Chris Jones announces 10 best plays of 2009

The Tribune’s Chris Jones announces Top 10 Plays of 2009

For the complete description, explanations and reviews of these plays (and others), be sure to visit Chris Jones’ excellent blog: The Theater Loop


1. The Arabian Nights by Mary ZimmermanLookingglass Theatre  (our review)

 

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2. The History Boys by Nicholas HytnerTimeline Theatre 

 

3. The Overwhelming by J.T. RogersNext Theatre 

4. The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity by Kristoffer DiazVictory Gardens (our review)

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5. Blackbird by David HarrowerVictory Gardens (our review)

 

6. Cabaret by Kander and EbbDrury Lane Oakbrook (our review)

 

7. The Mystery of Irma Vep by Sean GraneyCourt Theatre (our review)

 

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8. Graceland by Ellen FaireyProfiles Theatre (our review)

 

9. Oh Coward!devised by Roderick CookWriters’ Theatre (our review)

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10. Stud Terkel’s Not WorkingSecond City e.t.c.

 

Chris Jones’ list of 10 shows that “should have made the list”

Desire Under the ElmsGoodman Theatre

Little Foxes Shattered Globe Theatre 

Miss SaigonDrury Lane Oakbrook

Old Glory Writers’ Theatre

Our Lady of the Underpass Teatro Vista Theatre

Rock ‘n’ RollGoodman Theatre

Top Dog/Underdog American Theater Company and Congo Square Theatre

 Twelfth NightChicago Shakespeare Theatre 

The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee Marriott Theatre

Review: “The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged)”

Screwball Fun from Genesis to The Last Supper

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

As evident by the enormous controversy triggered by Notre Dame selecting President Obama to speak at their commencement ceremony, the Judeo-Christian religious views that have shaped Western civilization for the past 2000 years are still very much a force in our lives. And like any institution that has been around for that long, the history, thought, and tradition of Judeo-Christianity are easy targets for parody. Ouroboros Theatre Company's 'The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged)' Ouroboros Theatre Company takes aim at Christianity’s holiest text and best-selling book in history, the Bible, in their production of The Bible: The Complete Word of God (abridged), originally created by the Reduced Shakespeare Company. Tucked away in the intimate Heartland studio theatre (map) in Rogers Park, the three person cast puts on a vaudevillian type show that blends jokes, audience participation, smatterings of improv, and plenty of Cubs references into a decently funny hour and a half journey through the Bible.

Just to be clear, this ain’t The Da Vinci Code. Nobody should expect to leave the show with a deeper grasp of the Holy Bible. The three performers, straight-man Chase McCurdy, childlike Michael Herschberg, and acerbic Lindsey Pearlman, guide and acknowledge the audience through their irreverent re-envisioning of the Bible. The play feels like an PG-13 episode of “Veggie Tales” combined with a vastly misinformed theology lecture; the actors address the audience in-between short vignettes. Director Ron Keaton ripened the Reduced Shakespeare Company’s script with nods to current events and local flavor. Some of these topical jokes fare well (Facebook, David Letterman, Blagojevich), while others fall flat (parking meters, Cranium, and far too many Chicago baseball jokes). Most of the humor actually isn’t contained in the text, but in the actors’ reactions to the fact that the comedy isn’t of the highest denomination. You can tell that everyone on stage is having a really good time, and their energy passes onto the audience well.

"The Bible" banner The problem with the show is that there are many unrealized conventions. The set is far too intricate for a play requiring barely any scenic elements at all. The centerpiece of the stage is a giant book plastered with the show’s title; I really wished the pages could’ve actually been turned, Monty Python and the Holy Grail-style. Instead, the production relies on what seems like an endless supply of props, including a reproduction of Da Vinci’s The Last Supper with the faces cut out, a Rastafarian wig, and fish puppets. Fortunately for everyone involved, the props are used well and the show never strays into lame Carrot Top territory. Some opportunities are missed—while discussing the Resurrection of the Lord, Chase appears in an Easter Bunny costume, but the real comedy comes from the fact that the costume is split down the back to fit the corpulent actor. But he never shows off his backside, throwing away a great potential joke. Another underused asset is musical director Joanna Lind, who is perched with her keyboard above the action on a rock. Dressed in an angel costume, she provides the music and is occasionally engaged by the other actors as a divine authority figure. Although her playing abilities are fine, her character is never fully realized, which feels like another missed opportunity for the production. The trio also has a few timing and delivery issues, but they rapidly fire joke after joke so the duds don’t derail the production. With a little less focus on over-rehearsed bits and a little more freedom and improvisation, this show could’ve been even funnier.

The Super Soaker was invented by Lonnie Johnson, now of Johnson Research Group. It is clear that the goal of this production is to have fun, and it definitely succeeds (how could one go wrong with Supersoakers?). If you are in the mood for a screwball approach to the most influential book in the history of the world, Ouroboros Theatre serves it up with plenty of gags, goofy props, and pokes at the Book of Job.

Rating: ««½

Now playing at:

BoHo Theatre at Heartland Studio Theatre
7016 N. Glenwood Ave.  (map)
Chicago, IL 60626
773-791-2393

Ouroboros Theatre Company
http://www.ouroborostheatre.com
When: May 28 : 8 p.m.
Sundays and Saturdays : 2 p.m. (ends June 7)
Fridays and Saturdays : 8 p.m. (ends June 7)

Price:  $20

Ouroboros Theatre Company’s mission and info after the fold.

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Chicago Theater – Best of 2008 (Chicago Sun-Times)

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 Hedy Weiss, theater-critic extraordinaire for the Chicago Sun-Times, has put together an excellent list of her 10 favorite plays of 2008.  Along with the list, Hedy notes the wonderful year Chicago theater has had on the national stage:

…this was the year that Steppenwolf Theatre picked up five Tony Awards for its Chicago-bred Broadway production of Tracy Letts‘ “August: Osage County” before the cast crossed the pond to remount the show at London’s National Theatre, and when the Chicago Shakespeare Theater was feted with the “Best Regional Theater” Tony.

Continuing:

But that was just the beginning. Next Theatre‘s production of the new musical “Adding Machine,” was hailed in its Off Broadway incarnation, with director David Cromer racking up plaudits for his work on that show, as well as for his revelatory revivals of “Our Town” (at the Hypocrites) and “Picnic” (at Writers’ Theatre). Profiles championed the work of incendiary playwright Neil LaBute to grand effect. Remy Bumppo earned laughs with its tale of financial chicanery in a revival of an Edwardian classic, “The Voysey Inheritance.” And director Sean Graney experimented boldy with productions of “The Threepenny Opera” and Marlowe‘s “Edward II.”

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Now here are Hedy Weiss’s favorite productions in 2008:

 

1. Caroline or Change  (Court Theatre)
by Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori
Standouts: Charles Newell (director), Doug Peck (musical director); performances: Malcolm Durning, E.Faye Butler
     
2. Ruined  (Goodman Theatre)
by Lynn Nottage
Weiss comments: Worthy of a Pulitzer Prize, the play will soon move to New York’s Manhattan Theatre Club.
 
     
3. Gatz  (Elevator Repair Service Theatre)
by John Collins
 
     
4. Our Town  (The Hypocrites)
by Thornton Wilder
Standouts: David Cromer (director)
 
     
5. Requiem for a Heavyweight  (Shattered Globe)
by Rod Serling
Standouts: Lou Contey (director)
 
     
6. Amadeus  (Chicago Shakespeare)
by Peter Schaffer
Standouts: Gary Griffin (director), Daniel Ostling (set designer); performances: Robert Sella, Robbi Collier Sublett, Elizabeth Ledo, Lance Baker
 
     
7. As You Like It  (Writers’ Theatre)
by William Shakespeare
Standouts: William Brown (director), Performance: Larry Yando
 
     
8. Drowsy Chaperone  (Cadillac Palace Theater)
by Laura Wade
Standouts: Casey Nicholaw (director)
 
     
9. Around the World in 80 Days  (Lookingglass)
Standouts: Laura Eason (adaptor/director); Performances: Philip R. Smith, Kevin Douglas, Joe Dempsey, Ravi Batista, Anish Jethmalani, Ericka Ratcliff, Nick Sandys and Rom Barkhordar
 
     
10. Columbinus  (Raven Theatre)
by Stephen Karam and P.J. Paparelli
Standouts: Greg Kolack (director); Performances: Matthew Klingler and Jamie Abelson
 

To see the Hedy Weiss’s complete description and thoughts on her favorite plays, click here.

Chicago Theater – Best of 2008 (TimeOut Chicago)

Court Theatre's "Caroline or Change", six out of six stars The Hypocrite's "Our Town" "Million Dollar Quartet" at the Apollo Theater Steep Theatre's "Breathing Corpses"

 

TimeOut Chicago‘s Christopher Platt and Kris Vire present their top 10 Chicago theater picks of 2008:

 

1. Caroline or Change  (Court Theatre)
by Tony Kushner
Standouts: Charles Newell (director), Doug Peck (musical director); actors: Kate Fry, E.Faye Butler
     
2. Our Town  (The Hypocrites)
by Thornton Wilder
Standouts: David Cromer (director), actors: Jennifer Grace (as Emily), David Cromer (narrator)
 
     
3. Speech and Debate  (American Theatre Company)
by Stephen Karam
Standouts: PJ Paparelli (ATC Artistic Director); performances: Patrick Andrews, Jared McGuire, Sadieh Rifai
 
     
4. Uncle Vanya (TUTA TheatreChicago)
by Anton Chekhov
Standouts: Zeljko Djukic (director), Yasen Peyankov  and Peter Christensen (translators), Martin Andrew (designer)
 
     
5. Miss Julie  (The Hypocrites)
by August Strindberg
Standouts: Sean Graney (director); performances: Stacy Stoltz, Greg Hardigan
 
     
6. Titus Andronicus  (Court Theatre)
by William Shakespeare
Standouts: Charles Newell (director), ; performances: Timothy Edward Kane, Hollis Resnik
 
     
7. Fake Lake  (The Neo-Futurists)
by Sharon Greene
Standouts: Halena Kays (director), Welles Park pool, Mikhail Fiksel
 
     
8. Breathing Corpses  (Steep Theatre)
by Laura Wade
Standouts: Robin Witt (director), Marcus Stephen (set designer)
 
     
9. Million Dollar Quartet  (Goodman, Apollo Theater)
Standouts: Levi Kreis (as Jerry Lee Lewis), Lance Guest (Johnny Cash), Rob Lyon (Carl Perkins), Eddie Clendening (Elvis Presley)
 
     
10. As Told by the Vivian Girls  (Dog & Pony Theatre)
by Devin de Mayo
Standouts: Devin de Mayo (director)
 

 

To see the TimeOut Chicago description of each of these shows, click here.

Chicago Theater – Best of 2008 (Chicago Tribune)

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Chicago Tribune’s main theatre critic, Chris Jones, presents his top 10 plays of 2008:

 

1. A Trip to Bountiful  (Goodman Theatre)
by Horton Foote
Standouts: Harris Yulin (director), performance: Lois Smith
     
2. Our Town  (The Hypocrites)
by Thornton Wilder
Standouts: David Cromer (director), actors: Jennifer Grace (as Emily), David Cromer (narrator)
 
     
3. Picnic  (Writers’ Theatre)
by William Inge
Standouts: David Cromer (Director)
 
     
4. Caroline or Change  (Court Theatre)
by Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori
Standouts: Charles Newell (director), Doug Peck (musical director); actors: Kate Fry, E.Faye Butler
 
     
5. Ruined  (Goodman Theatre)
by Lynn Nottage
Standout: Kate Whoriskey (director)
 
     
6. Four Places  (Victory Gardens)
by Joel Drake Johnson
Standouts: Sandy Shinner (director)
 
     
7. Sweet Charity  (Drury Lane Oakbrook)
by Cy Coleman
Standouts: Jim Corti (director), Mitzi Hamilton (choreographer)
 
     
8. Gatz  (Elevator Repair Service Theatre)
by John Collins
 
     
9. The Seafarer  (Steppenwolf Theatre)
by Conor McPherson
Standout: Francis Guinan (says Jones: probably the best male performance of the year)
 
     
10. Journey’s End (Griffin Theatre)
by Jonathan Berry
 

Honorable mentions: (alphabetically): America: All Better! (Second City), Don’t Dress for Dinner (British American Stage Company – at Royal George), Grey Gardens (Northlight Theatre), If All The World Were Paper (Chicago Children’s Theatre), Jacques Brel’s Lonesome Losers of the Night (Theo Ubique). Les Miserables (Marriott Theatre), Million Dollar Quartet (Deegee Theatricals, John Cossette Productions and Northern Lights – at the Apollo Theater), A Taste of Honey (Shattered Globe Theatre), Tomorrow Morning (Hilary A. Williams LLC), The Voysey Inheritance (Remy Bumppo Theatre Company).

 

To see further discussion regarding each show, go to Chris Jones’ The Theater Loop blog posting.

Chicago Tribune’s Top Plays of 2007

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In alphabetical order, here are the Chicago Tribune’s choices for the top 10 plays of 2007:
 

The Adding Machine
(Next Theatre – and soon Off-Broadway)

August: Osage County
(Steppenwolf – and now receiving rave reviews on Broadway)

Between Barack and a Hard Place
(Second City)

The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow
(Collaboraction)

Joe Turner’s Come and Gone
(Congo Square)

Merchant on Venice
(Silk Road Theatre Project)

Othello
(Writers Theatre)

Shenendoah
(Marriott Theatre)

The Sparrow
(House Theatre)

A Stead Rain
(Chicago Dramatists)

To see further discussion regarding each show, go to Chris Jones’ The Theater Loop blog posting.

Chris Jones’ Best-of-2007

Chris Jones, theatre-critic extraordinaire, announces his picks for the top plays and performances of 2007.  (fyi: I have no idea why this woman’s face is the picture of the video – she is not in any part of the actual video. Does anyone know who she is – and why she is?)