We review the world premiere of Shepsu Aakhu’s newest play Feral, about police shootings and the media circus which follows them, and then K. recommends The Lion in Winter by Promethean Theatre Ensemble at the Athenaeum.
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.
Preview before review: Dance Theatre of Harlem is coming to the Auditorium Theatre on Friday for three days only. The program includes two dances to music associated with Harlem, and then—for something completely different—a piece by the great choreographer Ulysses Dove, set to music written by a contemporary Estonian composer as a tribute to an English classicist. I’m seeing the program Friday night but don’t wait to hear what I think: just go.
Promethean Theatre Ensemble is presenting Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale at the Athenaeum Theatre in Lakeview through December 13. This is a deeply puzzling work—as director Brian Pastor says in his program note, the play is a Greek tragedy with a happy ending. The production’s first act is impeccable: the actors speak the iambic pentameter with an unusual sensitivity to the meter’s similarity to natural speech. John Arthur Lewis as the insanely jealous King Leontes and Cameron Feagin as the queen whom he destroys bring heartfelt emotion to their wrenching encounters, with fine support from the company, especially Nick Lake as the loyal servitor Camillo.
And then comes the second act. Suddenly the play turns from drama to pastoral comedy before reverting to a dramatic reconciliation infused with magic. The tone shift simply does not work for me, not in this production nor in any previous one I’ve seen. The audience is expected to go from horrified observer to a sort of co-conspirator in a plot which alternates between utter predictability and complete unbelievability.
Jonathan chides me that Shakespeare isn’t intended to be naturalistic, but I’m not asking that he be. In The Tempest, his mix of drama and comedy with magic makes for a perfect evening in the theater. In The Winter’s Tale, the same recipe produces an inedible stew.
The Dueling Critics get intimate with Intimate Apparel at Eclipse Theatre, and Jonathan reports news of Next Theatre and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).
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.
Things may be dysfunctional in the writers’ room, as conceived by Neil Simon in Laughter on the 23rd Floor (upper photo, courtesy of Eclectic Full Contact Theatre), but the world is downright dystopian in the world premiere of Tyrant, by Kathleen Akerly (lower photo, courtesy of Sideshow Theatre). The DC saw different shows this week and offer their opinions.