eno’s long poetic sentences at the audience with a casual yet thoughtful pinpoint accuracy that evoked laughter and sometimes tears in a way that a lesser actor could not achieve. I was totally surprised to find out that the play was not written to be played by an actor in a wheelchair because much of the understanding we feel towards the Traveler comes naturally from seeing a young-ish man confined to a wheelchair - not from seeing a poor wanderer describing his mother’s death and his alienation from the world now that he has no real connection to his home and it’s joyful traditions.
We all know instantly when we see the young man rolling up the small hill to the stage that because he is in a wheelchair he has suffered permanent and irreversible losses regarding his own lifestyle. It almost doesn’t make sense to me to see this play cast with an actor without the wheelchair because so much of the truth about the character is implied and is true about the alienation from daily life, the shrinking of your whole world and fortune, which occurs when you are permanently disabled.
I absolutely adored Eno’s sparing, yet lyrical use of words. What rolls off Thornton’s tongue like ear candy, comes off as true poetry, prose poetry, and paints vibrant, multidimensional scenes in your mind without the use of any set pieces, a painted backdrop or even additional characters.
Eno describes life as basically a “series of funerals” and perfectly describes the universality of how human life begins, “We all come from blood and saltwater and a screaming mother begging us to leave." I actually nodded in agreement and sensed a strong group nod from the entire audience - or as the traveler called us “a clump” of humans gathered to hear him speak - when he said we all know that feeling that life begins triumphantly, but as we lose more and more of the people who constitute our memories of what “home” is, we experience"the human cannonball feeling at the beginning; the sickening thump at the end."
Before the play, I had recently flown to attend the funeral of a very close immediate family member and was not in the mood for something that addressed the issue of death in any way - but I was won over and in the end transformed by the self denigrating humor, common sense and hopeful poetic beauty of this piece.
There was a tremendously universal line in the script, just a heartbreaking and truthful line when the traveler describes the last moment of his mother’s life in the hospital room, “her voice made this sound, this horrible raspy sound and … she just wasn’t my mother anymore.”
I literally walked in to this production feeling shaken with grief, trembling inside, feeling all alone while trying to make sense of my sudden and recent loss but left feeling that everyone in the mostly middle aged or older audience and indeed everyone in the world must be suffering from many of the same deeply depressing feelings and thoughts.
I highly recommend seeing this extraordinarily written and performed production especially when you are feeling that “life is a series of funerals until the last funeral which is your own” because Eno has created a powerful and profoundly funny monologue about self acceptance, life and compassion which has a very healing effect.
Title and Deed is being performed at Lookingglass Theatre through May 3rd. For tickets and/or more show information visit http://lookingglasstheatre.org/.
The Royal Society of Antarctica is a very unique story that comes equipped with a powerful cast and a rich blend of humor, drama and intrigue that constantly move the play forward without the interest lulls you would think would be found in a three act show with a two hour and fifty-five minute run time. Playwright Mat Smart’s world premiere takes place at the intimate Gift Theatre in Jefferson Park where its forty-something cramped seats (unless you are sitting in the first row) actually adds to the overall intimate experience. The set, though simple, creates a potent illusion of a base site interior used as cover for its workers at the bottom of the world where temperatures are always below freezing and winds can pick up to 100-plus degrees in the right circumstances. We feel cozy and warm in our seats and protected from the cold as the characters feel the same when they enter set from the outside dangerous wintry conditions.
In The Royal Society of the Antarctica, twenty-something Dee returns to her birthplace at the McMurdo Station in Antarctica to seek answers to her mother’s suspicious disappearance that took place when she was a child. Surrounding Dee’s investigation, many characters are also focused upon with their own back stories. The team is comprised of janitors, utility technicians, scientists and food workers. Workers are at the station for several month engagements at a time. As one worker puts it – the first year you are there for the adventure, the second, you are there to see their friends again, the third, it’s probably for the money and if you come back for a fourth year it’s because you no longer fit in with normal society. We see the latter in the social awkwardness displayed by some of the characters. We also find some are there to run from their past.
Considered something of an untouchable holy ground due to its purity and the global agreement not to tarnish its earth by chemicals or otherwise, there is a certain magic present that cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Strict rules are in place to safeguard the sanctity of the land. The sun and snow are so bright it can create a blinding effect and if a blizzard occurs, one could get permanently lost just walking twenty feet due to its zero visibility. Temperatures are so low limited skin exposure is dangerous. A hole in the ozone sits directly above them making it unsafe to remove their sunglasses for even just a minute. Daytime lasts for months followed by endless night time.
There is a collection of strong acting performances that help in bringing this story to life headed by Paul D’Addario as “UT Tom” and Aila Peck as “Dee”. Jay Worthington is a blast to watch as “UT Tim”, the animated utility tech and team lead, while John Kelly Connolly is flawless as “Ace”, a man who has visited each continent, had sex on each continent and strives to be the first to have sex on each continent with someone native to that continent. Kyle Zornes also gets a lot of laughs with his deadpan delivery as “Jake”, the love-stricken science researcher who just can’t seem to get it right.
As Smart puts it, “I went to the bottom of the world to find this play—working as a janitor for three months at McMurdo Station in Antarctica. It’s perfect that it will premiere in my hometown at The Gift.”
All in all, The Royal Society of Antarctica is an entertaining experience with a distinctiveness to be remembered, opening up a new world that for most would likely go undiscovered.
The Royal Society of Antarctica is playing at The Gift Theatre through April 26th. Visit www.thegifttheatre.org for show information or call 773-283-7071
*Photo - Jay Worthington (left) as UT TIm and Aila Peck as Dee
Marie Antoinette by David Adjmi opens with a spectacular video presentation of the massive gardens and castle of Versailles along with a full on catwalk style fashion show by the queen, her girlfriends and the rest of the royal cast. I loved the staging of this show by a six person design team including Clint Ramos (scenic design), Dede Ayite (costume design), Dave Bova (hair and wig design), Japhy Weideman (lighting design), Lindsay Jones (sound and composition) and Jeff Sugg (projection design). The mirrored stage, combined with giant Vegas style flowers above it and the ever changing video projections worked together wonderfully to give us a glimpse of the largesse and majesty of that time period. Truly, the fashion of the time was something that separated the rich from the poor but also enslaved those able to afford it because it was impossible to dress and style yourself without a huge staff.
Alana Arenas is stunning as Marie Antoinette and does a great job portraying the doomed queen with both biting sarcasm and the occasional childlike grasp of the violent events unfolding all around her and because of her but not within her control at all. She, like the rest of royalty, is completely out of touch with the real world. We really see this as they try to pass as farmers during their escape after revolutionaries have taken over yet they are completely incapable of holding a normal conversation with approaching peasants (worse yet, they actually try to flee in the royal carriage thinking no one will notice them!). It is also very interesting to see the many parallels from Marie Antoinette that exist today, such as the inappropriate distribution of wealth, power in the hands of people that should not have it and the lack of power in those that should.
I like that Adjmi mentions twice in the play that Marie was only 14 years old when she was married to the imbecile King Louis the Louis XVI (Tim Hopper) – because most people assume she was an adult when she entered the realm of marriage and politics which was not true. You can really see in his text how similar the situation is for celebrities and their children today that their every move is first exalted and then diminished and eventually degraded as the social and political climes about them change. It is also pointed out how gross the invasion of privacy is when a human being feels they cannot even leave the confines of their home or do anything normal in public at all without it being analyzed and ridiculed by thousands of strangers whose opinions should not matter at all.
In a way we all have a little Marie Antoinette in us, that confused and excited teenager who is thrust into adult circumstances and is forced to “conform and perform” or sink under the weight of disappointment of family and society around us if we do not produce the hoped for successes in finances and family life, i.e. having children.
I highly recommend this elegant, eye popping and thoroughly modern interpretation of the life of a woman who was born and bred not to have her own life but the life prescribed for her by her parents and their political advisors.
Tickets and information:
When: Now through May 10, 2015
Where: Steppenwolf Upstairs Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted St.
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