‘Love’s Labor’ becomes lost in translation

SOMEWHAT RECOMMENDED

A parody of William Shakespeare is clever when performed by Second City or by another theater when advertised as a take-off by one of Chicago’s many production companies.

Rosaline (Laura Rook) and Berowne (Nate Burger) are attracted to each other. Others are Longaville (Madison Niederhauser), Dumaine (Juliam Hester), King of Navarre (John Tufts) and Princess of France (Jennie Greenberry) in 'Love's Labor Lost' at Chicago sheakespeare Theater. Photo by Liz Lauren
Rosaline (Laura Rook) and Berowne (Nate Burger) are attracted to each other. Others are Longaville (Madison Niederhauser), Dumaine (Julian Hester), King of Navarre (John Tufts) and Princess of France (Jennie Greenberry) in ‘Love’s Labor Lost’ at Chicago Sheakespeare Theater. Photo by Liz Lauren

But it was a surprise when opening night of Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s ‘Love’s Labor’s Lost,’ an early Shakespeare comedy, lines were intentionally overly emoted and humorous characters became caricatures.

Written in the 1590’s, CST’s version is nicely placed in the 18th century with a romantic, beautiful set by scenic designer Kevin Depinet and gorgeous costumes by Christina Poddubiuk.

There’s no question that the play, an ironic exposure of good intentions foiled by man’s innate nature, is a comedy.

Ferdinand, King of Navarre (John Tufts), and his three companions, Lords Berowne (Nate Burger) , Dumaine (Julian Hester), and Longaville (Madison Niederhauser), pledge to three years of study and fasting without the company of women. The King subsequently decrees that women will not be allowed within a mile of the court.

Complicating matters is a subplot of Spaniard Don Adriano de Armado (Allan Gilmore) betraying an affair between local lad Costard (Alex Goodrich) and local wench Jaquenetta (Maggie Portman). Adriano also likes her and discusses it with his page, Moth (Aaron Lamm).

Then the Princess of France (Jennie Greenberry) and her ladies, Maria (Jennifer Latimore), Katherine (Taylor Blim) and Rosaline (Laura Rook) arrive to speak with the King but they have to camp outside the court.

Of course, since this is a Shakespearean comedy, the king and his lords fall for the Princess and her ladies and messages are given to the wrong people.

Taking a playful approach similar to ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream,’ a comedy also written in the 1590’s, should work. The problem, at least for fans of Shakespeare’s sophisticate language,  is when actors’ overblown actions distract from clever dialogue.

Details: ‘Love’s Labor’s Lost,’ directed by Marti Maraden, is at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E. Grand Ave. on Chicago’s Navy Pier, now through March 26, 2017. For tickets and other information call (312) 595-5600 and visit Chicago Shakes.

 

‘Mamma Mia’ moves to a vibrant disco beat

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

It doesn’t matter if you have seen’ Mamma Mia’ before. As an audience member sitting next to me at the Marriott Theatre said, “I saw it on Broadway. This is better.”

Cassie Slater (Rosie) Danni Smith (Donna) and Meghan Murphy (Tanya) in 'Mamma Mia!' at Marriott Theatre. Photo by Justin Barbin
Cassie Slater (Rosie) Danni Smith (Donna) and Meghan Murphy (Tanya) in ‘Mamma Mia!’ at Marriott Theatre. Photo by Justin Barbin

A jukebox musical based on the songs of ABBA, the Marriott production has it all: terrific solos, great dance numbers, fine staging and a perfect combo of light and sound that brings back the 1970s disco era. A Swedish group, ABBA was performing, basically from 1972 to 1982. Read More

‘Straight White Men’ offers a different view of family interaction

RECOMMENDED

In spite of the title ‘Straight White Men,’ Young Jean Lee’s play now on stage at Steppenwolf, there is more than one theme presented to the audience.

Ed (Alan Wilder) Jake (Madison Dirks), Drew (Ryan Hallahan) and Matt (Brian Slaten) in "Straight White Men" at Steppenworlf. Photo by Michael Brosilow
Ed (Alan Wilder) Jake (Madison Dirks), Drew (Ryan Hallahan) and Matt (Brian Slaten) in “Straight White Men” at Steppenworlf. Photo by Michael Brosilow

First, there is the question of what makes people uncomfortable. Before the play starts, audiences are subjected to exceedingly loud music with lyrics some might find objectionable.

However Elliott Jenetopuloes who is working on a platform for non straight white artists, and Wil Wilhelm  who has acted at Northlight and other Chicago theatres, sashay through the aisles handing out earplugs if requested.

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Historically important story still relevant

 

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

‘The Book of Joseph’ now at Chicago Shakespeare Theater through March 5, 2017, is scary.   That’s not in a ghostly sense, but in the way past signs seem to repeat themselves.

JIn America oseph Hollander (Sean Fortunato) receives letters from his family in Poland who would not leave when they could because they thought they were safe. L to R Doola (Patricia Lavery), Lusia (Mikey Gray), Genka (Brenann Stacker) Gerta (Glynis Bell), Salo (Ron E. Rains) and Maria (Amy J. Carle). Photo by Liz Lauren
In America, Joseph Hollander (Sean Fortunato) receives letters from his family in Poland who would not leave when they could because they thought they were safe. L to R Dola (Patricia Lavery), Lusia (Mikey Gray), Genka (Brenann Stacker) Gerta (Glynis Bell), Salo (Ron E. Rains) and Maria (Amy J. Carle).
Photo by Liz Lauren

The play, a world premiere by Karen Hartman developed with Creative Producer Rick Boynton, relates the Hollander family’s horrific experiences during World War II and then continues the story in current times in the United States.

The first half of the play is based on letters that Joseph Hollander, brilliantly portrayed by Sean Fortunato, received and saved from his large family in Krakow, Poland.

His mother, sisters and spouses plus two nieces were not willing to leave when Joseph got them all the needed papers and visas. A wealthy, well-traveled lawyer who saw what was happening, Joseph leaves for Portugal with wife Felicja Hollander (Gail Shapiro) and  a ward, the 14-year-old son of a friend. Entry to Portugal was denied so they were taken to the US and Ellis Island.

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Elemeno Pea’ takes a satiric view of society angst and sibling squabbles

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It would likely be hard for some people to fault Simone (Sarah Hect) for enjoying her lifestyle among Nantucket’s wealthy second-home residents even if as an assistant she has to cater to Michaela’s (Grayson Heyl) every insecure whim.

Sarah Hecht, Grayson Heyl, Maggie Kettering and Nick Fanti in 'Elemeno Pea' at Citadel Theatre. Photo by North Shore Camera Club
Sarah Hecht, Grayson Heyl, Maggie Kettering and Nick Fanti in ‘Elemeno Pea’ at Citadel Theatre. Photo by North Shore Camera Club

It is also understandable that Simone’s sister Devon (Maggie Kettering) who has made a shambles of her own life, despises what she sees as snobbish attitudes.

During the show it is learned that ‘Elemeno Pea’ refers to a section of the alphabet song that one of the sisters was unable to distinguish as individual letters.

The sisters squabble about everything while Michaela’s life tumbles downhill when she realizes her husband, often mentioned but never seen, is going to divorce her.

A sort of stand in for the husband is Ethan (Nic Fanti) who is a family friend with little more to do than manage his portfolio and travel.

Debuted at the 2011 Humana Festival of New Plays, the show is currently at Citadel Theatre in Lake Forest where it is well acted, staged and directed.

What stops this satire from being a great play is that it would benefit from some judicious editing of the sisters’ squabbles and Michaela’s hand-wringing.

In addition, it could use some intelligent dialogue on marriage, spousal expectations and family obligations.

It is also learned way too late in the play why Michaela’s marriage is in trouble. Playwright Molly Smith Metzler had employee Jos-B (Ray Andrecheck) reveal the cause near the show’s end instead of dropping hints earlier. Audiences like clues.

At 90 minutes, the play is not long but it feels lengthy. There is too much building the background. It delays understanding several complex, important points.

Details:b“Elemeno Pea” is at Citadel Theatre, 300 S. Waukegan Road, Lake Forest, IL now through March 5, 2017. For tickets and other information visit Citadel and call ( 847) 735-8554 ext. 1.

 

‘Faceless:’ A remarkable play about Islam, fear and vulnerability

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Playwright Selina Fillinger’s brilliant dialogue and profound character interaction, alone, should enter ‘Faceless’ into the ranks of important courtroom dramas.

'Timothy Edwards Kane (L to R), Susaan Jamshidi, Lindsay Stock and Ross Leman in 'Faceless at Northlight Theatre
Timothy Edwards Kane (L to R), Susaan Jamshidi, Lindsay Stock and Ross Leman in ‘Faceless’ at Northlight Theatre

Add the spot on direction of B.J Jones, the insightful scenic design by John Culbert lighting by Heather Gilbert, costumes by Izumi Inaba, music and sound by Andre Pluess and projection design by Stephan Mazurek, and you have a must-see world premiere at Northlight Theatre.

On trial is a white, teenage girl who has been radicalized on the Internet and wants to emigrate to join ISIS. A federal prosecutor has asked a U.S. born, Harvard educated, Muslim  female in his office to take on the case.

The action unfolds in a spellbinding 80 minutes that should give audiences a clearer picture of some of society’s and family problems currently making headlines.

Susaan Jamshidi, who has been seen in Chicago with Remy Bumppo, Lookingglass and Victory Gardens (among others) is exceptional as prosecutor Claire Fathi. Lindsay Stock who has been in Goodman and Collaboraction productions is amazingly believable as defendant Susie Glenn.

Chicago veteran actor Timothy Edward Kane (Northlight, Court, TimeLine, Writers, et al.), does a fine job as Scott Bader, an arrogant lead federal prosecutor. Joe Dempsey, another Chicago veteran who was in Northlight’s ‘Inherit the Wind’ and productions at Goodman, Paramount, Lookingglas, Court, et al.), plays the highly sympathetic figure of Susie’s father, Alan Glenn.

Audiences are very familiar with five-time Jeff Award Winner Ross Lehman who is masterful as Mark Arenbergb, Susie Glenn’s defending attorney.

The show should spark discourse. Post show discussions will be held Feb. 8, 9, 12, 15, 16, 23 and March 1, 2.

Details: ‘Faceless’ is at Northlight Theatre in the North Shore Center for Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie, IL, now through March 4, 2017. For tickets and other information visit Northlight and call (847) 673-6300.

 

 

The disco beat is hot at drury Lane’s ‘Saturday Night Fever’

 

RECOMMENDED

When life is going nowhere, dance it out. That’s the gist of “Saturday Night Fever,” the latest musical to open at Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace.

Erica Stephan (Stephanie Mangano and Adrian Anguilar (Tony) in Drury Lane's Saturday Night Fever Photo by Brett Beiner
Erica Stephan (Stephanie Mangano) and Adrian Anguilar (Tony) in Drury Lane’s Saturday Night Fever Photo by Brett Beiner

Based on the 1977 hit film, “Saturday Night Fever” the musical follows Brooklyn teenager Tony Manero, who escapes his dead-end job at a paint store by spending weekends at the 2001 Odyssey disco. It’s the role that launched John Travolta to stardom and made white suits a style icon of that generation.

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‘Gloria’ views tragedy through the satirical lens of publishing

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REVIEW

‘Gloria,’ a dark satire now at Goodman Theatre, is a perfect example of don’t judge a play by its first half hour.

'Ryan Spahn (Dean), Jennifer Kim (Kendra) and Catherine Combs (Ani) in "Gloria' at the Goodman Theatre.
Ryan Spahn (Dean), Jennifer Kim (Kendra) and Catherine Combs (Ani) in ‘Gloria’ at the Goodman Theatre.

Playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins first lulls audiences into “so-what” mode with the irritating whining of editorial assistants at a New York magazine.

But then, the first act ends with a jolt that has audiences coming back after intermission wondering what will happen next. Read More

Around Town

There’s so much going on in Chicago it’s a challenge to figure out what to try and do and see. Or, to wonder the why and wherefore of the crowd outside Goodman Theatre Jan. 19, 2017. ‘Around Town’ is an occasional feature to help sort through at least some of the city’s events.

Goodman marquee

You might think the scenery hasn’t changed when you look north on Dearborn Street near Randolph Street. Butif there fter Jan. 19, 2017, you should see the lights of Goodman Theatre’s tall marquee during the day.

Goodman Theatre celebrated its new marquee in conjunction with Ghostlight Project. Goodman Theatre photo
Goodman Theatre celebrated its new marquee in conjunction with Ghostlight Project. Goodman Theatre photo

The old marquee, damaged in an electrical fire last spring, has been replaced with a similar version but with an important difference. You will see it lit 24/7. The lights are LED, color-changeable and each letter is programmable.

“Our marquee is the brightest, most visible symbol of Goodman Theatre’s 30+ year commitment to high quality productions, cultural and aesthetic diversity on and off our stages, and proactive engagement in our Chicago community—a commitment that has distinguished us, and redefined what a major cultural institution can be,” said Artistic Director Robert Falls.

The Jan. 19 illumination was a deliberate date choice to call attention to the The Ghostlight Project, a national American theater initiative of inclusiveness.

“As part of the Ghostlight Project, we will stand with our theater colleagues across the country at the same time and pledge to protect the values of equality, inclusion, justice—and empathy for everyone, regardless of race, class, religion, country of origin, immigration status, (dis)ability, gender identity or sexual orientation,” Falls said.

Goodman Theatre is  at 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago, IL

 

At the MCA

Maybe you noticed that during the past few years the Museum of Contemporary Art has evolved into a multi-media venue that presents dance, music and theater programs, aside from its changing menu of art exhibits.

So, the addition of dance performances up on the fourth floor during the opening weekend of  ‘Merce Cunningham: Common Time,’ a multi-media exhibit, seems almost like a given.

Former Merce Cunningham Dance Company members will incorporate important pieces from the past 60 years into performances  called Events, Feb. 11 and 12., 1:30 to 2 p.m. and 4 to 4:30 p.m.

Staged and arranged by Andrea Weber, the Event showcases dancers Dylan Crossman, Silas Riener, Jamie Scott and Melissa Toogood. The accompanying musicians are Hanna Brock, Nicolas Collins, Kg Price, Katharine young and their arranger, Stephan Moore.

The Museum of Contemporary Art is at 220 E. Chicago Avenue

 

Black History Month

There will be free events across Chicago in February honoring Black History Month. Among them are stage related segments coordinated by the Goodman Theatre under the umbrella “Black Words Mater: Celebrating Black Voices on Stage and Beyond.”

Among the events are a reading of “Gee’s Bend” by Elyzabeth Gregory Wilder at the DuSable Museum of African American History (740 E. 56th Place,) Feb. 7 at 2 p.m. and film screening August Wilson’s “The Piano Lesson”  at AMC Dine-In Theatres at Block 37 (108 N. State St. (availability limited).

In addition, “Playwrights from past to present” is a lecture by Goodman Theatre Resident Director Chuck smith at the Harold Washington Library (400 S. State St) Feb. 23 at 6:30 p.m. and  a panel discussion on “Diversity in theater administration and Intern/apprentice networking” at Goodman Theatre’s Alice Rapoport Center for Education and Engagement (107 N. Dearborn St.), Feb. 27 at 5:30 p.m.

For more information visit Goodman Black Words

 

Theater Week is back with good ticket prices

UPCOMING

Theater Alert! If you’ve heard of a Chicago area theater but haven’t gotten over there or if there is a show you want to see but you thought tickets were beyond budget, check out the places listed on Chicago Theatre Week, right now.

Steppenwolf is among the theatre companies participating in Chicago Theatre Week. Kyle Flubacker photo
Steppenwolf is among the companies participating in Chicago Theatre Week. Kyle Flubacker photo

Tickets to more than 100 area theater productions are on sale beginning 10 a. m. CT Jan. 10, for shows you can see during Theatre Week, Feb. 9 through Feb. 19, 2017.

Tickets are priced at $30 and less. Many are at $15. Shows range from Goodman Theatre and Lyric Opera to The Second City and Steppenwolf.

Click on Chicago Theatre Week then scroll down to see the full list of production company options. But do it now to see what you want to attend. Tickets go on sale starting at 10 a.m. People in the know quickly snap up tickets.

“Theatre Week invites Chicago audiences and visitors to experience the wide range of offerings,” said League of Chicago Theatre Executive Director Deb Clapp

“We are so thrilled to be able to share the amazing work and we equally love hearing from participants that they visited a favorite theatre or discovered a great new one,” Clapp said..

He added, “This is a week that reminds us all that Chicago is known locally, nationally, and internationally for its theatre scene, and especially this season for generating new work, showcasing fresh talent and spotlighting its rich Chicago tradition.”