Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: 3 Sisters/Theatre Y

Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
Melissa Lorraine, Kevlyn Hayes and Katie Stimpson/Photo: Devein Enarson

Melissa Lorraine, Kevlyn Hayes and Katie Stimpson/Photo: Devein Enarson

Theatre Y’s “3 Sisters” is both a continuation and adaptation of Chekhov’s play of the same name. Despite beginning at the end, we’re thrust right back into the original, albeit with all characters (apart from the sisters) physically absent though not gone. The stage, with its furniture shrouded in blue cloth, evokes a home so far gone that love and life can only be recalled through muscle memory or, as the adapters would like you to believe, by re-performing actions. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Stupid Fucking Bird/Sideshow Theatre Company

Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
Cody Proctor and Nina O'Keefe

Cody Proctor and Nina O’Keefe/Photo: DEF

RECOMMENDED

Something tells me old Anton might have rather enjoyed “Stupid Fucking Bird” if his body had aged as well as his work. Sideshow Theatre Company’s lofty yet godless (re)vision of “The Seagull” is particularly Chekhovian in its absolute conviction of its own pointlessness, lending this one-year-out remount a certain unimpeachable and pitch-perfect irony.

The play is achingly heartfelt and hysterically funny, often simultaneously. Toward the end of the first act, each character is allowed to trump dramatic convention by telling the audience exactly what they want. While most desires are in line with their origin characters—love, admiration, fame, sex—Uncle Sorn (a wonderfully unhurried Norm Woodel) proclaims to want just a hug. “A hug that lasts a month,” he adds melancholically. In an ambitious work full of grand gestures and cutting swipes at grand gestures, it is small moments such as these that key us into the profound subtlety of playwright Aaron Posner’s adaptation.   Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike/Goodman Theatre

Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
Mary Beth Fisher , Ross Lehman, Jordan Brown and Janet Ulrich Brooks/Photo: Liz Lauren

Mary Beth Fisher , Ross Lehman, Jordan Brown and Janet Ulrich Brooks/Photo: Liz Lauren

RECOMMENDED

The opening moments of “Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike” are pure Chekhov. A brother and sister sit in their country home staring at a pond, hoping to see a blue heron and marinating in their regrets. Then the sister propositions her (adopted) brother, their Jamaican housekeeper shows up shouting disturbing prophecies and pretty soon a half-naked movie actor is dancing around for all to see. That’s when you remember that this isn’t Chekhov. This is Christopher Durang doing Chekhov. Instead of “I’m a seagull,” it’s “I’m a wild turkey.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Three Sisters/The Hypocrites

Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
(l to r) Lindsey Gavel,      Joel Ewing, Mary Williamson and Hilary Williams/Photo: Evan Hanover

Lindsey Gavel, Joel Ewing, Mary Williamson and Hilary Williams/Photo: Evan Hanover

RECOMMENDED

In college, the old adage goes: sleep, work, social life; choose two. For Anton Chekhov, a similarly triangular logic exists: happiness, knowledge, safety; choose two and constantly long for the third. Or better yet: choose all three, believe they are within your grasp, discover how wrong you were, become disillusioned, find an adequately expressive metaphor, sink into existential grief.

The Hypocrites adaptation of “Three Sisters” aims to bring Chekhov to a generation of “Downton Abbey” viewers. It is an honorable task that the company is more than equipped to handle. There are moments of audience-baiting—a casual “whatever” or two gets dropped—though things mostly stick to the script. There is a wedding, a fire, a couple of affairs and a duel, all of which take place offstage. Like a decadent feast, the real story takes place in the kitchen, not the dining room.

Naturally, this is Chekhov’s prerogative. Given the atmospheric nature of “Three Sisters,” the challenge is in staging. Director Geoff Button is undeniably talented in this regard. While the period and tableau may require rigidity, his actors remain fluid and graceful. They work harmoniously toward the play’s delightful anticlimax and dour conception of life constantly on the cusp of truly beginning. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: That Hopey Changey Thing/TimeLine Theatre Company

Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
(l to r) Mechelle Moe,      Mike Nussbaum, Janet Ulrich Brooks and Juliet Hart/Photo: Lara Goetsch

Mechelle Moe, Mike Nussbaum, Janet Ulrich Brooks and Juliet Hart/Photo: Lara Goetsch

RECOMMENDED

In his funny, wise family drama set in Rhinebeck, New York, playwright Richard Nelson blends Dreiser’s naturalism with Chekhov’s impressionistic allusiveness to show us that politics and open family secrets resist honest discussion as firmly as they did in the 1890s, when Chekhov sketched the charm, the disillusionment, the irrelevance of the Russian upper classes. Listening to the intelligent, frustrated Apple family discuss endlessly and hopelessly the American political stalemate of the last seven years, one can’t help wondering, are we doomed to repeat the fate of the Russian rural gentry?

In place of real conversation, Nelson seems to say, in place of informed judgments tempered by the study of history and by ideals of civilized discourse, instead of wisdom founded on reading and reflection (the only thing that sparks “innovation”), we liberals offer ideas just as conventional, poses just as self-indulgent and self-righteous, formulas just as dead, as the prattle of the super-patriots on the other end of the political spectrum.

Nelson gives his audience a tough mouthful to swallow. We’ve all abused Sarah Palin, whose words inspired the title of Nelson’s drama. Yes, Palin cultivates a truculent, insolent ignorance that begs opponents to despise her, but that’s no excuse. Nelson deftly turned my ears red with embarrassment. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Stupid Fucking Bird/Sideshow Theatre

Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
Nina O'Keefe/Photo: Jonathan L. Green

Nina O’Keefe (center) /Photo: Jonathan L. Green

RECOMMENDED

In a way Chekhov is a lot like Nirvana, in that it’s really easy to forget how great he was when you’ve been inundated with a century of increasingly pale imitations. If Chekhov’s “The Seagull” were considered his “Nevermind,” then Donald Margulies’ “Dinner With Friends” would be Creed’s “HumanClay.” Yet in “The Seagull,” Chekhov’s tragic/comic/foolish/wise/heroic/cowardly (alright, alright Chekhovian) protagonist Konstantin fantasizes about new forms of theater, ones that will shake off the dusty old retreads and lead audiences into a brave new tomorrow. So it’s only fitting that playwright Aaron Posner has chosen “The Seagull” for the funny, heartbreaking, fourth-wall battering post-punk manifesto that is his play “Stupid Fucking Bird.” And happily for both Posner and local audiences alike, Sideshow Theatre Company has given the show a breathless (as in “Breathless”) Chicago premiere.

The play itself is sometimes a little hard to describe in that it simultaneously is “The Seagull” and is not. The characters are all in place (with one notable consolidation) and the story follows the original to a tee… except when it doesn’t. However, the dialogue is all original and Posner creates a number of gorgeous original exchanges, except when he’s directly riffing on the original with smart-ass lines like “Because it’s slimming.” The best way to summarize it is that Posner uses “The Seagull” the way a child uses a Power Rangers action figure to concoct his own original story. He uses it to ask what the hell is wrong with our theater and, by extension, what the hell is wrong with us. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Kokkola/Akvavit Theatre

Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

Finnish playwright, director and actress Leea Klemola has been causing quite a stir as a founding member of Helsinki’s Aurinko (Sun) Theatre since the mid-1990s, where many of her incendiary and groundbreaking productions were first produced. Using her celebrity as a popular film actress that had won Finland’s highest acting award, the Jussi, for her starring turn in 1997’s “Neitoperho” to garner attention as a cutting-edge playwright and director, Klemola has written and directed works that manage to be simultaneously provocative and popular. Her 2004 play “Kokkola”—the first in what has thus far been a triptych of “arctic tragedies” partially co-written with her brother and actor Klaus Klemola—is receiving its American premiere by the Chicago-based Akvavit Theatre, a young company which devotes itself to presenting contemporary Nordic plays. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Three Sisters/Steppenwolf Theatre

Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

In the wake of two new high-profile adaptations of Anton Chekhov’s classic plays by playwrights Sarah Ruhl and Annie Baker, Steppenwolf Theatre Company has wrought its own homegrown version of “The Three Sisters” by “August: Osage County” scribe Tracy Letts. And, for months, Letts’ turn has been the talk of the town.

Chicago, being familiar with Letts’ coarser indulgences, “Killer Joe” and “Bug,” has been swept up in a whirlwind of understandable curiosity over how the violent playwright would interpret Chekhov’s renowned verbal eloquence. Outside the theater, smooth-talking gamblers could be heard taking bets on the possible number of expletives in Mr. Letts’ Act One. Well, not really. But that’s a close approximation of the community hubbub. Rejoice, Letts fans! Now, the ever-rebellious Masha exclaims “Life sucks, so let’s live it up!” at the dinner table. But Chekhov scholars, rest assured that this predominantly standard production will not shock your delicate samovar-loving sensibilities. I promise. Read the rest of this entry »

Piccolo Theatre announces 2011-2012 season

Season Announcements, Theater No Comments »

Here’s the press release from Piccolo Theatre:

Piccolo Theatre Announces:
2011-2012 Season

Evanston – Piccolo Theatre announces a hilarious and exciting line-up for their 2011-2012 season.  Following a triumphant and laughter-filled 10th Anniversary Season, Piccolo Theatre Artistic Director John Szostek has the Piccolo Ensemble back on the boards for two brilliantly funny classics and an original Holiday Panto. Piccolo Theatre welcomes back playwright Jessica Puller who has penned her third crazier-than-ever Panto, now in its eighth year as a family holiday tradition.  Read the rest of this entry »

Review: El Nogalar/Goodman Theatre and Teatro Vista

Recommended Shows, Theater Reviews, World Premiere No Comments »

Photo: Eric Y. Exit

RECOMMENDED

The United States’ long-troubled relationship with its southern border state tends to paint much of our perception of Mexico in simple black-and-white tones. Tanya Saracho’s reworking of Chekhov’s “The Cherry Orchard” as “El Nogalar” (The Pecan Orchard) crafts a more complex and colorful picture of a nation not only in a constant struggle to come to terms with its neighbor to the north, for sure, but also with its own troubled past and present. A clever idea, this, taking such a familiar work, so European in its themes of class and family, and setting it in Latin America where European colonizers long ago exported their notions of landed gentry, class discrimination and violent conquest.

The matriarch, Maité (played with vivacious abandon by Charín Alvarez), has returned from a self-imposed exile, along with her Americanized younger daughter Anita (energetically played by Christina Nieves), to her family’s ancestral home in northern Mexico, where her older daughter Valeria (earnestly played by Sandra Delgado) wages a losing battle to hold on in the face of an evaporating fortune and, more ominously, the violent threats of the Mexican “mafia.” Saracho’s innovations here,  in a crackling and funny script augmented by the creative direction of Cecilie D. Keenan, include a clever way of blending English, Spanish, Spanglish and Espanglés that in itself hints at the complexity of modern Mexican life. And Brian Sidney Bembridge’s set, an exquisite dollhouse in an orchard, establishes the unreal fantasy of the family’s notion of its place in the world before a word is spoken. Read the rest of this entry »