‘Dana H’

Deirdre O'Connell as Dana H at Goodman Theatre. (Photo by Craig Schwartz)
Deirdre O’Connell as Dana H at Goodman Theatre. (Photo by Craig Schwartz)

3 ½ stars

Someone on my train ride home asked if I enjoyed the show.  After all, some theater is for entertainment. But, this is not a show for a fun evening out.

Go because it is an eye-opener to some of the dictates of not known-to-everyone organizations or societies out there. Go because you will learn even more than probably known now about injustice from people who are supposed to protect you and care about you.

Go also because the play is well acted within a very unusual format.

The entire play takes place in a motel room. Although it is a short, less than 90-minute production, you feel as if you lived through Dana’s incomparable five months of captivity and her pre-and post hostage weeks.

Dana, exquisitely portrayed by Deirdre O’Connell, is Dana Higginbotham, a former psych ward chaplain. She is being interviewed by Steve Cosson on her horrifying experience. You hear, but don’t see, Cosson.

The woman heard is the actual Dana whose interviews were recorded at the request of her son, Lucas Hnath, the award winning playwright of “A Doll’s House Part 2” and “The Christians.”

Hnath has reconstructed the interviews into a “docudrama” for the stage with O’Connell lip-syncing the recorded words and reacting to the experience the way  ‘Dana did.

To emphasize the motel room place, actress Molly Bunder enters and cleans the room accompanied by strobe-lit, fast-forwarding, blurred recorded sounds.

Superbly directed by Les Waters, the experience of sitting inside a theater where everything from valet parking and “L” noise is left behind and that familiar world is replaced by a chilling, but actual world of unthinkable violence and betrayal is so disturbing it is likely to change you.

DETAILS: ‘”Dana H.” is a co-production with Center Theatre Group at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St, Chicago, through Oct. 6, 2019. Running time: Under 90 minutes. For tickets and other information call (312) 443-3800 or visit Goodman Theatre.

(The show is not appropriate for ages under 16)

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago


It is ‘Lottery Day’ in the Rightlynd ward


James Vincent Meredith (Avery) and J. Nicole Brooks (Mallory) in Lottery Day at Goodman Theatre. (Liz Loren photo)
James Vincent Meredith (Avery) and J. Nicole Brooks (Mallory) in Lottery Day at Goodman Theatre. (Liz Loren photo)

3 stars

Rightlynd is Holter’s fictional ward in Chicago. When guests enter Owen’s lobby they see a colorful board map of the neighborhood with places and names that have been mentioned in the saga’s plays that precede “Lottery Day.” Maybe a copy of that map ought to be in the playbill.

If you think of playwright Ike Holter’s “Lottery Day,” the seventh play in his Rightlynd saga, from an opera format view point, you may not mind that you don’t hear what the characters are saying when they all talk at the same time. Maybe, just consider it a duet or blending of emotions and voices.

According to Holter’s comments in Goodman Theatre’s On Stage Q&A the cadence and very fast dialogue beats in his series are deliberate.

I understand that. But when watching “Lottery Day,” now in its world premiere at Goodman’s Owen Theatre, I felt I needed to actually hear what they were saying to help me define each character’s place in the story, their concerns and background.

Not having seen any of the plays that preceded “Lottery Day” in the saga, I felt I had come upon preparations for a party and then the party, itself, quite accidentally without knowing any of the participants, their back story or why they interacted the way they did.Read More

‘Twilight Bowl’ where life changes expectations


Twilight Bowl at Goodman Theatre (Photo courtesy of Goodman
Twilight Bowl at Goodman Theatre (Photo courtesy of Goodman)

2 1/2 stars

As four girls, Clarice (Hayley Burgess), Jaycee (Heather Chrisler), Sam (Becca Savoy and Sharlene (Anne E. Thompson) living in a small Wisconsin town periodically meet at their local bowling alley, audiences watch them change their ideas, their focus, their influences and their expectations.

The girls are joined by friends Maddy from Winnetka (Angela Morris) and bartender Brielle (Mary Taylor).

Written by playwright Rebecca Gilman, the concept is excellent. However the first meeting we see as the girls graduate from high school makes little sense and is hard to buy into until later in the show.

Apparently they are having a party with presents and cake to say goodbye, at least temporarily, to Jaycee who is going off to prison. Maybe this would have worked better for me as a flashback after seeing the last act.

Maddy, who later met one of the girls at OSU joins them later but her character seems to be added simply to have a comparison to someone who went to New Trier High School.

The leavening factor is the bartender, a good personality to add to the mix.

As a female coming of age story it has some interesting points about making choices and how background matters even if these girls set down in a different place would have a different perspective.

Regina Garcia’s set design of an old bowling alley bar is perfect as the place the girls get together.

“Twighlight Bowl” is at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago, through March 10, 2019 in the Owen Theatre. Approximate running time: 90 minutes, no intermission. For tickets and other information visit Goodman.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago



‘How to Catch Creation’ is not a directional guide


Ayanna Bria Bakari (Natalie), Jasmine Bracey (G.K. Marche), Maya Vinice Prentiss (Riley) and Bernard Gilbert (Stokes) in the world premiere of How to Catch Creation. (Liz Lauren photos)
Ayanna Bria Bakari (Natalie), Jasmine Bracey (G.K. Marche), Maya Vinice Prentiss (Riley) and Bernard Gilbert (Stokes) in the world premiere of How to Catch Creation. (Liz Lauren photos)

3 ½ stars

“How to Catch Creation,” a world premiere at Goodman Theatre, may sound like a how-to guide. But Christina Anderson’s new play is nothing like a step-by-step process.

Six people making up three intellectual couples search for fulfillment. Two couples are presented in the present in 2014. The third couple’s actions begin back in the 1960’s. But their lives are all presented at the same time, almost as two syncopated poetry readings.

During their journey of personal exploration they encounter snags of same and opposite gender attractions, divergent artistic paths and stereotypical thinking.

And it’s all done on scenic designer Todd Rosenthal’s stunning set. It revolves as two halves – one for the two contemporary couples, the other for most of the 1960’s situation.

The location is a California town similar to San Francisco and its area.

Sorry we’ve been asked not to reveal the plot’s unusual twists. What you would realize early into the show, is that all the characters are black and that Anderson deliberately presents the actions and dialogue from a black perspective.

But important as that perspective is, fulfillment desires and gender issues transcend race. Thus the play is meaningful on many levels. And under the direction of Niegel Smith who did “Father Comes home from the Wars” the cast superbly interprets Anderson’s sharp and clever dialogue.

Read More

Theater critic reviews own acts


Brendon Coyle in the Donmar Warehouse production of St. Nicholas. (Photo by Helen Maybanks
Brendon Coyle in the Donmar Warehouse production of St. Nicholas. (Photo by Helen Maybanks

3 stars

“…Power… I was a theater critic…,” says Brendan Coyle in “St. Nicholas.” The show, a one-person play by Conor McPherson is at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre fresh from its success at London’s popular Dormar Warehouse.

An Olivier Award winning actor from McPherson’s “The Weir,” Coyle drew laughter from Goodman’s opening night crowd of theater critics and patrons almost every time he said the word “critic.”

However, given that McPheron’s portrait of a critic contains more than a few resemblances to Oscar Wilde’s philosophical and Gothic  “The Picture of Dorian Gray,” it arguably would be better to ask a Goodman Theater patron how that person liked or felt about the play.

Read More

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.

Read More

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:



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.



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


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