‘Lines in the Dust’ will leave an impact

 

Lisa Rosetta Strum, Melissa Joyner and Jeffrey Bean in 'Lines in the Dust'. (New Normal Rep photo)
Lisa Rosetta Strum, Melissa Joyner and Jeffrey Bean in ‘Lines in the Dust’. (New Normal Rep photo)

4 Stars

Lines in the Dust , New Normal Rep’s currently streaming play, centers around  Denitra Morgan whose daughter is illegally enrolled in a wealthy high school in Essex County, NJ in 2010. The school principal, Dr. Beverly Long, a friend of Denitra’s, is completely unaware of that situation.

Conflict arises when the school hires private investigator Michael DiMaggio to find out which students are illegally enlisted in the school.

One of the strongest aspects of the New Normal Rep production is its fine acting, especially Melissa Joyner’s performance as Denitra. One can’t help but greatly sympathize and feel overwhelming sadness for the immense hardships she faces and the sacrifices she makes. Her performance is raw and full of heart throughout the story. The emotion is never absent.

Because the format of this production is predominantly two separate videos used side-by-side for each character, the visuals may take time to get used to. Additionally, the special effects background is occasionally distracting. However, the engaging story will be enough to compensate and pull you in immediately as you await to see what happens next.

Written by Pulitzer-Prize nominated and Obie winning actress/playwright Nikkole Salter, the work has historical and modern-day societal significance. Set against family hardships, it is an excellent story guaranteed to have a lasting impact on its viewers. Salter’s writing always hits its note to form a very powerful and touching story.

Lines in the Dust runs for approximately 110 minutes, including credits. For tickets and information about the show and New Normal Rep visit New Normal Rep.

Charles Babikian

Hit Songs from the Fifties and Sixties to Hear Now

 

Music Theater Works does Legends of the 50's and 60's. (Photo by Bret Beiner))
Music Theater Works does Legends of the 50’s and 60’s. (Photo by Bret Beiner)) production

4 stars

Grab a seat. Enjoy summer outdoors listening to talented singers and musicians perform nearly 60 classic and cherished songs from the 1950s to the 1960s. Music Theater Works, the North Shore’s famed musical production company typically performing from Evanston venues, is doing  Legends Of The 50s and 60s: Greatest Hits outside Skokie’s North Shore Center For The Performing Arts, June of 2021.

While it is often a challenge to get audiences engaged, the performers and band faced no difficulty in doing so. Anyone who watches this show will undoubtedly want to join along in song and dance due to both the pure talent of the performers.

Co-directed by Music Works Producing Artistic Director Kyle A. Dougan and Martin L. woods, the performers’ strong and vibrant voices made the entire show come alive as they moved through the hit songs of such talents as Buddy Holly, Doris Day, The Supremes, Elvis, The Temptations,  George Harrison, Aretha Franklin and Bob Dylan.

Additionally, the performance was heightened by the performers’ pure professionalism. The show flew smoothly from high energy number to number without missing a beat.

This show is an excellent choice for music lovers and a great escape to share with family and friends. Though the music might appeal more to older generations, younger people will definitely find enjoyment as they are introduced to less familiar classics. It is a must-see for anyone in the Chicagoland area looking for a talent-filled fun event.

Details: Music Theater Works’ Legends Of The 50s and 60s: Greatest Hits is  outside the North Shore Center For The Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd, Skokie, IL 60076 from June 18th through June 27, 2021. Run time: Two hrs. 20 minutes, plus a 15-minute intermission. For more show information and tickets visit MusicTheaterWorks.com/BoxOffice or call (847) 673-6300.

Charles Babikian

For more shows see Theatre in Chicago

 

A dark tale of a white whale

Moby Dick by Theatre in the Dark. Clockwise from top L: Robinson Cyprian, Corey Bradberry, Elizabeth McCoy, composer Nick Montopoli, and Mack Gordon. (Photo courtesy of Theatre in the Dark)
Moby Dick by Theatre in the Dark. Clockwise from top L: Robinson Cyprian, Corey Bradberry, Elizabeth McCoy, composer Nick Montopoli, and Mack Gordon. (Photo courtesy of Theatre in the Dark)

3 Stars

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..

Reno Lovison

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

Theatre for one: Here we are, now what?

Theatre for One at the Court Theatre (Photo courtesy of Court Theatre)
Theatre for One at the Court Theatre (Photo courtesy of Court Theatre)

3 Stars

 

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.

Reno Lovison

A Christmas Carol in the dark

3 Stars

 Theatre in the Dark Christmas Carol (Photo courtesy of Theatre in the Dark)
Theatre in the Dark Christmas Carol (Photo courtesy of Theatre in the Dark)

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.

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago.

Reno Lovison

 

‘A War of the Worlds’ reimagined for a new millennium

 

Photo courtesy of Theatre in the Dark War of the Worlds production.
Photo courtesy of Theatre in the Dark War of the Worlds production.

3 Stars

Is it an audiobook? Is it a podcast? Is it a radio show? Maybe yes but then again maybe no. Actually it is Theatre in the Dark’s virtual audio drama.  Perhaps it is partially inspired by Orson Welles’ memorable 1938 radio broadcast of “A War of the Worlds” based on H.G. Wells’ iconic novel about a Martian invasion of the Earth.

Congratulations to this innovative production company whose mission is to create theater performance based on sound and utilization of Internet technology to reach out and engage audiences during these trying times.

This updated 21st century version of “A War of the Worlds” adapted by director Corey Bradberry and Mack Gordon, is set primarily in and around the Chicago area. (Ironically Bradberry and Gordon met at an improv class at Second City which is now up for sale).

The original book was centered in London at the end of the 19th century. Then, the 1938 Mercury Theatre on the Air production was based in mid-twentieth century New Jersey. So with so much global turmoil in 2020, why not project a Midwest interstellar invasion into the mix.

The story itself is not complicated. Basically, it deals with peoples’ mostly nonchalant, then chaotic reaction to the presence of an extraterrestrial artifact. First thought to be an asteroid, it turns out to be the beginning of an invasion fleet from Mars.

Theatre in the Dark’s production is not about the story, but rather more about the dramatic performance in the telling of the tale which this company does very well.

It’s a study in contrast that depicts the laid back lives of many city dwellers who are going about their daily business while the first reports of odd occurrences in the seemingly remote village of Bourbonnais, 55 miles south of Chicago, begin to reach the downtown area.

Tension mounts as complacency leads to panic and then to mayhem.

It is probably safe to say that the majority of today’s theater goers have had little or no experience with traditional radio drama. The genre reached its commercial peak sometime in the early 1940’s then limped along into the beginning of the 1950’s.

Indeed, most of us are children of the television age for whom this style of entertainment is an oddity or curiosity. That makes this presentation much more interesting as it encourages performers and audiences alike to explore a nearly forgotten, or at least, underrepresented art form.

Because the audience, listening at home via Zoom, is using sound only with no visual cues such as facial expressions, gestures, or body language, the actors must be extra creative in the verbal projection of their characters.

This is a chance for them to exercise their emotional muscles audibly in a slightly over-the-top way, even flirting with full-on melodrama. Conversely, the audience is challenged to listen closely for the information needed to paint mental images of the situations and the shifting environment.

The construction of one’s mental picture is aided greatly by the sound design offered by Ross Burlingame and Corey Bradberry. They provide continuous, thoughtful, sound effects meshed with an effective, original music score by Ben Zucker.

A major question is why do this live over multiple performances? Tickets are needed for each performance. Why not simply record it?

I imagine part of the answer has to do with the fact that this is a live theater company and that is what they do.

However, one of the unique aspects of this particular production that makes it different from a traditional radio drama is that the actors themselves are not in the same room. They are not necessarily even on the same continent.

Each performer logged in remotely from various locations around the world using their own often makeshift home studios. In this way they are literally pushing the boundaries of what we think of as theater.

What is missing, of course, is the interplay between the audience and the actors. The feedback loop that brings energy to live performance is an element that is difficult to duplicate at a distance.

The freshness of multiple performances will rely on the extent to which the actors innovate and improvise as they discover new opportunities of expression.

But not having been in a theater for over six months, it was exciting to prepare for the eight o’clock “curtain.” This was accomplished by setting the lighting and adjusting my laptop and speakers in the living room, ready to provide an optimal listening experience.

Then, it was settling down with a glass of wine in eager anticipation of this unique event.

As a way to celebrate this Halloween season I encourage you to gather your “pod mates” and a few socially distanced friends (wherever they may be) to enjoy this performance online then consider a Zoom call together to  discuss the play or perhaps devise a disaster plan of your own.

Details:  Theatre in the Dark players Mack Gordon, Elizabeth McCoy, Alex Morales, Ming Hudson, Robinson J. Cyprian, and Lauren Ezzo will be performing “A War of the Worlds” through November 21, 2020 via Zoom. Running time is 90 minutes with a 10 minute intermission. For tickets and information visit  Theatreinthedark/tickets.

Reno Lovison

RENOWEB.NET

Black Ensemble presents a battle cry

 

Legends the Musical at Black Ensemble Theater
Legends the Musical at Black Ensemble Theater

‘Legends the Musical: A Civil Rights Movement Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow’

3 stars

Jackie Taylor, the amiable creative heart and soul of Chicago’s beloved Black Ensemble Theater, has declared 2020 as the company’s Season of Change. She opens with this original, ambitious, musical battle cry, a movement against the injustice and bigotry that’s overtaking our country today thanks to an administration that has set our country back 200 years.

And this is just the beginning of Taylor’s aggressive theatrical approach to helping combat the racism that’s reared its ugly head in America.

Continue reading “Black Ensemble presents a battle cry”

Start spreading the news ‘Judy and Liza’ are fabulous!

 

Left to right, Alexa Castelvecchi and Nancy Hays star in Judy & Liza. (Photo by Tyler Core)
Left to right, Alexa Castelvecchi and Nancy Hays star in Judy & Liza. (Photo by Tyler Core)

4 stars

Imagine what it was like in 1964 when Judy Garland and her daughter, 18-year-old Liza Minnelli, performed together for the first time at The Palladium Theatre in London. This was the only time these two superstars performed in a live concert together and it was electrifying.

Now, Chicago theatre-goers can experience the thrill of “Judy & Liza — Once in a Lifetime: The London Palladium Concert – A Tribute” at the Greenhouse Theater Center. The show is co-produced by Greenhouse and Nancy Hays Entertainment, Inc.

Continue reading “Start spreading the news ‘Judy and Liza’ are fabulous!”

‘Mrs. Warren’s Profession’ is no mystery

 

Left to right, Elaine Carlson, Tracey Greenwood in Mrs. Warren's Profession. (Photo by Tom McGrath)
Left to right, Elaine Carlson, Tracey Greenwood in Mrs. Warren’s Profession. (Photo by Tom McGrath)

3 stars

It is late summer 1905 and Mrs. Kitty Warren (Elaine Carlson), a seemingly wealthy woman with no known extended family, finally reveals to her curious adult daughter how she is able to support their comfortable lifestyle.

Continue reading “‘Mrs. Warren’s Profession’ is no mystery”

Good insight into teenage challenges

“I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter”

(L to R) Karen Rodriguez (Julia) and Dyllan Rodrigues-Miller (Olga) at Steppenwolf. (photo by Michael Brosilow)
(L to R) Karen Rodriguez (Julia) and Dyllan Rodrigues-Miller (Olga) at Steppenwolf. (photo by Michael Brosilow)

4 stars

Julia may or may not be the perfect Mexican daughter but Karen Rodriguez may be the perfect person to play her. Rodriguez commanded the Steppenwolf stage from the moment the lights came up and did not let go for the next 90 minutes.

Continue reading “Good insight into teenage challenges”