Chicago Shakespeare ‘Shrew’ is glorious theater

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Mention “The Taming of the Shrew,” the late 16th century William Shakespeare comedy on how a man (Petruchio) uses different methods to turn a willful woman (Katherina) into an ideal wife, and you might get arguments on how a civil, democratic society would frown on his methods and how the play appears misogynistic.

That is particularly so with the subplot on how Katherina’s younger sister (Bianca) is wooed by several suitors who consider her to be an ideal wife because she is sweet and even-tempered.

Then, think about how the play could be presented. In its original format, the intro to the play is offered within what has been called a framing device. In it a nobleman has the play performed for a drunken tinker named Christopher Sly whom he has tricked into believing that he also is a nobleman.

The brilliant way writer Ron West has worked out the play’s presentation with Chicago Shakespeare Theatre’s famed Barbara Gaines, director of “The Shrew,” is to expand on the framing device so it moves along parallel to the play in the appropriately offsetting, 1900s suffragette movement.

Cast of 'Taming of the Shre' at Chicago Shakespeare. (Liz Lauren photo)
Cast of ‘Taming of the Shrew’ at Chicago Shakespeare. (Liz Lauren photos)

No trickery is needed here because the Columbia Women’s Club members chose “The Shrew” as part of their amateur theater Shakespearean series.

They are rehearsing the show at a member’s mansion, exquisitely done by scenic designer Kevin Depinet, somewhere near Michigan Avenue (likely the Gold Coast neighborhood). They are there because the hall where they would have been had just flooded during a bad storm that is still going on outside.

To add to the comedy, parts of some costumes were ruined in the flood so the women stripped down to their bloomers but added capes and hats to help them stay in character. Susan E. Mickey cleverly mixed typical Shakespearean wear with bloomers.

The rehearsal sticks to Shakespeare’s lines and action but its message is greatly tempered by the actors going in and out of the mansion with their Suffragette signs and reports of what’s happening on Michigan Avenue.

Other Chicago references are made to Northwestern University and the Cubs and personalities such as an Emanuel and a McCormick. But current politics are also referenced such as the line that “Here on earth the popular vote means nothing,” which was said to great applause.

In between rehearsal sessions, the members break into song and the club’s show director speaks to some of the women about their roles and speeches.

The entire cast is excellent so instead of describing individual interpretations here you have who plays which role in the “Shrew” play and in the Women’s Club:  E. Faye Butler is Baptista and Dr. Fannie Emmanuel,  Lillian Castillo is Biondello and Mrs. Lucinda James,  Tina Gluschenko is Hortensio and Mrs. Beatrice Ivey Welles, Cindy Gold is Vincentio  and Mrs. Sarah Willoughby,  Alexandra Henrikson is Katherine and Mrs. Louise Harrison.

Alexandra Henrikson (Katherine) and Crystal Lucas-Perry (Petruhio) in 'The taming of the Shrew.'
Alexandra Henrikson (Katherine) and Crystal Lucas-Perry (Petruhio) in ‘The taming of the Shrew.’

Also Ann James is Pedant and Mrs. Elizabeth Nicewander,  Heidi Kettenring is Tranio and Mrs. Dorothy Mercer,  Crystal Lucas-Perry is Petruchio and Mrs. Victoria Van Dyne,  Rita Rehn is Grumio and Widow and  Mrs. Mildred Sherman.

In addition,  Hollis Resnik is Gremio and Miss Judith Smith,  Faith Servant is Curtis and Mrs. Barbara Starkey,  Kate Marie Smith is Lucentio  and Mrs. Olivia Twist and Olivia Washington is Bianca and Mrs. Emily Ingersoll.

It’s OK if you don’t remember their roles (except, of course Kate) so here is a an abbreviated guide: Katherina (Kate) Minola is the “shrew and Petruchio is her suitor. Bianca, Kate’s sister, is pursued by the elderly Gremio, by Lucentio and by Hortensio who is also a friend of Petruchio.  Baptista Minola is Katherina and Bianca’s father. There is also the Widow wooed by Hortensio and Vincetio who is Lucentio’s father.

Then there is Grumio who is Petruchio’s manservant and Tranio, Lucentio’s manservant. Also, Biondello is Lucentio’s servant and Curtis is Petruchio’s servant.

When it’s over, you probably won’t care if you kept track of the roles because the play and play within the play offer glorious theater. Even though the Chicago Shakespeare production runs two hours, 45 minutes, it’s so much fun to watch that the time goes quickly.

‘Taming of the Shrew’ is at Chicago Shakespeare, 800 E. Grand Ave. through Nov. 12, 2017. For tickets and other information call (312) 595-5600 and visit ChgoShakes.

 

A playwright views show business

RECOMMENDED

Audiences don’t have to ask themselves what do playwrights sometimes think about directors, actors and backers.  Moss Hart gives his answer in his 1948 spoof, ‘Light Up the Sky.’

L-R Geoff Isaac, Laurie Carter Rose, Robert Frankel, Jordon Golding and Chuck Quinn in 'Light Up the Sky' at Citadel Theatre. (Photos by North Shore Camera Club)
L-R Geoff Isaac, Laurie Carter Rose, Robert Frankel, Jordon Golding and Chuck Quinn in ‘Light Up the Sky’ at Citadel Theatre. (Photos by North Shore Camera Club)

Now at Citadel Theatre, the play offers a behind-the-scenes scenario where a veteran director and actress and a new backer go from fairly confident before the curtain rises, to devastated when they think the show is a failure, to we-have-a-hit exultation when the reviews come in.

Usually co-authoring a play with George S. Kaufman in the 1930s  such as ‘You Can’t take it with you’ and Merrily We Roll Along,’ Hart wrote ‘Light Up the Sky alone in the late 1940s. It was first produced in 1948. BTW, Hart moved to writing screenplays in the 1950s.

He already had several successes by this time but in the play, the playwright is portrayed as a newbie who speaks from his gut about the state of the world. The actors and audience aren’t sure what it is about, however the backer feels it is important and a winner.

But on opening night the playwright doesn’t even stay for the curtain. Everyone feels it was a dud and they are ready to close it. The playwright leaves for the airport.

Then, a Shriner at the hotel for a very noisy convention, stops at the room to apologize for this friends and says he would like to back a future play because he wants to be part of the theater business. He brings reviews which show that the critics unanimously love what the playwright is trying to do.

L-R Chuck Dribin, Sarah-Lucy Hill, Robert Frankel and Lauren Miller in 'Light Up the Sky.
L-R Chuck Dribin, Sarah-Lucy Hill, Robert Frankel and Lauren Miller in ‘Light Up the Sky.

Brought back to the hotel from the airport by force upon a request of the backer who has with mob connections, the playwright is venomous in his condemnation of directors, actors, backers and audiences. And yes, he did have a chance to read the reviews at the airport.

Rather than a tribute to show business, the play is more like a comedic, deliberately exaggerated, putdown of the people who populate it. and audiences who don’t understand a show’s message. But it also seems to declare that if play writing is in your blood you learn to put up with others’ foibles and develop a hard shell.

At the end, the playwright is convinced by a seasoned playwright to persevere. So he decides to stay and fix his play for the remaining out-of-town tryouts before going to Broadway.

All the action takes place in the leading lady’s suite at the Ritz in Boston, the town where the play is premiering before possibly heading to Broadway.

The veteran playwright who has worked with the leading lady in his plays, is visiting her in her suite before the show. He calms the young playwright with advice about accepting both the good and frustrating aspects of show-business.

Directed by Pat Murphy, the play is populated by characters with over-the-top personalities such as Carleton Fitzgerald, interpreted as an emoting, emotional director by Geoff Isaac and as Francis Black, played by Sarah-Lucy Hill as a NYC, nasally-sounding, ice-skating, show-girl married to backer Sidney Black.

Surprisingly, Rob Frankel as Sidney who has mob connections, doesn’t sound like a gangster but plays the role with terrific, intelligent, take-charge fortitude. Similarly, Laurie Carter Rose isn’t overly dramatic as the leading lady Irene Livingston but still personifies celebrity.

The sanity foils to the overblown persona in this show are Chuck Quinn, very believable as  veteran playwright Owen Turner, Irene Currie who is charming  as Livingston’s bio-ghostwriter Miss Lowell, and Jim Heatherly as Shriner William H. Gallagher.

In the hands of Jordan Golding, playwright Peter Sloan shows two sides:  quiet  and anger.

Added to the mix are the star’s mother, Stella Livingston, a delightful, gin-playing character performed with verve by Lauren Miller, and the star’s husband, Tyler Rayburn, a Wall Street broker, acted with great humor and facial expressions by Chuck Dribin.

Scenery by Eric Luchen and costumes by Paul Kim nicely set the right period and place.

The play offers interesting insight from different perspectives from a playwright who knows what it takes to get to Broadway. But though fun, it doesn’t have to be two and a half hours long. The first act definitely can be shorter. Perhaps one intermission of 15 minutes could replace the two ten minute breaks.

‘Light Up the Sky’ is at Citadel Theatre, 300 S. Waukegan Rd., Lake Forest, through Oct. 29, 2017. For tickets and other information visit Citadel.

 

Death Notice: Flanagan is dead

SOMEWHAT RECOMMENDED

An irreverent priest, tale weaving drinking buddy, sex starved fiancé and infirm old mother make up some of those attending Flanagan’s Wake  now at Chicago Theater Works.

Cast of Flanagan's Wake, an interactive experience at Chicago Theater Works.
Cast of Flanagan’s Wake, an interactive experience at Chicago Theater Works.

Flanagan has sadly passed, and you, along with a small cast of characters and about 50 other mourners are invited to attend his wake.

The room is outfitted much like a church basement community room or banquet hall with a small stage on one side and an open bar complete with bartender, who also happens to be the town’s mayor, on the other. Drinks are available for purchase before and during the proceedings.

When you enter you might be greeted by any of the cast who interact with the audience in character and will craftily weave what information they have learned from you into the performance. They may ask questions such as, “how you happen to know Flanagan” and “what you remember about him.”

This is an interactive improvisational performance so come in a good mood and be ready to participate. It is the type of experience that can be particularly fun with a small group of friends.

The audience is seated at tables of six or eight much like any large social gathering. If you come as a party of two you will likely be seated with four other people. We had a good time at our table of six comprised of three groups of two.

Like any improv experience the humor is sophomoric at times; clever and inspired at others. The cast is capable and it is clear that they are well practiced at their craft.

The highlight for me a was clever ditty composed by the grieving fiancée, Fiona Finn, that was created on the spot based on an idea from an audience member.

This is not high humor or great theater but if you are looking for an alternative to a sports bar, maybe a date night or just some good laughs with a few friends, what can be funnier than attending an Irish wake, at least if it is Flanagan’s Wake.

DETAILS: ‘Flanagan’s Wake’ at Chicago Theater Works, 1113 West Belmont, Chicago, runs through Nov. 9, 2017. For tickets and other information visit Chicago Theater Works.

Guest reviewer Reno Lovison is not Irish but always happy to share a Guinness with some mates.

 

‘Our Town’ our life

RECOMMENDED

Thornton Wilder’s classic ‘Our Town,’ now at Redtwist Theatre, is a slice-of-life drama that asks us to ponder our place in the universe while pausing to appreciate the seemingly mundane interactions and events that comprise the bulk of our days and which ultimately define our existence.

Jaq Seifert (George Gibbs) and Elena Victoria Fetz (Emily Webb) in 'Our Town' is at Redtwist Theatre through Oct. 29, 2017. (Photo by Jan Ellen Graves)
Jaq Seifert (George Gibbs) and Elena Victoria Feliz (Emily Webb) in ‘Our Town’ is at Redtwist Theatre through Oct. 29, 2017. (Photo by Jan Ellen Graves)

Divided into three acts with two ten minute intermissions, act one presents the town and the characters with an emphasis on birth and youth. Act two deals with love and marriage. The last act addresses the inevitable experience of death.

The story line is facilitated by a character known as the “Stage Manager” (Richard Costes) who introduces each of the other players. He fills us in on the physical attributes of the fictional Grover’s Corners, NH that is supposed to remind us of our own town.

Written in 1938. The time frame is identified as roughly 1901 to 1913 but it can really be anyplace anywhere in America at any time.

The pre-WWI period harkens back to a simpler pre-industrial agrarian era that serves to remind us of the essence of living when days were marked by the rising and setting of the sun and the meals in between.

Mr. Costes is the first of the play’s trifecta of winning performers. The other two are Emily Webb (Elena Victoria Feliz) and George Gibbs (Jaq Seifert) who each turned in remarkable performances.

On some level the success of “Our Town” traditionally hinges on the actors in these three major roles. But in the Redtwist production the entire cast offered tight performances. A few honorable mentions to Rebecca Gibbs (Ada Grey), Professor Willard (Rebecca Flores), Mrs. Soames (Jared Michael David Grant) and Mrs. Webb (played by understudy Jeanne Scurek)  who each stood out in some way.

This is the directorial debut of the company’s Associate Artistic Director, James Fleming, who with Scenic Designer Lizzie Bracken managed an innovative visual presentation in a somewhat awkward space.

The Redtwist is a storefront theatre meaning that the dimensions are long and narrow leaving little room for a traditional proscenium stage other than a small roughly ten foot by ten foot riser at one end of the room.  The company overcomes this by creating three or four loosely defined minimalist scenic areas throughout the room.

The roughly 35 seat audience is then snuggled along the perimeter, in between, and around these spaces. This leaves the center open for the main action. So it’s like a performance in-the-round with the audience on stage. The important thing is that it works.

“Color blind” casting is no longer unusual but Fleming has elevated the concept in this production by extending it to include gender neutral roles and actors with limited physical abilities.

For instance the part of milkman Howie Newsome is played by Joel Rodriguez who happens to be confined to a motorized wheelchair. Joel uses his chair brilliantly to infer the presence of his horse and milk wagon. It’s not necessary nor is it overt but it works because he is simply incorporating who he is as a person into his role as an actor.

“Stage Manager” (Richard Costes) happens to be hearing impaired. But this is incidental to his performance which would be excellent under any circumstances.

He periodically uses his skill at sign language to provide us with a visual enhancement of the point he is making or a town attribute he is describing. (Note: he is not signing his entire performance but occasionally enhances the depth of his communication.)

The character of Mrs. Soames (Jared Michael David Grant) is perhaps the most gender bending role. Mr. Grant plays the part of a female character but not in drag. He wears a simple man’s suit and looks perfectly male.

Though admittedly a bit confusing at first, I came to believe that Fleming wants us to put aside our role bias and expectations and simply enjoy the performance. In other words, be color blind, be gender blind, be ability blind and simply accept what each actor has to offer and accept that they are the characters they say they are.

As was pointed out by someone after the performance, “This cast represents our town.”

DETAILS: ‘Our Town’ runs through October 29, 2017 at the Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr, Chicago, IL 60660. For tickets call (773) 728-7529.

Guest Reviewer Reno Lovison (RenoWeb.net)

 

Contemporary retelling of Greek myth opens Lyric season

 

RECOMMENDED

Lauren Snouffer (Amour) l, Andriana Chuchman (Eurydice) and Dimitry Korchak (Orhee) at Lyric Opera. (Todd Rosenberg photos)
Lauren Snouffer (Amour) l, Andriana Chuchman (Eurydice) and Dimitry Korchak (Orphee) at Lyric Opera. (Todd Rosenberg photos)

An extraordinary pairing of the Joffrey Ballet with the exceptional voice of tenor Dimitry Korchak opened Lyric Opera’s 2017-2018 season Saturday, Sept. 23.

The opera is the August 1774 Paris version of Chrisoph Willibald Gluck’s ‘Orphée et Eurydice’ with a libretto by Pierre-Louis Moline. However, the production is all John Neumeier.

Longtime director and chief choreographer of the Hamburg Ballet, Neurmeier did the choreography, set, lighting and costume design and directed the production.

In his contemporary production, Orphée is a choreographer rehearsing a ballet based on Arnold Bocklin’s painting, “The Isle of the Dead.” His wife, Eurydice, is his star but when she arrives late they argue and she storms off.

After an impressive auto crash that pushes through the scenery, Eurydice is shown thrown from the car and dead on the ground.

Orphée’s assistant is a jean-clad Amour, with a sprite-like Peter Pan quality. Armour tells him to go to Hades and bring back Eurydice.

Mirrored moving panels create an interesting background in the rehearsal studio. That is, except when they reflect the lights from the opera house’s tiers.

Dimitry Korchak (Orphee) and Andriana Chuchman) with some Joffrey Ballet members.
Dimitry Korchak (Orphee) and Andriana Chuchman) with some Joffrey Ballet members.

Grey and white cutaway panels provide spaces that allow a small stage focus on Orphées bedroom and a moving path for him and Eurydice to wander from Elysium back to life on earth.

Even with its modern take, audiences delighted to get both world-class ballet with the exquisite voices of Korchak as Orphée, Andriana Chuchman as Eurydice and  Lauren Snouffer as Amour, will love the entire experience.

Guests who normally come just for the opera, might find some of the ballet sequences and meanderings to be a bit lengthy. Gluck added ballet sequences to this version including   the “Dance of the Furies” and the “Dance of the Blessed Spirits.” The final dance sequence of Orphée’s ballet is also very long.

Even though the Joffrey dancers perfectly execute what was choreographed, viewers might wonder at some of the mechanical-toy style of some of the movements in the “Dance of the Furies” and at the mix of traditional and contemporary ballet.

The story, frequently told in opera, theater and literature, goes back to Greek mythology when Orpheus, son of Apollo, falls in love and marries the beautiful Eurydice. But when she dies (by a snake bite in the story and a car accident in the Lyric opera) Orpheus is told by Apollo in the myth but by Amour (think Cupid or Eros) in the Lyric opera  to go to Hades and try to bring her back.

Andriana Chuchman, Dimitrhy Korchak and Joffrey Ballet in Lyric opener.
Andriana Chuchman, Dimitrhy Korchak and Joffrey Ballet in Lyric opener.

The myth has Orpheus making his way past the Furies and the three-headed Cerberus (three dancers) through his beautiful playing of lyre. He does so in this opera version with his sorrowful singing.

The obstacle is he can only take Eurydice back with him if he doesn’t look at her or explain that as she follows him out. Eurydice doesn’t understand so cries and bitterly complains until he finally can’t resist so looks back and she dies. Orpheus leaves alone.

At the Lyric Korchak beautifully sings “Che farò senza Euridice?”/”J’ai perdu mon Eurydice” (“What shall I do without Euridice?”/”I have lost my Euridice”). Earlier, before going to Hades, he expressed his love in the magnificent aria “Chiamo il mio ben”/”Objet de mon amour.”

In one version Amour feels sorry for him and returns Eurydice to life. In the Neumeier production, she is returned as a ghostly spirit in his heart and in the ballet he created.

During the ballet Victoria Jaiani and partner Temur Suluashvili, are “doubles” of Eurydice and Orphée.

Through it all are the wonderful voices of the Lyric Opera Chorus who are in the pit with maestro Harry Bicket and the fine orchestra.

DETAILS:  “Orphee et Eurydice” by Chrisoph Willibald Gluck’s, is at the Lyhric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Dr., through Oct. 15, 2017. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and other information visit Lyric Opera.

 

Northlight show sheds light on Drag

RECOMMENDED

A Drag Queen walks into a bar. That may sound like the beginning of a joke. But when Drag Queen, Miss Tracy Mills, played with verve and empathy by Sean Blake, struts into his cousin’s bar in Panama City, FL, he changes the life of Casey, an impoverished Elvis impersonator.

Casey (Nate Santana) is transformed into Georgia McBride by Miss Tracy Mills (Sean Blake). (Michael Brosilow photo)
Casey (Nate Santana) is transformed into Georgia McBride by Miss Tracy Mills (Sean Blake). (Michael Brosilow photo)

The story, a play written by Matthew Lopez now at Northlight Theatre, is ‘The Legend of Georgia McBride,’ a fun, revelatory, entertaining show on how a person can adapt to a new persona and enjoy it.

Casey, interpreted brilliantly by Nate Santana, loves performing as Elvis but his act doesn’t pay the rent and wife Jo (Lesle Ann Sheppard) has announced she is pregnant.

While changing for his Elvis act, Casey is surprised when Tracy walks in ready to go on stage. Bar owner Eddie, played with bumbling charm by Keith Kupferer, hasn’t yet told Casey that he’s being replaced because his Elvis act isn’t drawing well.

In a star-is-born style success story, the other half of Tracy’s act, Rexy, delightfully acted by Jeff Kurysz with a mix of Italian and French accents and words, falls down drunk so can’t go on.

Casey not only doesn’t want to put on a dress, he also doesn’t believe he can perform in drag. When told that filling in for Rexy is the only way he will perform in this bar and that he might even take home some cash, he lets Tracy dress him and add his make-up and a wig.

The transformation doesn’t happen overnight but becomes easier and better with each performance until Casey realizes he enjoys performing on stage as the bar’s newest Drag star.

Casey (Nate Santana),l, and Eddie (Keith Kupfere) are back stage with Rexy (Jeff Kurysz) before a show. (Michael Brosilow photo)
Casey (Nate Santana),l, and Eddie (Keith Kupfere) are back stage with Rexy (Jeff Kurysz) before a show. (Michael Brosilow photo)

Rachel Laritz’s costumes help make the show believable and fun to watch. Choreographed by Chris Carter, the bar acts of Casey as Georgia McBride and that of Tracy make the time go so quickly it’s a surprise when the play ends.

The kicker is that even though he is bringing home more than enough money now to pay the bills and really enjoys what he is doing, Casey has trouble telling Jo about his job. He is afraid to say he is performing in a Drag show.

Maybe he needed something such as Northlight’s program which exlains several terms used by Drag performers.

For Drag Queen, it says “someone who performs femininity theatrically. In many cases this term refers to a man who dresses up as a woman for entertainment purposes.”

Directed by Lauren Shouse, the play provides nice behind-the-scenes insight into Drag dressing and performing.

DETAILS: ‘The Legend of Georgia McBride’ is at Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, through Oct. 22, 2017. Running time: 1 hour, 45 min. with no intermission. For tickets and other information call (847) 673-6300 and visit Northlight.

 

 

Louis Jordan tribute could not be ‘moe’ fun

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

The title of ‘Five Guys Named Moe,’ a musical now at Court Theatre, is based on the names of five performers, Big Moe (Lorenzo Rush, Jr.), Little Moe (Darrin Ford), Eat Moe (James Earl Jones II), Four Eyed-Moe (Kelvin Rosten, Jr.) and No Moe (Eric A. Lewis).

The doo-wop quintet are apparitions who emerge from inside a vintage radio to help young boozy, bluesy Nomax (Stephen ‘Blu’ Allen) get out of his funk.

Stephen 'Blue' Allen (far left) watches as Lorenzo rush Jr. (l), Darriean Ford, James Earl Jones II, Eric A. Lewis and Kelvin Roston Jr. dance in 'Five Guys Named Moe' at Court Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo
Stephen ‘Blue’ Allen (far left) watches as Lorenzo Rush Jr. (l), Darriean Ford, James Earl Jones II, Eric A. Lewis and Kelvin Roston Jr. dance in ‘Five Guys Named Moe’ at Court Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)

All five guys are energetic, funny, full of personality and have great singing voices.

They are backed up by an awesome, six-piece, jazz combo on stage: J.P Floyd (trombone), Sam Hankins (trumpet), Jarrard Harris (reeds), Ben Johnson (drums), Chuck Webb (bass), led by Abdul Hamid Royal (music director/pianist).

It reminded me of big-time nightclub performances seen “back in the day” at places like the Copacabana or Chicago’s Empire Room.

The story-line couldn’t be “moe thin,” but the show, written by Clarke Peters, is an opportunity to revisit and explore the music of saxophonist and songwriter Louis Jordan.

His new approach to jazz in the 1940’s helped pave the way to Rock & Roll with hits like “Caldonia” and the “Choo Choo Ch’boogie” piece that ran 35 weeks in 1946 as #1 on the “Race Records” chart.

If you are a fan of four piece harmony you’ll love the five piece harmony of these five guys.

“Beware Brother Beware” and “I Like ‘em Fat Like That” are songs that illustrate Jordan’s musical philosophy of “playing for the people.” He felt other jazz musicians of the day created music for themselves.

The five Moe’s leave it all on the stage moving quickly and seamlessly from one number to the next as perfectly choreographed by Christopher Carter. The numbers allow time for a few lame jokes and some amusing audience participation.

In the second act I started thinking, all this needs right now is for the Nicholas Brothers to appear.

Just as I thought that, No Moe busts out a terrific dance number complete with two splits and few back-flips.

Courtney O’Neill’s radio inspired set design is a wow. Costume design (Michael Alan Stein) was on point including the guys’ conked and pomade hairdos.

Directed by Ron OJ Parson with Associate Director Felicia P. Fields, ‘Five Guys Named Moe” couldn’t be any “moe” fun.

DETAILS: ‘Five Guys Named Moe’ is at the Court Theatre, 5535 South Ellis, Chicago (on the University of Chicago Campus, through Oct. 15, 2017. Running time: 2 hours with an intermission. For tickets and other information call (773) 753-4472 and visit Court Theatre.

Guest reviewer: Reno Lovison, RenoWeb.net, is a videographer with a theater and music background.

A Greek Tragedy set in America opens Goodman Theatre season

RECOMMENDED

There is no question that Goodman Theatre has opened its 2017-18 season with a very special production of Arthur Miller’s ‘A View From The Bridge.’

Cast of 'A View From The Bridge' at Goodman Theatre. (Liz Lauren photo)
Cast of ‘A View From The Bridge’ at Goodman Theatre. (Liz Lauren photo)

How you feel about this production will depend on whether you are comfortable with an intense, minimalist concept as developed by Director Ivo Van Hove within a severe black box, or if you relate better to a story told on a stage with scenery and possibly video and other set accoutrements that establish time and place.

Set in an Italian American area near the Brooklyn Bridge in a 1950’s America that is not immigration-friendly (sound familiar?), the play is supposedly based on a true tragedy.

Its theme, a married man becoming so obsessed with a niece living with them that he will go to any lengths to ward off possible suitors, belongs in the Greek Tragedy genre.

Take away the wife’s illegal Italian family members who have come to live with them, and the story is still about a husband’s obsession.

Similar to a Greek play, the show opens with the sounds of a beautiful but foreboding chorus. However, it is not the chorus that explains the action but Alfieri, interpreted perfectly by Ezra Knight.

Alfieri is an attorney who notes that dissatisfaction and disagreements are supposed to be handled by a lawyer as a bridge that meets halfway between combatants.

When Eddie (Ian Bedford), a dock worker who tries to keep his niece, Catherine  (Catherine Combs), first from taking a job, and then from going out with Rodolpho (Daniel Abeles), one of the two relatives who are staying with them, he learns from Alfieri that he can’t stop them from dating.

Eddie’s wife, Beatrice (Andrus Nichols) who can see what is happening tries to intervene but to no avail.

Eddie is told that the only action might be to report his wife’s cousins, Rodolpho and Marco (Brandon Espinoza) to immigration but he knows he will then become a pariah in the Italian community if he does so.

Low, ominous sounding background music plus the elimination of any intermission between the play’s two acts, heightens the feeling of doom.

DETAILS: “A View From The Bridge” is at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., now through Oct. 22, 2017. Running time : 2 hours. For tickets and other information call (312) 443-4800 and visit Goodman Theatre.

 

At Steppenwolf: Love and grief confronted through a Rembrandt painting

RECOMMENDED

It is always a treat to see longtime Steppenwolf actors John Mahoney or Francis Guinan in a play. In ‘The Rembrandt,’  now in Steppenwolf’s Upstairs Theatre, audiences get both outstanding actors.

Karen Rodriguz (Madeline), l, Francis Guinan (Henry) c, and Ty Olwin (Dodger, r, stare at a Rembrandt oil painting hanging in a museum in 'The rembrandt' at Wteppenwolf. Michael Brosilow photo
Karen Rodriguz (Madeline), l, Francis Guinan (Henry) c, and Ty Olwin (Dodger), r, stare at a Rembrandt painting hanging in a museum in ‘The Rembrandt’ at Steppenwolf Theatre. Michael Brosilow photos

Written by playwright/actor Jessica Dickey, the premise  seems to be that art in a museum may affect viewers whether they are guards or visitors, not just differently, but also on a more sublime level.

Guinan as Henry, a museum guard whose duties include looking for any problem nicks, can imagine the paintings coming alive at night. He thinks their artists may even converse with each other.

Gabriel Ruiz as gun-carrying security guard Jonny, is Simon’s friend but he sees his job as protecting the paintings.

The two approaches clash when Henry is encouraged to touch the Rembrandt by both a new, rule-defying, apprentice/guard, Dodger, played by Ty Olwin, and by copyist Madeline, portrayed with humor by Karen Rodriguez.

That happens even though Madeline earlier discouraged such an idea when proposed by Dodger because fingers contain harmful substances.

After discussing elements of the painting the three of them do touch it. The next scene is in Rembrandt’s house. It’s as if touching the painting  opened a portal to its historic past.

A note about historic accuracy: 17th century Dutch Master Rembrandt van Rijn did favor the black and muted colors except for his famed luminescent whitish tones as mentioned in the play. But unlike the reference to blue, he did use blue shades though primarily in his biblical and mythological subjects.

Francis Guinan (Rembrandt) works on a painting for an Italian art patron while Ty Olwin (Titus) looks on.
Francis Guinan (Rembrandt) works on a painting for an Italian art patron while Ty Olwin (Titus) looks on.

And yes, in spite of the nice commissions given to this master painter, he did over spend so ended up in debt as referred to in the play.

The portal idea continues when Olwin, now Rembrandt’s son, Titus, touches a bust of Homer that supposedly was in the painting and in Rembrandt’s home.

The next scene is a soliloquy by Mahoney as Homer expounding on the merits of poetry.

The final scene is at Henry’s home where he is disconsolate with grief and guilt as he sits at the sick bed of his longtime partner, Simon (Mahoney) who is dying with stage four cancer.

That scene clarifies the play’s underlying themes of grief, death and love.

Madeline had taken the art course that brought her to the museum because the grandmother who cared for her had become ill and recently died.

She felt love, grief and also guilt that she thought death was OK because her grandmother had deteriorated so much.

Henry who dearly loved Simon, experienced remorse for not being a more considerate partner when Simon was healthy.

John Mahoney (Simon) l, and Francis Guinan (Henry) in 'The Rembrandt' at Steppenwolf.
John Mahoney (Simon) l, and Francis Guinan (Henry) in ‘The Rembrandt’ at Steppenwolf.

In the Rembrandt home scene, Rodriguez who is now Rembrandt’s lover, Henny, demonstrates her love and Titus expresses love for his father while remonstrating against his spending excesses.

Well directed by Hallie Gordon with excellent set design by Regina Garcia and fine costume design by Jenny Mannis, the play raises interesting ideas to ponder about art and personal relationships.

‘The Rembrandt’ is at Steppenwolf’s Upstairs Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted, Chicago, through Nov. 5, 2017. Francis Guinan is Henry and Rembrandt through Oct. 22. The role will be then be taken on by Joe Dempsey through the last performance. For tickets and other information call (312) 335-1650 and visit Steppenwolf.

 

 

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