Mummy exhibit reveals contents of Egyptian and Peruvian caskets

A Young boy and a young girl from Egypt about 250 AD are in the Mummies exhibit at the Field. Jodie Jacobs photo
A Young boy and a young girl from Egypt about 250 AD are in the Mummies exhibit at the Field. Jodie Jacobs photo

Certainly, the Field Museum is known for its T Rex and dinosaurs in its “Evolving Planet” exhibition and for its native American  exhibits including the popular Pawnee Earth Lodge.

But another favorite permanent exhibition is “Inside Ancient Egypt” where visitors descend down into a tomb and see painted mummy coffins.

Segment of photo by John Weinstein of a the Gilded Lady coffin from between 30 BC and 646 A, Egypt.
Segment of photo by John Weinstein of a the Gilded Lady coffin from between 30 BC and 646 A, Egypt.

Now, the contents of those coffins and others can be revealed because of current technology.

“Mummies,” the Field’s newest exhibition doesn’t just display coffins, many of which are gilded. It has wrapped mummies, mummy masks, some CT scans, a CT scanner and ceramics

It also has sculptures and 3D images that show what a mummified person likely looked like when alive.

For instance, there is a mummy of an Egyptian woman in the exhibit from 1,500 years ago that scientists say died when in her 40s, had curly hair and a slight overbite.

Just as fascinating are  interactive touch-table stations where visitors see artifacts and mummies the way scientists do.

Gilded Lady CT scan showed a woman in early forthies with curly hair who might have died of tuberculosis. Field Museum photo
Gilded Lady CT scan showed a woman in early forthies with curly hair who might have died of tuberculosis. Field Museum photo

“This exhibition allows visitors to see how we use modern technologies to learn about the lives of ancient peoples and cultures,” said Curator Bill Parkinson.

“Before, you would have to unwrap the mummy, or even cut it open, to learn more about it. Now we can use non-destructive methods to learn so much more about the past,” Parkinson said.

Also featured, is Peruvian mummification done by the Andean cultures earlier than in Egypt.

“One of the unique things about this exhibition is the inclusion of the Peruvian mummification traditions, which started much earlier than in Egypt and lasted until the Spanish conquest 500 years ago,” said Curator Ryan Williams. “That seven thousand year history of Andean mummification is something most people have never heard previously.”

Gilded Lady Sculpture by French forensic recreation artist Elisabeth Daynes shows what the mummy in the coffin may have looked like. E. Daynes photo
Gilded Lady Sculpture by French forensic recreation artist Elisabeth Daynes shows what the mummy in the coffin may have looked like. E. Daynes photo

“Mummies,” up now through April 21, was developed as a traveling exhibit by the Field Museum but has just returned home.

“Because the exhibition is back at its home base, we’ll be able to include some cool artifacts that were too fragile to send out on the road,” said Exhibitions Project Manager Janet Hong.

Thus, a couple of two-and-a-half-foot tall Peruvian beer jars, once shown at Chicago’s 1893 World’s Fair, were added to the exhibit.

Mummies is a ticketed exhibition. A Good way to see it and such exhibits available through General Admission such as “Inside Ancient Egypt” is with a Discovery or All-Access pass.

The Field Museum is at 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago. Hours: Daily 9 .am. to 5 p.m. except Christmas. For tickets and more information call  (312) 922-9410 and visit Field Museum.

Jodie Jacobs

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Ravinia schedule ready for summer

Get the calendar out. It’s time to plan which Ravinia Festival concerts should be marked down, which ones need tickets ahead of time and which might be good for a picnic on the lawn or a seat in the Pavillion. The 2016 season goes from June 1 through Sept. 16.

Plan which programs to see at Ravinia Festival. The program is all set for 2018. Jodie Jacobs photo
Plan which programs to see at Ravinia Festival. The program is all set for 2018. Jodie Jacobs photo

 

Tickets

Donors can get tickets March 20. Tickets will be available to the public  May 8 for June and July concerts and May 10 for August and September programs.

Programs

New this year: There are more programs inside Bennett Gordon Hall and the Martin Theatre. The season will celebrate the late conductor, composer, pianist Leonard Bernstein’s 100 anniversary of his birth and ; the 30th anniversary of Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute (RSMI).

Dining

And the dining spaces and menus have been redone. Park View, a contemporary American restaurant featuring local and seasonal dishes is upstairs the dining pavilion. Mirabelle is still there but specializes in guest chef and themed dishes. The casual Ravina Market take-out menu has expanded but kept popular dishes. Tree Top will go in where PNC Private Dining used to be and the Lawn Bar  with indoor and outdoor seating for drinks and small plates will be located on the lower level, north side of the  dining Pavilion. The Freehling Room is still the Donor Dining Club but will add casual fare on pop concert nights.

Location

Ravinia Festival Park is at the south end of Highland Park from Sheridan Road on the east to Green Bay Road on the west. But best option is to take a free shuttle from the Ravinia or Highland Park train station. For tickets, directions and transportation options visit Ravinia.org.

Enjoy the summer by planning now.

Ravinia celebragtes Leonard Bernstein in 2018. Photo by Allan Warren.
Ravinia celebragtes Leonard Bernstein in 2018. Photo by Allan Warren.

Some Program highlights:

June

Diana Ross, June 2, Anita Baker June 10, Jackson Brown June 15, Seal June 19, Jill Scott debuts at Ravinia June 22, Roger Daltry  and the Who’s Tommy come June 23 and June 25 and Bryan Adams performs June 29.

July

  Buddy Guy and Jonny Lang July 8, Zukeerman Trio does Brahms July 11, Joshua Bell and the CSO performs Bernstein  “Candide Overture” and “Serenade”  plus Tchaikovsky’s “Pathetique” July 12, The CSO and Chorus do Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms” and Beethoven’s  Ninth Symphony on July 14, vocalist Audra McDonald and the CSO do a “Sunday in the Park program for the Ravinia Gala July 15, the annual Tchaikovsky Spectacular is July 22, Misha and Cipa Dichter are in Bette Hall then Leon Fleisher with Katherine Jacobson Fleisher perform Bach and Brahms in the Martin Theatre July 23, Makoto Ozone plays Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” July 24, Jorge Fredrico Osorio is in the Martin Theatre for the Debussy and Ponce concert July 26, a double Bernstein program  starts with a Young People’s concert in the morning then features his “Mass” in the evening July  28.

August

Whoopie Goldberg comes Aug. 3, CSO does Stravinsky, Strauss and with Garrick Ohlsson on piano Mozart’s concerto  No. 20 Aug. 9, Steve Martin and Martin Short plusThe Steep Canyon Rangers  and Jeff Babko are in the Pavilion Aug. 12, Michael Feinstein and Kristin Chenoweth are there Aug. 14, opera stars Frederica Von Stade and Laurie Rubin come Aug. 16, Earth Wind & Fire are in the Pavilion Aug. 17, Sugarland returns Aug. 23, The Beach Boys and Righteous Brothers are in town for an evening of oldies but goodies Aug. 24 there are “Good Vibes with Jason Mraz and  Brett Dennen on Aug. 25, Culture Club, B-52s and Thompson Twins perform Aug. 31 and Sep[t. 1

September

O.A.R. and Matt Nathanson come Sept. 2, Sir James Galway returns Sept. 4, Peter Serkin comes Sept. 5, 50 Cent debuts at Ravinia Sept. 6. Tony Bennett’s stylish songs are Sept.8, “Considering Matthew Shepard by Craig Hella Johnson with the Conspirare chorus (poems set to music to mark the Shepard murder that ledto the Hate Crimes Act Sept . 12 and Los Tigres del Norte end the season Sept. 16.

 

 

 

Green Book gives historic look at Southern racism and bigotry

Highly Recommended

Once upon a time, there was a historic traveler’s guide called the “The Negro Motorist Green Book” that directed blacks traveling through the South to homes, restaurants and gas stations that were a safe haven.

For blacks traveling during the days of Jim Crow laws and segregation, the Green Book was a lifesaver, telling them where they could enjoy true southern hospitality in comfort and safety.

It was the hope of “The Green Book” founder Victor Green that one day his book would no longer be needed.

Now comes the play, “The Green Book” from playwright Calvin A. Ramsey that brings racism front and center to the stage. The multi-talented Ramsey co-authored the award-winning “Ruth and the Green Book,” written numerous other works and does photography and painting.

This play is an homage to the famous guide, published from 1936-1967.

It centers on the Davis family of Jefferson City, Missouri, an African-American family who opened their home to black travelers before the birth of Civil Rights activism.

(Lto R) Terence Sims (Capt. George Smith), Stacie Doubin (Barbara), Henri Watkins (Dan) and Quenna Lene (Jacqueline Smith) in The Green Book from Pegasus Theatre Chicago and ShPleL Performing Identity.
(Lto R) Terence Sims (Capt. George Smith), Stacie Doubin (Barbara), Henri Watkins (Dan) and Quenna Lene (Jacqueline Smith) in The Green Book from Pegasus Theatre Chicago and ShPleL Performing Identity.

The couple, Barbara and Dan, are highly educated; he a lawyer and she a college librarian. Their daughter, Neena, is soon to graduate high school and off to college, far from home.

“The Green Book” is set in the mid 1950’s as the Davises are celebrating the arrival of the prominent Dr. W.E.B. DuBois for a lecture.

The appearance of a  Jewish Holocaust survivor sets off a chain of events that showcases the prevalence of racism and anti-Semitism in the U.S.

Unfortunately, Jews who survived the Holocaust in Europe came to the U.S. and continued to face intolerance, fear and hatred.  Because of the similarities, alliances were formed between the Jewish people and African-Americans. Both were subjected to prejudice, the “red scare” of McCarthyism and restrictions from signs that said, “No Blacks, No Jews, No Dogs.”

Stacie Doublin as Barbara Davis and Henri Watkins as Dan Davis are outstanding. They convey their characters as believable and sincere. They struggle with their daughter, Demetra Drayton as Neena, who serves as their brightest hope for the next generation. She is excellent as the young girl who varies her position as the real truths begin to emerge.

But Malcom Banks who gives a powerful performance as Keith Chenault, the Yankee from Harlem with big, misplaced ideas, is a powerful force that must be reckoned with.

Michael Stock as Jake Levinsky does an outstanding job as he recalls the horrors of the camps and losing his family. His pain is real and raw. The ensemble comes together to tell a story that resonates with today’s headlines of bigotry and hate.

The play is wonderfully directed by Producing Artistic Director Ilesa Duncan. Mention must also be made of the glorious costumes by Uriel Gomez, who dresses all of the characters in handsome 1950s attire that is both authentic and mesmerizing.

DETAILS:  “The Green Book” is at the Pegasus’s resident home, Chicago Dramatists, 765 N. Aberdeen, Chicago, in conjunction with ShPIeL  Performing Identity, now through April 1,  Running time: just over two hours with intermission. For tickets and other information visit PegasusTheatreChicago.org.

Mira Temkin

For more shows, visit TheatreInChicago

Reflection of Misdeeds and Misbehavior

 

RECOMMENDED

“The Picture of Dorian Gray,” playing now at City Lit Theatre, is a world premiere adaptation by Paul Edwards of the Oscar Wilde’s story.

The story of Dorian Gray is a tale of moral decay and self-loathing, demonstrating the extent to which some people will go to maintain a façade and avoid looking at their true selves.

Dorian Gray (Javier Ferreira) and James Vane (Ryan Leonard) in  The Picture of Dorian Gray. Steve Graue photo
Dorian Gray (Javier Ferreira) and James Vane (Ryan Leonard) in The Picture of Dorian Gray. Steve Graue photo

In this version, set in the 1970’s and 80’s, the young Dorian Gray (Javier Ferreira) exclaims to Henry Wotton(Scott Olson) that he will gladly sell his soul to keep his youthful exterior rather than suffer the ravages of physical aging.

Directed by Andrea J. Dymond, the play covers a roughly 20 year period over which time Gray seems to retain his youthful appearance while those around him either lose their attractiveness or their life. Their maladies and misadventures seem somehow mysteriously have to do either directly or indirectly with their association with the title character.

While content with his own good looks, Gray fantasizes that a photo of him taken by Basil Hallward (Gabriel Fries) early in the story has not fared as well over the years and is essentially reflecting back the effects of his misdeeds and misbehavior.

This is a drama in which the dialogue is the essence of the story. The cast was a little unsteady and awkward in the first act but thankfully gained steam as the story progressed. In Act Two Ferreira hit his stride and began to own the part.

The obviously capable Scott Olson confidently dominated the action but at times seemed to lose his compass speaking upstage, apparently forgetting that an actor can speak intimately while still projecting to the audience.

Having the actors join the theater audience during a play-within-a-play was charming and effective.

The rest of the time they could spread out a bit more and employ some meaningful stage business so that they are not simply standing over one another or huddling in little groups.

This version offers a more contemporary explanation for the iconic picture reference but in doing so sacrifices some of the sci-fi or Victorian horror of the original.

Experienced theater goers and Oscar Wilde fans may enjoy this adaptation of the classic because of some inside references to the life of the author himself and to the clever alternate handling of the infamous picture but it may be a bit tedious for some.

Chicago Theater & Arts fans might want to consider a visit to the Chicago Art Institute to visit the Ivan Albright portrait painted for the Oscar-winning movie adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s novel.

DETAILS:  “The Picture of Dorian Gray” is Paul Edwards’s world premiere adaptation of the Oscar Wilde’s story directed by Andrea J. Dymond running now through April 15, 2018 at City Lit Theatre, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr Avenue, Chicago (Inside Edgewater Presbyterian Church).  For ticket and other information call (773) 293-3682 and visit citylit.org.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit TheatreInChicago

 

 

Lyric celebrates Bernstein

Lyric opera celebrates Bernstein anniversary with program of well known and rarely heard works. Jack Mitchell photo
Lyric opera celebrates Bernstein anniversary with program of well known and rarely heard works. Jack Mitchell photo

The only problem with the Lyric Opera’s “Celebrating 100 Years of Bernstein” last Saturday, March 10, was that it was a one-time program.

Mezzo-soprano Susan Graham, baritone Nathan Gunn in the first half featuring Bernstein’s short opera Trouble in Tahiti and joined in the second half in a variety of his works, by Broadway star Kate Baldwin, deserved their prolonged applause and standing ovation. Indeed, the audience didn’t seem to want to leave but encores were not part of the program.

Mezzo-soprano Susan Graham (Dinah) and baritone Nathan Gunn (Sam) in Trouble in Tahiti at Lyric Opera's Bermstein salute. Photos by Todd Rosenberg
Mezzo-soprano Susan Graham (Dinah) and baritone Nathan Gunn (Sam) in Trouble in Tahiti at Lyric Opera’s Bermstein salute. Photos by Todd Rosenberg

The audience also appreciated the really fine voices of Ryan Opera Center members soprano Diana Newman, tenor Josh Lovell and baritone Emmett O’Hanlon who added a light touch to the opera which has some seriously funny moments. And they, plus Ryan Center members soprano Ann Toomey and bass-baritone Alan Higgs, joined the stars in the second half.

That part of the program was an interesting mix of popular and lesser known works.  For instance, it started with Baldwin’s delightful rendition of  “I Hate Music” from the 1943 cycle of “Five Kids Songs for Soprano and Piano.”

Pianist William Bllingham and Kate Baldwin in I Hate Music (but I love to sing).
Pianist William Bllingham and Kate Baldwin in I Hate Music (but I love to sing).

It would have been interesting to have seen a show of hands from people familiar with the cycle.

Then, the Ryan Center singers did Candide’s “The Best of All Possible Worlds.” They and the leads closed with the lovely and appropriate “Some Other Time” from On the Town.

What came in between was glorious.

Conductor David Chase (Lyric Opera Orchestra in background) interacted with the audience as he explained Trouble in Tahiti, other musical numbers and occasionally asked who knew or had seen a particular piece.
Conductor David Chase (Lyric Opera Orchestra in background) interacted with the audience as he explained “Trouble in Tahiti,” other musical numbers and occasionally asked who knew or had seen a particular piece.

Baldwin sang Eileen’s charming “A Little Bit in Love” from Wonderful Town followed by Gunn doing a fine “Lonely Town” from On the Town.

Based on intermission chat and looks through the program, many in the audience were hoping for something from West Side Story. There were two selections.

Baldwin and Graham each soloed and then beautifully blended their voices in “I Have a Love.” Then Baldwin did a remarkable “Somewhere” that moved people to tears.

Nathan Gunn performs "Captain Hook's Soliloquy."
Nathan Gunn performs “Captain Hook’s Soliloquy.”

At this point, about half way through the second half, comic contrast was needed and provided by Gunn coming up through the floor as Captain Hook from Peter Pan.

Bernstein wrote  “Captain Hook’s Soliloquy” for the original 1950 Broadway show but it was supposedly eliminated as unworkable with the voice of Boris Karloff who played Hook.

Wearing a wig that resembled a large black mop, Gunn hilariously interpreted the song somewhat in the manner of King George in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton.

Other songs seldom heard were “So Pretty” written by Bernstein for Barbra Streisand to sing in a peace protest against the Vietnam War that was sung by Baldwin and ”To What You Said,”  a Walt Whitman verse put to music in Songfest that touched on homosexual attraction and sung by Nathan Gunn.

Susan Graham and Kate Baldwin at Lyric Opera's tribute celebration of Leonard Bernstein
Susan Graham and Kate Baldwin at Lyric Opera’s tribute celebration of Leonard Bernstein

Peter Pan was on the menu again. This time with  Graham singing “Dream with Me.”

A show which didn’t make it long on Broadway was 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue written with Alan Jay Lerner in 1976. But after cuts and revisions it was released in 1990 as A White House Cantata.

Kate Baldwin as Abigail Adams sang “Take Care of this House” which is on the Cantata release. A lovely piece, the song is still heard on occasion.

Before the company’s “Some Other time” closing number, Baldwin ended with another lively ditty, “I Can Cook, Too” from On the Town.

Diana Newman, Ann Toomey, Josh Lovell, Alan Higgs and Emmett Ohanlon with Susan Graham, Nathan Gunn and Kate Baldwin end th Lyric's Bernsteincelebration with "Some Other Time."
Diana Newman, Ann Toomey, Josh Lovell, Alan Higgs and Emmett Ohanlon with Susan Graham, Nathan Gunn and Kate Baldwin end th Lyric’s Bernsteincelebration with “Some Other Time.”

There were many reasons the program left people wanting more.

There was the spot-on direction of Peggy Hickey who had the singers actively move around the stage as if in a musical instead of a concert. The staging was also clever with props and furniture moved on, off and coming up from below.

Another plus was Conductor David Chase’s warm interaction with the audience. He introduced and explained the opera and the musical numbers’ background. Experienced with working on musicals as conductor, arranger or supervisor of more than 30 Broadway productions, Chase had a relaxed attitude that made the entire program fun.

Jodie Jacobs

Related: Lyric concert joins worldwide Bernstein celebration.

 

Cyrano Lacks Panache

 

SOMEWHAT RECOMMENDED

Based on the classic “Cyrano de Bergerac” originally written in French verse by Edmond Rostand in 1897, this translation by Michael Hollinger adapted for the stage with Aaron Posner is a successful reinterpretation using a more modern dialog that preserves much of the courtly charm necessary to the play’s setting.

The title character of Cyrano (Michael B. Woods) is an accomplished courtier in 17th Century France, an unparalleled master of the sword and the word whose personal relationships are hampered by what he perceives as a hideous deformity, namely a grotesquely enormous and unsightly nose.

(From left) Kristin Hammargren, Michael B. Woods, Zach Livingston and Christina Gorman in 'Cyrano.
(From left) Kristin Hammargren, Michael B. Woods, Zach Livingston and Christina Gorman in ‘Cyrano.’

Cyrano conspires with a fellow comrade-in-arms, Christian (Zach Livingston) to woo and win the affection of the lovely Roxane (Vahishta Vafadari).  Christian will supply the good looks while Cyrano supplies the requisite language of love.

Cyrano’s own self-hate is his worst enemy that keeps him separated from his desire.

The fight choreography by Jon Beal was a highlight of this production making me wish that the same level of effort was put into the rest of the lackluster performances.

Since none of the actors seemed fully invested in their characters I must set the fault at the feet of Director Steve O’Connell’s ability to rally the troupe.

Though this adaptation aims to “ditch the pretentions” it should not be at the expense of nuance and the basic humanity of the characters nor the charm of the language. Here the actors rely too heavily on the words to do all of their heavy lifting and doing little to breathe life into their respective roles.

BoHo is intended to be “a launching pad for up-and-coming actors” but in this case was a lost opportunity to show us what you got.

This Cliff’s Notes version provides a few memorable moments provided mostly by the text and is a good introduction to the book however, it definitely lacks panache.

DETAILS: ‘Cyrano’ by BoHo Theatre at Theatre Wit, 1229 W. Belmont in Chicago runs through April 15, 2018. For tickets and other information call or call (773) 975-8150 or visit BoHoTheatre.com.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit TheatreInChicago.

 

 

 

Hedda Hopper revealed

 

RECOMMENDED

‘Hedda! A Musical Conversation’ is a very entertaining one-woman show at the Athenaeum Theatre starring Jillann Gabrielle as legendary Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper.

Written by Gabrielle with book and lyrics by Michael Termine and music by with Howard Pfeifer, ‘Hedda’ is a one-act play that takes place from the mid 1940s through the late 1950s in Hedda Hopper’s living room.

Jillian Gabrielle is Hedda Hopper. Photo by Paradise Playhouse
Jillann Gabrielle is Hedda Hopper. Photo by Paradise Playhouse

Tasteful furniture, a rolling cart of favorite drinks , clothing racks with  dozens of the hats she was famous for wearing and that prime necessity for a gossip columnist, a phone, set the scene for a fun 90 minute peek into the life Hedda Hopper.

Gabrielle’s performance as Hedda is superb as she walks and sings the audience through a life that went from Quaker upbringing to bit MGM player and then famed columnist.

Lively phone conversations and clever  songs such as as “Hedda! Queen of Hollywood,” “Off the Record” (there’s audience participation), “Elizabeth, “Hats!” and ‘Don’t Drink the Punch” reveal much of her story.

Among the many things that makes this play interesting there is her interaction with the audience. When the phone or doorbell rings, she looks out at the crowd and says, “I’ll be right back.”

And when the audience hears her say, “Hello, Elizabeth” or “Joan,” or “Marlene” and others, everyone knows who’s there.

Hedda had an amazing effect on not only the motion picture industry, but on politics, as well. Her song “I’m Political” describes her conservative values and moral views as her columns go after Charlie Chaplin and other Communist sympathizers.

She also had famous heated discussions with many of Hollywood’s elite including the Elizabeth Taylor/Eddie Fisher/Debbie Reynolds trio.

Her column had a readership of over 30 million, and it set the stage for many types of columns today.

DETAILS: ‘Hedda! A Musical Conversation’ is at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, Chicago, through March 17, 2018.  Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission. For tickets and other information, call 773-935-6835 or visit AthenaeumTheatre.

Francine Pappadis Friedman

For more shows visit TheatreInChicago.

 

Around Town mid March

 

Life and death translated as theatre

Go to Rosehill Cemetery, 5800 N. Ravenswood Ave., March 10 or 11 for writer/performer Neil Tobin’s Necromancer: Near Death Experience, an interactive Magical theatre about life and death. The performances begin at 3 p.m.  in the May Chapel and lasts an hour. (Also takes place April 14-15 and May 5-6). For tickets and other information visit Near Death X.

 

Chicago premiere of 'Fellow Travelers' comes to town.
Chicago premiere of ‘Fellow Travelers’ comes to town.

 

Male relationship depicted through opera

Hear “Fellow Travelers,” a new opera by Gregory Spears with a libretto by Greg Pierce at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N Southport Ave., March 17-25. Presented by Lyric Unlimited, an arm of the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the opera is based on the Thomas Mallon novel about two men in love during the 1950s McCarthy era in Washington D.C. For tickets and more information visit Lyric Opera/Fellow Travelers.

 

 

Native art combines with immigration

See Contemporary Native American Art at the Art Center of Highland Park, 1957 Sheridan Rd., Highland Park. The exhibit, open to the public March 10 and continuing through April 6, 2018, combines with personal stories of Immigration.  For more information call (847) 432-1888 and visit TAC.

 

Jodie Jacobs

 

It is not a game when a real throne is at stake

 

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s “Mary Stuart” stands regally tall. It has superb casting, direction, costumes and a simple but clever set design by Andromache Chalfant that complements the action.

Kellie Overbey (Queen Elizabeth I) with her lords and advisors (from left Andrew Chown, Tim Decker, Kevin Gudahi, Robert Jason Jackson, David Studwell and Michael Joseph Mitchell. Photos by Michael Brosilow
Kellie Overbey (Queen Elizabeth I) with her lords and advisors (from left Andrew Chown, Tim Decker, Kevin Gudahi, Robert Jason Jackson, David Studwell and Michael Joseph Mitchell. Photo by Michael Brosilow

What is on the CST stage now  is the powerful, new version of Friedrich Schiller’s “Mary Stuart” written in 1800 that has been reworked by playwright Peter Oswald in 2005.

Schiller had written a five-act, multi scene play that portrayed Mary, Queen of Scots’ last days before ordered to be beheaded by her half-sister (and cousin), Elizabeth I, Queen of England.

Premiered in Germany in 1800, Schiller’s play was turned into an opera in 1835 by Gaetano Donzetti titled “Maria Stuarda.”

Oswald has pulled together its personalities, motivations, politics, Catholicism versus Protestantism, conspiracies, sex, feminism and royal succession into a “Game of Thrones” style, two-act, multi-scene drama.

The focal point is what could take place if the two queens faced each other before Elizabeth signed Mary’s beheading order.

Kellie Overbey (Elizabeth I) l, listens as K.K. Moggie (Mary Queen of Scots) pleas to be released. Liz Lauren photo
Kellie Overbey (Elizabeth I) l, listens as K.K. Moggie (Mary Queen of Scots) pleas to be released. Liz Lauren photo

Mary, who sought refuge with Elizabeth after Scotland had become increasingly hostile, had been imprisoned by her ruling relative in Fotheringhay Castle and charged with conspiracy to assassinate said relation.

Astutely directed by Jenn Thompson, the motivations of the two royals and the politics that surrounded them make for an exciting two and a half hours even though the ending is known.

The role of Elizabeth, taken on by Kellie Overbey, is arguably harder because she is not portrayed in a positive light. She appears somewhat stiff and haughty. And even though encouraged to marry to beget an heir, she is not interested because she doesn’t want her consort or another ruling family to take control.

In contrast, K.K. Moggie can let loose as Mary Stuart, a woman who has already married, produced what ironically would be the heir to the English throne, James I, and appears kindhearted.

The people around them include Kevin Gudahl as Sir Amias Paulet, a knight who guards Mary but is sympathetic to her plight, Mary’s former nurse Hanna Kennedy, nicely acted by Barbara Robertson, Mortimer, Paulet’s nephew played by Andrew Chown as a secretly converted Catholic who wants Mary to escape and his friend, O’Kelly, played by Kai Alexander Ealy.

Kevin Gudahl (Paulet) and Andrew Chown (nephew Mortimor) guard K.K. Moggie (Mary Stuart). Michael Brosilow photo
Kevin Gudahl (Paulet) and Andrew Chown (nephew Mortimer) guard K.K. Moggie (Mary Stuart). Michael Brosilow photo

On Elizabeth’s side are Robert Dudley, the Earl of Leicester, portrayed by Tim Decker as an ambitious schemer who tries to work both sides of the royal debate, Lord Burleigh, the High Treasurer depicted by David Studwell, Robert Jason Jackson who is George Talbot, the Earl of Shrewsbuty, an advisor to Queen Elizabeth who cautions restraint instead of beheading and

Because the French are interested in a royal merger, there is Patrick Clear as French Ambassador Count Aubespine and Michael Joseph Mitchell as French Envoy County Bellievre and also Secretary of State William Davison.

Succession is important to the British throne so audiences should take a look at the program’s Playgoer’s Guide for its “Cliff” type notes and chart to better understand who descended from whom.

DETAILS:  “Mary Stuart” is at Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s, Courtyard Theater at Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand Ave. through April 15. Running time: 2 hours, 35 minutes. For tickets and other information call (312) 595-5600 and visit Chicago Shakes.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows, visit TheatreInChicago.

Current technology and outstanding voices produce a memorable ‘Faust’

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

The first clue that the Lyric’s 2018 production of Charles Gounod’s ‘Faust’ will have an unusual rendering comes immediately in the opening scene during the opera’s lyrical introductory music.

While Faust, portrayed as an aged artist and sculptor, is lying on a bed in his studio, a video, possibly of his anxious dreams about the world outside, is projected on a large drape at the other side of the room.

He wakes and while singing of his frustration of a loveless life (Rien! En vain j’interroge ) climbs his scaffolding to a surreal, sculptured figure holding a scientific styled telescopic  instrument.

When his attempts to drink a poison there are interrupted by a choir he descends to a table with wood blocks and calls for help from the devil.

Benjamin Bernheim as Faust in his studio. Photos by Cory Weaver
Benjamin Bernheim as Faust in his studio. Photos by Cory Weaver

It is Faust’s own carving of the devil’s agent, Méphistophélès, shown as a projection on a drape near him, that is another important clue to this production’s tone.

It presents the possibility that Méphistophélès and the demons that will be surrounding him during the opera are the creation of Faust’s own tormented self. The demons definitely look like carved figures.

Faust’s carving of Méphistophélès comes to life behind the drape near him and they sing the fine duet (Me voici). After tempting Faust with a projection of the beautiful, young Marguerite, the suicidal artist is willing to sell his soul to the devil to become young and experience love.

And so, Act I sets the atmosphere created by the opera’s production designer, California sculptor /film maker John Frame, set and costume designer Vita Tzykun, video designer David Adam Moore and lighting designer Duane Schuler.

Christian Van Horn as Méphistophélès and his demons in Faust at Lyric Opera.
Christian Van Horn as Méphistophélès and his demons in Faust at Lyric Opera.

Under the superb direction of Kevin Newbury, the production team’s magic and the remarkable voices and fine acting of the entire cast all come together for a magnificent “Faust.”

Making his American debut, French tenor Benjamin Bernheim brings wonderfully rich nuances to the arias of Faust, including a beautiful rendition of (Salut, demeure chaste et pure) in Act III.

Ryan Opera Center alumnus Christian Van Horn’s fine bass-baritone is perfect for Méphistophélès. He has the flashy, jazzy demeanor of a ringmaster conducting the action.

It was evident by enthusiastic applause for Bernheim and Van Horn at the end of the first act, that audiences knew they were in for an operatic treat.

Annie Rosen (Siebel) L, listens as Edward Parks (Valentin) asks that he watches over Marguarite.
Annie Rosen (Siebel) L, listens as Edward Parks (Valentin) asks that he watches over Marguarite.

A highlight of Act II is baritone Edward Parks singing (O sainte médaille … Avant de quitter ces lieux) as Valentin, Marguarite’s brother. He tells the young boy, Siébel who adores Marguarite, to watch over her. There were more than a few “bravos”for Parks.

Although there seemed to be no worthy reason to make the character of Marguerite handicapped and give her a crutch, soprano Ailyn Pérez impressively takes hold of the role of a young, guileless, religious girl who is seduced, becomes pregnant and then abandoned.

She moves from sparkling in the famed Jewel Song (Ah! je ris de me voir si belle en ce miroir) to sadness in the aria  (Il ne revient pas) after abandoned by Faust and then to emotional strength in the love duet she sings with him (Oui, c’est toi que j’aime) when she is in prison.

Ailyn Pérezas Marguarite in Faust.
Ailyn Pérezas Marguarite in Faust.

The excellent cast also includes two mezzo sopranos, Jill Grove as Marguerite’s nosy neighbor Marthe and Annie Rose as Siébel.

As always, the Lyric’s chorus and orchestra sound grand but kudos must also go to Conductor Emmanuel Villaume who beautifully interprets Gounod’s music. Villaume is often called upon to conduct French operas.

Sung in French with English subtitles (often called projected translations), the libretto is by Jules Barbier and Michel Carré. It is based on “Faust et Marguerite” by Carré that was somewhat based on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s “Faust, Part One.”

The character of Faust has become so popular that similar to Scrooge as a name for someone who is a miser, Faustian has been coined to mean a bargain with the devil or a greedy or promoting action made without thought or care about the consequences.

The Lyric production takes advantage of current technology to project death symbols, the devilishly persuasive magic of a Méphistophélès type of person and the yearnings of someone who knowingly opts for the Faustian path. It does overuse skeletons by having them move too much instead of occasionally shadowing the action.

However,  Lyric’s 2018 “Faust” amazingly couples surrealistic art with the story’s surreal aspects while it keeps its centuries-old German flavor. Of course, outstanding voices and Gounod’s lyrical music truly put this production on the must-see list.

 

DETAILS: ‘Faust’ is at the Lyric Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago, now through March 21, 2018 (Ana María Martínez assumes the role of Marguarite on Mar. 21). For tickets and other information visit Lyric Opera/Faust.

Jodie Jacobs

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