Peninsula Players finishes season with light satire

 

Cast of George Washington's Teeth at Peninsula Players. (Photo by Len Villano)
Cast of George Washington’s Teeth at Peninsula Players. (Photo by Len Villano)

‘George Washington’s Teeth’

3 stars

Certainly while in NYC it’s great to fit in a Broadway production but it can also be interesting, fun and rewarding to see a show while vacationing in other destination towns. In August, I visited Spring Green, WI to see “Book of Will”  by the fine contemporary playwright, Lauren Gunderson as performed by American Players Theatre.

Then, while visiting Door County, WI, this past weekend, I went to Peninsula Players, a longtime, professional resident theater, to see “George Washington’s Teeth,” a new comedy by Mark St. Germain who typically chooses historic subjects.

Germain penned “Freud’s Last Session,” a brilliant play I saw at Chicago’s Mercury Theatre in 2012 that depicts what could have been debated on the existence of God and other deep subjects during a visit by C. S. Lewis to Sigmund Freud’s London home.

Although not in the same excellent-play category as Peninsula Players’ August offering of “Silent Sky,” a serious, “Hidden Figures” type of revealing-history play by Gunderson, or the fascinating “Freud’s Last Session” by Germain, “George Washington’s Teeth” worked on a couple of levels – humorous and satirical.

It’s a hilarious spoof about how self-importantly historical societies and town’s founding residents take themselves and the falsehoods that are  sometimes believed and promoted.

Because the New Bunion Historical Society’s museum is in financial trouble, it needs an item or couple of exhibits to draw attendance or for use in a tour.

Thus, the desire to obtain a set of G. W’s teeth supposedly owned by a resident. BTW George Washington’s false teeth are a reality. He did have at least four sets of dentures, none of wood as some rumors said, but of ivory, other materials and human teeth.

Directed by Greg Vinkler and performed by equity actors who have often been seen in top Chicago area venues, the action includes Pythonesque absurdities such as historical society member, Edie, delightfully interpreted by the talented Penny Slusher, dressing as the Liberty Bell so she could help hold off the “British” during a re-enactment of the American Revolution’s non-existent, Battle of New Bunion.

Other absurdities include such museum treasures as a giant hairball and the actions of the museum’s newest member, Jess (Emma Rosenthal), a young kleptomaniac who sees the society as a way to do community service according to her probation terms.

Chicago stage veteran Ora Jones plays the serious Louisa, a black resident who not only has the famed teeth, but also corrects the starchy historical society president, Hester Bunion (Carmen Roman), on several points.

Rounding out the cast is Katherine Keberlein as Ann, a trophy wife who used to be an art restorer and ends up helping Louisa with an exhibit supposedly going to the Smithsonian along with the teeth.

The stage is set with a perfect re-creation of a historical museum room by J Branson and believable and comic costuming by Kyle Pingel.

Nice contemporary touches include asking Siri for certain music and information.

About the venue, at age 84, Peninsula Players is the country’s oldest professional summer resident theater. The campus spreads across 16 acres along Green Bay in Wisconsin’s Door County.

DETAILS: “George Washington’s Teeth” is at Peninsula Players,  4351 Peninsula Players Rd., Fish Creek, WI, through Oct. 20, 2019. Running time: 80 minutes. For tickets and other information call (920) 868-3287 or visit Peninsula Players.

Jodie Jacobs

 

A lesson in love and experience

Fantasticks at Skokie Theatre. (Photo by Graham Todd)
Fantasticks at Skokie Theatre. (Photo by Graham Todd)

‘The Fantasticks’

3 stars

 

The second offering of a four-show series by  MadKap Productions at the Skokie Theatre is “The Fantasticks,” a theatrical classic that holds the record as the longest running off-Broadway musical when it closed in 2002 after 17,162 performances over 42 years.

The story is about innocence and experience. Matt (Graham Todd) and Luisa (Jessica Surprenant) learn that life can be messy and cruel but as the song goes “without a hurt the heart is hollow.”

At the beginning the young lovers revel in the danger of their forbidden romance but come to learn that their fathers had actually erected a wall between their two properties to draw the two together.

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Music dissolves cultural differences

‘The Band’s Visit’

 

Company of The Bands Visit at Cadillac Palace Theatre. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)
Company of The Bands Visit at Cadillac Palace Theatre. (Photo by Matthew Murphy)

4 stars

The curtain at the Cadillac Palace Theatre reads “Turn off your cell phone” in English and in Arabic and in Hebrew.

And so begins “The Band’s Visit,” the multi-Tony Award winning musical that stunned Broadway and premiered off-Broadway in 2016.

Based on an Israeli film in 2007, the show quietly but beautifully depicts what happens when the eight-man Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra arrives in Israel from Egypt then takes a bus from the airport to a town whose name sounds similar to Petah Tikva, where they are supposed to be playing a concert, but turns out to be Beit Hatikva, small, fictional, somewhat desolate place in the Negev Desert.

Having recently seen “Come From Away” that showed how the small town of Gander, Newfoundland, took care of hundreds of passengers from different countries stranded by the closing of U.S. airspace on 9-11, I expected to see more cultural differences such as food, show up during the band’s overnight stay. (They were able to take another bus out to their destination the next day.)

But this show,  a comedy-drama with music and lyrics by David Yazbek and book by Itamar Moses  is more how music is an international language that speaks to many different situations from soothing a crying baby to bringing lonely people together.

The band is led by Tewfiq, interpreted with careful reserve that later dissolves by Sasson Gabay, a leading Israeli actor who starred in the movie. Opposite him is Dina, a lovely café owner who feels stranded in Beit Hatikva, played with superb emotional vibes by Chilina Kennedy who starred as Carol King in “Beautiful.,” on Broadway.

The rest of the cast is also terrific. It is easy to fall in love with the band members as they skillfully play their instruments. But a special shout-out has to go to Joe Joseph who as Haled, is the band member who brings people together often asking if they like the song, “My Funny Valentine.”

DETAILS: “The Band’s Visit” is presented by Broadway in Chicago at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., Chicago, through Sept. 15, 2019. Running time: 90 minutes. For tickets and other information visit Broadway in Chicago.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

A story of class and ethics plus romance

Howard’s End

Cast of Howard's End, a Remy Bumppo production at Theater Wit
Cast of Howard’s End, a Remy Bumppo production at Theater Wit

4 stars

 

E.M. Forster’s 1910 literary classic is a sprawling novel about rank, morals and love among three English families from different social classes

His novel offered an insightful portrait of England at the height of its imperial world influence just prior to World War I. Through the lives of three diverse families, he showed how fast progress was happening and shaping Edwardian England.

In light of the sweeping changes taking place, Forster seemed to ask who would eventually inherit England? Which class would ultimately define this powerful nation?

Through this tale, we come to know the wealthy, capitalist Wilcox dynasty, the idealistic, intellectual upper middle class Schlegel sisters and the ever struggling, financially impoverished lower class Leonard and Jacky Bast.

Douglas Post’s faithful theatrical adaptation is truly eloquent and makes E.M. Forster’s novel accessible in a two-and-a-half hour production. This is a beautiful, carefully constructed play commissioned by Remy Bumppo Theatre, and currently enjoying its world premiere at Theater Wit.

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Jeff Awards nominations are announced

Cast of The Steadfast Tin Soldier at Lookingglass. (Liz Lauren photo)
Cast of The Steadfast Tin Soldier at Lookingglass. (Liz Lauren photo)

 

Did you have a favorite show seen this season, that’s season defined by the Equity Jeff Awards eligibility rules as Aug. 1 to July 31.

If it was a touring production presented by Broadway in Chicago it can make this publication, Chicago Theater and Arts,’ top ten list but it wouldn’t have been eligible for an Equity Jeff award.

So think again about shows you’ve seen at such Chicago area venues and theater companies as Court Theatre, Steppenwolf, Chicago Shakespeare, Lookingglass, Drury Lane, Paramount, et al. There are about 250 theater companies in the Chicago area, many of whom are non-equity

This season’s equity nominations were announced early this morning, Sept. 3 2019. For non-equity, nominations and award recipients see Jeff Awards Non-Equity. For the complete list of Jeff Equity Nominees in all categories visit Jeff Awards. (Play photos shown here are among this season’s equity nominations.)

But before looking at which theaters scored big with the Jeff Committee, know who or what about the awards.

About the Jeff Awards and eligibility

According to the Jeff website, the awards have been “honoring outstanding theatre artists annually since it was established in 1968.” It goes on to say, “With approximately 55 members representing a wide variety of backgrounds in theatre, the Jeff Awards is committed to celebrating the vitality of Chicago area theatre by recognizing excellence through its recommendations, awards, and honors.

'Next to Normal' at Writers Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)
‘Next to Normal’ at Writers Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

Among the rules to be eligible are: “A theater organization that has a production determined by Actors’ Equity Association to be an equity production and wishes to have that production judged must notify the Equity Wing Chair by the 18th of the month before the month in which the opening performance of that production is to take place.”

In addition, “the theatre must show that it has committed to produce a minimum of 18 performances, excluding previews, over a period of at least 3 consecutive weeks. Additional requirements as to the minimum 18-performance rule are: at least one performance per week must take place on the weekend, one weekday matinee a week can be counted towards the minimum of 18 performances.

“Additional eligibility requirements: a. The Jeff Committee does not judge late-night performances (i.e., all curtains at or after 9:30 p.m.), puppet theatre, opera, performance art, children’s theatre, student or youth theatre, foreign language theatre, mime theatre, unscripted or improvised productions, or staged readings.”

“The Committee no longer judges Touring Productions under its prior (and now eliminated) separate category of Touring Production Awards. A specific production originating from a non-Chicago area CAT/LORT theatre (commonly referred to as a “Touring Production”) which is not being produced by a Chicago CAT/LORT Theatre is eligible for consideration if it is presented as part of that Theatre’s subscription.”

'Caroline or Change,' a Firebrand production in conjunction with Timeline. (Photo by Marisa KM)
‘Caroline or Change,’ a Firebrand production in conjunction with Timeline. (Photo by Marisa KM)

Among the nominations

Production – Play – Large
“Downstate” – Steppenwolf Theatre Company
“Indecent” – Victory Gardens Theater
“Photograph 51” – Court Theatre
“Radio Golf” – Court Theatre
“The Steadfast Tin Soldier” – Lookingglass Theatre Company

Production – Play – Midsize
“Frankenstein” – Remy Bumppo Theatre Company
“Noises Off” – Windy City Playhouse
“On Clover Road” – American Blues Theater
“The Recommendation” – Windy City Playhouse
“Something Clean” – Sideshow Theatre Company
and Rivendell Theatre Ensemble

Production – Musical – Large
“Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” – Drury Lane Productions
“Next to Normal” – Writers Theatre
“The Producers” – Paramount Theatre
“Six” – Chicago Shakespeare Theater
“The Wizard of Oz” – Paramount Theatre

Production – Musical – Midsize
“Caroline, or Change” – Firebrand Theatre
i/a/w TimeLine Theatre Company
“A Chorus Line” – Porchlight Music Theatre
“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” – Porchlight Music Theatre
“Gypsy” – Porchlight Music Theatre

Production – Revue
“Djembe! The Show” – Doug Manuel, Ashley DeSimone and TSG Theatricals
“Women of Soul” – Black Ensemble Theater
“You Can’t Fake the Funk: A Journey through Funk Music”
– Black Ensemble Theater

Cast of Women of Soul at Black Ensemble Theater. (Alan Davis photo)
Cast of Women of Soul at Black Ensemble Theater. (Alan Davis photo)

Ensemble – Play
“Familiar” – Steppenwolf Theatre Company
“For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf”
– Court Theatre
“Indecent” – Victory Gardens Theater
“Noises Off” – Windy City Playhouse
“Small Mouth Sounds” – A Red Orchid Theatre
“Twilight Bowl” – Goodman Theatre

Ensemble – Musical or Revue
“A Chorus Line” – Porchlight Music Theatre
“Million Dollar Quartet” – Marriott Theatre
“Queen of the Mist” – Firebrand Theatre
“Six” – Chicago Shakespeare Theater
“You Can’t Fake the Funk: A Journey through Funk Music”
– Black Ensemble Theater

New Work – Play
David Auburn – “The Adventures of Augie March” – Court Theatre
David Catlin – “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” – Lookingglass Theatre Company
Jenny Connell Davis – “Scientific Method” – Rivendell Theatre Ensemble
Ike Holter – “Lottery Day” – Goodman Theatre
Manual Cinema – “Frankenstein” – Court Theatre
Bruce Norris – “Downstate” – Steppenwolf Theatre Company
Jen Silverman – “Witch” – Writers Theatre
Mary Zimmerman – “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” – Lookingglass Theatre Company

Cast and production crew of Manual Cinema’s Frankenstine at Court Theatre (Michael Brosilow photos)
Cast and production crew of Manual Cinema’s Frankenstine at Court Theatre (Michael Brosilow photos)

New Work – Musical
David Cale – “We’re Only Alive for A Short Amount of Time”
– Goodman Theatre i/a/w The Public Theater
Michael Mahler and Jason Brett – “Miracle” – William A. Marovitz and Arny Granat
Daniel Zaitchik – “Darling Grenadine” – Marriott Theatre

According to Jeff Award information, 192 nominations were made in 34 categories ranging from actors, directors and choreographers to scenic and costume design and more.

When taking all the categories into consideration Porchlight Music Theatre topped the nominations at 17, followed by Paramount Theatre with 16 and Court Theatre with 15.

The 51 st Annual Equity Jeff Awards ceremony honoring excellence in professional theater produced within the greater Chicago area will be Oct. 21, 2019 at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace.

Jodie Jacobs

‘Sons and Lovers’

Sons and Lovers at Greenhouse Theater. (photo courtesy of On the spot Theatre Company)
Sons and Lovers at Greenhouse Theater. (photo courtesy of On the spot Theatre Company)

2  1/2 stars

It’s true that the very best writers use experiences from their own lives to inspire their writing. English author D.H. Lawrence, whose early twentieth century novels like Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Women in Love, Mr. Noon and The Rainbow shocked and entertained readers during this “Age of Innocence.” It’s also true that his stories are all very intimately bound up with his own life. But none of his novels is more autobiographical than Sons and Lovers.

This is Lawrence writing about his life and recreating scenes from his own experience, but fictionalizing it. He began writing the book in 1910, finishing the novel two years later.

The story underwent lots of revisions, including the title, and was influenced by many personal crises that occurred during this period. Lawrence ended a long relationship with Jesse Chambers (who’d serve as the model for his character, Miriam Leivers).

He became engaged to, and then broke up with Louie Burrows (who would be the inspiration for the character of Clara Dawes). He lost his mother to cancer, became seriously ill with pneumonia, gave up teaching and moved away from his birthplace. But this is a story that’s derived from the author’s own Oedipus complex.

When Lydia was a young woman, she lost her first love to another woman. She settled for Walter Morel, a boorish, yet passionate lower class man who worked long hours down in the Midland mines.

As sons William and Paul grew up, Lydia doted on them to the point where Walter is brow-beaten and practically ignored and she redirects all of her ardor and passion to her sons. They, in turn, become her lovers and as they grow to manhood they aren’t able to love any other women because their mother’s hold over them is so strong.

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It’s a woman’s world at ‘Casa Valentina’

Casa Valentina a Pride Films and Plays at Broadway Theatre. (Photo by Cody Jolly)
Casa Valentina a Pride Films and Plays at Broadway Theatre. (Photo by Cody Jolly)

3 1/2 stars

As part of Pride Films & Plays’ exploration of all things gender related, we travel back to the Chevalier d’Eon Resort in the Catskill Mountains. It’s 1962, and a secret world is revealed to 21st century audiences that actually existed during those more innocent, post-war years.

For at least one weekend during the late Spring, a group of happily married men with families, highly-respected in their chosen, white-collar professions, gather in this secluded Garden of Eden to express their alter-egos.

These men are not homosexuals, nor do they harbor a hidden desire to undergo surgery in order to become full-time women. They’re cross-dressers who, in private, simply enjoy (sometimes) being a girl.

In this remote setting, several longtime friends and a couple of  new acquaintances, are provided the freedom to express themselves as feminine, girly girls in their own private, woman’s world.

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Be careful what you wish for

 

Cast of Into the Woods at Writers Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)
Cast of Into the Woods at Writers Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)

3 ½ stars

In Act II of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s “Into the Woods,” the Baker and Cinderella, two of four main fairy-tale characters who survive the whole, Hamlet-like second act (Little Red and Jack (of beanstalk fame are the other two), explain that choices have consequences and everyone is connected in “No One Is Alone.”

It the characters sound like those folks encountered during childhood bedtime stories they may possibly come to life for some audience members during Act I. but that familiarity ends when Sondheim who composed the music and lyrics and Lapine who wrote the book, offers a scathing reality check in Act II.

The musical, garnering several Tony Awards including Best Score and Best Book when premiering on Broadway in 1987, pulls a moralistic, anti-happily after plot from stories primarily conceived  or popularized by 17th century French fairy-tale founder Charles Perraultan (“Cinderella,”  Little Red Riding Hood”) and 19th century German folklore authors and collectors, the Brothers Grimm (Rapunzel, Snow White).  “Jack and the Beanstalk” is an English Fairy tale popularized by Joseph Jacobs started out n 1734 as “The Story of Jack Spriggins and the Enchanted Bean.”

It all starts with “Rapunzel”  when a husband steals veggies called rampion or rapunzel from the garden of a next-door neighboring witch to make his pregnant wife happy. The witch catches him and makes a deal to leave the couple alone if they will give her theirthe baby to raise. This story is uncovered when that man’s son, the Baker, and his wife are lonely without children and learn it’s because of the witch’s curse.

And so the musical is about what people wish for and their journey to achieve it. The witch tells them the curse will be removed if the couple brings her a “cow as white as milk, cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn and slipper as pure as gold” in three days.

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A ‘Book of Will’ for all time

The Condells and Heminges with Ben Johnson in The Book of Will at American Players Theatre in Spring Green (Liz Loren photo)
The Condells, left and Heminges, right with Ben Johnson, center,  in The Book of Will at American Players Theatre in Spring Green (Liz Loren photo)

4 stars

High school kids typically encounter Shakespeare in an English class. A Shakespearean comedy is often staged outdoors in the summer. And, insightful comments from Shakespeare’s plays are quoted so often that some of the folks saying the witty words don’t even know they originated more than 400 years ago from the pen of an English playwright/poet who died in 1616.

But what if the plays of this great dramatist called the “Bard of Avon” had been lost or remembered incorrectly by players and printers?

Why and how they have been saved as the 1623 First Folio is the subject of American playwright Lauren Gunderson’s “Book of Will.”

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‘Hunchback’ has melodious ring

 

Hunchback of Natre Dame choir by Music theater Works in Cahn Auditorium, Evanston. (Photo by Brett Beiner)
Hunchback of Natre Dame choir by Music theater Works in Cahn Auditorium, Evanston. (Photo by Brett Beiner)

4 stars

I was curious to imagine how this epic story that features a soaring gothic cathedral in the heart of Paris would be portrayed at Music Theater Works’ Cahn Auditorium venue.

But from the moment the curtain rose revealing the stunning scenic set design and twenty-four member choir for MTWs’ “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” the audience was thoroughly captivated.

Set around 1492 the essence of this operetta is derived from Victor Hugo’s  epic novel of the same name with similar themes of intolerance, injustice, abuse of power, and “man’s inhumanity to man” as in his “Les Miserables.”

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