Underground restaurants, or secret supper clubs, have continued to prosper (hey, even Des Moines has one), so much so that in New York City last year, five of them collaborated on a two-evening Thanksgiving dinner that attracted more than 150 guests a night. In Chicago, despite the scoffing of ornery food bloggers who will remain unnamed (whose bad moods may have been triggered by continuously needing to request seatbelt extenders on plane rides), there are probably more than half a dozen supper clubs tickling both the palates and the sense of cloak and dagger excitement of the city’s foodie community. As my devoted blog readers know, I am a big supporter of Sunday Dinner Club, and have attended their various dinners over the past year and a half, each time bringing with me new apostles to the underground dining concept. I have also gone to a couple more of the Chicago supper clubs, as well (and since I haven’t blogged about them or mentioned them by name, I probably wouldn’t be back). A lot of my friends have been drawn by the “underground” or “secret” part – there’s always a thrill to anything covert, anything promising the unexpected, anything that seems to have only an “in the know” few. But that’s only part of the equation – there’s that other word, you know, “restaurant”…and I think underground dining is so much more important to our contemporary food culture because of that: the Sunday Dinner Club chefs for one focus on seasonal, organic food and small-farm producer sourcing; they also build a community among their attendees, who come again and again. Plus the food is for the most part delicious. The new-ish Chicago underground supper club, X-Marx Chicago, in my opinion, though, takes the “restaurant” part of the phrase to an entirely new level – incorporating elements of finer dining into the underground. Last weekend, however, when it hosted a “wine dinner” with a mystery guest chef, and wine pairings thoughtfully selected by Craig Perman of the West Loop boutique wine store, Perman Wine Selections, it elevated the entire underground restaurant scene into transcendence.
One of my most infuriating theater experiences last year was the Victory Gardens production of Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice, a play which attempted to portray grief and personal loss through the lens of a whimsical, stylized take on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice. I have major issues with Ruhl’s playwriting as a whole, but I had a particular issue with how she treated the subject matter of grief in that particular play- in a blatantly artificial, shallow, unbelievable manner. I wished she took some playwriting lessons from Jenny Schwartz, whose abstract but wonderfully touching play God’s Ear (an off-Broadway sensation last year), essentially about a family who loses its eldest child, is currently being given a knock-you-senseless production by the up-and-coming storefront theater Dog & Pony Theatre Co. Having lost my mom two years ago, I feel like I have a pretty good understanding of how it feels to lose someone so close to you, and I just didn’t recognize myself in any of Ruhl’s characters or situations, that’s how dishonest I felt the play was. In God’s Ear, though, I recognized the overwhelming disorientation, the inability to communicate, the continuous loop of ache, the sense of abandonment that losing a close loved one creates in you, despite the fact that like Ruhl, Schwartz packs her tale with outrageous whimsy (a flossing Tooth Fairy anyone? What about a transvestite flight attendant? Or maybe a GI Joe toy soldier that comes to life?). I think that’s the difference though between real playwriting, and well, hack playwriting.
Tags: Dog & Pony Theatre Co.
Sometimes, when I go to the major Equity theaters in Chicago, it almost seems like I’m sitting down with a Dancing with the Stars DVD marathon. One night, you see dazzling, perfect-leg-kick kind of work ala Shawn Johnson or Melissa Rycroft, and then on other nights, there’s unbelievably atrocious work that recalls Steve Wozniak’s unspeakable, Worm-incorporating samba. So after an ill-conceived Macbeth that undeniably proved that plays with nudity, video-projections, and electronica music scoring could be as boring, unsexy, and old-fashioned as a bocce tournament in a retirement home, Chicago Shakespeare offers up a very modern and hip, cleverly-designed Twelfth Night, directed by the hip and clever British director Josie Rourke. But then, after the once-in-a-lifetime, transformative artistic experience of the Eugene O’Neill Festival at the Owen theater, the Goodman decides to follow those perfect plays with a world premiere of a baffling, incoherent, ultimately soporific “magical realism” play, Asian style, by a highly-regarded female playwright, Naomi Iizuka’s Ghostwritten, one of the greatest disappointments I have had in my recent arts and culture-watching. The highs and lows of Chicago theatergoing can be so maddening!
There’s been snow, freezing rain, strong winds, hail, slush, and grey skies in the first fourteen days of April in Chicago…what’s next a plague of locusts? This schizo weather non-pattern has been cramping my culture vulture style, bigtime. Fortunately, it was relatively warm-er two Fridays ago so BFF Camela and I were able to sashay through the Fulton Market art gallery openings. I’m almost convinced that many of the city’s art galleries are keeping their brightest and best artists under deep cover, to gloriously unveil them during Art Chicago and Next Art Fair, upcoming in early May, since we saw a lot of head-scratching quasi-artistic efforts during the two Fridays we traipsed through the West Loop. However, we also enjoyed two marvelous, absolutely jaw-dropping exhibitions during the Fulton Market walkabout, and both were from young artists, which was so encouraging.
As I’ve mentioned in the previous blogpost, Chicago theater in April is being bookended by two high-profile, unmissable Shakespeare productions: Bush Theatre Artistic Director Josie Rourke’s very modern Twelfth Night at Chicago Shakespeare and ensemble member Tina Landau’s blow-you-to-smithereens The Tempest at Steppenwolf, the first ever Shakespeare production in the famous ensembles’s 33 seasons. If you have the cash to see only two plays this month, I would heartily recommend that these are the two you go to, because they are terrific live performance experiences. So I originally thought I would write a blog post talking about these two together, pointing out the common resonances they contain for us contemporary viewers. But man, despite how much I admire Rourke’s Twelfth Night, I just can’t stop thinking about Landau’s The Tempest. This is a fantastic example of a truly 21st century Shakespearean production, something that other productions I’ve gone to recently have touted themselves to be, but ended up as exciting as stale chips and bland guacamole, despite the use of multi-media, synthesizers, rock scores, and all those other techno gadgets that old-fashioned directors and artists think are “modern”, “hip”, “youthful”. Landau’s The Tempest IS video-using, rock-and-rolling, cross-dressing, gender-switching, Mac-advertising, hip-hopping, but it is also committedly, excitingly, unapologetically NOW in its casting, its design, its line readings and performance styles, in its overall sensibilities. Landau and her cast and artistic collaborators have enabled William Shakespeare to speak to 2009 audiences as a 2009 writer, not as a centuries-dead white guy in bloomers. Which I think our man Will will approve of. This is theater for people who truly love theater, who love Shakespeare, who embrace big, bold, messy live performance, who firmly believe that theater is a populist, multi-cultural, interdisciplinary art form. It is theater that will bring in those elusive new audiences who think Shakespeare is for their grandparents. It is not theater for those “purists” and “traditionalists” (and there are TONS of them trolling the various Chicago theater blogs) who think theater is a sacred, formal, elitist rite of pursed-lips, homogenous “civilized society”.
Last Sunday evening, in what was supposedly spring in Chicago, as I miserably waited for the train to arrive on the Brown Line platform, pelted by freezing rain and snow, standing in slush, I wondered what kind of perfect past life (maybe filled with warm, tropical breezes, constant sunlight, and boys in thongs?) did I have that I should be paying for it in this life. The weather for the rest of the month may continue to be unseasonably cold, but the city’s performing arts scene is continuing to warm up and sizzle, with tons of major theater and music events to go to. As my monthly public service announcement to my avid blog readers, I’m giving a preview of the noteworthy performances and events I’m planning to go to in the month of April.
Tags: Chicago Opera Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Collaboraction, Compagnie Marie Chouinard, Goodman Theatre, Infamous Commonwealth Theatre, MCA Stage, Northlight Theatre, Red Orchid Theatre, Steppenwolf Theatre, Timeline Theatre, Tymphanic Theatre