Santa’s elf gives us a break

Matt Crowle as Crumpet the Elf in the Santaland Diaries at Goodman Theatre. (Erik Erik Scanlon photo)
Matt Crowle as Crumpet the Elf in the Santaland Diaries at Goodman Theatre. (Erik Erik Scanlon photo)

3 stars

“The Santaland Diaries,” a humorous, naughty-nice take on the holidays now at  Goodman Theatre, evolved more than 25 years ago from an essay written by the then unknown comedian David Sedaris. Coupled with other stories, he told on the nightclub circuit, it was picked-up by the National Public Radio broadcast in 1992 as the “Santaland Diaries.”

The rest, as they say (whoever they are) is history. Sedaris published the collection in 1994 and his reputation took off as a humorist, comedian, author, and radio contributor.

Adapted by Joe Mantello, “The Santaland Diaries”presented in Goodman’s more intimate Owen Theatre, is a one-man, hilarious tale about becoming a department store elf for the season.

Played by Matt Crowle, the fabulous actor talks non-stop to the audience as he tells them he has decided to take a job at Macy’s in New York City as a Santaland elf by the name of Crumpet.

The audience gets to know Crumpet very well, as he changes his clothes on stage from casual, worn clothing to the elf’s red-and-white striped tights, attractive green velvet jacket, adorable elf boots and flashy hat.

Crumpet portrays the different elf jobs that he takes on—appearing in Macy’s windows, greeting visitors, and directing the people waiting in line to see Santa.

No one is spared as he describes what’s happening with the various parents who bring their children to sit on Santa’s lap.

The challenge is to keep a smile pasted on as the job becomes less enchanting and more boring.

Directed by Steve Scott, the play’s humor is endless. The audience feels as if they are traveling every minute with Crumpet, an elf whose imperfect behavior and naughty remarks make everyone laugh out loud.

“The Santaland Diaries” gives audiences a break from their overwhelming pre-holiday schedule.

DETAILS: “The Santaland Diaries” is at the Goodman’s Owen Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago, through Dec. 30, 2018. Running time: 65 minutes with no intermission. For tickets and other information, call (312) 443-3800 or visit Goodman Theatre.

Francine Pappadis Friedman

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Bah humbug turns around!

4 stars

“A Christmas Carol” was written 175 years ago by Charles Dickens—and its popularity has never wavered since, as it appears on stages all over the country. For the past forty years, Goodman Theatre has presented “A Christmas Carol” until going downtown Chicago to see it has become a tradition for many families.

Directed  for several years by Henry Wishcamper, the play tells a basic story of the redemption of the leading character, Ebenezer Scrooge by giving him a glimpse at his past, present and what the future might hold if he doesn’t change..

Played by Larry Yando, Scrooge is the embodiment of what the name has come to represent since written by Dickens. He hates Christmas and only begrudgingly allows his underpaid clerk, Bob Cratchit (Thomas J. Cox) to take off Christmas Day. He refuses to donate to good causes with comments about where the poor should go.

Scrooge’s selfish business partner, Jacob Marley who died years earlier returns as a ghost (Kareem Bandealy). Clanging chains wrought by miserly deeds, Marley warns Scrooge he will be visited by three spirits and that Scrooge must listen or be cursed and carry even heavier chains.

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Top holiday shows and shopping plus light sights

The Joffrey Ballet's Nutcraker at Aurditorium Theatre. (Photo by Cheryl Mann)
The Joffrey Ballet’s Nutcraker at Aurditorium Theatre. (Photo by Cheryl Mann)

If you don’t want to be saying “Oops” this holiday season then 1. Don’t wait to get tickets to the shows you or your family want to see and  2. Do put those holiday events you want to go to on the calendar.

The good news is that there are numerous great holiday shows and happenings in the Chicago area. The problem news is that the many places to go, things to do and see make it hard to narrow down the choices to what is doable.

Tip: Be realistic when weighing what is manageable with kids, tired feet and meal breaks.

The following suggestions offer three Chicago area choices in each category – shows, shopping and spectacular lights and sights:

 

Shows

A Christmas Carol At Goodman Theatre (2017 photo by Liz Lauren)
A Christmas Carol At Goodman Theatre (2017 photo by Liz Lauren)

What: Goodman Theatre’s “The Christmas Carol” Nov. 17-Dec. 30, 2018

Where: In Goodman Theatre’s Albert Theatre at 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago

Why: Goodman’s production of Charles Dickens’ “The Christmas Carol” is  a Chicago tradition that never gets old with new staging often added. But the show is also a talking point for families on what is important.

How:: See ticket and other information at Goodman Theatre/Carol

 

What:  Joffrey Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” Dec. 1-30, 2018

Where: Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 E. Ida B. Wells Dr. (50 E. Congress Pkwy) at Michigan Ave.

Why: Going to the Joffrey’s “Nutcracker” is also a Chicago holiday tradition. It was beautifully re-imagined  last year by choreographer Christopher Wheeldon as a visit by Marie and her mother to the 1893 World’s Fair. The mysterious Great Impresario turns the visit into an adventure. And it is all set to Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s gorgeous music.

How: Find tickets and information at Joffrey Nutcracker

 

What: Lookingglass Theatre’s “The Steadfast Tin Soldier,” Nov. 7, 2018 through Jan. 13, 2019.

Where: Lookingglass theatre is in the Chicago Water Works at 821 N Michigan Ave, Chicago.

Why: Lookingglass productions are highly innovative, well acted and engrossing. This tale based on a Hans Christian Andersen story is being staged as an exciting spectable by ttalented, creative Mary Zimmerman.

How: Tickets and information are at Lookingglass Theatre.

 

Shopping

Good gift shopping at the Field Museum (J Jacobs photo)
Good gift shopping at the Field Museum (J Jacobs photo)

What: The Field Museum Store, anytime

Where: The Field is at 1400 S. Lake Shore Dr., Chicago, the furthest west building on the Museum Campus.

Why: The museum has a fantastic gift shop with items that would appeal to all ages.

How: For hours and admission visit Field Museum or shop on line

 

What: Christkindlmarket Chicago, daily Nov. 16-Dec. 24, 2018 and Naperville Thursday through Sunday Nov. 23-Dec. 24 2018.

Where: In Chicago at Daley Plaza on Washington Street between Dearborn and Clark Streets and in Naperville  at Naper Settlement, 523 S. Webster St.

Why: It’s fun to see, buy and taste the type of Bavarian gifts and treats popular at holiday markets in Germany.

How: More information is at Christkindlmarket

 

What: Art Institute of Chicago Gift Shop, anytime

Where:  On line and at the museum, front entrance at 111 S. Michigan Ave. and the Modern Wing entrance at 159 E. Monroe St.

Why: Gift shop entrances do not need admission fees or tickets. The shops carry one-of-a kind gifts that won’t bust the budget. The Modern Wing has good glass items and the main gift shop has excellent jewelry and ties. Both  shops have Frank Lloyd Wright  items and gifts inspired by other artists. Also visitors like to take holiday  photos with the wreathed lions in front.

How: For hours visit the museum at artic.

Spectacular lights and sights

Zoo Lights at Lincoln Park Zoo
Zoo Lights at Lincoln Park Zoo

What: Lincoln Park Zoo Lights Nov. 23-Jan.6

Where: In Lincoln Park at 2001 N. Clark St., Chicago

Why: See the animals while strolling among 2,5 million lights thanks to Com Ed and Invesco. Also visit Santa, watch ice carving, sip warm spiced wine, snack on holiday treats and watch a 3D light show.

How: Find hours and admission at LPZoo Zoolights.

 

What: Chicago Botanic Garden Lights and Wonderland Express Nov. 23-Dec. 21,2018

Where: 1000 Lake Cook Road, Glencoe

Why: the Garden’s event is called Wonderland Express but before going into the building that has trains zipping through Chicago landmarks, see trees and walkways lit by thouands of lights and visit the greenhouses’ topiaries and poinsettias. Then don’t worry about the “snow” falling on shoulders inside the exhibit building. It’s all about fun and winter wonders.

How: For hours and admission visit Chicago Botanic/Wonderland

 

What: Morton Arboretum Illumination Nov. 17, 2018-Jan 1, 2019

Where: The grounds of the Morton Aroboretum at 4100 IL Hwy 53, Lisle.

Why: These lights don’t stay still. They change color, they move to music, they’re interactive and Illumination, supported by Com Ed and Invesco, is fun.

How:: See hours and admission at MortonArb/Lights

 

Jodie Jacobs

 

 

 

Loss expressed with a Danish accent

RECOMMENDED

Linda Gehringer in Lady in Denmark at Goodman Theatre (Liz Loren photo)
Linda Gehringer in Lady in Denmark at Goodman Theatre (Liz Loren photo)

Maybe despair and loss can be emotionally handled when countered or balances with glimmers of hope.

In “Lady in Denmark,” a one-person show currently playing at Goodman Theatre, Helene recounts her life in Denmark including rape when she was 14 and her current situation of desperate loneliness upon the recent death of husband Lars.

She replays their favorite Billy Holiday songs for the memories but try as she does, it doesn’t seem to work for her and is not enough to leave audiences feeling good about loss.

Indeed, theater goers who are experiencing or have gone through the kind of cancer battle that Helene just went through with her beloved Lars, might want to skip the show or see it at a much later time.

Part of the problem is that Linda Gehringer who received a Jeff nominee for “The Crowd You’re In With,” portrays Helene so well and with such intensity and depth of understanding it is easy to believe the person on stage is recounting her own experiences.

Written by Pulitzer Prize finalist Dael Orlandersmith, the playwright and actress of the highly acclaimed “Until the Flood,” her current play appears on the surface to be a tribute to Holiday, the “Lady” who visited Denmark and was happier in Europe than in America where she was subject to racial hatred and discriminatory laws.

It does partially retell Holiday’s interaction with a family in Denmark, the inspiration for “Lady in Denmark.” But with Gehringer’s heartfelt portrayal under Chay Yew’s direction, what the play does in its brief 90 minutes is to remind people that “rape lasts a lifetime” and that trying to get through loss “doesn’t get better.”

The action takes place in a home in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood, an elaborate, excellent set designed by Andrew Boyce, furnished in Danish Modern. Gehringer competently interjects Danish phrases and mentions favorite foods that add to the show’s ethnic angle.

Even told with a Danish flavor that has Billy Holiday songs in the background and referred to in the title, “Lady in Denmark” is about loss., an emotion that is universal.

DETAILS: “Lady in Denmark” is in the Owen theatre and Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago through Nov. 18, 2018. Running time: 90 min. no intermission. For tickets and other information call (312) 443-3800 and visit Goodman Theatre .

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

Thoughts on the Jeff Awards

Benson, Mahler, Stevenson and McCabe (preview) in Buddy-The Buddy Holly Story, an American Blues theater revival. (Michael Brosilow photos)
Benson, Mahler, Stevenson and McCabe (preview) in Buddy-The Buddy Holly Story, an American Blues theater revival. (Michael Brosilow photos)

Some very fine performances and productions were honored at the 50th anniversary of the Jeff Awards Oct. 22 at Drury Lane in Oakbrook Terrace.

As an example, American Blues Theater’s “Buddy – The Buddy Holly Story”  received the most awards:  Production – Musical -Midsize, Director Lili-Anne Brown, Principal Performer in a Musical Zachary Stevenson, Music Director Michael Mahler,and Ensemble – Musical or Revue.

But think about it.  When the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences name the Oscar winners each year, movie goers who haven’t seen the award-winning shows still can catch them on DVD, Netflix and other film distributes.

There are arguably many people who would still like to see the American Blues Theater’s production.Read More

Theater costumes sale

Costumes at Goodman Theatre.
Costumes at Goodman Theatre.

Heads up community theater companies, anyone interested in gorgeous costumes, wigs or planning on dressing for a costume ball, the costume shop at the Goodman Theatre is holding a “yard” sale Oct. 20, 2018 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at its building, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago.

Some noted items on sale are headwear from “Crowns,” uniforms from “King Lear,” pageant costumes from “Another Word For Beauty” and flag costumes from “Father Comes Home From the Wars.”

Admission is free. All sales are final and proceeds help support the Goodman. Items range from $1 to more than $300 and must be picked up the same day.

Jodie Jacobs

Four Chicago theatres receive special Jeff recognition

 

Goodman Theatre is among four longtime Chicago area theatres to be honored at Jeff Awards (Goodman Theatre photo)
Goodman Theatre is among four longtime Chicago area theatres to be honored at Jeff Awards (Goodman Theatre photo)

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

Powerful solo show commands Goodman stage

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

David Cale in his show at Goodman Theatre. (Photo by Liz Loren)
David Cale in his show at Goodman Theatre. (Photo by Liz Loren)

We’re told not to give away plot points  of “We’re Only Alive for A Short Amount of Time,” British born, American actor, singer, composer David Cale’s musical memoir now in its world premiere at Goodman Theatre.

So suffice it to say Cale takes audiences from his unusual growing up years through how an early tragedy impacted him and his family to his leaving England for a new life in the United States where he blossoms as an adult and loves being alive.

OK, that’s an oversimplification.

“We’re Only Alive for A Short Amount of Time” is a commanding performance that combines acting and singing.

Cale adopts the mantle of each of his characters. His change of voice, movements, prose and lyrical poetry set to music, pull audiences into how he thinks family members and he viewed life and each other.

The changes are complemented by a superb six-piece orchestra on stage directed by co-composer/arranger pianist Matthew Dean Marsh. They are adroitly lit in parts and whole by Jennifer Tipton. Kevin Depinet’s creative set design enhances the verbal pictures painted by Cale.

No matter what else the show is and does for audiences, it is his tribute to his mother. If viewers look at the playbill cover they will see a woman pictured on his shirt. It is no accident that her picture is placed over his heart.

What is hard to believe is that he tells his story in 90 minutes, a short amount of time given that it has enough plot points to fill a two hour play or three-hour opera.

But Cale who has written one-person shows before, likely understands that brief exposure makes powerful statements.

Directed with great insight and empathy by Robert Falls, “We’re Only alive for A Short Amount of Time” is definitely powerful.

DETAILS: “We’re Only Alive for A Short Amount of Time” is at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago through Oct. 21, 2018. Running time: 90 min. no intermission. For tickets and other information call (312) 443-3800 and visit Goodmantheatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

 

 

Hemingway takes over Goodman stage via Stacy Keach

Stacy Keach is Ernest Hemingway in the world premiere of Pamplona at Goodman Theatre. (Liz Lauren Photo)
Stacy Keach is Ernest Hemingway in the world premiere of Pamplona at Goodman Theatre. (Liz Lauren Photo)

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Stacy Keach is the consummate actor who totally wraps himself within the character he portrays so that audiences forget who the actor is and just see the character.Yes, actors are supposed to do that but so often when an actor portrays a celebrity you see an actor portraying a celebrity. In Pamplona at the Goodman Theatre you don’t see Keach, you see Ernest Hemingway.

The author is struggling with the words he wants to use to convey the feelings of the matador he is writing about for a Life Magazine article. But while trying to find  the right phrase, he relives moments in his life.

Projections of the “running of the bulls and the Paris of Gertrude Stein and Scott Fitzgerald flash across the walls of his hotel in Pamplona, Spain. You meet his first love, his wives, his parents through snapshots of people who influenced him and moved in and out of his life.

You learn a bit about what led to “The Sun Also Rises,” The Old Man and the Sea,” Farewell to Arms”, how he hated his mother and his regrets over how he treated his wives and his father.

Certainly, it is difficult to portray the life of “Papa” Hemingway in 90 minutes but by the time Stacy Keach takes his bow you feel you and this author from Oak Park, IL have become better acquainted.

There is a PS to this production. It was on the Goodman schedule more than a year ago and had an excellent preview. But during the official opening night, it became obvious to those of us in the audience that Keach was ill. Director Robert Falls stopped the performance. It turned out that Keach was suffering a minor heart attack. Following bypass surgery and a recovery period, Keach returned to his TV work and has now returned to continue Pamplona. Hemingway would have understood that kind of determination.

DETAILS: “Pamplona” by Jim McGrath and directed by Robert Falls is in Goodman Theatre’s Owen Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago,  through Aug. 19, 2018. Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission. For tickets and other information call (312) 443-3800 or visit Goodman Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

“Support Group For Men” makes a good onetime sitcom

RECOMMENDED

A yoga style exercise helps the guys in Support Group For Men at Goodman Theatre. )Photo by Liz Lauren)
A yoga style exercise helps the guys in Support Group For Men at Goodman Theatre. )Photo by Liz Lauren)

Whether you like “Support Group for Men,” a new play by Ellen Fairey, author of the highly successful “Graceland” and “Girl 20,”may depend on how you feel about comical TV sitcoms that are funny because they reveal underlying insecurities. No stranger to television, Fairey was a writer/producer on “Nurse Jackie and is executive co-producer of “The Sinner.”

Fairey’s play artificially brings together four ethnically and culturally diverse guys who encourage each other to reveal their problems and thoughts during their weekly Thursday night get together. Some of them are finding it hard to keep up with or adjust to all the changing movements and attitudes.

The facilitators are a fraternity-like ritual with supposedly American Indian tribal overtones and a bat they call a stick covered with supposedly native-American decorations.

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