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Chicago Scene
by Michael Van Kerckhove
August 2005

Hello and Welcome to my Sweet 16th Chicago Scene. I hope everyone’s summers have been nothing but fabulous. As I type this, day two of North Halsted Street Market Days is thumping outside my window. Safe in my central AC, I am letting my bit of sunburn from yesterday cool down before I (maybe) venture out again. Despite all the sun and fun, there have been plenty of reasons to spend a little time in a darkened theater this summer. Take a look.

Bad is Good
Congratulations to Corn Productions for their first ever Jeff Recommendation for “The Bad Seed: The Musical.” The Bad Seed, which was first a book, then a play, then a 1956 film gets new life in this stage musical adaptation with script by Robert Bouwman and Todd Schaner and music by Scott Lamberty. Bouwman and Schaner take their Tiff and Mom alter egos and easily fit them into Seed’s Rhoda Penmark, the seemingly sweet and innocent little girl with appetites both ravenous and murderous, and her booze swilling nymphomaniac mother, Christine Penmark. Gay Chicago’s Venus Zarris’ rave review inspired a cover story for the June 2 issue in which she exclaims, “It was the best camp drag film parody that I have ever seen! It was gaytastic!” The production was co-directed by Bouwman and my old roommate and friend, Sarah Ballema. The original run at the Cornservatory ended June 10, but the show has been enjoying an extension in the post-Naked Boys Singing slot at Bailiwick. Through September 9, 2005.
cornservatory.org

Carrie in Hell
In other camp drag film parody’s, Hell in a Handbag (whose artistic director David Cerda appears as Rhoda’s teacher in The Bad Seed) presents Scarrie: The Musical, an “unauthorized musical parodage (parody plus homage)” of the classic horror film, Carrie. Cerda expanded his original one-act late night version from several years ago into a full length prime time feature with a full-on 70s influenced score and plenty of bad hair. Joey Steakley’s portrayal of Carrie White is absolutely heartbreaking, especially when she sings “Beautiful” in response to future prom date, Tommy Ross’, English class poem. Ed Jones’ performance of Carrie’s mother, Margaret, is “even more larger than life than Piper Laurie’s indelible lunatic film character” according to Gay Chicago’s Venus Zarris. In his program notes, Cerda enlightens us with “the fact I chose to cast a man in the role of Carrie White has less to do with comic effect and more to do with revisiting some very uncomfortable moments in my life that made me who I am today.” Cast recording available soon at:
handbagproductions.org

Reasonably Psycho
Also turning up the camp factor this summer is A Reasonable Facsimile Theatre Company’s production of “Psycho Beach Party,” Charles Busch’s take on 60s beach party movies. Keely Flynn stars as Chicklet, the Gidget-with-multiple-personalities heroine. Steve Truncale is Kanaka, the philosophizing king of the surfers-and object of Chicklet’s multiple affections. Set to close August 6, 2005, rave reviews have prompted an open late night run at Theatre Building.
arftco.com

Bailiwick Pride
What’s summer in Chicago without a few offerings in Bailiwick Repertory’s “Pride Series?”

“Planet of the Bisexuals,”
written and performed by David Chapman, is one man’s autobiographical journey through the solar system of sexuality.

“Marlowe”
written by Harlan Didrickson, explores the life and early death (at age 29) of that rebel Elizabethan playwright and historical gay icon, Christopher Marlowe. In an interview with Windy City Times’ Mary Shen Barnidge, Didrickson compares Marlowe with more modern bad boys with untimely deaths, namely James Dean and River Phoenix. He says, “What made [them] who they were? What took them to that dark place? I think it’s their very darkness that haunts us.”

“A Kiss from Alexander”
is a show-within-a-show following the story of Nick Matthews who puts together a musical based on his obsession, Alexander the Great. Naturally, he plays up the gay thread of Alexander’s story: his relationship with his childhood companion, Hephaestion. Alexander himself finds out about the show and is granted two weeks of mortality in order to put a stop to it. Book and lyrics by Stephan deGhelder and music by Brad Simmons.

bailiwick.org

Special Events
Bailiwick plays host to a variety of special events this summer. On June 13 and 15, NewTown Writers presented its annual Pride event, “Workings Stiffs 4,” in the Studio Theatre. The evening offered music, magic, and stories by Sandy Andina and Susan Urban, Todd Lillethun, Cookie Crumbles, Gloria Klein, Lin Sedlar, Mike Rogers, Terrence Francisco, Daniel Hodges and Jody Flowers, Josef Steiff, and Chris Knight. I was on hand to present “Route 36,” a poem about the Detroit News paper route I had with my little brother. In other news, my piece, “The Residents,” originally presented in “Working Stiffs 3,” will be published in NTW’s Off the Rocks (Issue 12) due out in December.

Leslie Jordan
Well known for his recurring role as Karen Walker’s nemesis on “Will & Grace,” brings his one-man autobiographical show, Like a “Dog on Linoleum,” to Bailiwick’s main stage through August 21, 2005. In a Gay Chicago profile, he explains the title: “Have you ever seen a dog on linoleum? They are running, and they can’t get anywhere. That used to be my life after all the drugs and drinking I used to do. I was always running and never getting anywhere until I stopped.” Mr. Jordan played a benefit performance on August 3 to support the NAMES Project.

Queer Shakespeare
Shakespeare gets a queer spin this summer in Tony Lewis’ “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “A Queer Tale” presented by MidTangent Productions’ at Links Hall. Catey Sullivan’s Windy City Times review opens with, “Shakespeare purists will be screaming with outrage 10 minutes into [Lewis’] glorious queer interpretation of [Midsummer]. The rest of us will be screaming with laughter at this audacious, uproarious and moving adaptation.” Queer twists abound as the original’s young lovers are now two same sex couples who end up in the magical land of Boyshood where they are free to love the way they wish. The rulers of the fairies, Titania and Oberon, are now a drag king and leather daddy respectively. In a serious twist amongst the laughs and camp, the play-within-a-play presented by Bottom and his cohorts is changed from comedy to tragedy as it addresses victims of suicide who were not allowed to be themselves.

By the Kids
This year’s presentation by the About Face Youth Theatre is called The Home Project. Lead by Artistic Associate Megan Carney, the ensemble explores issue of home: “What place in the world feels most like home to you? What does your dream home look and feel like? What is the story about home that you need to tell?” The project also explores homelessness, especially as it relates to the approximately 6,000 glbt youth who each year experience it. A limited workshop run this summer is presented in preparation for a full professional production next year as part of About Face’s 10th Anniversary season.

For the Kids
As part of the LaSalle Bank Family Festival of Plays, Chicago Shakespeare Theater presents a new adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson’s The Princess and the Pea. It’s a story of marrying for love instead of what’s expected of us, of being true to oneself, of finding one’s own story-and we can all relate to that. Travis Turner is the bookish prince who has no intention of marrying Princess Buffy Binkleman (Whitney Sneed), a ditz in a billowing yellow dress. His heart is set on an equally bookish peasant girl, Ruth (fabulously played by our dear friend, Cassie Wooley) whose habitual deep sleep-and worthiness-is tested by the proverbial pea. Fun for kids and gays alike, the comic scene stealer of the show is Chicago stage diva, Alexandra Billings, as Queen Evermean, whose bobble-head bit alone was enough to make Ernie and I cry with laughter. Through August 14, 2005.
chicagoshakes.com

Post Card Kansas City
This summer at The Coterie Theatre, Ernie directed and choreographed the professional workshop production premiere of The Dinosaur Musical by Robert and Willie Reale, the brothers behind Broadway’s A Year With Frog and Toad. When the bumbling king of the T-Rexes (a not so subtle reference to our current president) is duped by his council (again) to break the Treaty of Meat, it is once again war between the Meat Eaters and Plant Eaters. The show follows the adventures of Mindy, a young Parasaurolophus, and her mother, Carlotta, as they set out to escape the T-Rexes and come upon the Paradise Hotel, an Art Deco inspired safe haven for Plant Eaters and rebel T-Rexes. A fabulous job by everyone, especially under the stressful workshop conditions of rewrites arriving daily. The show, in a separate production, will make its “official” world premiere at the Arden in Philadelphia next season.
thecoterie.com

With that, I leave you to your remaining days of summer and final hurrahs before Autumnal winds cool things down — I know I’m looking forward to that! — and a new theater season is upon us. See you then.


“Chicago Scene” columnist and playwright, Michael Van Kerckhove,
may be contacted at mavankerckhove@gmail.com

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