Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Players 2016: The Fifty People Who Really Perform for Chicago

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“Out with the old, in with the new,” is one of the many well-intentioned platitudes you hear frequently this time of year. Personally, I find that type of sharp-turn resolution a bit difficult to manage. As I see it, change is fluid; the past informs the present and portends the future. Newness grows organically out of the well-tilled soil of history. This also happens to be the way I think about Chicago’s arts community. The open terrain currently being transformed by our promising young upstarts would not exist had the heavy lifters of previous years not worked to cultivate it. And so it is in this space that we honor both parties by highlighting the artists who have served as great beacons and those whose stars are just beginning to rise. What follows is the current crop of our city’s fifty most moving, most shaking, most dream-making Players in theater, dance, comedy and opera.  Make a resolution you actually want to keep: check them out! (Kevin Greene)

Players was written by Zach Freeman, Kevin Greene, Sharon Hoyer, Aaron Hunt and Loy Webb
Photos by Joe Mazza/Brave Lux Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Love and Information/Remy Bumppo

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Emjoy Gavino and Frank Sawa/Photo: Johnny Knight

Emjoy Gavino and Frank Sawa/Photo: Johnny Knight


Remember banker’s boxes? Those white, cardboard, ten-inches-high-by-twelve-inches-wide-byfifteen-inches-deep storage bins that arrived flattened, to be unfolded and refolded until they took a shape that could house a neat row of manila file folders, filled with documents? When the box was full, it was put away with its identical counterparts, usually in a storage room, where those important, imperative papers could be revisited for festive occasions such as employee disciplinary actions, customer complaints or audits by the IRS. Those of us involved in evidence storage prior to a time when ethereal notions and earthly communications could be saved to a “cloud” spouted palm-sweat when the industrial lights went up on the set of Remy Bumppo’s production of innovative playwright Caryl Churchill’s “Love and Information,” which opens their 2015/16 season. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Clean House/Remy Bumppo Theatre Company

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Annabel Armour and Alice da Cunha/Photo: Johnny Knight

Annabel Armour and Alice da Cunha/Photo: Johnny Knight


Remy Bumppo’s production of Sarah Ruhl’s “The Clean House” is presented with a spotless understanding of the playwright’s sense of a compositional freedom of space and interval that invites the audience to set aside traditional, linear expectations and connect emotionally to the psychological storytelling.

Scenic designer Grant Sabin has created a white-white set—white couches, white rugs, white chairs, so much white that my teeth were set on edge before the houselights went down; his series of easily-drawn curtains permit scenes of otherness, real or hoped-for, to occur spontaneously and in concert with the seeming present. Janice Pytel’s costumes continue the muting of theatrical specificity, using (in most instances), oft-scrubbed colors and unspecific time-periods, and Charles Cooper’s lighting fades in and out slyly, providing a gentle translucency that reminds us that the passage of hours or months is irrelevant.

And director Ann Filmer showcases her gift for inviting actors to allow the characters to find them, rather than building predetermined personages with intellectualized rough edges of brick and mortar that can disconcert and disconnect; every performance reads as genuine and organic.

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Review: Both Your Houses/Remy Bumppo

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Noah Simon,      Peter A. Davis,      Linda Gillum,      David Darlow

Noah Simon, Peter A. Davis, Linda Gillum, David Darlow


Somewhere in the dusky realm between classic and forgettable lies Maxwell Anderson’s political tragicomedy “Both Your Houses.” Now undergoing a nifty revival by Remy Bumppo, the play arrives just in time for the 2014 midterm election and its attendant theater of mudslinging, malicious, big-budget stupidity.

The 1933 Pulitzer Prize-winner shows its age in many ways, from the creaky melodrama of its structure, which pits the uselessly good against the simplistically wicked, to its antediluvian political economics and social attitudes, which make Archie Bunker look PC. But for all of that, this is a production worth watching for the skill of its all-around execution, its still-zingy portrayal of the interface of avarice and ego that is Washington, D.C., and for actor David Darlow’s tour de force as Representative Solomon (Sol) Fitzmaurice, a corrupt politician of Falstaffian charm and insight, who is revealed here as one of the great and unjustly neglected characters of the American stage. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Our Class/Remy Bumppo

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Our Class fireThe World War II massacre in Jedwabne, Poland was long considered to be one of the worst Nazi war crimes; hundreds of Polish Jews were trapped in a barn and burned alive. But while Poles historically blamed occupying Nazi forces, recent findings determined that an angry Polish mob served as the real killers. Tadeusz Slobodzianek tries to make sense of the seemingly senseless, looking at this complicated impulse to turn on friends, neighbors and in this case, classmates.

The piece follows schoolmates as they endure the shifting political sands of 1930s and 1940s Poland. The town’s communities are slowly marginalized; the Jews are ostracized as prayer is introduced into the classroom by the Catholics, and the Catholics are then pushed aside by the invading Soviet Union as the local Catholic Club is transformed into a cinema. Hostilities reach the boiling point as the Nazis invade Poland; it doesn’t take much German influence for neighbor to turn against neighbor. Read the rest of this entry »

The Players 2014: The Fifty People Who Really Perform in Chicago

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In the foreground, Mike Nussbaum. Continuing in a clockwise circle, Nathan Allen, Charles Newell, Autumn Eckman and Nick Pupillo, Rae Gray and Usman Ally, Alejandro Cerrudo, Ann Filmer, Michael Mahler, Michael Halberstam, Dave Pasquesi, Ayako Kato. In the background, T.J. Jagodowski.

Once was the time, when it came to performing arts, that Chicago was a great place to come from. But thanks to the constant upward trajectory of our community, Chicago is now a great place to come from AND to return to. Every year we see more and more evidence of this, whether it’s the regular homecomings of the likes of Michael Shannon and David Cromer, the Chicago reorientation of international stars like Renee Fleming and Riccardo Muti or the burgeoning national reputations of Tracy Letts and Alejandro Cerrudo, we’ve got quite a perpetual show going on. That means of course, that culling a growing short-list of 300 or so down to the fifty folks who make up this year’s Players, is getting more painful. But we’re crying tears of joy as we do it. What follows are the fifty artists (as opposed to last year’s behind-the-scenesters) in dance, theater, comedy and opera who are making the greatest impact on Chicago stages right now.

Written by Zach Freeman, Brian Hieggelke and Sharon Hoyer, with Mark Roelof Eleveld, Hugh Iglarsh and Robert Eric Shoemaker. Photos by Joe Mazza/Brave Lux

Pictured above: In the foreground, Mike Nussbaum. Continuing in a clockwise circle, Nathan Allen, Charles Newell, Autumn Eckman and Nick Pupillo, Rae Gray and Usman Ally, Alejandro Cerrudo, Ann Filmer, Michael Mahler, Michael Halberstam, Dave Pasquesi, Ayako Kato. In the background, T.J. Jagodowski.

All photos were taken at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago.

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Deck the Sets: Chicago Stages Go Holiday Crazy

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The Santaland Diaries at Theater Wit

By Zach Freeman

As any denizen of the theater who’s been in this town for any amount of time knows, Chicago DOES theater. With more than 250 active theater companies and a constantly growing number of venues, if you can’t find a good show to attend on any given night, you’re just doing it wrong. And this holiday season Chicago is really throwing down the gauntlet of performance options with more than forty (yes, you read that right) holiday shows. And yes, almost all of them are Christmas-related. In fact, there are almost a dozen versions of “A Christmas Carol” alone.

But Chicago is a diverse city and our theater companies reflect that. We’re not talking about several dozen versions of the same old stuff, we’re talking about more than forty completely different takes on the holiday season. It’s a lot for any one person to take in, so we thought we’d help you determine which show (or shows) you should be seeing over the next month or so to get yourself into the appropriate holiday mood (whatever that means for you).

We can’t list them all, but here are twenty to get you started. Here we go… Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey/Remy Bumppo

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Sarah Price and Greg Matthew Anderson/Photo by Johnny Knight

Sarah Price and Greg Matthew Anderson/Photo: Johnny Knight


“No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine, ” begins Jane Austen’s mock-gothic novel, “Northanger Abbey.” Catherine is no great beauty, her family of no particular distinction and her accomplishments and education far from special. “But from fifteen to seventeen she was in training for a heroine; she read all such works as heroines must read to supply their memories with those quotations which are so serviceable and so soothing in the vicissitudes of their eventful lives.”

Young Catherine’s gift—and weakness—is a well-heated imagination. This teenager making her social debut in the spa town/marriage market of Bath can engage with the realities of adulthood only through the medium of romance and fantasy.

Tim Luscombe’s adaptation, as capably directed by Joanie Schultz, captures the interplay of fact and fancy at the book’s heart. In a winsome play-within-the-play, the heroes and villains of Ann Radcliffe’s “Mysteries of Udolpho” morph into characters in Catherine’s life, rendering every ballroom nod and glance pregnant with mythic significance. Catherine’s own seventeen-year-old identity shifts moment by moment, as her shimmering Regency frocks are peeled off at every encounter, revealing another cloak and a deeper layer. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Creditors/Remy Bumppo

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Photo: Johnny Knight

Photo: Johnny Knight


Strindberg and romantic comedy might sound like a strange combination, but in the case of “Creditors” at Remy Bumppo it’s incredibly satisfying. Closing out their season with a new adaptation by Scottish playwright David Greig, “Creditors” is as funny as it is searing. Though faithful to the original work, Greig sought to adapt as opposed to translate in an effort to modernize the piece, and the result is just that. In most aspects the only classical quality here are the costumes. The fresh dialogue remains accessible and exciting throughout its ninety minutes. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: You Never Can Tell/Remy Bumppo

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Eliza Stoughton and Greg Matthew Anderson/Photo: Johnny Knight


For a lively reprieve from the abundance of seasonal plays and pageants, Remy Bumppo offers up one of George Bernard Shaw’s few comedies, “You Never Can Tell.” In general, classic British plays can be a frightening notion; even more frightening is sitting through lengthy dialogue done poorly. Thankfully, this is not the case in director Shawn Douglass’ surprisingly modern production. The contemporary look and feel is perhaps more a credit to Shaw’s gift for timeless playwriting and keen social insight.

 Initially written as a send-up to Oscar Wilde’s successful “Importance of Being Earnest,” Shaw employs a similar sense of romantic pluck, but pairs it with meatier themes and thicker lines. “You Never Can Tell” can almost be summed up in its own words, “it has been short, but it has been voluble.” The play, while brief by Shavian standards, is still every bit as juicy with social commentary as any of his more serious works. It’s especially new age in its forward ideas about divorce and gender equality in the late nineteenth century, a somewhat ironic theme in the current binders-full-of-women era.

Often overlooked in favor of Shaw’s more powerful pieces, this play is seldomly produced, even less so in Chicago. Remy Bumppo’s production marks an area first in more than thirty years, certainly a definitive version that will hopefully stir up some renewed regional interest in Shaw. As with most Remy Bumppo productions at The Greenhouse Theater, the scenic and costume team does an impeccable job of bringing this bygone period back to life in artful authenticity. Read the rest of this entry »