REVIEW: Being Harold Pinter (Belarus Free Theatre)

  
  

Fiercely good.

  
  

Yana Rusakevich, Yana Rusakevich and Aleh Sidorchyk of Belarus Free Theatre - 'Being Harold Pinter' at Goodman Theatre. Photo by Liz Lauren

  
Belarus Free Theatre presents
  
Being Harold Pinter
  
Adapted and Directed by Vladimir Scherban
at
Goodman / Chicago Shakes / Northwestern Univ
through Feb 20  |  tickets: $20  | 
more info

Performance Schedule

     

January 27-29
Goodman Theatre

Feb 4-6, 11-13
Northwestern University

Feb 17-20
Chicago Shakes Upstairs


Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Somehow, in the midst of bleak Chicago winter, a spirit of rebellion has startled the Chicago theater community from its near-hibernation complacency. Yet, I shouldn’t say “somehow.” The Goodman Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, the League of Chicago Theatres and Northwestern University have joined forces to shepherd that spirit of rebellion here from New York City’s Under the Radar Festival. But the originators, the guardians of that spirit, the theater company for whom political drama is very definitely NOT an intellectual exercise, the Belarus Free Theatre, has arrived and they have spiked a reawakening to the impact of art speaking truth to power.

'Being Harold Pinter', adapted and directed by Vladimir Scherban of the Belarus Free Theatre.Since BFT has only just eluded the iron grasp of the Belarusian government to come to these shores and, since its founding in 2005, nearly every one of the company has been subjected to imprisonment and/or police harassment due to their “peaceful political and theatrical activities,” they are sure to be the darlings for many Americans in a self-congratulatory mood about the blessings of our democracy and its First Amendment protections compared to Belarus under Alexander Lukashenko. To be sure, for the moment, the US is not quite in dire straits equal to the citizens of Belarus–but two years into Obama’s administration neither do we stand on the moral high ground we once occupied. Bradley Manning endures solitary confinement without trial or sentence; within Chicago and Minneapolis the FBI invaded the homes of anti-war activists.

Thus, what a thoughtful and delicate balancing act the Belarus Free Theatre performs for our delectation. It’s not enough to acknowledge how skillfully they interweave notable sections of Pinter’s plays with the direct, eyewitness accounts of the torture and political persecution of Belarus’ citizens. Rather, Being Harold Pinter sits first and foremost upon the foundation of Harold Pinter’s 2005 Nobel Prize acceptance speech—a speech that excoriates the United States for its illegal invasion of Iraq, its maintenance of Gitmo and its Cold War manipulations in Central and South America.

But most of that is left out of director Vladimir Scherban’s adaptation. Perhaps it is because they are our guests but, more likely, Being Harold Pinter is neither crude agitprop nor is it a collage of Pinter’s words and selected scenes. Scherban takes very seriously Pinter’s view on the role of the artist and the role of the citizen, a discourse that frames every scene yet shift-shapes with each dramatic moment. Perhaps more powerfully than anything else, through Pinter’s own inquiries into the nature of truth, coupled with scenes of interrogation pulled from his plays Ashes to Ashes, Old Times, The Homecoming, One for the Road, The New World Order and Mountain Language, Sherban and his seeringly consummate cast unveil Pinter himself as a Grand Inquisitor in his own way.

     
Yana Rusakevich and Aleh Sidorchyk in Belarus Free Theatre's 'Being Harold Pinter'. Photo by Liz Lauren. Maryna Yurevich, Pavel Haradnitski and Aleh Sidorchyk in Belarus Free Theatre's 'Being Harold Pinter'. Photo by Liz Lauren.
Nikolai Khalezin, Maryna Yurevich and Yana Rusakevich in Belarus Free Theatre's 'Being Harold Pinter'. Photo by Liz Lauren. Maryna Yurevich, Yana Rusakevich, Nikolai Khalezin in Belarus Free Theatre's 'Being Harold Pinter'. Photo by Liz Lauren.

As for execution, they are fiercely good. Using minimal props loaded with significance, the cast tosses off Pinter’s dialogue and glides through scenes I’ve witnessed actors in this town clod-hop their way through. That the Belarus Free Theatre would engage Pinter’s sadomasochistic power plays as a reflection on what they endure from their own prevailing KGB seems like a no-brainer. But what they also reveal is Pinter’s mind going through its own non-stop interrogation. That is the diamond to be found in the middle of all the suffering, degradation and carnage. What they depict of Pinter is a soul in unrelenting pursuit of what is true and the dangerous struggle to present that truth and render it in a way from which audiences cannot escape. Finally, they ground Pinter’s drama with real life accounts from the tortured of their country. The BFT plays for keeps and they should not be missed.

As for their future, the Belarus Free Theatre is still a band on the run. According to Roche Schulfer, The Goodman Theatre’s Executive Director, their visas were set to expire close to the end of the New York festival but so long as they could find more gigs to perform, they would not have to return to Belarus, where they would surely meet with more persecution. Their manager is currently in Washington D.C., consulting with the Secretary of State’s office about asylum. Meanwhile, they’ve booked more performances in Hong Kong and London after Chicago.

By the way, here’s another small Chicago connection: in 2005 the BFT produced a play by Sarah Kane, 4.48 Psychosis, which is currently enjoying a remount during Curious Theatre Branch’s 22nd Annual Rhinoceros Festival. Their production was banned in Belarus and they had to continue it underground.

   
  
Rating: ★★★½
      
  

Scene from Belarus Free Theatre's 'Being Harold Pinter'. Photo by Liz Lauren.

     
     

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REVIEW: Carousel (Light Opera Works)

Industrial Strength Nostalgia

 

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Light Opera Works presents
   
Carousel
  
Written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein
Directed by Stacey Flaster
at Cahn Auditorium, 600 Emerson, Evanston (map)
through August 29 |  tickets: $32-$77  |  more info

reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Some candies may melt in your mouth, but practically every song in this glorious 1945 gem of heartfelt Americana melts in your heart. Filled with what’s now post-war nostalgia for an even simpler America (a sea town in Maine in the late 19th century), Rodgers and Hammerstein’s lovely and loving masterwork is an inspired reworking of Ferenc Molnari’s Liliom, a knowing drama about an abusive husband who’s given one last—posthumous—chance to redeem himself to the wife he abused and the daughter he never knew but still might save.

Maybe because it’s hard to believe in 2010 that a husband can “hit [his wife] so hard and still not have it hurt” (as Billy Bigelow supposedly does to the too trusting Julie Jordan), the seemingly tender plot of this beloved musical Carousel can also register an ugly shock of recognition. It’s nothing like the vicious menace that Jud Fry offers   Laurie and Curly in the earlier hit Oklahoma!  But this is even closer for discomfort–domestic violence Carousel Light Opera Works Chicago 01nurtured by Billy’s need to strike out at anyone but at the real threat, the loser he feels he is.

The question of whether carnival-barker Billy Bigelow will find posthumous redemption–by offering a star to the daughter he never knew–seems less important than the fact that soon after this unreformed bruiser returns to earth, the abuser slaps his daughter, as he did her mother 15 years before. If he helps his daughter Louise, it doesn’t happen on stage. And this, though Billy knows that his return to the living (like Jimmy Stewart’s in a film from the same year) is his one chance to make up for the cruelty and crimes that shortened his earthly sojourn–and escape the pangs of hell.

Writing about the recent Broadway revival of Carousel, the late William A. Henry III dismissed the 1945 classic as a musical where nothing important happens when it should and in which a rotter’s reformation occurs after it’s too late to matter.

But that’s the lure that drew Oscar Hammerstein to Ferenc Molnar’s Liliom: We need to believe that, unlike letters, love is never lost.

Refusing to dispute her dependency ("What’s The Use of Wondr’rin’?"), Julie Jordan, a lovestruck Victorian millgirl, clings to her seemingly worthless Billy. In real life, Julie’s dogged devotion to a thug would gain her a worse beating. But the musical’s make-believe, plus the powerful persuasion of a deathless anthem like "You’ll Never Walk Alone," improves on fact–at least until you think of Simpson.

Sturdy and sometimes impassioned, Light Opera Works’ revival – very down to earth and up to heaven, unlike the famous and deliriously lyrical Lincoln Center revival of a decade ago – finds a strong moment at the start: The famous waltz accompanies the millgirls’ happy deliverance from work and riotous escape to the carnival, complete with the title amusement. That–and the passionate “dream” dance duo between Nicole Miller and Todd Rhodes–are superb bookends for a literally moving musical.

Carousel Light Opera Works Chicago 05The casting seems made to matter. Cooper David Grodin makes a lean and menacing Billy, with a body language as confident as his tenor and more so than his acting. (He’s trying so hard to be tough that we miss the tenderness that clearly draws Julie to this “bad boy.”) Innocent until ardent, Natalie Ford gives Julie the pole-axed passion that makes this unschooled woman endure so much for her premature prince. But since they don’t connect when it counts–in the wonderful 11-minute "bench scene" that blooms into "If I Loved You"–it’s hard to wish them a second chance.

Ably inhabiting the supporting roles, Elizabeth Lanza enjoys her merry moments as conventional Carrie, a millgirl who enters into a risk-free contract with proper Yankee entrepreneur Enoch Snow (played with gawky rectitude by George Keating). As maternal Aunt Nettie, Winifred Faix Brown makes much of the unstoppable anthem "You’ll Never Walk Alone." Katherine L. Condit as Billy’s true soulmate, the randy Mrs. Mullin, and Jeremy Trager as his nemesis Jigger Craigin suggest the dark side of Billy Bigelow that Julie alone can’t tame. Happily, that doesn’t apply to the musical itself. These songs are surefire charmers and mellow a plot that almost too abruptly changes from flinty New England realism to moonspun and quicksilver wishful thinking. But then “What’s the Use of Wond’rin?”

   
   
Rating: ★★★
     
     

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Extra Credit:

   
   

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Aug. 7th: Stephen Schwartz to perform at Johnny Mercer Songwriters Project

 

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Coming for one night only – this Saturday at 8pm

at Northwestern University’s Pick-Staiger Concert Hall (map)

 

A Celebration of Stephen Schwartz

Exclusive Star-Studded Event!

Steven Schwartz, lyricist/composer of "Wicked" and "Godspell"A perfect end to a perfect summer, this star-studded evening honors the legacy of Johnny Mercer by celebrating Tony Award-winning composer Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Pippen, Godspell) for his mentorship of young songwriters. The evening will feature performances from Mr. Schwartz’s landmark shows by Broadway star Shoshana Bean (Wicked), Tony-nominated composer/lyricist Craig Carnelia, Grammy Award-nominated composer/lyricist Andrew Lippa, Grammy Award-winning Nashville singer/songwriter Lari White and talented young songwriters from the Johnny Mercer Songwriters Project. Mr. Schwartz will be on hand to share a few songs himself, and to honor the legacy of Johnny Mercer and the Great American Songbook — past, present and future!  Buy tickets

Price: $10-$40

One Night Only at Pick-Staiger Concert Hall!

 Buy Tickets

================================

Last chance to see new musical "Not Wanted on the Voyage"

 

Not Wanted on the Voyage

…an epic new musical.

 

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Not Wanted on the Voyage is a provocative new musical about an ordinary family faced with extraordinary circumstances.  Secrets lie just beneath the surface in this darkly funny, modern re-imagining of the Great Flood – the first time the world ended.  Broadway writers Neil Bartram and Brian Hill have teamed up with award-winning director Amanda Dehnert to create an epic production, complete with rain, fire, magic and a soaring, eclectic score.  Here’s just a taste:

Produced by the American Music Theatre Project at Northwestern University’s Ethel M. Barber Theatre, 30 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston (map)

 

 

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The production needs to invent a fantastical, timeless world in which this modern story can take place,” says award-winning director, Amanda Dehnert.  “Illusion and spectacle create moments of surprise and connection for the audience, and they allow us to realize the more epic moments of the family’s voyage in thrilling, visually innovative ways. 

Illusion consultants Jim Steinmeyer and Jeff Grow advised on the design of magic elements performed by actor Andrew Howard who plays family patriarch and self-proclaimed amateur magician, Dr. Noyes.  Steinmeyer, the acclaimed illusion designer who developed the concept behind David Copperfield’s landmark illusion in which he made the Statue of Liberty disappear, has long-advised Dehnert on the use of magic in her theatrical productions.  New York-based magician Jeff Grow, traveled to Chicago to teach Howard how to perform an elaborate magic act within the show. 

Working with Jeff was thrilling,” says Howard, a recently graduated senior at Northwestern.  “The technical skill that goes into even the simplest tricks was surprising, exciting and incredibly challenging.  But now I can produce a light bulb out of thin air, and you can bet I’ll be using that at parties. 

The illusion design elements combine with a revolving platform stage amidst projections, soaring vocals, and stunning backdrops. The production makes use of onstage rain and fire, and Eugene Lee’s barn wood set sits in a moat of water.   

The production is epic” says AMTP producing director, Heather Schmucker.  “We make it rain in the theatre, we burn down a barn, and we have a magic show within the show. Not to mention the age-old theatre saying, ‘Never work with animals or children.’ We’ve got both.” 

 

 

     
       

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REVIEW: The Pirates of Penzance (Light Opera Works)

Rollicking fun, if not quite a glorious thing

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Light Opera Works presents

The Pirates of Penzance
By W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan
Directed and choreographed by
Rudy Hogenmiller
Through Jan. 3 (ticket info)

reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

One of the few professional Chicago companies to put on the works of Gilbert and Sullivan, Light Opera Works typically mounts one of their operettas each year, with just eight performances. This year, it’s a solid version of The Pirates of Penzance, one of the duo’s most popular comic operas, full of witty lines and catchy music.

To know W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan is to love them. Funny and musically brilliant, every one of their collaborations is a delight.

It’s hard to imagine anyone coming away from a well-done production of almost any of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas without wanting to see more. Maybe it’s the "opera" in "comic opera" that scares people off. Maybe it’s the technical difficulty and expense of producing shows that require skilled orchestras and large, talented choruses. Whatever it is, it’s rare that Chicagoans get to see these classics done with the splendor they deserve.

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Light Opera Works does a satisfying but not thrilling job of "Pirates," one of the funniest and most timeless of the G&S canon. Its characteristically silly plot revolves around Frederic, an apprentice pirate. Meant to be articled to a ship’s pilot, he was instead mistakenly indentured to a pirate by his hard-of-hearing nursery maid. The dutiful young man has served diligently in the rather soft-hearted pirate band, but now his term of service is up, and he means to dedicate himself to wiping out his former comrades.

He becomes more determined after he meets Major-General Stanley’s bevy of beautiful daughters, whom the lovelorn pirate crew tries to kidnap, and falls in love with the intrepid Mabel. But then, the pirate king points out a technicality that means Frederic’s contract to the pirates is still in force. Delightful songs and comic shenanigans ensue.

A highlight of the production, bass-baritone Michael Cavalieri looks too amiable to be a Pirate King, but he gives us a glorious "Oh, better far to live and die." Musical theater veteran James Harms is the very model of a Major-General Stanley, effortlessly delivering the centerpiece patter song in fine comic style.

As in many productions, this crowd-pleaser gets a speeded-up reprise, although this one rather insults audiences. It’s usual to hint the meaning of the couplet, "In short, when I’ve a smattering of elemental strategy — / You’ll say a better Major-General has never sat a gee," by having the singers mime riding horseback on the final rhyme, but when Harms repeats the line, he sings, "never sat a horse" — as if we were too dumb to get it the first time.

Other than that, Director Rudy Hogenmiller steers mercifully clear of modernizing, while aiming at very broad comedy. The police force, for instance, comes straight out of the Keystone Kops. Bass Frank M. DeVincentis, both vocally and comically perfect as the Sergeant of Police, does a bang-up job with "When a felon’s not engaged in his employment."

Tenor Matthew Giebel brings an excellent voice to Frederic. As Mabel, Alicia Berneche trills her way through "Poor wandering one!" and "Stay, Frederic, stay!" at high coloratura pitch. All of the women sound a bit shrill, even the dashing Barbara Landis in the contralto role of Ruth, Frederic’s nurse turned piratical maid of all work.

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Conductor Roger L. Bingaman’s largely workmanlike musical direction stumbles here and there. The orchestra doesn’t excite, and harmonizing, in songs like "When you had left our pirate fold," sung by Landis, Giebel and Cavalieri, isn’t all that it could be. The choristers do fine work, though, with particularly clear enunciation in numbers like "How beautifully blue the sky."

Hogenmiller’s dance sequences sometimes seem cluttered, but that only adds to the fun. Jill Van Brussel‘s costumes shine, particularly the colorful pirates’ garb. Tom Burch‘s cut-out sets neither add much nor detract.

Overall, the flaws of this production are far outweighed by its successes, together with the sheer brilliance of the original score and script. If it’s not the glittering production that Gilbert and Sullivan fans yearn for, it’s still loads of fun and good enough to inspire G&S newcomers to want more.

Are you listening, Chicago thespians?

Rating: ★★★

Chicago theater openings/closings this week

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show openings

 

1985 The Factory Theater 

All the Fame of Lofty Deeds The House Theatre of Chicago 

Becoming Ingrid Rubicon Theatre Project

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University

Cooperstown Theatre Seven of Chicago

The David Bowie Hepzikat Funky Velvet Flarney Solstice Spectacular Live!…From Space (David Bowie’s 1977 Christmas Special Network Edit) New Millenium Theatre

Democracy Eclipse Theatre

G.I.F.T. Collaboraction Theatre

Little Women Circle Theatre

Macbeth Dominican University Performing Arts Center

MassNorthwestern University 

Plaid Tidings Noble Fool Theatricals

Spanish Strings McAninch Arts Center

Stars in the Morning Sky UIC Theatre

A Very Merry Unauthorized Children’s Scientology Pageant A Red Orchid Theatre

 

CHICAGO_HOLIDAYS

show closings

 

As You Like It Loyola University

The Black Duckling Dream Theatre 

Book of Days EverGreen Theatre Ensemble 

C’est La Vie Light Opera Works 

Dinner for Six Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

The Fantasticks Porchlight Music Theatre 

Fedra: Queen of Haiti Lookingglass Theatre 

Graceland Profiles Theatre

The Last Unicorn Promethean Theatre

The Mercy Seat Profiles Theatre

Pump Boys and Dinettes Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

Spoon River Anthology Saint Sebastian Players

A Streetcar Named Desire Polarity Ensemble Theatre

Treasure Island Lifeline Theatre

Two by Pinter Piven Theatre Workshop

Chicago theater openings/closings this week

chicagoriverblast

show openings

A You Like It Loyola University

Burlesque Is More Annoyance Theatre 

Gossamer Adventure Stage Chicago

High Holidays Goodman Theatre

Horrible Apollo Theatre

Murder in Green Meadows Citadel Theatre

The Music Man Rising Stars Theatre

Phedra New World Repertory Theater

The Shape of Things University of Chicago

Shootin’ the Shit with EJ and TJ Annoyance Theatre

The Spectacular Comedy Spectacle Theatre Building Chicago

When She Danced TimeLine Theatre

Young Frankenstein Cadillac Palace Theatre

 

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show closings

An Apology for the Course and Outcome of Certain Events Delivered by Dr. John Faustus on His Final Evening Theater Oobleck 

Arsenic and Old Lace Northwestern University 

Bastards of Young Tympanic Theatre

Calls to Blood The New Colony

Cotton Patch Gospel Provision Theater

Everyone’s Favorite Lobster Gorilla Tango Theatre

Fake Steppenwolf Theatre

The Flowers About Face Theatre

The House on Mango Street Steppenwolf Theatre

Kill the Old Torture Their Young Steep Theatre

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow Filament Theatre

Lettice and Lovage Redtwist Theatre

Lucinda’s Bed Chicago Dramatists

Night Watch Jedlicka Performing Arts Center

Rhymes with Evil InFusion Theatre

A Streetcar Named Desire Polarity Ensemble Theatre

Yeast Nation (The Triumph of Life) American Theater Company

 

List courtesy of The League of Chicago Theatres