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‘Madagascar’ at Chicago Shakespeare: Kids give high praise to musical bestiary – silence

Jul 25, 2017 – 7:28 pm
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Review: There is currently a zoo on Navy Pier, and a jungle too, thanks to the Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of “Madagascar: A Musical Adventure.” This is not one of those shows that are also fun for kids. “Madagascar” exists only for kids. If you have children in your life, from toddler to 8 or so, do bring them to this colorful, toe-tapping animal extravaganza. The lack of squirming and whining in the theater indicated a mesmerized target audience. ★★★★

‘Hir’ at Steppenwolf: In battle on home front, now a gender mine field, a Marine seeks cover

Jul 19, 2017 – 9:26 am
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Review: Taylor Mac’s tumultuous, off-the-wall play “Hir,” currently on stage in a bristling production at Steppenwolf, is about battles, foreign and domestic. And if the shape-changing military one in the Middle East has been going on for a long time, the societal one at the center of “Hir” is just building a good head of steam. Ex-Marine Isaac has come home to a household in chaos, and to a new sexual order – a whole new declension of genders in which “he” and “she” are but instances on a daunting new landscape. ★★★★

‘London Assurance’ at City Lit: Classic farce under full sail, by a wild Irishman before Wilde

Jul 18, 2017 – 1:34 pm
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Review: Oscar Wilde’s irresistible comedies exalting the escapades of the silly rich have never gone out of style, but City Lit theater company has done Chicago a big favor in allowing us to make the acquaintance of an all but forgotten playwright who was Wilde’s spiritual father of sorts. Now enjoying a raucous run in the Edgewater neighborhood is “London Assurance” by a fellow Irish playwright some three decades Wilde’s elder – Dion Boucicault. ★★★

‘Ragtime’ at Griffin: When America’s dream was young and promise came with an asterisk

Jul 14, 2017 – 5:58 pm
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Review: It’s hard to say which to praise first or most about Griffin Theatre’s splendidly intimate reduction of the musical “Ragtime” – the brisk, focused, wholly involved work of the 20 actors in the ensemble, the credible and affecting performances in the three central roles central or the imaginative achievement of director Scott Weinstein. Slice it however you may, Griffin’s small-scaled but high-powered “Ragtime” is a theatrical experience not to be missed. ★★★★

‘Ah, Wilderness!’ at Goodman: Young lovers, plotting a path through life’s tangled comedy

Jun 28, 2017 – 10:14 pm
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Review: Fairly late in his career, Eugene O’Neill, that great purveyor of tragedy, penned a romantic comedy worthy of his darker plays. “Ah, Wilderness!” is that now-classic lark, and it once again bursts onto the stage at Goodman Theatre in a funny and affecting production that is arguably the crown jewel of Chicago’s theater season. ★★★★★

‘Going to a Place’ with ice cream for eternity, but where dialogue and plausibility are thin

Jun 27, 2017 – 10:11 pm
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Review: There’s a native directness about veteran Kathleen Ruhl’s acting that never fails to connect the viewer to her character. Call it authenticity. But no amount of straight shooting from the stage can magically turn a weak play into something terrific. Ruhl has demonstrated that proposition in two different plays in recent weeks — currently in Bekah Brunstetter’s “Going to a Place Where You Already Are” at Redtwist Theatre. ★★

As touring ‘King and I’ splashes across stage, keynote of cross-cultural rapport rings afresh

Jun 25, 2017 – 4:38 pm
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Review: “The King and I” holds up a revealing mirror to our better selves. The Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, now at the Oriental Theatre in an enchanting tour production run, is enormously popular for its wealth of wonderful songs and magnificent visual possibilities. But its real importance lies in its message of cultural transcendence, and we as Americans have never had greater need of that message. ★★★★

American Players set to dedicate a new stage after $8 million renovation of outdoor venue

Jun 17, 2017 – 11:55 am
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Preview: At the outset of its 38th season, American Players Theatre has the look of a company starting afresh. Its 2017 summer at Spring Green, Wis., about 30 miles west of Madison, opens on a brand-new stage, the centerpiece of an $8 million renovation of both production and public facilities. “Our theater was literally falling down,” says APT artistic director Brenda DeVita. “This renewal has given us, and our audience, a theater that is better is so many ways.”

‘Pass Over’ at Steppenwolf: Two black guys hanging out on a corner, waiting for to go

Jun 14, 2017 – 10:08 pm
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Review: We are political creatures. We all have our world-view, our personal dispositions, our social sympathies and antipathies. That applies as well to creations for the stage. It is an ineluctable truth that all theater is political, even if some plays are more specifically agenda-driven than others. That said, I have short patience with the more overt, I might say hell-bent, forms of agenda theater. They tend not to be very good drama. Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen’s “The Exonerated” springs to mind. Antoinette Nwandu’s play “Pass Over,” in its world premiere run, is no simple rant but does come with its own set of problems. ★★

‘Relativity’ at Northlight: In pursuit of Einstein, and confronting the hard reality of genius

Jun 13, 2017 – 4:01 pm
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Review: The nature of genius, its obsession and its isolation, lies at the core of Mark St. Germain’s taut, indeed irreducible play “Relativity,” a fictional perspective on Albert Einstein that bears the resonance of reality at Northlight Theatre — thanks to a stellar turn by Mike Nussbaum as the larger-than-life theoretical physicist. ★★★★

‘Time Stands Still’ at AstonRep: War and souls in shattered images, captured in close-up lens

Jun 2, 2017 – 10:24 pm
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Review: She’s a photojournalist maimed in battle, back home and barely on the mend. He’s a fellow correspondent torn with guilt for not being there when it happened. And their mutual editor is going through a May-December thing with a cutie in AstonRep’s excellent take on David Margulies wry tale of life’s reeling course. ★★★★

‘Harvey’ at Court: In wacky account, message of a good soul, invisible rabbit is plain to see

May 30, 2017 – 7:32 am
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Review: In these parlous times, it’s good to remember that Mary Chase’s radiant moral comedy “Harvey” won the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. As Elwood P. Dowd, the protagonist who pals around with a 6-foot-tall invisible white rabbit, might say: I’d like to see a prize awarded to Court Theatre for its lovely staging of the play. ★★★★★

‘Objects in the Mirror’ at Goodman: Escaping calamity in Africa, surviving the folly of youth

May 25, 2017 – 8:55 pm
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Review: Playwright Charles Smith’s “Objects in the Mirror” is a gritty, honest and provocatively open-ended story about coming of age. Mesmerizing, if no less exasperating, it is served with resonant conviction in a world premiere production at Goodman Theatre. ★★★★

‘Linda Vista’ at Steppenwolf: Letts’ new play frames photographer who can’t get selfie right

May 21, 2017 – 5:12 pm
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Review: Wheeler, the only name he goes by, is a smart guy, a good photographer and his own worst enemy. He’s the case study in self-destruction at the center of Tracy Letts’ new play “Linda Vista,” now headed into the final week of a crackling production directed by Dexter Bullard at Steppenwolf Theatre. Wheeler – played with barbed comic timing and ruinous ferocity by Ian Barford – imagines himself astride the world, or indeed like Jupiter above it, taking the measure of all the things and people in it and finding that people mostly don’t measure up. ★★★★

Long-range ‘Aladdin’ tour opens in Chicago, and out pops a magical musical extravaganza

Apr 21, 2017 – 9:02 pm
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Review: How do you translate the film magic of Disney to the musical theater? In the case of “Aladdin” – which has launched a North American tour at the Cadillac Palace with future stops in Minneapolis, Seattle, San Francisco and points further – you cram the stage with sets, people, smoke, glitter, explosions, magic tricks, gold, jokes and outsized personalities, and let nostalgia do the rest. Sometimes it dazzles, sometimes it falls flat, but mostly “Aladdin” is great fun, a magic carpet ride. ★★★★

Jeremy Piven leads intimate discussion with Kevin Spacey at Gene Siskel Film Center benefit

Apr 12, 2017 – 12:33 pm
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This Just In: The following is a news release written by an arts organization, submitted to Chicago On the Aisle.
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“Kevin Spacey: Renaissance Man,” features In-Depth Conversation with Golden Globe and Emmy Award-Winner Piven and Spacey …

In ‘Hamilton’ immersion, Chicago school kids embroider the musical with riffs of their own

Mar 31, 2017 – 6:13 am
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Report: I wish every adult attending the hit musical “Hamilton” could see it the way nearly 20,000 Chicagoans in their mid-teens will experience it over the coming months. And not just because of the $10 tickets for a show that generally costs hundreds. What each student comes away with is a personalized connection to America’s birth.

‘Venus in Fur’ – oops, ‘The Scene’ at Writers: Coulda, maybe shoulda, been the other play

Mar 29, 2017 – 3:40 pm
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Review: A ditzy girl, who turns out to be a veritable demon, brings a self-absorbed guy crashing down. He doesn’t see it coming, never has a prayer. Ah, you know that play? Right. It’s David Ives’ “Venus in Fur,” of course. Well, it’s back with us again, more or less, in Theresa Rebeck’s “The Scene” at Writers Theatre. When I say more or less, I mean there’s more involved – actors, situations, sex – but the sum amounts to less of consequence or, along the way, dramatic merit. ★★

With ‘Hamilton’ gang added to cast, Concert for America brings stellar benefit to Chicago

Mar 18, 2017 – 7:20 am
Melissa Manchester will perform in Chicago's Concert for America. (Randee St. Nicholas)

Preview: Concert for America is headed to Chicago on March 20 with stars including Melissa Manchester and the cast of “Hamilton.”

‘Earthquakes in London’ at Steep: Our roiling planet may soon resemble a fractured family

Mar 15, 2017 – 9:02 am
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Review: Mike Bartlett’s “Earthquakes in London,” at Steep Theatre, is an intriguing excursion that conflates garden variety family dysfunction with nothing less than the end of days. The show closes March 18, and it’s worth catching – not for its perfection (it is imperfect), but for its rigorous melding of intricate, credible characters and a provocative foray into magical realism. ★★★

‘Uncle Vanya’ at Goodman: Seeking purpose, or a numbing refill when the glass is drained

Mar 8, 2017 – 10:23 pm
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Review: Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya,” an existential snapshot of lost souls at a signless crossroads, exemplifies theater as an ensemble endeavor. In Annie Baker’s modernized, razor-sharp adaptation of the play, complemented by a directorial tour de force from Robert Falls, Goodman Theatre brings the spirit of dramatic teamwork to vibrant life. ★★★★★

‘Straight White Men’ at Steppenwolf: Cheer up, Hamlet; oh, wait, is that the face of happiness?

Feb 22, 2017 – 11:03 am
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Review: For a play as benign as Young Jean Lee’s curiously titled “Straight White Men,” this glimpse into the man cave of three grown brothers and their father at Steppenwolf Theatre surely will engender the debate for which it ultimately begs. ★★

‘Love’s Labor’s Lost’ at Chicago Shakespeare: Delectable comedy made clear, biting and dark

Feb 18, 2017 – 7:37 pm
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Review: Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s new production of the Bard’s “Love’s Labor’s Lost” is a joyous voyage of discovery, a comedic delight that strips away the thicket of a problematic play and leaves us with the bare sober truth of human folly. Deftly edited and wittily directed by Marti Maraden, it brings together an acting ensemble so well integrated that the whole rollicking night feels like the work of a practiced improv troupe. ★★★★★

‘Death of a Salesman’ at Redtwist: Bringing resonant life to a fractured soul on the brink

Feb 16, 2017 – 5:59 pm
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Review: Brian Parry’s heartbreaking performance as Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” at Redtwist Theatre is the finest work I’ve seen on a Chicago stage this season. A virtually tactile experience in a tiny, in-your-face venue, this is gigantic acting on the most intimate scale. Even better for theater buffs, the show’s run has been extended through March 26. ★★★★★

‘A Disappearing Number’ at TimeLine: Infinity as starting point in a story of incalculable love

Feb 16, 2017 – 11:35 am
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Review: Who are the rare humans able to unlock secret patterns of the universe, sharing their discoveries as music, science, mathematics or metaphor? You might think of Michelangelo or Bach. Copernicus or Newton. Shakespeare. Einstein. But Ramanujan? If this name stopped you, then you’re a candidate for TimeLine’s fascinating romance “A Disappearing Number.” ★★★★

‘The Nether’ at A Red Orchid: In virtual world, dark ventures into forbidden sex, gory murder

Feb 3, 2017 – 3:27 pm
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Review: In the unconscious, are sexual gratification and the urge to slaughter two sides of the same coin, expressions of the same feral impulse, the same profound (even infantile) need? It’s the question at the core of Jennifer Haley’s fascinating – and not a little disturbing – play “The Nether,” now doubtless holding audiences in rapt attention at A Red Orchid Theatre. ★★★

‘Blues for an Alabama Sky’ at Court: Rebirth comes fraught with grief, pain in 1930 Harlem

Jan 31, 2017 – 4:55 pm
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Review: In part, in an almost paradoxical way, Pearl Cleage’s play “Blues for an Alabama Sky” is about the idealistic, short-lived Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. But what makes Cleage’s drama – and Court Theatre’s current production brilliantly directed by Ron OJ Parson – so compelling lies in the story’s humanity, in the tragic flaws and the upward determination of characters making their way along the streets of daily life. ★★★★

Role Playing: Tyla Abercrumbie was set to run little ‘Hot Links’ café, but why was she there?

Jan 11, 2017 – 6:20 pm
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Interview: Actors know the OMG moment well. You win the audition and get the part. Then comes hard reality: You actually have to do it. But for Tyla Abercrumbie, who gives one of those performances you can’t take your eyes from in Eugene Lee’s “East Texas Hot Links” at Writers Theatre, the daunting truth was not simply that she had to measure up to what she’d won. She had to figure out why her character was even in the play.

‘The Weir’ at Irish Theatre: Ghosts and laughs abound — until hidden demons come to light

Jan 8, 2017 – 12:19 am
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Review: It’s a play about hauntings, Conor McPherson’s “The Weir,” a dark and sharply drawn comedy of the unconscious now enjoying an infectious – and, happily, extended — run by the Irish Theatre of Chicago. Ghosts, the ones within us, fill the rural pub where “The Weir” unfolds: Five characters quite recognizably and sufficiently stand in for the lot of frail, erring, rueful humanity. ★★★★

Shakespeare 400 Chicago: ‘The Winter’s Tale’ brings remembrance of Bard near final curtain

Dec 20, 2016 – 2:22 pm
A WINTER’S TALE by Shakespeare,          , Writer - William Shakespeare, Director - 
Declan Donnellan, Designer - 
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Review: Chicagoland theater buffs have spent a goodly part of the last year reveling in the many and wondrously diverse events of Shakespeare 400 Chicago. This circle of opportunity, revelation and indeed riotous and profound fun – engineered mainly by Chicago Shakespeare Theater and its artistic director, Barbara Gaines — comes to a close Dec. 21 with the final performances of “The Winter’s Tale.” It’s a crackling production by the British company Cheek by Jowl, and one that brings the yearlong observance back to its auspicious starting place. ★★★★