REVIEW: Steel Magnolias (Hubris Productions)

Hubris production could use a touch-up

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Hubris Productions present
  
Steel Magnolias
   
Written by Robert Harling
Directed by
Lavina Jadhwani
At
Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
Through July 31  | 
tickets: $25  | more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

steel magnolias_005The 1989 film version of Robert Harling’s Steel Magnolias is one of the definitive chick flicks of all time: empowering, hilarious, emotionally devastating, and featuring one of the best female ensembles ever assembled on screen. Harling’s characters are southern women bursting at the seams with charisma, and they require the  larger-than-life personalities of a Dolly Parton or Shirley Maclaine to make their struggles spectacular. Directed by Lavina Jadhwani, the actors of Hubris’s Steel Magnolias lack the energy that makes these characters enthralling, resulting in a plodding production that never makes it to the emotional heights that the script has become known for.

Harling’s play depicts the key moments of diabetic Shelby’s (Sara Pavlak) adulthood – her wedding, pregnancy, motherhood, etc. – and how these events affect her mother M’Lynn (Stephanie Wooten-Austin) and other women of Chinquapin, Louisiana: salon owner Truvy (Calidonia Olivares), sardonic widow Clairee (Sharon Roseri), eccentric curmudgeon Ouiser (Lorraine Freund), and new girl Annelle (Jessica Maynard). In Truvy’s salon, these six women argue about wedding colors, gossip about local ladies, and experience the occasional breakdown in an environment free of testosterone. On paper, the generations-spanning assortment of personalities should be quite entertaining, but the potential of the characters isn’t reached by the ensemble.

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From the very opening scene it is obvious that Steel Magnolias needs a lot of fine-tuning: the actors stumble over lines, the comedy revolves too heavily on gags (Annelle drops things! A lot!), and Truvy’s hair is way too flat. That last one is just mind-boggling, as big hair should be at the top of any designer’s checklist for this show. As the production continues, the lack of chemistry between the actors makes it apparent that there is still much character work to be done, starting with a much needed jolt of electricity to the dull performances.

   
   
Rating:★★
   
   

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Theater Thursday: The Tallest Man – Artistic Home

Thursday, July 1st

The Tallest Man by Jim Lynch

The Artistic Home, 3914 N. Clark (map)

    

tallest manCome before the show to enjoy a pint of Murphy’s Stout and live Irish music with playwright Jim Lynch. Then stay for the show the Sun-Times has called "forged in the tradition of such grand Irish writers as Synge and O’Casey" and the Tribune called "delivered with such a wry topspin" and the Reader said was delivered with "raucous zeal". After the show, stay for an opportunity to chat with the playwright, director John Mossman, and actors about the world premiere of this charming play.

The Tallest Man (our review ★★★) is a wildly hilarious celebration of perseverance in turn of the century Ireland. It begins as a ghost story, but draws its power from the very real problems of the living. Culled from a childhood nourished by tales of Irish fantasy, this world premiere tells of hardscrabble survivors in County Mayo, a high-spirited young tinker struggling to stay one step ahead of the English landlords, and corrupt clergy and vengeful locals filled with prejudice and superstition. A charming and delightful classic, told for the very first time!

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

Tickets: $25

For reservations call 866-811-4111

   
   

REVIEW: Mami, Where’d My O Go? (at Lifeline Theatre)

Pull Your Sexuality Out of the Swamp in One Easy Spell

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t & t Productions presents
   
Mami, Where’d My O Go?
   
Written and Performed by Tosha Fowler
Directed by
Victoria (toy) Delorio
at
Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood (map)
through July 21st  | 
tickets: $13-$18  |  more info

reviewed by Paige Listerud

Tosha Fowler’s autobiographical one-woman show, Mami, Where’d My O Go?, is billed as a saucy, heaping helping of Southern decadence—sexy and supernatural, as in the mode of “True Blood” and touchingly, inoffensively feminist, just like “Steel Mami-4-DeIorio Magnolias.” But one wonders if this style of advertising might just do t & t Productions’ offering at Lifeline Theatre a tremendous disservice.

Yes, it’s a comedy about a young, modern Southern woman trying to get back life’s zest, lost with her inability to orgasm for four years. Now, after failed attempts in therapy, getting her O back requires invoking the African Goddess Mami Wata back at her family home in the swamp where she grew up. Nevertheless, Fowler roots her comedy in pains that run deeper than anything “True Blood” or “Steel Magnolias” ever touches. More than sexiness or spells, this is what defines Fowler’s work and makes it a far gutsier emotional sojourn for the proper Southern lady.

Directed by Victoria (toy) Delorio, Mami, Where’d My O Go? is about loss–and we’re not just talking the pleasures of the bedroom here. Caroline, a successful young Southerner, has pulled herself out of poverty and ignorance and moved on, at least physically, from her fractured family past. However, the loss of Grandma, who raised her, unanswered questions about her father, the crucifying sadness of her mother’s unloved existence—as well as Mom’s drug-induced death–pulls Caroline back to the pain she thought she could leave behind. Fowler diffuses the heaviness of Caroline’s losses by generously buffeting them with jokes about the old Piggly Wiggly, describing her former O’s as “bustin’ can o’ bisquits orgasms,” and sagely timed humor like, “Orgasms and daddies have nothing to do with each other—or, that’s been illegal in Georgia for quite some time now.”

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The psychological bones of Fowler’s work are solid and her emotional depth in performance simply goes balls to the wall. Her invocation of Mami Wata as part of Caroline’s emotional/sexual healing is nothing less than inspired. Fowler morphs quickly and easily between Caroline, her mother, and Irma DeVoe, the neighborhood priestess who guides the proceedings, giving a variety of voices to Southern women’s experience.

Mami 2 Pub Pic- photo credit- toy DeIorio All this charmingly funny, fantastically trippy one-act needs now is a strong editorial hand. Moving from character to character, from past shame to present day emotional need, still gets a little rambling and out of control. Also, at her mother’s funeral, Caroline tries to pour her cremated ashes into the swamp, managing only to get the ash all over her and the other family mourners. While this moment may indeed be autobiographical it is also, unfortunately, one that has been beaten to death in movies and late night comedy sketches. It should either be revamped for greater originality or discarded altogether.

Fowler’s play is like many from a new generation of Southern writers: crawling tooth and nail out of dire straits, cleaning oneself up to look like the rest of us shiny, happy Americans, yet still feeling tied to the old folks at home—the old folks with all their homey, backward, cherished and toxically shameful ways. Unfortunately one really can’t go home again, especially Caroline. But hopefully some pulled chicken, greens, creamed corn, and peach ambrosia will bring on the Goddess who can both hurt and heal you.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
  
  

Mami 1 Pub Pic-photo credit- nk Mooneyham

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REVIEW: F**king Men (Bailiwick Chicago Theatre)

The Circle of Gay Life

FMen-Vanguard 

    
Bailiwick Chicago presents
   
F**king Men
   
Written by Joe DiPietro
Directed by
Tom Mullen
at
Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W. Belmont (map)
through July 25th  |  tickets: $25  |  more info

reviewed by Keith Ecker 

I don’t know if you read the papers, but us gay guys get a pretty bad rap. If we’re not contributing to the downfall of society, we’re made out to be self-loathing, sex-crazed loveless loners.

But the truth is, gay men—just like all human beings—are capable of love, and in fact, spend much of their lives, as everyone does, looking for it. And it is this search for Ryan - Beaumeaning, connection and kindness in a sea of sex that playwright Joe DiPietro attempts to illuminate in his cyclical play Fucking Men.

Fucking Men is a loose adaptation of the 19th century play La Ronde in which pairings of characters are featured in scenes preceding and succeeding sexual encounters. It’s an interesting structure—often employed as an improv comedy exercise—that lends itself to strong characterizations and oodles of dramatic irony.

The play begins and ends with John (Arthur Luis Soria), a young lovelorn prostitute. John is about to turn a trick. The trick’s name is Steve (Cameron Harms), a closeted military man who wants to receive oral sex from a man, you know, just to test it out. After the deed is done, Steve freaks out and beats up John.

Next is a silent scene in which Steve is in the gym sauna opposite Marco (Armand Fields). Steve touches his chest, signaling to Marco that he’s interested. Without saying a word, the two men fool around. Afterward, Marco continues his locker room routine: change out of clothes, pack up his bag, etc., while the closeted Steve rambles on about his sexuality and his encounter with John.

Naturally, the next scene depicts Armand with yet another character (this one a wisecracking, pot-smoking college student). And the domino effect of the La Ronde continues from there.

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The overarching theme of the play seems to be the need to inject kindness into our relationships, no matter how fleeting. It is all too easy to take advantage of others to fulfill our own selfish sexual and emotional desires. But if you come at sex with a sense of empathy, then you can be sure to limit the amount of pain you spread throughout the world and increase the love. Think of it like paying it forward…only sexually.

Some of the scenes really capture this idea. When the older and partnered Leo (Thad Anzur) enters the college dorm of Kyle (Cameron Johnson) for a random sexual encounter, he gets cold feet. Leo wants to know Kyle, to have some emotional connection prior to the physical connection. Youthful Kyle just wants sex and makes it  clear that if Leo isn’t going to give it up then he can easily get it elsewhere. The two end up chatting and finding some common ground to connect on. Leo gets the emotional connection he’s been seeking, and Kyle gets the sex.

Christian - KarmannOther scenes, however, are less believable. The opening scene in particular falls flat. When the closeted Steve gushes about his self-doubt and sexual confusion to the prostitute, I had to roll my eyes. The scene just doesn’t seem grounded in reality. A prostitute is going to know not to take on a buff, aggressive client who is deeply self-hating and fearful of gays. It’s a safety precaution. And the closeted Steve’s dialogue is riddled with more clichés than a Lifetime movie.

The other major flaw of the play is the music. Laurence Mark Wythe composed original instrumentals for Fucking Men that play as transitions between scenes as set pieces are moved and altered to create the various settings. And although the music itself is just fine, it undercuts the dramatic tension of the scenes when it is used underneath the dialogue. I’m assuming this was a decision made by director Mullen, and I would hope it is relegated only to scene transitions in future performances.

Overall, Fucking Men strikes at the core of what motivates gay men—and quite possibly everyone else too—to have sex. And although there are some weaknesses with a few of the characters whose behaviors just are beyond believable, it’s pretty easy to find traces of yourself in most of them.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   
   

fucking men cast with playwright Joe DiPietro

Cast of “F**king Men”, including Director Tom Mullen and Playwright Joe DiPietro.

           
           

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Broadway-in-Chicago free concert in Grant Park – June 28

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Free Broadway in Chicago concert at

Taste of Chicago

 

Monday, June 28th, at 6pm

Petrillo Music Shell, Grant Park (235 S. Columbus)

 

Come enjoy the best of Broadway FREE on Monday, June 28th, including performances from Billy Elliot the Musical, Shrek the Musical, Rock of Ages, Disney’s Lion King, Traces, Wicked, working, Hair, and Million Dollar Quartet.

Plus, a special onstage appearance of the Stanley Cup!

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Broadway In Chicago , in partnership with the City of Chicago and hosted by ABC7’s Janet Davies, is pleased to present the annual BROADWAY IN CHICAGO CONCERT AT TASTE OF CHICAGO, a fantastic, FREE event, featuring some of Broadway’s hottest shows during the city’s legendary Taste of Chicago festival and continues the celebration of Broadway In Chicago ’s 10 Year Anniversary.

For more information about the BROADWAY IN CHICAGO CONCERT AT TASTE, visit www.BroadwayInChicago.com.

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REVIEW: Cherrywood (Mary-Arrchie Theatre)

Party on, Dude!

 

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Mary-Arrchie Theatre presents
  
Cherrywood: The Modern Day Comparable
   
Written by Kirk Lynn
Directed by
David Cromer
at
Angel Island Theatre, 735 W. Sheridan (map)
through August 8th  |  tickets:  $13-$22  |  more info

reviewed by Katy Walsh

Fliers announce ‘Party Tonite for anyone who wants a change.’ Mary-Arrchie Theatre presents the Midwest premiere of Cherrywood: The Modern Day Comparable.  A foursome decides to host a party. They have three kinds of chips, an array of music, bottles of booze and a shots of… milk? In response to their fliers, the guests arrive and fill up the house. The usual party suspects are all present. Free loading crashers. Whiny girl. Depressed divorced guy. Unwanted neighbor. Gaggle of gals in bathroom line. P.D.A. couple on the dance floor. Hot shirtless guy. Person continually announcing ‘I’m wasted.’ Sporadic drunken wrestling. It feels, looks and sounds familiar except with a couple of twists: Somebody brought a gun. Everybody has been drinking wild wolves’ milk. People are opening boxes of their secret desires. Cherrywood: The Modern Day Comparable is a virtual reality party experience without the pressure to mingle or the aid of a cocktail.

In a large living-room-like space, the audience seats encircle the action. Closely matched in numbers, the 50+ wallflowers watch the 49 performers party. It’s such a tight fit that I needed to move my purse before a guy sat on it. Director David Cromer has gone fire-code-capacity to create an authentic party.

The proximity blurs the fourth wall completely in deciphering between the party gawkers versus goers. I consciously refrain from shouting out an answer to ‘name a good band that starts with the letter ‘A’.’ It seems like a jumbling of improv mixed in with scripted lines. Crediting playwright Kirk Lynn with some of the best lines, it’s existentialism goes rave with the ongoing philosophy ‘if you want something different, ask for it.’ Lynn writes dialogue describing cocktail banter as ‘question-answer-it-doesn’t-always-happen-like-that’ mockery. One character describes herself with ‘everything I do is a form of nodding. I want to break my neck to stop nodding.’ In a heated exchange, the neighbor jabs, ‘you remember the world? It’s the room outside the door.’ It’s genuine party chatter. Some conversations are playful. Some are deep. Some just don’t make any sense. Clusters of people are sharing philosophical drunken babble throughout the room. A gunshot brings the house of strangers together in a communal bonding alliance.

For the theatre goer looking for a break from classic plot driven shows, Cherrywood: The Modern Day Comparable is performance art. It is a ‘Party Tonite for anyone who wants a change.’ For those who wonder what Chicago actors and designers do off-season, this is an opportunity to fly-on-the-wall it. If you’ve anticipated they hang out together and party, this would be your imagined drunken haze. The who’s who of storefront theater is boozing it up. It’s a Steep, Lifeline, Dog & Pony, House, Griffin, etc. reunion bash, and man do they know how to party!

  
   
Rating: ★★★
       
    

Running Time: Ninety minutes with no intermission

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REVIEW: Lookingglass Alice (Lookingglass Theatre)

A vaudeville-circus-magic-show-theater extravaganza!

Lauren Hirte, Molly Brennan

  
Lookingglass Theatre and The Actors Gymnasium present
  
Lookingglass Alice
  
Adapted and directed by David Catlin
Adapted from the stories of
Lewis Carroll
at
Water Tower Works, 821 N. Michigan (map)
through August 1st  |  tickets: $32-$64   |  more info 

reviewed by Katy Walsh

Shoes drop, floors open, balls fly, it’s a typical vaudeville-circus-magic show-theatrical extravaganza.

Lookingglass Theatre presents Lookingglass Alice, the adaption of the classic fairytales that also gave birth to the theatre company’s name and mission – Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass”. Alice swallows a ‘Drink Me’ potion that sends her on a fantasy journey. She interacts with lookingglass-posternonsensical characters like the Red Queen, Cheshire Cat, and Mad Hatter. Unlike most childhood fable storylines, Alice isn’t looking to be rescued by a prince. She  wants to experience life, meet interesting people/talking animals and become queen. Lookingglass Alice is the perfect illustration of independent thinking for the next generation. Lookingglass Theatre imagines Alice’s adventures as a whimsical array of slapstick, aerial, hocus-pocus and dramatic spectacle.

The drama starts preshow. Upon entering the theatre, the room has been divided with a black curtain. In the middle of the curtain, it looks like a framed mirror. Upon inspection, it’s determined to be actually a window to the audience on the other side. Each side experiences a preliminary scene with either Alice or Charles Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll. The emersion of experiences happens in a black silk rippling flourish. Adaptor and director David Catlin uses multiple visual techniques to give the story a deserved quirky manifestation. Performers switch characters. Picnic baskets become doors. The audience joins the action. It’s all mirrors and illusions.

In the lead, Lauren Hirte (Alice) is petite. Hirte is believable as the precarious and defiant young girl standing up to the queen. Her childlike demeanor goes away as she balances a man on her knees and then tumbles into a series of stand-up somersaults. Knowing Hirte is actually not a kid helps when she goes aerial with some ‘does your mother know what you’re doing?’ stunts.

The entire ensemble is in sync with comedy and physicality. Molly Brennan (Red Queen and others) cuts off Alice’s “I mean to say” with a hilarious delivered, “I don’t think it’s mean to say- maybe lookingglass-molly brennan as the red queenrude. Off with her head.” Even draped in various vibrant costumes, Brennan’s facial expressions steal the comic focal point. Her interactions with Kevin Douglas (Mad Hatter and others) and Anthony Fleming (Cheshire Cat and Others) are synchronization fascination. Whether they are running across chairs or jumping on each other, their high jinx exploit the funny side of gymnastics.

Lookingglass Alice is Lookingglass Theatre’s loving, frolicking tribute to a father they never met. How inspired that it should be actualized as a family-focused showcase! The production kicks up the familiar story with imagination realization and spikes it with comedy. I prescribe that all families should swallow the ‘Drink Me’ potion and go on the fantasy journey together!

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
   

 

 

Running Time: Ninety minutes with no intermission

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