Home » Archive by Category

Articles in Theater + Stage

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

May 15, 2019 – 4:40 pm
Ionesco Killling Game feature image

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
Feature 1

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
Feature 1

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
Feature 1

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
Feature 1

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
Feature 1

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
Feature 1

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
sub feature

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
Feature 1

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
Feature 2

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
Feature 2

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
Feature 1 Brosilow

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
Feature 1

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
Feature 1 Brosilow

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
Feature 2 Brosilow

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
Feature 1

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
Feature 1

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
Feature 1 Part 3 Joel Moorman

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
Feature 1 Brosilow

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. ★★★★★

‘How to Catch Creation’ at Goodman: Babies and art and other hints that mankind was here

Feb 3, 2019 – 9:57 am
sub feature

Review: Griffin wants to have a baby. Problem is, he doesn’t even have a girlfriend. He would adopt, but that raises another problem: his criminal record. Well, not strictly a criminal record, but he did a good stretch of time. Griffin’s conundrum is the core, the tease, the red herring of Christina Anderson’s delightful and touching new play “How to Catch Creation,” now in its world premiere run at Goodman Theatre. ★★★★

‘Photograph 51’ at Court: Isolated among men, one visionary woman fixes her focus on DNA

Jan 31, 2019 – 9:47 pm
Feature 1

Review: Anna Ziegler’s play “Photograph 51,” now precisely imaged on stage at Court Theatre, is a high-intensity portrait of Rosalind Franklin, the British scientist who played a key role in discovering the double-helix structure of DNA – but was omitted from the picture when the men around her received the Nobel Prize for that landmark breakthrough. It is, alas, a preachy play, narrow and agenda-driven. ★★★

‘Red Rex’ at Steep: When theater stages local story, fantasy lifts curtain on one man’s pain

Jan 28, 2019 – 3:42 pm
Feature 1 Lee Miller

Review: The latest installment in Ike Holter’s now six-play saga of the fictional Chicago neighborhood of Rightlynd is part social commentary, part inside-theater sendup. From all angles, it is smartly written – provocative, witty and taut. “Red Rex” takes its title from a Rightlynd storefront theater, a struggling enterprise that finally may get over the hump with a compelling new play devised by the company’s resident playwright Lana. Devised, as in borrowed and adapted. There’s the rub. ★★★

Theater writ small at Chicago Shakespeare: Airborne bag ballet and children under siege

Jan 25, 2019 – 6:16 pm
Feature 1

Review: No small part of what makes any season at Chicago Shakespeare Theater distinctive and intriguing is its annual bundle of imported shows. The visiting productions are often diminutive and typically off-beat, not just novel but beguilingly imaginative. Two such instances of theater writ small now occupy spaces at CST: “L’après-midi d’un foehn,” literally an air ballet of plastic shopping bags set to Debussy’s music, and “Us/Them,” the perspective of two children on a terrorist invasion of their school. ★★★/★★★

‘Between Riverside and Crazy’ at Redtwist:
Ex-cop, brash cop and a gritty deal on the line

Jan 22, 2019 – 9:57 am
Feature 1 Tom McGrathTCMcG Photography

Review: Pops is a retired black New York cop – retired because he got thoroughly shot up by a fellow cop (white) while Pops was off-duty at an unsavory watering hole. But he gets along well enough in his rent-controlled Riverside Drive apartment, which he shares with a son who’s into some shady business and a slow-witted, adoring young ex-con. That’s the frame, the border around the stress points, of Stephen Adly Guirgis’ Pulizer Prize-winning play “Between Riverside and Crazy,” which enjoys a detailed, charged and mesmerizing go-round in the tiny arena that is Redtwist Theatre. ★★★★

Chicago theater mid-season preview, Part 2: Ahead at Porchlight, American Blues, Raven

Jan 19, 2019 – 11:05 am
sub feature

Preview: Chicago’s turn into real winter comes with the consolation of intriguing theater just ahead. Think of it as warming countermeasures. Porchlight offers the musical farce “The Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” while Raven plots Paula Vogel’s now-classic memory play “How I Learned to Drive.” American Blues jumps into the season’s second half with Steven Dietz’s “On Clover Road.” If a play synopsis that begins “At an abandoned motel on a desolate road” sounds more like a chiller, at least it will unfold in a snug place.

‘St. Nicholas’ at Goodman: Drama critic meets vampires. Seriously. He’s bloody amazed, too.

Jan 17, 2019 – 11:32 pm
Feature 1 Helen Maybanks

Review: It turns out vampires are real. Who knew? Anyway, the veracity of vampires is the central proposition of Conor McPherson’s one-man play “St. Nicholas,” now meandering across the boards at Goodman Theatre. I suspect the greatest allure of this dubious enterprise, brought to Chicago by London’s Donmar Warehouse, is the presence of Brendan Coyle – yes, the same Mr. Bates of “Downton Abbey” – as the nameless monologist. ★★

Chicago theater mid-season preview, Part 1: What’s in store at Goodman, Northlight, Steep

Jan 16, 2019 – 11:48 pm
Feature 1

Preview: The Chicago theater scene enters its snow-to-blossoms segment with a flurry of highlights that we’ll glimpse in a three-part series of winter-spring previews. In early prospect are Goodman Theatre’s world premiere of Christina Anderson’s “How to Catch Creation,” Ike Holter’s “Red Rex” at Steep and Christina Ham’s “Nina Simone: Four Women” at Northlight.

‘The Lightning Thief’: An off-beat musical pits off-the-chart kids against all odds, and gods

Jan 11, 2019 – 2:50 pm
Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Review: “The Lightning Thief,” a musical making a lightning pass through Chicago as the launch point of a national tour, is a charming, off-beat coming-of-age show. It’s something of a graphic novel for the stage – colorful, energetic, simpler than its busyness makes it seem. Still, in its benign fashion, “The Lightning Thief” proves agreeable enough, if a bit overwrought and underdone in the end. ★★★

‘Radio Culture’ at TUTA Theatre: Conjuring day in the ‘normal life’ of a young Berlarusian

Oct 27, 2018 – 9:26 pm
Radio Culture TUTA US Premiere (Austin D. Oie)

Review: TUTA Theatre Company has forged its reputation by introducing audiences to unusual theatrical fare drawn largely from Eastern and Western European playwrights. The company has been more or less itinerant. But for the next month or so, if you venture into its newest, tiny (25-seat) storefront in a hidden corner of the Ravenswood neighborhood, you will spend 70 absolutely riveting minutes experiencing the U.S. premiere of Maxim Dosko’s “Radio Culture.” ★★★★

‘Curve of Departure’ at Northlight Theatre: Nussbaum at 94, etching old age with mastery

Sep 23, 2018 – 5:24 pm
Mike Nussbaum400 Curve of Departure Northlight (Credit - Michael Brosilow)

Review: Actor Mike Nussbaum will turn 95 in December (no, that is not a typo), and he is now delivering such a towering performance in the Northlight Theatre production of Rachel Bonds’ play, “Curve of Departure,” that you might easily be persuaded he is simply a supremely talented actor impersonating an old man.★★★