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Chicago Scene
by Michael Van Kerckhove
May 2004

Happy Spring! The tulips are in bloom along Michigan Avenue, and the temps have gone from 50 degrees to 75 and back again within days-or less. Ah, Chicago, how I love thee! Plenty of late-winter-into-spring theatre offerings have bloomed as well. Here's the run down …

Sinning at Bailiwick: In the tradition of Moises Kaufman, Anna Deavere Smith, and Emily Mann, Bailiwick Repertory presents Michael Murphy’s Sin: A Cardinal Disposed. The play uses testimonial transcripts of Cardinal Bernard Law (played by Jim Sherman), the Boston Archdiocese leader at the heart of several sex abuse scandals involving Catholic priests. The drama unfolds as lawyers from both sides, defenders, and victims add their own words. Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune calls the play “a long but important kick in the teeth” that shows Law as a tragic figure while also serving as an “artistic catharsis for the victims.” The original cast will be traveling to the eye of the hurricane, Boston, to perform the play at the Regent Theatre June 9-27. A second Chicago cast will perform the extension (which begins May 15) during the Boston run.

Bailiwick also presents Tom Coash’s political drama, Cry Havoc. The play focuses on two lovers, a British man and an Egyptian man, in present day Cairo. Their relationship to each other, themselves, and their countries are challenged when the Egyptian man is beaten in what looks on the surface to be a political act. Through May 16.

Falling at Steppenwolf: Steppenwolf Theatre Company presents the premiere of Joel Drake Johnson’s latest family drama, The Fall to Earth. The play features ensemble member Rondi Reed as Fay (whose performance Windy City Times’ Jonathan Abarbanel calls the finest of the year, if not the decade), and Cheryl Graeff as Rachel. They are mother and daughter who meet up at a downstate Illinois hotel to claim the body of their son/brother, Kenny, who we learn committed suicide. He had been beaten by a local man after making at pass at him. Abarbanel calls it “a dangerous play with terrible things to say about family fabric and the ego of parenting.” Through May 9 in the Upstairs Theatre.

Crowning at the Goodman: The Goodman Theatre presents Regina Taylor’s gospel-infused musical, Crowns. The show is based on photographer Michael Cunningham and journalist Craig Marberry’s book featuring black and white photographs of African American church women and their hats. Taylor drew from these photos and their accompanying first person stories. The production previously played the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., and the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta. The Chicago run created such an early buzz that the Goodman moved it from the smaller Owens Theatre to the main stage Albert Theatre. Closed April 18.

Listening at Theatre Building: The national tour of Steve Schalchlin and Jim Brochu’s The Big Voice: God or Merman makes its Chicago stop at Theatre Building this spring. The show features the authors as themselves in a musical story of their lives through their early love of theatre, growing up in organized (Catholic and Southern Baptist) religion, their meeting, their falling in love, and their personal triumphs. All along they listen for Life’s Answers. When they come, the Big Voice sometimes is in the form of God, or in the “accidental” listening of an Ethel Merman record. Visit the show’s official Web site at

Fleeing at Chopin: Caught in the Act Theatre presents Martin Sherman’s 1979 gay theatre classic, Bent, the play’s first Chicago production in six years. Bent gives us a glimpse at the Nazi persecution of homosexuals during the Holocaust. I’d never seen a production of the play, and so caught a Saturday night performance while Ernie was in Kansas City on business. I descended into the chilly basement studio space of Wicker Park’s Chopin Theatre for the event. The first act was staged widthwise as we saw the beginnings of Max (Ron Ward) and Rudy’s (James Dunn) run for their lives. Our seats were moved for the second act as barb-wired fence stretched the length of the space and we witnessed Max and Horst’s (an amazing David Bendana) relationship in the prison camp, climaxing in their love scene where they neither look at or touch each other. In Sherman’s printed letter to artistic director Erik Paul Simonson, he wrote, “I quite agree with you that this is an important time for the play to be seen. Sadly, it seems to always be an important time. The truth is one longs for the day when a play like Bent is no longer relevant.”

Asking with Tim: For one weekend in April, Tim Miller returned to Bailiwick to present his latest solo performance show, Us. His last show, Glory Box, centered on the struggles that he and his Australian partner, Alistair, have faced with the INS. Now, with the gay marriage issue on everyone’s mind, the story continues. In the opening moment of Us the couple is packing boxes to ship to London where they would have an easier time being together. In dealing with the issues of exile and asylum for gays, the question Miller focuses on is this: “What’s wrong with us?” both its meaning of what’s wrong with lesbian and gay couples that we’re treated so shabbily in America, but of course, the bigger question all Americans should be asking: “What’s wrong with us - with America.”

Snogging at Griffin: Griffin Theatre Company’s Jeff Nominated Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Nudity is a hit! Such a joy, I had to include it here. Lifeline ensemble member, Christina Calvit, adapted Louise Rennison’s novel about a 14-year-old British school girl, Georgia (an “absolutely fabulous” Katherine Nawrocki), and her friends, family, crushes, and Scottish wild cat, Angus. Not to mention her desire to learn how to snog (that’s to kiss, for the Brit-speak illiterate, which Calvit helps define in charming and witty ways.) Billy Gill plays “sex god” Robbie, the object of Georgia’s affections. Paul Holmquist decks out in chains, ripped jeans, and fur to play Angus. George Howe composed the song, “See You Later,” in which the guys sing about what exactly they mean when they say that ambiguous phrase. A little bit AbFab, a little bit Eddie Izzard — but for the adolescent set. The audience when I was there was pretty much all gay couples and friends as well as teenage girls and their moms. A delight for everyone! Extended through May 22.

Tarting on Broadway: As in the infamous asparagus tart that Martha Stewart was sued over. The Chicago Broadway Theatre presents the pre-Broadway (in New York) run of That Asparagus Tart Wasn’t So Easy, a musical spoof of the rise and fall of Martha Stewart, played by also-Diva, Pattie LuPone. David Sedaris wrote the book, presenting the humor with depth and intelligence, and Mark Hollman of Urinetown fame tweaked the show tune classics that make up the score. In Tim Sauers Gay Chicago review, he wrote, “As she leaves the courthouse after her guilty verdict, [LuPone’s] painstakingly real rendition of ‘And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going’ brought down the house. Even Jennifer Holiday would weep.”

Rushing to Theatre Building: And finally, if (Falcon Lifetime Exclusive!) porn star, Matthew Rush, gets you excited, he’s at Theatre Building for the Chicago stop on the latest tour of Making Porn, Ronnie Larsen’s peek behind the scenes of the gay porn industry. Woo-hoo! Through May 16.

Alright, friends, that is all for this time. Be well, and see you after Pride!

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