This theatrical version of “The Adventures of Augie March,” at the Court Theatre perhaps serves to illustrate why the popular novel by Chicagoan Saul Bellow has never before been adapted to the stage.
The story line basically follows everyman hero Augie March (Patrick Mulvey) as he meanders aimlessly through life allowing the people he meets to shape his journey. In this way Bellow suggests the arbitrariness of life and is perhaps a cautionary tale of the dangers of undefined goals.
The play opens in the Atlantic Ocean with Augie and his maniacal companion (John Judd) floating in a lifeboat after the sinking of their merchant ship.
During a flashback, Augie’s odyssey begins in the 1930s depression era crowded apartment he shares with his mother (Chaon Cross), two brothers and an overbearing Russian Jewish grandmother (Marilyn Dodds Frank).
Along the way Augie meets an odd assortment of characters which is one of the hallmarks of Bellow’s writing as he reveled in the peculiarities and idiosyncrasies of humanity.
“Photograph 51” written by Anna Ziegler and Directed by Vanessa Stalling at the Court Theatre is a snapshot of the life of British chemist Rosalind Franklin (Chaon Cross).
Until recently she had gone virtually un-credited for her contribution to the discovery that revealed the structure of DNA to be a double helix. But the discovery earned her research colleague Maurice Wilkins (Nathan Hosner) and two rival collaborators James Watson (Alex Goodrich) and Francis Crick (Nicholas Harazin) the Nobel Prize.
Franklin was hired by King’s College London for her cutting edge expertise in the field of X-ray crystallography and assured that she would be in charge of her own research. Instead, she was assigned to Wilkins’ DNA project thus leaving her status of independence unresolved at best. Read More
It is supposed that our most ancient cave dwelling predecessors told supernatural cautionary tales of adventure that included encounters with fantastic creatures.
Their flickering fires casting out-sized, ominous, and at times, grotesque shadows on the wall amplified the sense of dread and danger. Add the slow beating of a drum mimicking the ever increasing beating of hearts, mixing with the mysterious sounds of nature lurking in the darkness and you begin to see the primeval recipe that Manual Cinema has tapped into in the telling of their version of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein.”
Manual Cinema is a singular theatrical experience that has elements of street theater and silent film. The company mixes live action, silhouettes, puppets, shadow puppetry, masks, video, slide projection and all manner of theatrical techniques, ancient and modern to create a captivating monochromatic video mash-up, reminiscent of a nickelodeon feature, assembled and projected on stage before your eyes.
Some Chicago hotels are reputedly haunted such as the Congress Plaza on Michigan Avenue. But seeing ghostly figures there is not guaranteed. Thus, to be sure to come across spooky guest rooms, visit the Godfrey on West Huron, Oct. 27, 2018 when it holds its annual Haunted Hotel. The fourth floor rooftop lounge will be serving bewitched potions. Daring guests are welcome to explore the 20 haunted rooms on the fifth floor. The event goes from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. Tickets start at $45 per person. For ticket and other information visit Godfrey events. The Godfrey Hotel Chicago is at 127 W. Huron St.
Or party with the real Frankenstein
Before the Court Theatre holds Manual Cinema’s world premiere of its version of “Frankenstein” on Nov. 1, it is opening the show’s final dress rehearsal to a limited number of ticket holders who are ready to party Oct. 31, 2018. Attendees should come dressed ghoulishly creepy or creatively spooky to compete in a costume contest and hungry enough to wolf down strange hors (or is it horror) d’oeuvres and cocktails. Tickets are $75 and cover the pre-show party at 6:30 p.m., performance and then a post-show artists’ mingle. Purchases of two or more tickets drop the price by $5. The Court Theatre is at 5535 S. Ellis Ave. at the west end of the University of Chicago Hyde Park campus. For tickets or other information visit the box office, call (773) 753-4472, or visit Court Theatre.
When the Joseph Jefferson Awards holds its annual ceremony and dinner on Oct. 22, 2018 to recognize the best acting and production components of last season’s Equity shows, there will be four additional awards.
To mark the Jeff Awards 50th anniversary, Goodman Theatre, started in 1925, Drury Lane Theatre, begun in 1949, Court Theatre founded in 1955 and The Second City, dating back to 1959, will be honored for enriching the Chicago theatre scene for more than 50 years. Over the past 50 years, the four theatres have racked up more than 1,400 nominations and 350 awards.Read More
In January, 1818 British author Mary Shelley first published “Frankenstein (subtitle The Modern Prometheus).” This season, Court (Manual Cinema), Lifeline, Lookingglass and Remy Bumppo Theatre Companies are recognizing the 200th anniversary by each doing their version of “Frankenstein.”
Anyone interested in the similarities and differences that the four excellent Chicago companies will emphasize in their productions should try to snag a ticket to “Frankenstein: Unearthed,” Sept. 30, 2018, a 1 p.m. program at Lookingglass Theatre, 821 N. Michigan Ave. in the Chicago Water Tower Water Works. For tickets and information visit Lookingglass Theatre.
Moderated by Chicago Tribune Critic Chris Jones, the event features a panel of Manuel Cinema’s Drew Dir, Lifeline’s Robert Kauzlaric and Ann Sonneville, Lookingglass’ David Catlin and Cordelia Dewdney and Remy Bumppo’s Ian Frank and Eliza Stoughton.
Among the issues examined will be “How is this story told?” To answer that from the Lookingglass perspective, Chicago Theater and Arts talked with ensemble member and the production’s writer/director, David Catlin, about the route traveled to write the script, what his research uncovered and what audiences can expect when the show premieres in 2019.
“Heidi (Stillman, ensemble member and artistic director) had an existing script. I looked at it and read it but it was not grabbing me as I thought it should. So she said we’ll commission you to do an adaptation.
“I’m sure the points were present in the script but they not stick out so I went back to the book. I had missed reading it in high school and didn’t get it in college,” said Catlin.
He did more than read the book. Catlin also researched its author.
“I was amazed this could get out of an 18 year-old and a woman in that time period when women were not encouraged. It was a powerful piece.”Read More
A Pittsburgh real estate developer with aspirations of becoming mayor finds himself at odds with his wife and his business partner after encountering a couple of guys from his old neighborhood who bring him closer to his own history and the roots of his community.
This is a story about the quest for success, what is legal, what is fair and ultimately, what is right and what is wrong.
These concepts are not just black and white. They are usually very muddy and predicated on each individual’s point-of-view. On some level this story tries to indicate that there is a clear distinction.
Sometimes theater companies perform in more than one space and some venues host more than one resident theater company. Looking at the venues west of I 94 you find both so some of these companies have been listed elsewhere. Also, be sure to check out what’s playing at the fine theaters south of the loop such as Court Theatre and The Chicago Children’s Theatre.
A Multi theater venue at 1543 W. Division St. has “Borealis” by The House Theatre of Chicago Aug. 30-Oct. 21 and Rough House Theatre will be doing the “Walls of Harrow House” in October.
For tickets and other information call (773) 278-1500 and visit Chopin Theatre.
The Den Theatre
A multi-theater venue at 4802 N. Milwaukee Ave, The Den’s resident companies include Broken Nose, Firebrand, First Floor, Griffin, Haven, New Colony and WildClaw but it also hosts other companies. Here are some of the plays performing at The Den in the 2018-19 season
New Colony is continuing the production of “The Light” at the Theatre on the Lake through Aug. 24, then is doing “Fun Harmless War Machine” Oct. 3-Nov. 4. It continues in 2019 with “Small World” Mar 27-May 5. New Colony is on second floor of the Den. (773) 413-0862.
Grifin is continuing “The Harvest” through Aug. 25. The Jacobins are doing “The Book of Sebastian” Aug. 24-Sept. 1 and Broken Nose is doing “Plainclothes” Nov. 9- Dec. 15.
New American Folk Theatre has “Scraps” Sept. 1-29 and WildClaw has “Second Skin” Sept. 11-Oct. 13.
Interrobang which is listed here later at its own space will be doing “White Rabbit Red Rabbit” Mondays Sept. 24-Nov. 12 and First Floor is doing “Hooded, Or Being Black for Dummies” Oct. 20-Nov. 17, “Mike Pence, Sex Dream” beginning Feb. 18 and “I’m Gonna Pray for You So Hard” beginning Apr. 19.
Firebrand is doing “Caroline Or Change” Sept. 22-Oct. 28 and The Haven has “Directors Haven” Oct. 13-31 that showcases plays by Charlotte Drover, Airos Sung-En Medill and Dani Wieder.
The Haven continues in 2019 with “The Total Bent” Feb. 7-Mar. 10 and “Kiss” July 18-Aug. 11 and First Floor is doing “Mike Pense, Sex Dream” beginning Feb. 18 and “I’m Gonna Pray for You So Hard” beginning Apr. 19.
Twenty-three year old Joanna “Joey” Drayton (Bryce Gangel) returns home from an extended absence anxious to share the news with her parents that she has found the love of her life, and that the two are planning to marry.
The couple’s news will test everyone’s commitment to their own values, revealing their previously acknowledged and unacknowledged prejudices.
The year is 1967, the height of the civil rights era. The Draytons are best described as an affluent liberal white family. Joey’s new boyfriend, Dr. John Prentice (Michael Aaron Pogue), is black.
Dad, Matt Drayton (Tim Hopper) is the publisher of a progressive newspaper while mom, Christina (Mary Beth Fisher) is the owner of an upscale art gallery.
Joey has secretly decided to surprise everyone by inviting the Dr. Prentice’s mother and father (Jacqueline Williams and Dexter Zollicoffer) to a family dinner that includes her dad’s close friend, Monsignor Ryan (Dan Waller).
The meal will be prepared by the Drayton’s long-time African-American domestic helper, Matilda “Tillie” Binks (Sydney Charles). Both the Monsignor and Tillie are considered to be a part of the Drayton’s extended family.
However, Christina’s assistant, Hilary St. George (Rachel Sledd), catches wind of the relationship and immediately goes into action to avoid what she perceives to be a potential scandal that might be bad for business as well as the Draytons’ social standing
“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” at the Court Theatre by Todd Kreidler is based on the screenplay by William Rose for the movie of the same title.
The movie version featuring Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn and Sidney Poitier, was a turning point in “race relations” in the late 1960s. Tracy’s final soliloquy is often excerpted as an example of racial tolerance as well as an example of fine acting.
In short these current actors have big shoes to fill, ultimately doing a really fine job of finding their own voice and putting their own interpretation on each of their roles.
This production is expertly directed by Marti Lyons who keeps the pace lively and helps the actors adeptly avoid the challenges related to performing this iconic material.
This is a perfect ensemble in which there is no need to draw attention to any one actor except to say that the roles of Tillie and Monsignor Ryan bring much appreciated, occasional comic relief which each of the respective performers do without distracting from the essence of the story-line.
Likewise Bryce Gangel as the ingénue character at the center of the storm perfectly presented bright eyed optimism and youthful exuberance tempered with an undeniable realism.
The monochromatic set by Scott Davis includes white cacti on the patio and unornamented, mid-century furnishings with avant-garde artwork prepared by scenic artists Scott Gerwitz and Julie Ruscitti.
The black and white palette reminds us that we are literally dealing with a black and white issue that have shades of gray with only occasional hopeful bursts of color.
Costume Designer (Samantha Jones) whom I remember from The Court Theatre’s “Belle of Amherst,” really knows how to make exceptional clothing for her women that complements the production.
In this case the colorful artistic outfit for Hilary St. George who appears at the very beginning of the play immediately helps to set the time period and give us some insight into the flamboyant aspect of the character. Christina Drayton’s dinner outfit with shawl is the perfect at-home informal hostess attire, and Joey’s simple cocktail dress with gray tights is exquisitely tailored with a sixties vibe. Both used tone-on-tone fabrics that stay in the monochromatic color range without being simply black and white.
It was fun to be a part of this mixed age group audience for this particular play in the center of Hyde Park, long recognized as a liberal multi-racial and multi-cultural community. The laughs and gasps were more audible and more frequent then I have heard in a while and which I am certain was a result of many of the audience members understanding this material in a more intimate and first hand way, as either participants or witnesses to similar real life stories.
DETAILS: “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” is at the Court Theatre (on the campus of the University of Chicago) at 5535 S. Ellis, Chicago, through April 15, 2018. For tickets and other information call (773)753-4472 or visit CourtTheatre.
If what you remember of Emily Dickinson from high school literature is that she was a spinster recluse who wrote free verse poetry about death you will be happy to know that at the Court Theatre you will be spending time with a much different Dickinson. This one imagined herself to be “The Belle of Amherst.”
Maybe you asked, how could anyone who in adulthood never traveled more than a few miles from home, avoided her neighbors and had few if any friends, be an interesting subject for a one actor play.
But, sharing insights into her writing process, familial relations, lost loves and admirers, Kate Fry portrays a much spunkier, wittier version of the poetess than most of us imagined.
Fry grabs our attention the moment she makes her entrance and keeps the audience captivated for the remainder of the two-act play.
Captivated – now there is a word I believe Emily Dickinson “could take her hat off to.” She speaks of her love of words, how they look, how they sound and what they mean.
We learn that Dickinson did not have a love of life as we traditionally think of it. Rather she had a love of living. She says that just having life is the greatest thing imaginable.
When her poems are rejected for publication she says that like a bird she does not sing for others, she sings because she must sing. Likewise she lives because she must live and revels in the simple acts of living.
The action takes place on a visually stunning set designed by Arnel Sanciano – a kind of floating box within a box presented on an angle and a bit off center like the title subject.
The inner box is mostly monochrome with the only bright colors coming from glimpses of nature outside her windows and the numerous plants brought inside.
Sanciano’s set is perfectly complimented by the luminous effects of Lighting Designer Mike Durst who paints the monotone interior with wonderful shades of lavender and thoughtful shadows that augment the various moods of the many stories being told.
Since this is a play about words and a person who built her life around choosing just the right one, it is imperative that the dialogue can be heard distinctly and Sound Designers Andre Pluess and Christopher LaPorte do not disappoint us.
It may be a function of the excellent third row center seat I had but every word was clear as a bell (no pun intended) and did not have that artificial electronic sound.
My one minor criticism was the use of some background music that was periodically intended to enhance the mood. I found it more of a distraction particularly in one scene where it sounded like someone’s annoying cell phone melody.
Samantha Jones’ dresses for Fry were beautifully crafted, detailed and suited to the period.
A one performer play is indeed largely about the actor, who in this case was perfection but the overall production is all about the director.
In such a play the director is more important than ever because it is through him, in this case, Sean Graney that the performer gets all of her feedback.
It is up to the actor and the other crafts people to provide options and have the talent to execute ideas that emerge, but the director is truly the holder of the vision. He is the one who will decide what we all will see, and I like what I saw.
So in the end this is a true collaboration of stage craft. There is only one actor so the set, sound, and costumes are essential to help paint a fuller picture. Everything must be perfect and it really was.
DETAILS: ‘The Belle of Amherst’ by William Luce’ is at Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave. on the University of Chicago campus through Dec. 3, 2017. Running time: 1 hour, 55 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and other information call (773) 753-4472 or visit Court Theatre.