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In brief: The Coward (Stage Left), Sweet Charity (MadKap), The Midnight City (Firecat)

Sarah Hoch stars in Sweet Charity, MadKap Productions at the Skokie Theater.  Photo by Kevin Mell.

K. sez:

The Coward (Stage Left Theatre at Theater Wit) is cute.  I realize how much that sounds like damning with faint praise, but two things interfere with a more enthusiastic assessment: Stage Left’s own history of producing political work, and an inherent weakness in Nick Jones’s script which parodies Restoration comedy–itself a satire of the affectations and delusions of the privileged class.

To take these in order: while The Coward is faintly political–its plot involves the surviving son of a lord who resists dueling as the waste of time, effort and blood that it is, and said son’s efforts to maintain his anti-dueling principles in the face of social pressure–it hardly measures up to the powerful work the company has done in the past.  The Coward comforts the comfortable too much–we, the 21st Century audience, would never be so foolish!

More significantly, as a parody of a satire, The Coward puts us at double remove from the characters.  This not only encourages the audience to feel itself above the [literal] fray but encourages the actors to ham it up.  Ham is fine–especially that of Kate Black-Spence, as the vain ingenue, and Spenser David as one of the anti-hero’s chums–but I like some bread with my meal.  But the thing looks spectacular: kudos to costume and effects designer Aly Renee Amidei for her gorgeous 18th-Century duds.  Through October 5.

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MadKap Productions makes an astonishingly assured debut with Sweet Charity, the first production of its first subscription season at the Skokie Theatre.  Under Andrew Park’s direction, this show–an early effort from Neil Simon–moves almost fast enough to conceal what a clunker the script is.  Charity Hope Valentine, a dance-hall hostess, dreams of getting out of that business and finding true love.  She has a series of adventures which don’t coalesce into an actual plot until late in Act One, and finally resolve unhappily.  There are a couple of good songs–”If They Could See Me Now,” “Hey Big Spender”–but the show is mostly known, and revered, for having launched Gwen Verdon on the world dancing Bob Fosse’s steps.  Likewise, this production should mostly be known and appreciated for launching Sara Hoch on Chicago theater dancing Robin Lehtman’s steps.  Actually, everyone’s dancing is really strong, and the voices are really exceptional under Gary Powell’s music direction.

Opening night featured some microphone-related catastrophe which caused squeaking and thumping every time Charity moved (that’s the risk with body mikes); and, in a space the size of an old high-school auditorium, I don’t understand why the cast needs to be miked at all.  If the orchestra is too loud (and it sometimes is), quiet it down, and let the singers go au naturel.  Yes, I know that’s not what that means.  Through September 28 at the Skokie Theatre–take Lincoln Avenue north until it dead-ends; the theater, an old movie-house, will be to your right about 100 paces.

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Tony Fitzpatrick is both a visual artist and a monologuist who’s about to leave his native Chicago for New Orleans, and his friend Stan Klein is a tri-a-loguist, by which I mean he has three personas each of which reflects on itself and the others.  As woven together smoothly by adapter-director Ann Filmer (artistic director of 16th Street Theater), with hypnotic video by Kristin Reeves and guitar and vocals by John Rice and Anna Fermin, the men’s meditations on how Chicago has changed as they have aged (or is it they who have changed?), lumped together under the title The Midnight City, are generally charming and occasionally hilarious.  Fitzpatrick particularly has the gift of the superb insult: he refers to unpleasant people as “guys who use Preparation H for Chap-Stick.”  The show is custom-designed to make us miss Fitzpatrick now that he’s going and wonder why we haven’t paid more attention to him up until now.  I predict–as does Stan–that Tony will be back.  Meanwhile, catch The Midnight City in the Steppenwolf Garage through October 19.

 

 

 

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Two Pence Theatre offers a production 400 years in the making, Thomas Middleton’s Women Beware Women

Beware the woman with the ukulele above, Loretta Rezos as Livia with Maggie Scrantom as not-quite-innocent Isabella, in Women Beware Women (photo courtesy of Two Pence Theatre Company).


Jonathan and Kelly sample incest, adultery and power in Women Beware Women, a Jacobean battle-of-the-sexes at Two Pence Theatre. Plus, Kelly recommends C. S. Lewis On Stage at Provision Theatre.

We debate Neil LaBute’s Reasons to be Pretty at Profiles: Reasons to see it?

Here’s the link to our broadcast from Sunday morning, in which we anatomize Reasons to be Pretty by Neil LaBute at Profiles Theater.

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Dueling Critics go On the Town at Marriott Theatre

Jeff Smith, Max Clayton and Seth Danner (left to right) as three gobs with a guidebook, hitting the streets of the Big Apple in “On the Town” (photo courtesy of the Marriott Theatre).

Old Tar Jonathan and Salty Kelly discuss On the Town at the Marriott Theatre, a tale of three gobs and their gals, and Kelly recommends Stupid F++king Bird at Sideshow Theatre.

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On WDCB’s The Arts Section, Witch Slap at Babes With Blades: Jonathan Is Wrong, As Usual

Kimberly Logan and Lauren Jones in Witch Slap, Babes With Blades performing at the Raven Theatre.

Here’s the link to our latest duel, wherein Jonathan fails to be charmed by the new Babes With Blades play and Kelly comes flying to its defense, broomstick in hand.  Also, Jonathan talks about All Our Tragic, the Hypocrites’ version of the 32 extant Greek dramas mashed into a single show.  All right, a single show which lasts for 12 hours; but there are bathroom breaks!

 

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Coraline: Is it children’s theater or isn’t it? And which Dueling Critic is more childish?

Jonathan and Kelly disagree about Coraline, a musical based on the Neil Gaiman fantasy novel produced by Black Button Eyes Productions at City Lit Theater in Edgewater.  Then J. evaluates the latest Sean Graney extravaganza, All Our Tragic based on ALL of the extant Greek dramas.

 

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Mary-Arrchie Theatre offers short plays by Samuel Beckett: Existential Despair, Laugh Riot or Both?

Jonathan and Kelly review Mary-Arrchie’s production of Hellish Half-Light, half a dozen short plays by Samuel Beckett.  J. places Beckett in the context of French postwar absurdism, while K. actually talks about the plays.  Existential despair abounds.

But as long as life goes on, why not enliven it with an e-mail subscription to the Dueling Critics?  Look to your right and slightly down and you’ll see the “Subscribe” button; punch it and you’ll never miss a minute of our badinage, repartee and other French words apropos.

Kelly-Owens-and-Skye-Shrum-in-Lynn-Nottages-INTIMATE-APPAREL-by-Eclipse-Theatre-in-Chicago.

Jonathan and Kelly discuss lingerie and Lynn Nottage . . . and who wears it best!

The Dueling Critics get intimate with Intimate Apparel at Eclipse Theatre, and Jonathan reports news of Next Theatre and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

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On WDCB: Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle at Oracle Productions Is Utterly, Totally Not What You Think

J. and K. agree on this one but you won’t be bored.  By the way: look immediately left of this line.  That’s our “Subscribe” button.  Please hit it to have us appear miraculously every week in your email or RSS feed.  Thanks!

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It’s the principle of the thing at Stage Left/Theatre Seven; + Truly Marvelous Marvelettes & a tender, intimate “Apparel”

Kelly Owens and Eustace Allen in Eclipse Theatre Company’s Intimate Apparel by Lynn Nottage, directed by Steve Scott.  Photo: Tim Knight.

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K. sez: A good week in Chicago theater, especially for women!

Stage Left and Theatre Seven revive Principal Principle, their drama of teachers’ lives in a real Chicago Public School, Chinua Achebe Academy High School on the South Side.  Playwright Joe Zarrow, a former English teacher himself, has made a tense comedy out of a group of archetypes: the teacher on the verge of retirement, the Teach for America newbie, the clueless principal and her latest educational fad, and a pair of veteran teachers, one of whom goes along to get along while the other rebels.  Formulaic as it may sound, in Scott Bishop’s production every character is given her due and the key issue of race simmers in every interaction until it explodes.  Through August 17 at Theater Wit on Belmont in Lakeview; well worth catching if you want to know something about Chicago’s schools beyond the slogans in the newspapers.

Black Ensemble Theater’s latest musical bio-pic (bio-play?) The Marvelous Marvelettes includes all the elements we’ve come to expect: outstanding musical impersonations, fine orchestration over-amplified and a rather too obviously expository book.  But playwright Reginald Williams and director Rueben D. Echoles are skilled enough to bring some freshness to the formula.  The device of having characters reflect on their younger selves is not new, but here the older Marvelettes (played by Rhonda Preston and Deanna Reed-Foster) convey a genuine love for each other as well as a reality-tinged nostalgia for what happened back in the day.  Melody McCullough gives lead singer Gladys both sweetness and strength, and Alanna Taylor plays her rival Wanda with a fine bite and a comically accurate drunk act.  You’ll leave humming the songs, and what more could you ask of a musical?  Through September 7 at the BET Cultural Center on Clark in the East Ravenswood Historic District (a/k/a Uptown).

Eclipse Theatre continues its season of plays by MacArthur Genius Grant recipient Lynn Nottage with Intimate Apparel, which received its Midwest premiere in 2005 at Steppenwolf.  The piece, a modest drama set at the turn of the 20th Century about an African-American seamstress whose love of beauty contrasts strongly with her own plainness, has worn well.  Dreading spinsterhood, Esther begins an epistolary romance with a black man laboring on the Panama Canal, even as she’s drawn to the Jewish man who shares her love of beautiful fabrics.  Kelly Owens as Esther communicates every layer of her character with both subtlety and clarity, and receives strong support from the rest of the cast under Steve Scott’s sure direction.  Owens’ interactions with Eustace Allen as the cloth dealer are especially lovely.  And the play doesn’t make you want to kill yourself at the end, which distinguishes it from lots of other dramas chosen by Chicago theaters as light summer play-going.  Try not to sit in the front row or you’ll miss the supertitles, which are flavorful if not essential.  Through August 24 at the Athenaeum at Lincoln and Southport in west Lakeview.