Upcoming Theatre


Steppenwolf’s LookOut Series is excited to announce a surprise summer performance of Standup Shakespeare: A Concert Reading with music by Ray Leslee, book by Kenneth Welsh and words by Shakespeare, of course. This event, which is a benefit concert reading for the theatre, showcases the extraordinary talent of Steppenwolf co-founder Jeff Perry alongside Broadway legends Norm Lewis and Alice Ripley. The show will be at 6:30pm in Steppenwolf’s Downstairs Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted St. Tickets ($79-99) go on sale Friday, June 23 at 11am through Audience Services at 312-335-1650 or steppenwolf.org.


Standup Shakespeare sets the timeless language of the Bard to the exciting rhythms of jazz, baroque, samba and gospel-rock original music. A fractured love story is performed by a modern-day Fool (Steppenwolf co-founder Jeff Perry) and Broadway legends Norm Lewis (The Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables) and Alice Ripley (Next to Normal – Tony Award for Best Actress) in this concert reading. Accompanying the cast are Marshall Coid (Violin), Dave Dunaway (Bass), Ray Leslee (Piano) and Josh Plotner (Woodwinds).


Jeff Perry is a co-founder of Steppenwolf Theatre Company. He served as Steppenwolf Artistic Director from 1982 to 1985 and 1986 to 1987 and was integral to the founding of The School at Steppenwolf, where he continues to teach and direct. Jeff's many acting credits at Steppenwolf include August: Osage County (also Broadway and London), Balm in Gilead (also Off-Broadway), The Time of Your Life (also Seattle, San Francisco), Picasso at the Lapin Agile (World Premiere), The Grapes of Wrath (also Broadway and London), The Caretaker (also Broadway) and Streamers (also Kennedy Center). Jeff currently portrays Cyrus Beene on ABC’s Scandal and has also appeared in Nash BridgesThirtysomething and My So-Called Life.

This event will also feature Grammy and Clio Award-winning Opera singer Thomas Young, who was in the original Off-Broadway production directed by Mike Nichols and is featured on the Standup Shakespeare cabaret review album recorded in 1995. 

Alice Ripley received the 2009 Best Actress in a Musical Tony and Helen Hayes Awards for her work in the Pulitzer Prize-winning Next to Normal. She made her Broadway debut in the original cast of The Who’s Tommy, and went on to star in the original Broadway casts of Sunset Boulevard, Side Show (Tony and Drama Desk noms), James Joyce’s The Dead, and The Rocky Horror Show. She most recently played three roles in the Broadway musical, American Psycho. Ms. Ripley is also a songwriter, and she has produced three albums with her band, RIPLEY. She has starred in the feature films Muckland, SUGAR!, Bear With Us, The Way I Remember It and Isn’t It Delicious, and appeared on the small screen in Girlboss, Blue Bloods, 30 Rock, and Royal Pains


Tickets & Membership Info
Single tickets ($79-$99) go on sale Friday, June 23 at 11am at 312-335-1650 or steppenwolf.org. Student Rush Tickets: a limited number of $15 student tickets are available one hour before the show. Limit 2 tickets per student; must present a valid student ID for each ticket; steppenwolf.org/students. Flex Card Memberships: Anytime Black Card Members may purchase any ticket for one credit each, and Weekday Black Card Members may purchase balcony tickets only for one credit each. For more information about FlexCard Memberships, call  Audience Services at 312-335-1650 or visit steppenwolf.org.


Visitor Information
Steppenwolf is located at 1650 N Halsted St near all forms of public transportation and is wheelchair accessible. The parking facility consists of both a covered garage ($11 cash or card) and an open-air lot, located just south of our theater at 1624 N Halsted. Valet parking service ($14 cash) is available directly in front of the main entrance at 1650 N Halsted St starting at 5pm on weeknights, 1pm on weekends and at 12 noon before Wednesday matinees. Street and lot parking are also available. For last minute questions and concerns, patrons can call the Steppenwolf Parking Hotline at (312) 335-1774.


LookOut
LookOut is Steppenwolf’s performance series that presents the work of artists and companies across genre and form, emerging artists and performance legends, quintessential Chicago companies and young aspiring ensembles, familiar Steppenwolf faces and new friends. Tickets to all LookOut programming are available through Steppenwolf Audience Services. Prices vary for each show. The LookOut Series is presented year-round and announced on an ongoing basis. John Zinn, Greta Honold and Patrick Zakem are the producers for LookOut. For more information, visit steppenwolf.org/lookout.


Front Bar: Coffee and Drinks
Connected to the main lobby, Steppenwolf’s own Front Bar: Coffee and Drinks offers a warm, creative space to grab a drink, have a bite, or meet up with friends and collaborators, day or night. Open daily from 8am to midnight, Front Bar serves artisanal coffee and expresso is provided by La Colombe and has a new menu for this spring and summer with food prepared by Goddess and Grocer. The menu focuses on fresh, accessible fare, featuring grab-and-go salads and sandwiches for lunch and adding shareable small plates and desserts for evening and post show service. www.front-bar.com


Sponsor Information
Major support for Steppenwolf’s expanded 2016/17 programming is provided by the Lefkofsky Family Foundation, The Negaunee Foundation and the Zell Family Foundation. Major support for Steppenwolf’s New Play Development Initiative is provided by The Davee Foundation and the Zell Family Foundation.


United Airlines is the Corporate Presenting Sponsor of Hir. Chicago Community Trust is Production Sponsor of Hir. Community partners include Lurie Children’s Hospital and Chicago Women’s Health Center.


Steppenwolf Theatre Company is the nation’s premier ensemble theater. Formed by a collective of actors in 1976, the ensemble has grown to 49 members who represent a remarkable cross-section of actors, directors and playwrights. Thrilling and powerful productions from Balm in Gilead to August: Osage County—and accolades that include the National Medal of Arts and 12 Tony Awards—have made the theater legendary. Steppenwolf produces hundreds of performances and events annually in its three spaces: the 515-seat Downstairs Theatre, the 299-seat Upstairs Theatre and the 80-seat 1700 Theatre. Artistic programing includes a seven-play season; a two-play Steppenwolf for Young Adults season; Visiting Company engagements; and LookOut, a multi-genre performances series. Education initiatives include the nationally recognized work of Steppenwolf for Young Adults, which engages 15,000 participants annually from Chicago’s diverse communities; the esteemed School at Steppenwolf; and Professional Leadership Programs for arts administration training. While firmly grounded in the Chicago community, nearly 40 original Steppenwolf productions have enjoyed success both nationally and internationally, including Broadway, Off-Broadway, London, Sydney, Galway and Dublin. Anna D. Shapiro is the Artistic Director and David Schmitz is the Executive Director. Eric Lefkofsky is Chair of Steppenwolf’s Board of Trustees. For additional information, visit steppenwolf.org, facebook.com/steppenwolftheatre, twitter.com/steppenwolfthtr and instagram.com/steppenwolfthtr.

Published in Upcoming Theatre

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
Friday, 09 June 2017 20:27

MAC Announces 2017-2018 Season

McAninch Arts Center (MAC) located at 425 Fawell Blvd. on the campus of College of DuPage is pleased to announce its 2017-2018 Season Performance Series. Subscriptions are on sale now for an exciting selection of music, dance, theater, comedy and literary events showcasing a roster of world-class artists. Single tickets go on sale in person at the MAC Box Office Saturday, Aug. 5, beginning at 10 a.m.
 
“This season we’ve put together a very exciting and culturally intriguing array of artists and ensembles for our Performance Series. Add to that the incredible new seasons our resident companies Buffalo Theatre Ensemble and New Philharmonic have created and you have nine full months of must-see events with something for everyone,” says MAC director Diana Martinez.
 
A few of the highlights of MAC’s 2017-2018 Performance Series include “Tuesdays with Morrie” starring “M*A*S*H” star Jamie Farr (Sept. 30); “LIV ON,” an exciting new project by Grammy Award-winner Olivia Newton-John, with Nashville based singer-songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman & Canadian pop singer-songwriter Amy Sky (Oct. 14); “Take Me to the River LIVE: a Memphis Soul and Rhythm & Blues Revue” featuring Grammy Award-winners William Bell, Charlie Musselwhite and Bobby Rush (Nov. 5); a talk by PBS celebrity chef and acclaimed author Lidia Bastianich (Nov. 9), the Chicago premiere of a new show by tap dance legend Savion Glover (Nov. 26) and concerts by Grammy Award-winning trumpeter and composer Chris Botti (Jan. 20), “¡Cubanismo!” featuring Cuban jazz great Jesús Alemañy with his all-star orchestra (Feb. 18), and Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter, Rosanne Cash (April 14).
 
New Philharmonic opens its 2017-2018 Season with “Mahler 5” featuring Mahler’s most famous work, (Sept. 23-24). Then, four guest vocalists and the 100 voices of the Northwest Indiana Symphony Orchestra Chorus join New Philharmonic and Maestro Muspratt for three performances of “The Best of Broadway: Rodgers & Hammerstein and Andrew Lloyd Webber” (Oct. 21 and Oct. 22). For the holidays, audiences will have the opportunity to once again enjoy Von Heidecke Chicago Festival Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” with Tchaikovsky’s beloved score performed live by New Philharmonic (Dec. 16-17). Lyric Opera of Chicago’s Ryan Opera Center alumnus Corey Crider (baritone) joins New Philharmonic for three celebratory New Year’s Eve Concert performances (Dec. 31) and January brings Giuseppe Verdi’s popular opera “La Traviata” (Jan. 27-28) starring critically acclaimed soprano Emily Birsan as Violetta. “Beethoven: Five Piano Concertos – One Pianist” New Philharmonic’s final concert of the season will be a rare opportunity to experience all five of Beethoven’s piano concertos in a single three-hour concert program (April 7-8).
 
Buffalo Theatre Ensemble’s 2017-2018 three-play season will open with the Tony and Drama Desk Award-winning play “The 39 Steps,” by John Buchan and adapted by Patrick Barlow from Alfred Hitchcock’s popular film, directed by BTE ensemble member, Kurt Naebig (Sept. 7-Oct. 8). Then BTE opens 2018 with the thought provoking play “Time Stands Still” by Donald Margulies, directed by BTE artistic director Connie Canaday Howard (Feb. 1-March 4). The romantic comedy/drama “Outside Mullingar” by John Patrick Shanley, directed by Steve Scott completes the season. (May 3 - June 3). All performances take place in the Playhouse Theatre.
 
Other programming at the MAC includes the return of encore broadcasts of the critically acclaimed National Theatre Live film series, Sept 14-March 8 (see schedule attached), plus the return of the popular Global Flicks free international film series, educational SchoolStage performances for pre-school through high school age students, more than 30 College performances in music, dance and theater, seven exhibitions of visual art at the Cleve Carney Art Gallery and new this year—a series of National Geographic Live events.  Additional details will be announced at a later date.
 
Select 2017-2018 events will be accompanied by a free pre or post-performance MAC Chat, providing the opportunity to engage with artists and learn more about their work; and for many shows theatergoers can enhance their evening by adding on a “VIP Experience,” a private pre-show cocktail and hors d’oeuvres reception followed by coffee and dessert at intermission. Parking for MAC events is always free.
 
Subscriptions are on sale now. To subscribe by purchasing tickets to three or more shows, call the MAC Box Office at 630.942.4000. Single tickets go on sale to the public in person at the MAC Box Office Saturday, Aug. 5 at 10 a.m.; online at AtTheMAC.org Sunday, Aug. 6 at 12 a.m..  by phone at 630.942.4000 on Sunday, Aug. 6 beginning at 12 p.m. and A chronological listing of shows follows the release.
 
In advance of the 2017-2018 season, the MAC presents its 2017 Lakeside Pavilion Free Outdoor Summer Series. Programming runs July 6-Aug. 11 and includes a Friday evening Pop Music Series, a Thursday evening Jazz Concert Series and Thursday evening Family Movie Series. For updates and more information, visit AtTheMAC.org.

Published in Upcoming Theatre

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

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

From the minute I stepped into Windy City Playhouse’s colorful, elegant the stage area designed by Courtney O’Neill with fantastic lights and sounds by Thomas Dixon, I knew I was in for a treat. 

King Liz is named for the beautiful, sexy and high-powered sports agent Liz Rico played superbly with real gusto and stage presence galore by Lanise Antoine Shelley. 

Liz Rico is a woman who grew up in the projects, overcame great poverty and rose to the top of a male dominated industry. Rico, one of the best sports agents in the business, is about to be promoted to the head of her firm by her retiring boss Mr. Candy (Frank Nall).

Mr. Candy's last offer to her to make her his new head of firm is based on her ability to sign a new and talented high school basketball player Freddie Luna (Eric Gerard). Luna is a true talent likened to Kobe Bryant but comes with a history of violence and temper tantrums as he too has been brought up in the projects and was doing his best to survive as he knew how. 

Eric Gerard is also great in his role, showing how deeply he feels about needing to escape his checkered past and the projects by riding his basketball gifts into the big time. Gerard also plays the role well in that the audience sees and feels great compassion for him as he uses his limited social skills to try and fit into the fast-paced media swirl he is placed in, sometimes causing his own downfall, his sometimes feral temper getting the best of him. Though Luna can often be charming and polite, prying journalists after the next big sports story target his unbridled emotions and get the best of him when digging into his past that he so desperately wants to put behind him.

Gabby (Jackie Alamillo) is Liz Rico’s assistant and though grateful for her highly valued mentorship has been made to "eat crow" so many times, every day at work, by Liz. Gabby is also eager for Liz to get the promotion, if only because she will then fill Rico’s job. Alamillo is perfect as the once meek but now hardened assistant who has given up everything including her own sense of self-worth at times in order to succeed in this male dominated field. 

In the meantime, Knick’s Coach Jones does his best with Luna hoping this new prodigy will cement his long time career. Coach Jones, played with great compassion of soul and accuracy by Phillip Edward Van Lear, really drives the play’s message home and is totally believable in the role of a big league coach who also has been beaten down somewhat by an industry which cares more about profit margins than human lives and protecting the players who make the game possible.  

We learn along the way that "King Liz" had a sexual relationship with the coach in the past when over dinner he states he “would like to make love to her again”, that “she needs affection” and "was making animal sounds" the last time they were together but Liz will only accept his offer if he realizes she wants no commitment involved or even romance. 

Liz, over the course of the show, begins to realize that she has isolated herself from the world of love and relationships for so long that even though she is rich and on all the most important people lists like Forbes Fortune 500, she has also given up her chances to have children and a husband among other things and is faced with the biggest decision of her life to try and salvage her soul and dignity as a human being.

The play is delivered fast and furiously with many exciting twists and turns and light and scene design changes. It reminded me of the film “Draft Day” starring Kevin Costner that shows just how much constant pressure and money is riding on these agents and their young, often inexperienced and naive clients – the promises made and the slugfests that occur between agencies and teams to sign elite talent. We learn how much athlete image control weighs into a successful sports career for those that have a hard time staying out of trouble.

King Liz is also the story of two completely different paths taken from two people, both African Americans, who grew up in the same projects. Ambitious, disciplined and determined, Liz carved a trail for herself to succeed in the business world by obtaining a Yale education and learning the social graces and toughness that positions herself to rise up the corporate ladder. She’s hard-nosed and no-nonsense and does not make excuses. At the same time, Luna, though mega-talented, struggles to mature or find a sense of responsibility. He blows up with little provocation and misses key business appointments to go shopping with his friends. We want so desperately to shake him and say, “Wake up! You have been given a golden opportunity to shine and become an example to others.”

Lanise Antoine Shelly is a powerhouse as Liz Rico and is surrounded by an impressive cast in this fast-paced, knockout punch production. I highly recommend Fernanda Coppel’s King Liz, directed with real style and exciting action and catharsis by Chuck Smith.

King Liz is being performed at Windy City Playhouse. For tickets visit www.WindyCityPlayhouse.com.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Drury Lane Theatre continues its 2017-2018 season with the Pulitzer-winning play The Gin Game written by D.L. Coburn, featuring Jeff Award winners Paula Scrofano and John Reeger, and directed by Ross Lehman. The Gin Game runs June 22 – August 13, 2017 at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane in Oakbrook Terrace.
 
Winner of the 1978 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and nominated for four Tony Awards, The Gin Game symbolizes life in the form of a card game in a two-act, two-character play starring Chicago theater legends Paula Scrofano and John Reeger. In The Gin Game, Weller Martin and Fonsia Dorsey strike up an acquaintance and begin to play gin. As the game progresses, intimate secrets of their lives are revealed and they begin to search for each other’s weaknesses in both the game and life itself.
 
With this production, married couple Paula Scrofano and John Reeger join an elite history of famous duos who have previously battled in The Gin Game, including original stars Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn (the 1977 Broadway production and 1981 TV movie), Mary Tyler Moore and Dick Van Dyke (the 2003 PBS television special), and Cicely Tyson and James Earl Jones (the 2015 Broadway Revival). Jeff Award winner Ross Lehman directs the renowned acting couple.
 
“We have wanted to produce The Gin Game for years, specifically with Paula Scrofano and John Reeger in the roles of Fonsia and Weller,” says Kyle DeSantis, President of Drury Lane Productions. “This marks Drury Lane’s twelfth collaboration with this legendary pair of Chicago actors, and we’re so excited to welcome them back to our stage.”
 
The creative team for The Gin Game includes Katherine Ross (scenic design), Mathieu H. Ray (costume design), Lindsey Lyddan (lighting design), Ray Nardelli (sound design), Mike Tutaj (projection design), Cassy Schillo (props design) and Claire Moores (wig and hair design). The production stage manager is Lucia Lombardi.
 
The Gin Game is recommended for ages 13 and up.

For more show information or to purchase tickets, or visit DruryLaneTheatre.com.

Published in Upcoming Theatre
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