Wednesday Wordplay – Oprah and South Park

Inspirational Quotes

It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.
            — Charles Darwin

We cannot really love anybody with whom we never laugh.
            — Agnes Repplier, Americans and Others, 1912

I love life…Yeah, I’m sad, but at the same time, I’m really happy that something could make me feel that sad. It’s like…It makes me feel alive, you know. It makes me feel human. The only way I could feel this sad now is if I felt something really good before. So I have to take the bad with the good. So I guess what I’m feeling is like a beautiful sadness.
            — Trey Parker and Matt Stone, South Park, Raisins, 2003

There’s no easy way out. If there were, I would have bought it. And believe me, it would be one of my favorite things!
            — Oprah Winfrey, O Magazine, February 2005

People who are ‘ready’ give off a different vibe than people who aren’t. Animals can smell fear; maybe that’s it. The minute you become ready is the the minute you stop dreaming. Suddenly it’s no longer about ‘becoming’. Suddenly it’s about ‘doing’.
            — Hugh Macleod, How To Be Creative

The moment we begin to fear the opinions of others and hesitate to tell the truth that is in us, and from motives of policy are silent when we should speak, the divine floods of light and life no longer flow into our souls.
            — Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1890

If you would be wealthy, think of saving as well as getting.
            — Benjamin Franklin

God doesn’t require us to succeed; he only requires that you try.
            — Mother Teresa

To fulfill a dream, to be allowed to sweat over lonely labor, to be given the chance to create, is the meat and potatoes of life. The money is the gravy. As everyone else, I love to dunk my crust in it. But alone, it is not a diet designed to keep body and soul together.
            — Bette Davis, The Lonely Life, 1962

If you would be pungent, be brief; for it is with words as with sunbeams – the more they are condensed, the deeper they burn.
            — Robert Southey

If you limit your choices only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is a compromise.
            — Robert Fritz

 

 

Urban Dictionary

Aside: Working at Northwestern University, I know all about this phenomenon. 

college morning

(noun) 1. Afternoon.

College Student A: "I don’t have the money right now, can I pay you back tomorrow?"
College Student B: "Sure, just come by tomorrow morning."
College Student A: "Okay!"
THE NEXT DAY, 9 AM
College Student A: "Hey, I have your money!"
College Student B: (waking up) "Goddamn it, I meant COLLEGE MORNING."

REVIEW: Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind (Neo-Futurists)

21-Year old show is still as fresh as ever

 

20thtml

 
Neo-Futurists present
 
Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind
 
at The Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland (map)
Open Run (more info)

reviewed by Keith Ecker 

Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind is more than just a series of 30 plays in 60 minutes. It’s also more than Chicago’s longest running production, celebrating its 21st anniversary in late 2009. Too Much Light is a complete and utter oddity.

new jump What other show can consistently sell out every performance to an audience that would properly be characterized as non-theatergoing? At the performance I saw, there were a motley assortment of college students, teenagers and sweatpants-clad parents. It looked a lot more like the type of crowd you’d see lining up for the most recent Hollywood blockbuster than a trip down a surrealist, dada rabbit hole.

But the throngs of people do come, and what they witness is one of the most out there and experimental shows in the city. And what’s even more remarkable is that they thoroughly enjoy it.

Maybe it has to do with the fact that the show is much more than a show. It is an ideology as well. Neo-Futurism is a contemporary style modeled after the Italian Futurists. These Futurists worked in all sorts of media from painting to music to theatre. In the same vein as Dadaism, Futurism sought to be the anti-art, casting off the shackles of the past to welcome a new aesthetic that looked toward the future, taking influences from technology and industry.

Although Neo-Futurism doesn’t seem to take itself as seriously as some of its Italian forbearers, it still retains its absurdist bent and deeply personal expression. In fact, a tenant of Too Much Light is that everything the audience witnesses is real. Every actor plays himself and only himself and all scenes are set in the very theater on the very stage where the actors are performing.

The show is chockfull of gimmicks, many of which are interactive, which gives it its high energy and spontaneity. To enter the theater, each audience member must roll a die. Add nine to the die roll, and that’s what you pay. As you enter, you’re asked your name by a performer who completely ignores your answer and scribbles a random word on a nametag, which you must wear throughout the duration of the show. (My name was “inning.”)

A clothesline hangs from the ceiling above the stage. Hanging from the line are 30 sheets of paper, each labeled with a number. Audience members are handed a “menu” of plays, each written by and to be performed by the cast. The audience is instructed to shout out a number at the end of a scene. Whatever number is heard first is the next play that is performed. A timer on the wall ticks away for an hour. The goal is to complete all 30 pieces before the alarm sounds.

Each week some old sketches are slotted out and new plays are written. After about a month, all old scenes have cycled out of the menu and a completely new show is staged.

 

cell phones
Burmester cat new jump psycho

There is a lot of expectation for Too Much Light to be a comedy. And at times it does deliver the funny. For example, one play titled “Curtains: The NeoFuturist Mascot” featured a competition to pick a mascot for the show. A boy from the audience was chosen and so the performers dressed him up with a cape, a fuzzy tail and a cardboard box decorated like a cow’s head.

Yet, this is not iO or Second City. The aim of the Neo-Futurists isn’t to showcase a series of knee-slapping sketches. It’s pure artistic expression, a sort of mental and emotional purging for the performers that, quite often, resonates in some way with the audience. Whether this resonance is characterized by laughter or a somber silence depends on the scene. But there are typically plenty of both in a Too Much Light….. show.

And maybe that’s the appeal. Where else in Chicago can you see a crazy whirlwind of a show that makes you laugh, think, reflect and, at times, get all misty eyed? It’s a rollercoaster experience, and hopefully this ride will keep rumbling for years to come.

 
Rating: ★★★★
     

Logistics
All shows will be performed at The Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland @ Foster. Click here for directions and a map. Tickets are $9 + the roll of a single six-sided die ($10 – $15, depending on your luck!)

Showtimes
Friday nights at 11:30pm (doors open at 11:00), Saturday nights at 11:30pm (doors open at 11:00), Sunday nights at 7:00pm (doors open at 6:30), 50 weeks a year! (We take off the very last two weekends of December each year.)
No reservations are accepted.  Heard about the big line that forms to get into TML, click here for Tips and FAQs on how to get into the show. Wanna volunteer for TML (and see the show for free)? Click here.

               

REVIEW: The Twins Would Like to Say (Dog & Pony Theatre)

The curious case of Jennifer and June

 

pop-up-book

 
Dog & Pony Theatre presents:
 
The Twins Would Like to Say
 
Written and directed by Devon de Mayo and Seth Bockley
Steppenwolf Garage Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted (map)
through April 25th (more info)

reviewed by Catey Sullivan 

Note: This review was originally published on March 1 on Chicago Examiner.com

Just like the titular twins, you can’t escape mirror images in The Twins Would Like to Say. With Dog & Pony’s innovative examination of the curious case of June and Jennifer Gibbons, ever-shifting halls of mirrors offer both literal reflections of the twins’ lives and a metaphor for them.

twins-and-dadWritten and directed by Devon de Mayo and Seth Bockley, the staging for the Steppenwolf Theatre’s Garage Rep series was inspired by the Gibbons twins, born in 1963. As children, the pair made a pact to do everything in absolute unison, and to speak with no one but each other. Extraordinarily, they succeeded for 20 years, all but entirely silent outside the confines of their bedroom, despite the frustrated efforts of their parents and a cadre of psychiatrists who remained utterly stumped. When separated, the twins became catatonic.

Their lives are whitewashed a bit here – June and Jennifer’s lengthy criminal records, tragic incarceration and Jennifer’s early death are glossed over in a dreamscape of stylized movement. Yet from the lookalike parrot puppets that open the show to the two simultaneously played sorrowful scenes that end it, The Twins Would Like to Say is cryptic, playful and innovative.  

Bockley’s deft at intermingling sadness, beauty and sound (if you saw Boneyard Prayer, you don’t need us to tell you that). de Mayo’s ability to configure a story into non-linear, non-traditional formats received a well-deserved and high-powered spotlight  with Dog and Pony’s The Vivian Girls, which she devised and directed. Together, the pair constitutes a dream team of unexpected storytelling.

The Twins Would LIke to Say is theater as a tumble down the rabbit hole and into an ever-shifting funhouse maze where reality is warped and the line separating fantasy from reality is fluid. By using a promenade staging, Bockley and de Mayo ensure the audience is an active part of the story –  Rather than sit back and watch as they might with traditional stagings, ticket holders have to participate, moving from room to room as the scenes progress.

The audience’s entrée through the lookingglass is Mr. Nobody (Nick Leininger, a winning mix of the sinister and the sympathetic ), who ushers the audience behind a curtain with the flourish of a side-show huckster keen to have the audience to learn about some strange unknown world rather than just gawk at it.

twins1 doc-office-vertical-1
publisher-letters twins2

The first visual we get of June (Paige Collins) and Jennifer (Ashleigh LaThrop) is both spooky and enthralling. Standing stock still at the dead end of a long hall, the girls stare out with dead eyes, an adolescent vision of those twins from the Overlook Hotel in “The Shining.” 

The promenade structure isn’t without drawbacks. Among them: You’d have to see the piece at least twice to take in it all in. See it only once, and you’re forced to choose between scenes. Eavesdrop on the twins’ psychologist (Kasey Foster) trying to make sense of their behavior, and you become keenly aware that you’re missing what’s going on elsewhere, as dialogue floats in from some unseen periphery. No matter how deft the performances or compelling the action, you’re often left wondering if you’ve made the right choice – and if something more interesting is going on just around the corner.

That shortcoming is especially evident in the final scene, when the audience is split in half and divided by an opaque black curtain. Too say that missing half of the piece’s conclusion is immensely frustrating is an understatement.

That aside, the performances in The Twins Would Like to Say are marvelous, cryptic, playful depictions of people living in a world that’s half stylized fantasy and half brutal reality.

Collins and Ashleigh are wonderful, giggling and whispering in their room like teenage girls the world over up; silent, sullen and above all fearful whenever they’re forced to contend with the outside world. As their taunting, eerie classmates Kathryn Hribar and Teeny Lamothe are cruel and typical teens, shrill voices and nasal giggles evoking a thousand mean girls nightmares. (In real life, Jennifer and June were bullied so badly, their school allowed them to leave 5 minutes early, so as to get a head start on the kids who wanted to beat them up.)

As the twins mother Gloria, Millie Langford is the kind, patient, enabling opposite of the twins father Aubrey (Brandon Boler), whose tough love cruelty results in a cacophony of torment when the twins are forcibly separated.

separation

To depict the intricate fantasies that June and Jennifer spun by filling journals full of elaborate fictions, de Mayo and Bockley stage plays-within-the-play, bringing the pulp fiction storylines and outrageous sexuality of  such dubious works as  “The Pepsi Cola Addict” and “Discomania” (Dan Stermer’s disco choreographer is absolutely delicious). Andrea Everman’s shadow puppets also make the twins’ stories pop with vibrance. All seen in silhouette, a snarling dog, a dying boy and a bereaved father takes on emotional resonance rich in childlike poignance.

The Gibbons lives are by no means completely rendered here, but that hardly matters. What we do get in the 60-minute production is a chance to enter an alternate universe of intricate storytelling.

 
Rating: ★★★½
 

The Twins Would Like to Say  runs through April 25 in the Steppenwolf Garage, 1624 N. Halsted.  Tickets are $20, $12 students and pay-what-you-can Wednesdays. A three-play pass to the Garage Rep series also including XIII Pocket’s Adore (our review ★★½) and Pavement Group’s punkplay (our review ★★★) is $45. For a performance schedule and ticket information, click here or go to http://www.steppenwolf.org.

 

 

Continue reading

Theater Thursday: Les Liaisons Dangereuses

Thursday, April 8

Les Liaisons Dangereuses – by Christopher Hampton

Remy Bumppo Theatre 

at the Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)

 

remybumppo les liaisonsJoin Remy Bumppo for a pre-show soiree with the director and members of the Liaisons cast while you enjoy champagne, appetizers and music with a French accent. Christopher Hampton‘s sizzling play of seduction, treachery and betrayal is set in the salons and boudoirs of pre-Revolutionary Paris. This production contains some nudity.

 

Read our rave review here★★★★

Event begins at 6:30 p.m. Show begins at 7:30 p.m.

TICKETS ONLY $30 

For reservations call 773.404.7336 and mention "Theater Thursdays."

Sunday Night Sondheim: Everybody Says Don’t

Here’s 2 separate versions of Stephen Sondheim’s “Everybody Says Don’t” from Anyone Can Whistle.

 

 

Regine Velasquez sings “Everybody Says Don’t”

 


 

Lea Salonga also sings “Everybody Says Don’t”

REVIEW: The Crucible (Infamous Commonwealth Theatre)

Minimalist “Crucible” finds hope amid darkened righteousness.

 

Crucible1

 
Infamous Commonwealth Theatre presents:
 
The Crucible
 
by Arthur Miller
directed by
Chris Maher
at
Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark (map)
through April 25th (more info)

reviewed by Ian Epstein 

The intriguing thing about a good production of Arthur Miller‘s The Crucible – and Infamous Commonwealth‘s definitely falls in this category –  is how distant it feels from the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) that was so infamously intertwined and on Miller’s mind as impetus for this composition.

The Crucible tells the tale of the Salem witch trials, an historical event that took place in Massachusetts back in the days of Puritan Theocracy (circa 1690).  Tituba (Adrian Snow), a slave from Barbados, and a bunch of goodly Puritan girls are caught dancing in the woods – at the time, some are even allegedly naked. And since Puritan foulplay of any sort is rewritten as Satanic rite, the whispers reverberating through Salem are about much more than a little naked dancing in the woods.

Abbigal Williams (Elaine Ivy Harris) and John Procter (Craig C. Thompson) -Infamous Commonwealth TheatreNumerous accusations begin to fly that girls have even been consorting with the Devil himself.  There are some murmurs that say Abigail Williams (Elaine Ivy Harris) did it.  Or was it the Reverend Parris’s daughter Betty (Glynis Gilio), as others say?  No, they insist, contradicting and indicting one another in a back and forth game of guilt and blame:  it was this girl and not that one, or it was Goodie Proctor (Jennifer Matthews) leading them all to the Devil! 

The accusations babble as sourceless and incoherent as a Massachusetts brook.  Townspersons accuse each other of increasingly sinful behavior, eventually metastasizing from the realm of the accused adolescent girls to grown women and eventually to the men as well.  Before long the small New England town appeals to an out-of-town minister to bring some order and some God to the whole mess – but it only gets muddier, further from the event and any sensible resolution.

As the play’s four Acts (though there’s only one intermission) unfold, the audience watches this small New England town shred itself, its children, its ministers, even the rule of law in hot pursuit of the Devil’s involvement, if any, in civic affairs.  The action moves from a villager’s home to the courtroom and then the prison at dawn on a day scheduled thick with hangings for witchcraft. Nick Rastenis‘ spare, white, post-and-beam, wood-colored set makes movement from one setting to another an effortless rearrangement of bodies on stage, and perhaps a table or a chair.  Rachel M. Sypniewski‘s costumes match the barren quality of Rastenis’ set, making it clear that Crucible-Prepress-Cropped-sThe Crucible is a kind of minimal costume drama; it’s a period piece where bare white walls and exposed wood beams do wonders. 

The minimal quality of the set and the dire consequences of being accused of witchcraft render Stephen Dunn‘s flamboyant gesticulations as Reverend Parris a little too sticky on stage – they tangle up the audience’s attention, making them question his character, and not listen to Reverend Parris’s doublespeak.  Perhaps this is the one instance where Director Chris Maher has pushed too hard – as otherwise the actors successfully achieve and maintain a nearly manic pace and pitch that keeps all four acts clipping along at a pace that makes the piece a borderline thriller – no small accomplishment for a piece where the characters are all too busy attempting to outdo each other’s rhetoric with brimstone polemics on the floor of a courtroom.

 
Rating: ★★★
 

Extra Credit

Continue reading

REVIEW: Beauty and the Beast (Broadway in Chicago)

A fractured fairytale

 

Liz Shivener - captioned

 

 
Broadway in Chicago presents:
 
Beauty and the Beast
 
book by Linda Woolverton
music/lyrics by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman
directed by Rob Roth
Cadillac Palace Theatre, 151 W. Randolph (map)
through April 4th (more info | tickets)

reviewed by Keith Ecker 

Disney’s musical Beauty and the Beast may be a tale as old as time, but time has definitely taken its toll.

The current touring production, which is making a brief stop at the Cadillac Palace Theatre, comes across as, well, amateurish. Riddled with technical problems, it appears Disney isn’t even trying to spice up its usual schlock before serving it up to eager audiences.

Liz Shivener and Justin Glaser The musical follows closely to the animated feature’s plot. Belle (Liz Shivener) is the most beautiful girl in the village. Not so bad, right? The problem is she’s an oddball because she has an active imagination and enjoys getting lost in a good book. It doesn’t help that her father Maurice (Christopher Spencer) is an eccentric inventor.

The dashing yet brutish and egocentric Gaston (Nathaniel Hackman) has a thing for the lovely Belle. The only problem is that his extreme hubris is a huge turnoff to the lass, which only fuels the fire in Gaston’s heart even more.

One day, father/inventor Maurice ventures out into the woods where he is attacked by wolves (made possible through some fairly frightening puppetry, so frightening in fact that it terrified the little girl sitting in front of me to the point that she and her mother had to leave the theater). The old man seeks shelter in a castle, which unbeknownst to him is inhabited by a bunch of talking appliances and a Beast (Justin Glaser).

We all know where the story goes from here. The Beast makes a trade—Maurice for Belle. Slowly but surely the two opposites attract and lo and behold the magic spell that has been cast over the kingdom is finally lifted.

The only significant plot difference in the musical is that more attention is paid to the castle’s ensemble, which includes Cogsworth the clock (Keith Kirkwood), Lumiere the candelabra (Merritt David Janes) and Mrs. Potts the teapot (Sabina Petra, whose British accent is all over the U.K. map). In this version, the servants are slowly transforming into these objects, upping the stakes for the Beast to break the spell sooner rather than later.

Throughout the entire show, from the beginning to the end, there were issues with performers’ microphones. Cracks and pops would occasionally drown out dialogue or interrupt a melody. Normally I wouldn’t put so much weight on a technical issue like this, but it was never resolved throughout the two-hour musical. In addition, whereas most audiences might not notice if a microphone is temporarily tuned down too low, people sitting around me began to moan and groan with the more rustling and crackling we had to endure.

There was also a faulty light cue (Spoiler alert for anyone not familiar with the story.) The musical handles Gaston’s death in the most G-rated manner possible. It only alludes to him falling by showing him teetering over the ledge of a balcony. My assumption is that the lights are supposed to go down at the moment right before we see him fall. When I saw it, Gaston regained his footing, stared blankly out at the audience and then the lights went down.

Liz Shivener and Justin Glaser 2 Merritt David Janes - captioned

The actors were all decent, but there were no showstoppers. However, there were some impressive acrobatics, especially from Michael Fatica, who played Gaston’s right-hand man Lefou.

For a musical, there seemed to be a dearth of big numbers throughout the first part of the show. You would think that the opener “Bonjour” would be high energy, but, despite involving the whole cast, it seemed much less lively than the cartoon. The standout song was by far “Be Our Guest,” which was truly a spectacle, complete with dancing plates and forks and a tumbling rug. One of the other big numbers, “Gaston” was a miscalculated headache thanks to the incorporation of clinking metal steins into the choreography.

Small children who are fans of the cartoon will probably enjoy the show, granted they aren’t scared of some of the darker scenes, including the stabbing of the Beast. It may instead be the adults who are squirming in their seats, wishing they had just rented the cartoon instead.

 
Rating: ★★
 

Nathaniel Hackmann - captioned