REVIEW: Sizwe Banzi is Dead (Court Theatre)

What defines identity, your name or your soul?

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Court Theatre presents
  
Sizwe Banzi is Dead
 
by Athol Fugard
directed by Jon OJ Parsons
at Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis (map)
through June 13th  |  tickets:  $35-$56  |  more info

reviewed by Barry Eitel

The grand, although accidental, Athol Fugard Chicago experiment ends this season with Court’s production of Sizwe Banzi is Dead, one of the South African writer’s lesser-produced works. Like The Island (which closed at Remy Bumppo in March – our review ★★½), Sizwe was co-written by the original actors, John Kani and Winston Ntshona, who ended up with Tony Awards for both plays.

sizwe-banzi-is-dead008 Court Theatre’s production is anchored by two masterful actors as well, Chike Johnson and Allen Gilmore. It’s a powerful, if slow, exploration on what makes us human beings. Director Ron OJ Parsons’ steady hand keeps the course of the verbose piece, which could easily be upset by weak performances. Johnson and Gilmore mire themselves in Fugard’s semi-absurdist world, though, and make the gritty political play shine and resonate.

One of the most striking features of Fugard’s drama is the lack of action. Instead, it works as a dissertation on the sins of apartheid, as well as linking into some bigger issues like identity and freedom. The play starts with a half-hour monologue from Johnson as Styles, who used to work at a New Brighton Ford plant but now owns a photography studio. He opens his door to the next customer, the weathered Sizwe Banzi (Gilmore), who needs a picture to send to his wife. We then see the taciturn visitor’s backstory, revealing how Banzi’s ID booklet expired, which makes him an illegal resident of the city. While out with his friend Buntu (Johnson again), the two come across a dead body. Things get really complicated when they discover the body has a booklet stamped with the work permit Sizwe needs to stay. Buntu hatches up a plan to steal the identity, and Sizwe must decide if he wants to kill off his old self.

The play is marked by discourse and meditation on identity and what and who defines it. Athol Fugard questions the importance of a name. According to Gilmore and Sizwe, the decision to envelop someone else’s humanity is a tough choice, a struggle of the soul. Buntu, always the pragmatist, sees it as a simple issue of survival. Pride, he attests, isn’t for those who have to support a family.

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The play definitely sits in the world, trudging towards Sizwe’s final decision. The pacing of the production is right for the play, which is a slow-burning piece. If not very exciting, it is very powerful. But it helps to be prepared. Compared to Fugard’s more based-in-reality Master Harold…and the boys (put on TimeLine Theatre, the first of the Fugard Chicago productions – our review ★★★½), Sizwe drags us through the muck. The payoff is worth it, but it can be a tough journey.

Gilmore and Johnson have brilliant chemistry between them. Gilmore’s Sizwe is awkward and a bit slow, but he has a puppy-dog quality about him. Johnson is sharp and brimming with charisma as Styles and Buntu—he is the one who really forces the play forward. There is a great scene in the middle of the play where the two enter the audience and share their excitement of being treated like human beings at a bar, adding some theatrical spice to the mix.

The two actors carry the burden of this production on their shoulders, as well as the audience. They do it in grand fashion. The only glaring issue with the production stems from the play itself, which can lull rather than incite. Considering you are now forewarned, you can prepare yourself to see a moving theatrical dissection of the politics of racism, which brings to mind events taking place over in Arizona. Does our identity boil down to what’s on our birth certificate? Or does our humanity burn somewhere deeper in our conscious?

   
   
Rating: ★★★
   

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Extra Credit:

Related articles and Interviews:

 

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REVIEW: Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Remy Bumppo)

Now we know why the French have their own kiss

 

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Remy Bumppo presents:
 
Les Liaisons Dangereuses
 
by Christopher Hampton
based on novel by Pierre Choderlos De Laclos
directed by David Darlow
at The Greenhouse Theatre, 2257 N. Lincoln (map)
through May 2nd (more info | buy tickets)
 
review by Katy Walsh 

Before the inventions of texting, reality television and video games, people, at least the French Aristocrats, unleashed their passions with love letters, self-created drama and sexual conquests. Remy Bumppo presents Les Liaisons Dangereuses, an 18th century tale of love, lust and revenge. The Madame de Merteuil and the Le Vicomte de Valmont are lovers turned friends turned game players. Merteuil enlists Vicomte to seduce Cecile. Merteuil wants to disgrace Cecile’s betrothed who happens to be vert Mme Merteuil (Rebecca Spence)_Valmont (Nick Sandys) Merteuil’s former lover. Vicomte is currently wooing a married Madame de Tourvel for his own personal best in conquering a woman of moral integrity. Vicomte agrees to Merteuil’s side project because Cecile’s mother badmouthed him to Tourvel. As a reward, Merteuil agrees to have sex with Vicomte if he produces written proof of his affair with Tourvel. Let the games begin! But who’s playing who? Explaining why the French had a kiss named after them, Les Liaisons Dangereuses erupts with passionate trysts for a sexually charged escapade of entertainment.

The Hugh Hefner of the 18th century, Vicomte (Nick Sandys) is the original playboy. A charming and confident Sandys nails the part and the ladies with a tongue well versed for intercourse. Sandys glides through the lengthy discourse with witty elegance. With promises to “dominate your sex and avenge my own”, Merteuil (Rebecca Spence) is Vicomte’s opponent in games of lust and cruelty. Despite the missing years of bitter heartache, Spence’s facial expressions are deliciously diabolical serving up brutality with wide-eyed smiling innocence. Margaret Katch (Cecile) is perfect as a promiscuous teen in secret rebellion against her mother. David Darlow directs the cast through the dialogue heavy script at a quick pace with thoughtful pauses for dramatic climax.

horiz Mme Merteuil (Rebecca Spence)_Cecile (Margaret Katch) horiz Mme Tourvel (Linda Gillum)_Valmont (Nick Sandys)
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Multiple scenes occur transporting the action from salon to bedroom in various locales. Alan Donahue cleverly reuses the furniture and paintings with modified positions to illustrate the vary of address. Chambermaids rotate a screen on rollers and a daybed effortlessly to make the scene transformations seamless. The costumes by Emily Waecker are exquisite for a visual history lesson on outer and under wear. Vicomte’s coats would be the envy of Liberace with their elaborate finery. Merteuil dons a multiple layer gray silk monstrosity that wouldn’t be figure flattering but still appealing for its classiness.

The award winning playwright Christopher Hampton penned a clever adaption of the up and downside of immorality. Actualizing his script, Remy Bumppo delivers multiple orgasmic moments in this production of Les Liaisons Dangereuses.

 
Rating: ★★★★
 

horiz Cecilie (Margaret Katch)_Valmont (Nick Sandys)

 

 

Extra Credit: Illustrated Field Guide (PDF)
As part of their “think theatre” mission, Remy Bumppo creates a production guide designed to enrich your theatre experience.  Hard copies of this field guide can be purchased for $5.00, and archived guides for previous seasons are available for $10.00.  To purchase a field guide, contact Stephanie Kulke via e-mail or at 773-244-8119.

Running Time: Two hours and forty-five minutes with intermission

           

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Chicago theater openings/closings this week

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show openings

Anna, in the Darkness: The Basement

Dream Theatre

Bastards of Young Tympanic Theatre

Calls to Blood The New Colony

Cats Cadillac Palace Theatre

Dooby Dooby Moo Lifeline Theatre

Everyone’s Favorite Lobster Gorilla Tango Theatre

The Flaming Dames in Vamp II New Millenium Theatre

Heroes Remy Bumppo Theatre

The House on Mango Street Steppenwolf Theatre

The Last Unicorn Promethean Theatre

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow Filament Theatre Ensemble

The Man Who Was Thursday New Leaf Theatre

Mrs. Gruber’s Ding Song School Gorilla Tango Theatre

Plans 1 Through 8 from Outer Space New Millenium Theatre

Rachel Corn and the Secret Society Corn Productions

You Can’t Take It with You Village Players Performing Arts Center

 

Skyline-Chicago

show closings

Ah, Wilderness! Loyola University Chicago Theatre

Bad Touch and the Deep End Annoyance Theatre 

Dirty Talking Amish Gorilla Tango Theatre

Dracula Oak Park Festival Theatre

The History Boys – Timeline Theatre 

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom Court Theatre

The Night SeasonVitalist Theatre

Rent Big Noise Theatre

Sleeping Beauty Big Noise Theatre

Stripped: An Unplugged Evening with Marilyn’s Dress Gorilla Tango Theatre

Remy Bumppo’s 2009-2010 Season: Friendships tested….

Remy Bumppo’s

2009-2010 Theatre Season

 

2009-10: Friendships Tested…

Heroes Heroes
By Tom Stoppard
Directed by James Bohnen
October 14-November 29
(buy tickets)

 

The Island The Island
By Athol Fugard
Directed by James Bohnen
January 27-March 7
(buy tickets)

 

les liaisons Les Liaisons Dangereuses
By Christopher Hampton
Directed by David Darlow
March 17-May 2
(buy tickets)

 

 

Box Office: 773.404.7336; Website: www.remybumppo.org

NOTE: All performances at the Greenhouse Theater 

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.

2008 After Dark Awards Announced!

Gay Chicago Magazine has just announced this year’s After Dark AwardsBelow is an abbreviated list.  For the complete list, as well as production photos, go to Venus Zarris’s website: Chicago State Review

 

2008 After Dark Awards.  For more information go to ChicagoStageReviews.com

Best Production

Passion Play: A Cycle in Three Parts (Goodman Theatre)

The Mark of Zorro (Lifeline Theatre)

Hunchback (Redmoon Theatre)

 

Outstanding New Work

Sarah Ruhl – Passion Play: A Cycle in Three Parts (Goodman Theatre)

Anna CariniSweet Confinement (SiNNERMAN Ensemble)

Tracy LettsSuperior Donuts (Steppenwolf Theatre)

 

Outstanding Adaptation

Shishir KurupMerchant on Venice (Silk Road Project)

Devon de Mayo and Ensemble – As Told By The Vivian Girls (Dog & Pony Theatre)

 

Outstanding Musical

Old Town (Strawdog Theatre)

 

Outstanding Direction

David Cromer – Our Town  (Hypocrites Theatre)

John MossmanJuno and the Paycock (Artistic Home)

Anna Bahow – Sweet Confinement  (SiNNERMAN Ensemble)

Peter Robel – Merchant of Venice (Bohemian Theatre Ensemble)

 

Outstanding Direction of a Musical

Fred Anzevino – “Cabaret” and Jacque Brel’s Lonesome Losers of the Night  (Theo Ubique Theatre)

 

Outstanding Musical Direction

Joshua Stephen Kartes – Jacque Brel’s Lonesome Losers of the Night  (Theo Ubique Theatre)

 

Outstanding Performance in a Play

Jennifer Grace – Our Town  (Hypocrites Theatre)

Mark Ulrich – Juno and the Paycock  (Artistic Home)

Nicole Wiesner – Passion Play: A Cycle in Three Parts (Goodman Theatre)

Keland Scher – Much Ado About Nothing  (First Folio Theatre)

Madeline Long – Soldiers: The Desert Stand (LiveWire Chicago Theatre)

Sadieh Rafai – Speech and Debate (American Theatre Company)

Jeremy Sher – Hunchback (Redmoon Theatre)

Annabel Armour – Fiction  (Remy Bumppo)

Jenn Remke – Resort 76  (Infamous Commonwealth)

Andy Hager – Red Light Winter (Thunder and Lightning Ensemble)

Polly Noonan – Passion Play: A Cycle in Three Parts  (Goodman Theatre)

Nick Vatterott – Love is Dead: A NecRomantic Musical Comedy  (Annoyance Theatre)

Adam Kander – The Merchant of Venice (Bohemian Theatre Ensemble)

 

Outstanding Performance in a Musical or Review

E. Faye Butler – Ain’t Misbehavin’   (Goodman Theatre)

Kat McDonnell – Old Town (Strawdog Theatre)

Summer Smart – Sweet Charity  (Drury Lane Oakbrook)

Bethany Thomas – Nine  (Porchlight Music Theatre)

 

Outstanding Ensemble

Emma  (Trapdoor Theatre)

As Told by the Vivian Girls  (Dog & Pony Theatre)

Juno and the Paycock  (The Artistic Home)

Sweet Confinement  (SiNNERMAN Ensemble)

Superior Donuts  (Steppenwolf Theatre)

 

For the complete listing of all 2008 After Dark Awards, including full descriptions and great pictures, go to my friend Venus Zarris’s theatre blog: www.chicagostagereview.com.   Go Venus!!

Remy Bumppo announces 2008/09 season

Remy Bumppo 2008/09 Season

 

The Voysey Inheritance

by Harley Granville-Barker

adapted by David Mamet

directed by James Bohnen

featuring Artistic Associate David Darlow

David Mamet’s sleek adaptation of Granville-Barker’s 1905 play feels as if it were written yesterday.  When Edward Voysey learns of his father’s corrupt dealings within the family business, he knows there is only one ethical solution.  But his moral stance conflicts with his siblings’ fierce defense of their incomes and the family name.  This drama of manners marries the wit and passionate dialogue of George Bernard Shaw with the ethical conflics of Arthur Miller.

September 18 – November 2, 2008

 

 

The Marriage of Figaro

by Beaumarchais

adapted by Ranjit Bolt

directed by Jonathan Berry

featuring Artistic Associates Greg Matthew Anderson and Annabel Armour

Ranjit Bolt, the adaptor of Remy Bumppo’s viciously comic Tartuffe, pens this retelling of Beaumarchais’ play made famous in opera form by Mozart.  The lustful Count Almaviva has set his affections on his wife’s chambermaid, who is also the fiancee of his valet, Figaro.  To protect his love, the cunning servant Figaro must outsmart his master.  His plotting reveals several other sexual games that culminate in a night of mistaken identities and deliciously funny farce.

November 13, 2008 – January 4, 2009

 

 

Old Times

by Harold Pinter

directed by James Bohnen

featuring Artistic Associates Linda Gillum and Nic Sandys

The season concludes with a masterpiece by Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter.  The nature of truth, memory and ownership are questioned in this hauntingly provacative game of marital chess.  When a married couple receives an unexpected visit from an old roommate, the reunion sparks anything but pleasant conversation.  As they reminisce, inconsistencies are revealed, and one of the three becomes the desired possession in an impassioned war over control of the past.

April 23 – June 7, 2009

  

For more info on Remy Bumppo and the upcoming season, including subscriptions and ticket specials, call 773-244-8119, or go to www.remybumppo.org.