Theater 2014-15: Chicago Shakespeare bounty runs gamut from ‘Lear’ to Jane Austen musical
Fifth in a series of season previews: A teeming schedule offers Shakespeare’s “Pericles,” a South African take on “The Magic Flute” and world premiere of musical “Sense and Sensibility.”
By Lawrence B. Johnson and Nancy Malitz
Chicago Shakespeare Theatre honors its namesake this season with an autumn production of “King Lear,” the fantastic adventures of “Pericles” and a contemporary sequel to “Macbeth” that wryly ponders the chaos that befalls Scotland upon that usurper’s demise.
Capping the season will be the world premiere of the musical “Sense and Sensibility,” an adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel with words, music and play book by Paul Gordon.
CST’s far-ranging lineup of plays brings an intriguing mix to its World’s Stage series, including Mozart’s “The Magic Flute” – relocated and retold in various African languages by the Isango Ensemble of South Africa – and “Ionesco Suite,” a montage by the Paris troupe Théâtre de la Ville that draws from seven plays by the French absurdist playwright Eugene Ionesco.
The World’s Stage series opens with the world premiere of “Since I Suppose,” an off-beat spin on the Bard’s “Measure for Measure” commissioned by Chicago Shakespeare Theater and developed jointly by CST and the Melbourne-based ensemble One Step at a Time Like This.
For CST artistic director Barbara Gaines, however, the immediate focus is on the complex target of “King Lear,” which she will direct with Larry Yando in the title role.
“Everybody has their own idea of which is the greatest of Shakesepeare’s plays, and for me it’s ‘Lear,’” says Gaines. “‘The play is so all-encompassing in its exploration of the meaning of life and death, the differences between youth and age, the journey from blindness to insight and transformation through wisdom.”
Ben Carlson, who has portrayed both Hamlet and Macbeth at CST in recent seasons, returns as Pericles in a play Gaines calls “a tempest-tossed search for wealth, love and ultimately for family.”
And Scottish playwright David Greig’s “Dunsinane,” a modernist perspective on the political turbulence after the events of “Macbeth,” will be offered in a joint presentation by England’s Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre of Scotland. “It’s one man’s attempt to restore peace after Macbeth’s death,” says Gaines, “and with Scotland about to vote on separatism, the politics are very now.”
The 2014-15 season in brief:
- “Since I Suppose,” created by the Australian ensemble One Step at a Time Like This and CST (world premiere, Aug. 28-Sept. 21): Based on Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure,” this site-responsive pedestrian theatrical experience takes participants on an immersive journey through downtown Chicago. Incorporating screen-based digital technologies, the city locales and its inhabitants, “Since I Suppose” aims at a heightened reality that navigates places of power, prayer and pleasure.
- “King Lear” by William Shakespeare (Sept. 17-Nov. 9): An aging monarch resolves to retire and divides his kingdom among his three daughters. The unexpected consequence of losing everything that defines him — and miscalculating the affections of two daughters who crow their love for him and a reticent third daughter who loves him genuinely — is shattering. “It’s the story of how a king learns to become a man,” says Gaines. “Lear is a tyrant, a nasty soul, when we meet him. Nobody in his right mind would divide up his kingdom and expect to retain power, so we are playing this with Lear at the very beginning of dementia. He moves in and out of lucidity and confusion. It’s all there in the text of the play.”
- Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” adapted and directed by Mark Dornford-May from the opera by W.A. Mozart and Emanuel Schikaneder. Produced by the Isango Ensemble of South Africa (Sept. 25-28): Mozart’s magical, mysterious kingdom is relocated to a contemporary South African township, with the original orchestral score recast for marimbas, drums and percussion – a transformation requiring a company of 30 actors and musicians. “It’s totally transported from one continent to another, but essentially a celebration of Mozart,” says Gaines. “And Mozart would love it.”
- “Ionesco Suite,” a pastiche of seven plays by Eugène Ionesco conceived by Emmanuel Demarcy-Mota and performed by the Théâtre de la Ville from Paris (Oct. 15-19): When Demarcy-Mota, the director of Théâtre de la Ville, staged Ionesco’s “Rhinoceros” 10 years ago, he developed a fascination for Ionesco’s humor and his obsessions with cohabitation and solitude. Now Demarcy-Mota and his artistic collective re-examine the playwright’s work, bringing its characters to life through excerpts from seven plays, including “The Lesson” and “The Bald Soprano.”
- “Pericles” by William Shakespeare (Dec. 9-Jan. 18, 2015): In the Bard’s fantastical tale, Pericles embarks on a tempest-tossed adventure into parts unknown – to be confronted by villains, pirates, goddesses and kings. In the end, he discovers a renewal of love and life itself. In the title role will be Stratford Festival mainstay and recurrent CST star Ben Carlson. “Pericles sets out to find his daughter Marina, and their reunion in the fifth act is among top five most brilliant scenes Shakespeare ever wrote,” says Gaines. “When father meets daughter, there couldn’t be a dry eye in the house. It’s set way, way in the past and our magical wonderland of a production offers one of the most gorgeous sets we’ve ever had. And it will be directed by David Bell, one of the greatest directors in the U.S., who’s been working with us for 20 years.”
- “The Table,” devised by Blind Summit Theatre, and “Freeze,” created and performed by Nick Steur (January, 2015): Both shows are part of Chicago’s first International Puppet Theater Festival. “The Table,” reprised by the English company from its CST appearance in 2013, centers on Moses, a cantankerous puppet with a cardboard head immersed in an existential crisis on a table. In “Freeze,” from Belgium, Nick Steur works the near-magic of balancing stones without glue or other manipulations.
- “Dunsinane” by David Greig, a co-production of the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre of Scotland (Feb. 26-March 22, 2015): This dark comedy begins after the death of Macbeth. Under cover of night, an English army has swept through the landscape, killed the tyrant and taken the seat of power. Attempting to restore peace and put in place a new ruler, the English commanding officer encounters resistance and the situation spins out of control. “It’s a very funny play,” says Gaines. “People haven’t changed very much in 500 years. We have the same ambitions and mistrust, and the same inability to get things done. Given the present political landscape, you’d think you were reading today’s headlines.”
- “Sense and Sensibility,” a musical based on Jane Austen’s novel with words, music and narrative adaptation by Paul Gordon (April 18-June 7, 2015): Austen’s celebrated story focuses on two sisters as bound by their love for each other as they are conflicted in their different natures — and their notions of true love. The story begins with the death of Marianne and Elinor’s beloved father and ends with the marriage of both sisters on the same day. “It’s about finding joy and peace after a terrible loss,” says Gaines, “and finding real love when the obstacles seem insurmountable. I Met Paul about eight years ago when I saw his musical adaptation of Austen’s ‘Emma’ on the west coast, and was impressed by its psychological complexity and gorgeously melodic music. This new musical lives in the world of Jane Austen, but pares the novel down to the essential people. He made it very much about the two sisters and how they end up with the right people.”
Chicago Shakespeare Theater observes its 28th year this season, and the 15th year at its present location on Navy Pier. Recipient of the Regional Theater Tony Award and three Laurence Olivier Awards, the company also has earned 77 Joseph Jefferson Awards. CST was the 2012 recipient of the Folger Shakespeare Library’s national Shakespeare Steward Award for innovative teaching of Shakespeare in American classrooms. Among international engagements, CST participated in the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2006 Complete Works Festival and was selected to represent North America at the Globe to Globe festival as part of London’s 2012 Cultural Olympiad.
- Review of ‘Henry V’ at Chicago Shakespeare: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Review of Sondheim’s ‘Gypsy’ at Chicago Shakespeare: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Review of ‘Henry VIII’ at Chicago Shakespeare: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Role Playing: Ora Jones as Katherine in ‘Henry VIII’: Read the interview at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Review of ‘Julius Caesar’ at Chicago Shakespeare: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Role Playing: Dion Johnstone as Marc Antony in ‘Julius Caesar’: Read the interview at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Review of ‘The Merry Wives of Windsor’ at Chicago Shakespeare: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Review of ‘Timon of Athens’ at Chicago Shakespeare: Read it at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
- Ian McDiarmid on portraying Shakespeare’s Timon: Read the interview at ChicagoOntheAisle.com
Tags: Barbara Gaines, Blind Summit Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, David Greig, Dunsinane, Eugene Ionesco, Ionesco Suite, Isango Ensemble, Jane Austen, King Lear, Mark Dornford-May, Mozart, National Theatre of Scotland, Nick Steur, One Step at a Time Like This, Paul Gordon, Pericles, Royal Shakespeare Company, Sense and Sensibility, The Magic Flute, The Table, Theatre de la Ville, William Shakespeare