Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

A Holiday Showdown: Ron Rains and Peter K. Rosenthal on “A Christmas Carol”

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Ron-Peter vertical

By Kevin Greene

First published in 1843, Charles Dickens’ novella “A Christmas Carol” has since gone on to be one of the most popular Christmas stories of all time. Furthermore, it has proved to be surprisingly adaptable to the stage and screen. To honor Dickens’ legacy and usher in the holiday season, I sat down with actor Ron Rains and his alter ego, film critic Peter K. Rosenthal, to talk about the lasting impact of the story, mercy and capitalism, and which Ghost of Christmas would win in a three way free-for-all.

Ron, this is now your ninth year in a row playing Bob Cratchit at the Goodman. What’s changed between the first time and now? What’s new for Bob and for yourself?
Ron: Yes, it’s my ninth year, which makes my tenure as Mr. Cratchit the longest in the Goodman’s history. There’s a comfort to the role now. Bob is an old shoe I’m lucky enough to slip on every November. And every performance is new. It’s absolutely true that every performance is different, as every audience is different. I try to be as present and open as I can be and experience Mr. Cratchit’s track new and fresh each time. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Burning Bluebeard/The Ruffians & The Hypocrites

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Jay Torrence, Anthony Courser, Pam Chermansky, Molly Plunk, Leah Urzendowski and Ryan Walters/Photo: Evan Hanover


For all but the cult-like fans of “Mr. Show,” the appearance of “W/ Bob & David” on Netflix is likely little more than a curiosity. For the inquisitive, I recommend a quick scan of the infamous “Mr. Show” sketch “The Story of Everest,” wherein a young climber returns from his daring exploit only to ritualistically make himself a fool in a far more domestic setting. From there, “The Story of Everest” evolves into “The Story of ‘The Story of Everest’,” proving how the “reality” behind the fiction can often be far more entertaining than the fiction itself. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Palace of the Occult/Eclectic Full Contact Theatre

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Carter Petray, Neil Tobin, Jack Dryden/Photo: Jonathan Cohon

Carter Petray, Neil Tobin, Jack Dryden/Photo: Jonathan Cohon


I can happily report that this play is nothing like what I expected. A one-man show about a member of the Nazi party who aspires to become the Third Reich’s Minister of the Occult elicits imagined plotlines ranging from depressing to morbid. Instead, Neil Tobin’s “Palace of the Occult” is a fascinating examination of real-life Austrian/Czech Jewish performer Erik Jan Hanussen, an early advisor to Adolf Hitler. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: No More Sad Things/Sideshow Theatre Company

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Economy drives creativity. That force is strong in Hansol Jung’s “No More Sad Things,” currently making its co-world premiere with Sideshow Theatre Company. This observation, of course, is not meant to imply cheapness: a gorgeous construction of a giant, Caribbean-blue wooden crescent and risers, poetically lit, occupies the stage at Victory Gardens’ Richard Christiansen Theatre. It is decadent in its own simplicity. Like the three-person cast that adorns it, it does quite a lot without giving too much away. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: It’s a Wonderful Santaland Miracle, Nut-Cracking Christmas Story… Jews Welcome!/Stage 773

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Santaland 2015


What’s not to like about a holiday show that ushers you to your seat with a freshly made cookie in hand? The spirit that whisks you through the door into the Box Theatre at Stage 773 is relentlessly cheery. The energy peaked just before the scripted show began but the high that filled the house was enough to carry the audience through the clunky first number that stalled out and caused concern that perhaps this ninety-minute holiday revue was destined for lesser things. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Ain’t Misbehavin’/Porchlight Music Theatre

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Robin DaSilva, Lorenzo Rush, Jr., Lina Wass, Donterrio Johnson and Sharriese Hamilton/Photo: Kelsey Jorissen

Robin DaSilva, Lorenzo Rush, Jr., Lina Wass, Donterrio Johnson and Sharriese Hamilton/Photo: Kelsey Jorissen


There is something wonderful about watching a musical revue that doesn’t pretend to be more than it is. The folks over at Porchlight know when to let a good thing stand on its own and that’s exactly what they do with their treatment of “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” Director and choreographer Brenda Didier guides her cast through the songs of Fats Waller with little to detract from the tremendous music and dance sequences. There’s not really a plot here and that’s just fine. In fact, if there were any sort of construct upon which these pieces were hung it would most certainly take away from the overall product. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: At the Table—A Conversational Dance/Links Hall

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This event, founded by the At the Table Collective, comprised of members Lindsay Hopkins, Mike Lahood, Jessie Marasa, Lara Oppenheimer and Bryan Saner, began in December 2013 at Hopkins and Saner’s home. Originally conceived of as using dinner conversation as a method of community building through open exchange of skill in the interest of collaboration, for its November dance event, the group turns to fungi as its social model. Starting from the presumption of natural adhesions between individuals and community, and drawing on art historical derivations of dematerialization concepts, At The Table’s conversational performance forms around the idea of “mycelial” structures as a way of offering the public a handle on situating this panel discussion in the context of a living performative space between language and dance, and equality between the concept of dancer as audience participant and audience member as dance participant. (Michael Workman)

At Links Hall, 3111 North Western, Monday, November 23 at 7pm. $5-$15. Tickets at

Review: Clara and the Nutcracker/Piccolo Theatre

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If you’ve groused about Christmas decorations already taking over the seasonal aisle of Walgreens, grumbled about the Christmas tree already glistening from behind the draperies at the Jones’ house, or glared at a co-worker after overhearing that if they could just find that rare Etruscan urn Aunt Harriet covets all of their holiday shopping would be complete, you may have a pretty serious case of holiday-itis. Before this disease turns you into a bellowing Scrooge and you pass it along to innocent children, you should know that Evanston’s Piccolo Theatre has created the perfect cure. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: New Blood IX: SAIC Festival of Live Art/Links Hall

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Photo: Emerson Granillo

Photo: Emerson Granillo

Few of those who taught at the School of the Art Institute haunt this festival so much as the ghost of outré artist Barbara DeGenevieve, who died suddenly in 2014, and whose performance medium, largely a matter of reducing the body to sexuality in her boundary-pushing work, often centered within her practice on photography and video and went so far beyond her chosen, “allowed” media embodiments that she became a subject of consistent government and institutional oppression. Against that background, this ninth iteration of the program from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago Department of Exhibitions and Exhibition Studies, in collaboration with the SAIC Department of Performance, has a lot to live up to with regard to that reflection of the body in any kind of meaningful state, whether in motion or immobilized by inertia. With a largely lackluster showing at this year’s graduate open studios, hopefully this year’s performance works showcase will provide performance and motion studies devotees with something more than just the usual. Read the rest of this entry »

Looking Back, Moving Forward: Goodman Theatre’s New Stages Festival

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Charles Andrew Gardner and Jeff Parker in “Objects in the Mirror” by Charles Smith/Photo: Liz Lauren

By Kevin Greene

I’ll admit that there are still some parts of the theatrical creative process that I take for granted as a critic. Toward the top of that list is the anxiety a critic’s presence can invoke upon the artists and staff involved in a production. Perhaps I flatter myself but I’m certain there are a few names within our little community that lightly churn the stomach of even the most seasoned vet on opening night. Still, even I can detect a hint of hopeful distance whenever I mention that my tickets are probably filed under “Press.”

I mention this in order to acknowledge the privilege inherent in the role of the critic. Playwrights work on their plays for years in a steady stream of workshops, meetings, further workshops, casting and rehearsing that ultimately culminates in a live performance before an audience. It is at this last stage that we, the critics, enter the equation. Suffice it to say, even the most radiant reviews cannot fully acknowledge the sheer amount of time and effort that goes into producing even the most presentably basic play.

All of which makes the Goodman Theatre’s New Stages Festival such an eye-opening delight. A series of staged readings and developmental productions, New Stages offers a vision of the creative process that many of us make only the barest assumptions about. As a free event, it also offers unprecedented access to the artists involved. Read the rest of this entry »

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