Letts offers a vista of middle age



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.

Sally Murphy (Margaret) and Tim Hopper ( Paul) set Cora vander Broek (Jules) up with Ian Barford (Wheeler) at a Karaoke bar. Photo by Michael Brosilow
Sally Murphy (Margaret) and Tim Hopper ( Paul) set Cora Vander Broek (Jules) up with Ian Barford (Wheeler) at a Karaoke bar. Photo by Michael Brosilow

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.

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Characters represent ideas not real people in ‘Mystery of Love and Sex’



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.

Haley Burgess and Travis Turner in 'The Mystery of Love & Sex' at Writers Theatre. Michael Brosilow Photo
Haley Burgess and Travis Turner in ‘The Mystery of Love & Sex’ at Writers Theatre. Michael Brosilow Photo

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.


Cordova exhibit makes viewers think

Appearances are deceiving would be a good warning when walking into “Smoke, Nearby,” the gallery at Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago currently exhibiting works of Mexico City-based sculptor Tania Peréz  Cordova.

"We Focus on a Woman Facing Sideways" 2013-17, Bronze, Swarovski Crystal drop earring and a Women wearing the other earring. Photo by Jodie Jacobs
“We Focus on a Woman Facing Sideways” 2013-17, Bronze, Swarovski Crystal Drop Earring and a Women wearing the other earring. Photo by Jodie Jacobs

Her works are not meant to be looked at in passing. They require more than a glance at something mounted piece before going on to a work displayed on the floor.

As explained on a board near a sculpture with an earring the artist explains: “A woman s missing her left earring. It is suspended on a brass ribbon in the gallery. Until it is reunited with its mate the sculpture exists in both places simultaneously.”

Thus her pieces are experiential. Or as Cordova said when interviewed before the exhibit opened, “They are stories and possibilities.”

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Stoneism rolls through past rock eras with Exhibitionism


If you’re a fan of legendary rockers Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and their Rolling Stones band you needn’t ask why go to Navy Pier to see Exhibitionism.

Rolling Stones instruments and more in Exhibitionism. Photo by Jodie Jacobs
Rolling Stones instruments and more in Exhibitionism. Photo by Jodie Jacobs

An all encompassing retrospective, the traveling show that opens April 15 and goes through July 30, 2017,  has rooms of costumes, films, posters, art, recordings, instruments and personal paraphernalia, that are likely to bring back memories of concert tours and albums.

But even if other bands have had you screaming and shaking, the exhibit is still worth seeing as a cultural and musical phenomenon that goes back to the 1960s and continues in the 21st century.

A British export that is a combo of blues and rock ‘n’ roll, the band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989 and the UK Music Hall of Fame in 2004. But they proved they could still draw crowds with their record breaking concerts: Voodoo Lounge Tour in 1994–95 and Bridges to Babylon Tour, 1997–98, to their Licks Tour in 2002–03 and A Bigger Bang Tour, 2005–07.

Band recording studio in Exhibitionism show. Jodie Jacobs photo
Band recording studio in Exhibitionism show.
Jodie Jacobs photo

What to expect at “Exhibitionism.” The show recreates the Chelsea (London) flat in Edith Grove shared in 1962 by Jagger, Richards and Brian (Jones shared in 1962. Also recreated is a Stones’ recording studio and a backstage area. There is a guitar room that includes Richards’ Maton that came apart during “Gimme Shelter.”

But where some visitors may be snapping photos and selfies is the fashion gallery of impressive costumes. They’re devilishly wild and what would be expected of the Stones. Save time to watch the films that include a concert near the exhibit’s end.

Jagger and Richards explained on the Rolling Stones website the why behind “Exhibitionism.”

Rolling Stones costumes in Exhibitionism at Navy Pier. Jodie Jacobs phto
Rolling Stones costumes in Exhibitionism at Navy Pier.
Jodie Jacobs photo

“We’ve been thinking about this for quite a long time but we wanted it to be just right and on a large scale,” said Mick. “It’s not going to be like walking into a museum. It’s going to be an event, an experience. It’s about a sense of The Rolling Stones – it’s something we want people to go away talking about it.”

“While this is about The Rolling Stones, it’s not necessarily only just about us,” said Keith. “It’s also about all the paraphernalia and technology associated with a group like us, and it’s this, as well as the instruments that have passed through our hands over the years, that should make the exhibition unforgettable.”

Details: “Exhibitionism is at Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand Av., Chicago, April 15 to July 30, 2017. For tickets and other information visit Stones Exhibitionism.


CSO features Stravinsky and Fauré Requiem

There’s still a chance to hear the Chicago Symphony Orchestra do the “Funeral Song,” a recently rediscovered work of Igor Stravinsky.

Conducted by renowned Stravinsky interpreter Charles Dutoit  who is guest conducting the CSO now through April 15, the “Funeral Song”  is on the program tonight, April 8, at 8 p.m. and again April 11 at 7:30 p.m.

Dutoit guest conductor at CSO. Photo compliments of CSO
Dutoit guest conductor at CSO. Photo compliments of CSO

Stravinsky wrote the piece after the death of his teacher, Rimsky-Korsakov more than a century ago, but it was only rediscovered when its orchestral parts, found at the St. Petersburg Kimsky-Korsakov State Conservatory, were recently pieced backed together.

The Stravinsky work leads off a program that includes Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B Minor with soloist Truls Mork and Prokofiev’s Symphony No. 5 in B-flat Major.

For a special Easter program Dutoit will conduct the CSO in Fauré’s Requiem featuring the Chicago Symphony Chorus, soprano Chen Reiss and baritone Matthias Goerne April 13,14 and 15.

Reiss, an Israeli soprano who has performed with conductors Zubin Mehta, Sir Simon Rattle and James Levine, will be making her CSO debut. Goerne, a German baritone who has appeared at the Met, Covent Garden and the Vienna State Opera, is returning to Symphony Center for the “Requiem.”

Dutoit is chief conductor and artistic adviser of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. He is also music director of the Verbier Festival Orchestra and conductor laureate of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

The programs are at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago. For tickets and other information call (800) 223-7114 or visit CSO.


Beyond the daylight world


The power of ‘Beyond Caring,’ now premiering in the US at Lookingglass Theatre, is how ordinary the characters and their circumstances seem.

J Nicole Bbrooks, Wendy Mateo and Caren Blackmore in 'Beyond Carin' at Lookingglass Theatre. Liz Lauren photo
J Nicole Brooks, Wendy Mateo and Caren Blackmore in ‘Beyond Caring’ at Lookingglass Theatre. Liz Lauren photo

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.

 Edwin Lee Gibson and Caren Blackmore in 'Beyond Caring'. Liz Lauren photo

Edwin Lee Gibson and Caren Blackmore in ‘Beyond Caring’. Liz Lauren photo

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.

‘Silent Sky’ – the stars are in alignment


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.

Cassandra Bissell as Henrietta, an unsung 1900s "computer lady" in Harvard University's observatory. Photo by D. Rice
Cassandra Bissell as Henrietta, an unsung 1900s “computer lady” in Harvard University’s observatory. Photo by D. Rice

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.)


Around Town in early April

So what if you have to walk between the raindrops. It’s April!

There are enough events in the Metropolitan Chicago area to brush aside gloomy weather and news outlooks for the entire month. Indeed, there is so much going on that here is just a first look at what’s happening so you can get tickets and fill in a couple of calendar spots.

Steam engines are again going around the Illinois Railway Museum tracks. Photo by Webster's Unabridged Inc and Illinois Railway Museum
Steam engines are again going around the Illinois Railway Museum tracks. Photo by Webster’s Unabridged Inc and Illinois Railway Museum


RR Fun

Visit a mid1800s train depot and hop on board some diesel and steam locomotives and assorted Pullmans, dining cars and cabooses at the Illinois Railway Museum. The museum is about an hour northwest of Chicago in Union City.  Closed for the winter, it just opened April 2 for the 2017 season and will remain open weekends through October. Weekday hours go from May through September.

The Illinois Railway Museum is at 7000 Olson Rd., Union, IL 60180. For cost, hours, directions and other information visit Illinois Railway Museum or call (800) Big Rail (244-7245).


See  robots

Head over to the Museum of Science and Industry for National Robotics Week activities April 8-9 and 14-15, 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m.. Drone racing is April 8 and 9. .For more information visit MSI and MSI Robotics.

The Museum of science and Industry is at 5700 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago (773) 684-1414.


Listen to glorious music

Hear tenor Lawrence Brownlee (think bel canto) and bass-baritone Eric Owens (Lyric’s “Ring”) with pianist Craig Terry at a Lyric Opera recital at the Civic Opera House, 3 p.m. April 9.

The Civic Opera House is at 20 N. Wacker Dr, Chicago. For tickets and other information visit Lyric and call (312) 827-5600.


A museum where pinball machines mix with Chicago artists

Ed Paschke, "Blackout," 1980, Private Collection. Photo by Jodie Jacobs
Ed Paschke, “Blackout,” 1980, Private Collection. Photo by Jodie Jacobs


If you are the director of an art museum and are planning on showcasing art of the 1960s, 70s and early 80s in Chicago, particularly that of the Hairy Who and the Chicago Imagists and you want an era-appropriate, eye-catching exhibit to put with it, what would you choose?



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Around Town

Chicago goes from baroque and Broadway to bacon this week.

Going Baroque

If you haven’t made plans yet for tonight, March 27, 2017,  the glorious sounds of Music of the Baroque will fill the Harris Theater for Music and Dance. The program is at 7:30 p.m. but there is a concert lecture across Michigan Avenue at the Chicago cultural Center at 6 p.m.

The Harris Theater is in Millennium Park at 205 E. Randolph Dr. For tickets and other information call (312) 551-1415 and visit Harris.

Fabulous multi-genre concert

The Handsome Family, John Pine and Shemekia Copeland were among the performers at the Chicago Voices Concert. Photo by Cory Weaver
The Handsome Family, John Pine and Shemekia Copeland were among the performers at the Chicago Voices Concert. Photo by Cory Weaver

Whether or not you made it to the Lyric to see the fabulous Chicago Voices Concert, you can see the concert on WTTW Channel 11 at 9 p.m. Thursday, March 30.

The concert features famed opera singer Renée Fleming, Blues Queen Shemekia Copeland, Broadway star Jessie Mueller, jazz vocalist Kurt Elling, tenor Matthew Polenzani, gospel, pop and everything else singer Michelle Williams, folksinger John Prine, the indie folk group The Handsome family and the Trinity Mass choir.

Visit Chicago Theater and Arts for the concert review and go to Chicago Voices for other information.

Yummy Bacon

OK, listen up bacon lovers. Chicago has a Baconfest Friday March 31 and Saturday, April 1. Chefs from local restaurants will be tempting your taste buds and satisfying your bacon cravings at the IC Forum, 725 Roosevelt Rd. for tickets and other information visit bacon.