Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: Audience Annihilated Part Three: The Trouble with Angels/Dream Theatre Company

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Not knowing what to expect while standing outside in the drizzle, waiting to be allowed into the Dream Laboratory, it is difficult not to stuff down the tittering giggle that haunts my throat. I’m only able to transmute that nervous laughter into an idiotic grin after being carefully herded through the door to sit in a row of four chairs crammed up against a stage set in the woods. The sound of flies buzzes in my ears and a decaying, bloody opossum hangs from a branch before me. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Goblin Market/Black Button Eyes Productions

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Stephanie Stockstill (front) and Jennifer T. Grubb (back)

Sensuous excess comes to life in Christina Rossetti’s 1862 poem “Goblin Market, ” with proliferation of rhymes, synonyms, luscious lists of fruits and “figs to fill your mouth.” It’s easy to imagine the Victorians being titillated by lines such as “she suck’d and suck’d and suck’d the more/Fruits which that unknown orchard bore;/She sucked until her lips were sore.” Even reading the poem today, one is struck by the carnal language used to tell the story of two sisters: Laura, who indulges in fruit sold by the goblin men, sucking “their fruit globes fair and red” and Lizzie, who “would not open lip from lip” lest the goblins “cram a mouthful in.” Like any good Victorian lesson, indulgent Laura nearly perishes while Lizzie saves her with a heroic act of abstinence. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Feathers and Teeth/Goodman Theatre

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Christina Hall and Olivia Cygan/Photo: Liz Lauren


Horror is a mighty genre, stealing you away from the present like no other genre can, activating the primal instincts that follow fear and focusing your attentions like a laser on that which poses the threat. It can be a real pleasure to be filled with dread by circumstances that aren’t your own, to be relieved of your own droning anxieties as they make room, for just a moment, to focus on someone else’s nightmares. Unfortunately, Charise Castro Smith’s “Feathers and Teeth,” the Goodman’s first-ever attempt at horror, is a little more hokey than horrific. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe: A Love Story/First Folio Theatre

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Heather Crisler and Christian Gray/Photo courtesy of D. Rice.

Heather Chrisler and Christian Gray/Photo: D. Rice.


With the fall season at hand and Halloween right around the corner, it’s easy to think of haunted houses as being the top destination to get a good scare. However, First Folio Theatre challenges that idea by bringing to life the works of Edgar Allan Poe at the historic Mayslake Peabody Estate.

Throughout the show, written by First Folio’s managing director David Rice and directed by Alison C. Vesely, details of Poe’s tragic life are told. Both of his parents died before Poe was three years old, he struggled financially for years, and within a decade of marrying his wife Virginia (Heather Chrisler), she died of tuberculosis. This life history is fused with live versions of some of Poe’s most famous prose as the audience is taken around the Estate. The actors don late Victorian garb (designed by Rachel Lambert) that perfectly suits the time and story. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Audience Annihilated Part 2: Gold Star Sticker/Dream Theatre Company

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Some of the most unsettling characters in horror films aren’t the demonic phantasms or unkillable slashers, but the just-real-enough weirdos who inhabit the margins of the narrative, halfway between daytime reality and surreal terror. For a tense fifteen minutes, Dream Theatre Company will plop you down in their living room to be the object of sneering scorn in “Audience Annihilated Part 2: Gold Star Sticker.”

The sequel to 2011’s “Audience Annihilated Part One: Women Only Train,” “Gold Star Sticker” places the audience in the role of Princess, the kind of terrified bed-wetter child who always draws the parental short stick in these kinds of stories. The aforementioned weirdos are her caretakers—junkie mother (Nicole Roberts), ukulele-toting Juggalo boyfriend (Jeremy Menekseoglu), and an unexplained drug-pushing amputee (Amanda Lynn Meyer) with a very unsettling emphysema lung-rattle and an incredibly sweet satin Cubs jacket. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Silent Night of the Living Dead/New Millennium Theatre Company

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SilentNightoftheLivingDeadThere’s no sleeping in heavenly peace over at Studio BE where the New Millennium Theatre Company’s Christmas zombie comedy “Silent Night of the Living Dead” is attempting to offer up some gruesome holiday cheer. Unfortunately the title is pretty much the cleverest thing about this dead-on-arrival comedy. The ninety-minute, intermission-less show moves at an even slower pace than those slogging zombies, and by curtain call you’ll be groaning louder than the walking corpses.

The play starts with a bloody bang as the zombies violently attack their first victims in a department store. Witnessing the explosion of fake blood and intestinal fireworks live is a fun sight gag that zombie movies and TV shows can’t quite match. However, the gimmick wears thin quickly. I was even splattered with fake blood sitting in the back row, staining a favorite pair of pants I had on (which made sitting through this mess of a show even more infuriating). Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Musical of the Living Dead/The Cowardly Scarecrow Theatre Company

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Photo by Michael Courier

Photo: Michael Courier

Co-creators Marc Lewallen and Brad Younts (who also share writing and directing duty) have somehow tapped into the collective desire for all things zombie with this slapdash musical comedy splatterfest. Now in its fourth year, “Musical of the Living Dead” has upgraded to a space at Stage 773 and continues to consistently draw enthusiastic crowds. And, though the show certainly has its moments, I can’t say I completely understand what the draw is. The majority of the jokes fall flat, with the actors unsure if they are playing it campy, as a parody or just straight-up comedically and, of the nearly twenty songs in the show (with music performed by a muted live band in the back of the theater), only a few of them are genuinely catchy and memorable. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Audience Annihilated Part Two: Gold Star Sticker/Dream Theatre Company

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audienceannihilatedLet’s start with this: I’m not one to make sweeping statements, but “Audience Annihilated Part Two: Gold Star Sticker, ” in all its brief but intense fifteen-minute glory, is easily the scariest play (if that’s what this show could be classified as) I’ve ever attended. I’d like to leave it at that and let you discover the rest for yourself (which any fan of a good, solid scare should do immediately), but perhaps a bit more information is necessary.

There are haunted houses. There are horror plays. And in the twisted space between the two there’s Dream Theatre’s truly disturbing “Audience Annihilated” concept, in which you, the audience member, sit passively in the midst of a terrifying world that rapidly unravels around you. In 2011, with “Audience Annihilated Part One: Women Only Train,” writer/director Jeremy Menekseoglu tested the waters of this haunted house/horror play mashup, creating a world in which an American waiting for a late-night train was sucked into a violent and gory underworld. And while “Part One” was indeed frightening, “Part Two,” in which the concept has been tightened and perfected, is disturbing on a whole other level. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: All Girl Frankenstein/The Chicago Mammals

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Photo by Bob Fisher

Photo: Bob Fisher


The Chicago Mammal’s “All Girl Frankenstein” is more akin to sculpture, film, dance, performance art or poetry than strictly narrative-based theater. But, as a Rorschach test of an idea filtered through the highly stylized sets, costumes and sound design of the Mammals’ vigorously creative ensemble, “AGF” is a strangely affecting piece of art. And, though the experience is in fact highly theatrical, AGF owes a great debt to film and the notions of manipulating time through editing as well as the stylized and strategic use of sound design.

In fact, “AGF” is not so much an adaption of “Frankenstein” as it is an evisceration, dissection and celebration of particular themes: sex, death, creation, unrequited love, filial and family duty, and yes, prurience, extracted from the original text and then grafted onto other theatrical forms such as commedia dell’arte, dance, film and perhaps even Butoh to create a loose and highly original riff on the seminal Victorian text. Such creative bricolage is a hallmark of what could be considered postmodern. But The Mammals seem far less concerned with classification and more interested in exploring—and even indulging (by their own admission)—what they enjoy, as opposed to creating anything immediately artistically classifiable.

And I’m not quite sure I could classify this if I tried. But I do know that I liked it.       Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Book of Spectres/Grey Ghost Theatre

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Photo by Alan Callaghan

Photo: Alan Callaghan

‘Tis the season for gothic tales and Grey Ghost Theatre obliges with Evan Chung’s original adaptation  of “The Book of Spectres.”  These ancient tales were originally anthologized in the early nineteenth century in “Das Gespensterbuch” (“The Book of Spectres”) by German authors Johann August Apel and Friedrich August Schulze.  Legend has it that the stories were revived and revised on a dark and stormy night by Romantic literary notables Lord Byron, his physician Dr. John Polidori, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft and her half sister Claire Clairmont, as they read them out loud to each other in the Villa Diodati.

The legendary fallout from this infamous encounter includes Byron’s jilting of the pregnant Claire Clairmont, the suicide of Shelley’s wife and daughter, the eventual marriage of Shelley to Wollstonecraft and the subsequent publication of Mary Shelley’s feminist gothic screed “Frankenstein.”  Read the rest of this entry »