Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Special Guest Reviewer

Last week, the lovely and amazing Liz Gorinsky, speculative fiction editor and audience member extraordinaire, came to visit Chicago. She saw about eight shows. Her favorites, in alphabetical order, were: Dave Davinci Saves the Universe, Lost Land and Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind.

All three shows are still playing. What are you waiting for!


Sunday, May 29, 2005

50 Brides for 50 Brothers

Big Love is weird and charming and delightful and challenging and slightly too long. But I am slightly too drunk, so more on it later.

Charles me, Charles Mee!


Friday, May 27, 2005

Mmmmm..... Silk at the Goodman

I think I love the novel Silk. At first I wasn't sure- my response to it was so quiet, so delicate that I hesitated to call it love. But on further reflection, yes. That novel sends me into raptures. Calm, hypnotic raptures, but raptures. The experience could only be improved if someone--Alan Rickman, perhaps-- read it out loud to me while brushing my naked back with a peacock feather. It's like that thing- the Tingler- that scratches your scalp. It does lovely little things to your nerves.

Mary Zimmerman's adaptation, playing at the Goodman, keeps those delicious sensations alive. Mostly by keeping nearly the whole novel, narration and all. It's some actors speaking the novel, wearing splendid clothes*, in front of a huge, stunning set. Perfect! Bravo! Don't mess with a good thing... and send some ushers round to me with peacock feathers.

*Or not. The box office couldn't find my tickets, causing me to be irritated, to miss the first 10 minutes, and to sit in a box on the left. I had poor sightlines, but an excellent view of the leading man's penis.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Would You Like this Snickers? Would You Like This Coke?

I think my only regret about seeing Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind tonight is that I knew too much about it. As much fun as I had, I would have liked to come in completely ignorant of their famous conceit and then HAD MY MIND BLOWN.

So, as a public service for those who read my blog, and somehow are ignorant of the Neo-Futurists, I will not say another word about it. Except:

Take a friend, and about 20 bucks. Arrive at 5153 N. Ashland (Ashland and Foster) on Friday or Saturday night no later than 10pm. (Or Sunday no later than 5pm). Join the line. Settle down to wait. Repeat as needed.


We're living in the Age of Consent- a little British drama at Stage Left

Three cheers for young punks! MOB productions are some recent grads putting on and starring in some play they saw once in England and really liked, and I think that's somehow adorable. It helps that I also really liked the play. "The Age of Consent" is just two enticing tabloid characters-- the stage mom who lets bad things happen to her daughter and the teenage former thrill killer-- talking to us. Thematically rather than dramatically linked. And I could parse out the various threads that tie them together, but more important: two great stories. I mean, it's awful and tawdry, but these are the narratives that fascinate us. Might as well enjoy them in a play that's sensitive and aware.

The two young punks aren't bad either. Alex Goodman looks intensely like John Cusack, and there is something damnably hot about a tortured, cloistered, juvi-hall educated, vulnerable convict who looks like John Cusack. Lauren Van Kurin has the tougher job, the less sympathetic character (I like you less than a murderer, Stephanie!). 'Gym-Slip Mummy' Stephanie, at 25, is technically within Van Kurin's age range, but she's so frickin' rough and ill used that I still felt baby-faced Van Kurin was too young. They both did a fine job carrying their halves of the play- each doing what amounts to a one-act monologue, in dialect no less. And jeeze- not perfect, but I was impressed. At several points, I felt like crying.

Note- credit card commercials can make me CRY. Making me feel like crying-- as opposed to reaching into my lizard brain and flipping the switch for the waterworks-- is a job for capital-A Art.

Final notes. Laughs. Cozy recognition of English stuff from my year abroad. (Did the other people in the audience know about Panto? Did they realize that MandS Junior Lingerie modeling isn't as bad as it sounds? Do they know how terrible the Sun is?)

The Venue: Stage Left. Tiny and weird. Trains-a-go-go, but I think they are atmospheric. A bigger problem- the only bathroom is backstage.

The set up for AofC was not quite right. Two quarters seating, with everything oriented towards the shorter end. There was a single couch, placed so that when a woman in a particular front row seat crosses her legs she blocks passage for the actors. Of course, a woman in wedges did this when I went to see the play, forcing the actors to subway shuffle past her at least three times per monologue. MOVE THE COUCH OR BLOCK THE SEAT.

Friday, May 20, 2005

Moby Dick, or Reina Conquers the Actor's Nightmare

Last night, I had that dream. You know, where you show up somewhere, and you're expected to be in a play, only you've been to no rehearsals, and you don't know any lines, and the audience members are fondling luger guns and licking their teeth? Yes. That dream.

It was a hopelessly avant-garde adaptation of Moby Dick, put on in a dirty vast black paint and concrete industrial space that was a bit like the former Women in the Director's chair, but larger and squarer. About six cast members were flitting around manipulating objects in ways that may or may not have had something to do with Melville. An equal number of audience members watched in confusion (ah, the accuracy of my dreams.)

I was handed a mask, and the information that I was late and meant to be Ishmael. "No sweat," I thought, "I have read nearly the first third of Moby Dick, and that Ishmael is a swell guy." I stalked around for a minute, taking the measure of my castmates, then ran out of the room, discarded the mask, ran back in and, shaking everyone's hand pronounced, "Hi! Hi! I'm so sorry I'm late. You can call me Ishmael." I then stared in surprise at an undulating fellow actor. Uproarious laughter and applause.

"I was," said I "Your basic young schoolteacher type who, pressed both for cash and way of making life really real, that is romance, and adventure and really wild things, an indeterminate number of years ago went down to this harbor town with an idea of getting a berth on a ship." As I plowed through the story, my castmates made ships fly and carried me about and attacked me with paper bags, all in ways that seemed quite appropriate at the time. I was putting in plenty of detail, hoping that someone would call an intermission before I got to the point in the book where I'd left the damn thing on the Montrose bus two years ago. I intended to dash out and buy a Cliff's Notes perhaps.

However, just before dear Ishmael met Queequog, and while the other actors were rolling me up in some musty carpet, I woke up. Feeling tough and intelligent.

I had the actor's nightmare, and I kicked its butt.

Let me leave you with my favorite line from the first third of Moby Dick, about Earth and Heaven: "Here ye strike but splintered hearts together --there, ye shall strike unsplinterable glasses! "

Sunday, May 15, 2005

I know your true name, Ditchwater Sal... "Stardust" at TBC

Sometimes I feel like every other person I know is a Neil Gaiman fan. Hell, I'm one too. I love the man, and his work, and his good nature. So we were all surprised and pleased when longstanding, slightly mysterious, recently displaced local company Griffin snagged the rights to his novel "Stardust," which is a delicate sort of adult fairy tale.* I don't know how many of those rights they have, perhaps just Chicago area adaptation non-exclusive for the next 10-years, but I it was a smart move to grab something that could draw Gaiman's fanbase.

I hope Griffin does well with this show. They deserve to. The adaptation- and I've just borrowed a copy of the novel to check it against- struck me as over rather than under-faithful- it didn't jump two-footed into the theatrical of the thing, and so the first act was a bit.. inert. Pinched the dialogue and didn't add much- I could have done with a little ritual or spectacle or whatever. Things pumped up and starting moving- and moving me- in the second act. It ended abruptly.

It's hard to pinpoint the first act's problem- but it was either an adaptation or an acting failing. My theatre-going companion complained that too many things were played as funny. I partially agree- I think it all would have been more effective and funnier if everyone had taken their fairy tale problems more seriously. I felt a certain lack of commitment from the humanoid characters- as if their English accents were just making them uncomfortable and affected, and incapable of getting right inside the story. Perhaps this will improve during the run. It certainly improved during the course of the play.

The Witch queen, however, was excellent all the way through her various transformations. And most of the bit-part actors were great in their more over-the-top, crazy-costume, funny-voice roles. It's just when they were in-between, playing semi-naturalistic characters in a fantasy world, that they had trouble striking the right tone.

The costumes were great- especially for the girls- and they suited the actors well. I was less thrilled with the set, and with the effects and spectacle. So many opportunities to blow me away with some neat trick, and instead we just sort of...understood what happened. But I think I've been spoiled lately.

I mean, this is why we have the phrase 'solid adaptation.' It's easy to nitpick when you already know and are fond of the story, but hell. Anyone off the street could enjoy this show, and there's nothing in it that could possibly anger a fan.

Good night then,

*No Shrek-movie style parodies, just gentle loving tweaks at all the conventions.

Children, if your cell-phone was a time machine....

It probably wouldn't improve your life.

I just got home from the latest House show/party, which was quite funny and cool but sort of a downer. Wait. No. All of that applies only to the show, 'Dave Davinci Saves the Universe." The party, though, that has basically made me too tired and drunk to clickity-clack about the show. All I remember at this point is:
a. time travel is not the answer to my problems
b. Shawn Pffasdfasldkfjalkj's lycra bodysuit is disconcerting.
c. Stacy Stoltz, like her boyfriend, has a nice chest and soulful eyes.

And so goodnight.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

I think I sat too close... Wicked at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts

Berry United Methodist Church basement to Ford Oriental Theatre in less than 24 hours. Ouch. I've got the bends. Lucky I'll be at the Viaduct before eight.*

I have a mild antipathy to the whole vat-bred feel of the Broadway juggernaut "Wicked," so I was pretty chuffed when workshop-baby "Avenue Q" beat it out for the Tony. Er, to the extent that I care about these things. Not that I don't have loads of respect and affection for the creative team- Winnie Holzman, you created "My So-Called Life," and gratzi. Stephen Schwartz, I don't care what anybody says, "Pippin" is weird and fantastic. Costumers, you obviously worked your butts off and did a terrific job. Hairdressers-- I think I'll miss you most of all.

Perhaps it's just hometown loyalty that made me decide, ahead of time, to enjoy this show and not love it. But I enjoyed it thoroughly and with neck cramps. Most of the theatre I see is improved by proximity, but I missed out on stage pictures today and this mechanical dragon flicked ash on me, and I kept getting distracted by this one chorus girl's resemblance to Nicole Sullivan of Mad TV. Sitting close, however, I did get to see what a nifty job Ms. Stephanie Block did of tucking Margaret Hamilton's cramped hand gestures into her nerdy school girl. Ah, Margaret Hamilton, any reminder of you makes me smile.

The songs- and oh Mr. Schwartz you can be so uneven- tended toward the meh, and didn't carry oodles of emotional valence for me. And though the script purports to make us rexamine our idea of wickedness, it didn't. No shades of gray, just an inversion of black and white. I'm definitely going to read the book now- see if it did any better with a genuinely cool idea.

In conclusion: As usual, I did not pay any money for this. It was great and it rocked me, but I bet I could find you a better value somewhere in town.

*In the Oriental's defense, they did try to make me feel at home by seating me next to a smelly fat man who kept swearing under his breath.

Friday, May 13, 2005

It's 8pm on Friday night... do I know where I am?

Good evening, all my katies,

My name is Reina, and I go to the theatre an awful lot for someone who doesn't get paid.

Over Christmas, I decided that any good Chicago citizen should be familiar with our fair city's greatest resource: storefront theatre. I resolved to see a show in every single off-loop venue by the end of the year. Experts have said this is impossible. I have countered with "charts."* Fringequest 2005 began in January with "Mr Punch, or Jack and the Blase Bride" and er, a play, I think it was called "Hamlet."

I quickly realized that, even at $15 a pop, seeing 2-4 plays a week would put a serious dent in my budget. With my customary ingenuity, charm and chutzpah, I got myself set up as the theatre critic for Inside Newspapers. (www.insideonline.com, tab Way Off Loop), where you can read new capsule reviews every week.

However, if you'd like the real, off-the-cuff, badly-frayed, just got home from the theatre slightly buzzed impressions of what I see, you've come to the right place.

*I didn't counter with a chart I'd made. I just countered by saying "Charts! I've got charts and maps with little flags in them!" I haven't made any charts yet. I was lying.