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Bill Esler

Bill Esler

A native Chicagoan, Bill Esler has been a printer and publisher for more than 35 years. He has B.A. in English with a concentration in writing from Knox College.  

In Ah Wilderness, Eugene O’Neill tackles the emotional struggles of an upper middle class family, with sibling rivalries and marital and romantic dynamics that ring true today.

Goodman Theatre’s current production struck gold, however, with Niall Cunningham - he's a TV star of Life in Pieces - in the lead role as a teenage boy struggling to establish his independence from his family, amid the discovery of romance.

The play is set on July 4, 1906, though it was written in 1932, and was said to be dashed off rather quickly by the playwriight. O’Neill is more familiar for his darker, plays like The Iceman Cometh, Mourning Becomes Electra, or Long Day’s Journey into Night. Ah Wilderness is a lighter affair, O’Neill’s only comedy and produced less frequently, it throws a different light on his mastery as a playwright.  

With a 15-member cast, Ah Wilderness centers on the tribulations of the 16-year-old Richard Miller (Niall Cunningham's role), whose fevered passions have been ignited by emotionally charged and sexually suggestive writing of Byron and Wilde. Their poetry was considered risqué in small town America. At the time the country was swept up in efforts at prohibition, driven by the rise of evangelical Protestantism and its view of saloon culture as corrupt and ungodly.

It’s a perfect summer play, set at a waterside cottage, and Ah Wilderness contrasts this young love with the unrequited passion by the teen’s Uncle, and the mature and settled love of his parents. The show is a major production, and Steve Scott’s direction is pitch perfect.

The big score, though, is Cunningham as a poetry-obsessed teenager who is driven to a night of rebellion, expressed in this case by accompanying a buddy of his older brother (Travis Knight plays that pretentious, pipe-smoking collegiate brother, Arthur Miller) to a bawdy house – where he drinks and gets himself into trouble.

Cunningham, 22 in real life, gives a most credible and informed performance to the conflicted teenager riddled with angst. He is butting against the newly found hypocrisy of everyday life, and has been driven off the edge when his young neighbor and romantic interest, Muriel McComber (Ayssette Muñoz) sends a Dear John letter. As we suspect, her father made her write it, and the two are later reconciled, with Shakespearean-flavored romantic jousting.   

The rest of the cast is evenly excellent. While the characters on some levels must play foils for Cunningham's Miller, O'Neill explores with some tenderness the seasoned love of the family patriarch (Randall Newsome as Nat Miller) and matriarch (Ora Jones is wonderful as Essie Miller), and that of the unrequited love of the maternal uncle (Larry Bates as Sid Davis) and paternal aunt (Kate Fry brings depth to Lily Miller).  

The set (Todd Rosenthal) is classic and beautifully portrays its time, while also functioning seamlessly (along with lighting by Aaron Spivey) to move us from scene to scene. Costumes (Amy Clark) are exquisitely detailed.

Ah, Wilderness!, which runs at the Goodman through July 23, shows off O'Neill's skillfulness and his ability to charm the audience. It is highly recommended.

One of the most striking presentations of a drama grounded in music is TimeLine Theatre’s Paradise Blue. It is not a musical, nor a review - rather it is a “jazz infused” production.

Powerful original music was composed by Orbert Davis, the founder of Chicago Jazz Philharmonic. The music has been recorded and is played as incidental and transitional themes in the play, giving it a strong supporting role but without overwhelming the production - akin to the role of the set.

Paradise Blue is set in 1949 in Detroit. It tells the story of a trumpeter, Blue (Al’Jaleel McGhee) running the Paradise nightclub in Detroit's Black Bottom neighborhood. As Detroit thrives in the post-war boom years, property values are rising and the area is a target for development.

Blue carries a lot of emotional baggage from a rough upbringing and the violent home life with his battling parents, a heartbreaking and tragic story revealed in the play, which leaves him orphaned, and haunted. Into this setting Morriseau brings a retinue of characters, and each one well-developed and memorable – which is quite an achievement: P-Sam (Charles Andrew Gardner), Corn (Ronald L Conner), and Pumpkin (Kristin E Ellis).

Those many strong characters do put a strain on the advance of the action, as we get a good deal of dialog about the background and aspirations of each. That is the kind of thing that could get balanced out in future productions which Paradise Blue clearly warrants. 

The play carries a noire styling, and this line is expressed with dynamic energy with the arrival of a mysterious stranger from New Orleans: Silver, played with amazing power by Tyla Abercrumbie. In fact, Abercrumbie's performance is so strong, she really stands out from the rest of the cast. She is exciting to watch from the moment she arrives and every second the spotlight is on her. Abercrumbie is also a pro, and balances the moments she plays opposite others, and doesn't overwhelm them - though I suspect she could. 

Unlike many plays about musicians, in this one the lead, Al’Jaleel McGhee, picks up a horn and blows. He plays intentionally weakly at one point, then gets his note at a pivotal point. Director Ron OJ Parson has McGhee play the theme line written for the show, then dissolves it into an artful reverb that fades away. Very very nice. The rest of the music was performed by Davis and members of Chicago Jazz Philharmonic, featuring Rajiv Halim, and recorded and mixed by Roger Heiss at Tone Zone Studio in Chicago. It was  The Chicago Community Trust. 

This play was recommended to me by those great folks at Hot Tix as I searched for one worth seeing, so I bought a ticket. Now I am saying the same to you. Paradise Blue runs through July 23 at Timeline Theatre, 615 W Wellington in Chicago. 

As a fan, it was a delight to see Diana Krall live for the first time at the beautiful Ravinia Festival in Highland Park - one of the first stops on this highly successful jazz performer's lastest world tour.

"Highly successful jazz performer" is a string of words rarely set together, but Krall has wrought something of a miracle in jazz circles, attaining popularity that at least in one ranking surpasses other contemporary female jazz vocalists like Norah Jones, Madeleine Peyroux, Natalie Cole, and Jane Monheit, though that list has missed a couple greats like, oh, Sade, Dianna Reeves and Cassandra Wilson. 

Krall showed why she deserves that popularity on Wednesday night. Despite a mild threat of a warm downpour, the Ravinia Pavilion and lawn were well filled, a tribute to this skilled performer's cultivation of devoted fans. Doubtless there are many like me who are attracted as much by Krall’s open, warm-hearted personality, as by her music.

Striding to the Steinway as her band mates settled in, Krall and company got right down to business with an up-tempo “Do I Love You,” then jumped into a mix of songs – some truly stunning interpretations – along with a number of beautifully delivered tracks from her May 5 album, “Turn Up the Quiet” (Verve).

For Krall the Ravinia setting strikes the right balance between her broad appeal to bigger audiences, and the intimacy required by jazz, with ensemble members improvising in solo departures from a unifying theme. As a contemporary jazz performer, Krall is a rarity with her commercial success – a five time Grammy winner and steady platinum level album sales. This is her ninth album to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard Jazz Chart.

And while she claims to be shy, Krall seems to hold the audience without really trying. “I’m from Vancouver – I’m used to this,” Krall said as scattered droplets of warm rain pelted the lawn and encroached on a song. Then the clouds diminished and she was non-stop music for two hours, with fresh takes on classics like Cole Porter’s “Night and Day,” Nat King Cole’s “L-O-V-E,” as well as songs by Carlos Jobim, Peggy Lee, Joni Mitchell, and Tom Waits from her earlier albums.

With "Turn Up the Quiet," Krall taps into the Great American Songbook, and she performed at Ravinia several of her renditions, such as Rodgers and Hart’s “Isn’t It Romantic, which was thrilling and fresh, as was her version of the standard, “Blue Skies,” performed in a trio on her album with bassist Christian McBride and guitarist Russell Malone. Cole Porter favorite “Night and Day” was likewise engaging.

Peggy Lee’s "Jack of All Trades" departed on the voyage that jazz represents for me - each member of the ensemble providing their take on a song that was an endless melodic discovery while also could have continued forever, as far as I was concerned. 

For me the show-stopper at Ravinia was the cover of Tom Wait’s “Temptation,” first released on a recording of a 2001 live performance in Paris. While Krall approaches jazz with intense constraint, in last night’s performance of “Temptation” that constraint is pushed to its limits, and every member of the ensemble is given his due time. In the course of this number a solo violin is strummed and plucked like a ukelele, to stunning effect. While Krall can come off as a bit modulated, Temptation is her musical vision unchained. If she can do that, she can do whatever she pleases.    

Riffing on that theme of "Turn Up the Quiet," one must listen intently to really hear Krall's mastery. A revelation for me was Krall’s rendition of fellow Canadian Joni Mitchell’s plaintive, “A Case of You.” I had not heard Krall's version before, and was blown away by the mash-up of Mitchell themes that Krall jazzified at the Steinway. I’ve got a lot more listening ahead of me just to deconstruct that single song.

Ravinia is a step along the way for Krall’s world tour to promote the album, beginning state-side and heading the Europe in September. The recordings I have of Diana Krall are meticulously produced, and very controlled performances – but still alive with the improvisational flavor of jazz. In person, Krall is highly polished performer, but her invention and movement with the moment is heightened on stage, and she is one with the ensemble, and even more striking as a pianist than a singer, to my mind. 

For those who don't know Diana Krall - despite her popularity - I have found that mentioning she is the mother of twin 10 year old's with her husband, a somewhat well-known rock star, helps them place her.  But out of respect for her talent, which I enjoy far more than her spouse's, I am not mentioning him here. 

The producers at Steppenwolf describe Pass Over as a “riff on Waiting for Godot” – and that’s true - except for this: Pass Over is not boring. In fact it is gripping and entertaining for every one of its 80 minutes of run time.

Written by Antoinette Nwandu and premiering under the direction of Danya Taymor, Pass Over is at once funny, alarming, sickening, and frightening. With shades of Master Harold & the Boys and Miss Margarita’s Way, it portrays two young inner city black men – Moses (Jon Michael Hill) and Kitch (Julian Parker)  hanging out under a street lamp, hoping to get off “the block.” To say these two give knock out performances is an understatement.

Like Groundhog Day, each morning they resume the wait, their hours punctuated periodically by gunfire, and the appearance of the menacing policeman Ossifer (Ryan Hallahan in a searing performance; he also plays the white-suited Mister) whose role is to dispel their hope, and keep them in their place.

Moses and Kitch are condemned, suggests Nwandu, to be “waiting for Godot” their whole lives. Unlike Beckett’s duo, Moses and Kitch are not abstract constructs, but real people. The warmth and mutual fealty of these two young men captures your heart through their amusing word games and youthful horseplay.

Nwandu also plumbs the depths of the emotional link between Moses and Kitch, and we bear witness to their bond. As in Beckett’s play, these characters form a suicide pact, but cannot do it.  

They survive, somehow, and hope returns repeatedly – even against all odds. But the two never escape, either, and Pass Over faces us with our contemporary social challenge. By making Moses and Kitch so accessible to us, by humanizing them, Nwandu brings a fresh immediacy to the lament, that Black Lives Matter.   

Pass Over is both timeless, and a powerful commentary on contemporary conditions. Into this piece, Nwandu has squeezed a book. Fully deconstructed, it could easily fill a college semester of study.

Part of the vaunted excellence of Beckett’s 1953 Waiting for Godot - an existentialist reverie on the seemingly endless insufferableness of life, and perhaps the meaningless of that suffering – is that the audience also experiences the ennui of that endless wait, in real time. Frankly it’s a bore.

Not so with Pass Over. It is fully realized in this production. I might quibble with the end of the play – it seemed heavy handed from a first viewing. But I am going to have to trust and respect the playwright's and director’s judgements, given the excellence of all that comes before. The performances by Hill and Parker in fact are so perfectly delivered, hopefully it is exactly what the playwright intended – because it is tremendous. It runs through July 9 at Steppenwolf Theatre.

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


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


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


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


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


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


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

Court Theatre’s production of Harvey tells the fable of Elwood P. Dowd.

Played wonderfully by Timothy Edward Kane, Dowd is an independently wealthy bachelor whose immense warmth and engaging demeanor earns him friendship readily with everyone. This includes the 6’ 3½” tall white rabbit, Harvey, who for most of the play, only he can see.

Elwood lives on the estate of his late mother, where his sister, Veta Louise (Karen James Wodistch) and young adult niece Myrtle Mae (Sarah Price), have moved from Des Moines, with hopes of climbing the social ladder. But they are thwarted by Elwood’s eccentric behavior – his ongoing conversations with Harvey are off-putting to polite society. They decide to have him committed to a mental institution.

Harvey won a Pulitzer in 1944 for playwright Mary Chase (beating Tennessee Williams the Glass Menagerie, no less), and became a movie with James Stewart in 1950 –  the version of Harvey people know. No one would get these scripts confused; Williams is objectively the better writer. 

Yet Harvey has momentum, and even reaches a moment of power – which is why it is beloved by many.

Chase’s character Elwood P. Dowd reminds us of Tom Hanks in Forrest Gump, someone floating above the fray, dispensing homespun wisdom and soothing the turmoil of those around him. (The play was revived famously with Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons in the lead on Broadway five years ago.)

Director Devon de Mayo has maintained the piece in its 1944 time frame, almost a requirement given the script. Artifacts of period mental healthcare like shock therapy, hydrobaths, and a vaguely sadistic undercurrent among the hospital staff are unsettling, and form the basis of much of the humor: As Veta attempts to commit Elwood, she ends up in a cell instead. Upon her escape, she tells of being forcibly stripped and placed in a hot bath by an attendant she describes as a “whoremaster.” I think that was cut from the film.

Chase has also delved into Irish myth with Harvey. The rabbit is a Pooka, in Celtic lore a shapeshifter that could tell the future, and visit outcasts to improve their lives. 

Court Theatre’s production of Harvey goes for the broad humor, and a sort of mad-cap pacing from screwball comedies. And the audience was laughing from the get go, though I was not caught up in the frivolity, at least not right away.   

Timothy Kane as Elwood P. Dowd provides the anchoring performance for all the froth on stage. Kane is a most remarkable comedic actor – hilariously funny in One Man-Two Guvnors at Court Theatre last year.

Kane’s Elwood hooks us in a soliloquy on how to live properly, building soon after to the climactic scene that gives the play it’s heft.

Here Kane turns on Elwood’s magic, playing admirably against Amy Carle, who also shines in the scene as cabby E.J. Lofgren. Elwood is about to be treated at the mental institution to end his visions of Harvey, when the cabby appears, angrily demanding the fare be paid before Elwood gets his treatment.

But then the cabby succumbs to Elwood’s charms as he pays her. When Elwood exits to meet his fate and loose his Pooka, the cabby explains to the family that other patients he has driven who are treated also lose their goodness, and become just like regular people – mean spirited and venal. That's why she wanted to be paid first - to get a bigger tip.

This scene is a clincher and saves the play. 

Maybe it is the writing, or perhaps the timing and delivery were a bit off, but it felt as though every character in this production were defining their role independently of each other. The chemistry worked reasonably well between Lyman Anderson, MD, (Erik Hellman) and Ruth Kelly, RN (Jennifer Latimore brought a grace to the role). Woditsch, Price, and A.C. Smith as William Chumley, MD didn’t make me laugh. And it seemed Jacqueline Williams was a too dour for the role of Judge Mara Gaffney - perhaps not a good casting choice.  

Kudos on the set and lighting. Harvey plays through June 11 at Court Theatre in Hyde Park

Josephine Baker leapt from the Harlem Renaissance via the Paris Folies Bergère to become a global phenomenon, the first black international superstar.

Consider this: Baker’s fame was so great in her day among African-Americans, that Coretta King immediately appealed to her to guide the U.S. Civil Rights Movement in the wake of Martin Luther King’s assassination. Born in 1906, Baker died in 1975 - yet she is vaguely remembered, if at all.

Black Pearl: A Tribute to Josephine Baker helps remedy that, ably recounting the trajectory of her stardom. Baker may have lived too big a life character to fit on any stage (she was style-setter, movie star, civil rights activist, even an agent for the French Resistance in World War II) but writer and director Daryl Brooks and the high-energy ensemble cast have gotten enough of the high and low points of her life to build a great show, with special emphasis on her rollicking dancing style.

Two women perform the role of Baker – Joan Ruffin as the Older Josephine largely plays narrator; Aerial Williams - a great dancer and with a lovely voice - is the Younger Josephine.

Baker really did it all – singing, dancing, movies. Arguably Baker was the first global personality, driving fashion trends (her hair style was widely copied), dispensing lifestyle advice in women’s magazines – think Gwyneth Paltrow, Kardashians, Oprah, with a touch of Grace Jones. Baker kept a pet cheetah, and later in life adopted a brood of children from different countries, housing them in the palatial chateau her wealth afforded.

She was first brought to Europe by the French under a government-sponsored cultural program, and became an overnight sensation during a period when France was colonizing Africa. By today’s standards some of her signature performance expressions might not be judged politically correct, but Baker’s artistic influences were segregated minstrel shows, where blacks performed in exaggerated black-face, and jazz-infused free-form dance was the norm.

Her hard-scrabble life of poverty and abuse growing up in St. Louis is captured well in Brook’s script, especially her awakening to music and dance as a teenaged girl. The choreography in Black Pearl (Baker was known by that name) mines Baker’s movies and the historical record to accurately portray contemporary dance styles. To the French, Baker was a genre-busting exotic, as she created a romanticized, imagined portrayal of African natives in their new colonies.

Her famous Banana Dance is carefully rendered on the Black Ensemble stage. Though Europe had its racial and cultural prejudices, it did not have Jim Crow laws like the U.S. – rules that barred Baker from staying at 36 hotels on a return U.S. tour celebrating her global stardom. Her mother had to sit in the balcony section for blacks. Baker renounced her U.S. citizenship and became a French citizen. But on her next U.S. tour she successfully set her contract to require venues to be integrated, and her mother sat in the front row at Carnegie Hall.

As she matured into a style icon, Baker evolved in to a chanteuse, and several of the songs are performed in French during Black Pearl. One show stopper, a transition right before intermission, has Williams’ young Josephine sing a love song to France, with Ruffin’s older Josephine repeating the lyrics in English. It is very affecting.

Like most Black Ensemble productions, the live music backing is excellent, able to swing through all the stylistic periods. The script is occasionally wooded in scenes from later years, but it makes all the points that matter – and keeps the focus on the performance art. Running through June 18, Black Pearl at Black Ensemble Theater is highly recommended.

Objects in the Mirror, an outstanding play having its premier at Goodman Theatre, will soon have you wanting to know more about its author, Charles Smith, a Chicago playwright.  

Starring Daniel Kyri as Shedrick Yarkpai, this play springs from the true story of the real life Yarkpai, a refugee who fled Liberia in the aftermath of its first Civil War, struggling for 12 years across hostile terrain and through refugee camps in Guinea and Cote d’Ivoire.

Excellent performances and a creative set and lighting make this a show not to miss, especially for the wonderful writing of Charles Smith. Breon Arzell plays cousin Zaza Workolo; Ryan Kitley is Rob Mosher; and Lily Mojekwu as Shedrick’s mother Luopu Workolo is just spectacular – she steals all her scenes.

The real life Shedrick Yarkpai eventually made his way to Adelaide, Australia, and as fate would have it became an actor. And so, playwright Smith met him and heard his tale while staging another of his plays there - Free Man of Color (it won a 2004 Jeff Award and has been staged widely, including the Goodman).

Shedrick Yarkpai’s passage through the wilderness alone would be a worthy story, bringing our attention to the privation in Liberia wrought by years of civil chaos. But this play would not succeed as it does, unless it can hold our attention and keep us in our seats. 

And here Smith’s skillful craft shines through, along with director Chuck Smith and the creative team, who have turned the years-long odyssey of the protagonists, Shedrick and his uncle John Workolo (Allen Gilmore is terrific) – they ate grass, lived in the bush, both life and limbs, literally, endangered by violent, machete wielding warriors – and condensed it into an engaging trek, showing geography, educating us on the history, but all in an entertaining way, unlikely as this may seem.

Objects in the Mirror is so much more than a topical recount of Liberian suffering and struggle. Smith also puts before us the psychological and emotional toll on all refugees who must give up so much of their culture, and themselves, in resettling. Among the things so striking about Smith’s play is how he holds our interest in Shedrick’s odyssey. But he subordinates it to a more charged dramatic concern: the personal compromises refugees must make in escaping, and losses that can never be reclaimed.

In a way that only theater can, we engage and experience the personal emotional stress. And while we know of the trauma, what Smith conveys is the suffering from loss of identity, and of dreams. Shedrick has adopted a false identity to make it through border crossings – but he regrets the loss of his name.

Shedrick is a dreamer. He is also a storyteller, as is Smith, and the characters he has created. "Through storytelling, the play ascends to a powerful examination of truth and falsity, and the powers of persuasion. All good stories tell a strand of the truth," says Uncle John.

Once in Adelaide, Yarkpai finds work with a supportive Australian government agent – but Shedrick’s uncle John is fearful it will blow their cover. The debate through several scenes in which different characters tell their version of the parts of Shedrick's story is the stuff of great theater. 

The creative team includes Riccardo Hernandez (set design), Mike Tutaj (projection design), John Culbert (lighting design), Birgit Rattenborg Wise (costume design), Ray Nardelli (sound design). Briana J. Fahey is the production stage manager.

Objects in the Mirror runs through June 4 at the Goodman Theatre. It is highly recommended.

It was a third-grade history lesson on civil rights and Rosa Parks that spawned Brian Quijada’s one man show, “Where Did We Sit on the Bus?” Blacks were in the back, whites up front. What about Mexican-Americans like him?

“You weren’t around,” his teacher answered.  With that hook Quijada draws us in to his compelling personal story – largely based on his performing skills and big personality.

I harbor some diffidence about one-man shows, which can easily veer into narcissism. Quijada’s provocative title piqued my interest, and a mix-up in schedules had me with a couple hours open just as the lights came up for the matinee.

Apparently, others are on to what a great performer Quijada is: the theater was full for this return engagement of a show he wrote, choreographed, and for which he masters loops and overdubs into a nice accompaniment, built around his creditable singing and some well-chosen chords on his electric ukulele. It’s part of the Up Close and Personal series at www.Victorygardens.org

This story of a 28-year-old Chicagoland native, now making his way onto stages around the country, and into New York theater scene, has a lot of charm. After about 20 minutes it is clear Quijada is a natural born performer, and he has built an enticing showcase of his performance capabilities – almost like a general audition that shows his dancing and singing skills, as he recounts his resume on the stage starting from grammar school, through turns at everything from Shakespeare to Broadway musicals.    

But Quijada’s story takes a more serious turn as he recounts the discrimination he encountered. And when we reach the part about his marriage to a German woman from Europe, and their prospect of having children, he understands he must bring answers to his future offspring.

That rapidly becomes a compelling tale of self-discovery, punctuated with hip hop and dance numbers that are as entertaining as the stories he recounts. The longest journey is through his father’s rejection of his theatrical career. He wanted to see him take up a safer, more practical trade to earn a living.

Quijada maintains his focus as he also defines himself in the world – still trying to answer that third-grade puzzle. His parents don’t have a story in the national narrative – no Mayflower, no slave ships, no Ellis Island. They weren’t there. They had to sneak in, unseen – a lightning rod now but written several years before the current tempest about immigration.  

Quijada brings a tale of magical realism to his family history, and this one-man show rises to general significance for all of us, culminating in his journey to New York, where Quijada provides us a powerful insight on seeing the State of Liberty, sharing those famous words of the poem:

Give me your tired, your poor, 
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, 
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. 
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.

This extra two lines we hear less often. They made all the differences that afternoon. And like everyone around me I laughed, I cried, and I rose to applaud.  Don’t miss this Teatro Vista production at the Victory Gardens Theatre through June  4.  Really recommended.

Sunday, 07 May 2017 20:16

One Too Many Stories in Threesome

The play Threesome is an ambitious work, taking aim at the ease with which we become stuck in patterns of bad behavior like possessiveness in relationships. It also reaches into threats to women's freedom in other cultures. 

As the lights come up we meet a married couple already in bed, who have embarked on a venture both risqué and risky: a man has been invited to join them for a tryst, at the behest of the wife, Leila (Suzan Faycurry). 

The two are modestly dressed, considering this is a three-way. Presentiments of a drawing room comedy? Perhaps it's a commentary on social mores leading couples to extremes, even when not a good fit. 

It’s the first time for the couple, an Egyptian-American pair. Husband Rashid (Demetrios Troy) was likely ready to jump into this moment without reserve, but guest Doug (Mike Tepeli) has been overlong and rather noisy in his preparations in the bathroom. This interlude gives Rashid too much time for second and third thoughts. Leila is compelled to combat his misgivings, but does not assuage his fears. The tryst is more about settling their own martial scores, it seems, than about the sex. 

The myriad tensions found in any domestic relationship arise, and conflicts surface. Debates about whether men or women feel greater pressure on body image, and who has the short end of the stick in social expectations - the usual stuff.

But there is a hint of something more, here – the couple are both from Cairo, and were actively engaged in the political and social struggles released in that country by the Arab Spring. Leila's memoir covering that time is about to be published - but she has pointedly not let Rashid read it. He accuses her of mistrust over this, and over his innocent flirtation with another woman. Leila counters that his occupation, photographer, sets him up as an observer rather than a full participant in life – and so on.

The tension pulls back as Doug bursts in, bubbling with excitement, which further unnerves Rashid. Fated to be the odd man out, Doug drives the comedic interlude that follows, and again we feel headed for lighter fare. But Doug’s joy fades as, unnerved that the two have withdrawn from the bed, he realizes he has stepped into the middle of a spat. Tepeli plays Doug with nuance and flair, especially challenging since he is in the nude for the first 15 minutes or so. 

We find Doug also has some baggage, and the unhappy couple conjures neuroses from his teen years. All this intimacy puts a damper on sex; the downside of Rashid and Leila’s marriage is on display. We also find that Doug, a photographer, has won the photo assignment that Rashid had been seeking: the cover of Leila’s book. An angry departure scene follows as the lights go down on Act I.

In Act II we are at Doug’s studio, where he is readying a set for the photo shoot. More drama follows as Doug and Leila work out the tension from the previous encounter. Then enters a drunken Rashid, and things continue downhill. Somewhere between the script and the performance, Faycurry's Leila is appropriately cerebral, but her dialog is unnaturally literary and unemotional. Troy's Rashid brings emotional range, and he has more luck with delivering the script. During his drunken diatrib, however, the lines require an unlikely sobriety. 

As the audience learns director Jason Gerace had a complicated scenario to present, and he manages to keep our interest on the script by Yussef El Guindi. But attention to the plight of Leila challenges loses out when mixed with so many other stories and issues within this story. 

Threesome runs through May 21 at Greenhouse Theater. Find tickets here.

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Review: Machinal at Greenhouse Theater Center

16 August 2017 in Theatre in Review

Machinal refers to an automated or mechanical system. Sophie Treadwell's 1929 play "Machinal" takes its styling from this theme. Directed…

"The Rembrandt" begins September 7th with John Mahoney and Francis Guinan

14 August 2017 in Upcoming Theatre

Steppenwolf Theatre Company opens its 42nd Season with the Chicago premiere of The Rembrandt, written by Jessica Dickey and directed…

Latin Paradise - Santana Live at Ravinia

13 August 2017 in In Concert

The summer concert season continues at Ravinia. Midsummer brings to the Midwest one of the toughest guitarists on the planet.…

Delbert McClinton - One of the Fortunate Few

10 August 2017 in In Concert

I have been waiting to see Delbert McClinton for a while. It just never happened for me…timing, etc. Finally, it…

Shattered Globe's The Heavens are Hung in Black - September 7 - October 21, 2017 at Theater Wit

09 August 2017 in Upcoming Theatre

Shattered Globe Theatre is pleased to launch its 2017-18 Season with the Chicago premiere of Pulitzer Prize nominee James Still’s …

The American Mercy Tour: Mercy Killers and Side Effects - September 7 - October 8, 2017 at Greenhouse Theater Center

08 August 2017 in Upcoming Theatre

Greenhouse Theater Center and Poor Box Theater, in association with D.C’s award winning Taffety Punk Theatre Company, is pleased to…

The Casting Auction's annual CASTING PARTY - Friday, November 3, 2017 at Michelle's Ballroom

08 August 2017 in Upcoming Theatre

Anyone can be a star – for a price! The annual CASTING PARTY is a unique opportunity for amateur theatre…

William Petersen and more join the cast of Steppenwolf's upcoming "The Minutes" by Tracy Letts

03 August 2017 in Upcoming Theatre

Steppenwolf Theatre Company announced today additional casting for the highly anticipated world premiere of The Minutes by ensemble member, Pulitzer…

Shattered Globe Theatre Announces 2017-18 Season - Three Chicago Premieres!

03 August 2017 in Upcoming Theatre

Shattered Globe Theatre is pleased to announce its 2017-18 Season, featuring three Chicago premiere productions! The season kicks off this…

About Face Theatre Announces 2017-18 Season - Three Midwest Premieres!

03 August 2017 in Upcoming Theatre

About Face Theatre is pleased to announce its 2017-18 Season, featuring three Midwest premieres! The season kicks off this fall/winter…

Strawdog Opens with Robert O'Hara's "Barbecue" August 28th at Steppenwolf 1700 Theater

03 August 2017 in Upcoming Theatre

Strawdog Theatre Company and Artistic Directors Michael Dailey, Heath Hays and Anderson Lawfer are proud to announce the first production…

The great Delbert McClinton to play City Winery August 9th

03 August 2017 in In Concert

Delbert McClinton may not be a household name, but he should be. A singer-songwriter, harmonica player, pianist and guitarist, we…

 

 

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  • Review: Machinal at Greenhouse Theater Center
    Written by
    Machinal refers to an automated or mechanical system. Sophie Treadwell's 1929 play "Machinal" takes its styling from this theme. Directed by Jacob Harvey, Greenhouse Theater Center brings this work back to Chicago for the first time in many years. Maybe…
  • "The Rembrandt" begins September 7th with John Mahoney and Francis Guinan
    Written by
    Steppenwolf Theatre Company opens its 42nd Season with the Chicago premiere of The Rembrandt, written by Jessica Dickey and directed by Hallie Gordon. Currently in rehearsals, this subtle and elegant play features ensemble members Francis Guinan as Henry/Rembrandt and John…
  • Latin Paradise - Santana Live at Ravinia
    Written by
    The summer concert season continues at Ravinia. Midsummer brings to the Midwest one of the toughest guitarists on the planet. The act that has graced the stages with the most famous performers at Woodstock has come to Ravinia in Highland…
  • Delbert McClinton - One of the Fortunate Few
    Written by
    I have been waiting to see Delbert McClinton for a while. It just never happened for me…timing, etc. Finally, it happened. I even took my Mom who is as big a fan as I am. Warming up for Delbert was…

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