Archive for the tag “performance”

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.

Richard II

WHAT: Richard II
WHEN: January 31 – March 16 (calendar)
WHERE:The Athenaeum Theatre (2936 N. Southport Ave.)
RUNTIME: 95 minutes, no intermission
WHO: Two Pence Theatre Company
PRICE: $14 – $22

OUR RATING: Chance It!

We here at Storefront City apologize that, before today, we had not brought Shakespeare into our reviewing realm. We swear it won’t happen again.

We had the opportunity to see our first Two Pence Theatre Company production with Richard II. Two Pence’s mission is to provide audiences with works inspired by the principles of the Renaissance so as to illuminate what it means to be human. This doesn’t mean just Shakespearean scripts, but in today’s instance, it does!

Richard II, the first history play of William Shakespeare’s Henriad tetralogy (and the least performed), poetically tells the tale of the last two years of King Richard II’s reign (1377-1399) and, ultimately, his deposition. We must admit we understand why this work isn’t performed very much: there’s a whole lot of words compared to action and story, and a whole slew of characters to keep track of, but Two Pence pulls it off quite admirably.

(twopencetheatre.org)

(twopencetheatre.org)

Adam: The choice to produce Richard II, one of the most wordy and difficult of Shakespeare’s plays, is a testament to the daring nature of Two Pence; and they should be given ample applause for venturing into these murky, less trodden waters. The overall effect, perhaps due to the themes, and also because of the textual nature of the play, is perhaps less impressive, but a wide variety of performances make it enjoyable nonetheless.

(twopencetheatre.org)

(twopencetheatre.org)

Company Member Michael Mercier (Richard II) portrays the title role in all its complexity, leading to a lively and riveting portrait of a man who must struggle with the fact that his title must be based on more than divine right and, that ultimately, one must be a good diplomat to be a good ruler. I find it interesting that Two Pence chose to stage this play during this historical period, which so closely mirrors that of the Elizabethan time when the original was written. The ever-present issues of legitimacy, stability and rebellion ring true and perhaps unconsciously influenced this staging of an ever-present classic.

My one major qualm was the occasional, but consistent mispronunciation of place names, that seemed strange as they were correct at other times. However, I shan’t go on too much about this matter, it being of more interest to the historian amongst us, but suffice to say Hereford is said He-re-ford and Derby as Dar-bee, and we’ll leave it at that.

(twopencetheatre.org)

(twopencetheatre.org)

Alicia: I have two words for you: Ally Carey. By far the most powerful and versatile actor of the bunch (although the whole ensemble was generally strong), Ally Carey (John of Gaunt and others) not only gives it her all to each and every character she plays, but seems to almost glide effortlessly in transitioning between them. And with Violence Choreographer Justin Verstraete’s talented guidance, she is one bad-ass assassin. I will definitely be on a lookout for her on other Chicago stages in the future, perhaps a Babes with Blades production?

(twopencetheatre.org)

(twopencetheatre.org)

Carey, like the other five actors, takes on a plethora of roles under ensemble member Kathryn Walsh’s direction. If it wasn’t for the helpful family tree drawings, an array of moving chalkboard set pieces and numerous quick costume changes, it’d be impossible to tell who is who from one instant to the next. Honestly, at times I did find myself a little confused as to who we were watching, as sometimes little context was given and the actors and set pieces only did so much to assuage the discomfort and confusion I felt. A little more guidance from the production, even with a program note or two, would have alleviated this.

(twopencetheatre.org)

(twopencetheatre.org)

Final Thoughts: Intriguing, influential and well-thought out, Richard II from Two Pence Theatre company provides a nice evening of entertainment by an emerging company whom we are excited to see more from in the future. Definitely for the Shakespeare enthusiast, and any fan of theatre and the power of language, but perhaps not for the infrequent theatre-goer. Only two weeks left!

P.S.: If you’d like to read along with a fantastic new edition of Richard II check this out.

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