Around town goes to wine tasting and kids architecture events plus the Jewish Theater Festival

A Chicago Architecture Biennial event for youngsters is at Navy Pier Nov. 2, 2019. (Jodie Jacobs photo)
A Chicago Architecture Biennial event for youngsters is at Navy Pier Nov. 2, 2019. (Jodie Jacobs photo)

 

There are interesting experiences available this weekend so pull out the calendar.

Chicago Architecture Biennial for youngsters

Bring the kids to Navy Pier this Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019  for a free, hands-on, design-it and build-it activities from noon to 4 p.m. Co-sponsored by the Chicago Architecture Foundation with the City of Chicago and Navy Pier, the Architectural Biennial event is geared to ages 5 through 12. Look for it in the Cultural Corner across from Ben & Jerry’s at Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand Ave., Chicago

 

Wine seminars like the one pictured here help educate the palate. (J Jacobs photo)
Wine seminars like the one pictured here help educate the palate. (J Jacobs photo)

 

Professional/Amateur Wine Tasting Contest

Learn about your wine palate knowledge, Nov. 3, beginning at 1 p.m. at Geja’s Cafe, 340 W. Armitage, Chicago. The tasting begins with eight unmarked carafes of wine. Professionals and amateurs are challenged to identify the grape, place of origin and vintage of each wine. To enter the competition, contestants pay a $30 fee and must be 21 years of age or older. To RSVP, call Geja’s Café at (773) 281-9101.

“The world of wine is incredibly diverse,” says Geja’s owner Jeff Lawler. “That is why this contest is such a challenge. It takes a wise nose and an equally sensitive palate to identify the characteristics of each individual wine.”

 

The Ben Hecht Show starring playwright/actor James Sherman will be part of the Jewish theatre Festival. (Photo courtesy of TGeatron)
The Ben Hecht Show starring playwright/actor James Sherman will be part of the Jewish Theatre Festival. (Photo courtesy of Teatron)

TEATRON: Chicago’s Jewish Theatre Festival at Victory Gardens

Held Nov 3 through Nov.10, 2019, primarily at Victory Gardens, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, the event is the first-ever festival in Chicago that is dedicated to Jewish Theatre.  It overlaps the annual Alliance for Jewish Theatre Conference, hosted by ShPIeL at Victory Gardens Theater and The Theatre School at DePaul University, Nov. 3-5, 2019.

The Jewish Theatre Festival at Victory Gardens includes staged readings, solo performances, storytelling, cabaret, and comedy at Victory Gardens and features “The Ben Hecht Show” with playwright/actor James Sherman, Nov. 6 at 7:30 p.m. For conference information visit All Jewish Theatre

Jodie Jacobs

 

 

Dinner and a show from a theater reviewer

Goodman Theatre (Photo courtesy of Goodman Theatre)
Goodman Theatre (Photo courtesy of Goodman Theatre)

Theater critics tend to return to the same places before covering a show. They are not usually the upscale places gone to for a special occasion or the newest eatery with a gourmet menu or “in” vibe.  They have good food and are convenient to the venues.

Here are my recommendations based on experience for two downtown theaters ( I use theater spelled er) and two places in the northern suburbs. More areas later.

Downtown-Loop

When going to the Goodman Theatre  170 N Dearborn St. or James M  Nederlander Theatre, a Broadway in Chicago venue at  24 W. Randolph St., I reserve a table in the bar at Petterinos (312-422-0150, 150 N. Dearborn St.) at the corner of Dearborn and Randolph Streets.

The bartenders here are terrific. They serve their patrons quickly when they know they have a show. And I like the fried calamari when looking for something light and the amazing chicken pot pie when cold weather calls for a dish to warm the insides.

The restaurant is literally next door to Goodman and just a few steps across Dearborn to the Nederlander (former Oriental). I take public transportation but Petterinos has a valet service for customers who want to park there and see a show.

Downtown – Mag Mile

There are lots of places to dine on and near the Magnificent Mile. But when reviewing a show at Lookingglass Theatre, 821 N Michigan Ave. in the historic Water Tower Water Works  on the east side of the Water Tower campus or at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut St., I reserve a table at Mity-Nice Grill on the Mezzanine Level of Water Tower Place (835 N. Michigan Ave., 312.335.4745).

I like their veggie burger and their salads and that they bring tiny Yorkshire pudding bites to start the meal.

North Suburbs – Lincolnshire

I look forward to dining at the Three Embers Restaurant in the Marriott Resort, 10 Marriott Dr., when reviewing a show at the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire.

Executive Chef Pierre Daval and Chef de Cuisine Jesus (Chuy) Medina are currently showcasing their Harvest Dinner. At Three Embers, diners get honey butter for their rolls that is a taste treat made with honey from Daval’s beehives on the property. I also love the Honey BBQ Brisket with smoked grits. But I’m thinking of trying the Sea Scallops dish with butternut squash and a maple glace when I go for the next show because squash and maple are too seasonal to pass up.

North Suburbs – Skokie

Across the road from Northlight Theatre at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Boulevard, Skokie, is a small strip mall that contains the popular Bonefish Grill at 9310 Skokie Blvd. Yes, you need a reservation and tell the waitperson you are going to a show.

I like the restaurant’s bread and dipping oil, its Caesar Salad and any shrimp dish with a variety of sauces.

Feel free to leave your own recommendations.

Jodie Jacobs

 

 

 

 

‘You Are Happy’ will leave you smiling

Michelle Mary Schaefer and Brendan Connell in You are Happy. (Photo by Matthew Freer)
Michelle Mary Schaefer and Brendan Connell in You are Happy. (Photo by Matthew Freer)

4 stars

If you agree that in an opera or ballet the storyline is incidental to the performance you will understand my reaction to “You Are Happy,” an interesting, innovative and thoroughly enjoyable production co-directed by Aaron Sawyer and Mary Kate Ashe at the Red Theater. It leaves you wanting more –  but in a good way.

For the record, Bridget who ironically claims to find happiness in her own company and solitude, wants her suicidal brother, Jeremy, to find happiness with a true love.

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Fanfare For the Man in the Mirror

A Man of No Importance

Cast of “A Man of No Importance.” (Photo by Heather Mall)
Cast of “A Man of No Importance.” (Photo by Heather Mall)

4 stars

Mild-mannered, middle-aged Alfie Byrne works as a ticket agent on a Dublin bus. It’s 1964, back when acceptance and equal rights were something only dreamed about by members of the gay community. But Alfie harbors a secret love for Robbie Fay, the handsome, young bus driver with whom he works side-by-side every day.

Unable to share his buried emotions with anyone else, Alfie secretly communes with the spirit of Oscar Wilde, his literary idol and imaginary confidante.

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‘Invisible’ reminds us of the power of bigotry and hate

 

L to R: Megan Kaminsky, Morgan Laurel Cohen, Barbara Roeder Harris, Richard Cotovsky. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)
L to R: Megan Kaminsky, Morgan Laurel Cohen, Barbara Roeder Harris, Richard Cotovsky. (Photo by Michael Brosilow)

4 stars

The year is 1925 in the deep South and the KKK is expanding its reach to include the women folk who will spread their doctrine of racism against African Americans, Jews, immigrants and Catholics in Mounds, Mississippi.

Making its world premiere at Her Story Theatre, “Invisible” is an imaginary tale of one woman who can’t rationalize her involvement in the Women’s Ku Klux Klan movement with her own moral compass and sense of decency.

Mabel Carson’s friends have convinced her that this is the path to take to make America great with the slogan, “America for Americans.”  Yet when a reporter from the Chicago Tribune arrives on the scene, Mabel begins to question their ideals, methodology and the nature of true friendship.

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Open a book and oneself to a new adventure

 

David Payne as C.S. Lewis at Broadway Playhouse. (Production photos from Aneesa Muhammad (MKI)
David Payne as C.S. Lewis at Broadway Playhouse. (Production photos from Aneesa Muhammad (MKI)

 

4 stars

In the 1960s, C.S. Lewis was a well-known British author whose collected works made him one of the most famous literary writers of the 20th century. Lewis died over 50 years ago.

David Payne, another Brit was an actor and playwright who hoped he would get a minor role in a previous play about C.S. Lewis. Instead, Payne got the lead role of C.S. Lewis, launching a terrific acting career.

When many audience members saw David Payne playing that lead role, they felt that they had discovered the real C.S. Lewis!

David Payne had read quite a lot of C.S. Lewis’s writing—even Lewis’s personal diary. And Payne was always asked many questions about Lewis. One day, Payne decided it would be fun if he could be Lewis himself and could answer these questions. That’s why Payne wrote, directed, and stars in “An Evening with C.S. Lewis,” a wonderful play which is now being shown at Chicago’s Broadway Playhouse.

In Act I, Payne plays the author sitting in Lewis’s living room and hosting a group of American writers in his home near Oxford. Lewis recalls the many events that affect his life and his large number of close friends, including J.R.R. Tolkien, an English author and poet.

In Act II, Payne playing Lewis says he eventually believes in Christianity. He also tells how he just met a divorced woman by the name of Joy who decides to come from the United States and live in London.

It reminds her so much of New York City where she had lived with her previous husband and family. Although Lewis describes London as “noise and chaos.”

He marries Joy who eventually lives with him in his house. Lewis goes on to say how their relationship turned his life upside down.

DETAILS: “An Evening with C.S. Lewis” is at the Broadway Playhouse at 175 E. Chestnut St., Chicago, through Nov. 3, 2019.  Running time: 90 minutes, with one intermission. For tickets and other information, call (800) 775-2000, or visit BroadwayInChicago.

Francine Pappadis Friedman

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Another Trip to the Bright Side of Life

Monty Python’s Spamalot

Monty Python's Spamalot at Mercury Theater. (Photos by Bret Beiner)
Monty Python’s Spamalot at Mercury Theater. (Photos by Bret Beiner)

 

4 stars

At some point in this hilarious musical, the plot simply goes out the window and unbridled hilarity and bawdy humor takes over the Mercury Theater stage.

Eric Idle’s brilliant adaptation of his  popular film, “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” which features an infectious score by both Idle and John DuPrez, won the coveted Tony Award for Best Musical in 2005.

The show first hit the boards in its Chicago Pre-Broadway preview. It went on to become a Big Apple and West End hit, as well as everywhere around the world.

The musical is an uproarious, irreverent parody of the Arthurian legend with nonstop nods to many classic comedy bits from the television show, “Monty Python’s Flying Circus.”

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‘Merchant’ still controversial and thought provoking

 

 L-R: Jack Morsovillio, Mitchell Spencer, Chuck Munro, Erik Schiller. (Photo by Brian McConkey)
L-R: Jack Morsovillio, Mitchell Spencer, Chuck Munro, Erik Schiller. (Photo by Brian McConkey)

3 stars

“The Merchant of Venice,” presented by Invictus Theatre Company, has  William Shakespeare’s words but is done in a more contemporary staging by director Charles Askenaizer.

The story is about Venetian merchant Antonio (Chuck Munro) who provides his friend, Bassanio (Martin Diaz Valdes), money needed to woo Portia (Julia Badger), a very wealthy young whom he feels he has a very good chance of marrying.

The problem is that Antonio does not have the ready cash on hand, so he agrees to borrow it from the local moneylender, Shylock (Joseph Beal).

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Some thoughts on the Jeff Awards

 

Chicago cast of ‘Six’ (Photo by Liz Lauren) “Six” the British musical mounted by Chicago Shakespeare received Beat Musical (large category) and Best Ensemble Musical/Revue. It will return to Chicago at the Broadway Playhouse July 2010.

When the 2019 Jeff Awards Ceremony took place Oct. 21 at Drury Lane Oakbrook, two production companies received five awards each from the volunteer Jeff Committee.

In the Midsized category, RemyBumppo’s multiple recognition included Best Production for “Frankenstein.” In the Large category, Court Theatre’s multiple awards included  “Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf” and ”Photograph 51.”

Other theater companies receiving multiple awards for their productions were as follows: Lookingglass (4) Chicago Shakespeare (3), Steppenwolf (3) Black
Ensemble (3) Windy City Playhouse (3) Firebrand partnering with TimeLine (2) TimeLine (alone 2), Paramount (2) and Porchlight (2).

First Folio, Goodman, American Blues Theater, Marriott and Theatre at the Center each received one award as did the new musical, “Miracle” about the Chicago Cubs, staged at the commercial (rented out space) Royal George Theatre.

Cast of Miracle The Musical 108 years in the Making at Royal George Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow) The Michael Mahler and Jason Brett - "Miracle" - William A. Marovitz and Arny Granat production won a New Work-Musical Award
Cast of Miracle The Musical 108 years in the Making at Royal George Theatre. (Photo by Michael Brosilow) The Michael Mahler and Jason Brett – “Miracle” – William A. Marovitz and Arny Granat production won a New Work-Musical Award

Those shows were excellent. But the Chicago area has 250 theater companies, many of which, such as Writers Theatre, also turn out excellent productions. Some of those productions received nominations.

However, when the voting was in, the Jeff committee focused on a very few productions and  even ignored some outstanding individual performances in productions by companies that had been recognized for another show.

Given that theater here is amazingly alive and well, maybe the Jeff Committee needs to be expanded or some of its criteria changed or we need an additional award organization.

Feel free to leave a comment on this site.

For a complete list of the Jeff Award recipients see Jeff Awards.

To learn which shows were nominated and an explanation of the Jeff Awards visit  Jeff Nominations Announced.

Jodie Jacobs

‘Sunset Boulevard’ starts Porchlight season with Hollywood flair

 

 (L to R) Hollis Resnik as Norma Desmond and Billy Rude as Joe Gillis in Sunset Boulevard at Porchlight Music Theatre .(Photo by Michael Courier )
(L to R) Hollis Resnik as Norma Desmond and Billy Rude as Joe Gillis in
Sunset Boulevard at Porchlight Music Theatre .(Photo by Michael Courier )

3 1/2 stars

Popular Chicago stage veteran Hollis Resnik has joined such leading ladies as Glenn Close and Patti LuPone to inhabit the delusional figure of Norma Desmond in the musical version of “Sunset Boulevard.”

Resnik does so with such believability and panache as to make viewers wonder if she is able to shed the role when leaving Porchlight Music Theatre each night.

A 1993 Andrew Lloyd Webber musical with book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, the stage show is based on a 1950 Billy Wilder film noir about a one-time silent screen star desperate for a comeback.

Her unwitting victim is Joe Gillis (Billy Rude), a struggling Hollywood movie writer who needs the script rewrite job Desmond offers so he can pay off his car loan.

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