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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Raven Theatre announces 2010-2011 Season

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Raven Theatre announces

 

A Season With The Masters

Williams, Wilson, Chekhov

Producing Artistic Director Michael Menendian and Co-Artistic Director JoAnn Montemurro announce Raven Theatre’s 2010/2011 Season, which includes Cat on a Hot Tin Roof by Tennessee Williams, Radio Golf by August Wilson and The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov. Each story illuminates intimate, personal conflicts amidst massive cultural shifts, whether it is within the family unit, the local African American community or the entire nation.  (more info at the Raven Theatre website)

October 17 – December 19, 2010

   
   
  Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
   
  Written by Tennessee Williams 
Directed by
Michael Menendian
   
  Big Daddy’s birthday brings out the true colors of the wealthy Pollitt family. At the heart of the story is Maggie, the beautiful daughter-in-law, who struggles with a lack of emotional honesty from her husband, Brick, and with the judgment of Brick’s brother and his wife. Lies, deception, false loyalty, and greed play characters as big as Big Daddy himself in one of Williams’ most loved dramas. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1955 and was made into a major motion picture in 1958.

 

  February 27 – April 9, 2011

   
   
  Radio Golf
   
  Written by August Wilson
Directed by Aaron Todd Douglas
   
  Radio Golf, written in 2005, was August Wilson’s last play before his untimely death (August 2005). It is also the final chapter in The Pittsburgh Cycle. In this stirring drama an Ivy League educated entrepreneur, Harmond Wilks, and his banking executive friend plan to convert a blighted neighborhood into an expansive shopping mall. Their ultimate goal is to use Wilks’ success as a developer to leverage him into becoming Pittsburgh’s first African American mayor. It’s a dirty political business that includes back room deals and zoning loop holes. When they discover that a building cited for demolition has a history that affects their heritage, these two modern men are forced to get in touch with their past. Radio Golf won the 2007 New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play.

 

June 5 – July 23, 2011

   
   
  The Cherry Orchard
   
  Written by Anton Chekhov
Directed by Michael Menendian
   
  Chekhov’s last play tapped the history of his own family’s home and the fall of the aristocracy. In The Cherry Orchard, the Ranevsky family is facing financial ruin, largely due to the spendthrift ways of the family matriarch and her devotion to a parasitic lover. The family attempts to come up with a solution so that the estate won’t be sold, but none of the plans lead to action.
   

 

Character Dynamics

The dynamics that define the characters in these plays are similar to those that drive our own lives today. Williams’ masterpiece, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, centers on the legacy of Big Daddy’s enormous wealth, which was amassed by exploiting cheap labor to create one of the largest plantations in the South. Radio Golf, August Wilson’s final work in his ten-play cycle about the Black culture in Pittsburgh, delves into the ambitions of the rising middle class in pursuit of their American Dream. In the genteel comedy The Cherry Orchard, foreclosure of an estate threatens a family’s way of life that has remained unchanged for decades.

 salesmanchippies Photo from last seasons critically acclaimed Death of a Salesman (our review)

12 Angry Men - Raven Theatre Photo from last season’s critically-acclaimed Twelve Angry Men. (our review)

    
     

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REVIEW: Itsoseng (Chicago Shakespeare)

Waiting for the change that never comes

 

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Chicago Shakespeare Theatre presents
  
Itsoseng
   
Written and performed by Omphile Molusi
Directed by
Tina Johnson
at
Chicago Shakespeare, Navy Pier (map)
through June 20  |  tickets: $28-$38  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

At the end of apartheid, the South African township of Itsoseng found itself without a shopping center. The center had become the economic hub of the town, but having been built by a corrupt leader, was looted then burnt to the ground in an act of revolt. Surely the new government would reward their brave action? Ten years later, poverty and crime have skyrocketed, and there is still no shopping center. In his one man show Itsoseng, Omphile Molusi exposes how bureaucracy and politics have come to  stand in the way of aid to struggling South African villages. Molusi weaves a story of desperation and loss that transcends the continent gap as he chronicles the lives of ITSO_1those struggling to survive, taking the audience on a heartbreaking journey through a walking graveyard.

At its core, Itsoseng is a play about desperation. What a town desperate for change will do to join the revolution, the dark places people without hope will go to find sustenance. With only a garbage littered set and a trunk, Molusi creates his dreary village through skilled impressions, song, dance, and various languages, successfully constructing the illusion by his lonesome. Molusi never drops his energy throughout the 75-minute production, and what he lacks in clarity he makes up for in emotional intensity and dedication to his characters.

The early scenes are a bit difficult to follow as Molusi captures the unrestrained energy of youth with a little too much fervor, but as his character matures so does the storytelling. The narrative begins to take shape as Molusi discovers more social problems and political barriers, finally taking action himself to enact change. He is driven by the struggles of his neighbors, his childhood sweetheart that whores herself in taverns, the ex-revolutionary that sits stoned on the sidewalk, cursing his government. And while it all sounds quite dreary, Molusi is a charismatic performer with a natural humor that keeps the piece from being too heavy. The language of the play is a mix of blunt observation and poetic embellishment that shows Molusi is a talented playwright that can tow the line between fantastic escapism and gritty realism.

Itsoseng was a village that once had pride and hope in a future. The future is a fantasy unless the South African government takes active steps to repair the townships that it forgot in favor of the economically prosperous urban territories. In the aftermath of apartheid, South Africa has taken major steps towards improving the lives of its citizens, but Itsoseng shows just how far there is left to go.

   
   
Rating: ★★★
 
 

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REVIEW: Taming of the Shrew (Chicago Shakespeare)

Framed ‘Shrew’ no improvement

 

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Chicago Shakespeare Theatre presents
 
The Taming of the Shrew
 
By William Shakespeare with new induction scenes by Neil LaBute
Directed by Josie Rourke
Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand Ave. (map)
Through June 6  |  tickets: $44-$75 |  more info

Reviewed by Leah A. Zeldes

Fog spews out over the stage almost ceaselessly throughout Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s new version of The Taming of the Shrew. The play is set in sunny Italy, so why all this London-style mist? It’s emblematic of the hazy thinking that clearly CST_SHREW_IMAGE_1prevailed throughout the creation of this deeply flawed production.

In enlisting Neil LaBute to write a new frame for this broadly humorous but troublesomely sexist play, Director Josie Rourke said her goal was to "create something that would release an interesting and sophisticated debate about what’s going on in Shakespeare’s Shrew [and] make the play more relevant to us now…. What I’m hoping the frame will do is allow us to do the play within its own period but at the same time reminding us of where we are now."

So to reconfigure a play offensive to feminist sensibilities, Rourke hires a man. And his idea of bringing a relevant, contemporary viewpoint to this story about a strong, if bitchy, woman browbeaten into subservient docility by her husband is to introduce a catfight between shrilly vituperative lesbians.

In the frame, which echoes the play-within-a-play format of Shakespeare’s original, we get an unhappy sexual triangle of the Director (a cool performance by Mary Beth Fisher); her long-term partner, the actress playing Katherina (Bianca Amato, turbulent and a little muddy in both roles); and the latter’s latest fling, the ingenue playing sister Bianca (Katherine Cunningham, whose sly performance barely changes from part to part). The Director confronts her partner with infidelity; the actress accuses the Director of trying to control her by casting her in this submissive role.

Just about everything about this production is annoying, from the interminable noisy vacuuming that sets the stage for the frame to the ridiculous conclusion. The lumbering frame promotes the age-old, wrongheaded notions that women have no professionalism or moral fiber, that they’re unreliable and prone to hysterics, and that they’ll do anything for love. Moreover, the new scenes intrude unpleasantly and disruptively into the main show, not least by making it difficult to separate the inner play’s Katherina from the outer play’s actress character.

Having heard the actress in a man-hating tirade against the actor playing her husband and his weakly whimpering response — for all that Ian Bedford does delicious job as Petruchio — it becomes difficult to imagine any sexual tension between the couple. And hot sex is one of the few plausible reasons for Kate’s giving way to her spouse’s abuse.

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The huge, waggish codpieces worn by the actors are absurd and amusing in themselves, but added to the frame’s stereotyped intimations that many of these men are gay, they start to present a somewhat ugly picture.

No show at Chicago Shakespeare is ever wholly without merit, however. Rourke has a nice hand with staging. Even my seat far around to stage right had good views of the action throughout, although in a few spots it seemed unnatural, with characters facing away from the people they were speaking to.

It’s always a pleasure to see Mike Nussbaum, and he’s in fine, funny form as Bianca’s rich and wizened old suitor. Other highlights include Sean Fortunato’s wry Hortensio, another suitor; Larry Yando’s aggravated Baptista, the sisters’ father; and Stephen Ouimette and Alex Goodrich as comic servants.

And then there’s the rich language of The Bard — no matter how wrongheaded his plots, his words resonate.

 
Rating: ★★½
 

Extra Credit

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Shows Opening/Closing this week

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Show Openings

 

“Master Harold”…and the Boys

TimeLine Theatre

The Alcyone Festival 2010 Halcyon Theatre

The Castle Oracle Theatre

Desperately Seeking Chemically Imbalanced Theater

Dreamgirls Cadillac Palace Theatre (Broadway in Chicago)

First Words Greenhouse Theater Center (MPAACT)

The Dames Storm Division New Millenium Theatre

Glitter in the Gutter Annoyance Theatre

Harper Regan Steep Theatre

Hughie/Krapp’s Last Tape Goodman Theatre

King of the Mountain Chemically Imbalanced Theater

Nighthawk Sandwich Storefront Theater (DCA Theatre)

Phedra New World Repertory Theatre

Real Bros of DuPage County Gorilla Tango Theatre

Savage in Limbo Village Players Performing Arts Center

Short Shakespeare! The Comedy of Errors Chicago Shakespeare

WHACK! Gorilla Tango Theatre

The Year of Magical Thinking Court Theatre 

 

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Show Closings

 

Annie Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University

The Capitol Steps North Shore Center for the Performing Arts

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan Dance Center of Columbia College

Give Us Monday Gorilla Tango Theatre

Icarus Lookingglass Theatre

Little Women Circle Theatre

Mamma Mia! Rosemont Theatre

Mark and Laura’s Couples Advice Christmas Special Gorilla Tango Theatre

 

Openings/Closings list courtesy of League of Chicago Theatres

REVIEW: Private Lives (Chicago Shakespeare)

Noël Coward skewers conventional morality with droll finesse

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Chicago Shakespeare Theatre presents:

 

Private Lives

 

by Noël Coward
directed by Gary Griffin
thru March 7th (ticket info)

reviewed by Catey Sullivan 

For delivering comic barbs with Cowardesque suave perfection, it’s tough to beat Robert Sella. One expects he could make even the most insipid rom-com crackle, zing and pop through sheer force of his timing and droll finesse. Noel Coward’s Private Lives – wherein Sella is currently stealing the show with his irresistible irreverent panache – is, of course, anything but insipid. It snaps from start to finish with wisdom and witticisms, many at the cost of so-called conventional morality. As Elyot Chase in Chicago Shakespeare’s production of Coward’s sparklingly well-made play, Sella seems born to wear the debonair character’s smoking jacket while tossing off withering repartee with the effortless brilliance of Beethoven practicing his scales. Almost.

private-lives-2 That sterling, razor-witted acumen with Coward’s inarguable wit isn’t quite enough. Yes, Sella can ignite an exquisite maelstrom of delicious comedy simply by flicking a napkin or aping a boxer’s stance. But in addition to humor, Private Lives rests on sexual chemistry, and there, director Gary Griffin’s staging – and Sella – fall short.

When Elyot and his ex-wife Amanda Prynne meet cute whilst on their respective honeymoons to new spouses, the attraction between former spouses is so white-hot that they abandon their new partners and flee for Amanda’s Parisian flat for a solid week of wall-to-wall sex. Or at least, it should be white-hot. Here, Elyot and Amanda (Tracy Michelle Arnold, worldly, brittle and dry as a perfectly aged Savignon Blanc) are more intellectual than sexual soul mates. Quip for quip, Amanda and her ex- are as perfectly matched as Shakespeare’s Kate and Petruchio or Albee’s George and Martha. Watching them spar is a joy. Watching them get busy atop a sleek grand piano? Not so much.

As for Sybil Chase and Victor Prynne – the abandoned half of the two newlywed couples – they’re utterly winning in their indignant conventionality. As the new Mrs. Chase, Chaon Cross is an ingénue with delicate yet unmistakable shadings of a harpy in-training – you just know she’s going to turn into her battle-ax mother by the time she hits 40. And as Amanda’s new husband Victor Prynne, Tim Campbell is a pitch-perfect righteous blockhead, a slab of ham and sensible haircut of a man, all tiresome chivalry and hail-fellow-well-met. He’s the opposite of Sella’s Elyot, physically, morally and intellectually, and the results – both visually and verbally – are hilarious.

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Not so effective is the intermittently and slowly rotating turntable that Griffin employs to give the audience a sense of voyeurism. While we do get to see the Prynne/Chase shenanigans from every angle, that rotation is a distraction – particularly when it starts up after being still for a while. It can be difficult to focus on the dialogue and characters when suddenly the set starts spinning on its axis, no matter how leisurely. Furthermore, the in-the-round staging means everyone in the audience spends at least some time staring at the backs of heads or (during scenes involving people prone on that piano or the purple velvet fainting couch) the soles of feet. It’s frustrating,

All that said, Private Lives is worthy of its ticket price. It’s Sella’s show, and chemistry or no, he nails the subversive genius of Coward’s wit. Factor in Paul Tazewell’s sleek 1930s costume design (the hats alone are to die for) and you’ve got a production that’s sumptuously handsome. As well as extremely funny.

 

Rating: ★★★

 

Private Lives continues through March 7 at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E. Grand Ave. Tickets are $55, $68, $75. For more information, call 312/595-5600 or go to www.chicagoshakes.com

Below: First rehearsal – the director talks about staging Private Lives in-the-round

Also, read an interview with director Gary Griffin

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Chicago Theater Openings and Closings this week

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Show Openings

The (edward) Hopper Project The Storefront Theatre

24 Hour Project Infamous Commonwealth Theatre

Annie Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University

The Artist needs a Wife the side project

I Hate Hamlet Big Noise Theatre

Killer Joe Profiles Theatre

Kink Annoyance Theatre

Mamma Mia! Rosemont Theatre

Mary’s Wedding Rivendell Theatre Ensemble

The Original Improv Gladiators Corn Productions

Out of Order Metropolis Performing Arts Centre

The Prisoner of Second Avenue Citadel Theatre

Private Lives Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Sleeping Beauty Winnetka Theatre

Some Paradise Annoyance Theatre

Too Hot to Handel Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University

The Wedding TUTA Theatre Chicago

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Show Closings 

Chicago Sketch Comedy Festival Chicago SketchFest

Death of a Salesman Raven Theatre

It Came Upon a Midnight Queen Chemically Imbalanced Theater

A Look Through Our Eyes Gorilla Tango Theatre

Sketch and Sniff Gorilla Tango Theatre

Sublime Beauty of Hands and Klown Kantos Next Theatre and Theatre Zarko

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