‘Yasmina’s Necklace’ exemplifies timeless truths

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Imagine two very different families trying to pair up their children with not very successful results. That’s a traditional rom-com format you’d see on TV. But now imagine these families are a well-established Muslim family paired with new refuges from Iraq. And yes, it’s a comedy.

Michael Perez (Sam) Laura Crotte (Sara), Amro Salama (Ali), Allen Gilmore (Iman Kareem), rom Barkhordar (Musa) and Susaan Jamshidi (Yasmina) in 'Yasmina's Necklace' at Goodman Theatre.
Michael Perez (Sam) Laura Crotte (Sara), Amro Salama (Ali), Allen Gilmore (Iman Kareem), Rom Barkhordar (Musa) and Susaan Jamshidi (Yasmina) in ‘Yasmina’s Necklace’ at Goodman Theatre.

‘Yasmina’s Necklace,’ playing now at The Goodman Theatre, is about overcoming tragedy and moving on with your life in a new land with new opportunities and challenges.

What makes the play so compelling is that everyone can identify with this family situation no matter what their race, religion or ethnicity.

The show by Chicago playwright Rohina Malik is both funny as well as dramatic and thought-provoking, as the audience navigates the pain of both Yasmina and her father when settling in Chicago from Bagdad.

Yasmina uses her art talent to communicate the horrors of her past. The necklace, always around her neck, represents her love for the country she was forced to leave and will always be in her heart.

Potential suitor Sam recently changed his Arabic name to avoid Anti-Muslim bias and move up the career ladder. He’s also recovering from a bad divorce and is not interested in meeting anyone. But when he volunteers to support Yasmina with her non-profit organization helping other refuges, their relationship begins to warm.

Susaan Jamshidi (Yasmina) and Michael Perez (Sam) in 'Yasmina's Necklace' at Goodman Theatre. Liz Lauren photos
Susaan Jamshidi (Yasmina) and Michael Perez (Sam) in ‘Yasmina’s Necklace’ at Goodman Theatre. Liz Lauren photos

Led by director Ann Filmer, actor Susaan Jamshidi as the vulnerable Yasmina is outstanding as her character moves from anger to acceptance to strength.

Michael Perez as Sam is also excellent as his character develops from someone who is conflicted about his identity to someone who stands proud of his traditions. Always in the background is a sense of fear and loss.

The set revolves around the very different apartments of the two families, one who is settled and well-off, and the other of newly arrived immigrants.

The play was scripted by Malik who was concerned about how Muslims are portrayed in the media and wanted to show them without stereotype. She has done a masterful job and the result is one powerful evening of theatre.

DETAILS: ‘Yasmina’s Necklace’ is in the Owen at The Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago. through Nov.19, 2017. Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with intermission. For tickets and other information call (312) 443- 3800  and visit Goodman.

Mira Temkin

For more shows visit TheatreinChicago.

 

 

Festivals and shows plus happenings around town

 

So that in the coming weeks you don’t have to say “oops, I forgot” or “oh, I wish I had known,” here are some fun and interesting choices of what to do now through Nov. 5, 2017.

1000 jack-o'-lanterns light up Chicago Botanic Garden paths.
1000 jack-o’-lanterns light up Chicago Botanic Garden paths.

 

Short Story Theatre

Short story theatres are trending now in the Chicago area. (See StorySlam). Highwood, a tiny city between Highland Park and Lake Forest known for its restaurants, also hosts short story telling.

Its next time is Oct. 26 when the theme is Survival. Stories are likely to be about lost wives, geese, road trips or angels.

So come to Miramar Bistro at 301 Waukegan Ave. east of the North Line train tracks at 7:30 p.m. Or come earlier and eat there first. Just tell them when making a reservation that you are staying for the Short Story Theatre. Show tickets are $10 at the door, cash or check. Phone 847-433-1078.

 

Boo at the Chicago Botanic Garden

Hand-carved pumpkins line the paths Oct. 26-29 for Night of 10000 Jack-O-Lanterns. Tickets are date and time specific so get yours before you go to avoid disappointment. Times are from 6:30 to 10:30 p.m.

The Chicago Botanic Garden is at 1000 Lake Cook Rd., Glencoe, east of Edens Expressway. For tickets and other information call (847) 835-5440 or visit CBGHalloween.

 

Broadway in Chicago

At the Cadillac Palace Theatre, ‘Les Miserables, Cameron Mackintosh’s new production that is garnering rave reviews, closes Oct. 29. For tickets visit BroadwayinChicago.

Then, School of Rock’ an exuberant show with new songs by Andrew Lloyd Webber opens Nov. 1. For tickets and other information visit Broadway Rock.

Rigoletto (Quinn Kelsey) center and couriers in )Lyric Opera production of Verdi's Rigoletto. (Todd Rosenberg photo)
Rigoletto (Quinn Kelsey) center and couriers in Lyric Opera production of Verdi’s Rigoletto. (Todd Rosenberg photo)

 

Verdi and Wagner

If you enjoy opera at its best know that Lyric Opera of Chicago has  openings, closings and reviews similar to many downtown shows. Verdi’s ‘Rigoletto’ that also received rave reviews, has only three performances left: Oct. 26, Oct. 30 and Nov. 3. Wagner’s next Ring cycle opera, ‘Die Walküre,’ opens Nov. 1. For tickets and other information visit Lyric Opera.

 

Sip and Stroll Festival

Visit more than restaurants and other businesses in Lincoln Square for the semi-annual Ravenswood Wine Stroll. Nov. 2 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $45 and are for one of five different routes: three in Lincoln Square and two in Ravenswood. For tickets and route information see Lincoln Square Wine Stroll.

 

Really old and last century modern

Winnetka Community House’s famed Antiques + Modernism show  runs Nov. 3-5 with an evening, first peek party Nov. 2. Because it’s a 60-year-old nationally known event, dealers bring their fine antiques and excellent mid-last-century modernism jewelry and furniture. For ticket and other information visit Winnetka Show.

SOFA shows off really fine pieces for the home and office. Jodie Jacobs photo
SOFA shows off really fine pieces for the home and office.
Jodie Jacobs photo

 

Where high-end art and superior design mix

Known as SOFA for bringing together Sculpture Objects Fine Art plus Design, the annual Chicago event is back at Navy Pier Nov. 2-5. Go upstairs to the Festival Hall to see what the international galleries say are trending now in the art world. For tickets and other information visit SOFA.

Jodie Jacobs

Porchlight Mines a Diamond in ‘Billy Elliot the Musical’

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

What if you have a dream or passion that does not fit other people’s notion of you?

‘Billy Elliot the Musical,’ playing now at The Prochlight Music Theater through Nov., 26, 2017 is about managing change and redefining who others say you are and who you think you can be.

Jacob Kaiser and Shanesia Davis in 'Billy Elliot' at Porchlight Music Theatre. Photo by Michael Courier
Jacob Kaiser and Shanesia Davis in ‘Billy Elliot’ at Porchlight Music Theatre. Photo by Michael Courier

The stage play with music by Elton John and book and lyrics by Lee Hall is adapted from the 2000 movie “Billy Elliot.” The time frame Is Thatcher era 1980’s in a small coal mining town near Newcastle in England. Union miners have been on strike for nearly a year and tensions between them and the “scabs” brought in to replace them is violent.

Billy Elliot (Jacob Kaiser) is 12 years old, his mum (Nicole Cready) is dead, his grandmother (Iris Lieberman) is senile and his brother (Adam Fane) and father (Sean Fortunato) are on the picket line, struggling to survive.

One day Billy happens into the community gym and gets involved with a rag-tag ballet class run by Mrs. Wilkinson (Shanesia Davis). The chance encounter ultimately helps Billy find a way to express his budding adolescent angst, repressed grief, and shared frustration of what seems to be the impossible social situation that seemingly defines his life.

This expression is interpreted in two emotionally powerful dance numbers “Angry Dance” and “Electricity,” each skillfully co-choreographed by Brenda Diddier / Craig V. Miller and brilliantly performed by Kaiser with Ivan Bruns-Trukhin as Older Billy.

In his transformation to adulthood Billy begins to consider his sexual identity which is tested by Mrs. Wilkinson’s daughter Debbie (Princess Isis Z. Lang), his best friend Michael (Peyton Owen) and a testosterone filled environment that does not necessarily consider ballet dancing a viable or proper gender conforming career path.

Sean Fortunato and Jacob Kaiser in 'Billy Elliott. Photo by Michael Courier
Sean Fortunato and Jacob Kaiser in ‘Billy Elliott. Photo by Michael Courier

His dilemma, as well as economic realities, requires that he and those who are concerned for his future re-imagine another way of being.

Everyone must come to terms with the fact that times are changing.  Coal is no longer part of the future. The jobs and the community that supported the industry are no longer an accepted surety.

Led by Director Brenda Didier, the company is outstanding from beginning to end starting with Jacob Kaiser who is an energetic and expressive dancer, singer and actor.

His transformation from beginner to advanced dancer was well controlled. His voice has a gravelly quality that is perfect for his age. It is clear this young man understands the part he is playing. Every line and every step was just right. He handles this demanding role with subtlety and maturity, devoid of annoying precociousness. Bravo!

Adam Fane, Billy’s older brother kept his emotional performance in bounds. Sean Fortunato, Billy’s Dad portrayed a perfect mix of stoicism and compassion.

Chicago stage veteran Iris Lieberman was spot-on as Grandma avoiding what could become a cliché performance. Peyton Owen as Billy’s best friend embraced his character with charm and elegance. Shenesia Davis manages the demands of her straight talking character Mrs. Wilkinson whose somewhat aloof nature could be misconstrued as harsh.

The ensemble was excellent, and it was clear that the girls of the ballet were having a blast.

Recognition must be given to dialect coach, Sammi Grant because there was never a time that anyone’s “English” accent was a distraction or got in the way of their performance.

Staging provided by this comparatively small venue at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts allows you to experience this production of “Billy Elliot the Musical” in a very intimate way.

The score has a unique quality that is difficult to define. It is contemporary but not “pop” or “rock.” It has aspects of classic musical theater but is not driven by the melody.

The play’s anthem, “Solidarity,” is rousing and powerful. “Grandma’s Song” is humorous and poignant. “Expressing Yourself” is a showstopper while “Born to Boogie” offers a bit of lightness and levity.  In the case of “The Letter” I doubt there was a dry eye in the house.

Conductor/ Pianist Linda Madonia and her musicians Justin Kono, Cesar Romero, Greg Strauss, Cara Hartz, Dan Kristan and Sarah Younker provided the cast with a wonderful accompaniment behind the set’s sliding glass panels in the back of the stage which provided an effective illusion of the miners’ elevator decent at the end of the play.

In short this production is perfection.

Note: The part of Billy Elliot is shared at various performances by Lincoln Seymour.

DETAILS: ‘Billy Elliot’is at The Porchlight Music Theater in the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn, through Nov. 26, 2017. Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes. For tickets and other information call (773) 777-9884 or visit Porchlight Music Theatre.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit TheatreinChicago.

 

 

 

Personal Stories Take Wing at The Moth StorySLAM

RECOMMENDED

If you have the ability to turn sound into images in your mind, spoken word performances can be great theater.

Moth StorySLAM events are open mic storytelling competitions held in several large cities around the U.S.

The event I attended this week took place at The Promontory in Hyde Park at 53rd and Lake Park, an attractive modern glass and steel second floor facility in what was previously a Barnes & Noble Bookstore.

A speaker tells about his discovery during a recent Moth session.
A speaker tells about his discovery during a recent Moth session.

It seats over 100 people, has a large well lighted stage and a full cash bar in the back. The venue is used mainly for music although there is a nice, full-service restaurant on the first floor.

Be prepared for a considerable number of stairs to the performance area. They claim to have handicap access but it is an awkward service elevator accessed from the restaurant.

Moth StorySLAMs are held in this location the second Tuesday of every month. Tickets are $10 and available online at The Moth.

Ten volunteer storytellers are chosen at random to tell a true story without using notes. Each story is five to six-minutes long. Then, they are scored on a scale of one to ten based on how well the story is crafted as well as presentation and entertainment value.

Winners have an opportunity to advance to The Moth GrandSLAM.  Selected stories recorded at the various venues can be heard on the The Moth Radio Hour. In Chicago listen Thursday evenings on NPR Station 91.5 FM.

Each event has a topic upon which to  base the stories. When I went it was  DISCOVERY.

The first fellow spoke about what he discovered about his deceased parents through an interaction with a man who had been his father’s best friend and his mother’s first husband.

Another woman spoke about what she had discovered about childhood friendship the summer she and her friends rode a mattress down an infrequently used stairway at a major department store in St. Louis.

The winner incorporated a good deal of humor. His discovery related to his determination to hang on to his childhood dream of owning a monkey.

My friend, Robert, a frequent public speaker, talked about discovering that true winners help others to succeed.

There were other stories dealing with the discovery of love, romance and personal pain.

Some speakers are professionals while others may be making their first public speaking appearance which provides for great entertainment with an element of danger.

Though I have been something of a devotee of the radio show, I would say in this case I discovered a great new venue and an enjoyable event that I would easily recommend. Perfect if you enjoy exploring the diversity of the human experience.

Other MothSLAMs are held on Chicago’s Northside and in Evanston.

Visit themoth.org to learn more.

Reno Lovison

 

‘It Don’t Mean a Thing if It Ain’t Got That Swing’

RECOMMENDED

Ladies in sparkly gowns and men in tuxes croon such  tunes as “Satin Doll,” “Prelude to a Kiss” and “In My Solitude” in “Duke Ellington’s Greatest Hits,” a Music Theater Works production.

Ellington tribute at Music Theater Works. (Photo by Brett Beiner
Ellington tribute at Music Theater Works. (Photo by Brett Beiner)

The show includes songs popularized, written or arranged by one of the greatest jazz musicians of the 20th Century. Ellington defined sophisticated elegance and cool.

The performers have fun with the exotic melodies of “Caravan” and “Perdido,” and pick-up the rhythm with jazz classics “Take the A Train,” “Sophisticated Lady,” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing,” as well as the sultry “Mood Indigo.”

Singers Justin Adair, Dawn Bless, Jar’Davion Brown, Caitlyn Glennon, Amanda Horvath, Evan Tyrone Martin, and Martin L. Woods move seamlessly from song to song delivering a steady stream of familiar hits.

Adair who performed Older Patrick in Music Theater Works’ recent production of “Mame,” surprised the audience by accompanying the ensemble on the guitar playing “In a Mellow Tone,” showing yet another of his many talents.

The three piece band with Christian Dillingham (bass) and Phillip Fornett (drums) is energetically directed by Joey Zymonas (piano).

This is an entertaining 90 minutes or so that celebrates the legacy of this great composer and entertainer but “Ain’t got” enough “swing.”

DETAILS: “Duke Ellington’s Greatest Hits” is at Music Theater Works (formerly Light Opera Works) at Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Ave., Evanston, through Oct. 15, 2017.  For tickets and other information call (847) 920-5360 and visit MusicTheaterWorks.

Reno Lovison

(Guest reviewer Reno Lovison is married to pianist Julie Lovison who is proud to say she kissed Duke Ellington on the cheek after one of his performances.)

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.