Archive for the category “Performing Arts”

Belleville

WHAT: Belleville
WHEN: June 27 – August 25, 2013 (schedule)
WHERE: Downstairs Theatre, Steppenwolf (1650 N. Halsted St.)
RUNTIME: 1 hour and 40 minutes, no intermission
WHO: Steppenwolf Theatre Company
PRICE: $20-78

OUR RATING: Do It!

(steppenwolf.org)

(steppenwolf.org)

Amy Herzog’s intriguing work about two Americans living fitfully in the French capital, albeit in a peripheral neighbourhood, uncovers for us one of the deepest fears we can have about anyone – what is a person’s true nature? While producing a facade of slightly Bohemian homeliness, Herzog illustrates that just under the surface writhes a secret world, waiting to be exposed.

Adam: Relationships are ongoing affairs – each one meanders in such a way as to make it totally indiscernible to the the outside world. Couples present visions of themselves, and to each other, and Herzog’s keen writing and knack for accentuating a fractious situation sheds light on the darker side of the individual – the part of us that is not truly known.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Credit: Michael Brosilow)

Zack (Cliff Chamberlain) and Abby (Kate Arrington, Steppenwolf ensemble member) live in a limbo world in which neither of them belong: an all-American home thrust into a foreign city and, to make matters more confusing, they reside in a district populated by the scions of the Francophone empire. Perhaps it is this obviously different backdrop that allows Amy Herzog’s characters to love and fight so passionately, but there is also a sickness flowering between them, fueled by a need to escape, an escape from their very contained reality.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Credit: Michael Brosilow)

This relationship is instantly illuminated as tainted by neuroses: both parties have much to answer for, and the unknowing juvenal nature of their behavior can take an audience from laughter, to repulsion, and finally, to shock.

Alicia: After reading the script for Belleville I was excited to see such a riveting play performed by a quartet of some of Chicago’s finest (and sexiest) actors. Amy Herzog’s script might have a few flaws, but she is a very talented writer, and what seems most important are the levels of suspense she creates. You’re not suspended in one feeling, but taken on a journey, so that once you reach the climax of the production, you’re on the edge of your seat just waiting for a fall, but what kind of fall that is, and from how high, is a mystery.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Credit: Michael Brosilow)

My first impression of Steppenwolf’s production, however, was not quite so high, as I was immediately put off by James Schuette’s set design. Two young expats with two kids manage an apartment complex in the North of Paris, and two Americans with low-paying jobs are coming to live there. But the set is relatively extravagant, and seems not-quite-so affordable for these characters.

Nonetheless, the show as a whole was a definite thriller, and even though I already knew the suspenseful ending, the production and Anne Kauffman’s direction brought a whole new life to a complex and intelligent script.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Credit: Michael Brosilow)

Final Thoughts: Be wary of who you go to see Belleville with. We’ve heard of couples having huge fights after the play, each identifying with different characters and viewpoints. But, if you can take that emotion home with you, then a piece of art has done its job.

P.S.: Despite our love for most Steppenwolf productions, we must admit we were furious with our seats. Steppenwolf should be ashamed to seat patrons in their box seats if there are sightline issues. We could not see the entirety of stage right. Luckily, most of the thrilling action occurs stage left, so we felt more sorry for the folks seating in the house right boxes. Nonetheless, disgustingly disappointing.

The Internationalist

WHAT: The Internationalist
WHEN: May 28 – June 16, 2013 (schedule)
WHERE: Steppenwolf Garage Theatre (1624 N. Halsted)
RUNTIME: 85 minutes, no intermission
WHO: Steppenwolf Theatre Company/Northwestern University
PRICE: $20

OUR RATING: Skip it!

The Internationalist, written by Anne Washburn, is one of the three productions that make up Steppenwolf’s Next Up Repertory presented in collaboration with Northwestern University’s MFA programs in Direction and Design. Featuring the work of graduates of those programs, the productions are coupled with casts of professional Chicago actors. Neil LaBute’s Fat Pig and Adam Bock’s The Drunken City complete the repertory, all set up in The Garage Theatre.

Set in an undisclosed Eastern European country, The Internationalist tells the story of American businessman Lowell on a business trip abroad, where he must cope with a foreign culture and language he can’t begin to understand, all the while caught up in an overwhelming office romance and an overall disconcerting office culture undergoing constant chaos.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Alicia: This show had a difficult start, and it was clear from the beginning that Northwestern MFA student and director Erin Murray couldn’t quite make sense of what is ultimately an intriguing, but very rough and flawed script. And neither could I for that matter, and while the center of the story had a few ups in its execution, the shaky beginning and end of the production found me confused and frustrated, and all I wanted to do after the show was over was forget I ever saw it. Which was not really a problem, as in the end there was nothing really memorable at all.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Perhaps the only consistently redeeming aspect of the production was Scenic Designer Stephanie Cluggish’s set, who pulled off some amazing effects and beautiful scenes and who really made this place (whatever it was) her own. And while most of Sound Designer Kevin O’Donnell’s soundscape was intriguing (with a consistent underscore of a manipulated “Relax” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood), there were some really awful choices made in some scenes where the music would suddenly change to un-subtly reflect the change in topic and mood, which instead of enhancing the transition, called it out in an extremely uncomfortable manner.

And don’t get me started on the transitions in this show. Oh, so very painful.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Adam: There is something seriously unintelligible about The Internationalist, and its not just the gibberish language created to reflect some unknown Eastern European tongue (it doesn’t sound Eastern European at all). One has to imagine that we are being plunged into the depth of jet-lag while trying to make sense of our new surroundings, but who really wants to see a play where you feel the awful oppression of a nine hour difference in a mere 90 minutes. There is a sense of mystery here, but the subplots seem unfortunately under-realized, while placing this work in any particular genre seems almost impossible.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

We have glimmers of an intriguing story: a businessman on the same plane as a suspected jewel thief,  the dizzying array of noir characters (some potential assassins, others criminals and some just completely narcissistic) lead one to believe we are about to see something unique and special. But the jewel heist is unexplored, the assassins brushed under the rug and the potential criminal activities never completely explained, meaning I felt extremely lost in translation in an unfulfilling, dragging way.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Perhaps the star of the show was John Gray (James, Waiter and (potentially) Partisan Bartender), whose ability to flawlessly move between a variety of characters (self-conscious, confident, brazed and psychopathic) makes him a pleasure to watch. So make sure you look out for him in upcoming productions around Chicago: he has star talent.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Final thoughts: Overall, The Internationalist is a murky play, with little content and more cryptology surrounding it than the old KGB building. But, just like you wouldn’t want to hang out in Lubyanka Square, so too is this production one to be avoided.

Lascivious Something

Picture 35WHAT: Lascivious Something
WHEN: May 4 – June 8 (schedule)
WHERE: Signal Ensemble Theatre (1802 W. Berenice Ave.)
RUNTIME: 1 hour and 50 min w/ a 10 minute intermission
WHO: Signal Ensemble Theatre
PRICE: $15-20

OUR RATING: Chance It!

Sexually charged, mysterious and somewhat reclusive, Signal Ensemble Theatre’s Lascivious Something meanders through the treacherous relationships that ensue when one doesn’t fully leave behind the past (or that past comes after you). Set on a remote Greek island, an American expatriate has settled with his local wife and is enjoying the ancient Greek tradition of winemaking, although it is clear that this industry has become lost over the millennia. Then, as if a thunderbolt came crashing through the clouds, a familiar stranger from his past wreaks havoc upon the couple, presenting a situation that has no easy answers or quick getaways.

Sheila Callaghan’s script can be choppy at times, but that doesn’t mean you won’t fall in love with this production – it just depends on your tastes.

(Photo by Johnny Knight)

Adam: On a meticulously detailed stage that seems to be inspired in its positioning by the skene and orchestra of the ancient variety, four characters collide in the disturbing and sometimes reflective Lascivious Something. Vinification is the word of the moment, and the obsession with producing the perfect bottle central to August (Joe McCauley), as he becomes lost in the process of creating a legend in a bottle. But, as we see his past unfold before us, through anecdotes related to his wife, Daphne (Simone Roos) and the unexpected arrival of a long-lost friend (Georgann Charuhas), we start to wonder whether he is trying to bottle himself, almost, and the potential legend he could have been, were his choices just slightly different.

(Photo by Johnny Knight)

Time is a key element here, with alternate possibilities played out in sequence. Although this is sometimes confusing and becomes almost routine by the end, the use of time as a way of exploring unspoken or unrealised actions gives the work an interesting and unique angle. The playwright seems to be acknowledging the endless universes in which we could be living, or is she just hinting at the ponderings and fantasies  we all have, thus explaining the more extreme outcomes.

(Photo by Johnny Knight)

But, above all, this is a play about gender, politics and sex. August is now settled with a child on the way, but old loves, both human and ideological, still play heavy upon him, like mind-ghosts creeping in the shadows, just waiting to pounce. Will he resign himself to his supposedly stable relationship (it’s not; his wife clearly has other sexual conquests of a more Sapphic type in mind) or resume rebellion, personally sexual and public social, back in California with his wayward love? Perhaps neither answer is satisfactory – the decisions were all made long ago.

One aspect of this play does prove itself to be rather weak in the offing, namely nudity. I, like most people of my generation, am immune to nudity, as it permeates just about every cable show imaginable in such a way as to make it commonplace and expected. This is less so in the theatre, but I am of the belief that most directors choose to portray nudity for shock value, rather than for any real plot driven reason. Unless the nudity is absolutely necessary for the scene, I view it as a last resort: simply there to give people something to talk about afterwards. It cheapens the play because it’s desperate and naively assumes that none of us have ever seen a breast before.

(Photo by Johnny Knight)

Alicia: As you walk into the theater, Buck Blue’s magnificently intimate Grecian set greets you with its warm embrace – an invitingly quaint villa with the utmost detail. Yet while its picturesque image astounds, it is simple enough to let the actors shine, highlighting Signal Ensemble Theatre’s mission on actor-focused work. And despite a few dips on the acting scale, the performances are quite powerful, with tension-filled moments lying masked in the dangerous minefield of August’s ultimate reckoning. Perhaps the most stand-out performance came from Cassidy Shea Stirtz (Boy), for while her stage time was the shortest, her moments were achingly raw and exciting.

Sexual tension and images of a carnal nature are pervasive in this work, and actresses Charahus and Roos play with this tension masterfully, always knowing when to hold back and when to strike and sink their teeth into their next biting remark or their outspoken revelation. They’re quick to the punch, and sultry in their manipulations.

(Photo by Johnny Knight)

Ultimately, this play was a little difficult for me to wrap my feelings around, for while the concept was new and exciting and the cast and crew worked crazy dramatic magic, Callaghan’s script was really rough. The twists and turns and moments of instant-replay were filled with tension bordering between threatening and arousing, which made for an exciting theater-going experience. Yet, near the end of the play the plot became muddled in a way that made it impossible to wade through, and I found myself exasperated. Director Ronan Marra and the Signal Ensemble team did what they could to make this script work, but ultimately I was caught between being compelled by their production, and being thoroughly confused with Callaghan’s thought-process.

Final Thoughts: Lascivious Something has powerful staging, interesting relationships and makes you feel like the Greek sun is beating down on you. However, certain aspects mean it will not be appreciate by all who lay eyes upon it.

Cupid Has a Heart On: A Musical Guide to Relationships

WHAT: Cupid Has a Heart On: A Musical Guide to Relationships
WHEN: 8pm on Saturdays
WHERE: Stage 773 (1225 W. Belmont Ave.)
RUNTIME: 1 hour and 30 minutes, no intermission (can vary)
WHO: The Cupid Players
PRICE: $20

OUR RATING: Do It!

Picture 18The fact that Chicago is the King of Comedy shouldn’t be surprising to any reader by now. But, if all you’ve seen is The Second City, you’re just scratching the surface of this vibrant and evolving scene that is perhaps best reflected in small productions at less well-known venues. The Cupid Players’ weekly show at Lakeview’s Stage 773 is Chicago creativity at its best and is in fact funnier than most of its more mainstream counterparts elsewhere. An all-musical production with big ensemble pieces and hilarious solos, each night is an extravaganza and completely different to the last.

Picture 22Adam: There’s one word that comes to mind when thinking of The Cupid Players: ensemble. This is a strong team who, after at least a decade of work, have become flawlessly enwoven to create a wonderful variety of hilarious, all original works.

Located in 773’s Cab theatre, decked out cabaret style with tables, chairs and booths, the intimate space allows for maximum interaction with the characters being forged before you, who sometimes jump right into your seat. And expect them to be singing something extremely dirty while they’re coming for you…that’s part of the game. With musical genres deriving mainly from Broadway, but also Rock and Barbershop, the group moves effortlessly between characters, highlighting everyday troubles in the most elevated manner, from the walk of shame to more taboo topics in songs like “Bathroom Time” and “Parents.”

Witty, vulgar, fun and full of energy, I was laughing through every minute of their material. After being around for over 14 years, let’s hope they stick around for another 14 and more.

Picture 20Alicia: The Cupid Players and their production moved from the iO Theater to Stage 773 back in 2011, and both Stage 773 and their Cab Theatre serve as the perfect venue for this intimate and hilarious crew, named by the Chicago Reader one year as “Best Sketch Comedy Group”. Directed by Brian Posen, this talented crew of comedians were the longest running revue in iO history and continue in popularity on their newer stage.

Picture 19I’ve had the opportunity to see The Cupid Players perform twice, each time incorporating different material with a few of the same songs here and there, all originally written and all completely hysterical. The repertoire is diverse, with anything from ballads to pop, and even a little bit of rap and rock n’ roll, just to keep things interesting. They even mix things up, with some numbers performed by a single individual, but with plenty of group numbers to kick things up a notch. And sure, most of their songs are a little raunchy, so this probably isn’t the kind of thing you want to take the kiddies to, but the songs are smart and catchy, so it all balances out in the end to create a night of extreme fun.

Final Thoughts: Relationships might be painful, but the only pain you’ll get with The Cupid Players and their musical guide to relationships will be the pain in your side from laughing too hard. Go for a crazy fun night out, and laugh the night away.

The Silent Language

WHAT: The Silent Language
WHEN: April 11 – May 9, 2013 (schedule)
WHERE: TUTA Studio Theatre (2010 W. Fulton St.)
RUNTIME: 87 minutes with no intermission
WHO: TUTA Theatre Chicago
PRICE: $15-25

OUR RATING: Do It!

Recommended for Ages 8 & Up

tutato.com

tutato.com

This spring, TUTA dances forth onto the Chicago stage with Miodrag Stanisavljevic’s The Silent Language. In this adaptation of a Serbian folk tale, a young boy enters the forest to learn the secret silent language that allows him to understand the animals who help him throughout his quest. With a lavishly decorated space, adventurous plot and equally questful characters, you’ll be immersed in TUTA’s magical world from start to finish.

(Photo by Anthony La Penna)

(Photo by Anthony La Penna)

Adam: What is the silent language? In the bewitching terrain of TUTA’s stage, we are introduced to a concept beyond the communications of humans. It is the animal language, that primal understanding, the bearer of which has unprecedented access to the mysteries of the untamed wild. Poor Gasho (Max Lotspeich), gaining this ability, must fulfill the archetypal journey of the hero, rescuing the Princess (Carolyn Molloy) from the clutches of the evil Elf (Aaron Lawson), while preserving his own skin.

(Photo by Anthony La Penna)

(Photo by Anthony La Penna)

Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Zoran Paunovic’s translation is the way it makes you appreciate and listen to nature herself. In the ever-encroaching, frenetic and mechanised world, the very idea that animals would have languages seems far away. Yet here, amongst the trees, it is possible to hear the crow speak or the frog croak and understand every gesture as a method of conversation.

(Photo by Anthony La Penna)

(Photo by Anthony La Penna)

Particularly admirable performances were given by Sean Ewert (the Boogeyman, others) and Jaimelyn Gray (the Ironjaw Hag and, memorably, the Crow) who threw themselves headlong into their roles, never faltering for a minute. Ewert’s hilarious, yet psychotic depiction of the nightmarish Boogeyman will make you laugh and jump, while Gray gives nuanced performances, shifting between her roles effortlessly and producing original characters for each. Getting caught up in the theatrical magic is amazingly easy – a must see.

(Photo by Anthony La Penna)

(Photo by Anthony La Penna)

Alicia: I fell in love with TUTA and this show over and over again, first being seduced by their friendly box office and front of house team, then courted by scenic designer Michelle Lilly’s magnificently magical space, and finally moved by the entire production and the encompassing experience for the senses it offered me. Newly appointed TUTA Artistic Director Jacqueline Stone directs this piece masterfully, and TUTA’s mission to bring innovative and international works to American audiences is clear and inspirationally refreshing.

(Photo by Anthony La Penna)

(Photo by Anthony La Penna)

TUTA’s commitment to original and rearranged forms of music is beautifully highlighted in this production, with original music and musical direction by Wain Parham and sound design by Joe Court, not to mention a collaboration between the entire acting ensemble to bring the sound onstage to life. The piece is musical in form and content, and moves with effortless rhythm from beginning to end, allowing one to feel as if they have joined a dance with Poor Gasho, the main character, through his journey into this fairy tale forest.

(Photo by Anthony La Penna)

(Photo by Anthony La Penna)

What most excited me with this production, if I really had to pick one aspect, was Branimira Ivanova’s costume design. I have never seen actors and a piece so transformed by this level of costume design for a storefront theater, with each magical character stunningly fantastical and unbelievably real all at once. I almost felt I was in the film The Labyrinth with such a riveting mesh of fantasy and reality, thus creating a world all to itself. In particular, the crow, frog and boogeyman were characters brought to life in the extreme, and I would see this production every night just so I could experience these personas and their physical manifestations all over again.

Final Thoughts: TUTA is the very definition of innovative international work, and they are a must-see within the Chicago theater scene, particularly with this enchanting production. TUTA invites you to partake in this fairy tale and inhabit its mystical world, and we suggest you take them up on the offer.

Head of Passes

(steppenwolf.org)

(steppenwolf.org)

WHAT: Head of Passes
WHEN: April 4 – June 9, 2013 (schedule)
WHERE: 1650 N. Halsted Ave.
RUN TIME: 2 hours with a ten-minute intermission
WHO: Steppenwolf Theatre Company
PRICE: $15-$78

OUR RATING: Do it!

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

As is traditional, Steppenwolf Theatre Company continues to churn out a plethora of plays that one can classify as “living room dramas;” in other words most, if not all the action takes place in the homes of the characters, and that home becomes a central character in itself. Indeed, the house is one of the main protagonists in ensemble member Tarell Alvin McCraney’s newest work, set in the Louisiana marshes and brimming with superb oceanic symbolism. The home has a sense of fallen grandeur about it, as its dilapidation turns to ruin, much in the same way we see the decline and fall of the matriarch residing within.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Head of Passes, said by McCraney to be loosely inspired by the Book of Job, charts the course of dying Shelah (Cheryl Lynn Bruce), as she is swept up in the surprise festivities for her birthday, thrown by her adult children. Her life seems to be defined by only pain and devotion to God, one begetting the other, although it seems clear that the question of which came first weighs heavy on Shelah’s mind. Bruce’s depiction is solid and captivating, even if some of the scripting is rather long.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Similarly captivating is actor Chris Boykin, playing the Angel in Act 1 and a construction worker in Act 2. His charisma floods the stage and the parallel between his two characters is riveting and forceful. Our only complaint is director Tina Landau’s ignorance towards the house right audience in regards to staging Boykin, who is turned away from this audience for most of Act 1, leaving them in the dark in regards to many important physical gestures he displays.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Perhaps most powerfully, Scenic Designer David Gallo and Scenic Design Consultant Collette Pollard conjure up Mother Nature in their fantastically magical set design. You can feel the creaks and dampness of the Head of Passes and the ongoing storm outside the house is brought inside with great ferocity. Beginning with a few drips of water on stage, the set is catapulted by winds and rain, ending with the house subsiding chaotically at the end of Act 1. A true feat of engineering, and a wonder to watch.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Scott Zielinski’s lighting design dances hand-in-hand with the scenic design, and one can feel the power of the storm and the magic of what happens on stage with his strings of lights, extreme side-lighting, and the beautiful shadows cast within the home as Mother Nature shifts and does her work. Unfortunately, one is slightly distracted by Michael Bodeen and Rob Milburn’s sound design through it all, as the sound doesn’t seem real but rather far-off and full of static. Perhaps this was an artistic choice, but it’s far too dissonant for our liking.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Ultimately, this world premiere of Head of Passes takes its audience on one heck of a roller-coaster, and leaves us pondering our life choices and convictions and allows us to contemplate how we define our family and our idea of home. Tragedy is an unfortunate yet exceedingly human element to every life. How one deals with it defines their character, whether they be resilient, avoidant, vengeful or forgiving. McCraney’s exploration of these ideas enhances our appreciation for the high complexity of everyday life and how we too must all face tragedy.

The Whale

WHAT: The Whale
WHEN: April 5 – May 5, 2013 (see schedule) (in previews until April 15)
WHERE: Victory Gardens Biograph Theater (2433 N. Lincoln Ave.)
RUNTIME: 1 hour 50 minutes with no intermission
WHO: Victory Gardens Biograph Theater
PRICE: $30-60 ($15 for students)

OUR RATING: Do It!

An emotionally-charged and gut-wrenching drama, Victory Gardens Theater’s production of The Whale is a powerful midwest premiere from ensemble playwright and Obie Award-winner Samuel D. Hunter. After the death of his partner, morbidly obese Charlie, weighing in at 600 pounds, confines himself inside his small apartment for years, ignoring his rapidly failing health. Knowing how grave his situation is, he desperately tries to reconnect with his estranged and intensely angry teenage daughter, willing to do anything for her.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Adam: Shocking, fascinating and deeply moving, The Whale lays bare the collision between society and the individual, making us examine this intersection, and the extremely damaged people it leaves behind. Charlie (Dale Calandra) is knowingly committing suicide before us, destroying his body in response to the annihilation of his lover by the deeds of religion.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

A teacher, whose disembodied voice is delivered to students across the wilds of the internet, Charlie is a gentle, sensitive and educated man, whose inability to deal with loss has led to his own destruction. But he is also a selfish man, choosing not to address his previous relations in an adult manner, preferring to defer them to the last minute. Thus, we are left with his struggle to rebuild already lost connections, and the deep regret that accompanies such endeavors.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

As the story unfolds, it becomes apparent that we are dealing with a narrative about our society’s current problems: healthcare, religious fundamentalism, discrimination and interventionism are just a few of the topics that spring to mind; but it is clear that none of these issues are actually resolved by Charlie or any of the characters. Perhaps this is because they are unresolvable, or perhaps we lack the will as a society to resolve them.

How did this play leave me? Deeply affected. As Charlie fell further and further away towards his own, self-inflicted mortality, my rage grew, as if I wanted to step into the scene and rescue the whole lot of them through a deus ex machina of my own invention. In truth, we must reflect on the causes of such injustices (economically unequal healthcare, bigoted religion, and isolation) and direct our rage towards them, so that perhaps we are spurned to some action that will overcome these challenges and inequalities.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Alicia: This was one of the toughest performances I have watched in a very long time. I found myself vulnerable and upset during the entire piece, and afterwards for the rest of the evening I was kind of a wreck and felt completely and utterly drained. Perhaps this was because the play hit really close to home for me in a few unique ways, but I think no matter who you are this show will punch through your gut and twist around to add to your pain.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Joanie Schultz directs some powerhouse actors, including stars Dale Calandra (Charlie), Leah Karpel (Ellie) and Will Allan (Elder Thomas). After seeing Karpel most recently in last year’s Next Up repertory at Steppenwolf Theatre in The Glass Menagerie as Laura Wingfield, it was refreshing to see this young actress in a more aggressive role, and I was grateful for her maturity and depth, despite her age. As for Allan, I am always super excited to see this up-and-coming actor on stage, after seeing him in Steppenwolf’s Good People and The March. He’s charming, vulnerable, and plays complexity to a tee.

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

(Photo by Michael Brosilow)

And then there’s Dale Calandra. I only know Calandra from his stint as Aunt Lola Cabana, a drag-character he uses to host benefits, corporate events, roasts and the like. Yet while I recognized Calandra right away from this alter-ego, he immediately transformed into Charlie and I’m not sure I’ve ever believed a performance and a character more than I did his. With help from costume designer Janice Pytel, Calandra took on a 600-pound role complete with intense costuming that must have weighed a ton, with the emotional toll of the role probably weighing at least that much and possibly more.

I was torn; I wanted to sympathize with his situation, yet at the same time I was at once somewhat, admittedly, disgusted with the whole thing, and also outraged with how stagnant and passive every single character was with the grave issues at hand. I felt sick to my stomach with this disgust and sadness, which exploded during the final and most intense moment of the play, and which left me in pieces.

Final Thoughts: Riveting and profound theater, The Whale will make you think deeply about individual issues and their wider consequences through stunning acting, convincing costuming and a strong script. It will leave you in a different place, a place which you will have to discover on your own.

Catch Me If You Can The Musical

WHAT: Catch Me If You Can The Musical
WHEN: April 2 – 14, 2013 (schedule)
WHERE: Cadillac Palace Theatre (151 W. Randolph St.)
RUNTIME: 2 Hours and 55 minutes, with a 15 minute intermission
WHO: Broadway in Chicago
PRICE: $18-85

OUR RATING: Skip It!

The latest adaptation of Frank Abagnale, Jr.’s 1980 biography, and heavily based upon the 2002 film, Catch Me If You Can follows the story of this con-artist through the many twists and turns of his life, from airline pilot, doctor, lawyer and so on, as he evades the authorities while tapping out a few tunes. Poorly written and musically glib, the performance is made worse by the serious lack of vocal talent on offer and the frustratingly predictable content.

Adam: Every year, tens of musicals are written around the world with only a few seeing the lights of the Broadway stage. Some are beyond belief fantastic, while others make you wonder whether The Producers is actually coming true, with Bialystock and Bloom succeeding in making a flop. I would have preferred to sit through a fictional musical about Hitler than the asinine malarkey presented on the Cadillac Palace Theatre stage this week. An embarrassing array of mediocrity, Catch Me If You Can The Musical will leave you firmly planted in your seat, while its cast imagines soaring through the skies, only for you to wish they would come crashing down in a fireball.

(Photo by Christian Toto)

(Photo by Christian Toto)

Stephen Anthony’s depiction of Frank Abagnale, Jr. is actually admirable. He captures some of the youthful zest of DiCaprio’s screen performance, but leaves one wishing for the tour de force of the original actor. Most disappointing was his singing range, which clearly was not appropriate for the role. His inability to hit certain notes was not only clearly apparent, but terribly distracting and unacceptable for a Broadway musical.

(Photo by Carol Rosegg)

(Photo by Carol Rosegg)

The chorus was also absolutely not up to Broadway calibre, and I felt sorry for an audience who had shelled out good money to be regaled by these untrained Sirens, who seemed to plunge the whole endeavor into the realms of YouTube videos that I purely watch for schadenfreude.

I left the theatre not believing what I had just seen: a complete flop that was given a standing ovation by the audience. Perhaps I got it wrong and the audience was right, but I suspect that this is once again a sign of the times: the audience wouldn’t care if it was bad or good, just so long as they see a musical, all will be well.

(Photo by Carol Rosegg)

(Photo by Carol Rosegg)

Alicia: There are a few aspects to this production which are commendable. One, scenic designer David Rockwell’s escalator-esque set piece upon which the entire orchestra sits (with the drums underneath). Second, the orchestra and local musicians themselves, both in being able to watch them perform (instead of hiding them in the pit) as well as the quality of their performance. Third was Bob Bonniol’s video system and content design. While some of the video was way too over the top and completely ridiculous (anywhere from flashing stars the colors of the rainbow to sunrises), some of it reminded me of the aesthetic of the last James Bond film, which was fitting for this show. But to be perfectly honest, this was the first time I have seen this kind of design content before, so I may have just been impressed by the technology more than the actual aesthetic.

(Photo by Carol Rosegg)

(Photo by Carol Rosegg)

Yet, if you had been there to see my reactions to this performance, you would not have guessed that I liked anything at all, being in utter disbelief in what was happening on stage. First and foremost, I felt sorry that William Ivey Long had to costume design this thing, with a script calling for women dressed up as Elmer’s Glue, India Ink and a Swiss Army Knife, and other women dressed in practically nothing. And performances from Aubrey Mae Davis (Brenda) and Allyson Tolbert (India Ink Assistant, Nurse, etc.) make you wonder how some of these performers were allowed to set foot on a Broadway stage.

(Photo by Carol Rosegg)

(Photo by Carol Rosegg)

The only enjoyable song by any means was “Don’t Break the Rules,” sung by Merritt David Janes (Agent Carl Hanratty) and company. Yet songs like “(Our) Family Tree” and “Fly, Fly Away” made me wonder why I didn’t leave during intermission, or why I even came at all.

Final Thoughts: Broadway is expensive. Please don’t shell out your hard-earned money for this one. If you really want to learn about Frank Abagnale, Jr., either watch the film Catch Me If You Can, read a book, or wiki it. You’ll save yourself a lot of headache, a lot of money, and a solid three hours of your life.

P.S.: Check fraud was not the only crime being committed that night. Clearly, judging by the sight-lines, Cadillac Palace Theatre was having a little swindle of their own. A seat should not have no view of a quarter of the stage. We don’t appreciate guessing who is singing when they disappear, as it makes for an annoying experience. This is Broadway Cadillac, get your act together!

Butt Trash

WHAT: Butt Trash
WHEN: Sundays at 8pm, March 24 – April 28
WHERE: Chemically Imbalanced Comedy (1422 W. Irving Park Rd.)
RUNTIME: 1 hour, with an approximately 5-minute intermission
WHO: Fanny and Dumpster, Chemically Imbalanced Comedy
PRICE: $10

OUR RATING: Do It!

Lakeview’s Chemically Imbalanced Comedy has a ton of shows going on right now, so Storefront City headed over to see one of their newer improv comedy shows, Butt Trash, featuring female improv comedy groups Fanny and Dumpster.

Adam: Our night began with Fanny, a group of women providing excruciatingly hilarious character acting, positively accurate group dynamics and strong comedy that seemed reminiscent of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia; I was most certainly bursting with laughter at these girls.

Made up of Blair Beeken, Claire Mulaney, Sarah Shook and Lily Sullivan, Fanny managed to take the annoyingly complicated suggestion of ‘municipal’ and turn it into a full-fledged ridiculous drama, replete with underage alcohol supply, sexual tension, eating disorders and the most broken social group I’ve seen presented on stage (and that’s a good thing).

What I like most about Fanny is their unashamed comedic antics. Leave your prudishness at home and wallow in the clever skits they produce, otherwise you’ll end up shocked and unamused. Standing out for me were performances by Claire Mulaney, who perfected the awkward overly long-dwelling on a subject that somehow makes it irresistibly funny, and Lily Sullivan, who managed to drop us right in the middle of the most timidly approachable subjects while remaining absolutely straight-faced.

Stream of consciousness and delightfully wonderful improv, Fanny are masters of their art and should be seen at all costs.

(cicomedy.com)

(cicomedy.com)

Alicia: After the briefest of intermissions came the next quartet, Dumpster, whose motto is “the Devil never closes a door without opening a dumpster.” Composed of cast members Jill Fenstermaker, Ellen Haeg, Molly Hall and Amy Speckien, the ladies in this group have credentials ranging from stints at iO Theater, The Gift Theatre, and plenty of other shows at CIC.

While not as successful as their predecessors from Fanny, Dumpster began and ended their show with a group scene, with different characters and combinations in between. The two weakest aspects of the performance was the group’s inability to stay on topic with the audience suggestion (merely using the subject to initiate the first scene, and then never referring to it again), and the constant rotation of changing characters that was hard to follow and which felt like somewhat of a letdown after Fanny’s consistent character profiles.

Yet, Dumpster’s focus on neuroses, family dynamics and a healthy variety of character acting led to fast-paced fun that definitely kept the audience at the edge of their seats wondering what might come next. With a suggestion of “toaster,” this dynamic quartet presented scenes anywhere from neurotic housewives reading romance novels and discussing their feminine problems, to an all-out family war at the dinner table sparked by a little bit of sibling rivalry. With Dumpster, you’re never sure what’s lurking around the next corner, or in the next garbage bin.

bt6

Final Thoughts: Chemically Imbalanced Comedy is producing new comedy at highly affordable prices. Easily accessible and rarely frequented, you are almost definitely guaranteed a seat and plenty of laughs at this independent and developing venue.

Under a Rainbow Flag

WHAT: Under a Rainbow Flag
WHEN: March 21 – April 21, 2013 (schedule)

WHERE: Profiles Theatre – The Main Stage (4139 N. Broadway Ave.)
RUNTIME: 2 Hours and 30 minutes, with a 10 minute intermission
WHO: Pride Films and Plays
PRICE: $15-25

OUR RATING: Do It!

A meeting on a train for four gay soldiers during World War Two is the starting point for Leo Schwartz’s new musical Under the Rainbow Flag, based on the true story of veteran Jon Phillips. A tale of self-discovery, good humor and utter tragedy, we journey west to San Francisco and onto the war-torn shores of East Asia, exploring the many different paths these remarkable men take.

With show-stopping tunes and wonderfully composed ensemble pieces, Under the Rainbow Flag tells the very real story of servicemen who fought and died for a country which denied and opposed their sexuality, and for this it should be celebrated as an original and heartfelt triumph.

(Photo by David Zak)

(Photo by David Zak)

Alicia: The production of Under a Rainbow Flag couldn’t have better timing. The show was submitted as part of Pride Films and Plays’ Great Gay Play Contest (2012), and now the next installment is right around the corner with Gay Play Weekend and the 2013 Great Gay Play Contest showing its fierce talent at Center on Halsted from May 17 to 19.

Since last year’s contest, Under a Rainbow Flag has nurtured and grown, with a staged reading at Center on Halsted last May, and with an overwhelming response to their Indiegogo project, raising over $5000. And now, after months of work, it has matured and found its place on Uptown’s Main Stage.

(Photo by David Zak)

(Photo by David Zak)

Under the Rainbow Flag is a poignant, fast-paced soiree that really does take you back to those days of radio plays, big bands and rhythm & blues, and the prevalence of WWII propaganda infiltrating the modern lives of American civilians and soldiers alike. Set Designer Ashley Ann Woods works magic on the production, with WWII vintage print posters lining the top level of the stage, magnificently painted background drops of San Francisco on the main level, and even her trolley-track work-of-art flooring. She works hand-in-hand with lighting designer Garvin Jellison to move the audience effortlessly from setting to setting, with my favorite moments being spotlights against a Pearl Harbor poster (and did I detect an outline of a radio?) while the radio news played to provide a bit of historical background to the theatrical mix.

But the talent didn’t stop on the tech side, with director and Pride Films and Plays Executive Director David Zak showing his directorial prowess with a melange of smart, risky and just-plain-fun choices. Knockout performances were seen from James Nedrud (Russell) and Jordan Phelps (Stefano), who may not have been the main characters, but were really the ones who carried the show for me. Nedrud has obviously played the musical scene before (his rendition of “The Army’s Handing Out Medals” with fellow actor Luis Herrera (Bender) was a highlight of the night), and I would love to see him elsewhere on stage. He knows how to play to a crowd and how to really work Tracy Strimple’s choreography. Meanwhile, Phelps has a sincere and provocative charm which adds complexity to his bitingly raw performance.

Adam: The presence of gays in the military during World War Two is not a subject that is covered much in the history books. While technically banned from service in the 1940s, the imperative for fighting men meant that gays were indeed admitted, albeit while keeping their sexuality low profile. Indeed, the recent repeal of DADT, as well as the cases currently before the Supreme Court, reminds us that we are still in the midst of this discrimination, and have only just begun taking steps towards equality. Under a Rainbow Flag starts to illuminate some of this history for the first time, an extremely important service.

(Photo by David Zak)

(Photo by David Zak)

Truly marvelous and catchy numbers (especially “Queens”, which is perhaps the most riotously fantastic piece in the whole work) create a sense of connection and camaraderie between audience and actors. Full of energy and life, we are treated to a full array of experiences from the openly camp, to the closeted (but hilarious) reactions to straight servicemen. Codes are an essential part of life for these men, who must balance between the ideal and reality, which is also more brutally reflected in the wartime setting, replete with its own codes and ciphers, even if they are for more grisly purposes.

(Photo by David Zak)

With expert music direction by Robert Ollis, seated behind the keyboard in full military uniform, a perfect score beams forth that makes us laugh as well as reflect on the wider, more serious issues that it raises. An important piece of theatre for our times, I would highly recommend you pick up a ticket and get a front row seat.

Final Thoughts: With Under the Rainbow Flag, Pride Films and Plays continues to foster compelling and talented work that speaks to the LGBT community and beyond, and we’re thrilled to see such a commendable piece of work find its footing in the performing arts and have such great success in a short period of time.

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