Chicago Theater – Best of 2008 (Chicago Sun-Times)

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 Hedy Weiss, theater-critic extraordinaire for the Chicago Sun-Times, has put together an excellent list of her 10 favorite plays of 2008.  Along with the list, Hedy notes the wonderful year Chicago theater has had on the national stage:

…this was the year that Steppenwolf Theatre picked up five Tony Awards for its Chicago-bred Broadway production of Tracy Letts‘ “August: Osage County” before the cast crossed the pond to remount the show at London’s National Theatre, and when the Chicago Shakespeare Theater was feted with the “Best Regional Theater” Tony.

Continuing:

But that was just the beginning. Next Theatre‘s production of the new musical “Adding Machine,” was hailed in its Off Broadway incarnation, with director David Cromer racking up plaudits for his work on that show, as well as for his revelatory revivals of “Our Town” (at the Hypocrites) and “Picnic” (at Writers’ Theatre). Profiles championed the work of incendiary playwright Neil LaBute to grand effect. Remy Bumppo earned laughs with its tale of financial chicanery in a revival of an Edwardian classic, “The Voysey Inheritance.” And director Sean Graney experimented boldy with productions of “The Threepenny Opera” and Marlowe‘s “Edward II.”

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Now here are Hedy Weiss’s favorite productions in 2008:

 

1. Caroline or Change  (Court Theatre)
by Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori
Standouts: Charles Newell (director), Doug Peck (musical director); performances: Malcolm Durning, E.Faye Butler
     
2. Ruined  (Goodman Theatre)
by Lynn Nottage
Weiss comments: Worthy of a Pulitzer Prize, the play will soon move to New York’s Manhattan Theatre Club.
 
     
3. Gatz  (Elevator Repair Service Theatre)
by John Collins
 
     
4. Our Town  (The Hypocrites)
by Thornton Wilder
Standouts: David Cromer (director)
 
     
5. Requiem for a Heavyweight  (Shattered Globe)
by Rod Serling
Standouts: Lou Contey (director)
 
     
6. Amadeus  (Chicago Shakespeare)
by Peter Schaffer
Standouts: Gary Griffin (director), Daniel Ostling (set designer); performances: Robert Sella, Robbi Collier Sublett, Elizabeth Ledo, Lance Baker
 
     
7. As You Like It  (Writers’ Theatre)
by William Shakespeare
Standouts: William Brown (director), Performance: Larry Yando
 
     
8. Drowsy Chaperone  (Cadillac Palace Theater)
by Laura Wade
Standouts: Casey Nicholaw (director)
 
     
9. Around the World in 80 Days  (Lookingglass)
Standouts: Laura Eason (adaptor/director); Performances: Philip R. Smith, Kevin Douglas, Joe Dempsey, Ravi Batista, Anish Jethmalani, Ericka Ratcliff, Nick Sandys and Rom Barkhordar
 
     
10. Columbinus  (Raven Theatre)
by Stephen Karam and P.J. Paparelli
Standouts: Greg Kolack (director); Performances: Matthew Klingler and Jamie Abelson
 

To see the Hedy Weiss’s complete description and thoughts on her favorite plays, click here.

REVIEW – “Requiem for a Heavyweight” at Shattered Globe

Requiem for a Heavyweight
“Why do so many have to feed off one guy’s misery?” This line in Shattered Globe’s heroic, heart-wrenching production of Requiem for a Heavyweight, sums up the life of the lead character, a boxer nick-named Mountain (Sean Sullivan). Written by Rod Serling (creator of “The Twilight Zone“) as a 1957 teleplay, Serling lays out for us the extremes that people will go in furthering their own lives, all the while squeezing out every last ounce of dignity from others. Mountain, a tender giant from Tennessee, who at one time was ranked 5th in the world, finds himself unemployed after 14-years of boxing. The play begins during Mountain’s final fight, a startlingly brutal confrontation, blood and sweat flying off him as he is barraged with punch after punch by the soon-to-be victor. His eyes and face beaten to a pulp (with severe disfiguration from years of fighting), the doctor rules that this will be his last fight, as any more damage to his eyes could leave him blind. Feeling indebted to his manager, Maish (Bill Bannon), Mountain finds himself at an employment office, where he meets with job counselor Grace (Paula Stevens), who takes him under her wing, determined to find him a job. This scene involving Mountain and Grace is a marvel to behold, as Mountain clumsily blurts out that – once people see his disfigured face – nobody is willing to hire him. Though Grace sets him up with a job working as a camp counselor, his manager Maish has other plans for him, booking him into the humiliating realm of professional wrestling, posing as an Appalachian Davey Crockett, complete with coonskin hat and long-johns. We are left at the end with deep sympathy for Mountain, while holding inside a glimmer of hope that his life will someday get better.

Strengths: Director Lou Contey has outdone himself with his vision and execution of this glorious story – the ensemble is dead-on in the depictions of their characters. Along with Sean Sullivan, Bill Bannon and Paula Stevens, praise must also be given to the rest of the cast – Brian McCartney, Scott Aiello, and Jamie Vann. The production looks great – with a superbly-adaptable set designed by Kevin Hagan.

Reservations: Though there is little here not to love, the final scene becomes a bit preachy, as Mountain spells out what he is doing and why. Though Mountain is an honorable character, he’s not the type that’s eloquent enough to package his actions so succinctly.

Summary: In Requiem for a Heavyweight, Shattered Globe presents us with a perfect example of the kind of ensemble theatre Chicago is known for: gritty, raw and vulnerable, all wrapped inside a small intimate theatre space. It will be hard to experience a better performance than that of Sean Sullivan, who brings the empathetic audience to tears, as he succumbs to the realization that he has been used and then tossed aside by all those in his life whom he thought were looking out for him. This play is not to be missed. Highly recommended.

Rating: ««««

Opening: Shattered Globe’s “Requiem for a Heavyweight”.

One of my favorite Chicago theatre companies, Shattered Globe, continues their exciting 2007-2008 season with the tumultuous “Requiem for a Heavyweight” by Rod Serling; directed by Louis Contey. Opening night is Sunday, January 13th. (hat-tip to Karin McKie for providing the production info)

   

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WHAT: Shattered Globe Theatre will present “Requiem for a Heavyweight,” by Rod Serling and directed by Louis Contey.  In this 1956 drama, washed-up prizefighter Harlan “Mountain” McClintock faces the sudden end of his career. Having spent 14 years in the ring, Mountain faces the prospect of a life that does not include boxing and discovers that the skills that almost made him a champion don’t count for much in the wider world. Mountain is torn between the possibility of new love and a promising future offered by social worker Grace, and loyalty to his self-serving manager Maish, who wants to exploit the fighter on the lucrative professional wrestling circuit. Widely regarded as one of the greatest sports dramas of all time, “Requiem for a Heavyweight” is a gut-wrenching account of the merciless prizefight game and the human wreckage it leaves in its wake. 
   
WHERE: Victory Gardens Greenhouse Theater, 2257 N. Lincoln Ave. (map)
   
WHEN: Opens Sunday, January 13th (3pm) through March 8th (Saturday). Complete schedule here.
   
TIX: Call box-office at 773-871-3000, or order online. Reduced tickets at HotTix (when available).
   
CAST: Scott Aiello (Leo), Bill Bannon (Maish), David Bendena (Greeny), Don Blair (Doctor and Charlie), Craig Degel (Morrell, Thug), Mike Falevitz (young boxer and photographer), Brian McCartney (Army), Paula Stevens (Grace), Sean Sullivan (“Mountain” McClintock), and Jamie Vann (Perelli).
   
STAFF: Kevin Hagan (Production Manager and Scenic Design), Brian McCaskill (Co-Producer), Eileen Niccolai (Co-Producer), Danielle Boyke (Stage Manager), Lou Contey (Director), Mike Durst (Lighting Design), Cybele Moon (Costume Design) and Mike Tutaj (Sound Design).
   
FUNDERS: Alphawood Foundation, the Elizabeth F. Cheney Foundation, the Robert J. and Loretta W. Cooney Foundation, the Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, a CityArts I grant from the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs, the Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, the Leo S. Guthman Fund, the Illinois Arts Council, the Mid-North Association and Much Shelist.