Becky, a 17 year old, played by Rae Gray, is involved with the death of a mentally handicapped friend at a party in Massachusetts. She is sent to visit for one week with her reclusive uncle, Sterling, played by William Petersen, at his cabin in a remote jungle in Costa Rica.
Greg Pierce has written a near perfect two-character play with a brisk 90-minute running time with no intermission. The dialogue is funny and touching in turns but never falls into melodrama or even sentimentality. During the course of the play we learn that Sterling is also struggling to forgive himself for a financial crime that caused a friend to be incarcerated for 15 years, by hiding out in the jungle. Sterling justifies his jungle lifestyle with daily meditation/penance by walking the path of his own man made labyrinth.
William Petersen’s performance is subtle and well crafted at the same time, Petersen acts with his whole body, from head to toe, his every hand gesture is rich with meaning and humor. Even Petersen’s silences onstage resonate passionately with the fullness of a seasoned actor whose senses have thankfully not been dulled by the 10-year stint on his hit TV show CSI.
Rae Gray does a great job of holding her own opposite Petersen in a demanding role. Gray has good comic timing and handles the more difficult scenes with sensitivity and intelligence.
The sound design is wonderful and becomes a sort of third character in the show, as the sounds of the jungle and it’s creatures remind Sterling and Becky about the great power of nature, life and death and destiny that is beyond their control.
The most rewarding part about this production is the way it unfolds and it’s message about self forgiveness creeps up on you without hitting you over the head like an after school special.
The spaciousness and sparing exactness in which “Slowgirl” was written allows the audience room to consider instances in their own lives that required huge leaps of understanding and compassion to overcome. “Slowgirl” gently and easily leads the audience to feel that forgiveness, no matter what the circumstance, no matter how late, is always practical if not mystical and always possible.
“Slowgirl” is playing in Steppenwolf’s upstairs theatre through September 1st. For tickets and/or more information, visit www.steppenwolf.org.
TBS Just For Laughs
The crowd at The Chicago Theater Just for Laughs Festival welcomed Russell Brand with a warm roar much like they would a rock star. Although Brand reissued much of his old material in the show he also got some huge laughs working the crowd spontaneously and on a bit about outdated Illinois laws.
Brand has an astute, yet poetic grasp on the issues of politics as they relate to the exploitation of the masses including Gays, women and minority issues. Brand also delivered some great material about Hitler’s class photo and Che Guevara.
But his most entertaining bits were about sexuality.
"I worship women," he said. "I see them as my way back to God. There is power in the elegance of female sexuality."
Along those lines, I actually thought his riff on “Ass Jazz for the ladies” was very positive and feministic in nature.
“Referring to a woman’s anus as “a perfect aperture, so delicate and sweet it could’ve been penned by Walt Disney, so perfectly sanitary it could dispense nothing more toxic than little pink tic-tacs,” he went on to demonstrate and sing his sexual tactic of “Ass Jazz” on a lady and her beautiful screams of pleasure. Then Brand states how unfair it is to women that the guy then says to his lady turning his ass to face her,” My turn!” and began belching out German Oompah music instead of Jazz.
Russell Brands comments on Jesus “being a nice, mellow guy who was all about kindness to women and promoting peace and love but who has been misappropriated by Christians and Catholics” was right on the money.
I would have liked to hear more comedy penned about The Messiah in his tour branded The Messiah Complex. That joke reminded me of the classic Jesus joke penned by Woody Allen in Hannah and Her Sisters, “If Jesus Christ came back to earth today and saw all of the evil that was being done in his name, he would never stop throwing up.”
At one point Russell left the stage and had the house lights turned up so he could search the crowd for an available lady to sleep with, “You might be a woman from the Chicago area thinking ‘oh, I’d love to have sex with Russell Brand but he’s so erudite and great I’m probably not good enough for him.’ Give it a shot. You probably are good enough. Have some confidence in yourself!”
Then saying to one woman who jumped up at him, “No, not you, no reason to plead or push, it’s already been decided (waving his hands over his crotch area) down here!”
Russell Brands freewheeling, psychedelic, high energy style of comedy and delivery is very much what younger generations need in order to enlighten them in a funny way to all of the ways they are being repressed sexually, spiritually and financially by our government, mass media and organized religions. My only suggestion for him is that he take some time now to write more into his Messiah Complex material about the Messiah.
2013 Back to Bass Tour at Ravinia, IL - Sting and his musicians effortlessly delivered another satisfying performance of his stripped down “Back to Bass Tour”, playing his music spanning 25 years. Sting was joined by his longtime guitarist Dominic Miller, Vinnie Colaiuta (drums), David Sancious (keyboards) Peter Tickell (electric fiddle), and Jo Lawry (vocals).
It was a beautiful, crisp night under the stars at Ravinia Park and Sting charmed the mostly middle aged, wine drinking, Highland Park crowd with straightforward yet heartfelt renditions of most of his greatest hits. Sting opened with “If I Ever Lose My faith in You” and kept it going with a strong set list that included “Demolition Man”, “Message in A Bottle”, “Shape of My Heart”, De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da” AND “Roxanne” before coming out for encores “King of Pain”, “Every Breath You Take”, “Next To You” and “Fragile”.
At 61, Sting looks fit as ever in his skinny jeans, flashing us all a great “gun show” under his short sleeved t-shirt, but the best thing about this concert was Sting’s voice, still strong, rich, full and capable of hitting all the high and low notes including his trademark howls and growls.
Each of Sting’s current minimalist rock band lineups continue to perform to the high level of perfection he demands. Peter Tickell, a 23-year-old prodigy from the UK, delivered a mind bendingly complex, fast and furious electric fiddle solo that made me laugh out loud with wonder at his youthful skills.
Sting first started this tour back in 2011 and now he is making another go round with it before releasing his first new album in 10 years, titled "The Last Ship", which will be released on Universal Music Group's Polydor Records. The Last Ship will feature 12 songs and be produced by Rob Mathes.
Even more exciting Sting news is that he will be bringing a musical production with the same name to Broadway next year. Sting (Gordon Mathew Sumner) spent nearly three years working on the story that is focused on relationships, family, and community, collaborating with Joe Mantello, the director of the hit musical "Wicked" and John Logan, co-writer of the latest James Bond film "Skyfall".
Sting seems to bend time and the quickly passing years in his favor picking up “The Back to Bass Tour” exactly where he left off in 2011 as if to say to his fans – “Get your fill of my hits, I’m still here playing rock and roll but next year I will treat you to something new and I hope you will welcome it as much as you welcome my classic catalogue.”
No word yet on if Sting will be performing in his Broadway production but I have always considered him a fine actor on a par with another brilliantly gifted, rocker and songwriter, David Bowie (The Elephant Man).
Sting fans can’t miss by seeing the Back to Bass Tour 2013 again when it hits their towns over the next 8 weeks; it is a warm, fun evening of solid hit music sure to satisfy hungry Sting fans from every generation.
In the meantime, Ravinia Park is a fantastic place to see some of our favorite musical artists and 2013 has a great schedule which includes The Go-Go’s, Journey, Jewel, Matchbox 20, The B-52’s, Natalie Cole and so many more. Be sure to check out the show listing at http://ravinia.org/. And if you are in Chicago, don’t forget that Ravinia is one short Metra ride away and you are literally dropped off at the front gate.
“Still Alice” tells the story of a highly intelligent, respected Northwestern professor of linguistics and cognitive psychology who begins having the symptoms of early onset Alzheimer’s at the age of 49. At first, she has small problems of forgetfulness, and attributes them to menopause but after getting lost on a morning run and then going to work at 4AM in her pajamas, Alice realizes that she is losing all of the memories that make her who she is as a person.
The play directed by Christine Mary Dunford, which was adapted from the bestselling book by a Harvard trained neuroscientist, Lisa Genova, seems light and humorous at the start but effectively brings the audience directly into the center of Alice’s own family life and experiences as she begins the long, dark journey not into madness but into something that feels much worse, the absence of self, almost an animal like existence of childlike dependence on those around her.
Dunford introduces a very effective character called “Herself” who is dressed like Alice and represents her inner monologue. At one point Alice and “herself” sit center stage like two ragdolls with their arms wrapped around each other and Alice asks if “herself” will remember her when all of her memories are gone, Herself hugs Alice and says, “I will always remember you, I LIKE you!”
I was also impressed with the way the play dealt with the idea of suicide in the face of this monstrous disease. After progressing in a relatively short time to a point where Alice can not remember her own daughter right after seeing her perform onstage Alice writes a computer note to herself named “ butterfly”. The file instructs Alice that if she can no longer answer four simple questions like where do you live, and how many children do you have, she is to go to a drawer in the living room and swallow of the pills she finds in there and go to sleep without telling anyone. But by the time she finds the “butterfly” file Alice and “herself” have digressed so badly that they cannot follow the simple instructions.
This play really shows the impact and horror of this type of “forgetting” on the family as they struggle to spend meaningful time with their still young and otherwise healthy mother who is quickly becoming lost and frustrated in a world with no meaning like a child. A poignant and striking example of this is when Alice runs back into her house to use the bathroom before jogging with her husband but ends up wetting herself because she can not remember where the bathroom is in her own house.
Eva Barr who plays Alice does a wonderful job of playing the athletic, super intelligent “everywoman” who is totally caught unaware by the devastating progression of her disease. Maryann Mayberry who plays “Herself” does so with a great sense of humor and wonder as the young healthy mind inside of us all that rails against the odd behaviors as they begin to occur with greater frequency. Christopher Donahue who plays Alice’s husband gives us a wonderful, compassionate and subtle performance as the beleaguered husband whose wife he adores is slipping into full-blown senility before his very eyes.
I highly recommend this sparing, tight and effective production for audiences young and old who will most likely be dealing with Alzheimer’s care giving or treatment for some family member at some point in their lives. “Still Alice” doesn’t just set out the tragedy of early onset Alzheimer’s, it inspires one to truly appreciate and deeply consider the essential value of our memories and most simple cognitive abilities for quality of life at every age in our lives regardless of career success or financial wellbeing.
+Still Alice” is playing at Lookingglass Theatre through May 19th. For more information, visit www.lookingglasstheatre.org.
South Pacific is still a great musical full of wonderful romance and social commentary about racism that is important for young and old to experience today and I was thoroughly impressed with this warm, happy, romantic interpretation of the classic show.
I reviewed a larger production of this show last summer but found it lacking in the romance and joy that this cast brought to the show in spades.
All of the voices in this production were outstanding. Stephen R. Buntrock as “Emile de Becque” really played the role nicely with a good sense of humor and his vocal numbers soared with great feeling and the experience of a seasoned pro bringing the entire audience under the spell of new and intoxicating island romance.
Elizabeth Lanza as the down to earth “hick” “Ensign Nellie Forbush” was a joy to watch.
Lanza also has a great voice and her enthusiastic, good natured portrayal of Nellie falling in love with De Becque during “( I’m in Love with) A Wonderful Guy” was exactly the type of joyful, naïve, and honest portrayal of true love and excitement that the play needs to counter the heavy nature of the tragedy of war.
Bethany Thomas was absolutely stunning as “Bloody Mary”. Bethany Thomas’ vocals are rich and impressive and she iss able to both hit the high notes and get the laughs in this role, which can be heavy handed if not approached just the way she did, with more warmth than anger and a hopeful mother’s dream of marriage for her daughter “Liat”.
The set design, by Thomas M Ryan is a delicious tropical island in the round with low hanging palm trees and soft pools of light. The set was a delight to behold and immediately placed the entire audience right in the middle of the warm tropical heat and action from the moment the play began.
Few other musicals actually open with the leads falling in love at first sight to magical, unmatched quintessential lyrics like:
Some enchanted evening
When you find your true love,
When you feel her call you
Across a crowded room,
Then fly to her side,
And make her your own
Or all through your life you
May dream all alone
I highly recommend seeing the Marriott Theatre in Licolnshire’s production of South Pacific for the many wonderful vocal performances of spectacular songs like “Some Enchanted Evening”, “Bali Hai” and “Younger than Springtime” and also for the wonderfully warm, inviting and joyful interpretation of this enduring classic about true love.
South Pacific is playing at Marriott Theatre (10 Marriot Drive, Lincolnshire) is playing through June 2nd. For more information visit http://www.marriotttheatre.com
Fela! is based on the biography of Fela Kuti, a Nigerian superstar singer, musician, and composer who became an iconic spokesman for the country's underclass against the brutal and corrupt Nigerian military government in the 1970s and 80s.
Playing at the Arie Crown Theatre in McCormick Place through Saturday, Fela! is a magnificent show that should be seen and celebrated by everyone.
The first thing that really blew me away about this show is the incredibly beautiful and sensual style of dancing with the live onstage drummers and band to delicious expressive music termed "Afro Beat".
I've said in the past that the very best dancers are also very expressive actors, and the entire cast of dancers in FELA are absolutely in this A+ class. Directed and choreographed by Bill T. Jones, each dancer shows such remarkable individuality and style. While other musicals are increasingly strict and rigid in their dance styles, FELA's dancers remain completely free and unique, almost as if they are dancing for their freedom and the freedom of Nigeria's underclass right now on America's stages.
Adesola Osakalumi is absolutely electric as the Nigerian icon, Fela, and gifted vocalist Michelle Willaims of Destiny's Child is a stunning addition as Sandra, one of Fela's true influences during his formative years.
I really think everyone, young and old should see FELA! to realize how horrific it is for anyone to live under a military regime, and that in some ways we as Americans are also being held down and manipulated by our own government's corruption on many levels of our daily lives.
There are a few terrifying and powerful scenes though that should be explained to younger viewers in advance, like the 12 year old girl sitting next to me with her mom who needed consoling after the show.
When Fela Kuti describes his brutal interrogation by the police and says, "See this blade? It is to slice up your face. See this broken glass? Well, it is to shove up your A--!"
Later, when Fela's family camp is surrounded by 1000 police officers, who then proceed to gang rape and torture Fela and his wives and throw Fela's mother to her death from an upper story window, it is portrayed as calmly as possible but is still very disturbing, as it should be.
I have already made plans to see FELA! For a second time because the music and dancing and message of overcoming unspeakable violence and human rights violations is so uplifting and empowering.
FELA! produced by Jay Z and Will and Jada Smith, is a MUST SEE and of all the shows I personally have seen in Chicago this year, FELA, really is the most exciting and important of all by far in terms of music and dance originality and political relevance for the entire nation.
I do love all the standard holidays shows and music that come with the season but there comes a point where I feel overloaded by all the sticky sweet extravaganzas and tearjerkers and just want to laugh my ass off. That is when I head straight to Mary's Attic for a good dose of the campy, mind-opening fare that director/composer David Cerda always serves up in style.
2012 is the fifteenth anniversary of Cerda's camp classic that Chicago audiences have come to know and love that spoofs the 1964 “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” TV special. This prancy Rudolph is a reindeer who wears red hose under his coveralls and is picked on for being neither gay enough for the other gay vogue-ing reindeer, nor straight enough for the bucks who pull Santa’s sleigh. With hilarious yet meaningful songs like "They'll Hate You If You're Different", "Christmas Makes Me Bitter" and "If You Want To Catch A Man, Don't be Yourself! (You've got to HO HO HO it.)" “Red Hosed Reindeer” successfully conveys the message, and makes everyone in the audience feel, that "Being Normal - isn't normal at all!"
Ed Jones steals the show as a sex starved, drunken, Mrs. Claus, desperately eating pills out of Santa's hand and then again later in the show in a mind-blowingly funny Cher impersonation as “The Drag Beast”. Wide-eyed and lithe dancer/singer Alex Grelle as “Rudolph” is also fantastically funny. The audience never knows whether “Rudolph” is just a cross dressing reindeer or gay, which I like because it shows that there is a lot of hyper-criticism in the gay community, too - pressure from all sides to be "normal". I also loved Santa’s mournful, lusty rendition of “(God) I Miss Her So" when Mrs. Claus finally makes her escape from Santa’s verbal abuse and philandering with female reindeer.
As always, Cerda’s productions comes complete with a large, tremendously funny cast, well-dressed in outrageous costumes, and show stopping musical numbers.
If you are a little tired of all the shows and commercials endlessly pushing the perfect family and picture postcard presentations down your throat - then run, skip or sashay - don't walk - to catch one of the performances of “Rudolph The Red Hosed Reindeer” at Mary's Attic in Andersonville this year. You will leave feeling like a million “bucks”… have just helped you with your makeup and hair and declared you fabulously ab-normal!!
For tickets and information visit www.handbagproductions.org.
Looking for a fun way to get you and your family into the Christmas spirit? Look no further – The Radio City Spectacular at Rosemont’s Akoo Theatre featuring the Rockettes pulls out all the stops. From singing Christmas favorites to the dazzling famed New York chorus line, this show has your Christmas fun covered.
The show begins with the classic holiday hit, “Sleigh Ride”, as the Rockettes are dressed in reindeer leggings and antlers as they prepare to pull Santa’s sleigh. Jumping from one festive scene to another, the show also features the Radio Hall Singers and of course, Santa Claus himself.
The production includes incredibly original and unique versions of many Christmas favorites including “The Twelve Days of Christmas”, “Here Comes Santa Claus”, “The Nutcracker” and “Joy to the World”. Numbers are complimented with magnificent screen displays in the background, amazing costumes and imaginative choreography including “The Parade of the Wooden Soldiers” where the Rockettes incredible dancing concludes with the illusion of the full line soldiers all collapsing in perfect slow motion into each others arms after a silent cannon blast.
There was a great slide show presentation with the full illustrious history of the Rockettes and how the Radio City Music Hall was saved from destruction by their unwavering popularity with audiences. The current lineup of Rockettes are all amazingly gifted dancers, the caliber of their dancing ability in all forms including tap and ballet is still unmatched par none.
My favorite number was “New York at Christmas”, which featured a marvelous moving double-decker bus and I Max screen illusion wherein the audience and Rockettes are driven around a romantic and snowy white New York City at Christmas time. I used to live in Manhattan and it really brought back such beautiful stunning memories of ice skating in Central Park and watching the lighting of the tree at Rockefeller Center, pure magic!
Also, “The Living Nativity”, which created the illusion of a vast star lit, celestial night sky above the stage while the audience watch the three wise astrologers cross the desert following the brightest star to Jesus birth was brilliantly and reverently performed.
It was also a special delight for me to observe the many little girls in the audience watching these fantastic dancers with awe, obviously studying dance themselves. I saw the show the same day as the tragic shooting of schoolchildren in Connecticut and found this incredibly entertaining and joyous performance the perfect way to be reminded of the beauty of humanity and the power of dance, singing and theatre to give real hope to our nation's children for a safe and peaceful future.
The Radio City Christmas Spectacular will be playing at The Akoo Theatre through December 30th. Be sure to check it out if you can!
I just love Jeff Garlin's work. It was really great to see him in his second two week run at Steppenwolf Theater here in Chicago titled, "Closer Than I Appear", a year after his sold out run there with "No Sugar Tonight".
Each show started out with Jeff telling the audience they probably expected that since he was appearing at Steppenwolf, a theater known for it's serious, polished dramatic scripts that his comedy show would be something he had really written out and planned but then he warns the audience "I have prepared nothing. I'm relying on my wit." Garlin is a Chicago native, raised in Morton Grove and a Second City Alumna so when he relies on wit and improv based off the audience you really get a great taste of the genius underlying his "work in progress".
Half of the meaty 2 hour plus show was devoted to riffing off the audience including one couple he found out had flown in from Florida just for his show that night. "We call you gold," he said as he took out his wallet and reimbursed the couple for their Spirit air tickets in cash and gave them his own unused carry on bag as a souvenir.
Garlin is a Jew after my own heart when he chummily relates Hollywood insider secrets like how to know who's closeted in Hollywood based on which way the family picture on their desk faces. "The closeted executive has his family picture pointed outwards to impress his clients with his "beard"- the straight man wants his family's faces where he can see them all day."
Although Garlin's unique genius lies in his sometimes meandering stories that suddenly wind back and grab you after winding down several corridors you didn't see coming, like his description of all the stores in an absurdist shopping mall where one store would just have an "old man handing out bags of raisins for free". But his one liners still get me like "If Hostess had only gotten behind pot reform, they'd still be in business" or "I wish I could have raised my wife."
Garlin is happily married and I've read his wife makes him edit his act occasionally. I loved his joke about napping with young women. Garlin says he would never leave his wife but he still has a strong desire to take naps with pretty young women. "Just a nap, that's all I want to do with them - And let me tell you something, once a beautiful woman takes a nap with me, she never wants to nap with anyone else!" And on his weight, "I think overeating is the least sexy addiction. I mean think about it, if you drink or take drugs, you will still get laid. I've never seen a woman look at a fat guy and say, Oh man, I want that! I want to just climb on there and just bang the hell out of him - he must like Entenmann's as much as I do."
It is a great pleasure to hear him in this relaxed yet focused Steppenwolf setting performing and talking about the city he knows so well, "I consume everything Chicago!" and "The Reader gave me a bad review. F-ck the Reader."
There is something indescribably satisfying about the way he sort of rambles around for a bit then out of nowhere reels us back in, sometimes just by saying, "I lost you for about 20 minutes there. It's okay, I'm going to give the audience members with A-D-D a chance to escape early."
Garlin looks and is admittedly much healthier physically than he was last year but still jokes about his appearance wearing black jeans and a t- shirt by saying , I am the most comfortable comedian in show business, not the funniest- but the most comfortable. Experiencing him bouncing the audience on his comfy Chicago born lap for over two hours made me feel like I was at home with one of my funny uncles at Chanukah time. It was comfy AND funny, funny as it gets. I genuinely look forward to seeing his "work in progress" progressing comfortably again next year.
I love celebrating Halloween and seeing a live stage version of the Rocky Horror Picture Show is a
perfect way to do it.
Rocky Horror by Awkward pause Theatre Co. is a funny, stylish and sexy production. They will give you a bag of participation toys including rubber surgical gloves and wedding bubbles and instructions in case you are a virgin. If just haven't seen Rocky Horror in a while and have forgotten the great adlibs like shouting out “Asshole” at Brad or “Slut” at Janet, they have some plants in the audience to help you out. Seeing Rocky Horror performed live at classic Mayne Stage really brought back great memories of the first times I saw Rocky at the Biograph in Chicago and The Coconut Grove in Miami with my high school and college friends.
A live band brings all the favorite Rocky songs to life including the memorable “Time Warp”, “I’m Going Home”, “Damnit Janet” “Over at the Frankenstein Place” and the upbeat “Hot Patootie – Bless My Soul”. From the opening number “Science Fiction/Double Feature” it was apparent that this was going to be one of the better productions of Rocky Horror. The singing throughout was very good and the costumes were the perfect finishing touch.
Michael Buonincontro was absolutely fabulous as “Frankenfurter” and really took command of the stage from the moment he first appeared to his signature number “Sweet Transvestite”. Erin O’Shea and Corey Mills were tons of fun as “Brad” and Janet” while Megan Schemmel rocked as “Magenta” and Kevin Buswell did a great job as “Riff Raff”.
Richard O’Brien’s “The Rocky Horror Show” is playing select dates at Mayne Stage Theater through Halloween’s midnight performance. Mayne Stage is located at 1328 Morse Ave in Rogers Park. For more information, visit www.aukwardpausetheatre.com.
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