Personal, Theater 1 Comment »

It’s a wonderful 80 degree day in Chicago today, so welcome after the ridiculous non-spring of the past couple of weeks when rain and a cold front kept me and many other Chicagoans wondering whether the proverbial light of summer at the end of a lingering winter will ever come.  It’s great to be out and about in the city today, but other than a couple of hours running around this afternoon, I’ve been at home, recovering, yes recovering, from the festivities last night at the Steppenwolf Theatre Auxiliary Council’s Red or White Ball (I guess my philosophy of age being just another number is demolished by the reality of a major hangover, achy feet and joints, and a hoarse voice brought about by a night of late-night carousing).  The Ball is the major annual fund-raising event for the Auxiliary Council (of which I’m a Governor), and all proceeds go to Steppenwolf’s exemplary Steppenwolf for Young Adults program which brings high school students from the Chicago public school system to the theater to see adaptations of literary works on stage.  The program also helps enrich the teaching toolkits of the drama and arts teachers of these students by providing immersion workshops for them to attend.  It’s a really great program, which I am very proud to be supporting and to be associated with.  The Steppenwolf for Young Adults 2008-2009 season consists of an all African-American production of Tennesee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie featuring ensemble member Alana Arenas, directed by ensemble member Yasen Peyankov, and John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, directed by the actor Michael Patrick Thornton, who was terrific in last year’s Young Adults production of The Elephant Man.  Some people I know are reluctant to come to the Young Adults productions because they think these plays are staged and performed with teenagers in mind (meaning adults might just be fidgeting and checking their watches every five minutes througout the performance), but I have to say both The Elephant Man and Harriet Jacobs which comprised the 2007-2008 season were as mature, involving, and impactful as the Main Stage productions.  Come on- it’s Steppenwolf.  And kids in this century are savvy enough to know when they’re in the midst of enthralling theater.  On a personal note, I’d like to thank all my friends who came out last night to the Ball – I hope everyone had a great time, and a lot to drink (and needed less recovery time today than I did!)


The Best Play of 2008, so far

Theater 2 Comments »

our-town-hypocrites.jpgI’ve seen a lot of theater everywhere and anywhere so I consider myself a pretty sophisticated, worldly, bordering on the jaded, theater-goer.  I like being jolted, startled, provoked, metaphorically bitch-slapped, left with mouth wide-open, when I go to the theater.  I dislike sentimentality, corny warm-fuzziness, Pollyanna and American pastoral antics, predictability, tidy resolutions.  So I was very perplexed when I first heard that the Hypocrites, one of the most admirably brazen theater companies in Chicago, who staged Sarah Kane’s Psychoses 4.40 as an audience walkaround and placed the actors inside a life-sized aquarium in Maria Irene Fornes’ Mud, had included Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, that warhorse drama of small-town Americana, the most produced play in the US every year, often parodied, sometimes derided, as part of its 2007-2008 season.  Our Town?  WTF?  Granted, I have never seen a live production, and know it from its reputation as well as from the old-fashioned 1940 movie starring William Holden as George and Martha Scott as Emily, but hey, I’m “sophisticated, worldly, jaded” – this play was the one thing that made me think twice about purchasing a Hypocrites season subscription, since it felt so contrarian and out-of-place.  But I’ve learned my lesson- never underestimate the intellectual savvy of a group as passionate about theater and as original as the Hypocrites and its Artistic Director, the always surprising Sean Graney.  Oh, and read the fine print, because the subscription brochure did say that this Our Town would be directed by David Cromer, the Chicago theater director who has left the New York theatrical community in seizures and lying prostrate at his feet after successfully transferring the magnificent Adding Machine, A New Musical from Evanston’s Next Theatre to off-Broadway.  The Hypocrites’ Our Town by Thornton Wilder, directed by David Cromer, is, quite simply, the best play I have seen so far this year.

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Change Is Good

Theater No Comments »

sketchbook-2008.jpgFor someone who makes a living working with organizations to get through change, it’s ironic that I can sometimes be a little resistant to it; hey, I’ve driven the same Honda Accord for ten years, dents, peeling paint, multiple muffler replacements, and all.  So I’m a little ambivalent about the numerous changes that Collaboraction‘s Sketchbook Festival introduces this year in its eight annual edition.  I’ve been going to Sketchbook over the past several years to see 14 short plays, nothing more than ten minutes, many running quite less, most startlingly original and unique, presented amidst a dance club/party/art gallery atmosphere – and I firmly believe that it is one of the must-see, must-go-to theatrical events of any given season.  It is theater as sensory overload, as an experiment in synesthesia – where risks are taken; where creative bubbles are explored and exploded; where music, language, dance and visual art (plus the occasional beer keg) are mixed together to come up with one heck of  a night you’ll recall shuddering, either from excitement, exhaustion, or both.  I fondly remember my first Sketchbook evening in its former home at the rough-and-tumble Chopin Theater- DJs spinning madly as if in a rave party, kids breakdancing, people sitting on the floor, paintings everywhere, dresses suspended in mid-air (which I never figured out if they were part of the art or part of the set), plastic cups of beer being passed around, and a collection of strange, intriguing, riveting plays (there was a puppet show, a really cryptic play from Brett Neveu about people on the el changing seats all the time for no apparent reason, something about vampires, and a tight, suspenseful, interrogation drama).  None of these, except for the strange, intriguing, riveting plays part (and I think there are less of them this year than in previous years), are in the Sketchbook at the Steppenwolf Garage Theatre.  Don’t get me wrong – I still highly recommend Sketchbook to anyone who loves Chicago theatre and its creativity and unpredictability; it’s something I will bring out-of-town guests to, or acquaintances whose idea of theater is seeing Wicked fifteen times, since it is still quite a unique, memorable, and fun evening.  Something’s missing, though, and call it maturing, evolving, reinventing, embracing adulthood, but it’s a different Sketchbook, and I’m a little wistful at the thought.

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Sprinting to the end of Spring

Music, Theater No Comments »

The long Memorial Day weekend is coming up, and many theater companies are sprinting towards the finish line of their respective seasons, so there are a lot of plays currently running on Chicago’s stages.  I thought I’d be able to publish, on a semi-regular basis, the list of upcoming performances I was planning to go to, but it just hasn’t happened, since I had to first keep up with actually being able to go to the theatre with the numerous selections on view (plus my day-and-night consulting job got really busy over the past couple of weeks).  For my dear blog readers clamoring for guidance on what to see next, here are some options to consider (and I’d love to hear what folks think after I post on them): Read the rest of this entry »

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Foodie Night Out: Gourmet Wine Cellar Chicago

Food No Comments »

Chicago foodies of all shapes, sizes, shades of black clothing, and types of Jimmy Choo heels descended on the Field Museum last night for Gourmet Magazine’s Wine Cellar, a celebration of how great a restaurant town this city is, which benefited the American Institute of Wine and Food.  Thanks to the generosity of Greg, the husband of my friend, the lovely Dulce, and who works for Gourmet in the West Coast, BFF Debra and I got to participate in what was clearly one of the highlights of the Chicago culinary calendar.  Most of the city’s top restaurants and chefs were out in full force and it was a kick, for this inveterate food fan, to see a goggles-wearing Homaru Cantu blowtorching a Baked Alaska with strawberry puree and truffle oil (aptly called, well, Baked Alaska Inferno) at the Moto table; or a very unassuming, and thankfully healthy- and boyish-looking Grant Achatz, one of the greatest chefs in the world currently, hanging butterscotch-flavored, rehydrated bacon on a deconstructed chicken-wire type contraption at the Alinea table, or Christophe David shaving slices off a humungous piece of jamon Iberico at the NoMi stand.  And since my life is always inadvertently eventful, I managed to shamelessly introduce myself and gush all over a very game Stephanie Izard, owner-chef of the deeply-mourned, dearly-departed restaurant Scylla, and currently one of the favorites to win Top Chef Chicago (yay!), as well as get filmed (yes, filmed!) by a Food Network crew doing a documentary on Achatz, while gobbling down the aforementioned Alinea bacon offering (since I never signed the release form..maybe they’ll blur my face?  But will they leave in my stretched out belly?  Could I be recognized from my stomach??? Yikes…and then *faint* with a thud!)

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The Un-Breakfast Club

Theater 1 Comment »

speech-and-debate-at-atc.jpgI have never been a fan of high school-themed plays and movies since I find many of them to be shallow and corny, very 80s Breakfast Club (and I do find it remarkably difficult to remember my own high school life since it took place so many eons ago way before the toilet plunger was even invented…or so it seems).  Yes, I am one of the, oh I don’t know, three people in Chicago, who found the House Theater’s acclaimed and multi-awarded drama The Sparrow, boring, derivative, and unbelievably mushy.  So it’s sort of ironic for me to be coming out and saying that the freshest, most original, most deserving of repeated viewings and an extended engagement among all the shows currently onstage right now in the city is a play about high school students.  Stephen Karam’s Speech and Debate, fresh from its much-raved about and much-extended off-Broadway run at the Roundabout Theatre Underground series, is being given a fantastic, over-the-top, belly-achingly funny production at the revitalized American Theatre Company (ATC) by new Artistic Director PJ Paparelli (just to duly note, this is the first production outside of  New York for the play).  Everyone who loves great, insightful, witty new plays should put on their flipflops pronto and rush over to the corner of Lincoln and Byron- there’s so much more terrific, focused, memorable writing in Speech and Debate than in many of Sarah Ruhl’s recent plays (more on that in another blog post).

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