As you my dear readers know, despite my penchant for outsized theatricality, I am also a sucker for brainy plays (cue Tom Stoppard, Frank Galati’s adaptations of Haruki Murakami). I love navigating through intricately-constructed narratives, subtext-filled dialogue, dense themes, and clever meta-theater. Admittedly however, I also, at times, can find some wordplay-heavy and idea-laden theater to be distancing. Ultimately, I want my theater to hit me as much and as forcefully in the gut and in the heart as it does in the noggin. Two really smart plays from two very smart playwrights have opened over the past couple of weeks in Chicago: Remy Bumppo’s revival of Edward Albee’s 1975 Pulitzer-prize winning play, Seascape, directed by new Artistic Director Nick Sandys, and Victory Gardens’ Chicago premiere of Bill Cain’s recent work, Equivocation, directed by the indispensable Sean Graney. Both are intellectually interesting plays, and the playwrights have intriguing things to say…and say them non-stop. Both are talky, heady work, but both have also been enlivened and given a lot of heart by superlative acting. In my opinion, Seascape, because of a dominant, remarkable performance by Annabel Armour, is the more successful in transforming the work from one that is chilly and removed from the audience, a trap that Equivocation does not fully escape from.
As a Chicago cultural connoisseur, I really had high hopes for the International Exposition of Contemporary/Modern Art & Design, known around town with its less convoluted nickname of Expo Chicago. I was a big fan of the early editions of Artropolis, the umbrella brand for that conglomeration of art fairs hosted by the Merchandise Mart (Art Chicago, Next, the international antiques fair, etc.) in the late ‘naughts, which unfortunately petered out to a sad, unmemorable, uncared for shadow of its old self (in recent years the fairs individually and collectively came off as slightly upscale versions of the Old Town Art Fair and that is not a compliment) until the Mart mercifully cancelled it early this year. Expo Chicago was going to recapture Chicago’s art fair glory days before pesky upstarts like Art Basel Miami and New York’s The Armory Show came on the scene, something Artropolis/Art Chicago/Next ultimately failed to do. From the buzz, Expo Chicago was going to be our attempt to put on a world-class art fair that will attract galleries, artists, collectors, and just plain old art lovers from all over the world. Having attended the 2011 Hong Kong Art Fair, one of the significant stops in the global art world circuit (and soon to be rebranded as Art Basel Hong Kong in 2013), I’ve had a taste of the experience of a true world-class art fair for a plain old art lover like me. I was blown away by what I saw last year in Hong Kong – it was an education and, at times, over-stimulated immersion in the latest, greatest, most exciting artists, techniques, and approaches (seriously, a hologram installation inspired by Samuel Beckett?). I was not blown away by what I saw at Expo Chicago, which ran from September 20-23. And maybe this was where I had a proble,m: in Chicago, the art fair primarily catered to the (safe? mainstream?) tastes and interests of collectors and the elite art galleries that run after them, and not to the art lover/patron. Which is fine, since art fairs need to make money in order to be viable (and gosh, there was a plethora of Chicago media articles tracking art sales at the fair as if they were the ups and downs of NASDAQ), but did anyone say to Expo Chicago’s organizers that today’s art lover/patron may be tomorrow’s Ai Weiwei collector, or better yet, next decade’s Ai Weiwei?
I know it sounds so cliché, but this year, time did fly by, like Dreamliner-speed fly by. After a blur of a difficult summer, I’ve suddenly found myself in early September and right smack at the beginning of Chicago’s fall arts and culture season, the fifth one I’ll be writing about since From the Ledge’s inception in 2007. Yes, five years writing this blog – I can’t believe it myself. And it’s so fitting that my fall arts season officially begins with Chicago Opera Theater (COT)’s production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, the first new Chicago production of the well-worn but well-loved opera in 17 years, in an English translation by Jeremy Sams. The Magic Flute was the first opera I ever saw way back when during the medieval times (actually Manila in the 1970s which, in some aspects, was similar), and was one of the first cultural experiences I distinctly remember; it obviously played a role in shaping the smart, curious, discerning, not to mention fabulous, cultural cognoscenti I’ve become (ahem). I’ve actually always found The Magic Flute to be a fun romp, a shimmying, dazzling, light-hearted ball of operatic silliness and grandiosity, sometimes incoherent, mostly engaging, a great introduction to opera for children and those unfamiliar with the art form. COT’s production, despite some questionable design and directorial choices, doesn’t disappoint – it’s an accessible, fast-paced, gloriously-sung production which should win operatic converts all around.
Tags: Chicago Opera Theater