Theatre in Review

Winner of four Jeff Awards, including Best Production, and fresh off a national tour, Moby Dick, adapted and directed by David Catlin from the book by Herman Melville, returns to the Lookingglass Theatre. The play is produced in association with The Actors Gymnasium, a circus and performing arts training center.


The story is narrated by adventurous Ishmael, a sailor en route to sign up with a whaling ship, Piqued. Ishmael (superbly played by Jamie Abelson at evening performances) first lands in an overcrowded hotel, where the innkeeper casually informs him that due to lack of room he’ll have to share a bed with another fellow. His muscular, tattoo covered bedmate, Queequeg (the absolutely splendid Anthony Fleming III), is a son of a Polynesian island king, who is on his own soul-searching journey. The two men bond and decide to board the ship together.


The rest of the show takes us onto Piqued. The ship is a testosterone infused man-cave; the sailors do what real men are supposed to do: they go out to dangerous sea to hunt down whales in order to obtain whale oil, a valuable commodity at the time. Their jaw-dropping circus-inspired acrobatic fits of agility (choreography by Sylvia Hernandez-Distasi) add to the feel of masculine energy and the everyday struggle to stay alive.


But Piqued’s disheveled and angry Captain Ahab (fiercely played by Nathan Hosner) is not interested in whale oil, he’s got a score to settle: the giant white whale named Moby Dick bit off his leg during their previous encounter. Captain has been at sea for a very long time, and in his insanity he imagines that the white whale represents all the evil in the world, and thus it must be destroyed. It’s pure all-consuming madness!


Costume designer Sully Ratke’s clever use of fabrics play games with our minds: an oversized woman’s skirt swallows drowning men, a vast piece of white silk brushing past our heads is a giant white whale.


The feminine energy in the play is very distinct. The three female actors (Kelley Abell, Mattie Hawkinson, Cordelia Dewdney) play all the female parts as well as the three Fates. They set the mood with their eerie presence and graceful movements, while their beautiful voices provide live score (sound designer/composer Rick Sims). Sometimes they are just lurking around, and other times they are the forces of nature and nature itself. One of them turns into a whale carcass being stripped of meat and drained of oil by sailors in a vaguely sexual way.


That feminine energy is of stark contrast to the mere mortal men’s struggles to survive. It’s Man vs. Nature, and nature can never be conquered. Spoiler alert: in the end, the Ill-fated ship is swallowed by the over-sized skirt. Vengeance is a two-way street.


About the venue: Lookingglass Theatre is housed in Water Tower Water Works, the historic still functioning water station built in 1869, which pumps 250,000 gallons of water to the north side of Chicago every day. Separated from the theatre space by a glass wall, it feels like a time warp, which sets the mood perfectly for this mid-19th century classic. For more information on this show or to purchase tickets, visit www.Lookingglasstheatre.org.

Published in Theatre in Review

Oriental Theatre is currently housing one of the finest productions of The King and I that you will ever see. From its colorful set to its superb cast including Jose Llana who has mastered the role of the Siamese King, this particular creation if The King and I is simply wondrous.


The scrumptiously definitive Rodgers and Hammerstein musical about a spirited, brainy educator, Anna Leonowens, who the King of Siam brings in from England to teach his seventy-seven children and many wives both the English language along with Western culture. She is strong-willed, which throws off the stubborn and egotistical king, the two struggling, at times, to see eye to eye, especially when Anna states that women are every bit as important than men.


Laura Michelle Kelly has a large Broadway resume and shines as the show’s star in Anna offering genuineness to the role while providing a strong singing voice for the part. Kelly suffuses the character with wit, strength, empathy and a suffragette fervor which climaxes in the comical and still contemporary number, “Shall I Tell You What I Think of You?”


“All to remind you of your royalty,
I find a most disgusting exhibition.
I wouldn't ask a Siamese cat
to demonstrate his loyalty
by taking this ridiculous position
how would you like it if you were a man
playing the part of a toad.
Crawling around on your elbows and knees.
Eating the dust of the road!”


Jose Llana is about as good as it gets as the King of Siam (sorry, Yul Brynner). Llana is no stranger to the role having starred in two Tony-Award winning in Lincoln Center Theater’s revival of The King and I. As I suggested previously, he is made for the role. Delightful, attractive and able to charm the house one moment while displaying great frustration the next, Llana delivers a layered performance as the King, never falling into predictable distortion. Llana’s comic timing, humorous expressions and line delivery are spot on. He is convincing so that it makes perfect sense that his character is both gaining respect for the sophisticated and mature teacher while also being confused by his rising sense of incomprehension at her grasp of political awareness that progresses the destiny of his own family and finally, his entire Kingdom.


The chemistry between Llana and Kelly is explosive.


There is a very funny, yet revealing scene where the King is insisting that Anna’s head never be higher than his own. The King asks Anna to take dictation for an important letter to a visiting dignitary and sits down on the floor. When Anna finally sits down on the floor, the King moves to recline on one elbow and so forth till they are both completely reclining on the floor. Although, it is really a nonsensical demonstration of his manly power, Llana and Kelly manage to make it a funny exchange between two people who are each unaware they are gaining a true admiration for each other.


Other stories unfold throughout the production, that of a young couple whose love is forbidden as the King’s unwilling young captive, Tuptim (Manna Nichols), who is in love with Lun Tha (Kavin Panmeechao), her secret lover. At the same time, we see a young king in the making who is clearly influenced by Anna’s Western ways.


Marcus Shane steps in as Prince Chulalongkorn, the young boy who is next in line to be king, and does a solid job conveying his character’s gradually absorption of Anna’s wisdom and life lessons most notably at the show’s end when he pronounces that “excessive bowing to the King like a toad” is now forbidden. The young prince has clearly learned a lesson in humanity from his now adored teacher and friend, Anna.


Joan Almedilla is fantastic as Lady Thiang. Her stunning rendition of “Something Wonderful” is nothing less than breathtaking. Like the other cast members in main roles, Almedilla’s voice is yet another a true treat for the ears. It’s easy to get spoiled when seeing a well-performed Rodgers and Hammerstein musical because the words for every song are so unforgettable. “We Kiss in a Shadow” is also gorgeously sung by Nichols, as the love stricken Tuptim.

“To kiss in the sunlight
and say to the sky:
"Behold and believe what you see!
Behold how my lover loves me!"
And Panmeechao, Tuptim’s lover, performs the classic “I Have Dreamed” impeccably.
“I have dreamed that your arms are lovely
I have dreamed what a joy you'll be
I have dreamed every word you whisper
When you're close, close to me
how you look in the glow of evening
I have dreamed and enjoyed the view
In these dreams, I've loved you so
That by now I think, I know
what it's like to be loved by you
I will love being loved by you”

The costumes in this piece are true to the period while the dance numbers pleasingly choreographed and a radiant set worthy of its royalty is the finishing touch.
I highly recommend this dreamy, moving and humorous evening of unadulterated theatrical joy.


Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I is being performed at the Oriental Theatre through July 2nd For more show information visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com.

Published in Theatre in Review

Michael Washington Brown, in association with Athenaeum Theatre Productions, present “BLACK!,” July 20 – 30, in Studio 2 at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave. Opening night is Thursday, July 20 at 7:30 p.m. The performance schedule is Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. The running time is 100 minutes including a 10-minute intermission. Tickets are $25 and available at AthenaeumTheatre.org or 773.935.6875.
 
Brown, was born in England and created “BLACK!” in 2016. The production has been included in the Asheville Fringe Festival, the FRIGID Fringe Festival in New York City and the Seattle Fringe. It will be performed at the Tempe Center for the Arts and the San Francisco Fringe Festival in September 2017.
 
In “BLACK!,” Brown inhabits an array of characters from Africa, the United States, England and Jamaica, performing each person’s individual perspective and sharing his experiences. The production highlights the nuances and life perspectives of various people who are from the Black global community.  Many stereotypes currently exist which seem to ‘mesh’ all black people and their stories together.  The truth is that there are distinct differences and very definite similarities between Black people from all walks of life.  In addition, each carries their own distorted and often exaggerated opinions about the other, which is a way to distinguish a separation, even though in truth, they are more alike than they believe. “BLACK!” uses the power of language and performance to delve into these characters to reflect on this communities’ history and their future as well as what they do and do not share of the global Black experience.
 
“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to share this show, its voices and a global ‘Black’ perspective with the Chicago community,” Brown said.  “Chicago is embedded in a rich history filled with a melting pot of cultures, along with its extensive support of the theatre and arts. It is my mission and purpose to share this show as far and wide as I can.  Chicago is an obvious choice in my journey…I am grateful to have the Athenaeum Theatre, supporting my debut of “BLACK!” in this vibrant and intoxicating city, ” he concluded. 
 
ABOUT MICHAEL WASHINGTON BROWN
Michael Washington Brown was born in London, England. He is the first generation born outside of his family’s direct heritage of the Caribbean (Jamaica & Barbados). In 1992 at 19, he left London for the shores of California, a place he fell in love with from his initial visit as a child at age 10. He knew even at this young age that he would ‘one day’ make America his home.
 
In 1994, he began studying scene classes in San Francisco and knew instantly what he wanted to do and be…an actor. He gradually found himself working his way up the local scene and then eventually performing in productions at: The Magic Theatre, San Jose Repertory Theatre, Marin Theatre Company and Berkeley Repertory Theatre. He moved to New York City to continue his journey and landed a variety of New York City productions that began at the Ensemble Studio Theatre. Theatre has always been Brown’s passion, but deep down he always felt there was ‘more to give’. Brown wanted to tell stories that were not being told. It was at the Cherry Lane Theatre in 2012 when he saw a one-man show and was inspired beyond anything he had previously experienced. He realized in this moment what his ‘more to give’ would be: “To write and share my own stories and perspective.” Brown discovered that his love of reading had laid the foundation and allowed the ease of his own voice, to reveal itself to him. 

ABOUT ATHENAEUM THEATRE PRODUCTIONS
Athenaeum Theatre Productions, a not-for-profit 501c3 arts organization, is firmly committed to providing the Chicago non-profit performing arts community a welcoming shared space to incubate new projects and collaborations by providing high quality and below cost performance, rehearsal, office and reception space supported by a staff of theatre professionals. Founded in 1911, the Athenaeum Theatre is Chicago’s oldest, continuously operating off-loop theatre.  Home to 15 not-for-profit performing arts groups and four stages including its 984-seat main stage.
 
Michael Washington Brown, in association with Athenaeum Theatre Productions, present “BLACK!,” July 20 – 30, in Studio 2 at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave. Opening night is Thursday, July 20 at 7:30 p.m. The performance schedule is Thursdays and Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2 and 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. The running time is 100 minutes including a 10-minute intermission. Tickets are $25 and available at AthenaeumTheatre.org or 773.935.6875.

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

After a delay in touring due to singer Bruce Dickinson’s bout with cancer, Iron Maiden has finally returned to the Chicago area in tour of their 2015 release, The Book of Souls. Now, fully recovered, Dickinson and company performed in front of a packed crowd at Tinley Park’s Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre along with opening act Ghost.


The concert itself was a mixed bag. It was exceptional in the sense that Dickinson’s vocals were crisp, strong and delivered us to vintage Maiden-dom as only the signature sound of the collective band can possibly do. The 58-year-old Dickinson seemed in prime form vocally and even physically. Guitarists Dave Murray and Adrian Smith were riffing as though it were 1985 and madman bassist Steve Harris plucked away at his instrument while channeling the energy of an eleven-year-old kid. Nicko McBrain was still Nicko McBrain, bashing the cans with complexity and power laying down the foundation for each song along with fellow rhythm-mate Harris. Yes, the band was on. So…what was the problem?


Two things.


Janick Gers (whom I have the utmost respect for his musical ability) doesn't really fit in with an Iron Maiden progressive metal live show – at all. Joining the band in 1990 to help finish No Prayer for the Dying after Smith’s brief departure over musical differences, Gers can no doubt play the part musically, but his stage presence makes us think that we may have entered a Poison concert by mistake. While energy-filled Dickinson and Murray run around the stage, it’s just that – running around the stage from end to end, Harris’ head thrashing about and Dickinson just being the cool front man we associate with a serious metal band like Iron Maiden. Gers side-to-side hair flinging, goofy high steps, kicks (reminiscent to the band Kix), guitar spins and cheesy dance moves would have been great – if Iron Maiden was a 1980’s hair band, but they’re not. They’re Iron Maiden. (Sorry Gers fans, I know he's talented but do they even need three guitar players?)


The other issue with The Book of Souls concert (at least the one in Tinley Park) was that the set list. Though The Book of Souls sold well and gave Iron Maiden their highest boost in some time, the band’s current set list was far too dependent on their latest studio release. With six of the fifteen songs coming from The Book of Souls album, fans who went in the hopes of hearing as many Maiden classics as possible were shorted. Left to the wayside were greats such as “Two Minutes to Midnight”, “Aces High”, “Run to the Hills”, “Flight of Icarus”, “Heaven Can Wait”, “Running Free”, “Can I Play with Madness”, “The Wicker Man”, “Flash of the Blade” and so many more. Now, naturally a band that has spanned for five decades that has produced so many amazing songs cannot be expected to cram every hit into a two-hour set, but playing just two or three songs from The Book of Souls would allow for a few more greats that Iron Maiden loyals would certainly appreciate jamming along with.


So that was the disappointing. Now for the good.


As stated prior, musically Iron Maiden was on top of their game. As expected (and always hoped for), the band’s mascot Eddie made a couple appearances, one as he walked across the stage dwarfing over Murray, Smith and Harris while Gers ran between his legs eluding the creature’s grasp until Dickinson fought and defeated the beast parading his severed heart high into the air for the crowd to see, meeting his victory with bloodthirsty cheers. Later an even larger Eddie peered from behind the drums as the band went into “Iron Maiden”.


Iron Maiden classics were sprinkled in throughout the set as Dickinson donned a British coat from the Revolutionary war while waving the flag of his homeland during “The Trooper”. The singer also surveyed the crowd to see how many fans were born after 1982, the year “Children of the Damned” was released, nearly half the hands in attendance being raised as the band went into the song.


Dickinson also made a heartfelt tribute to late actor Adam West, who he called a childhood hero and an inspiration.


Iron Maiden finished strong with a three-encore power play starting off with “The Number of the Beast” before going into “Blood Brothers” and delivering the knockout blow with “Wasted Years”.


Make no mistake. Iron Maiden still rocks and can deliver a fully entertaining arena show infused with enough metal to satisfy the most hard core of fans. Hopefully, the band’s set will have more songs that truly define Iron Maiden as most know their next time around. And there will be a next time around, as Dickinson altered the lyrics in “Number of the Beast” to “We will return (Chicago)!”.


Iron Maiden set list at Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre in Tinley Park June 15th 2017


If Eternity Should Fail
Speed of Light
Wrathchild
Children of the Damned
Death or Glory
The Red and the Black
The Trooper
Powerslave
The Great Unknown
The Book of Souls
Fear of the Dark
Iron Maiden
Encore:
The Number of the Beast
Blood Brothers
Wasted Years

 

Published in In Concert

“You were always on my mind …You were always on my mind”
 
Summer warmth and clear skies are finally here. It is time for summer concerts. Highland Park’s Ravinia was the setting for an amazing show. Willie Nelson and Family were in town and the show was spectacular to say the least.

The beautiful lawns we're decorated up with concert-goers that were excited about the show. Happiness and anticipation could be seen within each fan. The weather predictions were calling for rain and they couldn’t be more wrong; there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
Coolers were filled with beverages and the heat was starting to fade into the evening. It was time for a high-class concert, and, with that, Willie Nelson and his family brought several masterpieces to the stage for a nostalgic musical journey.

Ages of the fans in attendance greatly varied as it was a family friendly show. A young girl by the name of Sienna was attending her first concert. She was just learning to walk and was being corralled in by her family with the help of a few others in the lawn. It was a delight to see the smile on her young face and she quite possibly the youngest person there. With pretzel in hand and baby curls in her hair, she was the preshow entertainment with her cute chubby cheeks.

Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real were the opening act for the evening and without a doubt talent runs through the veins of this young man. His voice, writing style, and guitar ability was like seeing a young Willie Nelson. They were nothing less than incredible.

The song “Find Yourself” was a highlight in Lukas’ show. “Find Yourself” is a funky reggae style song that has a groove and feeling to it that just runs through deep into your soul. A ballad type song singing to a love with disappointment with a blues feel that just tore it up. Lukas undeniably has his father’s genes.

The time came for the main act Willie Nelson. A feeling of joy instantly took over the crowd that glazed their faces when the first lyric was sung; “Whiskey river, take my mind”. The opening three songs, “Whiskey River”, “Still is Still Moving to Me” and “Beer for My Horses” were just amazing choices to kick off this Friday evening show. Everyone sang along with every word.

The band was on fire, following the lead of the country genius as he jam-packed his show with a no nonsense approach. “You Were Always on my Mind” was played while the words were coming out of the mouths of the sea of people in attendance. A lady in the audience had tears in her eyes. She said with a joyful heart, “We can go now.” She was truly happy.

“Mamas’ Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys”, “Crazy”, “On the Road Again”, and “Georgia” were among the set list prompting one sing-a-long after another. “It’s All Going to Pot”, “Shoeshine Man”, and “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” were played so well that everyone had to be impressed with the overall performance of each.

Lukas plays with Willie’s band as well and the most powerful moment of the show was during their performance of “Texas Flood”. Lukas took the lead vocal and the pipes were like a gift from the heavens above. The song wasn’t just another cover of a song. He became the song and he did as good if not better than anyone else had ever done. It came time for his guitar solo and the man’s entire body twitched with convulsions with every note played, his soulful rendition seen, heard, and felt. If anyone didn’t enjoy this masterful jam, they’re probably not a fan of music.

Bobbie Nelson, Willie’s older sister, graced the stage on piano. She is always referred to as “little sister” by the band leader and for this show it was no different. She really can just tickle the keys and did so in a dim light to one side of the stage.

Since the early seventies Mickey Raphael has been in the band. It just wouldn’t be a Willie Nelson concert without the man. Some of the greatest moments in music history involved him playing harmonica. Raphael is son entertaining, most people could probably have listened to this man just stand there and play by himself. All the members within the band are stand-alone musicians, each as impressive as the next.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. The show was highly engaging and the atmosphere just perfect. Every note was flawless and carried with it the perfect sentiment. It was priceless to see one of the musical greats of the twentieth century. Ravinia is an incredible setting for a show as always. Having Willie Nelson and Family just goes to show the high caliber of talented acts brought in by the famous concert grounds in Highland Park. The weather cooperated and it was a great start to the summer concert season. It’s a time that will not be forgotten. To see a list of upcoming musical acts appearing at Ravinia, visit www.Ravinia.org.

 

Published in In Concert

Pat Metheny is one of the few jazz guitar players out there that can play a bigger place and fill it. He almost has Rock Star status. The reason? Maybe it’s the horizontal striped shirt? The leather pants? The hair? The smile? Hmmm…what I really think it is…is the music.

Pat seems to have a Pop sensibility to his compositions. His songs are very melodic. They’re Jazz but they sure are not BeBop. There are interesting rhythms found in each song. Along with that you get a variety of textures. The fact that he doesn’t seem to follow a formula per se adds that extra bit of appeal.

Metheny has changed his sound through the years. Different timbres not only coming from him, but his supporting cast. Pat does seem to have a signature sound, but since he has been putting out music for over forty years the signature has many variations. The band played a lot of his earlier material the other night at Ravinia Festival.

The first piece was a solo piece called “Into the Dream”. I highly suggest looking up the video, if you haven’t seen Pat play this song live. During the song he uses a guitar with a standard guitar neck plus a fretless/harp neck. In addition, there are two more courses of strings going across the body of the guitar. I’m just glad I wasn’t the person who had to tune the instrument. Each course was tuned differently, making the song sound like the title. You were in his dream.

After an impressive opening number, the rest of the band then arrived on the stage. Linda May Han Oh handled upright and electric bass. What a solid player this Malaysian-born young lady is. She held it down throughout the show and performed some very tasty solos.

Antonio Sanchez has been in Pat’s band for a while now on drums. I love Jazz drummers myself. The rhythmic interplay between guitar and drums has long been a part of the music in Metheny’s bands through the years. Hailing from Mexico, Sanchez fit the bill as well as anyone ever in his group.

Longtime collaborator Lyle Mays’ seat at piano was filled by Gwilym Simcock, a British musician. I personally missed Mays’ presence but the music didn’t really suffer any loss. Simcock played very well, perfectly complimenting Metheny.

The show went over two hours with THREE, yes three encores…again…Rock Star status. After what we thought was the last encore, he asked the audience if they wanted to hear one more. So, it made it a four-song finale. The second to last was “And I Love Her” by The Beatles done Pat’s way. There were also three duet sections performed that night. Metheny did one with each of the other group members. Standing out the most was the one he did with Sanchez.

The timbres he got from the different instruments was a big part of what kept the show from ever slowing down. Standard Jazz guitar, guitar synth, classical, plus a guitar with a bizarre tailpiece…that almost sounded like a fuzz tone acoustic…very non-traditional.

Other classic Metheny songs included “Better Days Ahead”, “The Red One”, “Phase Dance”, “James” and “Offramp”, giving the audience a wide spectrum of his work.

I felt lucky to see him. The show was almost rained out. For me, it was 32 years since I saw him last. I will not wait that long until I see him again (that would make him somewhere in his mid 90’s by then anyway). But you never know with this guy. The way he literally runs on and off the stage makes me think he might still be playing then…with hair, the striped shirt and of course the signature grin. Pat is almost always smiling.

Published in In Concert

As soon as I saw the warm, rich lighting of a luxurious futuristic bedroom on the Space Ship Destiny lit and decorated by designers Heather Gilbert and Christopher Kriz and the set design by Arnel Sancianco, where the entire action of the play takes place, I thought this is going to be an interesting show. To the right of the set was a spaceship departure board with the names and photos of the passengers, along with their assigned room number, as they were headed to a planet three months away from Earth. The other ships had names like Fortune, Kismet, Prospect and Horizon suggesting that the people leaving earth are doing so willingly and must have enough money to do so. Smooch Medina’s spaceship flight calendar and wall projection also counts down the number of days the passengers have spent locked on this room together, which is a great tension builder as well. 

There are just three characters in the play. One a soldier who is suffering from PTSD from a previous mission in which he witnessed the killing of civilians that haunts him still in a variety of deep emotional ways. He has requested a private room because he cannot sleep well while struggling with his inner demons but somehow an attractive young woman passenger has been placed in the room with him, much to his disapproval. Ed Flynn portrays this sensitive, journal-writing soldier (previously referred to as “Grant”) who is also prone to violent mood changes and outbursts with great feeling and a sweaty intensity that is frightening at times. 

When you consider that he is locked into this “hotel room" for three full months due to a quarantine placed on certain sick members aboard the ship with a petite young female to whom he objects, it’s not difficult to imagine the strain that gradually surmounts. Janelle Villas does a wonderful job of showing the audience her fresh-faced bubbly enthusiasm while hiding a dark past that includes at least one rape, which has also left her in a state of PTSD. 


Co-directed by artistic director Michael Patrick Thornton and guest artist Jessica Thebus, the “Pilgrims” moves along quickly yet with subtle changes in the characters that seem very satisfying and real with a lot of emotional suspense and tension. We the audience wonder if these two characters will ever bond, or even reach their destination safely. We also ponder what will become of their edgy, ever-changing relationship once they are finally released from this artificial and close-quartered isolation into the general population of the new planet.  

The third character is a robot named Jasmine played with a great sense of humor and also an eerie, smiling menace by Brittany Burch. Jasmine has been programmed not only to answer all their questions and provide all their meals and cleaning services. She is also one of the older forms of “human-like robots” known for their ability to satisfy without any compunction - either member, male or female, with oral sex or intercourse if the human need arises.

The universality of two people meeting for the first time, learning about each other's baggage and foibles and being forced to overcome them in order to at least be friends if not lovers cannot be denied. This is a love story set in outer space plain and simple, even though it is suggested in the play that couples may have been placed together purposely to repopulate the new planet. 

I highly recommend this production for its unique retelling of a tale as old as time, when Fate meets Destiny and two very "human" human beings struggle to please each other while being true to their own individual dreams of the future but must in the end reveal the dark, undesirable places of their souls in order to overcome them and move into a deeper union free of mistakes or tragedies of the past.

Excellent performances and an imaginative script make Pilgrims a compelling and often humorous sci-fi love story that resonates. Pilgrims is being performed at Gift Theatre through July 30th. For more show information or to purchase tickets visit www.thegifttheatre.org.

Published in Theatre in Review

In Native Gardens, an ambitious young couple moves into a fixer-upper in an affluent DC neighborhood. Husband Pablo (Gabriel Ruiz) is a lawyer, his pregnant wife Tania (Paloma Nozicka) is working on her doctorate dissertation. Their nice and lively, albeit politically incorrect, neighbors are a defense contractor Virginia (Janet Ulrich Brooks) and her retired gardening-loving husband Frank (Patrick Clear). Shortly after moving in, Pablo has a bright idea to invite his entire law firm (all sixty people) to a barbeque in their embarrassingly unfinished yard, so the young couple gets to work. The old wire fence separating the neighbors’ properties (very nice design set by William Boles) has to go, but it soon becomes evident that Frank has been gardening on extra 23 inches of land that actually belongs to the new couple, according to the property plans.


Upon further calculations Pablo realizes that those 23 inches along the old fence translate into extra 80 sq feet of land which goes for “about $15,000 at a current market price”. Well, it’s a war then! Frank refuses to let go of his lovingly raised flowers right up against the ill-placed fence, while the young couple is on a mission to re-claim what’s rightfully theirs.


Who knew that an incorrectly placed fence would cause so much commotion? We all did, we saw it coming before the play even started. But despite its predictability, this comedy is still entertaining and somewhat thought provoking. Written by Karen Zacarias and directed by Marti Lyons, Native Gardens is more about generation clash, stereotypes, ageism and racism rather than the property lines. The older couple is from the pre-self-censorship era, and in their ignorance, they don’t always choose words carefully; they say what’s on their minds rather than hide behind politically correct words and ideas. But those words are often offensive to the delicate ears of Tania, whose proper opinions, frankly, make for sterile conversation, enough to put one to sleep. All in all, the two couples can’t effectively communicate, so they threaten each other instead. Will their peace be restored?


Native Gardens runs through July 2nd at Victory Gardens Theater. To find out more about this show visit www.VictoryGardens.org.

Published in Theatre in Review

The producers at Steppenwolf describe Pass Over as a “riff on Waiting for Godot” – and that’s true - except for this: Pass Over is not boring. In fact it is gripping and entertaining for every one of its 80 minutes of run time.

Written by Antoinette Nwandu and premiering under the direction of Danya Taymor, Pass Over is at once funny, alarming, sickening, and frightening. With shades of Master Harold & the Boys and Miss Margarita’s Way, it portrays two young inner city black men – Moses (Jon Michael Hill) and Kitch (Julian Parker)  hanging out under a street lamp, hoping to get off “the block.” To say these two give knock out performances is an understatement.

Like Groundhog Day, each morning they resume the wait, their hours punctuated periodically by gunfire, and the appearance of the menacing policeman Ossifer (Ryan Hallahan in a searing performance; he also plays the white-suited Mister) whose role is to dispel their hope, and keep them in their place.

Moses and Kitch are condemned, suggests Nwandu, to be “waiting for Godot” their whole lives. Unlike Beckett’s duo, Moses and Kitch are not abstract constructs, but real people. The warmth and mutual fealty of these two young men captures your heart through their amusing word games and youthful horseplay.

Nwandu also plumbs the depths of the emotional link between Moses and Kitch, and we bear witness to their bond. As in Beckett’s play, these characters form a suicide pact, but cannot do it.  

They survive, somehow, and hope returns repeatedly – even against all odds. But the two never escape, either, and Pass Over faces us with our contemporary social challenge. By making Moses and Kitch so accessible to us, by humanizing them, Nwandu brings a fresh immediacy to the lament, that Black Lives Matter.   

Pass Over is both timeless, and a powerful commentary on contemporary conditions. Into this piece, Nwandu has squeezed a book. Fully deconstructed, it could easily fill a college semester of study.

Part of the vaunted excellence of Beckett’s 1953 Waiting for Godot - an existentialist reverie on the seemingly endless insufferableness of life, and perhaps the meaningless of that suffering – is that the audience also experiences the ennui of that endless wait, in real time. Frankly it’s a bore.

Not so with Pass Over. It is fully realized in this production. I might quibble with the end of the play – it seemed heavy handed from a first viewing. But I am going to have to trust and respect the playwright's and director’s judgements, given the excellence of all that comes before. The performances by Hill and Parker in fact are so perfectly delivered, hopefully it is exactly what the playwright intended – because it is tremendous. It runs through July 9 at Steppenwolf Theatre.

Published in Theatre in Review

Let’s welcome in summer and enjoy the history of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago at the Harris Theater with a collection of eight dances of varying styles and intriguing music. Pieces old and new, reworked and original amazed one after another including Lucas Crandall’s (Imprint - Duet), William Forsythe’s (reproduction of One Flat Thing), Alejandro Cerrudo’s (One Thousand Pieces - Water Section), Jim Vincent’s (Palladio), Crystal Pite’s (A Picture of You Falling), Twyla Tharp’s (The Golden Section), and Lou Conte’s (Georgia and the 40’s).

This historical glance 40-year glance at the iconic dance company brings forth a walk through time and the growth of Hubbard Dance. Lou Conte’s romantic summer love of ‘Georgia’ was originally premiered in 1987 as part of “Rose from the Blues” and makes you ache for the loss of summer love. Even more history is bestowed upon the crowd with the happiness, creativity of the 40’s, also by Conte. Infusing big band music, 40’s style dance, jitterbug moves and the feeling of the celebrations of old Hollywood, the piece is truly a joy to watch.

“The Golden Section” choreographed by Twyla Tharp/Tharp Project, in its golden velour and unabashed 80’s energy that had originally been performed on Broadway in 1981, brought a liveliness and fun to the stage. The enthusiasm and vibrancy had audience members bobbing their heads and giggling along with the sheer fun of the dancer’s movement and energy.

Something for everyone, Hubbard Street’s Summer Series 39 will truly grab your attention with the loving duet of “Imprint” by Lucas Crandall and romantic “Palladio” by Jim Vincent. Theater goers will fall under the mesmerizing spell of the smokiness and ethereal beauty of ghostlike figures and sounds of water in “One Thousand Pieces” by Alejandro Cerrudo. Children and adults alike will be enthralled with the chaotic energy of “One Flat Thing”, in awe of the dancer’s abilities to move between, over, under and through the flat things with such speed, grace and fluidity.

Beautiful and graceful, “A Picture of You Falling” by Crystal Pite will capture the audiences’ attention from start to finish, leaving you out of breath, and wondering, if this is how it really will be in the end.

Through a night of innumerable feelings and experiences, this historical journey into the past of “Hubbard Street Dance at 40”, was a thrill for all families and fans of dance. So very few places can provide such a complete feeling of history and nostalgia while also inspiring all of us to see what the future will bring.

Hubbard Street’s Summer Series 39 was performed at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance. For more information on this amazing dance company and to see future events, visit www.HubbardStreetDance.com.

 

Published in Dance in Review
Page 9 of 21

 

 

10 Years! Fave Issue Covers

Register

Latest Articles