No Home for Bees–20% Theater Company (7/27/18)

Several years back, I had a few encounters with a local politician who was aligning himself with schools. I missed the scandal that followed and did not discover until years later (via a newspaper article) that he had been arrested for crimes related to child pornography – the evidence included thousands of photos on his work computer. He had been diagnosed with cancer prior to the scandal, and he died under house arrest not long after. This incident shook me in the way that was maybe similar to how America reacted to the disgrace of Jared Fogel, the former Subway pitchman.

No Home for Bees, which was performed in workshop by 20% Theater Company, features an extraordinary script by Emily Dendinger. This five-actor character study asks poignant questions regarding a topic that is so disturbing that we do not yet have the right vocabulary to discuss it.

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Raymond Hutchison (Hal) & Cedar Larson (Suz)

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No Home for Bees–20% Theater Company (7/27/18)

Macbeth—Chicago Shakespeare (6/6/2018)

Chicago Shakespeare’s previous full staging of Macbeth back in January of 2009 was set in a warzone. The characters donned combat fatigues and crew cuts (I never could quite distinguish one character from another), and in one scene music blared as Mike Nusbuum c-sectioned a baby boy from a woman’s body. It was memorable and ambitious, but not particularly fun.

In comparison, the company’s newest Macbeth is set in a virtual magic forest, where the whims of men and women are controlled as much by their surroundings as by free will. Directed by Aaron Posner and Teller, this production does not contain the sheer number of illusions that were seen in The Tempest (their 2015 collaboration), but they still manage to make this tragedy more magical than horrific—a fitting interpretation for Shakespeare’s bloodiest play.

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Ian Merrill Peakes

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Macbeth—Chicago Shakespeare (6/6/2018)

Year in Review – 2017’s Best Non-Muscials

#1. Gloria – Goodman Theater

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Jeanine Serralles and Ryan Spahn

With just six actors (each playing multiple roles), Gloria creates a panoramic of the modern workplace complete with winners, losers, and those stuck in between. Branden Jacob-Jenkins’s script ends the first act with the only scene of the year that literally left me shaking in my seat—so much so that I found myself purchasing the last ticket in the house for Gloria‘s last performance so I could take it all in a second time.

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Year in Review – 2017’s Best Non-Muscials

Sweeney Todd—Paramount (3/3/2017)

Quentin Tarantino and Stephen Sondheim. An unlikely pairing, yet appropriate considering both artists’ pinnacle accomplishments are tales of violent, bloody revenge.

Tarantino spoke to me on the commentary track of Kill Bill when he said that revenge was the only motivation necessary for a movie—in the case of Kill Bill, two brilliant movies clocking in at over four combined hours.

This being a theater blog, my focus is Sweeney Todd, recently revived in a stellar production at Aurora’s Paramount Theater. Is Sweeney Sondheim’s best work? For most of my life I would have said Into the Woods, a soundtrack I learned by heart after my first viewing at the Marriott in 1990. Sweeney, in contrast, has never been a musical that I could sing along with, but with each successive viewing I am increasingly mesmerized by Sweeney’s plight.

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Paul-Jordan Jansen

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Sweeney Todd—Paramount (3/3/2017)

The Scene – Writer’s Theater (3/30/17)

In a four-character show like The Scene, usually each character will have his/her moment in the spotlight. That spotlight might include an extensive monologue or a critical decision which not only changes the direction of the plot but also explores his/her depth as a character. One character might start as the villain and another as the most sympathetic character, but those perceptions will shift as the show progresses. Above all else, the playwright tries to introduce us to complex, realistic people; then the playwright allows the fireworks to explode as the characters interact in different pairings.

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Deanna Myers, Mark L. Montgomery and La Shawn Banks

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The Scene – Writer’s Theater (3/30/17)

Love’s Labor’s Lost—Chicago Shakespeare (2/18/17)

Love’s Labor’s Lost has held a mythical place in my memory for the past 25 years—in large part because it was the first Shakespearean play I saw produced professionally.

I was 13, and my family drove to Stratford, Canada, to take in three shows at the annual theater festival. Our docket included Romeo and Juliet and HMS Pinafore, but the show I was most excited about was Love’s Labor’s Lost. The plot line (as described in festival’s brochure) was so intriguing. Four friends (including a King) swear off women and all other pleasures of life for three years so they can isolate themselves in study… only to have four women (including the Princess of France) show up at their door on the first night of their pact.

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Madison Niederhauser, Nate Burger, John Tufts & Julian Hester

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Love’s Labor’s Lost—Chicago Shakespeare (2/18/17)

Gloria—Goodman (1/25/17)

We can all scratch “Get a job in the publishing industry” off of our list of life goals.

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ Gloria begins at an unnamed New York magazine, and as usual the Goodman sets tell a story of their own. A pod of four cubicles sits center stage surrounded by offices isolated by closed doors and fogged glass. The offices belong to the editors; the cubicles belong to their assistants. The message is clear—privacy is one component of status.

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(left to right) Kyle Beltran, Ryan Spahn, Catherine Combs and Jennifer Kim

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Gloria—Goodman (1/25/17)