Theatre

Just after the show’s beginning, Jackie Taylor asks the crowd what the world needs. In unison, many voices shout back, “Love!”. And when do we need it? “Now!” Love is the theme in Black Ensemble’s latest production, From Jackie with Love (What the World Needs Now), a three-day engagement that centers around loving one another and putting away with senseless violence and racism. Wasting no time getting to the point, Taylor begins the program with an inspired version of the self-explanatory titled “No Matter What Race”, a song that sets the tone for what is to follow. 

For those unfamiliar with Jackie Taylor and her contributions to the Chicago Theatre community, she is the Founder and Executive Director of the Black Ensemble Theater, producing, writing and directing in nearly all its presentations. Prior to her work with Black Ensemble, Taylor, a theatre grad from Loyola University, made her mark on the Chicago stage where she performed at many venues including The Goodman Theater and Victory Gardens Theater. The talented actress also made her presence known in film and television as she was featured in 1976’s Cooley High and later appeared in Barber Shop II, Losing Isiah, Chiraq, Early Edition and The Father Clements Story among several others. 

From Jackie with Love is a production from the heart. Backed up by Black Ensemble’s accomplished band featuring Musical Director Robert Reddrick on drums, Taylors swoops into a collection of songs that are sure to pull the heartstrings of most, each written by hers truly. Throughout the show, Taylor breaks from music giving the audience a peek at her personal life be it by short stories or in the performance of monologues that were meaningful to her from such as A Raisin in the Sun, a play she declares as her “favorite of all time” written by Lorraine Hansberry.

Taylor reminisces about her time as a teacher in the Chicago Public School system, her childhood while living in Cabrini Green and growing up thinking her mother did not love her. She talks passionately about her persistence in moving forward with Black Ensemble even when its outcome seemed bleakest. 

“I am fortunate enough to have spent my life teaching in Chicago Public Schools, at colleges like Loyola University and Roosevelt University and in numerous, numerous programs as an artist teacher,” says Taylor. “Along the way, I created Black Ensemble Theater, raised a wonderfully intelligent daughter and now have the best grandson in the whole wide world.”

Taylor is accompanied on stage by Black Ensemble veterans Rhonda Preston, David Simmons and Yahdinah Udeen who serve as back up vocalists for Taylor and offer friendly banter back and forth. Each is showcased in their own featured number, Preston stunning the crowd with a vocal demonstration for the books in “A Mother’s Love” and Udeen performing an emotionally-charged rendition of “Mother’s Lament”, a moving song that Taylor could write a play about on its own. Simmons closes the second of three sets with the lively number “Happy Ending”. Each are again brought to the forefront towards the end of the show in a piece that has each one, including Taylor, breaking out dance moves.  

All songs performed in From Jackie with Love are written by Jackie Taylor, a couple borrowed from past Black Ensemble productions. As Simmons states about the production, “The show is called From Jackie with Love because it really is from Jackie – all of it – and with tons of love.”

It’s easy to see Taylor’s high level of comfort on stage whether it be singing, dancing, acting, interacting with the audience or even playing guitar – the same one her mother bought for her as a child. The stage is her playground, but more so a tool to bring people together. 

“Through the hundreds of plays that I have produced, written and directed – I never lost my passion for performing,” says Taylor on taking the stage once again. It’s clear the passion is still there along with the talent as she still performs with command.

From Jackie with Love is a nice way to meet the woman behind Black Ensemble, bringing with it a positive message in that life is too short to waste time hating when we can be loving each other. It’s a simple message but powerful as she eludes to the root of the issue being that of money and greed also recognizing the steps that are taken to program our children towards violence at such a young age. A warm tribute is made to the many young black men who have lost their lives – just for being black. Taylor’s message is delivered ever so profoundly in this production that is also sure to entertain with its vast variety of touching songs.

From Jackie with Love (What the World Needs Now) is being performed at The Black Ensemble Theater only for a limited time. For tickets and schedule information click here.

 

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Flanagan is dead. Crushed by luggage, the resident roustabout has left us too early. Leaving a healthy amount of family and friends behind, we gather at a local pub in Grapplin, County Sligo, Ireland to celebrate the life of our dear Flanagan. A large, wooden crate holding the body of the recently deceased is perched in the center of the room with the words “This Side Up” printed largely on its side, the arrow facing down. Fiona Finn is in attendance, Flanagan’s fiancée of twenty-two years, along with his closest friend and fellow drinking partner Brian Ballybunion, Father Damon Fitzgerald, Mayor O’Doul, who also serves as the pub’s bartender, Mother Flanagan and a host of other assorted characters. It is time to pay our respects, share memories, enjoy a pint – and laugh. 

Flanagan’s Wake is a long-running interactive comedy that turns the audience into guests that participate in the mourning, and revering, of the departed Flanagan. Wake attendees are seated at tables throughout the venue where cast members dole out name tags that add “Patrick” after the names of men and “Mary” to those of the women. In my case, I became “Ken Patrick”. After a heartfelt, and vey humorous greeting by Father Damon Fitzgerald, Fiona Finn, appropriately dressed in a black dress, makes her way to the “casket” to say a few words. As she approaches the raised platform she thanks a guest (an audience member) for “wearing their fancy denim” to her loved one’s wake. 

Thick, often hilariously exaggerated, accents are used throughout the night as the cast pokes fun at one Irish stereotype after another. Father Damon Fitzgerald often recites from The Bible’s Book of Kevin, a book he insists was excluded (thanks to a conspiracy in the church) as were the books Jerry and Jared. “Death is a poor man’s doctor,” he would also preach. 

In helping to create Flanagan’s backstory, the cast seeks help from show goers asking questions like, “What was your favorite memory with Flanagan?” Or, “How did you know Flanagan?” No two shows will be alike as the cast improvises from audience response piecing together a wild series of new memories, mishaps and events during each performance. In fact, the audience greatly steers the direction of the story. As funny as the interplay between the characters is with each other, the same can be said for its interaction with the audience. We are spoken to as if Flanagan was a close loved one. At one point a table of guests are asked to come forward to do that cherished Irish dance that Flanagan loved so much. “You guys are terrible,” says Father Fitzgerald. “What happened? You were so good before.” 

The interactive play runs smoothly and literally churns out a laugh a minute thanks to some veteran involvement.

“We’re thrilled to have Jack Bronis, original Director, and Bonnie Shadrake, original Music Director, onboard,” says producer Bill Collins. “Their return ensures the production will have all the fun and humor that made it a huge hit in Chicago.” 

Cast members are in character from the moment one walks into the banquet hall-like room and make the entire area their stage for the duration of the show – even the washrooms.

The wonderfully selected and seriously funny cast stars Steve Peebles as Father Damon Fitzgerald (who you might remember for his stellar performance in last summer's First Folio production of A Midsummer Night's Dream), Greg Dodds as Mayor O'Doul, Chase Wheaton-Werle as Brian Ballybunion, Luciana Bonifazi as Fiona Finn, Susan Wingerter as Kathleen, Alex DiVirgilio as Mickey and Derek Brummet as Mother Flanagan. It is this lively cast of skilled improv artists that so well bring back to life (or death) this classic interactive play that has been a smash hit in Chicago since 1994.

Flanagan’s Wake has taken a new home at Chicago Theater Works near Belmont and Sheffield, running in tandem with the ever-popular Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding. Its run is open-ended though performances vary due to its shared space. A full bar is available throughout the show for beverage purchases and tickets range from a highly reasonable $29-$34. To find out more about this very funny and genuinely rich experience, check its show schedule or to purchase tickets, click here.  

Who ever thought a wake could be so much fun? 

 

Published in Theatre in Review

We first meet Clea as she traipses into the great room of a sky-high Manhattan penthouse, enraptured by the “surreal” view. Looking on disdainfully are Charlie (Mark Montgomery), an actor who has been struggling to get cast lately, and his wing-man Lewis (La Shawn Banks).

In the world of theater, a gushing ingénue making a breathless entrance is something that has been seen before, to put it mildly. Charlie for one is not impressed. 

In short order, though, we sense there may be more to this young woman, and these men, than first appears. As it happens, the party is in the home of an actor-writer on the rise, and his older, wealthy patron. Charlie is there hoping to rub shoulders with him, and maybe get a role in his new production.

Clea (Deanna Myers blazes in the role) is on a similar mission – though at this point in her career she is less certain about how things will play out. She is also a font of inanity – “Food is, like, disgusting to me,” she avers, claiming never to eat. “Most things people put in their mouths, it is totally just like eating death. Someone proved that eating is killing people." 

Charlie and Lewis are agape at Clea. Charlie clearly finds her exaggerated pronouncements aversive, while Lewis nods and puts on about the phoniest show of interest imaginable - miming that attraction men sometimes feel despite (or perhaps because of) knowing better.  

Poured into snug-fitting couture and clearly master of her heels, Clea reads, accurately, the mocking tone in Charlie’s desultory conversation. When he asks her how the view can be “surreal,” sparks begin to fly in what turns out to be a harbinger of later romance.   

This is also the first inkling we have that Clea is more femme fatale than ingénue.  She vacillates from helpless to heated. In due course, she reveals a grab-bag of information about herself, and observations on life in general. Her mother is an alcoholic, so she doesn’t drink. People are just not "awake" to life.  

She has recently arrived from Ohio hoping to make her break in New York. She eventually asks for that vodka – just this one time – and becomes even more voluble. Clea reveals she has applied for a position on a television production team – and does a send-up of the woman who interviewed her, describing a “Nazi priestess” of talent bookings, by the name of Stella. As it turns out, Stella is Charlie’s wife - and fatefully, the unrequited love of Lewis.

Clea came there intent on making an impression. And oh she does in Meyers’s super-charged performance. In later scenes, after she has vanquished Lewis, she moves on to seduce Charlie, ultimately triggering his downfall by overstaying a tryst - so the two get caught by Stella.

Charlie eventually ends up on the street, having cast aside his stable life with Stella. (The story line draws on Waugh's of Human Bondage, according to playwright Therese Rebeck.)

The couple was about to adopt a child. Perhaps the prospect of parenthood was too great a strain on Charlie. Fear of parenthood is a classic romance killer, but under Kimberly Seniors direction we are witness to Charlie's action, but not his motivation. Stella also is a bit of a caricature, slipping into Spanish when her blood gets boiling.  Lewis, meanwhile, has played this marriage's third wheel from the opening scene, defending Stella against critiques. The trio has a reasonable chemistry in scenes, but Stella seems overplayed, and Lewis underplayed when they are alone together. 

As to Clea: Viper? Seductress? Ingénue? Trollop? Those old-fashioned words don’t quite apply, as Clea owns her sexuality, and is aware of where she is heading. She seems at once incisive, and empty-headed.

“How can you know so much and so little at the same time?” as Charlie asks.

Waugh’s classic, Of Human Bondage, was filmed three times. And The Scene was also made into a movie - Seducing Charlie Barker. 

In The Scene, the eventual affair with Clea leads to Charlie’s downfall, and his wife Stella’s departure, among other things. While the performance by Myers is captivating, and the chemistry between Stella (Charin Alvarez), Lewis and Charlie is convincing, I struggled to find empathy with anyone other than Clea – a rather villainous protagonist.

The glass and steel set is striking, and works really well through all the scenes. The furnishings were dead on, very Blue Dot Catalog. Likewise the costumes, down to the men's shoes.  Brian Sidney Bembridge did sets;  Nan Zabriskie costume; Sarah Hughey, lighting; Richard Woodbury, original music and sound design; and Scott Dickens handled props. 

Running through April 2 at the Writers Theatre in Glencoe, Illinois, The Scene comes recommended, especially to see Deanna Myers.

Published in Theatre in Review

Producer Jeffrey Seller is thrilled to announce Tony Award® nominee DANIEL BREAKER will join the Chicago company of HAMILTON as Aaron Burr.  He will begin performances on Tuesday, April 11 at The PrivateBank Theatre in Chicago.

 

Mr. Breaker received a Tony Award® nomination for his role as “Youth” in Passing Strange and was most recently seen on Broadway as “Mafala Hatimbi” in The Book of Mormon. 

 

Mr. Breaker will join ARI AFSAR as Eliza Hamilton; MIGUEL CERVANTES as Alexander Hamilton; ALEXANDER GEMIGNANI as King George III, JONATHAN KIRKLAND as George Washington, CHRIS DE’SEAN LEE as Marquis de Lafayette/Thomas Jefferson; JOSEPH MORALES as Mr. Cervantes’ alternate; KAREN OLIVO as Angelica Schuyler, JOSÉ RAMOS as John Laurens/Phillip Hamilton; WALLACE SMITH as Hercules Mulligan/James Madison, and SAMANTHA MARIE WARE as Peggy Schuyler/Maria Reynolds.

 

The Chicago company also includes SAM ABERMAN, JOSÈ AMOR, AMBER ARDOLINO, REMMIE BOURGEOIS, CHLOË CAMPBELL, YOSSI CHAIKIN, CARL CLEMONS-HOPKINS, JOHN MICHAEL FIUMARA, JEAN GODSEND FLORADIN, AARON GORDON, JIN HA, HOLLY JAMES, MALIK SHABAZZ KITCHEN, COLBY LEWIS, DASHÌ MITCHELL, JUSTICE MOORE, SAMANTHA POLLINO, CANDACE QUARRELS, GABRIELLA SORRENTINO, ROBERT WALTERS and AUBIN WISE.

  

Daniel Breaker’s Broadway credits include The Book of Mormon, The Performers, Shrek: The Musical (Drama Desk Nomination), Passing Strange (Tony Award nomination, Drama Desk Nomination, Theatre World Award, Audelco Award)Cymbeline and Well.  His Off-Broadway credits include Loves Labour’s Lost, (Shakespeare in the Park) By The Way, Meet Vera Stark (Second Stage), Passing Strange (The Public Theater), Fabulation (Playwrights Horizons) and Pericles (Red Bull, Culture Project).   London credits include How to Act Around Cops (SoHo Theatre).  Film & TV credits include “Sisters” (with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler), “Limitless” (with Bradley Cooper & Robert De Niro), “He’s Way More Famous Than You,” “Redhook Summer” (dir. Spike Lee), “Passing Strange” (Spike Lee), “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” “Mozart in the Jungle,” “Unforgettable” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.”

 

HAMILTON is the story of America's Founding Father Alexander Hamilton, an immigrant from the West Indies who became George Washington's right-hand man during the Revolutionary War and was the new nation’s first Treasury Secretary.  Featuring a score that blends hip-hop, jazz, blues, rap, R&B, and Broadway, HAMILTON is the story of America then, as told by America now.  

With book, music and lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda, direction by Thomas Kail, choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler and musical supervision and orchestrations by Alex Lacamoire, HAMILTON is based on Ron Chernow’s biography of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton.  

 

HAMILTON’s creative team previously collaborated on the 2008 Tony Award ® Winning Best Musical IN THE HEIGHTS.

 

HAMILTON features scenic design by David Korins, costume design by Paul Tazewell, lighting design by Howell Binkley, sound design by Nevin Steinberg, hair and wig design by Charles G. LaPointe, and casting by Telsey + Company, Bethany Knox, CSA.

 

The musical is produced by Jeffrey Seller, Sander Jacobs, Jill Furman and The Public Theater.

 

The HAMILTON Original Broadway Cast Recording – recipient of the 2016 Grammy for Best Musical Theatre Album and a regular on numerous Billboard top 10 lists – is available everywhere nationwide.

 

HAMILTON: The Revolution, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter’s book about the making of the musical, is on sale and has been a selection on The New York Times Best Seller List.

 

For more show information visit www.HamiltonOnBroadway.com, www.Facebook.com/HamiltonMusical, www.Instagram.com/HamiltonMusical and www.Twitter.com/HamiltonMusical.

 

ABOUT BROADWAY IN CHICAGO

Broadway In Chicago was created in July 2000 and over the past 17 years has grown to be one of the largest commercial touring homes in the country. A Nederlander Presentation, Broadway In Chicago lights up the Chicago Theater District entertaining well up to 1.7 million people annually in five theatres. Broadway In Chicago presents a full range of entertainment, including musicals and plays, on the stages of five of the finest theatres in Chicago’s Loop including The PrivateBank Theatre, Oriental Theatre, Cadillac Palace Theatre, and just off the Magnificent Mile, the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place and presenting Broadway shows at The Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University.

For more information and performance schedule, visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com.

 

Facebook@BroadwayInChicago ● Twitter@broadwaychicago ● Instagram@broadwayinchicago ● #broadwayinchicago 

 

Published in Buzz Extra

Lifeline Theatre is currently bringing to life the 1963 Madeline L’Engle award-winning, sci-fi novel for young adults, A Wrinkle in Time. It is the first in a series of five books that follow the escapades of Meg Murray, a thirteen-year-old student whom her teachers see as stubborn and difficult. The story follows Meg’s adventure as she and her younger brother, Charles Wallace (a prodigy child genius), search through space and time for their missing scientist father who has vanished after working on a mysterious project called a tesseract. It is during this pursuit that Meg and Charles Wallace, along with along with school friend, Calvin O’Keefe, run into a myriad of characters that get stranger and stranger along the way. 

Before long they find out their true enemy is a bodiless brain called IT, who controls the planet Camazotz and communicates through The Man with Red Eyes. IT’s mission is to robotize everyone by removing their free will. At the same time, another evil force lurks throughout the universe that is only known as The Black Thing. A tall order for the trio of children to conquer on their own, help comes to them in the form of the three Mrs. W’s – Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which – each of whom offers a special power, or insight, in their fight to save their father. It is an exploit where the impossible becomes possible and courage and love proves to be the strongest force of all.

Lifeline brought this classic story to the stage first in 1990 based on the adaptation of James Sie. It returned in 1998 and is back today, nineteen years later. Probably not the easiest story to adapt for the stage, Lifeline does a remarkable job in creating a futuristic world full of color and space age lighting as they do in creatively staging special effects such as flying through time. The set is skillfully designed to give us the appearance of being lost in the dark vastness when needed, or to find ourselves light years away on a strange planet in a strange universe. Finely-crafted original costumes and hi-tech sound effects sprinkle the final touches in fashioning this ultramodern world we are thrust into for two hours. 

Meg Murray needs an exterior that is defiant and bold, though underneath she is smart, confident and caring. Jamie Cahill is able to capture these qualities to give us a believable Meg, for without the play does not work. Cahill is bratty when called for, rebelliously shouting to get her way, she is appropriately emotional as she longs for her father and she is convincing as a teen who would be curious and astonished as a journey such as hers unfolds. 

Trent Davis took on the role of Charles Wallace for the play’s opener, taking turns during its run with Davu Smith also cast for the role. Davis exhibits some mature acting chops for such a young man, impressing the audience with his fitting facial expressions, natural line delivery and comic timing. Rounding out the well-cast triad of adventurous kids is Glenn Obrero as Calvin O’Keefe, who is fun to watch as the eldest of the three, kind of taking on a big brother role. 

Though his role wasn’t as expanded as many others in this production, Michael McKeogh still leaves an impression as Meg and Charles Wallace’s father, persuasively revealing the father-like qualities any kid would want to have in their own parents. Each of the three Mrs. W’s adds their own spark whether by oddities in their own character or in humorous musings with each other or the children - Mrs. Whatsit (Madeline Pell), Mrs. Who (Javier Ferreira) and Mrs. Which (Carmen Molina). Slightly changing from the novel, The Man with Red Eyes becomes known simply as Red Eyes, and is fiercely played by Naima Hebrail who towers over the stage and crowd with her commanding voice and tremendous presence. 

If unfamiliar with Madeline L’Engle’s novel, the stage version is easy enough to follow and enjoy as a new adventure. However, this production might be a bit more special for those who have read the book as we get to see an imaginative recreation of a story many of us have held so close to our hearts as young readers opened up to a new world.

Family-friendly and keenly directed by Elise Kauzlaric, A Wrinkle in Time is a true time traveling quest for some of us to fondly reminisce and for some of us to experience its magic for the first time. A Wrinkle in Time is being performed at Lifeline Theatre through April 9th. For more show information, click here.    

*Extended through April 23rd       

  

 

Published in Theatre in Review

I thoroughly enjoyed the world premiere of Jesus the Jew: As Told by His Brother James. The play is the seventeenth work produced by Forum Productions. The one-man show by playwright William Spatz is very well-written and in my opinion contains some of the answers of the most important issues facing our society today with regards to antisemitism and the violence propagated against Christians and or Jewish Christians in this country and others around the world. 

 

Actor, Steven Strafford plays a modern-day professor of religious history who has just found out his brother John has been tortured and killed in an attack in Syria. He then travels back and forth in time to portray James, the brother of Jesus, one of the mainstays of his research. Strafford's performance is compelling and rich. 

 

Jeremy, as James thanks the audience for coming whether they are Jews, Christians or Jewish Christians. This designation is very important especially in the political climate currently where all three groups are regularly singled out in some countries and sentenced to death by beheading if they do not renounce their Christian and/or Jewish ties. 

 

This play is of particular interest to me because I am a Jewish Christian or Messianic Jew. That is a person who is Jewish by birth who continues to believe that Jesus was Jewish and was the Messiah sent to save the Jewish people and later the non-Jews from the belief that we are just helpless animal-like human beings in bodies which have no actual active spiritual life that continues after death of the human body. We also believe that God is a loving forgiving being that abhors killing of humans and animals, indeed cruelty to women and all living things. 

 

I was given a very complete three-year education in Jewish history and religious practices before completing my bat mitzvah and the only mention of Jesus, if any that I recall, was that Jesus was to be looked at as a Rabbi gone mad - a religious traitor to the Jewish people whose new ideas threatened to destroy Judaism rather than elevate it to new levels of generosity and higher spiritual intelligence. I have often wondered how the separation of Jesus' Jewish birth and the statement he made regarding incarnating in a human body specifically for the Jewish people turned into an entirely new religion called Christianity – a religion that proceeded to make a scapegoat of the Jews when Roman occupation and laws actually caused the killing of Jesus. I've also wondered how Christians and especially Catholics who - on the one hand - give great honor to Mary, Jesus' mother, seem to have completely forgotten the fact that Mary the Mother of God was a JEWISH woman named Miriam. And how can modern Christians continue to refer with reverence to the Gospels written by Jesus' disciples as inspired by God without recalling that ALL the disciples of Jesus were JEWISH?

 

James’ finally answers this question in the last hours of his life in the play when he is about to be put to death (after 30 years of leading Jewish Christians) for not renouncing his brother's and his own Jewish faith. 

 

The apostle Paul is well known among feminists for his damning letters stating that women should have no place in the new Church and should be subject to all the discrimination that Jesus himself stressed many times should end by interacting with women, healing them and insisting that they receive the same education his male apostles were receiving. During this council, the apostle Paul effectively overthrew James’ leadership by declaring a new law that if a Jewish person believed in Jesus they must stop all Jewish religious practices and laws or be sentenced to death.

 

Jeremy as James also made it clear that Mary was from a wealthy family and financially supported Jesus and, by extension, financially supported many of the apostles that followed Jesus. Mary Magdalene was NOT by any stretch of the sexist imagination a "prostitute" as many since have claimed. 

 

James states that Jesus and Mary were indeed married per the Jewish tradition and although it was not brought up in this play, their marriage gives some credence to the theory that Mary Magdalene, Jesus' legal wife, gave birth to a daughter after his death, directly continuing the spiritually royal bloodline of Jesus himself. It’s been said that she and her daughter were escorted to safety by her father and sailed to France to raise her daughter.

 

There is some humor in the play when James says, “Lots of Jewish mothers think their sons can walk on water, but in this case…”

 

The production team includes: Milo Blue (scenic design), Hailey Rakowiecki (costume design), David Trudeau (lighting design), Alex Kleiner (sound design), Ron Rude (production manager) and Sarah Knoke (stage manager). This team does a great job decorating the set with objects of art from both modern and ancient times. The interesting props keep one’s eyes busy looking at the beautiful colorful aspects of that historic period while keeping the audience firmly in the present with offstage interruptions by reporters seeking interviews with him and friends or family who are trying to help Jeremy stay calm and sane in the face of the news that his brother has been tortured first then killed. 

 

Jesus The Jew delivers the most important message of our time, that the division of Jews from Christians and the division of Jesus from his own Jewish followers and people came from a political move - a political document written to serve the Romans and the ambitions of one aggressive sect of new Christians/Jews led by the apostle Paul. 

 

My only complaint about the well-written and well-documented play is that it does not delve deep enough into the horrors and centuries of suffering that this rift initiated by the apostle Paul caused. Actually using the word “horror” is inadequate to describe the current situation for both Christians and Jewish Christians - the Holocaust or recent be-headings of Christians and Jewish Christians around the world and the suffering of women subject to the new rules of Bible thumping-Jew hating Christians who have been forced to follow their husband’s commands even under extreme abuse. 

 

James even acknowledges that as he gives his last sermon before he is put to death that there may not be any Jewish Christians left to hear his final pleas for a meaningful, literal and political reunion of the Jewish and Christian people. That strongly resonated with me because I am the ONLY Jewish Christian that I have ever met (other than my mother who had a similar late life realization) who sees Jesus as a Jewish Rabbi and miracle maker of the highest order, the human incarnation of God on earth.

 

I highly recommend this compelling, well-paced and delicately handled theater piece for anyone who is interested in a more realistic view of daily life during Jesus' time, or is seeking similar comfort that Jewish Christians still actually exist. 

 

Jesus the Jew: As Told by his Brother James is being performed at Greenhouse Theater Center through March 26th. For more information on this show, click here.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

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 12:23

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
Page 3 of 29

 

 

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