Vital

Theater 2 Comments »

Like many other savvy theatergoers in the city, I was breathlessly anticipating Chay Yew’s first season as Artistic Director of Victory Gardens Theater, which despite being one of the best-funded theater companies in the city and winner of a Regional Tony Award, was also known for years as one of the most conservative and most risk-averse, with an audience demographic that looked and behaved like a Florida retirement community.  Yew was going to re-invigorate a theater that audience members like me had avoided because, frankly, the plays were boring and irrelevant, but which its core audience didn’t seem to mind. And like the good theater aficionado that I am, supporter of change and bold artistic visions, I bought tickets for all four shows of the season, then had mixed feelings about the first three: Sarah Ruhl’s In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play, despite its potentially provocative subject matter felt more of the same old Victory Gardens; the Universes’ Ameriville was spirited and contemporary, but exhaustingly appealed to much of the same liberal white guilt agenda that we see over and over again in Bill Maher’s show or MSNBC; and Jackie Sibblie Drury’s world premiere We are Proud to Present a Presentation… had a pretentiously long title, a somewhat contrived premise, and despite intriguing writing in parts, a sense of needing two more drafts before it could be called a final version.  But with the final play, Yew’s production of Luis Alfaro’s Oedipus El Rey, a transposition of the Oedipus Greek tragedy to the gangs of South Central LA that is smoldering, courageous, urgent, one of the best plays to literally hit the Chicago stage this year with a monster firecracker bang, this first season from Victory Garden’s new AD has fulfilled all the admittedly staggering audience expectations.  I, for one, can’t wait for next season!

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River Run

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I was just telling one of my friends the other week how it seems like there have been a noticeably higher number of musical productions in Chicago this half-year.  At one point several weeks ago the entire landing page of From the Ledge was comprised of posts about musicals.  Which isn’t a bad thing – I begin generating as much electricity as an Oklahoma lightning storm whenever I hear the first bars of a showtune. If there’s anyone who fervently loves his Barbra and his Patti, it’s me. But in years of Chicago theatergoing, I’ve felt that musical theater isn’t really the sweet spot of a theatergoing city built on the sweat, guts, tirades, and machismo of Mamet and Shepard and Wilson. So I’m always surprised when I see a musical production, and an original one at that, which bowls me over.  The Lookingglass Theatre world premiere of Andy White’s Eastland, with music by Andre Pluess and Ben Sussman and lyrics by White, is one of those welcome surprises- it’s one of the best plays I’ve seen in Chicago this year. 

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