Sleep deprivation, brought about by having to run 1 am conference calls with Asia and the UK every night (or early morning, to be exact), has not dampened my enthusiasm to take advantage of the very active, very exciting Chicago theater winter season. Last week, I first went to Fatboy at A Red Orchid Theatre, John Clancy’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival sensation. It’s an over-the-top, outrageously bawdy, knock-you-senseless-with-its-absurdity-and-cojones updating of Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi, about a tyrant who literally eats and then destroys the world, and his sex-starved wife, with staggeringly magnificent performances from Steve Pickering and Jennifer Engstrom. Later on in the week, I managed to catch Shining City at the Goodman, Robert Falls’ remounting of his Broadway version of Conor McPherson’s spare, melancholy, beautifully written play about a psychiatrist and his patient haunted by visions of his dead wife, and two people in the psychiatrist’s life, re-cast with a quartet of excellent Chicago actors. I think it is interesting that both Fatboy and Shining City demonstrate the undeniably central importance of the text in any theatrical production (something I have written about in the past), in contrasting ways. In Fatboy, the visionary direction, the mind-blowingly stunning performances, and the excellent production values fail to overcome what I feel is an obvious, annoyingly repetitive, punch-to-the-gut hectoring of a script. In Shining City, despite an ending which belonged more in a Wes Craven B-movie than in a riveting stage production, the beauty of the writing- its subtlety, its reflectiveness, its honesty, its very meticulous buildup of emotions and realizations- makes the play unforgettable.
This week’s TimeOut Chicago issue is devoted to blogs and bloggers, all different kinds, types, shades, and temperaments of them, with a terrific blogger’s forum moderated by From the Ledge friend and TimeOut Chicago theatre critic Kris Vire. Also, check out my blog mentor Tom’s quote on the article about CTATattler.com’s Kevin O’Neil. But I think the very big news this week among the Chicago theater blogging community is the spirited, no-holds-barred commentary, sometimes resembling a virtual Extreme Sports bloody match, on Chris Jones’s blog about Lookingglass Theatre co-founder David Schwimmer’s alleged plans to star as the Stage Manager in a production of Our Town for Lookingglass’s next season, to be co-directed by August: Osage County director Anna Shapiro. The blog discussion became so heated, and at times so viciously personal, dragging in innocent bystanders like the Shattered Globe Theatre, that David Schwimmer himself personally weighed in, with what I believe, was a classy, objective, very articulate response. I, for one, will be in line to buy tickets for this Our Town production because of him (I saw him close to 10 years ago, during the height of his Ross popularity, in a Lookingglass production of Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot, and I thought he did very well in a difficult classic text. It’s obviously a play the uninformed Schwimmer-bashers on the blog skipped). Read it all here. I think this whole blog discussion on David Schwimmer demonstrated the best and worst of the blogging and online community. On blogs and online forums, people can express their opinions freely and passionately and have a forum to engage in discourse, however argumentative, with others. That’s a beautiful thing (as one of my clients used to say), but some other people, as some of the Chris Jones’s commenters did, express these opinions in irresponsible, unconstructive, destructive, and cruelly obnoxious ways, and worse, hide behind pseudonyms and anonymous tags like “Max”, theater lover, and withheld. That is sometimes my great struggle with blogging and the online world – people feel they can say or write anything they want, and just walk away, cloaked in the anonymity of the virtual world, without being held to consequences and impacts that they would normally be held to in the real world.
Titus Andronicus is like the Reservoir Dogs of the Shakespearean canon- endless, unrelenting violence, bloodsport, and vengeance performed by characters who are really insanely ruthless, irrationally mean, or both. Julie Taymor’s outrageous and elaborate 2004 movie Titus (complete with Jessica Lange as Goth Queen Tamora in a breastplate) reveled in the violence, blood, and sensationalism of the play. Charles Newell’s startling, stunning new production at the Court Theatre, on the other hand, creates what I believe is a more powerful world than the movie. Instead of focusing on the over-the-top violence that the play contains, Court’s Titus Andronicus focuses on the environmental and psychological factors that drive people into uncontrollable, unstoppable spirals of violent behavior, mostly physical, but also emotional. It is a very different re-think of the play, and one that is likely to create lots of controversial, polarizing reactions among theatre-goers, not only with purists and Shakespearean experts, but also with just regular theatre-lovers. I, for one, nearly got torn into bits in the equivalent of a verbal body slam match by some friends at Bar on Buena, where we had ensconced ourselves after the Sunday matinee performance, during a football game (!). Yes, Julie Taymor would have approved of that Andronicus-like spectacle.
I love having a blog! For the first time ever, my either delusional or expert picks for the Oscar nominations, which will be announced Tuesday, January 22, 8:35 am Chicago time, will be preserved for posterity. This will enable people other than BFF Debra to call me out on my revisionist thinking – yes, that once upon a time I was avidly backing Hilary…ugghh…arggghhh…eek..Swank for her performance in Boys Don’t Cry, or that I was excitedly tapdancing on top of the icky Chicago bandwagon (Renee what’s her name and all!) in 2003. I love nominations morning- there will always be jaw-dropping and sleepiness-erasing surprises. I remember being on a project in Vancouver in 1999 and getting up at 5:00 am to excitedly hear Edward Norton’s surprise Best Actor nomination for American History X. There have been lots of BIG YAY moments like Fernanda Montenegro’s Best Actress nomination for Central Station, an obscure Brazilian movie that I loved in 1998, as well as moments when I needed Dramamine to prevent the nausea enveloping me such as during that doomed day in 2006 when Crash was called as a nominee for Best Picture.
When watching the play The Little Dog Laughed, one gets the same feelings as when one dons that eye-catching white designer shirt with a one-of-a-kind pattern of embroidered suns in brilliant persimmon, or when one is placidly lying on a massage table in a destination spa in Scottsdale getting a body wrap of papaya and hibiscus extract mixed with kelp – fabulously hip, extraordinarily urban, unapologetically, uhmmm, gay. The Little Dog Laughed, the story of a closeted actor looking for love and his agent looking for the next big movie deal, was a hit last year off-Broadway, and then Broadway, and won a Tony for Julie White, who turned in a dazzlingly over-the-top comedic performance as Diane, the agent; it is now getting an unabashedly hip, and yes, very gay production- briskly directed and wonderfully acted- from Chicago’s leading gay and lesbian theater, About Face Theater. Although it does not aspire to present great tragic themes or multitudes of intellectual theatrical somersaults, it is still a great, fun night at the theater, especially in the confines of the impressive Hoover-Leppen Theatre at Center on Halsted, the city’s GLBT community center.
It’s the usual cold and somber January weather in Chicago, and I am on a client project with ridiculously heinous hours and expectations, but those two things won’t stop me from going to the many wonderful new plays and performances that are opening in the city within the next two weeks. I already went to a preview performance of About Face Theater’s Little Dog Laughed, the Broadway hit about a closeted gay actor whose career is threatened by his romance with a male prostitute, which won a Tony for Julie White who played the actor’s over-the-top lesbian agent. I saw the play in New York, and I think Chicago actor Mary Beth Fisher, in a classier, slightly-toned down, less fag-haggish performance in the About Face version, is a match for Julie White’s brilliance. I also saw Titus Andronicus at the Court, and it’s a stunner. This is how I feel Shakespeare should be reinvented for the contemporary audience – boldly original, but not flashy, full of interesting, at times, startling, artistic choices but yet still clearly presenting and illuminating Shakespeare’s themes. And that cast – it’s full of Chicago’s sexiest and most talented young male actors, plus the fabulous Hollis Resnik as Goth queen Tamora, which I think is a pretty unique casting choice. Hollis is more known for musical theater here in the city, and I think she brings that grace, charm and joie de vivre to a role that has potential for more campiness and overbaked acting than the lovechild of Divine and Christopher Walken. The casting works! I’ll post my detailed impressions of both soon, once they have had their press openings.
Tags: shining city