Racism isn’t always a clear, conscious choice but activism and outrage regarding racism are choices in playwright Eleanor Burgess’ “The Niceties,” now at Writers Theatre.
When a well-regarded Caucasian Ivy-league history professor meets one of her students, a smart African-American anxious to turn in her paper on the American Revolution ahead of time so she can organize a protest at the school, their discussion dissolves from quiet, academic points to heated confrontation.
Zoe, a junior who prefers the internet for doing research, contends that the American Revolution’s successes were related to slavery. Her professor, Janine, asks her not to base her arguments on what appear to be assumptions but to look for annotated facts from well-regarded authorities.
Janine is willing to extend the paper’s deadline but Zoe replies it won’t help because she has a protest to organize followed by other protests elsewhere.
That’s the early part of what starts out as back and forth conversation.
It soon becomes a heated argument when Zoe reads quotes from what Janine said in class that could be considered racist, argues against the professor’s hanging of a George Washington picture even though Janine also has a picture of Nelson Mandela on the wall and then records Janine’s responses on a cell phone she sends into the public domain.
Directed by Marti Lyons, Ayanna Bria Bakari is totally believable as Zoe and Maryh Beth Fisher is perfect as Janine.
An insert in the program urges audiences to not take sides as they hear the arguments. It says, There are no heroes and no villains in this play. “The insert goes on to read, “Both characters say many things that are true and both say many things that are deeply troubling and uncomfortable to hear.”
During the performance I attended, there were gasps when Zoe was rude to the professor and later showed the cell phone.
The audience also listened in rapt silence when aa distraught Zoe explained what life is like for someone who is African-American and that white people, like the professor, should “shut up and listen.”
Premiered in 2018, the arguments in this new play are provocative, personal and are likely to be discussed by audiences long after they leave the theater.
DETAILS: “The Niceties” is at Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe, through Dec. 8, 2019. Running time: about 1 hour, 50 minutes. For tickets and other information call (847) 242-6000 or visit Writers Theatre.
Arguably, a play that has been cut down to some of its basic tenets and character features works for some audiences and with some scripts. However, the 95-minute, one-act Sandra Delgado-Michael Halberstam adaption of Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House (also called “A Doll House”) now at Writers Theatre, left me yearning for the original, three-act play.
To me, what makes the adaption worth seeing is its superb acting and directing.
The show nicely fits into scenic designer Arnel Sancianco’s charming Victorian parlor in WT’s intimate Gillian Theatre. It brings the action so close to the audience that no characters’ telling facial expressions, nods and shoulder shrugs are missed.
Well helmed by Lavina Jadhwani, the characters’ body language is as important as what they are saying and not saying. Both those points are essential in this version because of the missing character development that is found in Ibsen’s original play.
Did you have a favorite show seen this season, that’s season defined by the Equity Jeff Awards eligibility rules as Aug. 1 to July 31.
If it was a touring production presented by Broadway in Chicago it can make this publication, Chicago Theater and Arts,’ top ten list but it wouldn’t have been eligible for an Equity Jeff award.
So think again about shows you’ve seen at such Chicago area venues and theater companies as Court Theatre, Steppenwolf, Chicago Shakespeare, Lookingglass, Drury Lane, Paramount, et al. There are about 250 theater companies in the Chicago area, many of whom are non-equity
This season’s equity nominations were announced early this morning, Sept. 3 2019. For non-equity, nominations and award recipients see Jeff Awards Non-Equity. For the complete list of Jeff Equity Nominees in all categories visit Jeff Awards. (Play photos shown here are among this season’s equity nominations.)
But before looking at which theaters scored big with the Jeff Committee, know who or what about the awards.
About the Jeff Awards and eligibility
According to the Jeff website, the awards have been “honoring outstanding theatre artists annually since it was established in 1968.” It goes on to say, “With approximately 55 members representing a wide variety of backgrounds in theatre, the Jeff Awards is committed to celebrating the vitality of Chicago area theatre by recognizing excellence through its recommendations, awards, and honors.
Among the rules to be eligible are: “A theater organization that has a production determined by Actors’ Equity Association to be an equity production and wishes to have that production judged must notify the Equity Wing Chair by the 18th of the month before the month in which the opening performance of that production is to take place.”
In addition, “the theatre must show that it has committed to produce a minimum of 18 performances, excluding previews, over a period of at least 3 consecutive weeks. Additional requirements as to the minimum 18-performance rule are: at least one performance per week must take place on the weekend, one weekday matinee a week can be counted towards the minimum of 18 performances.
“Additional eligibility requirements: a. The Jeff Committee does not judge late-night performances (i.e., all curtains at or after 9:30 p.m.), puppet theatre, opera, performance art, children’s theatre, student or youth theatre, foreign language theatre, mime theatre, unscripted or improvised productions, or staged readings.”
“The Committee no longer judges Touring Productions under its prior (and now eliminated) separate category of Touring Production Awards. A specific production originating from a non-Chicago area CAT/LORT theatre (commonly referred to as a “Touring Production”) which is not being produced by a Chicago CAT/LORT Theatre is eligible for consideration if it is presented as part of that Theatre’s subscription.”
Among the nominations
Production – Play – Large
“Downstate” – Steppenwolf Theatre Company
“Indecent” – Victory Gardens Theater
“Photograph 51” – Court Theatre
“Radio Golf” – Court Theatre
“The Steadfast Tin Soldier” – Lookingglass Theatre Company
Production – Play – Midsize
“Frankenstein” – Remy Bumppo Theatre Company
“Noises Off” – Windy City Playhouse
“On Clover Road” – American Blues Theater
“The Recommendation” – Windy City Playhouse
“Something Clean” – Sideshow Theatre Company
and Rivendell Theatre Ensemble
Production – Musical – Large
“Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” – Drury Lane Productions
“Next to Normal” – Writers Theatre
“The Producers” – Paramount Theatre
“Six” – Chicago Shakespeare Theater
“The Wizard of Oz” – Paramount Theatre
Production – Musical – Midsize
“Caroline, or Change” – Firebrand Theatre
i/a/w TimeLine Theatre Company
“A Chorus Line” – Porchlight Music Theatre
“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” – Porchlight Music Theatre
“Gypsy” – Porchlight Music Theatre
Production – Revue
“Djembe! The Show” – Doug Manuel, Ashley DeSimone and TSG Theatricals
“Women of Soul” – Black Ensemble Theater
“You Can’t Fake the Funk: A Journey through Funk Music”
– Black Ensemble Theater
Ensemble – Play
“Familiar” – Steppenwolf Theatre Company
“For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow is Enuf”
– Court Theatre
“Indecent” – Victory Gardens Theater
“Noises Off” – Windy City Playhouse
“Small Mouth Sounds” – A Red Orchid Theatre
“Twilight Bowl” – Goodman Theatre
Ensemble – Musical or Revue
“A Chorus Line” – Porchlight Music Theatre
“Million Dollar Quartet” – Marriott Theatre
“Queen of the Mist” – Firebrand Theatre
“Six” – Chicago Shakespeare Theater
“You Can’t Fake the Funk: A Journey through Funk Music”
– Black Ensemble Theater
New Work – Play
David Auburn – “The Adventures of Augie March” – Court Theatre
David Catlin – “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” – Lookingglass Theatre Company
Jenny Connell Davis – “Scientific Method” – Rivendell Theatre Ensemble
Ike Holter – “Lottery Day” – Goodman Theatre
Manual Cinema – “Frankenstein” – Court Theatre
Bruce Norris – “Downstate” – Steppenwolf Theatre Company
Jen Silverman – “Witch” – Writers Theatre
Mary Zimmerman – “The Steadfast Tin Soldier” – Lookingglass Theatre Company
New Work – Musical
David Cale – “We’re Only Alive for A Short Amount of Time”
– Goodman Theatre i/a/w The Public Theater
Michael Mahler and Jason Brett – “Miracle” – William A. Marovitz and Arny Granat
Daniel Zaitchik – “Darling Grenadine” – Marriott Theatre
According to Jeff Award information, 192 nominations were made in 34 categories ranging from actors, directors and choreographers to scenic and costume design and more.
When taking all the categories into consideration Porchlight Music Theatre topped the nominations at 17, followed by Paramount Theatre with 16 and Court Theatre with 15.
The 51 st Annual Equity Jeff Awards ceremony honoring excellence in professional theater produced within the greater Chicago area will be Oct. 21, 2019 at Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace.
In Act II of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s “Into the Woods,” the Baker and Cinderella, two of four main fairy-tale characters who survive the whole, Hamlet-like second act (Little Red and Jack (of beanstalk fame are the other two), explain that choices have consequences and everyone is connected in “No One Is Alone.”
It the characters sound like those folks encountered during childhood bedtime stories they may possibly come to life for some audience members during Act I. but that familiarity ends when Sondheim who composed the music and lyrics and Lapine who wrote the book, offers a scathing reality check in Act II.
The musical, garnering several Tony Awards including Best Score and Best Book when premiering on Broadway in 1987, pulls a moralistic, anti-happily after plot from stories primarily conceived or popularized by 17th century French fairy-tale founder Charles Perraultan (“Cinderella,” Little Red Riding Hood”) and 19th century German folklore authors and collectors, the Brothers Grimm (Rapunzel, Snow White). “Jack and the Beanstalk” is an English Fairy tale popularized by Joseph Jacobs started out n 1734 as “The Story of Jack Spriggins and the Enchanted Bean.”
It all starts with “Rapunzel” when a husband steals veggies called rampion or rapunzel from the garden of a next-door neighboring witch to make his pregnant wife happy. The witch catches him and makes a deal to leave the couple alone if they will give her theirthe baby to raise. This story is uncovered when that man’s son, the Baker, and his wife are lonely without children and learn it’s because of the witch’s curse.
And so the musical is about what people wish for and their journey to achieve it. The witch tells them the curse will be removed if the couple brings her a “cow as white as milk, cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn and slipper as pure as gold” in three days.
Experienced theater goers know that not all memorable plays are on stage in the city. Chicago’s suburban theaters also put on Jeff award-winning productions. To be sure to catch a show you want to see, copy it and save or mark those productions on the calendar. (Note: Some companies spell their work and space “theater,” others use “theatre.” Both are correct.) A look at the coming suburban theater season is the last round-up in Chicago Theater and Arts’ Sneak Peek Series.
The theatre is in a school building at 300 S. Waukegan Rd. Lake Forest.
Citadel is doing “Peter and the Starcatcher,” Sept. 18-Oct. 20 followed by “Annie,” Nov. 20-Dec. 22. “The Fantasticks” start out 2020 Feb. 5-Mar. 8, followed by “Brighton Beach Memoirs” Apr. 22-May 24.
For tickets and other information call (847) 735-8554 and visit Citadel Theatre.
The theatre does musical productions in the Marriott Resort at 10 Marriott Dr,. Lincohnshire.
“Darling Grenadine” continues through Aug. 18 followed by “ Something Rotten,” Aug. 28-Oct. 20 and “Oliver” Oct 30-Dec. 29, 2019. “Shrek the Musical” (children’s show) Oct. 5-Dec 30 and concludes with “Holiday Inn” Nov. 7-Jan. 6.
Marriott’s shows for young audiences feature “Junie B. Jones,” now through Aug. 11 and “Madagascar: A Musical Adventure” Oct. 4-Dec. 29.
For tickets and other information call (847) 634-0200 and visit Marriott Theatre.
Metropolis Performing Arts Center
The Center, at 111 W. Campbell St., Arlington Heights, is currently doing “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story” through Aug. 31, then “Anything Goes” Sept. 19-Nov. 2., 2019. The new year begins with “Noises Off” Jan 20-Mar. 14, followed by “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” May 14-June 27 and “Mama Mia! July 16 -Aug. 29.
The theatre is in the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd. Skokie
Northlight is doing the Midwest premiere of “Mother of the Maid” Sept. 12-Oct. 20 and the world premiere of “The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley” Nov.7-Dec. 15, 2019. The season continues in the new year with the world premiere of “How a Boy Falls” Jan. 23-Mar. 1 followed by “Intimate Apparel” Mar. 12-Apr. 19 and “Songs for Nobodies” May 7-June 14. 2020.
For tickets and other information call (847) 673-6300 and visit Northlight.
A theatre workshop/school at 927 Noyes St., Evanston, that also presents productions in co-operation with other groups. The Fleetwood-Jourdain Theatre presents“The Black Ballerina” in partnership with Piven, Dear Evanston and Dance Center Evanston, Aug. 10-25.
For Piven tickets and other information call (947) 866-8049 and visit Piven Theatre.
The theatre is in a small, historic, movie theater building at 7924 Lincoln Ave., Skokie
Skokie Theatre is doing “The Fantasticks” Sept. 6-Oct. 6 followed by “Marjorie Prime: Nov. 8-24, 2019. The season continues in 2020 with “Veronica’s Room” Feb. 7-Mar. 1.
For tickets and other information call (847) 677-7761 and visit Skokie Theatre.
Designed by architect Jeanne Gang and her Studio Gang, WT has two stages in an award-winning building at 325 Tudor Court, Glencoe; The Alexandra C. and John D. Nichols Theatre and the The Gillian Theatre.
The 2019-20 season opens with “Into the Woods” Aug. 14-Sept. 22, followed by “A Doll’s House” Sept. 25-Dec. 15, 2019. :The Niceties” is Nov. 6-Dec. 15. It continues in 2020 with “Stick Fly” Feb. 5-Mar. 15. and “The Last Match” Mar. 18-June 7. And “Mementos Mori” ay 6-June 14. .
For tickets and other information call (847) 242-6000 and visit Writers Theatre.
Drury Lane Theatre
The theatre is at the Drury Lane Resort, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook Terrace.
Drury Lane Theatre continues “And then There Were None” through Aug. 26 then is doing “The Color Purple” Sept. 13-Nov. 3. 2019 goes into 2020 with Mary Poppins” Nov. 15 –Jan. 19. “An American in Paris” is on stage Jan. 31-Mar. 29.
The theatre uses the rooms and grounds of the Mayslake Peabody Estate at 1717 W. 31st St. Oak Brook.
First Folio is doing “Henry V” through Aug. 18. Then, “Sherlock’s Last Case” Oct. 2-Nov. 3, 2019. Shows continue in 2020 with “Jeeves Saves the Day” Jan. 29-Mar.1 followed by “Louisa May Alcott’s Little women.” Mar. 25-Apr. 26.
Fir tickets and other information call(630) 986-8067 and visit First Folio.
Jedlicka Performing Arts Center
The Center at 3801 S. Central Ave., Cicero., is doing “In the Heights” with Vision Latino Theatre Company, fall of 2019. Dates TBA. For tickets and other information call (708) 656-1800 and visit Jpac Theatre.
Madison Street Theatre
The theatre, at 1010 Madison St. Oak Park, is a multi-venue building. For information call (312) 282-1750 and visit MSTOakPark.
Oak Park Festival Theater
The theater, 157 Forest Ave., has is doing “Much Ado About Nothing” through Aug. 31. Followed by “The Madness of Edgar Allan Poe: A Love Story” Oct. 24-Nov. 17, 2019.
The theatre is in a historic movie palace at 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora
Paramount is doing “Newsies” Sept. 4-Oct. 20, then “Beauty and the Beast” Nov. 13-Jan. 19, followed by “The Secret of My Success” Feb. 12-Mar. 29. “Kinky Boots” ends the season Apr. 29-June 14.
For tickets and other information call (630) 896-6666 and visit Paramount Aurora.
Sixteenth Street Theatre
The theatre, 6420 16th Street, Berwyn, is doing “His Shadow” Sept. 5-Oct. 12, 2019 and “Small Jokes About Monsters” Jan. 10-Feb. 16, then, “Good Enough” Mar. 14-Apr. 20, 2020. For tickets and other information call (708) 795-6704 and visit 16th Street Theater.
Theatre of Western Springs
The theatre is at 4383 Hampton Ave., Western Springs.
It is doing “Murder in the Studio” Sept. 5-15 followed by “Accomplice” Oct. 17-27. The new year starts with “The Nerd” Hab, 16-26. Then, “The Great Gatsby” is Feb. 27-Mar. 8 and “TheGame’s Afoot” May 28-June 7.
“Next to Normal” brilliantly and unerringly brings to the stage what life is like in a home where a family member is mentally ill.
Penned by Brian Yorkey who also did the lyrics and with music by Tom Kitt, the show took three Tony awards in 2009. It also won the Pulitzer Prize for drama because even though it has highly expressive musical numbers, it is not a feel-good musical.
“Next to Normal” is a heart-wrenching drama about a husband who keeps trying to help his wife combat what has been diagnosed as bi-polar depression triggered by the death of their young son early in their marriage and about their teenage daughter who no matter how successful she is in school, can’t get the attention she deserves and craves.
During the course of “A Number” at Writers Theatre, Glencoe, a father admits he was an awful parent the first time around as his sons try to extract the full story of their existence.
It’s sort-of a two person play with stage veteran, actor/director Nate Burger (Writers Theatre, Americanh Players Theatre, Timeline) as the father, Salter, and popular Chicago actor Nate Burger (Chicago Shakespeare, Timeline, Goodman) as Bernard, his sons, 1, 2 and 3.
The play is only 65 minutes long but its high intensity acting and twists made it feel as if I sat through two hours of a suspenseful drama.
Eerie music and lighting enhance Robin Witt’s spot-on direction of clipped responses from the father in contrast to the emotions of Salter’s original and cloned sons.
Yes the show, written by Caryl Churchill back in 2002 when copying mammals’ DNA and genetic make-up was in the news, is about cloning. It’s also about examining uniqueness, identity, upbringing, abandonment and truth.
Salter, who felt he was not a good father the first time around, wanted to try again from scratch. He had scientists clone his first son so he could be a better father the second time.
What happens on how the son and clones react will be a surprise therefore there will not be an alert here. You have to go to find out.
But a word of warning. Don’t believe most of what Salter says. The real story emerges from the mist of his twisted mind in bits and pieces.
DETAILS:”A Number” is in the Gillian Theatre of Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Court Glencoe through June 9, 2019. Running Time: 65 minutes, no intermission. For tickets and other information call 847) 242-6000 and visit Writers Theatre.
To see August Wilson’s plays is to look through a window on the life and times of black Americans, to feel their frustrations, challenges and desires, not just in one period, but in 10 decades of the 20th century. To witness actors tell those stories is to hear Wilson’s ear for the cadence and poetry of language.
In “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” now at Writers theatre through March 17, 2019, we visit a Chicago of the1920’s when white record producers were turning to black music they called “race music” because it sold well.
The play is the only one of Wilson’s “Century Cycle” to be set in Chicago. The others, such as “Radio Golf” (1990’s) done by Court Theatre last year and “Two Trains Running” (1960s) that appeared at Goodman Theatre in 2015, took place in Pittsburgh’s Hill District.
The incomparable Felicia P. Fields (Tony nominated for “Color Purple”) is terrific as a feisty Ma Rainey who really was a popular blues singer. Her rendition of “Black Bottom” is great and I would have liked to her sing more.
But this play is about the thoughts, experiences and desires of her black band members and how white record producer Sturdyvant (Thomas J. Cox) and Rainey’s manager, Irvin (Pete Moore), behave before, during and after the taping.
While waiting for Rainey, who turned out to be delayed by a difficult traffic confrontation and bad cab experience, her quartet, hot-headed trumpeter Levee (Kelvin Roston Jr.), philosophical pianist Toledo (David Alan Anderson), easy-going bassist/backup vocal “Slow Drag,” (A.C. Smith) and band leader/trombonist Cutler (Alfred H. Wilson), tell stories and debate ideas during rehearsal.
After a couple of problems including Sturdyvant finally letting Levee know that the trumpet player’s songs will not be optioned, Levee erupts, and the play has a tragic ending.
However, directed by Ron OJ Parson, the band members present the perfect ensemble to tell Wilson’s story. Todd Rosenthal’s backdrop of a former church turned recording studio sets the right period tone. Using the front of the stage as the downstairs rehearsal room is genius because it brings the audience close to the band members.
Other cast members are Dussie Mae( Tiffany Renee Johnson) as Ma Rainey’s likely lover, Sylvester, (Jalen Gilbert) as Rainey’s stuttering nephew and policeman (Blake Montgomery) who brought Ma and her retinue to the recording studio after the traffic confrontation.
DETAILS: “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” is at Writers Theatre, 325Tudor Court, Glencoe, through March 17, 2019. Running time: 2 hrs, 30 min. with one intermission. For tickets and other information call (847) 242-6000 or visit Writers Theatre.
If escaping to somewhere warm hasn’t worked out this year then escape instead to a fun or interesting play that takes you to a different time or place.
“All Childish Things,” a crazy plan to steal Star Wars toys from a warehouse encounters the Dark Side, at First Folio in Oakbrook through Feb. 24. The show is appropriate for Star Wars fans ages 12 and up.
Seeing a show at First Folio is an experience because it is in the Mayslake Peabody Estate, a supposedly haunted mansion in a Du Page County Forest Preserve.
“The Producers,” Mel Brooks zany plot to make money on a show by producing a flop, is at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora through March 17, 2019.
Paramount is worth the drive to Aurora because the shows there are full-blown, Broadway-style productions with excellent casts and great scenic design, costumes and orchestration.
“Dear Evan Hansen,” a complicated scenario dealing with mental health, fitting in, bullying and other problems teens face in high school, is at the James M Nederlander Theatre (formerly Oriental) through March 10.
The Tony-Award winning musical is starting its National tour in Chicago as part of the Broadway in Chicago series.
“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” a delightful Porchlight Music Theatre production at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, through March 16.
If you haven’t seen a Porchlight musical, it’s time to add it to your go-to list.
“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” a classic August Wilson play, is at Writers Theatre, Glencoe through March 17.
August Wilson presents, rather than tip toes through, confrontation, but he does so in unexpected ways. Plus, Writers Theatre is in an award-winning Jeanne Gang (Studio Gang Architects) designed structure.
No, Lunapalooza is not a typo. The Adler Planetarium is celebrating the total eclipse of the moon late into the night of Jan. 20 with Lunapalooza and Writers Theatre is celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day with a free Civil Rights production Jan. 21.
Pretty much every time our universe puts on a sky show, the Adler celebrates by sharing its astronomers and equipment. During the solar eclipse last August, the Adler was handing out the proper sunglasses and had a companion craft activity to safely watch the event.
For the lunar eclipse the night of Jan 20, Chicago’s world-class planetarium is celebrating with a free outdoor experience, no telescope or glasses needed but PJs are OK because the event goes from 8 p.m. to midnight.
But there’s a lot going on inside.
With the admission pass of $14 adults and $8 children age 3 to 11, guests can go to “Eclipse HQ” in the Space Visualization Lab which has a live feed and chat opportunities with astronomers.
The pass also is good for seeing the Adler’s new show, Imagine the Moon that opens Jan. 18 and charts how the moon was part of people’s lives through the ages.
Indoor activities include a glow-in-the-dark PJ party in the Family Zone and grabbing a cup of hot chocolate before going outside to witness the event.
Produced by Writers Theatre, the annual, one-person- show written by Yolanda Androzzo and featuring Angela Alise, will be performed free at the Chicago History Museum Jan. 21, 2019 at 10:30 a.m. The Chicago History Museum is at 1601 N. Clark St. and Lincoln Park. The hour-long show will be followed by a discussion.
Writers Theatre takes the show, a meshing of interviews of Chicago-based Civil Rights activists with poetry and hip-hop expression that is directed by Tasia A. Jones, to 35 Chicago Public Schools, community centers and juvenile detention centers during a 6-week tour.
The production can also be seen earlier at Writers Theatre, 325 Tudor Ct., Glencoe,on Feb. 2 at both 4 and 7 p.m. Those tickets are Adults $20, students $10. They are available by calling (847) 242-6000 and at WritersTheatre MLK Project.