Archive for the tag “Chicago theatre”

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.

The La Ronde Project

WHAT: The La Ronde Project (La Ronde, The Blue Room, Fucking Men)
WHEN: March 10 – April 14, 2013 (Schedule)
WHERE: Stage 773 (1225 W. Belmont)
RUNTIME: Approximately 2 hours per show
WHO: Street Tempo Theatre
PRICE: $28 per play, or $60 for all three

OUR RATING: Do It!

Storefront City experienced a whirlwind day of theatre with Street Tempo Theatre’s La Ronde Project, a new three-play repertory presenting Arthur Schnitzler’s controversial 1903 erotic drama (La Ronde) along with other pieces it inspired: The Blue Room by David Hare and Fucking Men by Joe DiPietro. The repertory is also accompanied by an Improvised Musical Le Ronde that we unfortunately were unable to catch, but judging by director John Hildreth’s Second City credentials is sure to be hilarious. Controversial, witty and totally sexual, The La Ronde Project is sure to raise eyebrows.

La Ronde by Arthur Schnitzler (script available here)

Lauren Bourke and Dan Planz (Photo by Brian Work)

Lauren Bourke and Dan Planz (Photo by Brian Work)

Arthur Schnitzler’s dizzyingly erotic play, first privately published in German in 1900 (he thought the subject matter would cause uproar – it wasn’t premiered until 1920) is a commentary on both sexual morals and class struggle at the turn of the 20th century. A set of ten dialogues, before and after sexual encounters, the play toys with idea of sexuality being an equalizer, as well as a method of control, carefully buried beneath the pomp of lovely Vienna.

With transitions that allow for but one character to progress in the circle of sex (the “ronde” itself), director Tim Curtis moves us between the worlds of soldiers and prostitutes, maids and masters, as well as actresses and aristocrats, for good measure. The whole scope of Viennese society is captured in vivid detail, especially through the use of period set pieces, as well as costumes from the talented Laura Wilson.

Ultimately, some of the more subtle aspects might be lost in the century that has passed since Schnitzler penned this promiscuous little piece, but it remains nonetheless a compelling example of expert storytelling.

The Blue Room by David Hare (script available here)

Arielle Kresich and Matt Gall (Photo by Brian Work)

Arielle Kresich and Matt Gall (Photo by Brian Work)

Updated for the modern day, The Blue Room tells the same scandalous tales as La Ronde, but with the astounding directorial touch of Brian Posen and Cody Spellman, you are truly watching a unique piece of theatre outstandingly different from its predecessor. This production also focuses on the difference between the sexes and their (and our) perception of sexual excitement, lust and libido in a modern world that is not always what it seems.

The cast is complete with characters from the 1990s (a cab driver, au pier, and politician put in an appearance). Although we are led through similar scenes as the original, one feels the raw energy more so, as well as the disturbing nature of gender relations that still seems to cling to society, even after one hundred years of progress. The actors are on top form from beginning to end and every second in between, even acting like fiends during transitions and when ‘off-stage.’ Remarkable in both its staging and sensitivity, the exemplary direction of The Blue Room makes it a pleasure to watch.

Fucking Men by Joe DiPietro

Tyler Vaughn and Jaume Wojciechowski (Photo by Brian Work)

Tyler Vaughn and Jaume Wojciechowski (Photo by Brian Work)

This very recent play (premiered 2009) deals with La Ronde’s subject matter, but placing the story entirely within the framework of the ups and downs of gay male life in the United States. By examining relationships, lust and the need to connect in a world which still does not fully accept homosexuality, DiPietro creates a work that shows this and more through powerful dialogue, humor and dramatic poise.

The play knits together a portrait of life between the sheets and within a world that has literal dangerous consequences, and which is complete with arguments for and against monogamy, extreme secrecy and the longing to be fully liberated from oppressive circumstances. Directed by Scott Olsen with particularly strong and provocative staging, and with impressive character acting from Jack Bourgeois (Sammy) and well-rounded performances from Scott Olson (Director/Donald), Street Tempo offers a fierce take on this contemporary work.

(streettempotheatre.com)

Final Thoughts: Once again, quality work has been presented at Stage 773, proving that this venue is perhaps the best in the city for both fringe and mainstream theatre that is readily accessible to everyone. With The La Ronde Project, Street Tempo continues to showcase work that has never, or rarely, been seen in Chicago and puts a fresh spin on old classics. We encourage you to see at least one of these daring and completely amourous productions, as it will give you a taste of the massive scope of this huge project. If you do want to see them all, there is a discount on bulk tickets, so make sure you ask about it at the box office or online.

See What I Wanna See

WHAT: See What I Wanna See
WHEN: February 15 – April 12, 2013 (schedule)
WHERE: Steppenwolf Garage Theatre (1624 N. Halsted St.)
RUNTIME: 2 Hours with a 15 minute intermission
WHO: Bailiwick Chicago
PRICE: $20

OUR RATING: Skip It!

(bailiwickchicago.com)

(bailiwickchicago.com)

(bailiwickchicago.com)

(bailiwickchicago.com)

As we mentioned last week, each year Steppenwolf’s Garage Theatre explodes with new talent in three repertory productions from some of Chicago’s up-and-coming theater companies.

Storefront City takes on Garage Rep 2013 once again, but this time with Bailiwick Chicago’s See What I Wanna See. Bailiwick Chicago, with a mission focused on producing contemporary (and reinventing classical) musicals, is an itinerant theater company that launched in 2009 out of the remnants of Bailiwick Repertory Theatre.

(Credit: Michael Brosilow)

(Credit: Michael Brosilow)

Directed by Artistic Director Lili-Anne Brown, See What I Wanna See is a three-part musical by Michael John LaChiusa. The performance is broken down into two acts with two prologues which journey through feudal Japan with lovers Kesa and Morito. The musical then jumps forward in time in Act 1 to a murder noir in New York City in 1951, and then even further forward in Act 2 to Central Park, New York City, 2002, where a priest undergoes a crisis of faith post-9/11. Exploring desire, hope and truth, this five person ensemble piece utilizes a mix of pop, jazz and classical music, along with some Asian flairs.

(Credit: Michael Brosilow)

(Credit: Michael Brosilow)

Ultimately, despite Bailiwick’s best intentions, See What I Wanna See is a flawed production, complete with musical numbers that fail to capture the imagination of even the most Philistinic member of society, a number of untrained vocalists, and disparate storylines that clearly come from an intelligent yet confused mind, whose comment on culture is unclear.

(Credit: Michael Brosilow)

(Credit: Michael Brosilow)

The redeeming factors of this show are limited. Danni Smith, a collective member of Bailiwick Chicago, proves talented and versatile in her roles as the wife and Aunt Monica. And Lizzie Bracken’s scenic design, particularly the mirroring of the floor design with the stencil silhouette on the wall, is lovely for a show in rep. Mix the two together and you get the seductive and beautiful scene in Act 1 where Smith performs behind Bracken’s screen with Lee Keenan’s adept lighting choices. This, and the general strength of the cast’s ensemble work, are commemorable, but nothing was quite memorable enough to get us wanting more.

(Credit: Michael Brosilow)

(Credit: Michael Brosilow)

When it comes down to it, See What I Wanna See seems a poor choice to produce: its music, lyrics and script being so unfortunately weak. Ultimately, some of the casting decisions seriously undermined the production, and we suspect that qualified musicians would have brought more to the experience.

P.S. If you missed it last week, check out the Garage Rep 2013 trailer!

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