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Theater 2018-19: TimeLine cues four dramas; collaborates with feminist venture Firebrand

Aug 20, 2018 – 3:28 pm

Second in a series of season previews: TimeLine Theatre launches its 22nd season from the company’s familiar, Janus-faced perspective on historical events: seeing human events of the past in the mirror of the continuing present. “We are, first and foremost, theater makers,” says artistic director PJ Powers. “But we use the lens of history to provide social context.” TimeLine opens its season with Barbara Lebow’s post-Holocaust drama “A Shayna Maidel.”

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Theater 2018-19: Getting a real sense of home, Writers plans far-ranging season in new house

Aug 17, 2018 – 2:49 pm

First in a series of season previews: Six productions are lined up for Writers Theatre on the Nichols mainstage and the Gillian black box. 
By Lawrence B. Johnson

Michael Halberstam, founding artistic director of the 27-year-old Writers Theatre, looks back on the company’s first two full seasons in its new Glencoe home as “a very exciting journey, and with this season we feel we’ve really found the right mix for both of our versatile spaces.” Read the full story »

‘Exit the King’ at American Players Theatre: Why would an absolute ruler accede to death?

Aug 16, 2018 – 11:46 am
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Review: Eugêne Ionesco’s play about dying, “Exit the King,” generally comes under the rubric of absurdist drama. But that tag doesn’t really fit the play. If a label is required, perhaps “figurative” – certainly, existential. An absorbing and quite affecting account at American Players Theatre rings with truth about that juncture in life where few arrive gladly: its end. ★★★★

‘As You Like It’ at American Players Theatre: Romp in the woods with the Bard, and a twist

Aug 14, 2018 – 11:33 am
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Review: It’s a trifecta for women, two in traditional roles and another in a first for me: Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” at American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wis. Melisa Pereyra and Andrea San Miguel portray BFF Rosalind and Celia – and, in a stunning gender shift, Tracy Michelle Arnold appears as the cynical philosopher Jaques. ★★★★

Role Playing: Zachary Stevenson elevated his Buddy Holly from hiccups to the rockin’ truth

Aug 11, 2018 – 6:25 pm
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Interview: Zachary Stevenson slips into the persona of Buddy Holly like the early rocker’s doppelgänger in American Blues Theatre’s extended run of the musical “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story,” by Alan Janes. Stevenson says he feels that identity – now. But back when he first landed the part, more than a decade and some 12 productions ago in Toronto, it was a different story.

‘Linda’ at Steep: When the craggy face of time turns its glare on one-time woman of the year

Aug 6, 2018 – 11:25 pm
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Review: Despite a rather heavy application of angst, the true face of poignancy emerges in Penelope Skinner’s “Linda,” a dramatic screed at Steep Theatre on women, beauty and the cumulative unkindness of years. Kendra Thulin reels through the title role, one moment a confident and successful marketer of beauty products, the next moment a has-been who watches the world, fashion and relevance all pass by, leaving her bereft in life’s seventh age, sans everything. ★★★

‘Pamplona’ at Goodman: Gray lion Hemingway contemplates life, mischance and le mot juste

Aug 5, 2018 – 7:51 pm
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Review: Ernest Hemingway was, in flesh and blood, a man’s man, the willful and danger-defiant sort we associate with the fantastical, celluloid John Wayne. He also shared a trait in common with many another towering artist: For all his exterior magnificence, he was troubled, depressive, vulnerable. It’s the compleat Hemingway, fierce and brilliant, tormented and alcoholic, that playwright Jim McGrath attempts to sketch and actor Stacy Keach embodies in “Pamplona,” now on display at Goodman Theatre. ★★

‘Heartbreak Hotel’ at Broadway Playhouse: Elvis at hello, stirred but hardly all shook up

Jul 19, 2018 – 3:42 pm
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Review: At age 19, an unknown Elvis Aaron Presley walked into Sam Phillips’ recording studio in Memphis and uttered the legendary words that really should be his epitaph. Asked who he sounded like, he replied: “I don’t sound like nobody.” Neither does Eddie Clendening, star of the Elvis bio musical “Heartbreak Hotel” at the Broadway Playhouse, sound like nobody (the double negative is au courant, so it’s cool). Time may have been when Clendening’s voice resembled Elvis’ – back when he played him as part of the “Million Dollar Quartet” at Goodman Theatre in 2008. I never saw that production. But here we are, a decade later.

CHICAGO WINE JOURNAL: Summer’s heat means refreshing rosés and light whites

Jul 18, 2018 – 5:20 pm
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Tasting Report: The dog days are upon us. Time to lap up some cooling summer wines – whites and rosés to accompany a picnic or simply to enjoy, to sip for their own mellow rewards. If there is a place in the wine world that prides itself on rosé, it is Provence, where the cuisine and the warming sun of France’s Southern Rhône Valley create an ideal setting for these salmon-pale refreshers.

‘Support Group for Men’ at Goodman: 4 guys, make it 5, couple of cops and a ‘talking stick’

Jul 10, 2018 – 6:58 am
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Review: The first flourish of Ellen Fairey’s play “Support Group for Men,” now on display at Goodman Theatre, works twofold narrative magic: It creates a deceptively rich context, and it’s just plain deceptive. We think we’re in for a night with the boys as sitcom when the truth is we’re in for a theatrical ride as clever as it is gentle and poignant and authentic. ★★★★

‘The Roommate’ at Steppenwolf: Couple’s odd but the joke’s over when punchline goes dark

Jul 9, 2018 – 8:41 am
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Review: Surely the first thing that will come to mind for many viewers in the opening scene of Jen Silverman’s play “The Roommate” at Steppenwolf Theatre is “The Odd Couple” – recreated here for two middle-aged women. Sharon is a dowdy Iowa mom living alone who takes in worldly New Yorker Robyn, who’s looking to get away from it all for a while. But “The Odd Couple” it is not. Silverman’s drama is ultimately tragic, and desperately sad. ★★★

Conductor uncorks a Bolcom birthday toast, and pours dark, bracing Fifth of Tchaikovsky

Jul 7, 2018 – 3:56 pm
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Review: The rewards just keep coming at this summer’s Grant Park Music Festival. After a splendid opening stint of concerts, artistic director Carlos Kalmar gave place to conductor Dennis Russell Davies on July 6, and the result was yet another stellar program – this one offering an 80th birthday tribute to composer William Bolcom with his Fourth Symphony as well as a potently dramatic take on Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony.

Summer roll: Conductor Carlos Kalmar leads Grant Park Orchestra in a festival of delights

Jun 29, 2018 – 1:18 pm
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Review: The Grant Park Festival Orchestra’s June 27 concert at Millennium Park, under the baton of music director Carlos Kalmar and featuring London Symphony principal flute Adam Walker, offered an exemplary instance of Kalmar’s wide-ranging command of musical periods and styles. In music requiring great ensemble finesse, understatement and transparency, Kalmar’s disciplined orchestra delivered on all counts.

In single soft flourish of Rossini ‘Stabat Mater,’ Muti effect tells in Chicago Symphony, Chorus

Jun 27, 2018 – 3:27 pm
Riccardo Muti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus undertake Rossini's "Stabat Mater" with soprano Krassimira Stoyanova, mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Gubanova, tenor Dmitry Korchak and bass-baritone Eric Owens. (© Todd Rosenberg)

Review: If there was a moment during the season-ending concert that summed up the singular achievement of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus under the long-term influence of Riccardo Muti, it came near the end of Rossini’s “Stabat Mater,” a Catholic hymn to Mary that pulls the listeners into the mother’s grief at the foot of the cross and offers transcendence. The three-line prayer “Quando corpus morietur” (“When my body dies, let me live in Paradise, too”) is so very human and humble that the listener might not notice how treacherous it is to sing. The Chicago Symphony Chorus imbued it with a powerful emotion that filled the hall, yet with sound so soft it barely hung on a thread.

Muti, Chicago Symphony name Missy Mazzoli as Mead composer-in-residence for two years

Jun 26, 2018 – 11:53 am
Missy Mazzoli CSO composer in residence (Marylene Mey)

This Just In:: Music director Riccardo Muti has selected American composer Missy Mazzoli as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s new Mead Composer-in-Residence, beginning a two-year term on July 1 and continuing through June 30, 2020. Mazzoli, 37, is already the recipient of prestigious grants and awards, including a Fulbright Grant and the Best New Opera Award for 2017 from the Music Critics Association of North America, for “Breaking the Waves.”

Is that a great white whale I see? No, mate, it’s Verne’s Nautilus, limping into Lookingglass

Jun 22, 2018 – 4:56 pm
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Review: After Lookingglass Theatre’s roundly imaginative and engaging 2015 production of Melville’s “Moby-Dick,” one might have expected Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Seas” to fare no less well, indeed to fall right into the Lookingglass wheelhouse. Sorry, mates. The best thing to be said for this production, adapted by David Kersnar and Steve Pickering and directed by Kersnar, is that it finally gives us a proper translation of Verne’s original French title. It’s the saga of a road trip, as nefarious as it is long, under the seas. ★★

Like a constellation viewed above the skyline, Grant Park Chorus ascends in Chicago night

Jun 21, 2018 – 3:28 pm
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Review: A Grant Park Music Festival concert celebrating singers and song featured the world premiere setting of Native American songs and stories about a star cluster called “The Pleiades,” which is visible to the naked eye in colder months. Latvian composer Ēriks Ešenvalds wrote it to be performed during the Chorus America Conference, which brought hundreds of the nation’s choruses large and small to Chicago. It played nicely in the out-of-doors in preamble to starlight and fireworks on the night before the summer solstice.

‘Damascus’ at Strawdog: A frantic white kid and a Somali-born taxi driver, both desperate

Jun 20, 2018 – 4:32 pm
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Review: In your face is probably not the right way to describe the close-up experience of watching Bennett Fisher’s taut, harrowing new play “Damascus” in Strawdog Theatre’s cozy new home. Eye to unblinking eye would be more accurate. As Somali-born Hassan drives his van down the highway from the Minneapolis airport toward Chicago, with a mysterious young white man as his passenger, news of a terrorist attack back at the airport comes over the radio. We viewers gaze straight at the two men through the van’s windshield. The increasingly anxious travelers stare right back at us. ★★★★

‘Father Comes Home From Wars’ at Goodman: Adapting Homer (et al.) to epic of moral siege

Jun 18, 2018 – 8:07 pm
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Review: Hero is strong young slave in the 1860s South who finds himself agonizing over an option: Accept his owner’s proposition to accompany him into the war against the Yankees, in exchange for his subsequent freedom, or remain behind as a slave for the rest of his life. That’s the setup of Suzan-Lori Parks’ epic and very human play “Father Comes Home From the Wars,” now on smart, provocative and impassioned display at Goodman Theatre under the direction of Niegel Smith. ★★★★

The stars align – Muti, Ma, CSO – as visitors from U.S. orchestras catch a cosmic concert

Jun 17, 2018 – 11:35 pm
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Review: You could say the 600 representatives of symphony orchestras from around the country who heard the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, with music director Riccardo Muti and cellist Yo-Yo Ma, were in the right place at the right time. If ever there was a musical nexus, this was one: the convergence of those particular performing forces and the work at hand, Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 2, a sublime masterpiece captured at Orchestra Hall on June 14 in every dimension of its dark drama, searing introspection and virtuosic eloquence.

Grant Park Fest’s all-summer concert party begins with a selfie of bad-news Belshazzar

Jun 17, 2018 – 12:36 pm
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Review: Summer’s obviously just over the horizon: The musicians, chorus, maestro and devotees of the Grant Park Music Festival are already partying like the equinox has happened. As the centerpiece of the festival’s 84th summer opener, June 13-16, William Walton’s grand and colorful oratorio “Belshazzar’s Feast” felt like a reflection of the block-party atmosphere at Millennium Park.

American Players settles in for second season on new stage: This summer, it feels like home

Jun 12, 2018 – 5:43 pm
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Preview: If the novelty has worn off the new stage at American Players Theatre, which with its trap-laden floor opened last summer amid general euphoria, the charm can now begin to work its magic. Or, as APT artistic director Brenda DeVita put it: “Last year, everybody wanted to use the traps, and this year nobody’s using them. Everyone is now settling into the new place as home.” American Players’ 2018 season opens June 16 in Spring Green, Wis., with Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.”

‘Buried Child’ at Writers: Shepard’s Greek tragedy, cast in a fractured American family

Jun 8, 2018 – 5:51 pm
Larry Yando, Timothy Edward Kane Buried Child Writers feature (Michael Brosilow)

Review: Sam Shepard’s darkly funny tale is not so much about the decline of an American way of life as it is about us humans losing sight of ourselves in a blur of treachery, self-denial and retribution that threatens to extend through the generations backward and forward. As directed by Kimberly Senior in a superb production, Shepard’s realm is a ramshackle pasture of the heart, where truths too painful to confess refuse to stay buried no matter how much mind-numbing alcohol, or sexual abandon or vagabondage are applied. ★★★★

CHICAGO WINE JOURNAL: 2015 Bordeaux tempt with instant appeal, but promise more

Jun 7, 2018 – 9:56 pm
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Tasting Report: Add 2015 to the impressive list of auspicious Bordeaux vintages since the turn of the millennium and the brilliant wines of 2000. Many of the region’s star producers recently converged on Chicago for a tasting under the aegis of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux. The many wines I sampled suggested a vintage unusually accessible for early drinking, but also one with its share of wines built for the long haul – wines that will reward patience.

‘Suddenly, Last Summer’ at Raven: Gothic tale of Williams’ South, its poetic air blown north

Jun 5, 2018 – 4:15 pm
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Review: Like Tennessee Williams’ iconic play “The Glass Menagerie,” his later, more concise and certainly more curious “Suddenly, Last Summer” involves the perspective of memory. But the reliability – indeed, the truthfulness – of memory lies at the horrific heart of “Suddenly, Last Summer,” which now spreads its gothic wings over the stage at Raven Theatre. Despite the production’s clear narrative, the playwright’s lyricism is muted behind Southern accents. ★★★

‘L’Orontea’ at Haymarket Opera: Love’s perils keep Queen’s court at play in Baroque comedy

Jun 4, 2018 – 5:26 pm
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Review: There’s a very old charm in the number 7, and it applies with a capital C to the final production of Haymarket Opera Company’s seventh season – a thoroughly charming romp through Antonio Cesti’s “L’Orontea.” This 17th-century concoction of romance, light-hearted comedy (with one leg in farce) and good tunes is just the ticket for some pre-summer fun. ★★★★

CHICAGO WINE JOURNAL: 2016 Ports show classic profile of opulence, elegance, power

May 30, 2018 – 7:40 pm
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Tasting Report: Lovers of vintage Port wine learn early that, in the rarefied world of Port, “the latest thing” doesn’t come around very often. As in Champagne, the producers of Port “declare” a vintage only in exceptional years – typically about three times each decade. The recently introduced 2016 Port wines signal one of those exceptions, the first vintage declared since 2011. And what beautiful wines they are.

‘Prometheus Bound’ at City Lit: Bringer of fire
to humanity brings down the hot wrath of Zeus

May 29, 2018 – 5:05 pm
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Review: The Greek myth of Prometheus, who rashly gave the gift of fire to humankind and endured severe punishment for it, was the basis of Aeschylus’ fifth-century B.C. drama “Prometheus Bound,” which City Lit Theater has revived in a puppet-enhanced staging. It’s the world premiere of a new translation by Nicholas Rudall, the University of Chicago classics scholar who was the founding artistic director of Court Theatre. ★★

In a personal take on musical style, Salonen transfigures Schoenberg, Bartók and the CSO

May 28, 2018 – 5:49 pm
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Review: It was like two weeks with another orchestra, Esa-Pekka Salonen’s consecutive programs with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra punctuated by his leadership of the 20th anniversary concert of MusicNOW. It was a heady, exciting stretch in which the Chicago Symphony sounded like a different band. CSO music directdor Riccardo Muti’s ideal of this orchestra as the Vienna Philharmonic West was nowhere in sight from the get-go of a May 25 concert with Mitsuko Uchida as soloist in Bartók’s Piano Concerto No. 3.

Irish troupe brings Beckett’s ‘Godot’ to CST, leaving critic with nothing to wish (or wait) for

May 25, 2018 – 12:04 pm
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Review: Samuel Beckett was Irish by birth but a naturalized existentialist of the French line whose most famous native son remains Jean-Paul Sartre. Watching the Irish theater company Druid perform Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” – at once vivid and bleak, its characters dithering and hobbled and resigned to their absurd circularity – I couldn’t help thinking of Sartre’s “No Exit.” ★★★★★

‘The Originalist’ at Court: High court’s Scalia, lion who loves a fight, spars with spunky clerk

May 24, 2018 – 9:58 am
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Review: Everything about John Strand’s play “The Originalist,” a philosophical profile of the conservative Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia now on the boards at Court Theatre, recommends the enterprise as a one-man show. The positive side of that is Edward Gero’s expansive, assured and piquant performance as Scalia. On the shadowed side of “everything” I mean, well, everything else about this contrived and tormented attempt to turn what is essentially fascinating and funny stand-up into high drama. ★★

‘How to Use a Knife’ at Shattered Globe: Slicing to heart of the human, or is it a beast?

May 23, 2018 – 8:28 am
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Review: In a different setting, Steve, an anonymous immigrant from Rwanda working as a dishwasher in an ordinary New York eatery, knows well enough how to use a knife. But when a master chef, or what’s left of him after the ravages of alcoholism, takes charge of the kitchen, the quiet dishwasher is drawn out by the elegant appeal of culinary art. That’s the setup of Will Snider’s wry and unsettling play “How to Use a Knife,” offered in a savory preparation by Shattered Globe Theatre and director Sandy Shinner. ★★★★★