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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.  

David Rabe’s Visiting Edna is everything you expect from Steppenwolf Theatre: a work of depth and significance, actors rendering studied characters, and production values of the highest order. 

Rabe’s writing also displays another Steppenwolf hallmark: plays that mine the power and drama in the ordinary language of daily life. Edna (Debra Monk is sensational) is an Iowa widow soldiering through a litany of ills – heart failure, colostomy, colitis, diabetes and cancer – all conspiring to come in for the kill. Her middle-aged son Andrew (Ian Barford gives what will surely be a definitive performance) visits to check in on her, and decides to see if better medical advice might improve her condition. 

This may sound grim, or even boring. It is anything but. Though Edna babbles endlessly - as mothers may – her almost hypnotic patter is laced with incisive reflection and homespun wisdom, engaging her son (and the audience). She also begins settling accounts, handing off possessions and revealing scars from her own upbringing from which she sought to shield Andrew and his sister. Edna vividly relates the impact on her own childhood of the fraught circumstances of her older sisters’ teenage miscarriage and battle with tuberculosis. 

Edna’s end of life scenario affords moments of reflection, recall, and bonding with Andrew. Edna, born in 1926 to a world devoid of social media - or psychotherapy, for that matter - regrets in hindsight the physical discipline she inflicted on Andrew, and worries over her own careless decision to bring Andrew, age four at the time, to watch a hotel fire at which guests jumped to their deaths.  "It's just so different now, that's all," Edna says. 

The play also hums with a magical realism, as the dying Edna is pulled between two polarities familiar to anyone who has tread the path of serious illness: a distracting television, and the illness itself. In Visiting Edna, Actor One (Sally Murphy in a beautifully crafted and inspired performance) plays a channel-flipping Television, breaking the wall to address the audience in her opening monologue. She even relates the playwright's reflections on whether to wear rabbit ears or a dish antenna.)

Tim Hopper as Actor Two, plays Edna’s cancer through most of the play. (Note to Hopper fans: this is one his best roles.) Hopper’s knowing, insidious cancer recounts Edna's ailments, and telsl the audience, "Yet, she is desperate to live." Cancer offers gloomy reminders to Edna ("It's a dark hole you're in.") and competes mightily with Murphy’s sprightly Television for attention. In fact, neither wins it. As Actor Three (in a stunning walk-on role), Michael Rabe is at once frightening and believable as an angel of death. 

The stage itself is quite awesome: a sky tunnel right out of Magritte hovers above a split level living room. Stormy weather was so convincingly portrayed I was surprised the streets were dry when I left the theater. Kudos to David Zinn for set design, Marcus Doshi on lighting, Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen for  music and sound design. Artistic director Anna Shapiro, famed for August: Osage County, oversaw the show and guides this season at Steppenwolf. 

This wonderful production has just one drawback: the ending, which seems to drag, as Andrew addresses the audience in a lengthy, tearful soliloquy about Edna’s final moments. 

That aside, Visiting Edna is as good as it gets on stage. It runs through November 6, 2016 at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre.

Naperville may be worth seeing just for its portrayal of T.C., a newly installed Caribou Coffee shop manager. When customers repeatedly ask after Nick, his popular predecessor, he replies by the book, “Nick no longer works here.”

We soon see that T.C. is desperate to succeed in his new job, hoping to avoid the fate of Nick, who was sacked for letting customers linger past closing time – the kind of thing that throws a monkey wrench into the central database to which the cash register, lights, locks and ever observant video monitors are linked. Welcome to 1984.

While T.C. is a parody, he is also a parable for our times. In their chain store incarnation, coffee shops are friendly places – within limits. As he warms to the customers, T.C. slips and reveals that “Nick will never work in this or any other Caribou Coffee again.” As closing time nears, these customers have no intention of moving on despite T.C.’s angst-ridden and frantic efforts.

The problem with the rest of Naperville is that the roles are more caricatures than characters. Overweening Howard (Mike Tapeli), home to care for his sight-impaired mother Candice (Laura T. Fisher), is put upon as she needles him to get married. Howard ’s popular high school classmate, Anne (Abby Pierce), sequestered in a corner, broods over her poorly lived life while cobbling together a vaguely worthy history of Captain Joseph Naper. 

Playwright Mat Smart delivers steady laughs and Naperville is somewhat engaging, but toward the midpoint we start hankering for. . .meaning, as do the characters. Instead we have something more like a Seinfeld episode (you know,” nothing happens”) only it’s a bit less edgy.

Not to fault this cast. Abby Pierce has movie star quality. Mike Tepeli projects the protagonist as “everyman.” Charlie Strater as Roy perfectly evokes that untethered born-again character you hope to avoid in social settings. (And he draws our sympathy when he reveals his pain in answer to Howard’s, “What’s your deal?”). Also, the set (Joe Shermoly), props (Amanda Hermann) and costumes (Christine Pascual) are pretty much perfect. Somewhat recommended, Naperville runs through October 16 at Theater Wit

 

Amour, playing at the Atheneaum, is a jewel box of a show. This lighthearted musical (technically a comic opera) is profoundly entertaining, without needing to be profound. It is just plain fun.

With nearly no spoken dialog, the nine cast members sing their hearts out for 90 minutes. The music, lively and varied, stays fresh – and the libretto is sharp and humorous. These are all very talented, natural singers, who are well balanced and, with no electronic assist, sing dialog clearly, ever with an ear to a backstage orchestra – though small it is excellent. 

On key and in seemingly effortless harmony, the cast waltzes through a dozen different musical styles that hearken to the play’s roots. It was Tony nominated on Broadway in 2002, adapted from a 1997 Paris production. Numbers run the gamut from cabaret to jazzy Manhattan Transfer, grand opera, and everything in between.

The story line is delightfully simple: an office worker in dreary post-war Paris discovers he can walk through walls, turning his humdrum life into an adventure. Brian Fimoff as Dusoleil brings that Everyman quality to his role. 

Much credit must be given to Black Button Eyes Production for retrieving this treasure from the script vault. Their mission is to bring Chicago seldom-seen works containing elements of fantasy, in which magical and surreal invade reality. Mission accomplished.

Standouts include Missy Wise (as Claire/Whore), with a big voice and plenty of sass. Kevin Webb plays a Gendarme but his performance as a Nazi-like Boss in jodhpurs and riding crop is over the top funny. A real standout is Scott Gryder in three key roles: he is all Newsies as a newspaper vendor; very funny as frightened advocate; but he could give Paul Lynde a run for the money as office clerk Bertrand. 

And then there is THE VOICE: in this show, it's Emily Goldberg (playing Isabelle). Goldberg has it all: trained, expressive, and Broadway beautiful. (Goldberg, playing musical theater al around town, is certainly Broadway bound, so catch her locally while you can.) Fimoff pairs nicely with Goldberg in their duets, but he cannot match the rest of the troupe's volume when he is not belting.  

The Amour production itself is a tribute to what can be conjured up with minimalist but imaginative props and sets. It also is a testament to the audience's ability not just to suspend disbelief, but to join in the fantasy. 

Amour debuted in Paris in 1997, and its original libretto was adapted for Broadway in 2002 by Jeremy Sams. Music is by Michel Legrand, and the French libretto is by Didier Van Cauwelaert here in a witty English adaptation by Jeremy Sams. 

Amour, highly recommended, runs through October 8 at The Athenaeum Theatre

Singer Jackie Wilson was one of America’s great pop songwriters and vocalists. A vibrant production of The Jackie Wilson Story at the Black Ensemble shows, tells, and sings his story in a celebration that shakes the rafters.

This version of The Jackie Wilson Story is even more exciting as an upgrade over the original, in the caliber of the staging and music - which take full advantage of the Black Ensemble’s 299-seat main stage, opened in 2011. The awesome Black Ensemble Theater Musicians give full expression to the developing musical styles over the course of Wilson’s career, from the early 1950s (he first recorded what became a signature classic, “Danny Boy,” with Dizzy Gillespie in 1952) through 1968’s “Your Love Keeps Lifting Me Higher,”  with big hits including "Doggin, Me Around" and "To Be Loved."

Though I came of age in the 1960s, I didn’t realize how familiar Wilson’s work is to all of us - until I saw the original release of  The Jackie Wilson Story in 2000. A breakout hit for Black Ensemble Theater, that production spawned a national tour that culminated in a run at the Apollo Theatre in New York City.  After seeing it I ran out and bought his records, listening to them non-stop for weeks. That’s how good he is.

 A challenge for an actor portraying Wilson is measuring up musically. Kelvin Roston, Jr. has Jackie Wilson nailed musically, but he is neither a mimic nor impersonating: he is acting. Roston is a damn fine singer, to be sure – but he is an actor first, and to us, he is Wilson on that stage.

The real Jackie Wilson wooed the women in the audience; Roston does the same, in real time – with a nod and a wink that we are watching a master performer deftly be both in the role, and beside it. When his wife Freda reaches the end of her rope with his philandering, Roston's rendition of  "Lonely Teardrops" (recorded in 1958) is a not just a great performance, it is a full throttle emotive expression of Wilson's plea for her to stay.

While Freda doesn't sing, Jackie Wilson's mother does - by way of explaining his musical chops. And in this production, Wilson's mother Eliza (Kora Green) is even a better singer than Roston's Wilson. (You can probably check out Wikipedia to see if that were true in real life.)

Along with the musical backing, Black Ensemble Theater's troupe has expanded, and this show features a dozen singing, dancing performers. Direoce Junirs demonstrates quite a range as Freda's angry father in coveralls, and later a fay stage manager. Reuben Echoles stands out as B.B., Wilson's confidant and manager. 

The sets (Denise Karczewski) also deserve a mention: the neutral backdrop puts in relief the spare placement of mid-century modern furniture, with fabrics and colors spot-on from the period.  (There might be a less cumbersome way to show the big hospital bed in which Wilson lingered for nine years before he died - it rolls in and out repeatedly.)

While there are some frayed edges in the original script (the dialog is laced with exposition of the background, which makes for some wooden exchanges) one could make the case that the times have caught up with the style. This recount of the high points in Jackie Wilson’s biography are more like a graphic novel than a conventional drama. Real people’s lives don’t usually fit neatly into dramatic packaging.

The final wow is a number I had forgotten about, one of Wilson's greatest songs: O Danny Boy. That cross-cultural standard, a plaintive Celtic lament, is sung by a ghostly Wilson as the story closes. Recorded in 1965, it never fails to bring tears to this Irishman. 

In that sense, The Jackie Wilson Story also fulfills a bigger mission: reminding us of the greatness of Wilson’s singing and performances, and that great music helps bridge wide cultural gaps among us. Highly recommended, it runs through September 4, 2016 at the Black Ensemble Theater, 4450 N. Clark St. in Chicago.

 

 

Douglass is striking from the moment the stage lights go on at Theater Wit. De’Lon Grant commands the stage as the escaped slave, Frederick Douglass – who in his time was a towering intellect among abolitionists, and who remains a powerful influence on public discourse even today.

Playwright Thomas Klingenstein begins the action in 1841, when Douglass, 23, began publicly speaking out against slavery to sympathetic abolitionist audiences around Boston. Anyone who has read even a bit of Frederick Douglass' writing knows the power of his language. Excerpts of his speeches in this production – and there could be more, to my mind - display his strength as a communicator, and inspirational force.

In short order, Frederick Douglass outstripped his patron, publisher William Lloyd Garrison (convincingly portrayed by Mark Ulrich), who comes across here as self-satisfied in his public position as a firebrand abolitionist newspaperman. Differing in anti-slavery strategies, Garrison gets a court to interdict Douglass' printing press. The script plays up Garrison's loss of stature as Douglass' star rises.

Douglass has a different agenda than Garrison. He soon gains his own following and financial means to pursue it. Klingenstein clearly portrays the differences between Douglass’s more gradualist approach to ending slavery, and Garrison’s belief in “Dis-Union,” the belief that because the U.S. Constitution enshrines slavery, the Union must be abolished. Douglass says the slave-related clauses in the Constitution are “scaffolding,” meant to be dismantled once the nation was established.

The script also accomplishes something very difficult: revealing the unconscious racism among liberal whites. Because Douglass disagrees with him, Garrison - a white man who thought his anti-slavery credentials were unimpeachable - decides that blacks are incapable of comprehending the circumstance of, and solution for, their own slavery. Garrison's self-evidently racist position, part of the historical record, is amply presented. Contemporary parallels can be readily drawn - which is one reason Douglass is such a valuable production. It also introduces an important historic figure to a new generation. The production is built and billed as a multi-media performance in part to pull in the younger crowd.

In biographical plays, the dramatic action required for satisfying theater can easily seem forced – lives don’t usually have convenient plot lines. But Douglass draws in enough of the personal side of the character– Douglass’s devotion to his wife, an affair with an admirer, his conflicts with Garrison – to make them people we care about.

Director Christopher McElroen has pulled out all the stops in putting together Douglass for The American Vicarious organization. Great costumes, lighting, set, staging, music –  values that would be at home at the top theaters anywhere are meticulously woven into telling and showing the story of Douglass. The production team deserves mention: William Boles (scenic design), Mieka van der Ploeg (costume design), Becca Jeffords (lighting design), Liviu Pasare (projection design), Jamie Abelson (casting director), Cara Parrish (stage manager) and Will Bishop (production manager).

 Should you see Douglass? It is so well produced, how can you not? It runs through August 14, at Theater Wit.

Right out of the gate CHOPS is a winner – in performances, production and script. Playwright Michael Rychlewski captures that ineffable quintessence of Chicago-ese as his three remnants of the 1950s and ‘60s glory days of Rush Street wash ashore at Vince’s bar.

Let’s hear it for the casting, too – director Richard Shavzin has corralled an exceptionally well-matched brace of players here, strong character actors from our city’s bountiful supply. As Walt (Randy Steinmeyer) launches full throttle into his opening monologue, the audience knows it is in on something big tonight.

On Walt's arm is a dame, Kaki (Clare Cooney), claiming to be older than she is, and unnaturally well schooled in the music and dance from the waning days of 1950s and 1960s big band jazz. Tending bar, the world-weary Vince (Larry Neumann Jr.) is a perfect counterpoint to Walt’s bravado, as he eyes with suspicion this young lady’s game.

The story line is straightforward. Three late middle aged men – the third, Philly (Danny Sullivan) makes a backdoor entrance along the way – are competing for the attention of the comely young lass. They dance, talk big, and tell tales of their past. Chicagoans of a certain age will glow at references to now-vanished Rush St. locales like Mr. Kelley’s and the Gaslight Club.

Then the big talk turns competitive, and a storytelling contest ensues – shades of August Wilson here. A contrivance? Perhaps, but it arrives naturally and these guys are so compelling, the audience doesn’t begrudge a minute of it.

This scene also paints an even richer portrait of Chicago’s bygone era, captured in the color of its speech. While David Mamet has abstracted this linguistic naturalism into a generalized form, Rychlewski gives it the specificity of its locale – all the more enjoyable. Chops is a must-see just for this scene.

As the story continues, the plotting became harder to follow. But given the caliber of the performances, it seems that the director and author may need to coax a bit more from this section to get across the nature of the con that is being set up. Past that scene, the power struggle among the characters continues to a satisfying dramatic conclusion.  

There is one point in CHOPS that gave me pause: the character Kaki takes restroom breaks for the convenience of the dramatic trajectory, but at some point these become too many, and one runs unnaturally long (is she doing cocaine in there?).

The set is very good; Grant Sabin has done an impressive job with set design while Chris Neville handled the props. As CHOPS reveals itself to be a cut above the ordinary, I felt myself wishing even more resources were given so that Sabin and Neville could take their artistry further.  

In addition to the choreography and music that spice this play, there is also a compelling story behind its authorship, a first work, 25 years in the making by Rychlewski, a Schurz High School English teacher. He brought a 120- page script to director Shavzin, who cut it back to 74 pages – another factor in its excellence.

Dashnight Productions’ CHOPS runs through August 14 at Theatre Wit. May that run be extended.  

It is with a heavy heart I confess that I cannot recommend the play Eroica.  David Alex’s melodrama is not without merit or redeeming character – but for most people it will probably not be worth spending 70 minutes to extract them.  

The story is compelling and worth telling: during the height of the Vietnam War, college was a refuge for young men wanting to avoid being drafted. A nascent war resistance movement was not widely embraced, and the “average American” at the time viewed “draft dodgers” with suspicion. 

This was especially so in small towns in the Great Plains states, where Eroica is set. Playwright Alex is dead-on in rendering the details of the story of that time. America has not yet relinquished its perception of itself as an ever-righteous world savior, honed in World War II. But the war in Vietnam is not going well. Better-off young men go to college, or join the Army Reserve – as did President George W. Bush – to avoid the military. Its ranks swelled with the less affluent. Some young men fled to Canada, others ended up conscripted.

Alex’s story turns on a champion high school basketball coach, Victor (Felipe Carrasco) young enough to be in the Army, but who has somehow earned a medical deferment from the draft. The action, and plot, turns on one of his former charges, Charles (Garrett Young), a top basketball player, who was kicked off the team by the coach after he tore up a house in a rowdy party. This ended Charles's chance at college, and he has received his draft notice. He stalks the coach and his family as he exacts his revenge.

I’ll avoid revealing the spoiler, in case you want to see it. It is moderately entertaining. But the language of the characters is just a tad too formal. And there are some elements that are unexplained: why does the coach’s sister, Grace (Sarah Koerner), a major character, walk with a cane (or for that matter, why she is even in the play). Other elements get too much explanation: the play’s title, Eroica, is from Beethoven’s symphonic work (and the play is set during his 300th anniversary of his birth), which was first dedicated to Napoleon, then the dedication was scratched off when he named himself emperor. We hear even more about Beethoven, far more than we need to.

Here’s when we must ask whether director Maggie Speer might not have pushed back a bit on the author, to make the work more playable by the actors – who all did really good work, but needed to have better orchestration. One example: during the dramatic crescendo, in a battle between Victor and his wife Sally (Sara Pavlak Macquire) the stalking basketball player Charles who has sown these seeds of discord sits in the audience's focal point, center stage, munching pretzels and drinking beer. Charles also spends an inordinate amount of time rustling through documents while other characters aren't around. And the banter about basketball while technically precise is inaccessible and excessive for most ticket buyers.

While commending the effort here by the cast, this is a case where the playwright probably gains more from the production than the rest of the parties involved, including the audience. 

Eroica is being performed at Redtwist Theatre thru August 7th.

Watching one scene acted four or five ways is intrinsically interesting. It’s regularly played to comic effect at Second City. But what about an entire play strung together from a series of such scenes?

This structure, used in Constellations at Steppenwolf Theatre, may put your interest to the test. But it will not lose it.

This celebrated work is by British playwright Nick Payne, whose daring script has a simple storyline – boy and girl meet, court, marry. They face the joys and trials of coupledom: sharing, loving, careers, infidelity, illness.

Many scenes (all of them quite short) are played verbatim, or nearly so, three or more times in rapid succession. The characters shift emphasis, even reverse roles - the victimized party turns victimizer; the adulterer turns adulteress. Other scenes are almost largely rewritten for the multiple versions – delving into a conditional world – one in which this same relationship has played out differently than other scenes have suggested to us.

As Constellations progresses, the effect of so many short scenes is like standing at Oak Street Beach as the waves lap up, each similar, but different. In totality, the effect is mesmerizing.

And those individual scenes are very strong. The excellent performances by Jon Michael Hill as Roland, a beekeeper, and Jessie Fisher as Marianne, a theoretical physicist, give this work its due. (Both play with plausible British accents.)

After the 80 minute performance (no intermission) one can think back and say, “I saw a play tonight, and here’s what happened.” At Wednesday’s performance the audience was clearly engaged, getting the jokes, and tracking the action– as those scenes washed over them again and again.

The unlikely pairing of a beekeeper and a theoretical physicist also assures there will be great contrast in these characters. The beekeeper’s career path, explored through exposition, is quite credible in our renaissance of makers and foodies. He clearly admires the well defined roles of bees (i.e., worker,drone, queen).

But it is the role of Marianne, the theoretical physicist, that may be the key to this drama. Explaining her work to Roland, she posits a world in which all the choices we have made, or didn’t make, and lives we could have led, or did lead – coexist. Perhaps like Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five, these characters are "unstuck in time." This helps explain recurring scenes that diverge from the most likely story line. One example: a wistful exchange when the two, apparently living separate lives, meet up “years later” by sheer chance – a scene (repeated multiple times in various ways) that runs counter to suggestions they lived happily ever after.

The handsome set (Joe Schermoly) carries Constellations' theme well, setting the duo on a seamless, cornerless, groundless landscape of blue, evoking an unbounded cosmos. Above hang webs of LED rope (light design by Heather Gilbert) that crackle and flare like lightning (perhaps a visual cue of String Theory?).

Another provocative aspect of Constellations is conjured by a line delivered repeatedly by Marianne early on, and again near the end: “Mother wasn’t afraid to die; she was afraid of being kept alive.” This play is also about that solemn thought.

Constellations, directed by Jonathan Berry, runs through July 3. In addition to its well regarded author and highly regarded performances in London and New York, the show lets fans see TV star Jon Michael Hill (Detective Marcus Bell in CBS-TV’s Elementary) and Jessie Fisher, who starred on Broadway in Once.

 

If you can stand witnessing 90 minutes of emotional misery, then I can recommend Spinning at Den Theatre, where Irish Theatre of Chicago is giving the Dublin-based Deirdre Kinihan’s work its U.S. premiere. The four actors turn in powerful performances– a fifth character, never seen, was almost equally present throughout, a testament to the playwright’s gifts and the ensemble’s skills.

But the play may challenge U.S. audiences, as its exploration of the meltdown of Conor following an acrimonious divorce (Dan Waller’s vivid portrayal of Conor’s ups and downs is sensational) but the audience ends up nowhere. As his wife Jen, Carolyn Kruse is so well cast, and delivers an A+ performance - courageously staking out her ground, and the grounds to leave the marriage. Taking her daughter (never seen) she persists against the onslaught of Conor’s full-blown fury.

As Conor navigates Jen’s claim for divorce, he enters a downward spiral – heading on a destructive path, losing his business, and landing in prison. The storyline of the play turns on a very deliberate, but very slow reveal, of this crime.

But is this enough of a story for a play? Kinahan, a rising star in stage and with screen projects in development, explains that in Ireland, divorce is just a decade old. Unlike the U.S., Kinahan says Ireland’s divorced fathers are still establishing post-marital roles. To Conor, divorce means he loses his home, his daughter, and his standing as a spouse. It’s a different case here.

In Ireland this play is enlightening. Here, the play leaves one wanting – asking why we watched all that woe. Irish Theater of Chicago’s mission is to “focus on the rich legacy of Ireland,” and to “return theater to its storytelling origin.” Well this fraught recount of a marital breakdown is certainly that, a story – though for U.S. audiences, it may not have enough of a plot or purpose.

That aside, the performances are excellent, the director keeps the ensemble at a heightened level of delivery throughout – and Spinning makes for a worthy if painful theater experience .

With foreboding I took my seat in Court Theatre’s One Man, Two Guvnors, knowing the actors had devised some parts of the play on their own. As the company frolicked and sang the opening number, the jollity on stage was leaving me stone cold.

But enter Francis Henshall (Timothy Edward Kane) – the ‘One Man’ in the title – and within minutes this British import by way of Broadway had the audience laughing. And me? Full throat guffawing – by the second half, to the point of tears.

One man, Two Guvnors is based on a 1745 Italian Commedia dell Arte, Servant of Two Masters, written in that period’s improvisational comedic form. It has been masterfully adapted to modern sensibilities by Richard Bean, but it helps to know that Henshall is a stylized character of this Italian genre – known as a Harlequin – a hapless, bumbling dolt. While this suggests a scholarly exercise, the show is anything but.

It is more akin to Monty Python or Fawlty Towers - with a dash of Second City and some smart clowning. The action centers on a British seaside in 1963 Brighton, with costumes (nice work by Mara Blumenfeld, who has dressed Mary Zimmerman's productions) and original music (Grant Olding) that match the period perfectly. The plot is ridiculous, centering on mistaken identity and this Harlequin butler trying not to tip off his two bosses about each other. There is some cross dressing. 

 

Henshall the Harlequin may be hapless - think Stan Laurel of Laurel & Hardy – but Kane makes him a completely sympathetic character who controls the stage and the audience. Carlo Goldoni was commissioned to write the 1745 original by Italy’s premier Harlequin, Antonio Sacchi, as a showcase for his talents - the thin storyline left open ended for improvisation. Goldoni then updated it to capture some of Sacchi's free-form genius.

 It may well be we are seeing our own Sacchi. This locally grown Harlequin, in Kane’s performance, is a stage wonder. He seems born to the role, and Chicagoans are afforded the unique opportunity to see a new type of character born right on the boards at Court Theatre.

Stage screwball comedy evaporates in a retelling, but be assured it is very, very funny – whether you like your humor high brow or low, physical or intellectual, in wordplay or horseplay. The range of scenes includes a very hungry Henshall (Kane) lusting after a piece of cheese on a mousetrap. When his tongue is caught with a snap, he struggles mightily to reach that cheese (without using his hands), to great comedic effect.

Another scene finds Stanley Stubbers (Erik Hellman) one of Henshall’s Guvnors, despondent at the loss of his love. Deciding to cast himself into the sea, he throws himself at the ocean backdrop – discovering it is just a painted sheet. The audience picks up on the joke while Stubbers is bewildered with encountering the “fifth wall” (a recurring point of humor). This was my “laughed ‘til I cried" point.

Once Henshall’s character grounded the action, all the actors’ performances came alive – for me, anyway. The producers hired coaches to school the troupe in language and the Commedia style. But this cast of worthies, in addition to Kane, is impossible to fault, all delivering over the top, memorable performances: Chaon Cross (Pauline Clench), Allen Gilmore (Lloyd Boateng), Alex Goodrich (Alan Dangle), Francis Guinan (Charlie Clench), Erik Hellman (Stanley Stubbers), Elizabeth Ledo (Rachael Crabbe), Ross Lehman (Harry Dangle) and Hollis Resnik (Dolly). You will recognize most of them from their plentiful stage and screen work.

The show runs through June 12, 2016 at Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Avenue in Chicago. Don’t miss it.

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The House Theatre’s "The Nutcracker" is a wonderful holiday treat

13 November 2017 in Theatre in Review

It’s that magical time of the year when The House Theatre of Chicago brings the inhabitants of Clara’s toy box…

"This Wonderful Life" is just that - wonderful

11 November 2017 in Theatre in Review

Most of us have seen Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” at some point in their lives. Whether a Holiday…

"42nd Street!" wows audiences with thrilling, energetic dance and song!

08 November 2017 in Theatre in Review

The current production of 42nd Street at Drury Lane Theater left me breathless! With book by Michael Stewart and Mark…

School of Rock at Cadillac Palace will rock your socks off

05 November 2017 in Theatre in Review

Here comes the feel-good show that both adults and kids will enjoy. Based on the 2003 movie by the same…

Newsies at The Marriott Theatre: Pomp and Papes

03 November 2017 in Theatre in Review

Newsies, the Disney film from 1992 by Alan Menken (whose run around the same time of Little Mermaid, Beauty and…

Review: Wagner’s “Die Walküre” at Lyric Opera

03 November 2017 in Theatre in Review

“I’ve always favored unbridled passions,” sings Wotan in the Lyric Opera’s new production of Richard Wagner’s “Die Walküre” This is…

Yasmina's Necklace touches the heart

01 November 2017 in Theatre in Review

Playwright Rohina Malik and director Ann Filmer have reunited and have collaborated on something special. Goodman Theatre’s current run of…

Review: Welcome to Jesus at American Theatre Company

01 November 2017 in Theatre in Review

Celebrating nearly 35 years in their factory space around the North Center neighborhood, American Theater Company has a knack for…

Other Theatre's Holiday Hit "Barney the Elf" - November 17 - December 30 at Greenhouse Theater Center

28 October 2017 in Upcoming Theatre

Other Theatre is pleased to continue its 4th season with the third revival of its holiday hit BARNEY THE ELF,…

NRBQ Makes Big Splash at Fitzgerald's

28 October 2017 in In Concert

NRBQ is a fun band. “New Rhythm and Blues Quartet”. I find the name slightly misleading. When I think of…

Review: In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play at Timeline Theatre

27 October 2017 in Theatre in Review

Sarah Ruhl’s ‘In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play’ returns to Chicago at Timeline Theatre. Directed by Mechelle Moe,…

Carrie 2: The Rage (An Unauthorized Musical) A Funny Halloween Treat That Urges People "Not to Suck So Much"

22 October 2017 in Theatre in Review

Most people are aware of the movie Carrie, starring the haunting Sissy Spacek as the picked on teenaged outsider who…

 

 

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