Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

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

Christmas, Holiday, Profiles, Theater No Comments »

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 »

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

Festivals, Profiles, Theater, World Premiere No Comments »

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 »

No Escaping the Logistics: “Room Escape” Theater Business Faces Challenges From the Start

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Melissa Schlesinger and Maren Rosenberg/Photo: Grace Pisula (

By Danielle Levsky

Maren Rosenberg has a puzzle for you. But she’s also got one of her own.

Rosenberg, Master of Mayhem/Principal Producer, has been working with a team of creative professionals to open Escape Artistry, featuring “immersive” room escapes: games in which participants use elements within one room to solve puzzles, find clues and escape the room within a set time limit.

While working with the City of Chicago’s Small Business Center to obtain a Public Place of Amusement license, a business consultant requested that she bring in her employment history for the past five years, something that is not easy to do for someone in the theater business.

Rosenberg, like other actors, has accumulated hundreds of short-term contracts over five years, some for companies that are no longer in operation. Upon seeing the thick stack of papers that included a little under 200 companies, the city’s consultant exclaimed, “Oh, you weren’t kidding!” Read the rest of this entry »

For the Child in the Adult and the Adult in the Child: At Sea with Mary Zimmerman and Lookingglass’ “Treasure Island”

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Mary Zimmerman

Mary Zimmerman

By Kevin Greene

Robert Louis Stevenson’s novel “Treasure Island” is so ubiquitous in the sphere of popular culture that it’s possible to feel as though you’ve read it without ever having actually laid hands on it. The tale of pirates and buried treasure stands as one of the great foundational texts of the last 200 years. Since its publication in 1883, the novel has developed an archetypal reputation, one that has drawn attention from artists and thinkers of all disciplines. It has also proved a surprisingly malleable narrative, appearing in film, radio and theater versions.

With its exotic locations, full-blooded action and larger-than-life personalities, “Treasure Island” presents plenty of challenges for the stage. Yet it was these very challenges that first drew Mary Zimmerman to the story. After picking it up two summers ago, Zimmerman knew immediately that she wanted to adapt it. “I like to stage the impossible,” she tells me during a break in the production’s tech rehearsal. “Theater works by metaphor. You have to bring the world into this black box.”

In this case, the black box in question is Lookingglass, a theater company nationally renowned for their imaginative interpretation of both new and old works alike. Read the rest of this entry »

Finding Your Song: Pegasus Flies Again with Nambi E. Kelley’s “For Her as a Piano”

-News etc., Profiles, Theater 1 Comment »

Toni Lynice Fountain, Toya Turner, Camille Robinson and Nadirah Bost/Photo: Emily Schwartz

By Loy Webb

Children have some of the most imaginative and exciting minds. Give them a cardboard box, they’ll create castles fit for any king and queen. Give them a blanket, and as it’s wrapped around their necks your world will be safer before bedtime. It is in watching these small, brilliant minds that we learn the secret to great ingenuity is really quite simple.

“When you don’t have much, you have to be imaginative and bold,” Ilesa Duncan, artistic director of Pegasus Theatre Chicago, says during our phone interview. Read the rest of this entry »

Unconventional Women: Artemisia Fest Plays It Unsafe

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By Logan West

On the hottest day of the Chicago summer, Julie Proudfoot appeared perfectly cool and relaxed as I approached her outside an Argo Tea in Lakeview. The founding and executive artistic director of Artemisia, A Chicago Theatre kindly introduced herself and shared her thoughts on the upcoming fall festival. This year marks the fifth anniversary of the Artemisia fest, which has a simple yet unique structure: six female-driven acts (out of hundreds of submissions) are selected for a reading in front of a live audience. Audience members who attend two or more of the pieces will receive a ballot where they vote on which act will serve as the company’s next production. Read the rest of this entry »

Fall Theater & Opera Preview 2015

-News etc., Musicals, New Companies, Profiles, Theater 1 Comment »

HoneybunsYou know what they say: Every time a mime speaks a Dickensian orphan gets sucked into a jet turbine and blasted out the other side as just a scream. However, it is that cozy time of year when the hopes and dreams of summer die and we artists start making people go into weird rooms and watch us do and say things. Not every show can be the immersive interactive ever-changing theatrical wonderland tour de force that my show is. Newcity theater editor Zach Freeman has provided a fine fall stage preview. However, I feel I can offer a few tips—or rather “things”—to do to spice things up on a chilly fall evening at the theater (elaborate hand gesture).

If you don’t want to do my “things” I can understand. All you have to do is something that is even better. So long as you do something. Because, something must be done. Otherwise you would do nothing. Except maybe drink a box of wine, poke that old bag of mulch laying in bed next to you, and call it a night. (Honeybuns) Read the rest of this entry »

Cultural Sharing: Visión Latino Theatre Company Debuts with “Yellow Eyes”

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Playwright Migdalia Cruz and the Cast of “Yellow Eyes”

By Elle Metz

On a warm, sunny Tuesday night, the founders of a new theater company have retreated into the cool, dark Jackalope Theatre in Edgewater. The large storefront windows are covered with black material and rows of chairs cluster around a small stage. It is the second week of rehearsals for Visión Latino Theatre Company’s inaugural play and the show’s actors will arrive soon.

Xavier M. Custodio, Yajaira Custodio and Johnathan Nieves—the founders of Visión Latino—sit around a table onstage and tell how the company began. Their passion for the venture is palpable—all lit-up eyes and fast talking. Read the rest of this entry »

Dark Humor: The Ups and Downs, and Downs, of a Chicago Comedian’s Struggle

-News etc., Comedy, Profiles, Stand-Up No Comments »
Photo: Elle Metz

Photo: Elle Metz

By Elle Metz

On a bright stage in a dark room at The Annoyance Theatre in Lakeview, two men, bouncing slightly on their toes, peer into the audience. Seventeen people—mostly young and casually dressed—gaze back. One woman sips a light beer. A goateed man sits up straight in his chair. The two performers, Derek Shoemaker and Blair Britt, ask for a suggestion to start their improvisation.

“Cadaver,” someone calls out. Shoemaker and Britt immediately step back to the middle of the stage, facing each other like sparring partners.

Shoemaker has a round face framed by a dark brown buzz cut and perpetual two-day scruff. Tonight he wears maroon slacks, a short-sleeved, blue-and-white-checked button up and red Vans sneakers—a typical performance uniform for him.

In this first scene, Shoemaker plays a police detective and Britt a medical examiner. They’re trying to solve a difficult murder case. Shifting their weight forward and back, the men discuss the case and gesture toward an imaginary body lying on a morgue table in front of them. Britt rants that he can’t find anything wrong with the body. A knowing look crosses Shoemaker’s face.

“We know about your gift,” Shoemaker says. “We know that you can touch bodies…”

“No, I’m not doing that again, alright,” Britt replies. “I’m not!” Read the rest of this entry »

Transformative Stories: A Reservoir of Healing at Erasing the Distance

-News etc., Profiles, Theater, World Premiere 1 Comment »
Greg Geffrard, TayLar, Angela Alise, Ronnell Taylor, Tiffany Renee Johnson

Greg Geffrard, TayLar, Angela Alise, Ronnell Taylor, Tiffany Renee Johnson

By Loy Webb

“This is turning into a therapy session,” says actress Angela Alise as she wipes the tears from her eyes. “Which it always does with Erasing the Distance,” Erasing the Distance (ETD) founder Brighid O’Shaughnessy responds, laughing at the aftermath her heartfelt answer has created.

It’s that kind of sincerity and empathy that has made ETD more than a theater company and into a reservoir of healing for individuals dealing directly and indirectly with mental illness.

This “therapy session” started when O’Shaughnessy described her encounter with a young woman named Marlena. Read the rest of this entry »

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