Quicksilver

Theater No Comments »

irma-vep.jpgWhen I got home a couple of Sundays ago from a performance of the Court Theater‘s latest production, Charles Ludlam’s The Mystery of Irma Vep, directed by hyperkinetic wunderkind director Sean Graney, my Twitter and Facebook feeds were full of reactions to Adam Lambert’s performance at the American Music Awards (AMA). Although some of those tweeting and Facebooking were shocked (feigned or real, I’m not sure), most, including myself, thought the whole performance was derivative, non-provocative, and somewhat tired and yawn-inducing (we’ve already seen everything he did before, and it’s not like he was singing strapped into a sling!).  I think my friends’, straight and gay, jaded reaction to Lambert’s shameless self-promotion was indicative of how much gay iconography (man-on-man kiss; man-face-on-man-crotch; man-leading-man-on-a-dog-leash), regardless of how fringe they might be, had seeped into our pop culture moments since the year Ludlam premiered his cross-dressing parody of penny dreadfuls and early Hitchcock films in 1984.  But leave it to Ludlam’s brilliance that 1980s-era Irma Vep is, ironically, fresher, queerer, and yes, more subversive than the 2009 attempt of an American Idol runner-up to hog headlines.  And Graney has given this first-rate theatrical material, that is also trickier than a landmine detonation, a flawless, hysterically funny production, and thrown in a couple of his own unique innovations, including a brilliant final scene.  It’s a handful of a play, but a welcome one.

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Class

Dance, Theater No Comments »

I’m pretty lucky to have some of the most awesome friends in the world.  Despite her long-suffering BFF status (being run over weekly by my roll-on luggage when we commuted for work to Newark several years ago as I jostled to get on the plane before everyone else; being unwittingly dragged to a more than three hour and a half Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), BFF Debra still graciously invited me a couple of weeks ago to attend an intimate cocktail party that Thodos Dance Chicago was hosting for Ann Reinking.  Thodos, an 18 year old contemporary dance company focused on dance creation and education, was planning to have as its Fall Concert centerpiece a trilogy of rarely revived Bob Fosse pieces staged by, and with additional choreography, by Reinking, who had a close professional and personal relationship with Fosse from the late 1960s until his death in 1987.  I told BFF Debra, even if I was having organ transplant surgery, I would be there, hospital gurney, IV drip and all!  Hey, Reinking is a true-blue, gold-plated Broadway star, having starred in the original productions of A Chorus Line, Goodbye Charlie, and Dancin’, but most notably, she re-created the character of Roxie Hart in the hugely-successful 1996 revival of Chicago opposite Bebe Neuwirth’s Velma Kelly.  Being such a bona-fide, plaque-carrying musical theater queen, I’d be battier than Sarah Palin if I missed this unprecedented evening with a theater legend.  And it was probably one of my most scintillating nights of the year, as Reinking generously regaled the attendees with tales of Broadway and Hollywood (such as her being the last-minute replacement for Liza Minnelli in the original Lincoln Center Encores! concert production of Chicago which was the basis for the Broadway revival – Liza in Chicago?  I nearly popped an artery and dislocated a rib with all my gasping) while comfortably ensconced in a warm Lincoln Park living room on a brisk late fall Saturday evening.  If I already didn’t have my ticket for the Fall Concert, I would have bought one on the spot.

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The Vanishing

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how-to-disappear-mary-arrchie.jpgOf course, I’ve Googled myself (and I’m pretty sure a significant number of this blog’s readers have done it for themselves as well, but too embarrassed to admit it).  I have close to 700 Google entries, ranging from various From the Ledge posts to my Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter profile pages to random web and media mentions such as the Tribune’s article on Top Chef Stephanie Izard’s Wandering Goat dinners (the last time I could recall seeing the word habitué it was in relation to the regular denizens of Studio 54…am I the Bianca Jagger of the Chicago underground dining scene? Yikes!).  In our world today, technology has not only bridged distances and arguably improved human interaction, but has also heightened virtual voyeurism and scrutiny of other people’s lives, whether they are public personas like celebrities, politicians, athletes, or Levi Johnston or just regular people such as your 7th-grade crush who’s now living in Wyoming whom you’ve  Googled and friended on Facebook.  Unless you’re Unabomber Redux, your identity DNA is scattered everywhere.  So Fin Kennedy’s How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found, now receiving a crisp, riveting Midwest premiere from the Godfather of all Storefronts, Mary-Arrchie Theater Co., is provocative and timely in its starting premise that one can erase one’s former life and dive into a totally new one.   I think it’s a terrific production that should deservedly bring in the Tweeting, Facebooking, Posterousing peeps into that second floor enclave on Angel Island.

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A Captive Moth

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blanchett-streetcar.jpgFor this out and proud actressexual (noun – a male, gay or straight, obsessed with larger-than-cinematic-life actresses, often seen performing in unforgettable, Oscar-worthy dramatic roles, respectfully co-opted from Nat Rogers of TheFilmExperience.net), some of my most memorable recent female images on film have come courtesy of the wonderful Cate Blanchett.  From the last scene of Elizabeth when she slowly, hypnotically walks towards the camera in Kabuki face, to that scene in The Talented Mr. Ripley when she is dreamily flitting around steamer trunks, to her somewhat overbaked, but always fascinating Academy Award-winning impersonation of Katharine Hepburn in The Aviator, I’ve always found her enthralling, and yes, larger than life, and quite possibly the best actress of her generation.  So when I heard that she was going to bring her acclaimed Sydney Theater Company (where she is co-Artistic Director with her husband, playwright Andrew Upton) production of A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by the legendary actress Liv Ullmann to the US, but only to the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, and to the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) in New York, I was off hunting for tickets faster than Russell Crowe can throw a phone at a hotel clerk.  Cate Blanchett, Tennessee Williams, Liv Ullmann – man, I was as breathless as if I was wearing three layers of male spanx! Swoon!  But the swooning is highly deserved, since after seeing the production during its DC stop last weekend, I’m pretty certain that theater lovers everywhere, actressexual or not, will find this unforgivingly stark Streetcar and Blanchett’s harrowing, vanity-less, indelible performance, that rare night in the theater that they can proudly and vividly recount to their children and grandchildren for years.

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Hypnotic

Dance No Comments »

halprin-collod.jpgMidway through the latest MCA Stage production, Anna Halprin/Anne Collod and guests: parades & changes, replays when dancer Laurent Pichaud was transformed into a wacky, flummoxing cross between Rae Dawn Chong in Quest for Fire and Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind run through a trash compactor, wearing a variety of disparate costumes and accoutrements, from animal heads to hoop skirts to fur-lined clogs to trash bags to a mop and bucket which the rest of the cast had piled on him while a hypnotic, electronica score played in the background, I had to remind myself that I was neither drunk, medicated, or ‘shroomed.   I have always been an avid fan and passionate advocate of MCA Stage, but this adventurous, highly audience-demanding show, proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that it plays an essential, irreplaceable role in making sure that our beloved Chicago will never just be flyover country in the minds and hearts of serious performance artists everywhere.  I’m not really sure if parades & changes, replays is dance, theater, bizarro fashion show, or a combination David Lynchian-Burning Man fantasia, but, it is a highly memorable, intriguing, jaw-dropping night of performance (and I guess the New York Times and the audience in this summer’s Athens and Epidaurus Festival, one of the most prestigious dance festivals in the world, also didn’t really know what to make of it, as well.)

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On the Ascent

Theater 1 Comment »

calls-to-blood.jpgI’m always surprised when I’m talking to people at dinner or cocktail parties who proclaim that they’re avid Chicago theatergoers and most of the plays they’ve seen in the past couple of years were at the Goodman, Steppenwolf, Chicago Shakespeare, or Lookingglass (but I politely excuse myself and seek out another vodka tonic when they say Broadway in Chicago, shudder!).  As you all know I have been a fan of many, many productions in these theaters (and in the spirit of repetitive full disclosure, I am a member of Steppenwolf’s young professionals board), so I think they’re absolutely indispensable to the city’s vibrant cultural life.  However, I want to vigorously shake these self-styled culturatis’ awake, because by limiting their theatergoing to the large, established theaters, they’re undeniably missing much of what makes Chicago such an indisputably great town for theater.  One of the pleasures of writing this blog is continuously rediscovering the ever-fluid, ever-dynamic storefront theater scene, and over the past year, I’ve been eagerly watching the ascendance of two young, energetic, impassioned theater companies:  I was bowled over by the Right Brain Project (RBP)’s imaginative and meticulous And They Put Handcuffs On The Flowers earlier this year (but disappointed by their messy Put My Finger In Your Mouth this summer) and I was intrigued by the New Colony‘s audacious but somewhat flawed Frat during the spring.  So there was absolutely no second-guessing or hemming and hawing in deciding to go and see these two theater companies’ season openers:  RBP’s and author Brad Lawrence’s retelling of the Frankenstein story, The Modern Prometheus, and the New Colony’s contemporary relationship drama with a twist, written by co-founder James Asmus, Calls to Blood.   And I’m very pleased to report there was no disappointment this time around:  both RBP and the New Colony, with these productions, confirm without a doubt, that they’re doing some of the most exciting, most courageous, most distinctive theater in the city.  Even greater things should be ahead for both; and in cocktail and dinner parties two years hence, I’m pretty sure the same self-styled culturatis will be talking about these theaters, and I can enthusiastically say I knew them when.

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