Sender: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf for Millennials?

We’re not sure if it’s a comedy or a drama, but we agree that the world-premiere production of Ike Holter’s play at A Red Orchid Theatre is great work.  Michael Shannon’s troupe delivers, even without Shannon.

The Mirror Has Seven Faces: Mary Page Marlowe by Tracy Letts at Steppenwolf

We grapple with this world premiere; plus K. picks The Book Club Play at 16th Street Theatre and J. picks Carlyle at the Goodman.

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In brief: The Book Club Play at 16th Street Theater

K. sez:

The Book Club Play at 16th Street Theater affectionately skewers the title institution while giving serious consideration to the value of literature and witty lines to the characters discussing it.  Playwright Karen Zacarias captures deftly the territoriality often exhibited by club members when confronted with outsiders, as well as the ongoing tension about what (and whether!) to read.  An audience talk-back after the play had everyone deeply engaged in the play’s central question—“What is literature?”—even if most people wound up agreeing with the character who argued that being educated requires being open to high culture and pop culture alike.

Though Zacarias’s book group violates stereotypes by being co-ed, director Kevin Christopher Fox’s perfect pitch for this essentially female institution nonetheless came as something of a surprise.  Artistic Director Ann Filmer plays the group’s founder (or so the character claims) with just the right blend of overbearing-ness and insecurity, and she’s ably supported by the others, especially Jesse Dornan as the club-crasher who turns the group on its ear and its members on each other through nothing more than his desire to belong.

If you’ve ever been in a book group (particularly one that went sour) you should see this, and if you haven’t you’ll see this and congratulate yourself on your foresight. It’s selling well enough that they announced an extension on opening night, so don’t delay—it’s not like you have to read the book first!

Brecht’s Life of Galileo at Remy Bumppo: Puzzling It Out

We talk about the contemporary implications of Galileo’s work as interpreted by Brecht and adapted by David Hare and directed by Nick Sandys at Remy Bumppo, and with that many cooks in the kitchen who can be surprised it’s a bit of an olio?  Plus a survey of the coming Shakespeare 400 celebrations, commemorating the 400th anniversary of the playwright’s death.

Mosque Alert at Silk Road Rising: Play or Debate? Duel!

Plus J. recommends Hershey Felder as Irving Berlin, and has to be forcibly restrained from singing himself.

 

Experiments with History and Gender in Cor Theatre’s Christina, The Girl King

We don’t agree on what the play is about, and that’s only the beginning!  K. raves over Butler at Northlight while Jonathan recommends The Matchmaker (the proto-Hello, Dolly) at the Goodman.

Arcadia at Writers’ Theatre: Vintage Wine in a New Bottle

We review Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia and the horse it rode in on, namely Writers’ Theatre’s new Jeanne Gang-designed home.  Then K., suffering from an excess of enthusiasm, recommends two shows in Rogers Park: Rent at Theo Ubique and Pride & Prejudice at Adapt Theatre, while  J. restricts himself to a single pick: After All The Terrible Things I Do (a/k/a his autobiography) at About Face.

 

Gift Theatre’s Richard III: The Critics Battle It Out

Plus, we preview Mosque Alert, soon to tread the boards at Silk Road Rising.

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In brief: Adapt Theatre’s Pride & Prejudice at the side project; Butler at Northlight

Elizabeth Bennett, The Girl and Mr. Darcy in Adapt Theatre’s production of Pride and Prejudice.

K. sez:

Pride and Prejudice at Adapt Theatre is a delight. even at 3-+ hours.  Using the framing device of an awkward teenage girl (Laila Sauer) who resists reading the book, adapter Lane Flores and director Amanda Lautermilch create a version faithful to the original but with a youthful and contemporary feel.  Aja Wiltshire is a lovely Elizabeth, with just the right balance of snark and sweetness, and Andrew Thorp makes persuasive Darcy’s transformation from pompous asshole to gentleman lover.  And of course any shy young girl obsessed with music would find herself turning into Georgiana!  Cassandra Laine and Melissa Reeves uphold the honor of the older generation as Mrs. Bennet and Lady Catherine, each appalling in her own way, and Connor Konz takes a part that’s been done by A-listers like Alan Cumming and makes it his own: he could hardly be smarmier or more self-satisfied or more ludicrous.  Some of the choices are a little strange—why is Mary wearing headgear and combat boots, again?—but others are terrific, like the weird instrument Mary insists on playing to Lizzy’s humiliation and the disapprobation of all.

If these names mean nothing to you, it’s time to get acquainted with Pride & Prejudice, and Adapt Theatre provides the close-to-ideal introduction.  And if you know exactly who I’m talking about, prepare to spend an afternoon or evening smiling as you hear dialogue directly from the book spoken by people who clearly love Jane Austen as much as you do.  And at $20 ($15 for students and seniors), you can’t beat the price!  At the (tiny) side project in Rogers Park through April 10, unless we get lucky and they extend it.

Butler (which, come to think of it, could be called “Pride & Prejudice” itself!) is about as likely as a unicorn: a comedy about slavery and the Civil War.  But a very smart script by Richard Strand, impeccable direction by Stuart Carden and especially the comic chops of the four-man company make both moving and hilarious this fictional re-telling of a real incident which helped turn the tide against the Fugitive Slave Act. Major General Benjamin Franklin Butler (the outstanding —no, astonishing!—Greg Vinkler) has just taken command of Fort Monroe, a Union outpost in Virginia, when escaped slave Shepard Mallory (Tosin Morohunfola, whom I’ve somehow never seen before but can’t wait to see again) shows up demanding sanctuary.  Their battle of wits,    interspersed with commentary by Nate Burger as the General’s adjutant and high Confederate swanning by Tim Monsion as the officer sent to retrieve Mallory, is funny and profound and touching all at the same time.  The most intense pleasure of the evening arises from Strand’s observation that these two apparent opposites—the black slave and the white general—are    actually exactly alike.  Northlight’s production runs through April 17 at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie.

Savannah Quinn Hoover as Mimi and Patrick Rooney as Roger in Theo Ubique's production of Rent.  Photo by Adam Veness

In Brief: Rent at Theo Ubique

Savannah Quinn Hoover as Mimi and Patrick Rooney as Roger in Theo Ubique’s production of Rent.  Photo by Adam Veness.

 

The first time I saw Rent I was underwhelmed; that’s because I didn’t see it done by Theo Ubique.  Now I understand what all the noise has been about: the gorgeous choral harmonies of Jonathan Larson’s score make its La Boheme-inspired story of freezing artists and wannabes resonate with those of us who aren’t freezing.  Director Scott Weinstein, Choreographer Daniel Spagnuolo and—especially—music director and pianist Jeremy Ramey make the lives of the downtrodden a treat for eye and ear.

The show is flawlessly cast: Matt Edmonds as Mark, who spends the show documenting everything with his video camera instead of experiencing it, has the perfect imperfect face and a voice which makes melody out of even Larson’s least melodic songs, including the title number.  Patrick Rooney as Roger, sulking in his tent like a contemporary Achilles, has the classic floppy-haired tragic romantic look, and is complemented wonderfully by Savannah Hoover’s Mimi.  And Aubrey McGrath deserves a special acknowledgment: he plays drag-queen Angel, a part written for a Latino actor, with such life-giving energy that any and all prejudices—for or against drag queens; for or against casting against ethnic type—simply melt away.  Without naming every single member of the cast, I can’t do justice to its quality: suffice it to say, go.

Through May 1 at the No Exit Cafe in Rogers Park.