The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Temperamentals, and ten more new stage shows | Theater Review | Chicago Reader

The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Temperamentals, and ten more new stage shows 

A family-friendly performance, the Chicago premiere of an off-Broadway hit, and more.

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click to enlarge The Adventures of Robin Hood

The Adventures of Robin Hood

LES RORICK

[Recommended] The Adventures of Robin Hood This children's play, written by Oliver Emanuel, features just two people in its cast—Molly Bunder and Jyreika Guest, who energetically portray the Sheriff of Nottingham and Robin Hood, respectively, as well as a host of supporting characters. Under Omen Sade's direction, the duo's accents and well-aimed archery are enhanced by lighting and sound that engages and excites the youngest audience members. During explainer breaks, Bunder and Guest appear as themselves and describe the significance and history of the character of Robin Hood. An amenity for the kids: Filament's lobby is filled with show-related, hands-on arts and crafts projects for before or after the performance. —Marissa Oberlander

The Baltimore Waltz Brown Paper Box's production of longtime Brown University professor Paula Vogel's 1992 script—sporting dialogue that sounds like a spoof of guidebooks—is tightly wound with tension that's inevitably bound to release in explosive fashion. Jenna Schoppe plays Anna, a first-grade teacher who has never traveled abroad; when she contracts a terminal illness from her students via a toilet seat, she recruits her brother Carl, performed by Paul Michael Thomson, for a trip to Europe. Gangly and versatile Justin Harner portrays a variety of bellboys and fuckboys bagged by Anna, who's hungry for sex after ten years of erotic suppression. —Max Maller

[Recommended] Blizzard '67 In his 2012 play, Chicago playwright Jon Steinhagen has written a powerful, claustrophobic drama about four white middle-aged company men who carpool to work every day in the late 1960s. Recalling the work of Paddy Chayefsky and Rod Serling, Steinhagen builds his story slowly and deftly reveals each man's foibles—one is in a loveless marriage, one is a loner, one is consumed by jealousy, one is a young opportunist – before forcing them to confront the void in their lives in the midst of a historic weather event. Ann Filmer's direction is as nuanced and nicely paced as the script, as are all of the performances in this solid ensemble piece. —Jack Helbig

click to enlarge Blues for an Alabama Sky - MICHAEL BROSILOW
  • Blues for an Alabama Sky
  • MICHAEL BROSILOW

[Recommended] Blues for an Alabama Sky This contribution to the Harlem Renaissance Celebration in Hyde Park is a vibrant, thoroughly alive revival of Pearl Cleage's 1995 period tragicomedy. Against the backdrop of the Great Depression, three black tenants—a jazz singer, an openly gay costume designer, and a progressive family-planning activist—carefully negotiate their burgeoning artistic and social voices amid the sobering realities of financial distress and traditionalism within the African-American community. Cleage's script moves with the ease of a hangout comedy, and director Ron OJ Parson's sprawling production addresses vast American turning points (northern migration, religious and societal definitions of womanhood, sexual liberation) without ever losing sight of the characters' stories. —Dan Jakes

By Association Shepsu Aakhu's new agitprop political thriller imagines the fallout experienced by the family and friends of an alleged terrorist—a Rogers Park teenager of Middle Eastern descent—after federal investigators and public sentiment turns against them in the immediate aftermath of a Chicago attack. Married to an immigrant from Ethiopia, Aakhu draws on personal experience as a husband and father to inspire a vivid, hyperlocalized, chilling scenario that recalls an unconscionable number of real-life migrant families post-9/11. An overreliance on hotheaded-detective tropes and an exposition-dumping news anchor undercut some of the visceral stakes, but there are some subtle, deeply affecting moments from young actors Kejuan Darby and Abdu Hytrek. —Dan Jakes

click to enlarge Circumference of a Squirrel - EVAN HANOVER
  • Circumference of a Squirrel
  • Evan Hanover

Circumference of a Squirrel It shouldn't be too difficult to portray a man so toxically anti-Semitic that his own son ultimately delights in his grisly death, but playwright John Walch bungles it. In this one-man show, Chester, the son, spends the first half hour quirkily detailing his father's hatred of squirrels, and his own childhood delight in hatching plots to kill the rodents in abundant numbers. But when a squirrel gets in the house, Chester suddenly feels an all-consuming hatred for his father, realizing the old man wants to, um, kill the squirrel. Then, from nowhere, Dad says something horribly anti-Semitic—and that one statement is apparently enough to all but ruin Chester's life. Under Jacob Harvey's fleet direction, Will Allan as Chester is charming and engaging, if occasionally overenthusiastic. —Justin Hayford

click to enlarge Diamond Dogs - MICHAEL BROSILOW
  • Diamond Dogs
  • MICHAEL BROSILOW

Diamond Dogs The new sci-fi drama from the House Theatre is an acquired taste. Adapted from a novella by the prolific SF author Alastair Reynolds, the story is set in a distant universe during the 26th century, where a group of scientists and loners set out to uncover the mysteries of the "Blood Spire," a tower of terror with a mind of its own. As one might expect, there's a lot of intricate minutia—physics and dragged-out explanations in particular. But the dystopian backdrop is reliably entertaining and conspicuously frightening. Premiering just one day after hundreds of thousands of people filled the streets of downtown Chicago to march in the name of women's rights, it was hard not to associate the chaos of the "Blood Spire" with the alternative facts coming from Trump Tower. Coincidental? Probably. Topical? Undeniably. —Matt de la Peña

click to enlarge A Disappearing Number - LARA GOETSCH
  • A Disappearing Number
  • Lara Goetsch

A Disappearing Number Devised in 2007 by London's Complicite ensemble, A Disappearing Number is a kind of helical mathematical romance. One strand of the helix follows Srinivasa Ramanujan, the Indian Einstein who pretty much gushed genius during the first two decades of the 20th century, revolutionizing pure mathematics while employed as a minor government clerk. In 1913, Ramanujan sent some of his work to Cambridge don G.H. Hardy; Hardy was smitten and one of the great intellectual bromances began. Around their relationship spins the present-day, fictional amour between Ruth and Al, mathematician and finance guy respectively, who meet when Al happens into one of Ruth's lectures. The two stories share parallel themes (love, loss, one partner's struggle to comprehend the other) and are meant to cohere in Ruth's fascination with Ramanujan. But, while director Nick Bowling and company exercise their usual rigor, smarts, and verve in staging this complex revival, the coherence never comes. The two tales just orbit each other into infinity. —Tony Adler

The Hundred Dresses Sean Graney stages Ralph Covert and G. Riley Mills's adaptation of Eleanor Estes's 1944 children's book, and the show has has a lot going for it: strong acting, lively songs (by Ralph Covert), delightful costumes (designed by Samantha C. Jones), and even an important message (don't bully). The only thing missing is a good story. Instead we are given half a story—a collection of otherwise likeable school-aged kids mock a newbie because she claims she has more than 100 dresses—which is somewhat diverting, but loses momentum almost from the moment the show starts. All concerned try to cover up the flaws with lots and lots of songs, and costume changes, and great acting, but nothing can hide the script's underwhelming climax and disappointing conclusion. —Jack Helbig

click to enlarge Psychonaut Librarians - EVAN HANOVER
  • Psychonaut Librarians
  • Evan Hanover

Psychonaut Librarians Sean Kelly's new fantasy posits a magical "anyverse" (as opposed to the stupid old universe) that apparently connects to our world through the Chicago Public Library. Falling asleep there one evening, a librarian's young daughter, Jane, finds her soul mate—a creature of indeterminate substance called Dewey—in that alternate dimension. But the evil Sandman blocks their (creepily presexual) union and dooms Jane to spend her next 20 years in that phobic lockdown called regular life. Though Kelly's script throws off sparks of sly, strange comedy, its bouts of serious message making ("Our souls aren't in our bodies, our bodies are in our souls, so what's there to be afraid of?") feel like excerpts from a Scientology kids' show. Both the tale and Krissy Vanderwarker's wildly erratic New Colony staging fall apart before their 80 minutes are up, despite the much-appreciated efforts of Morgan McNaught and Michael Peters to make something viable of their supporting roles. —Tony Adler

click to enlarge The Temperamentals - MICHAEL BROSILOW
  • The Temperamentals
  • MICHAEL BROSILOW

[Recommended] The Temperamentals Jon Marans's fascinating 2009 off-Broadway hit—receiving its overdue Chicago premiere in a beautifully acted production from About Face Theatre—recounts a little-known episode in American history: the 1950 founding of Los Angeles's Mattachine Society, a pioneering organization designed to "educate homosexuals and heterosexuals toward an ethical homosexual culture paralleling the cultures of the Negro, Mexican, and Jewish peoples" and to "assist gays who are victimized daily as a result of oppression." Mattachine was literally a labor of love, led by Harry Hay, an American communist activist, and his partner Rudi Gernreich, a Jewish refugee from Hitler's Austria who later became one of the most influential figures in the 1960s fashion world with his avant-garde designs (including unisex clothing and the thong bathing suit). Though Mattachine eventually splintered along lines of ideology (radical versus moderate) and purpose (activist versus social), it fostered a loose-knit regional network of "homophile" groups that paved the way for the Gay Liberation movement of the 1970s and today's LGBTQ rights movement. Director Andrew Volkoff's superb cast includes Kyle Hatley as the sometimes abrasive Hay, Lane Anthony Flores as the sly and elegant Gernreich, and Paul Fagen, Rob Lindley, and Alex Weisman in multiple supporting roles. —Albert Williams

click to enlarge Winter - MICHAEL BROSILOW
  • Winter
  • MICHAEL BROSILOW

Winter In yet another play about an upper-middle-class woman with Alzheimer's, Utah playwright Julie Jensen covers familiar territory. Annis, a retired professor and poet, experiences frustration, terror, and despair as her mental faculties diminish. Robeck, her obsolete scientist husband, imagines denial will forestall the inevitable. Evan and Roddy, her diametrically opposite sons, pursue diametrically opposite plans to support her. And L.D., her wild card granddaughter, is the only one with adequate emotional courage to face Annis's dilemma honestly. Jensen tries to shake things up a bit by examining Annis's reasoned eagerness to commit suicide, but like most everything in this schematic drama, the issue is tidily summarized rather than dramatized. Directors Megan Carney and Mark Ulrich get strong performances from their cast, although as Annis, Barbara Robertson scales her performance to a much bigger production. —Justin Hayford

Correction: The review of The Hundred Dresses has been emended to correctly the songwriter. It is Ralph Covert, not Andra Velis Simon.

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Agenda Teaser

Performing Arts
Cabaret Chief O'Neill's
October 06
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His Shadow 16th Street Theater, Berwyn Cultural Center
September 05

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