Theatre

Wednesday, 25 January 2017 12:41

Review: The House Theatre's "Diamond Dogs"

The House Theatre of Chicago artistic director Nate Allen introduces the world premiere of Diamond Dogs, an adaptation of a short story by Alastair Reynolds, by noting that it is “hard sci-fi” and a departure from the optimism usually implicit in House Theatre shows. Since a significant plot point of Diamond Dogs is people undergoing medical transformation into floating diamonds, I question how “hard” the science in this fiction actually is, but I think it is fair to say that the term signals that the story caters to a different set of expectations and interests than people usually expect from other genres. The House has also performed enough tragedies recently, including an adaptation of The Bacchae, that the optimism Allen refers to is meant in the sense that people have significant enough good qualities for their self-destruction to elicit sorrow. Diamond Dogs doesn’t really do that. Like Moby Dick, one of the stories best known for a pessimistic view of peoples’ graces to flaws ratio, Diamond Dogs depicts people slowly killing themselves in pursuit of an idiotic objective, but it depicts them in a manner which is far more frustrating.

The adaptors, called Althos Low (a group also known as Shanghai Low Theatricals led by Steve Pickering) are working from one of sixteen stories within Reynolds’s Revelation Space series. The backstory is long and complicated, but basically, hundreds of years from now, humans have colonized space, developed cybernetic enhancements to our bodies and intelligence, and can skip over the boring centuries traveling in between stars by freezing and unfreezing ourselves. Our viewpoint character, Richard Swift (John Henry Roberts), is still youthful at one hundred and seventy-two years old, and in mourning for his parents and dozens of other people who died in an experiment meant to achieve immortality. It seems that effective immortality has been achieved through other means anyway, but Swift refuses to criticize the dead, and while honoring them, is surprised to find their leader, his boyhood friend Roland Childe (Chris Hainsworth), still very much alive. Childe claims he has found the key to technology which could lead to resurrection, and asks Swift to join his exploration team.

Though no living aliens have been encountered thus far, traces of their long-dead civilizations have been found, and Childe is particularly interested in a structure he has named Blood Spire on a desolate planet he calls Golgotha. The Blood Spire is a floating spiral tower with a pile of corpses at its base. Childe claims to have spoken with a survivor who said that to climb within the tower, explorers must answer increasingly difficult mathematical questions as they move from room to room. A wrong answer results in mutilation, and repeated failures in death. Also, the Blood Spire’s AI is advanced enough to be considered sentient. The motley crew Childe has assembled consists of Swift, Swift’s ex-wife, Celestine (Katherine Keberlein), who has cybernetic implants to make her a math whiz and whom Swift has had suppressed in his memories, Forqueray (Abu Ansari), a captain, Hirz (Elana Elyce), a mercenary hacker, and Dr. Trintignant (Joey Steakley), a fugitive who kidnapped and murdered dozens of people while developing new cybernetics. They do not get along and their attempts to climb the tower do not go very well.

It takes until the beginning of the second act for somebody to point out that they do not have the slightest reason to believe that the tower is in any way related to their supposed objective, and even longer for someone to point out that there is no reason to believe the tower would ever allow them to win. However, it is also made clear early on that none of their objections matter. While Captain Ahab was a charismatic figure who inspired his men to believe in him and made them feel valued, Childe is a bully who immediately resorts to physical intimidation and openly delights in humiliating his crew and watching them quaver in terror of Blood Spire’s traps. But he’s only one man, and what really keeps the other five returning to the tower again and again is ego and spite. I was reminded while watching Diamond Dogs of a game my family played last Christmas which all of us hated, but which went on for hours because none of us would quit first or allow ourselves to lose. Diamond Dogs is about people who are supposedly very intelligent and truly loathe each other doing something with serious consequences for losing, but not winning.

As for the staging, it’s technically brilliant, but in service of a story which is claustrophobic and cerebral. Lee Keenan has supplied all sorts of special lights to create the Blood Spire environment, and several of these are integrated into Izumi Inaba’s very cool space costumes. Inaba and sound designer Sarah Espinoza also had the foresight to put microphones into the masks and helmets. Mary Robinette Kowal’s puppets are also visually impressive, and I gather that they are considerably more graceful and ghostly than what is described of the titular diamond dogs in Reynolds’s text. But Allen’s direction can’t avoid the Sisyphean nature of the plot and theme, so the visual elements’ power wears thin after not very long.

The six actors also do a fine job with broadly written characters. Steakley, in particular, has mastered an odd movement vocabulary, which he relies on because Dr. Trintignant always wears a mask and may not even have a face. Roberts is also a stand-out in a role which requires the audience to become increasingly disillusioned with his character. For fans of the Revelation Space series, Diamond Dogs is a must-see, and The House’s production values are used here in service of an interesting aesthetic rarely seen elsewhere. But the aggravating nature of the story makes it important for anybody who is not a hard sci-fi fan to know what they are getting into beforehand. Certain plot points late in the play which seemed too convenient or didn’t make sense made me even more frustrated. Diamond Dogs has its strong points, but is firmly situated within its niche.

Somewhat Recommended

Diamond Dogs is performed in the upstairs at the Chopin Theatre, 1543 W Division St, Chicago, Illinois. Running time is two hours and twenty minutes with one intermission. Tickets are $30-35; to order, visit thehousetheatre.com or call 773-769-3832.

Performances are Thursdays-Saturdays at 8:00 pm and Sundays at 7:00 pm through March 5. 

 

Published in Theatre in Review

The CHICAGO ONE-MINUTE PLAY FESTIVAL (#1MPF) returns to The Den Theatre for its seventh year – this time exploring America and Chicago in 2017 in the wake of the Presidential election. The marathon evening of one-minute plays by more than 60 of Chicago’s established and emerging playwrights and directors is presented two nights only, Tuesday, February 21 and Wednesday, February 22, 2017 at The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. Tickets, priced at $18, are currently available at brownpapertickets.com.

 

The 2017 CHICAGO ONE-MINUTE PLAY FESTIVAL: America Is…. will feature brand new one-minute plays by Axel Arth, Andrew Bailes, Manny Buckley, Rachel Claff, Whitney LaMora Currier, EJC Calvert, Dan Caffrey, MT Cozzola, Randall Colbrun, Lonnie Carter, Spenser Davis, Bilal Dardai, Reginald Edmond, Kimberly D. Furganson, Genevra Gallo-Bayaites, Addison Heimann, Nick Hart, Skye Robinson Hillis, Kate Healy, Reeny Hofrichter, Scott Hermes, Jeewon Kim, David Kodeski, Genevieve Locksley, Jenni Lamb, Patrick McLean, Arlene Malinowski, Mark Mason, Jonathan Mastro, Laura Nessler, Coya Paz, Kristi Parker-Barnhart, Tania Richard, Tanise Robnett, Elaine Romero, Cassandra Rose, Jennifer Rumberger, Edgar Sanchez, Jessy Lauren Smith, Jenny Seidelman, Sheridan Singleton, Jon Steinhagen, Steve Spencer, Tiffani Swalley, Leean Kim Torske, Robert Tenges, Eileen Tull, Aaron Weissman, Tony Werner, Adam Webster, Larissa Zageris and Joe Zarrow.

 

Directors include Wardell Clark, Spenser Davis, Rose Freeman, Jess Hutchinson, Charlie McGrath, Andrew Peters, Samuel Roberson, Alyssa Vera Ramos, Lee Stark, Lexi Saunders, Anna Trachtman and Jacob Watson

 

“We are thrilled to celebrate seven years of #1MPF in Chicago and we are proud to see our programing and the reach of our work diversifying – between the festival of women-identified artists, The Every 28 Hours Plays and the traditional 1MPF work that we are using to investigate what America and Chicago in 2017 post-election America looks like, comments Artists Director Dominic D’Andrea. “The opportunity to gather the community of artists, activists and citizens and focus on ways that we might begin to design the world we want to live in is a beautiful and necessary action. I'm proud of the community, our partners at the Den and the stunning nuance of the work we've generated together.” 

 

EVENT DETAILS

 

Title: CHICAGO ONE-MINUTE PLAY FESTIVAL: America Is…

Dates: Tuesday, February 21 and Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Times: 8 pm

Tickets: $18. Tickets are currently available at brownpapertickets.com.

 

About THE ONE-MINUTE PLAY FESTIVAL

 

THE ONE-MINUTE PLAY FESTIVAL (#1MPF) is America’s largest and longest running grass roots theatre company, founded by Producing Artistic Director, Dominic D’Andrea . #1MPF is a social barometer project, which investigates the zeitgeist of different communities through dialogue, consensus building and a performance of 50-100 short moments generated by each community. #1MPF works in partnership with theatres and/or social organizations sharing playwright, educational or community-specific missions across the country. The aim is to create locally sourced playwright-focused community events, with the goal of promoting the spirit of radical inclusion. #1MPF represents playwrights of different age, gender, race, cultures, and points of career. The work attempts to reflect the theatrical landscape of local artistic communities by creating a dialogue between the collective conscious and the individual voice.

 

In each city, #1MPF works with partnering organizations to identify programs or initiatives in each community to support with the proceeds from ticket sales. The goal is to find ways give directly back to the artists in each community. Supported programs have ranged from educational programming, youth poetry projects, theatre program in prisons, playwright residencies and memberships, playwrights salaried commissions, community access projects, arts workshops and other social and artistic initiatives.

 

Annual partnerships have been created with theaters in over 20 cities including: New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Trenton, Atlanta, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Boston, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, Seattle, Dallas, Austin, Indianapolis, Anchorage, Honolulu, St. Louis and more, with partnering institutions including Primary Stages, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, New Georges at New York City Center, Z-Space, A.C.T., Trinity Rep, Victory Gardens Theater, Cornerstone Theatre Company, The Playwrights Foundation, Boston Playwrights Theatre, Actor’s Express, InterAct Theatre, Mixed Blood, Walking Shadow Theatre, Passage Theatre, Phoenix Theatre, Kitchen Dog Theatre, Salvage Vanguard & ScriptWorks,  ACT Seattle, Perseverance Theatre, Round House Theatre, Honolulu Theatre For Youth and others.   

 

Notable #1MPF contributors have included: David Henry Hwang, Lynn Nottage, Neil LaBute, Tina Howe, Donald Margulies, Nilaja Sun, Tarell Alvin McCraney, Robert Schenkkan, Lydia Diamond, Phillip Kan Gotanda, Kristoffer Diaz, Rajiv Joseph, Samuel D. Hunter, Karen Hartman, Robert Askins, Colman Domingo, José Rivera, Craig Lucas, Mike Daisey, Greg Kotis, Michael John Garcés and over to 1400 celebrated, emerging, and midcareer playwrights.  For more information visit: www.oneminuteplayfestival.com

 

Published in Buzz Extra

As I found my seat in the very intimate forty-seat or so Red Curtain Theater in First Congregational Church House to see Robert Harling's popular American classic Steel Magnolias, made popular by the movie starring Julia Roberts, I was very drawn in immediately by Mark Boergers' set design which places audience members on both sides of the action facing each other, so close you feel you are waiting for your own hair appointment in the super friendly and inclusive Truvy's Beauty Salon in Chinquapin, Louisiana.

 

Directed by Artistic Director Mark Boergers, all six members of this truly ensemble piece get an equal chance to shine and show the particular strengths and challenges each of these extraordinary women are facing. The multi-racial casting was extremely effective and believable. Each of these women, some rich, some poor, some single and some married, or about to be, really work together in an organic and wonderful way to create a world any woman can identify with at every stage of her life.  

 

Usually, I point out members of the cast who stand out but in this case ALL of the cast stand out, some with their biting humor like Nicholia Q. Aguirre as Clairee, whose late husband was mayor of Chinquapin, and Meg Elliott as Ousier who owns an outstanding sense of comic timing! Lucy Sandy as Truvy, the owner is a calm yet very funny, motherly anchor of the beauty salon she built in her own garage to support her husband. 

 

Brooklyn Hebert is lovely in the role of Shelby who is getting her hair done for her wedding day as the play opens. Natalie Sallee plays Shelby's mother M'Lynn really brings home the tears as the danger of diabetes threatens her daughter's happy, yet fragile, life dealing with the disease before and after childbirth. As the young Annelle, a young new beautician who has arrived recently in this small town with an abusive, perhaps criminal, boyfriend who deserts her Nikkia Tyler is very effective also, as we see her clinging to these new friendships and her newfound trust in God, and the church - while literally on the verge of homelessness.

 

Although Harling’s script is considered a flawless classic, these six strong characters in such a small, realistic, almost threadbare set take the show to new levels of humor and sensitivity, which leave one wondering why the Hollywood film itself wasn't cast multi-racially as well. 

 

I highly endorse this bright, new production to anyone who has seen or not seen and enjoyed the film or play before, as this ensemble directed by Mark Boergers offers up a refreshing and fulfilling vision of the original play that women and the men who love them can all identify with easily. Along with this excellent cast of trained actors the audience can learn firsthand about being strong as steel when necessary and laughing like children when it seems like all that's left to do is cry.  

 

The Arc Theatre’s Steel Magnolias is being performed at the Red Curtain Theater at the First Congregational Church House in Evanston through February 12th. For tickets and more show info, click here.

 

Published in Theatre in Review
Tuesday, 24 January 2017 13:17

Review: Blizzard '67 at 16th Street Theater

If you don’t already know about the 16th Street Theater in Berwyn, now’s a great time to check it out. For ten years, the Equity company run by Ann Filmer in the basement of the Berwyn Cultural Center has endeavored to produce high-quality work for an affordable price while paying artists fairly, and for this anniversary season, they’re reviving several of their hits as staged readings (I can personally recommend Yasmina’s Necklace). As for the current mainstage production, Blizzard ’67 by local playwright Jon Steinhagen is an expertly crafted character study in a setting familiar to every Chicagoan of a certain age, but is easily accessible to those whom the blizzard long predates.

The play begins a few days before the January 26th blizzard with the characters breaking the fourth wall to introduce themselves to us in a narrative device, which Steinhagen will return to a few times over the evening. In this early segment, the audience chuckles knowingly along with the four men in a carpool as they marvel over how quickly Illinois weather can go from 65 degrees to dropping two feet of snow. That humor is a necessity for keeping the audience’s interest, too, because calling our characters creatures of their era is about the nicest thing which can be said about them.

Four steel chairs represent the car Lanfield (Mark Pracht) drives his co-workers in. They alternate four times a year, and Lanfield’s functional alcoholism and his car’s faulty radio and horn gain him no reprieve from his duties. Riding with him are Henkin (Stephen Spencer), a bachelor rising in the company, family man Bell (Noah Simon), and young new guy Emery (Christian Stokes). They are not friends. Emery claims he can see that Henkin’s recent promotion is simply a meaningless carrot the bosses wave in front of them, but Lanfield is seething with jealous insecurity and stokes Bell’s low-key dissatisfaction, as well. Henkin is unapologetic about doing “well” and Emery internally debates whether siding with him or Lanfield would be more advantageous.

Besides making up for in paper-thin egos what they lack in social skills and self-awareness, our characters have very little in their lives which gives them any happiness, and our look into their home lives earns them a bit of pity. Bell is luckier than the others in that he at least as a child he loves and is loved by. Emery has a doting father who has provided him with everything and a new wife; even if his life is disappointing now, there’s reason to expect it will get better. Lanfield is an emotional mess but has a wife who nurses him while enabling his self-destruction. Henkin’s loneliness is a more subtle kind of sadness, and one more easily hidden under affected disdain. When the men are caught in the sudden blizzard as a result of preferring the risk of commuting home to the certain misery of sharing a room, they are thrown into crises. In a moment of panic, three abandon the fourth, and are left to confront their mounting horror and disgust at how far they are from how they perceived themselves.

Sometime after Blizzard ’67, Steinhagen wrote The Devil’s Day Off, which was performed by Signal Ensemble in 2014 and depicted the consequences of a heat wave in Chicago. Whether Blizzard ‘67’s script was revised after that I do not know, but Steinhagen has developed a formidable skill at writing characters in extreme, but easily recognizable, situations. However, while The Devil’s Day Off was written to give the actors and director as much latitude as possible, Blizzard ’67 thrives on its specificity. Filmer guides her four actors seamlessly from the satirical tone at the play’s opening to the harrowing meditations at its end. Her direction and Steinhagen’s script draw us into the characters’ lack of closure, making us suffer prolonged tension along with them in the play’s second act. Assisting in this is the minimal design, with a brutal grey set by Grant Sabin, cold lights by Benjamin White, projections with the slightest dream-like edge by Anthony Churchill, evocative weather sound-effects by Barry Bennett, and period and character-appropriate costumes by Rachel Sypniewski.

Even so, the four actors are, of course, the pillars on whom the play rests, and each provides a full portrait of a man mired in his own different kind of frustration. While Bell may be the most conventionally likeable, each has petty weaknesses and aspirations we can easily identify with. Spencer, in particular, does stand-out work, as he not only plays Henkin, but also has to transform himself into several other characters who are treated seriously by the narrative. Wisely, he and Filmer have not attempted to be completely illusionary with this, but give us a good enough idea of a bartender and a close relative of each of the other characters for us to understand how they relate to each other. For the most part, the relationships are very troubled, and what makes Blizzard ’67 interesting on a level deeper than mere nostalgia for the blizzard is its examination of a failure of people to value each other. It takes a televised speech by Richard J. Daley, of all people, for the characters to realize what the true source of their unhappiness is. Those of us today with more satisfactory work environments, families, and friendships may come away grateful for how far things have come, and remember to safeguard mundane kindnesses and our consciousness of others.

Highly Recommended

Blizzard ’67 is being performed at 6420 16th St in Berwyn, Illinois. Running time is two hours, with one intermission. Tickets may be purchased at 16thstreettheater.org. Admission is $18-22.

Performances are Thursdays-Fridays at 7:30 pm (often with a post-show discussion) and Saturdays at 4:00 and 8:00 pm now extended through March 4th. Parking is available for free in the lot at 16th and Gunderson.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Due to popular demand, Greenhouse Theater Center is pleased to present the return of Cathy Schenkelberg’s hit one-woman show SQUEEZE MY CANS, directed by Shirley Anderson, playing February 16 – March 12, 2017 at The Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. in Chicago. Schenkelberg’s evocative and humorous account of life as a Scientologist returns for a full run following a limited engagement last summer during the Greenhouse’s popular Solo Celebration! Series. Tickets for SQUEEZE MY CANS are currently available at greenhousetheater.org, in person at the box office or by calling (773) 404-7336. The press opening is Thursday, February 16 at 7:30 pm.

 

Have you ever wondered if Bozo was a suppressive person? Have you ever considered what it might be like to audition to be Tom Cruise’s girlfriend? What would you do if the carrot of spiritual freedom was dangled in front of you, waiting to be seized? Writer/performer Cathy Schenkelberg decided to chase it and what she found was Scientology: America’s foremost intergalactic theology. After years of studying and searching, she found herself blowing alien life forms off her body, farther than ever from who she had hoped to be. Now, she returns to share that story in this no-holds-barred cautionary tale of how she survived the pseudoscience.

 

SQUEEZE MY CANS returns to Chicago following sold-out runs in 2016 at Outdoor Voices festival and Sacred Fools Theater/Hollywood Fringe Festival in Los Angeles and Dunes Summer Theatre in Michigan City, Indiana.

 

"Our audiences were profoundly affected by Cathy's humorous and shocking retelling of her brave journey through Scientology when we hosted her as part of the Solo Celebration! Series," comments Greenhouse Artistic Director Jacob Harvey. "Cathy manages to turn her nearly 20-year experience with America's most prominent alien religion into a fearless, hilarious and heartbreaking performance. We are proud to have her back as she continues to tell her story of survival and the power of perseverance."

The production team for SQUEEZE MY CANS includes: Brandon Baruch (lighting design), Victorio (Toy) Deiorio (sound and projection design) and Ron Rude (production manager)

PRODUCTION DETAILS:

 

Title: SQUEEZE MY CANS

Written and performed by: Cathy Schenkelberg

Directed by: Shirley Anderson

 

Location The Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave, Chicago

Dates: Press Performance: Thursday, February 16 at 7:30 pm

Regular run: Friday, February 17 – Sunday, March 12, 2017

Curtain times: Thursdays and Friday at 7:30 pm; Saturdays at 7:30 pm & 10 pm; Sundays at 2 pm

Tickets: $25. Students $20.

Tickets are currently available at greenhousetheater.org, in person at the box office or by calling (773) 404-7336.

 

About The Artists

 

Cathy Schenkelberg (Performer/Playwright) is a Nebraska native and Chicago/LA-based actress, singer and voiceover talent who has voiced campaigns for clients such as Sears, Kohl’s, Applebee’s and SC Johnson. Early on in Chicago, she’s had roles in Jacque Brel, Working, Little Shop of Horrors, Noises Off and Moms the Word, to name a few. Cathy was also Chrissy in the Midwest Tour of Hair and Pepper the Clown on WGN’s Bozo Show. She has worked as a dancer/singer at clubs and cruise ships - even impersonating Dolly Parton, Madonna and Marilyn Monroe (all at the same time). In her recent return to the stage, she had the good fortune to play Madame Thenardier in Les Miz, Violet, Zuzu and Ma Hatch in It’s A Wonderful Life, Sue Ellen in Honky Tonk Angels and the Mother in A Christmas Story at Sierra Repertory Theatre in Sonora CA as well as Veronica in God of Carnage at American Stage in St Pete FL. But it has been her spoken-word pieces at such venues as Write Club LA, Spark off Rose, Rant N’ Rave and Louder then a Mom, where her one woman show, Squeeze My Cans, was conceived. Visit www.squeezemycans.com for more information. 

 

Shirley Anderson (Director) is a Northwestern alum who spent the ‘90s in Chicago, adapting, producing and performing a solo adaptation of Dorothy Parker's short story Big Blonde at the Red Lion Pub, then in jazz clubs, colleges and theaters in Chicago, Edinburgh and Los Angeles. Anderson has written and performed as a solo performer ever since in Chicago and Los Angeles. In 1993, Anderson collaborated with Molly McNett on Sculpture in Vitro: Growing Up Female in the Age of Liposuction at Live Bait Theater after premiering the work in cooperation with Lookingglass Theatre and before touring the show to high schools and colleges. She has collaborated with Lookingglass Theatre Company, Plasticene and Studio 108 in Chicago and Sacred Fools, Theater Movement Bazaar, Zoo District, Son of Semele and Theater of NOTE in Los Angeles, where she currently lives and directs business operations for Blum & Poe art gallery.

 

About the Greenhouse Theater Center

The Greenhouse Theater Center is a nonprofit performance venue located at 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood. Our complex offers two newly remodeled 190-seat main stage spaces, two 60-seat studio theaters, an in-house rehearsal room and Chicago’s only dedicated used theatre book store. 

Our mission at the Greenhouse is first and foremost to grow local theatre. We strive to cultivate a fertile environment for local artists, from individual renters to our bevy of resident companies, to develop and produce their work. In 2014 alone, The Greenhouse Theater Center provided space for almost 1,000 ticketed performances, serving more than 54,000 patrons. Among these events were at least 30 productions by our resident companies, including the celebrated American Blues Theater and Remy Bumppo Theatre Company. Through our Trellis Program, we offer the community affordable access to our work by housing Chicago’s only dedicated used theatre bookstore, located on the second floor of our complex, as well as offering a free reading series each Tuesday night where local artists workshop their latest scripts. Additionally, we also continue to play an active role in cultivating and nurturing our community through continued partnerships with the League of Chicago Theaters and local Chambers of Commerce. 

As of 2016, the Greenhouse Theater Center embraced the true spirit of growth and launched its producing entity. With the announcement of our eight month long Solo Celebration! Series, helmed by Artistic Director Jacob Harvey, we will produce 12 solo plays from June 2016 to February 2017. Through this inaugural effort, we hope to expand the solo play cannon while also cultivating a larger conversation about the possibilities of the one-person play. 

With new ideas always incubating, the Greenhouse Theater Center is flourishing. Come grow with us! 

 

Published in Buzz Extra

American Blues Theater, under the continued leadership of Producing Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside, announces the lineup for its 2017 – 2018 Season, “The Beat Goes On.” American Blues’ 32nd Season will include the World Premiere of Six Corners by Keith Huff, directed by Gary Griffin; the Chicago Premiere of Beauty’s Daughter by Dael Orlandersmith, directed by Ron OJ Parson; the 16th annual production of It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! from Frank Capra’s film, directed by Gwendolyn Whiteside; and Buddy – the Buddy Holly Story by Alan Janes, directed by Lili-Anne Brown with musical direction by Ensemble member Michael Mahler. All performances in the 2017-2018 Season will take place at Stage 773, located at 1225 W Belmont Ave, Chicago.

 

“From the lyric beats of a poet, the heartbeat of a family man, the patrol beat of a Chicago cop, to the inimitable beat of Buddy Holly & the Crickets, we’re thrilled with the rich and varied stories offered for our audiences,” notes Producing Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside. “We’re honored to have such extraordinary talent on the American Blues stage.”

 

The 2017-18 American Blues Theater Season up close:

 

The Chicago Premiere of

Beauty’s Daughter

by Dael Orlandersmith

directed by Ron OJ Parson

July 7 – August 5, 2017

Press Opening: July 13, 2017 at 7:30 p.m.

This Obie Award-winning play by Dael Orlandersmith depicts one woman’s journey through life’s obstacles in an East Harlem neighborhood. Artistic Affiliate Wandachristine takes on 6 different characters during the course of this solo play—some broken, some on the way down, but all memorable.

 

16th Anniversary Production of

It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!

from Frank Capra’s film

directed by Producing Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside

November 17 – December 30, 2017

Press Opening: November 19, 2017 at 2:30 p.m.

For 16 years, the American Blues Ensemble has treated Chicago audiences to a live 1940s radio broadcast of holiday favorite It’s a Wonderful Life. The incredible cast recreates the entire town of Bedford Falls with Foley sound effects, an original score and holiday carols. The Bedford Falls “residents” extend their hospitality after every performance when audiences are treated to milk and cookies served by the cast.

 

The World Premiere of

Six Corners

by Keith Huff

directed by Gary Griffin

February 16 – March 25, 2018

Press Opening: February 22, 2018 at 7:30 p.m.

Late one night, two burnt-out violent crimes unit detectives try their damnedest to close the puzzling murder of a CTA employee.  What should be a simple open-and-shut case, however, evolves into a horrifying mystery and unearths a legacy of violence stretching back years.

 

The Chicago Revival of

Buddy – the Buddy Holly Story

by Alan Janes

directed by Lili-Anne Brown

musical direction by Ensemble member Michael Mahler

April 27 – May 26, 2018

Press Opening: May 3, 2018 at 7:30 p.m.

Before the Beatles or the Rolling Stones ever played a note, rock & roll was forever changed by the bespectacled kid from Texas. BUDDY tells the true story of Buddy Holly through his short yet spectacular career and features the classic songs "That’ll be the Day", "Peggy Sue",  The Big Bopper’s  "Chantilly Lace", Ritchie Valens' "La Bamba" plus many more.

 

Additional 2017-2018 Programming

Ripped Festival: Edition 16

Spring 2018

Written and direction by various Chicago artists

 

Since 2009, American Blues Theater has produced 135 short plays in the RIPPED: the Living Newspaper series. Based on the 1930’s WPA era program that brought Orson Welles, Arthur Miller, Richard Wright and Clifford Odets into public attention, playwrights use inspiration ripped from today’s headlines to create stories performed live on stage.

 

Arts Education in Chicago Public Schools

The Lincoln Project

Conceived and Adapted by Producing Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside from Artistic Affiliate James Still’s Pulitzer-nominated The Heavens Are Hung in Black

 

American Blues Theater’s innovative and adaptive program aligns with Illinois Learning Standards to engage 5th-10th graders about the life of Abraham Lincoln, specifically the events surrounding the Emancipation Proclamation.  Students watch scenes performed by professional actors, participate in discussions, and most importantly, write their own plays. Since the program’s launch in 2013, over 5,500 students have participated in the program.

 

Subscriptions

All main stage performances take place at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. The Blue Card – the most affording ticketing offer  the 2017-2018 season are available now at www.AmericanBluesTheater.com or by calling 773.654.3103.

 

About American Blues Theater

Winner of the American Theatre Wing’s prestigious 2016 National Theatre Company Award, American Blues Theater is a premier arts organization with an intimate environment that patrons, artists, and all Chicagoans call home.  American Blues Theater explores the American identity through the plays it produces and communities it serves.

 

The diverse and multi-generational artists have established the second-oldest professional Equity Ensemble theater in Chicago.  The 37-member Ensemble has 530+ combined years of collaboration on stage. As of 2016, the theater and artists received 186 Joseph Jefferson Awards and nominations that celebrate excellence in Chicago theater and over 31 Black Theatre Alliance Awards. The artists are honored with Pulitzer Prize nominations, Academy Awards, Golden Globe Awards, Emmy Awards and numerous other accolades.  

 

The American Blues Theater Ensemble includes all four Founders Ed Blatchford, Rick Cleveland, James Leaming, and William Payne with Dawn Bach, Matthew Brumlow, Manny Buckley, Kate Buddeke, Sarah Burnham, Dara Cameron, Casey Campbell, Darren Canady, Brian Claggett, Dennis Cockrum, Austin Cook, Laura Coover, Ian Paul Custer, Lauri Dahl, Joe Foust, Cheryl Graeff, Marty Higginbotham, Jaclyn Holsey, Lindsay Jones, Nambi E. Kelley, Kevin R. Kelly, Steve Key, Ed Kross, Warren Levon, Michael Mahler, Heather Meyers, John Mohrlein, Christopher J. Neville, Suzanne Petri, Carmen Roman, Editha Rosario, Sarah E. Ross, and Gwendolyn Whiteside.

 

American Blues Theater programs and activities are made possible, in part by funding by The MacArthur Funds for Arts & Culture at Prince, the Shubert Foundation, The Chicago Community Trust, SMART Growth Grant, Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, the Illinois Arts Council Agency, Anixter Foundation, Actors’ Equity Foundation, and the Chip Pringle Fund. ComEd is the Season Lighting Sponsor.

 

Published in Buzz Extra

Hell in a Handbag Productions is thrilled to kick-off 2017 with the announcement of its 15th season. Comments Artistic Director David Cerda, “We really want to thank our audiences for keeping us going for the past 15 years with their love and support, so we are doing a mix of new, old and most requested from our audience for our audience.” 

 

The 2017 season launches in the spring with the world premiere of VALLEY!, a rollicking unauthorized musical parody of the camp classic film and best-selling book Valley of the Dolls. Written by David Cerda, Handbag tells the tale through the lens and life of its legendary author, Jacqueline Susann. Expect lots of booze, pills and (gasp) pre-marital sex!

 

For Halloween, Handbag definitely offers up a treat with the world premiere of BEWILDERED, a musical parody of the classic TV sitcom Bewitched, with book by Ron Weaver, lyrics and music by Ron Weaver and Aaron Benham and directed by Brigitte Ditmars. The spellbinding throwback is told from the point of view of Gladys Kravitz, the poor, misunderstood neighbor who keeps seeing crazy things at the home of Samantha Stephens, a beautiful witch, and her ‘ordinary family.’ Gladys’ husband Abner has had enough and is about to take drastic measures. Can Gladys prove her visions are real without destroying the Stephens family – or is she doomed to a life of pills and institutions? BEWILDERED will feature ensemble members Caitlin Jackson as Gladys Kravitz, Ed Jones as Uncle Arthur and David Cerda as Endora.

 

Finally, Handbag celebrates the holidays by bringing back its most popular show ever, RUDOLPH THE RED-HOSED REINDEER 2017 by David Cerda and directed by AJ Wright. A parody of the 1967 Rankin Bass television special, Rudolph has become a subversive Chicago classic that celebrates the MISFITS of the world. Chicago’s favorite transvestite reindeer celebrates his 21st anniversary this year – and Cerda always adjusts the show to fit the current social climate. 

 

In addition to its mainstage shows, Handbag is also pleased to present THE GOLDEN GIRLS – THE LOST EPISODES. Join Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sophia on the lanai at Mary’s Attic this summer for some episodes that didn’t quite make it on the air. Plus, Handbag’s very own celebrity Rip Nelson’s long lost talk show has finally surfaced in Rip Nelson, AFTER DARK. The original tapes were thought to be destroyed in a grease fire at Dom Deluise’s annual legendary Hawaiian themed Labor Day pig roast – but now they’ve been restored for Handbag audiences to enjoy late night at Stage 773

 

Handbag’s 15th Anniversary Season will be staged at Mary’s Attic (5400 N. Clark St., Chicago) and Stage 773 (1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago). Season subscriptions and single tickets are currently available at www.handbagproductions.org. 

 

Hell in a Handbag Productions’ 15th Anniversary Season includes:

 

April 27 – June 10, 2017

VALLEY! – World Premiere!

An Unauthorized Musical Parody 

By David Cerda

at Mary’s Attic, 5400 N. Clark St., Chicago

 

Handbag presents a musical parody of the cult camp classic Valley of the Dolls like only they could. Join aspiring model/actress Ann Wells Fargo, the talented and self-destructive Needy Mascara, and the beautiful but doomed Jennifer South for an evening of fame, fashion, sex and dolls…so many dolls…

 

June 6 – July 12, 2017

THE GOLDEN GIRLS – THE LOST EPISODES

By David Cerda, Directed by Shade Murray

at Mary’s Attic, 5400 N. Clark St., Chicago

 

Handbag’s way of thanking you for being a friend this summer! Enjoy lost, never-before-seen episodes of The Golden Girls featuring Dorothy, Rose, Blanche, Sophia and all of the siblings, daughters, sons, and rare diseases that were mentioned once, but never again. There will be Golden Girls trivia and costume contests to help fully embrace the Miami experience. 

 

September 27 – November 11, 2017

BEWILDERED – World Premiere!

Book by Ron Weaver, Music and Lyrics by Ron Weaver and Aaron Benham

Directed by Brigitte Ditmars

Featuring ensemble members David Cerda (Endora), Caitlin Jackson (Gladys Kravitz) and Ed Jones (Uncle Arthur)

at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago

 

A reimagining of the beloved ‘60s and ‘70s television sitcom Bewitched, as seen through the eyes of Gladys Kravitz, Samantha Stephens’ iconic nosy neighbor. Poor Gladys knows what she sees next door is real, but can she prove it in time to save herself from being committed? Gladys finally gets her due in this fun and magical musical parody.

 

October 14, 2017 – November 11, 2017 

RIP, AFTER DARK

By David Cerda

Featuring ensemble member Ed Jones

at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago

 

Ed Jones returns as Handbag’s favorite faux D-list celebrity – and this time he’s a late, late night talk show host with a bevy of C-list celebrities. Come see Rip Nelson in his little known talk show with some of the most intriguing mix of actors, singers and comedians of the time. Relive the smoke-filled gabfests of long ago with your favorite long lost entertainers in an intimate setting.

 

November 25 – December 30, 2017

RUDOLPH THE RED-HOSED REINDEER 2017

at Mary’s Attic, 5400 N. Clark St., Chicago

 

Chicago’s favorite cross-dressing reindeer is back and he’s 21 years old! Hell in a Handbag closes its season with its most popular show ever. RUDOLPH THE RED-HOSED REINDEER, a parody of the classic children’s television special had its first reading in 1996 and has evolved into one of Chicago’s best anti-holiday, holiday shows. Join Rudolph and all of his misfit friends as they struggle with fitting in and being ‘normal’ in an increasingly abnormal world. 

 

About Hell in a Handbag Productions

 

Hell in a Handbag is dedicated to the preservation, exploration, and celebration of works ingrained in the realm of popular culture via theatrical productions through parody, music and homage. Handbag is a 501(c)(3) Not for Profit.

 

Published in Buzz Extra

“Circumference of a Squirrel” by John Walch finishes out The Greenhouse Theater’s inaugural Solo Celebration. This one-character play festival featured only single narrative storytelling. It’s not often you see a one-person fiction play, and while some may cringe at the concept, these short works explored highly relevant themes. 

 

Will Allen stars as Chester. He begins the play telling the audience about a squirrel he saw trying to carry a bagel. Chester is in the present, and by the speech pattern adopted by Allen, we can presume something is a little off. Walch’s script seamlessly flows between Chester’s childhood memories, his relationship with his father and the divorce he’s just been through. He grapples with the knowledge that his father was an ardent anti-semite. It colors the dark, and funny memories of his father paying him in Lifesavers to kill squirrels. 

 

Allen toggles between several characters and memories in the hour-long run time. Each character has a unique, but sincere voice and there’s an almost manic quality with which Allen can articulate them all. His performance only deepens from beginning to end, leading to a bittersweet conclusion. 

 

Directed by Jacob Harvey, “Circumference of a Squirrel” is a well-stylized, and at times abstract look at the ways in which we love. It asks of its audience, whether unfounded racism is forgivable even in the ones we are supposed to love. 

 

Through February 12 at The Greenhouse Theater Center. 2257 N Lincoln Ave. 

 

 

Published in Theatre in Review

I was a "psychonaut librarian” as a child without even knowing it. My grandparents’ house was only two blocks from the beautifully built, stunning Coral Gables Library in South Miami, Florida.

 

I spent all my spare time there, drinking in the smell of library books and wisdom. Each new book I read seemed to open a new world for me. First, they were fantasy worlds, like The Phantom Tollbooth, later I began to read more and more about psychology and self-help, each time hoping that the book in my hands would offer an insight into having the happy, successful dreamy life I imagined lay ahead.  Yes, I was a shy, gentle book nerd, and I felt often that reading was the answer to all my problems. 

 

Sean Kelly's "Psychonaut Librarians", now in a world premiere with The New Colony is a funny, delightful poetically phrased tale about a mother and daughter and their fellow book worm friends discovering magical worlds at the library. 

 

Librarian Hester, played with both warmth and biting wit by David Cerda (Artistic Director of the hugely popular campy Hell in a Handbag Productions), is trying to save her daughter Jane (Christine Mayland Perkins) from giving up on her dreams and into society's constant fear creating machine. Hester a single mother to Jane, greets her with the single revealing question about her ex, "How is Daddy? Still suffocatingly small-minded?".

 

Hester has developed a potion that allows her to go all the way into the fantasy world of reading into a place she calls "Anyverse" where anything can happen and dreams do not die without a fight. 

 

Hester shares the potion with her grown daughter one night and while in the Anyverse Jane meets a lover named Dewey, played with much joy by Matt Farabee, a handsome Christ-like figure of love and innocence.  

 

In each other's arms Jane finds true love. They dance and fly through the Anyverse on a beautifully lit, ever changing, yet intimate, stage. Dewey tells Jane the ultimate romantic verse, "{In Jane) I found what I did not even know I was looking for and in finding her, I found myself," Jane stares into his loving, smiling face and states that this meeting is one of the "perfect moments” that she will add to her sadly short list of perfect moments. 

 

But of course, as in "real" life, the enjoyment of freedom of life and love in the Anyverse is threatened by an evil force called The Sandman played with the proper amount of military, know it all, fear inducing power by Jack McCabe.

 

The Sandman has the ability to literally suck the soul out of each human by drawing out their worst fears and causing them to act on them instead of holding fast to positive thinking. 

 

Despite their obviously great and perfect matching Dewey flip flops helplessly from loving adoration to murderous hatred for Jane in an instant and begins to strangle Jane each time The Sandman makes him insecure about her love by sending him negative subconscious suggestions. 

 

Jane's mother Hester sees this pattern of abuse and danger to her daughter and makes the ultimate sacrifice by chasing the Sandman away with the promise that she will not ALLOW her daughter to awaken from the dreary, fear filled thought patterns of everyday earth "reality" into the Anyverse ...ever again. 

 

When Jane is awakened from the Anyverse by her mother and is forced to part with Dewey, Jane becomes bitter about life and retreats from taking chances, creativity, or really falling in love and trying new things to follow the strict societal mores dictated by The Sandman about choosing work and security above joyous spontaneity.

 

Sadly, this division leads Jane to become estranged from her own loving, creative mother and the library itself, a symbol of the power of imagination - for 20 years.

 

Jane is inexplicably drawn to the library on the eve of her mother's retirement, where Hester’s fellow Psychonaut Librarians have arranged a "potion" party to enter the Anyverse all together. 

 

Hester's fellow librarians, the stiff-necked Emmerick (Michael Peters) and hopeful, brainy free spirit, Rosemary (Morgan McNaught) and the library's "security guy" (Carlos Olmedo), who also ends up drinking the spiked punch, are all played with excellent comic timing, and their scenes are some of the funniest and most clever dialogue in the show. 

 

This hopeful, desperate for magic crew of psychonauts enter the Anyverse together and immediately each is tested by the dreams, or rather nightmares, of their own worst fears of failure.

 

There are puppets used to represent the fearful dreams and perfected in a clever bit where the puppets are used to represent the characters’ abilities to walk through walls or make themselves small enough to escape a demon dream through a crack in a solid wall. Hester makes a great sacrifice to help rescue them all. 

 

The great thing is that each character, no matter how weak their "punches or kicks' may be, are forced to physically take a stand and fight! Each character must really wrestle and fight to defeat their bad dreams and thought patterns. 

 

In the end, Jane returns to the library without her lover Dewey - but with a newfound belief in the power of magic, and the existence of magic itself. Magic that is ALIVE right there alongside her in the library of life - and the reality of alternate positive realms, exciting realities beyond her own. 

 

Director Krissy Vanderwarker does the best she can on a limited budget to create a romantic pacing and lovely, magical choreography for Jane and Dewey that transitions well into the more comical present day or fantasy scenes. 

 

Kelly's script has gone thru many cuts over the years but is approaching a more perfect balance between what is both a supernatural love story and an "Universal" love story that boldly, yet sensitively, declares the existence of an alternate reality based entirely on love. 

 

The line, "I found what I did not even know I was looking for!  And in finding her, I found myself" kept haunting me after the show ended, as did several of the poetic speeches delivered by Jane to Dewey while sharing flowing descriptions of the deliciousness of their loving, soaring, literally "flying" in each other's arms new love... in words. These scenes were very well written and sometimes seemed like they belonged in an entirely different show. 

 

The character of Dewey, with his shoulder length dirty blonde hair, casual hoody, sandals and all-encompassing smile is best interpreted as a Christ figure, a non-sexual person, a teacher and guru of unconditional love living forever in the Anyverse. Dewey was not supposed to become a human man whose sexual partnership in the "real" world or like a Prince in a fairy tale whose marriage to Jane would effortlessly make her life into an adventure or positivity and magic. 

 

The playwright makes it clear to the end that the daily decision to hold tightly to and fight for her own dreams is up to Jane herself, which is as it should be.

 

Before the show began, the artistic director came out and mentioned how MANY scripts they have been receiving as of late, eluding to the election of Trump (The Sandman himself?), from new writers and how EAGER artists now are to have their words HEARD.

 

I highly recommend this funny, romantic, hopeful show for audiences of any age. “Psychonaut Librarians” would also make a valuable children's theater piece.

 

"Your soul is not living inside your body; your body is living inside your soul.” 

 

For heart weary adult Democrats like myself who are literally praying for a magical happy ending to what appears to be a complete takeover of millions of American minds by the evil Sandman, “Psychonaut Librarians” offered me a wonderful evening of hope, encouragement and rainbow lit entertainment. 

 

New Colony’s “Psychonaut Librarians” is playing at Den Theatre through February 12th. For more show information of to purchase tickets, click here

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Forum Productions is pleased to present the world premiere one-man show JESUS THE JEW As Told By His Brother James, written by William Spatz, directed by Will Rogers and featuring Steven Strafford. A modern drama interwoven with the biblical tale of Jesus of Nazareth and his brother James, JESUS THE JEW will play February 17 – March 26, 2017 at Greenhouse Theater Center (Downstairs Mainstage), 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. in Chicago. Tickets are currently available at greenhousetheater.org, in person at the box office or by calling (773) 404-7336. 

 

Jeremy, a biblical history professor, faced with crippling fear and guilt, is mourning the tragic loss of his brother. Struggling to make sense of the present, he reaches into the ancient past to find answers – and imagines himself as James.

 

James is given a choice: renounce his brother or be killed. The problem: his brother is Jesus of Nazareth and James is the leader of all of Jesus’ followers for 30 years since the resurrection. Based on a wealth of research, JESUS THE JEW takes us back to the birth of Christianity and the transformation of Judaism, with two Jewish brothers and their four siblings growing up in Nazareth. Through memory and storytelling, James reveals his insights into Mary of Magdala, his archrival Apostle Paul and his misunderstood brother, as he faces the ultimate decision and his greatest test of faith.

James’ faith could lead to his death. Jeremy’s faith could save his life.

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). 

PRODUCTION DETAILS:

 

Title: JESUS THE JEW As Told By His Brother James

Playwright: William Spatz

Director: Will Rogers

Featuring: Steven Strafford 

 

Location The Greenhouse Theater Center (Downstairs Mainstage), 2257 N. Lincoln Ave, Chicago

Dates: Previews: Friday, February 17 at 7:30 pm, Saturday, February 18 at 2:30 pm & 7:30 pm, Sunday, February 19 at 2:30 pm and Wednesday, February 16 at 7:30 pm

Press Performance: Wednesday, February 22 at 7:30 pm

Regular run: Thursday, February 23 – Sunday, March 26, 2017

Curtain times: Wednesday at 7:30 pm, Thursday at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 7:30 pm, Saturdays at 2:30 pm & 7:30 pm, Sundays at 2:30 pm

Tickets: Previews: $20. Regular run: $30 - $35. Tickets are currently available at greenhousetheater.org, in person at the box office or by calling (773) 404-7336.

 

About The Artists

 

William (Bill) Spatz (Playwright) is a playwright, philanthropist and real estate developer in Chicago. As president of the board for the Greenhouse Theater Center, Bill has overseen the remodeling and expansion of the Greenhouse, which has for over 40 years served as an artistic home for Chicago theater companies, including the Body Politic, Victory Gardens and Remy Bumppo. Bill is the President of the Bill and Wendy Spatz Charitable Foundation. When not producing theater, Bill spends his time engrossed in historical research, traveling with his wife Wendy and supporting Chicago theater companies.

 

Will Rogers (Director) is a creative producer and director who focuses on the development of interdisciplinary work. Most recently, Will’s work centers on the collision of culinary and performing arts as Artistic Director of Plateful Company. With Plateful collaborators Alex Kliner and Sarah Beth Tanner, Will has developed the dinner party musical A Place Called Plenty, the musical cooking show Biscuit Broads and several other in-home events. Will worked as Associate Producer for Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater for seven years, during which time he also served as Casting Director as well as curator of the alternative programming series, Fresh Squeezed. As a director, his work has been seen at Ragdale, Victory Gardens, Hell in a Handbag Productions, Chicago Dramatists, 16th Street Theater, Pavement Group, Savage Vanguard Theater (Austin) and the Dublin Gay Theatre Festival, among others. Will has been on the faculty of Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts Camp in Steamboat  Springs, Colorado and is the creator of Mixtape, a showcase of new musical theater. He is an alum of the Lincoln Center Directors Lab and a graduate of Savannah College of Art and Design. Will is excited to return to the Ragdale High School Intensive for a second year.  

 

Steven Strafford (Performer) was most recently seen as Chick Clark in Wonderful Town at The Goodman last fall. He has toured in Spamalot, Peter Pan, Cinderella and Grease. In Chicago, he was also seen as Jesus and Stephen Hawking in End Days. He has performed regionally at Sacramento Music Circus, Cape Playhouse, Portland Stage Company, Cardinal Stage and many others. His one man show, Methtacular! was nominated for a Jeff Award in 2014. It has had productions here in Chicago, NYC, Maine, California and most recently a two-night stint at Steppenwolf’s 1700 Theatre. His new play, Small Jokes About Monsters, is in development and production around the country. 

 

Forum Productions (Producer) has produced or co-produced 17 plays since its founding in 2014. Previous productions include the highly-acclaimed Churchill (Producer: Chicago, 2014; Producer: Off-Broadway, 2015) and the Greenhouse Theater Center's much-lauded Solo Celebration! Series (Producer), which concludes in February of 2017. In 2017 and 2018, Forum productions will be producing a series of solo performances in Florida, as well as continuing to produce in Chicago.

 

Published in Buzz Extra
Page 6 of 29

 

 

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