Writers Block

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teatro vista a view from the bridgeAs I’ve always said all these years on this blog, theater is ultimately for me a writer’s medium.  You can have all the life-sized war horses, swinging chandeliers, flying helicopters, and  cavorting half-naked men all you want, but if the playwriting is weak, unfocused, clumsy, the audience will leave the theater feeling dissatisfied and cheated (well, maybe not when  there’s cavorting half-naked men, who needs playwriting for that?!).  I went on a theater marathon the past several days seeing a play a day since there just isn’t enough time to go to all of the spring season’s theatrical bounty.  And the great thing about our Chicago theater scene is that one night you’re going to a masterwork that has endured through decades of being trotted out, broken down, and built up again, but continue to be invigorating and resonant; then on another night you’re watching a first play by a much buzzed-about playwright that shows a lot of interesting promise but is also frustratingly underdeveloped.  Here are my thoughts on those plays.

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2011′s Theatrical Dazzlers

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As I said in my previous blog post, I flew lots and lots of miles over three continents in the course of 2011. But when I was in Chicago, I made sure I slid my butt into a theater seat (over the objections and recriminations of friends and (ex) lovers who I ended up not seeing during those so few weekends). So I still managed to go to a significant number of shows this year despite feeling as if I lived at O’Hare instead of my Ravenswood loft.  No regrets on this end, since Chicago continued to be a dazzling North American capital for live performance, with a bounty of world premieres, Chicago stops of great touring productions, and storefront theatrical treasures.  Here, then, is my annual top ten list of Chicago theater:

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Back!

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The new decade arrived somewhat inauspiciously last week, but who would have thought on January 8, 2000 that on January 8, 2010 I would be heading into the third year of writing an energetic Chicago arts and culture blog?  Certainly not me.  It’s been a busy couple of weeks between holiday madness, recuperation from a nasty fall on Christmas Eve (don’t worry, dear readers, no broken bones!), and a business trip during the first week of the new year.  But I’ve been catching up on my potential Oscar-contending films (look out for an upcoming blog post with capsule comments on those I saw over the holidays) and planning my cultural expeditions for the next month (which may include a trip to Minneapolis to “experience” the cutting-edge theatrical piece, Call Cutta in a Box:  An Intercontinental Phone Play by the German performance group Rimini Protokoll, part of the Walker Art Center’s “Out There” theater series).  The most exciting news I heard this week was the confirmed off-Broadway transfer of Kristoffer Diaz’s The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity, whose Chicago world premiere last fall was my pick for the Best Theater of 2009.  There’s no announced casting yet, but with Chicago director Eddie Torres, Artistic Director of Teatro Vista, taking the helm of the Second Stage production once again, and with the Chicago designers from the Victory Gardens production already confirmed to participate, I think the possibility of New Yorkers’ socks (and underwear, belts, scarves, lucky amulet necklaces, and all) being blown away by Desmin Borges’ stunning lead performance is a pretty real one.  So who’s still contradicting my vehement assertion that Chicago is the theater capital of the US? 

2009′s Theatrical Treasures

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cchad-deity-2.jpgI’m not a theater critic, nor a theater practitioner.  I’m just a regular, passionate theater aficionado who writes a blog (and who pays for most shows that I go to see).  And it was wonderful to be a regular, passionate theater aficionado who wrote a blog in 2009 in Chicago, when great-not merely good, not just serviceable-theater was available every weekend night.  2009 began with the Goodman Theatre‘s Eugene O’Neill Festival, a singular, unsurpassable program of theatrical bravado that I will always remember, and which even long time Chicago residents marveled at.  But 2009, for me, was also a year of getting a thrilling first look at world premieres; of seeing plays in random places, whether it was in a warehouse in Ravenswood, inside the rehearsal hall of the Goodman theater, or on the actual stage of the MCA; of discovering new theater companies putting on plays with so much impressive, balls-out fierceness; of finally being validated in my very firm, vocal belief that it is Chicago, not New York City or any other self-proclaiming town, that is the theater capital of the US. 

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Take No Prisoners

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chad-deity.jpgI’m not a big fan of wrestling, unless it’s used in a sentence with the words “college”, “male”, and “singlet”.  Other than their brilliant production of Blackbird this summer, I’ve also not been particularly interested in many of the productions that Victory Gardens has put up over the years, with many of these plays’ appeal skewering towards a, shall we say, more mature demographic.  And then there was that title:  The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity – quite a mouthful, and frankly, possible turn-off, for us living in the 21st  century digital age marked by soundbytes, tweets, quick finishes, and cut-to-the-chases.  But, man, does Kristoffer Diaz’s world premiere play beat all expectations and smash all pre-conceptions.  It’s the equivalent of a theatrical bungee-jump:  dizzying, exhilarating, frightening, adventuresome, immensely satisfying.  It shoves the audience into a rambunctious ride through racial and global-socio-political provocations, presented within the world of professional wrestling portrayed as a reflection of an America wracked with biases, division, vague xenophobia, lowbrowness, and a need for even bigger refrigerator crispers.  Oh, and brilliantly written with the unmistakable, hypnotic rhythms of hip-hop.  And with its wacky, crowd-pleasing, fourth-wall-breaking “elaborate entrances” for the wrestlers, it’s more fun and rockin’ than drunken people-watching at the Metro on a Friday night.  It’s a take-no-prisoners theatrical production that is so unlike the rest of Chicago theater this year, it’s already deservedly earned a spot in my top ten list for 2009 (and yes, the year isn’t even done yet!).  It’s that great, and you’ll be bodyslamming your apartment wall silly if you miss it.

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