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Chicago Shakespeare Theater lights lamps, world comes in remembrance of the Bard

Submitted by on Jan 27, 2016 – 5:15 pm


Moscow's Pushkin Theatre presents 'Measure for Measure' as the yearlong Chicago festival's inaugural play.

Preview: Ambitious year of events, under the banner Shakespeare 400 Chicago, honors the monumental playwright, who died in 1616.
By Lawrence B. Johnson

This year marks the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare, and surely nowhere is that big round number being observed with greater zeal, diversity and, well, relentlessness than here in Chicago-Upon-Avon.

Throughout 2016, the plays of Shakespeare, adaptations of the plays in various forms and creative applications of Shakespearean themes will be found across the metro area in a coordinated, nonstop festival dubbed Shakespeare 400 Chicago — part of an international observance of the four centuries that have passed since the monumental playwright’s death in 1616.

Tim Crouch offers the arrogant, and abused, Malvolio's view of 'Twelfth Night.'While the range of events is as imaginative as it is formidable, the core matter consists of a goodly chunk of Shakespeare’s three dozen-plus plays to be presented in various languages by companies from around the world at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, which – big surprise – has been the driving force behind the city’s quadricentennial observance.

“Over the last six months, Shakespeare 400 Chicago has grown in scale, excitement and partnerships to a degree none of us could have envisioned,” says CST’s Doreen Sayegh, who has supervised the project since its inception two and a half years ago. “So many people have jumped in to express their passion for Shakespeare and add their voices and talents to this commemoration.”

The creative gamut runs from Shakespeare-themed dishes to be offered over the coming months by 38 chefs across Chicago to the Lyric Opera production of Gounod’s “Romeo and Juliet” (Feb. 22-March 19) and Chicago Symphony Orchestra performances of Berlioz’s dramatic symphony “Romeo and Juliet” conducted by Riccardo Muti (April 7-9) to a presentation of “Supernatural Shakespeare” images at the Art Institute of Chicago (April 11-Oct. 10).

The festival officially opens with “Measure for Measure” (Jan. 27-31) in a Russian-language production (with supertitles) co-developed by Moscow’s Pushkin Theatre and London’s Cheek by Jowl company. The Belarus Free Theatre will present “King Lear” (Feb. 5-14), followed hotly by CST’s own production of “Othello” (Feb. 18-April 10).

The Q Brothers' 'Othello: The Remix' has been a huge hit with Chicago Shakespeare Theater audiences.Indeed, “Othello” is one of several plays that will be offered in multiple guises. The Hamburg Ballet will dance the tragedy – to music of Arvo Pärt, Alfred Schnittke and Naná Vasconcelos played by the Chicago Philharmonic – at the Harris Theater (Feb. 23-24). CST’s resident Q Brothers will reprise their wildly popular hip hop take, “Othello-The Remix” (April 12-May 8).

Among the more intriguing spins is the British Forced Entertainment company’s “(In)Complete Works: Table-Top Shakespeare,” in which common household objects take on the personas of dramatic characters – a cheese grater becomes Macbeth. This still-life pageant plays out Feb. 25-27 at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

A double dose of invention awaits in separate but equally alluring shows contrived by the celebrated British actor Tim Couch. The first, “I, Malvolio” (June 2-5 at CST), takes us through “Twelfth Night” from the perspective of the pompous, arrogant but ultimately humiliated servant.

Jonathan Pryce portrays Shylock in the Shakespeare's Globe production of 'The Merchant of Venice.'On a second visit, Couch directs members of the British company Spymonkey in his (not entirely) grim distillation “The Complete Deaths,” a low-flying survey of all 74 unfortunate endings of Shakespearean characters.

But what could hold more sheer magnetism – for its title alone, sight unseen – than “Gary Busey’s One-Man ‘Hamlet’?” This is not exactly what you’re thinking. No, this is not Gary Busey playing Hamlet. It’s British writer-actor David Carl impersonating Busey playing the melancholy prince. Show me the Shakespeare buff worthy of the claim who could stay away from that!

A few other peaks bear noting, among them the Chicago Symphony’s concert version of Verdi’s opera “Falstaff” with Muti, one of the world’s foremost Verdi interpreters, conducting at Orchestra Hall (April 21-26) and the Joffrey Ballet’s “Romeo and Juliet,” choreographed to Prokofiev’s great score, at the Auditorium Theatre (Oct. 13-23).

Shakespeare’s Globe comes to CST with “The Merchant of Venice” (Aug. 4-14), Belgium’s Theater Zuidpool  presents “Macbeth” (August) and Eye On India brings a colorful Hindi-language production of “Twelfth Night” (Sept. 27 and 29) and at the Harris Theater the Shanghai Peking Opera’s unfurls its splendorous “The Revenge of Prince Zi Dan (Hamlet)” (Sept. 28-29).

Certainly not the least ambitious, is CST artistic director Barbara Gaines’ prodigious two-part compilation examining war in the plays of Shakespeare – “Tug of War: Foreign Fire” (May 12-June 12) and “Tug of War: Civil Strife” (Sept. 14-Oct. 9).

All that is but a rough map of this vasty (a wonderful Bardian word) festival realm, which upon closer examination here will offer up numberless byways of discovery and, no doubt, amazement.

The Shanghai Peking Opera will bring its color version of 'Hamlet' to Chicago.