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Role Playing: Joel Reitsma drew moral profit from banker-captor clash of ‘Invisible Hand’

Nov 16, 2017 – 3:57 pm
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Interview: Joel Reitsma creates a convincingly distressed investment banker who parlays his expertise into a desperate, life-preserving deal with his Pakistani captors in Ayad Akhtar’s “The Invisible Hand” at Steep Theatre. But Reitsma admits up front that he knows little about the trading game; and besides, he’s quick to add, the play isn’t about the stock market anyway. It’s about the corrosive power of money.

Freshened, jumpin’ musical ‘School of Rock’ shakes the house as tour blows into Chicago

Nov 8, 2017 – 12:29 pm
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Review: True to the spirit of the Jack Black film comedy about an aging rock ‘n’ roll wannabe who cons his way into a substitute teaching job and shakes up his class of uptight tweens, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Broadway hit is a hilarious slam dunk in Chicago, starring Second City alum Rob Colletti as the guru of a dozen young rockers in bloom. ★★★★

‘Quixote: On the Conquest of Self’ recasts Cervantes for the young in heart (and years)

Oct 28, 2017 – 10:34 pm
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Review: In his patched-together “battle” garb, well into his middle years but lean, bright of eye and dauntless in his self-image, Henry Godinez looks the very portrait of that most storied of knights errant, Don Quixote de La Mancha. Godinez is the appealing star and narrator of an almost-one-man show with the intriguing title of “Quixote: On the Conquest of Self” – which turns out to be a theatrical excursion more curious than any of the ventures embarked upon by Cervantes’ noble lancer, windmill jousting included. ★★

‘The Invisible Hand’ at Steep: Cash is king, and even the godly bow to its golden crown

Oct 26, 2017 – 4:34 pm
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Review: If power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, what shall we say about the allure – no, the infection — of wealth? Perhaps mammon is the perverse god whom man created, not in his own image but as his highest aspiration and ideal. Money, money, money, money, money. Get a good taste of it only to crave more. That’s the object lesson, the demonstration, of Ayad Akhtar’s wrenching, fearsome play “The Invisible Hand,” which now commands the little stage at Steep Theatre in a production directed by Audrey Francis that is well worth adding to your must-see list. ★★★★

‘The Audience’ at TimeLine: Enduring queen receives her ministers with rubber stamp, wit

Oct 23, 2017 – 9:09 am
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Review: Janet Ulrich Brooks reigns supreme as Queen Elizabeth II in Peter Morgan’s play “The Audience” at TimeLine Theatre. The poised, circumspect, droll and ever so slightly vulnerable performance by one of Chicago’s most versatile actresses provides the constant heart in an otherwise uneven enterprise. The springboard for Morgan’s sly work is the historical Tuesday meetings between the Queen and the prime minister of the moment – a succession of politicos from Winston Churchill and Anthony Eden down through the decades to Tony Blair and David Cameron. ★★★

Role Playing: Lawrence Grimm found Lincoln first in pages of history, then within himself

Oct 20, 2017 – 1:03 pm
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Interview: Lawrence Grimm stands 6 feet 4 inches tall – the same height as Abraham Lincoln. It wasn’t height that worried the actor when he took on his nuanced and profoundly human portrayal of Lincoln in James Still’s “The Heavens Are Hung in Black” at Shattered Globe Theatre. What concerned Grimm were the iconic dimensions of the 16th president, the towering figure whose wisdom would guide the nation through its greatest crisis.

Theater as crucible: Two Arthur Miller classics bridge high peaks of Goodman, Steppenwolf

Oct 19, 2017 – 10:16 am
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Review: If you have not yet seen both “A View from the Bridge” at Goodman Theatre and “The Crucible” at Steppenwolf Theatre – well, it’s Miller time. These are mesmerizing productions of two of Arthur Miller’s finest plays, and impressive reminders of why Goodman and Steppenwolf hold such eminent places on Chicago’s – indeed, the nation’s – theater scene. Each of these parallel runs has only a handful of performances remaining. Together, they make for a stunning one-two theatrical punch. Both ★★★★★

‘Taming of the Shrew’ at Chicago Shakespeare translates romp of an era into modern comedy

Oct 8, 2017 – 6:33 pm
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Review: On the surface, the idea of an all-female cast for Shakespeare’s “The Taming of the Shrew” smacks of gimmickry. Framing the story within a contrivance about the women’s campaign in 1919 for the right to vote sounds downright tormented. But “The Taming of the Shrew,” for modern audiences the most problematic entry in the Shakespeare canon, surely has not been brought to the stage with greater wit, brilliance or plausibility since – oh, since women got the right to vote. ★★★★★

‘The Heavens Are Hung in Black’: In predawn of Emancipation, Lincoln suffers war and loss

Oct 2, 2017 – 4:25 pm
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Review: Chicago’s young theater season has raised the curtain on a genuine sleeper: a gem of a play, James Still’s “The Heavens Are Hung in Black,” produced by a little company, Shattered Globe Theatre, on a tiny stage at Theatre Wit. At the center of a splendid ensemble effort is Lawrence Grimm’s exquisite and wholly credible portrayal of Abraham Lincoln. ★★★★

‘The Rembrandt’ at Steppenwolf: Ruminating on the golden linkage of art and life and love

Sep 23, 2017 – 2:45 pm
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Review: Jessica Dickey’s play “The Rembrandt” is a thing of great spiritual beauty, but Francis Guinan’s performance – you might say in the title role – at Steppenwolf Theatre bears out the imperative of another character in the play, Homer: that poetry must be spoken aloud. Guinan takes Dickey’s eloquent and insightful text to a transcendent place. ★★★★★

Chicago Shakespeare opens versatile venue with (French) accent on timeless circus gags

Sep 21, 2017 – 5:15 pm
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Review: One might have hoped for an imaginative Shakespeare production from, well, Chicago Shakespeare Theater to inaugurate its new $35 million venue. But CST opted for the entertainment of French circus veteran James Thierrée’s “The Toad Knew.” His superb company of physical comedians provided a delightful hour in a show that ran nearly twice that length, sans break. ★★★

‘Pericles’ at American Players: Through crazy accents, keeping the Bard’s rhyme and reason

Sep 18, 2017 – 9:19 am
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Review: To use Shakespeare and farce in the same sentence is almost certainly to think of “The Comedy of Errors,” and maybe patches of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” Probably not, however, the late romantic adventure tale “Pericles, Prince of Tyre.” But it is precisely a generous infusion of over-the-top silliness that makes such endearing stuff of “Pericles” at American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wis. ★★★★

Writers announces second, final extension of musical ‘Trevor’; show must close Oct. 8

Sep 13, 2017 – 4:52 pm
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This Just In: The following is a news release written by an arts organization, submitted to Chicago On the Aisle.
Glencoe, IL– Writers Theatre, under the leadership of Artistic Director Michael Halberstam and Executive Director Kathryn M. Lipuma, adds another week …

Role Playing: Cristina Panfilio spreads wings she didn’t know she had as midsummer Puck

Sep 7, 2017 – 10:55 pm
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Interview: Cristina Panfilio, the disarmingly sly and funny – and athletic! – Puck in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” at American Players Theatre, didn’t see it coming. The role of the mischievous fairy sprite with magical powers is normally played by a male actor.  When director John Langs phoned her and cold-pitched her the part, she was flattered, of course. The Chicago-based actress was also overwhelmed by the thought.

In magical return to its birth, APT embraces human heart of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

Aug 31, 2017 – 8:38 am
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Review: Is there a better way to fall under the spell of Shakespeare than through “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”? Not if it’s the current production under the stars by American Players Theatre, which will get the job done for ages 7 to 97 at the least. The company is but an afternoon’s drive from Chicago into the Wisconsin woods near Madison, and the actors – more than a few of them based in Chicago – are uniformly proficient at finding the human warmth in Shakespeare’s comedy and making it clear in minute detail. ★★★★★

‘The Maids’ at American Players Theatre: Dressing up and getting down, sans laughter

Aug 26, 2017 – 2:02 pm
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Review: In Jean Genet’s bleak existential drama “The Maids,” two young women, sisters and live-in house maids to the same mistress, secretly turn the tables in an ominous fantasy life about power and subservience. A noir study in delusional role-playing and its dark consequences, “The Maids” is on fascinating display at American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wis.. ★★★

‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ at American Players: Rostand’s sad hero, captured in lyric depth

Aug 10, 2017 – 6:47 am
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Review: In a transcendent night under the stars in APT’s newly refurbished al fresco venue, the three-and-a-half-hour drive from Chicago to the theater, nestled in rolling hills about 30 miles west of Madison, was repaid amply by James Ridge’s complex embodiment of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac. Here is Cyrano in his full flesh and spirit: lyric poet, matchless swordsman and, above all else, unrequited lover, a man whose many gifts stitched together cannot veil the defeating protuberance that is his formidable nose. ★★★★★

‘An American in Paris’: It’s got rhythm, it’s got cool sets – and many brilliant things more

Jul 31, 2017 – 12:57 pm
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Review: One might think it impossible to improve on the 1951 musical film ‘An American in Paris,’ with the inimitable Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron romancing each other to the music of George and Ira Gershwin. But in re-imagining this G.I. love story as a Broadway ballet for a cast of 25, director-choreographer Christopher Wheeldon has given the beloved classic a thrilling energy boost. Presented by Broadway in Chicago, the show plays at the Oriental Theatre through Aug. 13. ★★★★

‘Madagascar’ at Chicago Shakespeare: Kids give high praise to musical bestiary – silence

Jul 25, 2017 – 7:28 pm
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Review: There is currently a zoo on Navy Pier, and a jungle too, thanks to the Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of “Madagascar: A Musical Adventure.” This is not one of those shows that are also fun for kids. “Madagascar” exists only for kids. If you have children in your life, from toddler to 8 or so, do bring them to this colorful, toe-tapping animal extravaganza. The lack of squirming and whining in the theater indicated a mesmerized target audience. ★★★★

‘Hir’ at Steppenwolf: In battle on home front, now a gender mine field, a Marine seeks cover

Jul 19, 2017 – 9:26 am
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Review: Taylor Mac’s tumultuous, off-the-wall play “Hir,” currently on stage in a bristling production at Steppenwolf, is about battles, foreign and domestic. And if the shape-changing military one in the Middle East has been going on for a long time, the societal one at the center of “Hir” is just building a good head of steam. Ex-Marine Isaac has come home to a household in chaos, and to a new sexual order – a whole new declension of genders in which “he” and “she” are but instances on a daunting new landscape. ★★★★

‘London Assurance’ at City Lit: Classic farce under full sail, by a wild Irishman before Wilde

Jul 18, 2017 – 1:34 pm
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Review: Oscar Wilde’s irresistible comedies exalting the escapades of the silly rich have never gone out of style, but City Lit theater company has done Chicago a big favor in allowing us to make the acquaintance of an all but forgotten playwright who was Wilde’s spiritual father of sorts. Now enjoying a raucous run in the Edgewater neighborhood is “London Assurance” by a fellow Irish playwright some three decades Wilde’s elder – Dion Boucicault. ★★★

‘Ragtime’ at Griffin: When America’s dream was young and promise came with an asterisk

Jul 14, 2017 – 5:58 pm
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Review: It’s hard to say which to praise first or most about Griffin Theatre’s splendidly intimate reduction of the musical “Ragtime” – the brisk, focused, wholly involved work of the 20 actors in the ensemble, the credible and affecting performances in the three central roles central or the imaginative achievement of director Scott Weinstein. Slice it however you may, Griffin’s small-scaled but high-powered “Ragtime” is a theatrical experience not to be missed. ★★★★

‘Ah, Wilderness!’ at Goodman: Young lovers, plotting a path through life’s tangled comedy

Jun 28, 2017 – 10:14 pm
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Review: Fairly late in his career, Eugene O’Neill, that great purveyor of tragedy, penned a romantic comedy worthy of his darker plays. “Ah, Wilderness!” is that now-classic lark, and it once again bursts onto the stage at Goodman Theatre in a funny and affecting production that is arguably the crown jewel of Chicago’s theater season. ★★★★★

‘Going to a Place’ with ice cream for eternity, but where dialogue and plausibility are thin

Jun 27, 2017 – 10:11 pm
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Review: There’s a native directness about veteran Kathleen Ruhl’s acting that never fails to connect the viewer to her character. Call it authenticity. But no amount of straight shooting from the stage can magically turn a weak play into something terrific. Ruhl has demonstrated that proposition in two different plays in recent weeks — currently in Bekah Brunstetter’s “Going to a Place Where You Already Are” at Redtwist Theatre. ★★

As touring ‘King and I’ splashes across stage, keynote of cross-cultural rapport rings afresh

Jun 25, 2017 – 4:38 pm
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Review: “The King and I” holds up a revealing mirror to our better selves. The Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, now at the Oriental Theatre in an enchanting tour production run, is enormously popular for its wealth of wonderful songs and magnificent visual possibilities. But its real importance lies in its message of cultural transcendence, and we as Americans have never had greater need of that message. ★★★★

American Players set to dedicate a new stage after $8 million renovation of outdoor venue

Jun 17, 2017 – 11:55 am
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Preview: At the outset of its 38th season, American Players Theatre has the look of a company starting afresh. Its 2017 summer at Spring Green, Wis., about 30 miles west of Madison, opens on a brand-new stage, the centerpiece of an $8 million renovation of both production and public facilities. “Our theater was literally falling down,” says APT artistic director Brenda DeVita. “This renewal has given us, and our audience, a theater that is better is so many ways.”

‘Pass Over’ at Steppenwolf: Two black guys hanging out on a corner, waiting for to go

Jun 14, 2017 – 10:08 pm
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Review: We are political creatures. We all have our world-view, our personal dispositions, our social sympathies and antipathies. That applies as well to creations for the stage. It is an ineluctable truth that all theater is political, even if some plays are more specifically agenda-driven than others. That said, I have short patience with the more overt, I might say hell-bent, forms of agenda theater. They tend not to be very good drama. Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen’s “The Exonerated” springs to mind. Antoinette Nwandu’s play “Pass Over,” in its world premiere run, is no simple rant but does come with its own set of problems. ★★

‘Relativity’ at Northlight: In pursuit of Einstein, and confronting the hard reality of genius

Jun 13, 2017 – 4:01 pm
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Review: The nature of genius, its obsession and its isolation, lies at the core of Mark St. Germain’s taut, indeed irreducible play “Relativity,” a fictional perspective on Albert Einstein that bears the resonance of reality at Northlight Theatre — thanks to a stellar turn by Mike Nussbaum as the larger-than-life theoretical physicist. ★★★★

‘Time Stands Still’ at AstonRep: War and souls in shattered images, captured in close-up lens

Jun 2, 2017 – 10:24 pm
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Review: She’s a photojournalist maimed in battle, back home and barely on the mend. He’s a fellow correspondent torn with guilt for not being there when it happened. And their mutual editor is going through a May-December thing with a cutie in AstonRep’s excellent take on David Margulies wry tale of life’s reeling course. ★★★★

‘Harvey’ at Court: In wacky account, message of a good soul, invisible rabbit is plain to see

May 30, 2017 – 7:32 am
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Review: In these parlous times, it’s good to remember that Mary Chase’s radiant moral comedy “Harvey” won the 1945 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. As Elwood P. Dowd, the protagonist who pals around with a 6-foot-tall invisible white rabbit, might say: I’d like to see a prize awarded to Court Theatre for its lovely staging of the play. ★★★★★