Friday, July 20, 2012

Oedipus in the barrio and Shakespeare in bikinis: new performing arts reviews

Posted By on 07.20.12 at 02:16 PM

Even a Yorkshire coal miner can have his fun: Ka Tets Salt of the Earth
  • Kaleigh Lockhart
  • Even a Yorkshire coal miner can have his fun: Ka Tet's Salt of the Earth
This week, we've got several recommended dramas, plenty of Shakespeare, some surreal plays from Mexico, and one odd one from Finland. At the top of the to-see list is Oedipus el Rey at Victory Gardens Theater. Modern adaptations of ancient Greek tragedies are nothing new, but what distinguishes this one is that it makes the Oedipus tale feel completely American. Next comes A Steady Rain, Keith Huff's crooked-cop drama, which premiered at Chicago Dramatists, got a Broadway run featuring Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman, and is back now at CD for a victory lap with the original cast. Reader contributor Dan Jakes warns: "If you missed it the first time around, by god, don't miss it again." The third Reader-recommended drama is Salt of the Earth—a well-acted, honest play, in Albert Williams's judgment, about a Yorkshire coal miner's family.

Tony Adler has reviewed each of the four entries in Halcyon Theatre's Alcyone Festival, which is dedicated this year to the work of female Mexican playwrights. He says Halcyon is doing a great service in exposing English-speaking Chicagoans to these intriguing artists, but the productions are mostly uneven and underrehearsed. From worst to better: A Lover's Dismantling, The Tip of the Iceberg, Two Dead Guys and a Banjo, and Freud Skating on Thin Ice.

You may be surprised to learn that the best of this week's three Shakespeare productions is presented with all its characters dressed in bikinis or Speedos. Even more surprising: this isn't the first swimsuit/Shakespeare pairing in history. Still, Keith Griffith says Gorilla Tango Theatre does it particularly well in Bikini Shakespeare: Much Ado About Nothing. A few bikinis might also work wonders for First Folio's Merchant of Venice, which Jack Helbig calls "uninspired," and Free Shakespeare's The Two Gentlemen of Verona, which involves an improvisational technique whereby actors memorize their lines but intentionally don't rehearse.

Last year, in Radio Goggles, Oracle Productions experimented with having live actors perform to recordings of old-time radio dramas. It must've gone over well, because this year Oracle is staging The Return of Radio Goggles. Although entertaining for a while, the conceit eventually wears thin. Another old chestnut gets a second life in The 39 Steps, but it's not always clear whether this stage adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock's 1935 movie is homage or parody.

For musical lovers, there's Sockhopapocalypse—a Lord of the Flies-esque nightmare, sweetly accompanied by ukuleles and toy flutes—and Fame, a version of the 1980 movie that adult, professional actors just plain shouldn't be doing.

From the grab-bag pile: Hot Cha Cha is a striptease-and-comedy showcase with a carnival theme (and free penis- and boob-shaped balloons). A Scent of Flowers offers the point of view of a dead girl as she witnesses her own funeral. Moment is many moments into its domestic drama before anything of interest happens. And Kokkola—well, quite frankly nothing can capture this Finnish play better than the description on Akvavit Theatre's website: "After the joke, when there is no longer any laughter, we see the naked truth . . . naked. Kokkola is a plea for authentic Nordic sensibility, for a people with tango rhythm and silent perseverance staring into the vast void of both an interior and exterior landscape." Our Justin Hayford found it an exercise in calculated oddness.

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