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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Viewing List

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In the spirit of constructive feedback, my friend Joel suggested I add a blog section listing any upcoming performances I’m attending, so folks like you, my dear, devoted readers, could decide whether you would want to attend the same shows or performances, as well.  That’s probably not going to happen any time soon, since my preciously scarce blog real estate is already quite packed with Twitter feeds, blog rolls, and a listing of shows I had recently attended (which provides a general indication of what potentially would be content for upcoming postings).   However, I do listen to my friends suggestions, even if they’re delivered a little curmudgeonly (and I say that lovingly, Joel!), so here then are some of the performances I’m planning to go to this month.  February in all its cold, snowy glory is always seen as the “dead zone” of the Chicago winter season, but if you judge by the number of intriguing, lively, potentially can’t-miss shows, it’s probably more equivalent to July in Maui, arts-wise.

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Catapulted into the Stratosphere

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gatz-ers.jpgIt goes without saying that I see a lot of really good theater (of course I see a lot of stinkers too, but that comes with the territory of being a theater aficionado). But it’s a rare, blessed night (or afternoon, for matinees) that I actually see great theater – great with a capital G, so great that I get shivers up my spine, I feel zapped by an indescribable electromagnetic force, I am elevated, enthralled, transformed, enveloped in transcendence. It happened last year at August: Osage County here in Chicago and at Ivo Von Hove’s The Misanthrope in New York. It happened several weeks ago at the Chicago Shakespeare with Sean Graney’s audacious version of Edward II. And it happened again last Friday night at the conclusion of the monumentally epic, hypnotic, seven and a half hour (including a dinner break and two intermissions) production of Gatz, mounted at the MCA Stage by the Elevator Repair Service (ERS), the acclaimed New York-based experimental theater company. But unlike the other three productions, I was initially apprehensive about attending Gatz- it was going to be the longest-running play I would have seen in my theatergoing life (yep, I missed Edward Hall’s five and a half hour Rose Rage at Chicago Shakespeare a couple of years ago, and ahem, I’m too young to actually have seen Trevor Nunn’s legendary eight and a half hour The Life and Times of Nicholas Nickleby on Broadway in the very early 1980s). Eight hours in the theater? That’s a workday of powerpoint presentation decks, or a spa day, or a day of four movies seen back to back. It’s a huge commitment, not only of time, but also of mental and physical focus. The play hinged on a complete reading of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s great American novel, The Great Gatsby. Hmmm. Would I actually be able to sit through the entire play-cum-reading, or would I tarnish my arts and culture vulture stripes by needing to leave at the dinner break? Will Gatz be able to hold my attention, sustain my engagement through all those hours, or would the whole experience feel interminable and gruelling, like hand-stitching an elaborate Tibetan yak headdress? Would this be another pointless exercise in experimental theater? At 10:48 pm, during the curtain call on Friday night, approximately seven hours and thirty eight minutes from the time the houselights dimmed and Scott Shepherd, the lead actor, strolled on stage, I decided that I could have spent another seven hours with this play, these actors, this audience. Gatz renews one’s faith in the heights that theater, art, imagination, and creativity can scale. It also reinforces the belief that an intelligent and cosmopolitan theater audience, such as the one we have in Chicago, will embrace theater that is innovative, challenging, exhausting, but ultimately rewarding and memorable.

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Francis’s Fall Picks: Top 10 Must-See Productions in Chicago

Culture, Dance, Music, Theater Add comments

autumn-leaves.jpgFor anyone outside of Boystown and Andersonville, there is so much more going on this fall in Chicago than the Madonna concert (which, for those of you who have just come back to the city from the island of Tuvalu, is scheduled for October 26-27 at the United Center).  Everyone (well, the Chicago Tribune and TimeOut Chicago that is) have made up their lists of the top fall live performances (theater, opera, dance) that they recommend you attend, which is a good thing – it’s both the blessing and the bane of living in a great, lively, cultural center like Chicago, that you can go to see a show every night, and still not see it all, so guidance is imperative (plus the fact that no one really has an unlimited art consumption spending budget) .  Here then, in no particular order, are From the Ledge’s picks for the must-see performing arts events of the fall – they’re an eclectic lot, showcasing both the best efforts of local Chicago talent as well as top international artists making pitstops in our wonderful town, confirming our stature in the global artistic community. Varied in discipline, theme, and artistic approach, they all, nevertheless, promise exciting, memorable, uniquely impactful nights at the theater.  I’ll be at all of them, so if you see me, say hi!

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One Week Later: Impressions of Printers’ Ball and Howard Henry Chen at the MCA

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Last Friday night, I was at the Printers’ Ball at the Museum of Contemporary Art so I could check out what the hype was all about.  Many people have said it has been the must-go event of the past three late summers in Chicago, and with it’s notorious shutdown by the cops at last year’s Zhou B. Art Center venue, it’s curiosity value, and yes, cool cache, has increased several dozenfold. The Poetry Foundation sponsors this annual event where Chicago-based publishers and publications give away their wares for free to the hungry reading public in a party-type atmosphere, complete with free food, cash bars, performances, and DJs spinning house music.  So, first off, I do want to say that anything that encourages people to read is worthwhile, so kudos to the Printers’ Ball organizers, sponsors, and participants for getting the event off the ground.  However, any event that has several hundred people shoving their elbows into other people’s eyeballs, and looking like they’re the frenzied Bridezillas in the Today show’s race for bridal gowns contest, all for free stuff, is insane.  I wasn’t sure why people were grabbing “The Textiles of Indonesia” softcovers from each other’s hands (these were people who should be paying attention to the textiles they were wearing first – honey, wearing a gold lame tanktop when you’re outrageously Rubenesque will make you look like the groom’s elephant in an Indian royal wedding anyday).  People were taking anything that was laid out on the floor or on the tables, whether they were books, magazines, journals, tsotchkes, flyers for a Chinese restaurant, whatever wasn’t locked down was grabbed and pawed….it was really tacky actually.  Now, I did grab my share of free stuff (and contributed $3 to the Poetry Foundation for a, uhmmm, ok, I need to be revived with a hot towel, quick…green and yellow tote bag) but, at least, I thought I was pretty selective.  And after the freebie grab, the attendees began gorging themselves on the free hotdogs as if they just arrived from a Somalian refugee camp! Really, what was up with these people?

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Thud

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The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Chicago has been on a roll lately, with its fantastic Escultura Social exhibit of new Mexican art last summer, and Sympathy for the Devil, the much-talked about showcase of the intersection of rock and roll and art last fall, proving once and for all that it is one of the top platforms in the country for brave, unique, innovative contemporary arts programming. So I was really looking forward to its Jeff Koons exhibit, simply titled “Jeff Koons”, which opened May 31.  For one, this exhibit was the first comprehensive survey of the work of this major contemporary artist, including not only his most well-known pieces but also a parallel exhibition of the works of the Chicago artists, such as Ed Paschke, who influenced him.  For another, Koons himself had been very much involved in putting the show together, and had made available some pieces from his personal collection.  Finally, it wasn’t a traveling show- it was an art show conceived in Chicago, which would only be seen in Chicago.  Well, great expectations beget even greater disappointments, and the show, as well as the artist, Jeff Koons, has fallen with a thunderous thud, in my eyes.

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