Give us back the earth . . .

 

RECOMMENDED

Many themes in the arts have universal relevance. ‘The Consul,’ currently in production by the Chicago Opera Theater, is a great example.

People from villages, cities, and countries all over the world can identify with this modern opera composed by Gian Carlo Menotti.  Based on immigrants and political refugees, the opera takes place in an anonymous totalitarian country.

Audrey Babcock (Secretary), Justin Ryan (John Sorel) and Patricia Racette (Magda Sorel) in 'The Consul', a Chicago Opera theater production. Liz Lauren photo
Audrey Babcock (Secretary), Justin Ryan (John Sorel) and Patricia Racette (Magda Sorel) in ‘The Consul’, a Chicago Opera theater production. Liz Lauren photo

‘The Consul’ debuted in 1950 and went on to win the New York Drama Critic Circle’s award as the Best Musical Play. Menotti also garnered a Pulitzer Prize. ‘The Consul’ was described by The New York Times as “an opera of eloquence . . . written from the heart.”  Andreas Mitisek, the director, reflected on his own experiences as an immigrant which drew him to this opera.

Award-winning Metropolitan Opera Soprano Patricia Racette plays Magda Sorel, the wife of  John, played by Justin Ryan, a dissident who escapes from the police, hurries home and explains to his wife that she must apply for a visa in order to leave the country. John tells Magda to take their frail infant and his mother to the consulate and while they are awaiting their visas, he will hide at the border’s edge and join them once they’ve safely crossed over.

At the consul’s office, Magda fills out the paperwork and submits her application to the clerk and then joins the large group of refugees.   The secretary gains everyone’s attention and announces that she cannot guarantee that anyone will receive their visas.

While Magda’s child’s health is failing, she is approached by the police who want information about John, but she refuses to answer any of their questions.

The brilliant voices and beautiful music conducted by Kristof van Grysperre are what increases the emotional depth of this exceptional story. After both her child and mother-in-law pass away, Magda cannot bear to imagine any additional losses, as she descends into a morose state of depression.

‘The Consul’ remains relevant today, as Magda sings “Give us back the earth and make us free.”  Unfortunately, our world’s refugees do not have the libretto, arias, scenic design and beauty that this opera provides its audience.

In addition to Patricia Racette and Justin Ryan, the rest of the marvelous performers are Audrey Babcock, Victoria Livengood, Cedric Berry, Kyle Knapp, Vince Wallace, Kimberly E. Jones, Kira Dills-DeSurra, Zacharias Niedzwiecki, and Lani Stait.

DETAILS: ‘The Consul’is at the Studebaker Theater, 410 S. Michigan Ave. through Nov. 12, 2017. For tickets and more information, call (312) 704-8414 or visit Chicago Opera Theater.

Francine Pappadis Friedman

For more shows visit TheatreinChicago.

 

‘42nd Street’ — A glorious tap dancing feat

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

If you’re looking for a festive family outing this holiday season, ‘42nd Street’ delivers the goods along with lots of glitz. Now playing at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace, the much-beloved musical is charged with perky tunes and high-energy dancing. Tap dancing, that is.

Cast of 42nd Street at Drury Lane Theatre. Photo by Brett Beiner
Cast of 42nd Street at Drury Lane Theatre. Photo by Brett Beiner

It’s a dreams-come-true story of a sweet, aspiring young chorus girl named Peggy Sawyer. She fumbles her first big audition and ultimately lands the starring role in a new Broadway production called “Pretty Lady.” Woven throughout are show-stopping song-and-dance numbers and subplots of love triangles and financial woes. All are wrapped up neatly by the end of the show.

Directed by Michael Heitzman, the Drury Lane production features a stellar cast of actors, singers and dancers. Kimberly Immanuel plays Peggy with both innocence and strength.

Suzzanne Douglas as the aging prima donna Dorothy Brock and Donica Lynn as songwriter Maggie Jones are powerhouse solo artists but in different ways. Douglas sings with crystal clarity while Lynn gets sultry and soulful. Gene Weygandt, who plays “Pretty Lady” director Julian Marsh, has a voice that is honest and heroic.

Special mention goes to the ensemble of tap dancers, whose work appears effortless and truly joyful, and to choreographer Jared Grimes who managed to incorporate dress racks and stock pots into dance numbers. The showiest, at the end of Act One, takes “We’re In The Money” literally.

The set design by Collette Pollard is more spartan than that of other Drury Lane productions, but it works. Most of the action takes place in a weary rehearsal hall, and the scenery is the dancers themselves.

Also on the creative team are costume designer Emilio Sosa and lighting designer Mike Baldassari. The ’42nd Street Orchestra’ is conducted by Chris Sargent, who also plays keyboard.

The original 1980 Broadway production won the Tony Award for Best Musical. It was produced by David Merrick and directed and choreographed by an ailing Gower Champion, who passed away only hours before opening night. The musical, however, lives on.

DETAILS: ’42nd Street’ is at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace, through Jan. 7. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and other information, call (630) 530-0111 or visit Drury Lane Theatre.

Pamela Dittmer McKuen

For more shows visit TheatreinChicago.

 

 

 

 

 

Wonderful is an understatement

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

‘This Wonderful Life,’ and adaptation of Frank Capra’s 1946 classic film, “It’s a Wonderful Life,”  could have many other adjectives added to its title, such as “fabulous, extraordinary, unique and marvelous” to name just a few.

James Leaming in This Wonderful Life. Photo by Michael Brosilow
James Leaming in This Wonderful Life. Photo by Michael Brosilow

Playing at the American Blues Theater, it’s a one-man show  written by Steve Murray, directed by Carmen Roman and starring James Leaming.

After doing the production across the country for the past ten years, Leaming has now brought the play to Chicago, garnering numerous awards along the way.

If familiar with the movie, you know the story encompasses several characters. Learning successfully portrays them all in eighty uninterrupted minutes.

He begins the play in a story-telling style as George Bailey, Mr. Potter, Clarence the angel, Uncle Billy, Mary Bailey and many more.

While the play is both touching and hilariously entertaining, he keeps it simple for the audience to follow with their imaginations.

In addition, the sparse but effective props and beautiful photos displayed as scenery contribute to one’s memories of the famous film.

Leaming accurately describes the play as a love story, especially when Clarence the angel shows George how different the small town of Bedford Falls would be if George had never been born.

He quotes Clarence who says “Each man’s life touches so many others” and “No man is a failure to his friends.”

When Leaming asked the audience members how many had seen the iconic film before the play began, 99% raised their hands. The movie has become a regular showing on television as the year-end holidays approach.

As with the film, the play, ‘This Wonderful Life,’ is a must-see production!

Leaming brings quite an impressive dramatic background to the production. He trained at American Conservatory Theater and Second City, and he has appeared at Steppenwolf, Northlight, Victory Gardens, Goodman, Drury Lane, Peninsula Players, and other venues. He also has many credits in films and television, and is a founding Ensemble member of the American Blues Theater.

DETAILS: ‘This Wonderful Life’ is at The Edge Theater, 5451 N. Broadway, Chicago through Nov. 26, 2017. Running time: 80 minutes, no intermission. For tickets and more information, call (773) 654-3103 or visit American Blues Theater.

Francine Pappadis Friedman

For more shows visit TheatreinChicago.

 

Home is more than fun

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

A plethora of emotional family issues from parent/child relationships and sibling interactions to growing up, coming out, and leaving one’s family on several level, sets the stage for ‘Fun Home’ at the Victory Gardens Theater.

McKinley Carter, left, Preetish Chakraborty, Stella Rose Hoyt, Leo Gonzalez and Rob Lindley in 'Fun Home' at Victory Garden Theater. (Liz Lauren photo)
McKinley Carter, left, Preetish Chakraborty, Stella Rose Hoyt, Leo Gonzalez and Rob Lindley in ‘Fun Home’ at Victory Garden Theater. (Liz Lauren photo)

A musical adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s 2006 personal graphic novel of the same name, the show has music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by Lisa Kron.

Chicago audiences may remember when the show played at the Oriental Theatre with a full complement of scenery and props in November, 2016, early in the Broadway Tour.

The Victory Garden production, directed by Gary Griffin, is presented on a sparse stage that encourages the audience to focus on the family’s characters.

The music, directed by Doug Peck, begins with songs that introduce the Bechdel family of parents Bruce and Helen and the three young Bechdel children, Alison, Christopher and John. “Home” is the family’s Bechdel Funeral Home.

Alison Bechdel (Danni Smith) works on her memoir in the present day as she recalls two past periods in her life where Small Alison, a child of about 10 (Stella Rose Hoyt rotating with Sage Elliott Harper) and Medium Alison, a college freshman (Hannah Starr), often appear simultaneously on stage with Adult Alison.

Hannahn Starr, L, Danielle Davis and Danni Smith in 'Fun Home' at Victory Gardens Theater. (Liz Lauren photo)
Hannahn Starr, L, Danielle Davis and Danni Smith in ‘Fun Home’ at Victory Gardens Theater. (Liz Lauren photo)

Audiences tune in early to the humor of living in a funeral home when the children hide in a casket while their father, Bruce (Rob Lindley) talks to a client.

When the client leaves, the children emerge from the coffin and perform an imaginary advertisement for the funeral home by dancing and singing “Come to the Fun Home.”

As the play continues, Medium Alison goes off to college and tries to discover her own sexuality.  She begins to wonder if she’s asexual until she meets Joan, a classmate and self-confident lesbian.

Alison’s attraction to Joan comes out in her song, “Changing My Major.”  And when she writes a letter to her parents revealing her sexual identity she is shocked when her mother, Helen (McKinley Carter), reveals that Alison’s father has had homosexual relationships with men and underage boys.

When Alison comes home from college on a break with Joan her mother describes the devastation she experienced in her unfulfilling marriage with Bruce and sings the haunting “Days and Days.”  But, before Alison and Joan leave they all have a pleasant evening with Bruce around the piano.

Adult Alison and her father go for a drive in his car, breaking down the barriers of their pasts.  They work hard to express themselves to each other through the song, “Telephone Wire.”

Bruce understands his daughter’s coming out, yet tries and fails to find a way to hold himself together.  Regarding his own life, he makes a statement that rings true: “It’s harder when you’re older to begin.”  As he faces his demise, he sings “Edges of the World.”

Resigned to her own past and its connection to her father’s, Alison  states that she remembers “a rare moment of perfect balance, when I soared above him . . .”

Over the years, she played the physical airplane game with her father and she reminisces about the two “other” Alisons.

The finale, “Flying Away, ” brought the audience to its feet.

Along with the beautiful music and talented dancing and singing, the acting is marvelous.

All of the Alisons are terrific and believable. Lindley commands the stage with his dual portrayals of Bruce’s open present and secret past.

Carter dutifully carries on her multiple roles of wife and mother while rising above her concealed unhappiness.

The rest of the actors: Preetish Chakraborty, Danielle Davis, Leo Gonzalez and Joe Lino, round out the stellar cast.

After years of performances off-Broadway, the original Broadway production of ‘Fun Home’ premiered in 2015.  It was nominated for twelve Tony Awards, winning five, including Best Musical.  A national tour began in October 2016.

So, sing and dance your way over to Victory Gardens to see this outstanding award-winning musical play!

DETAILS: ‘Fun Home’ is at Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave.,  through Nov.12, 2017. Running time: About 100 minutes, no intermission. For tickets and more information call the box office at (773) 871-3000 or visit Victory Gardens.

For other theatre reviews visit TheatreInChicago

 

-Francine Pappadis Friedman

 

 

1984 Thirty-three Years Later

Highly Recommended

George Orwell’s famous novel, “1984,” is likely to haunt audiences in AstonRep Theatre Company’s interpretation of the story, now at The Raven Theatre.

The production is powerful and provocative as wonderfully convincing characters transport the audience to the frightening nation of Oceania.

Adapted by Robert Owens, Wilton E. Hall Jr. and William A. Miles Jr. and directed by Robert Tobin,  the play mentions and defines Orwell’s phrases such as the famed “Big Brother is watching you.”

Sarah Lo (Julia) and Ray Kasper (Winston) in AstonRep Theatre Company's '1984' at The Raven Theatre. Photo by Emily Schwartz
Sarah Lo (Julia) and Ray Kasper (Winston) in AstonRep Theatre Company’s ‘1984’ at The Raven Theatre. Photo by Emily Schwartz

Then there is “Newspeak” as the official politically correct language of Oceania, “Crimethink” for thoughts that oppose the government of Big Brother, “Goodthink” that are thoughts approved by the Party and “Doublethink” for the power to simultaneously hold and accept contradictory beliefs in one’s mind.

On that subject of power, the Party controls everything in Oceania, even the people’s history and language.

The leading character, Winston Smith, is played by Ray Kasper whose amazing talent covers a wide range of emotion.  Winston is a low-ranking member of the ruling Party in London in the land of Oceania.

Everywhere Winston goes, the Party watches him through telescreens.  And everywhere he looks, Winston sees the face of the Party’s seemingly supreme leader, Big Brother.

Frustrated by the rigid oppression of the Party which prohibits free thinking and all other expressions of individuality, Winston writes his criminal thoughts in his illegally purchased diary.

He interacts with a beautiful co-worker, Julia, skillfully played by Sarah Lo.  Practical and optimistic, Julia becomes Winston’s lover.

The two of them move into a room above a store where they temporarily feel hidden from the watchful eyes of Big Brother.  As Winston’s love for Julia progresses, his hatred for the Party grows more intense.

Winston becomes fixated on O’Brien, a mysterious upper class member of the Inner Party, powerfully portrayed by Amy Kasper.  Winston believes O’Brien is a secret member of the Brotherhood, the legendary group that works to overthrow the Party.

He finally receives the message that he has been waiting for. O’Brien wants to see him.

Winston and Julia travel to O’Brien’s grand apartment where O’Brien is living a life of luxury. O’Brien sends Winston off with a copy of the manifesto of the Brotherhood which Winston excitedly reads to Julia in their room above the store.

Not to divulge the rest of the play to those unfamiliar with Orwell’s novel, Winston learns the bitter truth about many of the characters.  The suffering he endures in the terrifying second act changes him forever.

The remainder of the very talented cast includes the following: Alexandra Bennett, Lauren Demerath, Lorraine Freund, Ian Harris, Rory Jobst, Tim Larson, Nora Lise Ulrey, and Sara Pavlak McGuire.

To quote director Robert Tobin: “. . . the power of ‘1984’ serves best not necessarily as commentary on current events but rather as a warning.  Like a preventative medical screening, we need ‘1984’ as warning of what our world could become if we don’t take care of ourselves, our government, and each other.”

Details: ‘1984,  an AstonRep Theatre Company production is at  The Raven Theatre (West Stage), 6157 N. Clark St., Chicago, through Oct. 8, 2017. For tickets and other information call (773) 828-9129 and visit AstonRep.

Francine Pappadis Friedman

 

Dance with your heart, joy and stars

RECOMMENDED

Think creative and experimental when considering the world premiere now at Chicago Dramatists. After all, how many, if any, theatrical productions have a box of stuffed animals, a marriage under duress, touching heartache peppered with clever comedy, toys that come alive as they interact with each other, eclectic music and wild dancing?

They add up to Jayme McGhan’s ‘Still Dance the Stars’ which serves up drama but with a good helping of comedy.

Martel Manning (James) and Ariana Sepulveda (Hope) in 'Still Dance the Stars' at Chicago Dramatists. Tom McGrath photo
Martel Manning (James) and Ariana Sepulveda (Hope) in ‘Still Dance the Stars’ at Chicago Dramatists. Tom McGrath photo

“The third time is the charm,” says Anne as she recalls turning down husband Jame’s first two proposals of marriage.

When he proposes to her a third time at a carnival with a little help from family, friends, music, and dancing, Anne accepts. An entertaining tape of the successful proposal goes viral on you-tube, attracting national attention along with unexpected pressures.

Fast forward six years.  Now the couple is preparing for yet another nationally-televised tell-us –about-your-bliss interview.

The timing is off, however, as their financial woes and personal loss play out across their marital battlefield.

The evening before their interview one drink leads to many others while James opens their box of stuffed animals. The toys grow to human size and proceed to both challenge and comfort the marriage as they begin to resemble family members.

Soon, a fantastical menagerie is stealing the stage: a child as a hippo, the mother-in-law as a giraffe, the father-in-law as a crocodile, a boyfriend as a potato, and others.

The heartache that the couple has endured comes to a peak near the end of the play.  I smiled through my tears at its touching pathos and clever humor, imaginative staging and colorful characters.

I also rocked in my seat to the beat of the music and laughed at the frenzied dancing of the stuffed animals that came to life—life being the essence of ‘Still Dance the Stars,’ especially as celebrated when one character says to another, “You’re my heart, my joy, my star!”

McGahn’s wonderfully unique production is a charming and clever testimony to love and loss and is imaginatively directed by Sarah Norris.

The talented cast includes Martel Manning and Kaycee Jordan of Chicago, Bethany Geraghty, Courtney Knysch, Claudia Campbell, Michael Aguirre, Carl Jaynes, and Dana Martin of NYC and Ariana Sepulveda, Philadelphia.

DETAILS: ‘Still Dance the Stars’ is at Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago Ave. now through Sept. 16. For tickets visit BrownPaper.

-Francine Pappadis Friedman

Free for one moment

 

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

 

Many issues that women dealt with a century ago still hang over their heads and affect their lives, work, families and relationships.  From wanting to feel protected while searching for freedom to embracing dreams while being steered toward stereotypical roles, women continue to struggle against being controlled.

Maddie Burke, l, Heather Chrisler and Scott Shimizu in 'Machinal' at Greenhouse Theater. Photo by Evan Hanover
Maddie Burke, L, Heather Chrisler and Scott Shimizu in ‘Machinal’ at Greenhouse Theater. Photo by Evan Hanover

These issues are front and center in the Greenhouse Theater Center’s compelling revival of “Machinal,”a play by Sophie Treadwell that hit Broadway in 1928.

The play is based on the life and trial of Ruth Snyder, a ruthless and manipulative murderess who, with her lover, killed her husband for a double indemnity insurance payout. But Machinal’s protagonist, “Young Woman,” portrayed by Heather Chrisler, is nothing like the real Ruth Snyder.

She garners the audience’s empathy as she encounters the demands of a rigid and unfriendly workplace and a life of struggles to support her mother.

In the midst of an argument over whom she should marry, she asks her overbearing mother, “Did you love Pa?”  Her mother replies, “I suppose I did . . . I don’t remember.  What difference does it make?” The mother pushes her daughter into marrying a man for financial gain.

Years later, feeling trapped in a loveless marriage, Young Woman’s goal is to free herself from captivity.

Chrisler does an excellent job as she captures the complexity of the main character and the challenges faced.  She portrays a frightened woman who follows the daily rules of work, marries someone whom she doesn’t love, gives birth to a child she doesn’t want, pleads with everyone to “Let me alone” and eventually finds a lover outside of her marriage who contributes to her ultimate demise.

The nine other cast members are wonderful as they play multiple roles including Young Woman’s co-workers, mother, husband, lover, doctors, nurses, trial lawyers, reporters and priest.

With minimal props on a stage devoid of scenery, the ensemble lights up the audience’s imagination in innovative ways that draw them into this mesmerizing story—a story that ends with Young Woman declaring, “I wanted to be free.  I wanted him out of the way. It made me free for one moment!”

Directed by Jacob Harvey with movement by Elizabeth Margolius, Machinal is a play that addresses the balancing act that women have long attempted.

DETAILS: “Machinal” is at Greenhouse Theater Center (Upstairs Main Stage), 2257 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago through Sept. 24, 2017.  For tickets and other information visit Greenhouse Theater or call (773) 404-7336.

-Francine Pappadis Friedman

 

 

A sweet Shakespearean romantic comedy under the stars

RECOMMENDED

One of summer’s finest pursuits is viewing a William Shakespeare play while reposing under the stars and sipping a smooth wine.

First Folio Theatre affords that experience with a first-rate production of the Bard of Avon’s “As You Like It” on the grounds of the historic Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oak Brook.

Leslie Ann Sheppard (Rosalind), Courtney Abbott (Touchstone) and Vahishta Vafadari (Celia) is 'As You Like It' at First Folio. Maia Rosenfeld Photography
Leslie Ann Sheppard (Rosalind), Courtney Abbott (Touchstone) and Vahishta Vafadari (Celia) is ‘As You Like It’ at First Folio. Maia Rosenfeld Photography

The gently rolling hillside forms a natural amphitheater for the two-story wooden stage and for audiences to spread their blankets and pop their picnic baskets.

Directed by Skyler Schrempp, this delightful tale meanders among a tangle of storylines and a large cast. The plot weaves family feuds, banishments, mistaken identities, forgiveness and love triangles.

Most everyone finds themselves exiled in the lush Forest of Arden. That is, until truths are revealed and couples happily pair up in marriage like they typically do in Shakespearean rom-coms.

The highly polished cast numbers nearly two dozen, many of them First Folio returnees and almost all with previous Shakespearean credits on their resumes.

Leslie Ann Sheppard shows great flexibility in her dual-gendered role as Rosalind. At the onset, she is a favored and stylish family member of the royal court. After she is banished, she heads to the forest and adopts a male persona for safety reasons.

She is accompanied by her cousin and best friend Celia, played adroitly by Vahishta Vafadari who takes on the guise of a peasant. The young women venture a convoluted path to find their loves.

Courtney Abbott is charming and comedic as the mohawk-crowned, androgynous jester Touchstone.

Tempering the frolic is Kevin McKillip as Jacque, a melancholic lord. With great gravitas he delivers one of Shakespeare’s most well-known soliloquies, the one that begins with “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

Costume designer Mieka van der Ploeg advances the setting as ambiguously modern-day, yet-far-away with attire that borrows from vintage, punk and club-kid cultures.

Throw in a couple of fascinators, a pair of black-and-white wingtips, and a few dirndl skirts, and you get the feeling you’re somewhere else.

A summer evening at First Folio Theatre is as idyllic as the Forest of Arden. Arrive early to enjoy the natural landscape. The staff sets out citronella candles, but bring mosquito repellent.

DETAILS: “As You Like It” is at First Folio Theatre, Mayslake Peabody Estate, 1717 W. 31st St., Oak Brook, through Aug. 20. For tickets and other information, call 630-986-8067 or visit First Folio.

— Pamela Dittmer McKuen

 

 

 

 

Drury Lane deals a winning hand with ‘The Gin Game’

RECOMMENDED

In both life and cards, we must play the hands we are dealt. That truism is powerfully revealed in Pulitzer winner “The Gin Game” now playing at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace.

Paula Scrofano and John Reeger in 'The Gin Game' at Drury Lane Theatre. Photo by Brett Beiner
Paula Scrofano and John Reeger in ‘The Gin Game’ at Drury Lane Theatre. Photo by Brett Beiner

Fonsia Weller and Weller Martin are two reluctant residents of a shabby senior-living home, having run out of money and options. They strike up an acquaintance and begin playing gin to pass the time. As their games and conversation progress intimate secrets are revealed and they begin to discover each other’s weaknesses in both cards and life.

The two-character drama by D.L. Coburn brings together the legendary talents of real-life married couple and Jeff Award winners Paula Scrofano as Fonsia and John Reeger as Weller. They dodder and totter about the stage as though the infirmities of advanced age were real.

Both exhibit vast emotional range as the relationship between their characters builds to its explosive conclusion.

Scrofano and Reeger have appeared in over 150 plays in the Chicagoland area, 30 of them at Drury Lane. With “The Gin Game,” they join an illustrious roster of duos who have performed these roles, among them Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn, Mary Tyler Moore and Dick Van Dyke, and Cicely Tyson and James Earl Jones.

The Drury Lane production is artfully directed by Ross Lehman, who last directed the couple in 1986.

The show begins before the audience is fully seated as two non-speaking crew members dressed as nursing aides in medical scrubs set the stage with apathy. They lounge about, one smoking a cigarette and checking her cell phone, and the other reading a magazine. They grudgingly leave only when Weller enters the scene.

Kudos also to the creative team which includes scenic designer Katherine Ross, lighting designer Lindsey Lyddan and projection designer Mike Tutaj.

Drury Lane is known for highly detailed set design, and the “Gin Game” follows suit. The play takes place on an unkempt patio, which is decked out with mismatched furniture, an overturned chair, stray hoses and flower pots, and a weary-looking Santa Claus yard ornament. At the back of the set, images of the home’s resident activities, drab furnishings and medical equipment are projected at intervals to reveal the hopelessness inside.

“The Gin Game” is not a pleasant story. The subject matter is bleak, and the second act especially is pounded with profanity. But it’s worth seeing, just to watch theater icons Scrofano and Reeger in yet another transformation.

DETAILS: “The Gin Game” is at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace through Aug. 13. For tickets and other information, call (630) 530-0111 or visit Drury Lane Theatre.

By Pamela Dittmer McKuen

 

 

 

Bette Davis is back for another bow

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

When I was a youngster, I would often hear my parents mention their favorite movie star, Bette Davis.  Decades later, I gravitated toward old films and I, too, became a huge Davis fan.

Jessica Sherr does 'Bette Davis Ain't for Sissies' at the Athenaeum Theatre. Photo courtesy of Jessica Sherr
Jessica Sherr does ‘Bette Davis Ain’t for Sissies’ at the Athenaeum Theatre. Photo courtesy of Jessica Sherr

As I watched ‘Dark Victory, ‘Now, Voyager,’ and her many other movies—some of them numerous times—I found myself reciting a few of her lines along with her. I thought I knew almost everything about Ms. Davis until I recently saw the captivating play ‘Bette Davis Ain’t for Sissies’ currently at The Athenaeum Theatre.

The one-woman show, written and performed by Jessica Sherr, is a fascinating look at Davis’s life and career. It only took a few seconds to actually feel that the actress and playwright on stage was the real Bette Davis.

Jessica Sherr not only resembles the actress in her early thirties but her voice, expressive eyes and mannerisms emulate Davis.  And the one-act play’s staging and set design are such that allow Sherr to change costumes while she continues talking to the audience, never missing a beat.

Often in just a sentence or two, Sherr takes the audience through various stages of Davis’s life, beginning with her relationship with her parents, especially her mother whom Bette called “Ruth” after her father left them when she was ten years old.

Sherr then touches on Davis’ career beginning when on stage in New York.  Not being a blonde and no taller than five-foot three, she fondly reminisces about her earlier years by commenting, “They don’t care what you look like!”

Invited by an agent who saw Davis on stage, she left New York and traveled to Hollywood to begin life as a movie star. Even though she became known as a Hollywood “hometown girl,” she still missed New York and has said, “I hate California—it’s so damn sunny it makes me sick!”

This show is for anyone who wants a closer look at Bette Davis – the ten-time Academy Award nominee and two-time Academy Award Best Actress winner for her roles in ‘Dangerous’ and ‘Jezebel.’

Along with a closer view of her career, you’ll learn about Davis’s marriages, her relationships, her Hollywood friends, the others she avoided and how she stood up for what she wanted, plus how it eventually turned out.  And there’ll be many laughs along the way.

Details: ‘Bette Davis Ain’t for Sissies” is at the Athenaeum Theatre,  2936 N. Southport Ave., Chicago. A last minute extension now continues the show through July 9, 2017. For tickets more information visit AthenaeumTheatre  or call 773-935-6875.

-Francine Pappadis Friedman