Sanity Break: A Chicago Summer in 3 minutes – pretty cool!

 

Here’s a way-cool timelapse video by Josh Kalven (and cool music):

Summer Sped Up – A Chicago Timelapse

 

 

Damn, I miss summer already!!

REVIEW: 1001 (Collaboraction)

A breathtaking testament to the power of storytelling

 

 Pictured (left to right): Joel Gross (as Shahriyar) and Mouzam Makkar (as Scheherazade) in "1001". Photo by Saverio Truglia

  
Collaboraction presents
  
1001
  
Written by Jason Grote
Directed by
Seth Bockley
at
Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division (map)
through October 9  |  tickets: $15-$25  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

Jason Grote’s 1001 uses the story of “The Arabian Nights” as the foundation for a centuries-spanning epic that examines the nature of stories and the ways in which they shape and define the world. After a nuclear blast starts the play, the One-Eyed Arab (H.B. Ward) begins to tell the familiar story of the murderous sultan Shahriyar (Joel Gross) and his crafty bride Scheherazade (Mouzam Makkar), who tells stories that never end to elude her death the next morning.

The Wedding Feast from Collaboraction's "1001" - Photo by Saverio Truglia From there, Grote presents amidst stories about Prince Yahya al-Husayni’s (Edgar Miguel Sanchez) lust for his twin sister and Sinbad’s (Ward) afternoon with Jorge Luis Borges (Antonio Brunetti), the narrative of two 21st-century Columbia students takes shape: Dahna (Makkar), an Arab, and Allen (Gross), a Jew. Grote masterfully intertwines the various story threads, bleeding slapstick comedy, relationship drama, political criticism, and post-modern philosophy together to create a play that defies categorization. Under Seth Bockley’s clear and concise direction, the cast navigates the complex script with a momentum that never stops, playing multiple characters and switching between genres without ever skipping a beat.

As Shahriyar, Gross shows an amazing comedic talent, particularly in his handle of malapropisms (“ceviche” for “cesspool” is my favorite), which can cause more groans than laughs in the wrong hands. As a sultan that face palms his wives to shush them, Gross shows no sense of tact or restraint, which increases his comedic worth without diminishing his threat. In his first scene as Allen, Gross delivers a fantastic monologue of incredible difficulty, as the mentally fractured character recalls the events that have led to his residence in the underground tunnels of Manhattan.

Makkar has the least comedic parts of the show, but she helps ground the play by creating characters that feel more realistic than her funnier co-stars. As the primary storyteller, she has fantastic diction, and her voice commands attention when she speaks. The only other female of the cast, Carly Ciarrochi gets the brunt of the humor, and she handles it fantastically. Ciarrochi has a talent for goofy voices, but it is her comedic timing that makes her scenes so memorable, like her Act 1 hysterics as one of Shahriyar’s virgin brides about to be killed.

Pictured (left to right) Antonio Brunetti and Edgar Miguel Sanchez in "1001". Photo by Saverio Truglia. Pictured (back to front) Edgar Miguel Sanchez and Mouzam Makkar in "1001". Photo by Saverio Truglia H.B. Ward in "1001". Photo by Saverio Truglia.
Pictured (left to right): Carly Ciarrochi, Edgar Miguel Sanchez and Joel Gross in "1001". Photo by Saverio Truglia Pictured (left to right): Mouzam Makkar (as Dahna) and Joel Gross (as Alan) in "1001". Photo by Saverio Truglia.

The rest of the cast does admirable work playing a plethora of different characters, giving each one a distinct physicality and voice so that no clarity is lost. Ward’s Sinbad stands out for his complete lack of awe at the spectacular sights he encounters on his journey, with Ward underplaying each of the sailor’s memory for maximum comedic effect.

The brilliance of the script comes from the ways in which Grote uses the fantastic – and oftentimes comic – stories that Scheherazade tells to enrich Dahna and Allen’s relationship. Towards the end of the play, Scheherazade asks the audience, “What are any of us but a collection of stories?” In that moment the story within a story within a story structure of the play makes perfect sense, revealing the limitless potential in every person to imagine and create at any moment. Collaboraction’s 1001 is an inspiration, and with only a few more weeks before the end of the run I suggest you hurry to get your tickets.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
   
  

1001_photo by Saverio Truglia_7573

Continue reading

Review: The Astronaut’s Birthday (Redmoon Theater)

Stellar Spectacle Offers Little Substance

Redmoon projection at MCA

 
Redmoon Theater presents
      
The Astronaut’s Birthday
      
at Museum of Contemporary Art Plaza
220 E. Chicago Avenue
(map)
thru September 26 | tickets: $15-$20  | more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker

When someone says Redmoon Theater, I think of two words—crazy and big. It seems practically everything this company does is eccentric on a large scale. I guess if you’re going to be offbeat, you may as well gloriously fly your freak flag as high as you can. The Astronaut’s Birthday, Redmoon’s theatrical partnership with the Museum of Contemporary Art, continues in this tradition.

The production is made up of 80-foot tall projections that light up the MCA’s exterior to create comic-book-like panels. By using a combination of live performers, hand-illustrated shadow puppets and colorful stills, the panels come to life with animations reminiscent of old Jonny Quest cartoons. It’s certainly a stunning display that attracts many oohs and aahs. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, and I doubt I ever will again.

REDMOON MCA BACKSTAGE PHOTO7

Unfortunately, despite the hours of energy that went into storyboarding, creating and coordinating all these vibrant visual elements, it appears as if little time was given to the piece’s script. It’s not that the tale is too simplistic. It’s obviously aimed at a general audience of children and adults alike. It’s that the 60-minute plot lacks a considerable amount of coherency and characterization.

The story begins when a large black orb crash-lands on rural farmland. Printed on the orb are the words “Send One.” Personally, I thought this was a mysterious message. Send one. Send one what? But the show’s characters don’t miss a beat, instinctively knowing to send an identical orb up into space.

We then meet Al, an elevator operator, his wife and his daughter Lindy. Somehow we discover that within Al’s marble collection is an identical orb. What makes it not just another black marble? Who knows?

Thus Al is shot into space to make contact with what everyone refers to as the Summoner. He discovers that Lindy has sneaked into the ship, and soon both are sent whirling through a space-time continuum. I won’t spoil the rest of the plot, but brace yourselves for a trite and self-contradicting ending that will have you simultaneously scratching your head and rolling your eyes.

On the bright side, composer Jeffrey Allen Thomas’ score adds a thrilling audio layer to the production that enhances the captivating visuals. The music, which incorporates a heavy dose of theremin, captures the 1950s vibe that Redmoon is hoping to achieve.

Taken as an art installation, The Astronaut’s Birthday is like a surreal dream come to life. But taken as a piece of drama, it falls flat. Still, I recommend the production, if only for its novelty. Also, bring a heavy jacket. The show is outdoors.

     
     
Rating: ★★½
     
     

Backstage Photos

REDMOON MCA BACKSTAGE PHOTO11 REDMOON MCA BACKSTAGE PHOTO13
REDMOON MCA BACKSTAGE PHOTO18 REDMOON MCA BACKSTAGE PHOTO12
   
   

Continue reading

Sanity Break: Tina Fey & Jane Lynch before they were stars

Bad commercials before they were famous!!

Tina Fey & Jane Lynch before they were stars

Check out early commercials done by two Emmy winners before they hit it big – Tina Fey and Jane Lynch (for Mutual Savings Bank and Kellogg’s Corn Flakes respectively)

 

 

In 1995, Mutual Savings Bank seemed to be looking for a perky and quirky persona to advertise for their bank, and a youthful Tina Fey, who was then just known for her Chicago improv work at Second City, got the job. The commercial looks like a 90’s trainwreck, but underneath the big hair and applique vest, we can see a bit of Tina Fey’s “30 Rock” character Liz Lemon.

 

 

This clip takes place in Kellogg headquarters Battle Creek, MI, where we see a woman stalking Tony the Tiger.  The actress is none other than a young Jane Lynch, soon destined for stardom in “Best in Show”, “The 40-Year Old Virgin” and now the Emmy-winning acress from “Glee” – Jane Lynch.

Enjoy!!

     
     

Chicago theater on YouTube (Bailiwick and Steppenwolf)

Bailiwick Chicago’s Aida the Musical: 

 

our review here★★★

 

 

Steppenwolf Theatre’s A Parallelogram

 

 our review here ★★★★

REVIEW: That Sordid Little Story (The New Colony Theatre)

Tall Tale Is Too Big

 

The New Colony presents That Sordid Little Story, from L to R - Thea Lux, Tara Sissom, Brandon Rutter, Chris Gingrich, Henry Riggs - photo by Anne Peterson

   
The New Colony Theatre presents
   
That Sordid Little Story
   
By Will Cavedo, Andrew Hobgood and Benno Nelson
Composed by
H. Riggs, C. Gingrich, T. Sissom and T. Lux
Directed by Andrew Hobgood
Music Directed by
Henry Riggs
at
Viaduct Theater, 3111 N. Western, Chicago (map)
through August 7th  |  tickets: $25  |  more info

reviewed by Keith Ecker 

The New Colony Theatre’s original play That Sordid Little Story is a huge production, both figuratively and literally. It fills the spacious Viaduct Theater with a two-tiered  stage that is flanked with jutting runways. There are two intermissions throughout the 2.5-hour long piece. Including musicians, the cast just jumps the dozen marker, which I know is no Cherrywood, but it’s The New Colony, That Sordid Little Story, from L to R - Patriac Coakley and Danny Taylorstill a sizeable amount of people for an off-Loop production.

The play also feels huge. It’s epic in its nature, with its protagonist, Billy Lomax (Patriac Coakley), journeying from Fayetteville Georgia across the South in search of a bluegrass band that may just hold the answers to the identity and whereabouts of his father. Along the way, Billy encounters a cast of colorful characters including a manipulative antique shop owner (Caitlin Chuckta) and her jealous brother (Wes Needham), a man of color who claims he’s half Cherokee (Anthony DiNicola), a stand-up comic (Sean Ellis), a couple of Latino day laborers (Aaron Alonso and Gary Tiedemann) and others.

The elusive bluegrass band serves as the soundtrack to Billy’s life. Each song inexplicably represents Billy’s current situation, or at least that’s how he reads into it. And so the band becomes the fuel that drives Billy, and for that matter the rest of the play, forward.

I should note that The New Colony takes a unique approach to creating a new production like this. The lines delineating actor, writer and director are blurred, with all cast members getting some say in the development of the play and its final treatment. With a company of about 30 members, this sounds like a situation where too many cooks could have spoiled the pot. And while the pot is not spoiled, it suffers from too many ingredients.

The New Colony, Sordid Little Story, from L to R - Aaron Alonso, Patriac Coakley and Sean Ellis - Photo by Anne Petersen The New Colony presents That Sordid Little Story, from L to R - Patriac Coakley and Jack McCabe.  Photo by Anne Petersen.
Sordid_7 Sordid_9 Sordid_3

The play practically bursts at the seams. There’s just so much in it. Issues of race, issues of family, issues of wealth and social class. In covering so much territory, very little is actually said.

In addition, there are too many characters that come in and out of Billy’s life for us to really care about them. Once Billy starts developing a connection with someone, he leaves or he is left. We as the audience catch on to this pattern quickly, which means mentally we know there’s little at stake with these friendships. Once that happens, we know we can check out, and thus the relationships that Billy is making just don’t have Sordid_11 much of an impact. In the end, you’re left just waiting to see how the whole thing wraps up.

Also, some of these scenes lag. There are conversations between talking heads that sound reminiscent of college-level discussion groups. Much of this dialogue could be cut, and we’d still get the point. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with a 2.5-hour long play as long as your play needs to be 2.5 hours. With some obvious editing, That Sordid Little Story could shave off a good 30 minutes.

But let’s take a moment to focus on what this play does well, namely, the music. This is a four-star score, lyrically and melodically. Heart-wrenching at times, uplifting at others, the music overshadows the rest of the play with its spot-on descant harmonies and its band’s down-home-country affection.

Also, the acting is consistently solid. Standout performances include Sean Ellis as the drunk comic, Aaron Alonso as a non-English speaking immigrant and Caitlin Chuckta, who reminded me of comic actress Stephnie Weir.

That Sordid Little Story is anything but little. It’s a big piece – too big. With some self-editing, this could have been more than just a cool concept. But as it stands, I’d rather just listen to the soundtrack.

   
   
Rating: ★★½
  
   

Sordid_1

 

 

Continue reading

REVIEW: Best Friggin’ Time of Your Life (Second City etc)

Friggin’ hilarious

Photo_001_Flanigan_Baltz_Melewski_Jennings_Anthony_Sohn 

The Second City e.t.c. presents
  
The Absolute Best Friggin’ Time of Your Life
  
Directed by Bill Bungeroth
Musical direction by
Jesse Case
The Second City e.t.c., Piper’s Alley, 1608 N. Wells (map)
Open run  |  Tickets: $22–$27 |   more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Second City e.t.c.’s new revue, The Absolute Best Friggin’ Time of Your Life, may not exactly live up to its boastful title, but it’s probably among the funniest times you can have for the price.

Photo_005_Melewski_Anthony_Sohn Like all such sketch-comedy shows, this one has its upsides and downsides, but when it works, it really clicks, and it works more often than not.

Much more musical than many Second City shows, Friggin’ offers some especially funny songs, delivered by a terrific cast who knows how to use their voices, backed by capable music director Jesse Case.

Beginning with a musical tribute to the "Good Old Days," the running joke of the revue, is a look back to the supposedly better days of the past — which seem to be the late 1990s, though few actual historical events are mentioned beyond general references to full employment, budget surpluses and no wars. That gives them ample scope to skewer the present, however. Christina Anthony, Beth Melewski and Mary Sohn, clad in stretch pants showing ample curves, take on the country’s idiotic "war on obesity" with a defiant song and dance on the joys of being "Rubenesque" that had nearly every woman in the audience cheering. Tom Flanigan is sidesplitting as a scat singer crooning to a group of dull-witted Tea Partiers. And Tim Baltz dramatically captures the all-encompassing and irrational rage of Obama haters in an office sketch.

Very little effort has gone into making this comedy politically balanced — the few digs at Dems are far outweighed by the arrows aimed at the increasingly easy targets of the right wing. I’m not sure this show would play so well in outside a liberal stronghold, but the Chicago audience ate it up. (Has any previous sitting administration ever been so lightly treated by comedians because their opponents made so much more compelling butts?)

Photo_002_Melewski_Anthony_Flanigan_Baltz_Sohn Photo_004_Melewski_Anthony_Sohn

A few skits don’t deliver, such as one in which Flanigan and Anthony play a race-reversed doctor and nurse — beyond the initial surprise when you realize the white guy is playing a black man, there’s not much there.

The evening culminates with an overlong skit in which Brendan Jennings, wonderfully expressive throughout, time travels to his high-school prom with an audience volunteer. Jennings carries it off impressively, but the jokes don’t match the premise of a nerd who regrets having skipped the dance in the first place, and I imagine much depends on how well the volunteer plays up.

Overall, though, Director Bill Bungeroth has given us a fast-paced and hilarious look at those times that, for many of us, have been the worst of our lives.

     
  
Rating: ★★★½
  
  

Photo_006_Flanigan_Sohn_Melewski_Anthony_Case_Baltz_Ruffner_Bungeroth_Jennings

Written and performed by Christina Anthony, Tim Baltz, Tom Flanigan, Brendan Jennings, Beth Melewski and Mary Sohn