Review: Passing Strange (Bailiwick Chicago)

  
  

Bailiwick takes us on a sublime musical journey

  
  

Clockwise from left: LaNisa Frederick, Osiris Khepera, Whitney White, Sharriese Hamilton, Aaron Holland, Steven Perkins in Bailiwick Chicago's 'Passing Strange'. Photo by Jay Kennedy ©2011

   
Bailiwick Chicago presents
  
Passing Strange
   
Written by Stew and Heidi Rodewald
Directed by Lili-Anne Brown
at Chicago Center for the Performing Arts, 777 N. Green (map)
through May 29  |  tickets: $25-$35  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Passing Strange is a supple title for this coming-of-age rock/soul musical/concert. It refers to how life looks to this young black man from Los Angeles–and to how he moves through it as his hero journey takes him to Amsterdam, Berlin and back home. With one of the richest scores this entertainment genre ever needed and a Midwest premiere by Bailiwick Chicago that’s nothing short of terrific, “Passing Strange” is 150 minutes of smart showbiz. Until now I never knew how much a record album could resemble a family album—until it’s, as the British say, a distinction without a difference.

Jayson "JC" Brooks" as the Narrator in Bailiwick Chicago's 'Passing Strange'.It’s also a very specific journey. It begins in 1976 and ends in the early 80s with the protagonist still only 22. Narrating it with a passion to equal the events is Jayson “JC” Brooks, noted for his Coalhouse Walker in Porchlight’s Ragtime. Known simply as Youth (galvanic Steven Perkins), the seeker is first seen trying out and rejecting religions, to the confusion of his tough-loving, church-going mother (a remarkable LaNisa Frederick), who indulges in her own less-than-sacred “Baptist Fashion Show.” The “call and response” fervor of the revival meetings that Youth attends (“Church Blues Revelation/Music Is the Freight Train in Which God Travels”) becomes a style, if not a subject, that he can share in his own songs. But the youth choir is no inspiration, neither is the girlfriend who rejects him because he’s not black enough.

Influenced by the American-fleeing James Baldwin, Youth journeys to Amsterdam to join the reefer rebels at the Headquarters Café Song, find inspiration with the comforting Marianna (Sharriese Hamilton) who gives him her “Keys,” and get stoned in this punk-rock “Paradise.” But it’s all too perfect. There’s no friction to generate the songs expected from an ex-pat alien on the lam from L.A.

This “fiery pilgrim” finally ends up in still-Communist Berlin where Youth gets sucked into the righteously rebellious performance-art scene. There he cultivates his angry “Negritude” and sticks out as “The Black One,” savoring his outsider identity as he joins a commune of agitprop-crazy Reds. (Their cruel Cold War concept is that “What is inside is just a lie,” that we’re just the creatures of capitalism unless we free ourselves through anti-social theatrics.)

     
Clockwise from top left: Sharriese Hamilton, Aaron Holland, Jayson “JC” Brooks, Osiris Khepera, Steven Perkins. Photo by Jay Kennedy, ©2011 Bailiwick A scene from About Face Theatre's 'Passing Strange'. Photo by Jay Kennedy, ©2011
A scene from About Face Theatre's 'Passing Strange'. Photo by Jay Kennedy, ©2011 A scene from About Face Theatre's 'Passing Strange'. Photo by Jay Kennedy, ©2011 A scene from About Face Theatre's 'Passing Strange'. Photo by Jay Kennedy, ©2011 A scene from About Face Theatre's 'Passing Strange'. Photo by Jay Kennedy, ©2011

But one lonely Christmastide, the Youth discovers that even radicals have families to which they return. Perhaps he should go back too. But his mother’s death makes the prodigal’s return to L.A. a bittersweet homecoming (“Passing Phase”). So the Youth’s perpetual tug of war between life and art finally ends in a sardonic thought: “Life is a mess that only art can fix.” Better of “Work the Wound.”

Youth’s quest inevitably conjures up images of Beat Poets on the road, Kerouac-style, as they try by process of elimination to find out what they’re not. Then can come the slow creative accretion that forges their art. It’s never been so eloquent however, with this Tony Award-winning book by Stew (who played the original Narrator) and his cunning, memorable songs (co-written with Heidi Rodewald in collaboration with Annie Dorsen). James Morehad music directs the 22 numbers with a singular love for every note. The Bailiwick ensemble couldn’t be tighter or truer to this multi-textured material.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

From left: David Keller, Billy Bungeroth, Kevin Marks, Jayson “JC” Brooks, Ben Taylor. ©2011 Bailiwick Chicago, Photo by Jay Kennedy

All photos by Jay Kennedy, © 2011

     

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Review: Made in Puerto Rico (Mike Oquendo Events)

      
     

A hilarious night of discovering the Puerto Rican in us all

  
  

'Made in Puerto Rico'--Elizardi Castro (audience in background)

  
Mike Oquendo Events presents
   
Made in Puerto Rico
  
Written and Directed by Elizardi Castro
at Chicago Center for the Performing Arts
777 N. Green Street, Chicago (map)
thru May 1  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by S.E. Antrim

You don’t have to be “Made in Puerto Rico” to appreciate Elizardi Castro’s super high-energy one man show brought to Chicago audiences by Mike Oquendo Events at the Chicago Center for the Performing Arts. It might help to know a little Spanish or Spanglish, but if you don’t, the laugh-out-loud 10 word “User’s Guide to Made in Puerto Rico” will quickly get you up to speed with most of what you’ll want to know before the show. After the little tutorial for those of us from Allá ‘fuera (any part of the world that is not Puerto Rico) we’re totally psyched to learn more about what it means to be Puerto Rican and American. It’s a whole lot funnier than I would have imagined—at least when viewed through Castro’s lens. The portion of the sold-out crowd that was clearly relating to the experience of growing up Puerto Rican and American confirmed loudly and proudly that this comedian was speaking both to and for them.

Elizardi Castro, in his self-written one-man show: 'Made in Puerto Rico'.Through masterful storytelling and a brilliant gift for becoming the characters Castro takes the audience with him to meet the entire family. Early in the performance Castro introduces us to Grandpa Santos, stern but loving, well-intentioned and clearly paranoid. Abuelito Santos lectures the petulant teenage Elizardi on the hidden dangers of going downtown, going to the beach and even just sitting quietly on the porch. As I, perhaps a bit self-consciously, laughed along with the rest of the audience, I had a nagging feeling that I might actually be Grandpa Santos. And that’s exactly why Castro’s Puerto Rican-influenced comedy is such a hit, regardless of ethnicity or background. We all recognize ourselves and people we know. Sure, maybe you weren’t dodging chancletas as a kid, but if you didn’t get the occasional well-placed whack with a sandal or house slipper, you have probably met the business end of a hairbrush or a spatula at least once when you misbehaved. You’ve no doubt experienced the cool deception of a loving mother who told you, “We’ll only stay at old aunt so-and-so’s house for a few minutes.” We watch poor little Elizardi writhe in the agony that only a child trapped among boring old adults can experience. His pain is our pain as we remember, but still we laugh. We’ve all been there.

If Castro’s comedy is such a hit because we can all relate to certain elements it’s also appealing because as he tells the audience repeatedly “we’re different”. His quirky characters show us how Puerto Ricans are different. The boisterous holiday festivities of the Boricua as compared to the “uptight and white” more sedate observation of the Christmas season has everyone laughing and nodding their heads in agreement. The audience also finds itself transported to dance clubs where the “show-off” dances to salsa, merengue, bomba and reggaeton. Mr. Castro’s dance moves are as impressive as they are comical and he may have a great career ahead of him as a boy band member. He did grow up listening to Menudo, after all. Puerto Rican flag worship was an activity that I was vaguely aware of thanks to a gentleman whom I can identify only as Super Rico. He wore a red mask and the flag like a cape. It seemed a rather unique ensemble to me at the time. Apparently that’s not particularly unusual attire. You learn something new every day.

Elizardi Castro, born in Puerto Rico and raised in New York, had a pretty good gig as a criminal defense attorney before he turned to comedy, but anyone who sees Made in Puerto Rico will understand quickly why he gave up law for the stage—you can’t merengue in a courtroom! Well, maybe you can in Puerto Rico. Castro makes a commitment to keeping it clean, so go ahead grab Abuelita and Bobo and head on over to the Chicago Center for the Performing Arts. You’ll be glad you did!

  
  
Rating: ★★★
    
  

Elizardi Castro, in his self-written one-man show: 'Made in Puerto Rico'.

Made in Puerto Rico continues at the Chicago Center for the Performing Arts through May 1st, with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 5pm.  Tickets are $20, and can be purchased online or by calling (312) 733-6000.

  
  

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REVIEW: Bubble Tea Party (Stir-Friday Night)

   
   

Stir-Friday Night celebrates 15 years

 

bubblegroup2

   
Stir-Friday Night presents
   
Bubble Tea Party
     
Written/Performed by the Company
Directed by Pat McKenna
Chicago Center for the Performing Arts
777 N. Green St., Chicago (map)
Through Nov. 20  | 
Tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

It’s been 15 years since the late Quincy Wong and Keith Uchima founded Stir-Friday Night. The troupe got its start after a group of Asian-American actors met through Jade Monkey King, a musical Uchima created in 1995. The duo decided that Asian-American writers, directors and actors needed a bigger showcase.

"When you saw Asians on stage, they were the doctor guy, the second-banana guy," Uchima recalled at opening night of Stir-Friday Night’s 15th-anniversary revue. So the two men worked to found a company that would feature exclusively Asian-Amerians. Ultimately, that evolved into the sketch-comedy and improv troupe that’s still going strong – Stir-Friday Night.

This current group includes artists, mostly U.S.-born, who trace their heritage to India, Japan, Korea, and the Philippines. Their 15th-anniversary show, Bubble Tea Party, doesn’t show everything this company is capable of. Sketch-comedy revues tend to be uneven by their very nature — this one is more so than most.

The cast members all perform very well — when the show suffers, it’s in the writing. Some of the skits are lame — such as a recurring business about Olympic-style "Geisha Games" and an overlong, elaborate sketch of crude puns set in historic England; blue humor doesn’t seem to be this troupe’s strength. Other sketches start with interesting premises but never manage to come together, as in an odd piece that lampoons the Tea Partiers with an Alice in Wonderland theme and one in which a guy tries to convince his friend to eat 25 tacos in 60 seconds.

Undeniably, the company does its best work when it concentrates on the Asian-American experience. Two hilarious skits feature Amrita Dhaliwal playing an immigrant South Asian mother interacting with her American-born offspring.

The show follows up the scripted pieces with some improv, also with mixed results. The lineup isn’t set yet, but the company expects a few alumni to make guest appearances as well.

Stir-Friday Night deserves congratulations for its 15 years, and this show has enough funny moments to be worthwhile, but the troupe isn’t tapping the talent pool of Asian-American comedy writers deeply enough.

   
   
Rating: ★★
   
  

Ensemble: Melissa Canciller, Amrita Dhaliwal, Samantha Garcia, Erica Ikeda, Jin Kim, Christine Lin, Harrison Pak, Avery Lee and Jasbir Singh Vazquez

  
    

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Opening and Closing this week

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show openings

The Adventures of Nervous Boy Gorilla Tango Theatre

Diva! Diva! Divas!Northwestern University Theater

Jinx Appetite Theatre

The Siren Song of Stephan Jay Gould Gorilla Tango Theatre

Juno and the Paycock The Artistic Home

Savage/Love The Viaduct Theater

A Walk in the Woods Redtwist Theatre

 

Chicago_skyline

show closings

The 9/11 Report La Red Music Theatre

Battleprov ComedySportz 

The Bucktown Stand-Up Show Down Gorilla Tango Theatre

Dead Wrong The Factory Theater

Get Comfortable, a Night of Shorts Gorilla Tango Theatre

Girls vs. Boys American Music Theatre Project and The House Theatre of Chicago

The Great American Nudie Spectacular! Theatre Building Chicago

The Hollow Lands Steep Theatre

Never the Sinner Project 891 Theatre

Scientology! The Unauthorized Musical Annoyance Theatre

Sodomites!!! A Musical of Biblical Proportions Annoyance Theatre

Somewhere in Texas Dream Theatre

Steel Mags Chicago Center for the Performing Arts

Storybox Piven Theatre

Two Spoons Bailiwick Repertory

Walker and Dunn Gorilla Tango Theatre

White Rainbows Gorilla Tango Theatre

This week’s Chicago theater show openings/closings

2437303-Skyline-Chicago

show openings

The 9/11 Report La Red Music Theatre

Bikerman and the Jewish Avenger Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

Bye Bye Birdie Northwestern University Theater

Ching, Chong, Chinaman Silk Road Theatre Project

Fun O’Clock: A Very Special “That’s Weird Grandma” Barrel of Monkeys

Honest Steppenwolf Theatre

How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying St. Celestine Theatre

Lies and LiarsTheatre Seven of Chicago

Lorita and Other Dances Theatre Building Chicago

The Mistress Cycle Apple Tree Theatre

Sex with Strangers Steppenwolf Theatre

Six Degrees of Separation Eclipse Theatre

Ski Dubai Steppenwolf Theatre

Waiting for Godot Redtwist Theatre

 

chi-skyline-narrow

show closings

Anti-Social Darwinism and High School Musical 4: Come Hell or Heil Water Donny’s Skybox

Boleros for the Disenchanted Goodman Theatre 

Busman’s Honeymoon Lifeline Theatre

Cloclo Chicago Center for the Performing Arts

The Conduct of Life The Viaduct

Consume Gorilla Tango Theatre

A Coupla White Chicks Sitting Around Talking Buffalo Theatre Ensemble

Death Roast Annoyance Theatre

Hedda Gabler Raven Theatre

Hitched! Donny’s Skybox

Posers Donny’s Skybox

A Song for Coretta Eclipse Theatre

Super Happy Fun Show Corn Productions

Uncle Vanya TUTA Theatre Chicago

Wanted Gorilla Tango Theatre

What We May Be Gorilla Tango Theatre

special ticket offers

$15 tickets to The Great American Nudie Spectacular! by Scratch Media at Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W. Belmont. TBC is offering a limited number of discount tickets for the following performances:  Friday, July 24, and Saturday, July 25, both at 10:30 p.m. The discount is available for these two performances only. Call the box office at 773-327-5252 and mention this offer.

This week’s Chicago theater openings/closings

Chicago Skyline from Adler Planetarium 

Opening This Week

The Bucktown Stand-Up Showdown Gorilla Tango Theatre

Cloclo Chicago Center for the Performing Arts

Cyrano de Bergerac Oak Park Festival Theatre

El Grito del Bronx Collaboraction

Get Comfortable: A Night of Shorts Gorilla Tango Theatre

On Stage with Megon McDonough Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University

One Year in June Gorilla Tango Theatre

Stud Terkel’s not Working The Second City etc

Somewhere in Texas Dream Theatre

Spinning Yarns the side project

These Shining Lives Theater on the Lake

Tupperware: An American Musical Fable The New Colony

Two Spoons Bailiwick Repertory

Walker & Dunn Gorilla Tango Theatre

 

Show Closings

The Alcyone Festival Halcyon Theatre 

In Your Facebook Prop Thtr

“Fog” and “Mr. Sycamore” Chicago Cultural Center

Little Brother Griffin Theatre

Our Future Metropolis Lookingglass Theatre

Strauss at Midnight Theater Oobleck

The Who’s Tommy Circle Theatre

Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding Piper’s Alley

 

special ticket offers

$15 tickets to The Great American Nudie Spectacular! by Scratch Media at Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W. Belmont. TBC is offering a limited number of discount tickets for the following performances:  Friday, July 17, and Saturday, July 18, both at 10:30 p.m. The discount is available for these two performances only. Call the box office at 773-327-5252 and mention this offer.

This week’s Chicago show openings and ticket specials

Chicago Skyline at night

AND THEN THERE WERE NONEIndependent Stars Theatre

CUSTER’S LAST STAND FESTIVAL OF THE ARTSPiccolo Theatre

INTO THE WIND Gorilla Tango Theatre

JONCollaboraction Theatre

PAUL’S GLASSESGorilla Tango Theatre

POSEIDON! An Upside Down Musical Hell in a Handbag Productions

SKETCHTOPIAVictory Gardens Biograph Theater

SODOMITES!!! A MUSICAL OF BIBLICAL PROPORTIONS Annoyance Theatre

STEEL MAGS LETS YOU DOWN EASYChicago Center for the Performing Arts

 

For special ticket offers, click on “Read more”

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