‘Twelfth Night’ is wickedly funny

Front, l to r, Andrea San Miguel, Jennifer Latimore, and Matthew C. Yee, and back, William Brown in Twelfth Night at Writers Theatre (Photos by Michael Brosilow)
Front, l to r, Andrea San Miguel, Jennifer Latimore, and Matthew C. Yee, and back, William Brown in Twelfth Night at Writers Theatre (Photos by Michael Brosilow)

4 stars

William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” (subtitled “Or What You Will”) must be Writers Theatre’s holiday gift to show lovers who enjoy witty entertainment.

Its outstanding cast and superb direction bring out all the deliberate jests, entertaining horseplay, subplots and musical interludes that mark the Bard’s wicked sense of humor.

Meant as entertainment that befits the bawdy disorder that had traditionally been part of the Eve of the Feast of Epiphany, the play hinges on Shakespeare’s fondness for females dressed as males and the ensuing falling-in love confusion.

There are also the playwright’s deceptively honest answers such as when Olivia, a woman in mourning whom Duke Orsino hopes to wed, asks his emissary, Cesario (really Viola, dressed as a young man), if she is a comedian (another term for actor). She answers “I am not that I play.”

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‘Witch’ confronts devilish problems

HIGHLY RECOMMENDED

Audrey Francis (Elizabeth) and Ryan Hallahan (Scratch) in 'Witch' at Writers Theatre. Michael Brosilow photo)
Audrey Francis (Elizabeth) and Ryan Hallahan (Scratch) in ‘Witch’ at Writers Theatre. Michael Brosilow photo)

There’s a lot to think about in “Witch,” Jen Silverman’s new play now at Writers Theatre. Staged in Writers’ intimate Gillian Theatre, the acting is first rate as cast members portray issues and problems Silverman raises that are both age-old and au courant.

Six characters, Sir Arthur David Alan Anderson), lord of the castle and village Elizabeth (Audrey Francis), viewed by the village as a witch, Cuddy (Steve Haggard), Sir Arthur’s son, Frank Thorny (Jon Hudson Odom), a villager that Sir Arthur sees as the son he wishes he had , Winnifred (Arti Ishak) a villager/cum castle maid supposedly married to Frank, and Scratch (Ryan Hallahan, a handsome devil, grapple with issues ranging from homosexuality, women’s status, ambition and using violence to solve problems to patriarchal desires, community biases based on underlying fear, despair, revolution maybe, and hope.

If that isn’t enough, there is are underlying themes of achieving one’s wish through outside forces such as help from the devil or by one’s self and what would drive a person to sell one’s soul.

Wow, those are a lot of issues to cover in a 95 minute show and would likely bring about lively post show discussions.  There will be post show conversations after Tuesday and Wednesday night shows and at special events Oct. 28 at 11:30 a.m. and Nov. 12 at 6:30 p.m.

The play, inspired by “The Witch of Edmonton” written by William Rowley, Thomas Dekker and John Ford in 1621, is set during the Jacobean era. However, it uses contemporary phraseology such as the discussion between Elizabeth and devil where she asks if they are “on the clock” meaning are his arguments an effort to get her to agree to trade her soul for what she wants or are they merely having an intriguing conversation.

Jon Hudson Odom (Frank Thorny), l, David alan Anderson (Sir Arthur), Arti Ishak (Winnifred) and Steve haggard (Cuddy) in 'Witch' at Writers Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)
Jon Hudson Odom (Frank Thorny), l, David alan Anderson (Sir Arthur), Arti Ishak (Winnifred) and Steve haggard (Cuddy) in ‘Witch’ at Writers Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)

The Jacobean-period setting when King James VI of Scotland ruled 1567 to 1625 and became King of England as James I in 1603, was interesting but arguably conflicted with 21st century vocabulary.

The same issues have existed for centuries as was noted by Jean-Bapatiste Alphonse Karr’s quote, “plus ca change…” (the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Given that the problems still exist and the idea of witches among us still exists, Silverman’s play could be placed at any time similarly to how the plays of William Shakespeare have been re-set.

But because the play is well-directed by Marti Lyons, the acting is exceptional and the thoughts are compelling, maybe audiences won’t mind the discrepancy between the period and the vocabulary.

DETAILS: “Witch” is at Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe, through Dec. 16, 2018. Running time: 95 min., no intermission. For tickets and other information call (847) 242-6000 and visit Writers Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

 

 

‘Vietgone’ translates love and war into a romcom

Matthew C. Yee and Aurora Adachi-Winter are the leads in 'Vietgone' at Writers Theatre, Glencoe. (Michael Brosilow Photo)
Matthew C. Yee and Aurora Adachi-Winter are the leads in ‘Vietgone’ at Writers Theatre, Glencoe. (Michael Brosilow Photo)

RECOMMENDED

Qui Nguyen’s “Vietgone” at Writers Theatre offers a fascinating  perspective on immigration that shatters stereotypes while basically telling a love and adventure story that is funny (think rom-com).

It also is a musical but instead of sentimental arias as in “Madam Butterfly” or ballads as in “South Pacific” you have the leads Quang (Matthew C. Yee) and Tong (Aurora Adachi-Winter) rap and sing to Gabriel Ruiz’s music. Read More

Sneak Peak Part Six: Chicago suburban theater scene

Writers Theatre in Glencoe is interesting outside and on stage. (Jodie Jacobs photo)
Writers Theatre in Glencoe is interesting outside and on stage. (Jodie Jacobs photo)

Not all memorable theater is in the city. Chicago’s suburban theaters put on Jeff award-winning productions. But whether looking to the city or suburbs or both, one way to not miss a show you want to see is to save this Sneak Peak Series and mark productions for tickets or theaters for subscriptions. Enjoy! (Note: Some companies spell their work and space theater but others use theatre. Both are correct.)

North

 

Citadel Theatre

The theatre is in a school building at 300 S. Waukegan Rd. Lake Forest.

Citadel is doing “The Little Foxes, Sept. 28-Oct. 28 followed by Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”  Nov. 16-Dec. 23.  An early 2019 show is TBA but then “Sentimental Journey” is Apr. 26-May 26.

For tickets and other information call (847) 735-8554 and visit Citadel Theatre.

 

Marriott Theatre

The theatre does professional musical productions in the Marriott Resort at 10 Marriott Dr,. Lincohnshire.

The season continues with “Murder for Two” through Aug. 26 followed by Sweet Charity” Sept. 5-Oct. 28, “Shrek the Musical” (children’s show) Oct. 5-Dec 30 and concludes with “Holiday Inn” Nov. 7-Jan. 6.

In addition to the shows, the theatre is hosting  a fundraising concert in memory of director/choreographer Rachel Rockwell Sept. 17 called “We Three” featuring the stars of Marriott’s “Mama Mia,” Meghan Murphy, Cassie Slater and Danni Smith.

For show tickets call (847) 634-0200 and visit Marriott Theatre.  To get tickets to “We Three” call the Marriott or order on line tickets at  Ticket Master.

 

Metropolis Performing Arts Center

The Center, at 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights, is currently doing   “Beehine” through Aug. 25, then “Chorus Line” Sept. 20-Nov. 3 and “James and the Giant Peach Jr. Nov. 8-10. In 2019, productions continue with “Mouse Trap” Jan. 31-March 16 and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” May 16-June 29 and “Buddy, The Buddy Holly Story” July 18-Aug. 24.

For tickets and other information call (847) 577-2121 and visit Metropolis Performing Arts Center.

 

Music Theater Works

Productions are usually in Cahn Auditorium on Northwestern University’s campus at 600 Emerson St. at Sheridan Road, Evanston.

Currently “Anything Goes” continues through Aug. 25 then it’s “Judy Garland: Come Rain or Come Shine” Oct. 5-14 and “Into the Woods” Dec. 22-31 .

For tickets and other information call (847) 920-5360 and visit Music Theater Works.

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Race and sex can be serious and entertaining among smart people

 

RECOMMENDED

Julian Parker (Jackson Moore, MD), Kayla Carter (Valerie Johnston, Deanna Myers (Ginny Wang) and Erik Hellman (Brian White) in 'Smart People' at Writers Theatre. Photo by Michael Brosilow
Julian Parker (Jackson Moore, MD), Kayla Carter (Valerie Johnston), Deanna Myers (Ginny Wang) and Erik Hellman (Brian White) in ‘Smart People’ at Writers Theatre. Photo by Michael Brosilow

Do you sometimes assume that someone with the name of Goldstein is Jewish or that someone who is Asian has to be aggressive to be successful?

In ‘Smart People,’ now playing at Writers Theatre in Glencoe, playwright Lydia R. Diamond has four people, a black man, black woman, white man and an Asian woman, interact in Cambridge, MA. Both issue raised here did occur.

All are ‘smart people’ but they each encounter stereotypical problems with others and with each other when play and pursue their careers. The time is between 2007 and 2009 with the Barack Obama campaign and win in the background.

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The misbegotten are still needy at Writers Theatre

 

SOMEWHAT RECOMMENDED

Theater goers who have read or have seen Eugene O’Neill’s ‘Long Day’s Journey into Night’ and its sequel, ‘A Moon for the Misbegotten,’ and so are familiar with the character of James Tyrone Jr. (based on O’Neill’s alcoholic brother Jamie), might wonder why Writers Theatre is going for laughs in the first part of ‘Moon’ instead of building on its premise of needy people.

Jim De Vita (James) l, A.C. Smith (Phil) and Bethany Thomas (Josie) in 'A Moon for the Misbegotten' at Writers Theatre. Photo by Michael Brosilow.
Jim De Vita (James), A.C. Smith (Phil) and Bethany Thomas (Josie) in ‘A Moon for the Misbegotten’ at Writers Theatre. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

There is a playful mood in the first act instead of one that emphasizes the problems faced by O’Neill’s characters, tenant farmers, dad Phil Hogan (A.C. Smith) and daughter Josie (Bethany Thomas), and their landlord, James Tyrone (Jim De Vita).

Instead of the Irish family that O’Neill wrote about, director William Brown has transferred the Hogan’s woes into that experienced by a black family. That change doesn’t matter as to the story line’s legitimacy. The roles are played by consummate actors. Watching them is usually a pleasure but perhaps in a different context.

More tension needs to build to the third act which is the exceedingly important culmination of really looking at themselves, stripping off their persona covers and finding the love that they desperately seek is with each other.

Josie who thinks she’s not attractive has been trading promiscuity for real love. James who has been drowning his grief for his late mother with alcohol, needs mothering and thinks he finds it with Josie.

Thus the scene should be more emotionally draining. Their lives may have been “misbegotten”so far, but now they have the moon to help them.

An underlying plot is to stop James from selling their farm to Harder, a wealthy neighbor who doesn’t like the Hogan’s pigs to break through his fence and get into his ice pond. Drink and seduction enter into that plot but become unnecessary when James admits he was just kidding about selling. Thus Josie and James are really free to find each other and themselves.

The production’s setting is still O’Neill’s Connecticut farm in 1923 but neither the time period nor the state make a difference to the playwright’s theme of finding inner truth and love.  Without continual focus and buildup, the play’s nearly three hours is difficult to sit through which is a shame because Josie’s and James emotional revelations are at the classic’s core.

DETAILS: ‘A Moon for the Misbegotten’ is at Writers’ Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe, through March 18, 2018. Running time is about 3 hours 50 minutes. For tickets and other information visit Writers Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit TheatreinChicago

 

Witty Wilde endears at Writers Theatre

 

RECOMMENDED

Even though the set and costumes set the Victorian period and the mannerisms of Oscar Wilde’s witty take down of English high society was time appropriate, so many of his comments continue to hit the mark on social climbing and pseudo intellectualism today that ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ is still a joy to watch.

Cast of 'The Importance of Being Earnest' at Writers Theatre. Michael Brosilow photo
Cast of ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ at Writers Theatre.
Michael Brosilow photo

Indeed, the Writers Theatre production, on stage through Dec. 23, 2017, takes the author’s subtitle: “A Trivial Comedy for Serious People” quite seriously so that the audience “gets it” when the male leads, John Worthing (Alex Goodrich) and Algernon Moncrieff (Steve Haggard) behave in an absurd, languid manner while stating rather profound observations.

The only problem is that the observations come too quickly or are sometimes slurred so that not all Wilde’s bon mots are caught.

The two female leads, the women the men fall in love with, Gwendolen Fairfax (Jennifer Latimore) and Cecily Cardew (Rebecca Hurd), banter beautifully with each other and their beaux.

The leads’ farcial actions bounce off each male’s butler, the sarcastic Lane and drunken Merriman (both brilliantly played as foils for the show’s asides by Ross Lehman).

Other catalysts in separating the couples and bringing them back together are Lady Bracknell (Shannon Cochran) as Gwendolen’s formidable mother, Miss Prism, (Anita Chandwaney) as Cecily’s governess and a wannabe novelist, and Reverend Canon Chasuble (Aaron Todd Douglas).

The action takes place aided by Colette Pollard’s charming sets that are nicely void of Victorian excess and Mara Blumenfeld’s delightful, somewhat “My Fair Lady” style costume designs.

Directed by Michael Halberstam as a seriously funny look at Victorian and therefore, society’s sometimes artificial values, ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ is a delightful addition to a holiday season filled with Dickens’ views of Victorian England.

DETAILS: ‘The Importance of Being Earnest” is at Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe, through Dec. 23, 2017. Running Time: two hours, 20 minutes with two intermissions. For tickets and other information call (847) 242-6000 or Writerstheatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit TheatreinChicago.

Quixote tilts at apathy

RECOMMENDED

If you believe that Don Quixote embodies any hopes to be able to right at least some of the world’s wrongs and if you agree that apathy is generally a societal problem, you will love ‘Quixote: On the Conquest of Self,’ now at Writers Theatre.

Henry Godinez as Don Quixote at Writers Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)
Henry Godinez as Don Quixote at Writers Theatre. (Michael Brosilow photo)

I liked Henry Godinez’s soliloquy as Don Quixote that comes in the first third of the production.

Costumed in found objects such as car license plates, what looks like a beer can sleeve, buttons and other possibly tossed in the trash items, Godinez tells the audience what chapters and pages he doesn’t like because they either are physically painful or come across as a misunderstood character assessment by Miguel de Cervantes.

He espouses these ideas in acrobatic positions and while doing forward or backwards somersaults that emphasize how he and his life are tossed around by Cervantes.

However, not as helpful in conveying his object lesson of do or say something before it’s too late is the second part of the production. This part breaks the fourth wall as Godinez pulls in audience members not just for his story, but for other stories by Cervantes.

I can’t go into the third part without a spoiler alert so, suffice it to know that apathy versus righting wrongs becomes crucial. Unfortunately, it has overtones of Peter Pan’s plea for Tinker Bell’s life with do-you-believe-in-fairies type proposals.

Written by Monica Hoth and Claudio Valdéz  Kuri and translated by Georgina Escobar, the Writers Theatre production is directed by Kuri, a noted Mexican director.

The acting is superb and the show’s minimalist staging is perfect for Writers’ small Gillian Theatre.  An argument could be made that the show is also perfect for a high school audience where discussions on the conquest of self and apathy could take place.

‘Quixote: On the Conquest of Self’ is at Writers Theatre,325 Tudor Court, Glencoe,  through Dec. 17, 2017. Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission. For tickets and other information call (847) 242-6011 and visit Writers Theatre.

For other theatre reviews visit TheatreInChicago

 

Hamilton tickets and Jeff nominations in the news

 

Hamilton

More tickets to Lin Manuel Miranda’s hit musical, ‘Hamilton,’ will become available beginning at 10 a.m. Aug. 29, 2017, according to producer Jeffrey Seller.

Cast of Hamilton in Chicago Joan Marcus photo
Cast of Hamilton in Chicago
Joan Marcus photo

Announced in conjunction with Broadway in Chicago, he noted that a 16 week block of tickets can be purchased from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at The PrivateBank Theatre’s box office, 18 W. Monroe St., online at BroadwayinChicago and by calling the Broadway In Chicago Ticket Line at (800) 775-2000.

The new block of tickets extends the run to April 29, 2018. The box office had been selling tickets only through Jan 7 of next year.

Tickets range in cost from $65 to $190. However, the online lottery for $10 seats will continue.

The lottery can be entered through a new app at HamiltonBroadway and at BroadwayinChicago. Access to the new lottery is 11 a.m. (Central Time) two days before the performance and through 9 a.m. the day before the performance.

The show is based on Ron Chernow’s biography of Founding Father Alexander Hamilton.  More on the musical can be found at “Hamilton is worth the hype.”

 

Jeff  Equity Nominations

Check the list to see if a theater production you saw and liked made the Jefferson Committee’s equity nomination list. Nominations fall into 33 categories.

Shows had to be running between Aug.1, 2016 and July 31, 2017.  The 49th Annual Equity Jeff Awards ceremony will be held Nov. 6 at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace.

Drury Lane Productions took the most nominations at 19 followed by Paramount and Writers Theatres with 15, Goodman Theatre at 14, Porchlight Music Theatre with 13, Court Theatre at 11 and Marriott Theatre with 10.

Here is a list of nominees in the plays and musicals categories for the show, director, actor and actress.

 

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A musical deals with teen identity crises and peer behaviors

RECOMMENDED

‘Trevor, the musical,’ now in its world premier at Writers Theatre, is based on the story behind the Oscar winning short film that led to the Trevor Project, a suicide prevention/crisis intervention initiative for youngsters in the LGBTQ community.

Trevor (Eli Tokash) and classmates in 'Trevor, the musical' at Writers theatre. Michael Brosilow photo
Trevor (Eli Tokash) and classmates in ‘Trevor, the musical’ at Writers Theatre. Michael Brosilow photo

Set in 1981, it reflects the attitudes of the times but just as important, it reflects the kind of general adolescent bullying, cruelty, peer pressure and even parental inattentiveness and misunderstandings that still exists today.

That said, ‘Trevor, the musical’ showcases the amazing talent of Eli Tokash, a young Broadway (‘Finding Neverland, ‘Pippin’) actor who performs with the grace and style of Fred Astaire,

Tokash as Trevor, wants to be writing, directing, choreographing and playing in musical theater in 10 years. But his current goal as a 13-year-old in his last year of a suburban junior high, he wants to perform in the school’s annual talent show or direct the eighth grade football team in a dance number he devises.

It’s acceptable to Pinky, the team’s captain, perfectly portrayed by Declan Desmond as a guy who would rather dance a Fred Astaire type number than parade around in a pink tutu that past teams had to wear for the show.

While working with Pinky, Trevor realizes he has a crush on the football star. Also, while trying to prove he likes girls, he goes to a smooching spot with Cathy, delightfully played, glasses, braces rubber bands and all, by Tori Whaples.

As they try to kiss, Trevor realizes he isn’t interested even though Cathy is.

The kicker that throws his life into suicide mode comes when his best friend, Walter, nicely acted by Matthew Uzarrage, gives Trevor’s journal to Mary (Eloise Lushina). She reads Trevor’s notes about Pinky to her friends and gives the journal to the football team.

Trevor fantasizes about his funeral. He wants Diana Ross’ “Endless Love” to be playing.

Although not really a jukebox musical because many of the songs are by Wick Davis (music) and Dan Collins (book and lyrics), the show spotlights Trevor’s adoration for Ross’ music and philosophy.

Performed beautifully by the talented Salisha Thomas (‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical,’  vocalist for Disney) she sings many Ross hits  throughout the show beginning with “Do You Know?”

“Beautiful” director Marc Bruni has brought his seamless touch to this production which has aspirations of moving on to Broadway. Expertly choreographed by Josh Prince (also “Beautiful”) it likely will get there.

However, given the seriousness of its theme, at a mere two hours and 10 minuets, there is room to expand the tension surrounding the teens, adults and anyone who doesn’t fit the attitudes and models of the times.

‘Trevor’ is at Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe, now through Sept. 17, 2017. For tickets and other information call  (847) 242-6000) and visit Writers Theatre.