Despite the fact that on these pages I sometimes sound like a hipper, sultrier Bette Davis crossed with a litter of hungry cats and the ladies of The View on a good day, I’m a pretty generous guy. I like to think of a glass as half-full, I coo at infants (of course from a distance to avoid getting baby spit on my fab cashmere sweater), and I like to give multiple second chances to theater companies, where earlier viewing experiences might not have been as pleasant or as enjoyable. So I have gone back to the Lookingglass Theatre, which has, over the years, failed to impress me (with my disappointment even greater because of the very visible boatloads of money they spend on their productions in that beautiful downtown space that should have been spent on better shows), and the locale for one of the most heinous nights at the theater I have ever spent in my life (The Wooden Breeks almost made me want to be a Cubs fan instead of a theater aficionado, that’s how awful it was). I’ve also gone back to Remy Bumppo, which I’ve decided not to drop any money on after a disastrous, geriatric-appealing The Philadelphia Story a couple of years back. And, of course, if you regularly read this blog, I have a pretty complicated relationship with the Goodman. I respect its important role in Chicago’s cultural conversation and legacy, so I keep on going back, hoping to find, once again, an unforgettable Ruined or King Lear amidst drifting dreck like Turn of the Century and Ghostwritten. Over the past couple of weeks, Lookingglass surprisingly impressed with the engrossing world premiere of Trust, Remy Bumppo validated with the unsexy Les Liaisons Dangereuses (yes, dear readers, I didn’t even think that was possible, but more on that later!) and the Goodman…well, the Goodman, with the head-scratching, narcolepsy-inducing world premiere of Rebecca Gilman’s The True History of the Johnstown Flood, probably provided one of the worst nights at the theater I’ve had since…The Wooden Breeks.
As many of you know, I would rather go through a colonics session multiple times than sit through a Chekhov play. I’m also of the view that, after TUTA’s remount of their 2007 hit last year and Strawdog Theater’s current offering, we need another Uncle Vanya production in this city in the same way we need another increase in parking meter rates- befuddling and unwarranted. However, the Uncle Vanya that the famed Maly Drama Theatre of St. Petersburg (one of the three European theaters designated as a prestigious “Theater of Europe”) brought to Chicago last week and weekend as part of Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s World Stage series, was not your run-of-the-mill, patience-thinning, narcolepsy-inducing Uncle Vanya, despite running close to three hours, and being performed in Russian with English surtitles. This was a beautifully wrought, immersively conceived, meticulously detailed production performed with astounding clarity by Chekhov’s countrymen, bringing with them the invaluable weight of cultural associations and lineage. This was as good a Chekhov production as you’re going to see ever in your lifetime (and I was very thrilled that this was the hottest cultural ticket in town last weekend, with all performances sold out).
There’s a whole lot of shaking going on at Steppenwolf’s Garage Theater with three of Chicago’s up-and-coming theater companies being given Steppenwolf’s formidable resources to stage their plays in rotating repertory. It’s a very generous, very admirable move from one of the stalwart arts organizations in the city, and overall I can recommend all three, to varying degrees of enthusiasm. I think this is a terrific shot in the arm for Chicago’s storefront theater scene and all three theater companies stepped up to plate. Here’s what I think:
As some of you know, Oscar-watching is one of my main, almost irrational, obsessions, right up there with cashmere, fried food, spa getaways, theater marathons, diva-offs, and anything involving Ryan Gosling. So this is a pretty big weekend for me, as the 82nd annual Academy Awards are announced on Sunday, March 7. For the second straight year, I am posting my predictions for all 24 categories, with detailed, sometimes erudite, sometimes catty, but overall insightful (if I may say so, ahem) commentary for the top six categories of Picture, Director, Lead Actor, Lead Actress, Supporting Actor, and Supporting Actress. And yes, I have seen close to 98% of the nominated films (I just couldn’t get myself to pay money to see Megan Fox wreck Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, nominated for Sound Mixing)