We duel over Stephen Adly Guirgis’s Our Lady of 121st Street at Eclipse, and then J. recommends Bite: A Pucking Queer Cabaret (a deconstructed Midsummer Night’s Dream) at Mary’s Attic while K. chooses an actual Midsummer Night’s Dream, the one at First Folio.
plus K. raves over Between Riverside and Crazy (her summer home), while J. celebrates Pride Films & Plays’ adaptive reuse of an abandoned space.
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.
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.
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?
(K., of course, is Ms. Congeniality.) Then J. recommends Le Switch at About Face Theatre.
ShPIeL, a theater company which defines itself as “Performing Identity,” does exactly that with its world-premiere production of Angina Pectoris at Theatre Wit. The play opened in Tel Aviv soon after its opening in Chicago. What do the Critics think? Plus, Kelly recommends Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy at RedTwist.
The two of us, in New York for the American Theatre Critics’ Association conference, took every advantage of the change of scene. We duel over Allegiance, about Japanese-Americans interned during World War II, and then each reviews the shows s/he saw individually: K. enthuses over the musicals Hamilton and Spring Awakening and the black comedy Hand to God, while J. discusses An American In Paris, and two off-Broadway world premieres: Ripcord and DaDa Woof Papa Hot. Chicagoans who plan to be in New York for the holidays won’t lack for things to see, and will have our expert guidance to assist them!
The world premiere of Aline Lathrop’s Merchild at 16th Street Theater tells the story of 8-year-old Adam, whose highest aspiration in life is to be Ariel from “The Little Mermaid.” After his habit of wearing Ariel’s costume to dance on the beach leads to his near-drowning by a group of bullies, his liberal-minded parents determine that he needs to be re-educated to be a boy.
Lathrop has put her finger on a particularly sore spot in contemporary American culture, the contested intersection of gender fluidity and feminism. If a boy can know he’s “really” a girl, does that mean there’s a fixed meaning attaching to being a girl? And if so, what does that leave of the feminist notion that girls and women can be whatever they choose? To “cure” Adam of his predilection, must Mom (Lia Mortensen), a high-powered academic, stay home and bake cookies? Must his sister suddenly become bad at math? Or is a cure really what’s called for?
Ann Filmer foregrounds these questions in her production, which features strong performances by all concerned and especially by the remarkable Peyton Shaffer as Adam. (Shaffer is, in fact, a girl, which I didn’t realize til I looked in the program; what might one infer from this incidence of gender fluidity?) Nor does the piece shy away from the aspects of Adam’s situation which are truly troubling, like his effort to cut off his penis with an Xacto knife. Lathrop skillfully mixes fantasy (Adam-as-Ariel in romantic scenes with the Prince [Will Crouse], actually his sister’s boyfriend) with reality—right up until the end.
But that end is so ambiguous that the audience wasn’t sure the play was over: the gap before applause began had nothing to do with the quality of the production and everything to do with unresolved questions in the play. When Ariel renounces the Prince and life on land in the final scene, was that Adam renouncing his desire to be a girl? Or did he just drown himself? Yes, those alternatives—“just a phase” vs. “a condition whose treatment destroys its patients”—are at the heart of the social debate, but the playwright can’t really refuse to resolve them without crossing the line from being thought-provoking to being just plain bewildering.
A worthy near-miss. Through October 17 at the 16th Street, 6420 16th Street in Berwyn.
We puzzle over the new musical at the New Colony. J. perceives Tchaikovsky’s influence while K. senses some Dostoevsky. Plus, J. previews another new musical, October Sky at the Marriott, with a score influenced by roots music.