Articles in Theater + Stage
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.”
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. ★★
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. ★★★★
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. ★★★★
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. ★★★★★
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. ★★★★
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. ★★★★
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. ★★★★
This Just In: The following is a news release written by an arts organization, submitted to Chicago On the Aisle.
“Kevin Spacey: Renaissance Man,” features In-Depth Conversation with Golden Globe and Emmy Award-Winner Piven and Spacey …
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.
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. ★★
Preview: Concert for America is headed to Chicago on March 20 with stars including Melissa Manchester and the cast of “Hamilton.”
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. ★★★
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. ★★★★★
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. ★★
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. ★★★★★
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. ★★★★★
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.” ★★★★
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. ★★★
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. ★★★★
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.
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. ★★★★
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. ★★★★
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. ★★★★
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. ★★★
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.
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. ★★★★
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. ★★★★
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. ★★★★
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. ★★