COVID cases are dwindling in Illinois and thus museums and many restaurants are re-opening but most of the news from Chicago’s theaters is what is still happening digitally.
Goodman Theatre started an Encore series of OnDemand video streaming free from March 15 through May 9. Pulled from Goodman’s video vault, they are “How to Catch Creation” by Christiana Anderson, Teatro Buendia’s “Pedro Paramo” by Raquel Carrio, “Smokefall” by Noah Haidle and “Measure for Measure” by the Bard, William Shakespeare.
All the productions were impressive but the one that really stuck in a corner of my obscure consciousness was “Smokefall”,presented in the fall of 2013.
A beautiful and though provoking play about life and love, it features Violet (Katherine Keberlein) as a wife whose husband is leaving and a mother whose daughter has problems. Violet is also about to birth twin boys whose thoughts on leaving the womb are astonishing and scary.
Her father, the Colonel, superbly portrayed by Mike Nussbaum (whom I admit is one of my favorite actors) is an elderly person whose mind is slipping, but has an important role in the life of this family.
Goodman is also continuing its stream of “Until the Flood” by Dael Orlandersmith, a powerful play that sheds light on Ferguson, MO from a variety of perspectives.
“Live theater is ephemeral; once a performance ends, it’s gone forever,” said Artistic Director Robert Falls. “But as we anticipate the day we can reopen our doors and resume in-person events, we are thrilled to offer this rare chance to watch a handful of signature Goodman productions—including world premieres, a re-imagined classic and a ground-breaking international collaborate—from our video archives.”
At Steppenwolf Theatre, Scout, a new play development program, is doing a free virtual reading of “Mosque4Mosue” by Omer Abbas Salem on March 28 at 2 p.m. CST. The play, comedy about how what might be considered an average 30something Arab American Muslim who is queer, handles a caring mother who wants the ideal man for him. To obtain a ticket call (312) 335-1650 or go to Steppenwolf Theatre/forms.
Watching Porchlight Theatre’s “Chicago Sings Rock and Roll Broadway” on Youtube last night, made me realize how much I missed going to Chicago area venues for good musicals and plays.
Well-staged with superb instrumental back-up, the cast takes on the mammoth task of covering musicals through the decades from “Bye Bye Birdie” and “Hair” in the 1960s and “The Wiz” and “Promises Promises” in the 1970s to more recent shows such as “Kinky Boots,” “Waitress,” “Beautiful” and “Head over Heels.”
Past benefit concerts were, among others, covers from Disney, Stephen Sondheim, The Beatles and Motown.
Choosing a song or a couple of stanzas from each show, their theme this year is Rock and Roll but not all music chosen fall in that genre. So, if deciding to tune in to support local artists, Porchlight and, just as important, the theatre’s education arm to area youth, don’t worry if your ear prefers other musical genres.
The benefit is fun to watch and hear because the music ranges from standards to lesser- known songs. You are bound to find a favorite performance. Among mine was Sawyer Smith’s magnificent take on “Wig in a Box” from “Hedwig & the Angry Inch, (1998).
A virtual event that can be viewed through April 18, 2021, Chicago Sings is a fundraiser similar to the broadcasts that have aired since COVID shuttered arts and entertainment venues a year ago, except this event brings the cast and musicians together.
It also includes the presentation of the 2021 Guy Adkins award for “excellence in the advancement of music theatre” to Felicia P. Fields and greetings from several Broadway stars including E. Faye Butler and Sean Allan Krill.
Porchlight Theatre’s “Chicago Sings Rock and Roll Broadway is on YouTube through April 18, 2021. Tickets are $25. Running time is about 90 minutes. For tickets see Porchlight and for information visit Porchlight Music Theatre.
Theatre in the Dark metaphorically sets sail to harpoon the quintessential fish story that is “Moby Dick.”
Maybe you read it in high school or enjoyed Gregory Peck in the screen adaptation proffered one Sunday afternoon by Frazier Thomas on Family Classics, or maybe you’ve missed the story all together.
This 90-minute version of the tale crafted by producing artistic director Corey Bradberry captures the essence of Herman Melville’s classic seafaring novel. It does so in a kind of CliffsNotes fashion that preserves the storyline while doing fair justice to the primary characters including vivid descriptions of the elusive and menacing great white whale, itself.
No need to keep your eyes peeled. Theatre in the Dark is a Chicago based company specializing in telling stories through sound so this production can be more accurately described as a live radio drama. In this case, it is broadcast via the Internet on Zoom.
The voice of Elizabeth McCoy as the narrator, Ishmael, has a fresh and active timbre. She provides a colorful tone that becomes the foundation of the aural composition.
However, her delivery, at times, is more reminiscent of a Saturday morning children’s librarian than that of an experienced youth intimately recounting details of a horrific, bone-chilling odyssey.
In his portrayal of third mate Stubb, Mack Gordon provides a grizzled gruff but kindly attitude that is imbued with a sense of camaraderie and discipline as well as a longing for home.
“Thar she blows!” He gives it the sweet taste of simple pleasures that have come to define the mental portrait of those hearty souls whose livelihood and willingness for adventure caused them to choose one of the most perilous vocations of all time.
The velvety basso tones of Robinson J. Cyprian as the vengefully obsessed and austere Captain Ahab offers the contrast needed to add aural dimension to the production while simultaneously suggesting the underlying foreboding of his true quest.
Augmented by original music of Nick Montopoli, the soundscape design of Bradberry and Gordon fully delivers the background auditory impressions required to set the stage. It puts the listener on the deck of the Pequod in the midst of the action.
Dim the lights. Don your foul weather gear. Then, settle down with your mug of grog to enjoy the recounting of this time-honored maritime adventure.
“Moby Dick” runs 90 minutes plus a 10 minute intermission. It is online through April 10, 2021. For tickets and information visit theatreinthedark..
Don’t even try to shoo Maurice Ravel’s famed “Boléro” out of your head after hearing and seeing it interpreted by The Joffrey Ballet’s Studio Series.
Streaming now through Mar. 2, 2021, the haunting beat returns over and over so instead of worrying about it, just go back to the YouTube channel to hear it again and re-watch how choreographer Yoshihisa Arai has fit dance moves to the compulsive rhythm.
The program, backed beautifully by the London Symphony Orchestra, is an exciting Joffrey world premiere featuring Anais Bueno and ensemble.
Costumes by Temur Suluashvili reflect Yoshihisa’s light and shadows theme. Masks are worn and fit the costuming and mood.
It is performed in the Gerald Arpino Black Box Theater at Joffrey tower. Running time is 16 minutes. To watch visit Boléro | Joffrey Ballet.
Creating an intimate face-to-face theatrical experience seems the primary objective of Theatre For One: Here We Are, a series of eight new microplays.
They are written and directed by black, indigenous, and women of color presented by Chicago’s Court Theatre under the leadership of Charles Newell, Artistic Director Marilyn F. Vitale and Executive Director Angel Ysaguirre.
Promoted as a live digital theatrical experience, the performances take place via an Internet based video platform similar to Zoom. Audience members are required to participate via a computer preferably using a Chrome browser with their camera, speakers, and microphone operational.
Right off the bat, I find this a little bit of overkill as I did not experience a substantial amount of interaction on my part with any of the actors I encountered.
I will say that the expectation of interaction did set up a sense of intimacy where I might otherwise have stayed a bit more aloof and thus participating as more of an observer than an active listener. So in this sense it works.
Interestingly there are a few minutes between each play where audience members are prompted to chat among themselves in the “lobby” by typing messages anonymously which was amusing, playful and interactive.
Theatre For One: Here We Are brings together one actor with one audience member to share a laugh, tell a story or create an imaginative moment.
Being certain that your audience is “with you” is indeed one of the challenges of online theater. After all, actors thrive on the energy from the audience and the lack of energy can be a drawback in digital theater.
Each audience member is randomly assigned four out of the eight plays in the package which are as follows:
Thank You For Coming. Take Care by Stacey Rose, directed by Miranda Gonzalez, featuring Sydney Charles
What Are The Things I Need To Remember* by Lynn Nottage, directed by Chris Anthony, featuring TayLar
Pandemic Fight by Carmelita Tropicana, directed by Miranda Gonzalez, featuring Melissa DuPrey
Here We Are by Nikkole Salter, directed by Monet Felton, featuring Xavier Edward King
Thank You Letter by Jaclyn Backhaus, directed by Lavina Jadhwani, featuring Adithi Chandrashekar
Before America Was America* by DeLanna Studi, directed by Chris Anthony, featuring Elizabeth Laidlaw
Whiterly negotiations* by Lydia R. Diamond, directed by Monet Felton, featuring Deanna Reed-Foster.
Vote! (the black album)* written and directed by Regina Taylor, featuring Cheryl Lynn Bruce.
Each of the four “plays” I encountered (see asterisks) were well written, thought provoking, and well delivered. I would of course expect nothing less from this company.
However, I would describe these performances as monologues rather than “plays” as they are each about 10 minutes in length, delivered by one person and do not substantially evolve from their one simple premise.
They are not really “one-man-shows.” Neither are the” plays” part of a cohesive group as in “Spoon River Anthology.”
With that said I felt a bit like I was watching a series of auditions or “Moth” presentations. Of course in “The Moth” people are telling short stories derived from their own life experience which in itself has a great deal of intimacy.
This is what I felt was lacking here. Then again, isn’t that the challenge of an actor – – to take someone else’s words and make them their own? With maybe one exception generally I felt like I was being “talked at” rather than “spoken to.”
During this stay-at-home period over the past several months I have done a great deal of business online networking which has required me to have a number of spontaneous, intimate, face-to-face digital interactions with perhaps close to 100 strangers, so I understand spontaneous, authentic, digital communication.
The challenge with the Theatre for One concept is to recreate that feeling as a theatrical experience, to make me feel like this actor is sharing an intimate moment with me, personally.
If you have not had a similar online experience think of a fellow bus mate or airplane encounter where you developed a close bond with a stranger over a short period of time and where they were willing to let down their guard and share intimate details with a stranger because of the promise of anonymity. I believe this is what this company is aiming for. They get very close.
These are challenging times for actors and theater companies who need to push their creative bounds so this is a very good effort. I encourage you to check it out and experience it for yourself.
It’s about an hour long and an enjoyable way to extend your idea of what theater has been and what it can be. Grab a beverage, power up your communication portal and go with the flow. After all here we are so let’s make the best of it.
Details: Theatre for One, Feb. 21 through March 14, 2021. Performance Schedule: Thursday and Friday at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2 and 7:30 p.m. For tickets and information visit CourtTheatre.
It’s sure to feel like spring is reawakening with glorious sunflowers when you visit the Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit, now showing through September 6.
This visually spectacular digital art exhibition invites audiences to “step inside” the iconic works of post-Impressionist artist Vincent van Gogh. It evokes his highly emotional and chaotic inner consciousness through art, light, music and movement.
With more than 50 projectors illuminating over 14,000 square-feet, visitors are surrounded by Van Gogh’s brushstrokes and colors, including animated details from Self Portrait with Felt Hat (1888), The Bedroom in Arles (1889), Irises (1889) and The Starry Night 1889).
Immersive Van Gogh is a glorious experience that will envelop the visual and audio senses. Classical music, Edith Piaf’s “No Regrets” and other French songs stimulate the mind.
Stand in one of the circles on the main floor, then step up to the balcony to get a higher perspective.
The 1-hour Van Gogh exhibit has been designed in accordance with the latest health and safety protocols. Capacity is limited and masks are required at all times. Digitally projected social distancing circles on the gallery floors ensure appropriate spacing.
Ticket prices start at $39.99 for adults ($24.99 for children 16 or younger) with untimed and flexible ticket options available.
Immersive Van Gogh is at the Lighthouse Art Space, 108 Germania Place, Chicago. For more information, visit vangoghchicago.com or call 844-307-4644.
“Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure” taped live at Chicago Shakespeare Theater two years ago, is now streaming live free of charge (donations appreciated) through Jan. 1, 2021. It is a newly re-mastered recording of the company’s 2018 production.
Directed and choreographed by Amber Mak, it delightfully proves that not everything watched this time of year has to have a Christmas or Hanukkah theme. Really good for youngsters ages 8-10, its music, story, aerial choreography and 80-minute run-time, makes it entertaining for all ages. For more information visit Chicago Shakespeare Theater
An extended Christmas show
“Manual Cinema’s Christmas Carol,” Dicken’s moralistic holiday story but with an updated twist, has been extended through Dec. 31, 2020. Originally seen live at specific ticketed times through Dec. 20, the production is now streaming 24/7 through Marquee TV. Tickets are $15.
American Blues Theater has been doing a live retelling of “It’s a wonderful Live: Live from Chicago,” for more than 19 years. Patterned after the Frank Capra classic as a 1940s radio broadcast with terrific sound effects, the show is continuing through Jan. 2, 2021. For more information visit AmericanBluesTheater/Wonderful Life.
Those Hanukkah candles may be just a melted memory until next year but a fun story about the celebration is still going on at Strawdog Theatre Company.
A few more performances of its yearly story: “Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins” continues through Dec. 20, 2020. They can be seen live on zoom at 1 and 4 p.m. this weekend.
Now a Strawdog holiday tradition, “Hershel and the Hanukkah Ggoblins” is an interactive production based on the award-winning book by Eric Kimmel and adapted by ensemble member Michael Dailey.
Even though this really is a show for young children, adults will likely get caught up in the clever ways that Hershel tricks the goblins who have infested a small village and its old synagogue.
By the eight night the Hanukkah lights can once again be lit and the holiday celebrated. Along the way, viewers learn the Hebrew letters on the Hanukkah dreidel and the blessings said over the candles.
Theatre in the Dark celebrates the end of 2020 with their spin on Charles Dickens’ beloved classic tale of self-reflection and repentance.
My first impulse is to suggest that this year more than others in recent memory is a perfect time to reflect on the disparities between the haves and the have-nots. But I realize that human suffering and greed are continually with us to a greater or lesser degree and that the Christmas spirit as defined by Dickens is our meager attempt once a year to rise above petty self-interests and consider the greater good. “God bless us, every one.”
“A Christmas Carol” is a fictional expose on the Victorian life and times of Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge, a character whose very name has become synonymous with miserliness, as in “That guy is a real Scrooge.”
In the story, this tightwad scrimps on coal in the winter months, begrudges his only clerk a day off to celebrate the Christmas holiday with the family and, in response to a solicitation of aid to the poor asks, “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”
When pointed out that many would rather die than go there, Scrooge suggests that “If they would rather die, they’d better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
His comment exemplifies a degree of callousness and disregard for the welfare of others for no reason other than to hoard his wealth which we learn brings him no personal pleasure.
As the story begins, Scrooge is visited by the specter of Jacob Marley, his deceased business partner. Marley warns of the torments he has endured in the afterlife as a result of his own greed and indifference. He suggests Scrooge may escape the same fate if he undergoes visitations with three additional apparitions – the ghosts of Christmas present, past and future.
Through a nightmarish one-night odyssey, Scrooge sees his negative effect on others, his disregard of positive role models and a lonely end and lamentable legacy if he does not change.
Dickens’ story continues to work as a modern day parable, revealing the darker nature that lurks within us all.
Scrooge’s journey of self-discovery demonstrates that we can each contribute by paying a little more attention to our place within our community and our part in society.
Observing the loving interactions of the Cratchit family and the kind words of nephew Fred, we realize that it is not just about money. We can be greedy with our emotions and personal interactions as well.
Dickens and the cast of Theater in the Dark also pull at our heart strings through the now iconic character of Tiny Tim who, in contrast to Scrooge, has come to exemplify innocent good cheer in the face of adversity and demonstrates that love does not require monetary wealth but can be given freely in abundance.
This iteration of “A Christmas Carol” is offered as an Internet version of a radio drama designed to be enjoyed in a now, largely bygone, aural tradition. Delivered via zoom it requires only a good set of speakers or a headset. The experience is very much like sitting around your living room reading aloud with friends.
There were no real standout performances though Corey Bradberry as Scrooge did a credible job weaving a thread of continuity throughout the production. The rest of the cast was more than adequate but really broke no new ground nor did they really rise to the level of any of the well-known movie versions or other well regarded stage adaptations.
Still, I do not fault Theatre in the Dark for taking a stab at this. After all, live theater is about having your crack at stepping into the skin of various characters and seeing what it’s like to be them.
This is an ensemble production with each of the actors Sarah Althen, Kathleen Puls, Mack Gordon, and Corey Bradberry playing several roles. The story was adapted and directed by Mack Gordon, featuring original music by Jake Sorgen with sound design by Gordon.
The danger of doing a classic is akin to being a cover band. If you do not play exactly like the original you will be criticized for not being an exact replica. The other option is to be completely original so it is clear you are doing something fresh.
In this case, think Bill Murray’s version or the Mr. Magoo cartoon version, that has become a classic in its own right.
Unfortunately this company really did neither so the question becomes why choose this version over a number of other options? The main reason is the audio aspect.
If you or your kids have not experienced a radio drama you might find this a refreshing option. If the listener has no previous experience with the play they will be relieved of the burden of comparison.
Finally, Theater in the Dark offers a pay as you please option so it’s a great way to try something new while supporting smaller theater companies during the stay-at-home-period.
To be clear I did not dislike this performance but would put it into the realm of a very good reading as opposed to a thoughtfully well-crafted production. If you’re home with the kids, consider this as a way to develop listening skills sitting in the dark and enjoy some peaceful quiet time together.
Interestingly, the cast is simultaneously in Chicago, Philadelphia and Vancouver which expands the notion of live theater. The Internet performance is delivered via Zoom with the help of stage manager/sound engineer Cory Bradberry.
I listened via an iPad with amplified computer speakers connected via an analog cable which allowed me to easily adjust the volume in the room. There is no picture to be concerned with so screen sharing is basically a useless option. Also be forewarned that screen sharing via Zoom in most cases will not broadcast the audio so keep it as simple as possible by using a tablet or computer.
Theatre in the Dark is offering Live online performances of “A Christmas Carol” through December 24, 2020. Running time is about 90 minutes with no intermission. Tickets are available at www.theatreinthedark.com. For info only (no ticketing), call (312) 285-0314.
Manual Cinema, an innovative company that blends story-telling, puppetry, actors, music and sound to tell a story, mixes Charles Dickens’ moralistic holiday tale with current phrases and crises in its premiere of “Manual Cinema A Christmas Carol.”
Given the current pandemic challenges, instead of presenting the show at Court Theatre where the company did “Frankenstein” or Chopin Theatre for “End of TV, its take on the Dickens’ story streams live to audiences per performance from Manual Cinema’s Chicago studio.
An early clue that audiences will be experiencing more than the basic story of Scrooge’s enlightenment, are the cards on a mantel behind actor/puppeteer N. LaOuis Harkins who introduces the story as Aunt Trudy and is the voice behind each character. The cards range from holiday wishes to get well and condolences.
“Trudy,” married to Joe whom she said died of COVID in August, is going through her late husband’s story-telling box of puppets. Her seemingly drawn-out reluctance to use them and present the tale for family members on zoom, makes sense at the end.
But the story needs to unfold so no ALERT here. Just appreciate the tale’s broader message. Oh, and have Kleenex handy for the graveyard scene.