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Tennessee Williams’ rare gem ‘Creve Coeur’ gets a lyrical polishing at American Players

Jul 19, 2019 – 11:27 am
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Review: “A Lovely Sunday for Creve Coeur,” an obscure play by Tennessee Williams from late in his life, serves up a touching, trenchant, typically insightful and empathic look at aging womanhood – four women in this instance – in a production at American Players Theatre that reveals a hidden gem by the incomparable singer of America’s Southern song. ★★★★★

‘True West’ at Steppenwolf: Warring brothers
go to the mat over fame, fortune and spelling

Jul 18, 2019 – 8:26 am
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Review: It’s a surreal encounter and also a never-ending story, Sam Shepard’s slugfest of a play “True West,” which sprawls across the stage at in a lusty, mad and magnetic production at Steppenwolf Theatre. The tattered remains of actors Jon Michael Hill and Namir Smallwood, who had just endured a mutual pummeling as contentious brothers unexpectedly and most unhappily reunited, shared in bravely earned applause at the show’s opening July 16. ★★★★

Shakespeare at American Players: Some have greatness thrust on them; others, not so much

Jul 17, 2019 – 11:09 am
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Review: American Players Theatre, now in its 40th summer of primarily outdoor productions in a charming little arena in the hills of Spring Green, Wis., some 30 miles west of Madison, has always regarded Shakespeare as its badge of honor, reference point and indeed its reason for being. That tradition is manifest in a spirited and sure production of “Twelfth Night,” but a dubiously conceived and oddly cast “Macbeth” betrays this excellent company’s allegiance to the Bard. “Twelfth Night” ★★★★ “Macbeth” ★★

‘King Lear’ at Redtwist: The existential Bard, pared to the core of being – and nothingness

Jul 15, 2019 – 8:41 pm
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Review: Redtwist Theatre, the fearless vest-pocket company in Edgewater, winds up its season, the last for co-founder and artistic director Michael Colucci at the helm, with its first venture into Shakesespeare: a lean, uneven “King Lear,” but one altogether imposing in Brian Parry’s assured, fierce and affecting performance in the title role. ★★★

‘The Music Man’ at Goodman: He’s a what, he’s a what? He’s a music man. No, he ain’t.

Jul 12, 2019 – 6:10 pm
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Review: Yes, my friends, we got trouble, right here in Windy City. I’m talkin’ about a Goodman Theatre production of “The Music Man” – a musical, the last I heard – that’s about as musical as Amaryllis’ cross-hand piece at the piano. And by the way, the show also lacks an actor in the title role with a real feel for that two-bit, gol-dang, smooth-talkin’, tin-horn, two-timin’ salesman: someone, in short, who knows the territory. ★★

Kalmar, Grant Park forces take on Beethoven’s mighty Missa Solemnis and serve up a thrilla

Jun 29, 2019 – 7:44 pm
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Review: It’s hard to say which was the more remarkable, music director Carlos Kalmar’s sheer chutzpah in programming Beethoven’s monumental and indeed daunting Missa Solemnis for the Grant Park Music Festival or the thrilling success of the June 28 performance by all the vocal and instrumental forces involved.

‘If I Forget’ at Victory Gardens: The human comedy in past, present and future imperfect

Jun 27, 2019 – 7:55 am
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Review: The ingredients of Steven Levenson’s brutally honest play “If I Forget” are the stuff of human frailty: hubris, folly, hypocrisy, naïveté, denial. All compacted into one dysfunctional family, and sharply etched in a riveting production at Victory Gardens. ★★★★

American Players Theatre, set for its 40th year, cues the Bard, Tennessee and August Wilson

Jun 14, 2019 – 9:00 am
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Preview: American Players Theatre, nestled in the woodland hills near Spring Green, Wis., about 30 miles west of Madison, rolls out its 40th summer June 15 with Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” and Shaw’s “The Man of Destiny,” to be followed by seven more productions during a season that runs into early November. Says artistic director Brenda DeVita, now in her sixth year: “Our job is not to preserve, but to create. We are always changing.”

Role Playing: Maurice Jones wasn’t shooting
for CST’s Hamlet – but it simply was to be

Jun 3, 2019 – 3:16 pm
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Interview: Maurice Jones, who plays the title role in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s current production of “Hamlet,” apparently made quite an impression at his audition. Actually, he overshot just a bit. He was trying out for the supporting part of Laertes. Jones had never played Hamlet, but when the actor who originally won the job had to back out, CST artistic director Barbara Gaines, who also directs this show, asked Jones if he’d be game to step up – and take on one of the greatest and most challenging roles in theater.

‘Miracle,’ a musical memory of the 2016 Cubs, drives nostalgia to deep center – back, back…

Jun 2, 2019 – 7:43 pm
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Review: “Miracle,” a new musical about the 2016 Chicago Cubs at the Royal George Theatre with music and lyrics by Michael Mahler and book by Jason Brett, extends its charming lure especially to that subset of devout Cubs fans who remember exactly where they were at 11:47 p.m. (Chicago time) Nov. 2, 2016, when the North Siders won their first World Series in 108 years. It’s a luxurious dip into unbridled nostalgia. ★★★

‘Winter’s Tale’ at Goodman: Clearing the high dramatic hurdle, crashing on rustic comedy

May 28, 2019 – 8:08 am
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Review: Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale,” which begins with an outrageous and apparently unprovoked display of jealousy by a king toward his beloved wife and their best friend, works in its most problematic moments with rare plausibility and conviction thanks to director Robert Falls and an impeccably gauged performance by Dan Donohue. Yet the Goodman Theatre production also goes off the rails where the going seems easiest – in broad comedy. ★★★

‘Killing Game’ at Red Orchid: They’re dropping like flies in a wacky plague on all their houses

May 15, 2019 – 4:40 pm
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Review: Eugène Ionesco’s “Killing Game” won’t solve life’s Big Riddle – why we’re here at all – for you. But this imaginative production directed by Dado will provide you with acidly brilliant company at A Red Orchid Theatre, where 13 skilled actors play many, many roles – because otherwise their parts would have been exceedingly brief. The citizens are dropping dead in dizzying succession, and in often ridiculous fashion, of an unknown cause. ★★★★

‘West Side Story’ at Lyric Opera of Chicago:
New love and old hatred stirred at high heat

May 9, 2019 – 9:43 am
5/2/19 2:46:06 PM -- Chicago, IL

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Review: By now, Lyric Opera of Chicago can claim an impressive string of spring musicals, hugely popular explorations of classic Americana that appear like shining exclamation marks at the end of regular opera seasons. The latest, “West Side Story,” well may be the finest. Indeed, you might be hard pressed ever to find a more profoundly satisfying account of this exquisite music-drama, which shares with its model, Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet,” both its bittersweet hope and its timeless tragedy. ★★★★★

‘Hamlet’ at Chicago Shakespeare: In honoring Bard’s language, an actor hones ambivalence

Apr 30, 2019 – 8:14 pm
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Review: The much that is good about Chicago Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” is very good indeed, starting with Maurice Jones’ rigorously thought-through and yet convincingly spontaneous performance as the melancholy Prince of Denmark. But unevenness among the rest of the principal roles takes a toll on this enterprise under company artistic director Barbara Gaines. ★★★★

‘A Number’ at Writers: Haunted by the past, dad seeks ideal son in future perfect of DNA

Apr 28, 2019 – 9:38 pm
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Review: Salter’s little boy was perfect. Beautiful. In his father’s eyes, the child Bernard was everything a man could wish for. Then, something happened. What, exactly, is the conundrum at the core of Caryl Churchill’s intriguing futuristic play “A Number,” in which William Brown and Nate Burger now occupy the stage at Writers Theatre. ★★★★

‘Hannah and Martin’ at Shattered Globe: Fireworks of mind and heart as the Reich rises

Apr 25, 2019 – 5:46 pm
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Review: In a Chicago theater season that has produced a generous share of first-rate work, there’s been little that might top the brilliance and torment generated by Christina Gorman and Lawrence Grimm in Kate Fodor’s “Hannah and Martin” at Shattered Globe Theatre. It’s a story as mesmerizing as it is heated and exotic, this historical – and historically sound – romantic affair and intellectual tussle between two of the most influential philosophers of the last century: Martin Heidegger, a Nazi sympathizer, and the Jewish thinker Hannah Arendt, ★★★★★

‘The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey’: Charismatic gay boy, sundry friends, one actor

Apr 19, 2019 – 4:15 pm
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Review: What’s so seductively marvelous about Joe Foust’s one-man turn through James Lecesne’s bittersweet play “The Absolute Brightness of Leonard Pelkey,” currently in production at American Blues Theater, is not simply the actor’s ability to sustain a complicated narrative alone on the stage. What’s absolutely magical is Foust’s blink-of-an-eye transformations from one fully formed character into another, each new persona as distinctive, empathic and credible as the last. ★★★★

‘For Colored Girls’ at Court: Getting through hard lives with a distant promise of rainbows

Apr 11, 2019 – 9:29 am
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Review: You have half a dozen more chances to see Ntozake Shange’s stunning play “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf” before it closes April 14 at Court Theatre. That is, assuming a seat opens up; the remainder of the run is sold out. No surprise there. “For Colored Girls” is a theatrical experience of authentic soul and rare beauty. ★★★★★

‘Sweat’ at Goodman: When the jobs go away, even best friends can lose sight of forever

Apr 1, 2019 – 6:12 pm
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Review: The tragic grandeur of Lynn Nottage’s play “Sweat,” now indispensably on display at Goodman Theatre, resides in its complex truths. All in one remarkable tumble, it is a play about the vulnerability of the labor class, the crassness of their overlords, the fragility of friendships, the partitions of tribalism and the volatile bond between mothers and sons. ★★★★★

‘Herland’ at Redtwist: Three senior ladies give new meaning to garage band’s sacred domain

Mar 23, 2019 – 4:47 pm
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Review: As shaggy dog stories go, Grace McLeod’s “Herland,” now rollicking about in the very small space of Redtwist Theatre, is funny from start almost to finish. The show derives its nearly nonstop energy and substantial appeal from three middle-aged actresses and a convincingly vulnerable young actress playing in a you-are-there garage set. Right at the finish line, however, “Herland” makes a sudden shift from high comedy to self-conscious morality tale and concludes in an awkward effort to make its point. ★★★

Steppenwolf to create new theater building, centerpiece of $73 million renewal project

Mar 5, 2019 – 12:12 pm
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Report: Steppenwolf Theatre unveiled plans March 5 for a new state-of-the-art theater building, the heart of a $73 million renovation project that ultimately will include remodeling of the company’s current main-stage theater. The new building is expected to open in summer 2021. “This is a monumental moment for us that is more than two decades in the making,” said artistic director Anna D. Shapiro, adding that the expansion plan is “built on the shoulders of the former leaders, the ensemble, the board, and the staff who have touched this project and together have made this vision a reality.”

‘How I Learned to Drive’ at Raven: Pretty girl, adoring uncle and secrets of the automobile

Mar 1, 2019 – 9:32 am
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Review: Li’l Bit was just 11 years old when she got her first driving lesson from her Uncle Peck. He pulled her onto his lap and showed her how to place her hands on the steering wheel.at the 3 o’clock and 9 o’clock positions. Then Uncle Peck placed his hands in roughly the same positions on L’il Bit. In Paula Vogel’s bruised-memory play “How I Learned to Drive,” the 1998 Pulitzer Prize winner for Drama now on cringe-inducing display at Raven Theatre, Li’l Bit grows to young womanhood in the caring, caressing hands of her devoted Uncle Peck, a pedophile. ★★★

‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ at Writers: Flashy shoes, flashing weapons and some ’20s blues

Feb 27, 2019 – 9:36 am
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Review: It’s 1927, and the veteran blues singer Ma Rainey – or Madame Rainey, as she prefers – is the imperious queen of her realm. The black songstress has been around, and she doesn’t take any grief from anybody, including white folks. Brash trumpeter Levee, who’s playing a Chicago recording session with Rainey, is still finding his way. He’s young, gifted and black. And deeply angry. These two are the fire and ice of August Wilson’s towering tragedy “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” now in the sure hands of director Ron OJ Parson and a stellar cast at Writers Theatre. ★★★★★

‘An Inspector Calls’ at Chicago Shakespeare: High above earthy folk, fine hems betray mud

Feb 24, 2019 – 9:16 pm
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Review: JB Priestley’s classic “An Inspector Calls,” a noir thriller as morality tale, has been around for seven decades, and was made into a film in 1954. But director Stephen Daldry’s laser-focused staging with the National Theatre of Britain, now on view at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, is a masterpiece of ensemble acting wrapped in a brilliant concept that makes the play feel deliciously fresh, newly and wickedly biting. ★★★★★

‘A Doll’s House, Part 2’ at Steppenwolf:
Sharp knock at the door, but is anyone there?

Feb 21, 2019 – 3:13 pm
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Review: Fifteen years after Nora Helmer famously – or perhaps infamously – walks out on husband and children at the end of Ibsen’s play “A Doll’s House,” what do you know but she’s back, knocking on that same door, and not exactly bonnet in hand. Indeed, Nora has found great success as a writer. What an intriguing conceit for the sequel Lucas Hnath has ventured in “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” now at Steppenwolf. Except that I came away with the distinct sense that Nora, the woman of the hour, was missing. ★★

‘On Clover Road’ at American Blues: Missing girl, frantic mom; only this stranger can help

Feb 13, 2019 – 9:54 pm
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Review: Kate Hunter is terrified, desperate, hanging on by her fingernails. Her adolescent daughter ran away three years ago, and finally Kate has a lead to the girl’s seclusion in a cult – even a glimmer of hope that on this day, all may end well. That’s why, in Steven Dietz’s thriller “On Clover Road,” we find Kate holed up in a dilapidated motel room with a brusque, imperious de-programmer who claims he’s experienced at reeling kids back from the abyss. It’s a heart-stopping encounter at American Blues Theater. ★★★★

‘Pipeline’ at Victory Gardens: As a black teen drifts, mother strives to find meeting ground

Feb 11, 2019 – 9:55 pm
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Review: Omari is 16, maybe 17 years old and he’s in serious trouble. He’s black, a bright kid, from good people. They send O – everybody calls him O – to a private school. But the boy is deeply angry, and now he’s facing expulsion from school, and maybe much worse, for assaulting a teacher. This the perilous crux of Dominique Morisseau’s play “Pipeline,” on gripping display at Victory Gardens Theater. ★★★★

‘Cardboard Piano’ at TimeLine:  Kids in love, and the long, life-altering echo of homophobia

Feb 11, 2019 – 9:39 am
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Review: There is one great scene and another that’s at least charming in Hansol Jung’s play “Cardboard Piano,” now occupying the stage at TimeLine Theatre. But all told, this dramatic parable about the intolerance of homosexuality in Uganda limps from adolescent fantasy to a second act that is more contrived than compelling. ★★

Chicago theater mid-season preview, Part 3: Steppenwolf, Lookingglass, Chicago Shakes

Feb 7, 2019 – 2:34 pm
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Preview: The mid-winter is far from bleak under Chicago’s theater marquees. Steppenwolf offers Lucas Hnath’s “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” a sort of what-if sequel to Ibsen’s play. Lookingglass runs out the premiere of Kareem Bandealy’s ‘Act(s) of God,” a cosmic guess-who’s-coming-to-dinner. And Chicago Shakespeare revisits the Bard’s melancholy prince – ever perched on the existential fence between being and nothingness.

‘Nina Simone: Four Women’ at Northlight: Stripes of suffering, stained in shades of black

Feb 4, 2019 – 10:37 pm
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Review: If you’re a serious theater buff, go directly to the Northlight schedule of performances for Christina Ham’s “Nina Simone: Four Women,” and find a night that works for you. This disarming play-with-song about the great jazz and blues singer’s conversion to black activist – but more than that, about black women in their skin – is simply not to be missed. ★★★★★