Theatre

For those looking for about as much funny as can be compacted into sixty minutes, one would be hard pressed to find as many laughs as The Best of Bri-Ko, a sidesplitting theatre experience where the absurd is creatively implemented into a series of sketch acts, each one stranger than the next. 

Stage 773 Creative Director Brian Posen teams up with Chicago comedic forces Tim Soszko and Brian Peterlin to form this hilarious hour-long ride where just a single word is spoken throughout the entire performance. The three theatre veterans are able to inject their unique humorous spin into such simple everyday tasks from changing a light bulb to a having a dinner date that have the audience in stitches from the moment they take the stage to the show’s very climactic ending. A series of props are used in practically every sketch performed including water balloons, heads of lettuce, cream pies and other very messy items, making it as though a tornado had swept through the venue by the show’s end. Caution – you might become a victim of friendly fire.

Varying from one extreme to the other, a heavy-duty Nerf gun war breaks out throughout the crowd to Slayer’s “Angel of Death” while moments later we become subject to a hysterical dance routine to Wilson Phillip’s “Hold On” that you must see to fully appreciate. Adding to the intimate, and very unusual, theatre experience is the fact that the production is performed in Stage 773’s Cab Theatre, a smaller-sized room so as to easily involve the entire audience. 

"With so much buzz today about what's appropriate in comedy, Bri-Ko is a breath of fresh air," says Stage 773 Creative Director Brian Posen. "This is a hilariously entertaining show without the politics or controversies you typically see with this genre."

Poesen couldn’t be more correct. If you were to throw bits and pieces into a blender from Blue Man Group, The Marx Brothers and various vaudevillian acts, inject it with steroids, then douse it with Posen, Soszko and Peterlin’s own exclusive brand of humor, you’d have Bri-Ko – a true one-of-a-kind comedy event that goes from 0-60mph in seconds flat. 

Posen, Soszko and Peterlin work incredibly well together, exhibiting not only a well-oiled team chemistry but each having plenty of their own moments mainly done with key facial expressions and challenging physical comedy. No question about it, Bri-Ko is a power-packed hour of pure fun that can be enjoyed over and over again. 

There is no shortage of stage experience in this very exceptional cast. Jeff and After Dark Award Winner Brian Posen has been active in the Chicago theater scene for over 20 years as an actor, producer, director, and teacher. Posen and Peterlin have worked together for years, in 2001, alongside Brian Posen, founding The Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival, now the largest in the nation. Tim Soszko teaches at Second City, Barrel of Monkeys and Columbia College while performing with many companies including Bri-Ko, The Cupid Players and The Tim and Micah Project.

The Best of Bri-Ko is being performed at Stage 773 in the Cab Theatre each Thursday through March 23rd before reworking material and returning this Fall. 

Very, very recommended.

For tickets and/or more show information click here.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Never has a play about journalism, the presidency and Cold War with Russia seemed more relevant than now. And The Columnist, performed by The American Blues Theater at Stage 773, is all of that and more. In a story that could have easily been set during today’s heated political environment, The Columnist is a scintillating tale of family, power, betrayal and personal struggle.

 

Written by the Pulitzer and Tony award-winning author David Auburn and directed by Keira Fromm, The Columnist is based on real-life journalists Joe Alsop (Philip Earl Johnson) and his brother Stewart Alsop (Coburn Goss). Once a power writing duo, the play begins with Joe, now one of America’s most influential columnists - both feared and beloved, caught in a revealing and compromising position in a Moscow hotel.

 

That affair and its consequences runs like an undercurrent throughout the entire play as we see Joe battle for power, his ideas on what American exceptionalism entails and how the president (both John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson) should achieve it no matter the costs. We also see his struggle to keep his private life separate from the illusion he creates for the public.

 

Johnson is exquisite and brilliant in the role of Joe Alsop and very capably humanizes such a towering political figure of the time.

 

Joe is a man who loves his country and family with equal and blinding passion but in the rapidly changing world of the 1960’s, against the backdrop of the Vietnam war, his inability to see beyond his own beliefs pushes away those closest to him. He manages to alienate even some of his most ardent admirers and colleagues.

 

However, despite the growing distance between Joe and his family – his perfectly cast, dutiful and charming wife Susan (played by the equally charming Kymberly Mellen), his precocious stepdaughter Abigail (Tyler Meredith) and his sincere and loyal brother Stewart, what is conveyed even at some of his lowest points is how much they still love him despite his many flaws.

 

Stewart and Abigail are perhaps two of Joe’s most pivotal relationships. Several key moments come when they both show not only how much they understand him, as well as what drives him, but also their acceptance of the contradiction of his public figure and private life. This understanding and acceptance comes even though they often disagree with his passionate defense of the war as well as his methods of squashing the dissenting views of fellow journalists. Both Goss and Meredith play their roles with such depth and nuance that it’s easy to feel their characters’ compassion for such a complex man.

 

The ability of Auburn to delve so deeply into these relationships and to keep the plot moving at the fast pace of an intriguing spy novel is impressive. Also, very impressive and effective is the staging and the way several of the more dramatic moments are highlighted, especially during transitions. After several poignant and emotional scenes, having Joe stand in a single spotlight as the darkened set changes behind him is a powerful effect, and whether intended or not, is a reflection of the often-tumultuous changes happening in his life.

 

The creative team for The Columnist: Joe Schermoly (scenic design), Christopher J. Neville (costume design), Jared Gooding (lighting design), Christopher Kriz (original music and sound design), Alec Long (props design), Sarah E. Ross (production manager), Eva Breneman (dialect coach), Sara Illiatovitch-Goldman (dramaturg), and Dana M. Nestrick (stage manager), does an amazing job of enhancing an already powerful script and showcasing as Joe says: “human intercourse at its sublimely ridiculous.”

 

Highly recommended

 

American Blues Theater’s The Columnist runs through April 1, 2017, at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont. Tickets are available in online at americanbluestheater.com.

 

Published in Theatre in Review
Friday, 24 February 2017 18:23

Review: Uncle Vanya at Goodman Theatre

In 2010, Goodman Theatre Artistic Director adapted "The Seagull" by Chekhov. An all-star cast, a stellar script and unique staging made for a memorable production. For this season, Robert Falls returns Chekhov to the Goodman with a new adaptation of "Uncle Vanya" by Annie Baker. This production of "Uncle Vanya" could be seen as a companion piece to 2010's "The Seagull." There's a stylistic similarity and another all-star cast breathing new life into this classic work. 

 

Like any Chekhov play, "Uncle Vanya" is about the everyday boredom and sadness of bourgeois Russians living on a country estate. Vanya (Tim Hopper) and niece Sonya (Caroline Neff) have toiled away their youths keeping the estate afloat and subsidizing the academic career of Sonya's aging father Alexander (David Darlow). When Alexander and his much younger wife Yelena (Kristen Bush) decide to move in with Vanya, their simple lives reach confrontation. 

 

Chekhov has a knack for dynamic female characters. "Uncle Vanya" is no exception. Caroline Neff's performance as Sonya sneakily becomes the focal point. Neff infuses Baker's already modern dialogue with an almost tangible sense of emotion.  Playing off her in the role of Yelena is Kristin Bush. This character is complicated and cold but Bush deftly shifts between moods without ever losing her audience. 

 

Adapter Annie Baker won the Pulitzer in 2014 for her play "The Flick." Her interpretation of "Uncle Vanya" was based on a literal word-for-word translation as she wanted her version to sound as fresh to a modern American audience as the original Russian had in 1900. To that end, Baker is successful. The script is quiet, but the dialogue seamlessly flows into our century. There's a timelessness to the entire production. Certain conventions, costumes and set pieces span generations, yet are of no specific historic era.  This stylistic choice only reinforces the ever-relevant themes of Chekhov's complex works. 

 

"Uncle Vanya" can neither be described as a comedy or a drama. There are moments of lightness and even dark humor, but overall the play is not particularly funny. On the other hand, while there's a well of unhappiness just beneath the surface, nothing truly cataclysmic happens. In the end, Chekhov makes his nihilistic point that perhaps none of us are happy and that death is the only respite we'll know. 

 

Through March 19th at Goodman Theatre. 170 N Dearborn St. 312-443-3800

 

Published in Theatre in Review

It’s time for some facts, and not the fake news facts. During the Chicago theatre season of 2015-2016, 25% of shows produced had female authorship. Only 36% of plays were directed by women. Someone reading might think that 36% isn’t all that bad and maybe it’s a step in the right direction. Well, let's put these numbers in perspective. 

 

This was a study undertaken by Kay Kron and Mariah Schultz as part of Kron’s Master Thesis at DePaul University. These stats were part of the study that were included full Jeff eligible season of Equity and Non-Equity theaters nominated for a Jeff Award in any category during Chicago’s 2015-2016 season. What does that even mean? Glad you asked. 

 

That means, 52 theatres, over 250 plays, which resulted in over 4,500 data points. Now, let's put those earlier numbers into perspective. That 36% means that about 90 women directed plays. 62 out of those 250 plays produced had female authorship. Here’s a few more numbers for you: 43% of actors hired were female. 89% of costume designers were female. Stats like these are the reason, as well as the current political climate, that people are speaking up. 

 

Dani Bryant decided to channel these numbers, as well as the spotlight that gender equality is currently under, into the fantastic show that is Gender Breakdown. Now, before I go any further I want to say that I am a 31-year-old white male. I am the demographic. I have never experienced discrimination of any kind. 

 

Gender Breakdown is 10 female identified performers telling their stories of the misogyny, segregation, and overall disrespect they have experienced throughout their careers. These women bare their soles on stage trying to shed a light on what it’s really like. Not only are these women sharing their stories, but a compilation of over 200 Chicago theater artists is played throughout the show sharing stories about how they have had to deal with the misogyny and typecasting within the Chicago theater system. 

 

Brianna Buckley, Jazmin Corona, Kamille Dawkins, Rula Gardnier, Kate Hawbaker-Krohn, Priya Mohanty, Siobhan Marguerite Reddy-Best, Carolyn Sinon, Aimy Tien, and Mia Vivens each command the stage with powerful performances retelling their own experiences that they have had. Each performance shows that they are not just a woman, but much more. They are dancers, intellectuals, mothers, daughters, performers. Strong women who don’t need to be told who are what they are because they already know who and what they are. 

 

One such segment of the show that stuck with me was the retelling of casting ads. They play it as if it’s a game show where the “host” will read REAL casting calls. Then the women play along to see if they meet the “criteria.” When I say criteria, I mean the actual outlandish bullshit that some producer, casting director, or even director scribbles down for how they see the female role. Such “criteria” ranges from: seeking a middle age woman (which apparently means 26-32), a cute, but dorky girl, must be willing to perform nude, skinny (as in 105 lbs), and any other type of superficial surface level adjective or phrase one can think of. 

 

While being a woman within the theatre, or entertainment community overall, is hard because men are running the show, it can be equally hard when you’re a minority within the minority. Priya Mohanty, who has here MBA from Duke in case you were wondering, spoke how she is often typecast since she is from India. Or that Kamille Dawkins might be better served playing the black servant instead of the lead because it’s a part that fits her better. 

 

While sitting through each performance I can remember laughing during many of the sets. For instance, the casting call bit that was mentioned earlier was played with a humoristic approach. I can remember several times where my laughter turned into a sudden realization that I was laughing at the degradation these women, all women for that matter, have faced. That realization soon turned into an uncomfortable feeling. That uncomfortable feeling though was welcomed because it helped bring on empathy. I can never be able to relate to any of these women’s stories (31-year-old white male remember), but the power to get the audience to empathize with these performers is the accomplishment. To understand where their rage, sadness, optimism is coming from is the mark of something wonderful.

 

There is no doubt that there needs to be a massive overhaul within the entertainment industry as whole. Productions like Gender Breakdown helps show the general public what really is going on, which can then hopefully enact change within the system itself. Gender Breakdown is just one step down the long road to progress, but it’s the right step. 

 

Collaboraction Theatre Company’s Gender Breakdown is being performed at the Flat Iron Arts Building in Wicker Park through March 19th. For more information click here

*Now extended through April 1st

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Two girlfriends grow up in Mississippi, one wants to be a hairdresser to the stars and the other a singing star in her own right. An opportunity to run their own beauty shop binds the two friends together for life, and helps a South Side Chicago neighborhood maintain a sense of community and safety, even a little glamour, that is until Starbucks and other corporations start moving into the neighborhood. Beautifully directed, A Wonder in My Soul is the heartfelt journey of two best friends who have shared a beauty salon for over three decades.

 

Aberdeen "Birdie" Calumet (Greta Oglesby) and Bell Grand Lake (Jacqueline Williams) play the two close friends and both do an amazing job with long speeches that could be coming out of the mouths of preachers. The audience even lets out a few, “go girls”, and “praise Gods” as if we are sitting in a church. In a way, their beauty shop, which once served some celebrity visitors, has stood for forty years as a type of church to the women of the neighborhood. A place where they can talk and be themselves where their best customer, a rich woman who prefers to be called “First Lady” (a fantastic Linda Bright Clay), who spends at least three afternoons a week just trying new hairdos to hang out at the salon to have company and help each other with daily troubles. 

 

Marcus Gardley's script creates very familiar and real characters, and utilizes the beautiful singing voices of young Birdie (Camille Robinson) and young Bell (Donica Lynn) in a way that vitalizes and makes real the talents and determination underneath the tough facade of these hard working, loving women. 

 

This play is about change and gentrification, and growth and strength. Change isn't always but a bad thing but A Wonder in My Soul pulls back the curtain on how gentrification affects this "family" of women and their whole neighborhood that tries to save the salon. Is it fair that the neighborhood rallies to save the community staple only for a Starbucks to ultimately knock them down as easily as a cannon ball would a bowling pin? No. But the way each woman chooses to go on with her life and keep the bitterness from affecting the wonder in their souls is truly inspiring. 

 

Highly recommended for satisfying, humorous and heartwarming performances, especially by Jacqueline Williams as the down, but not out, captain of her sinking ship.

 

Williams speeches about life and the value of struggling to keep some history and classiness intact in the neighborhood, which is being brought down by violence and greed, ripple through the audience with a deep resonance and truthfulness that the talented actor brings to all her stage work.

 

A Wonder in My Soul is being performed at Victory Gardens Theater through March 12th. Go to www.VictoryGardens.org for more show information.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Hold the presses! Hell in a Handbag Productions announced today it will open its 15th season with the world premiere of LADY X – A MUSICAL, a shocking exposé ripped from the headlines of yesteryear! LADY X will replace the previously announced musical VALLEY!, from April 21 – June 11, 2017 at Mary’s Attic, 5400 N. Clark St. in Chicago.  

 

Based on Handbag’s 2010 play of the same name, LADY X – A MUSICAL takes on the black and white crime melodrama films of the ‘30s and ‘40s. It’s the story of seedy nightclubs, the menacing gangsters that run them and the loose women that keep the customers coming back for more! Co-directed by Tommy Bullington and Steve Love with music direction by JD Caudill, the campy new musical parody features a book by Artistic Director David Cerda, music by Cerda and Scott Lamberty. Join Handbag for a glimpse into the world of the 'clip-joint' from days gone by filled with sassy dames, crooked hoods and the regular Joes trying to make a buck. Single tickets and season subscriptions are currently available at www.handbagproductions.org or by calling (800) 838-3006. The press opening is Friday, April 28 at 7:30 pm.

 

Mary Dwight is a gorgeous dame and a tough cookie who knows the score (and then some). Mary spends her nights as a 'clip-joint hostess,' making the customers feel welcome, whether it's sharing a drink with them – or the evening. Mary's got all the angles figured out, until Scarlett Fontanelli (David Cerda) enters the picture. As deadly as she is beautiful, Scarlett will stop at nothing to gain control over this world of underground crime. But Frank Graham, a young idealistic Assistant District Attorney, will stop at nothing to bring Scarlett and the Fontanelli syndicate to its knees. Frank wants justice for decent citizens everywhere and for his sister Barbara, a casualty of the Fontanelli family business.

 

Join Mary and her unforgettable pals, the not so bright Emmy Lou (Elizabeth Lesinski), Estelle (Ed Jones), the good natured tramp with a penchant for funnels and all the good time gals in a tale so startling... so lurid... that only Hell in a Handbag Productions would dare tell it!

 

The production team for LADY X – A MUSICAL includes Austin Lemoine (costume design) and Mealah Heidenreich (props).

 

PRODUCTION DETAILS:

 

Title: LADY X – A MUSICAL

Book: David Cerda

Music: David Cerda and Scott Lamberty

Co-Directors: Tommy Bullington and Steve Love

Music Director: JD Caudill

Choreographer: Steve Love 

Cast: David Cerda (Scarlett Fontanelli), Ed Jones (Estelle) and Elizabeth Lesinski (Emmy Lou). Additional casting to be announced.

 

Dates: Previews: Friday, April 21 at 7:30 pm, Sunday, April 23 at 6 pm and Thursday, April 27 at 7:30 pm

Regular run: Saturday, April 29 – Sunday, June 11, 2017

Curtain Times: Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Sundays at 6:00 pm. Please note: there will not be a performance on Sunday, May 7 or Sunday, June 4. 

Tickets: Previews $12. Regular run $26 in advance, $30 at the door. VIP tickets with cocktail $38 and up. Group rates $21 for or more. Tickets are currently available at www.handbagproductions.org or by calling (800) 838-3006.

 

Published in Buzz Extra
Monday, 20 February 2017 17:46

Review: Steppenwolf Theatre's "Monster"

“What do you see when you look at me?”

 

That was the final line of Steve Harmon (Daniel Kyri) from the stage adaptation of the best-selling book Monster

 

Monster is an award-winning novel by Walter Dean Myers and has been adapted by Aaron Carter. The show tells the story of African American teenager Steve Harmon, an aspiring filmmaker, who is on trial for felony murder. 

 

The show takes the inner monologue of Steve as he deals with being on trial for a murder that he says he was not part of. Since Steve is an aspiring filmmaker he tells the story as if it were lifted from a script that he is writing, using terms like “Close on”, “Cut To”, and “Fade In.” The show itself tries to tackle the issues of race, the public perception of race, masculinity, as well as the justice system itself. 

 

“While the play does deal with the criminal justice system and notions of guilt and innocence, to me, the most active thing about the book is examining how people perceive young black men,” says adapter Aaron Carter. 

 

The idea might be there, but the execution of the idea seems to fall short. Yes, African American men are incarcerated at a much higher rate than any other race. Currently, according to the NAACP, African Americans constitute nearly 1 million of the 2.3 million incarcerated population. However, this play does not represent those kind of staggering statistics. The major scenes in the show take place in court, in jail, and in Steve’s home. The show focuses more on the idea of masculinity and what it is like to be a “man” in today’s society.

 

Steve tries to act tough in front of other gang members from the neighborhood, but behind closed doors Steve speaks about how he wants no part of that life. The only part I took away from the show, in terms of race relations, was that if you hire a white lawyer to be your attorney, it looks better for your character. 

 

Aside from the adaptation issues this is still an important show to see. The reason being is that this show demonstrates how one decision can alter your path for the rest of your life. Steve is sixteen-years-old and if he is convicted he faces a prison sentence of twenty-five-years to life. This play can serve as important message for today’s youth. There will be connections made simply because the performances by the cast are what bring it all together. 

 

Mr. Kyri brings Steve to life as he battles with what he wants and what he needs, creating for the audience a legitimate hope and fear. The rest of the cast take on various roles throughout the show proving their range as actors. Kenn E. Head is able to go from worried father in one scene and instantly transform into hardened criminal in the very next scene. Alana Arenas shines as a hardened assistant district attorney and also as Steve’s well-to-do mother. 

 

Overall, this play speaks to many themes, but just not the one we thought it might choose. With excellent performances from a dynamic cast, Monster is worth seeing. The overall message may be muddled, and that is the hard part about this adaptation. There is a fine line to walk and only so much can be said in such a short amount of time. There are great pieces out there that continue the discussion of race, but this is not one of them unfortunately. 

 

Monster is being performed at Steppenwolf Theatre through March 9th as its latest presentation for Young Adult. For tickets and/or more information, click here

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Black Ensemble Theater CEO/Artistic Director Jackie Taylor has yet again brought a story to the forefront that is as entertaining as it is remarkable, this one written by Associate Director Rueben Echoles. Their current production, “My Brother’s Keeper: The Story of the Nicholas Brothers”, is just the latest at Black Ensemble Theater that relives an iconic piece of history that, to some, is lesser known than it should be. If you are not already familiar with the Nicholas Brothers, you will be after this energetic account that is both engaging and visually stimulating. 

Long before Michael Jackson, Gregory Hines, Justin Timberlake, Alvin Ailey, James Brown, Bruno Mars and John Travolta made their mark in the industry, Harold and Fayard Nicholas blazed a trail to which our just mentioned dance heroes would later be greatly influenced and heavily benefit. Cited as the greatest dance team in the 1930’s and 1940’s, The Nicholas Brothers (formerly called The Nicholas Kids) were revolutionaries, creating some of the most complicated and eye-popping routines to date. Best described as high-flying and dynamic, their inventive dance sequences regularly invoked enthusiastic (and fearful) “oohs” and “aahs” from audiences across the world. 

“My Brother’s Keeper” is the captivating story of The Nicholas Brothers’ rise to fame, but it is also the story of love, discipline, hardships and the unbreakable bond between two African American brothers that were not allowed to patronize the clubs in which they performed during their heyday. 

The play is a timeline that follows the brothers from their childhood, to their stardom, to their marriages and through their deaths – Harold in 2000 and Fayard in 2006. We quickly see and are touched by the strong support the two are given by their parents, college-educated musicians that had once performed in their own act. Though never receiving formal dance training outside of his father’s instruction (he was a drummer), Fayard became something of a dance prodigy, eventually teaching his younger siblings. The story flows like a series of waves with its ups and downs, never in danger becoming stagnant. 

Rueben Echoles not only finely directs and choreographs this dazzling musical, he also suits up for the role of younger brother, Harold. Teamed with Rashawn Thompson as Fayard, the two recreate the magic of The Nicholas Brothers with a slew of heart-stopping tap dancing routines that accurately capture the spirit of the famed duo. Shari Anderson plays the brother’s ever-caring mother, Viola, lighting up the stage herself, particularly in her heartfelt rendition of “Master Give Me Strength”. The boys’ father, Ulysses, is warmly played by Dwight Neal while Jessica Seals is strong as little sister, Geri.  

As the show opens, we are taken inside a 1940’s-ish jazz club, at one point becoming the famous Cotton Club in Harlem. The talented musicians play behind band stands on a stage that has several tiers to allow the singers and dancers ample room to perform. Each performer is staged in glitzy costumes of the period, creating an immediate “Wow” factor.  

Musically, this production contains just about everything one could hope for - including a finale that will take one's breath away. Electrifying tap dancing numbers and exceptional vocal performances are worked into a driving soundtrack that includes favorites such as Louis Prima’s “Sing, Sing, Sing”, George Gershwin’s “I’ve Got Rhythm”, Cole Porter’s “From This Movement On”, mixed in with several beautiful pieces created for the show by Rueben Echoles. We also get a taste of Cab Calloway, whose commanding stage entrance, while donned in his trademark white suit, brings with him the excitement of an era that was ever so rich in music and originality. Vincent Jordan crushes it as Calloway, “Hidee-hidee-hidee-ho-ing” along with the crowd throughout his lively version of “Minnie the Moocher”. The polished performances by cast members in this show are endless, but make no mistake – Rueben Echoles and Rashawn Thomas are on a tier of their own, their vocal contributions, fancy footwork and “stunt dancing” as I would call it, just extraordinary. 

Though centered around the bond between The Nicholas Brothers and their plight to greatness, one story line in the show that some might find particularly interesting is that of Harold’s marriage to Dorothy Dandridge and the many challenges that take place between the two. A relationship sometimes blissful, but often turbulent, we feel a strong sense of love as much as we do regret. The show also delves into Dandridge’s life as a celebrity and the racial obstacles she had to overcome. Taylay Thomas is absolutely stunning as Dandridge and sings the part flawlessly. 

In “My Brother’s Keeper”, Jackie Wilson gives us another history lesson that so well amalgamates importance with entertainment. Wilson has brought several fine works to Black Ensemble Theater in the past including “The Jackie Wilson Story”, “Marvin Gaye Story”, “The Other Cinderella” and “Dynamite Divas”. Jackie Taylor has always had a propensity to bring music-filled productions to Black Ensemble, once profoundly citing music as a tool that can cross cultural barriers and bring people together in their mission to eradicate racism. Perhaps we need that now more than ever. Theater goers will have the chance to see Taylor sing and dance during a three-day engagement March 6th-8th in “From Jackie with Love”, a work that embraces her upbringing in Cabrini Green and her dealings with a dysfunctional family life.  

Recommended as show the entire family can enjoy, “My Brother’s Keeper: The Story of the Nicholas Brothers” is being performed at Black Ensemble Theater through March 26th. For tickets and/or more show information, click here

Black Ensemble has a fun-packed season ahead that includes the productions “Black Pearl: The Josephine Baker Story” and “Sammy: The Story of Sammy Davis Jr.”.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Ten years after their critically acclaimed collaboration on King Lear, Artistic Director Robert Falls and stage and screen star Stacy Keach—both 2015 Theater Hall of Fame inductees—reunite for the world premiere of Pamplona by Jim McGrath. Keach stars as Ernest Hemingway, one of the most acclaimed novelists and short story writers of the 20th century, in this explosive tour de force drama, set during the author’s haunted years following his Pulitzer and Nobel Prize honors. Pamplona marks Keach’s second exploration of the literary legend: he earned a Golden Globe Award and an Emmy Award nomination for his portrayal of Hemingway in the eponymous 1988 television mini-series. Pamplona appears May 19 – June 18 in the Owen Theatre. Tickets ($20-60, subject to change) go on sale Monday, February 20 at 10am online at GoodmanTheatre.org and at 12 noon by telephone, 312.443.3800, or in person at the Goodman Box Office (170 N. Dearborn). Note: The previously-announced Lady in Denmark by Dael Orlandersmith will be rescheduled TBA; Goodman subscribers will receive tickets to Pamplona.   

 

“I am honored to work with Stacy on the world premiere of Jim McGrath’s beautifully rendered work about one of our most charismatic yet complicated literary titans—and a Chicagoland native—Ernest Hemingway,” said Robert Falls who, in addition to King Lear (2006), also directed Keach in Arthur Miller’s Finishing the Picture (2004). “Stacy is a voracious reader, and Hemingway has fascinated him for a long time. The opportunity to dive deep with him to reveal this troubled artist and amazing man—at once a father, husband, lover, wartime correspondent and adventurer—is thrilling.”

 

In McGrath’s new play, after the prize comes the pressure. Basking in the glory of career-defining awards—the 1953 Pulitzer Prize and the coveted Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954—legendary writer Ernest Hemingway insists his best work is yet to come. Five years later, holed up in a Spanish hotel with a looming deadline, he struggles to knock out a story about the rivalrous matadors of Pamplona. But his real battles lie outside the bullfighting arena; in declining health, consumed by his troubled fourth marriage and tormented by the specter of past glories, he must now conquer the deepening despair that threatens to engulf him.  

 

“My fascination with Hemingway began when I was a student at the University of California at Berkeley, where I read In Our Time. I felt as if the author was inside my head, expressing himself with words and attitudes that reflected how I felt—and I became inspired to read everything he wrote,” said Stacy Keach. “When I played him in the 1980s, I was somewhat intimidated; I felt simply too young to fully appreciate the emotional turmoil he had experienced, due to his failing health and his inability to continue writing. This is why I am so excited with the prospect of revisiting this literary giant now, at the right age to fully explore the essence of his later years. The opportunity to work with Bob, with whom I’ve been blessed to collaborate twice before, and work again at Goodman Theatre—so close to where Hemingway grew up—is perfect.”

 

Ernest Hemingway (1899 – 1961) was born in Oak Park, IL, and got his start as a journalist writing for The Kansas City Star after attending Oak Park and River Forest High School. Shortly after, he joined the Red Cross during World War I, receiving the Italian Silver Medal of Bravery in 1918 for assisting soldiers, an experience that would inspire one of his most beloved works A Farewell to Arms (1929). Following the war, he spent time in Paris, befriending the likes of Gertrude Stein, James Joyce and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and published his first collection of stories Three Stories and Ten Poems (1923). Next came his first novel The Sun Also Rises (1926), about a group of British and American expatriates traveling to Pamplona, Spain. Among his many other great works are the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Old Man and the Sea, For the Whom Bell Tolls (Pulitzer Prize nomination), Green Hills of Africa, Death in the Afternoon and To Have and Have Not. On assignment, Hemingway was also present for some of World War II’s most noted events including the liberation of Paris, and received a Bronze Star for bravery for his coverage of the war. Following the war, he spent an extensive amount of time in Cuba and in 1954, shortly after publishing The Old Man and the Sea, received the Nobel Prize for Literature. Hemingway was married four times, often tumultuously, to Elizabeth Hadley Richardson, Pauline Pfeiffer, Martha Gelhorn and Mary Welsh Hemingway. He had three sons, Jack, Patrick and Gregory. Troubled by financial issues, familial burdens and alcohol abuse, Hemingway took his own life in Idaho in 1961.

 

Stacy Keach has maintained a series of performances in motion picture and television projects while continuing to add to his significant achievements on the stage—both classical and Broadway. His most recent motion pictures are director Stephen Gaghan’s Gold, starring Matthew McConaughy, Edgar Ramirez, and Bryce Dallas Howard, and Gotti with John Travolta. Other recent films are Truth (with Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford), Stephen King’s, Cell, (with John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson,) and Netflix’s Girlfriend’s Day, starring and directed by Bob Odenkirk. His filmography includes John Huston’s Fat City, co-starring Jeff Bridges, Alexander Payne’s Academy Award nominated big screen drama, Nebraska, If I Stay, Bourne Supremacy, Sin City: A Dame To Kill For, The Ninth Configuration, The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, Doc, Up In Smoke, American History and the classic western, The Long-Riders, which he produced with his brother James Keach. Keach was one of the stars of the NBC comedy series, Crowded.  He recently finished filming a few episodes of award winning Man With A Plan alongside Matt LeBlanc and Kevin Nealon. Prior television includes: Showtime’s Ray Donovan, Starz’s Blunt Talk, CBS’s, Blue Bloods, Fox’s Titus, Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer, Two and a half Men, Prison Break, NCIS: New Orleans, and Hot In Cleveland. As a narrator his voice has been heard in countless documentaries and numerous books on tape. He is the narrator on CNBC’s American Greed. Keach has portrayed a constellation of the classic and contemporary stage's greatest roles, and he is considered a pre-eminent American interpreter of Shakespeare. His Shakespearian roles include Hamlet, Henry V, Coriolanus, Falstaff, Macbeth, Richard 3, and King Lear. He also headed the national touring company cast of Frost/Nixon, portraying Richard M. Nixon. Keach’s memoir All in All: An Actor’s Life On and Off the stage, received the Prism Literary Award. Other awards include: Golden Globe, three Obies, three Vernon Rices, two Drama Desks, three Helen Hayes, Emmy and Tony Award nominations, and he won the Prestigious Millineum Recognition Award, the Will Award. Keach was recently inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame, and received a Hollywood Film Award for Best Ensemble in the film Gold. He also received the 2016 Best Narrator from The Society of Voice Arts and Sciences in the category of Crime and Thriller for his work on Mike Hammer audio novels. Keach was a Fulbright scholar to the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, attended the University of California at Berkeley and the Yale Drama School. Of his many accomplishments, Keach claims that his greatest accomplishment is his family: his wife of 30 years, Malgosia, and children Shannon and Karolina.

 

Jim McGrath’s first short play, Trail of the Westwoods Pewee, was presented at the West Bank Theatre in New York City in 1987. The next year saw the production of his first full-length play, Bob’s Guns, at the Director’s Company in New York. In 1992, New Jersey’s Passage Theatre produced his play Roebling Steel. In 1995, the Met Theatre in Los Angeles premiered The Ellis Jump, which won McGrath the Ovation Award for Best Writing of a World Premier Play. For television, he wrote detective stories for Simon & Simon, The Father Dowling Mysteries, Matlock, Mike Hammer and Over My Dead Body, as well as the children’s series Wishbone and Liberty Kids, science fiction series Quantum Leap, Codename Eternity and Dark Realm and the television films Elvis: The Early Years and Silver Bells (starring Anne Heche). He also co-wrote the screenplay for the feature film Kickboxer: Vengeance. In 2012, he produced and wrote the documentary Momo: The Sam Giancana Story, which won Best Documentary Awards at the Bel Air Film Festival and The Monaco International Film Festival. He has taught creative writing courses at Patton State Prison in San Bernardino, California State Home for Veterans in Los Angeles and The Center Theater in Chicago. He was trained as an artist leader with Imagination Workshop, by founders Margaret Ladd and Lyle Kessler in 1983, for which he worked with mentally ill and homeless clients for decades as a theater artist. In 2010, he became Executive Director of Imagination Workshop. McGrath is a native of Dallas, Texas. After graduating SMU, he attended Princeton Theological Seminary for two years before embarking on his playwriting career.

 

Robert Falls is celebrating 30 years as Goodman Theatre Artistic Director this season. His current production, Annie Baker’s adaptation of Uncle Vanya, is on stage now in the Owen Theatre through March 12. Last season, he directed Rebecca Gilman’s Soups, Stews, and Casseroles: 1976, and co-adapted/directed the world premiere of 2666, based on Roberto Bolaño’s internationally celebrated novel, earning a Jeff Award for Best Adaptation. Previous credits include the critically acclaimed production of The Iceman Cometh at the Brooklyn Academy of Music; Gilman’s Luna Gale at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Los Angeles; and a new production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni for the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Other recent productions include Measure for Measure and the world premiere of Beth Henley’s The Jacksonian. Among his other credits are The Seagull, King Lear, Desire Under the Elms, John Logan’s Red, Jon Robin Baitz’s Three Hotels, Eric Bogosian’s Talk Radio and Conor McPherson’s Shining City; the world premieres of Richard Nelson’s Frank’s Home, Arthur Miller’s Finishing the Picture (his last play), Eric Bogosian’s Griller, Steve Tesich’s The Speed of Darkness and On the Open Road, John Logan’s Riverview: A Melodrama with Music and Gilman’s A True History of the Johnstown Flood, Blue Surge and Dollhouse; the American premiere of Alan Ayckbourn’s House and Garden and the Broadway production of Elton John and Tim Rice’s Aida. Falls’ honors for directing include, among others, a Tony Award (Death of a Salesman), a Drama Desk Award (Long Day’s Journey Into Night), an Obie Award (subUrbia), a Helen Hayes Award (King Lear) and multiple Jeff Awards (including a 2012 Jeff Award for The Iceman Cometh). For “outstanding contributions to theater,” Mr. Falls has also been recognized with such prestigious honors as the Savva Morozov Diamond Award (Moscow Art Theatre), the O’Neill Medallion (Eugene O’Neill Society), the Distinguished Service to the Arts Award (Lawyers for the Creative Arts) and the Illinois Arts Council Governor’s Award.

 

About Goodman Theatre

 

America’s “Best Regional Theatre” (Time magazine) and “Chicago’s flagship resident stage” (Chicago Tribune), Goodman Theatre is a not-for-profit organization distinguished by the quality and scope of its artistic programming and civic engagement. Founded in 1925, the Goodman is led by Robert Falls—“Chicago’s most essential director” (Chicago Tribune), who marks 30 years as Artistic Director this season—and Executive Director Roche Schulfer, who is celebrated for his vision and leadership over nearly four decades. Dedicated to new plays, reimagined classics and large-scale musical theater works, Goodman Theatre artists and productions have earned hundreds of awards for artistic excellence, including: two Pulitzer Prizes, 22 Tony Awards, nearly 160 Jeff Awards and more. Over the past three decades, audiences have experienced more than 150 world or American premieres, 30 major musical productions, as well as nationally and internationally celebrated productions of classic works (including Falls’ productions of Death of a Salesman, Long Day’s Journey into Night, King Lear and The Iceman Cometh, many in collaboration with actor Brian Dennehy). In addition, the Goodman is the first theater in the world to produce all 10 plays in August Wilson’s “American Century Cycle.” For nearly four decades, the annual holiday tradition of A Christmas Carol has created a new generation of theatergoers. 

 

The 2016 opening of the Alice Rapoport Center for Education and Engagement (“the Alice”) launched the next phase in the Goodman’s decades-long commitment as an arts and community organization dedicated to educating Chicago youth and promoting lifelong learning. Programs are offered year-round and free of charge. Eighty-five percent of the Goodman’s youth program participants come from underserved communities.

 

Goodman Theatre was founded by William O. Goodman and his family in honor of their son Kenneth, an important figure in Chicago’s cultural renaissance in the early 1900s. The Goodman family’s legacy lives on through the continued work and dedication of Kenneth’s family, including Albert Ivar Goodman, who with his late mother, Edith-Marie Appleton, contributed the necessary funds for the creation of the new Goodman center in 2000.

 

Today, Goodman Theatre leadership includes the distinguished members of the Artistic Collective: Brian Dennehy, Rebecca Gilman, Henry Godinez, Dael Orlandersmith, Steve Scott, Chuck Smith, Regina Taylor, Henry Wishcamper and Mary Zimmerman. Joan Clifford is Chair of Goodman Theatre’s Board of Trustees, Cynthia K. Scholl is Women’s Board President and Justin A. Kulovsek is President of the Scenemakers Board for young professionals. 

 

Visit the Goodman virtually at GoodmanTheatre.org—including OnStage+ for insider information—and on Twitter (@GoodmanTheatre), Facebook and Instagram.

 

Published in Buzz Extra
Friday, 17 February 2017 03:39

Review: Straight White Men at Steppenwolf

With a title like "Straight White Men" there's a lot to unpack. Asian American playwright Young Jean Lee directs her 2014 play at The Steppenwolf. "Straight White Men" ran Off-Broadway at the Public Theater to critical acclaim. It helped establish the career of up-and-comer Young Jean Lee. This production is a Midwestern debut. 

 

The Steppenwolf's production is well cast. "Straight White Men" tells the story of a family of three brothers assembling with their aging father for Christmas. Hence the title. Madison Dirks plays the oldest brother Jake with a commanding intensity that serves to propel Lee's script. So much of Lee's play relies on an almost impossible sense of chemistry between the brothers. Ryan Hallahan plays youngest brother Drew with a contrasting sincerity that puts Brian Slaten (Matt) in the center of the 90-minute play. Ensemble member Alan Wilder as the dad is maybe the only one whose performance is not in on Lee's comic pattern. 

 

"Straight White Men" does touch on many issues regarding race, gender and class in America. That said, perhaps not enough to warrant such a heavy title. There is a lot of humor and physical comedy between the brother characters, but so often the content of the dialogue doesn't reach further than the three walls of the set. The conclusion of the play is thought provoking and addresses the issue of socioeconomic privilege. 

 

The problem with titling a play "Straight White Men" is that it raises the stakes for the playwright to deliver a work that makes a bold statement. Lee certainly does make a bold statement, it just may not live up to the title. Lee's script takes a while getting to the center of the matter. It's really a play about depression. In that regard, Lee really says something about the way student loans and societal expectations are stunting an entire generation. "Straight White Men" is a play to see as it will warrant a thoughtful post show discussion. 

 

Through March 19 at Steppenwolf Theatre. 1650 N Halsted St. 312-335-1650 www.Steppenwolf.org

*Update - Extended through March 26th

 

Published in Theatre in Review
Page 3 of 28

 

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