Review: War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short (Viaduct)

 
 

A scintillating evening of dance and theater

  
  

Prologue to "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello

   
Jim Manganello presents
   
   
War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short
       
Adapted and Directed by Jim Manganello
Choreography by Amanda Timm and Sarah Fornace
at Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western Ave. (map)
through May 22  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short is a collaboration of theater and dance companies. They are some of the best that Chicago and London across the pond offers. The result is a funny, relevant, and brilliant evening of theater. The artists and the support team hail from Redmoon, The London International School of the Performing Arts, Starkid, and Collaboraction.

Luke Couzens and Dustin Valenta fight in "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim ManganelloTolstoy’s novel of the aristocracy, patriotism, and Napoleonic aggression rings frighteningly true of today’s society and the conflicts the world over.

This adaptation strips the novel down to a stark set with meager props. The set is colored in by the actors and dancers in a frenzy of stage combat, graceful dance, satirical renderings of the aristocracy, and stark reminders of the cost of war.

The players in this piece are exceptional together and individually. The timing for satire is more crucial that what is needed for traditional comedy. The segment of Napoleon being bathed, fed, and dressed while in the midst of a tirade is visual poetry. Napoleon, played by Marc Frost, is rolled in on a table stuffed with his limbs out in a zinc washtub. His head is adorned with a gilded laurel crown. From there is a brilliant pantomime of scrub, rinse and powdering the mini tyrant. Frost’s nudity is covered by a perfectly timed placement of towels and bath accoutrement.

Lauren Lopez does a funny turn as an aristocratic lady mocking the advances of a suitor. The baseness and ludicrous mores of the upper crust in Napoleon’s reign is brought to glaring light. She seduces a guest with the prospect of canapés and biscuits. Ms. Lopez is one of the founding members of Starkid Theater Company and true to her bio, she prances about the stage in a sylph-like manner that is seductive and endearing.

     
 Lauren Lopez, Blake Russell dance in "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello Luke Couzens and Dustin Valenta in "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello
"War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello

Blake Russell plays a patriotic young man off to war. This segment is a poignant sketch of how a family is affected by war. The youth are drawn in by an atavistic need for battle-the territorial imperative. The result is the same no matter the era when war takes its toll. Russell imparts the disillusionment and sadness of a generation whether it be 1812 or modern times.

Dustin Valenta of Redmoon among others has an impish appeal as the prologue narrator and others in the production. There is a mischievous twinkle in eye that bodes gleeful mayhem to come.

"War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim ManganelloRounding out this cast is Luke Couzens as the Russian Captain and others. He stands out in the opening combat segment after he is stabbed by Dustin Valenta‘s character. The action represents 1812 but his screaming, "You fucking stabbed me! No I’m not alright!" brings the action to present day. He is touching and funny with a young man lost appeal.

War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short is minimalist with the props, but when they are used it is for maximum impact. A hidden fan produces a funny moment and the gauze/linen draping is a wonderful representation for the frozen tundra of Russia. Look out for the table in all of its incarnations and you may reconsider your relationship with pasta after one segment.

In all, I hope that there will be more collaboration of these talented actors, dancers, puppeteers, and acrobats. They work well together and their respect for the individual craft as well as the collective has produced something wonderful. This is a short run so get out this weekend to see War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short. The Viaduct is a great space. It is fun and artistic without airs of pretentiousness. It is literally located under a viaduct at 3111 N. Western Ave. There is a laid back lobby bar where you can chill before the performance. Go see it!

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
     
     

The Atom Bomb scene in "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello

 

     
     

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Review: The Last Saint on Sugar Hill (MPAACT)

     
     

A new modern tragedy classic is born

  
  

Chicago's award-winning theatre company MPAACT presents "The Last Saint on Sugar Hill" by Keith Josef Adkins.

  
MPAACT presents
  
  
The Last Saint on Sugar Hill
   
Written by Keith Josef Adkins
Directed by Carla Stillwell
at Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through June 12th  |  tickets: $23  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

It is a privilege to see new theater works from the outset. MPAACT’s production of The Last Saint on Sugar Hill is one of those rare privileged moments in time. This is destined to be a classic written by Keith Josef Adkins and directed by Carla Stillwell – Resident Director of MPAACT. Adkins opens the hot button issue of gentrification and those who profit from it for examination of motives and consequences.

The Pedigrew family lives a comfortable life in what remains of hardscrabble Harlem. The residence of former President Clinton, gourmet coffee, and wine shops threaten to change the landscape and remove the people who know no other home.

In a stunningly visceral performance, journeyman actor Trinity Murdock potrays the character of Napoleon Pedigrew, who presides over the last of the Harlem buildings gone to seed. I have seen Murdock in several roles on Chicago stages and he can be depended upon to play the neighborhood good guy or singing griot.

Chicago's award-winning theatre company MPAACT presents "The Last Saint on Sugar Hill" by Keith Josef Adkins. Chicago's award-winning theatre company MPAACT presents "The Last Saint on Sugar Hill" by Keith Josef Adkins. The role of Napoleon Pedigrew is rooted in ancient traditional tragedy and 20th Century social unrest. Playwright Adkins has carefully crafted a non-stereotypical role in Napoleon. I say that because it is an unflinching and honest look at what has been unspoken on the mainstream stage. Mr. Murdock presents a sociopath whose interests and wealth are literally ripped from the bodies and souls of those who are unfortunate enough to inhabit his buildings or contain his DNA.

The language is street raw and dismissive of political or societal correctness. There is no "N" word- it is nigger said with ferocity. At first, the rap that flows from Napoleon is pithy and comedic in the folksy style of that favorite or feared drunk relative. It is funny in the style of Richard Pryor performing for a Black audience. As the play barrels forward like a bullet, Napoleon Pedigrew’s words take on a frightening tilt. Here is a man who felt the spike of poverty and the chokehold of the underclass so keenly that his conscience snapped. Trinity Murdock plays this character laid bare and full of angry hubris. Napoleon brags of his knowledge from snippets of PBS to which he donates to give him the cache of current education. It is a bravura performance.

Napoleon Pedigrew’s sons are the vehicles for his parasitic real estate empire and the victims of his stranglehold on their memories. Mateo Smith plays the role of eldest son Dexter Pedigrew. Dexter was a promising med student who has been drawn into his father’s world of cracking heads for rent and unscrupulous methods to hide cheap or dangerous repairs. Mr. Smith gives a nuanced and heartbreaking performance as a man who wants to please his father and somehow be of service to the neighborhood that is crumbling under his feet. Napoleon tells Dexter that he is a thug and it would be a waste of his talent to be a doctor.

Dexter’s childhood holds a traumatic event that pressed his humanity to the side at his father’s behest. Napoleon tells his son, "Thinking is for thinkers and you are a thug down to the bone." He pounds the thought into Dexter’s head that boxing is the greatest form of capitalism and one of the fringe benefits of his daddy’s sperm. Smith subtly recoils at each of the jabs from the father character. Each jolt builds in a slow and controlled simmer that is on an equally frightening steady boil at the climax of the play.

The youngest son Z is played by David Goodloe. At first Z seems to play into his father’s world of debauchery. He reduces women to asses, thighs, and panties. Mr. Goodloe is at first funny as the tail-chasing stud playing with his daddy’s money. His father has him under the control of the promise of being comfortable no matter what happens in the neighborhood. Z gleefully hits happy hour at the new fancy cigar bar to see how much sex he can rack up. It’s sad to know that his youth has been wasted on violence and sex as an education. Napoleon encourages the hedonism in misplaced elevation of how he can rule the world with money.

Goodloe’s performance evolves into a man discontented with what his life has become. His realization comes as a sudden jolt after the father is fully revealed as a monster. Goodloe fleshes out the Pedigrew dysfunction by playing an unwitting victim who was never taught to be a fully evolved and involved man. The cast is rounded out by Terry Francois and Sati Word in perfectly crafted motif roles that fill in the story. Mr. Francois plays a homeless man who becomes the living conscience for Dexter. It is a beautiful performance that never becomes maudlin. Sati Word is another MPAACT ensemble regular that I last saw in the highly-recommended Tad in the 5th City (my review). He plays medical resident Joseph who reminds Dexter of his potential and responsibility to himself and his community. He represents another facet of Dexter’s conscience. Mr. Word is an engaging presence that I would love to see in a showcased role.

It should be noted that opening night was full of local actors and friends of the cast. I found it unsettling that they kept laughing long after it became obvious that Napoleon Pedigrew believed all of his egotistical folksy ravings. He meant that he would cut the heads off of his children if it would get him what he wanted. I felt great sorrow when Napoleon stated," America is trying to kill us Black men. We are an endangered species scrambling for our own crumbs. The only way to stop the watchful eye of The Man is to sit on a throne of cash!" Like any great art, there is painful or recognizable truth contained in the words, notes, or brushstrokes. It seems as if they have not seen much of the life they portray on the stage and I felt that it was very disrespectful of their fellow actors.

This show is something that should be put on your viewing schedule. It is entertaining but also a telling social commentary about how business gets done in America. Bernie Madoff and Donald Trump are just the tip of a very dirty iceberg. Also, Trinity Murdock’s performance is not to be missed. Bravo!

     
    
Rating: ★★★★
   
   

Chicago's award-winning theatre company MPAACT presents "The Last Saint on Sugar Hill" by Keith Josef Adkins.

MPAACT’s The Last Saint on Sugar Hill continues through June 12th at Chicago’s Greenhouse Theater Center (2257 N. Clark), with performances Thursdays through Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm.  Tickets are $23, and can be purchased from the MPAACT website.

  
  

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Review: Adrift in Macao (InnateVolution Theater)

  
  

Strong acting, lush visuals can’t overcome acoustic issues

  
  

Rick's Song in InnateVolution's production of "Adrift in Macao" at The Call. Photo credit: Eamonn Sexton Photography

  
InnateVolution Theater presents
   
Adrift in Macao
  
Book/Lyrics by Christopher Durang
Music by Peter Melnick
Directed by Toma Tavares Langston
at The Call, 1547 W. Bryn Mawr (map)
thru May 29  | 
tickets: $25  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

The Film Noir translated to stage is a brilliant concept. It is one so abstract and far flung from the history of the musical that it would be absurd unless crafted by a master such as Mel Brooks or the playwright Christopher Durang. The Innatevolution Theater gamely tackle Durang’s Adrift in Macao with mixed results. It’s not clear who lifted what from whom in this mélange of music, farce and romance.

Lena Dansdill as Corrina Evil Princess of Desire in InnateVolution Theater's production of "Adrift in Macao" at The Call. Photo credit: Eamonn Sexton PhotographyThe play is set in 1952 when the Noir film was on the wane in favor of saturated Technicolor melodramas with morals dictated by Eisenhower’s America. The loose flowing hair and perceived even more loose morals of the noir goddess was fading to exotic places such as the Portuguese territory of Macao. Opium dens, shady women and racial stereotypes abound and in the midst of it all are the hard drinking and misunderstood American antiheros.

The performances by the Innatevolution cast are quite good – when they aren’t swallowed by the bad acoustics and poor sightlines from bad staging. The performance takes place in what has potential to be a great theater cabaret space. The actors come out and mix among the audience while in character and then are in place for the action to begin with a murder on a supposedly foggy dock in Macao. (Either the fog machine was not working or a cue was missed.) We are introduced to Lureena stranded on the dock in the dark wearing a slinky dress.

Stephanie Souza plays the role of Lureena, the femme fatale fallen on hard times but not yet on her back. Ms. Souza has a nice set of pipes and is beautifully costumed in a sumptuous gown made for Rita Hayworth. Her introduction song, like all of the others, is swallowed by the acoustics and by having to play to both sides of the room. Johnny Kyle Cook plays the role of Rick Shaw who is the owner of ‘Rick Shaw’s Surf and Turf and Gambling Casino". The long name is a running joke that falls flat because the timing is rather flat and the double takes and beats never quite synchronize.

The antihero Mitch is played by Jordan Phelps. He also appears on the dock in a trench coat and fedora singing of being grumpy. The effect is a satirical take on Humphrey Bogart that is given fresh and frenzied energy by Mr. Phelps. He has better projection with his voice and is the most able to hit all sides of the room.

The other bad girl with a bad opium habit is Corinna played by Lena Dansdill. This is a bravura combination of Betty Boop, Theda Bara, and Myrna Loy. Ms. Dansdill is transformed into a caricature amalgam that is visually stunning and funny. When Corinna starts getting her jones on for opiates, she blurts out things such as ‘has anybody seen my glass pipe?’ and then catches herself countering with an absurd request for pancake mix.

     
Tempura's Ugly Bird - scene in InnateVolution's production of "Adrift in Macao" at The Call. Photo credit: Eamonn Sexton Photography Lureena and Corrina Fight - a scene in InnateVolution's production of "Adrift in Macao" at The Call. Photo credit: Eamonn Sexton Photography

Good Luck to you Ladies - scene in InnateVolution's production of "Adrift in Macao" at The Call. Photo credit: Eamonn Sexton Photography

Ashley Morgan plays the alluring Daisy. Ms. Morgan is a fierce drag actress who introduces herself as a cigarette girl in an exotic cheongsam one minute and then as a freaked out tourist in a Mamie Eisenhower leopard coat the next. Daisy is the native girl who loves the antihero but ends up alone and rejected every time.

I will admit to a bit of discomfort with the character of Tempura (Nico Nepomuceno). Racial stereotyping was rampant in Film Noir. The long suffering Black mother from ‘Imitation of Life’ or the fumbling buffoon played by Mantan Moreland in the Abbott and Costello films or happy and faithful Hop Sing on Bonanza. Mr. Nepomuceno takes the role to an expressionistic extreme mocking the American way of life in the staid 1950’s. On one hand Tempura is laying low and disguised by his so-called inscrutable Asian stereotype wearing traditional attire and the queue braid hiding a baton rather than a weapon. On the other hand Tempura’s character plots the demise of the stupid Americans methodically using their own ignorance against them. Nepomuceno’s performance can’t help but be derivative of Ken Jeong’s Mr. Chow from "The Hangover". Jeong and Margaret Cho are the comic standards for turning an Asian stereotype on its head. Some of Mr. Nepomuceno’s performance is uncomfortably funny and like the other characters some of his performance is absorbed into acoustic no-man’s land.

Christopher Thies-Lotito‘s character of Joe is the most clearly heard as a Gildersleeve-type emcee for variations of Rick Shaw’s night clubs.

There are several wonderful moments in this uneven production. The red fan dance is a great send up of both Esther Williams films and the kaleidoscopic June Taylor Dancers choreography. The costumes are spot on with the lurid colors of a Douglas Sirk drama and the wacky spin on Busby Berkeley and Flo Ziegfield . I liked the sly homage to Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" with the flashy duet between Dansdill and Souza.

There needs to be some strategic restaging of this play for it work well. 1) Move the band to the back bar area. They drown out the singing from where they are placed. 2) Use the entire stage facing away from the middle of the room. Whole lyrics are being swallowed into a black hole that neither side can ascertain. 3) Some work needs to be done on the timing to make the farcical aspects of a Noir spoof to work. It may just be sightlines but more plausibly pacing issues.

I do recommend this show (if sound problems are fixed) – and then I recommend that one spends some time checking out such Noir classics as "Gilda", "Out of the Past", or my favorite "The Strange Love of Martha Ivers". The Film Noir is a genre that casts a jaundiced eye on the morals and class war in post war America. This is what Durang was aiming for and this talented cast deserves a chance to hit the mark.

  
  
Rating: ★★
 
 

Corrina's Dressing Room in InnateVolution's production of "Adrift in Macao" at The Call. Photo credit: Eamonn Sexton Photography

Adrift in Macao runs through May 29th at The Call, 1547 W. Bryn Mawr in Andersonville. Check out www.innatevolution.org for more information on the company and performance times.  Tickets are $25.00 which includes 1 well, house wine or Miller Lite drink. Discount Tickets for Students, Industry and Senior Citizens are available. Tickets may be purchased by calling 312-513-1415 or by visiting www.innatevolution.org.

     
      

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Review: Oprah! A Comedy! Live Your Best Laugh (Annoyance Theatre)

  
  

Hilarity, history and the ‘Big O’

  
  

Oprah! A Comedy! Live Your Best Life, co-created by Anne Marie Saviano and Marc Warzecha for Chicago's Annoyance Theatre and Bar.

  
The Annoyance Theatre presents
 
Oprah! A Comedy! Live Your Best Laugh
  
Co-created and directed by Anne Marie Saviano
Co-created and written by Marc Warzecha
at The Annoyance Theatre and Bar, 4830 N. Broadway (map)
through May 15  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

Ah Chicago. It’s a hardscrabble kind of place and once the people take you into their hearts it seems that there is instant canonization. For better or worse we Chicagoans have our saints. In Oprah! A Comedy! Live Your Best Laugh, conceived by two Second City alums, The Annoyance Theatre hits the mark with hilarious perfection.

Michelle Renee Thompson does a spot on Oprah as Lady Bountiful and full of herself. Ms. Thompson’s Oprah is led on an ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ type of replay of her years in Chicago. This is a purely Chicago production with parodies of present day politicos and a couple of ghosts from the past played to perfection.

The supporting cast of "Oprah" brings to life all of the lore that has been dispensed about Ms. Winfrey. No one is allowed to look Ms. Winfrey in the eye and if you reach the exalted position of calling her Ms. Oprah Winfrey rather than her surname-well it’s a Benny Hinn-style miracle. The evangelist dig was slipped in so smoothly that perhaps only insomniacs and media nerds such as myself caught it.

Oprah gives a ‘miracle’ of her advice and inspiration to Janet who she calls Janice, lays hands on her forehead, and Janet swoons falling backwards. Liz Bell is hilarious as the newly-inspired Janet and as other characters Suze Orman, Ellen Degeneres , and Mother Theresa.

Nate Sherman plays Oprah’s eternal sideman Steadman. Thompson’s Oprah doesn’t know his last name or what he does for a living. Mr. Sherman also brings life to Mahatma Gandhi and Jesse Jackson Sr. The spoof of Jesus, Gandhi, and Mother Theresa on Oprah’s favorite things show brings down the house. Gandhi gets a Volkswagen Beetle and exclaims that he deserves it because "I got shot and it was bullshit!" while Jesus and Mother Theresa cling to one another in shock and awe. Mr. Sherman’s Jesse also offers father another illegitimate baby with Oprah if she will stay in Chicago.

Justin Vestal plays Richard M. Daley as the political scion always trying to live up to his father’s legacy. Vestal is a mirror or Daley-isms at a press conference even throwing in the legendary ‘cuckoo!’ He begs Oprah to stay and shore up his legacy since he lost the Olympics. Then the ghost of Richard J. Daley enters and he is given the Royko-inspired name "Boss". He slaps Richard M. around and then sets about showing Oprah that Ellen Degeneres would be the queen of talk while Oprah is relegated to local commercials.

If you have lived in Chicago for at least five years, you will recognize the Eagle Man laying the insurance rate egg, Peter Francis Geraci’s painful deadpan delivery, and the Empire Carpet commercials. (It should be noted that Elmer Lynn Hauldren just passed away and was known as the Empire Man for over thirty years.) A woman behind me cringed and said "too soon". I say just right. Hauldren was well aware of his cult status and had been spoofed on the Chicago stage before by playwrights and comedians. The show was running before he died and his appearance with a halo was more of a tribute in my eyes. Besides, Hauldren had appeared in the carpet commercials as a cartoon for the past few years with only his voice. R.I.P. 588-2300 Empi-i-i-re Today! Wolfgang Stein played him with a wonderful doddering effect.

Oprah! opens up a few sensitive tabloid subjects with comic flourish. Brittany Davis plays best friend Gayle King with schoolgirl lesbian crush undertones. Oprah and Gayle pantomime patty-cake (ala “The Color Purple”) whenever they part. Stein reappears as couch jumping freak Tom Cruise who frantically humps Oprah’s leg. And there’s is a freaky scene with her and Dr. Phil that would spin the National Enquirer on its’ head.

In all, this is inspired satire and it is brilliantly funny. I have not laughed so hard in a while and hope that Oprah! A Comedy! Live Your Best Laugh could play continuously for a while like other Chicago classics. Over 70 Chicago icons make the cut in this fast paced and intelligently funny show. Yes, some of the jokes are base and low, but to quote Richard "Boss" Daley, "This is Chicago and if you don’t like it, kiss under the mistletoe on my suit tail".

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
  
  
  Oprah! A Comedy! Live Your Best Life, co-created by Anne Marie Saviano and Marc Warzecha for Chicago's Annoyance Theatre and Bar.   Oprah! A Comedy! Live Your Best Life, co-created by Anne Marie Saviano and Marc Warzecha for Chicago's Annoyance Theatre and Bar.  

Oprah A Comedy! Live Your Best Laugh runs through May15th at The Annoyance Theater. Go to www.annoyanceproductions.com for more information on tickets and show times. Lighten up and laugh!

              

Crazy Oprah

Review: Performing Tonight! Liza Minnelli’s Daughter (Neo-Futurists)

     
     

Art, Life, Reality, Blurred Lines, and Who’s Daddy?

     
     

Joseph Schupbach, Mary Fons and Donnell Williams in 'Performing Tonight: Liza Minnelli's Daughter" at Neo-Futurists

  
The Neo-Futurists present
     
  
Performing Tonight:
   
    Liza Minnelli’s Daughter
  
  
Written by Mary Fons
Directed by Sonja Moser
at The Neo-Futurarium, 5153 N. Ashland (map)
through June 4  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

The liner notes for Performing Tonight: Liza Minnelli’s Daughter claim that this show is much more than an impression, dance numbers, and a revue. Playwright Mary Fons claims that this is a reckoning. I am not sure for whom the reckoning tolls. Ms. Fons is a startling likeness of Liza Minnelli circa "Cabaret". The show opens with her giving a history of her love for lace-up platform ballet slippers. From there Fons spins a dizzying tale of adoration that turns into an identity crisis whereupon she rejects all that has hurt her and reinvents herself as Mary Minnelli.

Mary Fons as Liza Minnelli's daughter Mary, from Neo-Futurists' "Performing Tonight: Liza Minnelli's Daughter".Mary Minnelli wants to make us believe a fable from the cult of celebrity. She claims to be a Garland as in Judy who came from crazy Mama Gumm. There is plenty of crazy to go around as the world of Mary Minnelli is revealed. Liza Minnelli’s Daughter has a wonderful Greek Chorus holding up the mirror of truth and pain throughout the performance. Donnell Williams and Joseph Schupbach are the Fosse dancers, the wardrobe masters, the devil’s advocates holding the glaring spotlight, and the friends who talk Mary Minnelli off of the ledge.

The choreography is really quite good. Ms. Fons has the lithe synchronized moves, jazz hands, and long legs like Minnelli. Donnell Williams fits the physicality of a Fosse dancer and does a smashup Judy Garland with only a little black dress as the drag. The comedy is written with a dark and sardonic edge. Mary Minnelli sings a tribute to Liza who sang a tribute to her mother Judy Garland. Donnell brings out a tiny child’s piano to accompany the recorded soundtrack. The song is a replay of Liza singing "Mammy" to Judy Garland. It should be revealed that Donnell is Black and gamely plays along until the song ends. He utters one line-"Mammy"-accompanied by a look that says ‘seriously girlfriend…Mammy?’ I found it hysterical and indicative of the wonderful chemistry of this cast.

Joseph Schupbach plays the other half of Team Mary Minnelli. He is quite a wonderful dancer and has a brilliant comic presence as Mary’s best gay boyfriend. It is brilliant casting to have Schupbach juxtaposed to Williams. Joseph has as slight paunch and wears suspenders but has all of the moves down. His character is not only a Greek Chorus member but an alter ego to Mary Minnelli.  Joseph seems like the kid from Iowa who puts on a show in the barn with the neighborhood kids just like Judy and Mickey. He has some great comments that drip with just enough acid to etch painful memories in Mary Minnelli’s psyche.

There are actually many similarities between Mary Fons and Liza Minnelli other than the startling looks. Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli made legendary bad choices in husbands. The exes were overbearing, codependent , and quite often gay. Mother and daughter struggled with health problems and addictions in mammoth proportions. Liza Minnelli had several miscarriages and is asked by Geraldo Rivera (he of the cult of celebrity news) if she wants children even after all that happens. There it is projected onto a bulb lined screen larger than life and was it just me or did everyone still flinch at Rivera’s insensitive questioning in the name of ‘journalism’? It is both good and not so good that Fons turns the microscope on her personal health crises. It is horrible to hear of her parallel suffering with her ‘mother’ Liza in that she cannot have children. She tells of extended stays at the famed Mayo Clinic where she spies upon the celebrity ward of the hospital. It is uncomfortable to hear Fons speak of the Egyptian cotton sheets and custom meals in the celebrity ward. I flinched at the comment that ‘surely Liza Minnelli would be in the celebrity ward’ at Mayo. Suffering becomes a touchstone that goes on for way too long and drags the last part of Act I.

Joseph Schupbach, Mary Fons and Donnell Williams in 'Performing Tonight: Liza Minnelli's Daughter" at Neo-Futurists

It was enough to know that Ms. Fons shares an inability to have children and other medical crises with Liza Minnelli. It’s when she begins to draw the tabloid parallels wherein every detail is laid bare and devoured by a rabid public that I felt it went too far. Ms. Fons does not have a colon due to autoimmune disease. She recounts the pikes in her arms and near death experiences right out of the National Enquirer. It felt hammer handed after the third mention of the pikes in her arms and veins leading to her heart.

On the other hand Ms. Fons performs the transformation to Mary Minnelli with the same frantic and wonderfully over the top energy that Liza Minnelli seems to emanate. The drugged out days of Studio 54 are done in a wonderful dream sequence where members of the audience are invited to dance in the stage area. The wall is broken as they discuss whether or not they can really drink on stage and Fons gamely yells for the iced tea standing in for Jack Daniels and Splenda standing in for piles of cocaine. The references to Hedy Weiss’ remarks about the Neo-Futurists space being ‘a dump over a funeral home’ got to be a little tired as well. We get it. You all are kicking edgy in your face theatre butt and Weiss can suck it.

Fons’ performance is remarkable to watch just for the physicality of it. She is soaked in perspiration and it seems as if all of her nerves are exposed when she portrays Mary Minnelli trapped between realities. She manages to belt out some songs, run on a speeding treadmill, and recreate the "Cabaret" scene with updated music from the post modern icons-Madonna and Lady Gaga. It is a jaw dropping experience.

  
  
Rating: ★★½
   
   

Donnell Williams, Mary Fons and Joseph Schupbach in 'Performing Tonight: Liza Minnelli's Daughter" at Neo-Futurists

Performing Tonight: Liza Minnelli’s Daughter runs Thursdays , Fridays, and Saturdays at 8pm through June 4th at The Neo-Futurarium at 5153 N. Ashland Ave. in Chicago.  Tickets are $15, $10 for students/seniors with ID, or pay-what-you-can on Thursdays. (Reserve tickets online).  Yes it really is over a funeral home but the brilliant creativity that is the life blood of the company gives off light and life!

  
  

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Review: Dixie’s Tupperware Party (Royal George Theatre)

     
     

There’s a different use for a Tupperware decorating pump?!?

  
  

Dixies Tupperware Party - Chicago Royal George Theatre

  
Royal George Theatre presents
  
Dixie’s Tupperware Party
  
Written by Kris Andersson
Directed by Patrick Richwood
at Royal George Theatre, 1641 N. Halsted (map)
through June 12  |  tickets: $44-$49   |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

There is nothing like a good old Southern woman with big hair and a big heart. I knew a few Dixie Longate types in my youth and still to this day. The authentic Dixie Longate is the hostess of Dixie’s Tupperware Party” at the Royal George Theatre. Ms. Dixie is a hoot making her way through the audience before the show passing out mints from her favorite Tupperware container. She warned me not to eat it until I had finished my glass of wine or it “will taste like ass”. Noted Ms. Dixie – I did not try the mint until well Dixies Tupperware Party - Chicago Royal George Theatre 2after the glass was drained.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this is a real Tupperware party where one can purchase all varieties of the American classic food storage product. Dixie gives the history of the Tupperware party, starting with Brownie Wise over 65 years ago.

Now, Ms. Longate is a very special lady, and has what could be called chutzpah or as we like to say on the South Side “she’s got a real set of stones on her”. The bio reads that she left her kids in an Alabama trailer park to become a Tupperware superstar and never looked back. The great thing is that it is a true story for thousands of American women over the last half century. Dixie feeds her three children –Wynona, Dwayne, and Absorbine Jr. – by selling the practical and colorful plastic goods.

The show starts with Dixie filling a Tupperware tumbler (complete with the no-leak straw hole) with a healthy serving of Jack Daniels. Along with an actual catalog, the audience is given name tags in case one wakes up behind a dumpster at the truck stop and forgets their order. There are malapropisms, double entendres, and sight gags aplenty. Ms. Dixie’s persona is a tribute to all of the women who have ever cried in their cheap whiskey to a country song. I’m not talking contemporary country either. You have to reach back to the great ones: Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, and the fabulous Dolly Parton. Few can wear the gingham and the lacquer hair spray with such panache as these ladies and Dixie Longate.

Dixie’s Tupperware Party is an interactive show wherein Ms. Dixie will single out a few audience members and take them through potentially embarrassing exchanges. One young woman became just “Lesbian”, which was said by Dixie with a pseudo-offended fundamentalist sneer. Ms. Dixie was aghast that the Lesbian team beat the nice Christian boys in the Tupperware Rimming contest. She also heard a lot of homo-sectionals cheering for the nice Christian boys. Hmmm?

There is an audience Q&A for special Tupperware questions and testimonial er…Tuppermonials for those of you with fond memories of America’s finest plastic ware. I was amazed to find out that Ms. Longate really is the number one sales person for Tupperware in the USA and Canada, and you can see why – she knows her stuff and is wickedly funny at the same time! There are raffles with really cute prizes of Tupperware miniatures, and for the winners of the Rimming Contest there is collapsible Tupperware. (In case you are wondering, rimming in Tupperware-speak is sealing the top on a bowl. Duh!)

If you are offended by drag, truck stop sex, or freaky uses for a whipped topping dispenser with five decorating tips, please come and bring a friend. Ms. Dixie is a gifted comedienne with a knack for improv and will make great use of your discomfort, much to the audience’s amusement. Now get your mind out of the truck stop, y’all, and get your fannies over to the Royal George Theatre!

  
  
Rating: ★★
     
     

Dixies Tupperware Party - Chicago Royal George Theatre 3

Dixie’s Tupperware Party has been extended through June 12th and is not to be missed. For tickets call the Royal George at 312-988-9000 or but tickets online at Ticketmaster

Performances continue Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 pm, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 3 and 8pm, Sundays at 3pm.

Visit dixiestupperwareparty.com for more details on Ms. Longate’s escapades. It’s great grown-up fun and empowerment for all the big-haired ladies of America.

     

Artists

Kris Andersson (Creator, Dixie); Patrick Richwood (director); Richard Winkler (lighting); Christopher K. Bond (sound); Steven C. Kemp (set)

     
     

Review: Twinkie and the Beast (MidTangent Productions)

  
  

Beastly, bawdy fun!

  
  

The cast of MidTangent Production's 'Twinkie and the Beast' at Hydrate Night Club in Chicago

  
MidTangent Productions present
 
Twinkie and the Beast
  
Written and Directed by Tony Lewis
at
Hydrate Nightclub, 3458 N. Halsted (map)
through April 30  |  tickets: $10  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

I always have a good time in Boystown whether it’s shopping at some of the more interesting stores (hellooo Tulip!) or sipping a citron and cranberry at Hydrate. I had the great pleasure and bonus of seeing the MidTangent production of Twinkie and the Beast to go with my libation.

This show is a brilliant send up of the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ story. It was refreshing and quite hysterical to see it done so irreverently with the denizens of Boystown.

Loren Agron as Swell and Omicah House as The Beast in MidTangent Production's 'Twinkie and the Beast' at Hydrate Night Club in ChicagoThis is the story of a hot little twink named Swell who is looking for love and won’t give up the goodies until he finds it. Loren Agron plays Swell with delightful aplomb. Swell is pursued by the cocksure swain Piston played by Aaron Michael Adamkiewicz. Piston is a great caricature of the villain Gaston in the original fairy tale. Adamkiewicz struts about the stage in various rough trade attire as a porn star who always gets his man. I loved the obviously stuffed jeans which reminded me of Led Zeppelin back in the day. Piston later emerges in homage to Larry Blackmon of Cameo in leather  pants and a codpiece – hysterically sexy!

Swell runs to his Fairy Godmother, played by drag star Madame X, to avail of her advice on the pressure to give in to Piston or wait for true love. This scene is truly about the beauty and artistry of drag. Madame X is a surreal vision in Fellini pink and kabuki mannered gestures.

The story gets more surreal when Swell enters the Beast’s manor and trades his life to save Fairy Godmother from the dungeon. We meet all of the enchanted characters who used to be regular Boystown folks.

Wiggins used to be the Beast’s fag hag before he was cursed to wear the leather mask and seriously big wig. Wiggins was rewarded for her loyalty by being turned into a big pile of wigs. Erin Daly has a phenomenal voice and exquisite sense of timing as Wiggins. The other characters are from a drag queen’s cosmetic case as well. There is Karla Meyer as Lipour, the living lipstick attired in a stock French maid outfit.

Michael Elm plays the role of Pouf, a powder puff who channels Ernie Kovacs as Percy Dovetonsils. Elm is hilarious with his droll and imperious delivery. And then there is Doobie – yes a giant human joint who can roll one off of himself. Poor Doobie just came to deliver a pizza and voila, he is what he smokes. Andrew Kain Miller embodies the skateboarding slacker in the Dunkin Doughnuts parking lot but with a much better physique.

     
Omicah House as The Beast in MidTangent Production's 'Twinkie and the Beast' at Hydrate Night Club. A scene from MidTangent Production's 'Twinkie and the Beast' at Chicago's Hydrate Night Club in Boystown.
A scene from MidTangent Production's 'Twinkie and the Beast' at Chicago's Hydrate Night Club in Boystown. A scene from MidTangent Production's 'Twinkie and the Beast' at Chicago's Hydrate Night Club in Boystown.

The Beast is played by Omicah House. He wears sky high acrylic platform knee high boots and a nice series of corsets. Mr. House delivers every line with booming ferocity which actually gets to be a bit much when the Beast is supposed to be softening and falling for Swell.

Twinkie and the Beast has fantastic choreography. Every cast member is synchronized and on beat. It was like watching a queer Soul Train-awesome. Not everyone is a great singer in this cast and the music is literally carried by Erin Daly, who is a powerhouse singer. I suspect that she leads her own band or she should anyway.

Although there were sound glitches and several painful feedback moments (that the cast played through in a professional manner), Twinkie and the Beast is still a fun and naughty night on the town. Get a drink from the really cute bartender and settle in for a raucous evening of laughs, one liners, and visual delight!

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

A scene from MidTangent Production's 'Twinkie and the Beast' at Chicago's Hydrate Night Club in Boystown.

The MidTangent production of Twinkie and the Beast runs through April 30th at Hydrate Night Club, with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 9:00pm. Hydrate is located at 3458 N. Halsted (map). Tickets are $10, and can be purchased online or by phone (773-835-0420). More information on their Facebook page. Get there early and take a walk through the neighborhood. It’s beastly fun!