Saturday, January 28, 2006

Yikes! It speaks!

Colm O'Reilly wigs me out. I mean it. He hardly ever moves, and he has this giant head and I can't stop watching him. It's like he's this rock in the middle of the stage, a rock with some kind of tragic history and a slow brute strength. He's a very strange actor, but he makes my heart beat faster, in confusion or possibly animal fear. I've been to two of his shows before- once he was just a recorded voice, once he spent the whole thing in a Quasimodo mask. In tonight's show, "Letter Purloined," he mostly just hummed synth-pop in lieu of actual words. Perhaps this is a blessing, as a whole show of O'Reilly talking and moving like a normal person would make my head explode.

Not that "Letter Purloined" didn't try, anyway. It's a super nifty show, with 26 scenes, a to z, performed in random order (i.e., not a to z.) The Neofuturists, who have a few prints on this play, have gotten us to chill about randomly ordered shows, but "Letter Purloined" actually has a plot. Tricksy. It's based on a plotty story, the Purloined Letter, the silliest, plottiest, least consequental part of Othello, and a number of amusing theoretical writings with no plots at all, and there's no control at all over chronology.* Amazingly enough, I think I could tell you precisely what happened, if not precisely when.

This show also taught me something about myself: I'd be awful at the "name that tune" board game. My recognition of Othello references was running at an easy 100%, wheras my recognition of the Who oevre was like, 15%. I've never realized how irritating it is when other people laugh at jokes that you don't understand!

*The ending tonight, Z, was suspiciously good.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

What am I doing in a class joint like this?

It's been a Goodman weekend for me. The big shiny Mary Zimmerman Pericles on Thursday, and the adorable "Year with Frog and Toad" last night. Again, I have to stop going out after shows, as it throws off my blogging schedule.

"Frog and Toad," I should mention, is definitely a children's show, and there are children there. I think kids are very cute and entertaining, and up till now, I've always believed they enchance any performance experience. (The small girl who sat behind me at Lookingglass Alice was one of the highlights of the show.) No longer. I've learned the hard way that, while adults are larger, less droll audience members, they have far superior control over their bladders. The fetching child in the seat next to me became way less cute when she peed during the watering can sequence.

After discreetly changing seats during intermission, I relaxed and focused on the sweet gentleness and spotless professionalism of the show. It's really lovely, funny if low-key and has some great tunes. It's worth watching for the costumes alone, which skip make-up and furry suits for witty, evocative outfits that a mouse or a bird or a mole would wear if they were people.

As for Pericles- well, it's not a very good play. One of those Shakespeare plays that people tend to think he didn't write all of, owing to how it sucks. It's repetive, much of the speech is stilted, there are too many plots, some of which vanish entirely. I find it most useful as context for the disjunctive, wrenchingly emotional "Winter's Tale" and the perfect perfect perfect "Tempest." Shakespeare wanted to do this particular sort of fairy-tale like story, encompassing both a terrible tragedy and a reconcilation, and it's instructive to watch him grapple with the difficulties of staging that sort of plot before hitting on the over-the-shoulder-shoot of the Tempest. Luckily, there does seem to be one more use for Pericles: as an excuse for Mary Zimmerman's trademark lyrical staging. Woot!

I have just one more thing to say. Pericles, as cast and played, is such a doof.

Backdated theatre!

Kay, so. I wrote these a couple weeks ago and gmailed them to myself for posting after the loopies. Crazy, but that's the way I roll.
Don't like to mix my years up.

Tonight was "The Big Rock Show" at Davenports, starring Scotty Iseri
as the whole band and Tim the Roadie as Tim the Roadie, who can't be
bothered. All kinds of fun. However, it's slightly too short to
sober up from one of Davenport's fine girly drinks, meaning that I
only got home after a lot of tipsy, cold, bewilderment. Can you catch
up to the Western bus on a bike? Yes, but not after midnight, folks.

Finally made it over to Angel Island for Buried Child. Angel Island,
which houses the old-school bruiser storefront Mary-Arrchie, has
challenged me in the past. I have twice been defeated by its address,
735 W. Sheridan, as Sheridan is a North/South street. Yes, it's not
only off the map, it's in some kind of alternate dimension.*

Buried Child is a very creepy little play, and M.A. did it flawlessly.
They had all kinds of rain machines dripping water onto the outside
of the set (How could they afford it? Perhaps because they got all
the furniture from the alley.) The atmosphere was damp, and close,
and perfect.

I'm not a huge fan of the whole Sam Shepherd terrible lacunae style.
The problem with awful secrets is that they're either confusing when
kept or a bit disappointing when revealed (Oedipus is a possible
exception.) His characters lead compulsive, illogical lives. This
seemed right for the southern Illinois farm nuts, but the big city
interlopers didn't make sense to me. They were entirely devoid of
personal resources, cute little straw people all ready to be

Nevertheless, Mary-Arrchie pulled me into the creeping horror of the
thing stagecraft, good actors, and sheer commitment. The characters
are constantly doing inexplicable things to each other that seem
somehow right, elements in a ceremony, like covering each other with
corn husks, or sticking fingers in each others mouths. This, combined
with the amount of physical change and destruction visited on assorted
props, gives the production a sweaty sensuality. The cast manages to
make it feel as if we'd all like to communicate this way. What's odd
about these people is that they don't feel the need to control

*Dogleg! Don't talk to me about doglegs. This stuff isn't natural

Friday, January 13, 2006

Click. Click. Click. "Bang!"

I've been holding back my posts so that the year-in-review stays up top, but no longer. I just gotta talk about Valentine Victorious. Like a lot of people, I've been waiting a year for this show- ever since I saw the inexplicably-set-in-medieval Japan prequel, "Curse of the Crying Heart." Valentine genre-hops to a film-noir forties Chicago. It had me grinning like an idiot, bouncing up and down, and endlessly babbling about how awesome it was. Even though it was a very well attended dress rehearsal. I am so hideously jealous of the people who get to see it Saturday, when they flip the opening night switch and it all coheres. Tonight, I got a hugely entertaining and inspiring mix of awesome scenes and classic final-preview moments. You know, the absence of crucial props or sound effects, severe instrument malfunction just before the final song, etc, etc. All beautifully handled.

I would go tell you to see it tomorrow, but you can't, suckers. Go see it as soon as you can get tickets. Oh, and even if you don't smoke, bring a lighter. I'm just telling you now.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Best of 2005

Do the Jeffs bore you, just a little? Would you rather have awards that are completely arbitrary and consist mostly of categories for "Sexiest Male Lead?" Well, the Loopies are for you.

Sexiest Male Lead (Breeches Division) Peter Greenberg as Sir Tristram in "The Talisman Ring"
Sometimes being unbelievably sexy isn't about good hair, a winning smile and a dimpled chin. Sometimes being sexy involves making dour remarks while shooting the flames off candles and never moving your face at all. The determinedly unromantic Tristram makes a flat first impression, but after he saved the day via brilliant swordfighting, quick thinking and a few rolls of the eye, I was ready to faint into his competent arms. Er, the Regency-era men's clothing didn't hurt either.

Sexiest Male Lead (Guitars Division) Nathan Allan as Sorrow in "Curse of the Crying Heart"
A lover and a fighter, a rock star and a samurai, Sorrow has the heart of a lost little boy and the chiseled face of the best looking guy in your junior high. I think Princess Sakura nailed it when she said something like "You play the GUITAR. You wear a MASK." I mean really, what else could a woman want?

Sexiest Male Lead (Portable Division) Cesare in "The Cabinet"
This foot-tall puppet is basically Johnny Depp in paper mache. Think! You could take him anywhere! He's got stellar cheekbones, that whole goth-chic thing, and the quavering, tormented voice of Colm O'Reilly. Hot. Just hot.

Sexiest Female Lead
Wait. What? I'm sorry, I was distracted, let's move on.

Best Night of Pure Entertainment (Vaudeville Division) Lavender
Cabaret for "Tribute to the Eighties."
I've enjoyed several Lav Cab shows since, but something about Eighties Night was just magic. Was it the cocaine-and-sugar aesthetic of the period tunesmiths? Was it the wearing of knee socks, and the ripping off of wifebeaters? Was it the Sugarbabies' perennial good humor, sense of fun, and god-given hotness? Oh no, my friends, it was all of that, plus two gin and tonics.

Best Cock Block: Springloaded Theatre for "The Monkey House."
Springloaded's feisty little adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut stories nearly charmed my pants off. And their staging of "Long Walk to Forever" almost earned Brennan Buhl an award for Sexiest Male Lead (Nervous Tics Division). But they had to follow it up with "The Monkey House," which can only be described as pro-rape, and squicky with it. Way to go, Springloaded. Way to make heterosexual women feel gross, and heterosexual men feel guilty. Now, how is anyone supposed to get any action? (Except gay people.)

The Ibsen Award For Best Last Ten Minutes: Mabou Mines for "Dollhouse."
At the dispirting intermission for this show, my friend Laura made a prediction: "I bet it's the end of the Wizard of Oz and theydrop the silly accents and demolish the dollhouse." I shushed her, because I try to be an open-minded critic, but I was horribly afraid she was right. I should have had more faith. After a long evening of clever, tedious avant-garde choices, Mabou Mines pulled a splendidly original, gut-wrenching, curtain-closer right out of Ibsen's butt.

The Ibsen Award for Best Last Two Minutes (Comedy Division): Neofuturists for "The Last Two Minutes of the Complete Works of Henrki Ibsen."
This chronological career retrospective taught me that a playwright can rise to greatness after writing whole bunches of awful, awful plays. It also taught me that "Ghosts" is hilarious.

Best Single Costume: Strawdog Theatre for the Bearded Lady in "True Ballad of Falls Blessing."
This sweet, ruched, confection looked like a circus outfit made by Betsy Johnson. I just loved it. Even with the beard.

Best Single Overall Look: House Theatre for the Witch of the West in "The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz."
Slashed to the navel, with a flowing skirt and these detachable bat-wing arm thingies, Laurie Klapperich's costume was pure sex, and also pure witch. Add Molly Brennin's elegant black and green bob, and armful of've got an iconic presence that will temporarily obliterate all images of warts and pointy hats.

The "America is Scary" Award for Depressingly Relevant Revival of a Chestnut: Raven Theatre for "A Few Good Men."
Torture, arrogance, and military cover-ups. It was written when? 1980s? Oh, Jesus.

"America is Scary" Regional Award: Theatre Harrisburg (Harrisburg, PA) for "Inherit the Wind."
The theatre opened this redux of the Scopes Monkey Trial to coincide with the Dover Area School District trial on teaching intelligent design. Should I applaud their timely use of the medium, or should I shudder that they can even BE timely with a play that premiered on Broadway in 1955?

Weirdest Mix of Emotions inspired in Reina Hardy by a Show: Steep Theatre for "Book of Days"
It made me angry, and hungry for cheese. This has never happened before, even though hypocrisy is awful and cheese is delicious.

Most Uppity Techy: Scotty Iseri
This moxious sound tech seems to prefer bright red pleather to his rightful blacks. Not only does he headline the Big Rock Show, he somehow manages to get on stage while doing effects (Kid Simple, The Long Christmas Ride Home.) He's lucky he's cute, or I'm sure the union would have something to say.

Best Concept: The Dean Evans Show
I'm so over national celebrities. But where can I go to ogle hometown heroes in a classic late night format? The Dean Evans show, of course, the Neo-futurists' live talk-show parody featuring local doers-of-awesome.

Best Lobby: Chopin Theatre
It's shabby, and dull red, and so like a New Orleans whorehouse, all worn velvet and pendant lamps. It makes me feel decadent in this frugal, old-world way.

Best Fight Scene: The Viola Project for "Taming of the Shrew."
Nepotistic, yes. But I'll stand by it. There's a lot of great fightwork in this town, but until you've seen two eleven year old girls whaling on each other, you haven't been truly entertained. There were punches to the face! Hip checks! They threw chairs! Cora and Ileana, you made me proud. I'd watch the scene again right now if I could.

Best Unintentional Audience Participation Moment: Me at "Lookingglass Alice"
The Cheshire Cat was crouching right in front of me. He looked so cat-like and alert, I couldn't resist petting him. A grown man! How inappropriate, really. Then he turned around and sort of cat-nuzzled my leg. Awww, actors.

That's it for this year, my sweet potatoes, my fruity booties. Watch this space for the best of years to come, and go see some theatre this weekend, dammit!

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

The Sweet Side Effects of Failure

So, I didn't do it.

2005 came and went, and I failed to see a show in every fringe, off-loop and store-front venue in Chicago. Some of them closed this year, some didn't run any shows. Some popped up in November like mushrooms. Some were inaccessible by public transportation. Some, I was too damned lazy. In retrospect, it was a crazy idea.

Still, it was a beautiful one. And though I maintain that, if I hadn't been distracted by my paying review job at Centerstage, I could have pulled it off, I'm happy to have failed in a spectacular venture. Because here's what I did do:

In the course of one year, I saw over 75 separate pieces of live theatre.
I visited at least 54 Chicago theatre venues.
I went out every gosh-darn weekend.
I learned to take a deep breath and give my opinion.
I became a bona fide, I-know-more-about-Chicago-theatre than you storefront snob with the knowledge to back it up.
I was not at any point a dick about it.
I saw the work of countless talented people, some of whom I was lucky enough to get to know.
I had my concept of what can be done on a stage blown apart and reconstructed several times.
I cried in public, and in company.
I visited parts of the city that I didn't know existed.
I learned to use buses, not just trains.
I made a list of 22 venues that I'm going to get to by May. I swear.

Stay tuned for the 2005 year in review, and the awarding of the long awaited Loopies.