Random Ramblings

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It has been that kind of a week.  I am mentally and physically fried from having to work the weekend and really, really early mornings (4 am anyone?) as well as dealing with spring allergies and this crazy it’s summer-one-day, it’s-cold-and-rainy-the-next early June weather Chicago is having.  So instead of writing on a focused topic, which I normally like doing, I’m just going to blog on a bunch of things.  And, anyway, lots of bloggers blog on in this stream-of-consciousness manner all the time (and many of them are not even remotely close to William Faulkner’s talents…).  I’ve also gone to a lot of things over the past weeks and months and have not had the catch up time necessary to write about them, and this is the time to do so.

So I went to see Mary-Arrchie Theatre’s production of Beggars in the House of Plenty, John Patrick Shanley’s autobiographical play about dealing with the demons of this childhood and early adulthood, written in a dream-like, surreal manner, over the weekend.  Let’s get this straight- I love Shanley’s works and I thought Doubt was one of the best examples of impactful, thought-provoking theater that I have ever seen.  He deserved his Pulitzer, not just by a yard, but by a continent.  I love Chicago storefront theater and often find it richly rewarding; Mary-Arrchie is one of the most exciting Chicago storefront theaters in the city and deserve many accolades and audiences in the years to come.  I, as a matter of fact, don’t love Beggars in the House of Plenty.  I admire Shanley’s chutzpah in working through his issues with his family in such a public forum as the theater, but I really don’t need to go and pay and see someone’s therapy session (I may be needing one myself soon, and paying for it!).  I am flabbergasted that he thought this self-indulgent exercise was involving dramatic fodder – so he had a bad childhood because his parent’s didn’t give him the same type of attention that they gave his siblings…well, tough. He didn’t have to be a pyromaniac or a drifter or a kleptomaniac as the adolescent Shanley turned out to be.  It’s not like they starved him, or chained him to the basement floor, or left him to be mauled by pitbulls or have his eyes pecked out by birds…hey even Christina Crawford had wirehangers slammed on her head!  I’m also disappointed by the Mary-Arrchie production, with its painted backdrops and somewhat overbaked performances (the always-excellent Daniel Behrendt, I think, comes off best and most truthful as Shanley’s elder brother, Joey).

Another type of dream-like, surreal theater has been on view at the Steppenwolf Upstairs Theatre since March 27, and it’s Sarah Ruhl’s brand of magical realism in Dead Man’s Cellphone, which is closing on July 27.  Sarah Ruhl is one of the hottest young playwrights in the country today, and the most divisive.  She’s a “love her or hate her” kind of commodity.  I’m pretty ambivalent about her actually, and am waiting to see what Victory Gardens does with her off-Broadway success Eurydice next season, before I finally make my judgment as to whether, as TimeOut Chicago theater critic, From the Ledge friend, and Sarah Ruhl non-fan, Kris Vire says, “…the playwright has no clothes”.  Prior to Dead Man’s Cellphone, I’ve seen both The Clean House and Passion Play in their major Goodman Theater productions, and I have had major issues with both.  I thought The Clean House was pretty interesting and eccentric but the ending was so abrupt, and felt so unfinished, that I was convinced there was another intermission coming.  I thought Passion Play was ambitious and very admirable in trying to tie together the passion play as a theatrical form and all kinds of political and socio-cultural issues, but it was chaotic, incomprehensible in parts, and show-offy in others.  I think this whole quality of being an intellectual show-off, with, I hate to say it, a hint of smugness (hey she’s smarter than everyone else in the room and three blocks over) is the one thing that really prevents me from embracing Ruhl’s works.  Ok, I get it.  She can jump from writing authentic sounding Brazilian stand-up jokes (in The Clean House) to a lacerating indictment of organ harvesting in developing countries (in Dead Man’s Cellphone) to detailed portrayals of the Oberramergau passion play in Germany (in, well, Passion Play).  She has a great ear for quirky, stop-in-your-tracks, sometimes laughter-coming-from-the-gut funny dialogue.  She inserts unexpected and memorable character details (the romantic male lead in Dead Man’s Cellphone likes to braid the hair of the women he’s dating) that leave you wanting for more.  But the plays often feel, to me at least, as if they are showcases for how intelligent she is, and for the various little unique tools she has in her creative arsenal, instead of being emotionally honest, engaging portraits of real life.  Watching a Sarah Ruhl play for me has always been like talking to really intelligent Ph.D student who you know will go far in life and career, but he or she just has to live a little and get that real-life exposure that truly makes someone unique and confident.  Unfortunately, like that Ph.D student and his or her over-enthusiastic thesis advisers, Ruhl has critical advocates who are so quick and ready to anoint her as the Second Coming.  Some restraint would be appreciated, as I saw first hand when the Goodman’s main floor cleared out in the middle of the Passion Play performance I attended  For the record, I liked Dead Man’s Cellphone a lot, and thought Marc Grapey’s second act monologue was one of the highlights of this theater going year so far.

Speaking of the Steppenwolf, I’ll be attending the Tony Awards Viewing Party at the Steppenwolf Main Theater next Sunday, June 15, which should be very exciting.  I think August:  Osage County will win 6 of its 7 nominations (Deanna Dunagan and Amy Morton are both nominated for Best Actress in a Play, and unless there’s a tie, only one of them can win.  My money is on Dunagan whose performance as Violet is going down in theater history books), and that, together with the enthusiasm for Chicago Shakespeare’s much deserved Regional Tony award,  will make that Sunday night at the Steppenwolf, sitting amidst many people who love and champion Chicago theater, quite the memorable one.  I’ll definitely be posting on the night, so watch out for it.

On non-theatrical matters, the Guerrilla Truck Show is coming up this Tuesday, June 10, from 6 pm to 9 pm in the area around  Fulton Market and Aberdeen streets in the Fulton Market warehouse district.  It is a terrific way to spend an early summer evening, not only because it showcases the work of many Chicago artists and designers at the back of parked u-hauls, (a very wonderful way of exhibiting art) but also because there is such a fun community of urban dwellers around, appreciating the art and jewelry, engaged in conversation with one anothr, and oh yeah, guzzling some free beer.  I won’t be able to make it this year, but I went last year, and had such a blast so I hope my avid blog leaders would check it out.  Here’s a  couple of pictures from last year’s event, where my friend Eric’s back is visible, but I am nowhere in sight (was I photoshopped out? Or was I busy stumbling around giddily with a couple of glasses of Stella Artois?  Uhmm.)



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