War Games

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this is war signal ensembleReally, it’s already September? The Chicago summer, so mercurial this year on how warm or not-warm it wanted to be, zoomed by like a Japanese bullet train. Between being busier than usual at my day job and a nearly week-long traipse to Mexico City (more on that in an upcoming blog post), I skipped a lot of the August theater offerings. But the fall theater season stealthily crept up on me, so I eased myself into it by going over to Signal Ensemble last weekend for the Chicago premiere of Hannah Moscovitch’s This Is War, about a quartet of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan in the late 2000s. “Eased” might not be the best word since the play is tough and wrenching. Although engagingly watchable due to its ensemble’s bombastic, committed, complicated performances, I’m not sure I particularly bought into the writing as a whole.

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My Theatrical Year

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Where did those twelve months go? It just seemed like yesterday when I was washing the champagne and various other substances out of my hair (yep, that was quite the 2011 New Year’s Eve shindig), and now we are at the end of 2012, or the end of the world as we know it if you’re one of those Mayan Calendar Doomsday groupies.  I’ve compiled my sixth annual best theater in Chicago list, and I gotta say that this was probably the most difficult of the lists to put together since I began. I know I say this every year, but 2012 was quite the fantastic year in Chicago theater, with many, many notable actors, writers and theater artists coming to the city to work on truly stellar, world-class, only-in-Chicago productions.  But our storefront theater scene, which gave rise to and nurtured theatrical giants like Cromer and Letts, continued to be unparalleled in the country.  I’ve added and crossed-out the productions on this list several times despite the fact that I missed several shows (it was just impossible to balance my day job, extensive travel, and all that theatrical bounty). It’s also notable that for the first time in six years, I have no non-Chicago production in the top ten – that’s how great 2012 was. When New York magazine called Chicago theater the “farm team” for Broadway and off-Broadway, I scoffed and knew that that New York hack couldn’t really tell his sunken derriere from his skeletal face, because I know, and hundreds of Chicago audiences know, how good we have it here in the city, much better than those high-horsing New Yorkers.  Here then are my best Chicago shows for 2012, as well as the next 5: Read the rest of this entry »

The Bold and The Beautiful

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With my work travel having calmed down a bit, I have been able to get back into my regular theater routine of the past few years I’ve been writing this blog.  As of today, I’ve seen 32 plays since the beginning of the year which is approximately around 20 weeks, a pretty good batting average of 1.6 shows a week.  I may be getting crankier in my old age, though, since I’ve liked or admired less than a dozen of the shows, and have loved even fewer.  However, the great pleasure of being such an avid participant in a lively and bountiful theater scene such as Chicago’s is that you will always be surprised by what you’ll find playing at your corner storefront theater.  On paper, Clay McLeod Chapman’s and Kyle Jarrow’s Hostage Song, a rock musical about two American hostages in an unnamed Middle East country awaiting their fate, which unfortunately can involve, uhmm, a beheading, now receiving its Chicago premiere from Signal Ensemble Theatre, is probably the most improbable piece of theater you can see.  Why do a musical about such a devastatingly dark, squirm-inducing, politically-combustible topic? Well, I can ask back, why not, especially if it’s this musical?  Signal Ensemble’s Hostage Song is stunning, one of the best shows I’ve seen so far this year: harrowing, gutsy, brazen, relevant, mind-imploding, yet also tragically, poignantly, beautifully human. In a city that’s seeing much-heralded revivals of Iceman Cometh, Angels in America, and Rent, and new work such as The March, it is a simply staged musical that reflects our fraught and complicated emotions with the world we currently live in that is the most affecting.

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Rock of Ages

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I’m not really a rock and roll kinda guy (does loving Liza Minnelli’s beyond-mind-exploding cover of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” for Sex and the City 2 count?  Yeah, I didn’t think so.  And to head off the snark, yes, I do know that “Single Ladies” isn’t rock and roll. I’m being funny here, people!).  So I think it’s quite interesting that my last two theater outings had been rock and roll themed, one directly, the other very loosely.  A couple of weeks ago, I was at Signal Ensemble Theater’s Aftermath, one of the best reviewed shows currently playing, a world premiere play from Artistic Director Ronan Marra about the original leader of the Rolling Stones, Brian Jones, who met a young, untimely death.  Last weekend, I was out supporting TUTA Theater Chicago, where I’m a Board Member (that’s my standard full disclosure statement), for the opening night of the second show of the season, Bertolt Brecht’s first, and because of all the revisions and updating he made throughout his lifetime, last, play, Baal, about a free-wheeling hedonistic young man who magnetizes both sexes, usually interpreted and staged as a metaphor for the destructiveness of the rock and roll culture.  And despite being such a Sondheim-lovin’ showtunes diva, I can heartily recommend both.

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