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.
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.
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.
Plus, we preview Mosque Alert, soon to tread the boards at Silk Road Rising.
Elizabeth Bennett, The Girl and Mr. Darcy in Adapt Theatre’s production of Pride and Prejudice.
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.
Chicago Shakespeare’s celebration of the Bard’s quadracentenary begins with a misfire. Othello as directed by Jonathan Munby is a classic example of a big bad concept mugging a defenseless script. Munby’s decision to set the play among contemporary khaki-clad GIs adds nothing to our understanding of the play and interferes with our seeing it—sometimes literally, as when the huge boxes representing various portions of the army camp are moved around so they upstage the actors. Amidst all this pushing and shoving and singing of hip-hop, there’s little sign of the play as an interaction among interesting characters nor as an indictment of racism.
There’s an occasional strong scene—the first one in which Iago (the otherwise misdirected Michael Milligan) shares his suspicions with Othello (James Vincent Meredith, who deserves to lead a better production than this); the drunk scene of Michael Cassio (Luigi Sottile); the final encounter between Othello and Desdemona (Bethany Jillard). But whenever there are more than two people on the stage there’s a complete collapse of focus, the sure sign of a director too busy with his concept to bother with his actors. And there’s so much foreshadowing that it becomes comic, as each actor proclaims “honest Iago” with such force the set nearly falls over. The fact that Iago is able to fool Othello and the rest is not supposed to be funny: it’s the source of the play’s tragedy.
If you’re interested in the play, wait until spring when you’ll find the Q Brothers’ Othello: The Remix, which notwithstanding its innovative hip-hop rendition is far truer to the original than this.
We consider The Artistic Home’s world premiere whodunit about a murder in a Southern town and the connections between two families whose secrets and lies make Yoknapatawpha County look like the confessional. Plus, J. recommends the farce The Explorers’ Club at the Windy City Playhouse.
If women playwrights are neglected nationally (and I have no doubt they are), they’re nonetheless making a strong showing on Chicago stages.
In A Word at Strawdog
Lauren Yee’s 85-minute world premiere throws us into the miserable world of Fiona and Guy (Mary Winn Heider and John Ferrick), a married couple whose child was kidnapped two years before. Fiona is still preoccupied—whether excessively or appropriately, depending on who you ask—with the details of the abduction and presumed death, while Guy is trying to move on. The son appears in flashback, portrayed by Gabe Franken, who also performs every other role including the kidnapper, the detective, the school principal and Guy’s best friend. To convey the stuck condition of the couple, especially Fiona, Yee uses staccato and repetition of words and phrases—“get what’s coming to them,” “difficult” as a euphemism for the most profound problems. The incantatory nature of the dialogue also illustrates the universal point that guilt and secrecy keep people stuck whereas the truth will—or at least, may—set them free. Jess McLeod’s clever staging turns the single set into the half-dozen locations the characters occupy. More important, her direction of the actors assures that we feel every incident as if it were happening to us. A slightly hopeful ending doesn’t keep the situation from being, well, difficult, but it’s also genuine and thoughtful and moving. Heider in particular is so good it’s hard to remember that she’s acting. In A Word closes March 19; don’t let it pass you by.
The Flick at Steppenwolf
Annie Baker won the Pulitzer, the Obie and the Susan Smith Blackburn Playwriting Prize for this slice of life set in a movie theater which has seen better days. It, too, has three main characters and it, too, explores the errors and betrayals which make intimacy so difficult. But there the resemblance ends, as Baker and director Dexter Bullard use 3 hours and 10 minutes to make their points. Bullard secures stunning performances from all concerned–Travis Turner as the college-age movie-lover turned theater janitor, Danny McCarthy as the old hand who trains him and Caroline Neff sometimes allied with one and sometimes with the other. Three is an inherently unstable number in relationships, and Baker captures this in scene after scene—after scene, after scene. The dialogue is wonderfully heard, and resonates as natural speech; but the fact that mopping up a movie theater is a Sisyphean task is clear long before Baker stops reminding us of it. Moreover, it appears she couldn’t think of an ending—or rather, she thought of one and then added several more just in case. The first act is completely absorbing and Jack Magaw’s scenic design is a thing of beauty: you sit down in your theater seat only to find yourself facing rows of theater seats. And the actors are impeccable–Neff’s wild hip-hop dance alone is worth the price of admission. At Steppenwolf through May 8.
We disagree violently over Porchlight’s Far From Heaven, the musical adaptation of the Todd Haynes film in turn adapted from a women’s weepie of the early 60s. Then K. recommends Refuge Theatre Project’s High Fidelity, the musical adaptation of the John Cusack film in turn adapted from a book in the early 90s. Doesn’t anyone do anything original anymore?
Danielle Pinnock takes up the mantle of Anna Deavere Smith in this world premiere piece, produced by Rivendell in association with Waltzing Mechanics. This one-woman show actually features dozens of people, first interviewed and now expertly portrayed by Pinnock under the direction of Megan Carney. We follow her search for answers to questions about body image, media ideals and the connection between food maladies, on the one hand, and self-hatred and sexual abuse, on the other. Pinnock is pitch-perfect in her renditions, particularly of her Jamaican grandmothers but also of men both gay and straight, women both cis- and transgender and people of every level of education and income. If there’s a woman in the world who can’t identify with Pinnock’s struggles, I have yet to meet her. Highly recommended. It only runs through the end of the month and Rivendell is not huge, so get your tickets ASAP.