REVIEW: Shining City (Redtwist Theatre)

  
  

God is elusive in Redtwist’s captivating ‘Shining City’

 
 

Brian Parry and John Arthur Lewis in Redtwist Theatre's 'Shining City' - photo Andrew Jessop

  
Redtwist Theatre presents
  
Shining City
  

Written by Conor McPherson
Directed by
Joanie Schultz 
at
Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr (map)
through Feb 27  |  tickets: $25-$30  |  more info

Reviewed by Dan Jakes

There is a moment in Redtwist’s Shining City where, lurking behind a door, a split-second spark of divinity is revealed. It is bloodied, silent, and is at once horrifying and reassuring.

To call Conor McPherson’s play a “ghost story” would imply it provides some answer to the nature and existence of another world or its inhabitants. But in the streets and isolated dwellings of McPherson’s Dublin, there is no such certainty. Even when an apparition is in plain sight, its significance, meaning and reality is just painfully out of Brian Parry and John Arthur Lewis in Redtwist Theatre's 'Shining City'. Photo by Andrew Jessopreach.

This play is rather, for all its melancholy and despair, a love story.

Set in an upstairs therapist’s office, Shining City chronicles the sessions of middle-aged widower John (the superb Brian Parry), and his ex-priest doctor, Ian (John Arthur Lewis). After the sudden death of his wife, John has begun to see visions of his spouse, moving him out of his home and into a local inn. Ian, wrestling with his own losses, has just left the woman he abandoned the Church for. The mother of Ian’s child, Neasa (Cheryl Lynn Golemo) struggles to exist separated in the unwelcoming company of Ian’s family. Two months flash between each scene, and as time goes on, the three slip further away from any assurance of who they are or the morality of the decisions they’ve made.

Each of these characters are, in one way or another, in limbo. They are all lost between homes, identities, loves, or sexualities, and seek escape in all the wrong ways. Director Joanie Schultz comments in her program note that she calls upon her own experience living out of a suitcase to relate an ambience of no refuge, which she accomplishes brilliantly in this production. Redtwist’s nearly claustrophobic performance space serves to amplify the overtones of each character’s underlying fear and wanting. Much of the action is relayed through long, patient storytelling, and just as John cannot escape his guilt and anxiety, we as the audience are seated almost in the hyper-realistic office right there with him, his deep-gravel, hypnotic voice only feet away. These characters are richly drawn, and this ensemble does great Cheryl Lynn Golemo and John Arthur Lewis in Redtwist Theatre's 'Shining City'. Photo by Andrew Jessopjustice to them, supplying flaws and sympathies to their humanity.

In the intimate setting, no detail goes unnoticed, and play’s production team has created a scrupulously complete environment, from the window’s view of a cathedral to the ideal selection of transitional music.

McPherson doesn’t appear to relish the hell he puts his characters through, making their struggle all the more real and painful to watch. It also makes their redemption that much more believable and satisfying.

Shining City’s finale may prove to be divisive for some audiences. I encourage them to take note of John’s declared realization when considering the play’s last image: it isn’t the fact of what happens that’s important, but instead the effect. Regardless of their conclusion, the effect–like this production–will be moving.

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
 
 

Kaelan Strouse and John Arthur Lewis in Redtwist Theatre's 'Shining City'. Photo by Andrew Jessop

Production continues through February 27th – Thu, Fri, Sat at 7:30pm and Sun at 3pm. No performance on Sun, Feb 6, but an add’l perf on Sat, Feb 26, 3pm.  The show’s running time is approximately 1:40 with no intermission. Tickets: Thursdays, $25; Fridays & Sundays, $27; Saturdays, $30 (seniors & students $5 off).  More info: www.redtwist.org/Tickets.html.

     
     

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REVIEW: The Weir (Seanachai Theatre)

 

Irish Eeriness Done Right

 

from left, Valerie (Sarah Wellington), Jim (Jeff Christian), and Jack (Brad Armacost) have great craic in Seanachaí Theatre Company’s THE WEIR by Conor McPherson. Photo courtesy of Eileen Molony.

   
Seanachai Theatre Company presents
   
The Weir
   
Written by Conor McPherson
Directed by
Matt Miller
Irish American Heritage Center, 4626 N. Knox (map)
through October 3  |  tickets: $22-$26  |  more info

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

Considering the resumes of those involved, it’s surprising that Seanachai’s production of The Weir went unmentioned in many of those “fall previews” the theatre press is so fond of. First off, the play was penned by a young Conor McPherson, the Irishman who also wrote The Seafarer and Shining City. Both of those had hugely successful Chicago premiers at Steppenwolf and the Goodman, respectively. To  direct, Seanachai nabbed Matt Miller, the one behind the much-hyped Finbar (Kevin Theis, right) and Jack (Brad Armacost, left) have it out in Seanachaí Theatre Company’s THE WEIR by Conor McPherson. Photograph courtesy of Eileen Molony.Graceland (our review ★★★) at Profiles Theatre last year. And the small cast includes local stage stars like Sarah Wellington and Brad Armacost. Brad Smith, the youngest actor on-stage, even had a song featured on the “Up in the Air soundtrack. There’s so many accomplishments listed in each bio, I’m a little surprised the program didn’t explode.

What the lean, focused production made clear, however, is that Seanachai spent their time creating a terrific product instead of manufacturing buzz.

The talky play is a perfect fit for Gaelic-centric Seanachai and their ensemble of vibrant storytellers. That’s what the piece is, essentially—a couple rounds of storytelling, all relating brushes with the supernatural. The attractive, urbanite Valerie (Wellington) finds herself in a rural pub usually occupied by several lonely men. The locals attempt to impress her with regional folklore and their meetings with the spirits that inhabit the country alongside them. However, as the beer bottles and dirty glasses pile up, Valerie reveals the most personal and unnerving close encounter of them all.

The set-up might avail itself to some cheap, M. Night Shyamalan twist (“She’s really a ghost!”), but McPherson crafts a tale far richer, as well as much more disturbing. Miller and the cast don’t shock or frighten, but softly drill into the dark parts of the psyche.

Like most of McPherson’s other tales, the show boils down to a few characters sitting around and talking. Does anything actually happen? It’s a valid question. There are only a handful of entrances and exits, and the whole thing takes place in real time with no intermission. Fistful of monologues after fistful of monologues wears you down after awhile. However, when one goes a level deeper, they find that McPherson is fiercely concerned with his characters’ internal struggles and the small, everyday friendships that keep us all sane. The script might make a slow pace appealing to a lesser director, but that would be suicide. The performers here know to keep moving at a fast clip while choosing moments to open up the play so the audience stays hungry.

from left, Jack (Brad Armacost), Jim (Jeff Christian), and Finbar (Kevin Theis), try to curry favor with Valerie (Sarah Wellington) by sharing betting tips, in Seanachaí Theatre Company’s THE WEIR by Conor McPherson. Photograph courtesy of Eileen Molony.

The play opens with Brendan (Smith), the owner of the bar, and Jack (Armacost), his best customer. Armacost goads, blathers, and flirts with the hilarious disregard of an aging bachelor. He also manages to drag the audience along the hills and valleys of loneliness and redemption. Smith retains an aloofness that occasionally borders on being uninteresting, but he stays plugged in with the rest of the cast over the duration, playing along with the more eccentric patrons of his bar. Jeff Christian exudes all sorts of awkward charm as the tightlipped Jim, a man that can get closer to horseracing statistics than other people. Kevin Theis’s Finbar, the married man who takes it upon himself to show Valerie around town, rotates between sliminess and sincerity. Even though the character is obviously a tool, Theis musters up enough charm to make sure that the audience can never really hate him. The heart of the show, though, is Wellington’s Valerie. Through the course of the play, she moves from a passive object of affection to a revealer of heartwrenching yet relatable experiences. And Wellington truly shines, never shying away from visiting the most vulnerable parts of herself.

Irish writers are known for their lyricism and long-windedness, and Seanachai eats it up. With The Weir, Miller spits out a dialogue-packed product that’s still able to tap into our deepest fears of the unknown. I’m guessing the buzz will quickly mount.

   
  
Rating: ★★★½
    
    

The Weir - Seanachai Theatre 02

   
   

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Chicago Theater – Best of 2008 (Chicago Tribune)

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Chicago Tribune’s main theatre critic, Chris Jones, presents his top 10 plays of 2008:

 

1. A Trip to Bountiful  (Goodman Theatre)
by Horton Foote
Standouts: Harris Yulin (director), performance: Lois Smith
     
2. Our Town  (The Hypocrites)
by Thornton Wilder
Standouts: David Cromer (director), actors: Jennifer Grace (as Emily), David Cromer (narrator)
 
     
3. Picnic  (Writers’ Theatre)
by William Inge
Standouts: David Cromer (Director)
 
     
4. Caroline or Change  (Court Theatre)
by Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori
Standouts: Charles Newell (director), Doug Peck (musical director); actors: Kate Fry, E.Faye Butler
 
     
5. Ruined  (Goodman Theatre)
by Lynn Nottage
Standout: Kate Whoriskey (director)
 
     
6. Four Places  (Victory Gardens)
by Joel Drake Johnson
Standouts: Sandy Shinner (director)
 
     
7. Sweet Charity  (Drury Lane Oakbrook)
by Cy Coleman
Standouts: Jim Corti (director), Mitzi Hamilton (choreographer)
 
     
8. Gatz  (Elevator Repair Service Theatre)
by John Collins
 
     
9. The Seafarer  (Steppenwolf Theatre)
by Conor McPherson
Standout: Francis Guinan (says Jones: probably the best male performance of the year)
 
     
10. Journey’s End (Griffin Theatre)
by Jonathan Berry
 

Honorable mentions: (alphabetically): America: All Better! (Second City), Don’t Dress for Dinner (British American Stage Company – at Royal George), Grey Gardens (Northlight Theatre), If All The World Were Paper (Chicago Children’s Theatre), Jacques Brel’s Lonesome Losers of the Night (Theo Ubique). Les Miserables (Marriott Theatre), Million Dollar Quartet (Deegee Theatricals, John Cossette Productions and Northern Lights – at the Apollo Theater), A Taste of Honey (Shattered Globe Theatre), Tomorrow Morning (Hilary A. Williams LLC), The Voysey Inheritance (Remy Bumppo Theatre Company).

 

To see further discussion regarding each show, go to Chris Jones’ The Theater Loop blog posting.

Review – "Dublin Carol" at Steppenwolf

In today’s world, replete with the such mouthpieces as Oprah and Dr. Phil, we have been directed to blame our supposed problems on others, often settling on some experience between ourselves and our parents.  Within the confines of this pop-culture psychiatry, one has to wonder – what if my problems were created by choice I made on my own?  What if I my screw-ups have no connection with whether, as a child, I was loved enough or rewarded enough or had the best Halloween costume?  Could it be that I simply made the wrong choice at the wrong time, irregardless of my past?

William Peterson plays John in Conor McPherson's "Dublin Carol" In Irish playwright Conor McPherson’s one-act “Dublin Carol“, produced by Steppenwolf Theatre, we come to grips with just these questions through the actions of John, an alcoholic Irish father (the Golden-Globe and Emmy-nominated William Peterson), living and working in a funeral home, and Mary, his estranged and stoic daughter (Nicole Wiesner), who visits her father just days before Christmas, bringing with her disturbing news that offers John a chance to escape the burdens of his past.  Rounding out this amazing ensemble is Mark, a cholerous part-time employee at the funeral home  (played by Stephen Louis Grush – who also was the lead in Steppenwolf’s recent hit Good Boys And True.  See my review here).

DublinCarol-2 Adeptly directed by the 2008 Tony-award winning Amy Morton (for her performance in August: Osage County), Morton possesses the propitious ability to mold a character’s tacit moments and halting dialogue into a complex and empathetic character.  Case in point – much of the father’s diatribes consist of rehashings of his past misfortunes.  Some directors might harness these lines to create a character suffocating with inner-shame on top of worldly resentment.  But Morton molds the father into a character that – despite his reprobate past as well as his present-day vapid existence – is wholly empathetic; holding a glimmer of optimism and appreciation. 

Kevin Depinet’s set, the father’s cluttered one-room apartment within the funeral home, is fairly nondescript, but the pallid room serves to communicate the appropriate bleakness of the characters and their lives.  Additionally, the lighting (Robert Christen) and costumes (Ana Kuzmanic) are inobtrusive and effective. 

DublinCarol-1 Most Christmas productions are uplifting and/or playful, full of holiday traditions and loving families.  Dublin Carol is none-of-the-above.  But Conor McPherson’s play encompasses much of the harsh realities many of us encounter at Christmas – family dysfunction, unspoken animosities, squashed family secrets.  When daughter Mary utters, in a throw-away manner, the line “I’m kind of an idiot in my own right”, we come around to the fact that despite our pasts, we alone are responsible for the choices we make in our adult lives. 

Dublin Carol augustly brings to life an imperfect man that, in the end, is doing the best he can in his circumstances.  Could we authentically ask for anything more? 

Rating: «««½

Stephen Louis Grush on his role of Mark in Dublin Carol.

Nicole Wiesner on her role of Mary in Dublin Carol.

 

Aside: This Chicago ticket broker offers a great selection of tickets in the city – Purchase tickets for Wicked in Chicago and nationwide theater events like Radio City Christmas Spectacular tickets – a favorite during the holiday.

Chicago Theaters offer up stocking-full of Christmas Shows

A Wonderful Life  (info)   A Christmas Story  (info)
Theatre at the Center, Munster, IN   Noble Fool Theatre, St. Charles
Nov 17 – Dec 14   Nov 15 – Dec 27
     
Snowflake Tim’s Big Holiday Adventure  (info)   A Very Neo-Futurist Christmas Carol  (info)
Lifeline Theatre, Chicago   The Neo-Futurists, Chicago
Dec 14 – Jan 4   Nov 22 – Dec 23
     
A Christmas Carol  (info)   Dublin Carol  (info)
Goodman Theatre, Chicago   Steppenwolf Theatre, Chicago
Nov 21 – Dec 31    Half-Off Tickets!   Nov 19 – Jan 9
     
Radio City Christmas Spectacular  (info)   Anung’s First American Christmas  (info)
Rosemont Theatre, Rosemont   Vitalist Theatre, Chicago
Nov 19 – Dec 21   Nov 18 – Jan 4
     
Meet Me In St. Louis  (info)    500 Clown Christmas  (info)
Drury Lane Water Tower, Chicago    North Central College, Naperville
Nov 20 – Dec 7   Dec 18 – Dec 23
     
Christmas Schooner  (info)    The Santaland Diaries  (info)
Bailiwick Repertory, Chicago   Theatre Wit, Chicago
Nov 28 – Jan 4   Nov 22 – Dec 28
     
Tommy Guns Garage Holiday Show  (info)    A Christmas Memory; The Thanksgiving Visitor  (info)
2114 S. Wabash, Chicago   Provision Theater, Chicago
Nov 28 – Dec 31   Nov 10 – Dec 21
     
 Snow Queen  (info)    Black Nativity (info)
Victory Gardens, Chicago   Congo Square Theatre, Chicago
Nov 28 – Dec 28    $15 Tickets!   Nov 21 – Dec 28
     
 Winter Pageant Redux  (info)   2nd City’s Holiday Show  (info)
Redmoon Theater, Chicago   Second City Improv, Chicago
Nov 10 – Dec 21   24-hours non-stop, Dec 9 – 10
     
Jacob Marley’s Xmas Carol    Holiday Sing-Along  (info)
Theatre Wit, Chicago (info)   Porchlight Music Theatre, Chicago
Nov 22 – Dec 28   December 15th, 7:30pm
     
A Holiday Evening of Mime    A White Christmas (info)
The Mime Company, Chicago (info)   Village Players Theatre, Oak Park
December 11 – 28   December 13 – 14
     
Sexy Santa’s Spectacular    A Christmas Carol    (more info)
Gorilla Tango Theatre, Chicago   Writers’ Theatre, Glencoe
Nov 28 – Dec 20    (more info)   Dec 13 – Dec 23         Tickets for $14 !

Other Christmas Theater and Cultural Events

lawfer_ongreen Strawdog Theatre Company is presenting their annual holiday benefit “Strawdog Yuletacular 2008” on Monday, December 8th, 7-10pm, at Morseland in Rogers Park. The evening will feature a retro-style variety show with comedic sketches, a holiday cooking demonstration, a raffle and silent auction, and live, big-band style music provided by Strawdog’s guest band, The Jenn Rhoads Project. Sounds like fun to me!  Find more info here.

 

 

Steppenwolf Theatre has announced the final extension of their Christmas hit “Dublin Carol”, by playwright Conor McPherson.  The extended closing date will be Sunday, January 4th.  More info here.

comedysportzDue to popular demand, ComedySportz Theatre, now in their new home on Belmont and Clark,  has added extra performances for during the weeks of Thanksgiving and Christmas.  More info here.

UPDATE: ComedySportz will also be offering New Years Eve performances, at 6pm and 10pm.

 

 

 

 

On Wednesday, December 3rd, at 7:30, Loyola University will present its annual Holiday Concert, Joyola,  with performances from the Loyola Orchestra, Chamber Choir, Wind ensemble, University Chorus and Jazz band.  More info here.

JoyolaLG

Chicago Theater extensions – Steppenwolf and Lifeline

It’s always great news for the Chicago theater community as a whole when one hears that – due to popular demand – a production has been extended.  You might ask – isn’t this just good news for the specific theater company doing the extension?  I know it’s more than that – I call it the “putting-your-toe-in-the-water-syndrome”.  In other words, when new theater-goers attend a play (i.e., put their toe in the water), they usually say to themselves “I enjoyed this, and would like to do it again”.  Over the last few years (maybe 4-5 years) I’ve seen an uptick of play extensions – there must be a lot of toe-testers out there who are concluding that the water is fine, and whole-heartedly jump in the water (hopefully for multiple laps).  Point in fact:

"Dublin Carol" at Steppenwolf

 

Steppenwolf Theater has announced, even before the opening on November 6th, that Dublin Carol will now be extended past Christmas, through December 28th.  Dublin Carol, by Conor McPherson, will be directed by Amy Morton, and will feature Stephen Louis Grush, William Petersen and Nicole Wiesner.

 

 

 

"Dorian Gray" at Lifeline Theatre

"The Portrait of Dorian Gray" at Lifeline Theatre

 

 

Lifeline Theatre is extending their exciting new adaptation of Oscar Wilde’sThe Portrait of Dorian Gray a full 2 weeks, moving closing from November 8th to November 16th.  CTB gave Dorian Gray a much-deserved 4-stars (review here), so we can see why the show’s popularity has called for extra performances to be added.  Dorian Gray is adapted by Lifeline ensemble member Robert Kauzlaric, directed by Kevin Theis.  The production features Nick Vidal as Dorian Gray.

 

 

 

Congrats to both theatre companies!!!