Theatre in Review

Vika Lvova

Vika Lvova

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.

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.

Willa is too old to live alone in her flat, and she has “accidents”. That’s why her well-meaning daughter brings her to a suburban London nursing home, “just to try it out”. Originally from Galway, Willa (convincingly played by Belinda Bremner) starts an unlikely friendship with a good-natured 24-year-old nursing home assistant Byron (very talented and highly animated Terry Bell). Byron, an illegal immigrant from South Africa, comes from extreme poverty and family tragedy, but, despite his hard life, he’s kind and funny, and the pair gets along oh so well, always laughing, telling each other stories and falling closer together. Meanwhile, Willa’s married daughter Catherine (Carolyn Kruse) has very little time for her mother; she’s busy carrying on an affair with a younger man. All in all, living at the nursing home wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t for the sadistic head nurse Sister Chang (Christine Bunuan). Sister Chang is a colorful character; she likes to “discipline” residents and doesn’t hesitate to go through their belongings to satisfy a sweet tooth.


The My Way Residential is a very charming play; it’ll make you laugh and it’ll make you cry too, but you will not be bored; far from it. The cast is fantastic, and writing wonderful. Not to mention the old-British-TV-show vibe to it that’s irresistible.


Directed by ensemble member Kevin Theis and written by Geraldine Aron, this tragi-comedy is a world premiere from Irish Theatre of Chicago that concludes its 2016-2017 Season. The My Way Residential is currently playing at The Den Theatre (Upstairs Main Stage) through June 25th. For more show information and to purchase tickets visit http://irishtheatreofchicago.org/.

The Joffrey Ballet closes its 2016-2017 Season with Global Visionaries featuring works of international ballet visionaries: Russian born choreographer Yuri Possokhov with The Miraculous Mandarin, Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman with Joy, and Colombian-Belgian choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa with Mammatus.

The show opens with sexy, dark The Miraculous Mandarin. It’s a disturbing tale of a girl forced to act as a decoy by thugs, luring men into her room, only to be robbed and kicked out. The girl (immensely talented dancer Victoria Jaiani who moves with otherworldly grace and can possibly express just about any emotion with her body or even a subtle turn of the head) seduces men with her beauty, and then turns them over to her “friends” who finish the job. The wealthy mandarin (wonderfully performed by Yoshihisa Arai) is her last victim. He is cool and composed, like a Kung Fu master, but falls hard for the girl, and refuses to let go of her even when her deceitful nature is reveled to him. There’s nothing abstract about this performance: there’s an engaging plot, and all seven characters are extremely well developed; the brutality of the Chinese man’s murder is quite uncomfortable. Set to Bela Bartok’s score composed in 1918-1919, this “pantomime grotesque” was based on a magazine story of that time. Premiered November 27, 1926 in Cologne, Germany, it caused a scandal and was subsequently banned on moral grounds. Yuri Possokhov has created this work specifically for The Joffrey Ballet in collaboration with Cleveland Orchestra, which premiered in March 2016 in Cleveland. This is the Chicago premiere with Chicago’s own Philharmonic Orchestra, led by Joffrey Music Director Scott Speck providing live accompaniment on stage.

Here comes Joy! Alexander Ekman’s piece is original and playful, its delightful silliness reminiscent of a circus show. It opens with the stage brightly lit and slippery, crowded with dancers acting like happy children on a playground: they run and slide around, walk upside down, dance and act out while wearing suits. When prompted, everyone strips down to flesh colored underwear and things get even less serious. There’s a pack of gorgeous female ballerinas dropping their shoes on the floor in unison, like some bratty toddlers. They are childish and gracefully feminine, all at the same time. A very young audience member sitting next to me (she was around four-years-old) found the sketch very entertaining: she laughed the entire time. Joy is a ballet/ mixed media of sorts, with voice narration and the dancers having speaking parts. It’s unexpected, whimsical and energetic; a pure joy. Set to a mix of modern music featuring selections from Grammy-nominated Brad Meldau Trio, experimental rock band Django Django, Tiga’s pop hit Shoes, and Moby.

The final part of the event, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa‘s Mammatus, is a stimulating twenty-minute abstract piece featuring twenty dancers in a series of ensembles and duets. Right away, there’s a thunder on the stage, then the music begins ("Weather One" by composer Michael Gordon). The music is sharp and urgent, the frantic forceful strings giving it that old world quality. The costumes (designed by Dieuweke Van Reij) are stylishly black, enveloping dancers’ hands and making them look animal or bird-like. The dancers’ movements are precise and fast, there isn’t much emotion here, just breathtaking fluidity of ever changing shapes and positions. Towards the end, a dance pair clad in all white comes in; their dance is sensual and full of grace. Is it possible that the contrast between the colors and the styles of dancers allude to the duality of our reality: the good and evil, the light and darkness, the emotion and thought?

Joffrey’s Global Visionaries is being performed at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University: April 26-May 7, 2017. For more show information, or to purchase tickets, click here.  

 

Giordano dance Chicago has opened its 2017 season with its Spring Series at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance. Divided into six distinct pieces, the show is a high energy celebration of jazz dance; it’s well polished, exciting and expressive. Not a word is spoken, but each piece tells a story so vividly that one might wonder why we would need the spoken language after all.  Opening with ‘’Grusin Suite’’, featuring former Giordano Dance Chicago dancer and River North Dance Chicago Artistic Director Frank Chaves, it’s a 1993 re-staging set to the soundtrack for the film “The Firm”. Fluidity of the dance is complemented by the flowing fabrics of the uniform - like costumes of the dancers (costume design by Branimira Ivanova). The costumes are kept very simple throughout the show, and so nothing detracts from the dancers often moving in unison, always with intention and precision, and there’s always a story being unwrapped. After Grusin Suite comes dark Divided Against - A place painted is decidedly hostile with male dancers wearing robes and acting subservient to the female dancers, who are erect and unemotional. Choreographed by Peter Chu, music by Djeff Houle. Next comes blissfully tribal A Ritual Dynamic. Deeply satisfying both visually and auditorily, it’s Avatar-like in its feel. Choreographed by Jon Lwhrer, music by White Derbakeh and DJ Disse. 

After intermission we’re treated to Sneaky Pete, choreographed by Brock Clawson, music by Kerry Muzzey, Abel Korzeniowski, and Adam Crystal. A lot going on here: mating game between two dancers with the girl pursing the boy, while the rest of the troupe is “living their normal life”, a.k.a., dancing beautifully, of course. It ends with the boy upsetting the girl and suffering the consequences by getting ostracized by the rest of the troupe (the “society”?). Or, at least, that was my interpretation. I invite the reader to make their own impression. Next piece is a gorgeous The Man That Got Away, a 1990 classic. The girl wants a man, but he’s is indifferent. She tries many things: affection, seduction, reason, arguing, but nothing will melt his heart.  Set to Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin music performed by Judy Garland, it’s choreographed by Sherry Zunker. Featuring dancer Ashley Downs. Fun Fact: Sherry Zunker has gifted The Man That Got Away to Giordano Dance Chicago in honor of legendary Gus Giordano. It’s sexy and compelling; an absolute delight!

Last, but not least, is a world premiere of a dance called Lost in this World. Choreographed by Liz Imperio, who is hailed as choreographer to the stars. Her credits include the staging and choreography for Jennifer Lopez’s world tour “Dance Again” and directing/choreographing of three of Gloria Estefan’s world concert tours and two world tours for Madonna. Set to music by Ed Sheeran/Steve Mac/Johnny McDaid, and Raury Tullis, Lost in this World is very youthful.  Beautifully danced by the lead woman Maeghan McHale and lead men Devin Buchanan and Adam Houston.

The Giordano Dance Chicago Spring Series is performed at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance. For more information on Giordano Dance Chicago visit http://giordanodance.org/.  

 

The House Theatre is currently performing one of its past productions, The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz, Phillip Klapperich’s 2005 spin on L. Frank Baum’s classic Wizard of Oz. First produced by House Theatre of Chicago in their third season, Klappernich’s The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz is a darker version of the original, magnifying the story’s undercurrents while keeping the integrity of the Baum’s story intact. Modern touches are also added throughout the show that bring Dorothy and friends to present day. 

Most of us know the story of Dorothy, a teenage girl from Kansas who is magically transported from her family’s farm house (thanks to a massive tornado) to the enchanting and vividly colorful world of Oz, a magical place where almost anything can happen. Klapperich’s version gives us a whole new perspective on the classic.

Contemporary Dorothy (played by the talented Kara Davidson), armed with a cell phone and toting her beloved dog Toto, (animated by Joey Steakley, who truly makes the stuffed animal come to life) both land in the whimsical land of Oz (specifically Munchkinland) when a severe storm carries the two by means of the beforementioned powerful twister. Upon landing, we soon find out that Dorothy’s house ends up crushing the wicked witch. Dorothy is greeted and admired by the locals (Munchkins, played by Elana Elyce, Ben Hartej, Carlos Olmedo, and Tina Munoz Pandya) and The Good Witch Glinda (Amanda de la Guardia). Everyone wants their new hero to stay, after all, she killed the wicked witch. But Dorothy longs to get back home to her family in Kansas. The deceased witch however, had a sis who is very nasty and is out to get Dorothy to reclaim her sister’s magic boots that are now clinging to Dorothy’s feet. And so, Dorothy is given directions on how to the grand Emerald City to find the Wizard of Oz, who will hopefully help her get back home. While searching for the great wizard, Dorothy befriends our favorite characters from the classic: The Scarecrow (enchanting Christina Maryland Perkins), Tin Woodsman (Jeremy Sonkin), and Cowardly Lion (lively Michael E. Smith). 

But it’s not as easy as simply meeting the Wizard of Oz. Dorothy, now called the “Witch Slayer” thanks to the Munchkins, is asked by the Wizard to kill the wicked witch in exchange for passage home. 

The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz is beautifully directed and choreographed by Tommy Rapley and is very well cast. Kara Davidson transcends expectation as Dorothy while AnJi White is absolutely mesmerizing as The Wicked Witch of the West. White moves with grace, speaks with conviction and injects just the right amount of wicked into the wicked witch.

The show is delightful non-stop entertainment featuring live music, giant animated puppets, monsters and even flying monkeys soaring through the air, OH MY! Creative, energetic and colorful, it’s mostly joyful, occasionally dark and even sad, but always entertaining. 

Highly recommended.

The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz is being performed at Chopin Theatre through May 7th. The performance schedule is Thursdays - Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday matinees at 3 p.m. and Sunday evenings at 7 p.m. Preview tickets (evenings March 17 – March 26, no performance March 25) are $15 and regular run tickets range from $25 – $45. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.TheHouseTheatre.com

*This show is not recommended for children under ten.

 

 

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