Fall Harvest

Dance, Film, Theater Add comments

October is arts and culture busy time in Chicago, with many different performing arts events happening simultaneously.  Last weekend (October 20-21) was especially busy for me, circling the city and running back and forth so much I thought I was a CTA conductor (well, at least a fabulously-attired one).

First stop on Saturday morning was an 11 am performance of “The Elephant Man” at the Steppenwolf Theatre.  For the sake of full disclosure, yes, I am governor of the Steppenwolf Auxiliary Council, so of course I am always about shameless self-promotion of the theatre’s productions.  But even if I wasn’t one, I would still say that this tight, well-acted, beautifully-staged version of Bernard Pomerance’s true-to-life drama of John Merrick, the hideously deformed man who just wanted to lead a normal life, is one of the must-see productions of the early Chicago theatre season.  I loved director Sean Graney’s expressionistic touches and dramatic lighting choices, but I especially loved and admired Michael Patrick Thornton’s emotionally honest and subtly inflected performance as Merrick.  Thornton, who’s in a wheelchair after being paralyzed several years ago, provided a touching relatability to Merrick’s plight and aspirations. 

Saturday evening, I was off to see Thodos Dance Chicago’s Fall Engagement at the Atheneum Theatre.  My friend Debra is a board member of Thodos, so I have been going to some of this young, energetic dance company’s productions and have been quite impressed.  I have to admit that I am not as familiar with dance as I am say with theatre or film, but I do appreciate the fact that among the other performing arts, dance lends itself to theatrical touches.  In founder Melissa Thodos’ piece “Anasa”, dedicated to the victims of fires in Greece, for example, the stunning use of lighting, scrims, and floor-to-ceiling pieces of cloth, made the emotional choreography more dramatically-charged.  I thought all seven pieces that made up the Saturday night program were engaging, but as I was watching the piece entitled “Forget What You Came For?”, I just had to wonder, given the fact that I could see every, ahem, crevice, in the male dancers’ ripped bodies, maybe the budget for the white spandex short shorts they were wearing could have been better used for say…more fog machines?  Just a thought… For more on Saturday’s performance with nary a mention of male spandex short shorts but has a plea for donations, check out Lori’s (another board member and supporter of the arts) blog here.

Sunday started off with a heinously early brunch (one of the things, in addition to cashmere sweaters, hair product, and Stephen Sondheim, that gay men can legitimately claim as our legacy to the advancement of Western civilization), and then it was off to the Victory Garden’s Greenhouse for Shattered Globe’s mezmerizing staging of Tennessee William’s “Suddenly, Last Summer”. This was way-over-the-top Williams, what with all the wacky business involving closeted homosexuality, cannibalism, incest, a truth serum (! yes, this was written in the 50s), threats of a lobotomy, and a dying venus flytrap plant.  Sitting through this, I regretted getting a trucker’s meal of steak and eggs (well, it was an early brunch after all) rather than a petite serving of granola and fruit yogurt. But I was glad I went, because it was a good production, anchored by a riveting performance by the wonderful Chicago actress Linda Reiter.  Playing Violet, the dead man’s mother, a role created for greatness by Katharine Hepburn in the movie version, she sounded like a cross between Liberace and a shopworn Norma Desmond, by way of Anne Rice’s New Orleans – terrifying, magnetic, and ultimately pitiful. 

To cap off my hectic arts weekend, I made it to Piper’s Alley Sunday night for the Chicago Festival of Israeli Cinema and a screening of the prize-winning Israeli documentary “Paper Dolls”, about Filipino immigrant transvestites in Tel Aviv who work as caretakers by day and perform in a drag revue by night.  Whew! I guess “Desperate Housewives” this ain’t.  It was a fantastic film, richly tackling provocative discussions on sexuality, immigration, and race.  I was still reeling from it on Monday morning, just because it affected me on so many levels.  I’ll be posting a blog entry on it soon.

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