Memorial Day Theater

Theater 2 Comments »

I’m writing this blog post half way around the world, in Hong Kong, mercifully away from the rain and cold that has caught Chicago in their grip.  I don’t get back to the US until after the long Memorial Day weekend holiday, but I thought I’d pass on to my blog readers that Bailiwick Chicago’s production of Passing Strange is closing this Sunday, May 29. If you haven’t seen it yet, you should go during this holiday weekend (it would be a more rational alternative to having a cookout in fifty degree damp weather), since I thought it was one of the most enjoyable productions of the spring theater season. 

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Next as Urban Myth

Food No Comments »

I think it’s fascinating that, unlike other conversations I have had about Chicago restaurants, whether it’s The Girl and The Goat, or Hot Doug’s, or Tac Quick, or Avenues at the Peninsula, which always begin with “Did you like the food?”, the conversations I’ve had in the past week or so since I went to Next  (with regular people, mind you, not with bloggers, journalists, or any self-styled “foodies”) always began with “How did you get in?”, then almost always promptly followed by “Was the hassle/stress/anxiety to get tickets worth it?”  If you haven’t heard of Next, Grant Achatz’s much, much (over?)- ballyhooed, scrutinized, and talked about follow-up restaurant to Alinea where menus change every three months and where a supposedly cutting-edge (for the restaurant industry at least) pre-paid ticketing system is part of the diner experience, then you must either not have a pulse or had been hiding in a crevice deeper than the one James Franco found himself in 127 Hours.  Either people assume that the food is spectacular because Achatz is at the helm so there is no need to ask about it, or that the buzz/myths/gripes that have surrounded the restaurant’s ticketing system have outshone all other aspects of the dining experience. I’m not really sure – all I can say is that the food at Next’s initial menu, Paris 1906, which pays tribute to Auguste Escoffier, the father of French gastronomy, is mind-blowing and gravity-stopping, simply one of the best meals I’ve had this year; but the ticketing system I can emphatically say I could do without, and actually dampens my overall enthusiasm for the restaurant.  As TimeOut Chicago’s food critic Julia Kramer says in her spot-on review of the restaurant: “…to dine at Next at all is to experience a certain amount of privilege….it’s because of how hard it is to get tickets and the resulting self-satisfaction and cultural capital that one accrues (or believes, with varying levels of distortion, he or she accrues) by having dined there.”  This sentence accurately, wrenchingly captures my ambivalence about Next, one of this demandingly food-focused city’s best, potentially greatest restaurants, because, until that ticketing system is revised or thrown out, any discussion of it can never be just about the food.

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Projecting Woyzeck

Theater No Comments »

My game-to-see-everything theater buddy Joel has told me that if there is one play he won’t ever go to again, it’s Georg Buchner’s unfinished masterpiece of theatrical naturalism Woyzeck (he, obviously, had been scarred by Greg Allen’s eccentric version produced by the now defunct Greasy Joan & Co. from several years ago, which I thought was actually pretty decent).  So at the risk of being snarled at, I didn’t drag him or any of my other theater buds to The Woyzeck Project, a combination of The Hypocrites’ idiosyncratic view of Woyzeck, and About Face Theatre’s world premiere of Sylvan Oswald’s Pony, in my mind, a quite perplexing take on the piece, both running in repertory at the Chopin Theatre.  I personally like seeing different productions of Woyzeck because its fragmented, opaque, yet timelessly tragic nature allows brazen, gutsy directors and playwrights to project their own interpretations, preoccupations, and agendas on to it for fascinating theater without really destroying its spirit (in 2008, I scuttled plans to see the hot Icelandic director Gísli Örn Gardarsson’s version at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s New Wave Festival which incorporated a circus atmosphere and  a large swimming pool where the actors swam laps during the performance).  I gotta say though, despite some fascinating artistic choices in the two plays, The Woyzeck Project is somewhat of a missed opportunity in my mind, since both, individually and together, don’t truly present any cohesive, intriguing, and insightful take on Buchner’s work.

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