Change Can Be Difficult

 

Front, Rashada Dawan, Back left to right Emma Sipora Tyler and Tyler Symone. (Photo by Marisa KM)
Front, Rashada Dawan, Back left to right Emma Sipora Tyler and Tyler Symone. (Photo by Marisa KM)

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Set during a changing period in recent history near New Orleans in 1963 “Caroline, or Change” is an emotionally charged story about the power of money and fear of change.

Caroline (Rashada Dawan) is a maid in a modest Jewish household in Lake Charles, Louisiana. Her employer Stuart Gellman (Jonathan Schwart) is a widower who has recently married one of his deceased wife’s friends, Rose (Blair Robertson) who hails from the Upper West Side of New York.

For Rose change is manifest in the challenges presented by her new life in the South which include a despondent husband, his eight year-old grieving son Noah (Alejandro Medina) and “negro” housekeeper whose life is slowly unraveling as she quietly struggles to keep it together.

It is the dawn of the civil rights movement, times are changing, President JFK has just been assassinated. Caroline is recently divorced, has three girls (Bre Jacobs, Princess Isis Z. Lang and Lyric K. Sims) at home and a grown son in Vietnam. To make matters worse she is under employed and feeling like she has no skills that would allow her to change her circumstances.

Caroline’s oldest daughter Emmie Thibodeaux (Bre Jacobs ) represents the new generation and the change that is coming.

The term “change” takes on a double meaning as the plot pivots around Noah’s habit of leaving loose change in his pants pockets where Caroline routinely finds it while doing the laundry and where the odd coins become a catalyst for a change in attitudes.

One can nit-pick but every member of this perfect cast turned in wonderful performances in a nearly flawless production directed by Lili-Anne Brown with a nearly flawless script featuring book and lyrics by Tony Kushner, and music by Jeanine Tesori.

The actors are accompanied by the musical direction and keyboard of Andra Velis Simon with her excellent four piece band, Yulia Block (percussion), Kimberly Lawson (violin) Emily Beisel (reeds) and Myles Bacon (guitars).

There is virtually no break in the music from beginning to end so it is difficult to single out individual performances. But, the charming jump rope style song “Roosevelt Petrucius Coleslaw” sung by  Caroline’s adorable daughters and joined by Noah in Act One, as well as her own show stopping “Lot’s Wife” toward the end of Act Two were memorable moments for me.

If you are unfamiliar with this play I suggest you definitely put it on your “must see” list. And I will venture to say, that you are not going to get a much better chance than this Firebrand Theatre presentation of “Caroline, or Change.”

DETAILS: “Caroline, or Change,” a Firebrand Theatre production, is at The Den Theatre’s Heath Main Stage, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave. through Oct. 28, 2018. Running time: 2 hrs., 30 min. For tickets or other information visit Firebrand Theatre.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

‘White Rabbit Red Rabbit’ is a Fuzzy Tale

SOMEWHAT RECOMMENDED

A different performer takes on White Rabbit Red Rabbit at each Interrobang production.
A different performer takes on White Rabbit Red Rabbit at each Interrobang production.

It can be said that any piece of literature is a conversation with the author across time and space but Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour takes this to a new level.

For those interested in a nontraditional performance experience, “White Rabbit Red Rabbit” presented by Interrobang Theatre Project is an enjoyable, thought provoking, perhaps at times, philosophical, leap into experimental theater.

A different actor every night is presented with a few props and a sealed script which is opened on stage. At this point the actor follows the instructions and performs accordingly. Performers: Stephanie Shum (September 24) JD Caudill (October 1), Echaka Agba (October 8), Michael Turrentine (October 15), Joe Lino (October 22), David Cerda (October 29), Shawna Franks (November 5) and Owais Ahmed (November 12).

For some this may be a trip down a proverbial rabbit hole but others like “Alice” may encounter a splendid adventure.

Part of the intrigue is that no one (including me) is permitted to talk about the details of the play because no one sees exactly the same show twice.

Approximately one hour long, it is a kind of improvisational comedic/dramatic,social experiment.

If you are expecting a traditional night at the theater this may not be your thing but if you are looking for a refreshing break from the ordinary then hop over to see “White Rabbit Red Rabbit.”

DETAILS: “White Rabbit Red Rabbit” is at The Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago, through Nov. 12, 2018. For tickets and other information call (312) 219-4140 and visit Interrobangtheatre.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

‘Radio Golf’ is a Hole-in-One

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

From left: Allen Gilmore, James T Alfred and James Vincent Meredith. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)
From left: Allen Gilmore, James T Alfred and James Vincent Meredith. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

A Pittsburgh real estate developer with aspirations of becoming mayor finds himself at odds with his wife and his business partner after encountering a couple of guys from his old neighborhood who bring him closer to his own history and the roots of his community.

This is a story about the quest for success, what is legal, what is fair and ultimately, what is right and what is wrong.

These concepts are not just black and white. They are usually very muddy and predicated on each individual’s point-of-view. On some level this story tries to indicate that there is a clear distinction.

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Saturday in the Park with Porchlight

Michelle Lauto r gives park audiences a preview of some of Porchlight's 2018-19 musical season accompanied by Music Director David Fiorello, l, (Reno Lovison photo)
Michelle Lauto r gives park audiences a preview of some of Porchlight’s 2018-19 musical season accompanied by Music Director David Fiorello, l, (Reno Lovison photo)

An ensemble from Porchlight Music Theatre offered a sneak preview of their upcoming 2018-2019 theater season including selections from “1776,” “Gypsy” and “A Chorus Line.”

The lucky audience in lawn chairs at Washington Square Park across from Chicago’s Newberry Library, heard performances by Leah Davis, James Earl Jones II, Michelle Lauto, Liam Quealy, and Music Director David Fiorello.

Michelle Lauto confidently belted out “He Plays the Violin” from “1776” while James Earl Jones II wrapped up the one-hour preview with “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” from “Gypsy.”

DETAILS: Porchlight Music Theatre is at the Ruth Page Center For the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn Pkwy. To see more about the season visit Porchlight Season.

Reno Lovison

Video highlights by Reno Lovison can be seen at Chicago Broadcasting Network.

Related:  A Look at the coming Chicago theater season: Part Two

 

 

The Blues Man is the real deal

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Rick Stone is the Blues Man at Black EnsembleTheater.
Rick Stone is the Blues Man at Black EnsembleTheater.

“Rick Stone The Blues Man” at the Black Ensemble Theater is a nightclub style jukebox musical written and directed by Jackie Taylor that stars Rick Stone himself and a cadre of six seasoned blues singers backed up by an awesome house band.

The songs are classic blues led by the very talented BET musical director Robert Reddrick on drums who is joined by “young” Adam Sherrod (Keyboards), Gary Baker (Guitar) and Mark Miller (Bass).  Lamont D. Harris (Harmonica) is considered part of the vocal ensemble but holds his own adding his “blues harp” accompaniment to many of the tunes.

This production works hard to make you feel like you just happened to stroll into a vintage blues club. The cast wanders in, casually greeting individuals along the way. Ushers greet everyone by saying, “Welcome to Rick’s.” The stage has a small bar and few tables and chairs which incidentally are available to audience members as V.I.P. seating.Read More

The end of TV is largely light and shadow

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

The End of TV at the Chopin Theatre. (Photo by Judy Sirota Rosenthal)
The End of TV at the Chopin Theatre. (Photo by Judy Sirota Rosenthal)

It seems fitting that The Chopin Theater which began as a local movie house and evolved into a live theater venue, should play host to “The End of TV,” a combination of live action and multimedia that comments so poignantly on the blurred reality between television and human interaction.

Simply speaking, the story-line centers around a chance encounter between a laid-off autoworker turned meals-on-wheels driver, Louise, (Aneisa Hicks) and a QVC home shopping obsessed elderly woman, Flo (Kara Davidson).

The time is the 1990s. The place is a post-industrial Rust Belt city. The action takes place amid advertising promises and commercial bombardment.

In the larger sense it is about isolation and the need for human connection.Read More

Simple Elegance of ‘Pink Orchids’ at Chicago’s Pride Center

RECOMMENDED

Originally presented as “The HIV Monologues” by Dragonflies Theatre, London in 2017, this production renamed “Pink Orchids” at The Buena, Pride Arts Center  is five soliloquies presented by  four different actors intertwined to tell one connected story.

Barney (Nick Dorado) is producing a semi-autobiographical play about his lover who died of aids.

Alex wins the coveted role, assuring Barney that he is sympathetic to the challenges by claiming his support for his own HIV-positive lover, Nick (Don Baiocchi).

In reality, at that moment, Nick is merely a passing acquaintance who Alex tried to ditch once he found out about Nick’s positive status.

Irene (Kathleen Puls Andrade) is a nurse who cared for Barney’s lover. She gives witness to the story of his humanity, humor, and pathos while in the process of losing his struggle with the dreaded disease.

The performance is a bit like a storytelling “slam” a la the “Moth,” where individuals tell well-crafted, entertaining but often heart rending personal tales.

Each vignette was skillfully written by Patrick Cash and directed by Brennan T. Jones.  Both the writer and director were obviously cognizant of the need to keep this subject matter from becoming too dark.

While humorous at times, it is not a joke. Rather, it is a sincere portrayal of a serious fact of life for a considerable number of individuals who contend daily with an inescapable reality.

Each character is a distinctive personality type and each actor makes a point of connecting personally with the audience in this very intimate space.

The simple set by Evan Frank cleverly consists of a series of hanging shelves with a variety of mementos alluded to during the various sketches including a couple of bags of crisps, a plate of mini-cupcakes, a few photos and a number of potted pink orchids.

Produced by Pride Films and Plays, this well-performed presentation is part of the Pride Arts Center Summer Pride Fest.

DETAILS: “Pink Orchids” is at The Buena at Pride Arts Center  4147 N. Broadway, Chicago, through July 7. Running time: about 80 minutes with no intermission. For tickets and other information call (866) 811-4111 or (773) 857-0222 or visit Pride Films and Plays.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

 

Blue collar history and bluegrass music

 

Cast of Hayarket, tUnderscore Theatre Company and The den Theatre's new musical. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)
Cast of Haymarket, Underscore Theatre Company and The Den Theatre’s new musical. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

HIGHLY RECOMMEND

Chicago has long been known as a city of industry and labor. As Carl Sandburg said, “Hog Butcher for the  World….Stormy, husky, brawling, City of the Big Shoulders.” It is against the post-civil-war backdrop of this version of Chicago that “Haymarket” presented by Underscore Theatre Company at The Den Theatre plays out.

The energetic cast of twelve talented actor/musicians, tell the story of four ill-fated so called “anarchists” and their wives through approximately 19 bluegrass/folk songs with limited dialogue.

The “co-conspirators” were nascent labor activists fighting for among other things an eight hour work day, which we, of course, take for granted with little thought of those who fought and died to make this and other fair labor practices a reality.

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A fair production

SOMEWHAT RECOMMEND

Laura Degrenia (Margaret Burnham), Pavi Proczko (Daniel Burnham) and Sam Massey (John Root) in Burnham's Dream
Laura Degrenia (Margaret Burnham), Pavi Proczko (Daniel Burnham) and Sam Massey (John Root) in Burnham’s Dream

“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.” Daniel Burnham.

Daniel Burnham is probably best known as the person who gave Chicago its grid layout and network of municipal parks.

Architectural partners Burnham & Root or maybe Root & Burnham submit the winning proposal to design and supervise the building of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition to commemorate Columbus’ “discovery” of the Americas.

The massive world’s fair project was not without its many business and personal challenges.

Spoiler alert: “Burnham’s Dream: The White City,” A Lost and Found Productions (visiting company at Theater Wit), shows how Burnham and group manage to pull the fair project off so the event is a huge success.Read More

A performance collage of Shakespeare and song

RECOMMENDED

Len Cariou in Broadway and the Bard at Stage 773
Len Cariou in Broadway and the Bard at Stage 773

Len Cariou’s solo performance of “Broadway & The Bard, An Evening of Shakespeare and Song” is best described as a “performance collage” ripped from fragments of “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare” and bits of faded American musical librettos. They are pasted together to create a new work of art representing the autobiographical portrait of a noted actor’s life in the theater.

During roughly eighty minutes, the audience is treated to non-stop snippets from “Twelfth Night” “Henry V,” “Richard II,” “Othello,” “King Lear” and more, as well as melodic strains borrowed from Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart, Charles Strouse, Leonard Bernstein, Stephen Sondheim and others.

A worthy theatrical experience cannot stand on reference and nostalgia alone, and in this regard collaborators Len Cariou, Barry Kleinbort and Mark Janas have sidestepped that pitfall by doing an admirable job of creating a piece that may be enhanced by one’s own theatrical insight but does not require you to come equipped with an encyclopedic knowledge of the material included.Read More