Review – "Dublin Carol" at Steppenwolf

In today’s world, replete with the such mouthpieces as Oprah and Dr. Phil, we have been directed to blame our supposed problems on others, often settling on some experience between ourselves and our parents.  Within the confines of this pop-culture psychiatry, one has to wonder – what if my problems were created by choice I made on my own?  What if I my screw-ups have no connection with whether, as a child, I was loved enough or rewarded enough or had the best Halloween costume?  Could it be that I simply made the wrong choice at the wrong time, irregardless of my past?

William Peterson plays John in Conor McPherson's "Dublin Carol" In Irish playwright Conor McPherson’s one-act “Dublin Carol“, produced by Steppenwolf Theatre, we come to grips with just these questions through the actions of John, an alcoholic Irish father (the Golden-Globe and Emmy-nominated William Peterson), living and working in a funeral home, and Mary, his estranged and stoic daughter (Nicole Wiesner), who visits her father just days before Christmas, bringing with her disturbing news that offers John a chance to escape the burdens of his past.  Rounding out this amazing ensemble is Mark, a cholerous part-time employee at the funeral home  (played by Stephen Louis Grush – who also was the lead in Steppenwolf’s recent hit Good Boys And True.  See my review here).

DublinCarol-2 Adeptly directed by the 2008 Tony-award winning Amy Morton (for her performance in August: Osage County), Morton possesses the propitious ability to mold a character’s tacit moments and halting dialogue into a complex and empathetic character.  Case in point – much of the father’s diatribes consist of rehashings of his past misfortunes.  Some directors might harness these lines to create a character suffocating with inner-shame on top of worldly resentment.  But Morton molds the father into a character that – despite his reprobate past as well as his present-day vapid existence – is wholly empathetic; holding a glimmer of optimism and appreciation. 

Kevin Depinet’s set, the father’s cluttered one-room apartment within the funeral home, is fairly nondescript, but the pallid room serves to communicate the appropriate bleakness of the characters and their lives.  Additionally, the lighting (Robert Christen) and costumes (Ana Kuzmanic) are inobtrusive and effective. 

DublinCarol-1 Most Christmas productions are uplifting and/or playful, full of holiday traditions and loving families.  Dublin Carol is none-of-the-above.  But Conor McPherson’s play encompasses much of the harsh realities many of us encounter at Christmas – family dysfunction, unspoken animosities, squashed family secrets.  When daughter Mary utters, in a throw-away manner, the line “I’m kind of an idiot in my own right”, we come around to the fact that despite our pasts, we alone are responsible for the choices we make in our adult lives. 

Dublin Carol augustly brings to life an imperfect man that, in the end, is doing the best he can in his circumstances.  Could we authentically ask for anything more? 

Rating: «««½

Stephen Louis Grush on his role of Mark in Dublin Carol.

Nicole Wiesner on her role of Mary in Dublin Carol.

 

Aside: This Chicago ticket broker offers a great selection of tickets in the city – Purchase tickets for Wicked in Chicago and nationwide theater events like Radio City Christmas Spectacular tickets – a favorite during the holiday.

"Hizzoner" announces Spring 2009 schedule

The hugely popular (and critically-acclaimed) “Hizzoner: Daley The First”, which ran for over 300-performances, will be seen again on Chicago stages this coming spring.  The producers, Gipeti Entertainment, have announced the 2009 performance schedule, including a month-long stay at the Skokie Theatre, 7924 N. Lincoln Ave., Skokie (Feb. 6 – 22, 2009) and a return to the Chicago stage at the Theatre Building, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. (April 2 – May 17, 2009). Tickets for 2009 dates are available at each box office or at hizzonertheplay.com, Skokie Theatre dates are currently on sale and Theatre Building dates go on sale Friday, Dec. 5.

This upcoming production will include many of the original performers: Neil Giuntoli, Don Schroeder, William Bullion, Nick Leininger, Diane Honeyman, Gordon Gillespie; and some new additions; Chas Vrba, Cecil Burroughs, Chuck Jacobson, Mike O’Brien.

Read our glowing review here.

Chicago Theater extensions – Steppenwolf and Lifeline

It’s always great news for the Chicago theater community as a whole when one hears that – due to popular demand – a production has been extended.  You might ask – isn’t this just good news for the specific theater company doing the extension?  I know it’s more than that – I call it the “putting-your-toe-in-the-water-syndrome”.  In other words, when new theater-goers attend a play (i.e., put their toe in the water), they usually say to themselves “I enjoyed this, and would like to do it again”.  Over the last few years (maybe 4-5 years) I’ve seen an uptick of play extensions – there must be a lot of toe-testers out there who are concluding that the water is fine, and whole-heartedly jump in the water (hopefully for multiple laps).  Point in fact:

"Dublin Carol" at Steppenwolf

 

Steppenwolf Theater has announced, even before the opening on November 6th, that Dublin Carol will now be extended past Christmas, through December 28th.  Dublin Carol, by Conor McPherson, will be directed by Amy Morton, and will feature Stephen Louis Grush, William Petersen and Nicole Wiesner.

 

 

 

"Dorian Gray" at Lifeline Theatre

"The Portrait of Dorian Gray" at Lifeline Theatre

 

 

Lifeline Theatre is extending their exciting new adaptation of Oscar Wilde’sThe Portrait of Dorian Gray a full 2 weeks, moving closing from November 8th to November 16th.  CTB gave Dorian Gray a much-deserved 4-stars (review here), so we can see why the show’s popularity has called for extra performances to be added.  Dorian Gray is adapted by Lifeline ensemble member Robert Kauzlaric, directed by Kevin Theis.  The production features Nick Vidal as Dorian Gray.

 

 

 

Congrats to both theatre companies!!!

Closing – "No Darkness…" and "Radium Girls". Don’t miss!

 By Venus Zarris

This weekend marks the closing of a couple of shows that, if you haven’t seen them yet, you should make every effort to see because they are terrific and this is your LAST CHANCE!

No Darkness Round My Stone

nodark_front-268x300 Trap Door Theatre’s brilliantly dark and atmospheric macabre masterpiece about the fate of two gravedigger brothers is a rare and unusual treat that shouldn’t be missed as well as a bizarre addition to your Halloween celebrations.

No Darkness Around My Stone is a spellbinding, poignant, chilling and profound mix of existential destitution and sweet tenderness. Do not miss this unique opportunity to experience a challenging, chilling, peculiar and incomparably haunting production.

Rating: ««««

(“No Darkness Round My Stone” runs through October 11 at Trap Door Theatre, 1655 W. Cortland Ave. 773-384-0494.)

For the full review go to

www.chicagostagereview.com

 

Radium Girls

radiumgirlsposter2-194x300 Quite simply, the Chicago premier of Radium Girls, presented by Point of Contention Theatre, raises the bar for black box theater productions. Not with dazzling effects or innovative conceptualization, but rather by doing something so simple and yet so powerfully profound. It makes you care.

This is one of those hidden treasure productions that you will be thrilled that you uncovered before the time ran out! Do not miss the opportunity to experience this deceptively spellbinding, unique and wonderful production.

 

 

Rating: ««««

(“Radium Girls” runs through October 12 at The Side Project, 1439 W. Jarvis. 630-220-0730.) *tickets ONLY $15

For the full review go to

www.chicagostagereview.com

poc_radiumgirls_pressphoto3-300x225

Also closing this weekend:

(“Weekend” runs through October 12 at TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington. 773-281-8463.)  See our review here.

– Timeline Theatre’s Chicago premiere of Gore Vidal’s political classic.

(“The Threepenny Opera” runs through October 12 at Steppenwolf Merle Reskin Garage Theatre, 1624 N. Halsted St. 312-335-1650.)

The Hypocrites’ take on the Bertolt Brecht classic.

(“The U.N. Inspector” runs through October 12 at the Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes Street, Evanston. 847-475-1875.)

– the American Premiere by Next Theatre in Evanston.

For the full reviews go to

www.chicagostagereview.com

Review – "Portrait of Dorian Gray" at Lifeline Theatre

Reviewed by Jackie Ingram

Lifeline Theatre has proven once again, “bigger is not always better.” Their small theatre has truly captured the essence of Oscar Wilde’s play with creativity, wonderful acting, and a skillfully used two-tier set that is amazing. Through the help of Basil Hailworth, Lord Henry Wotton, Alan Campbell, and the beautiful, Sibyl Vane, the play begins with all sharing their amorous feelings for the handsomely young Dorian Gray, convincingly played by Nick Vidal.

Dorian 187 LR Following the introductions, we see Basil Hailworth presenting the finished picture to Dorian who, after viewing it, falls in love with his own image. Dorian vows to sell his soul for eternal youth if only his picture would not age himself. The role of Dorian Gray might have been a daunting task for Nick Vidal and very one-dimensional, but under the great direction of Kevin Theis, you see the evil that is beginning to spew and creep out of Dorian’s face and behavior.

The ten-cast ensemble is excellent. By taking chances, the ensemble shares and entertains us with great fortitude. Don Bender, as the elder Basil, is strong and yet – when Dorian is present – converts into the shy, rambling and insecure young Basil, played by Aaron Snook. The work of these two agile performers is truly amazing. Unlike Basil, the young Lord Henry, played by Paul S. Holmquist, manipulates his way into Dorian’s life by teasing him with his biting sense of humor. The young Lord Henry is self-assured, funny, and not ashamed to voice his opinion. As the years pass, the influence of Dorian Gray seeps in, and the elder Lord Henry, played by Sean Sinitski, becomes a darker, more demure, and his biting sense of humor seems to fade. One must not forget the Sibyl Vane played by the beautiful Melissa Nedell: she commands the stage and charms our hearts with the love she holds for Dorian Gray. We see Kyle A. Gibson and John Ferrick as the younger and elder Alan Campbell. Mr. Campbell’s love never changes and he never stops wishing that one day Dorian would feel the same. We find out later that there is nothing Alan will not do for Dorian Gray. Adam Breske and David Skvaria as James Vane, younger and elder brother of Sibyl Vane, are equally scary and fantastic to watch. Whenever on stage, you can feel their anger. The entire cast and their secondary roles are truly brilliant, working as a fine-tuned machine.

Dorian Gray Twists and turns are abundant in Robert Kauzlaric’s adaptation of Portrait of Dorian Gray – and they will keep you focused on the action throughout.  Indeed, one scene even scared me! (and I don’t scare easy – though my grandkids might say otherwise!). Unfortunately I am not going to let you know what this scene is – you’ll have to see it for yourself!

But there is a haunting line in the show that I will share, “Love is truly mankind’s greatest tragedy.” What do you think? Go to the show and find out.

As a side note – I had the pleasure of speaking to a retired woman in the audience named Ms. Phyllis Trowbridge, who was friendly yet quirky, much like the gentrifying Rogers Park neighborhood surrounding the theatre.  Phyllis relayed to me that she had gone to a number of shows at Lifeline and, to quote her, “ I have not seen any bad shows here.”  I certainly must agree with Phyllis, and encourage all to support this theatrical treasure.

If you enjoy reading the works of Oscar Wilde (and even if you don’t) then this is the play for you. The Picture of Dorian Gray, showing at the Lifeline Theatre, runs through November 2nd.

Rating: ««««

 

 Dorian 1 LR

Review: "Fast Forward" by About Face Youth Theatre

By Venus Zarris

About Face Youth Theatre presents a delightful and imperative world premiere with Fast Forward. This oral history based production was two years in the making, incorporating several interviews with students, teachers and people inside and outside of the LGBTQ (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & Questioning) community. What you see creatively acted out on stage are true stories. The priorities of these stories serve to show the truth about young people’s lives, admonish the life threatening lack of sex education in the schools and combat the conditions that threaten LGBTQ youth.

About Face Youth Theatre presents their newest play, "Fast Forward"

To say that being openly gay in high school when I was a kid was unsafe would be like saying that playing Russian roulette with a loaded gun is slightly dangerous. To say that gay visibility was nonexistent would be like saying that signs of compassion in the current presidential administration are hard to come by. That is to say, these declarations are profound understatements. When I was in high school there was nothing gay in the vocabulary or on the radar. We queer kids were flying solo. And although in some places things may have improved dramatically, depending on location, time seems to be at a stand still.

Multiply the difficulties of being safely and happily ‘out’ as an adult by about 10,000 and you have the general climate that still exists for most LGBTQ kids in America. There are so many aspects of queer life that still have a long way to go before we are fully franchised but perhaps the most profound area of importance is queer youth. Contemplate the dramatic strides that the community has made in the past few decades without the aid of safe and nurturing adolescent experiences. Now try to imagine the incredible social and political growth spurt that could result from a generation of kids that wouldn’t have to live in agonizing fear.

Grant it, from that adversity has come a great deal of fortitude. But imagine what could be accomplished if the formative years of these kid’s lives were not spent surviving the intolerance. Fast Forward to what could be accomplished if the energy and personal resources spent trying to justify one’s existence as a teen could be redirected to less primal necessities. What might queer people’s lives look like now if we could have been ourselves in high school as easily and with as much social support as the straight kids?

By illustrating the struggles that still exist for LGBTQ kids today, Fast Forward presents the situation as it stands and then dares to fantasize about a future classroom where kids are safe to be who they are and where education is responsible enough to give them the critical information they need avoid the very real dangers of sexual ignorance.

*55 youth are infected with HIV everyday in the United States

*In the U.S., half of all new HIV infections are among people 25 and younger

*$1 billion was spent on Abstinence-only-until-marriage curriculum

*No federal funding exists for comprehensive sex education

*Currently, no LGBTQ youth-focused sex education exists in the United States

FAR FROM ACADEMIC, dry, or sermonizing, Fast Forward showcases the talent and enthusiasm of a dynamic young ensemble. They are fearless and dedicated storytellers who infuse the exuberance of youth into their work while taking us on several personal, poignant and playful journeys. The occasional melodrama is easily eclipsed by the humor and passion of the lovable cast. Director Paula Gilovich squeezes every drop of skill and determination out of the exceptional ensemble and supports their efforts with a first rate design team to create a show that is as entertaining as it is provocative and vital.

In a scene depicting a high school sex education class a teacher diagrams a fetus but gives no information of how the baby was conceived. Her dull delivery, coupled with the lack of relevant information, falls on deaf ears as the students zone out.

“Don’t you think that’s a little odd? That SEX education would be boring to TEENAGERS?’ Asks one intuitive youth.

The topics covered are approached from several angles, displaying a well-rounded collection of perspectives. The stories range from funny to compelling to sad to redeeming and the delivery is very impressive, especially coming from such a young cast. Their devotion to story telling, as well as the critical messages conveyed, shines through and their exhilaration is contagious. The summation Rap delivered by Pookie L. towards the end of the show is alone worth the price of admission!

Fast Forward closes by asking, “What if we were the generation to stop this?” (referring to the bigotry and ignorance that LGBTQ youth must endure) And based on the intelligence, excitement and commitment of these kids, you believe they just might succeed!

About Face Youth Theatre does the community at large a great service and creates a playfully profound and fabulously entertaining accomplishment. Fast Forward is a good time that should not be missed!

Rating:  «««½

 

(“Fast Forward” runs through August 2 at Center on Halsted, 3656 North Halsted Street. 866-811-4111)

Review – "Much Ado About Nothing" at First Folio

by Venus Zarris

The Bard verses Nature; at First Folio it is a dead heat!

I am not an outdoorsy kind of person. Given the choice between an air-conditioned theater and a summer night outside with mosquitoes buzzing in my ear, I am inclined to choose ‘civilized shelter.’ But the sweet and talented folks at First Folio Shakespeare Festival combine impressive theatrical production with breathtaking natural setting to create a perfect evening of entertaining escape.

Mayslake Peabody Estate Forest Preserve in Oak Brook.I say escape for three reasons. One, you are transported into the world of Shakespeare’s classic comedy by a completely engaging cast. Two, you are swept away by the natural wonders of the lovely Peabody Estate. And three, you are far from the hectic city limits.

But rest assured, if your ‘First Folio Get Away’ is anything like ours you will not only count your evening as one of the summer’s best but as one to be remembered for years to come. Pack a picnic, assemble your favorite cohorts and prepare to relax and enjoy.

Birds, Bats, Breezes, Fireflies and… a turtle?

We packed some delicious delicacies and subtle spirits. Anxious to indulge and imbibe, we planned to arrive a little early, the play starts at 8:15pm but the grounds open at 7pm. As we turned into the entrance I noticed something on the side of the access road. It was a turtle! Unable to climb the curb, he seemed destined for trouble so we parked and I picked him up. Turtles pee when they are scared and this guy was evidently terrified! But a quick trip to the lake behind the estate mansion and he was eagerly swimming back to safety.

(I add the little turtle aside because in my personal experience, turtles have been good luck charms and delightful omens. True to form, he foreshadowed a positively delightful night!)

We set up our picnic and were refreshed by subtle and unexpected spontaneous cool breezes. Birds playfully flew around the stage and as dusk set in the fireflies added delicate and restrained intermittent fireworks to the festivities. Paying close attention overhead, I noticed a pair of bats doing their part to keep the bug population at bay and add to the already enchanting atmosphere.

As the night progressed the moon slowly emerged from behind the treetops. Almost full, its beauty was easily underestimated but that night it was simply partial and premature sublime perfection. Its waxing excellence exceeded the drama of its pending fullness.

If there was one natural element that needed to be ‘toned down’ it was the boisterous crickets. Obviously unaware of Shakespeare’s impressive and historic theatrical reputation, they did their best to sing over the actors. Thankfully, a state of the art sound system thwarted their disrespectful efforts.

Shakespeare’s writing is so timeless that it can be delivered with bare bones or lavish production values and engage on either scale. But the added element of nature created a beguiling accent that almost threatened to usurp the already impressive theatrical offering.

Much Ado About A Lot

Before the play’s exposition even gets started we are warmed up by a brilliant fluffing from the antics of Verges, adorably played by Keland Scher. Scher has charm and sweetness galore as he juggles, flirts and clowns with the audience creating the perfect pre-show mood. Oftentimes, this sort of interactive audience participation can prove to be obnoxious, corny or embarrassing but Scher is brimming with playful talent and is as lovable as a cartoon bunny.

Bickering, blundering, deception, redemption and ultimately, after some bumbling and revelation, requited love are the forces at work in Much Ado About Nothing. Between the entanglements and resolution Shakespeare has created Much Ado about an awful lot and the first rate cast delivers the goods with clarity and charm.

A scene from Melissa Carlson and Nick Sandys provide the most excitement with their clever verbal jabs and retorts. Carlson’s Beatrice, the confirmed spinster, is venomously shrewd and Sandys’s Benedick, the confirmed bachelor, is lyrically adroit. They elevate the juvenile game of ‘taunt your undeclared love interest’ to a wickedly witty and articulate exchange. Rene Ruelas renders an amusingly eccentric Friar Francis to add to the fun.

Andre Pluess’s sound design and original composition add even more natural texture and subtle elegance to the production. Michael Goldberg’s straightforward direction of the excellent ensemble and gifted design team create an outstanding rendition of the classic comedy.

You decide who prevails, theater or nature. Either way, it is a WIN/WIN proposition for the audience.

Gather up your friends for a little road trip and enjoy exceptional theater in a remarkable atmosphere. First Folio Shakespeare Festival is a brilliant addition to this summer full of marvelous Shakespearean options. It is a tucked away treasure that is well worth the drive.

Rating: ««««

(“Much Ado About Nothing” runs through August 17 at First Folio Shakespeare Festival, 1717 W. 31st Street, Oak Brook. 630-986-8067)

 

"Much Ado About Nothing" runs through August 17 at First Folio Shakespeare Festival, 1717 W. 31st Street, Oak Brook. 630-986-8067