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.
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.
(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.)
Bitterness, love, seduction, revenge and sorrow seldom have sounded so magnificent as they did Saturday during Lyric Opera’s opening night of “Rigoletto.”
With baritone Quinn Kelsey as jester Rigoletto, tenor Matthew Polenzani as Duke of Mantua and soprano Rosa Feola as Rigoletto’s daughter, Gilda, the only thing that could match the memorable experience is to have a recording to play their performances over and over.
However, opening night, Oct. 7, was on radio (for anyone to record) and there still are seven more performances through Nov. 3, 2017.
The opening night audience didn’t wait for the famed “La donna è mobile” sung by the Duke or the beautiful “Caro nome” by Gilda to yell an emphatic “Bravo.” Enthusiastic applause followed all arias of these virtuoso performers and at the quartet near the end.
Written by Giuseppe Verdi in the mid 1800’s, “Rigoletto’s’ music and drama has been appealing to opera lovers since its premiere in Venice in 1851. Melodrama might be a better description but then, many operatic themes fit that category.
To quickly recap, Rigoletto, with a libretto by Francesco Mavia Piave, is based on Victor Hugo’s somewhat scandalous “Le roi s’amuse.” Verdi substituted a licentious duke for the king.
The character Rigoletto is a bitter, hunchbacked jester who dislikes his position, makes fun of the Duke’s courtiers he is supposed to entertain and is disliked in return.
His only love is for his daughter, Gilda whom he tries to keep from harm by not allowing her out except for church. Because she had fallen in love with the Duke when seeing him stare at her in church, she is happy he comes to the house where her father has been keeping her.
Gilda is abducted by the couriers who mistakenly believe she is Rigoletto’s mistress and she is brought to the court where it is assumed the Duke ravishes her.
Her distraught father plots revenge using Sparafucile (Alexander Tsymbalyuk), an assassin he met earlier. Gilda who is supposed to dress like a boy and meet up with her father in Verona, overhears the assassin’s plan to stab the Duke.
Even though she felt betrayed by the Duke who fell for the assassin’s seductive sister, Maddalena (Zanda Svede), Gilda still loved him and deliberately stepped into Sparafucile’s house to be murdered instead. She had heard Sparafucile agree to kill the next person who walked in because he needed a body and Maddalena had pleaded for the Duke’s life.
The tragedy is blamed on a curse by Count Monterone (Todd Thomas) who had cursed the Duke and Rigoletto after his own daughter had been seduced by the Duke, encouraged by Rigoletto.
Directed by E. Loren Meeker, conducted by Mario Armiliato with stylisticly simple but dramatic back drops by Michael Yeargan, this new-to Lyric production should match opera aficionados’ expectations and attract new opera goers.
DETAILS: “Rigoletto” is at the Lyric Opera House (also called the Civic Opera House), 20 N. Wacker Dr., Chicago, now through Nov. 3, 2017. Running time is 2 hours, 33 minutes including one intermission. For tickets and more information call (312) 827.-5600 and visit Lyric Opera Rigoletto. For Lyric season visit Lyric.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Instead of looking for them in farmers’ fields, look for scarecrows and pumpkins at three fun-for-all-ages festivals where you can make or carve an inspired personality. The festivals are happening Oct. 6-8, 2017.
Highwood, a North Shore town, is holding its now nationally famous Great Highwood Pumpkin Festival. St. Charles, west of Chicago, has its 32nd Annual Scarecrow Fest. The Chalet Nursery, a fun place to find holiday items and indoor/outdoor décor pieces near Edens Expressway, is doing its annual scarecrow-making festival.
You’ll never see as many pumpkins and different pumpkin faces as in Highwood, IL this weekend. The tiny (little over a square mile) city tucked between Highland Park and Lake Forest, has been trying to break the Guiness World record of 30,851 carved pumpkins for the past few years. The streets on the east side of METRA’s Union Pacific North Line tracks are edged with tall, metal pumpkin stands where lit pumpkins cunningly grin at visitors at night. Festival doings day and night range from pie eating and costume contests to hay, pony and camel rides. There is also a Super Hero walk-run to honor a Make-A Wish child plus pumpkin carving, entertainment, food, tricks and treats.
A $3 per day or $5 for the weekend admission charge benefits the Make A Wish Foundation. Last year the festival raised $60,000. But also go just because the event is fun.
Some events need registering. For the Fun Walk/Run click here. For the entertainment and full event times and other registrations visit schedule. Hours are Friday 4 to 10, Sat. 9 a.m Fun Walk/Run and general opening 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Sun. 11 a.m. to 9 p.m, 847-668-1213
Best plan is take the train because parking will be scarce. Or go north to Old Elm Road then east to Sheridan road and back south to Hotel Moraine at 700 Sheridan Road where a shuttle will take visitors to the festival.
More than 100 scarecrows will populate St. Charles Oct. 6 through Oct. 8.
The event also includes, Arts & Crafts show, vintage autos, entertainment, pumpkin displays, make-you-own scarecrow stations, pumpkin carving and food. Most events are free. The festival is divided into sponsored activity zones along Main Street (Hwy 64) between Fifth and Third Streets east of the Fox River and just south of Main Street across the river.
Hours: Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m.-9 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m.-5 p.m. For more activity information download the detailed map pdf by visiting brochure.
Chalet Nursery Scarecrow Festival
The Chalet Nursery and Garden Center has lots of Halloween decor plus visitrs can make their own scarecrow. All that is needed is to bring the scarecrow’s clothes because the Chalet will provide a head and straw. Hours: Oct. 7-8, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. The Chalet is at 3132 Lake Ave, Wilmette across from Edens Plaza. For more information call (847) 256-0561 and for general Chalet information visit Nursery.
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.
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.
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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.
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.
Several stage productions gladden the December holiday season and there are romantic comedies perfect for February. But when it comes to October, there’s usually a dearth of plays that chill the soul. Not so, this October with three classics to see.
Steppenwolf Theatre Company is doing Arthur Miller’s 1953 scary in a what-can-happen way when seemingly normal neighbors believe the stories behind the Salem Witch Trials. The play is part of the Steppenwolf for Young Adults series but it really is a play for all generations. Running for only eight public performances from Oct. 4 through Oct. 21, 2017, it’s a chilling reminder of how fake news can spread as if true and the harm it can do. For tickets ($20 general and $15 students) visit Steppenwolf or call (312) 335-1650. Steppenwolf Theatre Company is at 1650 N. Halsted St. Chicago.
First Folio Theatre at the possibly haunted Mayslake Peabody Estate, is doing the world premiere of Joseph Zettelmaier’s ‘The Man-Beast.’ Based on a French legendary werewolf, it’s the third play in his triology of ‘The Gravedigger’ and ‘Dr. Seward’s Dracula.’ The play runs from Oct. 7 through Nov. 5, 2017. Get tickets if you dare see it at First Folio or by calling (630) 986-8067. Located in a Du Page County forest preserve, First Folio is at 31st St. and Rt. 83 in Oak Brook.
‘GHOSTS & zombies’
Henrik Ibsen’s “Ghosts,” a drams that starts out innocently enough with a woman opening an orphanage as a tribute to her dead husband, becomes a dark comedy in the hands of writer Gustav Tegby. Translated by Chad Eric Bergman, the play takes a strange turn when the woman’s estate hosts ghosts and the un-dead. The play is presented by Akvavit Theatre at the Strawdog Theatre Company now through Oct. 29, 2017. For tickets go to Chicago Nordic. Strawdog Theatre Company is at 1802 W. Berenice, Chicago.
Thornton Wilder’s classic ‘Our Town,’ now at Redtwist Theatre, is a slice-of-life drama that asks us to ponder our place in the universe while pausing to appreciate the seemingly mundane interactions and events that comprise the bulk of our days and which ultimately define our existence.
Divided into three acts with two ten minute intermissions, act one presents the town and the characters with an emphasis on birth and youth. Act two deals with love and marriage. The last act addresses the inevitable experience of death.
The story line is facilitated by a character known as the “Stage Manager” (Richard Costes) who introduces each of the other players. He fills us in on the physical attributes of the fictional Grover’s Corners, NH that is supposed to remind us of our own town.
Written in 1938. The time frame is identified as roughly 1901 to 1913 but it can really be anyplace anywhere in America at any time.
The pre-WWI period harkens back to a simpler pre-industrial agrarian era that serves to remind us of the essence of living when days were marked by the rising and setting of the sun and the meals in between.
Mr. Costes is the first of the play’s trifecta of winning performers. The other two are Emily Webb (Elena Victoria Feliz) and George Gibbs (Jaq Seifert) who each turned in remarkable performances.
On some level the success of “Our Town” traditionally hinges on the actors in these three major roles. But in the Redtwist production the entire cast offered tight performances. A few honorable mentions to Rebecca Gibbs (Ada Grey), Professor Willard (Rebecca Flores), Mrs. Soames (Jared Michael David Grant) and Mrs. Webb (played by understudy Jeanne Scurek) who each stood out in some way.
This is the directorial debut of the company’s Associate Artistic Director, James Fleming, who with Scenic Designer Lizzie Bracken managed an innovative visual presentation in a somewhat awkward space.
The Redtwist is a storefront theatre meaning that the dimensions are long and narrow leaving little room for a traditional proscenium stage other than a small roughly ten foot by ten foot riser at one end of the room. The company overcomes this by creating three or four loosely defined minimalist scenic areas throughout the room.
The roughly 35 seat audience is then snuggled along the perimeter, in between, and around these spaces. This leaves the center open for the main action. So it’s like a performance in-the-round with the audience on stage. The important thing is that it works.
“Color blind” casting is no longer unusual but Fleming has elevated the concept in this production by extending it to include gender neutral roles and actors with limited physical abilities.
For instance the part of milkman Howie Newsome is played by Joel Rodriguez who happens to be confined to a motorized wheelchair. Joel uses his chair brilliantly to infer the presence of his horse and milk wagon. It’s not necessary nor is it overt but it works because he is simply incorporating who he is as a person into his role as an actor.
“Stage Manager” (Richard Costes) happens to be hearing impaired. But this is incidental to his performance which would be excellent under any circumstances.
He periodically uses his skill at sign language to provide us with a visual enhancement of the point he is making or a town attribute he is describing. (Note: he is not signing his entire performance but occasionally enhances the depth of his communication.)
The character of Mrs. Soames (Jared Michael David Grant) is perhaps the most gender bending role. Mr. Grant plays the part of a female character but not in drag. He wears a simple man’s suit and looks perfectly male.
Though admittedly a bit confusing at first, I came to believe that Fleming wants us to put aside our role bias and expectations and simply enjoy the performance. In other words, be color blind, be gender blind, be ability blind and simply accept what each actor has to offer and accept that they are the characters they say they are.
As was pointed out by someone after the performance, “This cast represents our town.”
DETAILS: ‘Our Town’ runs through October 29, 2017 at the Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr, Chicago, IL 60660. For tickets call (773) 728-7529.