My Theatrical Year

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Where did those twelve months go? It just seemed like yesterday when I was washing the champagne and various other substances out of my hair (yep, that was quite the 2011 New Year’s Eve shindig), and now we are at the end of 2012, or the end of the world as we know it if you’re one of those Mayan Calendar Doomsday groupies.  I’ve compiled my sixth annual best theater in Chicago list, and I gotta say that this was probably the most difficult of the lists to put together since I began. I know I say this every year, but 2012 was quite the fantastic year in Chicago theater, with many, many notable actors, writers and theater artists coming to the city to work on truly stellar, world-class, only-in-Chicago productions.  But our storefront theater scene, which gave rise to and nurtured theatrical giants like Cromer and Letts, continued to be unparalleled in the country.  I’ve added and crossed-out the productions on this list several times despite the fact that I missed several shows (it was just impossible to balance my day job, extensive travel, and all that theatrical bounty). It’s also notable that for the first time in six years, I have no non-Chicago production in the top ten – that’s how great 2012 was. When New York magazine called Chicago theater the “farm team” for Broadway and off-Broadway, I scoffed and knew that that New York hack couldn’t really tell his sunken derriere from his skeletal face, because I know, and hundreds of Chicago audiences know, how good we have it here in the city, much better than those high-horsing New Yorkers.  Here then are my best Chicago shows for 2012, as well as the next 5: Read the rest of this entry »

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High Concept

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The December holiday theater season in Chicago has usually been a tepid grab bag of plays about Scrooge, George Bailey, Santa Claus, and all forms Rudolph, naughty, nice, and red-hosed.  A couple of years ago, the holiday month was electrified by non-typical non-holiday theatrical fare:  a blistering, unforgettable Steppenwolf staging of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (now similarly electrifying Broadway audiences), and The Hypocritesdelirious island-set, promenade-staged version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance, which will close the main stage season in May 2013 of American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, one of the most important regional theaters in the country.  This year, thankfully, amidst the multiple It’s a Wonderful Lifes around the Chicagoland area (really how many times can this old horse be trotted out and live another day?), there are several exciting, high-concept productions to see if you, like me, want to fast-forward through all the dripping candy cane sentiment and come back to real life, or at least to real theater (yes, if you’ve read my blog for the past couple of years, you know my holiday spirit is, well, non-existent).  The Hypocrites is back this season with Pirates and is performing it in repertory with another Gilbert and Sullivan classic operetta, The Mikado, an intoxicating, exhilarating, unexpected production that is sure to be on my list of the ten best productions of the year (yep, it’s that good). Over at Victory Gardens is a noteworthy world premiere of Philip Dawkins’ Failure:  A Love Story, a melancholy, delicately-etched play being given a production too big, and too messy, for its britches (which is a problem).  If you have time for only one play in between the fruitcake-and-eggnog coma, I’d say go see The Mikado and it will rouse you back to exhilarated life.

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Boys 2 Men

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After a flurry of blogposts in September and October, this month has been quiet. Yep, dear avid blog readers, you know I’m back on the business travel grind and this time it’s a weekly commute to the Pacific Time zone.  A four hour plane trip immediately followed by 15 hours in a windowless conference room has wrecked my lower back, my soul, and my ability to string together a coherent sentence that doesn’t begin with “Get me back to Chicago.”  So blogposts have taken a back seat to well, frantic attempts to regain mental health (and a functioning lower skeleton).  Fortunately, there has been a noticeable slowdown in notable Chicago theater openings, so it’s been easy to just stay at home, sink into my couch, and catch up on episodes of Revenge before I get on my next flight back to California. Over the past couple of weekends though, I’ve been able to catch two worthwhile arts events: the world premiere of Susan Felder’s Wasteland at Timeline Theatre, and the final workshop production of Chicago Opera Vanguard’s The Suitcase Opera Project, performed on the Pritzker Pavilion stage with a breathtaking view of Millennium Park and the Chicago skyline framing the performance. What’s particularly notable about both is that they each feature exciting, star-making performances from our city’s deep bench of young male performers.

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Bloody Bloody Honey Kinky

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So many plays, so little time! Thank goodness for projects that allow me to work from home. Here’s a rundown of shows I saw the past couple of weeks:

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2012 Chicago International Film Festival, Part One

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I had only been gone a year (having skipped the 2011 version due to continuous business travel), but the Chicago International Film Festival suddenly feels like a true film festival. Thanks to the floor-length banners, the multiple information desks, the plentiful volunteer ushers, and the organized audience lines there is hardly any of the helter-skelter, madhouse frenzy of previous years.  But I think it’s also because of the presence of numerous directors, actors, and producers introducing their films, holding talkbacks, and yes, attending screenings of other people’s films. I think, finally, world filmmakers are realizing that Chicago is not just a blip on the film festival circuit map between Telluride and Toronto. And Chicago audiences are the luckier for it. Here are my thoughts on the first set of films I saw during my first weekend at the festival.

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Any Given Sunday

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A wise old queen (drag, not royal) once told me that if you stick around long enough, you will see everything start to come back again: fashion, music, ex-boyfriends who dumped you in front of Roscoe’s.  Add to that list celebrated Chicago theater directors revisiting their earlier works. In 2002, I saw Mary Zimmermann’s Metamorphoses, and as I said in a previous post, this year’s Lookingglass remount is still thrilling to me ten years later. In 2002 as well I saw Gary Griffin’s intimate, emotionally-satisfying production of Stephen Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George at Chicago Shakespeare’s upstairs theater, well-remembered around this theater parts for it’s innovative runaway staging (years before David Cromer used it to enthralling effect in Our Town), and for it’s simple, minimalist evocation of George Seurat’s painting “La Grand Jatte” in the Act 1 musical show-stopper, “Sunday”.   Griffin is also revisiting Sunday in the Park with George this year, but this time around he is staging it at Chicago Shakes’ main thrust stage, and with all the bells and whistles and grand ambition that a now internationally-renowned theater director can muster.  And this Sunday in the Park is a stunning achievement, with gorgeous singing, exceptional design, and two larger-than-life yet beautifully-relatable lead performances from Jason Danieley and, especially, Carmen Cusack.

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