Category Archives: one-man/woman shows

Pop Waits at the Neo-Futurists, 2666 at the Goodman: Jonathan talks, Kelly kibbitzes

A one-man piece about music and depression at the Neo-Futurists; a 5-plus hour epic about the 20th Century at the Goodman.  Jonathan holds forth.

 

bodycourage

In brief: Body/Courage at Rivendell

K. sez:

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.

What I Learned in Paris 5

In brief: Court’s Satchmo…, Congo Square’s What I Learned… and The Gilded Age at City Lit

K. sez:

Satchmo at the Waldorf, Court Theatre, through February 7: Terry Teachout’s look at the life of Louis Armstrong, told as the reminiscences of the entertainer himself, is both funny and sweet-sad. In this Midwest premiere, the show rests entirely on the shoulders of Barry Shabaka Henley, who plays not only Armstrong but his manager Joe Glaser and his nemesis Miles Davis. On opening night, Henley had a few stumbles with the text, but his Armstrong is pitch-perfect, literally: as soon as you hear his voice you know you’re in good hands. He’s also outrageously good as Davis, portrayed here as a clueless stoner whose naysaying about Armstrong’s persona meant he just didn’t get what was going on. The only weakness in the performance is Henley’s version of Glaser, Armstrong’s friend and ultimate betrayer: what’s supposed to be Chicago-New York-Jewish-gangster patois sounds more like Middle American Generic White Man. And don’t go expecting music: a few moments of scratchy recording are all we hear. But the show, under Charles Newell’s direction, is still a delight.

What I Learned in Paris, Congo Square Theatre, through February 7: In this show—part rom-com, part door-slamming farce—Pearl Cleage pays homage to Noel Coward’s Private Lives by bringing together an ex-husband and ex-wife on the eve of his wedding to Wife #2. The setting, though, is quite different: it’s Atlanta in 1973, and Maynard Jackson has just been elected the city’s first African-American mayor. As J.P. Madison jockeys for position in the new administration and struggles for an impossible level of respectability, in walks ex-wife Evie, who is anything but respectable. Shanesia Davis is spectacular as the convention-defying, loving-but-scheming, feminist-but-man-keeping Evie, and the rest of the cast plays up to her level. Darren Jones is particularly fine as J.P., who imagines he’s leading and is actually being led—by the nose. And I’d like costume designer Marci Rodgers to come home with me and make all my clothes so I look like Evie. A feminist romp among the African-American elites—it could hardly be more fun. Thanks to director Daniel Bryant for coming home from New York long enough to knock this one out of the park.

The Gilded Age: A Tale of Today, City Lit Theater, through February 21: I’d hoped this adaptation of Mark Twain’s novel would feel more like a critique of today’s Gilded Age; but it was hard to remember that when Jacquelyne Jones was on the stage, which is virtually the entire time. Jones plays Laura Hawkins, an impoverished Southern belle who sets out to conquer 1870s Washington and succeeds until she encounters the man who loved and ruined her in 1860s Tennessee. Disaster, needless to say, ensues. Paul Edwards’s adaptation is superb in clarifying and maintaining the momentum of a complex story, and Jones’s performance is so rich that we mostly don’t care what happens as long as she’s still there to be watched. This is a going-to-be-a-big-star performance. The rest of the company, under Adam Goldstein’s direction, is fine in the classic City Lit manner, playing numerous roles and conveying shifts of time and location with ease. If you don’t carry in with you the notion—or, perhaps, the hope—that Twain somehow skewered today’s Congress, you won’t be disappointed. And, to be fair, the portrait of a Congress for sale and at the mercy of lobbyists rings true and contemporary; it’s just not ugly enough to seem to be a real critique. That’s what happens when life outstrips art, or truth is stranger than fiction.

Sugarplums and treacle–or, if you prefer, faith, hope and love: the holidays on Chicago stages

Jonathan waxes Scrooge-like about holiday offerings while Kelly takes her inner child out for an excursion.  Grab your insulin and dive in!

Farce, Comedy of Manners, or Neither? A Pitched Battle Over Things You Shouldn’t Say Past Midnight

We can’t agree about Things You Shouldn’t Say Past Midnight at Windy City Playhouse.  Then K. thrusts upon you her opinions about Othello, An Iliad and Seascape at American Players Theatre in Wisconsin, and J. parries that there are 240 theaters right here in the Chicago metro area and that the upcoming fall season will reward your attention.

American Players Theatre Goes Four for Four

K. sez:

American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wisconsin, has always presented fine work, including the only perfect production of The Tempest I’ve ever experienced. But this is the first time I’ve seen such uniformly excellent shows, ranging from strong to out-and-out superb.  New Artistic Director Brenda DeVita has reason to be proud of her inaugural season—and not only because her husband Jim delivers a tour-de-force in the one-man An Iliad.

Tim Kaine played the Poet in An Iliad at Court Theatre in Chicago, on a smoking battleground in his combat fatigues creating an indelible impression of the chronicler as a casualty of war.  This production is completely different, with DeVita dressed in tweeds lecturing in what appears to be a high-school science classroom, complete with skeleton.  But the piece, by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare and directed here by John Langs, is equally powerful: simultaneously a clear and engaging retelling of The Iliad and a sharply drawn portrait of the uselessness of combat.  Cellist Alicia Storin plays the Muse who provides literal counterpoint to the Poet, complementing Josh Schmidt’s recorded sound design as it conveys the aural fog of war.  But nothing can distract your ears or eyes from DeVita’s riveting, exhausting, utterly truthful performance.  Don’t miss this production, whether you’ve seen the play before or not.

Langs likewise works directorial magic with Othello.  Every other production I’ve seen has made me wonder why the play isn’t called Iago instead, as we spend most of the play in his company.  But Langs and actor Chike Johnson here present an Othello worthy of the name: a character whose formidable presence makes Iago seem like an annoying insect buzzing around his head.  Yet it’s the tragedy of Othello that he’s allergic to bee-stings, and thus can be destroyed by this lesser man.  James Ridge mixes wit with fury to create a wonderfully unsettling Iago, whose loathing for Othello stems simply from the other’s great superiority.  Like men who are “jealous for they’re jealous,” Iago is envious because he’s envious, and all his other excuses for hating the Moor are just that.  Despite a few slips on opening night (Iago’s knife’s flying out of his hand  into the audience, Bianca’s shoe doing the same), the entire ensemble handles itself well.  An absorbing evening.

Edward Albee’s Seascape violated all expectations by being a comedy in which a couple of large green lizards encounter a couple of old white people on a beach.  As the two married couples explain their cultures to one another (and fight among themselves), the effect is sweet and charming and thought-provoking all at once, with a tart undertone sustained by Albee’s typically cynical view that it’s impossible ever to know another person (or creature).  Laura Gordon’s production is, in a word rarely evoked by Albee, delightful, with strong performances by all.

An Iliad and Seascape are performed in the divinely air-conditioned Touchstone Theatre.  Othello is presented at the open-air Up-the-Hill Theatre, and it’s a testament to the production’s strength that the audience was fully engaged even before the sun went down and relieved the 90-plus-degree heat.

Even more impressive, though, was A Streetcar Named Desire, performed in the open air at 1 o’clock on a scorching day.  The weather matched the play’s overheated setting, of course, but it still takes an amazing production to command total attention from an audience squinting against the sun and dripping in perspiration.  This was such an exceptional production, directed by Chicago veteran William Brown and resting on the capable shoulders of Chicago actress Tracy Michelle Arnold as Blanche, whose every move and facial expression told you about the slow collapse of her life.  The production highlighted playwright Tennessee Williams’s obsession with the line between illusion and delusion, as Blanche teeters between them.  Stella (Cristina Panfilio, also Seascape‘s lizard-wife) represents reality, balancing loyalty to her sister with her love not only for Stanley but for their down-to-earth life together, one without gentility or any nostalgia for it.  Eric Parks (the husband of Panfilio off- as well as onstage) makes a fine Stanley, resisting every temptation to imitate the over-familiar Brando approach, and it’s not his fault that there’s not actually much to his character: the role is less about acting than about exuding sexiness.  (No wonder Brando aced it.)  Tim Gittings is excellent as Mitch, bringing humor as well as humility to that nearly-thankless part.  It was an extraordinary three hours, notwithstanding the glare and the heat and the mosquitoes, and if for some reason they’d chosen to start again I would have stayed for another three.   The show only runs through September 5, the Saturday of Labor Day weekend; don’t miss it.

Othello plays through the first weekend in October, while Seascape and An Iliad continue through October 18.  It’s well worth a 4-hour drive to see such consistently terrific work.

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The Bird Is The Word: Griffin Theatre’s The Birds

It’s not the Hitchcock film but does it work on its own Daphne DuMaurier Conor McPherson terms? Listen to the critics squawk. Plus, K. recommends Liberty City at Eta Creative Arts, a tour de force by a young actress.

Congo Square’s Twisted Melodies Addresses Mental Illness With Music

J. and K. laud the performance in this one-man show while debating the text. Also, praise for the Saints, who support the Chicago performing arts community in every way.

Lookingglass Theatre’s Title and Deed—Chapter and Verse

On WDCB’s The Arts Section, the Critics consider the one-man show Title and Deed, and Jonathan reports on the Humana Festival and the American Theatre Critics’ Association’s playwriting prizes.

Jingle bells, jingle bells: the Dueling Critics rate holiday fare

It takes a pair of Jews to find the very best Christmas shows. Jonathan and Kelly do not disappoint, mixing classics with newcomers and sincere celebrations of the season with the snarkiest possible takes on it. Whatever your attitude, you’ll find much to enjoy!