Around Chicago: April 21 and more

Itzhak Perlman comes to Lyric for a matinee April 23, 2017. Photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco
Itzhak Perlman comes to Lyric for a matinee April 23, 2017. Photo by Lisa Marie Mazzucco

The good news is that Chicago is an arts mecca. The problem news is that Chicago is such an arts mecca that it is arguably impossible to catch all the terrific music, art, dance, theater and exhibits offered in the city and suburbs. Listed here is a sampling of really good events that might not have made it to your arts radar.

 

April 21, 2017

Rita Rudner

Comedienne extraordinaire Rita Rudner will be on stage at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 8 p.m. April 21. A regular act at The Venetian in Las Vegas, Rudner is also a screenwriter, best-selling author, actress and playwright.  For tickets and other information call (847) 673-6300 or visit North Shore Center. The North Shore Center for the Performing Arts is at 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie.

 

April 22-23, 2017

The Perfect American

Philip Glass has fictionalized Walt Disney’s final days as an opera. Composed of dreams and nightmares revolving around the fate of his kingdom and legacy, it includes recognizable people. The Chicago Opera Theater is performing the Chicago premiere of ‘The Perfect American’ at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. The Harris is in Millennium Park at 205 E. Randolph Drive, Chicago. For tickets and other information call (312) 334 -7777 or visit Harris.

 

April 23, 2017

Itzhak Perlman

The Lyric Opera of Chicago is bringing the famed violinist to the city for one performance. It is 3 p.m. Sunday at the Civic Opera House. Accompanied by pianist Rohan De Silva,  Perlman’s program includes Vivaldi’s Sonata in A Major for Violin and Continuo, Beethoven’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in F Major, Schumann’s Fantasiestuck, and Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Piano No. 2 in G Major. The Civic Opera House is at 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago. For tickets and other information call (312) 827-5600 or visit Lyric.

Odysseo extends through May 7, 2017. Dan Harper photo
Odysseo extends through May 7, 2017. Dan Harper photo

 

Now through May 7, 2017

Odysseo by Cavalia

‘Odysseo,’ a wondrous equestrian production visiting Chicago from Canada, that also includes acrobatics and aerial performances, has been extend through May 7. Drivers who have gone by Soldier Field or the Museum Campus will have seen the huge white tent where ‘Odysseo’ takes place. But what they might not know unless they’ve attended a show is that it has a 17,500 square foot stage that includes a three-story-high hill and other natural elements. The staging makes attendees feel as if they have been transported to the land where these horses cavort instead of the other way around. Entry is through the parking gates on East 18th Drive. For tickets and other information call (866) 999-8111 or visit Cavalia.

 

April 25 through May 7, 2017

Joffrey Ballet

The Joffrey Ballet is doing ‘Global Visionaries,’ a tribute to several choreographers that includes the world  premiere of a piece by Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman and the Chicago premier of a ballet by Russian choreographer Yuri Possokhov. Also showcased is Dutch choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s ‘Mammatus. The program is at the  Auditorium Theatre 50 E. Congress Parkway, Chicago. For tickets and other information call (312) 341-2310 or visit Auditorium Theatre.

 

 

Letts offers a vista of middle age

 

RECOMMENDED

Viewer alert! If you’re a white, 50s-something male you might empathize with Wheeler in ‘Linda Vista,’ playwright/actor Tracy Letts’ latest  play with a middle-aged white, male protagonist. Otherwise you might wonder why this guy doesn’t move on.

Sally Murphy (Margaret) and Tim Hopper ( Paul) set Cora vander Broek (Jules) up with Ian Barford (Wheeler) at a Karaoke bar. Photo by Michael Brosilow
Sally Murphy (Margaret) and Tim Hopper ( Paul) set Cora Vander Broek (Jules) up with Ian Barford (Wheeler) at a Karaoke bar. Photo by Michael Brosilow

Unlike Arthur Przybyszewski, the 50s-something proprietor of an Uptown  Chicago donuts shop in Letts’ “Superior Donuts,” Wheeler isn’t quietly fading away.

Instead his favorite word is “f…” as he loudly rails against the current US political scene, his almost ex wife, life in Southern California, his tendency to be in humiliating situations, his lack of ability, poor personality and karaoke.

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Characters represent ideas not real people in ‘Mystery of Love and Sex’

 

SOMEWHAT RECOMMENDED

Playwright Batheseba Doran has placed opposite backgrounds and personalities into already trying circumstances in ‘The Mystery of Love & Sex,’ now at Writers Theatre in Glencoe.

Haley Burgess and Travis Turner in 'The Mystery of Love & Sex' at Writers Theatre. Michael Brosilow Photo
Haley Burgess and Travis Turner in ‘The Mystery of Love & Sex’ at Writers Theatre. Michael Brosilow Photo

The play opens with college students Charlotte (Haley Burgess) and Jonny (Travis Turner), inviting Charlotte’s parents, Howard (Keith Kupfere) and Lucinda (Lia Mortensen), over to Charlotte’s dorm room for dinner.

Charlotte had chosen the college, somewhere in the South over Yale to be near Jonny, her long-time neighbor and dear friend.

Howard and Lucinda want to know more about the kids’ relationship and are determined to be understanding if Jonny becomes part of their family.

Charlotte wants to see if she should be having a deeper relationship with Jonny even though she admits to being attracted to a female college student. Underlying her concern is an attempt to kill herself years ago when she was bullied after saying she thought another girl was attractive.

But the play is about more than exploring sexual propensities. Charlotte is white and Jewish while Jonny is a black Baptist who believes in having a traditional, Baptist family even though he later admits to affairs with other males.

Then there are the parents’ problems. Howard, a successful mystery writer is a New York Jew and Lucinda, an elegant woman who needs a cigarette during tense situations, is a born and bred Southern belle who converted when they married. Their marriage is experiencing mid-life angst.

The situations of exploring sexuality, midlife-crisis, mixed faith marriages and mixed race relationships are real. But throwing them all into the same play has given the dialogue and actions a  contrived feel. That is even with the exceptional acting of Burgess as Charlotte.

Turner, who was outstanding in Lookinglass’ “Thaddeus and Slocum” and Second City’s “Longer, Louder Wagner” at the Lyric, appeared uncomfortable with his clichéd dialogue as Jonny.

As good as actors Kupferer and Mortensen are, it felt as if you were watching them perform the dialogue of representative characters rather than becoming real people.

Details: ‘The Mystery of Love & Sex,’ written by Bathsheba Doran and directed by Marti Lyons, is at Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe, now through July 9, 2017. For tickets and other information call (847) 242-6000 and visit Writers Theatre.

 

Beyond the daylight world

RECOMMENDED

The power of ‘Beyond Caring,’ now premiering in the US at Lookingglass Theatre, is how ordinary the characters and their circumstances seem.

J Nicole Bbrooks, Wendy Mateo and Caren Blackmore in 'Beyond Carin' at Lookingglass Theatre. Liz Lauren photo
J Nicole Brooks, Wendy Mateo and Caren Blackmore in ‘Beyond Caring’ at Lookingglass Theatre. Liz Lauren photo

They are three female temp workers, two blacks and one Hispanic, that are so desperate for work that they take the night cleaning shift in a sausage factory and put up with an alpha-male boss who seemingly doesn’t care about their problems.

A fourth worker is an intelligent, black male who also does the shift but has been there for about two years.

After 90 minutes (no intermission) of watching Caren Blackmore as rheumatoid arthritis worker Ebony-Grace, J. Nicole Brooks as strong-willed, single mother, Tracy and Wendy Mateo as Sonia, a penniless Hispanic woman who is likely homeless, plus Edwin Lee Gibson as Phil, their depression-wracked co-worker, you deplore what they have to go through to keep overseer Keith D. Gallagher (Ian) happy.

It gets even worse towards the end of the play when the already exhausted workers are requested to stay longer because of a new sausage trial so they have to clean previously used grinding and other machines.

It’s ugly. But sitting just to one side of the action as a fly on dirty, bare walls, it feels as if what is viewed is a normal way of life for people who have no other recourse.

 Edwin Lee Gibson and Caren Blackmore in 'Beyond Caring'. Liz Lauren photo

Edwin Lee Gibson and Caren Blackmore in ‘Beyond Caring’. Liz Lauren photo

The feeling of coming into an actual, barren workplace, carefully created by scenic designer Daniel Ostling, is enhanced by the audience having to walk into the set through heavy, see-through plastic panels that separate the work room from the lockers.

The only part of the experience that would have been helpful would have been stronger back story definition so the audience could better understand the three women’s circumstances.

Written and directed by Alexander Zeldin, the US premiere is his Americanized adaptation of the National Theatre production of his play that debuted in London. The Lookingglass play is a Dark Harbor Stories production by David Schwimmer and Tom Hodges.

Post –show conversations will be held following the 2 p.m. matinees on April 9, 16 and 23. In addition, Lookingglass is partnering with Chicago Worker’s Collaborative to bring people from Englewood, Elgin, Little Village and Waukegan to see the show at no cost, on April 9, 23, 30 and May 7.

Details: ‘Beyond Caring’ is at Lookingglass Theater in the Chicago Water Works building at  821 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, now through May 7. For tickets and other information call (312-) 337-0665 or visit Lookingglass Theatre.

‘Silent Sky’ – the stars are in alignment

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Oh, heavenly days. “Silent Sky” is the true story of Henrietta Swan Leavitt, a historic but unsung astronomer at Harvard University’s observatory in the early 1900s. She made ground-breaking advances despite never being allowed to use a telescope.

Cassandra Bissell as Henrietta, an unsung 1900s "computer lady" in Harvard University's observatory. Photo by D. Rice
Cassandra Bissell as Henrietta, an unsung 1900s “computer lady” in Harvard University’s observatory. Photo by D. Rice

Lauren Gunderson’s “Silent Sky” is a poignant and sweet look at Leavitt’s ambition, desires and accomplishments, cleverly punctuated with bursts of humor. Melanie Keller artfully directs the Chicago premiere at First Folio Theatre in Oak Brook.

The play opens with Leavitt leaving her Wisconsin home to become one of the backroom “computer ladies” who map the sky using photographic images on glass plates. It’s a tedious job far beneath the menfolk. Meanwhile, her sister stays behind to raise a family.

Leavitt immerses herself in the work. She not only discovers about 2,400 previously unknown variable stars but also discovered the relationship between luminosity and the period of Cepheid variable stars.

Her findings, for which she received little credit, paved the way for other astronomers to measure stellar distances.

Gunderson, who received the 2016 Lanford Wilson Award from the Dramatists Guild, explores societal themes that are relevant a century later: marriage and motherhood versus career, chauvinistic attitudes toward women in the workplace, and the quest for knowledge.

The script contains enough real science to lend authority but not so much that dazes the audience. The romantic interlude seems a bit contrived. However, it serves to show the sisters are not so different after all.

The entire cast delivers performances that sparkle. Especially notable is Cassandra Bissell, who plays Leavitt with both determination and vulnerability. Hayley Rice is the pleasant, kindly married sister Margaret.

Jeannie Affelder as Annie Cannon and Belinda Bremner as Williamina Fleming are Leavitt’s work colleagues who, by the play’s end, have joined the suffragette movement. Wardell Julius Clark is perfectly pompous as their boss.

Special mention goes to Michael McNamara, whose lighting design has us believing we truly are looking into the cosmos..

Details: ‘Silent Sky’ is at First Folio Theatre, Mayslake Peabody Estate, 1717 W. 31st St., Oak Brook, through April 30. For tickets and other information, call (630) 986-8067 or visit First Folio.

Reviewed by Pamela Dittmer McKuen

(Guest reviewer Pamela Dittmer McKuen  is an independent journalist and author who specializes in home, architecture, fashion and travel. Her bylines have appeared in the Chicago Tribune plus dozens of consumer, trade, association, corporate and collegiate publications. Visit her travel blog at allthewriteplaces.)

 

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

High school students perform on “Hamilton” stage and see the show

The atmosphere inside the PrivateBank Theatre was electric March 15 as hundreds of Chicago high school students filed in to watch their peers perform on the “Hamilton” stage.

Alexander Hamilton and cast. Joan Marcus photo
Alexander Hamilton and cast. Joan Marcus photo

It was the third of what would be 10 student performances during 2017.

By the end of a  special education program tying “Hamilton’” to their American History studies, 20,000 Chicago high school students will have seen their peers perform in the morning followed by a regular Hamilton matinee.

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