Sad Songs

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the whaleYes, after an almost four month hiatus, I’m back.  I decided to take a break from posting for a couple of reasons: after twelve years, I switched jobs and wanted, no needed, the time to adjust, acclimate, and settle in. Also, I’ve been writing From the Ledge for the past five years (since 2007!) and wanted, no needed, to slow down  and just enjoy myself a little bit more when going to an arts and culture event without the hovering thought that I’d be writing about it afterwards.  I always planned to write again, although maybe less frequently and more leisurely, but I needed to find that compelling subject that would make me want to spill more online ink on.  I very nearly wrote about the slew of Shakespeare plays I saw over the past few months: the revelatory takes on Twelfth Night and Taming of the Shrew by the British group Propeller at the Guthrie Theater which mined original nuances in Shakespeare’s texts without changing, cutting, or re-assembling any of it, placed side by the side with the frustrating production of Measure for Measure at the Goodman where Robert Falls’ redone ending shifted the focus of the production from being a Shakespeare play to being a Robert Falls play that has language and characters supplied by Shakespeare (heavy sigh).  And I very nearly wrote about my admiration for the vital, resonant, impressively original Victory Gardens production of Anupama Chandrasekhar’s Disconnect about young Chennai call center workers which unfortunately was torn to shreds and fed to ravenous crocodiles by the most influential theater critic in the city, who I didn’t think truly got the material (another heavy sigh).  But it’s another Victory Gardens play that has me excitedly back on the blog – currently onstage is Joannie Schultz’s outstanding production of Samuel D. Hunter’s painfully exquisite drama about truthtelling and delusions The Whale, featuring an unforgettable central performance by Dale Calandra as a 500 pound dying gay man. If you love Chicago theater, you can’t afford to miss this!

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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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F for False

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I will never pay to see a Sarah Ruhl play ever again. There, I said it. After a lot of ambivalence in the past, I decided that Eurydice, the latest Ruhl play to be staged in Chicago (Victory Gardens joins the ranks of its peers, the Goodman, which produced Clean House and Passion Play, and Steppenwolf, which mounted Dead Man’s Cellphone) would determine which Ruhl camp I’ll be pushed into. Eurydice, a re-telling of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth, but from her (instead of his) point of view, and with lots of other extraneous factors thrown in (like her father, who wasn’t in the original Greek myth, and a trio of curmudgeonly Stones straight out of a retirement home, who guard the entrance to the underworld) is insufferably precious, annoyingly dishonest, an intellectual’s abstract concept of the emotion of loss which doesn’t resemble reality at all. I lost my mom two years ago, and I think I have a pretty good understanding of what tremendous loss and grieving feels, and this play does everything in its power to subvert the evocation of those emotions in the audience. It’s quite simply the worst play I’ve seen this year, anywhere.

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