Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: In A Garden/A Red Orchid Theatre

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Photo: Michael Brosilow

Photo: Michael Brosilow

There’s realism and there’s allegory. And “In A Garden, ” playwright and screenwriter Howard Korder’s discourse on beauty, culture and nationalism, falls somewhere in between. Unfortunately, it mostly falls into the gulf that separates the two.

Hackett (Lawrence Grimm), a young architect with a promising career consisting of good press and a number of medium-sized projects underway, arrives in the fictional Middle Eastern country of Aquaat to meet with the friendly but snaky Minister of Culture Othman (Rom Barkhordar) to discuss a new project for the Aquaati government. And after three days of frustrating delay and roundabout conversation, Othman finally details what he’s looking for: a summer house. Or maybe a gazebo. Or maybe they’re the same thing.

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The Players 2012: The Fifty People Who Really Perform in Chicago

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Darren Criss (#4) with Team StarKid

With our criteria shifted back to artistic accomplishment in theater, dance, comedy and opera this year, our task got infinitely tougher. Because while the number of performing venues grows at a steady rate, the increase in the number of noteworthy artists seems to grow exponentially. For everyone we name on the list below, we had to leave off five, an embarrassment of riches for Chicago. We made a conscious effort to introduce a meaningful number of new faces to the list this year; the necessary absences should not be construed as a loss of worthiness as a consequence. We often find trends when we do the research these lists require; this year we’re starting to see a more meaningful effort to redefine performance itself in the internet age, from the runaway success of StarKids, to the more calculated endeavors of Silk Road. So what defines a “player”? Consider it some complex stew of career achievement, recent “heat” and, in some cases, rising stardom.

Written by Zach Freeman, Brian Hieggelke, Sharon Hoyer and Dennis Polkow

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A Red Orchid announces 2011-2012 season

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Here’s the press release from A Red Orchid:

Please join us for our 2011-2012 Season!

Recently touted as Chicago’s best theatre by Chicago Magazine, A Red Orchid invites you to Join us for our 19th fearless season. Featuring existential terror, skewed family values, a mysterious co-worker, bad manners, tangled love, creative angst, a world in revolt, and a butcher with a secret…you are sure to laugh uproariously even as you gasp in astonishment.  With three pitch-black comedies, a World Premiere and a Chicago Premiere, you won’t want to miss a single show!   Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Mandrake/A Red Orchid Theatre

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Steve Haggard, Lance Baker/Photo: Michael Brosilow


The manic Callimaco (Steve Haggard) wishes nothing more than to share a bed with the alluring wife of the wealthy but witless Messer Nichia (Doug Vickers). Luckily he’s purchased the services of the mischievous Ligurgio (Lance Baker) to help him meet his goal. “Watch carefully, for you will not get another explanation,” the delightfully devious Ligurgio commands the audience before taking center stage in the series of underhanded dealings captured in Peter Constantine’s clever translation of Niccolo Machiavelli’s sixteenth-century satire “The Mandrake.” Director Steve Scott has a scene-stealing cast, and the lack of props and austerity of the set speaks to his (warranted) reliance on them to sell the story. Early on, Ligurgio, in his role as narrator, offers a glass of wine to any audience member who professes to be unamused by the comedically elaborate plotting; that glass will likely go undrunk for the show’s entire run. (Zach Freeman)

A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 North Wells, (312)943-8722. Through May 22.

Review: Abigail’s Party/A Red Orchid Theatre

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Natalie West, Kirsten FitzgeraldThere’s nothing new here: in a satire of middle-class social life, a group of English suburbanites get sloshed at a cocktail party, grope each other, fight with their spouses, and listen to terrible music. The play grew out of improvisation by actors in the original 1977 production,  and while the cultural and stylistic datedness of the work is fun, it’s unfocused as a series of jokes rather than a coherent theater piece. The gags are predictable from a mile away, and the narrative as a whole seems to drag from one somewhat contrived  scene to another (a cuckolded husband trying to talk about art while his wife seduces a sleazy ex-professional soccer player), as characters get drunker and drunker and lurch toward an inevitable farcical tragedy. Social commentary about relationships and petty ambition comes through, but it’s dated in a way that keeps it from feeling relevant, such as a brief discussion of the neighborhood becoming “mixed.” What saves the show is the acting; Kirsten Fitzgerald in particular as the materialistic bulldozer of a hostess adds a much-needed level of sharpness. As a vehicle for astute comic actors to play off of each other, it’s an amusing time, but like a bad party, the show goes on just a bit too long. (Monica Westin)

At A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells, (312)943-8722. Through May 23.

The Players 2010: The 50 people who really perform for Chicago

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Tara DeFrancisco, No. 36

Tara DeFrancisco, No. 36

In this town of performers—theater makers, dancers, comedy creators—you’d think it’d be pretty easy to assemble a list of artistic influencers and innovators. And it is. The challenge is paring that list down to a mere fifty. It’s a testament to the wonders of the performing-arts culture in Chicago that we easily came up with about 200 names when we set out to create this year’s version of The Players. Unfortunately, we’re only listing a fraction of those worthy of your attention, but that’s the problem with an abundance of riches. Hopefully you’ll see a handful of recognizable names and a whole lot more you’ll start noticing from this point on. We’ve retooled the criteria for this year, focusing on onstage artistic achievement, rather than the backstage influence of artistic directors, executive directors and the like—who will get their day again next year. Let the arguments begin. Read the rest of this entry »

Newcity’s Top 5 of Everything 2009: Stage

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Top 5 ShowsDESIRE_01_jpg_595x325_crop_upscale_q85
“Desire Under the Elms,” Goodman
“Blackbird,” Victory Gardens
“South Pacific,” Lincoln Center Theater
“The Tempest,” Steppenwolf
“Spring Awakening,” Broadway In Chicago 
—Brian Hieggelke

Top 5 Shows
“The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity,” Victory Gardens/Teatro Vista
“An Apology For the Course and Outcome of Certain Events Delivered by Doctor John Faustus on This His Final Evening,” Theater Oobleck
“The Pillowman,” Redtwist
“Frat,” The New Colony
“Red Noses,” Strawdog
—Nina Metz Read the rest of this entry »

End of the Zeroes: Theater in Chicago, 2000-2009

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Photo: Samuel Adams

The Addams Family at The Oriental/Photo: Samuel Adams

By Brian Hieggelke

As the wind blows the snow sideways this December evening, the weatherman is telling Chicagoans to stay bunkered; the deserted downtown streets reflect their obedience. All save the sidewalk near the intersection of State and Randolph, as TV crews jockey for faces on the red carpet in front of the Ford Center for the Performing Arts Oriental Theatre, where more than 2,000 patrons, including a who’s who of backstage Broadway, are gathering for the world premiere of a new musical featuring a AAA list of talent, onstage and off. “The Addams Family,” with multiple Tony winners Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth in its leads, a book from the librettists of “Jersey Boys” and so on, is certainly Broadway bound, but tonight—tonight—Chicago is the center of theater in the world.

That’s the story of Chicago theater in the zeroes: the decade in which it grew up and got big. Whether it’s the launch and monumental success of Broadway In Chicago, the maturation and astonishing quality of a remarkable number of small and mid-sized companies or the increasing demand for Chicago product and Chicago talent on Broadway, Chicago theater has fully come into its own. Read the rest of this entry »

End of the Zeroes: Greatest Hits of the Decade

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Peter DeFaria and Randy Steinmeyer in "A Steady Rain" at Chicago Dramatists

Peter DeFaria and Randy Steinmeyer in "A Steady Rain" at Chicago Dramatists

Annoyance Theatre
Coed Prison Sluts: $64,000, 5,380 people

The Artistic Home
Peer Gynt: $19,044 box office, 1,200 people

Chicago Dramatists
A Steady Rain: $21,000 box office,1,500 people at CD, 10,000 at Royal George Theatre
Cadillac: $23,000 box office,1,600 people at CD, 1,500 at Theatre on the Lake

The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow, $150,000 box office, 6,500 people Read the rest of this entry »

End of the Zeroes: Operating Budgets Then and Now

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The 2006/07 season brought the grand opening of the new Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, following more than $11 million in renovations

The 2006/07 season brought the grand opening of the new Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, following more than $11 million in renovations

Annoyance Theatre (founded 1987)
“We don’t really have a regular operating budget—just plan as we go along.”
—Jennifer Estlin, President, Annoyance Theatre

The Artistic Home (founded 1998)
End of nineties: $62,000
End of zeroes: $164,500

Bailiwick Chicago (founded 2009)
End of nineties: N/A (Bailiwick Repertory is now defunct)
End of zeroes: $120,000 projected 2010

Chicago Dramatists (founded 1979)
End of nineties: $171,000
End of zeroes: $550,000

Collaboraction (founded 1996)
End of nineties: $50,000
End of zeroes: $500,000

Court Theatre (founded 1955)
End of nineties: $2.6 million
End of zeroes: $3.2 million Read the rest of this entry »