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.