Fresh Air, Part One – Hit the Wall

Theater 3 Comments »

This is the first of a two-part blog post.

While some theaters in the city are still going on their merry way with productions of Shakespeare, Tennessee Williams, and, inexplicably, hoary chestnuts that should be put to rest already in heavily-padlocked vaults, the 2012 winter theater season in Chicago has already seen the emergence of several strong, new playwriting voices who feel like a comforting and bracing breath of fresh air. At Steppenwolf’s Garage Rep, the laudable annual showcase for emerging storefront theater companies, The Inconvenience is currently mounting Ike Holter’s fearless, vivid, attention-grabbing world premiere of Hit the Wall, about those who lived through the watershed event of contemporary GLBT history, the Stonewall riots in the summer of 1969. A little further north, the American Theater Company also has another terrific, provocative world premiere in Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced, tackling themes around assimilation and cultural identity among Muslim-Americans.  Both Hit the Wall and Disgraced have jawdropping, breathtakingly-spectacular central performances; both also, despite many, many good qualities, in my humble opinion, require some more work in the playwriting department.  These two remarkable plays still prove though that Chicago is quite the formidable incubator of new work; and if they’re an indication of how great theater will be in 2012, then all of us avid theatergoers will be quite the happy campers (Mayan Calendar Doomsday prediction be damned!).

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My 2012 Oscar Predictions!

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If you’ve been following my blog since 2007, you know how I love my Oscars – in the same way that the Manning brothers love Superbowl rings, Paula Deen loves lard, Elton John loves dissing Madonna, and Rick Santorum loves being the poster boy for ugly sweater vests. Last year was quite the year in film – Scorcese directed a children’s film, silence became hip and fab once again, dinosaurs showed up in a Terrence Malick movie, high-waist pants showed up on George Clooney (gasp!), scatological, uhmm, matter, popped up in two of the year’s biggest hits, Bridesmaids and The Help, and Jessica Chastain popped up everywhere including your corner neighborhood taqueria!   And yes, I saw more than 90% of all Oscar-nominated movies! Here then are my predictions for all 24 categories, and discussion of the top 6. Don’t forget to tune into your local ABC station at 8 pm eastern/5 pm pacific on Sunday, February 26.

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Lost

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I gotta admit I always have a certain level of apprehension whenever I go to see a Hypocrites show. Mind you, it’s not a “walking alone down a dark alley scared of being jumped by an axe murderer” kind of anxiety, but more like “first date from Match.com and is he going to be as charming and smart as his online picture is hot” type of uncertainty.  Because, you never really know what you are going to get with The Hypocrites, truly the most unpredictable, irreverent, wildly creative, wickedly smart theater company in Chicago, responsible for many unsurpassable Chicago theatrical highs over the past couple of years, but also, frankly, some resounding lows. So I really wasn’t sure what to think when at the beginning of what I thought was their latest show, a new adaptation by Steve Moulds of Luigi Pirandello’s Absurdist classic 6 Characters in Search of an Author, the actors started rehearsing Pirates of Penzance, their recently-shuttered remount of an idiosyncratic take on the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. I’m like, Huh?  Of course, when the titular six characters finally show up, looking like haunted escapees from an Edward Gorey book crossed with Halloween night at the Kardashians,  I finally get where director Halena Kays, in her first production as new Artistic Director succeeding Sean Graney (the embodiment of The Hypocrites for more than a decade) is going  in this production.  6 Characters is a celebration of the artistic passing of the baton, and a reassurance to its zealous followers (like me) that the qualities that unmistakably and brilliantly brand and differentiate a Hypocrites show will continue to endure. 

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Out of Gas

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Out of gas – that’s exactly how I feel after a gruelling 2011 hopping around three continents and working non-stop on demanding client projects.  I’ve been popping in and out of this blog intermittently for the past several months, because, frankly, at the end of a sixty hour week and several flight segments, all I want to do is curl up on my couch with Thai food and the latest episode of Revenge (coupled with thoughts of eating said Thai food off Joshua Bowman’s eight packs…grrr!).  But I have a rare week in Chicago this week, so I thought I’d catch you guys up on the Chicago theater season, which has definitely kicked off with a whizzbang, and has been as hot as the confoundingly unseasonable winter weather.  Out of gas is also, literally, descriptive of the subject matter of Enron, Lucy Prebble’s sometimes funny and imaginative, sometimes mannered, parable about the rise and fall of the Texan energy and commodities trading company whose early 2000s demise still has resonance for today’s financial markets meltdown.  Timeline Theater’s Chicago premiere is notable for the storytelling, despite the fact that the story itself, as Prebble writes it, isn’t as multi-dimensional and insightful as one expects it to be, especially since the Enron debacle was such an economic watershed that brought down companies and affected the lives of tens of thousands of people.

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