Vertical Leap/Big Guns Take Aim/Hits From the Holy Land | Culture Club | Chicago Reader

Vertical Leap/Big Guns Take Aim/Hits From the Holy Land 

Jump from performing in bars and basements to the big time Navy Pier? The Sweat Girls think they can swing it.

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Vertical Leap

"Until recently we'd mostly performed in north-side bars and basements," says Dorothy Milne, one of the seven female monologuists who call themselves the Sweat Girls. But now the troupe has scored a plum booking at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier: during Mother's Day weekend, May 13 and 14, the players will stage their acclaimed show The Motherlode at the facility's studio theater. Since the 180-seat studio opened last November, with a short-lived engage-ment of Shakespeare's R & J, CST executive director Criss Henderson has stated that it would not be made available as a rental venue to other theater companies unless CST was involved. But when the Sweat Girls asked to rent the space, Henderson relented. "We liked their work, and we thought what they were doing would make a good attraction for the crowds on the pier that weekend," explains Henderson, though he suggests that the brevity of the run was also a factor.

Formed in 1993, the Sweat Girls had been performing around town, content to stage their shows in venues where they could simply collect admissions at the door and let the bar keep the drink receipts. In 1996, aided by local video artist Joe Winston (This Week in Joe's Basement), each of the players taped an interview with another's mom, with the idea of incorporating the footage into a collection of comedic monologues about mother-daughter relationships. The subject matter proved so touchy that the project was shelved for three years. But despite its long gestation, The Motherlode was a hit when it debuted last summer at the small Lifeline Theatre. After friends and audience members repeatedly urged the group to move the show to a bigger, more prominent venue, the Sweat Girls began to think about breaking out of the underground.

The idea of a Mother's Day engagement prodded the group into action, and Milne, the show's director, began to call around for a venue. The group's first choice, the Park West, was already booked, but the Chicago Shakespeare studio was open. The move to Navy Pier raises the financial stakes considerably, but if the booking is a success it could introduce the Sweat Girls to a whole new audience. Milne says the troupe is mounting the show with money raised from a benefit in 1996, and she hopes to recoup most of the production costs from ticket revenue (while the Lifeline production cost only $10, tickets to the Navy Pier show will go for $25). The show doesn't require a lot of bells and whistles--its set consists mainly of a video projection screen framed like a portrait. And the promotional budget will be minimal, though the group will pop for some advertising as the performance dates approach.

Big Guns Take Aim

Mamma Mia!, the new musical comprised of recycled Abba hits that became a surprise hit in London's West End last year, will be coming to Chicago for the 2000-2001 season. Producer Judy Craymer is launching a tour next month in Toronto (the same city that landed the first North American production of The Lion King outside New York); after a six-month run there the show will move across the border to several other markets, including Chicago. The venue and exact dates have not been firmed up, but Laura Matalon, a spokesperson for the show, says it will probably play at the Cadillac Palace Theatre for several weeks. Ultimately the producers hope to take the show to Broadway.

Michael Leavitt, president of the Palace Theatre, has 12 weeks of bookings lined up for the coming season, including Mamma Mia! and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. For the past several years Hubbard Street has been based at the Shubert Theatre; Leavitt would not say whether next season's booking was a one-shot deal or the beginning of a long-term relationship, and Hubbard Street executive director Gail Kalver did not return phone calls for comment. Meanwhile, Leavitt is also debating whether to take Steppenwolf Theatre Company's production of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest to New York. Leavitt originally tried to pull together his own commercial production, with Denzel Washington in the lead, but after that failed to pan out he brought the idea to Steppenwolf, where Gary Sinise and director Terry Kinney took a shine to it. The show opened last week to mixed reviews, but Leavitt thinks that with Sinise and Steppenwolf's names attached, it might have commercial potential.

Hits From the Holy Land

During the early 1970s Meir Fenigstein played drums in the Israeli rock band Kavaret, but these days he's the driving force behind the Israel Film Festival, which makes its Chicago debut this weekend. Fenigstein started the festival 18 years ago in New York and brought it to Los Angeles four years later. Now, at the urging of the Consulate General of Israel, he's added a third stop to the festival's 16th edition: 18 feature films, documentaries, and television dramas from Israel will be screened April 29 through May 4 at Water Tower. According to Fenigstein, Israel's domestic film industry is woefully underfinanced compared to ours, though it's been strengthened by a growing television industry there, in particular the spread of cable TV. Israeli filmmakers manage to produce about a dozen features a year, most of them costing about $800,000, with the government supplying about half the money and the balance coming from TV and cable companies that plan to air the films. The biggest obstacle, he says, is the lack of a sophisticated marketing and distribution infrastructure, a problem endemic to film industries in many small European and Middle Eastern countries.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.

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