Upcoming Theatre

Kokandy Productions is pleased to present the Chicago premiere of Michael John LaChiusa's LITTLE FISH, directed by Producing Artistic Director Allison Hendrix with music direction by Kory Danielson and choreography by Kasey Alfonso, playing July 9 – August 20, 2017 at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave. in Chicago. Tickets for LITTLE FISH are currently available at www.kokandyproductions.com, by calling (773) 975-8150 or in person at the Theater Wit Box Office. 
 
LITTLE FISH features Curtis Bannister as John Paul, Kyrie Courter as Anne Frank, Adam Fane as Marco, Casey Hayes as Robert (August 1 – 20, 2017), Carl Herzog as Mr Bunder, Teressa LaGamba as Cinder, Nicole Laurenzi as Charlotte, Jeff Meyer as Robert (July 9 – 30, 2017) and Aja Wiltshire as Kathy. 
 
Thirty-something writer Charlotte decides to give up smoking and tries to compensate with swimming and jogging – but to no avail. With the help of her friends Kathy and Marco, she embarks on a modern-day odyssey to face the eclectic demons of her past. Loosely based on Deborah Eisenberg’s short stories Days and Flotsam, LITTLE FISH’s score is infused with Latin, jazz, rock, and what’s been described as "pure urban noise within Charlotte's mind."
 
LITTLE FISH premiered off-Broadway at the Second Stage Theatre in 2003.
 
"What I love the most about this musical is that it has these huge ideas attached to it – isolation versus connection… addiction… trauma… but they exist within a bright, fast-paced, hilariously wry musical comedy,” comments Director Allison Hendrix. “We see three friends in the midst of their ‘Saturn Returns,’ figuring out how to be better people, better friends and ultimately, better citizens of the world. These characters' journeys will feel familiar and close to home to our audiences." 
 
The production team for LITTLE FISH includes: Arnel Sancianco (scenic design), Kate Kamphausen (costume design), Alexander Ridgers (lighting design), Michael J. Patrick (sound design), Mealah Heidenreich (props design), Shawn Rodriguez (master electrician), Keegan Bradac (sound engineer), Lindsay Brown (production manager), Alan Weusthoff and Zach Schley (techinical directors), Emily Boyd (paint charge), Ethan Deppe (keyboard programmer), Kait Samuels (stage manager) and Alison McLeod (asst. stage manager). 
 
PRODUCTION DETAILS:
 
Title: LITTLE FISH
Book, Music & Lyrics: Michael John LaChiusa
Director: Producing Artistic Director Allison Hendrix
Music Director: Kory Danielson
Choreographer: Kasey Alfonso
Cast: Curtis Bannister (John Paul), Kyrie Courter (Anne Frank), Adam Fane (Marco), Casey Hayes (Robert, August 1 – 20, 2017), Carl Herzog (Mr Bunder), Teressa LaGamba (Cinder), Nicole Laurenzi (Charlotte), Jeff Meyer (Robert, July 9 – 30, 2017) and Aja Wiltshire (Kathy). 
 
Musicians: Korey Danielson (conductor/keyboard), Charlotte Rivard-Hoster (keyboard 2), Mike Matlock (reeds), Kyle McCullough (guitar), Jake Saleh (bass) and Scott Simon (percussion).
 
Location: Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave. in Chicago
Dates: Previews: Sunday, July 9 at 7 pm, Monday, July 10 at 7 pm, Thursday, July 13 at 8 pm and Friday, July 14 at 8 pm
Regular run: Sunday, July 16 – Sunday, August 20, 2017
Curtain Times: Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays at 8 pm; Sundays at 3 pm. Please note: there will be added 3 pm performances on Saturday, August 12 and Saturday, August 19.
Tickets: Previews $25. Regular run $33 - $38. Tickets are currently available at www.kokandyproductions.com, by calling (773) 975-8150 or in person at the Theater Wit Box Office.
 
For additional information, visit www.kokandyproductions.com.

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

"Are we still who we thought we were?"

"How much do we still value the culture we embraced a year ago?"
 
These are the questions that guided Theater Wit Artistic Director Jeremy Wechsler as he assembled the company's 2017-18 "smart art" season of contemporary, comedic plays: the return for the holidays of Mitchell Fain's tour-de-force This Way Outta Santaland (and other Xmas miracles) (November 24-December 30, 2017), the world premiere of Eric John Meyer's The Antelope Party, a comedy for our times with a My Little Pony theme (January 5-February 24, 2018), and the Chicago debut of Women Laughing Alone with Salad, the Internet meme turned satirical play by Sheila Callaghan (March 9-April 29, 2018).
 
"This has been a year of tsunami-sized cultural change. So many American ideals - media independence, social services, feminism, LGBTQ rights, anti-racism - seem under assault," said Wechsler. "But we have to stay true to ourselves, and that means comedies of reason and compassion. Our 2017-18 season offers three such vantages: the personal story of how a city became a sanctuary, a comedy of ponies and normalization, and a whirling examination of media culture and sexual politics. It's a set of three plays that you won't soon forget, comic works by contemporary artists timed to the exigencies of this moment."
 
Theater Wit is located at 1229 N. Belmont, in the heart of the new Belmont Theatre District in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood. The best way to secure seats to Theater Wit's 2017-18 season is to sign up for a Theater Wit Membership. Wit's Netflix-like "all the theater you can eat" deal lets members see as many plays at they want in any of theater's three spaces for one low monthly fee of $29/$22 for students, along with many exclusive member perks. Single tickets to Wit's 2017-18 season go on sale ten weeks before each show.

To purchase a Membership, inquire about Flex Pass options or to buy single tickets, visit theaterwit.org or call the Theater Wit box office, 773.975.8150.
More about Theater Wit's 2017-18 season

The return of
This Way Outta Santaland (and other Xmas miracles)
Written and performed by Mitchell Fain
Directed by Jeremy Wechsler
November 24-December 30, 2017

After completing an amazing workshop last year, Chicago's favorite holiday performer returns for a mainstage tour-de-force of his unique blend of storytelling, improvisation and cabaret.

This Way Outta Santaland (and other Xmas miracles), written and performed by Mitchell J. Fain, pulls together a host of holiday stories from the audience along with his own autobiographical war stories about how family, drunks, jewelry, funerals, 250 performances and the holiday spirits collide.

Chicago's newest holiday tell-all is this sweet, sentimental evening of hard truths that change night to night, with lovely cameos by Chicago cabaret powerhouses like Meghan Murphy and madcap pianist Julie B. Nichols.

"Highly recommended. A brand new, indispensable tradition, at once hilarious, tragic, moving and profane." - Chicago Theater Review


A World Premiere
The Antelope Party
By Eric John Meyer
Directed by Jeremy Wechsler
January 5-February 24, 2018
It's sometime in the 2010s. The Rust Belt Ponies Meet Up Group for Adult Fans of My Little Pony has gathered in Ben's Philadelphia apartment, but two members have not yet arrived. A new recruit seems unusually shy and curiously paranoid about a local neighborhood watch group. What happened to their Pegasister, Maggie? Why is Brony Doug so paranoid? What does it all have to do with the 9/11 Truthers and an emerging group of "concerned citizens?" In the midst of increasing violence and authoritarianism, how can our heroes see the magic in Everypony? And, even worse, what if they do? 
 
And that's just the first ten minutes of Meyer's amazing and timely new comedy. With its My Little Pony cult prism, Meyer explores the rise of a new social order and how the currents of history, normalization and fear can sweep up even the most Generous ponies of Celestia.
 
Eric John Meyer is a playwright and performer/director/producer based in New York City. His work has been developed or presented by Playwrights Horizons, Clubbed Thumb, Vineyard Theatre, Actors Theatre of Louisville, The Flea, Dutch Kills Theater Company and The Edinburgh Fringe Festival, among others. He is a member of the Actor's Studio Playwright/Director Unit and a recipient of a new play commission from Playwrights Horizons. Meyer is a co-founder of Human Head Performance Group and The Truck Project, both of which he established with his partner, Jean Ann Douglass. He received his MFA in Theater from Sarah Lawrence College.

 

A Chicago Premiere
Women Laughing Alone with Salad
By Sheila Callaghan
Directed by Devon De Mayo
March 9-April 29, 2018
Dangerous, fierce and funny, Women Laughing Alone with Salad bursts out of the bounds of internet meme-dom and onto the stage in a four person comic tour-de-force about friendship, salad, sex, bodies, yoga, salad, men, envy, women, pharmaceuticals, diets, salad and uppers and salad.
DC Theatre Scene called this hilarious satire about how we live with ourselves, or possibly, how we can't, a "fresh, funny play...the poster child for what feminist theatre should be: a great night out on the town watching a slambam comedy which is also a serious conversation about the society we oh-so-currently live in."
 
Devon de Mayo makes her Theater Wit directorial debut with Women Laughing Alone with Salad. Her recent directing credits include Court Theatre's Harvey and Raven Theatre's world premiere Sycamore.

Sheila Callaghan's plays have been produced and developed with Soho Rep, Playwright's Horizons, Yale Rep, South Coast Repertory, Clubbed Thumb, The LARK, Actor's Theatre of Louisville, New Georges, The Flea, Woolly Mammoth, Boston Court and Rattlestick Playwright's Theatre, among others. Callaghan is the recipient of the Princess Grace Award for emerging artists, a Jerome Fellowship from the Playwright's Center in Minneapolis, a MacDowell Residency, a Cherry Lane Mentorship Fellowship, the Susan Smith Blackburn Award and the prestigious Whiting Award. Her plays have been produced internationally in New Zealand, Australia, Norway, Germany, Portugal, and the Czech Republic. These include Scab, Crawl Fade to White, Crumble, We Are Not These Hands, Dead City, Lascivious Something, Kate Crackernuts, That Pretty Pretty; Or, The Rape Play, Fever/Dream, Everything You Touch, Roadkill Confidential, Elevada, Bed and Women Laughing Alone with Salad. She is published with Playscripts.com and Samuel French, and several of her collected works are published with Counterpoint Press. She has taught playwriting at Columbia University, The University of Rochester, The College of New Jersey, Florida State University, and Spalding University. Callaghan is an affiliated artist with Clubbed Thumb and a member of the Obie winning playwright's organization 13P. She is also an alumni of New Dramatists. In 2010, Callaghan was profiled by Marie Claire as one of "18 Successful Women Who Are Changing the World." She was also named one of Variety magazine's "10 Screenwriters to Watch" of 2010. Callaghan is currently a writer/producer on the hit Showtime comedy Shameless and a founder of the feminist activist group The Kilroys. She was nominated for a 2016 Golden Globe for her work on the Hulu comedy series Casual and a 2017 WGA Award for her Shameless episode "I Am A Storm."

About Theater Wit
Theater Wit, Chicago's "smart art" theater, is a major hub of the Chicago neighborhood theater scene, where audiences enjoy a smorgasbord of excellent productions in three, 99-seat spaces, see a parade of talented artists and mingle with audiences from all over Chicago.

"A thrilling addition to Chicago's roster of theaters" (Chicago Tribune) and "a terrific place to see a show" (New City), Theater Wit is now in its seventh season at its home at 1229 N. Belmont, in the heart of the new Belmont Theatre District in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood. 

The company's most recent hits include 10 Out of 12 and Mr. Burns, a post-electric play by Anne Washburn, Naperville by Mat Smart, The New Sincerity by Alena Smith, Bad Jews by Joshua Harmon, The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence and Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England by Madeleine George, and Completeness and The Four of Us by Itamar Moses.

In 2014, Theater Wit was awarded the National Theatre Award by the American Theatre Wing for strengthening the quality, diversity and dynamism of American theater. Theater Wit also brings together Chicago's best storefront companies at its Lakeview home, including 2017-18 resident companies About Face, Kokandy Productions and Shattered Globe.

To receive an "artisanal selection of consonants and vowels from Theater Wit," sign up at TheaterWit.org/mailing for exclusive updates, flash deals and behind-the-scenes production scoop every few weeks.

Published in Upcoming Theatre

Following hit performances of I Am My Own Wife and The Temperamentals, About Face Theatre concludes its 2016-17 Season with the Chicago premiere of Pulitzer Prize nominee Tanya Barfield’s contemporary love story BRIGHT HALF LIFE, directed by AFT Artistic Associate Keira Fromm, playing May 26 – July 1, 2017 at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave. in Chicago. Tickets are currently available at aboutfacetheatre.com, by calling (773) 975-8150 or in person at Theater Wit Box Office. 

 

BRIGHT HALF LIFE will feature AFT Artistic Associate Elizabeth Ledo and Patrese McClain.

 

Off-Broadway hit and winner of the 2016 Lambda Literary Award for Best Play, BRIGHT HALF LIFE charts the complexity of commitment, relationships, and marriage as it follows the ups and downs of a modern lesbian couple. Their story is told through a series of fast-moving, fragmented memories – from elevator rides as strangers to steamy workplace romances to heartache to building a family.

 

“I’m excited to feature Tanya Barfield’s work, a fresh counterpoint to this season’s historical pieces,” comments Artistic Director Andrew Volkoff. “Tanya’s language is muscular and sparkles, but it was her inventive structure that captured me.  She’s created a verbal tilt-a-whirl for the audience, echoing the ins and outs of every modern relationship that I think will speak to everyone who’s ever been in love.” 

 

The production team for BRIGHT HALF LIFE includes: AFT Artistic Associate William Boles (scenic design), Melissa Ng (costume design), Chris Binder (lighting design), Christopher Kriz (sound design) and Helen Lattyak (stage manager).

 

PRODUCTION DETAILS:

 

Title: BRIGHT HALF LIFE

Playwright: Tanya Barfield

Director: AFT Artistic Associate Keira Fromm

Cast: Elizabeth Ledo (Erica) and Patrese McClain (Vicky).

 

Location: Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago

Dates: Previews: Friday, May 26 at 7:30 pm, Saturday, May 27 at 7:30pm and Sunday, May 28 at 3 pm

Regular run: Friday, June 2 – Saturday, July 1, 2017

Curtain Times: Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm; Sundays at 3 pm. Please note: there will not be a performance on Wednesday, May 31; there will be an added 3 pm performance on Saturday, July 1 at 3 pm. 

Tickets: Previews: $20 adults, $10 students and seniors. Regular run: $40 adults, $20 students and seniors. Discounts available for groups of 10 or more. Tickets are currently available at aboutfacetheatre.com, by calling (773) 975-8150 or in person at Theater Wit Box Office.

 

Artist Biographies

 

Tanya Barfield’s (Playwright) Bright Half Life was the winner of the 2016 Lambda Literary Award for Drama. Her play Blue Door (South Coast Rep, Playwrights Horizons) was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and The Call premiered at Playwrights Horizons in co-production with Primary Stages and was a New York Times Critic’s Pick. Tanya wrote the book for the Theatreworks/USA children’s musical, Civil War: The First Black Regiment, which toured public schools regionally. Other work includes: Feast (co-writer, Young Vic/Royal Court) and Of Equal Measure (Center Theatre Group), Chat (New Dramatists’ Playtime Festival), The Quick (New York Stage & Film). Short plays include: Medallion (WP Theater/Antigone Project), Foul Play (Royal Court Theatre, Cultural Center of Brazil), The Wolves and Wanting North (Guthrie Theatre Lab, named Best 10-Minute Play of 2003).  A recipient of a Lilly Award, the inaugural Lilly Award Commission and a Helen Merrill Award, Tanya is a proud alumna of New Dramatists and a member of The Dramatist Guild Council.

 

Keira Fromm (Director) is a Jeff Award nominated director, a casting director and a teacher based out of Chicago. Favorite recent directing credits include: How the World Began (Rivendell Theatre Ensemble,) A Kid Like Jake (About Face Theatre), Luce (Next Theatre), Charles Ives Take Me Home (Strawdog), The How and the Why (TimeLine Theatre), Broadsword (Gift Theatre) and Fallow (Steep Theatre). Keira is an Artistic Associate with About Face Theatre. She received her MFA in Directing from The Theatre School at DePaul University and is a proud member of SDC. She is also a frequent guest director at DePaul as well as the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. Keira currently directed the well-received Chicago premiere of The Columnist with American Blues Theater.  

 

About Face Theatre (Andrew Volkoff, Artistic Director) creates exceptional, innovative, and adventurous theatre and educational programming that advances the national dialogue on sexual and gender identity, and challenges and entertains audiences in Chicago and beyond.

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

Shattered Globe Theatre welcomes back one of Chicago’s own, Sarah Ruhl.  “For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday” is a new play making its Midwestern debut at Theater Wit. Ms. Ruhl is one of the country’s foremost playwrights right now. She has another new play, “How to Transcend a Happy Marriage,” currently running at the Lincoln Center in New York. Her work is often produced in Chicago usually directed by her friend Jessica Thebus. This is an especially personal production for Ruhl as it stars her own mother (Kathleen Ruhl) in the title role. 

 

No, this is not another warmed over incantation of the JM Barrie fairy tale. While somewhat influenced by the source material, “For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday” is a very realistic story of five siblings grappling with the death of their father. What begins in a depressing hospital room, moves to a whiskey-soaked conversation between siblings that eventually turns into a make-believe version of Peter Pan. 

 

At its core, this is a play about love. There are plenty of plays about dysfunctional families, and this isn’t one of them. What it boils down to are five adult children trying to pinpoint a time when they felt their father’s love. These siblings have differing political beliefs and Ruhl’s apt commentary about our current climate is especially sharp, without being polarizing. There’s a great deal of truth in the courtesy her characters show for one another’s opinions. She also spends a great deal of the play dissecting the role of Catholicism and whether or not there is an afterlife. Despite the volley of bittersweet and at times painful memories of their childhood, these characters love each other and that is felt in the dialogue and performances. 

 

Kathleen Ruhl is adorable as the oldest sister and former Peter Pan star, Ann. Perhaps it’s her relation to the playwright, or her commitment to character, but Kathleen Ruhl makes the audience question how much of this work is fiction and how much is fact? Eileen Niccolai, a Shattered Globe ensemble member, provides a lot of the humor, but also some of the more heartfelt moments as youngest sister Wendy. All the siblings are named for Peter Pan characters, which underscores Sarah Ruhl’s point that with their parents gone, they are orphans now and need to grow up. 

 

Like any Sarah Ruhl work, there is a great deal of whimsy. With each new work, Ruhl continues to keep one foot on the ground and one in the clouds. “For Peter Pan on her 70th Birthday” is both prolific in its subject matter and also aesthetically striking it its presentation. The reality of the situation and the poignancy of the lines allows the audience to trust their narrator and fly when the time comes. 

 

Shattered Globe’s “For Peter Pan on Her 70th Birthday is being performed at Theater Wit at 1229 W Belmont (773.975.8150) and has been extended through May 27th. 

 

 

 

 

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Ever wonder what happens behind the scenes leading up to opening night at the theater? Do you have any idea how much detail goes into a stage production? Can you imagine the funny moments that could take place while building a set or rehearsing lines? Do directors really get as frustrated as we hear? 

Theater Wit brings to the stage the latest, and possibly most innovated, work by author Anne Washburn 10 Out of 12. A headset rests on each seat in the theater for audience members to wear as they become engulfed the midst of tech rehearsals just one week prior to a production opening. We hear random chatter and instruction from the stage crew as 10 Out of 12 gives us an in-depth view of the goings on behind the scenes of mounting a show. Burns, known most recently as the playwright behind Mr. Burns, A Post Electric Play that found a successful run at Theater Wit in 2014, delves into the high stress that comes with detailing theater specifics such as lighting, cues and prop placement while also touching on actor stereotypes, tantrums and the desire in some to hold their work to a standard that demands integrity.

“No one in Chicago has ever seen anything like 10 Out of 12. Simultaneously exacting real-to-life and riotously funny, Anne Washburn’s detonation of a single technical rehearsal is promising to be a unique and thrilling viewing experience,” said Jeremy Wechsler, Artistic Director of Theater Wit and director of 10 Out of 12.

We watch as the production team fastens bolts to secure the set, samples the lighting and sound from scene to scene, place each mark to the director’s satisfaction and amuse themselves during down time. We see actors rehearsing their lines, suggesting where changes might be made (usually to the director’s chagrin). In our headsets we get a real feel for the high levels of demand that must be met along within a time crunch that increases by the minute. We also hear stage hands discussing their lunch and such, along with occasional side remarks about what is transpiring on the set. The fourth wall is often broken with actors using the aisles and theater as though an audience were not present, the director and actors often taking a seat amongst us to watch their handiwork from a patron vantage point. 

The production as a whole is a truly inimitable experience and provides an insight to theater that most may not be familiar with, adding a new appreciation for the art. Upon leaving the theater many discuss how they’ve had no idea the work and precision involved in mounting a play, making 10 Out of 12 an informative piece – perhaps also an homage to those behind the scenes.

Star Chicago theater personalities are recruited to provide pre-recorded roles such as John Mahoney, Martha Lavey, Barbara Robertson and Jeremy Wechsler, Mahoney delivering some of the play’s funniest lines. The stage cast also packs a punch with Erin Long, Adam Shalzi, Dado, and Riley McGliveen as the production team, Shane Kenyon as The Director, and Eunice Woods, Gregory Fenner, Christine Vrem-Ydstie, Kyle Gibson and Stephen Walker as the actors. Walker, taking advantage of several moments to shine in only the way he can in delivering highly-charged monologues with just the right amount of entitlement and sardonic flair as the veteran actor brought in to bring credence to the production. Walker’s character questions the truthfulness in his character, conflicted by his passion for honest art, which he feels is losing its grip in modern day theater.  

So what does the title 10 Out of 12 mean? A 10 out of 12 is a day in which, per the rules of Actors Equity, the actors are contracted to work for 12 hours with one 2-hour dinner break. It’s during that time that all the designing elements of the production are united as a whole, as costumes, sound, lighting, projections, set and acting are fine-tuned just prior to a show’s opening. 

When asked why she wrote a play about a tech rehearsal, Washburn descriptively states, “A decade ago most theaters didn’t have Wi-Fi…and no one is more useless in tech than the playwright. So, I began taking notes. I was fascinated by the strange surreal interplay of light and music. I loved the mysterious technical languages being used around me, the rhythmic drone of the calling light and sound cues. I liked watching the actors freed from their normal self-consciousness. I liked the low continual volume of play which bubbled up throughout the tech as a desperate counterpoint to the long periods of tedium and waiting. And the endless snacking, and discussion of snacking.”  

Throughout the production we hear small talk between the techs – everyday musings that are often quite humorous. We also hear the actors talking hopefully about getting their big break, but also turning down roles for the sake of integrity. At one point the leading actress asks the stage manager if she can leave early to audition for a role in a pilot. We have entered the world of theater. 

As much as this often funny and revealing play is a fantastic chance to catch the inner-workings of theater production, it misses a few opportunities that were begging for the injection of timely humor, at points drifting away only to grab the audience again just in time. It would also have been nice if the script called for a larger role from Mahoney, whose well-timed remarks were almost always met with crowd laughter. Notable was the play’s pace, perhaps running about thirty minutes too long (two and a half hours plus intermission), making the thought of a slightly condensed version somewhat appetizing. Washburn's story nicely envelopes the stresses, complications and rewards in theater production. 

Still, there is much to like in 10 Out of 12, the good outweighing the bad by significant measure. One should expect a fun lesson in Theater Production 101 that is coupled with fine acting performances and enough humor that insures an overall pleasant experience. The headsets are a nice touch, giving audience members an opportunity to feel at times as though they were part of the production team.  

10 Out of 12 is being performed at Theater Wit through April 23rd. For tickets and/or more show information click here

 

 

 

Published in Theatre in Review
Monday, 13 March 2017 12:34

Review: Kokandy Productions' "The Wiz"

"The Wiz" is a perfect collision of disco and show tunes. Appearing on Broadway in 1975, "The Wiz" went on to win the Tony for Best Musical. Though it was not the first all-black production on Broadway, the cross-over appeal of its music made it a sensation. A few years later it was adapted for film starring Michael Jackson, Diana Ross and Lena Horn. The film is considerably different than the stage version, for the worse. 

 

Kokandy Productions' "The Wiz" accentuates all the enduring qualities of the show while adding some modern flare of its own. This has to be the hardest working cast in Chicago right now. For two and a half solid hours director Lili-Anne Brown's cast of talented singers and dancers fill the space with an infectious energy. Sydney Charles as Dorothy is cute and brings a sense of humor to the character, her soaring vocals come to an inspiring crest during "Home." Though, it may well be Frederick Harris in the titular role (in fabulous drag no less) who walks away with the evening's biggest laughs. There's not a sour note in this production and each song is either a powerhouse ballad or a funky dance number. 

 

One of the show's many pleasant surprises is the costuming and overall aesthetic. This is highly conceptualized version that suits the intimate space at Theatre Wit. Borrowing from 90s-era TLC and blending it with today's street fashion, costume designer Virginia Varland creates a very stylish motif in an otherwise minimal set. The ensemble looks as great as they sound. 

 

Lili-Anne Brown doesn't complete her update of "The Wiz" with costumes alone. There's some fairly edgy humor written into this production, including a nod to the prevalence of police brutality cellphone videos. This version of "The Wiz" is how it was originally intended to be–for adults. What the movie and the NBC live version miss is a lot of the grown-up humor in the script. After all, this is an urban contemporary version of the Wizard of Oz, it should be cheeky. Miss Brown's vision for Kokandy Productions' "The Wiz" is a lot of fun and keeps its source material relevant. 

 

Through April 16th at Theater Wit. 1229 W Belmont Ave. 773-975-8150

*Extended through April 23rd

 

Published in Theatre in Review

"The Temperamentals" by Jon Marans makes its Chicago premiere at About Face Theatre. Artistic director Andrew Volkoff revisits this 2009 Off-Broadway play in a critical time for LGBT rights in America. This play was selected for their season long before the election, but serves to remind that the struggle for equality is not over. 

 

"The Temperamentals" refers to a slang term for homosexuals in the 1950s. It tells the true story of the Mattachine Society, the first LGBT rights group in America. Kyle Hatley plays Harry Hay, a closeted college professor working on behalf of gay rights. The Mattachine Society is formed when he meets Rudi Gernreich (Lane Anthony Flores). Gernreich is an up-and-coming designer who escaped the Nazis in Austria. His observations about life under the Third Reich inspires Harry Hay to action. 

 

Maran's script shines in the way it intertwines the historic plotline with authentic relationship dramas between characters. Alex Weisman plays Bob, the promiscuous one, with such sincerity even while cycling through several bit parts. Lane Anthony Flores gives a brave and dynamic peformance as chic European designer Gernreich. Also featuring Rob Lindley and Paul Fagan, About Face has assembled an all-star cast for this vital piece. 

 

Many think that gay activism started at Stonewall, but what "The Temperamentals" documents is the West Coast movement that began in the 1950s. The Mattachine Society was pitched to influential closested homosexuals in Hollywood, like Vincent Minnelli, but failed to garner mainstream interest for fear of blacklisting. Its intention was to decriminalize homosexuality. 

 

Jon Maran's play is sexy and stylish. It echos of Larry Kramer and that's what theater needs right now. It's a nearly three hour wake up call to a generation who takes advantage of the privileges fought for by activism. 

 

Through February 18 at About Face Theatre. Theatre Wit 1229 W Belmont Ave. 

 

Published in Theatre in Review

CHICAGO, December 22, 2016 - Chicago theater luminaries Martha Lavey, John Mahoney, Barbara Robertson and Peter Sagal will play key roles in Theater Wit's much anticipated Midwest debut of 10 Out of 12, the newest, most adventurous work by Anne Washburn, author of Wit's 2014 smash hit Mr. Burns, a post-electric play.

 

Hailed by the New York Times as a "wholly original love song to the maddening art of the theater," 10 Out of 12 is an extraordinarily funny and touching workplace comedy. With its story of the challenges of bringing a new play to life, Washburn'snear-perfect recreation of a technical rehearsal is also a moving tribute to the complexity and beauty of human endeavor.  

 

"No one in Chicago has ever seen anything like 10 out of 12. Simultaneously exactingly real-to-life and riotously funny, Anne Washburn's detonation of a single technical rehearsal is promising to be a unique and thrilling viewing experience," said Jeremy Wechsler, Artistic Director of Theater Wit and director of 10 Out of 12. 

 

"This is the most technically extravagant piece of design we've ever done at Theater Wit," he added. "For instance, armed with 98 individual headsets, our audience will get to experience the play in three distinct auditory spaces simultaneously. As a special bonus, Anne is working with us to customize the play to our city's own rich theatrical history (and contemporary reality), which is going to provide an immediacy and context that will make 10 out of 12 a must-see show for every Chicago theatergoer who loves Chicago Theater."

 

Performances are March 3-April 23, 2017: Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday at 2 p.m. Press opening is Tuesday March 14 at 7:30 p.m. Exceptions: Sunday previews on March 5 and March 12 are at 7 p.m. There is no performance on March 16. 

 

Theater Wit is located at 1229 N. Belmont Ave., in the heart of the new Belmont Theatre District in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood. Tickets are $12-$70. To purchase tickets, a Theater Wit Membership or Flex Pass, visit TheaterWit.org or call 773.975.8150. 

 

Behind the scenes of  

10 Out of 12

 

10 Out of 12 will feature the recorded voices of a clutch of Chicago on stage icons cast in key backstage roles:

 

Former Steppenwolf Artistic Director Martha Lavey will voice the lighting designer.

 

John Mahoney, best known for TV's Frasier, will play back stage crew person #3.

 

Peter Sagal, host of NPR's Wait Wait...Don't Tell Me!, is the sound designer.

 

Noted Chicago classical actor Barbara Robertson will voice the costume designer.

 

At every performance, each audience member will be given their own headset to hear their pre-recorded backstage chatter, mixed in real time with live actors on stage for a very meta look at seemingly the most mundane of processes and the hopes and visions that emerge from the 10 hours commonly known as "tech."

 

On stage, one of the city's edgiest storefront theater pioneers, Dado, takes on the role of the stage manager. Dado is joined by Gregory Fenner as Jake, an actor; Kyle Gibson as another actor, Ben; Shane Kenyon as the director; Erin Long as the assistant stage manager; Riley McIlveen as electrician #2, Adam Shalzi as assistant director; Stephen Walker as the troublesome lead actor, Paul; Eunice Woods as supporting actor, Siget; and Christine Yrem-Ydstie as the female lead, Eva.

 

For a show that pulls the curtain on the tech process, major props are due for Wit's production team: Adam Vesness (set), Izumi Inaba (costumes), Diane Fairchild (lights), Brenda Didier (choreography), Andra Velis-Simon (original music and music director), Joe Court (sound), Vivian Knouse (props), Greg Pinsoneault (scenic charge), Andrew Glasenhardt (technical director), Kristof Janezic (master electrician) Majel Cuza (production manager) and Katie Klemme (stage manager). 

Anne Washburn (playwright) play, Mr. Burns...a post electric play, was produced by Theater Wit, Playwrights Horizons, Woolly Mammoth (DC) and The Almeida (London). Her other plays include Antilia Pneumatica, The Internationalist, A Devil at Noon, Apparition, The Communist Dracula Pageant, I Have Loved Strangers,The Ladies, The Small and a transadaptation of Euripides' Orestes. Awards include the 2015 Whiting Award, 2015 PEN/Laura Pels International Foundation Theater Award, the Guggenheim, a NYFA Fellowship, a Time Warner Fellowship, Susan Smith Blackburn finalist, and residencies at MacDowell and Yaddo. She is an associate artist with The Civilians, Clubbed Thumb, New Georges, Chochiqq, and is an alumna of New Dramatists and 13P. 

 

Jeremy Wechsler (director) most recently staged Theater Wit's workshop of Mitchell Fain's This Way Outta Santaland and the extended Midwest premiere of Mat Smart's Naperville. Other directing credits at Wit include the company's election night reading of The Trump Card by Mike Daisey, The New Sincerity by Alena Smith, The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence by Madeleine George, Bad Jews by Joshua Harmon, Mr. Burns, a post-electric play by Anne Washburn, Madeline George's Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England, and that show's summer remount at Art Square Theatre in Las Vegas. Wechsler also staged Wit's acclaimed Completeness and The Four of Us (Itamar Moses), Tigers Be Still (Kim Rosenstock), This (Melissa James Gibson), Spin (Penny Penniston), Feydeau-Si-Deau (Georges Feydeau), Men of Steel (Qui Nguyen), Thom Pain (Based on Nothing) (Will Eno), Two for the Show (James Fitzpatrick and Will Clinger) and The Santaland Diaries. A veteran director in Chicago with over fifty productions, his work has been nominated for and won multiple awards for design, performance, adaptation and best new plays.

 

About Theater Wit

 

Theater Wit, Chicago's "smart art" theater, is a major hub of the Chicago neighborhood theater scene, where audiences enjoy a smorgasbord of excellent productions in three, 99-seat spaces, see a parade of talented artists and mingle with audiences from all over Chicago.

"A thrilling addition to Chicago's roster of theaters" (Chicago Tribune) and "a terrific place to see a show" (New City), Theater Wit is now in its sixth season at its home at 1229 N. Belmont, in the heart of the new Belmont Theatre District in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood. 

 

The company's most recent hits there include Naperville by Mat Smart, The New Sincerity by Alena Smith, Bad Jews by Joshua Harmon, Mr. Burns, a post-electric play by Anne Washburn, The (curious case of the) Watson Intelligence and Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England by Madeleine George, andCompleteness and The Four of Us by Itamar Moses. 

 

In 2014, Theater Wit was awarded the National Theatre Award by the American Theatre Wing for strengthening the quality, diversity and dynamism of American theater. Theater Wit also brings together Chicago's best storefront companies at its Lakeview home, including 2016-17 resident companies About Face and Shattered Globe.

 

In addition to its popular Membership program, Theater Wit also offers a 10-play Flex Pass for $215 to anything presented in the building, a savings of up to 40%. To purchase a Theater Wit Membership, inquire about a Flex Pass or to buy single tickets, visit TheaterWit.org or call 773.975.8150.

 

To receive an "artisanal selection of consonants and vowels from Theater Wit," sign up at TheaterWit.org/mailing for exclusive updates, flash deals and behind-the-scenes production scoop every few weeks.

Published in Upcoming Theatre

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.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Underscore Theatre and Harborside Films hearkens back to a simpler time, when the biggest national tragedy was a young Olympic figure skater getting clubbed in the knees. The year was 1994 and the world couldn't get enough of Tonya Harding versus Nancy Kerrigan. Some twenty-two years later, this scandal is ripe fodder for a campy rock opera. 

 

Written by Elizabeth Searle and Michael Teoli, "Tonya and Nancy" is exactly what it sounds like. A sharp, 90 minute campfest akin to "Mommie Dearest." There's no dressing this up as anything other than satire. It almost feels like an extended SNL sketch, but that's not to say it's not interesting. It's questionable how much of this skate tale is true, but it certainly serves to humanize both Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. 

 

Since this is billed as a rock opera, the soaring vocals make good sense. In the role of wrong-side-of-the-tracks Tonya Harding is Amanda Horvath, and she lands it well. Despite everything, Horvath's performance gives Harding some extra layers. She's also hilarious. Courtney Mack co-stars as Nancy Kerrigan. Mack also has a tremendously strong voice and it comes across in such campy songs as "Why Me?" While the show may be about two figure skaters, Veronica Garza actually steals the show playing dual-characters, Tonya and Nancy's moms. She seems to relish in playing Tonya Harding's down-on-her-luck mom, and the audience eats her spot-on accents right up. Garza also has an impressive voice. 

 

Director Jon Martinez's choreography stands out as a high point in a show about ice skating that doesn't actually feature any ice skating. It's almost a surprise to see so many group dance numbers in a small space. In fact, the show features ensemble members in a perpetual state of motion which adds a nice visual element. It pairs well with all the lyrcra costuming, which reminisces of a thankfully bygone era. 

 

For those entering this fray with some skepticism, approach this work with confidence. "Tonya and Nancy" is highly polished and well-staged. There's some real potential here. The show may be a little crowded with solos, but otherwise this is a solid script. It's always fun to see a new musical in its debut production. 

 

Through December 30th at Theatre Wit 1229 W Belmont Ave. 773-975-8150.

 

 

 

Published in Theatre in Review
Page 1 of 3

 

 

10 Years! Fave Issue Covers

Register

Latest Articles