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‘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 - 
Nick Ormerod
, Cheeck by Jowl, 2015, Credit: Johan Persson/

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. ★★★★

In a ‘Curious Incident,’ a special boy grapples with the twists, turns and illogic of growing up

Dec 13, 2016 – 10:03 am
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Review: Christopher is determined to a) solve the mystery of who has killed his neighbor’s dog and b) take a math advance-placement exam. The story that takes flight is music for the soul. Now playing through Dec. 24 at the Oriental, this brave and wonderful Broadway in Chicago national touring production is about the dignity of the adolescent passage, as seen through the eyes of a brilliant boy in constant danger of sensory overload, and his ever-present companion, a pet rat. ★★★★

‘Fundamentals’ at Steppenwolf: Downstairs at posh hotel, no Up button for the service crew

Dec 11, 2016 – 1:59 pm
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Review: The time is right for “The Fundamentals,” a sly new play by Erika Sheffer now upstairs at Steppenwolf. With mega-corps in the news for claiming ignorance of malfeasance so widespread it involves thousands of workers — while simultaneously selling the perfume of lofty company ideals — Sheffer zeroes in on the souls who draw the paychecks and suffer the joke. ★★★

Role Playing: AnJi White, as Catherine Parr, learned to keep her wits – to keep her head

Dec 8, 2016 – 12:00 pm
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Interview: When you’re playing the sixth wife of the notorious spouse-disposing English King Henry VIII, says AnJi White, the resolve to survive comes mixed with the question of how. Analyzing her own grand and yet vulnerable portrayal of Catherine Parr, in Kate Hennig’s “The Last Wife” at TimeLine Theatre, White says she pursues a nightly answer to the riddle of endurance with a royal husband who holds her life in his palm, and who will brook neither challenge nor collaboration.

‘Electra’ at Court: As a bloody legend closes, mournful daughter pines for two more deaths

Dec 6, 2016 – 9:53 pm
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Review: In Sophocles’ “Electra,” the classic Greek tragedy of vengeance, now starring Kate Fry in an earthy, understated take on the title role at Court Theatre, the waiting game is all. One day, Electra’s hatred for her murderous mother Clytemnestra will be requited; one day, her prince will come. But the prince Electra awaits is her own, long-absent brother Orestes, who surely will avenge the killing of their father, King Agamemnon, by this woman and her illicit, usurping consort. ★★★★

‘Christmas Carol’ rings out again at Goodman: Scrooge & Co. affirm spirit at heart of the deal

Dec 3, 2016 – 1:44 pm
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Review: For his ninth season, Larry Yando plays the gnarled old man whose very name is now a synonym for miser, his “Bah! Humbug!” an all-purpose slapdown that distills the essence of a curmudgeonly world view. Until Scrooge discovers joy, that is. Yando’s wonderfully long face is as capable as ever of rubbery contortions worthy of a cartoonist’s pen. Goodman’s “A Christmas Carol” is a tradition happily renewed. ★★★★

Comic sequel to ‘Pride & Prejudice’ bundles bookish romance into shining Christmas play

Nov 25, 2016 – 10:13 pm
Author Renee Rosen

Charles Osgood Photography
 
 Northlight Theatre dress rehearsal for Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016.
Charles Osgood Photography
 
 Northlight Theatre dress rehearsal for Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016.
Charles Osgood Photography
 
 Northlight Theatre dress rehearsal for Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016.
Charles Osgood Photography
 
 Northlight Theatre dress rehearsal for Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley, Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016.
Charles Osgood Photography

Review: Less than halfway through “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley,” a happy world premiere in the spirit of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” I found myself wishing that Elizabeth Bennet had eight sisters, not four. That way I could look forward to more Austen sequels by the playwright team of Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon. They have done a pitch-perfect job assimilating the 19th-century novelist’s way with words while spinning entirely new adventures for the bookish, presumably unmarriageable, middle sister of the Bennet household – Mary. ★★★★

As King Charles III approaches throne at CST, moral crisis and iambic pentameter engulf him

Nov 23, 2016 – 9:11 pm
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Review: Not very far into Mike Bartlett’s “King Charles III,” directed by Gary Griffin at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, I found myself wondering how it all might work telescoped into a monodrama and spoken – not declaimed, heaven help us – by Robert Bathurst, the king in waiting here and the one actor in view who seemed to understand that blank verse is not speech set to the head-pounding of a jackhammer. ★★

‘Betrayal’ at Raven: In a threesome of friends, lovers, fidelity emerges as a relative concept

Nov 17, 2016 – 4:22 pm
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Review: Harold Pinter’s play “Betrayal” begins at the end – beyond the end, actually. And from there, this gritty slant on the eternal triangle works its way backward through the embers, the blaze and the multifarious deceptions of an affair. The affair is a tangled, bruising mess; the telling of it, at Raven Theatre, is a thing of raw-boned beauty. ★★★★

‘East Texas Hot Links’ at Writers: A small café, some laughs, some fear; and then some blood

Nov 7, 2016 – 5:51 pm
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Review: Eugene Lee’s lyrical tragedy “East Texas Hotlinks” is an exquisite song of betrayal, an ironic ballad of the enemy within. And it is pitch perfect in a fluent, wryly comedic and quite astonishing production directed by Ron OJ Parson at Writers Theatre. The grace and truth of August Wilson’s poetic style permeate the characters as well as the language of Lee’s 1991 play, a reflection of this playwright-actor’s long association with the Wilson canon. ★★★★★

In high-flying ‘Grounded,’ female fighter pilot gets a painfully close-up view of war’s horror

Nov 1, 2016 – 11:02 pm
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Review: It’s like nothing else, the F-16 fighter pilot declares: alone in the blue, just you and this amazing airplane. You unload your rockets, bombs, whatever, and before they even go boom, you’ve peeled back into that boundless sky and headed toward base – to join the guys, your fellow aces, down a few beers and swap stories. For the remarkable woman in George Brant’s monodrama “Grounded,” that’s how it’s always been. Until now. ★★★

‘Red Velvet’ at Raven: When black actor dares to play Othello, guardians of the theater revolt

Oct 31, 2016 – 4:38 pm
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Review: Lolita Chakrabarti’s eloquent play “Red Velvet,” currently offered in a keen-edged production at Raven Theatre, is a full-body immersion in the cold, foul waters of racial bigotry. Named for the seductive stuff that covers seats and railings in many a theater, the drama concerns the historical 19th-century African-American actor Ira Aldridge, a major figure on stages across Europe for three decades beginning in the 1830s. ★★★★

‘Hamilton,’ energized by spirit of America’s founding, opens Chicago run in stylish blaze

Oct 21, 2016 – 3:51 pm
Hamilton
REGIONAL/NATIONAL TOURSMUSICAL
PRIVATEBANK THEATRE
18 WEST MONROE, CHICAGO, 60603
From bastard orphan to Washington's right hand man, rebel to war hero, loving husband caught in the country's first sex scandal to Treasury head who made an untrusting world believe in the American economy, an exploration of a political mastermind and scrappy young immigrant who forever changed America: Alexander Hamilton.




Starring: Karen Olivo, Mandy Gonzalez, Joshua Henry, Jonathan Kirkland, Miguel Cervantes, Alexander Gemignani
MUSIC: LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA
BOOK: LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA
LYRICS: LIN-MANUEL MIRANDA

Review: “Hey yo, I’m just like my country, I’m young, scrappy and hungry and I’m not throwing away my shot” is the clarion call of young friends in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony Award-winning musical “Hamilton,” a contemporary re-imagining of our own history. The Broadway show’s first regional clone has opened at Chicago’s PrivateBank Theatre, where it will be for many months, probably years. ★★★★★

‘The Last Wife’ at TimeLine: She is Henry’s sixth queen, playing perilous game of survival

Oct 15, 2016 – 9:29 am
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Review: If you’d care to see what absolute power wielded by a single individual looks like, and what a scary thing that is, look no further than Steve Pickering’s iron-fisted incarnation of Henry VIII in the U.S. premiere of Kate Hennig’s “The Last Wife” at TimeLine Theatre. And in the same frame, so to speak, behold the precarious life of the title character, Katherine Parr, a brilliant woman (played to her full measure by AnJi White) who matches the king in wit, imagination and perhaps even ambition. ★★★★★

‘Bobbie Clearly’ at Steep: A troubled youth, murder and the shattering toll on a small town

Oct 10, 2016 – 9:23 am
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Review: Having nurtured Alex Lubischer’s ambitious and imaginative tragi-comedy “Bobbie Clearly” through workshops, Steep Theatre now offers the result-to-date in a world premiere. It’s a dark tale – about a small-town youth who murders a little girl, goes to prison, then returns to make amends – laced with witty dialogue and charged circumstance. It’s also burdened by moments still awaiting the spark of life. ★★

‘Man in the Ring’ at Court: Landing 1-2 punch to pound out portrait of a fractured champion

Oct 7, 2016 – 9:55 am
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Review: The title of Michael Cristofer’s play “Man in the Ring,” now in its gripping world premiere run at Court Theatre, is double edged. Outwardly, the play is about the meteoric rise and brutal fall of boxer Emile Griffith, among the most dominant champions in pugilistic history. But it’s also, in the most essential way, about the loss of innocence and purity and the unfettered joy of being alive. ★★★★★

English kings in bloody struggles for power: Part 2 of Chicago Shakespeare’s history saga

Sep 27, 2016 – 3:50 pm
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Review: Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s outsized and smartly honed two-part miniseries “Tug of War,” focusing on the endless cycle of royal usurpation and bloodshed in the Bard’s history plays, comes to its conclusion with a sequence that illuminates the brief reign and unsurprising death of horseless Richard III at Bosworth Field. For my part, I shall not ask with the great songstress Peggy Lee, “Is that all there is?” My question is: When will we be able see it again? ★★★★

‘True West’ at Shattered Globe: Rival brothers, far apart in one place, at each other’s throats

Sep 17, 2016 – 2:22 pm
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Review: Austin and Lee are Jungian poster boys, brothers who seem to hold nothing in common, the one a buttoned-up intellectual writer and the other a beer-gulping ruffian and petty thief. But deep down, each pines for the life the other leads. They are the conjoined, complex antiheroes of Sam Shepard’s iconic 1980 play “True West,” and they are madly, marvelously superimposed in a startling production by Shattered Globe Theatre. ★★★★

‘Scarcity’ at Redtwist: A down and out drama that’s a couple of beers short of a six pack

Sep 13, 2016 – 3:25 pm
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Review: The two kids are very bright, their jobless father is a contented drunk and their outwardly flinty mother coddles him. They, along with a couple of low-trajectory friends and a visionary young teacher new to the community, are the denizens of Lucy Thurber’s “Scarcity,” now in its Chicago premiere at Redtwist Theatre. ★★

‘Bakersfield Mist’ at TimeLine: Drizzled paint points to Pollock, but is this $3 find for real?

Sep 11, 2016 – 9:18 pm
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Review: Maude is middle-aged, recently fired from her job as a bar tender and living alone in a dumpy trailer decorated with other people’s discarded junk. But one such piece of refuse is a painting that could be an original Jackson Pollock. That’s the starting point of Stephen Sachs’ play “Bakersfield Mist,” a two-hander at TimeLine Theatre starring a pair of Chicago’s best actors, who between them cannot bring this half-baked drama to much purpose. ★★

Strawdog Theatre, ousted from its old home, opens with play about another loss: memory

Aug 26, 2016 – 5:26 pm
Strawdog_Distance_feature image Janice O'Neill

Season Preview: The following is adapted from a news release submitted by an arts organization to Chicago On the Aisle.
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STRAWDOG THEATRE COMPANY PRESENTS THE WORLD PREMIERE OF JERRE DYE’S “DISTANCE” AUGUST 25 – OCTOBER 1

‘Wastwater’ at Steep: The human condition, warts and all, with an emphasis on the warts

Aug 25, 2016 – 10:25 pm
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Review: If the mirror held to up to our human lot by Simon Stephens’ play “Wastwater” fairly reflects what’s framed there, we’re not a very pretty collection. We may have our favorable features, but for the most part the image that emerges in “Wastwater,” about to wind up its run at Steep Theatre, is one of frailty, desperation and meanness. ★★★