The rhythm is gonna get you ‘On Your Feet!’

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Mauricio Martinez as Emilio Estefan and Christie Prades as Gloria Estefan plus the company of On Your Feet! Matthew Murphy photo
Mauricio Martinez as Emilio Estefan and Christie Prades as Gloria Estefan plus the company of On Your Feet! Matthew Murphy photo

Gloria and Emilio Estefan are Cuban-American singer-songwriters and superstar entertainers who have inspired conga lines worldwide. But the 100 million-plus records sold and dozens of industry awards earned are only part of their story.

“On Your Feet! The Emilio & Gloria Estefan Broadway Musical,” now playing for Broadway in Chicago at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, is a high-spirited, glitzy production that weaves biographical events and global hits. It tracks the couple’s early struggles and discrimination, their rise to global success, the bus crash that nearly took it all away, and their incredible comeback.

If that all sounds familiar, there’s good reason. The musical originated in Chicago in 2015 with its pre-Broadway engagement.

On the national tour, playing the titular roles are Christie Prades as the adult Gloria and Mauricio Martinez as Emilio.

Prades, born in Miami of Cuban parents, has previously played multiple parts in the New York production. The real Gloria Estefan asked Prades to lead the tour. Martinez is a Mexican actor and recording artist making his Broadway debut.

The duo has palpable chemistry, and you find yourself rooting for them and the love connection that drives their music. Prades’ vocals are strong and steady throughout the show. Martinez seems to be more at home with a faster beat, but his rendition of “Don’t Wanna Lose You,” as Gloria recovers from surgery, flows straight from the heart and into the far reaches of the theater. He’s the comedian of the family, and Gloria loves him all the more for it.

Two more actors of note are Nancy Ticotin and Debra Cardona. Ticotin plays Gloria Fajardo, Gloria’s mother, whose own singing career was cut short by grown-up responsibilities and who disapproves of her daughter’s choices. Cardona plays Consuelo, Gloria’s supportive grandmother, who lands several well-placed comedic punches. Happily, both have opportunity to showcase their talents as soloists in this production.

The song-and-dance ensemble numbers, especially the finales, are hand-clapping good fun. At the end of Act I, the audience is engaged in a conga line down the aisles. The Act II finale is a medley of Estefan signatures.

The performers’ moves are amplified by the work of costume designer Emilio Sosa who sure knows how to make a razzle-dazzle party dress.

Based on an original book by Alexander Dinelaris, the musical is directed by Jerry Mitchell and choreographed by Sergio Trujillo. The creative team also includes scenic designer David Rockwell and lighting designer Kenneth Posner.

Playing in the orchestra are several veterans of the Estefans’ Miami Sound Machine, including the production’s musical director Clay Ostwald.

DETAILS: “On Your Feet! The Emilio & Gloria Estefan Broadway Musical” is at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph St., through April 8. For tickets and other information, call (800) 775-2000 and visit Broadway In Chicago.

Pamela Dittmer McKuen

For more shows visit  Theatre in Chicago

 

 

 

‘Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’ is Delicious!

 

Cast of Guess Who's Coming to Dinner at Court Theatre. Michael Brosilow photos
Cast of Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner at Court Theatre. Michael Brosilow photos

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.

Joey Drayton (Bryce Gange) and Dr. John Prentice (Michael Aaron Pogue) in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner at Court Theatre.
Joey Drayton (Bryce Gangel) and Dr. John Prentice (Michael Aaron Pogue) in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner at Court Theatre.

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.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit  Theatre in Chicago

 

 

Bruno Mars and Travis Scott are among the 2018 Lollapalooza headliners

 

Lolla 17 aerial photo By Charles Reagan Hackleman
Lolla 17 aerial photo By Charles Reagan Hackleman

Lollapalooza just announced  a strong lineup for 2018 that includes Bruno Mars, The Weekend, Jack White, Arctic Monkeys, Travis Scott, The National, Odesza, Logic and Vampire Weekend.

The mega (more than 170 performances) four-day summer pop fetival is Aug. 2 to 5 in Chicago’s Grant Park.

Visit Lollapalooza lineup for the complete list.

Related: Lollapalooza tickes are available

 

Lollapalooza tickets are available

Lollapalooza 2017 Arial photo by Cambria Harkey
Lollapalooza 2017 Arial photo by Cambria Harkey

Listen up Lollapalooza fans.

Four-day tickets to the mega (more than 170 performances) music festival  at Grant Park, Chicago,  Aug. 2-5 are on sale at 10 a.m. today, March 20, 2018. It features more than 170 performances from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

General admission is $335 plus taxes and fees but tickets go quickly.

VIP is $2,200 and Platinum  is $4,200.

Hotel packages are for the WChicago, LondonHouse Chicago, Ritz-Carlton, Hyat Regency Chicago, JW Marriott Chicago and The James Chicago.

 

 

Ravinia schedule ready for summer

Get the calendar out. It’s time to plan which Ravinia Festival concerts should be marked down, which ones need tickets ahead of time and which might be good for a picnic on the lawn or a seat in the Pavillion. The 2016 season goes from June 1 through Sept. 16.

Plan which programs to see at Ravinia Festival. The program is all set for 2018. Jodie Jacobs photo
Plan which programs to see at Ravinia Festival. The program is all set for 2018. Jodie Jacobs photo

 

Tickets

Donors can get tickets March 20. Tickets will be available to the public  May 8 for June and July concerts and May 10 for August and September programs.

Programs

New this year: There are more programs inside Bennett Gordon Hall and the Martin Theatre. The season will celebrate the late conductor, composer, pianist Leonard Bernstein’s 100 anniversary of his birth and ; the 30th anniversary of Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute (RSMI).

Dining

And the dining spaces and menus have been redone. Park View, a contemporary American restaurant featuring local and seasonal dishes is upstairs the dining pavilion. Mirabelle is still there but specializes in guest chef and themed dishes. The casual Ravina Market take-out menu has expanded but kept popular dishes. Tree Top will go in where PNC Private Dining used to be and the Lawn Bar  with indoor and outdoor seating for drinks and small plates will be located on the lower level, north side of the  dining Pavilion. The Freehling Room is still the Donor Dining Club but will add casual fare on pop concert nights.

Location

Ravinia Festival Park is at the south end of Highland Park from Sheridan Road on the east to Green Bay Road on the west. But best option is to take a free shuttle from the Ravinia or Highland Park train station. For tickets, directions and transportation options visit Ravinia.org.

Enjoy the summer by planning now.

Ravinia celebragtes Leonard Bernstein in 2018. Photo by Allan Warren.
Ravinia celebragtes Leonard Bernstein in 2018. Photo by Allan Warren.

Some Program highlights:

June

Diana Ross, June 2, Anita Baker June 10, Jackson Brown June 15, Seal June 19, Jill Scott debuts at Ravinia June 22, Roger Daltry  and the Who’s Tommy come June 23 and June 25 and Bryan Adams performs June 29.

July

  Buddy Guy and Jonny Lang July 8, Zukeerman Trio does Brahms July 11, Joshua Bell and the CSO performs Bernstein  “Candide Overture” and “Serenade”  plus Tchaikovsky’s “Pathetique” July 12, The CSO and Chorus do Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms” and Beethoven’s  Ninth Symphony on July 14, vocalist Audra McDonald and the CSO do a “Sunday in the Park program for the Ravinia Gala July 15, the annual Tchaikovsky Spectacular is July 22, Misha and Cipa Dichter are in Bette Hall then Leon Fleisher with Katherine Jacobson Fleisher perform Bach and Brahms in the Martin Theatre July 23, Makoto Ozone plays Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” July 24, Jorge Fredrico Osorio is in the Martin Theatre for the Debussy and Ponce concert July 26, a double Bernstein program  starts with a Young People’s concert in the morning then features his “Mass” in the evening July  28.

August

Whoopie Goldberg comes Aug. 3, CSO does Stravinsky, Strauss and with Garrick Ohlsson on piano Mozart’s concerto  No. 20 Aug. 9, Steve Martin and Martin Short plusThe Steep Canyon Rangers  and Jeff Babko are in the Pavilion Aug. 12, Michael Feinstein and Kristin Chenoweth are there Aug. 14, opera stars Frederica Von Stade and Laurie Rubin come Aug. 16, Earth Wind & Fire are in the Pavilion Aug. 17, Sugarland returns Aug. 23, The Beach Boys and Righteous Brothers are in town for an evening of oldies but goodies Aug. 24 there are “Good Vibes with Jason Mraz and  Brett Dennen on Aug. 25, Culture Club, B-52s and Thompson Twins perform Aug. 31 and Sep[t. 1

September

O.A.R. and Matt Nathanson come Sept. 2, Sir James Galway returns Sept. 4, Peter Serkin comes Sept. 5, 50 Cent debuts at Ravinia Sept. 6. Tony Bennett’s stylish songs are Sept.8, “Considering Matthew Shepard by Craig Hella Johnson with the Conspirare chorus (poems set to music to mark the Shepard murder that ledto the Hate Crimes Act Sept . 12 and Los Tigres del Norte end the season Sept. 16.

 

 

 

Green Book gives historic look at Southern racism and bigotry

Highly Recommended

Once upon a time, there was a historic traveler’s guide called the “The Negro Motorist Green Book” that directed blacks traveling through the South to homes, restaurants and gas stations that were a safe haven.

For blacks traveling during the days of Jim Crow laws and segregation, the Green Book was a lifesaver, telling them where they could enjoy true southern hospitality in comfort and safety.

It was the hope of “The Green Book” founder Victor Green that one day his book would no longer be needed.

Now comes the play, “The Green Book” from playwright Calvin A. Ramsey that brings racism front and center to the stage. The multi-talented Ramsey co-authored the award-winning “Ruth and the Green Book,” written numerous other works and does photography and painting.

This play is an homage to the famous guide, published from 1936-1967.

It centers on the Davis family of Jefferson City, Missouri, an African-American family who opened their home to black travelers before the birth of Civil Rights activism.

(Lto R) Terence Sims (Capt. George Smith), Stacie Doubin (Barbara), Henri Watkins (Dan) and Quenna Lene (Jacqueline Smith) in The Green Book from Pegasus Theatre Chicago and ShPleL Performing Identity.
(Lto R) Terence Sims (Capt. George Smith), Stacie Doubin (Barbara), Henri Watkins (Dan) and Quenna Lene (Jacqueline Smith) in The Green Book from Pegasus Theatre Chicago and ShPleL Performing Identity.

The couple, Barbara and Dan, are highly educated; he a lawyer and she a college librarian. Their daughter, Neena, is soon to graduate high school and off to college, far from home.

“The Green Book” is set in the mid 1950’s as the Davises are celebrating the arrival of the prominent Dr. W.E.B. DuBois for a lecture.

The appearance of a  Jewish Holocaust survivor sets off a chain of events that showcases the prevalence of racism and anti-Semitism in the U.S.

Unfortunately, Jews who survived the Holocaust in Europe came to the U.S. and continued to face intolerance, fear and hatred.  Because of the similarities, alliances were formed between the Jewish people and African-Americans. Both were subjected to prejudice, the “red scare” of McCarthyism and restrictions from signs that said, “No Blacks, No Jews, No Dogs.”

Stacie Doublin as Barbara Davis and Henri Watkins as Dan Davis are outstanding. They convey their characters as believable and sincere. They struggle with their daughter, Demetra Drayton as Neena, who serves as their brightest hope for the next generation. She is excellent as the young girl who varies her position as the real truths begin to emerge.

But Malcom Banks who gives a powerful performance as Keith Chenault, the Yankee from Harlem with big, misplaced ideas, is a powerful force that must be reckoned with.

Michael Stock as Jake Levinsky does an outstanding job as he recalls the horrors of the camps and losing his family. His pain is real and raw. The ensemble comes together to tell a story that resonates with today’s headlines of bigotry and hate.

The play is wonderfully directed by Producing Artistic Director Ilesa Duncan. Mention must also be made of the glorious costumes by Uriel Gomez, who dresses all of the characters in handsome 1950s attire that is both authentic and mesmerizing.

DETAILS:  “The Green Book” is at the Pegasus’s resident home, Chicago Dramatists, 765 N. Aberdeen, Chicago, in conjunction with ShPIeL  Performing Identity, now through April 1,  Running time: just over two hours with intermission. For tickets and other information visit PegasusTheatreChicago.org.

Mira Temkin

For more shows, visit TheatreInChicago

Cyrano Lacks Panache

 

SOMEWHAT RECOMMENDED

Based on the classic “Cyrano de Bergerac” originally written in French verse by Edmond Rostand in 1897, this translation by Michael Hollinger adapted for the stage with Aaron Posner is a successful reinterpretation using a more modern dialog that preserves much of the courtly charm necessary to the play’s setting.

The title character of Cyrano (Michael B. Woods) is an accomplished courtier in 17th Century France, an unparalleled master of the sword and the word whose personal relationships are hampered by what he perceives as a hideous deformity, namely a grotesquely enormous and unsightly nose.

(From left) Kristin Hammargren, Michael B. Woods, Zach Livingston and Christina Gorman in 'Cyrano.
(From left) Kristin Hammargren, Michael B. Woods, Zach Livingston and Christina Gorman in ‘Cyrano.’

Cyrano conspires with a fellow comrade-in-arms, Christian (Zach Livingston) to woo and win the affection of the lovely Roxane (Vahishta Vafadari).  Christian will supply the good looks while Cyrano supplies the requisite language of love.

Cyrano’s own self-hate is his worst enemy that keeps him separated from his desire.

The fight choreography by Jon Beal was a highlight of this production making me wish that the same level of effort was put into the rest of the lackluster performances.

Since none of the actors seemed fully invested in their characters I must set the fault at the feet of Director Steve O’Connell’s ability to rally the troupe.

Though this adaptation aims to “ditch the pretentions” it should not be at the expense of nuance and the basic humanity of the characters nor the charm of the language. Here the actors rely too heavily on the words to do all of their heavy lifting and doing little to breathe life into their respective roles.

BoHo is intended to be “a launching pad for up-and-coming actors” but in this case was a lost opportunity to show us what you got.

This Cliff’s Notes version provides a few memorable moments provided mostly by the text and is a good introduction to the book however, it definitely lacks panache.

DETAILS: ‘Cyrano’ by BoHo Theatre at Theatre Wit, 1229 W. Belmont in Chicago runs through April 15, 2018. For tickets and other information call or call (773) 975-8150 or visit BoHoTheatre.com.

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit TheatreInChicago.

 

 

 

Hedda Hopper revealed

 

RECOMMENDED

‘Hedda! A Musical Conversation’ is a very entertaining one-woman show at the Athenaeum Theatre starring Jillann Gabrielle as legendary Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper.

Written by Gabrielle with book and lyrics by Michael Termine and music by with Howard Pfeifer, ‘Hedda’ is a one-act play that takes place from the mid 1940s through the late 1950s in Hedda Hopper’s living room.

Jillian Gabrielle is Hedda Hopper. Photo by Paradise Playhouse
Jillann Gabrielle is Hedda Hopper. Photo by Paradise Playhouse

Tasteful furniture, a rolling cart of favorite drinks , clothing racks with  dozens of the hats she was famous for wearing and that prime necessity for a gossip columnist, a phone, set the scene for a fun 90 minute peek into the life Hedda Hopper.

Gabrielle’s performance as Hedda is superb as she walks and sings the audience through a life that went from Quaker upbringing to bit MGM player and then famed columnist.

Lively phone conversations and clever  songs such as as “Hedda! Queen of Hollywood,” “Off the Record” (there’s audience participation), “Elizabeth, “Hats!” and ‘Don’t Drink the Punch” reveal much of her story.

Among the many things that makes this play interesting there is her interaction with the audience. When the phone or doorbell rings, she looks out at the crowd and says, “I’ll be right back.”

And when the audience hears her say, “Hello, Elizabeth” or “Joan,” or “Marlene” and others, everyone knows who’s there.

Hedda had an amazing effect on not only the motion picture industry, but on politics, as well. Her song “I’m Political” describes her conservative values and moral views as her columns go after Charlie Chaplin and other Communist sympathizers.

She also had famous heated discussions with many of Hollywood’s elite including the Elizabeth Taylor/Eddie Fisher/Debbie Reynolds trio.

Her column had a readership of over 30 million, and it set the stage for many types of columns today.

DETAILS: ‘Hedda! A Musical Conversation’ is at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, Chicago, through March 17, 2018.  Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission. For tickets and other information, call 773-935-6835 or visit AthenaeumTheatre.

Francine Pappadis Friedman

For more shows visit TheatreInChicago.

 

Friendship is like a garden…

 

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

For those who aren’t familiar with the revised musical ‘Merrily We Roll Along’ based on the book by George Furth with music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, prepare yourselves for a wide range of emotions while observing the lives of three close-knit friends over many decades.

The original Broadway play written by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart in 1934 evolved into a musical in 1981 that barely survived.  Fortunately, Sondheim and Furth revised the show in 1994, which is now a fabulous production at Porchlight Music Theatre at The Ruth Page Center for the Arts.

(L to R) Jim DeSelm (Frank, Neala Barron (Mary) and Matt Crowle (Charley) in 'Merrily We Roll along' at Portchlight Music Theatre. Photo by Michael Courier.
(L to R) Jim DeSelm (Frank, Neala Barron (Mary) and Matt Crowle (Charley) in ‘Merrily We Roll along’ at Portchlight Music Theatre. Photo by Michael Courier.

Directed by Michael Weber with music director Aaron Benham, this remarkable musical is presented in reverse chronological order with the years posted on the stage’s backdrop so that the audience can easily follow the three friends’ relationship— easily, but not always merrily.

The trio of friends includes Franklin “Frank” Shephard (Jim DeSelm), a talented musician whose objective is to make money—and who eventually succeeds by marketing to influential folks who can help him.

His longtime friend is Charley Kringas (Matt Crowle), a wonderful lyricist who doesn’t want to follow Frank’s ways of reaching his goal.

The trio includes Mary Flynn (Neala Barron), a writer and friend to Frank and Charley but whose longing for Frank is slowly uncovered while the play continues going back in time.

Frank, Charley and Mary’s early friendship started out like a song. And on that note, most of their relationship is told through many musical numbers, such as “Old Friends/Like It Was,” sung by the trio with lyrics such as “we were nicer then” . . . and “old friends fade—they don’t make the grade.”

‘Merrily We Roll Along’ also reveals other relationships. Frank’s marriage to his first wife, Beth, (Aja Wiltshire), is destroyed by his affair with Gussie Carnegie (Keely Vasquez).  Beth sings “Not a Day Goes By” as she gains custody of their young son while she and Frank divorce.

We first observe the three friends at beginning of the play where they’ve already achieved success despite painful experiences that ruined their relationship. Then we travel back so that at the end of the play, we see their friendship decades earlier as they try to launch their careers.

In addition to the five major outstanding cast members, the rest of the exceptionally talented cast of over twenty men and women also bring their extraordinary voices to the musical numbers. They are accompanied by seven marvelous musicians.

Many of the play’s lyrics are memorable, but one line is unforgettable: “Friendship is like a garden . . . you have to water it and care for it.”

DETAILS: ‘Merrily We Roll Along’ is at Porchlight Music Theatre at The Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn St., Chicago, through March 17th, 2018. Running time: 2 hours and 30 minutes. For tickets and other information, call (773) 777-9884 or visit www.porchlightmusictheatre.org

Francine Pappadis Friedman

For more shows, visit TheatreInChicago.

 

A Cautionary Tale

RECOMMENDED

This play may not be for everyone, but for those who enjoy intellectual stimulation and are willing to sit back and contemplate some of the harsh realities and complexities of the human experience, this is a performance you will not soon forget.

Just the title, ‘Fear and Misery in the Third Reich,’ a grim tale by Bertolt Brecht and translated by Eric Bentley, is enough to discourage a sizeable percentage of theater goers looking for the next feel good musical but this is theater at its best, relevant and thought provoking.

Simon Hedger, l, and Joe Bianco in Haven Theatre's production of 'Fear and Misery in the Third Reich. Photos by Emily Schwartz.
Simon Hedger, l, and Joe Bianco in Haven Theatre’s production of ‘Fear and Misery in the Third Reich. Photos by Emily Schwartz.

Brecht is one of the leading playwrights of the twentieth century who courageously stood up for injustice and openly shed a light on the social and political changes that were transforming his life and the lives of people around him.

Let’s address the “elephant in the room.” It’s a Haven Theatre production that is a two-hour, forty- minute commitment (with ten minute intermission). Before it began I wondered, “Why did they not consider trimming this down a bit?”

Then it occurred to me that it would be like taking a few movements out of a Beethoven symphony.  It is as long as it needs to be.

The production is a series of well orchestrated vignettes that explore the impact of Nazism on German society. Each carefully crafted segment represents a different aspect of the social strata and/or one of the essential institutions that comprise our sense of community.

These include the institutions of friendship, love, marriage and family as well as public institutions of mercantile, manufacturing, and government. All of which require “trust” and “honesty” to function properly.

It is important to remain cognizant of the fact that this play was first performed in 1938, a full two years before the U.S. officially entered the war in Europe. The author was describing the events of the day without benefit of hindsight. He was saying, “Wake up people and look at what is happening around you.”

To some, the themes will resonate with the politics of today. That is not to say that life in the U.S. in 2018 is anything like Nazi Germany in 1938 but it may be a cautionary tale of what can happen when the seeds of mistrust are sewn and paranoia blooms.

Alys Dickerson and Siddhartha Rajan with Amanda De La Guardia (back) in 'Fear and Misery in the Third Reich.
Alys Dickerson (center) and Siddhartha Rajan with Amanda De La Guardia (back l.) in ‘Fear and Misery in the Third Reich.’

Brecht was writing in an era before television and the Internet, where newspapers, theater and radio were the communication technology of the day. Even talking pictures were a relatively new phenomenon. The point being that words and the subtlety of language was paramount.

A genius of dialogue, in this play Brecht has a way of writing conversations that sound like a person’s inner thoughts or self-talk being spoken aloud. The result for the audience is a sense that these are your own thoughts. It puts you into the brain of the character and creates a strong feeling of intimacy.

Psychodrama is a therapeutic tool developed around this period intended to help people struggling with inner conflicts to confront their most intimate thoughts by acting them out. No doubt Brecht was inspired by this technique but used it in a most public way.

Director Josh Sobel has done a good job with this group of young actors. The competent Haven Theatre ensemble made their way through this marathon production at a good pace with a few outstanding individual performances.

This is the kind of play that brought about method acting. It requires the actor to “dig deep” and expose his or her own emotions. I am not certain that every cast member has gotten to that level at every moment but this will be a process that will certainly develop over the run and will no doubt have inconsistencies from day to day, but that is the beauty of live theater.

The austere set design by Yu Shibagaki may shock you as you enter the performance space, but it is thought provoking and lends itself well to the production. The lighting (Claire Chrzan) and sound design (Sarah D. Espinoza) as well as the movement direction of dramaturge Abhi Shrestha adds thoughtful artistic depth.

A personal note. I had the good fortune to witness history as an eleven year old actor (Crown Prince Medici) in the Goodman School Theatre production “Life of Galileo” starring blacklisted stage legend Morris Carnovsky, directed by blacklisted actor Howard Di Silva in a play written by a blacklisted playwright Berthold Brecht. Though Brecht wrote this play about the censored astronomer in reaction to the Nazi experience it unfortunately found new relevance in the McCarthy Era illustrating the importance to remain ever vigilant to potential fascism.

DETAILS:  ‘Fear and Misery in the Third Reich,’ a Haven Theatre production,  runs now through March 11, 2018 at The Den Theatre 1331, N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago. Running time 2 hours, 40 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and other information visit

Reno Lovison

For more shows, visit TheatreinChicago