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

 

 

Quixote tilts at apathy

RECOMMENDED

If you believe that Don Quixote embodies any hopes to be able to right at least some of the world’s wrongs and if you agree that apathy is generally a societal problem, you will love ‘Quixote: On the Conquest of Self,’ now at Writers Theatre.

Henry Godinez as Don Quixote at Writers Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)
Henry Godinez as Don Quixote at Writers Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)

I liked Henry Godinez’s soliloquy as Don Quixote that comes in the first third of the production.

Costumed in found objects such as car license plates, what looks like a beer can sleeve, buttons and other possibly tossed in the trash items, Godinez tells the audience what chapters and pages he doesn’t like because they either are physically painful or come across as a misunderstood character assessment by Miguel de Cervantes.

He espouses these ideas in acrobatic positions and while doing forward or backwards somersaults that emphasize how he and his life are tossed around by Cervantes.

However, not as helpful in conveying his object lesson of do or say something before it’s too late is the second part of the production. This part breaks the fourth wall as Godinez pulls in audience members not just for his story, but for other stories by Cervantes.

I can’t go into the third part without a spoiler alert so, suffice it to know that apathy versus righting wrongs becomes crucial. Unfortunately, it has overtones of Peter Pan’s plea for Tinker Bell’s life with do-you-believe-in-fairies type proposals.

Written by Monica Hoth and Claudio Valdéz  Kuri and translated by Georgina Escobar, the Writers Theatre production is directed by Kuri, a noted Mexican director.

The acting is superb and the show’s minimalist staging is perfect for Writers’ small Gillian Theatre.  An argument could be made that the show is also perfect for a high school audience where discussions on the conquest of self and apathy could take place.

‘Quixote: On the Conquest of Self’ is at Writers Theatre,325 Tudor Court, Glencoe,  through Dec. 17, 2017. Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission. For tickets and other information call (847) 242-6011 and visit Writers Theatre.

For other theatre reviews visit TheatreInChicago

 

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.

 

Three haunting shows

 

Several stage productions gladden the December holiday season and there are romantic comedies perfect for February. But when it comes to October, there’s usually a dearth of plays that chill the soul. Not so, this October with three classics to see.

The 'Man-Beast' at First Folio Theatre fits the haunting season. Photo complements of First Folio.
The ‘Man-Beast’ at First Folio Theatre fits the haunting season. Photo from First Folio.

‘The Crucible’

Steppenwolf Theatre Company is doing Arthur Miller’s 1953 scary in a what-can-happen way when seemingly  normal neighbors believe the stories behind the Salem Witch Trials. The play is part of the Steppenwolf for Young Adults series but it really is a play for all generations. Running for only eight public performances from Oct. 4 through Oct. 21, 2017, it’s a chilling reminder of how fake news can spread as if true and the harm it can do. For tickets ($20 general and $15 students) visit Steppenwolf or call (312) 335-1650. Steppenwolf Theatre Company is at 1650 N. Halsted St. Chicago.

‘The Man-Beast’

First Folio Theatre at the possibly haunted Mayslake Peabody Estate, is doing the world premiere of Joseph Zettelmaier’s ‘The Man-Beast.’ Based on a French legendary werewolf, it’s the third play in his triology of ‘The Gravedigger’ and ‘Dr. Seward’s Dracula.’  The play runs from Oct. 7 through Nov. 5, 2017. Get tickets if you dare see it at First Folio or by calling (630) 986-8067.  Located in a Du Page County forest preserve, First Folio is at  31st St. and Rt. 83 in Oak Brook.

‘GHOSTS & zombies’

Henrik Ibsen’s “Ghosts,” a drams that starts out innocently enough with a woman opening an orphanage as a tribute to her dead husband, becomes a dark comedy in the hands of writer Gustav Tegby. Translated by Chad Eric Bergman, the play takes a strange turn when the woman’s estate hosts ghosts and the un-dead. The play is presented by Akvavit Theatre at the Strawdog Theatre Company now through Oct. 29, 2017. For tickets go to Chicago Nordic. Strawdog Theatre Company is at 1802 W. Berenice, Chicago.

 

‘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)

 

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.

 

 

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.