Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: Sender/A Red Orchid Theatre

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Mary Williamson/Photo: Michael Brosilow

Mary Williamson/Photo: Michael Brosilow

Currently receiving its world premiere at A Red Orchid, Ike Holter’s “Sender” scrapes the bottom of the millennial barrel for inspiration. What it dredges up is grody and a shade despicable. Selfish, indulgent, vampiric and tragically hip, his characters certainly deserve each other. And yet, if the play’s second half is any indication, Holter and company have real affection for this collection of heedless deadbeats. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Hazel, A Musical Maid in America/Drury Lane Theatre

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Tyler Martin, Casey Lyons, Ava Morse/Photo: Brett Beiner

Tyler Martin, Casey Lyons and Ava Morse/Photo: Brett Beiner

RECOMMENDED

Hazel, that spunky maid with more heart than tact, was first introduced to the public as a single-panel cartoon in 1943. Immensely popular, the cartoon later became a sitcom starring Shirley Booth. The latest incarnation of Hazel, a world-premiere musical, opens Drury Lane’s 2016-17 season and is set in the mid-sixties. This “Hazel” focuses on the titular character’s entry into the Baxter household.

The Baxter’s need for a maid stems from Mrs. Baxter’s decision to enter the workforce. Mr. Baxter, in turn, would prefer that the missus stay home. His feelings echo the general insecurity of men at a time when they discovered it was no longer exclusively their right to wear the pants in the relationship.  Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Hillary and Clinton/Victory Gardens Theater

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John Apicella and Cheryl Lynn Bruce/Photo: Michael Courier

John Apicella and Cheryl Lynn Bruce/Photo: Michael Courier

When you write and stage a play about famous people, you’re taking a big gamble. Your audiences will not only expect the usual strong storytelling of any good drama but also demand authenticity, a sense that the story’s characters are at least somewhat like their publicly perceived selves. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Mary Page Marlowe/Steppenwolf Theatre Company

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Caroline Heffernan and Amanda Drinkall/Photo: Michael Brosilow

Caroline Heffernan and Amanda Drinkall/Photo: Michael Brosilow

RECOMMENDED

The quality that has solidified Tracy Letts’ reputation as a contemporary playwriting master is his unwillingness to be put into a literary box. From his debut play “Killer Joe” and the Tony Award-winning “August: Osage County” to his intimate slice of Uptown life in “Superior Donuts,” Letts’ body of work defies categorization. His newest play, “Mary Page Marlowe” in its world premiere at Steppenwolf, is no different.

Letts’ concept in “Mary Page Marlowe” is itself innovative. One-act plays rarely have such large ensemble casts, let alone multiple actors playing the title character. Here we have six. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: United Flight 232/The House Theatre of Chicago

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Alice da Cunha, James Doherty, Elana Elyce and Michael E Martin/Photo: Michael Brosilow

Alice da Cunha, James Doherty, Elana Elyce and Michael E. Martin/Photo: Michael Brosilow

RECOMMENDED

I wasn’t always afraid of flying. It happened somewhere in my late teens or early twenties. All of a sudden, a trip to the airport was accompanied by an intense sensation of dread. To explain it, I would half-jokingly blame my phobia on “United 93,” the Paul Greengrass movie about the September 11 hijackings, which ends with a horrifying view from the cockpit as the titular plane hurtles toward the earth. Needless to say, I don’t watch airplane-centered movies anymore. So when I heard that The House Theatre was going to do a show about a plane crash, I knew I was going to steel myself. What I didn’t know was just how understated and graceful that production would be or how it would fill me not with dread but with hope. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: D.O.A./Strawdog Theatre Company

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Kelsey Shipley and Mickey O'Sullivan/Photo: Tom McGrath

Kelsey Shipley and Mickey O’Sullivan/Photo: Tom McGrath

RECOMMENDED

Film noir is a stubborn genre, one that refuses to ever go completely out of style. From “Breathless” to “Inherent Vice,” the best of modern noir tends to have at least one tongue discreetly planted in its cheek. Known for its frequent location changes, shadowy aesthetic and exposition-laden storytelling, you’d be forgiven for thinking that noir wouldn’t translate well to the stage. Enter: Strawdog’s Hugen Hall, a space whose modus operandi seems to be the challenging of what can and can’t be staged. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Mai Dang Lao/Sideshow Theatre Company

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Andrew Goetten, Sarah Price and Matt Fletcher/Photo: Jonathan L. Green.

Andrew Goetten, Sarah Price and Matt Fletcher/Photo: Jonathan L. Green

RECOMMENDED

A grease of misery pervades the fast-food industry—the ceaseless cycle of uniformly geometric machine-molded meat simulants over the grill in a world where parallelepiped potatoes are the only vegetation and the anticipated sympathy of the outside world manifests as a shrill drone of unreasonable demands. The only reward for superior performance is the satisfaction of internally proposed metrics of no inherent importance: the fastness of fast food, as it were. Sideshow Theatre Company’s premiere of David Jacobi’s “Mai Dang Lao” (Chinese for “McDonald’s,” if you didn’t know) encapsulates the latent and undisguised frustration of such a world, offering an artificially enhanced (and therefore harshly accurate) taste of everything but the nauseating stench of the deep fryer in a brisk eighty minutes that combines the claustrophobia of “Huis Clos” with the desperation of “Clockwatchers.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Rolling/Jackalope Theatre Company

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Dana Black and Abby Pierce/Photo: Joel Maisonet

Dana Black and Abby Pierce/Photo: Joel Maisonet

Early on in “Rolling,” jilted journalist Valerie digs at Sarah Koenig, beloved creator of “Serial.” While at first it seems like a put-on, as we spend more time with Val the jab begins to make sense. Through “Serial,” Koenig invited her own persona into her profession, a pursuit better known for objectivity and selflessness than celebrity. It’s not difficult to imagine her meteoric rise to populist notoriety being a source of frustration for legions of in-the-trenches journalists. Yet by the end of the play, Val has rescinded her earlier critiques of Koenig. This inexplicable change of heart is a fine but frustrating illustration of the contradictions that defines this problematic play. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: 2666/Goodman Theatre

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Henry Godinez/Photo: Liz Lauren

Henry Godinez/Photo: Liz Lauren

RECOMMENDED

“2666” is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. That much I can promise. Beyond its gargantuan run time—which will be plenty of reason to put some out but also just enough to entice others in—this adaptation of Chilean poet and novelist Roberto Bolaño’s posthumously published, unfinished novel is the most challenging and rewarding theatrical event currently happening in our city. 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 »