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Friday, October 5, 2018

Indivisible Chicago’s Blue Wave Rave uses improv to mobilize political action

Posted By on 10.05.18 at 06:00 AM

Volunteer sign-in table
  • Volunteer sign-in table
Wednesday night the Athenaeum Theatre hosted the Blue Wave Rave, a free improv show featuring cast members from iO, the Second City, and the Annoyance Theatre and put together by Indivisible Chicago, a coalition of 12 chapters around the city that was created after the 2016 election.

"I spent almost ten years as the CEO of the League of Chicago Theatres, so I know lots of theater folks," says Marj Halperin, the cofounder of the Blue Beginning chapter that meets at the Hideout. She was one of the main organizers of the Blue Wave Rave. "Also, I have this political life where I've managed campaigns and been a volunteer." Halperin got the idea to combine canvassing with improv after attending an event put on by Swing Left, another group that organizes progressives.

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Friday, September 14, 2018

Riot Fest and more of the best things to do in Chicago this weekend

Posted By on 09.14.18 at 06:00 AM

Atmosphere plays the Radicals Stage 9/13 at 6:45 PM. - COURTESY OF ARTIST
  • courtesy of artist
  • Atmosphere plays the Radicals Stage 9/13 at 6:45 PM.

There are plenty of shows, films, and concerts happening this week. Here's some of what we recommend:

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Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Five opera films that hit the high notes

Posted By on 08.29.18 at 08:00 AM

Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet's Moses and Aaron
  • Jean-Marie Straub and Daniele Huillet's Moses and Aaron
Inspired by the Gene Siskel Film Center's screenings this upcoming week of Ingmar Bergman's The Magic Fluteall part of the theater's extensive "Bergman 100" serieswe've selected five other opera films of note. If this list seems a bit highbrow, know that we would have listed Chuck Jones's great Bugs Bunny/Elmer Fudd cartoon What's Opera Doc? in all five spots if we could have. But these are good too.

Carmen Jones
There's something contradictory in the notion of an Otto Preminger musical: his admirable rational/realist sensibility doesn't settle too well with the whims of the genre. But there are some fine Preminger moments in the midst of this 1954 film, an all-black pop version of Carmen—fine, that is, if you take the trouble to separate them from the clumsy segregationist context. Impeccably liberal in its time, the film has not aged gracefully, although Dorothy Dandridge's performance in the lead remains a testimony to a black cinema that might have been. In CinemaScope. 105 min. —Dave Kehr

Bluebeard's Castle
After the hostile reception to his 1960 masterpiece Peeping Tom, Michael Powell was virtually banished from English cinema, and most of his remaining oeuvre is a scattered assortment of TV commissions and Australian features. Made in 1963 for West German TV, this rarely seen one-hour adaptation of Béla Bartók's only opera, based on a libretto by Béla Balázs (later known as a film theorist and as screenwriter of Leni Riefenstahl's first feature), is a particular standout, especially for its vivid colors and semiabstract, neoprimitive decor (by Hein Heckroth, who also designed the sets for The Red Shoes and The Tales of Hoffman). The two performers are producer Norman Foster (not to be confused with the Hollywood actor and director) in the title role and Anna Raquel Satre as Bluebeard's doomed wife, Judith. In accordance with Powell's wishes, the English subtitles briefly describe and clarify the action but don't translate the text. 60 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

Moses and Aaron
Jean-Marie Straub and Danièle Huillet have used Arnold Schoenberg's 12-tone opera as the basis for a rigorous and fascinating exercise in elemental cinema (1975). A film about film—the meaning of long takes and short shots, of camera movement and static composition, of angles and perspectives. Schoenberg is Greek to me, but Straub and Huillet's investigation of the medium is an important experience for anyone interested in the way film represents reality—or fails to. In German with subtitles. 105 min. —Dave Kehr

Don Giovanni
Joseph Losey's film of Mozart's opera (1979) has redundant trappings of Freud and Marx, as if Losey felt the need to make the material more personal. He shouldn't have bothered, because it already plays straight to his concerns: Giovanni, with his self-destructive idealism, stands in the line of Losey heroes from The Boy With Green Hair to Mr. Klein. The visual context is ravishing, with a lighting scheme that builds from the understated and naturalistic to shocking contrasts of black and white. Meanwhile, the camera moves with a preternatural grace, drawing clean, curving lines through the romantic confusions. If the film has a fault, it is a common one in Losey: the absence of an emotional support for his piercing intellectual observations. 179 min. —Dave Kehr

Parsifal
Hans-Jürgen Syberberg has given us Wagnerian treatments of King Ludwig, Karl May, and Adolf Hitler; now, he gives us a Wagnerian treatment of Wagner, which seems somewhat redundant. Syberberg uses all the tricks of modern stagecraft—abstract settings, projected images, puppets, and doubled characters—to “expand” Wagner's Grail opera into man's eternal search for social perfection. But the meanings Syberberg tacks onto the piece are inherent in Wagner's work; his additions seem fussy, didactic, and often reductive. But Edith Clever, miming to the voice of Yvonne Minton as the witch Kundry, gives a performance of great passion and authority—a brilliantly effective revival of silent-film acting techniques. Reiner Goldberg supplies the voice of Parsifal; the other singers include Robert Loyd, Wolfgang Schöne, and Aage Haugland. 247 min. —Dave Kehr

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Thursday, August 23, 2018

Pedro the Lion at Thalia Hall, and more things to do this weekend

Posted By on 08.23.18 at 06:00 AM

David Bazan of Pedro the Lion - RYAN REYNOLDS
  • Ryan Reynolds
  • David Bazan of Pedro the Lion

There's a lot going on in Chicago this weekend—here's some of what we recommend that you check out.

Thu 8/23-Mon 8/27: A much-anticipated pop-up Glossier store opens at 114 N. Aberdeen in the West Loop this Thursday, where visitors can purchase the brand's makeup products as well as interact with installations that teach visitors more about the brand, created in partnership with local artists. Mon-Fri noon-8 PM, Sat-Sun 11 AM-7 PM

Fri 8/24-Mon 8/26: The Radicalization Process is a performance-art theatrical adaptation of Antigone, looking at revolutionary acts through the lens of 1960's and 70's America. "Originally inspired in 2014 by the activist movements sparked in the wake of high-profile killings of unarmed African-Americans, The Radicalization Process has taken on additional significance since the 2016 presidential election," writes Reader critic Dan Jakes. 7:30 PM, Co-Prosperity Sphere, 3219-21 S. Morgan, $10

Fri 8/24: David Bazan's on-again, off-again band Pedro the Lion is back and playing at Thalia Hall alongside H.C. McEntire. In the words of Reader critic Leor Galil, Bazan and his band "excel at the kind of touching emo that both reaches the genre's heights and circumvents its lows." 9 PM, Thalia Hall, 1807 S. Allport, $22-35, 17+

Sat 8/25: Local experimental pop duo Ohmme perform at Thalia Hall with the Hecks and V.V. Lightbody. "They sculpt a sound that's rich yet agile, and summon a virtual orchestra using only their voices and guitars," writes Reader's Peter Margasak of the group. 8 PM, Thalia Hall, 1807 S. Allport, $12, all-ages

Sat 8/25: As part of the weeklong Dog Day performance series, saxophonist James Brandon Lewis brings his versatile jazz to Constellation, backed by locals Ben Lamar Gay, Kent Kessler, and Avreeyal Ra. 4 PM, Constellation, 3111 N. Western, free, 18+

Sun 8/26: Flamingo Rodeo, the side project of Ne-Hi singer and guitarist Mikey Wells, is releasing its first full-length record, Said Unsaid, this Monday and celebrating with a show at Empty Bottle. 8:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, free

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Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Crashing the boys’ club: independent women directors in the 60s and 70s

Posted By on 08.07.18 at 06:00 AM

Barbara Loden's Wanda
  • Barbara Loden's Wanda
The explosion of American independent filmmaking in the 1960s and '70s was largely an all-male affair (surprise), but a few talented women also got their hand in during this vital and changing period. The Chicago Film Society is showing one such effort, Juleen Compton's 1966 rarity The Plastic Dome of Norma Jean, which has been recently rediscovered and restored, on Wednesday, August 15. We've selected another five diverse titles below.

The Connection
I saw the Living Theater's legendary production of Jack Gelber's play (directed by Judith Malina) three times during its initial run in the early 60s, and no film adaptation half as long could claim its raw confrontational power. Echoing The Lower Depths and The Iceman Cometh, it's about junkies waiting for a fix (among them a performing jazz quartet with pianist-composer Freddie Redd and alto sax Jackie McLean), and spectators were even accosted in the lobby by one actor begging for money. Shirley Clarke's imaginative if dated 1961 film uses most of the splendid original cast (Warren Finnerty is especially good), confining the action to the play's single run-down flat. It's presented as a pseudodocumentary; the square neophyte director, eventually persuaded to shoot heroin himself, winds up focusing his camera on a cockroach. The film retains the same beatnik wit that the play effectively distilled, as well as a few scary shocks. With Carl Lee, Garry Goodrow, and Roscoe Lee Browne. 105 min. —Jonathan Rosenbaum

Wanda
Perhaps the most depressing film ever made, this 1971 feature by director-actress Barbara Loden tells of a young, ignorant, emotionally deadened, and hopelessly dreary woman from the coal-mining region of Pennsylvania whose life is a succession of dead ends. Doomed from the start to a life of ignorance and boredom, she's victimized by her surroundings, by men hardly less dreary than she, and by her sex. A brilliantly atmospheric film with a superb performance by Loden. 105 min. —Don Druker

The Velvet Vampire
Given the genre (horror) and the budget (extremely low), it may seem perverse to say that Stephanie Rothman's 1971 film is among the best women's films ever made, but so it is—a highly intelligent, deftly poetic reimagining of the vampire myth, with the theme of fatal sexuality transferred to a female character. The vampire is neither an aggressor nor a seductress, but an abstract figure of polymorphous sensuality: her "victims" choose her, and they range from a would-be rapist to a liberated (and wittily parodied) southern California couple. 80 min. —Dave Kehr

Hester Street
Joan Micklin Silver's ingratiating little movie (1975) begins with some big ideas about immigrant culture, but these are soon and happily shucked in favor of a modestly effective domestic melodrama. In the New York of the 1890s, Jake (Steven Keats), a Jewish immigrant with five years in America, dreads the arrival of his wife, Gitl (Carol Kane), from the old country. Jake is a "Yankee" now, resenting Gitl's naivete and superstition. Photographed in a self-consciously quaint black and white, Hester Street is compromised by preciousness and oversimplification, but it makes a pleasant and efficient entertainment. 90 min. —Dave Kehr

Harlan County, USA
Barbara Kopple's 1977 documentary on a Kentucky coal miners' strike is muddled on the issues, but it earned its Oscar as a dramatic, involving story, full of tough and appealing characters. Kopple's fiercely partisan stance upsets the classic balance of cinema verite documentary, but who could fail to take sides in this timeless labor-management confrontation and still claim to have a heart? 103 min. —Dave Kehr

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Thursday, July 12, 2018

Profiles abuse scandal inspires new magazine examining Chicago theater

Posted By on 07.12.18 at 01:00 PM

Almanya Narula - COURTESY ALMANYA NARULA
  • courtesy Almanya Narula
  • Almanya Narula

When Almanya Narula enrolled in graduate school at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, she wanted to find a way to bring her passions for journalism and theater together to tell stories of the theater community. The fusion of her interests led her to create Chicago Theatre Now, a new biannual magazine that will discuss and explore issues of accountability, inclusion, diversity, and equity within the Chicago theater scene.

Narula traces the creation of Chicago Theatre Now back to the summer of 2016 when the Reader published an article about abuses occurring at the now-defunct Profiles Theatre. The story hit home for Narula who was then a theater student at Columbia College Chicago studying fight choreography. "Being a fight choreographer, being a person in the industry, that was very triggering for me," she says. "It was also triggering because some of the people who were a part of Profiles were faculty members at Columbia College Chicago. What was going on within Profiles was an open secret for years, yet they were allowed to come to my institution and recruit people who might be under the age of 18 to intern for them."

Shortly afterward, Narula applied to arts journalism graduate program at SAIC. "Within my theater art, my main goal was to make a difference," she says. "At that point, I didn't think my art was conveying that, but I wanted to highlight the good things that were going on in Chicago, and I wanted to document that within journalism."

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Monday, July 9, 2018

Y No Había Luz brings the voices of post-Maria Puerto Rico to Chicago

Posted By on 07.09.18 at 01:00 PM

Y No Había Luz - GABRIEL VARGAS
  • Gabriel Vargas
  • Y No Había Luz

Ten days or so after Hurricane Maria tore across Puerto Rico last September, Casa Pueblo—a solar-powered, self-sufficient environmental center in the mountainous municipality of Ajuntas—got in touch with the San Juan theater company Y No Había Luz. With the electrical grid destroyed, the entire island was in survival mode, focused on clearing debris and securing food and clean water. Casa Pueblo, one of the few sites anywhere with electricity, had become a hub of activity. Everything is crazy here, they told the group. We need cultural activities for the kids, for everyone. Can you come?

"We said YES," remembers company cofounder Yari Helfeld. "Finally, we thought, we can help." For the next three or more months, the company crisscrossed the island, teaming up with community kitchens and other ad hoc groups to stage street theater, lead workshops, and develop new work. Sing-along plena workshops guided people struggling to process and express what they'd lost in the storm. In Orocovis, Helfeld's hometown, a huge mango tree that had been felled by the hurricane became the inspiration for a new cantastoria show, El Centinela de Mangó (The Mango Sentinel), that they took on tour to shelters, schools, and hospitals. Another piece, Diego el Ciego (Diego the Blind) urged the audience to grapple honestly with the challenges of Puerto Rican life. "People keep sewing their eyes together to stop seeing things like the Jones Act and overconsumption," says ensemble member Carlos Torres Lopez. "If we don't open our eyes we are blind, and we can't do anything to help Puerto Rico."

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Thursday, April 19, 2018

Facility Theatre transforms The Little Match Girl Passion from a vocal piece into a meticulously pitched spectacle

Posted By on 04.19.18 at 12:06 PM

Facility Theatre’s The Little Match Girl Passion - LESLIE SCHWARTZ PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Leslie Schwartz Photography
  • Facility Theatre’s The Little Match Girl Passion

Composer David Lang, who served on the committee that awarded Kendrick Lamar's album Damn a Pulitzer Prize earlier this week, won his own Pulitzer in 2008 for the vocal composition The Little Match Girl Passion. Commissioned by the Carnegie Hall Corporation and the Perth Theater and Concert Hall, it was premiered in October 2007 by Theatre of Voices, conducted by Paul Hillier. A sublime recording of the work by the same ensemble was released in 2009 by Harmonia Mundi. The piece was written for four vocalists and percussion, but a choral version by the Los Angeles Master Chorale came out in 2016 on Cantaloupe Records.

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Wednesday, April 4, 2018

In the Jackie Taylor Drama Series, the Black Ensemble Theater highlights work by three young playwrights

Posted By on 04.04.18 at 06:00 AM

Caren Blackmore in The Plea - COURTESY BLACK ENSEMBLE THEATER
  • courtesy Black Ensemble Theater
  • Caren Blackmore in The Plea

The Black Ensemble Theater has long been a reliable destination for original, larger-than-life biographical musicals about larger-than-life artistic icons. Next year, upon the completion of a 150-seat studio theater space in its building in Uptown, members of the company's Black Playwrights Initiative will have a new outlet for experimental and dramatic works intended to resonate on a more intimate and more personal scale.

In the meantime, as a preview, BET is partnering with the DuSable Museum of African American History for the Jackie Taylor Drama Series, a nine-performance presentation of three new plays by BPI members Ervin Gardner, Reginald Williams, and L. Maceo Ferris.

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Thursday, March 29, 2018

Justin Hayford's apology for his Guess Who's Coming to Dinner review

Posted By on 03.29.18 at 01:01 PM

I included the N-word in my review of Court Theatre’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. A lot of people let me know I shouldn't have.

You’re right. I agree. I apologize.

First, I did not accurately quote the dialogue in question.

Second, although the character in the play uses the N-word, I could have conveyed the horror of the stage moment without quoting the word at all, as many of you rightly pointed out. I might have used "vile racial epithet" instead. I clearly underestimated the hateful and hurtful nature of that word’s appearance in print, even when citing a character's use of it.

I felt it was important to hear out as many of you as I could before responding. Thank you for speaking up. Thank you for helping me better understand the injurious effects seeing that word in print can produce. It won’t happen again.

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