If your idea of summer fun included telling spooky tales around the campfire or listening to audiobooks during your cross-country road trip you might enjoy beginning the fall theater season with Brian McKnight’s “Dracula,” a Glass Apple Theatre production at the Raven.
Based on Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula, the production is an exciting world premiere stage adaptation of Orson Welles’ 1938 radio drama “Dracula.” And it is just in time to prepare your mind for Halloween.
Adapted and directed by McKnight, the show weaves an ominous adventure of suspense centered around the identity and mysterious intentions of the pale skinned Transylvanian Count Dracula portrayed by Andrew Bosworth.
The mystery drives Johnathan Harker played by Chris Jensen, nearly insane and sends his wife, Mina (Madeline Logan), to the edge of her grave.
Meanwhile, Dr. Seward (Connor Brennan) reaches out to the more experienced Dr. Van Helsing (Howard Raik) in a desperate attempt to understand what malady affects the fragile Lucy Westenra (Katie O’Neill), who was Mina’s best friend and in the original story probably was the Count’s first victim.
There’s an eerie old castle, a graveyard, an endangered ship at sea and a number of strange boxes with their curious contents that all have to be puzzled out to save the country from the bloody curse of the undead.
This World Premiere hybrid radio-drama is performed in evocative 19th century period costumes by designer Tina Haglund Spitza (with assistance of Cheryl Snodgrass).
To add dimension to this narrated drama, it is performed in front of projected back wall imagery by scenic designer Lauren Nichols (with Alyssa Mohn).
DETAILS: Orson Welles’ Dracula is onstage at the Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL through September 25, 2022. Running time: 80 minutes with no intermission. Ticket information is available at glassappletheatre.
Thanks to a $15 million gift from Roxelyn and the late Richard Pepper, Lincoln Park Zoo broke ground on a $41 million renovation of their lion house in December 2019.
After being closed for about 2 years, the new Lion House opened in October 2021 and is home to a pride of lions that includes one male and four females. Rumor has it that locally born offspring may result.
The state-of-the-art habitat has been renamed the Pepper Family Wildlife Center, home not just to lions but also Canada lynx, snow leopards and red pandas.
Fans of the old Lion House will be happy to see the renovation was achieved to preserve and enhance the architecturally significant features of the historic structure built in 1912.
The dramatic entrances on either side bring a flood of natural light into the interior and the beautiful vintage vaulted ceiling has never looked better.
Small cages and cells with their archaic painted backgrounds are gone, replaced inside and out with expansive viewing windows for close-ups of the big cats.
The habitat has nearly doubled, now providing the lions with a variety of choices from plenty of outside fresh air and thermal comfort zones to trees for climbing, and elevated rocks to give them high vantage points plus areas to seek privacy, shade, and shelter.
A unique indoor design element known as the Lion Loop, funded by the Women’s Board of Lincoln Park Zoo, enables guests to view the pride even more intimately from the center of the habitat.
The $41 million renovation of the building is the final phase of what has been dubbed The Pride of Chicago, a $135 million capital campaign that began in 2012.
It was my good fortune to tag along with the Chicago Uptown Lions Club on a special tour conducted by Bill Green, accessibility and inclusion manager for the zoo.
About seventy-five percent of the Uptown Lion members are visually impaired. Thanks to a grant by the Hart Prinze Fund, special accommodations have been made to allow those with special needs to enjoy the experience.
Green outfitted our small group with wireless earpieces that allowed us to easily hear his commentary as we toured the Lion habitat inside and out while he creatively and thoroughly explained what was being shown so that those unable to see would understand what the rest of us were experiencing visually.
On several occasions there were tactile displays that allowed both the sighted and unsighted members of our group to feel the size of a lion paw, the impression of their print, the feeling of their fur or the rough texture of their tongues.
Inside the building Green produced a special three dimensional map of the African savannah that the visually impaired could run their fingers over to get a sense of the various distances a lion might travel and kinds of terrain they may encounter in their journey.
All-in-all the Pepper Family Wildlife Center and its inhabitants are indeed destined to be the Pride of Chicago and should definitely be on your things to do calendar in the Windy City.
If you haven’t been to the zoo lately you might like to know that there are a number of restaurants and cafés on the grounds and several more within a short walk.
The Lincoln Park Zoo can be approached by car at Fullerton and Cannon Drive just west of Lake Shore Drive. Parking is available and might be considered pricey by some but admission to the zoo is free. If you’re a little more adventurous street parking is available along Clark Street on the west side of the park and there are bus routes that include the zoo entrance.
For more information about the zoo visit lpzoo.org. For more information about the Chicago Uptown Lions Club email [email protected].
In “Robust,” Gerard Depardieu portrays a lonely, bored, aging actor, Georges, unwilling or uninterested in going through the same old motions.
When his regular driver/security guard is temporarily called out of town, Georges creates a new alliance with his replacement, Aissa, brilliantly played by Déborah Lukumuena. She turns out to be the equal of both the character, Georges, and Depardieu, himself. Every scene between the two is a mesmerizing lesson in restraint and underlying tension.
The film is not a thriller with over the top special effects or chase sequences. There is no great plot or cinematic triumph. “Robust” is basically a quiet character study directed by Constance Meyer and written by Meyer with Marcia Romano providing very believable situations.
The tension is created between the male/female and employer/employee relationship specifically since Georges has personal boundary issues.
But this is not a “me too” theme. Instead, though there is an underlying subtle desire, this is more of a paternal relationship between two people trying to deal with their loneliness in spite of their busy professional lives.
In the end, as with any intense relationship between people in close proximity over a period of time, they learn something about each other and about themselves.
“Robust” is produced by Isabelle Madelaine. She apparently has produced a number of short subjects which explains her attraction to this piece that is a kind of expanded short subject.
Kudos to casting director Judith Chalier for putting together such an interesting and talented team. Even the performances of the secondary characters, regardless of the size of their roles, were delivered with sincere perfection.
Cinematographer Simon Beaufils treated us to a number of beautiful close-up portraits that amplified the inner tensions and intimacy. Likewise production designer Julia Lemaire provided an array of interesting, mostly interior, settings that provided subtle insight into the characters and their situations.
“Robust” is much like a warm bath. Just sit back and soak it in. Then when it is over feel refreshed and satisfied.
I highly recommend this film because you will be happy to see Depardieu work his magic. But more importantly, you will be very glad that you got to see an interesting performance by rising star Lukumuena.
This is a North American premiere as part of the Chicago International Film Festival with two live screenings at the AMC River East 10/18 and 10/22 and limited online streaming Oct 14, 2021 to Oct 24, 2021 in the following states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin. For detailed information visit ChicagoFilmFestival.com
Language: French with English subtitles. Running time: 95 minutes.
“Hit the Road”
“Hit the Road” by director Panah Panahi is a story of an Iranian family road trip with overtones of “Little Miss Sunshine” or “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” Lest you think Iranian families are very different than yours, this family will dispel that myth.
It is an odd sort of setup that begins with the father, (Hassan Madjouni) sitting in the back seat with a cast on his leg that is being decorated by his younger 6 year-old son (Rayan Sarlak).
Mom (Pantea Panahiha), a rather attractive forty something wearing a hijab that fashionably reveals her stylish gray hair, is in the front seat, while the elder, twenty-something son (Amin Simiar), is the driver.
You can’t help but to ask, “Who are these people, where are they going and why does he have a broken leg?” For most of the trip the purpose of the journey is unclear.
In the first half of the film, we get to know the quirky characters as they quibble and banter back and forth. Most of the action is directed by the younger son referred to as “the kid” who is full of non-stop energy, curiosity and downright obnoxious silliness. The Spiderman and Batman obsessed “kid” restlessly tumbles and falls relentlessly next to, and on the lap of, the father who willingly partakes in all of the activity, even encouraging him. Mom does little to intercede and indeed encourages him while the older son silently keeps his eyes on the road.
Through the course of their day-long travel they make a few rest stops and we begin to get a better, but still fairly unclear, idea of their destination. This is best described as a dramedy with the characters using the antics of “the kid” to interject some humor and provide distraction for their more serious task at hand.
If you’ve been cooped up due to COVID, “Hit the Road” will give you a chance to take a little family adventure while enjoying the beautiful rugged Iranian landscape. Much like one of those 500 piece picture puzzles you might have been working on this past year, the film’s director doles out small colorful pieces that fit together and begin to make sense amid the chaos of “the kid’s” antics.
Incidentally, this is a debut film by Panah Panahi whose father’s directorial feature film debut was the Iranian classic “White Balloon” (Jafar Panahi 1995). It is the humanistic style of both of these films with their subtle criticisms that somehow manages to exist within the country’s authoritarian regime that I find very interesting.
“Hit the Road,” presented as part of the 57th Chicago International Film Festival, is available to stream Oct 14 to Oct 24, 2021 in the following states: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, and Wisconsin.
LANGUAGE : Farsi with English subtitles. Running time: 94 minutes
A group of random migrants from West Africa destined for Europe stop at “The Last Shelter” on the edge of the Sahel Desert (that transitions into the Sahara) before continuing their journey toward a better life.
Here at “La Maison du Migrants” in Mali they are confronted by a kindly social worker who urges them to return home, explaining that it is admirable that they had gotten this far but many die in the harsh desert conditions beyond. His agency promises them a bus ride back home.
While counseling two sixteen year-old girls from Burkina Faso he pleads with them to reconsider by explaining that even if they do get to Algeria they will likely find no employment and will be forced into prostitution. In a meeting with the others he tells them of his own experience of being cheated of his wages and treated with contempt.
One of the girls reveals how Facebook (and certainly other social media) fuel discontent and spur the hopes of young migrants who see friends and acquaintances who have successfully made the journey. For fifteen or twenty year-olds who hate their life, hardship and even death are abstract ideas that do little to dissuade them.
This is an all too common tale taking place around the world as young people seek a better life, freedom and more opportunity. This story could be told not only in Africa but in nearly any country throughout the Middle-East and South or Central America as well as Mexico. For many, Europe is a fine destination, but their hope is the ultimate lottery win of reaching the United States.
“The Last Shelter” focuses primarily on the two young girls. Ester says she had hopes of acting, singing or boxing. She chose the latter because she admits having a lot of anger and feels boxing would be a way to release her frustrations. Her friend expresses hopes of being a teacher or doctor because she wants to help people. During their respite in the shelter she is the one who encourages Ester to study English as they work on simple phrases.
The film is sensitively photographed by director/cinematographer Ousmane Samassekou and Amath Niane. It shines with intimate close-ups and beautiful b-roll of the desert sunrise and evocative cutaways of the shelter’s inspiring blue painted interior. The shots are reminiscent of a beach cabana that belies otherwise minimal accommodations and the hot, dry reality outside its doors.
The story is expertly constructed by Samassekou with editor Céline Ducreux to tell a compelling, important and compassionate human story that sheds light on the motivations and desires of migrating individuals.
The Last Shelter is a U.S. Premier presented as part of the 57th Chicago International Film Festival. Online viewing is available. Visit ChicagoFilmFestival.com for more information.
LANGUAGE : Bambara, French, Fula, Hausa, Mooré, Susu, Waama with English subtitles
Reviewer Reno Lovison picks two more shows currently offered by the Chicago International Film Festival worthy of three star ratings. They are either based in Chicago or have Chicago themes or subjects.
The films have limited in-person options but can be viewed virtually October 14 through October 24, 2021. Check back at CTAA for more International Film Fest reviews. For specific information visit ChicagoFilmFestival.com.
On the Edge of Victory
How soon we forget. This intimate behind the scenes documentary “Mayor Pete,” follows his bootstrap campaign for the presidency from its nascent beginnings to the edge of victory.
Sure Pete Buttigieg, (pronounced boot-edge-edge) mayor of a small Midwestern city, speaks eight languages, is a Rhode Scholar and retired lieutenant in the Navy Reserves who served in Afghanistan; but that didn’t stop this over achiever from being the first openly gay presidential candidate, with an odd name, from soaring from unknown candidate to winner of the Iowa caucuses, primarily by being extremely intelligent and being his authentic self.
Like many documentaries, “Mayor Pete” by Jesse Moss simply follows the action. Since it starts at the beginning of the campaign the filmmaker has no idea how it will end. Very often in these situations you know you have an interesting subject but you don’t really know what the story will be.
In this case you have someone who many might consider a nontraditional candidate with a same-sex partner running for the highest office in the land. But the mundaneness of his relationship with husband Chasten and the “regular guy” laid back attitude of Pete himself kinda shouts, “There’s nothing to see here folks,” illustrating that those who we might consider as being “other” really have more in common with us than our perceived differences suggest.
“Mayor Pete,” will certainly appeal to political wonks and historians, though it doesn’t really offer much strategic insight other than some interesting preparation for his debates and appearances. At its core it is an inspirational story of authenticity, personal growth, love and victory; even if that victory is not exactly what you had expected.
The small city of Metropolis sits on the southern-most border of Illinois and is best known for its self-described claim to fame as being the “birthplace” of the fictional comic book hero Superman. However the town’s real life native son is author and filmmaker Oscar Micheaux.
Oscar was born in 1884 to former slaves Calvin and Belle Michaux who travelled out of Kentucky over the Ohio River establishing a homestead where the boy spent his early years farming. Eventually he made his way to Chicago getting a very prestigious job as a Pullman porter. This experience no doubt contributed to a wider understanding of the world and introduced him to a more diverse social strata.
Within a short period of time Micheaux was able to obtain a small piece of land in South Dakota. However the harsh winters put his mind to other interests and after a few years he wrote a book about his life experiences and escapades that he self-published then sold door-to-door apparently rather successfully within Black communities.
After gaining some notoriety Micheaux turned down an offer to make one of his stories into a moving picture. Instead in 1919 he opted to buy some equipment, gather some people and do it himself, putting him on the road that would ultimately establish him as the first major Black filmmaker, going on to produce 42 feature films.
Micheaux’s filmmaking business brought him to Harlem, the undisputed Black Capitol of segregated America, at the very dawn of what would become known as the Harlem Renaissance no doubt putting him in contact with some of the most notable cultural icons of that era. Micheaux is in fact credited with hiring Paul Robeson before the actor became an international superstar.
It seems that aside from promoting his own written works Micheaux had a desire to use his early silent films and later talkies to project a more wholesome and authentic view of African-American life presumably to counteract the negative stereotypes that were being portrayed in White cinema, most notably in films like D.W. Griffith’s (1915) “Birth of a Nation.”
At least from my perspective Micheaux’s story is as much about his entrepreneurial spirit as it is about his filmmaking. Not only did he write and produce film but often appeared in small roles and set up his own distribution scheme to insure that his films would be screened and seen in African American communities nationwide. It seems he was one of those people who was going to create a place for himself in this world somehow.
“Oscar Micheaux – The Superhero of Black Cinema” had its North American premiere as part of the 2021 Chicago International Film Festival. Directed by Francesco Zippel, it is a sort of meandering biographical documentary that gets this important story told through a number of expert interviews and original film clips.
The importance of this documentary is perhaps to illustrate to younger generations that in the early nineteen hundreds there were a number of African American entrepreneurs who stepped in to fill a void created by segregation.
They operated their professions and crafts parallel to the more influential white power structure by exploiting opportunities to serve a market that was otherwise being neglected.
As a result of America’s unofficial apartheid system these early industrial pioneers rarely were recognized by the wider society for the contributions they made.
“Oscar Micheaux -The Superhero of Black Film Making” is a useful contribution to the library of Black History subjects placing Micheaux into the pantheon of individuals who contributed to the rise of twentieth century African American culture and ultimately, in a more “woke” sense, to the fabric of American culture as a whole.
Before Obama there was Harold Washington, Chicago’s first African American mayor who in 1983 challenged the status quo, took on “The Machine,” and ultimately won the hearts of the majority of the city to build the first truly diverse political coalition in the history of Chicago.
A brutal racially divided campaign culminated in what came to be dubbed “council wars” as the majority white opposition maintained control of the city’s legislative body even after Washington’s election.
Strategies employed in this era of Chicago politics would write the playbook for political opposition that continues to resound on the national scene to this day. Alternately the strategies employed by Harold Washington have written the playbook for many successful minority campaigns nationwide for nearly 40 years and likely well into the future.
“Punch 9 for Harold Washington” a Chicago International Film Festival 2021 world premiere documentary by director Joe Winston, comprised largely of archival footage and interviews, is a sober reminder to those of us who lived through the era and a fitting tribute to one of Chicago’s unique and transformative political figures.
“Punch 9 for Harold Washington” Run time: 104 minutes
“SHORTS 1” is an eclectic showcase of eight short subjects from a variety of filmmakers with ties to Chicago. Each film runs about 10 minutes or less and one ticket at the festival will provide access to the entire collection.
Four of the shorts have immigrant related themes and four have generational or age related themes. Though they each are very personal stories I would describe only one of them as being specifically documentary. Two are essentially art films, one of which is specifically in the genre of horror.
There is a little bit here for everyone, but clearly these folks know how to tell stories and make them look beautiful.
“Sink” is a brilliantly disturbing film shot entirely as an overhead shot of a bathroom sink with the only character a pair of hands and the occasional top of the head of a man, written, performed, and edited by Curtis Matzke with interesting music and great sound effects that really heightened the experience.
In “Close Ties to Home Country,” written, directed and outstandingly performed by Akanksha Cruczynski, an immigrant dog walker pines for home while having a weird connection to the animal she cares for.
“Winning in America,” produced by Amrita Singh, explores the relationship of an immigrant father and daughter as they prepare for the state regional competition of the National Spelling Bee.
“Get well soon” is another terrifically performed visually attractive vignette piece that focuses on the emotions of a young woman dealing with the illness of her father, written and directed by Ashley Thompson.
Similarly, “By the time I reach him” by Meg Walsh, uses black and white imagery with voiceover to portray an intimate voyeuristic conversation between a daughter and her Alzheimer afflicted father.
“Speck of Dust” is also a voiceover driven, introspective narrative film. Produced by Moroccan-American, Chicago-based filmmaker Simo Ezoubeiri, it has a vintage vibe that speaks to themes of loneliness and existence from the point-of-view of an elderly man.
“The Year I Went Looking for Birds” is kind of a video gallery of Danny Carroll that illustrates his ability to find interesting images, but it is more of a demo reel than a fully conceived production.
Virginia R. Matos produced “Monochromatic Dreams” which has a lovely musical score by Natalia Perez. It is the most straightforward documentary in the group offering insight into the work of Latinx media installation artist Yvette Mayorga.
Here are three capsule reviews of films at the Chicago International Film Festival that are based in Chicago or that have Chicago themes or subjects. Each of these films has limited in-person theater viewing options during the festival as well as virtual viewing between October 14, 2021 through October 24, 2021. Check back at CTAA for more International Film Fest reviews. For specific information visit ChicagoFilmFestival.com.
A compassionate look at the challenges of mental illness
Producer/director Margaret Byrne bravely reveals her own story of mental illness while following three other individuals as they each battle their inner demons and indeed struggle day-by-day just to function. With any luck they may ultimately succeed even though on “Any Given Day” their illness might take hold and set them back.
Byrne lets her camera do a lot of the speaking through aerial shots, cutaways of urban landscapes and close-up glimpses of nature, using artful imagery to convey personal thought processes where words might fail.
“Any Given Day” a Chicago International Film Festival 2021 U.S. premiere should remind us to consider that some human beings have extraordinary challenges beyond their control and important stories to share.
“Any Given Day” Run Time: 94 minutes
An appealing thrill ride to nowhere
“Broadcast Signal Intrusion” a visually appealing thriller by a talented production team with a great musical score is inspired by a true Chicago mystery.
Based in 1999, video editor James believably portrayed by (Crazy Rich Asians) Harry Shum Jr. sets out to find who is behind the interruptions of local TV broadcast signals that occurred ten years earlier featuring a weird masked figure, speaking some garbled message, through a haze of static which may be connected to the disappearance of several women.
This vintage homage to ’70s paranoid cinema falls short compared to the classics on which it is based with more loose ends then your grandma’s shag carpet. A local odyssey full of intriguing characters is at best a pleasurable buggy ride to nowhere that leaves you mildly exhilarated but ultimately unfulfilled.
“Broadcast Signal Intrusion” Run Time 104 minutes
This film hits all the right notes
An African American senior, physically debilitated due to a childhood injury purposely inflicted by his mentally impaired father, is virtually paralyzed on one side of his body and unable to use his right hand.
“For the left hand” is an inspiring documentary by Leslie Simmer and Gordon Quinn based on a feature story by Chicago Tribune music critic Howard Reich about Lincoln Park High School choral director Norman Malone who in spite of his challenges followed his passion to teach music and in retirement fulfills a lifelong dream to master Ravel’s “Concerto for left hand” then play it in front of an audience with a full orchestra for the first time at age 79.
If you’re new to the city or younger than 60 you might not know that on the corner of Rush and Bellevue where Gibson’s Steakhouse now stands was one of the premiere entertainment venues in the country, a nightclub called Mr. Kelly’s that was the center of the city’s midcentury bohemian nightlife.
Kelly’s was ground zero for the local jet set, Michigan Avenue “Mad Men” and visiting businessmen from around the country who came to the Windy City to cut monumental deals.
It was virtually guaranteed that executives visiting between 1955 and 1975 would be treated to a night at Kelly’s that included a great steak and world class entertainment.
The venue was the brainchild of brothers Oscar and George Marienthal. This documentary film “Live at Mr. Kelly’s” is a love letter from George’s son, Executive Producer David Marienthal.
About 90 minutes long, “Live at Mr. Kelly’s” is jam packed with testimonials and stories from many entertainers including Barbra Streisand, Lily Tomlin, Bob Newhart, Herbie Hancock, Shecky Green, Ramsey Lewis, Bette Midler, The Smothers Brothers, Lainie Kazan, Tom Dreesen, Tim Reed, Mort Sahl and others who, while in Chicago, called Mr. Kelly’s home or who attribute their appearance at the local club as a significant contribution to their success.
Many of the comedians credit Mr. Kelly’s with helping to fashion the unique American art form of standup comedy. Certainly the club championed the best of the best with early appearances by the likes of Lenny Bruce and Peoria native Richard Pryor.
Barbra Streisand opens the film with a story about shooting publicity photos on Oak Street Beach, one of which went on to win a Grammy for best album cover.
Did you know that the famed poet, Maya Angelou, was once a calypso singer who played congas? It’s true and she performed at Mr. Kelly’s.
The title of this film is something of a misnomer since it gives nearly equal time to the history of the London House, which by the way, also featured great steaks, peerless piano players and top executives, and mentions the popular Happy Medium. Those venues were also owned and operated by the Marienthal brothers.
I learned from this film that one thing I have in common with Herbie Hancock is we both took prom dates to the London House. I don’t know about Herbie but I married my date
It was actually my now wife’s prom. She was graduating from Senn High School on the northside and going on to study piano at Millikin University in Decatur so of course she wanted a dinner venue with piano music. What could be better than Ramsey Lewis at the London House on Michigan Avenue and Wacker with a romantic late night boat ride afterwards.
The London House was the cool jazz version of Kelly’s, concentrating nearly exclusively on the hippest of the hip including greats like Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Andre Previn and Oscar Peterson.
Both Mr. Kelly’s and London House made live recordings that added to their fame. Luckily for us they’re available to listen to and get a sense of the ambiance of each of the intimate spaces.
This is a bit of Chicago history that with each passing day fades further into obscurity. Thankfully this film has made an effort to stop the clock and capture a snapshot of the past from a few of those who were there to witness it in its heyday.
Directed by Ted Bogosian “Live at Mr. Kelly’s” had a premiere showing at the Siskel Center September 17-19, 2021. It will be released as a video on demand (VOD) in 2021 on Oct. 12 and on DVD Oct. 19. For information visit www.misterkellyschicago.
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..
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.