Theater Thursday: Uncle Vanya at Strawdog Theatre

Thursday, March 18

Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov

Strawdog Theatre, 3829 N. Broadway, Chicago

Join Strawdog Theatre in their Hugen Hall Gallery for a preshow discussion and vodka tasting!  From 7:00 to 7:30 enjoy a discussion about the history and importance of Vodka to the Russian Culture and Russian Literature hosted by Seth Rickard (faculty member of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Chicago, Strawdog Board Member, and all-around charming fellow).

straw-uncle vanyaThen stay for Strawdog’s acclaimed production of Uncle Vanya (Jeff, Reader, and NewCity Recommended, Four Stars in TimeOut, Three Stars in the Tribune). Mix Curt Columbus‘ un-stuffy translations of Chekhov with the delicate direction of Kimberly Senior and the irreverent naturalism of Strawdog’s acting ensemble, and you hear people say things like "intensely appealing," "funny" and "smoldering sexual energy" (Chicago Tribune), "unexpectedly emotional" (Time Out), "fabulous" (EDGE Chicago), "perfect" (Chicago Reader), "a pure joy to experience" (Gay Chicago), etc. Frankly, it’s all a bit embarrassing, so when we say you CANNOT MISS Senior’s production of Checkov’s Uncle Vanya, please understand that we’re just trying to help you out. (see our review here★★★)

Event begins at 7 p.m. Show begins at 8 p.m.

TICKETS ONLY $25 

For reservations click here.

REVIEW: Uncle Vanya (Strawdog Theatre)

An exciting treatment of Chekhov’s ode to boredom

Uncle Vanya - Straw Dog - 2/17/10 
Photo by Chris Ocken
Copyright 2010 - http://www.ockenphotography.com

Strawdog Theatre presents:

Uncle Vanya

 

By Anton Chekhov
Directed by Kimberly Senior
Through March 27th (more info)

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

It’s been a good year for director Kimberly Senior. Her numerous productions, which have spanned all over the city, became critical and popular successes, such as critic top picks The Overwhelming at Next Theatre and All My Sons at TimeLine Theatre (our review ★★★★). This year she’s had the fortune of directing plays written by some of greatest dramatists the world has ever seen, like Arthur Miller, Martin McDonagh, and Anton Chekhov (twice). It’s obvious she loves the greats, especially Anton, the grandfather of subtext. This love and passion comes across in her production of Uncle Vanya at Strawdog Theatre, a nuanced and layered homage to one of Chekhov’s masterpieces.

Uncle Vanya - Straw Dog - 2/17/10 
Photo by Chris Ocken
Copyright 2010 - http://www.ockenphotography.com It is a common misconception that Chekhov wrote tragedies, one perpetuated by several melancholy premier productions directed by acting guru Constantin Stanislavski. In fact, the Russian master saw all of his works as comedies, albeit sometimes bittersweet ones. How well a cast and director understand this fact is a deciding factor in how a Chekhov piece will fare. The plot of Uncle Vanya, for example, basically boils down to some people being bored. Chekhov delves into the frantic monotony that drives people to break up marriages, friendships, and families. With a melodramatic twist, the play quickly becomes bland, stuffy, and unpalatable. However, if everyone understands the comedic elements in the writing, then the play punches hard. The latter is evident at Strawdog.

One of Senior’s strong points is her skill at bringing together some extremely talented actors. This isn’t necessarily hard when you’re working with Strawdog’s ensemble, but here almost every actor seems carefully tailored to their character. Tom Hickey’s portrayal of the titular uncle is deliberately understated, an interesting choice that makes the middle-aged character really pop. Hickey envelopes the character and personalizes the crap out of him. For example, instead of filling Vanya’s famous failed assassination attempt with rage or all-out despair, Hickey finds a quiet determination (with hilarious results). Shannon Hoag, who plays the object of Vayna’s affection Yelena, revs Hickey’s engines with heaps of teasing coyness, desperate boredom, and powerful austerity. Also in the mix are Kyle Hamman as the idealist doctor Astrov and Michaela Petro’s youthful Sonya. Crushed by the tedium of Russian provincial life, these characters find themselves locked in prisons of love, lust, and depression.

All of this is set against Tom Burch’s gorgeous scenery, which invokes the simple pleasures and pains of country living. The moveable walls are adorned in pink and stacked with shelves of drying herbs, flowers, and trinkets. As indicated in the play, though, nothing here is simple, not even boredom.

Occasionally the supporting cast misses marks. Tim Curtis’s Serebryakov (inconsequential academic, invalid, Yelena’s husband, Sonya’s dad, and Vanya’s frenemy) is a bit too cranky; Curtis overshoots here. And neither Senior nor Carmine Grisolia can show us a good reason why his character, Waffles, is a part of the story. Fortunately, the four leads entrench themselves in the script and overcome most shortcomings.

 

Uncle Vanya - Straw Dog - 2/17/10 
Photo by Chris Ocken
Copyright 2010 - http://www.ockenphotography.com Uncle Vanya - Straw Dog - 2/17/10 
Photo by Chris Ocken
Copyright 2010 - http://www.ockenphotography.com

Energy throughout the piece lags at times, a drawback from Hickey’s relaxed style that permeates the rest of the show. It’s a danger of the script, and Senior and the cast succumb. Chekhov’s language doesn’t require a dragging energy. Even though the characters are doing all they can to kill time (and sometimes each other), a production of Vanya can still keep the tensions and stakes high.

In Senior’s past work I’ve seen, I sometimes feel she plays to close to the vest and is afraid to make stylistic risks, even though she often directs some of the most produced works in the canon. This doesn’t come across in Vanya, and I think a lot of the reason falls on the daring cast she assembled. The design, directing, and bold acting collide to make Chekhov’s ode to boredom pretty thrilling to watch.

 

Rating: ★★★

 

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Arthur Miller Project: Kimberly Senior talks ‘All My Sons’

The convergence of Arthur Miller and Anton Chekhov

2009 was an exceptionally busy and sterling year for Kimberly Senior, going from success to success, from Strawdog Theatre’s early spring production of The Cherry Orchard, to All My Sons at Timeline, to The Pillowman at Redtwist Theatre, to the Pegasus Players Young Playwrights Festival. Meeting us at the Strawdog Theatre rehearsal space, Kimberly generously gave a few minutes of her time to CTB reviewer Oliver Sava (minutes before rehearsal on Strawdog’s upcoming Uncle Vanya) to discuss the process of making Miller’s 1947 play, All My Sons, immediate and it’s additional resonance in the wake of 9/11 and the Iraq War.

FYI: In a forthcoming interview, Nathaniel Swift, Artistic Director at Eclipse Theatre, will also discuss his process in securing the rights to produce Miller’s later works from the estate. The estate had also noticed the surge in requests for rights in Chicago and found it unusual.

 

Kimberly Senior Interview – Part One

 

Kimberly Senior Interview – Part Two

REVIEW: Wiggerlover (DCA Theatre)

Race relations are a family affair

 photography by Belleville Garringer 

DCA Theatre and Jaz presents:

Wiggerlover

[white boy + black dad = grey areas]

Written and performed by James Anthony Zoccoli 
Directed and edited by
Andrea Fears 
Music by
Gregor Mortis
through February 22nd (more info)

review by Keith Ecker 

There seems to be three ways that art tackles issues of race.

The first is with a naïve lens that diminishes our external differences and plays up the clichéd notion that we are all the same on the inside. These same works tend to give the contradictory message that everyone is special in their own way, which begs the question how can we be the same yet all be unique little snowflakes? These works tend to be trite or targeted toward children or both.

PonyLeaguerThe second intellectualizes the concept of race, analyzing it in an effort to understand it. These are works that bring to mind sociological buzz terms and feel more like lectures than stories. In plays of this ilk, characters serve only as concepts, making the whole production about as interesting as a term paper come to life. What artists who construct these pieces fail to comprehend is that academia and intellectualism are useful to a point, but fall short of providing the critical insight that only comes with experience.

This brings up the third method—the experiential. In the realm of theatre, these are plays that do not have a sermon to deliver or a moral to preach. They aren’t arduous to sit through, and they don’t make you feel stupid by talking down to you. They are entertaining, digestible, full of substance and incredibly thought provoking.

Wiggerlover, a one-man auto-biographical show by James Anthony Zoccoli and playing at the Chicago DCA Studio Theater, embodies this third category.

The play is the story of Zoccoli’s childhood, specifically the year 1979, which for the young Zoccoli was indeed a seminal year. That’s when his white, Polish mother remarried Mr. Bell, a black man. With Zoccoli’s deadbeat Italian father out of the picture, the boy soon begins to call Mr. Bell dad, and in turn, Mr. Bell considers Zoccoli his son. Meanwhile, Zoccoli’s absentee father refers to his mother as a N-word lover, and, to his father’s dismay, Zoccoli proclaims he’s one too.

But life’s not easy when you’re white with a black father. Trying to develop a sense of identity is confusing, especially when the black kids you befriend forever treat you as an outsider.

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Wiggerlover works because of its honesty. Zoccoli has looked deep within himself to understand his identity and has the writing chops to convey this journey in a refreshingly simple and genuine manner. He’s also funny, which saves the show from drifting into sappy Hallmark-card territory. In addition, there’s no ideology being forced down the audience’s throat. Zoccoli knows we’re too smart for that, even if race is a complex topic. It’s great to see someone who respects the intelligence of his audience enough not to hold our hands.

Zoccoli also really knows how to command the stage. He’s a tall lanky guy, which makes him fun to watch. Also, he’s not afraid to show off spastic dance moves or sport a goofy childlike grin. This helps undercut the seriousness of the material, making it much sweeter to swallow than if the story were told with somber sincerity.

The play incorporates video projections and a number of sound cues. All this multimedia is timed perfectly and works to full effect. The disco and early hip hop sound bytes transport you to another time and another place, while also giving Zoccoli an opportunity to shift gears and launch into another fascinating story about his childhood.

Wiggerlover deftly strikes a wonderful balance of hilarious-meets-poignant. Whether you grew up on the South Side of Chicago or the northern suburbs, you’ll find something about his story that rings true to you.

Rating: ★★★★

 

Presented by JAZ

February 05, 2010 — February 22, 2010
DCA Studio Theatre (located within the Chicago Cultural Center)
$20; $15 for seniors and students

Read more about the writer/performer at the Wiggerlover Blog

Running Time: 1 hour (no intermission)

 

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REVIEW: Yoni Ki Baat (Rasaka Theatre)

Serious but Scattershot, this year’s Yoni Ki Baat
Takes on weightier subjects

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Rasaka Theatre presents

Yoni Ki Baat

 

Judging from last year’s press, Yoni Ki Baat must have been a light and sexy laugh fest. Even local contributing writers Angeli Primiani and Anita Chandwaney remarked on the more serious tone of Rasaka Theatre’s remount this year at Strawdog Theatre. “It’s not an angry show,” says Chandwaney, “some pieces are racier than last year. But this year there are angrier, more political monologues . . . more socially conscious.”

“The show is a little misleading,” she adds. “People really don’t know how radical it is. On one level there are all the jokes about sex, which the general audience can really enjoy. But the risk is in having South Asian American women talking about clits, rape, domestic violence.”

yoni3 Yoni Ki Baat, running through January 31, is inspired by Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues, although its content is created by and for desi women and is open to continual change. Playwrights all over the world submit monologues to the global pool of work, so that each production varies from city to city, year to year. Rasaka’s current production boasts five local writers’ original work.

While a boon to a segment of women’s culture that receives scarce representation, this year’s Yoni Ki Baat suffers from all the usual pitfalls of “rebranding”. Monologues such as “Bollywood Breasts,” “Apple Pie,” “Can I Eat You First?” and “The Inevitable Rise” continue to make light and humorous the dilemmas South Asian American women face straddling multicultural responses to sexuality and women’s bodies. But it is its mix with heavier material that tends to scatter focus, which tends to result in a production suffering from comoedia interruptus.

Plus, there’s just as much danger dealing in heavier material with too light a touch. Monologues “Helpline” and “On-track” address absolute violations of women’s liberty: the first deals with a woman being forced into an abortion by her family because her fetus is a girl; the second explores the dangerous environment for women in Nepal because of sex trafficking. A little more rage, not less, might have better served these pieces but it seems instead that punches have been pulled.

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That’s unfortunate—first, because most of the performances given by the cast are warm, earthy, and accessible and provide an immediate, genuine connection with the audience. Secondly, it does seem that advantages for desi women in the West still overwhelmingly surpass what desi women can hope for back in the old country.

“Oh, yes, sex selection of children still goes on,” says Chandwaney. “It’s outlawed but ultra sound is available. Then you have those religious extremist Hindus who were attacking women for socializing in bars. They were subjected to The Pink Chaddi Project, where people sent them pink underwear in protest for their harassment. There are times—comparing my life here to theirs—I’m starting to feel like ‘there but for the grace of God’ . . .”

“I used to think that I was such a rebel,” says Angeli Primiani, “but my mother was the real rebel of our family. She was the first in the family to have her marriage be a love match. Her parents kept trying to force her into an arranged marriage. She would just show up to meetings with the potential groom in old, unattractive saris . . . no make-up . . . hair messy. They finally gave up on her so she could marry who she wanted.”

Rating: ★★½

 

 

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above pictures from 2009 production

 

ADDENDUM:   a portion of proceeds from this show will go to Apna Ghar (Our Home), an organization that provides culturally appropriate services to survivors of domestic violence, including multilingual services and emergency shelter..  Apnar Ghar‘s focuses primarily on South Asian women and other immigrant communities,

 

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Chicago theater openings/closings this week

the-bean-chicago

show openings

Bury the Dead

O’Malley Theatre

Boolesque Review Piccolo Theatre 

Dave Rudolf Halloween Spooktacular – Center for Performing Arts – GSU

End Days Next Theatre 

Fulcrum Point Plugged In Evanston SPACE

Hard Headed Heart Victory Gardens Biograph Theater

Little Shop of Horors Beverly Theatre Guild

The Song Show Gorilla Tango Theatre 

The Walworth Face Chicago Shakespeare Theater

skyline-ferris-wheel

show closings

12 Ophelias Trap Door Theatre 

Anna in the Darkness: The Basement Dream Theatre 

Anton in Show Business Theatre Building Chicago 

Black Comedy Piccolo Theatre

Bucket of Blood Annoyance Theatre

The Castle of Otranto First Folio Theatre 

Death Toll Cornservatory

Disturbed Oracle Productions 

The Dreamers Apollo Theatre 

The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity Victory Gardens Biograph Theater 

Erendira Aguijon Theater 

Fear – The Neo-Futurists 

The Flaming Dames in Vamp II New Millenium Theatre

Frankenstein The Hypocrites 

Journey to the Center of the Uterus Greenhouse Theater Center 

Lights Out Alma Annoyance Theatre

Macabaret Porchlight Music Theatre 

The Magic Ofrenda Metropolis Performing Arts Centre 

Married Alive! Noble Fool Theatricals 

Mistakes Were Made A Red Orchid Theatre 

Mouse in a Jar Red Tape Theatre 

Nightmares on Lincoln Ave. Cornservatory 

Plans 1 Through 8 from Outer Space New Millenium Theatre 

Salem! The Musical Annoyance Theatre 

Scared Stiff Chemically Imbalanced Theater 

Silk Road Cabaret Silk Road Theatre Project 

Sleepy Hollow Theatre-Hikes 

Splatter Theater Annoyance Theatre 

St. Crispin’s Day Strawdog Theatre 

 

List courtesy of the League of Chicago Theatres 

Review: Strawdog Theatre’s “St. Crispin’s Day”

Strawdog season-premiere struggles to find the funny

Crispin-4 

Strawdog Theatre presents:

St. Crispin’s Day

by Matt Pepper
directed by Christopher Fox
thru October 31st (buy tickets)

reviewed by Oliver Sava

Crispin-2 Strawdog’s St. Crispin’s Day looks pretty, but just isn’t all that funny. The show’s striking set (Anders Jacobson, Judy Radovsky) and lighting design (Sean Mallary) is weighed down by the plodding rhythm of the action, and the production seems to drift in a haze of average with the occasional flash of promise.

Matt Pepper’s anti-war comedy, set during the Battle of Agincourt of Shakespeare’s Henry V, tells the story of three soldiers that find themselves engaged in a plot to kidnap the king, masterminded by Irishman Will (Kyle Hamman). Along the way they’ll have their way with French prostitutes, rob a few churches, and occasionally fling shit at each other like monkeys. The problem is that director Christopher Fox and his cast haven’t found the humanity behind the humor, creating caricatures instead of characters.

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Pepper’s script juggles themes of patriotism, conscientious objection, and pacifism with slapstick physical antics and toilet humor, but the contrast would be more effective if the comedy came from a place other than lowest common denominator sight gags. The laughs begin to feel stale and cheap after a while, and the slow pace of the dialogue sucks the energy out of scenes, creating jokes that crash to the ground long before landing in the audience’s laps.

Marika Engelhardt and Caroline Heff bring a much-needed spark to the proceedings as two French prostitutes with ulterior motives, and Heff’s scenes with Carlo Garcia, playing sheepish young soldier Tom, capture all the innocence and naïveté of young love. Unfortunately, the rest of the show lacks the nuance of these few scenes and does not ever manage to rise above being a didactic farce.

Rating: ««

 

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