Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: Agamemnon/Court Theatre

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(f) Mark Montgomery, Sandra Marquez, (b) Gary Wingert, Thomas Cox, Alfred Wilson, Gabriel Ruiz, Michael Ghantous

Gary Wingert, Thomas Cox, Alfred Wilson, Mark Montgomery, Sandra Marquez, Gabriel Ruiz and Michael Ghantous/Photo: Michael Brosilow

With the holidays descending quickly upon us, you might be dreading all of the time you’ll be spending with your family in the next six weeks. Cousin Joey might corner you in the living room to explain why he got rid of all of his smoke detectors and replaced them with something better. Your mom may spend the entirety of Thanksgiving dinner loudly praising your sister for having her fourth child while the first sits next to you throwing peas into your pile of rancid mashed potatoes. Uncle Karl might drink too much and then sob into the cranberry sauce.

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Finding Your Song: Pegasus Flies Again with Nambi E. Kelley’s “For Her as a Piano”

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Toni Lynice Fountain, Toya Turner, Camille Robinson and Nadirah Bost/Photo: Emily Schwartz

By Loy Webb

Children have some of the most imaginative and exciting minds. Give them a cardboard box, they’ll create castles fit for any king and queen. Give them a blanket, and as it’s wrapped around their necks your world will be safer before bedtime. It is in watching these small, brilliant minds that we learn the secret to great ingenuity is really quite simple.

“When you don’t have much, you have to be imaginative and bold,” Ilesa Duncan, artistic director of Pegasus Theatre Chicago, says during our phone interview. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Gem of the Ocean/Court Theatre

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Jerod Haynes, A.C. Smith. Alfred Wilson

Jerod Haynes, A.C. Smith, Alfred Wilson/Photo: Michael Brosilow


“Gem of the Ocean,” set at the beginning of the twentieth century, is chronologically the first in August Wilson’s Century Cycle, a one-play-per-decade examination of the African-American experience throughout the twentieth century. The Court Theatre does a beautiful job of presenting a turn-of-the-century façade—the furnishings on stage, the old cast-iron stove in the kitchen, the costumes—these make it easy for the audience to imagine themselves in 1904 Pittsburgh with the players on stage. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Secret Garden/Court Theatre

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Jennie Sophia, Rob Lindley

Jennie Sophia, Rob Lindley/Photo: Michael Brosilow


If winter plunged directly into summer and robbed us of a gentle rebirth, Court Theatre’s very new production of “The Secret Garden” reawakens optimism in life, and the state of lyric theater.

The 1991 Broadway production promised much, and delivered; the beautifully specific, wide-ranging voices of Mandy Patinkin and Rebecca Luker gave composer Lucy Simon free rein to expand on her folk/rock/pop songwriting past. Tony Award-winner Daisy Eagan essayed a protagonist devoid of the sickness of child-actor guile. Most importantly, the Broadway production managed to take an intimate story and deliver it in a Great White Way-manner without bruising the former or insulting the latter. But how has this affected the plight of regional theaters, with divergent spaces, talents, and financial resources? How to tell this story with honesty?

Director Charles Newell and musical director Doug Peck succeed fantastically. Read the rest of this entry »

Breaking Barriers: The Chicago Inclusion Project Makes its Debut

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Top row from left: Behzad Dabu, Todd Garcia, Emjoy Gavino, Barbara Robertson Bottom row from left: Yunuen Pardo, Anthony Fleming III, Delia Kropp, Michael Patrick Thornton Middle: Charin Alvarez, Bryan Bosque

Top row from left: Behzad Dabu, Todd Garcia, Emjoy Gavino, Barbara Robertson
Bottom row from left: Yunuen Pardo, Anthony Fleming III, Delia Kropp, Michael Patrick Thornton
Middle: Charin Alvarez, Bryan Bosque

By Mary Kroeck

Emjoy Gavino, Michael Patrick Thornton and Chay Yew are familiar names in the Chicago theater circuit. Gavino is a teaching artist with Barrel of Monkeys, ensemble member of Remy Bumppo and was recently in Court Theatre’s world premiere of “The Good Book.” Thornton had a recurring role on the television show “Private Practice” and is a Jeff Award-winning actor who recently appeared in Lookingglass’ production of “Title and Deed.” Yew is an Obie Award-winning director and the artistic director of Victory Gardens. Individually, these three have impressive resumes. However, one challenge they, and many others in and out of the theater profession, have struggled with, is how to create a more inclusive and diverse environment within the city of Chicago for artists to grow. So, along with other members of the theater community, Victory Gardens and the League of Chicago Theatres are joining together to launch The Chicago Inclusion Project.

“We have exceptional African-American theater companies and Latino companies and LGBTQ companies, but it’s rare for all these different, vibrant communities to have the chance to share the same stage or even be considered for the same project,” says Gavino, The Chicago Inclusion Project’s founder and producer. “That’s our aim. That’s why this initiative is necessary.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Travesties/Remy Bumppo Theatre Company

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Meg Warner, Greg Matthew Anderson and Jeff Cummings

Meg Warner, Greg Matthew Anderson and Jeff Cummings


There is more than one lens through which to experience Tom Stoppard’s “Travesties:” One can know everything there is to know about James Joyce, Lenin, Dadaist Tristan Tzara and 1917 Switzerland, and die to revisit it, adore “The Importance of Being Earnest” enough to see it mucked about with, and all technically without Lady Bracknell, or one can throw back the draught of champagne that Stoppard serves up with this word-operetta, and attempt to follow the various hounds.

Director Nick Sandys’ hand is so deft as to be invisible, save for moments when an actor must be sent to a mostly front corner of the rather three-quarters playing space, turn their backs to many, and give their faces to the few who have purchased a ticket for a less advantageous seat. Joe Schermoly’s books-books-more-books set is so right that one hardly notices the increasingly asthma-producing, begrudgingly disturbed mold wafting from the spaces’ carpeting. Playing everyman Henry Carr, Jeff Cummings is in an impish high-tenor; to experience his performance is to be jealous not to be in his shoes, alternated by thankfulness that the responsibility for that warren of verbal and physical dance is not our own. Becoming both a new member of the core company of American Players Theatre and the Remy Bumppo ensemble must make this a heady time for Kelsey Brennan, but her lace-gloved, iron-fisted Gwendolen seems in no need of smelling salts; she commands where she may. If still damp-eared artistic director Sandys is the obvious successor to the retired James Bohnen, artistic associate Greg Matthew Anderson is Bumppo’s new Sandys, and models that mantle’s delicate combination of insouciance and pedantry with his faultless Tzara. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Good Book/Court Theatre

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Hollis Resnik/Photo: Michael Brosilow

Hollis Resnik/Photo: Michael Brosilow


In Court Theatre’s world premiere of “The Good Book” we follow the lives of Miriam (Hollis Resnik) and Connor (Alex Weisman) as they struggle with their personal faith. Miriam, who ironically has a biblical name, is an atheist biblical scholar and college professor. She tells a zealous Christian student who is opposed to her teachings, “We have to build separate rooms, one for the mind and one for the heart.” In Miriam’s class and life, she thinks of the Bible and faith strictly from an intellectual viewpoint. That heart stuff she left behind a long time ago, until she is faced with a tragedy and has to look inward.

Connor, on the other hand, is a fifteen-year-old boy with hopes of being a priest. His devotion to both the Bible and his faith is evident. Yet when he struggles with his identity, he must reconcile whether this particular faith is for him. Interwoven throughout these two stories are historical reenactments of what went into the creation of the Bible from ancient times until now. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Waiting for Godot/Court Theatre

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(front) Allen Gilmore and Alfred Wilson. (back) Anthony Lee Irons and AC Smith/Photo: Michael Brosilow

(front) Allen Gilmore and Alfred Wilson. (back) Anthony Lee Irons and AC Smith/Photo: Michael Brosilow


Samuel Beckett’s “Godot,” as presented by the Court Theatre’s resident artist Ron OJ Parson, has all of the existential tremble without the hard edges of complete despair. Quite the opposite of dark turtlenecks and French cigarettes, Parson’s all-black cast offers an array of emotional leads that highlights the most compelling aspects of the script’s humor. The overall themes are still there: Beckett’s unique view of the world as absurd with no meaning or purpose; the human condition; resilience in relationship; others as hell; it’s all still there. But it is sewn tightly under real embedded comedy and drama, foregoing the usual blend of high allusion and close reads, mixed together brilliantly by Estragon (Alfred H. Wilson) and Vladimir (the wise veteran Allen Gilmore) who employ both classy wit and bountiful rancor. Read the rest of this entry »

Players 2015: The Fifty People Who Really Perform for Chicago

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The steady expansion of the performing arts in Chicago continues its marvelous pace, with more and better theater, dance, comedy and opera gracing more and better stages each passing year. The upward progression is so steady that epic undertakings—a new campus at Steppenwolf, a bigger chunk of Navy Pier for Chicago Shakes—seem almost business as usual these days. And that is a marvelous thing. This year we again celebrate the lesser-sung heroes offstage who deal with the less glamorous things like building those new stages, and paying those expanding payrolls without which the stars would have nowhere to shine.

Tragedy has been central to theater since the ancient Greeks first staged it, but the last year has brought a disproportionate volume of real-life tragedy to our community. No doubt, the expanding and maturing performing arts universe means that more members of its community will pass on each year, but the number of those struck down long before their expected hour was overwhelming these last twelve months and struck every corner of performing arts, from theater, to dance, to comedy, to opera. Molly Glynn, Jason Chin, Eric Eatherly, Bernie Yvon, Johan Engels, Julia Neary—and others we’ve unintentionally overlooked—we dim our collective marquee for you. (Brian Hieggelke)

Players was written by Zach Freeman and Sharon Hoyer
With additional contributions by Brian Hieggelke, Alex Huntsberger, Aaron Hunt, Hugh Iglarsh and Loy Webb

All photos by Joe Mazza/Brave-Lux, taken on location at Steppenwolf Theatre, Goodman Theatre, Lyric Opera of Chicago and Brave-Lux Studio Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Iphigenia in Aulis/Court Theatre

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Tracy Walsh, Mark L. Montgomery and Adrienne Walker/Photo: Michael Brosilow

Tracy Walsh, Mark L. Montgomery and Adrienne Walker/Photo: Michael Brosilow


Watching a Greek drama is odd, because your moral compass gets completely rewritten. There’s a moment in Nicholas Rudall’s new translation of Euripides’ “Iphigenia in Aulis” when Clytemnestra says to her husband Agamemnon something along the lines of “Remember when you met me and murdered my (first) husband and killed my two sons in front of me?” Clytemnestra then goes on to point out how she eventually got over that and forgave him and became his loving wife and bore a gaggle of beautiful children, one of which (the titular Iphigenia) Agamemnon is going to sacrifice to the gods so that he and the rest of the Grecians can go fight a war. It struck me as I was listening to these words that I am watching a play in which a man murdered his wife’s first husband and her children and then married her and yet… that fact is incidental to the action currently at hand. It’s barely relevant. A footnote.

I repeat, he murdered her husband and both of her sons in front of her and the entire reason she brings it up is to point out how she totes got over it.

If I saw a modern-day play wherein someone dropped that little tidbit in the middle of an argument, it would stop the play dead in its tracks. There is no possible way that the play could be about anything other than that. It would be “the big secret” that gets revealed halfway through Act 2. Or maybe the play would be a marriage that pulls double duty as a prolonged case of Stockholm Syndrome. Either way, Agamemnon’s act would not be treated as incidental. It would be very, very integral. Read the rest of this entry »

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