Review: "A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Queer Tale"

Shakespeare, Never So Gay and Never So Fun!

By Venus Zarris

This midsummer seems to be chocked full of options for fans of the Bard. There are two productions currently running of Much Ado About Nothing, one under the starlight and trees of the First Folio Shakespeare Festival at the beautiful Mayslake Peabody Estate Forest Preserve in Oak Brook and the other at the Oak Park Festival Theatre. There is also Funk It Up About Nothin’ (weblink here), a world premiere “ad-rap-tation” of Much Ado About Nothing at Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier. (It can’t be Nothing if there are three productions going on at once. I call that Much Ado!)

On July 26th Bohemian Theatre Ensemble opens The Merchant of Venice at BoHo Theatre @ Heartland Studio and on the 27th The Mill Theatre opens Paula Vogel’s Desdemona: A Play About a Handkerchief, a reimagining of Othello, at Stage Left Theatre.

midsummer nights dream - a queer tale But if you are looking to satisfy your iambic pentameter cravings with a delightfully decadent deviation, MidTangent Productions A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Queer Tale is the show for you! Director/Adaptor Tony Lewis takes Shakespeare’s romantic comedy of young lovers and mischievous fairies and infuses it with a red light cabaret complete with some of the best dance numbers you’ll see in any musical. Filled with writhing bodies engaged in undulating erotic naughtiness, this spin on the Bard’s classic will make you wish that all of the Shakespeare library could be retold with as much homoerotic delight.

In the struggle to gain mainstream acceptance, the gay community has taken to homogenized representations. Many of us are settling down, pairing off in committed relationships, buying homes and/or having or adopting children. On the surface it might even be construed that being straight is so great, we are attempting to imitate or emulate. But Queer Tale stands as not only a wonderful adaptation of Shakespeare, it also stands as an unapologetically sexual solute to the daring divergence and darling debauchery at the roots of gay liberation and expression.

With forbidden lesbian and gay relationships, a Drag Queen Titania lip-syncing to Cher and Madonna and an outrageously erotic dance party fueled by euphoric intoxicants, this show celebrates the ‘old school’ joie de vivre of the community while, at the same time, illustrating the ongoing struggles for acceptance and equality. With a charming cast, fantastic soundtrack and the most playful choreography in town, this will reinvent your notions of Shakespeare in love to include sophisticated and stylized same sex subversion.

“How now faggots?” Asks Puck. “We are but tricks and treats!” Answers the Fairyz of the Hood. From the brilliant dance opening to the bittersweet end, MidTangent’s ‘Queer Tale’ is filled with tricks and treats and then some!

The outstanding direction, conceptual ingenuity and adorably enthusiastic cast shine through to make this a production that transcends sexual orientation or identification. You can’t help but be enchanted by this midsummer dream.

“Some are born gay. Some achieve gayness. And some have gayness thrust upon them.”

Regardless of your sexual proclivity, Queer Tale makes for amazingly entertaining Shakespeare and ambitiously excellent theater!

Rating: «««½

(“A Midsummer Night’s Dream: A Queer Tale ” runs through August 3 at National Pastime Theater, 4139 North Broadway (map). 800-595-4849)

Chicago-to-NYC theatre happenings

Critically-acclaimed The Strangerer (our review), produced by Theatre Oobleck and Scott Morfee, will be pulling up stakes and moving to New York’s Barrow Street Theatre, opening there on July 13th.

The minimalistic new musical The Adding Machine, produced by Next Theatre and Scott Morfee, will be ending their long run at New York’s Minetta Lane Theatre, accumulating a run of 16 previews and 149 regular performances.

Final Week of great shows: Dog and Pony, Redmoon, ATC

Time Is Running Out!

by Venus Zarris

One of the most amazing and disheartening aspects of live theater is the immediacy of the experience. No two shows, of the same production, are ever alike and so every performance is a once in a lifetime opportunity. That being said, plays are shooting stars in the grand scheme of things.  You either see them or they are gone forever, unlike film that you can catch on DVD and watch over and over again.

Chicago makes this urgency even more demanding as there is so much exceptional work being produced but the many gifted companies. With this in mind there are a few shows in particular that extra efforts should be made to catch before they are no longer an option.

“Boneyard Prayer” – This breathtakingly bleak examination of sorrow and regret told through Redmoon’s unparalleled conceptualization. Their brilliant offering is spellbinding and creates a uniquely poignant and emotional journey.

(“Boneyard Prayer” runs through May 25 at Redmoon Central, 1463 W. Hubbard St. 312-850-8440 x111.)

“As Told By the Vivian Girls” – This unique production plunges you into the strange and absurd world of underground artist Henry Darger. It creates a funhouse experience as you walk through Theater on The Lake exploring selected aspects of his work, taken from his 1500 page manuscript and various paintings and illustrations, brought to life by actors rendering his fantastical characters and creatures. Dog and Pony Theater Company ambitiously creates a remarkable living-breathing homage to Darger’s bizarre and brilliant imaginary realms.

(“As Told By The Vivian Girls” runs through May 25 at Theater on the Lake, 2401 N. Lake Shore Drive at Fullerton. 773-360-7933.)

Speech and Debate – Playwright Stephen Karam creates a brilliantly funny joy ride in this show about three misfit high school kids dealing with their sexual secrets while trying to start a speech team and gay/straight student alliance. Karam has written one of the funniest roles for a young woman ever penned and Sadieh Rafai’s performance of this character is a laugh riot that is sure to delight!

(“Speech and Debate” runs through May 31 at American Theater Company, 1909 West Byron St. 773-929-1031.)

Run, don’t walk, to catch any or all of these incredible ‘NOT TO BE MISSED’ productions while you still have the chance!

Review – “Boneyard Prayer” at Redmoon Theatre

Redmoon’s “Boneyard Prayer”

reviewed by Venus Zarris

Redmoon Theatre's triumphant "Boneyard Prayer"Once again setting the standard for the reinvention of theatrical thought, Redmoon’s ‘Bonyard Prayer’ is a triumph of imagination and creativity. If you have already experienced Redmoon’s work than you understand that when you visit them you are in for at least the unconventional and at best, which is normally the case, the extraordinary. ‘Boneyard Prayer’ certainly fits under both of these classifications.

It traces the cycles of regret through the upheaval of a man’s grave by five gravediggers. Through this remarkable hallucination of somber reflection we see the tragedy of a mistake’s impact on the lives of those it effects.

This is, to say the least, a dirty show. And I don’t mean X-rated, rather 641 pounds of soil are employed to create the burial site. Working with puppets on a multi leveled stage the breathtakingly bleak word of a graveyard is rendered with fantastical effect. The gravediggers dig, sing and animate the puppetry, be that actual or the shadow variety, to tell this sad story.

Charles Kim’s musical composition sounds like a Tom Wait’s homage, the perfect musical soundtrack for this austere dream. It is wonderfully performed by Rob Cruz, playing a piano that sounds like an old barroom upright that hasn’t had a tuning since The Great Depression and has been the recipient of more than one bottle of beer. This tawdry sound only adds to the forlorn wanderings on this purgatorial trip to the root of personal demise.

Not the ‘feel good show’ of the season, you would be well advised to bare the topic in mind. The play opens with a melancholy lullaby sung to an infant who is then placed back in his grave. The night that I attended the play a pregnant woman in the front row who was quickly moved to tears and then left the theater.

I add that not as much as a cautionary note but to illustrate to emotional depth and power of this sorrowfully poignant masterpiece.

Theater can do so much more than simply entertain. It can stretch our mind to process and encompass all aspect of the human condition thereby broadening our emotional vocabulary and our abilities to understand and empathize with others and with ourselves.

This is a lovely examination of the distressing side of our reality. All of the technical and creative elements coalesce flawlessly to deliver a haunting experience that will linger with you long after you leave the theater. This heart rendering and gorgeous production is well worth the emotional investment and should not be missed.

Rating: «««½

 (“Boneyard Prayer” runs through May 25 at Redmoon Central, 1463 W. Hubbard St. 312-850-8440 x111 – www.redmoon.org)

 

Theater Oobleck’s “The Strangerer” extended

THEATER OOBLECK’S THE STRANGERER EXTENDED

Bush, Kerry and Camus Meet Again at Chopin Theatre Through June 29

Theater Oobleck proudly announces the extension of Mickle Maher’s smash hit The Strangerer at The Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division, through Sunday, June 29. Mickle Maher, Guy Massey, Colm O’Reilly and Brian Shaw star in The Strangerer, deconstructing the first George Bush/ John Kerry presidential debate with a satirical twist inspired by the Albert Camus classic The Stranger. The Strangerer marks the beginning of Theater Oobleck’s 20th anniversary season.  

The Strangerer, which opened April 4, extends through June 29 at the Chopin Theatre. Performances are Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. Tickets are $10 “more if you’ve got it, free if you’re broke.” For information or reservations, call 773.347.1041 or visit www.theateroobleck.com.

Review – Theatre Oobleck’s “The Strangerer”

Review by guest reviewer Venus Zarris.

I met my lover and some dear friends tonight for cocktails, all abuzz from last night’s production. When I told the name of the play my friend Star said, “You mean ‘The Stranger’ by Albert Camus?” “Well, yes and no.” I answered. ‘The Stranger,’ a classic absurdist novel that tells of senseless murder, was on Bush’s 2006 vacation reading list. This inspired playwright Mickle Maher to examine the president through the absurdist world of Camus’s writing and the result is a hysterically wonderful example of theater’s most exigent possibilities.    

I came away from Theater Oobleck’s production of ‘The Strangerer’ asking a question that I don’t think I’ve ever asked before in the hundreds of plays that I have reviewed. Where is playwright Mickle Maher’s Pulitzer Prize? This question was as urgent as the underlying message of Maher’s deceptively profound script.

There have been countless depictions of George W. Bush‘s ineptitude and arrogance. If there is one thing that he has done right, and this is just about the only thing that can be said for him on a positive note, it is that he has provided more fuel for humor and parody than any president in the last several decades. But it has become cliché to mock Bush, too easy, too obvious. The idiosyncratic absurdities of his mannerisms and his infantile grasp of the English language have been fodder for seasoned satirists, novice stand-up comedians and everyday people alike. So what makes ‘The Strangerer’ more than just another exceptional vehicle for dead on impersonation?… The fact that it nails perhaps the most terrifying aspect of Bush’s reign of terror by illuminating the blatant and surreal disregard for human life that he has displayed.

As we complain on a daily basis about the rising cost of gas, (rapidly approaching what is tantamount to a Kruggerand a gallon) observe America’s standings in the world reduced to a joke, cringe every time a presidential address is babbled by a man who’s communication style consists of self congratulatory grins after successful completions of multi syllabic words, and struggle with the plethora of daily domestic and international foibles of the current administration we loose sight of the very real and frightening fact that our country is being run by a murderer.

We can calculate the decline of the economy. We can calculate the damage to the environment. We can calculate the devastation of foreign diplomatic credibility. But we cannot begin to calculate the toll this administration has taken in human life and human suffering. The implications are exponential, staggering and embody a lethal chaos theory. That is to say that all of the other maladies perpetuated by George W. Bush, and you can include many people in the debauchery but the buck stops with the commander in chief, are simply smoke screens to this administrator of mass destruction.

The setting for ‘The Strangerer’ is the first Bush/Kerry presidential debate in 2004. It starts out appearing to be a straightforward recreation but rapidly descends into madness as Bush repeatedly tries different methods of killing moderator Jim Lehrer. The question is not why an innocent man should be killed but rather what is the proper manner in which to go about killing him.

Colm O’Reilly’s remarkable portrayal of Jim Lehrer is spot on and sets a very controlled and structured opening tone. Mickle Maher’s performance of Kerry is hysterically vapid and astutely illustrative of his under enthusiasm and compliance to the political status quo. But it is Guy Massey that elevates the, already ingenious, material to extraordinarily astounding levels. He approaches what could be a trap of obvious characterization and impersonation with a 190 actors IQ and creates a tour de force that is as breathtaking as the writing that he is animating. His performance will go down in the annals of best performances that you have ever seen. This is an exceptional ensemble that delivers this show with a unified vision and unwavering focus. They are clever, tight, spellbinding and at times side splittingly funny.

You will be hard pressed to locate a production that even approaches the accomplishments of this show, much less can be included in it’s league. In examining a cross section of absurdity, ethics and theater Maher has created quite possibly the most brilliant political polemic you will ever see and something that is amazingly entertaining.

To miss this show is to miss a unique and incredible opportunity. This is why Chicago theater is incomparable.

Rating: «««« 
 
Related Links: TimeOut Chicago article; other “The Strangerer” reviews.

‘The Strangerer’ runs through May 11 The Chopin Theater, 1543 W. Division. Performances are Thursdays through Saturdays and 8pm and Sundays at .3pm Tickets are a suggested $10 but they are ‘more if you’ve got it, free if you’re broke’ making this production accessible to everyone. For information or reservations call 773-347-1014 or visit www.theateroobleck.com.