Oscars 2011!

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I’m taking a break from my theater coverage to share my predictions for my other consuming passion – the Academy Awards!  I’m quite dismayed by the lovefest that is greeting The King’s Speech, especially in a year that produced The Social Network, a masterpiece for the ages.  But enough of the pontificating, here are my predicted winners for all categories at this Sunday’s Oscars.

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Difference Squared

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One would think that living and working in a globally-oriented, diversity-embracing, socially and politically liberal city such as Chicago as a highly-educated, professionally-mobile gay person of color, I would never feel like I’m being treated differently because  I’m “gay” and/or because I’m a “person of color”.  And 99% of the time I don’t.  But there is that 1% of the time when I am made very conscious by other people, some of them highly-educated and professionally-mobile as well, intentionally or not, that I am living in a society where I am a minority.  There’s that time when a client requested for another consultant to take my place on a project since I wasn’t a “fit” with their corporate culture.  “Client fit” is a necessary hazard of my professional services occupation, so everyone took it in stride, including myself.  But my co-workers and I knew what this client’s corporate culture was – macho, blue-collar, Alpha-male, and “not a fit” was a nice way of saying something else.  Or there was that time when an acquaintance long-gone, a University of Chicago MBA to boot, sheepishly, embarrassedly, asked me: “I hope you’re not offended, but I really have to ask this, do Filipinos really eat black dogs?”  My flippant answer, followed by a laugh, meant to mask any embarrassment, shame, anger, or hurt feelings (and the ridiculous fact that she didn’t really have to ask it):  “No, we eat all colors of dog.”  Of course I am infuriated and offended by these situations, but I have also recognized that someone’s values, perspectives, opinions, and intolerances are cultivated by upbringing and experience, and education, enlightenment, and constructive debate can only do so much in re-shaping these.  Hey, I have some myself which I keep unexpressed. That’s why I applaud heartily, rousingly, with feet firmly planted in a standing ovation, the Goodman Theatre’s audacious, divisive, blistering, expectations-upending world premiere of Thomas Bradshaw’s Mary, a show that has been vigorously hated on by many of the city’s theater critics and bloggers, but which I encourage my blog readers to discover for themselves so they can come to their own conclusions about the value and impact of the work.  I may not like all of Mary, and I have some reservations about Bradshaw’s writing, but I highly recommend it.   

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Inscrutable

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There’s an urban legend among film geeks everywhere about the late, great Ann Miller’s response to an interviewer’s question as to what she thought about her last film, David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive – she supposedly said she didn’t know what the hell it was about, but she thought it was a hoot she was in it!  Well, I felt like an Ann Miller-type audience member last week at the performance of Trap Door Theatre’s inscrutable, quite over-the-top production of Heiner Muller’s famously confounding Hamletmachine:  I didn’t know what was going on for seventy minutes of my life, but I was sure having a hoot and a half of a good time! And before anyone stones me and calls me a cultural ignoramus, I meant that as a compliment.

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Two Men, Two Plays

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I have gotten several concerned emails from my avid readers regarding the lack of theater-related entries recently.  No fear, I’m in town for the next couple of weeks and trying very hard to catch-up with Chicago’s blazing, swinging winter theater scene.  Last weekend I caught two recent openings – Neil LaBute’s recent Broadway foray reasons to be pretty in its Chicago premiere at Profiles Theatre, directed by Steppenwolf ensemble member Rick Snyder, and Irish playwright Enda Walsh’s The New Electric Ballroom, which received raves when it ran at New York’s St. Ann’s Warehouse in 2009, another Chicago premiere at A Red Orchid Theatre, directed by Robin Witt.  I think the plays present an interesting study of contrasts – both written by male playwrights, the two of them are as different as night and day.  reasons to be pretty is definitely what you see is what you get, but raises the disturbing question of whether you really want to get what you’re getting, while Electric Ballroom is packed full of symbols and subtexts that, ultimately, you’re quite disoriented as to what it is you’re actually getting.

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Being Free

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I grew up in the Philippines in the early 80s, during the height of the “conjugal dictatorship” of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos.  I remember, as a child, being told by my mom not to mention the Marcos name on the phone in any manner whatsoever, in case there was a wiretap and the whole family got into trouble.  I remember being told the story of one of my grand-aunts and her housemaid who inadvertently crossed in front of one of Imelda Marcos’ sacred, un-crossable beautification gardens and were then taken by military police to the local police station and, in an act of flabbergasting intimidation, told to sing the Philippine national anthem and pledge allegiance to the Marcos government. I still distinctly remember the palpable environment of fear and mistrust, of covertness and suppression, of anxious caution.  Anyone who has ever lived under an authoritarian regime is permanently marked by it.  Conversely, anyone who has never lived under one will never fully understand it.  Harold Pinter, despite his masterful, incisive storytelling gifts, and his empathy for oppressed populations such as the Turkish Kurds, whose plight he reflected in his short play Mountain Language, always lived in the free world.  Consequently, I feel that his late 80s “political plays”, which, in addition to Mountain Language, also includesThe New World Order and One for the Road, all three I saw together in a spectacular basement production from the now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t SlimTack Theatre Co. last year, beat you over the head more than punch you in the belly or pierce you in the heart.  However, when these plays are performed by the astonishing, courageous, invaluable Belarus Free Theatre, a theater company that has been repressed by the Belarusian government for speaking out in defense of the basic freedoms we sometimes take for granted, and now unable to go back home, you get the heartplunge and the bellypunch, and these plays become such a painful, illuminating, powerfully wrenching night of theater. Especially since Pinter’s angry words are interspersed with the heartfelt ones of Belarusian political prisoners. If you have only one night of theater you can go to this year, then let it be Belarus Free Theatre’s unforgettable Being Harold Pinter, which started performances at the Goodman Theatre last weekend, and will continue its month-long Chicago residency at Northwestern University and Chicago Shakespeare Theatre in the upcoming weekends.  It is as simple as that.

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