Theater

Friday, December 30, 2016

A Q&A with Fences costars Stephen McKinley Henderson and Jovan Adepo

Posted By on 12.30.16 at 04:37 PM

From left to right: Mykelti Williamson, Jovan Adepo, Stephen Henderson, and Denzel Washington
  • From left to right: Mykelti Williamson, Jovan Adepo, Stephen Henderson, and Denzel Washington
Fences, in theaters now, is the first August Wilson play to be adapted into a feature film backed by a major film studio (The Piano Lesson, which was first produced in 1987, was made for TV in 1995). The sixth entry in Wilson's ten-part "Pittsburgh Cycle"—which focuses on a former Negro League baseball star turned trash collector in 1950s Pittsburgh who takes his bitter frustrations out on his family—premiered on Broadway in 1987 and won the Pulitzer Prize for drama. Wilson died in 2005, but had already written a screenplay for the eventual cinematic version—Denzel Washington, who starred as Troy in the 2010 Broadway revival, both directed and produced it for the big screen.

Washington stars in the film as well, alongside Viola Davis as Troy's wife, Mykelti Williamson as his brother, Russell Hornsby as his older son, and Stephen McKinley Henderson as his best friend, Bono; all of these actors also reprise their roles from the revival. The new addition is Jovan Adepo (The Leftovers), who plays Troy's sensitive and athletic younger son, Cory.

I sat down with Henderson and Adepo at a recent press stop in Chicago to talk to them about performing Wilson's "blues iambic," working with Washington and Davis, and why they decided to become actors.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Two more 2016 surprises: The end of Oracle Productions, and the end of the Hypocrites as we know them

Posted By on 12.27.16 at 04:45 PM

Taken from This House Believes the American Dream Is at the Expense of the American Negro, which Oracle produced in the summer of 2015 - JOE MAZZA
  • JOE MAZZA
  • Taken from This House Believes the American Dream Is at the Expense of the American Negro, which Oracle produced in the summer of 2015

The Chicago theater community got a pair of year-end jolts with December announcements about the demise of Oracle Productions and the near demise of the Hypocrites.

The stories aren't the same, and don't carry the same voltage, but there are some common elements. Both companies were on an upward trajectory, with recent artistic successes and expanded goals. Both had marched boldly into larger quarters. And both had boards that pulled the plug. It's apparently just a coincidence that the companies' artistic directors—both laid off—happen to be married to each other.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

A sudden lights out for Too Much Light at Neo-Futurists

Posted By on 11.30.16 at 07:08 PM

Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, with Kurt Chiang at far right - MARC MONAGHAN FOR THE JOHN D. AND CATHERINE T. MACARTHUR FOUNDATION
  • MARC MONAGHAN FOR THE JOHN D. AND CATHERINE T. MACARTHUR FOUNDATION
  • Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind, with Kurt Chiang at far right

Neo-Futurists founder Greg Allen made the surprising announcement today that he's ending the 28-year Chicago run of Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind on December 31. He's doing so in order to create a new, diverse Chicago theater company that will be entirely dedicated to social activism.

Allen—who left the Chicago company four years ago but owns the rights to the "30-plays-in-60-minutes" show—said the decision was political, spurred by the election of Donald Trump. "I could no longer stand by and let my most effective artistic vehicle be anything but a machine to fight Fascism," he said in an e-mailed statement.

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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Court Theatre concludes its House of Atreus trilogy with a Hamlet-like Electra

Posted By on 11.23.16 at 12:30 PM

Kate Fry and Sandra Marquez - MICHAEL BROSILOW
  • Michael Brosilow
  • Kate Fry and Sandra Marquez

In 2014 translator Nicholas Rudall and director Charles Newell gave us their canny and powerful version of Iphigenia in Aulis, Euripides's look at how, step by excruciating step, Mycenaean king Agamemnon finds himself compelled to sacrifice daughter Iphigenia to Artemis in exchange for clear sailing to Troy. Rudall and Newell came back the following year with Aeschylus's Agamemnon, in which the king returns victorious from the Trojan War only to be murdered by his royally pissed-off wife, Clytemnestra, and her lover, Aegisthus. Now a third shoe has dropped. Teamed this time with director Seret Scott, Rudall completes the ancient saga on a note of reckoning: Sophocles's Electra lays out the suffering and revenge of the title princess, daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra, who's refused to accept what we might call the normalization process following her father's assassination.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Much Ado dissects Shakespeare line by line

Posted By on 10.25.16 at 09:00 AM

APT's 2014 production of Much Ado About Nothing - AMERICAN PLAYERS THEATRE
  • American Players Theatre
  • APT's 2014 production of Much Ado About Nothing
Schoolchildren are introduced to Shakespeare as literature, which might not be the best idea. I slogged through King Lear in college, and then again this summer on behalf of my book group. In the interim, I was riveted by Robert Falls's 2006 production at the Goodman. Lines I don't follow on the page I reread until I parsed them; onstage they tumbled by, revealed in the acting. As theater, King Lear surrendered its secrets.

One way to approach written Shakespeare is to see the words for what they really are: a portal to the drama. In 2014 Michael Lenehan spent a season standing at that door. He watched the American Players Theatre in Spring Green, Wisconsin, prepare and then perform one of Shakespeare's favorite comedies, Much Ado About Nothing. The book he's just published about that experience, Much Ado, is full of lines and scenes from the play. But he approaches them less as texts to be interpreted than as problems—artistic but also practical—faced by the director and cast. 

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Friday, October 7, 2016

Dave Maher, high-concept mischief-maker, revives his Coma Show this weekend

Posted By on 10.07.16 at 11:19 AM

Dave Maher - ADAM SHALZI
  • Adam Shalzi
  • Dave Maher

As a performer, comedian Dave Maher is a high-concept mischief-maker. During his recent six-week stint at the Annoyance, he spent one night intentionally shirking his responsibilities, setting up a microphone and announcing that anyone in the audience could get up on stage and say anything; he would do nothing but listen and ask questions. Another night he dressed as the devil and spent most of the show insulting the audience.

But in his one-man autobiographical piece Dave Maher Coma Show, revived for a two-night run this weekend, he’s comparatively well-behaved. He recounts in exquisite, excruciating detail his descent into a diabetic coma, caused, he readily admits, by his own stupidity. (He sold his test strips to support his voracious pot habit and saw no pressing reason to measure the amount of insulin he injected—he figured he was smart enough to just wing it). Ketoacidosis, coma, and a month on life support followed. When he returned to consciousness, he discovered that his friends had assumed he was done for; his Facebook feed was a virtual memorial service.

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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

What does Nat Turner have to say to today’s America?

Posted By on 10.04.16 at 02:05 PM

Nate Parker plays Nat Turner in his new film, The Birth of a Nation, about an 1831 slave revolt in Virginia.
  • Nate Parker plays Nat Turner in his new film, The Birth of a Nation, about an 1831 slave revolt in Virginia.
The arts section, no less, of a recent New York Times carried two stories on American racism at its roots. There was an admiring review of a new play, Underground Railroad Game, a kind of comedy whose "smug and familiar humor," wrote critic Ben Brantley, "winds up exploding in our face, like a poisonous prank cigar." Underground does, at least, have one foot in the present: two flirting students—one white, one black—who try to explore America's slave past and fall into an abyss.

But Underground is the exception. The second play, Nat Turner in Jerusalem, is rooted in yesterday. It was described by Brantley as an "earnest, gravely lyrical gloss" on the so-called confessions left behind when Turner was hanged in Virginia in 1831 for his part in leading a slave insurrection in which more than 50 white people were killed. 

More of Turner is on the way. Brantley noted the "deafening buzz" around The Birth of a Nation, a dramatic film about the 1831 uprising starring writer-director Nate Parker as Turner. (It's due out Friday.) "Slavery is hardly a taboo subject these days," Brantley observed. Two years ago, 12 Years a Slave won the Oscar for Best Picture, he noted, and The Underground Railroad, a new novel by Colson Whitehead, is a best-seller. 

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Thursday, September 29, 2016

Up yours! A satanic Kermit takes over a good Lutheran kid in Victory Gardens’ Hand to God

Posted By on 09.29.16 at 11:30 AM

Alex Weisman, Curtis Edward Jackson, and Nina Ganet - LIZ LAUREN
  • Liz Lauren
  • Alex Weisman, Curtis Edward Jackson, and Nina Ganet

Convinced Christians may take offense at Hand to God. Convinced Christians with a sense of humor may find themselves in the odd position of taking offense while laughing.

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Wednesday, September 28, 2016

There's one last chance to see Twelfth Night in Hindi

Posted By on 09.28.16 at 05:03 PM

Piya Behrupia, Mumbai-based Company Theatre's adaptation of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night - COURTESY COMPANY THEATRE
  • Courtesy Company Theatre
  • Piya Behrupia, Mumbai-based Company Theatre's adaptation of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night

Hindi isn't the only language into which Mumbai's Company Theatre has translated Twelfth Night. They've also rendered it into a theatrical style that takes liberties with everything but Shakespeare's plot points. But if the foreign language forces an Anglophone to depend on English supertitles, the foreign conventions are universally accessible. Delightful too.

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Thursday, September 22, 2016

Aaron Posner follows up Stupid Fucking Bird with another Chekhov adaptation, Life Sucks

Posted By on 09.22.16 at 04:03 PM

Philip R. Smith and Penelope Walker in Life Sucks - LIZ LAUREN
  • Liz Lauren
  • Philip R. Smith and Penelope Walker in Life Sucks

By turns homage and send-up, faithful adaptation and freewheeling deconstruction, Life Sucks, Aaron Posner's witty, iconoclastic update of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya, is much smarter and more entertaining than its blunt title might lead you to believe. Posner—whose Stupid Fucking Bird was similarly modeled on The Seagull—takes the story and characters from Chekhov's classic play about love, loss, and ennui among the economically besieged late 19th-century Russian upper crust and infuses it with contemporary American sensibilities and obsessions. His Vanya is much more foulmouthed than usual, and more openly angry and disappointed. Similarly, the other characters are much more blunt and more frank about sex than in the original—and eager to break the fourth wall. Remarkably, though, the more Posner diddles with the master, the more masterfully he communicates Chekhov's mood and message: no one is happy with their lives, but it beats the alternative.

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Smoke, Nearby Museum of Contemporary Art
April 15
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Hir Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Downstairs Theater
June 29

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