1940’s come alive in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’

Custer, Cameron, Robinson, Dahlquist, Joseph, Mohrlein (Photo by Michael Brosilow)
Custer, Cameron, Robinson, Dahlquist, Joseph, Mohrlein (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

4 stars

If you haven’t been invited to a holiday party yet or are just feeling ready to get into the Christmas spirit, you can’t do much better than the American Blues Theater’s staged radio show version of Frank Capra’s classic “It’s a Wonderful Life-Live in Chicago!.”

In this production, the theater is set up to give the illusion that you are part of the studio audience for a live radio broadcast in 1944 at WABT Studio on Belmont Avenue in Chicago.

There is a spinet piano, stage left, and three old-timey microphones on stands across the front where most of the action takes place.

Stage right is an array of apparatus where Foley artist Shawn J. Goudie will add sound effects. Above the piano is a lighted sign which displays the words “On Air” and “Applause.”

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‘The Safe House’ at City Lit is a safe bet

 

 marssie Mencotti, L. and Kat Evans in City Lit's The Safe House. (Photo by Steve Graue)
marssie Mencotti, L. and Kat Evans in City Lit’s The Safe House. (Photo by Steve Graue)

3.5 Stars

This world premiere slice of life drama is sure to strike close to home.

For many, the place they have lived and raised a family is more than an assembly of bricks and wood, it is a repository of memories and the physical manifestation of a life’s work. When it comes time to consider leaving it behind there are more considerations than a change of address.

“The Safe House,” commissioned by City Lit and based on a true story by Chicago playwright Kristine Thatcher, is expertly supervised by Producer/Artistic Director Terry McCabe.

You get a feeling you know where the cookie jar is in designer Ray Toler’s cozy retro kitchen/dining room stage setting It brings us right into the domain of “Grandma” Hannah (marssie Mencotti) who must confront the realities of her changing condition and abilities.Read More

‘Arcadia’ is close to ideal

Chris Smith, Megan DeLay, Chris Woolsey (Photos by Tim McGrath, TCMcG Photography)
Chris Smith, Megan DeLay, Chris Woolsey (Photos by Tim McGrath, TCMcG Photography)

3.5 Stars

“Arcadia” begins with thirteen year-old Thomasina Coverly (Meghann Tabor)asking her tutor Septimus Hodge (Chris Woolsey) the meaning of the term “carnal embrace.” Hodge replies essentially that the word carnal is derived from the Latin “carne” meaning meat and it is therefore referring to an embrace with a “side of beef” or “leg of mutton.”

From this opening dialog playwright Tom Stoppard is creating an atmosphere of inquiry and humor. He is sending a message that though this may be challenging at times, we are going to have fun with it.

The action takes place around a table in an historic and aristocratic English manor house in which there are two intersecting story lines set roughly two hundred years apart.

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‘Frankenstein’ viewed through Manual Cinema eyes

Cast and production crew of Manual Cinema's Frankenstine at Court Theatre (Michael Brosilow photos)
Cast and production crew of Manual Cinema’s Frankenstine at Court Theatre (Michael Brosilow photos)

4 Stars

It is supposed that our most ancient cave dwelling predecessors told supernatural cautionary tales of adventure that included encounters with fantastic creatures.

Their flickering fires casting out-sized, ominous, and at times, grotesque shadows on the wall amplified the sense of dread and danger. Add the slow beating of a drum mimicking the ever increasing beating of hearts, mixing with the mysterious sounds of nature lurking in the darkness and you begin to see the primeval recipe that Manual Cinema has tapped into in the telling of their version of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.”

Manual Cinema is a singular theatrical experience that has elements of street theater and silent film. The company mixes live action, silhouettes, puppets, shadow puppetry, masks, video, slide projection and all manner of theatrical techniques, ancient and modern to create a captivating monochromatic video mash-up, reminiscent of a nickelodeon feature, assembled and projected on stage before your eyes.

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Love’s Labour’s Lost – A timeless tale

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

L-R: Amber Cartwright, Katherine Duffy, Rachael Soglin, Raina Lynn (Photos by Brian McConkey Photography
L-R: Amber Cartwright, Katherine Duffy, Rachael Soglin, Raina Lynn
(Photos by Brian McConkey Photography

This delightful Invictus Theatre experience proves once again that little has changed since Shakespeare penned this early comedy about the powerful drive of the passions of youth.

The young Ferdinand King of Navarre (Chad Bay) challenges his three besties  Berowne (Charles Askenaizer), Longaville (Taylor Glowac) and Dumain (Sam Cheeseman) to forsake romance and other distractions of the flesh such as eating for the purpose of devoting themselves fully to their studies for three years.

The pact does not last long due to the hunger of youth and the arrival of a young French Princess (Raina Lynn) and her posse of eligible young maids in waiting Rosaline (Rachael Soglin), Katherine (Amber Cartwright) and Maria (Katherine Duffy). Conveniently there is the requisite number of each sex for the two respective royal crews to square off.

The young men have soon forsaken their fasting and studies and have instead turned their hand to verses of love, while the ladies delight in disguising themselves and otherwise confounding their suitors for sport.

As with most of The Bard’s theatricals there are a few side trips not the least of which is a Spanish Lord Don Armado (Martin Diaz-Valdes) and doltish slave Costard (Johnny Kalita) pursuing the same country wench Jaquenetta (Daniela Martinez); and the play-within- a-play featuring the self-important teacher Holofernes (Alisha Fabbi) and his sycophant the curate Nathaniel (Jack Morsovillo).Read More

Harry Truman anti-Semite or doula at birth of Israel

SOMEWHAT RECOMMEND

(left to right) Tim Kough and Catherine Dvorak in Greenhouse Theater Center and Forum Productions’ world premiere of Truman and the Birth of Israel. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)
(left to right) Tim Kough and Catherine Dvorak in Greenhouse Theater Center and Forum Productions’ world premiere of Truman and the Birth of Israel. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

“Truman and the Birth of Israel” is a politically wonkish tale about a fictional encounter between the retired 33rd President and a young, future congresswoman, Bella Abzug (Catherine Dvorak).

At this point she is a rising New York attorney already showing a penchant for championing Zionist, feminist and civil rights ideals that will be her trademark in later years.

The action takes place in the home study and garden of Harry S. Truman (Tim Kough).  Abzug has been assigned to represent “Give’m Hell Harry” in a libel action the former President intends to initiate against an East Coast newspaper reporter who has allegedly defamed him by insulting his daughter’s singing talent.

Truman’s law firm assigns Bella Abzug to the case presumably because both she and the reporter are Jewish. Abzug feels certain that the defense will attack Truman for his past anti-Semitism and sets out to understand the complexities of a man who was once a card carrying member of the KKK but is also credited with helping to make the State of Israel a possibility.

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Idomeneo makes awkward deal with Greek god

RECOMMENDED

 

Matthew Polenzani and cast of Mozart's Idomeneo at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Kyle Flubacker photo)
Matthew Polenzani and cast of Mozart’s Idomeneo at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Kyle Flubacker photo)

If you have ever been caught in a storm while sailing or found yourself on a rough boat ride in Lake Michigan you can understand why Idomeneo is ready to bargain with Neptune in return for a safe harbor after being tempest tossed while returning from the Trojan War.

Neptune, willing to make a deal with Idomeneo says he will assure his safe arrival at shore but in return the hero must sacrifice the first person he sees.

Like many mythological Greek gods of yore Neptune seems to really enjoy some irony. As it turns out the first person Idomeneo spots is his very own son Idamante. Ah! The stuff great opera is made of.

This Lyric Opera of Chicago’s revival of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Idomeneo with a stellar cast of singers and awesome orchestra led by Music Director Sir Andrew Davis, is indeed lyrical.Read More

The American Revolution in 50 minutes

RECOMMENDED

The American Revolution is acted out by Theater Unspeakable cast on a tiny, raised platform.
The American Revolution is acted out by Theater Unspeakable cast on a tiny, raised platform.

 

A talented ensemble of seven actors in red union suits depict the salient moments of the American Revolution in an improvisational tableau style on a roughly three foot by seven foot platform, two feet off the ground, in fifty minutes.

Produced by Theater Unspeakable and directed by Marc Frost, the show is oddly compelling and entertaining.

With no scenery or props and using their bodies alone the cast, skillfully choreographed by movement director Thomas Wynne, employ many time honored devices of stagecraft including pantomime, narration, dialogue and a cappella song to guide us through a timeline beginning with the French and Indian war through to the establishment of a new nation while covering events on two continents.

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‘Curious Incident’ offers important themes

 

SOMEWHAT RECOMMENDED

Cast of Curious Incident of the dog in the nighttime at Steppenwolf Theatre's Young Adult Program.
Cast of Curious Incident of the dog in the nighttime at Steppenwolf Theatre’s Young Adult Program.

“The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” follows the adventures of Christopher (Terry Bell) who is a fourteen year old boy with an undefined sensory processing disorder (like autism) who is also a kind of math savant.

While he has advanced mental abilities on one hand, he also has limited interpersonal skills which manifest in his aversion to personal contact, his inability to tell a lie, and his propensity to take everything he hears literally.

For instance, he is confused by most idiomatic phrases and metaphors. When his test proctor asks, “Are you ready to roll” Christopher simply looks bewildered.

Intrigued by the mystery of the obviously intentional death of his neighbor’s dog, the young man sets out to find the perpetrator of the act. That leads him to places he has never been. It confronts him with unimagined truths while being forced to manage and overcome some of his own personal challenges.

This is less of a whodunit and more of a why’d-you-do-it that forces Christopher and us to ponder themes of death, infidelity, and betrayal. In the end there is not so much of a resolution as an open ended series of unanswered, perhaps thought provoking questions.

The strength of the play is providing a glimpse into an alternate state of being.

Actor Terry Bell gave an excellent, well=balanced performance as Christopher. It would be easy to overplay this role but his portrayal is sympathetic and sensitive.

This play by Simon Stephens based on the novel by Mark Haddon and directed by Jonathan Berry, is very much about Christopher and told from his point-of-view.Read More

Stories of Chicago in Music

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Baiocchi performance (Reno Lovison photo)
Baiocchi performance (Reno Lovison photo)

Created as part of the Bach+Beethoven Experience, “Chicago Stories: Book 2” challenges local composers to write a musical suite that utilizes baroque instruments to tell a story about Chicago.

One of the hallmarks of Bach+Beethoven Experience is to create a casual relaxed atmosphere to enjoy music of vintage instruments. There is nothing stuffy about this experience and I venture to say it can be enjoyed by virtually anyone regardless of musical tastes or preferred musical genre.

The premiere performance was presented Sept. 29, 2018 in the Sky Room at the Loyola Park Field House in Rogers Park overlooking Lake Michigan.

The first suite, “Stories of the Bloomingdale Trail” by Ronnie Kuller, was created to evoke memories of the trail’s past as part of an industrial corridor and rail line that contrasted with the present sounds of the walkers, runners, and bicyclists who enjoy the narrow elevated green space. The trail cuts a nearly three-mile path parallel to North Avenue from Ashland on the east to roughly Central Park on the west.Read More