Solemnities

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I find it a little ironic that steps away from the old Water Tower, where some people have told me they feel “so cool” coming to the theater to see a famous Chicago chef cook Mexican mole onstage amidst acrobatic acts, real theatrical artistry is in demandingly unapologetic glory at the MCA Chicago.  I’ll leave the dinner spectacle being passed off as theater to others, and recommend, without hesitation, to the smart, discerning, globally-oriented set the myriad of performance pleasures at Teatr Zar’s The Gospels of Childhood Triptych, currently at the MCA in a too-brief run until Sunday, April 1 as part of its essential MCA stage programming.  I can confidently say that the $35 ticket was one of the best uses of my money in the past half year.

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What I’m Reading

Chicago, Culture, Personal No Comments »

After several months of frantic flyarounds for my day job, things have slowed down a bit and I’ve gotten to stay home in Chicago the past several weeks.  What a luxury!  And part of the upside of getting a breather from work-related stress is catching up on my reading.  I assume that if you’re reading my blog, you are as preoccupied with art, culture, travel, and food as I am (otherwise, you’d be over at TMZ.com).  So I encourage you to join me in savoring and languorously perusing two of the best sources of writing I’ve stumbled across in the past few weeks: the impressively thoughtful new print publication, The Chicagoan, which is a must-read for anyone concerned with the vibrant history and artistic life of our great city Chicago; and the newly-launched website Roads & Kingdoms, which is essential for those of you who think about food within its cultural and socio-political context, engagingly put together for the transmedia-savvy 21st century reader.

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Dreamweaver

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When I first read in the Goodman Theatre press release last year that the 2011-2012 season will include a new production of Tennessee William’s Camino Real to be adapted and directed by the controversial Spanish director Calixto Bieito, I got that somewhat-nauseated, partly-titillated sense of anticipation usually reserved for bungee jumps or an e-Harmony first date – am I ready for this? Is Chicago ready for this?  I’ve been reading about Bieito in various opera blogs over the years, and I’ve been flabbergasted by the accounts of his deconstructed opera productions which elicit both passion and outrage in equal measure: a violent Aida in Basel transported into a European football stadium, with no pyramids in sight; an infamous Don Giovanni in London set in a Madrid parking lot and chockfull of drug-crazed orgies and anal rape; an ultra-sexual Abduction of Seraglio in Berlin set in a, well, sex club; a see-it-to-believe-it Parsifal in Stuttgart updated to some post-apocalyptic world with a, gulp, zombie chorus. Will there be fornicating zombies, then, at the Goodman, or something even more depraved?  And how will Chicago theater audiences, known for its inherent Midwestern reserve, but also for its embrace of the maverick and risk-taking, respond to a director who has managed to shock and awe “been-there, seen-that” global cultural capitals like Berlin and Barcelona?  Well, I gotta say, I want to give the Goodman and its Artistic Director, Robert Falls, a rousing, extended ovation (and my subscription money for next season) for having the huge cojones to bring Bieito, truly one of the most important performing arts directors in the world, to Chicago. His version of Camino Real is dazzlingly dreamlike, both painful and wondrous in its beauty, a masterful piece of theater that is not commonly seen around these parts.  And I feel very strongly that for Chicago to truly claim its place as a global cultural capital, our audience needs to see and embrace work by someone like Bieito who operates in a unique, elevated artistic realm. Otherwise, we should just be happy to remain flyover country.

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Dark Shadows

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If I had a dollar every time someone told me they went to see musicals because they’re “fun”, I would be as rich as Ann Romney. Casual theatergoers don’t realize that there are some musical theater that’s not cut from the Ethel Merman/Wicked cloth of joyous belt-it-out vibratos and play-to-the-balcony jazz hands.  I wouldn’t call Cabaret’s pessimism or Falsetto’s devastating loss “fun”.  And there is definitely nothing “fun” in John Bucchino’s and Harvey Fierstein’s A Catered Affair, based on the 1956 hyper-realistic family drama starring Bette Davis and Ernest Borgnine, written by Gore Vidal from a teleplay by Paddy Chayefsky, now in a very memorable Chicago production from Porchlight Music TheatreA Catered Affair is a melancholy, regretful chamber piece which is definitely not for those who like their musical theater exuberant and catchy with a side of froth.  However, for those of us who love all kinds of theater, including musical theater which unsettle us, which gnaw at us, days after we’ve seen the performance, A Catered Affair, is a must-see.

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Rule of the Lawless

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When a leading Republican Party presidential contender thinks it’s ok to discriminate against gays, doesn’t think that the constitution separates the church and the state, believes states should make birth control illegal, and points out that the uninsured shouldn’t use cell phones, then living in a world after an asteroid collision sounds like a better option than in a world with a Republican as President of the United States.  The rhetoric and posturing in this long-drawn out Republican primary has bordered on the inconceivable, and, at times, the dangerous, so the shenanigans in Jason Wells’ funny, razor-sharp, yet seemingly underdeveloped The North Plan, now in its first Chicago production, in which America is under martial rule and where ordinary people ultimately, and literally, take the law into their own hands, seem to be less far-fetched than they originally seem.  I saw The North Plan last year in its developmental production as part of Steppenwolf Theater’s new play program, First Look Rep, and although Theater Wit’s frenetic, exciting production under the flawless direction of Kimberly Senior (who also directed the earlier First Look production) is watchable, the reservations I had with Wells script last year still remain.

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Fresh Air, Part Two – Disgraced

Theater No Comments »

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

In my previous blog post, I wrote about The Inconvenience’s Hit the Wall.  The other noteworthy new work I saw in the early weeks of 2012 was American Theater Company’s world premiere of Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced, which began in late January but which has mercifully been extended into early March. Disgraced is a little bit more polished, somewhat more thoughtfully structured, and comes off more re-written (which is a good thing to say about a play in this case) than Hit the Wall, but it isn’t any less powerful, and arguably, is probably more topical and resonant.  The central character is a first-generation Pakistani-American, Amir (an extraordinary Usman Ally), who has thoroughly embraced the American Dream: the fast-track in his corporate law firm, an interior-decorated Manhattan apartment, a non-Pakistani artist-wife (a good Lee Stark in an underwritten role), a worldview that’s skeptical, challenging, and to a certain extent, shunning of his Muslim background and upbringing.  It’s a truly provocative piece of theater- Akhtar palpably and sometimes brutally tackles large-scale themes around cultural identity and assimilation. 

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