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by Michael Van Kerckhove
Baby, it's COLD outside! Hope everyone had a lovely Holiday Season and New Year. Here's to calm of winter!
Christmas Roundup: The holidays brought plenty of seasonal favorites to Chicago stages. Here we go…
Hell in a Handbag Productions presented Rudolph the Red Hosed Reindeer for its 7th sensational season. The show (written by David Cerda) featured Brannen Daugherty as the red stocking clad Rudolph in this parody of the beloved TV special. Also featured was my friend, Michael Kingston, in his Handbag debut as Sam the Snowman, our fabulous narrator.
The show includes holiday favorites such as “Christmas Makes Me Bitter,” “They’ll Hate You If You’re Different,” and “It’s Tough to be a Toy.” You can buy the CD at their web site!
After the show, they presented their late night of monologues, “Fa La La La La This.” This year’s production was the final show in the Loop Theatre, a downtown space set to be torn down and turned into who-knows-what. Always sad to see theatre spaces disappear. But on the bright side, the Handbag crew had full reign of the lobby and decorated it in wonderful vintage reds and whites. It made me think of a high school Christmas dance circa 1965, a wonderful tribute to the original TV special’s era.
Theatre Wit! took over the reigns from the now disbanded Roadworks Productions in presenting David Sedaris’ “The SantaLand Diaries” at Raven Theatre. Joe Foust starred as the out of work actor who dons an elf costume in Macy’s SantaLand. Janus Theatre Ensemble presented the piece as a concert reading at the Athenaeum.
Corn Productions’ dysfunctional O. Henry send-up, “Tiff & Mom and the Meaning of the Magi Gift Mix-up” returned to the Cornservatory on Lincoln Avenue. That gender-bending daughter-mother duo, Tiff and Mom Tiffelmeyer, try to outdo the other in the gift department. Mom sells her gold tit clamps to buy gem-encrusted scrunchies for Tiff. Tiff sells her hair for a tit clamp chain for Mom. Oh my!
The Journeymen once again revived their holiday hit, “The Eight: Reindeer Monologues” by Jeff Goode at Live Bait Theatre. Cupid (the gay one) and company reveal the dark underbelly of the Santa’s workshop.
Bailiwick Rep revived Josh Levine’s “A Merry Jewish Christmas,” the story of a gay Jewish man who comes out to his family over the holidays. The big secret, however, is that his boyfriend isn't (oy!) Jewish! A gay “Beau Jest” complete with Barbra Streisand’s Christmas albums (thanks to earlier dramaturgical assistance from my Ernie.)
The “New” Tennessee: In December, About Face, Steppenwolf, and Moises Kaufman’s Tectonic Theatre Project teamed up to present a limited engagement of Tennessee Williams’ “One Arm” on the Steppenwolf Main Stage. Mr. Kaufman adapted the piece from a Williams 1945 short story and an unproduced 1972 screenplay about a Pacific Fleet heavyweight boxing champion, Ollie Olson, who in 1939 loses an arm in a car accident. From there, he becomes a street hustler, attracting men who have a weakness for this “broken Apollo.”
In true Tectonic form, the piece is aware of its theatricality as it attempts to present the screenplay that Williams intended. Reynoldo Rosales is a powerful Ollie, both in physical beauty and high emotion-and also the discipline to keep his “missing arm” still and rigid. It will be interesting to see how this piece evolves as it further explores Ollie’s journey. In Jonathan Abarbanel’s Windy City Times review, he closed with, “The next step for ‘One Arm’ should be enlarging Williams, not merely staging him.”
As for labeling the piece a “gay play,” Kaufman has issues. In an interview with The Chicago Reader’s Mara Tapp, he says, “I do not [think it’s a gay play] because it’s about one man’s journey to self-discovery, and it’s not that he becomes gay at the end or anything ridiculous like that, but it’s a story of failure and redemption. It is a story of how one survives atrocious events that have absolutely no reason for being other than fate. And how does one maintain one’s sense of self, doing something like that?”
Welcome Back, Charlotte: About Face’s previous collaboration with Mr. Kaufman, Doug Wright’s Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning play, “I Am My Own Wife,” returns to Chicago for a winter run at the Goodman Theatre. The play was first presented in an earlier form as part of About Face’s Festival of New Plays two seasons ago.
Tony-winning actor Jefferson Mays also returns as Charlotte von Mahlsdorf, a German transvestite who survived both the Nazi and Communist occupations of East Germany. His virtuoso performance also includes all the other characters; journalists, friends, Nazi officers, and the playwright himself.
Ernie and I had the opportunity to see it in early January. Amazing. We wished, like Hedy Weiss writes in her Chicago Sun Times review, “that the character with whom [we’ve] just spent a rapid-fire two hours might stick around longer, tell [us] more, let [us] in on a few more secrets or nervously continue to keep a great many more secrets buried forever.”
Find Your Grail: The hottest theatre ticket in Chicago this winter has been the pre-Broadway run of Spamalot, the new musical adaptation of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Ernie and I celebrated the New Year with a theatre full of musical theatre nerds, Broadway-in-Chicago society subscribers, and Monty Python geeks alike. An interesting mix of cultures if ever I saw one. I say this lovingly-with maybe the exception of the loud man behind us who bellowed along with “Knights of the Round Table” and who threatened to clack his souvenir coconuts in our ears.
Top billing goes to Tim Curry (King Arthur), David Hyde Pierce (Sir Robin, etc.), and Hank Azaria (Sir Lancelot, The French Taunter, etc.) Also on hand were Sara Ramirez (the Lady of the Lake, etc.) whose belting of “Find Your Grail” alone is worth buying the CD, and Christopher Sieber of “It’s All Relative” as Sir Galahad. Also a nod to ensemble member Greg Reuter who graduated my freshman year from the Western Michigan University Theatre Department. He was my first Billy Flynn. The show is a mix of high (and low) comedy, fun music, favorite scenes from the film, tongue-in-cheek musical satire, heartfelt emotion, and plenty of talent. A definite contender for this year’s Best New Musical Tony. Ni!
A Mormon in Chicago: Steven Fales brings his 90-minute one-man show, “Confessions of a Mormon Boy,” to the Bailiwick Arts Center for an extended run. Fales tells of his growing up Mormon in Utah, his coming out to both himself and his church, his failed attempts at “curing” himself with church prescribed treatment “therapies,” his marriage and divorce, his time in New York’s escort trade, and the reclaiming of his “Donny Osmond” smile. His tale “unfolds like an engaging homily and extremely honest confessional without a trace of malice or bitterness,” says chicagocritic.com’s Tom Williams.
More Solo Homo: NewTown Writers presents the third installment of its Solo Homo series this February 21 & 22 in the Bailiwick Studio Theatre. I will be on hand to present my new piece, Silencing the Creaks. Other writer-performers of the evening include Don Bapst, Jaii Beckley, David Cerda, Cookie Crumbles, Josie Lynn, Jerod Howard, Mike Rogers, Lin Sedlar, and Joe Steiff.
Classic Williams: This winter, The Hypocrites (under the direction of Artistic Director Sean Graney) presented Tennessee Williams’ semi-autobiographical classic, “The Glass Menagerie” at the Athenaeum. Managerie had its world premiere in Chicago in 1944.
Donna McGough plays Amanda, the former Southern belle who must make right for her physically and emotionally crippled daughter, Laura, played by Mechelle Moe. Says chicagocritic.com’s Brandon Hayes, Moe, who “even in moments when she is silent, [gives] Laura a near-operatic range of emotions.”
Robert McLean plays Tom, the Williams stand-in, who is pressured to care for his family in the midst of his dreams of larger things. Steve Wilson plays Jim, the gentleman caller, whose “goofy earnestness and sense of his own lost dreams-all camouflaged by a natural exuberance-are expertly calibrated,” says Chicago Sun-Times critic, Hedy Weiss.
Weiss begins her review by saying, “Before you roll your eyes at the mention of a new production of The Glass Menagerie, banish all mawkish memories of high school productions or classroom readings and give the Hypocrites a chance to make you listen to Tennessee Williams’ glorious writing yet one more time.” Through March 6.
Brown and Gold: This winter, Brown Couch Theatre Company presents Jonathan Tolin’s 1993 drama, “Twilight of the Golds” at Profiles Theatre on North Broadway. The play follows the story of the Golds, a liberal Jewish couple who discover through prenatal genetic testing that their newborn son will be gay. The family must reassess their values and decide whether or not to let their child — who will sure to experience many hardships — into the world.
With each production, Brown Couch volunteers time and money to a local non-profit. For Twilight, the company partnered with the Gerber/Hart Library, the midwest’s largest LGBT circulating library. The company donated money from ticket sales as well as volunteer time working at the library. Gerber/Hart also hosted discussions on the play.
“Chicago Scene” columnist and playwright, Michael Van Kerckhove,
may be contacted at email@example.com