Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: Pop Waits/The Neo-Futurists

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Molly Brennan and Malic White/Photo: Joe Mazza @ Brave Lux

Molly Brennan and Malic White/Photo: Joe Mazza-Brave Lux

RECOMMENDED

Iggy Pop. Tom Waits. Two musicians whose only direct connection is Jim Jarmusch’s cult classic “Coffee and Cigarettes.” And yet they have plenty in common as icons of creativity and persona. Through their work they have encouraged listeners of all ages to tear it up and let it go in thought and in deed. Two such fans that have taken their lessons fully to heart? Molly Brennan and Malic White. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Mutt/Stage Left Theatre and Red Tape Theatre

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Daniel Smith and Mary Williamson/Photo: Tom McGrath.

Daniel Smith and Mary Williamson/Photo: Tom McGrath

RECOMMENDED

It’s hard to say anything about anything especially if you’re trying to say something without offending anyone. Taking aim at the media machine that filters out crazy-making gobbledygook, “Mutt,” a Stage Left and Red Tape collaboration, skewers the politeness—stemming from each party’s intense desire for race to be a non-issue—that keeps the national conversation about race in such shallow shoals. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: American Buffalo/Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company

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Richard Cotovsky, Stephen Walker and Rudy Galvan/Photo: Michael Brosilow

Richard Cotovsky, Stephen Walker and Rudy Galvan/Photo: Michael Brosilow

RECOMMENDED

A junk shop: an assemblage of bric-a-brac, objects not all broken but beyond their first use—typewriters, two-headed ceramic aliens and toasters as well as other kitsch and fixer-uppers. Such a setting lays out the residue of human wishes, just as a theater shop accumulates the residue of its productions. It’s as the thick jumble of Don’s Resale Shop that Angel Island ends nearly three decades housing Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company. Their production of David Mamet’s “American Buffalo” is their last before the unstoppable force of “urban renewal” trades a liquor shop lit like a roadside saloon fifty miles from Vegas and one of Chicago’s longest-standing storefront theaters for condominiums. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Last Defender/The House Theatre of Chicago

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Operations Department/Photo: Johnny Knight

Operations Department/Photo: Johnny Knight

RECOMMENDED

There are two words that can make almost any regular theatergoer flinch: audience participation. The irony is unmistakable. In an art form that lives and dies on vulnerability, our threshold for discomfort is set squarely at the fourth wall. This intolerance is the theatrical equivalent of avoiding eye contact with the petitioners outside your gym. So it inspires great humility and even greater pleasure to report that the most enjoyable show currently playing in Chicago not only encourages participation but requires it. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Body/Courage/Rivendell Theatre Ensemble

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Danielle Pinnock/Photo:

Danielle Pinnock/Photo: Michael Brosilow

RECOMMENDED

Obese. Plus size. Thick. Heavy. Big boned. Curvy. Overweight. Fat.

These are some of the politer words applied to people with bodies that don’t fit into our culture’s slim definition of beauty. Personal preferences aside, it would seem that we have unanimously, though perhaps unknowingly, agreed upon some vaguely tall, skinny, pale version of beauty. And yet how often do we consider the psychological effects and homogenizing implications of this pact? Cast off the island of conventional American beauty standards, Danielle Pinnock created her own life raft in performance. In doing so, she discovered that she was far from alone. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Mothers and Sons/Northlight Theatre

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Benjamin Sprunger, Jeff Parker, Ben Miiller, & Cindy Gold/Photo: Michael Brosilow

Benjamin Sprunger, Jeff Parker, Ben Miller and Cindy Gold/Photo: Michael Brosilow

RECOMMENDED

Memory is dampened by medical advances, giving succor to those who want to believe AIDS is now a manageable disease. With a generation erased, who is left to remember and tell the story? For those who remain, how much do they want to tell? Will their anger, sorrow and, yes, even their guilt allow them to power through? Who tutors subsequent generations of any minority scrambling for human rights about their history and about how much death it can take before a righteous militia insists on liberty? Is the pain that can never be transferred worth the struggle to share? Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Man Who Murdered Sherlock Holmes/Mercury Theater Chicago

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Nick Sandys and Michael Aaron Lindner/Photo: Brett Beiner

Nick Sandys and Michael Aaron Lindner/Photo: Brett Beiner

RECOMMENDED

As this sprightly new musical opens, Arthur Conan Doyle has just committed what his myriad readers see as the ultimate crime: killing off iconic super-sleuth Sherlock Holmes. “He’s been smashed to smithereens/And I don’t care a hill of beans,” flippantly sings the Scottish doctor turned writer, who is sick to death of the fictional construct who has overshadowed every other aspect of his existence. Now Holmes, along with his nemesis Professor Moriarty, lies drowned at the foot of the Reichenbach Falls, so that Doyle can live. What the good doctor fails to reckon with is the objections of his own creation, who materializes from a late-Victorian twilight zone to remonstrate with the writer about his premature demise and, incidentally, to help him solve a real-life mystery. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Le Switch/About Face Theatre

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Collin Quinn Rice and Stephen Cone/Photo: Michael Brosilow

Collin Quinn Rice and Stephen Cone/Photo: Michael Brosilow

RECOMMENDED

For some people it’s about control. For others, simple pleasure. Many find it a chore though they’d rather not admit it. But we all do it. Even Republicans. Especially Republicans.

It’s classification.

Classification is, in many ways, a form of survival. Giving names to things helps us identify what they are and how we should act toward them. It’s how we know to only eat certain kinds of mushrooms or to not wear white to your best friend’s wedding. But classification also comes with negative side effects, too. It can demonstrate relationships but is more frequently used to delineate differences. The boundaries and rules of classification make up the thematic material of Philip Dawkins’ “Le Switch,” which opens About Face Theatre’s twentieth season. Like a brilliant composer, Dawkins takes ostensibly simple material and expands it exquisitely with restraint, counterpoint and, finally, catharsis. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Sunset Baby/TimeLine Theatre Company

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Phillip Edward Van Lear and Anji White/Photo: Lara Goetsch

Phillip Edward Van Lear and Anji White/Photo: Lara Goetsch

RECOMMENDED

There has perhaps never been an artist better capable of expressing the eternal contradictions of hope and oppression than Nina Simone. From the deceptive jaunt of “Mississippi Goddamn”  to the soaring spirit of “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free,” Simone’s confrontations with injustice were often as emotionally unbearable for her as they were inspiring for others. Through her covers, spirituals and original songs, Simone transformed this paradox into a defining characteristic of what it meant to be black in America. Inspired by Simone, Stokely Carmichael, Angela Davis, Huey Newton, bell hooks and the unbroken circle of history, Dominique Morisseau’s “Sunset Baby” is an exquisitely damaged and devastating play about the personal cost of revolution. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Animals Out of Paper/Shattered Globe Theatre

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Awate Serequeberhan and Cortney McKenna/Photo: Michael Brosilow.

Awate Serequeberhan and Cortney McKenna/Photo: Michael Brosilow

RECOMMENDED

Rajiv Joseph’s 2008 play, splendidly revived by Shattered Globe Theatre, manages to make compelling theater out of origami, transforming the ancient Japanese art of paper-folding into a richly extended metaphor for art, life and relationship.

At the heart of the play is esteemed origamist Ilana (played with brittle intensity by Cortney McKenna), whose life has collapsed into bitter isolation. Read the rest of this entry »