Risks, Disappointments

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After seeing the unsurpassable duo of Bernadette Peters and Elaine Stritch weave once-in-a-lifetime theatrical magic in the Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim’s A Little Night Music back in 2010, I thought I was going to give this show some rest.  Personally, I felt Peters’ luminously melancholy rendition of “Send in the Clowns” is the definitive performance of the song, capturing both the character Desiree’s and the songwriter Steve’s clear-eyed, painful introspection. Who can top that?  But after hearing that Writer’s Theatre was staging Night Music as their spring production, I reconsidered.  At Writer’s I had one of my most transcendent nights of recent theater, David Cromer’s unforgettable A Streetcar Named Desire.  Also, this production would have the first official Chicago performance of Deanna Dunagan after her 2008 Tony win in August: Osage County, reason enough for rabid theater aficionados like me who have missed her to brave the Metra ride to Glencoe.  Finally, I’m just a sucker for a Sondheim musical.  Although I admire many parts of William Brown’s production, including the risks he and his actors take in re-inventing some of the key roles, I’m ultimately disappointed with this version of a Sondheim musical that I know so well (having seen many productions over the years as well as the exquisite source material, Ingmar Bergman’s film, Smiles of a Summer Night).

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2010′s Wondrous Ten

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It is that time of year again when I’m making lists – from things I’m going to give up in the new year (eating pork belly being one of them) to places I’m going to visit in 2011 (return trips to Hong Kong and Vancouver and a first trip to Rio de Janeiro on top of that list) to the various ways I can meet hot chefs in the city (oops, ok, that’s a secret list).  I’ve also compiled my annual ten best theatrical experiences for 2010, a list, as always, compiled from the point of view of a passionate audience member.  It was another strong year in Chicago theater, and I saw plays everywhere in the city, from the major houses like the Goodman and Steppenwolf, to most of the storefronts, to the basement of an apartment building in Uptown where folding seats were set up in front of washers and dryers.  Fantastic!

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Here and There

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I’m not really ready to let the summer go just yet (although I could definitely live without the sweat baths I take nearly every week while interminably waiting in the ORD taxi line to get home on travel-frenzied Thursday late nights).  But I’ve already began to plan my theater schedule for the upcoming six to eight weeks as Chicago theater companies unveil their fall seasons; I’m also taking several trips during this time period to see some of the more hotly-anticipated productions in other theater-mad cities like ours.  My plate will be quite full, but what a satisfying, bountiful harvest it will contain!

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Revisit

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As my regular blog readers know, I nearly fell into a coma as I ran out of superlatives after seeing Liv Ullmann’s minimalist, unsentimental Sydney Theatre Company production of A Streetcar Named Desire last year.  It had a truly definitive Blanche du Bois, imho, from the great Cate Blanchett as its center of gravity.  With the standards set so high for Streetcar, truly my favorite play of all time, a little part of me was prepared to be disappointed with David Cromer’s production at Writer’s Theater, his first work in Chicago after his Broadway debut last winter, despite the unanimous, worshipping critical raves it had already received.  But as the Sun Times’ Hedy Weiss says, it’s kinda pointless to compare and contrast Cromer’s Streetcar with any other versions of the play one has previously seen:  this production of Tennessee Williams’ great, legendary play stands proudly and singularly on its own – visceral, gutwrenching, voyeuristic, with towering performances, and startlingly, a shift in the dramatic center of gravity from Blanche (the focal point of most productions I’ve seen) to a freshly re-thought Stanley Kowalski, played to dazzling, ferocious perfection by Matt Hawkins.  I was breathless and exhilarated after the three hours on this Streetcar – I’d gladly haul my urban, non-847-area-code-friendly-self on the Metra back to Glencoe anytime for a production this terrific.

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