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Theater 2015-16: Presto! Chicago Shakespeare season blows in with super-magical ‘Tempest’

Submitted by on Sep 2, 2015 – 11:40 pm

Larry Yando plays Prospero in Chicago Shakespeare's production of 'The Tempest.'Eighth in a series of season previews: Shakespeare rules as CST also plans “Othello” and grand, two-part conflation of six “war” plays to mark 400th anniversary of the Bard’s death.

By Lawrence B. Johnson and Nancy Malitz

Prospero might just pitch his books on magic when Chicago Shakespeare Theater opens its 2015-16 season with “The Tempest.” The Bard’s famous conjurer will have an ace collaborator – in no less a magician than Teller of Penn & Teller fame.

“Having Teller teamed up with director Aaron Posner will take the magic to a professional level,” says CST artistic director Barbara Gaines. “This will be a once-in-a-lifetime ‘Tempest.’”

The musical 'Ride the Cyclone' is the story of six kids killed in a roller coaster mishap who get another look at their lives.This, indeed, looks like a rare season for Shakespeare all around at CST. The 400th anniversary of his death comes up in April 2016, and Gaines is planning quite an observance – actually, the formidable first part of a two-part project that continues in the fall of 2016.  The subject is war, a theme that runs rampant in Shakespeare’s plays and one that Gaines intends to excise, parse and banner in two vast conflations.

The first installment, exploring England’s wars in France beginning in the 14th century, telescopes events in “Edward III” (now widely attributed to Shakespeare at least as co-author), “Henry V” and “Henry VI,” Part 1.” The autumn sequel, which concentrates on wars at home, moves into the 15th century and weaves together the belligerent threads of “Henry VI,” Parts 2 and 3 and “Richard III.”

“Scholars in England and here tell me this has never been done before,” says Gaines. “We’re going to make those kings accountable.”

CST logoAnd there’s still more Shakespeare: “Othello” (the original this time, not the Q Brothers’ rap remix), starring the prominent Chicago actor James Vincent Meredith as the beleaguered Moor of Venice.

The new season also brings a new musical with the U.S. premiere of “Ride the Cyclone,” a tragi-comedy about six teenagers from a Canadian chamber choir who are killed in a roller coaster mishap but are granted dispensation to reassess the lives they led.

Completing the lineup is Chicago-born David Ives’ bawdy 2014 off-Broadway comedy “The Heir Apparent,” an adaptation in rhymed couplets of Jean-François Regnard’s early 18th-century farce “Le légataire universel.”

The 2015-16 season in brief:

  • Director Aaron Posner (left) and magician Teller will conjure Shakespeare's 'The Tempest.'“The Tempest” by William Shakespeare (Sept. 17-Nov. 8): After twelve years marooned with his daughter Miranda, the deposed duke Prospero, now master of magic, must choose between his desire for revenge and the freedom that can come only with forgiveness.  CST transforms Propsero’s island into a traveling tent show of trickery and amazement. “The set is fabulous, part shipboard and part island with a punk rock band on stage,” says Gaines. “It will be a cornucopia of magic – and the audience will never be closer to the action.”
  • “Ride the Cyclone,” with book, lyrics and music by Jacob Richmond and Brooke Maxwell (U.S. premiere, Oct. 8-Nov. 8): The lives of six teenagers from a Canadian chamber choir are cut short in a freak accident aboard a roller coaster. A mechanical fortune-teller invites each to tell their story of a life interrupted, offering the chance to come to terms with their fates.  “I don’t want to give away much about this lovely show,” says Gaines, “but what we learn about these kids is completely uplifting. It’s really about what’s their next goal in another life. A very strong narrative line puts it all together. I think it’s going to bring in a lot of twenty-and-thirtysomethings who don’t come to see Shakespeare.”
  • Greg Vinkler and Heidi Kettenring star in 'The Heir Apparent.'“The Heir Apparent” by David Ives, adapted from the 18th-century farce “Le légataire universel” by Jean-François Regnard. Directed by John Rando (Dec. 8-Jan. 17, 2016): Young Eraste has it all – good looks, a beautiful fiancée and the prospect of a sizable inheritance from an elderly uncle. There’s just one snag: The uncle won’t die and he has bequeathed his entire fortune to someone else anyway. Whatever will the young man do? “Putting David Ives and John Rando together is like nuclear fission,” says Gaines. “We’re doing it in 17th-century French costumes. It’s so funny in the watching, and so heartwarming in the leaving. It’s clever, clever, clever.”
  • James Vincent Meredith portrays Othello.“Othello” by William Shakespeare (Feb. 27-April 10, 2016): British director Jonathan Munby returns to CST, where he directed “Julius Caesar” in 2013, to stage Shakespeare’s most intimate tragedy. In a black and white world, the great Moorish general and warrior Othello and the fair Desdemona fall in love. But Othello’s world begins to unravel when his trusted officer Iago, bitter that he has been passed over for promotion, creates the impression that Desdemona is unfaithful. Shakespeare explores two of the most potent human emotions: passionate love and the green-eyed monster jealousy. “Othello is an outsider, and that is key,” says Gaines. “He is not like the others, and Iago plays on that.” Asked about the Metropolitan Opera’s decision to have a white tenor sing the role of Otello in Verdi’s opera this season, without a hint of swarthy makeup, Gaines pressed her point: “He must be different from the norm of society. It’s essential. If that norm is white people, Othello has to be black. But it could also work the other way – an all-black cast with a white Othello. You have to see that he is a stranger.”
  • Phillip James Brannon, left, and David Lively in Part 1 of Barbara Gaines' epic Shakespeare conflation 'Tug of War.'“Tug of War, Part 1: Foreign Fire,” drawn from Shakespeare’s “Edward III,” “Henry V” and “Henry VI,” Part 1; staged as three plays of two acts each in a single evening of about six hours (May 20-June 12, 2016): This distillation, devised by Gaines, traces the rise and fall of kings, and the courage of common men. Part 2, “Civil Strife,” will follow in the autumn of 2016. Each of the two installments will include several intermissions and a brief meal break.  “This is the thrill of my lifetime,” says Gaines. “I’ve been working on this project for the last four years. It has been unveiling itself in front of my eyes. Anything not having to do with the wars I struck from the text. You’re focusing on kings and queens, but also on the common soldier who pays the price of war with his life or his health. It will be like viewing this history of civilization from 10,000 feet.”

Getting there:

Chicago Shakespeare Theater is located midway along Navy Pier on the Lake Michigan waterfront.Chicago Shakespeare Theater observes its 29th year this season, and the 16th 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 dozens of 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.

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