Mind and body influences turn out to be a hard problem in new Stoppard play

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Viewed in its purist form, ‘The Hard Problem,’ Tom Stoppard’s newest cerebral play, has members of a brain science institute arguing about Darwinism, matter, biology and neuroscience versus the influence of consciousness and psychology.

It’s a mind-body question and equation that might be tempered by computer intelligence and statistics.

Chaon Cross in 'The Hard Problem' at Court Theatre. Photo by Michael Brosilow
Chaon Cross in ‘The Hard Problem’ at Court Theatre. Photo by Michael Brosilow

Religion and philosophy are not supposed to enter into their discussions.

A complicating factor is that venture capital and hedge funds pay for the institute’s existence.

However, Hilary, a psychologist who works there, believes in God and prays for the well-being of a daughter she had when a teenager and gave up for adoption.

But after seeing the play, now at Court Theatre, and thinking about how it ends with Hillary, beautifully interpreted by Chaon Cross, leaves the institute and has her prayers answered, there is another way to view the story.

The question may legitimately be asked if after years of academic-style arguments, is Stoppard now asking intellectuals to not take themselves too seriously and loosen-up to see and acknowledge other views and influences?

Director Charles Newell and scenic designer John Culbert  encourage the play’s dichotomy by having the arguments play out in an uncluttered white box -type setting where an important prop is the candle Hillary uses when she prays.

Vary appropriately produced in a theater on the University of Chicago’s north campus, the play should be seen with someone who enjoys the type of arguments and balancing behaviors Stoppard puts forth in this play.

Details: ‘The Hard Problem’ by Tom Stoppard is at Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave., Chicago, IL, now through April 9, 2017. For tickets and other information call (773) 753-4472 and visit Court Theatre.

Live “telenovela” of overly dramatic scenes and plot twists make for a fun evening

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If ‘Destiny of Desire’ sounds like the title of a soap opera you would be very close to right.

Ruth Livier (Fabiola Castillo), Ricardo Gutierrez (Dr. Jorge Mendoza) and Evelina Fernandez (Sister Sonia) in 'Destiny of Desire' at Goodman Theatre. Photo by Liz Lauren
Ruth Livier (Fabiola Castillo), Ricardo Gutierrez (Dr. Jorge Mendoza) and Evelina Fernandez (Sister Sonia) in ‘Destiny of Desire’ at Goodman Theatre. Photo by Liz Lauren

On stage at Goodman Theatre now through April 16, the “soap” that audiences sit in on as it is supposedly being televised in an empty Chicago theater (note the lighting props), is a Latino “telenovela.”

It has all the overemphasized drama of the Latino mini TV series that has even made the format the show of choice in Eastern Europe and Asia. Read More

High school students perform on “Hamilton” stage and see the show

The atmosphere inside the PrivateBank Theatre was electric March 15 as hundreds of Chicago high school students filed in to watch their peers perform on the “Hamilton” stage.

Alexander Hamilton and cast. Joan Marcus photo
Alexander Hamilton and cast. Joan Marcus photo

It was the third of what would be 10 student performances during 2017.

By the end of a  special education program tying “Hamilton’” to their American History studies, 20,000 Chicago high school students will have seen their peers perform in the morning followed by a regular Hamilton matinee.

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‘Upright Grand’ at Citadel is 90 minutes of amazing theater

Charlotte Mae Ellison (Kiddo) and Mark Ulrich (Pops) in 'Upright Grand.' Photo by North Shore Camera Club
Charlotte Mae Ellison (Kiddo) and Mark Ulrich (Pops) in ‘Upright Grand.’ Photo by Kyle Techentin.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Citadel Artistic Director Scott Phelps has taken a riviting script about parent-child relationships by playwright Laura Schellhardt (think ‘Auctioning the Ainsleys’) and placed it in the intelligent hands of Jeff award winning director Scott Weinstein.

But to really pull off multiple messages on growing up, fulfilling dreams and responsibilities,  Citadel cast the play with Chicago area veterans who ought to be up for Jeff nominations in their “Upright Grand” roles.

The father, a talented pianist called Pops who tells personal stories while playing at the Broken Man’s Bar is Mark Ulrich.

Charlotte Mae Ellison as his daughter, Kiddo, is perfect as a 12–year-old with all the angst of a teenager who is suspended for writing “School is crap” on her academy’s wall, later, as the sophisticated accomplished 21-year-old who is on a concert circuit and at the end when she comes home and…. OK, won’t put in spoiler alert here.

The third figure is Matt Edmonds who literally plays as the Accompanist. He is a shadowy figure for father and daughter, a piano tuner who compares people to pianos that are out of tune or in tune. Later he is Todd, son of Pops’ friend Toady from the bar.

Premiered at Theatre Works in Pal Alto, CA at its 2012 New Works Festival, the play examines how one’s parental role and responsibility or lack, influences the next generation and how sometimes those actions are not understood until years later.

Pops goes through life as an absentminded professor who doesn’t know how old his daughter is at different stages but “retires’ from the bar to encourage her to focus on piano when he learns she is gifted. He sees his own dad as far from encouraging him with his musicianship.

By the play’s end, a successful Kiddo understand what her father went through and voices what probably many adults think when she says “I’d go back if I could.”

A charming part of the play is that throughout the different stages, Kiddo asks her father for one of his stories and audiences get to hear snatches from classical and popular music.

Something to think about is how to characterize a person or family. Pops’ family were farmers. He plays an upright piano. His wife’s family are wealthy and have endowed a musical academy. They have a grand  piano.

A phrase to think about that is said during the show is “We’re more upright than grand.”

Unfortunately,  “Upright Grand”  is only at Citadel through March 26, 2017.

Details: Citadel is at 300 S. Waukegan Rd., Lake Forest, IL. For tickets and other info call (847-) 735-8554 and visit Citadel.

 

U2, Blues, Ravinia favs Diana Krall and OneRepublic, Pitchfork and Lollapalooza heat up Chicago summer nights

Get out the calendar to mark the 2017 summer music festivals you hope to catch. Copy the ticket info and good luck.

Blues comes to Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park in June. Jodie Jacobs photo
Blues comes to Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park in June. Jodie Jacobs photo

First, U2 + The Lumineers will be at Soldier Field June 3-4. Yes, they will be doing “The Joshua Tree” in its entirety.See  U2 + The Lumineers 

Then the Chicago Blues Festival is in the Jay Pritzker Pavilion (201 Randolph St.) in Millennium Park June 9-11. It’s free admission. Headliners include Billy Branch and the Sons of Blues with special guest James Cotton. Also headlining are Rhymefest, William Bell, Gary Clark Jr., Rhiannon Giddens and Ronnie Baker Brooks. For tickets and other info visit Blues.

Next, is Ravinia, the wonderful outdoor music park in Highland Park.  For the full schedule click Ravinia.

John Legend’s “Darkness and Light Tour” is June 10. It opens with Grammy-nominated artist Gallant.

The multi-Oscar-nominated film,”La La Land,” will be shown under the stars on large screens accompanied by the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra conducted by George Stelluto on June 18.

Gipsy Kings, a group that blends flamenco with pop and Latin rhythms comes Friday, June 23.

Tickets will soon be available for Ravinia Music Festival headliners. Jodie Jacobs photo
Tickets will soon be available for Ravinia Music Festival headliners. Jodie Jacobs photo

Diana Krall, a five-time Grammy-winning jazz pianist and vocalist comes June 28,

The Moody Blues do “Days of Future Passed” June 30.

OneRepublic & Fitz and The Tantrums are on stage July 14-15.

Blondie and Garbage start their 2017 “Rage and Rapture” tour at Ravinia July 22.

American Acoustic with Punch Brothers, I’m With Her and Julian Lage  are Aug. 14.

Tickets go on sale to the general public on May 9. Donors can request tickets March 22 depending on their giving level. For more information including early request dates. Visit Ravinia.
The Pitchfork Music Festival is back in Union Park July 14-16. Visit Pitchfork Music Festival  Headliners include. LCD Soundsystem,  A Tribe Called Quest and Solange

In addition Pitchfork is collaborating with Saint Heron, for an art installation, film screening, artist talks, late night jazz jam sessions. Visit Pitchfork for tickets and collaboration sites.

Lollapalooza  returns to Grant Park Aug. 3-6. Visit Lolla for tickets and

 

What would Clarence Darrow think?

Maybe Clarence Darrow’s ghost will appear. But even if you don’t see him, you will hear how his view of populism differs from what is being expressed by today’s politicians when the Annual Clarence Darrow Symposium takes place March 13, 2017.

The Clarence Darrow Bridge is behind the Museum of Science and Industry. City of Chicago MSI photo.
The Clarence Darrow Bridge is behind the Museum of Science and Industry. City of Chicago MSI photo.

Titled “Robber Barons & Populists: Would Clarence Darrow recognize today’s Populism,” the event begins with a commemorative ceremony at 10 a.m. near the Clarence Darrow Bridge behind the Museum of Science and Industry (where you might see the ghost). Darrow died March 13, 1938.

Ceremony  guests include  Ald. Leslie Hairston, activist Bernardine Dohrn, ACLU of Illinois Associate Legislative Director Khadine Bennett and Gene Winkler, adjunct faculty at the Divinity School, University of Chicago.

John A. Farrell, author of “Clarence Darrow: Attorney For The Damned,” will speak in the Museum of of Science and Industry’s Rosenwald Room beginning at 10:45. Refreshments will be served.

For more information visit Darrow Bridge.

This Weekend: Entertainers perform for hunger relief

Heads up jazz fans.

The Green Mill features Chicago and touring jazz artists. Photo by Jodie Jacobs
The Green Mill features Chicago and touring jazz artists. Photo by Jodie Jacobs

It’s not too late to get over to a terrific jazz event. The 8th Annual Chi-Town Jazz Festival Supporting Hunger Relief ends this weekend. Tickets are only $20.

Tonight, Friday March 10, the Typhanie Monique Group with  the Sarah Marie Young Quartet and Aaron McEvers Quntet are performing at Winter’s Jazz club, 465 N. McClurg Ct.

Also tonight, Erwin Helfer is at the First Unitarian Church of Chicago, 5650 S. Woodlawn.

Tomorrow, Saturday March 11, Tammy McCann and Jeremy Kahn are at PianoForte, 1335 S, Michigan Ave. and the Ron Perrillo Quartet plus Bakerzmillion and Jon Deitemyer are at the Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway.

For more info check ChiTown Jazz Festival’s facebook page.

It is Show and Tell Time at the Field Museum

“Specimens: Unlocking the Secrets of Life,” takes Field Museum visitors behind the scenes in a new exhibit.

See what Field Museum scientists found at Mason Creek near Chicago. Photo by Jodie Jacobs
See what Field Museum scientists found at Mason Creek near Chicago. Photo by Jodie Jacobs

What any scientist knows that few Field visitors grasp as they try to see everything in the museum, is that what’s out there is less than one percent of millions of collection items.

But few Field guests get to see some of those items where they are stored or where the curators work.

Therefore, some of those objects, such as a giant clamshell, a very long sawfish snout (rostrum), a few dinosaur bones and some extinct species have been temporarily moved into a main floor exhibit hall accompanied by videos and interactive tables so visitors get to see some of what the Field collects and why.

“Lots of people don’t realize that we have collections behind the scenes, let alone collections numbering over 30 million objects,” says Director of Exhibitions Jaap Hoogstraten.

The exhibit’s videos and a reconstructed curator’s office with maps showing locations of water beetles, remind visitors that the Field is way more than a place to see interesting items.

“…the Museum is an active research institution where scientists work and make discoveries based upon these collections,” Hoogstraten said.

Some of the specimens reveal chemical and other changes in their environment such as the mercury levels in oceans over time.

Another display shows creatures and plants that lived millions of years ago. It includes fossils from Mason Creek such as the Tully Monster. The area is an exceptional site south of Chicago that was an inland sea about 300 million years ago.

“Museum collections are a way to preserve the past so that we can learn from it in the future,” Hoogstraten said.

Details: “Specimens: Unlocking the Secrets of Life”  is at The Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive, March 10, 2017 through Jan. 8, 2018. For admission and other information visit Field or call (312) 922-9410.

 

Sex and self-destruction in a high-pressure environment

SOMEWHAT RECOMMENDED

It is hard to appreciate ‘The Scene,’ Thersea Rebeck’s darkly satirical play set against New York’s  hyper TV and acting professions, on stage at Writers Theatre.

Clea (Deanna Myers), Charlie (Mark L. Montgomery) and Lewis (La Shawn Banks) in 'The Scene' at Writers Theatre. Photo by Liz Lauren
Clea (Deanna Myers), Charlie (Mark L. Montgomery) and Lewis (La Shawn Banks) in ‘The Scene’ at Writers Theatre. Photo by Liz Lauren

Chicago stage and TV actor Deanna Myers is so good at playing the obnoxious Clea, an ambitious, amoral, vacuous young woman who recently moved to New York, that it is difficult to understand how she can attract the play’s two male characters.

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New art exhibit turns viewers into participants

'Helio Oiticia' exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago encourages viewers to be participants. Yes, there is a person walking through the blue room. Photos by Jodie Jacobs
‘Helio Oiticia’ exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago encourages viewers to be participants. Yes, there is a person walking through the blue room. Photos by Jodie Jacobs

Try to define “art.” Think beyond typical words that come to mind.

Think creative use of shapes, color, scenery, structures or materials. Then head over to the Art Institute of Chicago to see ‘Helio Oiticia: To Organize Delirium.’

At ‘Helio Oiticia,’ you not only see the famed Brazilian artist’s definition of art, you experience it. Be prepared to take off your shoes.

When you first walk into the Regenstein Hall you see Oiticia’s fondness for shapes and color. Then you find his actions and reactions to his country’s political upheavals and social issues.

'Helio Oiticia' exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago
‘Helio Oiticia’ exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago

But after exploring his large, room-like installations, his sandy beach complete with live, colorful birds and his dark room with a bouncy floor, you see that during Oiticia’s short life (1937-80) he liked to physically share his view of the world.

You will not be a mere viewer of the Art Institute’s show because Oiticia wants you to be a participant.

His “Spatial Reliefs” are hanging structures. “Nuclei” are suspended panels. His famed “Tropicália,” a large installation of sand, birds and foliage done in 1967 contrasts tropical images with what was really going on under Brazil’s dictatorship.

 

'Tropicali'a is recreated at the Art Institute of Chicago.
‘Tropicali’a is recreated at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Organized by the Art Institute of Chicago; Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, ‘Helio Oiticia: To Organize Delirium’ is a fascinating retrospective worth seeing and discussing.

Details: ‘Helio Oiticia: To Organize Delirium,’ is at the Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, now through May 7, 2017. For other information call (312) 443-3600 and visit AIC.