Onstage

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Second City does Wagner for its second hilarious collaboration with Lyric Opera

Posted By on 10.27.16 at 04:37 PM

Travis Turner, Randall Harr, Tim Ryder, Alice Stanley Jr., and Sayjal Joshi - TODD ROSENBERG
  • Todd Rosenberg
  • Travis Turner, Randall Harr, Tim Ryder, Alice Stanley Jr., and Sayjal Joshi

You don't have to know anything about composer Richard Wagner to laugh your head off at this season's collaboration between Lyric Opera and Second City, Longer! Louder! Wagner! And if you do, you'll also have a great time. The talented folks behind this irreverent spoof (and on the stage) have managed to make it work for everyone.

Except maybe those who don't like jokes about Germany. Since the subject is the 19th-century genius/jerk whose music is known as Hitler's favorite soundtrack, everything from the glockenspiel to Angela Merkel is fair game, along with the composer's silk undies and the ardor of his patron, King Ludwig II of Bavaria—which might have led to "the first known case of gay for pay."

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Thursday, September 3, 2015

The sixth Chicago Fringe Festival, opening tonight, brings zombies, victims, and furries to town

Posted By on 09.03.15 at 12:30 PM

The variety show That's Weird, Grandma has three slots at Fringe Festival. - COURTESY FRINGE FESTIVAL
  • Courtesy Fringe Festival
  • The variety show That's Weird, Grandma has three slots at Fringe Festival.

Click the "all shows" link at the 2015 Edinburgh Festival Fringe site and you get 3,556 results. By comparison I count 46 for the Chicago Fringe Festival, excluding special features like the No Shame Open Mic and the Misfits Carnivale—a differential of about 77 to one. To be fair, the Edinburgh event has run every summer since 1947, lasts 25 days, and originated the very concept of a fringe, whereas ours is in its sixth year and lasts two weekends.

Thousands of selections or not quite four dozen, though, any fringe festival is necessarily a crapshoot. Reader critics will be in the home of the festival, Jefferson Park, seeing all the shows we can during the first weekend, so you'll have a guide for the second. Until then, a few themes pop out. 

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Friday, February 24, 2012

Margaret: Immature

Posted By on 02.24.12 at 09:00 AM

Anna Paquin in Margaret
  • Anna Paquin in Margaret
This week the Bleader presents a series of commentaries on Kenneth Lonergan's drama Margaret (2011), which screens through Thursday at Gene Siskel Film Center.

As Reader movie critic J.R. Jones noted in his review, the original version of Margaret was much longer than the one that reached theaters. Writer/director Kenneth Lonergan was forced to cut the running time down to 149 minutes in order to get it released, and it's interesting to speculate on what exactly is missing from the tale of Lisa Cohen, a privileged Manhattan teen who goes a little mad after inadvertently causing a bus accident that kills a woman. Jones points, convincingly, to scenes involving Matt Damon as Mr. Aaron, Lisa's far too understanding math teacher. I tend to think some of the cuts must've come out of a subplot involving Lisa's divorced mom, Joan, and her courtly Colombian boyfriend, Ramon. Guilt and mourning are heavy presences in Margaret, and Joan has good reason to feel both when it comes to Ramon. In effect, he's her bus accident. And yet the scene in which she addresses the wreck directly seems to have been snipped from the movie.

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Thursday, February 23, 2012

If you liked Manual Cinema's Ada/Ava . . .

Posted By on 02.23.12 at 02:03 PM

Fjords
  • Fjords
Every once in a while you see something that makes you go, "Hunh. That's new." It'll have lots of elements you recognize, but also some that seem entirely strange, and the whole thing will unwind in a way that catches not only your attention but your breath.

That's how I felt on seeing Manual Cinema's Ada/Ava last summer.

All shadow-puppet plays necessarily look at least a little bit alike, so it was familiar in that respect. And the subject matter—an exploration of what happens when inseparable old twins are finally parted by death—seemed redolent, picking up on ingrown-sibling lore that runs from the pixilated sisters in Mr. Deeds Goes to Town through the murderous ones in Arsenic and Old Lace to the weird ones in Macbeth (with a side trip to the hoarding Collyer brothers of books, plays, movies, and reality). What took me by surprise was the Dante-esque journey undertaken—part willingly, but part not—by the devastated surviving twin, Ada, as she tried to master her loss. A visit to a traveling carnival yielded twisted images and false exits worthy of the hall-of-mirrors shoot-out in The Lady From Shanghai.

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The latest Reader performing arts reviews

Posted By on 02.23.12 at 11:00 AM

Rush Pearson in Diary of a Madman
Our latest performing arts reviews are here, hot off the real and virtual presses—but only a select few are positive enough to warrant a Reader recommendation. According to Tony Adler, you can't go wrong with Steppenwolf Theatre's Garage Rep this year: all three entries are worth seeing (though for entirely different reasons). And Laura Molzahn suggests you make Molly Shanahan/Mad Shak's The Delicate Hour your dance fix for the week.

Also recommended are DreamLogic Theatrework's Elder Gods, a promenade-style adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness; the Actors Gymnasium's sweet Lost and Found: A Recycled Circus, featuring an outstanding cast of adults, teens, and kids; and They Are Dying Out, Trap Door Theatre's version of a 1973 satire by Austrian provocateur Peter Handke. The intimacy of a black-box set makes for great theater in Mary-Arrchie's revival of the 2008 Tracy Letts comedy Superior Donuts and (Re)discover Theater's Hamlet, which amps up the classic play's sex appeal by emphasizing the relationship between the melancholy Dane and Ophelia. (Hurry if you want to see Hamlet: it closes Saturday.)

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Thursday, February 16, 2012

The latest Reader performing arts reviews and previews

Posted By on 02.16.12 at 01:24 PM

The Green Day jukebox show, American Idiot, will be hanging on through Sunday in a touring production at the Oriental Theatre. You'll probably enjoy it if you're already a Green Day fan (or simply in your 40s). Otherwise, you may find yourself wondering exactly how big a truck could be driven through the holes in its overheated, operatic scenario.

Meanwhile, we have five Chicago-made shows to recommend.

Teatro Luna premiered Crossed late last year. The Reader's Julia Thiel liked it then, but the Lunas revised it anyway. Now this montage of scenes about immigrants, legal and otherwise, seems angrier in tone, and it's also jettisoned one of Thiel's favorite bits (a disembodied voice at an airport, sorting passengers for "additional screening based on the color of their labia"). But overall, we're sticking by our earlier assessment.

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Thursday, February 9, 2012

The latest Reader performing arts reviews and previews

Posted By on 02.09.12 at 02:45 PM

Shame is an overwhelming emotion. When it mixes with religion, it becomes an explosive force. Two plays this week go right ahead and light the fuse: Hesperia and Disgrace. In the former, a porn star joins an evangelical community, hoping to regain her innocence. In the latter, a corporate lawyer tries to run as far away from his Muslim upbringing as he can. Reader critic Zac Thompson recommends Hesperia, saying that playwright Randall Colburn paints his characters as, well, real characters, rather than chick tract stereotypes.

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Friday, February 3, 2012

Mamet alert: Race runs on

Posted By on 02.03.12 at 05:49 PM

If you're a fan of Mamet-speak and you haven't yet made plans to see Race, here's some news: the Goodman Theatre announced today that it's adding two performances to the run, February 12 and 19. The play's not perfect—it needs a stronger ending and should run straight through without the momentum-busting intermission—but don't let that stop you: the first act of director Chuck Smith's terrific production is a rocket-fueled trip no Mamet aficionado should miss. Justin Hayford reviewed it for the Reader. A video montage of scenes from Race is posted after the jump.

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Why didn't Bruce Norris play the game?

Posted By on 02.03.12 at 03:28 PM

Michael Brosilow

Winning the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Clybourne Park may have been the worst thing that could've happened to former Chicagoan Bruce Norris. The 51-year-old playwright and actor had spent years designing a life that left him free to be as sharp-tongued, difficult, misanthropic, and iconoclastically brilliant as he wanted—and he clearly wanted, quite a bit. Thanks to the occasional role in a movie (The Sixth Sense) or TV series (Law and Order), Norris was able to maintain the economic independence he needed to write scabrous satires like The Pain and the Itch, which revolves around a four-year-old girl's genital rash. And he was nurtured, often in spite of himself, by a cadre of supporters at Steppenwolf Theatre. Artistic director Martha Lavey put her company's considerable resources and prestige behind him. Amy Morton directed two of his scripts there, including the world premiere of Clybourne Park. And another Steppenwolf director, Anna Shapiro, has finessed his tirades and tolerated his provocations through no less than five projects.

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Thursday, February 2, 2012

Hubris Productions comes out of the closet on snarkiness

Posted By on 02.02.12 at 03:13 PM

Hubriss Agnes of God
  • Hubris's Agnes of God
The following announcement/cri de coeur comes from Hubris Productions, which, since 2006, has been staging small-cast, mainstream dramas, a surprising number of which—Torch Song Trilogy, Steel Magnolias, Agnes of God, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, Bent—date from the Reagan years. (I'm proud to note that in going over our 11 reviews of Hubris shows, I haven't found one instance of a Reader critic making sarcastic reference to the company's name. Not that it hasn't been tempting.)

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