‘Ariodante:’ love and lust, deception and trust

 

'Ariodante'in a shadow-box type set woks well at Lyric Opera of Chicago (Photo by Cory Weaver)
‘Ariodante’ in a shadow-box type set woks well at Lyric Opera of Chicago (Photo by Cory Weaver)

4 Stars

The Lyric Opera’s “Ariodante” by George Frideric Handel (of “Messiah” fame) satisfies the sensibilities of a modern audience.

The storyline of this eighteenth century Baroque opera has elements familiar to a twenty-first century TV audience including love, sex, drugs, infidelity, deception and a missing person. Oh! and puppets.

The plot-line would benefit from a chart. But essentially, Ginevra and Ariodante are in love and soon to be married, however, the villainous Polinesso is also in love with Ginevra who incidentally, can’t stand the sight of him.

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‘The Realistic Joneses’ rings true

From left, Joseph Wiens, Cortney McKenna, H.B. Ward and Linda Reiter in Shattered Globe Theatre and Theater Wit's "The Realistic Joneses." (Evan Hanover photo)
From left, Joseph Wiens, Cortney McKenna, H.B. Ward and Linda Reiter in Shattered Globe Theatre and Theater Wit’s “The Realistic Joneses.” (Evan Hanover photo)

3.5 Stars

Bob (H.B. Ward) and Jennifer (Linda Reiter) Jones are surprised to meet their new neighbors who also share the same last name.

The second Jones couple, Pony (Cortney McKenna), and John (Joseph Wiens) are a quirky duo. Pony is a bit scatter brained, maybe even clueless while John is prone to outlandish non-sequiturs and pseudo philosophical profundities.

We learn that Bob, who prefers to communicate in one word sentences, is suffering from a mortal neurological illness that he is dealing with by trying to ignore it and which is causing Jennifer and him a good deal of stress.Read More

‘An Artist and The Ember’ has a warm glow

Maddie Sachs and Zach Tabor in ‘An Artist and the Ember’ (Photos by Nick Murhling)
Maddie Sachs and Zach Tabor in ‘An Artist and the Ember’ (Photos by Nick Murhling)

In “An Artist and The Ember,” long suffering musical composer Eve (Maddie Sachs) struggles to create songs and a libretto for a musical she is writing based on a premise provided by her collaborators Sam (Taylor Snooks ) and Daniel (Quinn Rattan).

At the same time, she is constantly tormented and cajoled by her alter ego and fiery inner passion personified in the character, Ember (Zach Tabor).

The device of the character, Ember, is the genius of this play. Who among us has not been (at least from time-to-time) bedeviled by our inner voice? Ember has a Faustian quality though he makes no promises. It is a more cerebral or modern psychological spin on an old theme.

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‘Brooke Astor’s Last Affair’ is Fair

 

Underscore Theatre Ensemble, Brook Astor's Last Affair. (Photos by Jesus Ricca)
Underscore Theatre Ensemble, Brook Astor’s Last Affair. (Photos by Jesus Ricca)

2.5 Stars

The Chicago Musical Theatre Festival produced by Underscore Theatre through Feb. 24, 2019 is a great opportunity to experience new work from emerging composers, lyricists, and playwrights of this classically American performance genre.

My first festival experience this weekend was “Brooke Astor’s Last Affair” based on the life of New York socialite and philanthropist Brooke Astor.

The format is flashback fantasy in which Brooke is forced to review some life choices including the relationship between her and her son (from a previous marriage), Tony Marshall.

I very much wanted to love this show and it has a number of interesting moments but overall it was a miss.

The book and lyrics by Rachael Migler are the heart of the production and get the job done in terms of telling the story but the music by composer Nick Thornton is generally underwhelming with the exception of “Marry for Money” and the very cute “Dachshunds and Men.”Read More

‘Dead Man’s Cell Phone’ finds the right tone

Cyndey Moody and Mike Newquist in Deadman's Cell Phone at Greenhouse theater. (Photo by Paul Goyette
Cyndey Moody and Mike Newquist in Deadman’s Cell Phone at Greenhouse theater. (Photo by Paul Goyette

 

3 stars

Our cell phones have truly become extensions of ourselves, storing bits of personal and secret data with the potential to live-on sharing and connecting pieces of our lives even after we are gone.

In “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” presented by “The Comrades,” Wilmette playwright Sarah Ruhl explores what might happen when a stranger interacts with a deceased man’s cell phone she retrieves in a diner.

This is an absurd tongue-in-cheek noir-style, dark comedic drama directed by Arianna Soloway. It features the winsome, inquisitive and inventive  Cydney Moody as “plain Jane” Jean who is perhaps being a bit voyeuristic  but also just wants to make people feel better. In the process, she finds herself more involved than she probably expected.

Valeria Rosero and Cyndney Moody in Dead Man's Cell Phone
Valeria Rosero and Cyndney Moody in Dead Man’s Cell Phone

Performed by an expert ensemble that includes Bryan Breau as the dead man Gordon, Caroline Dodge Latta as his at times overbearing but loving mother Mrs. Gottleib, Lynnette Li as his somewhat reluctant widow Hermia, Mike Newquist as his neglected brother Dwight and Valeria Rosero as the secretive “Other Woman.”

The stunning simple set design by Sydney Achler is a series of monochromatic paint-splattered trapezoids whose hectic colorization and odd angles contribute visually to the unbalanced surrealistic quality of the story.

There are a few bothersome inconsistencies in the story but they are easily overcome by the outstanding performances of the ensemble and the thought provoking subject matter.

This is a weird ride that makes you want to see what’s around the next turn.

“Dead Man’s Cell Phone,” The Comrades production at Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, goes through March 10, 2019. Running time is 90 minutes with no intermission.For tickets and other information call (773) 404-7336 or visit Greenhouse Theater.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

‘Photograph 51’ is a portrait of life

 

Chaon Cross Rosalind Franklin) in Court Theatre's Photograph 51 (Michael Brosilow photo)
Chaon Cross Rosalind Franklin) in Court Theatre’s Photograph 51 (Michael Brosilow photo)

3.5 Stars

“Photograph 51” written by Anna Ziegler and Directed by Vanessa Stalling at the Court Theatre is a snapshot of the life of British chemist Rosalind Franklin (Chaon Cross).

Until recently she had gone virtually un-credited for her contribution to the discovery that revealed the structure of DNA to be a double helix. But the discovery earned her research colleague Maurice Wilkins (Nathan Hosner) and two rival collaborators James Watson (Alex Goodrich) and Francis Crick (Nicholas Harazin) the Nobel Prize.

Franklin was hired by King’s College London for her cutting edge expertise in the field of X-ray crystallography and assured that she would be in charge of her own research. Instead, she was assigned to Wilkins’ DNA project thus leaving her status of independence unresolved at best. Read More

Delightful ‘La boheme’ revisited

Parisian street scene in "La boheme at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Todd Rosenberg photo)
Parisian street scene in “La boheme at Lyric Opera of Chicago. (Todd Rosenberg photo)

3 stars

Opera lovers who hoped to see “La boheme,” Lyric’s attractively updated version  directed by Richard Jones when the 2018-19 season opened in the fall, still have a few opportunities.

After the musician’s strike cancelled one performance, this fresh version of Giacomo Puccini’s popular opera is back with more January dates added to the schedule.

The new production is beautifully sung, featuring Zachary Nelson (Marcello), Michael Fabiano (Rodolfo) and Maria Agresta (Mimi). In the performance I saw, Ann Toomey (Musetta) stood in for Danielle De Niese who had a cold.

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‘La Ruta’ exposes a dangerous journey

 

Cast of La Ruta at Steppenwolf
Cast of La Ruta at Steppenwolf

4 stars

For his world premiere of “La Ruta” at the Steppenwolf Theater, Chicago based playwright Isaac Gomez has commandeered a bus transporting “maquila” workers to and from their jobs in Juarez, pointing its headlights into the vast darkness. It exposes the despair and anguish of the mothers and sisters of an estimated 1,400 women kidnapped, used as sex slaves, murdered and disposed of like trash in the Mexican desert.

According to Gomez this is a story that has been systematically silenced through intimidation and adherence to a Latin American culture of toxic masculinity, or “machista.”

Based on a true story and directed by Sandra Marquez, “La Ruta” is performed by an all Latinx cast of eight that centers around the few days leading up to and the nearly three years following the disappearance of Brenda (Cher Alvarez).

Gomez is careful to point out in the program notes that this is not a docu-drama but rather a “creative re-imagining.”

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A pleasant adventure ‘Into the Woods’

 

Cast of Into the Woods at Music Works. (Brett Beiner photo)
Cast of Into the Woods at Music Theater Works. (Brett Beiner photo)

4 stars

Music Theater Works in Evanston has put together a visually stunning production of Stephen Sondheim’s fairy-tale musical mashup, “Into the Woods.”

The opening tableau is like the first page of a richly illustrated children’s picture book that literally sets the stage for the primary characters.

Stage right is Cinderella (Kelly Britt) tending to the fire; center stage is the Baker (Daniel Tatar) and his wife (Alexis Armstrong) in their kitchen; and stage left is Jack (Christopher Ratliff) of beanstalk fame with his mother (Anne Marie Lewis) and cow Milky White (Milky White).

Behind the vignettes are the slightly ominous birch tree “woods” accented against a deep blue twilight sky hung with the words “Once Upon a Time.” But of course, this is not your child’s version of the stories presented.

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‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ gets a contemporary vibe

 

Led in revels by the First Fairy (Adrienne Storrs) and Puck (Sam Kebede), the fairy ensemble gather to "Rock the Ground" in Chicago Shakespeare Theater's production of 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' (Liz Lauren photo)
Led in revels by the First Fairy (Adrienne Storrs) and Puck (Sam Kebede), the fairy ensemble gather to “Rock the Ground” in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ (Liz Lauren photo)

4 stars

Shakespeare Theater Chicago puts a slightly modern twist to an old favorite, one of “The Bard’s” most well-known and beloved plays, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

As is not unusual for Shakespeare this story is something of a three ring circus.

Oberon, King of the Fairies (Edward O’Blenis) directs his minion Puck (Sam Kebede) to put a spell on Titania, Queen of the Fairies (Alexandra Silber) to teach her a lesson.

The spell uses the essence of a special flower that will cause Titania to fall madly in love with the first being she sees whether it be man, beast or fairy. Oberon prefers the more beastly the better.

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