Tag Archives: Pulitzer Prize

We keep Company at Writers Theatre . . .

plus K. raves over Between Riverside and Crazy (her summer home), while J. celebrates Pride Films & Plays’ adaptive reuse of an abandoned space.

 

The Mirror Has Seven Faces: Mary Page Marlowe by Tracy Letts at Steppenwolf

We grapple with this world premiere; plus K. picks The Book Club Play at 16th Street Theatre and J. picks Carlyle at the Goodman.

Kelly Goes Solo on Domesticated at Steppenwolf

Not really solo: Gary serves as interlocutor as K. considers Bruce Norris’s latest peroration on the problems of privileged people (say three times fast). Is the playwright anti-feminist or merely a misanthrope? And why shouldn’t playwrights direct their own work? Then G. and K. jointly mourn the demise of Redmoon.

A Night At the Opera: the DCs Take On the Lyric’s Bel Canto

The Marx brothers have nothing on us! Plus, K. re-recommends the Q Brothers’ Christmas Carol: they had me at the two yarmulke’d philanthropists who tell Scrooge, “I’m Rahm, and he’s Ari.”

The Butcher at Signal Ensemble: The Duellists Disagree

Then K. picks the Pulitzer Prizewinning Disgraced at the Goodman while J. recommends August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean at Court.

roseandeddie

In brief: musicals from unlikely sources at MadKap and BoHo

K. sez:

MadKap Productions at the Skokie Theatre (a movie house turned into a legit stage) is giving Tony- and Pulitzer-Prizewinning musical Next to Normal a strong if far too brief production.  Hard as it may be to imagine a musical about a woman with bipolar disorder, Brian Yorkey’s book and lyrics and Tom Kitt’s music provide this portrait of family dysfunction with honesty and poetry in equal measure.  And under the direction of Andrew Park (music direction by Gary Powell), this version of the show is as moving and funny as the one I saw several years ago at Drury Lane Oakbrook, a bigger house with significantly greater resources.  The performance (and especially the singing) of Whitney Morse as Diana, the mother whose illness threatens to wreck her family as well as her own life, suggests much bigger things in her future: she’s rueful but free of self-pity, funny without resorting to stereotype, and all-around engaging.  Try to make time to see the show before it closes on September 27.  And don’t be fooled by the faint air of community theater which somehow attaches to the location: this is the second show I’ve seen there, and the second one about which I’ve raved.

Meanwhile, BoHo Theatre presents Dogfight, a musical based on a film about Marines who while away their hours before deployment betting who can find the ugliest woman to date.  From this unpromising source, playwright Peter Duchan constructs a love story: Eddie (the charming Garrett Lutz) chooses Rose (Emily Goldberg, both sweet and strong) as a joke and unexpectedly finds himself liking her.  But before he can follow through, Rose has learned about the game and stormed away.  Eventually he tracks her down and what ensues is as romantic as Before Sunrise: a final night spent together falling in love.  The show manages to maintain the romance without falling into sentimentality, and to attract our sympathy for everyone on the stage: the Marines whose toughness conceals terror (but not very well) and the women they mistreat as casually as if they were pieces of gum to be chewed and spit out.  The music and lyrics by Benu Pasek and Justin Paul suggest the mid-1960s but steer clear of falling into period pastiche, and the cast’s voices are up to the challenge.  Kudos to director Peter Marston Sullivan and music director Ellen K. Morris.   Through October 18 at Theatre Wit in Lakeview.

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.

Romulus

Two great productions (at Oracle & Steep), two good ones and the one at the Goodman

K. sez:

Jonathan’s in Japan en route to China, leaving me alone to drown in a sea of openings.  A quick summation in baseball terms: two runs, two hits, one left on base.

The home runs

The Vandal at Steep Theatre is the Midwest premiere of Hamish Linklater’s first full-length play.  It’s a debut any writer would envy.  In a series of brief naturalistic scenes and with only three characters—a teenager, his father, and the middle-aged woman the teen befriends at a bus stop—Linklater’s characters explore nothing less than the meaning of life.  And yet it’s anything but self-serious–in fact, much of the show is quite funny, especially a drawn-out metaphor involving Doritos and beer as the two ends of life’s spectrum of meaning.  Anything more I say about this atmospheric piece will ruin its brief passage upon the stage: just go see Shade Murray’s production in which the always-excellent Kendra Thulin conveys every nuance of grief and loss while maintaining a flinty exterior the two men work hard to penetrate because it’s so obviously worthwhile to do so.   ((Jack Miggins as the Boy and Alex Gilmor as the Man are both fine.)  On Dan Stratton’s set consisting of a few boxes serving as a bus bench, a store counter and everything else, these three manage to conjure not only the physical setting in an urban desert between a hospital, a cemetery and a liquor store but the spiritual aridity it represents—and the possibilities that yet remain.  See this exceptional piece of work, playing through November 8.

And still there’s something even better on another Chicago stage: Romulus, Gore Vidal’s 1962 adaptation of Friedrich Durrenmatt’s play about the last Roman emperor.  The Oracle people can’t seem to put a foot wrong: if they do a show, it’s smart, it’s funny, it’s perfectly acted, it’s political without being doctrinaire—and it’s free.   This satire takes place on the final day before Rome falls to the Goths, and makes a powerful case that nothing better could happen in the world than for an empire—any empire—to fall.  You can see how the German Durrenmatt would have felt that way in 1949; you can see how Vidal would have felt that way in the shadow of the Cuban Missile Crisis; and most important you can see how it applies today, when America’s determination to maintain its world primacy costs life after life for no apparent purpose.  Like The Vandal, this is a funny play with a serious purpose; like The Vandal, its director (here, Kasey Foster) has brought out the best from every member of a gifted company.  Kevin Cox is particularly good as the titular emperor, who turns out to be the proverbial wise fool, and Jeremy Trager’s turn as Otto Rupf, the pants-maker who will save the world (don’t ask), keeps things rolling merrily along.  A truly extraordinary experience, through November 22.

The hits

Both Your Houses by Maxwell Anderson won the Pulitzer Prize and promptly collapsed into obscurity, perhaps because it hit too close to home in its examination of how badly our government operates.  (Has Washington gotten the message yet, do you suppose?  Try sending it again on November 4.)  Imagine “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington” without the positive outcome, and you’ve got the plot of Anderson’s play: a brand-new idealistic new Senator goes up against the forces of graft and corruption with the help of a seen-it-all dame inspired by his example.  Only this time things don’t go quite as planned or hoped-for.  Like much material of the same vintage, 1933’s Both Your Houses strikes our ears as wordy to the point of redundancy.  (An audience used to ninety-minute dramas gets restless after Hour 2.)  Though director James Bohnen specializes in this kind of battle of ideas, the production doesn’t crackle as it should.  At the performance I saw David Darlow kept dropping his lines, and as his character is the moral center of the play any hesitation on his part undercuts the entire affair.  An interesting evening but not what it could have been.  Through November 9.

The Gravedigger at First Folio gets the jump on Halloween with this imagining of what happened to Frankenstein’s monster between the time he killed Mrs. Frankenstein and the moment he’s confronted by his creator somewhere in the frozen north.  Director Alison C. Vesely secures strong performances from her foursome of actors, especially the always-fine Craig Spidle as a hermit who shelters the monster.  But Joseph Zettelmaier’s whole play is just too damn earnest, with every character prating about love and redemption.  It would have been twice as good if it had been half as long, but as it is we have plenty of time to notice that these people keep reassuring one another of their potential and virtue.  Obviously Frankenstein is a moral tale, but I like my morals neat, without a lot of sentimental chaser.  Angela Weber Miller’s scenic design is excellent, and the spooky Mayslake mansion a fine setting, but the evening is less than the sum of its parts.  Through November 2.

Left on base

Smokefall is the Goodman’s remount of last year’s hit, written by flavor-of-the-month playwright Noah Haidle.  This production did not enable me to gather the source of his appeal.  Like The  Gravedigger, it features a lot of people talking to each other about love rather than helping the audience experience or understand that emotion.   When pre-term twins (Eric Slater and Guy Massey, superb as always) discuss the terrors of life from their safe location in utero, the play is witty and engaging; but nothing leads up to that moment and nothing issues forth from it.  What exactly is supposed to be so great about this play I couldn’t tell you, and it’s a waste of actors Katherine Keberlein and Mike Nussbaum.  If you want to make a play about how it’s hard but possible to live life to the fullest into old age, just do the story of Nussbaum’s life.

howlogoforweb

Why legalize pot in Illinois? More theatrical enjoyment!

K. sez:

I could be making this up, but I’m not.  The Colorado Symphony has decided to host BYOC (Bring Your Own Cannabis) concerts, on the theory that the music will sound better if the audience is stoned.  Something to be considered by Chicago theaters?

avenueq

Fortunately, in the last two nights I’ve seen two wonderful musicals trippy enough all on their own: Avenue Q at the Mercury and How to Succeed . . . at Porchlight.  If you want to know what the early 60s were like, forget “Mad Men” and go see Rob Lindley’s crackling production of the Pulitzer-Prizewinning How to Succeed . . ., with spectacular choreography by Brenda Didier.  And if you want to know what the first decade of this century was like (or if you want to see full frontal puppet nudity), get thee to Walter Stearns’ adorable Avenue Q.  You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s; you don’t have to be stoned to love these shows.

Maybe that should be a new critic’s endorsement: STSS, Suitable to See Sober!