Theatre

Lookingglass Theatre Company opens its 30th Anniversary Season with the return of the award-winning “Hard Times”, adapted from Charles Dickens and directed by Artistic Director and Ensemble Member Heidi Stillman , in association with The Actors Gymnasuim. It was first produced at Lookingglass in 2001, and some of the artists involved this season were part of the original production.

The story takes place in post-Industrial Revolution England. In a gloomy fictional small town dominated by mills and factories, art has very little presence. When a travelling circus comes to town, the circus clown manages to get his daughter Sissy (played Audrey Anderson; this is both her Lookingglass and professional debut) admitted to the best school in town. The school headmaster, Mr. Gradgrind (injecting his role with a very precise old-British flare, Raymond Fox is excellent), soon realizes that Sissy doesn’t belong in his school and makes it his business to notify her father in person. But the clown had skipped town, leaving his daughter behind. Mr. Gradgrind kindly offers her a place in his home and his school, alongside his two children, Louisa and Tom. But Sissy is from a different world, the world where imagination rules, the right words are ones that come from the heart, and mathematics is just an abstract subject that can’t be applied to life. Not exactly cut out for school, she’s left to stay home and care for Mr. Gradgrind’s wheelchair-bound wife while he spends increasingly more time out of town as a newly elected member of the Parliament.

The most important person in town is the mill-owner and banker Mr. Bounderby (the bombastic Troy West), a self-proclaimed self-made man. He has an eye on Louisa, so when she reaches an appropriate age [of twenty], he asks her hand in marriage. Mostly joyless Louisa (Cordelia Dewdney), whose only passion is her brother Tom (JJ Phillips), agrees, hoping that this will help advance her brother’s carrier in banking. Some of Dickens’ characters are quite difficult to relate to in part because of their excessive wordiness and overly dramatic demeanor, and Louisa is certainly one of them. Nevertheless, all characters are very well developed, the most entertaining of them being Mrs. Sparsit, Mr. Bounderby’s paid companion. Played by Amy J. Carle, who also plays Drunk Woman and Pufflerumpus, she’s manipulative and sarcastic and infuses her role with just the right amount of drama.

The circus performances are effortlessly woven into the plot (Circus Choreographer Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi), and are like a breath of fresh air in town’s otherwise utilitarian existence. The circus is colorful and joyful, and it’s easy to see the stark contrast between the worlds of art and creativity versus business and hard menial work. Even Louisa starts dreaming of circus in her lowest moments.
Scenic Designer Daniel Ostling created a highly mobile set that’s both imaginative and practical; it provides ever-changing scenery, and the whimsically painted back wall is capable of becoming magically translucent to allow “dreams and memories” to enter the stage.

While the well-to-do townspeople are being bored with their lives, majority of the town’s inhabitants, the poor miners and factory workers, “work day and night with nothing to look forward to but a little rest”. Struggling to stay alive leaves little room for anything else, much less romance, so when miner Stephen Blackpool (David Catlin, who also plays Sleary) asks his workmate Rachael (Atra Asdou, who also plays Mrs. Gradgrind) to spend time with him, she’s far too hopeless to be interested.

All in all, things are as expected: the wealthy run things, the poor have nothing, and a travelling circus is a refuge from it all. If running away with the circus was ever a good option, Tom, who finds himself in trouble with law, doesn’t hesitate for a moment.

“Hard Times” is being performed at Lookingglass Theatre through January 14th. For more information visit www.lookingglass.org.

Published in Theatre in Review

Lookingglass Theatre Company announces a partnership with TodayTix—the free mobile app that provides on-demand access to theater tickets—to offer exclusive $25 Lottery tickets to the return of its award-winning production of Moby DickMoby Dick, adapted and directed by Ensemble Member David Catlin, from the book by Herman Melville, in association with The Actors Gymnasium, runs June 7 – September 3, 2017 at Lookingglass Theatre Company, located inside Chicago's historic Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan Ave. at Pearson.
 
A limited number of $25 tickets will be available through the TodayTix mobile Lottery for all evening performances of Moby Dick beginning June 7, 2017. The lottery will open every performance day at midnight and all winners and non-winners will be notified 2 - 4 hours before the performance. Lottery winners may pick up their tickets at the Lookingglass box office one hour prior to show time.
 
“We had incredible audiences and sold-out performances during the first run of Moby Dick in 2015,” notes Director of Marketing, Anna Marie Wilharm. “Tickets were in high demand and often gone weeks in advance. We’re excited that our daily ticket lottery partnership with TodayTix will provide our patrons and TodayTix users a chance at securing great seats at a great price, and increase accessibility to this blockbuster show.”
 
Winner of four Jeff Awards, including Best Production, and fresh off a national tour, the critically-acclaimed Moby Dick returns to the Lookingglass stage in this harrowing and intoxicating exploration of revenge, obsession, and destiny.  Madness rages like the angry sea when man pits himself against leviathan in Herman Melville’s epic and poetic tale, furiously reimagined by director David Catlin (Lookingglass Alice). Climb aboard the Pequod with Ishmael, Starbuck, and the intrepid crew on a voyage into the darkest reaches of the human psyche with an insatiably driven Captain Ahab at the helm in reckless pursuit of the legendary white whale.
 
The cast of Moby Dick includes Ensemble Members Kareem Bandealy, Anthony Fleming III and Raymond Fox who return to reprise their roles as Starbuck, Queequeg and Stubb from the critically-acclaimed 2015 production. Also returning to the production are Jamie Abelson (Ishmael – evening performances), Micah Figueroa (Cabaco) and Javen Ulambayar (Mungun). Joining the cast are Kelly Abell (Fate #1), Walter Owen Briggs (Ishmael – matinee performances), Cordelia Dewdney (Fate #3), Mattie Hawkinson (Fate #2) and Nathan Hosner (Ahab).
 
Moby Dick, adapted and directed by Ensemble Member David Catlin, from the book by Herman Melville, in association with The Actors Gymnasium, runs June 7 – September 3, 2017 at Lookingglass Theatre Company, located inside Chicago's historic Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan Ave. at Pearson. The press opening is Saturday, June 17 at 7:30 pm. The performance schedule is as follows: Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m.; Thursdays at 2:00 p.m. (except June 8 & 15 and August 3) and 7:30 p.m.; Fridays at 7:30 p.m.; Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. (except June 10 & 17) at 7:30 p.m.; and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. (except June 18) and 7:30 p.m. (except June 11 & 18). There is an additional performance on Tuesday, August 1 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets, priced $35 - $80 are available at the box office, by phone at (312) 337-0655, or online at lookingglasstheatre.org.

Published in Upcoming Theatre

The dialogue flows so smoothly one might forget they are sitting in a play. Veteran Chicago area actor Stef Tovar, who also founded the Route 66 Theatre Company in 2008, leads the charge in this play full of emotional interchanges combined with sharp humor. 

Route 66’s No Wake, currently running at The Greenhouse Theater Center in Lincoln Park, tells the story of a divorced couple Edward (Tovar) and Rebecca (Lia D. Mortensen) who are brought back together due to the suicide of their daughter, Sookie. Rebecca is now remarried to Roger (Raymond Fox) while Edward is kind of drifting along through life. As Edward and Rebecca spend more time together wondering what happened to their daughter and how they really lost her long before she killed herself, the situation becomes much more complex as past feelings come in to play and an attempt to mend the past is made. 

Directed by Kimberly Senior, No Wake explores the grieving process, which is understandably different for everyone. Countless questions on what could have been differently can be asked and scenarios traveled. In this case, taking on blame for negating their child the ability to develop coping skills weighs heavily on Edward just by simply buckling and giving Sookie toast with butter when she demanded before falling asleep rather than saying “No”. Giving your daughter toast at her command might sound trivial, but writer William Donnelly does a great job of finding these possible seeds of later behavior into a world where grieving parents desperately seek cause for such a tragedy, making the story quite realistic. Though the subject matter falls on the macabre side, the show is not without well-timed humor and even sports a very funny scene when Roger confronts Edward, suspecting that he and Rebecca did more than just reminisce about their daughter the night before. 

Thanks to a very finely acted and well-written story, it is easy to get lost in the dialogue and empathize with each of the three characters. The set, though simple, creates the prefect surrounding for these skilled actors to have at it. Tovar gets stronger and stronger as the show progresses, reminding theatre goers why it is always a joy to watch him in action. At the same time, Mortensen and Fox dish out lines with precision, zip and realism, completing a trio who flow together without a hitch in perfect unison.

The fact that we are presented with three such truly well-acted performances is reason alone to catch No Wake before its runs ends, but when you add its intriguing story and engaging topic matter this show is propelled onto the list of must see plays. 

No Wake is being performed at The Greenhouse Theater Center through February 7th. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.Route66Theatre.org.          

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

 

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