On March 10th, 2017, Sub Pop will release the remixed and expanded reissue of Soundgarden’s Ultramega OK, a long-planned “correction” of the legendary band’s GRAMMY®-nominated debut full-length. The album was originally recorded and released in 1988 on SST Records. While the band enjoyed working with the original producer, Drew Canulette, they soon realized they weren’t quite happy with the final mix. Thus, shortly after the album’s release, the band decided to remix the album for subsequent pressings. However, success intervened: the band rapidly scored a deal with A&M and began work on their major-label debut, Louder Than Love, and the Ultramega OKremix project fell by the wayside as Soundgarden climbed their way to (ultra)mega-stardom.
In 2016, after worldwide success, a hiatus, and many albums and tours, the band finally acquired the original multi-track tapes to Ultramega OK and carved out time to dig into the remix. They handed the tapes over to longtime friend and engineer Jack Endino (Nirvana, Mudhoney, Screaming Trees, Skin Yard), who worked with the band to create a fresh mix of the album that, for the band, ties up this persistent loose end and remedies the sound of their debut full-length.
While they were at it, the band dug out six early versions of tracks that wound up on Ultramega OK. The songs were recorded in 1987 on 8-track tape by Jack Endino and Chris Hanzsek at Reciprocal Recording in Seattle, and mixed by Jack Endino in 2016. These versions feature the band in raw, powerful form – sonically closer to the band’s Endino-recorded six-song debut,Screaming Life – and provide a fascinating window into the development of songs that eventually became staples of the band’s set. The six songs comprise what the band refers to asUltramega EP, and they are included in this reissue.
Ultramega OK is available for preorder available now on CD / 2xLP / DL / CASS from Sub Pop and soundgardenworld.com. The album comes packaged in a foil-stamped gatefold with custom dust sleeves, features liner notes from Kim Thayil and Jack Endino, and includes a previously unseen photo from renowned photographer Charles Peterson. Preorders of the LP from megamart.subpop.com, soundgardenworld.com, and select independent retailers will receive the Loser edition on marble blue and maroon vinyl (while supplies last).
Hailed as grunge innovators, Soundgarden redefined rock music for a generation. In the late ‘80s, the band – singer Chris Cornell, guitarist Kim Thayil, bassist Hiro Yamamoto, and drummer Matt Cameron – combined a punk ethos, brutal metal soundscapes, and Cornell’s ravenous roar to capture the attention of the masses. Jagged and ferocious, their music was deeply at odds with the synth-pop and hair metal which dominated the ‘80s airwaves. Early indie releases, including seminal Screaming Lifeand Ultramega OK, quickly led to a dedicated indie following as the band toured on both sides of the Atlantic. Subsequent albums, including Badmotorfinger, Superunknown, and Down on the Upside, achieved multi-platinum sales and launched the band to international fame.
Chicago, IL– American Blues Theater, Chicago’s second oldest Equity Ensemble, under the continued leadership of Producing Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside, has named Idris Goodwin the winner of the 2017 National Blue Ink Playwriting Award. Goodwin’s play, HYPE MAN, was selected from a pool 543 submissions. As part of the award, Goodwin receives a $1,000 cash prize and the opportunity to further develop his script with American Blues Theater.
“I am of course honored and grateful, but mostly I am charged up,” said Idris Goodwin. “I want to use the theatre as a venue to wrestle with our national sicknesses but also a place to nod heads in unison, as we collectively imagine towards liberation. HYPE MAN, this latest entry into my break beat plays series, exemplifies this desire. I can’t wait to further refine the play with the indomitable American Blues Theater, in one of the greatest cities for art.”
“We’re honored to announce Idris Goodwin’s script as the 2017 winner,” notes Producing Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside. “Idris’s script is both heartbreaking and humorous with characters impossible to forget. The themes resonate empathy and a call to action. We’re thrilled to further develop HYPE MAN with Idris.
HYPE MAN is a story about a controversial police shooting inflaming tensions between an interracial hip hop trio. It is a rhythmically woven drama exploring race, representation, fame and friendship.
About Idris Goodwin
Idris Goodwin is a playwright, poet/performer and essayist. His play How We Got On developed at the O’Neill National Playwrights Conference, premiered in Actors Theatre’s 2012 Humana Festival, and is being produced at theatres across the country. It is the first in his “break beat play” series which includes The REALNESS and HYPE MAN. Other plays include Blackademics, This Is Modern Art co-written with Kevin Coval, And in This Corner: Cassius Clay, Bars and Measures, and The Raid. Goodwin is one of seven playwrights featured in the widely presented HANDS UP!, an anthology commissioned by The New Black Fest and published by Samuel French. His one act Black Flag was produced Off Broadway in Summer Shorts Festival at 59E59 Theatre. He’s received support from the NEA and Ford Foundation, and awarded Oregon Shakespeare’s American History Cycle Commission, and InterAct Theater’s 20/20 Prize. He's had work produced and/or commissioned/developed with Steppenwolf Theatre, The Kennedy Center, Berkeley Rep's Ground Floor Program, La Jolla Playhouse, The Lark Playwriting Center, The Playwrights' Center and New Harmony Project. These Are The Breaks (Write Bloody, 2011), his debut collection of essays and poetry, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Goodwin’s poetry has featured on HBO, The Discovery Channel, Sesame Street and National Public Radio. Goodwin is an assistant professor in The Department of Theatre and Dance at Colorado College. Find him at www.idrisgoodwin.com
About the Blue Ink Playwriting Award
The annual Blue Ink Playwriting Award was created in 2010 to support new work. Since inception, American Blues Theater has named 7 Award winners, 35 finalists, and 59 semi-finalists. American Blues awarded more than $5,000 in cash and prizes for 2017. The full list of 2017 Blue Ink Playwriting Award winners can be found at AmericanBluesTheater.com.
Each year American Blues Theater accepts worldwide submissions of original, unpublished full-length plays. The winning play is selected by Producing Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside and the theater’s Ensemble. The playwright receives a monetary prize of $1,000 and a developmental workshop or staged reading at American Blues Theater in Chicago. Finalists and semi-finalists are also awarded a cash prize.
Submissions for the 2018 Blue Ink Playwriting Award open July 1, 2017. All submissions must be received by American Blues Theater by August 31, 2017 at 11:59pm. Playwrights may only submit one (1) manuscript each year for consideration.
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.
Brett Neveu is a playwright to watch. To call him up-and-coming would be unfair as his work has appeared at The Goodman, Writers Theatre and Red Orchid Threatre. His new play "Her America" is being presented by The Greenhouse Theater Center as part of their Solo Celebration Series.
Directed by Linda Gillum, "Her America" is single character play starring Kate Buddeke. She gives a riveting performance as a not-all-there Midwestern housewife locked in a basement. Buddeke embodies the character effortlessly. Her delivery is familiar and in many lines, hauntingly real.
In the hour we spend with this unnamed character, she uses objects in her basement to freely associate memories and stories from her childhood. To whom she is speaking remains a mystery throughout. Neveu's script is highly detailed which serves to dimensionalize Buddeke's character. Through random memories, she explains the various influences in her life and how she became the person she is.
"Her America" files down to a crushing revelation, but along the way uncovers something darker. It says a lot about what life is like in America for those with few options. It's rare when the theater gives a truly empathetic portrayal of rural life. "Her America" was written in a bitterly devisive time and its message is to say that we should be more understanding with each other.
Through February 12 at The Greenhouse Theater Center. 2257 N Lincoln Ave.
American Theater Company's (ATC) regional premiere of Men on Boats, written by Jaclyn Backhaus and directed by artistic director Will Davis, took on the story of the one-arm captain, William Wesley Powell, who was commissioned by the U.S. government in 1869 to map the Green and Colorado rivers of the Grand Canyon.
Davis was recently appointed as ATC artistic director and Men on Boats is his first production for the company. He was also responsible for staging the Off Broadway version of the play in 2015.
The expedition, the first sanctioned in the American West, consisted of 10 grizzled explorers who set out on four boats, courageously riding through the rivers of the Grand Canyon. However, their varied personalities were almost as difficult to navigate as the terrain.
Backhaus' Men on Boats, performed by a genderfluid cast of women and folks otherwise defined, provides an entertaining look this historic journey as well as perhaps providing a statement on just how much American society and the role of women have changed since the 1800's.
The ATC cast includes ATC ensemble member Kelly O'Sullivan (William Dunn) and ATC youth ensemble alumna Lawren Carter (Hall), with Erin Barlow (Frank Goodman), Arti Ishak (John Colton Sumner), Brittney Love Smith (Bradley), Sarai Rodriguez (Seneca Howland), Avi Roque (O.G. Howland), Stephanie Shum (Hawkins), Kelli Simpkins (John Wesley Powell) and Lauren Sivak (Old Shady).
A simple yet effective set and props, as well as carefully choreographed movements, provide a heightened sense of action, especially when the explorers tackle the imagined vertical drops in the rivers.
Although the cast is really good at selling the quirkiness and reticence of some of the explorers and how those differences lead to small skirmishes among the crews, at times it is not enough to sustain it through the 100-minute performance.
Overall Backhaus provides is an interesting and sobering look at how a group of people can risk everything in the name of adventure and discovery. It speaks to the heroism we often bestow on our early American West explorers, their faith and commitment in their own visions yet it also highlights the vulnerabilities, conflicts and contradictions of blind loyalty. For it is only one person, John Wesley Powell, who reaps the actual benefits of their bravery as a team.
Men on Boats is playing at ATC now through February 12, 2017. Tickets are available at the ATC box office or by visiting atcweb.org.
By the end of January, most people are over holiday theater. In the days between holidays, the Loop is a ghost town almost exclusively sustained by last minute ‘Christmas Carol’ and ‘Nutcracker’ matinees. Locals tend to stay local. For Evanston residents looking for quality theater, Light Opera Works is a great Off-Loop alternative.
For the final few days of the year, Light Opera Works presents the classic Johann Strauss operetta ‘Die Fledermaus.’ Artistic director Rudy Hogenmiller presents an amiable English language adaptation by Quade Winter. One of the show’s best draws is the 30-piece orchestra conducted by Roger Bingaman.
‘Die Fledermaus’ or “the bat,” is a typical farce. The first act sets the stage for philandering husband Eisenstein (Michael Cavalieri) to attend a masked ball on the eve of his impending incarceration. His wife Rosalinda (Alicia Berneche) meanwhile carries on an affair with a former flame, Alfred (Tobias Wright). The real candy of Act I might just be Kelly Britt as Adele, a lovely chambermaid with ambitions of her own. Her comedic strength is consistent throughout. William Dywer holds the attention of Act II as the dashing and strong-voiced host of the masked ball. As happens in all farces, the central couple learns a valuable lesson that rekindles their love.
Along with great vocals, Light Opera Works’ production is visually pleasing. Costumes and sets by Jana Anderson and Adam Veness work together to showcase Light Opera Works’ impressive budget. Suburban theatre is rarely this polished.
“Die Fledermaus” at Light Opera Works in Evanston is a good choice for those close to home. The music is soaring and the comedy tickles all ages. A better bet in Evanston surely can’t be found.
Through January 1st at Light Opera Works. Cahn Auditorium 600 Emerson St. Evanston, IL
PigPen’s “The Hunter and the Bear” is one of the best theatre productions of 2016. It’s really that simple. Staged at the state of the art, newly constructed, Writers Theatre in Glencoe, audience members are in for a unique experience that is as haunting as it is moving. The story follows a group of loggers that find themselves camping in a densely wooded area sometime in the mid-1800’s. It’s not long after a mysterious stranger arrives that unexplained occurrences begin to take place that leads to an unbelievable chain of events, affecting each the loggers, a hunter and a boy with a wild imagination. Exciting, suspenseful and often heartfelt, we are thrust into a ghost story like no other that not only explores the afterlife but also delves into the darkness in all of us.
Impressively staged within a striking set complete with flickering campfire light, “The Hunter and the Bear” uses very clever puppetry and shadow imaging to enhance the play’s powerful storytelling. Adding to its originality are the many extras that go a long way from the authenticity of each costume, and sound effects created solely by instrumentation. The story is intertwined with a handful of songs and backing music reminiscent of a hybrid folk and jug band sound. Each talented actor doubles as an equally talented musician forming quite the formidable band.
The production’s strong acting performances are many. Alex Falberg impresses as the fast-talking Prescott, who, as the boss of the operation, often throws caution to the side concerned mainly with his company’s bottom line. Tobias, whose emotional search for his son becomes a focal point, is very well played by Ben Ferguson who is convincing as the scared, anguished father. While Curtis Gillan (Pete), Matt Nuernberger (Bailey or “Sheriff”), Arya Shahi (John) and Dan Weschler (Lewis) all put forward notable performances, Ryan Melia stands out in his role as Elliot, Tobias’ son, masterfully working a puppet that portrays the boy.
Moving at a perfect pace, the engaging story is not only memorable, thanks to its fine acting and its haunting music and lighting, it also raises many questions about life after death, giving hope that there is a path we can follow to a peaceful existence, but warning that some can be lost, needing a little nudge in the right direction, perhaps from the living. It is profoundly asked at one point if the dead guide the living or if it is the living who guides the dead.
Pigpen Theatre Co. masterfully co-directs this enthralling campfire tale along with Stuart Carden. Says Artistic Director Michael Halberstam of PigPen’s return to Writers Theatre “The gifted gentlemen who make up PigPen Theatre Co. brought us a sense of energy and excitement the last time they were here in Glencoe, and we look forward to their signature style of storytelling in this new world premiere.” PigPen had performed in the theatre three years prior in their production “The Old Man and the Moon”.
“The Hunter and the Bear” is a story that justly makes an impression on its audience getting help from creative team members Collette Pollard who presents to us an incredible visual as the Scenic Designer and Lydia Fine whose costumes and puppetry truly bring this gripping tale to life.
Highly recommended as one of the year’s best plays, “The Hunter and the Bear” is being performed at Writers Theatre through January 22nd. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.WritersTheatre.org.
Pigpen will also be performing a concert at The Old Town School of Folk Music on December 19th at 8pm. More information can be had at www.oldtownschool.org.
There's nothing more cloying than an evening of bad holiday theatre. Each December countless Chicago theaters put up their annual Christmas shows. Some are better than others. For a reliable standard, Joffrey Ballet's "Nutcracker" is a safe bet.
For 2016, Joffrey presents an entirely new version of the classic Tchaikovsky ballet. Conceived by English choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, this new production is sleek and tailor-made for Chicago. An interesting variation on ETA Hoffman's original Russian fairy tale. In this version, Marie is from a working class family and it's set during the construction of the Chicago World's Fair. The dance sequences in the second act are Clara's dreams of what the Columbian Exposition will hold. Wheeldon's aesthetic borrows from holiday favorites like "A Christmas Carol" and "Meet Me in St. Louis" Sets by Julian Crouch combine the classic imagery of the original and newer conventions like projections. Accompanied by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, this "Nutcracker" is a little more grown up than the pastel versions you might remember.
The talent will be of no surprise to Joffrey regulars. Dancing the part of Marie is Amanda Assucena. Her performance portrays the lead character with a more teenage curiosity about romance. Miguel Angel Blanco dances a variation of Uncle Drosselmeyer, otherwise known as the Impresario of the Fair. It's playful and a little creepy. In the dream sequence, Christine Rocas and Fabrice Calmels turn up the heat as the Arabian Dancers. Wheeldon's choreography creates quite a spectacle and the large cast sequences are magical.
For those bored with run-of-the-mill "Nutcrackers" (a dime-a-dozen this time of year), this brand new production at The Joffrey will leave an impression. It's refreshing to see a local cultural institution take what they know works and turning it on its head. If only more of Chicago's tried and true holiday shows would take the same path, maybe we wouldn't dread them so much.
Through December 30th at Joffrey Ballet. 50 East Congress Parkway.
Mozart’s The Magic Flute, now playing at the Lyric Opera of Chicago is an enchanting and charming performance - a perfect family outing especially for the holiday season.
Based on Mozart’s final and majestic opera, The Magic Flute is a timeless tale of good versus evil, perseverance, and love conquering all.
The basic storyline revolves around Princess Pamina, daughter of the Queen of the Night who has been captured by the high priest Sarastro. Prince Tamino falls in love with a portrait of Pamina he receives from the queen’s three ladies. The queen tells Tamino that if he finds Pamina, she will be his. Papageno, the queen's birdcatcher, joins him on the quest. Aided by Tamino’s magic flute and Papageno’s magic bells, they face numerous challenges separately and together, including an encounter with the comically savage Monostatos, who lusts after Pamina. Three genies are their guides. Eventually, the Queen of the Night is vanquished, Tamino and Pamina are united, and Papageno finds love with Papagena as the queen's forces of evil yield to the forces of good.
Directed by Neil Armfield, the staging of the Lyrics’ version of the Magic Flute is not only inventive with the use of the “play within a play” technique but it also is accessible with a warm familial glow, making it an enjoyable experience for opera lovers and newcomers alike.
With the theme of a backyard party, the show opens with a lovely 1950's Midwestern-style colonial home, designed by Dale Ferguson, filling the stage and slowly rotating as bright stars glitter in the backdrop like spotlights shining down on the performance that is taking place.
The house buzzes with activity as a diverse group of people arrive carrying packages and other items as they prepare for a bit of “backyard community theater” in a production put on by the neighborhood kids.
Perfectly designed rooms from the upstairs bedroom to the dining room and kitchen below are glimpsed through the windows revealing small vignettes of preparation for the evening performance. One neighbor hangs lights along the backyard deck and others set up chairs for the audience and operate the spotlights.
Then finally, after every piece is in place, the neighbors are seated. The kids' show begins and the real audience is transported into a land of fantasy with soaring arias. In particular, soprano Kathryn Lewek in her Lyric debut as Queen of the Night and bass-baritone Adam Plachetka, as Papageno (the queen's birdcatcher) were vocal standouts but the entire cast was sublime.
The Magic Flute runs until January 27 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. There is a free 30-minute pre-performance talk in the theater starting an hour before each performance. For tickets and information call (312) 827-5600 or go to www.lyricopera.org/Flute.
When Mitchell Fain, the star of David Sedaris's eight year long run of "Santaland Diaries" about a broke actor who lands a gig as a Macy's elf first begins his play with the opening lines of said show on a beautifully decked out and magically lit Christmas set - I thought, "Wait a minute I've seen this show already!”
Quickly, Fain drops the character of Sedaris' Crumpet and becomes the character of Mitchell Fain in one of the most personal and entertaining one man shows I've seen in a long time, “This Way Outta Santaland”, written by Fain himself.
Fain is joined at Theater Wit by his old friend and roommate from years ago, the beautiful red headed Megan Murphy whose work I have enjoyed many times in many of the Marriott and Drury Lane Musical Theater Series. Also, playing the music for his monologues and Murphy's segue way songs is Julie B. Nichols, an excellent pianist who began the show with a hearty toast to which the whole audience raised their cups!
Mitchell really interacts with the audience and brings up the houselights many times as if trying to really see and relate to each person who came out in the cold Chicago weather to see his show. Fain begins by asking how many in the audience came from Chicago from a smaller place to live, and many raised their hands, including me (Miami is smaller). Some just shouted out “Ohio!” “Arkansas!”
He asked one woman WHY she came here and her reply was "to be an actress" to which he ad-libbed "How's that working out for you?" Her reply got a big laugh, "Well I'm sitting in the audience not on the stage!"
Then he asked how many of you here are Jewish?
Only me and two others in the packed house raised our hands which surprised even me!
Fain begins his storytelling with his rocky childhood in Rhode Island as one of the only Jews in a very rough all Italian neighborhood, and a petite, 5'3" gay Jew at that!
Fain recalls that from a very young age he loved Judy Garland's music and especially memorized her version of the song “Chicago (That Toddlin’ Town)”, which allows Megan Murphy to deliver a delicious, tongue in cheek version of the song herself.
In Fain’s description of his former home base, we learn that Rhode Island is the costume jewelry capital of America and that most of its inhabitants, including his single mother, toiled their lives away in these factories. Fain's mother found a way to work at one place long enough to get unemployment payments just to put food on the table and barely eke out a living, each time succumbing to the rigors of factory's physical demands which caused illness's like carpal tunnel syndrome and swollen feet.
Mitchell then talks about his move to Chicago as being a move to the BIG CITY! Fortunately, he had a wonderful Christmas loving aunt, who was very generous with him and decorated her house magically each year. He brings up the irony that I have always felt as a Jew as well - that Jews actually appreciate Christmas and the whole glamorous lighting and decorations of Christmas because we never had them as children.
In one of the most meaningful moments for me he describes how people who gripe about having to fly home for the holidays are forgetting how LUCKY they are to have a place to go to (he had none) , how lucky they are to have people who love them enough to want them to come home and also lucky enough to have the MEANS , the money to get home, which most of the time, many actors do not.
We are introduced to the story of his mother's passing in Phoenix when he reveals that during his eight great years playing Crumpet, he only missed two performances - once when he was almost hospitalized for the flu, but that he did not miss a show when his mother died. Fain received the call that his mother was dying right after performing his Sunday show but did not have enough money for a last-minute airline ticket to Phoenix and so his kind Chicago theatre family helped him raise the money to catch a red eye. Mitchell did get to Phoenix in time to say goodbye to his mother and said as he finally arrived at her bedside, and asked how she was doing, that one single tear rolled down her cheek – a tear he recognized as “Uh oh, Mitchell’s here. This must be bad”, rather than a tear that loving Mitchell was at his dying mother’s bedside.
Fain and his siblings had to make the terrible decision to remove life support just as their mother clung to life just a little while longer, recovering well enough to be moved to hospice. But soon the inevitable took place and she passed away.
The comedy of errors began when the three siblings rush to get her cremated as is the Jewish tradition and are faced with a crummy mortician picked out of the phone book by Fain’s oldest brother. When they opened the comically large doors, the place reeked of smoke, death and CVS perfume, Fain tells us. The funeral director was crabby, short and constantly reminding the Fain’s how backed up they were before going into a relentless pitch for the family to purchase a casket, which was not in their plans remotely. Mitchell then asked to be directed to the washroom and was told the door to find just down the hall. After passing one door after another he passed an open room where his mother was laid out on a slab fully naked. Mitchell lost it, returning the tell the director he’d like to punch him in the nose. He then demanded that she get the paperwork in order for a cremation before he finishes his cigarette, then rushes outside for a cigarette - even though he doesn't smoke.
Fain's siblings rush out to see if he was okay and, as he told the story of what had just happened, enjoyed a laugh together, the kind of laugh only those in mourning can appreciate when they all realize this crazy situation is the "most fun they have had with their mother in a long time".
As a Jew who moved to Chicago from Miami Florida in the 80's after visiting my mother's side of the family at Christmastime, longing to experience the miracles of snow and seasonal changes and well, Christmas itself, I felt many connections to Mitchell's tales about his life in the city.
The Chicago theater scene with all its faults really is wonderful and is different from any other city like Los Angeles or New York in its BIG smallness, including how the poverty of actors and artists living in cheap studios, all of us totally broke for years on end paying off student loans forever. But through it all we eventually yield lifelong friendships, friendships that have become an extended family for us that no other BIG city would have fostered. And just like we learn in the inscription in George Bailey’s book at the end of It’s A Wonderful Life – “No man is a failure who has friends.”
It seems playing the role in the award-winning writer David Sedaris's play for so long has rubbed off on Fain because in “This Way Outta Santaland (and other X Mas Miracles)”, Fain has written another play, also deserving of many awards, which for a Jew from the mean streets of Rhode Island is a Christmas miracle of its own!
Fain is a true delight! Be sure to catch “This Way Outta Santaland” during its run through December 23rd for a warm, humorous and uniquely delivered show that features tremendous storytelling and wonderful music. To find out more about performance times and show information, visit www.TheaterWit.org.
What makes theater so great is its ability to transport you to different worlds. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time opened on Wednesday night at the Oriental Theatre in Chicago and it successfully does just that, although where it transports you is not where you may have expected. Based on the bestselling novel written by Mark Haddon in 2013, this play is told from the perspective of Christopher John Francis Boone, a 15-year-old boy who is somewhere on the autistic spectrum and his teacher, the ever-compassionate Siobhan. Christopher lives with his father Ed, who has told him his mother died of a heart condition. One night, Christopher finds a neighbor’s dog, Wellington, dead having been stabbed with a garden fork and he quickly becomes a prime suspect. Adamant of his innocence, he plays detective to find the real murderer and unexpectedly ends up on an adventure full of surprises, shocks, and challenges.
While his condition is never stated explicitly, it is implied that Christopher is somewhere on the autistic spectrum with savant qualities, especially in the areas of math and science. As the play unfolds the audience experiences the world through Christopher’s mind, realizing how his unique brain makes him an outsider in the world we so often take for granted. These differences are made, all the more evident through stunning visual effects, great use of sound and lighting and a creative approach to telling the story.
While the book is written solely in Christopher’s voice, the stage production plays with time and employs two points of view for narration, both Christopher’s and his teacher Siobhan. Christopher has been writing a story about his investigation into Wellington’s murder and that becomes a play within a play as we shift between Siobhan’s reading of the story during school time and Christopher telling it in real time. Christopher is played by Adam Langdon who provided a strong performance, although at times it felt a bit forced and ventured into overdone as he embodied a teen struggling with an exceptional brain and different take on the world. Siobhan, played by Maria Elena Ramirez, was excellent as was Gene Gillette as Ed (Christopher’s father). An ensemble cast rounds out the show playing a number of roles to bring the full story to life.
The staging of the show is quite unique, made up of a simple set with digital walls on the sides and back of the stage that boast different visual effects throughout the show, and a series of white rectangle blocks used as chairs, tables, benches, televisions and even a fish tank through creative lighting. Employing creative choreography by Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett, the actors themselves create movements on stage that transport the audience through the various scenes from outer space to a crowded London Tube station. Coupled with the lighting, sounds and an ever-evolving play train set, the simple set design feels energetic and lively throughout the show.
Overall, this play moves along well throwing in some surprises along the way and with brilliant staging it constantly amazes the audience. While there were moments that felt over acted, on the whole it was a strong all-around performance. There is some strong language used and some more mature topics so keep in mind it may not be family friendly for younger children. It is a show that while it entertains, it will also challenge you to think about those among us who experience the world so differently due to their unique brains. Get your tickets to experience the show for your self, running through December 24th at the Oriental Theater.
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