Shocked Treatment/Mark of the Beast/Open-and-Shut Case | Culture Club | Chicago Reader

Shocked Treatment/Mark of the Beast/Open-and-Shut Case 

The Home Builders Association of Greater Chicago invited Carol Dunitz to speak, but they didn't know what they were in for. What you see is what they got.

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Shocked Treatment

The Home Builders Association of Greater Chicago doesn't want to talk about what it expected when it booked Dr. Carol Dunitz to lecture its members on intercultural communication last month, but apparently those expectations didn't include a middle-aged woman in a flesh-colored leotard and tights. Dunitz, an Ann Arbor-based PhD and owner of an eight-year-old advertising company, doesn't think the builders had a problem when she opened her presentation in an embroidered Chinese silk gown and parasol, singing a Broadway-style ditty she'd composed. And they were probably still OK when she unbuttoned the demure outfit, wrapped a towel around herself, and stepped out from behind the podium--all the time telling stories full of useful messages for folks who spend their days selling three-bedroom, two-bath neo-Gothic town homes. Things didn't get dicey until the moment she dropped the towel, faced them in her spaghetti-strapped bodysuit, and began talking about which parts of the anatomy women of various cultures would cover if they were interrupted in their bath by, say, an audience of 150 uptight strangers.

It was all meant to get their attention, says Dunitz, whose graduate work was in speech and theater, and it did. When it was over, she heard a grumble--something about two men who took offense--but says she also received compliments and a couple of E-mail raves. So when she got a call from the association two days later telling her they were stopping payment on their $4,000 check (a fee already negotiated down from $7,500), she was shocked. The caller said they were "writing it off as a bad program," Dunitz says. Another contact at the association boiled it down to this: "You could see everything."

"But this was not sheer fabric," Dunitz says, and it was visible for only five minutes of the program, followed by the briefest glimpses of the leotard as she went in and out of her other costumes: the flamenco dress, the bedouin dress and veil, the grass skirt and coconut bra. "I'm not running out to expose myself; I wasn't gyrating or dropping my pants," says the mother of four grown daughters. "I think there's a terrific amount of sexism here." Besides, since she was dressed as Uncle Sam the first time she met HBAGC director of association development Linda Kolling and told Kolling a month in advance that she'd be changing costumes onstage during the talk, the association should have known what they were getting. If there was any doubt they could have looked at her Web site, www.lastword.com, which includes two chapters of her romance novel, an archive of her weekly ads in Crain's Detroit Business (each ad showing her in a different costume), and her logo: five Dunitz heads in various disguises. "They hired me, I performed, and they should pay," she says. Kolling says they will. They're just trying to figure out how many refunds they'll have to give. On Tuesday, Dunitz says she got a voice-mail message from Kolling indicating that a check for $2,500 was in the mail. Dunitz says she'll seek legal advice.

Mark of the Beast

Michael Martin was feeling low last Sunday, as Great Beast Theater's fifth-anniversary fund-raising party got under way without him. A founder of Great Beast and the company's main man for most of its existence, Martin was nursing the bruises he got when the Beast turned on him. That happened in February, when newly empowered executive director Ryan Biddle La Fleur pulled the plug on Martin's one-man show Hinckley on Foster: The Hearing (which was playing at the off-the-beaten-path Pilsen Theatre). It was Martin's last show with Great Beast--he had plans to move to New Orleans--and the reviews hadn't come in yet. Martin says he begged La Fleur to give him time to find a way to keep the show up--at least until the reviews were published. But La Fleur, possibly influenced by the fact that most nights there was no audience and therefore no performance anyway, said no. At that point Martin told him, "This is the end of my association with Great Beast, and our friendship is at an end as well." Even after he found a backer to pay the rent for the rest of the run, Martin says, La Fleur wouldn't relent.

Then, of course, the reviews came in strong: "Best I ever had," Martin says. He coined a new company name, Clove Productions, and moved the show, first to Lunar Cabaret and then for a couple of weeks to the Heartland Cafe before closing it in mid-April. Now he's working with another bruised founder, Sweetback Productions' recently ousted Kelly Anchors, on her upcoming production of Freaks, opening in June at Frankie J's. He expects to head south this summer and would like to take the Great Beast name with him, if only to retire it. Of the 31 shows the company has produced, many of them--including its biggest hits, Verbatim Verboten and Beast Women--were created by Martin. "The bald fact is, what awareness Great Beast has is as my company," he says. He put his request for the name into a letter and got one back advising him that granting it would be impossible since "as a nonprofit, Great Beast belongs to everyone in the state and is governed by its Board of Directors for the common good." La Fleur says the new Beast will be more structured than it was under Martin, whose style was "hit-and-run," and will produce more accessible material. The fund-raiser, which brought in just over $1,000 (a quarter of last year's budget), was considered a success. Great Beast's current production, Beast Women 2002, runs through May 7 at the Chase Cafe.

Open-and-Shut Case

It seemed like a good idea nearly two years ago, which is when Adam Brent opened his bookstore in the Renaissance Place shopping center in Highland Park. The town had the Ravinia Festival, the Suburban Fine Arts Center, Apple Tree Theatre, a first-class library, and a movie theater and was about to get an art-film house--but it had no bookstore. So Brent, son of legendary Chicago bookseller Stuart Brent, took a ten-year lease on a 5,000-square-foot space handy to Starbucks. He opened in August 2000, and by December that year he was looking an independent bookseller's nightmare in the face: rumor had it that the Fell Company, Highland Park's 88-year-old family-run clothing store, was leaving to make room for a 24,000-square-foot Borders. A month before Brent Books and Cards Highland Park celebrated its first anniversary, the rumor was confirmed. Brent figured he could sit around and wait for the inevitable or, since his landlord had an opportunity to sublet the space, cut his losses at about a quarter of a million dollars and run. The store will close May 27, leaving Brent with his Chicago shop at Washington and Franklin. Meanwhile Highland Park locals are wondering where all those Borders customers are going to park.

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