Ladies and gentlemen, step right up to a funny sideshow with a great contortionist, thrilling main acts of accomplished aerialist and high-wire performances, terrific juggler, fine acrobats and a ringmaster who beguiles kids and adults with patter that is both charming and insightful.
Viewed in its purist form, ‘The Hard Problem,’ Tom Stoppard’s newest cerebral play, has members of a brain science institute arguing about Darwinism, matter, biology and neuroscience versus the influence of consciousness and psychology.
It’s a mind-body question and equation that might be tempered by computer intelligence and statistics.
Religion and philosophy are not supposed to enter into their discussions.
A complicating factor is that venture capital and hedge funds pay for the institute’s existence.
However, Hilary, a psychologist who works there, believes in God and prays for the well-being of a daughter she had when a teenager and gave up for adoption.
But after seeing the play, now at Court Theatre, and thinking about how it ends with Hillary, beautifully interpreted by Chaon Cross, leaves the institute and has her prayers answered, there is another way to view the story.
The question may legitimately be asked if after years of academic-style arguments, is Stoppard now asking intellectuals to not take themselves too seriously and loosen-up to see and acknowledge other views and influences?
Director Charles Newell and scenic designer John Culbert encourage the play’s dichotomy by having the arguments play out in an uncluttered white box -type setting where an important prop is the candle Hillary uses when she prays.
Vary appropriately produced in a theater on the University of Chicago’s north campus, the play should be seen with someone who enjoys the type of arguments and balancing behaviors Stoppard puts forth in this play.
Details: ‘The Hard Problem’ by Tom Stoppard is at Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave., Chicago, IL, now through April 9, 2017. For tickets and other information call (773) 753-4472 and visit Court Theatre.
If ‘Destiny of Desire’ sounds like the title of a soap opera you would be very close to right.
On stage at Goodman Theatre now through April 16, the “soap” that audiences sit in on as it is supposedly being televised in an empty Chicago theater (note the lighting props), is a Latino “telenovela.”
It has all the overemphasized drama of the Latino mini TV series that has even made the format the show of choice in Eastern Europe and Asia. Read More
Citadel Artistic Director Scott Phelps has taken a riviting script about parent-child relationships by playwright Laura Schellhardt (think ‘Auctioning the Ainsleys’) and placed it in the intelligent hands of Jeff award winning director Scott Weinstein.
But to really pull off multiple messages on growing up, fulfilling dreams and responsibilities, Citadel cast the play with Chicago area veterans who ought to be up for Jeff nominations in their “Upright Grand” roles.
The father, a talented pianist called Pops who tells personal stories while playing at the Broken Man’s Bar is Mark Ulrich.
Charlotte Mae Ellison as his daughter, Kiddo, is perfect as a 12–year-old with all the angst of a teenager who is suspended for writing “School is crap” on her academy’s wall, later, as the sophisticated accomplished 21-year-old who is on a concert circuit and at the end when she comes home and…. OK, won’t put in spoiler alert here.
The third figure is Matt Edmonds who literally plays as the Accompanist. He is a shadowy figure for father and daughter, a piano tuner who compares people to pianos that are out of tune or in tune. Later he is Todd, son of Pops’ friend Toady from the bar.
Premiered at Theatre Works in Pal Alto, CA at its 2012 New Works Festival, the play examines how one’s parental role and responsibility or lack, influences the next generation and how sometimes those actions are not understood until years later.
Pops goes through life as an absentminded professor who doesn’t know how old his daughter is at different stages but “retires’ from the bar to encourage her to focus on piano when he learns she is gifted. He sees his own dad as far from encouraging him with his musicianship.
By the play’s end, a successful Kiddo understand what her father went through and voices what probably many adults think when she says “I’d go back if I could.”
A charming part of the play is that throughout the different stages, Kiddo asks her father for one of his stories and audiences get to hear snatches from classical and popular music.
Something to think about is how to characterize a person or family. Pops’ family were farmers. He plays an upright piano. His wife’s family are wealthy and have endowed a musical academy. They have a grand piano.
A phrase to think about that is said during the show is “We’re more upright than grand.”
Unfortunately, “Upright Grand” is only at Citadel through March 26, 2017.
Details: Citadel is at 300 S. Waukegan Rd., Lake Forest, IL. For tickets and other info call (847-) 735-8554 and visit Citadel.
It is hard to appreciate ‘The Scene,’ Thersea Rebeck’s darkly satirical play set against New York’s hyper TV and acting professions, on stage at Writers Theatre.
Chicago stage and TV actor Deanna Myers is so good at playing the obnoxious Clea, an ambitious, amoral, vacuous young woman who recently moved to New York, that it is difficult to understand how she can attract the play’s two male characters.
Director Robert Carsen who first did this Eugene Onegin at the Met in 1997, does an interesting presentation of the beloved Tchaikovsky opera.
The curtain opens to reveal a distant, somewhat shadowy figure of baritone Mariusz Kwiecien as an Onegin who is gloomily leafing through the pages of an old letter.
How he came to this despondency unfolds through about 160 minutes (not including the intermission) of wonderfully lyrical and dramatic acting and singing guided by revival director Paula Suozzi and conductor Alejo Pérez. Read More
‘Carmen,’ the popular opera by Georges Bizet’ where nearly all the music sounds very familiar, is an audience pleaser at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
A new production directed and choreographed by Rob Ashford who did the Lyric’s Carousel’ two seasons ago, the opera has the kind of important touches that make Broadway musicals special.
There is fine acting of major roles, an outstanding voice, that of tenor Joseph Calleja as Don José, a leading lady, mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Gubanova who seems born to the part of Carmen, modern dance movements that capture audience attention during musical interludes, and exciting music thrillingly played by the Lyric Opera Orchestra that has people tapping their toes during the opera and humming during intermission.
Ashford’s staging is creative. The final scene where Don José stabs Carmen rather than have her go to her most recent lover, the dashing bullfighter Escamillo (Christian Van Horn), is set against the dramatic, high back of a bullfighting arena where its audience is silhouetted against a red-orange sky.
Excellent set design by David Rockwell and costumes by Julie Weiss beautifully fit the period, location and atmosphere.
But make no mistake. This is opera. Bizet’s music and the libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy have turned Prosper Mérimée’s ‘Carmen’ novella about seduction, jealousy and death into a dramatic opera, beautifully sung at the Lyric.
The takeaway from Lyric’s ‘Carmen’, a co-production with the Houston Grand Opera, is Gubanova’s ‘Habanera’ and ‘Seguidilla,’ Van Horn’s ‘Toreador Song’ and Calleja’s gorgeous ‘Flower Song.’
Details: ‘Carmen’ by Georges Bizet is at the Lyric Opera of Chicago in the Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago, now through March 25. For tickets and other information visit Lyric Opera and call (312) 827-5600.
A parody of William Shakespeare is clever when performed by Second City or by another theater when advertised as a take-off by one of Chicago’s many production companies.
But it was a surprise when opening night of Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s ‘Love’s Labor’s Lost,’ an early Shakespeare comedy, lines were intentionally overly emoted and humorous characters became caricatures.
Written in the 1590’s, CST’s version is nicely placed in the 18th century with a romantic, beautiful set by scenic designer Kevin Depinet and gorgeous costumes by Christina Poddubiuk.
There’s no question that the play, an ironic exposure of good intentions foiled by man’s innate nature, is a comedy.
Ferdinand, King of Navarre (John Tufts), and his three companions, Lords Berowne (Nate Burger) , Dumaine (Julian Hester), and Longaville (Madison Niederhauser), pledge to three years of study and fasting without the company of women. The King subsequently decrees that women will not be allowed within a mile of the court.
Complicating matters is a subplot of Spaniard Don Adriano de Armado (Allan Gilmore) betraying an affair between local lad Costard (Alex Goodrich) and local wench Jaquenetta (Maggie Portman). Adriano also likes her and discusses it with his page, Moth (Aaron Lamm).
Then the Princess of France (Jennie Greenberry) and her ladies, Maria (Jennifer Latimore), Katherine (Taylor Blim) and Rosaline (Laura Rook) arrive to speak with the King but they have to camp outside the court.
Of course, since this is a Shakespearean comedy, the king and his lords fall for the Princess and her ladies and messages are given to the wrong people.
Taking a playful approach similar to ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ a comedy also written in the 1590’s, should work. The problem, at least for fans of Shakespeare’s sophisticate language, is when actors’ overblown actions distract from clever dialogue.
Details: ‘Love’s Labor’s Lost,’ directed by Marti Maraden, is at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E. Grand Ave. on Chicago’s Navy Pier, now through March 26, 2017. For tickets and other information call (312) 595-5600 and visit Chicago Shakes.
It doesn’t matter if you have seen’ Mamma Mia’ before. As an audience member sitting next to me at the Marriott Theatre said, “I saw it on Broadway. This is better.”
A jukebox musical based on the songs of ABBA, the Marriott production has it all: terrific solos, great dance numbers, fine staging and a perfect combo of light and sound that brings back the 1970s disco era. A Swedish group, ABBA was performing, basically from 1972 to 1982. Read More