Beyond the daylight world

RECOMMENDED

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

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

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.

 

Hurricane damaged house exposes and repairs family problems

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Their Staten Island house ravaged by Hurricane Sandy is not the only thing that needs extensive repair when 60-something-year-olds Marty and Mary Murphy return to what had always been their home.

Penny Slusher (Mary Murphy) and Francis Guinan (Marty Murphy) return to their Hurricane Sandy ravaged home in 'By the Water' at Northlight Theatre. Photo by Michael Brosilow
Penny Slusher (Mary Murphy) and Francis Guinan (Marty Murphy) return to their Hurricane Sandy ravaged home in ‘By the Water’ at Northlight Theatre. Photo by Michael Brosilow

In Sharyn Rothstein’s ‘By the Water,’ a Chicago premiere now at Northlight Theatre, attempts by the stubborn Marty to live there again and convince his neighbors to return, antagonize his friends who want to accept a bailout and move where safe from a repeat disaster.

But that is minor compared to how those efforts finally reveal Marty’s serious past mistakes, the feelings of his long-suffering Mary, and how and why his adult sons feel the way they do towards each other and their dad.

Well directed by Cody Estle, audiences will find there is a lot more going on then seen in the first 20 minutes of a play that only lasts an hour and 45 minutes.

Marty, brilliantly played by Francis Guinan, starts out as a sympathetic character who wants to rebuild the house his father gave him.

But sympathies start to erode as he shows little love and appreciation for his successful eldest son Sal, nicely interpreted by Jordan Brown, and instead empathizes with his recently released from prison younger son, Brian, charmingly played by Joel Reitsma.

His character draws even less sympathy as he continues to dominate Mary, exceptionally portrayed by Penny Slushier.

Amanda Drinkall is very believable as recently divorced Emily Mancini, Brian’s love interest. Her parents, the neighboring couple Andrea and Philip Carter, are well played by Janet Ulrich Brooks and Patrick Clear.

Jeffrey D. Kmiec’s impressive scenic design perfectly accomplishes the impression of a hurricane disaster while still offering a skeletal place to stay and greet family and neighbors.

Details: ‘By the Water’ by Sharyn Rothstein is at Northlight Theatre, 9501 Skokie Boulevard, Skokie, IL, now through April 23, 2017. For tickets and other information visit Northlight and call (847) 673-6300.

 

Exhibit prepares for total solar eclipse

Tornado chasing may sound familiar but how about eclipse chasing?

Adler astronomer Larry Ciupik steps on the floor map of eclipses to show how much of the sun will peek out in Las Vegas Nevada which is not right on the path of the 2017 solar eclipse. The green line going across from left to right is the 2017 eclipse path. The map also shows Carbondale, IL as the best place to be. Photo by Jodie Jacobs
Adler astronomer Larry Ciupik steps on the floor map of eclipses to show how much of the sun will peek out in Las Vegas, Nevada which is not right on the path of the 2017 solar eclipse. The green line going across from left to right is the 2017 eclipse path. The map also shows Carbondale, IL as the best place to be. Photo by Jodie Jacobs

‘Chasing Eclipses,’ a new exhibit  at the Adler Planetarium, has a terrific “Eclipses Over America” floor map that includes the primary watching path for the total solar eclipse US residents will experience on Aug. 21, 2017.

Visitors can see that the eclipse will be moving diagonally across the country from Salem, Oregon through Carbondale, IL to Charleston South Carolina. The map also shows the paths of other eclipses. Read More

‘Circus 1903’ resurrects entertainment before TV and tech toys

RECOMMENDED

Circus 1903 brings back the old-fashioned kind of sideshow and acts that visited small towns years ago. Mark Turner Photo.
Circus 1903 brings back the old-fashioned kind of sideshow and acts that visited small towns years ago. Mark Turner Photo.

Ladies and gentlemen, step right up to a funny sideshow with a great contortionist, thrilling main acts of accomplished aerialist and high-wire performances, terrific juggler, fine acrobats and a ringmaster who beguiles kids and adults with patter that is both charming and insightful.

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Mind and body influences turn out to be a hard problem in new Stoppard play

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Viewed in its purist form, ‘The Hard Problem,’ Tom Stoppard’s newest cerebral play, has members of a brain science institute arguing about Darwinism, matter, biology and neuroscience versus the influence of consciousness and psychology.

It’s a mind-body question and equation that might be tempered by computer intelligence and statistics.

Chaon Cross in 'The Hard Problem' at Court Theatre. Photo by Michael Brosilow
Chaon Cross in ‘The Hard Problem’ at Court Theatre. Photo by Michael Brosilow

Religion and philosophy are not supposed to enter into their discussions.

A complicating factor is that venture capital and hedge funds pay for the institute’s existence.

However, Hilary, a psychologist who works there, believes in God and prays for the well-being of a daughter she had when a teenager and gave up for adoption.

But after seeing the play, now at Court Theatre, and thinking about how it ends with Hillary, beautifully interpreted by Chaon Cross, leaves the institute and has her prayers answered, there is another way to view the story.

The question may legitimately be asked if after years of academic-style arguments, is Stoppard now asking intellectuals to not take themselves too seriously and loosen-up to see and acknowledge other views and influences?

Director Charles Newell and scenic designer John Culbert  encourage the play’s dichotomy by having the arguments play out in an uncluttered white box -type setting where an important prop is the candle Hillary uses when she prays.

Vary appropriately produced in a theater on the University of Chicago’s north campus, the play should be seen with someone who enjoys the type of arguments and balancing behaviors Stoppard puts forth in this play.

Details: ‘The Hard Problem’ by Tom Stoppard is at Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave., Chicago, IL, now through April 9, 2017. For tickets and other information call (773) 753-4472 and visit Court Theatre.

Live “telenovela” of overly dramatic scenes and plot twists make for a fun evening

RECOMMENDED

If ‘Destiny of Desire’ sounds like the title of a soap opera you would be very close to right.

Ruth Livier (Fabiola Castillo), Ricardo Gutierrez (Dr. Jorge Mendoza) and Evelina Fernandez (Sister Sonia) in 'Destiny of Desire' at Goodman Theatre. Photo by Liz Lauren
Ruth Livier (Fabiola Castillo), Ricardo Gutierrez (Dr. Jorge Mendoza) and Evelina Fernandez (Sister Sonia) in ‘Destiny of Desire’ at Goodman Theatre. Photo by Liz Lauren

On stage at Goodman Theatre now through April 16, the “soap” that audiences sit in on as it is supposedly being televised in an empty Chicago theater (note the lighting props), is a Latino “telenovela.”

It has all the overemphasized drama of the Latino mini TV series that has even made the format the show of choice in Eastern Europe and Asia. Read More