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.



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.


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).


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!


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.


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.


Bruce Norris’s The Qualms at Steppenwolf: An Honest Examination of Relationships or just the Comedy of Cruelty?

The cast of The Qualms, written by ensemble member Bruce Norris and directed by Pam MacKinnon.  Casting includes ensemble member Kate Arrington with Owais Ahmed, Karen Aldridge, Diane Davis, Kirsten Fitzgerald, Keith Kupferer, David Pasquesi, Paul Oakley Stovall and Greg Stuhr.  (Photo by Michael Brosilow.)

Jonathan and Kelly strongly disagree about the new Steppenwolf show: J. approves, while K. has Qualms.  Also: K recommends Men Should Weep at Griffin: nothing like a 1940s Scottish melodrama to liven up your summer!



Men Should Weep, and Audiences Will: Griffin Revives Mid-Century Scottish Melodrama

Griffin Theatre Company’s Chicago premiere of MEN SHOULD WEEP by Ena Lamont Stewart, directed by Robin Witt. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

 K. sez:

From the rash of openings, you wouldn’t think it was the middle of July.  Jonathan and I dueled over Brigadoon on WDCB this past Sunday, and will square off over The Qualms on our Friday podcast.  I’ve seen three or five other pieces, but only one worth drawing attention to:

Men Should Weep, receiving its Chicago premiere at Griffin Theatre, is a fine if really depressing play from the 1940s set in the Glasgow slums.  Notwithstanding the Scottish setting, it’s indistinguishable from the stereotyped Irish play, complete with infuriated women, drunken useless men, poverty, domestic violence–and, in this case, tuberculosis and rickets.  Director Robin Witt secures fine performances from her cast and Ena Lamont Stewart’s play is an absorbing proto-feminist piece.  It’s hardly light summer fare, though, so wait to see it til the next time it rains.  That should be any minute now.  Griffin is performing at the Raven Theatre complex on North Clark Street at the Edgewater-Rogers Park border while it continues to build out its permanent home in an abandoned firehouse.  This production demonstrates once again how worthy the troupe is of a good home.


Brigadoon, Political Correctness and the Holocaust: J. and K. stray far afield in the heather on WDCB Radio

Kevin Earley and Jennie Sophia in the Goodman’s production of Brigadoon.  Photo by Liz Lauren.

And so our heroes review the Goodman revival of Lerner & Loewe’s 1947 classic.  Plus, Jonathan has his way with the Andrews Sisters—twice.


Listen Sunday morning for our debate about Brigadoon, and preliminary thoughts about The Gun Show

16th Street Theater presents the world premiere of THE GUN SHOW by EM Lewis, directed by Kevin Christopher Fox; now thru Aug 2; “Ellen and Juan Flashlight,” Juan Francisco Villa and author EM Lewis (seated).  Photo by Anthony Aicardi.

Listen to 90.9 FM, WDCB, on Sunday morning at 8 a.m., wherein Jonathan and I spend our half of The Arts Section disagreeing about Brigadoon at the Goodman (and he’s wrong and I’m right!).

I’m also right that The Gun Show at 16th Street Theater is an extremely powerful monologue, with an interesting choice of monologist: a man to speak for the female playwright, who’s seated in the audience. The after-show conversation means the theater is walking its talk about starting a discussion on the subject, though I can’t agree that the solution is some imaginary middle ground between people who want to ban guns (of which I know none) and people who refuse to have them regulated at all. The sensible center is actually in the center, asking for reasonable regulation which everyone except the gun lobby can live with. As the sign outside the theater says, “You already have an opinion about guns.” The show is an opportunity to share it, and to have it challenged.


Another contender in the summer-theater sweepstakes; plus, return of the native

K. sez:

Door County, downstate and northwest-ish Indiana have a new competitor in the free-for-all which constitutes summer theater in the Chicago area: the Three Oaks Festival, which will set up shop in several locations around what real-estate salesmen call ‘Harbor Country’—southwest Michigan in the vicinity of New Buffalo.  Its season consists of transplants from the past year in Chicago, including Blair Thomas & Co.’s A Piano with Three Tales; Dennis Watkins’ The Magic Parlour; a staged reading of TimeLine Theatre’s The Normal Heart; David Lutken in Woody Sez: The Life & Music of Woody Guthrie; Jackalope Theatre’s Exit Strategy; and Seanachaí Theatre Company’s Hughie.

Also presenting erstwhile Chicago shows you wish you hadn’t missed, and also in peripatetic mode, is the venerable Theater on the Lake, which continues to produce even as the Park District renovates its home space.  (That’s the meaning of the discouraging “See you next year!” sign in front of the Fullerton facility—presumably that’s the same next year during which the Cubs will win the pennant.)  On tap: Stage Left’s A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, July 9-13 and Theo Ubique’s A Cole Porter Songbook, July 23-27, both at Berger Park, 6205 North Sheridan Road; the Neo-Futurists’ Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, July 30-August 3 at the Washington Park Refectory, 5531 S. Russell Dr.; and Strawdog’s Great Expectations, August 6-10 back up at Berger Park.