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Tuesday, February 6, 2018

In John Mahoney's last show at Steppenwolf, intimations of mortality

Posted By on 02.06.18 at 12:24 PM

John Mahoney as Homer in Steppenwolf's production of The Rembrandt - MICHAEL BROSILOW
  • Michael Brosilow
  • John Mahoney as Homer in Steppenwolf's production of The Rembrandt

We should have known about John Mahoney. He left plenty of clues.

Only last fall, he appeared onstage at Steppenwolf Theatre, where he'd been an ensemble member since the late 70s, in the guise of the Greek poet Homer at the end of his days, musing in Jessica Dickey's drama The Rembrandt on mortality in the form of "your fragile, freckled hands and your toenails and your puckered rear."

He seemed as vivid and irrepressible as ever—old, sure, as any actor entering his late 70s is apt to appear (especially clad in a toga), but still in full grasp of his craft. That carried through the peaceful final act of the play, where in a switch of roles, he played the dying lover of his fellow ensemble member Francis Guinan's museum guard.

Then, Monday, Steppenwolf announced that Mahoney had died at 77 of complications from cancer. Artistic director Anna D. Shapiro said The Rembrandt, which closed in early November, had come during a respite, but Mahoney went into decline after that.

His castmates may have had an inkling during the production, but there had been no ballyhoo, no milking it, nothing to disrupt or distract from the work.

That was typical of Mahoney, a consummate professional. He was a charitable actor and person who by all accounts gloried in setting up his costars—and never more so than as the cranky former cop Martin Crane in the long-running Cheers spinoff Frasier. He'd play straight man to his sons, played by Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce, and even to his dog, Eddie, but then he'd walk off delivering a zinger of his own, back to the camera, waving over his shoulder, Eddie at his side.

Mahoney, who was born in England and didn't start his acting career till he was 37, brought a sense of realism to almost all of his roles. He made unlikable characters seem redeemable, as in the case of the father who obsesses perhaps too much about his daughter in the 1989 movie Say Anything, or the jilted lover who gets a drink thrown in his face in Moonstruck.

He was moaning about mortality even then, of course, but it had a different tone in The Rembrandt, when he spoke as Homer at the end of his days.

"I'm going to see the heavens, find out what's going on in all that blue up there—what God really looks like," he said. "Or have I done all that already? Has that already happened? . . . Is this heaven?"

Onstage, at least, Mahoney made it seem so.

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Monday, April 10, 2017

NPR’s pop-culture experts talk Kanye West, the Chicago Cubs, and Dick Wolf before their midwest debut

Posted By on 04.10.17 at 12:06 PM

Linda Holmes, Stephen Thompson, Glen Weldon, and Audie Cornish at a live performance of Pop Culture Happy Hour in New York City, - GETTY IMAGES FOR VULTURE FESTIVA
  • Getty Images for Vulture Festiva
  • Linda Holmes, Stephen Thompson, Glen Weldon, and Audie Cornish at a live performance of Pop Culture Happy Hour in New York City,

Every week Linda Holmes, NPR's lead pop-culture junkie and editor of the site's entertainment blog Monkey See, gathers a panel of her public-radio friends to dissect the week in TV, music, movies, and more on Pop Culture Happy Hour. Episodes cover everything from romantic comedies to graphic novels to the Super Bowl with a much more conversational style than many of NPR's other podcasts. And things get even looser when the show goes on the road.

While the Washington, D.C.-based podcast has toured before, its first-ever midwest stop is on April 12 at the Harris Theater, presented by local NPR affiliate WBEZ. Holmes is bringing along regular panelists Stephen Thompson, Glen Weldon, and Sam Sanders, plus comedian W. Kamau Bell and musical guests Mucca Pazza. I chatted with the Pop Culture Happy Hour regulars over the phone about Chicago's stamp on pop culture, local sports teams, and the rush of performing live.

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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
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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