Articles in Theater + Stage
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. ★★
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. ★★★★
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. ★★★★★
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. ★★★
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. ★★★★
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. ★★★★★
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. ★★★★★
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. ★★
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. ★★★★★
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? ★★★★
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. ★★★★
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. ★★
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. ★★
Season Preview: The following is adapted from a news release submitted by an arts organization to Chicago On the Aisle.
STRAWDOG THEATRE COMPANY PRESENTS THE WORLD PREMIERE OF JERRE DYE’S “DISTANCE” AUGUST 25 – OCTOBER 1
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. ★★★
Report: As rehearsals of the 1953 musical “Wonderful Town” get underway at the Goodman under the direction of Mary Zimmerman, the Theatre announced free events surrounding Leonard Bernstein’s legendary show, which kicks off the 2016-17 season. Several film screenings are planned, and a class for the general public on conga line and swing dancing.
2016-17 SEASON PREVIEW: The following is adapted from a news release submitted by an arts organization to Chicago On the Aisle.
Lauren Molina and Bri Sudia star as two sisters leaving Ohio in 1935 to conquer New York City in Bernstein’s “Wonderful Town.” Here’s the Goodman Theatre’s complete line-up…
2016-17 SEASON PREVIEW: The following is a news release written by an arts organization, submitted to Chicago On the Aisle.
Redtwist Theatre is pleased to announce its 13th Season!
“Turtle,” a world premiere by Jake Jeppson, and Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” are in the mix.
This Just In: The following is a news release written by an arts organization, submitted to Chicago On the Aisle.——
Works by P.G. Wodehouse, Shirley Jackson and Dion Boucicault to be staged along with world premiere of Douglas Post’s “Forty-Two Stories”
Review: With any luck, Raven Theatre will elect to have yet a third go, and soon, at Mark Stein’s remarkable play-with-music “Direct From Death Row: The Scottsboro Boys (An Evening of Vaudeville and Sorrow).” This brilliant and heartbreaking show, way out of the box and very funny, based on one of the most deplorable episodes in American social history, is must see theater. ★★★★★
Review: In a tradition dating back to Shakespeare’s own time, “The Merchant of Venice,” which frames bitter hatred between Christians and Jews in a metropolis of a distant era, has been labeled as comedy. I doubt that anyone who sees the brutally frank Shakespeare’s Globe production now running at Chicago Shakespeare Theater will come away laughing. ★★★★★
Review: To put – what is the phrase? – the best face on it, the new musical “War Paint,” now in its world premiere run at the Goodman Theatre, is a guilty pleasure, a gossip magazine yarn set to music and legitimized chiefly by the stellar performances of Patti LuPone and Christine Ebersole. ★★★