Sad Songs for Bad People: A Puppet Play — Rough House (11/21/15)

Kevin Clash, the puppeteer behind Sesame Street’s Elmo, stated in a Nightline interview that children are not surprised to see a large man in his 50’s standing behind his creation, moving his mouth in sync with Elmo.  “They don’t look at me,” he says.

Rough House, a company specializing in using puppetry to create unique theatrical experiences, builds upon the same phenomenon throughout their original show Sad Songs for Bad People: A Puppet Play.  From the start of the first musical number—the betrayed-lover-turned-murderer ballad “Delilah”—eyes are glued to a felt-faced lounge singer narrating his tale beside a screen where silhouette puppets present the action.  Watching the actors is fun, but the focus always shifts back to the life that they bring to each puppet through choreographed movement.

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Kay Kron, Maddy Low and Claire Saxe use humanette puppets for the “Teen Tragedies” compilation. Puppets designed by Grace Needlman and Cammi Upton.

Sad Songs for Bad People, featuring puppet design and direction by Mike Olean, delivers on its promise for a night of music, puppets, and murder.  The nine songs presented by the cast of six musicians and puppeteers are stitched together by connections to death, each involving a very different visual experience.
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Sad Songs for Bad People: A Puppet Play — Rough House (11/21/15)

East of Eden — Steppenwolf Theater (11/13/15)

Frank Galati’s adaptation of John Steinbeck’s East of Eden is a four-character affair.  Yes, the play includes six additional actors performing 10 additional roles, but the spotlight stays focused on the dysfunctional Trask family and their biblical fall from grace.

East of Eden
Adam (Tim Hopper) will soon learn that he is powerless to stop Cathy (Kate Arrington) from leaving.

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East of Eden — Steppenwolf Theater (11/13/15)

Mama Mia — Cadillac Palace (11/11/15)

It was the spring of 2000 in not-so-swingin’ London.

MTV UK was alternating between Madonna’s shortened version of “American Pie” and Brittney Spear’s “Oops.. I Did It Again.”  The Millennium Wheel (also called The London Eye) had just started to operate.  And… Mamma Mia was a blistering hot theater ticket.

Capitalizing on the success of the ABBA Gold album throughout the UK, producers hit the jackpot by combining energized dance numbers, a crowd-pleasing story, and songs that will rattle in a person’s head for weeks.

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“Super Trooper” remains a show highlight.  With Laura Michelle Hughes, Erin Fish and Sarah Smith.

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Mama Mia — Cadillac Palace (11/11/15)

Pocatello — Griffin Theater (11/7/15)

In the past five years, playwright Samuel Hunter has graced the stage with two fascinating products of American society—Charlie from The Whale and Eddie from Pocatello.  While Charlie is literally trapped in his home due to weighing 450 pounds, Eddie is just as isolated by his lack of emotional connections.

Eddie (Michael McKeogh) is the manager of an Italian chain restaurant where the waiters provide unlimited breadsticks and sing a specialized version of happy birthday.  The dining room of this restaurant—complete with a crackling speaker looping “Italian” melodies—serves as the center for the play’s action and as the center for Eddie’s need to feel important.

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Pocatello — Griffin Theater (11/7/15)

1984 — Steppenwolf Theater (10/31/15)

Fortunately I am allowed more than six words for “good” when writing about 1984, which returned to Chicago at Steppenwolf’s upstairs theater after an original production at Lookingglass in 2004.  Andrew White’s adaptation begins with characters systematically reworking the dictionary to make less room for originality in thought.  The correct words to describe this production would be “double-plus good” except in this dystopian world reviewing a theater show would be a “thought crime.”

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Castmembers Tyrone Phillips, Elizabeth Birnkrant, Adam Poss and Dennis Grimes.  Projection design by Joseph A. Burke.

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1984 — Steppenwolf Theater (10/31/15)

The Tempest — Chicago Shakespeare Theater (10/28/15)

The most memorizing moment in Chicago Shakespeare’s production of The Tempest is not based on slight-of-hand or misdirection or characters appearing out of thin air and then disappearing just as quickly.  These moments are spectacular, particularly from my “ringside” seat two feet below the action, but the greatest moment involves Larry Yando’s Prospero owning one of Shakespeare’s great monologues halfway through the final act.

The Tempest

 

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The Tempest — Chicago Shakespeare Theater (10/28/15)