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.
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.
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.
Imagine living through more than 100 years of historic events and changing cultural attitudes. What would you predict might happen?
The Delany sisters, Bessie who lived to 104 (died 1995) and Sadie who lived to 109 (died 1999), thought a woman would eventually become president but not a colored man. They disliked the term black “We’re not black, we’re brown, we’re colored.” They also were OK with the formal race designation of Negro.
The sisters tell their story in “Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years,” playing now at Goodman Theatre.
Raised in a family of achievers (lawyers, a judge, doctor, teachers and dentists, their father was the first colored person (they also didn’t like the term, African-American. “We’re American” they shout) to rise to bishop status in the Episcopal Church in the US. Read More
Say Ferguson and you are likely to get a reaction on race conflicts and prejudice without even having to identify the place as a suburb of St. Louis
Some people may not even remember that it was the shooting of unarmed, black teenager Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson in 2014 that shot Ferguson into the national spotlight.
But to feel the event’s impact on people who live in the area, see playwright, actress Dael Orlandersmith’s stunning ‘Until the Flood.’
A one-person show, Orlandersmith presents with heartfelt-emotions, the reactions of eight characters ranging from teen-aged to middle age and older and from locals to other suburbanites to transplants with different careers and levels of education. Some are black. Others are white.
They are composites of people she interviewed after being commissioned by the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis for a play regarding the event. It premiered there in 2016. BTW, Orlandersmith, a Goodman Artistic Associate and Alice Center Resident Artist, has a composite name. She was born Donna Dael Theresa Orlander Smith Brown.
Now, following its showing at the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, the production is at the Goodman Theatre’s Owen Theatre space only through May 12. Unfortunately, that is way too short a time given the importance of Orlandersmith’s play and her superb portrayals of different character types.
At the April 29th opening night performance, the playwright certainly put across the different perspectives as the audience zoned in on each portrayal with laughter, gasps and sighs.
Directed by Neel Keller with explanatory projections by Nicholas Hussong, set design by Takeshi Kata and costume design by Kaye Voyce, ‘Until the Flood’ is a remarkable theater experience.
DETAILS: ‘Until the Flood’ is at Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago through May 12, 2018. Running time: 70 minutes, no intermission. For tickets and other information call (312) 443-3811 and visit Goodman Theatre.
Take a town with a water system that is polluted and put it into a play.
Or take a town or company where the powers that be would rather cover-up a health hazard than pay for a costly fix.
Or take a media outlet that enjoys being in the good graces of a powerful politician so it will publicize fake information rather than the truth.
Flint, Michigan may come to mind, or a nuclear facility worthy of a movie, or name a media outlet you love to hate. Then go see ‘An Enemy of the People,’ written by Henrik Ibsen in 1882 and now playing at Goodman Theatre in Chicago.
Adapted and directed by Robert Falls who points out in an online video that the choice is in “response to where the country may be headed,” and that its themes of corruption and environmental disaster make the play “contemporary,” the production ought to be playing all year but will only be at Goodman through April 15, 2019.
Well cast, Philip Earl Johnson brilliantly portrays Thomas Stockmann as a doctor worried about the illnesses he has seen as medical officer of the new Municipal Baths and as an idealist willing to take on townspeople and officials including his elder brother, Peter Stockmann. Peter, the town’s mayor and Thomas’ Baths boss, is depicted perfectly by Scott Jaeck
Lanise Antoine Shelley handles the role of Thomas’ pregnant, second wife Katherine with grace and restraint. Rebecca Hurd is very believable as Thomas’ adult daughter Petra who teaches school and follows her father’s ideals.
David Darlow is Katherine’s cantankerous, sly father Morten “the Badger,” Kiil, the wealthy owner of a tannery that is polluting the water.
Moving through the plot are Editor Hovstad (Aubrey Deeker Hernandez) of “The Peoples’ Messenger,” Asst. Editor Billing (Jesse Bhamrah) and Aslaksen (Allen Gilmore), a publisher and the paper’s printer. They are characters who profess one thing then change direction when so determined by political winds.
Clever staging puts the backs of the townspeople to the audience when Thomas tries to hold a meeting to explain scientific findings that declare the bath waters to be toxic. Playing the townspeople are Larry Neumann, Jr. (The Drunk), Carley Cornelius, Arya Daire, Guy Massey, Roderick Peeples and Dustin Whitehead.
Instead of winning friends to his side at the meeting, Thomas insults the townspeople calling them stupid and comparing them to dogs. Even though the opening night theater-goers understood that Thomas’ belittling speech wasn’t going to convince anyone in the town to change, the Goodman audience broke into applause when Thomas pointed out that stupid leaders were elected by stupid people.
Indeed, the play is filled with interesting insights such as “The public doesn’t want new ideas. They are perfectly happy with the old ones.
‘An Enemy of the People’ is at Goodman Theatre , 170 N Dearborn St., Chicago, now through April 15, 2018. Running time: 2 hours and 20 minutes including one intermission. For tickets and other information call (312) 443-3800 and visit Goodman Theatre.
It will likely be hard for audiences of ‘Blind Date,’ now at Goodman Theatre, to not think about how current US President Donald Trump is dealing with Russia.
It is also interesting how the matter of spreading Soviet influence enters the conversation as the protagonists in the play, President Ronald Reagan and his USSR counterpart, Mikhaile Gorbachev who held the title USSR General Secretary of the Communist Party and also Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, meet to discuss nuclear armament colored by Soviet Union attempts to indoctrinate third world countries.
The play, written by Rogelio Martinez, also refers to how a nuclear war could be started by the accidental press of a button. Hmm. Hawaii’s mistake hadn’t even happened when this was written.
Martinez also stuck a few lines in for Gorbachev to comment on democracy, voting and the concept that voters are often less than intelligent.
The “date” in the title refers to the summit in Geneva when the two world leaders first met face to face. However, the audience doesn’t see Reagan and Gorbachev or their wives until the last moment of Act I.
The first act is all about Secretary of State George Shultz (Jim Ortlieb) and Minister of Foreign Affairs Eduard Shevardnadze (Steve Pickering) paving the way for the monumental get together. Their acting and portrayals are suburb.
Their discussions are as much a “dance” as what Reagan and Gorbachev will do later on. The planners have to set parameters and learn to trust each other.
Then there is Act II in which audiences see Rob Riley as President Ronald Reagan and William Dick as Mikhail Gorbachev. The two leaders present their views on nuclear weapons and defense but those summit discussions are colored by Reagan’s view of the world expressed through quotes from films he loved, acted in or characters he admired.
Audiences also meet their wives. Deanna Dunagan is outstanding as Nancy Reagan as is Mary Beth Fisher as Raisa Gorbachev.
The fun part is the sparing between the world leaders and also between the wives in their determination not to be one upped.
It’s also interesting and fun to watch Michael Milligan as Press Secretary Larry Speaks. Reagan warns that Speaks, a native Mississippian, can be as dangerous and wily as a catfish. The media, presented as similar to the current Washington press corps, emphasize Martinez’s observations on several levels that little has changed.
Gorbachev poo poos the idea of a free press explaining that with one paper, the public knows that what it prints are lies. “The people aren’t stupid,” he says.
The Russian leader goes on to say that with many more newspapers, the public wouldn’t know who to believe and what are lies.
Because this summit is supposed to be about nuclear capability, the other two characters are Torrey Hanson as Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and his counterpart, Gregory Linington as Vyacheslav Zaitsev.
The person arguably on stage the most when Reagan is also front and center is his biographer, Edmund Morris. Thomas J. Cox has the difficult job of portraying Morris, a person who has total access but is basically a fly on the wall.
Audiences may wonder at Morris’ constant query to Reagan about who he is. In fact, Morris had said in interviews after his book Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan, came out in 1999, that he never felt he had full insight into Reagan the man. The book was also controversial because Morris wrote it as if it were from the standpoint of a fictional person who knew Reagan throughout his life.
This is a good show to either do some historical homework before going or arrive early enough to read the program which has excellent photos and good background on the meetings between Reagan and Gorbachev.
Directed by Robert Falls and thanks to the simple, effective set design by Riccardo Hernandez, ‘Blind Date’ moves seamlessly between the characters trying to set up the summit, the actions of the two world leaders, the concerns and behavior of their wives and the press conferences.
DETAILS: ‘Blind Date’ is at Goodman mTheatre, 170 N Dearborn Street Chicago, now through Feb. 25, 2018. Running time: 2 hrs, 30 minutes with one intermission. For other information and tickets call (312) 443-3800 or visit Goodman Theatre.
Even if you have seen Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” before at Goodman Theatre, the current production is a show not to be missed. It has aged like fine wine.
On its 40th anniversary, the Goodman production was perfect from Todd Rosenthal’s set, Keith Parkham’s lighting and Heidi Sue McMath’s costume design to appropriately scary, tear jerking and joyous scenes played by many “Christmas Carol” regulars.
Right from the start, you feel the holiday spirit while walking into the lobby and hearing carolers serenading from the balcony (at scattered performances).
The singers were terrific but opening night was even more special as it was filled with an audience that appreciated each scene, ghostly special effects and actors’ monologues with enthusiastic applause.
In his 10th year as Scrooge, Larry Yando was at his bah humbug best in the first third of the play and delightfully nutty with joy as a reformed Scrooge in the last third. In between you felt his gradual character change.
Molly Brennan, the Actors Gymnasium’s director of physical theater, was fun to watch as she managed her flying apparatus as Christmas Past with acrobatic ease. She guided Scrooge with empathy to his school yard and past employment at Mr. Fezziwig’s establishment.
In the Fezziwig scenes Kareem Bandealy, as Scrooge as a Young Man, believably battled with his character’s interest in money, choosing it rather than love.
Lisa Gaye Dixon once again portrayed Christmas Present with an appreciation of holiday abundance.
It was balanced with dart like precision when Dixon threw Scrooge’s bad attitude towards holiday giving back in his now drooping face.
Breon Arzeli was imposing as the deathly, towering figure of Christmas Future. Of course, by this time Scrooge is ready to do anything to make amends for his anti-humanity outlook.
He now understands what the Ghost of Jacob Marley, perfectly portrayed again by Joe Foust, said when admonishing him that humanity was his business, not the business of money changing.
He now cares about his clerk, Bob Cratchit, played with humor and tenderness by Ron E. Rains, and for Tiny Tim, portrayed by a girl for the first time here, fourth-grader Paris Strickland.
On another note, the live on stage music plus the singing and dancing bits really added to the show’s uplifting aura.
Adapted by Tom Creamer and directed by Henry Wishcamper, Goodman Theatre’s “A Christmas Carol” is not just for youngsters. It really is a show for the entire family.
On opening night, the joy didn’t end with the first curtain call. Artistic Director Robert Falls, walked out, mike in hand, to bring on stage more than 40 past participants in Goodman’s “A Christmas Carol.”
By the way, some attendees tend to collect play programs. However, this edition of Goodman’s “On Stage” should be kept even if not a collector. It contains, history and important notes.
DETAILS: “A Christmas Carol” is at Goodman Theatre, 170 N Dearborn St, Chicago, through Dec. 31, 2017. Running time: 2 hours, 15 minutes with intermission.
For tickets and other information call (312) 443-3800 and visit Goodman Theatre.
Chicago’s gift bag of holiday shows has something for everyone from Scrooge’s dreams and dreaming of a white Christmas to Santa’s naughty and nice lists and his overgrown Elf.
‘TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS,’ a Ken Ludwig’s Emerald City Theatre production, is at the Broadway Playhouse now through Dec. 31. The show is a a fun take on Santa’s list which mysteriously disappears and how it is recovered in time for his gift deliveries.At just 45 minutes long, the show is perfect for elementary age youngsters. The Broadway Playhouse is at Water Tower Place 175 E. Chestnut. For tickets and other information visit Broadway in Chicago Twas.
‘Scrooge And The Ghostly Spirits,’ is a new musical for the entire family based on Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Written by Douglas Post, it is at Citadel Theatre Nov. 17 through Dec. 23. Citadel is in a Lake Forest School property at 300 S. Waukegan Rd., Lake Forest. For tickets and other information call (847) 735-8554 or visit Citadel Theatre.
‘A Christmas Carol,’ a beloved Goodman Theatre creative but traditional holiday retelling of Charles Dickens’ classic, goes from Nov. 18 through Dec. 31. Goodman Theatre is at 170 N. Dearborn St., For tickets call (312) 443-3800 or visit Goodman Theatre
(The non-ballet) ‘Nutcracker,’ a House Theatre production is at the Chopin Theatre. It does use dance and songs to tell the story. The show runs now through Dec. 30 at The Chopin Theatre, 1543 W Division St. For tickets visit House Theatre.
Coming Thanksgiving week
‘White Christmas,’ Irving Berlin’s classic musical is at the Cadillac Palace Theatre Nov. 21 through Dec. 3. The Cadillac Palace is at 151 W. Randolph St. For tickets and other information visit Broadway In Chicago.
‘Q Brothers Christmas Carol,’ a very hip hop take on Dickens’ story is in The Yard at Chicago Shakespeare on Navy Pier, Nov. 21- Dec. 31. For tickets visit ChicagoShakes.
‘Elf: The Musical,’ based on the 2003 Will Ferrell movie, is at the Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd, Aurora, Nov. 22, 2017 through Jan. 7, 2018. For tickets and other information call (630) 896-6666 or visit Paramount Aurora.
‘The Christmas Schooner,’ a moving, true-story musical that has become a Chicago tradition is at the Mercury Theater, 3745 N. Southport Ave., Nov. 24 through Dec. 31. For tickets and other information call (773) 325-1700 and visit Mercury Theater.
On stage from the beginning of December
‘The Nutcracker,’ The Joffrey’s re-imagined production of Tchaikovsky’s ballet, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon is at the Auditorium Theatre Dec 1-30. The Auditorium Theatre is in Roosevelt University at 50 E. Congress Parkway at Michigan Avenue. For tickets visit Joffrey.
‘Tidings of Tap’ presented by the Chicago Tap Theatre is at the North Shore Center for Performing Arts at 3 p.m. Dec. 10, only. The venue is at 9501 Skokie Blvd, Skokie. For tickets and other information visit Tap.
‘Peter Pan’ is a delightful Music Theater Works (formerly Light Opera Works) musical based on J.M. Barrie’s play. It will run at cahn auditorium, 600 Emerson St., Evanston, Dec. 23, 2017 through Jan.1, 2018. For tickets call (847) 920-5360 or visit Music theater Works.
Imagine two very different families trying to pair up their children with not very successful results. That’s a traditional rom-com format you’d see on TV. But now imagine these families are a well-established Muslim family paired with new refuges from Iraq. And yes, it’s a comedy.
‘Yasmina’s Necklace,’ playing now at The Goodman Theatre, is about overcoming tragedy and moving on with your life in a new land with new opportunities and challenges.
What makes the play so compelling is that everyone can identify with this family situation no matter what their race, religion or ethnicity.
The show by Chicago playwright Rohina Malik is both funny as well as dramatic and thought-provoking, as the audience navigates the pain of both Yasmina and her father when settling in Chicago from Bagdad.
Yasmina uses her art talent to communicate the horrors of her past. The necklace, always around her neck, represents her love for the country she was forced to leave and will always be in her heart.
Potential suitor Sam recently changed his Arabic name to avoid Anti-Muslim bias and move up the career ladder. He’s also recovering from a bad divorce and is not interested in meeting anyone. But when he volunteers to support Yasmina with her non-profit organization helping other refuges, their relationship begins to warm.
Led by director Ann Filmer, actor Susaan Jamshidi as the vulnerable Yasmina is outstanding as her character moves from anger to acceptance to strength.
Michael Perez as Sam is also excellent as his character develops from someone who is conflicted about his identity to someone who stands proud of his traditions. Always in the background is a sense of fear and loss.
The set revolves around the very different apartments of the two families, one who is settled and well-off, and the other of newly arrived immigrants.
The play was scripted by Malik who was concerned about how Muslims are portrayed in the media and wanted to show them without stereotype. She has done a masterful job and the result is one powerful evening of theatre.
DETAILS: ‘Yasmina’s Necklace’ is in the Owen at The Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago. through Nov.19, 2017. Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with intermission. For tickets and other information call (312) 443- 3800 and visit Goodman.