Around Town in early April

So what if you have to walk between the raindrops. It’s April!

There are enough events in the Metropolitan Chicago area to brush aside gloomy weather and news outlooks for the entire month. Indeed, there is so much going on that here is just a first look at what’s happening so you can get tickets and fill in a couple of calendar spots.

Steam engines are again going around the Illinois Railway Museum tracks. Photo by Webster's Unabridged Inc and Illinois Railway Museum
Steam engines are again going around the Illinois Railway Museum tracks. Photo by Webster’s Unabridged Inc and Illinois Railway Museum

 

RR Fun

Visit a mid1800s train depot and hop on board some diesel and steam locomotives and assorted Pullmans, dining cars and cabooses at the Illinois Railway Museum. The museum is about an hour northwest of Chicago in Union City.  Closed for the winter, it just opened April 2 for the 2017 season and will remain open weekends through October. Weekday hours go from May through September.

The Illinois Railway Museum is at 7000 Olson Rd., Union, IL 60180. For cost, hours, directions and other information visit Illinois Railway Museum or call (800) Big Rail (244-7245).

 

See  robots

Head over to the Museum of Science and Industry for National Robotics Week activities April 8-9 and 14-15, 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.. Drone racing is April 8 and 9. .For more information visit MSI and MSI Robotics.

The Museum of science and Industry is at 5700 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago (773) 684-1414.

 

Listen to glorious music

Hear tenor Lawrence Brownlee (think bel canto) and bass-baritone Eric Owens (Lyric’s “Ring”) with pianist Craig Terry at a Lyric Opera recital at the Civic Opera House, 3 p.m. April 9.

The Civic Opera House is at 20 N. Wacker Dr, Chicago. For tickets and other information visit Lyric and call (312) 827-5600.

 

A museum where pinball machines mix with Chicago artists

Ed Paschke, "Blackout," 1980, Private Collection. Photo by Jodie Jacobs
Ed Paschke, “Blackout,” 1980, Private Collection. Photo by Jodie Jacobs

 

If you are the director of an art museum and are planning on showcasing art of the 1960s, 70s and early 80s in Chicago, particularly that of the Hairy Who and the Chicago Imagists and you want an era-appropriate, eye-catching exhibit to put with it, what would you choose?

 

 

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Hurricane damaged house exposes and repairs family problems

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Their Staten Island house ravaged by Hurricane Sandy is not the only thing that needs extensive repair when 60-something-year-olds Marty and Mary Murphy return to what had always been their home.

Penny Slusher (Mary Murphy) and Francis Guinan (Marty Murphy) return to their Hurricane Sandy ravaged home in 'By the Water' at Northlight Theatre. Photo by Michael Brosilow
Penny Slusher (Mary Murphy) and Francis Guinan (Marty Murphy) return to their Hurricane Sandy ravaged home in ‘By the Water’ at Northlight Theatre. Photo by Michael Brosilow

In Sharyn Rothstein’s ‘By the Water,’ a Chicago premiere now at Northlight Theatre, attempts by the stubborn Marty to live there again and convince his neighbors to return, antagonize his friends who want to accept a bailout and move where safe from a repeat disaster.

But that is minor compared to how those efforts finally reveal Marty’s serious past mistakes, the feelings of his long-suffering Mary, and how and why his adult sons feel the way they do towards each other and their dad.

Well directed by Cody Estle, audiences will find there is a lot more going on then seen in the first 20 minutes of a play that only lasts an hour and 45 minutes.

Marty, brilliantly played by Francis Guinan, starts out as a sympathetic character who wants to rebuild the house his father gave him.

But sympathies start to erode as he shows little love and appreciation for his successful eldest son Sal, nicely interpreted by Jordan Brown, and instead empathizes with his recently released from prison younger son, Brian, charmingly played by Joel Reitsma.

His character draws even less sympathy as he continues to dominate Mary, exceptionally portrayed by Penny Slushier.

Amanda Drinkall is very believable as recently divorced Emily Mancini, Brian’s love interest. Her parents, the neighboring couple Andrea and Philip Carter, are well played by Janet Ulrich Brooks and Patrick Clear.

Jeffrey D. Kmiec’s impressive scenic design perfectly accomplishes the impression of a hurricane disaster while still offering a skeletal place to stay and greet family and neighbors.

Details: ‘By the Water’ by Sharyn Rothstein is at Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Boulevard, Skokie, IL, now through April 23, 2017. For tickets and other information visit Northlight and call (847) 673-6300.

 

‘Circus 1903’ resurrects entertainment before TV and tech toys

RECOMMENDED

Circus 1903 brings back the old-fashioned kind of sideshow and acts that visited small towns years ago. Mark Turner Photo.
Circus 1903 brings back the old-fashioned kind of sideshow and acts that visited small towns years ago. Mark Turner Photo.

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.

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Mind and body influences turn out to be a hard problem in new Stoppard play

RECOMMENDED

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.

Chaon Cross in 'The Hard Problem' at Court Theatre. Photo by Michael Brosilow
Chaon Cross in ‘The Hard Problem’ at Court Theatre. Photo by Michael Brosilow

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.

Live “telenovela” of overly dramatic scenes and plot twists make for a fun evening

RECOMMENDED

If ‘Destiny of Desire’ sounds like the title of a soap opera you would be very close to right.

Ruth Livier (Fabiola Castillo), Ricardo Gutierrez (Dr. Jorge Mendoza) and Evelina Fernandez (Sister Sonia) in 'Destiny of Desire' at Goodman Theatre. Photo by Liz Lauren
Ruth Livier (Fabiola Castillo), Ricardo Gutierrez (Dr. Jorge Mendoza) and Evelina Fernandez (Sister Sonia) in ‘Destiny of Desire’ at Goodman Theatre. Photo by Liz Lauren

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

‘Upright Grand’ at Citadel is 90 minutes of amazing theater

Charlotte Mae Ellison (Kiddo) and Mark Ulrich (Pops) in 'Upright Grand.' Photo by North Shore Camera Club
Charlotte Mae Ellison (Kiddo) and Mark Ulrich (Pops) in ‘Upright Grand.’ Photo by Kyle Techentin.

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

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.

 

Sex and self-destruction in a high-pressure environment

SOMEWHAT RECOMMENDED

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.

Clea (Deanna Myers), Charlie (Mark L. Montgomery) and Lewis (La Shawn Banks) in 'The Scene' at Writers Theatre. Photo by Liz Lauren
Clea (Deanna Myers), Charlie (Mark L. Montgomery) and Lewis (La Shawn Banks) in ‘The Scene’ at Writers Theatre. Photo by Liz Lauren

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.

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Lyric ends opera season on a glorious Tchaikovsky note

RECOMMENDED

Director Robert Carsen who first did this Eugene Onegin at the Met in 1997, does an interesting presentation of the beloved Tchaikovsky opera.

Tchaikovsky opera 'Eugene Onegin' at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
Tchaikovsky opera ‘Eugene Onegin’ at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Lyric photo

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

Chekov drama confronts wasted lives

RECOMMENDED

The depressing atmosphere of a home where time is passing people by is immediately apparent with the set of “Uncle Vanya,” now at Goodman Theatre.

David-Darlow-Kristen-Bush-Tim-Hopper-Marilyn-Dodds-Frank-Larry-Neumann-Jr.-Caroline-Neff-and-Mary-Ann-Thebus-in-Goodman-Theatres-UNCLE-VANYA-adaptedby-Annie-Baker. Photo by Liz Lauren
David Darlow, Kristen Bush, Tim Hopper, Marilyn Dodds Frank, Larry Neumann Jr., Caroline Neff and Mary Ann Thebus in Goodman Theatre’s “Uncle Vanya”  adapted by Annie Baker. Photo by Liz Lauren

Designed by Todd Rosenthal, a once elegant country estate confronts audiences with ravished walls, a light bulb that hangs from a chandelier and decrepit furniture. Read More