Theatre

Broken Nose Theatre is pleased to launch its 2018 Season with the world premiere of resident playwright Michael Allen Harris’ kitchen sink comedy KINGDOM, directed by Kanome Jones. The new play about an all-LGBTQ African American family in Orlando will play March 2 – 31, 2018 at BNT’s new resident home, The Den Theatre (Upstairs Main Stage), 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. Tickets for KINGDOM go on sale Monday, January 29, 2018 at brokennosetheatre.com. Tickets for all Broken Nose Theatre productions are available on a “pay-what-you-can” basis, allowing patrons to set their own price and ensuring theatre remains economically accessible for all audiences. The press opening is Monday, March 5 at 7:30 pm.
 
KINGDOM features BNT company member Johnard Washington* and artistic associates Watson Swift+ and RjW Mays+ with Byron Coolie and Christopher K. McMorris.
 
When the state of Florida legalizes same sex marriage, Arthur and Henry (his partner of fifty years) come to terms with their differing opinions on the necessity of becoming husbands, even as their son Alexander finds himself wading through some rough new waters of his own. KINGDOM is the story of an entirely-LGBTQ African American family that lives in the near-literal shadow of Orlando’s magical kingdom, as they struggle to create a life together that captures a little bit of that same magic.
 
“We’ve been in love with this script for two years, and could not think of a better way to kick off our sixth season than a homegrown world premiere by one of our resident playwrights,” says BNT Founding Artistic Director Benjamin Brownson*. “Michael’s voice is Tenessee Williams meets August Wilson with a dash of Dan Savage for good measure. He has written a new kind of family dramedy that is lyrical, queer, fresh, timely, resonant and hilarious. We can’t wait to share it with Chicago.”
 
KINGDOM was developed in conjunction with The Paper Trail, BNT’s new play development program.
 
The production team for KINGDOM includes: Caswell James (scenic design, technical director), Marci Rodriguez (costume design), Michael Joseph (lighting design), Grover Hollway (sound design) Devon Green+ (props design), Rylee Freeman (hair and make-up design), Chloe Baldwin (fight director), Elizabeth Gomez (master electrician), Rose Hamill* (production manager), and Echaka Agba* (assistant director).
 
* Denotes BNT company member
+ Denotes BNT artistic associate
 
PRODUCTION DETAILS:
 
Title: KINGDOM
Playwright: resident playwright Michael Allen Harris
Director: Kanome Jones
Cast (in alphabetical order): Byron Coolie (Malik), RjW Mays+ (Phaedra), Christopher K. McMorris (Arthur), Watson Swift+ (Henry) and Johnard Washington* (Alexander).
 
Location: The Den Theatre (Upstairs Main Stage), 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Chicago
Dates: Previews: Friday, March 2 at 7:30 pm and Saturday, March 3 at 7:30 pm
Opening: Sunday, March 4 at 3 pm
Press Opening: Monday, March 5 at 7:30 pm
Regular Run: Thursday, March 8 – Saturday, March 31, 2018
Curtain Times: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Sundays at 3 pm
Industry Night: Monday, March 12 at 7:30 pm
Understudy Night: Wednesday, March 21 at 7:30 pm
Tickets: Pay-what-you-can. Tickets go on sale Monday, January 29, 2018 at brokennosetheatre.com

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

The Greenhouse Theater Center is pleased to announce the line-up for its 2018 SOLO PERFORMANCE LAB, featuring four world premiere solo works presented in two free programs: February 17 and March 3, 2018 in the Greenhouse Theatre Center’s Downstairs Mainstage, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. in Chicago. Each presentation is followed by a short talkback with the artists. Reservations (free) can be made in advance at www.greenhousetheater.org.  
 
Curated by GTC Literary Manager Nick Thornton and GTC Artistic Associate Kate Cuellar, the SOLO PERFORMANCE LAB underscores the Greenhouse’s institutional commitment to creating solo works by offering local artists the space and support to develop new solo performance. This year, artists were encouraged to submit 30-minute plays proposals that focused on an unexamined facet of a historical event or illuminated the life of a little-known historical figure. SOLO PERFORMANCE LAB participants will receive institutional resources including space, dramaturgical support and production resources to develop these four innovative new solo performances.
 
“We could not be more thrilled with the artists that have been selected this year’s Solo Performance Lab,” comments Greenhouse Artistic Director Jacob Harvey. “By putting the varied identities and perspectives of these ensembles into conversation we hope to celebrate and underscore the necessity of telling our singular stories to reveal broader truths about the human condition.”
 
Program 1: Saturday, February 17 at 2:30 pm:
 
THE STRANGE PALE APE WITH THE PONYTAIL
Written and performed by Aurora Real de Asua
Directed by Mara Stern
 
How was it that one untrained secretary was able to communicate with a species overlooked by an entire scientific community? Much has been said about the brilliance behind Jane Goodall's work, but this new play seeks to illuminate an often overlooked factor of this extraordinary woman: her outrageously courageous compassion. Using a mixture of clowning, puppetry and animal work, THE STRANGE PALE APE WITH THE PONYTAIL takes you through the jungle and back to unearth the heart behind one of the 20th century's most influential scientists.
 
GRANDMA SCIENCE
Written and performed by Aidaa Peerzada
Directed by Am’Ber Montgomery
 
GRANDMA SCIENCE explores the life of the first African American medical illustrator Nadia Willette Page through the eyes of her granddaughter. The piece reflects on the psychological and familial impact of rising above prejudice through poetry and interview testimony.
 
Program 2: Saturday, March 3 at 2:30 pm:
 
MISS MAJOR CUSHMAN
Written by Erin Austin
Directed by Egla Kishta
Performed by Sarah Schol
 
She’s a wife, mother, actress and a failed union spy. Tonight, Pauline Cushman takes to the stage and tells her story. But how much of it is true is anyone’s guess.
 
SQUEAKY!
Written by Nora Leahy
Directed by Gus Menary
Performed by Angela Horn
 
Lynnette "Squeaky" Fromme is notorious for her involvement with the Manson Family and her assassination attempt on President Gerald Ford, but before all of that she was a child performer who toured the country, performed at the White House, and appeared on The Lawrence Welk Show. In SQUEAKY!, we join Lynnette in her jail cell as she performs a variety show of her very own. A solo performance that is equal parts heartbreak, terror and glitter. 
 
The SOLO PERFORMANCE LAB is part of the Greenhouse's playwright-focused, professional development programming, which also includes The Trellis Residency Initiative, a professional development program for Chicago-area playwrights under 30, and the MC-10 Playwrights Ensemble, a collection of ten of the country’s most sought-after established and mid-career Chicago playwrights and theater-makers now in residence at the Greenhouse.

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre
Sunday, 04 February 2018 19:31

Marriott's "Ragtime" Well Worth the Wait

Marriott Theatre’s Ragtime might just be one of the best adaptations to make its way through the Greater Chicago Area - ever. E.L. Dotorow wrote the novel in 1975, which has stormed theatre stages since 1996, snagging thirteen Tony Awards in 1996.

With lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, music by Stephen Flaherty and a book by Terrence McNally, the highly-acclaimed musical follows three very dissimilar families beginning in 1906 New York. One family is a white, advantaged and wealthy, one consists of an immigrant Jewish father and his young daughter while the other is a young African-American couple following the birth of their new child. Throughout the story, the families become intertwined with each other as the story paints a vivid picture of privilege versus the struggles of those less fortunate. Ragtime is a moving story of hard times, prejudices and the will to survive by those who have been dealt a much tougher hand in life and also the understanding – and lack of understanding – that is had by those more prosperous. It is also the ultimate story of determination.

Beautifully directed by Nick Bowling, the story includes several colorful characters that really make a strong impact such as Tateh, the Jewish immigrant from Latvia, played impeccably with much intensity by Benjamin Magnusun. Tateh, a portrait artist, is inspired to succeed in America after watching the great Harry Houdini (Alexander Aguilar), another immigrant, make his rise to fame. Marriott Theatre veteran and actor/singer extraordinaire Nathanial Stampley once again rises to the challenge this time as Colehouse Walker Jr. the show’s champion and pioneer of “ragtime” piano-driven music. Katherine Thomas compliments Stampley well as Walker’s fiancé, Sarah, her role as powerful as any in the story that holds such a political relevance in today’s current state.

Ragtime was a long time coming for Marriott and this staging is well-worth the wait. Bowling decides to change the play’s ending, a decision for audience members to take home and ponder.

Chicago favorites Larry Adams and James Earl Jones II this time find themselves leading a highly gifted ensemble, adding even more punch to this influential musical. Brilliant performances run rampant in this production with riveting work from Jonathan Butler-Duplessis as Booker T. Washington and Kirsten Hodgens, known only as “Sarah’s Friend” in the program. Hodgens has show-stopping vocals that are certainly highlighted in this production.

With a running time of two hours and forty minutes, the production’s high engagement level from beginning to end without lull is testament to its quality. For those who have seen the musical before, just seeing it from another perspective, that of its in-the-round staging, is entertaining in itself. With spot on costume and set design, moving musical numbers and tremendous acting and vocal efforts, Marriott’s Ragtime should be in line for a Jeff Award nomination.

Highly recommended - a perfect piece of musical theatre.

Ragtime is being performed at Marriott Theatre through March 18th. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.marriotttheatre.com.

 

Published in Theatre in Review
Friday, 09 February 2018 17:51

Review: Joffrey Ballet's "Modern Masters"

As the era of streaming entertainment and sweatpants-clad binge watching continues, you have to applaud those who attend the performing arts. It’s certainly not an easier medium to consume, but some would argue it’s much more rewarding. Unfortunately, ballet and opera are struggling to attract a millennial audience. 

The Joffrey Ballet, however, opened its Modern Masters to no lack of enthusiasm. The massive Auditorium Theater was packed with audiences of all ages. Modern Masters is a four-piece show featuring the works of four different choreographers including the popular George Balanchine. Modern Masters is presented as part of the Ashley Anniversary, celebrating Ashley Wheater’s 10th season as artistic director of the Joffrey. 

They begin with Balanchine’s ‘Four Temperaments’, a visual take on the ancient belief that the body is influenced by four humors. This piece is the most traditional and lengthy of the four. The costumes and staging are sparse. Music by Paul Hindemith is soft but stirring. 

After a brief intermission, they return with Myles Thatcher’s ‘Body of Your Dreams’. The energy picks up here. With colorful 80s-flavored workout inspired costumes, 'Body of Your Dreams' is a cheeky take on fitness. It's a little ironic for a stage full of perfectly sculpted dancers to slightly criticize the "perfect body" obsession. The steps are fun, and the music is catchy. 

Next is the world premiere of Nicolas Blanc's multi-part piece 'Beyond the Shore'. This one is more similar in style to Balanchine's. The staging is as sparse, but the choreography is visually stunning. Music by Mason Bates is intricate with a cinematic scope. Think John Williams. 

The final piece is the Chicago premiere of 'Glass Pieces' by legendary choreographer Jerome Robbins. This is the piece to come for. Ballet fans of Chicago have been waiting for this one. It's well worth the hype. The set and costumes are striking. Philip Glass' music really shines in this meticulously choreographed number. The dance begins chaotic and busy but comes full circle to inspire the movement of a busy city. Bright and thrilling, 'Glass Pieces' is the strongest of the four. 

Modern Masters is a perfect evening for those looking to touch their toe into the waters of modern dance. Tread without fear of boredom for this highly engrossing show. Joffrey has a great way of being accessible to all audiences despite familiarity with the art of dance. 

Through February 18th at Joffrey Ballet. 50 E Congress Parkway. 312-386-8905

 

Published in Dance in Review
Monday, 05 February 2018 12:09

Review: I Puritani at Lyric Opera of Chicago

There are fewer things in theatre more exciting the curtain going up on the first act of an opera. Often there’s no ceremony or pre-recorded note from management. The lights dim and the overture begins. How enchanting to take your first look at the sumptuous sets and costumes Lyric Opera has created for this production. Pilgrim-chic you might call it. Tradition and form make opera a unique theatrical experience. On a snowy Sunday afternoon, the curtain came up on Bellini’s ‘I Puritani’, signaling to its audience, get comfortable.

Eric Einhorn’s production of Bellini’s drama runs just under four hours with two intermissions. The first act is the longest at eighty minutes. ‘I Puritani’ concerns a Puritan hamlet in which a young princess Elvira (Albina Shagimuratova) chooses another suitor, Arturo, over the pre-arranged marriage to Riccardo (Anthony Clark Evans). Just before the wedding, Arturo obliges himself to save condemned Queen Enrichetta (Lauren Decker). While he’s smuggling her out of the country, word returns to Elvira that her fiancé has run off with another woman. She is devastated and the army pursues him.

Yeah, that’s the plot. Nearly four hours to convey that relatively simple story along with Bellini’s beautiful score. This is why opera is special, because for four hours, we really don’t care what the plot is. For centuries opera was performed without the super script translations, leaving the audience to presume based on summaries in their playbills. Projected translations are used sparingly in this production of ‘I Puritani’ – maybe because the plot is so uncomplicated, they’re not necessary. In any case, they’re certainly not missed and would likely be distracting. What should be paid attention to are these beautiful singers and the gorgeous orchestra.

A significant difference between musical theatre and opera is that the leads are not expected to be great actors. Voice is most important in these roles, especially in Bellini’s works. He believed that a beautiful voice is what stirs audience emotions. He’s not wrong. Though, Russian soprano Albina Shagimuratova is a good actress. She’s not heard until the second scene, but her performance is easily the most accessible aspect of this production. Her heartbreak is palpable in voice and gesture regardless of language. Act II is worth the entire afternoon.

As always, the costumes and sets are overwhelmingly beautiful. Haunting imagery is captured by the large cast numbers and soaring melodies. ‘I Puritani’ may lose the attention of its audience during the lengthy solos, but will quickly recapture focus when the whole ensemble fills the stage. Just as exciting as the curtain going up, is the curtain coming down. Opera enthusiasts scream “brava” and beg for more curtain calls, a truly opera-specific tradition. In opera, the energy of the experience sustains the art itself.

Through February 28 at Lyric Opera of Chicago. 20 N Wacker Drive. 312-827-5600

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Buffalo Theatre Ensemble presented a two act play at the McIninch Art Center in Glen Ellyn titled Time Stands Still this past weekend and I was fortunate enough to see the opening night performance. The entire play is set in a Brooklyn loft apartment that really serves well in creating a New York feel. The cast is power packed though small as four actors take on the roles of two couples in this story that mostly centers around the pair living in the loft though the other couple is still strongly placed in the story line.

As the story is described, Sarah, a photo journalist, is recovering in the Brooklyn apartment she shares with her foreign correspondent boyfriend James after being injured by a roadside bomb while covering the Iraq war. When they receive a visit from their photo editor friend Richard and his young new girlfriend Mandy, it forces Sarah and James to re-examine their relationship, and address the ethics of journalism in a world torn by conflict and suffering.

Times Stand Still is powerful and comes with acting is of very high caliber, each actor as impressive as the next. I never actually felt like I was watching actors, which in itself is testament to the players’ convincing performances. This play provides four very believable characters, and all decidedly different. It is also thought-provoking a play that prompts some very interesting conversations going on during the intermission. Written by Donald Margulies with Connie Canaday Howard serving as the production and artistic director, Time Stands Still is well-produced in every way. College of DuPage alumni Chris Kriz handles the play’s original music as sound composer and designer while Michael W. Moon does a fantastic job with scenic design, and Claire Chrzan with lighting design.

The central character, if you could say there was one, was Sarah Goodwin, played by Lisa Dawn, who has done work with BTE before. I found her character the most controversial in many ways. Having said that, the audience may have disagreed. In talking to, and overhearing, audience members afterward it appeared many had differences of opinions, the play encouraging some good conversation – always the mark of a good script.

Amanda Raudabaugh, played by Mandy Bloom, is also a provocative character. She is the new wife of Richard Ehrlich, played by another BTE veteran, Kurt Naebig. Brad Lawrence played James Dodd, who was the other half of the couple with Goodwin.

I don’t think two people could walk away with the same description of what they took from this play. Personal and moral values are questioned by the characters in the cast, as well as the audience. There are also some light-hearted moments, though the subject matter was anything but light. The story really makes you think and really puts into question your own thinking. How would you handle yourself if you were put in the position of the central character?

If you are looking for something light and funny, check out another play. If you do enjoy pondering over real issues, get yourself a ticket. Actually, go see it for yourself. Not everyone is going to walk away with the same perspective of this engaging story. The talented Buffalo Theater Ensemble does yet another a great job with this one. Time Stands Still show will be at The MAC on the grounds of the College of DuPage until March 4th and comes highly recommend. It just might make you think.

For more info on this play visit http://www.atthemac.org/.

Published in Theatre in Review
Saturday, 03 February 2018 00:05

Review: "Nice Girl" at Raven Theatre

Having been wanting to check it out for quite a while, I was excited to go see Nice Girl at the Raven Theatre, the theatre’s latest offering, this one by Melissa Ross and directed by Lauren Shouse. Upon entering the Edgewater located venue, I walked into the warmth and was greeted by two friendly gentlemen. It is an unassuming, no thrills theatre, and unfortunately was missing a bar. As I went to find a seat, I noticed the sense of community at Raven Theatre. It was clear the staff was close-knit and well-connected in the theatre community.

I was immediately transported to Massachusetts as they play started. Both Josephine, played by Lucy Carapetyan, and her mother Francine, who is played by Lynne Baker, show fantastic chemistry from the get go and the banter between the two is strong, to say the least. In fact, their repartee is so realistic at times as they both pushed each other's buttons it made me uncomfortable.

The premise of the play is that Josephine is 37, single, and living with her mother. She befriends a coworker named Sherri (Stella Martin) who happens to be the saving grace of this play. She brings a much-needed energy to the sad life that Carapetyan so convincingly brought to her character. As the play progresses we are introduced to Donnie (Benjamin Sprunger) who is an old classmate of Josephine and they start to build a budding romance. But the characters prove to be bland.

There is a twist in the second half of the play in which I missed completely, most likely due to the lack of interest in the play’s characters. I truly struggled with the play and what it offers to its audience. It is sad and without much hope until the end of the show. What I yearned for was the steady, noticeable growth of Josephine throughout the challenges of her relationship with her mother but again, some changes occurred at the end.

Nice Girl is a bit hard to watch but it does have some humor breaks here and there, albeit on the more minor side – not enough to salvage the play. I struggled with feeling much hope for the main character. If seeing the play, be prepared to be sad and have a lot of hurt in your heart. However, when walking out of the Theatre many patrons commented that they enjoyed Nice Girl, obviously appealing to the taste of several theatre goers. Who’s to say who will enjoy what so, as always, check it out and make your own opinion.
Nice Girl is being performed at Raven Theatre where it is running until March 11th. Tickets available at www.raventheatre.com.

Published in Theatre in Review

In association with the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, The Cherry​​​​​ Orchard​​​​​ Festival​, ​​​​​a ​​​​​leading ​​​​​presenter ​​​​​of ​​​​​international ​​​​​artists, ​​​​theater companies ​​​​​and ​​​​​orchestras, ​​​​​presented ​​​​​the ​​​​​Chicago ​​​​​premiere​​​​​ of “Brodsky/Baryshnikov,” ​​​this past weekend. Chicago is one of three limited engagements of this production, including stops in Boston and Toronto earlier this year. This New Riga Theater and Baryshnikov Productions co-produced this piece, based on the poems of Russian Nobel Laureate Joseph Brodsky, which is performed in Russian by accomplished dancer and performer Mikael Baryshnikov. Inspired by the poetry of his long-time friend and with encouragement of director ​​​​​Alvis ​​​​​Hermanis, this entrancing play made its premier at the New Riga Theater, in Latvia on October 15th, 2010 and began its North American debut in 2016. We count ourselves lucky in Chicago, that the intimate setting of the Harris Theater is where “Brodsky/Baryshnikov” ​​ decided to make its premiere.
 
Commanding the stage against the backdrop of a moonlit sky and the haunting stillness of crickets in a still night (Jim Wilson’s “God’s Chorus of Crickets”), Baryshnikov enters through the rear doors of a train station vestibule. He is dressed in a dark suit, brown shoes and carrying a blue briefcase this character that enters the stage is a weary traveler, awaiting a slow arriving train.  Emptying a few of the contents in his bag, he prepares for his next leg of travel with an alarm clock, books of poetry and a bottle of Jameson.

Maybe it is the solitary sense of the character, alone at the station, or the eerie stillness of the night.  The haunting stillness continues to entrance you as Baryshnikov begins to mumble and whisper some of the poetry he is reading aloud. In this very personal interpretation of what can only be described as, an understanding of art and artist, could only have been done by a true friend. And it is done in a truly captivating fashion, even for those who don’t speak Russian.  As the English translations scroll across the awning of the train station, it almost seems unnecessary to focus your attention entirely on the poetry, as he expresses himself with interpretive dance, subtle facial nuances, and Japanese kabuki style movements. As Baryshnikov speaks, his voice washes over the once chatty and unsettled crowd, which has drawn them into silence to witness this internal conversation of men discussing life, aging, death, change and one’s own fatality amongst the flutter of butterfly wings, the ripples of water or the cries of one’s struggles. Nothing more so, emphasizes this exchange than about thirty minutes into the show when Baryshnikov begins to recite Brodsky’s poem “May 24, 1980” — a poem written on his fortieth birthday; the radio on the opposite bench starts to play. Brodsky’s voice fills the theater, overtaking that of Baryshnikov’s. It’s a somber reunion, to hear the voice of Brodsky reciting his poetry. 

The effect this conversation has on friends is eloquent and thought provoking. The images that Baryshnikov portrays defy the image we have of him, revealing a man of seventy-years-old. However, the control of his performance, the beauty in his grace, and the feeling emanating from each movement, has the audience reveling in the depth of the poetic arrangements and the emotions they evoke with such intensity that the audience leaves in quiet murmurs – we leave with pensive faces and contemplative stares.  This moving performance is one, not to miss, but to experience.

Published in Dance in Review

Loosely based on a true story of the two infamous feuding families- Hatfield and McCoy – and inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the namesake musical takes place circa 1865 in West Virginia.

McCoy family loves to stage home plays and write poetry, while Hatfields spend most of their time drinking whiskey and planning revenge against McCoys. It’s mostly un-clear what started the hostility between the two families, but both parties are very much into it. The families occasionally take a break from killing each other for the annual talent competitions. There is a 3-piece live band on stage consisting of Matthew Muniz (Music Director/ Keyboard), Jake Saleh (Upright Bass), and Jess McIntosh (Fiddle). Actors sing, play acoustic guitars and mandolins. New music created for the play (Shawn Pfautsch and Matt Kahler) represents Americana styles across generations, from bluegrass to 2017 pop.

During one of such competitions, McCoys’ young daughter Rose Anna (sweet-voiced Haley Bolithon) accidentally falls in love with Hatfields’ young son Sam (Bradley Grant Smith); the two love birds immediately conspire to get married and thus reconcile their families once and for all. But the other family members do not trust each other, so things don’t exactly go as planned.

Interesting choreography bordering on dance combined with great period costumes (by Emily McConnell) makes for a visually enticing show. Director Matt Hawkins, who is also a fight choreographer and movement director, incorporated several dance-like fight scenes into the play with terrifying outcomes, and those are some of the highlights of the show.

Lengthy monologues peppered with Bible quotes, as both patriarchs are fond of searching Bible for quotes to justify their actions - the play has a strong Christian presence. But despite many great passionate performances, most memorably by Robert D. Hardaway as “Devil” Anse Hatfield, Marika Mashburn as Levicy Hatfield and Stacy Stoltz as Sarah McCoy, it is vaguely reminiscent of a high school play as it lacks certain emotional maturity, especially considering the horrifying subject matter.

Rivers of fake blood, loud guns and violent knife stabbings – Hatfield and McCoy takes no prisoners, quite literally. Tragic ending serves as a cautionary tale: “There ain’t no winning in war”.

The House Theatre Company’s Hatfield and McCoy is being performed at Chopin Theatre through March 11th. For more show information visit www.chopintheatre.com.

 

Published in Theatre in Review
Tuesday, 30 January 2018 23:45

Review: Blind Date at Goodman Theatre

Who’d have thought a Cuban-born playwright could endear an auditorium of liberals to Ronald Reagan. Rogelio Martinez’s new play ‘Blind Date’ is a fictionalized account of the very real first meeting between Soviet general secretary Mikhail Gorbachev (William Dick) and President Ronald Reagan (James D. Farruggio). Robert Falls returns to the Goodman to direct this world premiere.

Billed as a comedy, some will wonder what could be funny about a world on the brink of nuclear war? As it turns out, quite a bit. ‘Blind Date’ is basically a drawing room comedy. Most of the scenes are two-person conversations between the various historic players of the time. Beginning with US Secretary of State George Schultz (Jim Ortlieb) and Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze (Steve Pickering) all the way up to the fateful meeting between Gorbachev and Reagan in Geneva.

The narrative structure of this piece is interesting. In some cases, cast members speak their opinions directly to the audience. In other instances, there’s narration by way of British biographer Edmund Morris (Thomas J. Cox). The narration serves the playwright’s thesis that even his own biographer didn’t really understand Reagan. The asides are more often a conveyance for one-liners. Though, they do provide insight into the mindset of the Soviets and Americans in these meetings.

It’s no surprise that Falls has assembled some of Chicago’s foremost actors for this new play. Deanna Dunagan plays Nancy Reagan, in a nearly perfect likeness no less, while Goodman favorite Mary Beth Fisher plays Raisa Gorbachev. The two first ladies share a scene in which almost nothing of consequence is discussed, but the slight backhanded compliments and fuss made over tea bags versus loose leaf underscore how tenuous relations between the super powers were. Each thinking themselves superior in domesticity and political ideology. Scenes featuring Dunagan and Fisher are the most engaging as the dialogue sharpens to a point. What few may consider is how much influence these two women had over their husbands. Despite contradicting opinions, both sides desperately wanted to see an end to the nuclear arms race. A noble idea that has unfortunately taken a wrong turn since the mid-80s.

There’s danger in glorifying Ronald Reagan as an innocuous savior from nuclear war. His optimism regarding the Soviets was certainly helpful but in the end, the Soviet Union collapsed from a failing economy, not Reagan’s pro-Democracy initiatives. And yes, it’s easy to look at Reagan and think, at least he’s not our current president, but let’s not forget the homophobic blind eye his administration turned toward the AIDS crisis, and the lasting effects of the unsuccessful war on drugs.

This play is a lot like an average Oscar-bait movie. You know the type: polished historical drama about a specific section of history, usually starring high profile British actors like Judi Dench. Ones that you know you should see, but probably won’t. It’s okay for a play to be ephemeral. In this case, the global nuclear stakes are so high right now that it’s vital for Americans to understand how serious even the tiniest miscommunication could be. It’s important for Americans to remember what diplomacy looked like. Think of the current president’s impulsive behavior on Twitter. Rogelio Martinez’s play may make you giggle at Reagan’s loveable weirdness, but the gravity of this meeting with Gorbachev in 1986 should frighten us all. These were poor leaders who made a very smart decision. It’s a terrifying shame our current leaders would rather go back in time.

At Goodman Theatre through February 25th. 170 N Dearborn. 312-443-3811

 

Published in Theatre in Review
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