‘Straight White Men’ offers a different view of family interaction

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In spite of the title ‘Straight White Men,’ Young Jean Lee’s play now on stage at Steppenwolf, there is more than one theme presented to the audience.

Ed (Alan Wilder) Jake (Madison Dirks), Drew (Ryan Hallahan) and Matt (Brian Slaten) in "Straight White Men" at Steppenworlf. Photo by Michael Brosilow
Ed (Alan Wilder) Jake (Madison Dirks), Drew (Ryan Hallahan) and Matt (Brian Slaten) in “Straight White Men” at Steppenworlf. Photo by Michael Brosilow

First, there is the question of what makes people uncomfortable. Before the play starts, audiences are subjected to exceedingly loud music with lyrics some might find objectionable.

However Elliott Jenetopuloes who is working on a platform for non straight white artists, and Wil Wilhelm  who has acted at Northlight and other Chicago theatres, sashay through the aisles handing out earplugs if requested.

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Historically important story still relevant

 

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‘The Book of Joseph’ now at Chicago Shakespeare Theater through March 5, 2017, is scary.   That’s not in a ghostly sense, but in the way past signs seem to repeat themselves.

JIn America oseph Hollander (Sean Fortunato) receives letters from his family in Poland who would not leave when they could because they thought they were safe. L to R Doola (Patricia Lavery), Lusia (Mikey Gray), Genka (Brenann Stacker) Gerta (Glynis Bell), Salo (Ron E. Rains) and Maria (Amy J. Carle). Photo by Liz Lauren
In America, Joseph Hollander (Sean Fortunato) receives letters from his family in Poland who would not leave when they could because they thought they were safe. L to R Dola (Patricia Lavery), Lusia (Mikey Gray), Genka (Brenann Stacker) Gerta (Glynis Bell), Salo (Ron E. Rains) and Maria (Amy J. Carle).
Photo by Liz Lauren

The play, a world premiere by Karen Hartman developed with Creative Producer Rick Boynton, relates the Hollander family’s horrific experiences during World War II and then continues the story in current times in the United States.

The first half of the play is based on letters that Joseph Hollander, brilliantly portrayed by Sean Fortunato, received and saved from his large family in Krakow, Poland.

His mother, sisters and spouses plus two nieces were not willing to leave when Joseph got them all the needed papers and visas. A wealthy, well-traveled lawyer who saw what was happening, Joseph leaves for Portugal with wife Felicja Hollander (Gail Shapiro) and  a ward, the 14-year-old son of a friend. Entry to Portugal was denied so they were taken to the US and Ellis Island.

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Around Town

 

Now that Super Bowl 51 is history, and yes, it made history, and Spring Training doesn’t start for a couple of weeks, it’s time to think about what to do away from the flat screen.

Fortunately Chicago has plenty of attractions to lure folks out of the house. Three ideas are offered here because they are either starting this weekend or will be free or discounted.

 

Chicago Botanic Garden 2017 Orchid Show opens this weekend. Photo by Maria Rebelo
Chicago Botanic Garden 2017 Orchid Show opens this weekend. Photo by Maria Rebelo

Chicago Botanic Garden Orchid Show

You can beat the crowd by going to the Members’ Preview Feb. 10, 5-7:30 p.m.  for cocktails and music  ($30). Or go Feb. 11 or 12 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. when  orchids will be sold in the Orchid Marketplace and experts will be around to answer your orchid questions. The show starts this weekend but is extended to March 26, 2017 so there is time to return with more friends and orchid growing questions.

Cost: Adults: members/nonmembers: $10/$12, seniors 62+  $8/$10, children age 3–12: 8/$10. Nonmember parking is extra but can be bought in advance for easier garden entry and there is a Two Pack deal for parking and two tickets.  The Chicago Botanic Garden is at 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe, IL 60022. Call  (847) 835-5440.

 

Museum of Science and Industry Black Creativity Program

It’s always interesting to see what’s going on at the museum and to check out two special programs there during Black History Month. But if you are an Illinois resident you can do so free of charges this week, Feb. 7-9, and next week, Feb. 14-16.

The Juried Art Exhibition, an annual show since 1970, features professional and aspiring black artists from across the country, now through Feb. 19, 2017.

The other program is the Innovation Studio where visitors learn about African American contributions to the sciences and can add their own ideas and solutions. It is there now through March 4, 2017. The Museum of Science and Industry is at 5700 S. Lake shore Drive, Chicago.

 

Bigfin Reef Squid are now swimming at the Shedd Aquarium. Photo compliments of Shedd Aquarium.
Bigfin Reef Squid are now swimming at the Shedd Aquarium. Photo compliments of Shedd Aquarium.

Weird squid at Shedd Aquarium

What has eight arms, two long tentacles, looks right at you and isn’t venomous?

It’s a Bigfin Reef Squid. It’s fun to watch them glide on the mezzanine level of the Abbott Oceanarium. Having just been raised by the Shedd, they are new to the tank where visitor can see them.

Illinois residents have free entry Feb. 10-14, so this week –weekend is a good time to go. A free general admission day is also a discount day which means the Oceanarium charge is less.

The Shedd Aquarium is at 1200 Lake Shore Drive, Chicago. For other information visit Shedd and call (312) 939-2438.

 

Elemeno Pea’ takes a satiric view of society angst and sibling squabbles

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It would likely be hard for some people to fault Simone (Sarah Hect) for enjoying her lifestyle among Nantucket’s wealthy second-home residents even if as an assistant she has to cater to Michaela’s (Grayson Heyl) every insecure whim.

Sarah Hecht, Grayson Heyl, Maggie Kettering and Nick Fanti in 'Elemeno Pea' at Citadel Theatre. Photo by North Shore Camera Club
Sarah Hecht, Grayson Heyl, Maggie Kettering and Nick Fanti in ‘Elemeno Pea’ at Citadel Theatre. Photo by North Shore Camera Club

It is also understandable that Simone’s sister Devon (Maggie Kettering) who has made a shambles of her own life, despises what she sees as snobbish attitudes.

During the show it is learned that ‘Elemeno Pea’ refers to a section of the alphabet song that one of the sisters was unable to distinguish as individual letters.

The sisters squabble about everything while Michaela’s life tumbles downhill when she realizes her husband, often mentioned but never seen, is going to divorce her.

A sort of stand in for the husband is Ethan (Nic Fanti) who is a family friend with little more to do than manage his portfolio and travel.

Debuted at the 2011 Humana Festival of New Plays, the show is currently at Citadel Theatre in Lake Forest where it is well acted, staged and directed.

What stops this satire from being a great play is that it would benefit from some judicious editing of the sisters’ squabbles and Michaela’s hand-wringing.

In addition, it could use some intelligent dialogue on marriage, spousal expectations and family obligations.

It is also learned way too late in the play why Michaela’s marriage is in trouble. Playwright Molly Smith Metzler had employee Jos-B (Ray Andrecheck) reveal the cause near the show’s end instead of dropping hints earlier. Audiences like clues.

At 90 minutes, the play is not long but it feels lengthy. There is too much building the background. It delays understanding several complex, important points.

Details:b“Elemeno Pea” is at Citadel Theatre, 300 S. Waukegan Road, Lake Forest, IL now through March 5, 2017. For tickets and other information visit Citadel and call ( 847) 735-8554 ext. 1.

 

Oh what a Chicago night

 

It was Feb., 4, 2017, not December, 1963. But the people who attended the ‘Chicago Voices Concert’ at the Lyric’s Civic Opera House will arguably remember the night.

The Handsome Family, John Pine and Shemekia Copeland were among the performers at the Chicago Voices Concert. Photo by Cory Weaver
The Handsome Family, John Pine and Shemekia Copeland were among the performers at the Chicago Voices Concert. Photo by Cory Weaver

One famed musician after another performed on stage. Their common denominator was a Chicago tie.

Put together by Renée Fleming to showcase sounds of Chicago, the opera star pointed out that music brings people together. “Amongst the fear and heartbreak we do what we do best,” Fleming said.

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‘Faceless:’ A remarkable play about Islam, fear and vulnerability

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Playwright Selina Fillinger’s brilliant dialogue and profound character interaction, alone, should enter ‘Faceless’ into the ranks of important courtroom dramas.

'Timothy Edwards Kane (L to R), Susaan Jamshidi, Lindsay Stock and Ross Leman in 'Faceless at Northlight Theatre
Timothy Edwards Kane (L to R), Susaan Jamshidi, Lindsay Stock and Ross Leman in ‘Faceless’ at Northlight Theatre

Add the spot on direction of B.J Jones, the insightful scenic design by John Culbert lighting by Heather Gilbert, costumes by Izumi Inaba, music and sound by Andre Pluess and projection design by Stephan Mazurek, and you have a must-see world premiere at Northlight Theatre.

On trial is a white, teenage girl who has been radicalized on the Internet and wants to emigrate to join ISIS. A federal prosecutor has asked a U.S. born, Harvard educated, Muslim  female in his office to take on the case.

The action unfolds in a spellbinding 80 minutes that should give audiences a clearer picture of some of society’s and family problems currently making headlines.

Susaan Jamshidi, who has been seen in Chicago with Remy Bumppo, Lookingglass and Victory Gardens (among others) is exceptional as prosecutor Claire Fathi. Lindsay Stock who has been in Goodman and Collaboraction productions is amazingly believable as defendant Susie Glenn.

Chicago veteran actor Timothy Edward Kane (Northlight, Court, TimeLine, Writers, et al.), does a fine job as Scott Bader, an arrogant lead federal prosecutor. Joe Dempsey, another Chicago veteran who was in Northlight’s ‘Inherit the Wind’ and productions at Goodman, Paramount, Lookingglas, Court, et al.), plays the highly sympathetic figure of Susie’s father, Alan Glenn.

Audiences are very familiar with five-time Jeff Award Winner Ross Lehman who is masterful as Mark Arenbergb, Susie Glenn’s defending attorney.

The show should spark discourse. Post show discussions will be held Feb. 8, 9, 12, 15, 16, 23 and March 1, 2.

Details: ‘Faceless’ is at Northlight Theatre in the North Shore Center for Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, IL, now through March 4, 2017. For tickets and other information visit Northlight and call (847) 673-6300.

 

 

Hot music for cold nights

 

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

The Green Mill is always a good choice for hot jazz on a cold winter night. But who would have thought to add the Civic Opera House to the mix?

 

The Green Mill

The Bruce Barth Trio Tour is landing at the Green Mill, Feb. 3-4, 2017. Barth on the piano, Dave Baron on the bass and Montez Coleman on drums will be heating the Green Mill Jazz Club from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and 8 p.m. to midnight Saturday. Green Mill is at 4802 N. Broadway Ave., Chicago, IL 60640 (773-878-5552. Cover is $15.

 

Civic Opera House

You know “Hamilton” pulls together hip hop, jazz, blues and pop. But you can thank opera star Renée  Fleming for showing Chicago that indeed, the city spawns great jazz, blues, pop, rock, gospel, folk, hip hop and classical music. To hear all that in one place snag a ticket to Chicago Voices. Saturday. On stage will be Kurt Elling, Shemekia Copeland, Jessie Mueller, Lupe Fiasco, Renée Fleming Michelle Williams, The Handsome Family, Matthew Polenzani, and John Prine. Fleming has been working with the Lyric’s outreach arm to encourage more Chicagoans to express themselves in music.  Click Chicago Voices to find out more.

For ticket information visit Lyric Opera/Concert or  call (312) 827­-5600. The Civic Opera House is at 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago, IL 60606.

 

The disco beat is hot at drury Lane’s ‘Saturday Night Fever’

 

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When life is going nowhere, dance it out. That’s the gist of “Saturday Night Fever,” the latest musical to open at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace.

Erica Stephan (Stephanie Mangano and Adrian Anguilar (Tony) in Drury Lane's Saturday Night Fever Photo by Brett Beiner
Erica Stephan (Stephanie Mangano) and Adrian Anguilar (Tony) in Drury Lane’s Saturday Night Fever Photo by Brett Beiner

Based on the 1977 hit film, “Saturday Night Fever” the musical follows Brooklyn teenager Tony Manero, who escapes his dead-end job at a paint store by spending weekends at the 2001 Odyssey disco. It’s the role that launched John Travolta to stardom and made white suits a style icon of that generation.

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Opening night crowd appreciates Bellini’s challenging bel canto ‘Norma’

 

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A love triangle, betrayal, an ominous war, a necessary death – all centered on a strong woman, is perfect opera fare.

Sondra Radvanovsky (Norma) and Elizabeth DeShong (Adalgisa) in Norma at the Lyric Opera of chicago
Sondra Radvanovsky (Norma) and Elizabeth DeShong (Adalgisa) in ‘Norma’ at the Lyric Opera of Chicago

The brilliant 19th century composer Vincenzo Bellini found such a plot in “Norma, ou L’infanticide” a play by Alexandre Soumet.

Don’t worry, in the opera Norma threatens her betraying lover with infanticide but doesn’t kill their children. What Bellini did was to turn the story into what has become the iconic bel canto opera.

Now, the Lyric Opera of Chicago which has only done “Norma” three previous times beginning with Maria Callas in 1954, is doing a new-to-Chicago, co-production starring opera’s current Norma favorite, Sondra Radvanovsky.

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‘Gloria’ views tragedy through the satirical lens of publishing

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REVIEW

‘Gloria,’ a dark satire now at Goodman Theatre, is a perfect example of don’t judge a play by its first half hour.

'Ryan Spahn (Dean), Jennifer Kim (Kendra) and Catherine Combs (Ani) in "Gloria' at the Goodman Theatre.
Ryan Spahn (Dean), Jennifer Kim (Kendra) and Catherine Combs (Ani) in ‘Gloria’ at the Goodman Theatre.

Playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins first lulls audiences into “so-what” mode with the irritating whining of editorial assistants at a New York magazine.

But then, the first act ends with a jolt that has audiences coming back after intermission wondering what will happen next. Read More