K. holds forth on shows in New York (hint: the best one had the most Chicago connections) and also recommends TimeLine’s Chimerica, while J. picks Thomas Jefferson, Charles Dickens and Count Leo Tolstoy: Discord at Northlight.
Posh: The characters in Laura Wade’s play, now receiving its U.S. premiere at Steep Theatre, are so revolting they should cause you to run screaming from the theater; and yet this is a production everyone should see. A group of elite English college students gathers in the private room of a small-town pub for the annual meeting of the Riot Club. The club’s organizing principle, if there is one, is that members should demonstrate their superiority by wreaking the maximum destruction on every environment. One thinks that the first rule of the Riot Club should be that nobody talks about the Riot Club, but in fact they talk about it constantly (in lieu of any actual conversation) until they’ve whipped themselves into a completely pointless frenzy. Wade has created as savage a portrait of the English upper crust as The Ruling Class, without a drop of the charm Peter O’Toole brought to that earlier yowl against the toffs.
So why see it? Because under Jonathan Berry’s direction, we’re introduced to an extraordinary company of young actors, as unforgettable and full of promise as the ones who appeared in TimeLine’s The History Boys (another English school play, as it happens). If you want to see the future of Chicago theater in [violent] action, sinking its teeth into powerful writing and conjuring up an alien world until you can almost taste it, you want to see Posh. Through February 27: get tickets now, as the theater is minute and mine will not be the only rave.
The Consultant: Unfortunately Heidi Schreck’s play lacks sufficient heft to be an appropriate farewell to the Signal Ensemble, which ends its distinguished 13-year run after this show. But Ronan Marra’s direction gets everything there is to get from the slight script, which lands a stunningly awkward graduate student (Ariel Begley, effervescent in her character’s determined wrongness) in the office of an advertising firm circling the drain. She’s supposed to coach one employee through his presentation stage fright but ends up instead as the office confidante. If it weren’t for the title you wouldn’t think this was her play, but it’s not anyone else’s play either: not the employee being coached (Ben Chang, who manages to turn a caricature into a person), though he has central-character potential; not the lovesick receptionist or the vapid middle manager she fancies. Everyone deserves better material, including the audience. Through February 20.
The critics enthuse about extraordinary acting by Mary Ann Thebus and Kate Fry in the final production at Writers’ ancestral home at the back of the bookstore, and then talk about all the bricks-and-mortar action in the theater community: new homes not only for Writers but for Northlight, TimeLine, Griffin.
and Jonathan relates a Miller anecdote in honor of the playwright’s 100th birthday.
Plus, J. and K. describe the current building boom: new space for the Goodman’s educational programs, for Steppenwolf, for Writers Theater, even for tiny Factory Theater. Strawdog may be compelled to move, TimeLine hopes to move, the Actors’ Gym expands into the old Next Theatre, and the last one standing when the music stops is–probably wise.
Politics and playwriting: we cross swords over two of Richard Nelson’s works, playing in rotating rep at Timeline—That Hopey Changey Thing and Sorry. Plus, Jonathan recommends The Trial of Moses Fleetwood Walker at Black Ensemble Theatre and Kelly recommends Softly Blue at MPAACT.
Tim Parker and Owais Ahmed in First Floor Theater’s production of THE RECKONING OF KIT AND LITTLE BOOTS by Nat Cassidy, directed by Gus Menary. Photo by Sid Branca.
The Reckoning of Kit and Little Boots, First Floor Theater. The “Kit” in Nat Cassidy’s play is Christopher Marlowe, here haunted by the emperor Caligula, whose moniker (who knew?) means “Little Boots.” In sharp comic exchanges punctuated by violence, these two characters (and other Caesars and Elizabethan playwrights) explore the use and abuse of power, the necessary but despised role of the spy, and the challenge of writing simultaneously for one’s own time and for the ages. Director Gus Menary brings out the best in all the performers, but Owais Ahmed as Kit, Tim Parker as Caligula and Alfred Thomas as spymaster Francis Walsingham have particular depth and breadth. A production both intellectual and visceral, whereas so often we have to choose one or the other. Through March 2 at the Den Theatre on Milwaukee Avenue in Bucktown.
(Leah Frires, Sam Hubbard, Martha Reddick and Lindsay Tornquist in The Playboy of the Western World at Raven Theatre)
The Playboy of the Western World, Raven Theatre. Director Michael Menendian pulls out all the stops in Raven’s lively production of the Synge classic about a drifter lionized by a benighted Irish community because he killed his father—or did he? There’s comedy and romance and then—as seems inevitable with Irish plays—an undertone of sadness. But it doesn’t weigh down the production, invigorated as it is by David Woolley’s vigorous fight direction. And Andrei Onegin’s set—a gorgeously run-down public house—transports us to turn-of-the-[20th]-Century back-of-beyond County Mayo before anyone says a word. Through April 5 at the Raven Theatre on Clark Street in Edgewater.
The How and the Why, TimeLine Theatre. Sarah Treem’s drama is simultaneously about the competition between a pair of female scientists (a professor and a graduate student) and about the content of their dispute, namely, the impact of evolutionary biology on feminism and vice-versa. This healthy dose of intellectual content raises an otherwise pretty standard intra-gender battle into an exciting examination of what it really means to be a woman. Under Keira Fromm’s direction, Janet Ulrich Brooks gives her usual fine performance, combining strength and intelligence with a generous dose of empathy, and Elizabeth Ledo more than holds her own. Through April 6 at TimeLine on Wellington Avenue in Lakeview.
Not so much
Into the Woods, The Hypocrites. There’s nothing wrong with Geoff Button’s inventive production—at least nothing that couldn’t easily be cured—and he’s assembled a strong cast to enact his clever notions. The problem is the show itself, James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim’s ponderous retelling of fairy tales whose purpose is to bear the news that fairy tales aren’t real and life doesn’t consist of happy endings. Find me people who need to have that explained to them and I’ll send them to this show. Its excess length and over-seriousness are here exacerbated by the over-amplification of the orchestra, so the words of many songs (especially those sung by the Witch) can’t be ascertained. Or maybe that’s a blessing. Through March 30 at the Mercury Theater on Southport in Wrigleyville.
Chicago’s Golden Soul, Black Ensemble Theatre. This revival of Jackie Taylor’s jukebox musical shows the piece to be a concert rather than a play, as evidenced by the fact that no director is credited. The music, arranged and directed by Robert Reddick, is superb, as is always the case with Black Ensemble shows. And as always the text is labored and didactic. Fortunately Mark Allan Davis’s choreography is top-notch and Evelyn Danner’s costumes gorgeous and period-perfect, not an easy combination when presenting the 1970s. This show, too, is overlong, but any number of hours would be worth it for Lawrence Williams’s showstopping rendition of “Summertime.” Running in rep with The Story of Curtis Mayfield through March 29 at the BET Center on Clark Street in Uptown.
Really not at all
The Pitchfork Disney, Interrobang Productions. In one agonizing two-hour act, the characters in Philip Ridley’s pointlessly ugly play break each other’s fingers, eat cockroaches, describe cooking and eating a live garter snake, and generally make it difficult for the audience (or at least this member thereof) to keep from vomiting. The apparent purpose of all this is to demonstrate that the outside world is as terrifying and disgusting as any inside world characters can create for themselves, and vice-versa. I could have guessed that. Through March 2 at the Athenaeum on Southport in Lakeview; if you hurry you can miss it.
Ned Weeks (David Cromer, left) comforts his dying lover Felix Turner (Patrick Andrews) in TimeLine Theatre’s production of THE NORMAL HEART by Larry Kramer, directed by Nick Bowling, presented at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, October 26 – December 22, 2013. Photo by Lara Goetsch.
J. and K. consider whether a play about the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s has any remaining resonance in the early 20-teens. Then K. recommends When Good Broccoli Goes Bad, a musical for children and their parents playing at the DuSable Museum for one public performance only: 3 pm Sunday 11/17.