Thursday, May 10, 2012

Lions and tigers and bears and, uh, butterflies, oh my: new Reader performing arts reviews

Posted By on 05.10.12 at 04:58 PM

Mmmm! Sexy Babies!
  • Rick Aguilar Studios
  • Mmmm! Sexy Babies!
There's more than one path to a Reader recommendation. For example: Griffin Theatre's Kin makes irrational fear relatable with its humane portrayal of an agoraphobic woman, while Hell in a Handbag Productions finds hilarity in a legitimate source of terror with its musical sendup of child beauty pageants, Sexy Baby. Both received the coveted backward R.

Tony Adler called The Iceman Cometh "great in its excess" when he reviewed Robert Falls's Goodman Theatre staging of it 22 years ago; seeing Falls's new version, he's impressed by its comic structure. Circle Theatre takes a pleasantly surprising turn away from its usual formula of crowd-pleasing musicals and comedies with When the Rain Stops Falling, a sensitive, layered portrait of a family that spans two continents and four generations. Debra Ehrhardt takes a different approach to international relations in Jamaica Farewell, her one-woman memoir about getting to Miami with help from a nice CIA agent. For dance this week, Laura Molzahn likes the collaborative performance involving Muntu Dance Theatre and DanceWorks Chicago.

Eric Carle's books draw their charm from his colorful illustrations; Mermaid Theater of Nova Scotia does an admirable job of translating his aesthetic into A Brown Bear, A Moon, and A Caterpillar. Carle's 1969 classic The Very Hungry Caterpillar and two other stories provide the source material for this show aimed at very young children, which very sensibly features a kid-friendly "no shushing" policy.

Other plays named after animals weren't so successful. According to Justin Hayford, the semi-opera Here Are Lions is overly literal and lacking in depth. Theater Wit's Tigers Be Still suffers from an overdose of whimsical dysfunction. And, its double dose of bug names not withstanding, Spider Saloff's The Roar of the Butterfly fails to flesh out its characters.

British suffragettes might never have gotten the vote if Her Naked Skin director Roger Smart had been in charge of pacing their campaign. Despite the dramatic potential of this tale set in a prison where feminist activists are routinely beaten, raped, and force-fed, the play drags, turning dire situations into measured conversations. Likewise, a pirates-versus-ninjas conceit can't save Romeo vs. Juliet, Pretty/Windy Theatre Company's take on Shakespeare's tragedy.

Chicago Shakespeare Theatre's production of Timon of Athens also flops. A strong cast led by Scottish actor Ian McDiarmid can't compensate for one of the Bard's weaker plays. Music Mad—Prop Thtr's look at the double life of Chicago police chief and Irish folksong collector Francis O'Neill—would benefit from more tunes and less talking, while Hostage Song fails to overcome the disconnect between its indie-rock format and grim subject matter.

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