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.
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.
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.
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.
The power of ‘Beyond Caring,’ now premiering in the US at Lookingglass Theatre, is how ordinary the characters and their circumstances seem.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If ‘Destiny of Desire’ sounds like the title of a soap opera you would be very close to right.
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
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.
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.
Citadel Artistic Director Scott Phelps has taken a riviting script about parent-child relationships by playwright Laura Schellhardt (think ‘Auctioning the Ainsleys’) and placed it in the intelligent hands of Jeff award winning director Scott Weinstein.
But to really pull off multiple messages on growing up, fulfilling dreams and responsibilities, Citadel cast the play with Chicago area veterans who ought to be up for Jeff nominations in their “Upright Grand” roles.
The father, a talented pianist called Pops who tells personal stories while playing at the Broken Man’s Bar is Mark Ulrich.
Charlotte Mae Ellison as his daughter, Kiddo, is perfect as a 12–year-old with all the angst of a teenager who is suspended for writing “School is crap” on her academy’s wall, later, as the sophisticated accomplished 21-year-old who is on a concert circuit and at the end when she comes home and…. OK, won’t put in spoiler alert here.
The third figure is Matt Edmonds who literally plays as the Accompanist. He is a shadowy figure for father and daughter, a piano tuner who compares people to pianos that are out of tune or in tune. Later he is Todd, son of Pops’ friend Toady from the bar.
Premiered at Theatre Works in Pal Alto, CA at its 2012 New Works Festival, the play examines how one’s parental role and responsibility or lack, influences the next generation and how sometimes those actions are not understood until years later.
Pops goes through life as an absentminded professor who doesn’t know how old his daughter is at different stages but “retires’ from the bar to encourage her to focus on piano when he learns she is gifted. He sees his own dad as far from encouraging him with his musicianship.
By the play’s end, a successful Kiddo understand what her father went through and voices what probably many adults think when she says “I’d go back if I could.”
A charming part of the play is that throughout the different stages, Kiddo asks her father for one of his stories and audiences get to hear snatches from classical and popular music.
Something to think about is how to characterize a person or family. Pops’ family were farmers. He plays an upright piano. His wife’s family are wealthy and have endowed a musical academy. They have a grand piano.
A phrase to think about that is said during the show is “We’re more upright than grand.”
Unfortunately, “Upright Grand” is only at Citadel through March 26, 2017.
Details: Citadel is at 300 S. Waukegan Rd., Lake Forest, IL. For tickets and other info call (847-) 735-8554 and visit Citadel.