Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: For Her as a Piano/Pegasus Theatre Chicago

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Piano-2

Nadirah Bost, Nicole Michelle Haskins, Camille Robinson, Monette McLin, Toni Lynice Fountain and DuShon M. Brown/Photo: Emily Schwartz

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The strings that tie mothers to daughters are knotted, twisted and forever looping. Severing those strings is an impossible feat, though many spend their lives trying. Untangling the relationships, on the other hand, is a lifetime endeavor and any daughter willing to make the effort is rewarded with the self-knowledge and agency that allows her to act rather than to react. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Yellow Eyes/Visión Latino Theatre Company

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Vision Latino - Yellow EyesStorefront theaters vary wildly in professionalism from place to place, and when a curtain call concludes with the director getting onstage and introducing his mother, grandparents and music teacher—all present in the audience—there are two routes a critic can take. The first would be to dismiss the display as amateur, drawing a connection between the nervous curtain speech and the ramshackle set design to form an opinion on the production. The second would be to take in the context: this is the first production by the newly formed Visión Latino Theatre Company, the speaker is artistic director and co-founder Xavier Custodio, and the play in question is his child, of sorts. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Mecca Tales/Chicago Dramatists

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After a one-year production hiatus, Chicago Dramatists returns with a compelling and important world premiere penned by Rohina Malik, “The Mecca Tales.” Four American Muslim women of diverse backgrounds embark on their first pilgrimage to Mecca, known as the Hajj, led by another, more experienced woman of a similar background. It’s a trying experience, both physically as the desert and huge crowds throw up obstacles to their journey, as well as spiritually, as they attempt to come to terms with their reasons for undertaking it.

Spun in a manner reminiscent of Mary Zimmerman’s masterful “The Arabian Nights,” but with stories more relevant and contemporary, Malik has managed to do something quite challenging: that is to take a religion and its customs, practiced by billions worldwide but misunderstood by millions of Americans, and convey its beauty and the deep spirituality of its followers in a subtle but powerful way to what is likely a primarily secular white Judeo-Christian audience. Read the rest of this entry »

News: Chicago Dramatists Artistic Director Russ Tutterow Steps Down

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Russ Tutterow

Russ Tutterow

On February 3, Chicago Dramatists announced that long-time Artistic Director Russ Tutterow was stepping down. Tutterow has held the role for thirty years and helped shepherd hundreds of new works to the stage. He will be replaced, on an interim basis, by Meghan Beals, who previously served as the company’s Associate Artistic Director from 2010 to 2012.

Tutterow, who had been on medical leave since August of last year, will be moving into the role of Artistic Director Emeritus and will continue to work with the theater in a consultative capacity.

Chicago Dramatists is the only theater institution in the city dedicated solely to both the development and producing of new plays. Under Tutterow’s leadership, the company grew from a small cohort of playwrights in 1979 to a network of more than 150 today, with its Resident Playwright program providing a home for numerous Chicago playwrights.

Tutterow said in a prepared statement, “For more than three decades, Chicago Dramatists has been a place I call home and it will continue to be as I move into an emeritus role. As I pass the torch to Meghan, I’m excited about the direction our organization is taking in blending the traditions that made us successful with a pioneer approach that will take our work into the future.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: HoliDaze/Step Up Productions

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(l to r) Jillian Burfete,      Tina Muñoz Pandya, Celeste M. Cooper, Damon Williams and Luce Metrius/Photo: Liz Lauren.

Jillian Burfete, Tina Muñoz Pandya, Celeste M. Cooper, Damon Williams and Luce Metrius/Photo: Liz Lauren

On my way to the theater I noticed the red-and-green lights burning Christmasy atop the Hancock and her sister-skyscrapers; maybe this caused me to feel a little Grinchy. Maybe my fingers were nervously drumming because I already knew the 110-minute evening was to be presented without intermission in a space where it was impossible to exit without crossing directly in front of the stage, leaving me to carefully consider my fluid intake. Or maybe I was just February-cold in November and it caused my heart to shrink two sizes. But whatever the reason, I found myself unable to make the “connection” to Step Up Productions’ theatrical Christmas card proposed by artistic director Elizabeth Antonucci’s program notes. Six musings billed as one-acts played as rehearsed skits, little moments of character and situation that could have fed on audience reaction and floated on improvisation, but instead suffered the cement shoes of over-scripting. 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 »

Review: Homecoming 1972/Chicago Dramatists

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Photo: Jeff Pines

Photo: Jeff Pines

The story of the solider returning home from war is as ancient as Odysseus and as contemporary as the evening news. The specifics may vary, but the central conceit of the Greek legend is the same as William Wyler’s “The Best Years of Our Lives”: a man leaves home one person and returns home another, having undergone, for better or for worse, a transformation. And for millennia, the change was newfound honor and valor reflecting chivalrous or not-so-chivalrous bravery. Being the hometown personification of war, the solider was a hero. Read the rest of this entry »

The Players 2013: The 50 People Who Really Perform in Chicago

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PLAYERSThough we publish a list of “players” every year, we alternate between those whose accomplishments are most visible on-stage (the artists, last year) and those who wield their influence behind the curtain (this year). Not only does this allow us to consider twice as many people, but it also puts some temporal distance between the lists. So, the last time we visited this cast of characters, two years ago, we were celebrating the end of the Richard M. Daley years in Chicago, fretting over a nation seemingly in the mood for a Tea Party and contemplating the possibility of a Latter Day Saint in the White House. Today, we’ve got a dancer in the mayor’s office, the most prominent Mormons are in a chorus line at the Bank of America Theatre and the Tea Cup runneth dry. Call us cockeyed optimists, but things sure look better from here. And so, meet the folks who, today, bring us the best theater, dance, comedy and opera in the nation.

Written by Zach Freeman, Brian Hieggelke, Sharon Hoyer and Johnny Oleksinski
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Review: Freshly Fallen Snow/Chicago Dramatists

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Ann Whitney, Abu Ansari, Mildred Langford, Michael McKeogh and Kelly O’Sullivan

I’ve little patience for dramas that paint scientists, mathematicians, and the like as cold, unfeeling androids. Such an empty storytelling approach is too uninspired and dishonest to reflect a relatable human struggle worth watching. Frequently the emotionless monsters, holed up in their laboratories, noses buried in textbooks, force out unearned sympathy via some debilitating disease or the sorrowful-but-manipulative deterioration of a loved one. It’s a contrived theatrical formula that has been stretched to its limit time and again by plays like David Auburn’s “Proof,” Moises Kaufman’s “33 Variations,” and now, M.E.H. Lewis’ heavy-handed new work, “Freshly Fallen Snow,” which opened on Friday night at Chicago Dramatists. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: A Steady Rain/Chicago Commercial Collective

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Peter DeFaria as Joey and Randy Steinmeyer as Denny/Photo: Jeff Pines

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As many productions as  I see, in a theater  community as fertile as Chicago, I still miss many. And sometimes I miss shows that blow up with critical and audience acclaim, to my never-ending dismay. I did not see, for example, “The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity” at Victory Gardens, “An Iliad” at Court or even “August: Osage County” when it debuted at Steppenwolf. And many many other shows like these over the years. Fortunately, I’m going to get a second chance with some, thanks to the emergence of the Chicago Commercial Collective (CCC), a new company of local producers who hope to bridge the gap between Chicago’s mostly nonprofit theater world and the high-end, import-centric nature of the city’s top for-profit producer, Broadway In Chicago. Most nonprofits operate on a subscription-oriented season schedule which means even their biggest hits can often be extended just a week. CCC hopes to help these shows reach their fullest audience. Read the rest of this entry »