Plus, Jonathan recommends Rose at the Greenhouse Theatre Center and shares his memories of meeting title character Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy
ATC’s Inaugural CORE Series
Lie With Me
Monday, September 12 at 7:00 PM
We are kicking off CORE with Michael Patrick Thornton’s Lie With Me, a three act play about an older man who mentors, psychologically manipulates, and sexually molests his friends’ high school son. The play is highly interested in the shame surrounding male bisexuality, the effects, coping mechanisms, and cyclical nature of abuse, and the efficacy of forgiveness. http://www.atcweb.org/core
Deanna Dunagan in the Lookingglass Theatre Company production of Death Tax by Lucas Hnath, directed by Heidi Stillman. Photo by Liz Lauren.
Kelly and Jonathan grapple with two plays by Lucas Hnath, a rising young playwright. Do they complement one another, or contradict one another? Is either one worth listening to? The same questions, of course, can be asked of the Dueling Critics!
And Jonathan eulogizes Sheldon Patinkin.
Jonathan and Kelly disagree about Coraline, a musical based on the Neil Gaiman fantasy novel produced by Black Button Eyes Productions at City Lit Theater in Edgewater. Then J. evaluates the latest Sean Graney extravaganza, All Our Tragic based on ALL of the extant Greek dramas.
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.
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in Nacho Duato’s Gnawa. © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2005
Last night’s Hubbard Street Dance Chicago concert at the Harris Theater was 2/3 brilliant. Actually, it may have been 100% brilliant; one dance just went completely over my head. Performances continue through the weekend, so see for yourself.
Nacho Duato’s Gnawa featured a mix of music and an equally varied menu of homage to other choreographers, including one segment resembling Gerald Arpino’s Light Rain and one referring wittily to Martha Graham. You might think this would render the piece derivative but instead it seemed utterly organic, as if it had grown out of the dancers’ supple bodies. Other Duato works can seem joky or include too many solos when his strength is couples, but this piece didn’t have a weak moment whether there was one dancer on the stage or the entire corps. My companion and I would cheerfully have seen Gnawa again, immediately.
Instead, we saw William Forsythe’s Quintett, set to a segment of a hymn by Gavin Bryars—the same 13 bars, over and over again, with a tinnily-sung English text so difficult to hear that I thought it was in German. The choreography had its l moments but as someone who loves dance for the way it embodies movement, I couldn’t get beyond the intense annoyance evoked by the soundtrack. And I certainly didn’t get either the pure-movement or the thematic intention outlined in the program. Asked if I had any questions about the piece, I responded, “What the hell was that?” But I readily acknowledge this may be my failing.
The evening concluded with resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo’s The Impossible, a thrilling piece on the border between dance and theater featuring a clown figure in red shoes who represents either Satan or death, haunting and taunting an old arthritic man and wife by facing them with their younger selves. Story dances are hard–dance isn’t really the best medium for story-telling–but Cerrudo told his with clarity and beauty. And it’s no mean feat for athletic young people to portray their osteoporotic elders, but these dancers brilliantly brought to light the ravages of aging.
Hubbard Street’s dancing is so good that the only thing to critique is its choice of material; and even batting 2 for 3 is pretty good, a record any major-league hitter would envy.
By contrast, the Goodman’s latest offering strikes out completely. Ask Aunt Susan by Seth Bockley is a contemporary setting of Nathaniel West’s Day of the Locust. West was commenting on the soullessness of 1930s Hollywood; Bockley aspires to do the same for this decade’s media environment. An out-of-work male programmer gets a job answering e-mail requests for advice in the guise of a woman, and his platitudes, land him atop a multi-platform empire in which nothing is real. Apparently the play is supposed to be a comedy, a social comment on social media, but I left wondering why anyone had bothered to write it. It’s obvious to us from the get-go that every character is despicable, so their discovering that fact seems more redundant than revelatory. There’s nothing the actors, however capable, can do with this material; the phrase “too clever by half” comes to mind. The show runs through June 22 but if I were you I’d get my Goodman fix some other way—go see The White Snake on the mainstage or wait for Brigadoon, coming at month’s end.
Finally, Piven Theatre Workshop’s production of Chekhov’s Ivanov can claim neither good material nor strong execution. The play is rarely done, and as usual that’s for good reason: an early work, its themes and situations are reiterated far more skillfully in Seagull and Uncle Vanya. By then, the playwright had figured out that it’s just tempting fate (and the audience) to have your characters yell “I’m so bored!” So were we, and it didn’t help that on opening night several of the actors weren’t yet off book. My companion insisted this was some sort of directorial choice, perhaps as a means to emphasize the artificiality of the characters’ behavior; but when Ivanov has to stop in the middle of his climactic speech to walk across the set and retrieve his script, the only choice being made was the one to open before the show was ready. Doubtless it will be readier before closing on June 29 but it will still be a play on which too much attention was lavished when someone bothered to read it.
Chicago’s permanent avant-garde theatre troupe celebrates 25 years with a world premiere chamber opera by Matt Test.
Kelly and Jonathan wring each other’s neck over Rung, a world premiere opera at Curious Theatre Branch, and Kelly recommends Eat Your Heart Out at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble.
Brett Schneider as Jamie and Kristina Valada-Viars as Paige in Next Theatre Company’s production of The Great God Pan by Amy Herzog. Photo by Amelia Bell.
Jonathan and Kelly duel over Amy Herzog’s play about sexual abuse and repressed memory. Then Jonathan reports on three news plays from the Humana Festival, two of which are heading to Chicago.
I’m one of those lefty Chekhov fans, and so I enjoyed Red Theater Chicago’s Three Soldiers (for Sisters), the product of an imagination that asked, “What if there were an actual war going on while Three Sisters was taking place, instead of just a peacetime encampment of soldiers with too much time on their hands?” The play also includes allusions to at least two of Chekhov’s three other major plays, commenting on the histrionics of theater people (as in Seagull) and having characters ask “How long have we known each other?” (as in Vanya). The result is entertaining to those in a position to get the jokes, and utterly mystifying to those who don’t know Chekhov at least as well as the audiences for Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead know Shakespeare.
Three Sisters, which recounts the sadly diminishing life of a trio of women yearning for a home that’s more fantasy than reality, can be brilliant or awful, depending on the production. Having seen a terrific production once, I was free to interpolate that into Three Soldiers (for Sisters), set in the present near a U.S. Army encampment in Djibouti, though the titular soldiers seem to be fighting in Afghanistan or Iraq. Writer-Director Aaron Sawyer gets strong performances from most of the cast, particularly Sarah Liken as youngest sister Irna and Meredith Ernst as tortured middle sister Maria. It would be a treat to see them in a production of Three Sisters.
Three Soldiers, though, suffers from a divergence of focus: there’s the family drama Chekhov wrote, here concentrating on the men rather than the women, and then there’s the political content Sawyer injects, centered on the treatment of the “natives” by the American military and their expat hangers-on. Gage Wallace plays all of those characters, from the Arab maid referred to as Turd to her son, determined to avenge her mistreatment. I understand that Sawyer is playing with archetypes and satirizing the expats’ stereotypes, but I still felt uncomfortable watching this young white man attempt to inhabit characters distinguished from one another only by the addition of a phony beard or a crippled gait and thus embodying stereotypes rather than commenting on them.
All in all, though, this very long work (a 90-minute first half and a 55-minute second half) will be comprehensible only to those who know the original exceptionally well. In that sense, it feels like a student production, where everyone in the audience is studying the same texts or is able to run to the library right afterwards. Next time around, this talented group should try communicating with the larger world.