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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Shattering

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the-investigation.jpgWithout sounding too conceited, I have to admit that I consider myself to be a pretty smart, introspective, globally-savvy guy. So it’s a little unsettling for me when I go to an arts and culture event, and I end up feeling uninformed, inadequate, unimaginative, an intellectual lightweight. That’s how I felt on Sunday when I went to see an extraordinary production of Peter Weiss’ famous Holocaust-themed play The Investigation from the Rwandan theater company Urwintore, already highly-acclaimed in London and Paris, and currently onstage at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater as part of it’s exemplary World’s Stage Series. The matinee performance was bookended by two fascinating events: a pre-show discussion called “Perspectives on The Investigation” which had intellectual heavyweights Chicago Humanities Festival and well-known New Yorker writer Lawrence Weschler, educator and writer Elliot Lefkovitz (who worked with Steven Spielberg on the Survivors of the Shoah project), and Northwestern Professor of Performance Studies and human rights activist D. Soyini Madison on the panel to provide not just context for the production, but also their rich, thoughtful perspectives on the complex intersection of theater, history, and socio-political reconciliation. More impactfully, the performance was followed by a post-show discussion with the actors, including director, adapter, and Urwintore founder Dorcy Rugamba, who lost close family members during the 1994 Rwandan genocide. At the end of the day, I was intellectually and emotionally spent (so much so that I forgot I actually spent five straight hours at that pit of excessive commercialism, Navy Pier, where the Chicago Shakes theater is located), but it was a deeply rewarding experience, full of new learnings and insights, and a especially shattering one – seeing these fantastic actors, survivors of a recent genocide speaking and acting out words related to the biggest genocide in history, was too devastating for words.

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