“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 »
Kate Fry, Mary Ann Thebus and Nathan Hosner/Photo: Michael Brosilow
Last night, after making the trek to and from Glencoe, my girlfriend and I walked to our local grocery store for a snack. Standing before a formidable display of pears, I asked, “Which one do I get?” “Do you have your phone?” she responded. I had intentionally left it at home, something you too might consider after watching “Marjorie Prime.”
“What would we have done in the nineties?” I countered. While I meant it as a joke, I was briefly filled with a kind of “can’t go home again” awareness. It’s a feeling the characters of this small, heartbreaking play encounter again and again as they go from full bloom to withering under the unflinching auspices of time. Read the rest of this entry »
Tracy Michelle Arnold and Eric Parks/Photo: Carissa Dixon
Watching Tennessee Williams’ classic portrayal of lust and longing in New Orleans under the Wisconsin stars, on an especially hot and humid night, adds an extra element of authenticity to director William Brown’s outstanding take on the work. Though the nature of APT’s large proscenium stage makes it difficult, if not impossible, to create a sense of claustrophobic collision through scenic design in the way that David Cromer’s renowned production at Writers Theatre did back in 2010, Kevin Depinet’s set is nevertheless up to the task at hand, offering a perfectly functional take on French Quarter slumming, circa 1950. But the set is not the point, anyway, in the face of such larger-than-life characters as Stanley Kowalski and Blanche DuBois. Read the rest of this entry »
Steve Haggard, Eliza Stoughton, Karen Janes Woditsch/Photo: Michael Brosilow
It takes a certain kind of integrity—or perhaps better still, gall—to stage a production of John Patrick Shanley’s “Doubt: A Parable” in an actual church. And while Glencoe Union Church, where Writers Theatre has temporarily taken residence, is not outwardly comparable to the co-ed Catholic school where Shanley’s morality tale is set, the gesture should not be lost on anyone.
With Kevin Depinet’s exquisite stage design complementing the natural serenity of the space, this reverent production seeks to be worthy of Shanley’s complicated and characteristically combative interrogation of faith and duty. It succeeds on the integrity of its ensemble, a fearless quartet that is prepared to sacrifice equanimity in the pursuit of virtuous theater.
Under the guidance of director William Brown, the scene work here is the main event. In any play intention is everything. Here, even the most confrontational moments are dealt with, in typical Catholic fashion, indirectly, demanding composure and self-possession especially in moments of profound ambiguity. Read the rest of this entry »
Sean Fortunato and Sophie Thatcher/Photo: Michael Brosilow
The story of Anne Frank, a budding young Jewish woman entrapped by design, hidden in an Amsterdam attic where she bravely, almost joyously awaited what she felt certain would be liberation from Hitler’s regime, and her family’s return to a life of normalcy, has long been the stuff of schoolroom wonder, and schoolyard qualms. For Anne’s story is an adolescent glimpse into a world of cruelty, composed in a music that ignites a burning understanding for the socially privileged and the nationally coddled.
As from any horror, it is simple to look away from the megalomania and treachery that ended the promise of this young life that brimmed full of bounce, laughter, and love. Just as so many of us do when thousands of innocents are slaughtered the world over as struggles for power and money, clothed in robes of ideological reshaping and theological allotment, are robbed of their childhood birthright. Do we hide the horror from ourselves in that drawer in the attic of our hearts? Read the rest of this entry »
Caren Blackmore/Photo: Tom McGrath
I will never forget the tears I shed reading the story of Demario Bailey, the Chicago teen gunned down three days shy of his sixteenth birthday, because he refused to give up his winter coat. My tears however were not just for Demario, or his twin brother Demacio who was by his side during the whole tragedy, but for the teens who would now spend the rest of their lives in prison. I began to ask myself, how could we go about saving both of them—those who die at the hands of the trigger and those who pull it?
As I watched Writers Theatre “The MLK Project: The Fight For Civil Rights,” presented by Chicago Children’s Theatre, I couldn’t help but think that Alaya’s (Caren Blackmore) journey of self-discovery might be one solution. Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
Lucas Hnath is not concerned with getting it right. He’s concerned about getting it true. From the outset of his devious new play “Isaac’s Eye” he states that this story is filled with “ether”: the unseen stuff that allows us to understand the things that are true. Hnath has taken this idea from his play’s subject, Isaac Newton, and extrapolated it to encompass the work itself. We are told that most of what we are about to see did not happen. The play even helps us to distinguish fact from fiction by having the actors write everything in the play that is factually true on a chalkboard. It’s as though Hnath is saying “we’ll leave the history to the lecture hall and get on with the business of art.” And get on with it he certainly does.
I don’t think that “Isaac’s Eye” could ask for a better Chicago-area home than it finds in Writers Theatre. Their particular blend of skill, empathy and wit is a perfect match for Hnath’s humane but intellectually ambitious script. Out of one part fact and two parts whole cloth, “Isaac’s Eye” spins a tale of a young, hungry entirely unknown Newton (Jurgen Hooper). After somewhat vaguely agreeing to marry his longtime (and long-suffering) companion Catherine (Elizabeth Ledo), Isaac promptly has her contact an old friend of her father’s, Robert Hooke (Marc Grapey), a scientist extraordinaire and member of Isaac’s ticket out of Nowheresville: The Royal Society. After reading Isaac’s papers Hooke is immediately threatened by the young man’s considerable intellect and agrees to meet him in person, the better to shut him down. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Michael Brosilow
Laura Eason, book writer of Writers Theatre’s new world premiere musical “Days Like Today,” says of playwright Charles L. Mee’s work, from which “Days” borrows and burnishes, “It is epic and expansive and messy and highly theatrical and deeply thoughtful.” Composer and lyricist Alan Schmuckler writes, “It felt to me that music would make manifest the interior lives of (his) characters, as they experienced moments of love and loss that I recognized from my own life. Music felt like a good fit. That was the start.”
And indeed it was. Schmuckler’s musical based on Mee’s work was given a reading which Writers artistic director Michael Halberstam attended; Halberstam invited Schmuckler to work further on the piece with Writers, and Halberstam brought Eason on board to write the book. Staged readings and workshops, refocusing, a new book, new music, and something altogether other, and yet explorative of a direction in which the lyric theater is now traveling, was born. Read the rest of this entry »