REVIEW: The Piano Teacher (Next Theatre)


A heartfelt lesson on facing the music


Next_Piano_Teacher_1 (2)

Next Theatre presents
The Piano Teacher
Written by Julie Cho
Directed by Lisa Portes
at Next Theatre, 927 Noyes, Evanston (map)
through Dec. 5  |  tickets: $30-$40  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

“What’s so wonderful about honesty? Mama said, ‘don’t be 100% honest.’” A retired widow shares her cookies and recollections. Next Theatre presents the Midwest premiere of The Piano Teacher. Mrs. K self-identifies as being effortlessly good at many small things. Musically inclined but not quite the concert pianist, Mrs. K starts out as a piano tuner. Later, she teaches piano from her home. Over the course of thirty years, she instructs hundreds of children. Out of loneliness, Mrs. K starts calling up her former pupils to reminisce. The reconnection jars memories that she forgot she had wanted to forget. While she was practicing scales in the living room, Mr. K was providing life lessons in the kitchen. The musical appreciation class was overshadowed by Genocide 101. The K homeschooling did have a profound impact on its students. It just wasn’t the recital variety. The Piano Teacher dramatizes the long lasting effects of being traumatized as a child.

Next_Piano_Teacher_2“My husband always said I expected too much… people are just being who they are.” Mary Ann Thebus (Mrs. K) hits all the right notes as the piano teacher. Under the direction of Lisa Portes, Thebus delivers Julia Cho’s monologues with all the familiar charm of the grandmother-next-door. Thebus is outstanding as she directly addresses the audience in the narration of her story, engaging with humorous reflections on the simple pleasures of cookies and “Dances with the Stars” enjoyed over a cup of tea. Shaking her head in amusement and continually nibbling on cookies, we see the authenticity of Thebus as a sweet old lady trying to piece together her life. This visual becomes haunting as Mrs. K is confronted with the past. Manny Buckley (Michael) gives a darkly crazed but controlled performance as a prodigy child turned disturbed adult. Buckley’s forceful interaction makes for a heart-wrenching contrast to Thebus’ fearful denial. Buckley’s wild eyes are especially threatening even when he speaks with eloquent normalcy. Representing another side to the same story, Sadieh Rifai (Mary) brings an empathetic balance as a grateful student that is worried about her favorite teacher.

The past meets present on a set, designed by Keith Pitts, that captures perfectly a piano teacher’s living room complete with musical artwork. The visual adds to the storytelling with a layer of cozy familiarity. It’s this preconception that makes the revelations more stimulating. Playwright Julia Cho introduces character analogies that are beautifully sad ‘He looked thirsty and he looked at me like I was rain.’ The narrations are delivered in fragment ramblings by a nice old lady, but when the puzzle pieces are placed together, it’s not the picture perfect image of a piano teacher’s home. Cho tells a thought-provoking tale of children’s loss of innocence. Combined with the homey atmosphere and the talented cast, The Piano Teacher is a genuine lesson in facing the music.

SPOILER ALERT: The front row gets cookies. Plan accordingly.

Rating: ★★★

Next_Piano_Teacher_3 (2)

The Piano Teacher runs Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Saturdays (20th, 27th, 4th) at 4pm, and Sundays at 2pm – thru December 5th

Running Time: Ninety minutes with no intermission.


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REVIEW: Unveiled (Next Theatre)

When Clothing Makes, or Unmakes, the Woman


Rohina Malik, pictured in a scene from her powerful one-woman show "Unveiled" - currently part of the "What's Next Series" at Next Theatre of Evanston

Next Theatre presents
Written by Rohina Malik
Directed by Kevin Heckman
at Next Theatre, 927 Noyes, Evanston (map)
through September 19  |  tickets: $20  |  more info

Reviewed by Paige Listerud

Rohina Malik’s one-act play, Unveiled, could not have come at a more crucial moment. Hate crimes against Muslims are up, Muslims are denied opportunities to build places of worship all over the US (including Chicago), established mosques face vandalism and arson, and a self-righteous nut case in Florida threatened to burn the Koran to get national attention. Meanwhile, it’s an election year and job recovery crawls at a snail’s pace. Too many people are out of work and too many people still think Barack Obama is a secret Muslim.

Rohina Malik, pictured in a scene from her powerful one-woman show "Unveiled" - currently part of the "What's Next Series" at Next Theatre of Evanston Directed by Kevin Heckman at Next Theatre, five Muslim women, each from a different culture, share two things in common: they all wear the veil, or hijab, and they all live in the West. What must it be like to be so visibly different from other women and be rendered a moving target by American uncertainty, fear and rage over 9/11? Malik unveils a Muslim womanhood that meets this challenge with strength, outspokenness, clarity, poetry, humor and faith.

These hardly seem like women cloistered behind a wall of restrictive and repressive tradition. They are very aware of the world they live in and its ongoing melding of East and West. They fiercely and graciously adhere to their principles of hospitality. They speak up for themselves, drawing from a deep well of cultural riches.

The first woman designs wedding dresses from her small shop on Devon Avenue. Yet she is no mere seamstress. In every way she is an artist. “You’re not the first American girl who wants the Bollywood look,” she chats up her current client. “All the girls have wanted it since ‘Slumdog Millionaire.’” Wedding dresses are her art and that art is just as dependent on the personality of the client as her own imagination. “You are not choosing me. I am choosing you,” she tells the prospective bride.

Weddings and family are what she knows, but a hate crime almost destroys her drive as an artist. Attending the wedding of a woman getting married in one of her creations, she and her children become the targets of the inchoate rage of an American couple attending another wedding nearby. What brings her back to her art again are her friends and a poem by Rumi: “Dance, when you’re broken. Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off. . . Dance, when you’re perfectly free.”

Malik’s one-act starts strong. Her characters are not just Muslim, not just from the Middle East or South East Asia; their multicultural backgrounds position them uniquely in the world. One is a Texan mother of the American South, not converting, but “reverting” to Islam. The other is a hip hop teen raised in West London who can’t stand her mother’s assimilationist choices. This girl’s own reaction to her mother’s generation has to do with the way her mom applied lemons to her daughter’s skin, when she was younger, to make it whiter.

Malik clearly wants to show a wide range of Muslim women and their individual reasons for claiming the veil. As such, most of her characters’ psychology is well-developed and their life stories powerfully integrate tradition, poetry and passages from the Koran. Of all the characters, only the Southern Muslim belle seems the weak and underdeveloped one. Upon opening night, Malik’s performance of this character also waned in accuracy. Her troubles with American Southern dialect were too apparent.

Rohina Malik, pictured in a scene from her powerful one-woman show "Unveiled" - currently part of the "What's Next Series" at Next Theatre of Evanston Rohina Malik, pictured in a scene from her powerful one-woman show "Unveiled" - currently part of the "What's Next Series" at Next Theatre of Evanston
Rohina Malik, pictured in a scene from her powerful one-woman show "Unveiled" - currently part of the "What's Next Series" at Next Theatre of Evanston Rohina Malik, pictured in a scene from her powerful one-woman show "Unveiled" - currently part of the "What's Next Series" at Next Theatre of Evanston Rohina Malik, pictured in a scene from her powerful one-woman show "Unveiled" - currently part of the "What's Next Series" at Next Theatre of Evanston

Of greater concern is the play’s repetitious monologue structure—the introduction of tea, the particular tea made the emblem of each Muslim woman’s culture; the introduction of a story which reveals a violent hate crime; and finally the character resorts to faith and culture to stand against it–by the time the fourth and fifth characters are introduced, the pattern becomes worn. Also, physical violence and verbal harassment are the only kinds of hate crime and speech directly addressed by these characters. Beyond the introduction of strong, self-determining Muslim women, Malik digs no further into the ways feminist critiques of the veil have been based on cultural and religious ignorance, and thus used as an excuse to invade Afghanistan and Iraq. Certainly, American feminists had to learn the hard way just how their work could be used by a right wing administration to further its imperialist ambitions.

Next’s production itself runs almost seamlessly and poetically. Unfortunately, sound problems, at opening, rendered the rap from the young hip hop Londoner almost indiscernible. The fuzz from the speaker system, cranked up to play over the drums, got in the way of the script.

However, no one can dispute the essential timeliness of this play, or its vitality and humanism. In the middle of anti-Muslim hysteria, how hopeful it is to discover a promising young playwright just beginning to explore terribly relevant themes. Next should be applauded for opening their season with such immediate work from a practically unknown playwright. Unveiled’s series of monologues has strong bones and beautiful language. The incorporation of Alex Wing’s music and Cynthia Sopata’s movement beautifully correspond to and amplify the storytelling. Rohina Malik is one to watch. Get to know her.

Rating: ★★½

Rohina Malik, in the poster for her powerful one-woman show "Unveiled" - currently part of the "What's Next Series" at Next Theatre of Evanston

Productions Personnel

Written and performed by Rohina Malik
Directed by Kevin Heckman
Scenic & Lighting Design by Jim Davis

Music by Alex Wing

Movement by Cynthia Sopata

Next Theatre announces their 30th-Anniversary Season

Next Theatre - War With Newts 

Scene from last season’s “The War With the Newts ★★★½

Next Theatre announces their


30th-Anniversary Season


Next Theatre Company announces their 30th  anniversary season, complete with three main stage plays receiving their Midwest premieres, along with their What’s Next Series focusing on new Chicago artists.  All productions, plus the What’s Next Series, are presented at Noyes Cultural Arts Center, 927 Noyes Street in Evanston.


Main Stage Shows


November 4 – December 5, 2010


  The Piano Teacher
  Written by Julia Cho
Directed by Lisa Portes
  Midwest Premiere
  When the sweet, cookie loving Mrs. K, the epitome of the caring grandmotherly piano teacher, reaches out to her old students, she discovers a chain of startling secrets that she can no longer keep hidden inside her piano bench. With breath-taking theatricality and stunning language, Julio Cho takes us on a journey of discovery that brings international responsibility into the sanctity of our family kitchen.


January 20 – February 20, 2011


  Written by J.T. Rogers
Directed by Kimberly Senior
  Midwest Premiere
  Director Kimberly Senior and internationally recognized playwright J.T. Rogers, the pair who brought you The Overwhelming, team up again to offer audiences another gripping thriller. In the same hotel room overlooking the Spanish steps in Rome, three Americans across three different moments in time find themselves alone.  A sister, a mother and a family friend grapple with loss, regret, and the nature of truth. Using his trademark cunning insight and grippingly eloquent characters, J.T. Rogers weaves a haunting story about the mysterious disappearance of a loved one, and the unexpected consequences that bring a family closer together.


April 14 – May 8, 2010


  The Metal Children
  Written by Adam Rapp
Directed by Joanie Schultz
  Midwest Premiere
  What responsibility do artists have for the impact of their work? Provocative New York playwright and Pulitzer Prize finalist Adam Rapp offers a powerful portrait of small-town censorship and the American divide over family values in his newest play fresh from a sold-out Off-Broadway run, The Metal Children. A gifted New York writer attempts to defend his young adult novel to the same small American town hell bent on banning his work, causing an explosive encounter from which no one in the small Midwestern town will recover.


All tickets for Main Stage shows are $20 – $40 with subscriber and student discounts available. Tickets may be purchased at or by calling 847-475-1875 x2.


After the fold (click on “

  • 30th Anniversary Season new programming
  • “What’s Next Series” schedule
  • What’s Next” Lab
  • Panel Discussions

Next Theatre - Magical Exploding BoyDean Evans in last season’s “Magical Exploding Boy”  ★★★



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REVIEW: Magical Exploding Boy (Next Theatre)

Transcending the need for words



Next Theatre presents
Magical Exploding Boy
Written and performed by Dean Evans
Next Theatre, Evanston
through April 3rd
(more info)

By Barry Eitel

For all those out there who are sick and tired of all the shows in Chicago filled with all those darn words in them, there is a production out there just for you. As part of their Dark Night Series, Next Theatre brings you Magical Exploding Boy, concocted by Dean Evans. And for those of us who enjoy vocabulary in our theatres, this wordless piece is still a wonderful time.

dean-suitcase Evans, ensemble member of The Neo-Futurists and Chicago Physical Theater, knows his miming. He studied at the School for Mime Theater at Kenyon College, and learned from master mimes Marcel Marceau and Stephen Niedzialkowsky. Magical Exploding Boy is his major piece, which he wrote and performs. He has taken the work to several theatres around the city over the past few years (as well as the Bahamas a few months ago). The fantastical one-man show integrates mime, clowning, props, great physical comedy, as well as more interpretive moments.

Considering the nature of the piece, it makes sense that Magical Exploding Boy doesn’t really follow much of a narrative arc. A lot of time is focused on a baby doll with removable limbs and several stock facial expressions. Like some sort of weird toy demon, the baby has the ability to take over part of Evans’ body. Sometimes the baby is mischievous, other times it’s a bit hornier. Evans takes on multiple personas in the piece. At one moment he is victim to the doll’s wishes, at another he plays both 4th Grade bully and wimp, later he is an amoeba, and he ends up in space dealing with botany experiments gone awry. These episodes follow each other pretty erratically; characters in one section don’t really relate to what just happened in the preceding story. It’s like flipping through channels late at night (when everything gets a bit stranger) – except Evans is the remote. The title of the work no doubt alludes to this—Evans “explodes” into these varied situations, and there is a fair amount of magic working in each little vignette.

dean-evans-dolphins2 It’s easier to plug into the funnier moments, like when Evans deals with the doll or when he beats himself up (and then defeats himself). When he is traveling in deep space or struggling underwater, it’s harder to relate. Evans’ performances are mesmerizing, but the length and depth in which he explores these scenes can drag the show down. They can also get confusing. Evans never loses sight, however. When he is underwater, he actually looks like a jellyfish or amoeba, and you earnestly believed that he is stuck alone in the far reaches of outer space. It’s really a matter of whether you are more into mimes or clowns.  (I guess I’m more on the goofy side.) And even though they might put you in a daze, the interpretive sections are dazzling and fun.

Evans is charming and inventive in his performance. The show, set on a more or less blank stage in front of a curtain, revolves totally around him; his charisma and personality drive the whole thing forward. His choice of props is both mundane and brilliant. They don’t take away from him at all but remain completely relatable. For example, at one point he has to throw away a tidbit of paper and he drags out a giant trashcan with ‘City of Evanston’ stamped on the front!

Although nothing is said, Evans envelops the nonverbal human experience, transcending the need for words. Although terms like “mimes” and “clowns” usually bring up ideas about lame street performers or wacky circus antics, Evans’ work reminds us that these are both established art forms with a ton to offer artistically. Magical Exploding Boy is a rare treat for a Chicago audience, a chance to see a trained physical actor perform without the crutch of words for a little over an hour.

Rating: ★★★


REVIEW: Uncle Vanya (Strawdog Theatre)

An exciting treatment of Chekhov’s ode to boredom

Uncle Vanya - Straw Dog - 2/17/10 
Photo by Chris Ocken
Copyright 2010 -

Strawdog Theatre presents:

Uncle Vanya


By Anton Chekhov
Directed by Kimberly Senior
Through March 27th (more info)

Reviewed by Barry Eitel

It’s been a good year for director Kimberly Senior. Her numerous productions, which have spanned all over the city, became critical and popular successes, such as critic top picks The Overwhelming at Next Theatre and All My Sons at TimeLine Theatre (our review ★★★★). This year she’s had the fortune of directing plays written by some of greatest dramatists the world has ever seen, like Arthur Miller, Martin McDonagh, and Anton Chekhov (twice). It’s obvious she loves the greats, especially Anton, the grandfather of subtext. This love and passion comes across in her production of Uncle Vanya at Strawdog Theatre, a nuanced and layered homage to one of Chekhov’s masterpieces.

Uncle Vanya - Straw Dog - 2/17/10 
Photo by Chris Ocken
Copyright 2010 - It is a common misconception that Chekhov wrote tragedies, one perpetuated by several melancholy premier productions directed by acting guru Constantin Stanislavski. In fact, the Russian master saw all of his works as comedies, albeit sometimes bittersweet ones. How well a cast and director understand this fact is a deciding factor in how a Chekhov piece will fare. The plot of Uncle Vanya, for example, basically boils down to some people being bored. Chekhov delves into the frantic monotony that drives people to break up marriages, friendships, and families. With a melodramatic twist, the play quickly becomes bland, stuffy, and unpalatable. However, if everyone understands the comedic elements in the writing, then the play punches hard. The latter is evident at Strawdog.

One of Senior’s strong points is her skill at bringing together some extremely talented actors. This isn’t necessarily hard when you’re working with Strawdog’s ensemble, but here almost every actor seems carefully tailored to their character. Tom Hickey’s portrayal of the titular uncle is deliberately understated, an interesting choice that makes the middle-aged character really pop. Hickey envelopes the character and personalizes the crap out of him. For example, instead of filling Vanya’s famous failed assassination attempt with rage or all-out despair, Hickey finds a quiet determination (with hilarious results). Shannon Hoag, who plays the object of Vayna’s affection Yelena, revs Hickey’s engines with heaps of teasing coyness, desperate boredom, and powerful austerity. Also in the mix are Kyle Hamman as the idealist doctor Astrov and Michaela Petro’s youthful Sonya. Crushed by the tedium of Russian provincial life, these characters find themselves locked in prisons of love, lust, and depression.

All of this is set against Tom Burch’s gorgeous scenery, which invokes the simple pleasures and pains of country living. The moveable walls are adorned in pink and stacked with shelves of drying herbs, flowers, and trinkets. As indicated in the play, though, nothing here is simple, not even boredom.

Occasionally the supporting cast misses marks. Tim Curtis’s Serebryakov (inconsequential academic, invalid, Yelena’s husband, Sonya’s dad, and Vanya’s frenemy) is a bit too cranky; Curtis overshoots here. And neither Senior nor Carmine Grisolia can show us a good reason why his character, Waffles, is a part of the story. Fortunately, the four leads entrench themselves in the script and overcome most shortcomings.


Uncle Vanya - Straw Dog - 2/17/10 
Photo by Chris Ocken
Copyright 2010 - Uncle Vanya - Straw Dog - 2/17/10 
Photo by Chris Ocken
Copyright 2010 -

Energy throughout the piece lags at times, a drawback from Hickey’s relaxed style that permeates the rest of the show. It’s a danger of the script, and Senior and the cast succumb. Chekhov’s language doesn’t require a dragging energy. Even though the characters are doing all they can to kill time (and sometimes each other), a production of Vanya can still keep the tensions and stakes high.

In Senior’s past work I’ve seen, I sometimes feel she plays to close to the vest and is afraid to make stylistic risks, even though she often directs some of the most produced works in the canon. This doesn’t come across in Vanya, and I think a lot of the reason falls on the daring cast she assembled. The design, directing, and bold acting collide to make Chekhov’s ode to boredom pretty thrilling to watch.


Rating: ★★★


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REVIEW: 24th Annual Young Playwrights Festival

The voices of the future are here.


YPF24 (2010)

January 7-31, 2010

Fridays and Saturdays @ 8:00 p.m.

Sundays @ 3:00 p.m.

special first preview performance on Thursday, January 7 @ 8:00 p.m.

Click here to purchase tickets

(All seats just $15 each)


review by Oliver Sava

The three works that comprise Pegasus Players‘ 24th Annual Young Playwrights Festival offer unique views on youth, mortality, and abuse, and were all written by high school students. Aided by professional writing mentors, the playwrights are given the opportunity to see their ideas take shape under the guidance of some of the city’s top directing, acting, and design talent. The results are positive across the board, but like any group of adolescents, maturity varies from script to script.



The Nowhere People

Gabriella Bonamici‘s heartbreaking drama about widower Ernie (Benjamin Sprunger) and his mission to communicate with his dead wife, Ann, is the highlight of the evening, expertly directed by Kimberly Senior, who has steadily created a career around her ability to capture grief on stage (see: Timeline Theatre’s All My Sons and Next Theatre’s The Overwhelming). Luckily, Ernie’s neighbor Danny (Alice Wedoff) has a ghost of her own, and she’s been building a ghost-machine to open a portal to the spirit world and send it back. Bonamici’s script moves with fluidity and ease, filled with humor while never losing the gravity of the loss of a loved one on the human spirit. The script also handles exposition beautifully, gradually revealing essential information about the characters as the dramatic tension builds, and each discovery adds a new layer to the conflict. As landlord Sid (Michael Gonring) becomes increasingly concerned with Danny’s mental health and the ghost-machine’s uncanny ability to knock out the building’s power, Ernie has to decide between his own life and the answers he so desperately seeks. Sprunger and Wedoff have great chemistry, bonding through their joint experiences of loss and their common goal of reaching into the afterlife, and both actors are fully committed to the slightly far-fetched circumstances. The actors shine because of the script, a subtle yet powerful examination of the ghosts that haunt us all, and the extraordinary measures people go to escape the past.


Rating: ★★★½


 Roller Coaster

roller-coastTrapped atop a roller coaster, Effie (Rinska Carrasco) and Milo (Gonring) discover the unexpected connections they share while learning a bit about themselves. Gixiang Lee‘s hilarious script balances high school dramedy with a hefty load of cultural references that actually serve to flesh out the characters rather than simply give the piece an air of relevance. Effie enthusiastically singing Salt N’ Pepa’s "Push It" as they are elevated to the top of the coaster while Milo clings for dear life, terrified at what awaits below. Total opposites, but you know what they say about opposites. Lee’s script isn’t realistic, the Effie and Milo’s relationship is almost completely based on coincidence, but it is her fearlessness with the comedy that makes the piece so memorable. Milo’s list of fears, ranging from heights to large rabbits to "the small but ever present threat of death from falling out of bed," is brilliant, and the T.P. Employee (Sprunger) that comes to their non-rescue is played with a ridiculousness that borders on caricature but works in the context of the play. The humor might not be the most sophisticated, but Lee creates sympathetic characters that are easy to root for, making Roller Coaster an excellent comedic piece with real heart.


Rating: ★★★


deliver me from evil


In therapy after being hospitalized for attempted suicide, Magdelina (Wedoff) reveals a history of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse inflicted by her mother (Gilmary Doyle) in Kat Blackburn‘s deliver me from evil.The strain of past trauma begins to weigh on Magdelina’s relationship with girlfriend Soda (Caren Blackmore), and she must confront her demons in order to salvage the only loving relationship she has ever known. Petra (Carrasco), Edward (Gonring), and Jenny (Mildred Marie Langford) represent the childish, masculine, and feminine aspects of Magdelina’s tortured psyche, giving form to the poetry in her journal. These sequences, combinations of interpretive movement with symbolic imagery, have varying degrees of success. One particularly chilling entry features the four teens cutting together, the act taking on a communal nature reminiscent of ritual sacrifice, but at times the poetic sections feel a little too much like they were ripped from a teenager’s journal – angstful , angry, and lacking in maturity. The actor’s do a fine job with the material, but deliver feels the most like a play written by a high school student of the three.

Rating: ★★½

Chicago Theater Openings and Closings this week


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


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