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Chicago Scene
by Michael A. Van Kerckhove
February 2006

Hello! And Happy Winter. Sure why not, right? It’s not been too bad this year. There have been many theater offerings of interest for those of us willing to take little breaks from our hibernation. Here we go …

A Holiday Party

Northlight Theatre, in suburban Skokie, enchanted theatre audiences over the Holidays with a new Noel Coward revue, “A Marvelous Party.” The show was directed, as the Windy City Times put it, “with simple elegance” by David Ira Goldstein, and featured performances by Mark Anders, Carl Danielsen, and Anna Lauris. The three of them pleased the audience with pizzazz as they made their way through Coward favorites and lesser known gems alike.

A sampling of the songs: “What Ho! Mrs. Brisket,” “Would You Like to Stick a Pin in My Balloon?,” “The Coconut Girl,” “Welcome to Pootzie Van Doyle,” and “Someday I’ll Find You.” This winter, the company presents Craig Wright’s (Six Feet Under, Lost) “Grace” about “how religious ideas make sense, and sometimes nonsense, of life’s events.”

Basking at the Bailiwick

Much has been going on at the Bailiwick Art Center on Belmont. They recently closed their Jeff Recommended production of “The Kiss of the Spider Woman,” Terrence McNally, John Kander, and Fred Ebb’s musical of political revolution, romance, and intrigue based on the novel by Manuel Puigi. The cast, directed by Susan Finque, included Katherine Lynne Condit (making her Chicago debut), Ryan Lanning (last seen there in “A Kiss from Alexander”), and Stan Q. Wash (of Bailiwick’s “Parade.”)

Picking up where the recently-closed “Naked Boys Singing” left off, this winter the Bailiwick folks open their own original naked boy romp, “Barenaked Lads in the Great Outdoors” by Andy Eninger, Michael Mahler, Dan Martin and Michael Biello. The show “introduces us to a colorful comedic gallery of characters completely at home in their ‘au natural’ world.”

Barenaked features Raquel Marmor, who remains clothed, and “a sextet of gorgeous guys:” John Cardone, Greg Poljacik, Brook Robertson, Keith Stoneking, Scott Thomas, and David Zizic. It is scheduled to close at the end of May, but if as successful as its predecessor, it could run for years.

This winter into spring, Bailiwick teams up with The Hypocrites to present Tony Kushner’s modern classic, “Angels in America.” Hypocrites artistic director, Sean Graney, helms the production, which will present “Part 1: Millennium Approaches” for three weeks, then “Part 2: Peristroika” for one week, and then perform the two together in rep for another month. It should be interesting to see how Graney, who is known for his more experimental approach, will handle the material. Knowing some of his work with The Hypocrites, it should be nothing short of amazing.

The Bus Stops in Glencoe

This winter, suburban Glencoe’s very own Writers’ Theatre, a company “dedicated to a theatre of language and passion” presents William Inge’s 1955 masterpiece, “Bus Stop.” This intimate play of “dreams, desperation, love and lawlessness all intersect[ing] at a small roadside diner where a bus load of travelers is forced to wait out a winter storm” is perfect for Chicago in February. We feel like we, too, have come in from the storm to wait with them.

First, we must leave our modern day “Brokeback Mountain” mentality as we meet cowboy Bo Decker, played by Cliff Chamberlain in this tough role of being a likeable jerk. His best friend, the older, wiser bachelor cowboy Virgil Blessing is played by Paul Noble, whose strong silence and light guitar strumming add a layer of calm in the storm. Linsey Page Morton’s Elma Duckworth, the local school girl/waitress, is played with a naïve brilliance. William Brown’s alcoholic professor-on-the-run, Dr. Lyman, reaches his climactic moment in such rye-soaked tragic hopelessness, that I wanted to give him a hug despite his past.

The stand-out in the ensemble, however, is our dear friend, Suzanne Lang, as Cherie, the Ozarks-bred and self-declared chanteuse — played by Marilyn Monroe in the film — who fights off Bo’s overbearing advances. From the moment she enters the diner in her torn fishnets and fake fur jacket, she warms our hearts. I wish everyone could see this production. But all good things must end, and even if the show played through summer, by then our winter sympathies would be swept away with the loose red feathers from Cherie’s boa.

Ernie and I were very excited to trek out of the city to see this beautiful story and ensemble cast, especially after having been disappointed by the inferior film version. Just because you can expand a story for a film doesn’t mean you should.

Loving About Face

In About Face Theatre’s continuing mission to create new work that “challenges our artists’ and audience’s intellects, imaginations, self-conceptions, moral expectations, and ideas about gender and sexuality in contemporary and historical contexts” they have created “Loving Repeating: A Musical of Gertrude Stein.” Composer Stephen Flaherty sets Stein’s words to music. Chicago theater hero Frank Galati adapted and directs this “love song to one of the most lyrical, romantic, and daring writers of our era.” Rick Reed’s glowing Windy City Times review sites and applies a quote from Gertrude Stein herself: “A masterpiece … may be unwelcome but it is never dull.”

Waltz off to Buffalo

Also this winter, Buffalo Theatre Ensemble, The College of DuPage’s resident professional theater company, presents Paula Vogel’s dark comedy, The Baltimore Waltz, written in response to her brother’s death from AIDS in 1988. Pamela Vogel (no relation) plays Anna, the elementary school teacher who catches Acquired Toilet Disease, a hazard of her profession. She and her brother, Carl, played by Robert Jordan Bailey, set out on a whirlwind trip through Europe in search of a cure before it is too late. Director Amelia Barrett has stated: “This project is quite exciting for us to work on. For me, the piece itself defies traditional logic and embraces the improbable state that exists in our minds and in our hearts.”

Post-Out

I love the opening of Jonathan Abarbanel’s Windy City Times review of Richard Greenberg’s “A Well Appointed Room” running at Steppenwolf this winter: “Anxiety can paralyze and even move us to commit odd acts; just think of the Democratic soccer moms frightened into voting for Bush. This world premiere from the author of “Take Me Out” explores urban anxiety in post-September 11 New York, and it is as pithy, clothed, cerebral and hetero as “Take Me Out” is exuberant, nude, physical, and gay.”

Steppenwolf ensemble member and co-founder Terry Kinney directs the play, which is actually two linked one-acts, both taking place in the same New York apartment. The first, “Nostalgia,” features Tracy Letts as a playwright whose wife, played by Amy Morton, chooses this particular Sunday morning to question his relevance and feed his anxieties. The second act, “Prolepsis,” features Josh Charles — who will always have a place in my heart as Knox in “Dead Poets’ Society” and Eddy in “Threesome” — as a young entrepreneur and his pregnant wife Gretchen, played by Kate Arrington.

Gretchen experiences the titular prolepsis, an anticipatory state where she denies the present and believes they are in the future where their unborn child has grown up. In an article on the Steppenwolf Web site, Greenberg discusses the genesis of the piece: “I was living in one apartment that got too much light. I find the light of August prying and uncomfortable and relentless and often ugly. So, that was, if anything, aggravating my mood. The only time I felt a mastery of my situation was writing.”

Well Timed

This winter, TimeLine Theater Company, whose mission is to “present stories inspired by history that connect with today’s social and political issues” does just that with the Chicago premiere of “Guantanamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom.” The play by Victoria Brittain and Gillian Slovo, which has had previous productions in London and Off-Broadway, tells the story of five citizen residents of Britain who were wrongfully arrested and transferred to the prison at Guantanomo.

Guantanamo is a docu-drama that uses interviews, letters, and various public sources. Various reviews have applauded the performances by the ensemble cast of twelve, but point out that the message overshadows the script, which relies more on talk than action. Still, Ernie and I look forward to seeing our dear friend, Michael Kingston, in his TimeLine debut, and to learning more about this denial of civil liberties, which ultimately affects us all.

Just Dido

Camenae Ensemble Theatre, which “exists for the purpose of fostering education, production of performances, and the development of women theatre artists,” presents “Dido, Queen of Carthage,” Christopher Marlowe’s part classical tragedy, part Elizabethan comedy of Queen Dido and her lover Aeneas from the first books of “The Aeneid.” This production is directed by and features my old Living Room Project mates, Sarah Keely McGuire and Bilal Dardai, respectively. In her Chicago Reader review, Mary Shen Barnidge gives props to Sarah’s “imaginative interpretation” which “features some eccentric characterizations: Cupid is played as a prankish Puck, and Juno and Venus squabble like teenage sisters.”

Notable Etceteras

• Plenty of cool late night/solo/cabaret events abound this winter. Blue Moon Studio Theater presents “Solo In Blue,” the launch of their solo performance series benefiting their inaugural season. I am premiering two new solo pieces, a tale of collegiate almost-love in the early days of the internet, called “Teeter Todd.” In March, NewTown Writers presents “Solo Homo 4,” in which I present my story of pre-Cub Scout meeting activity, “The P.B. Club.”

• At the Bailiwick, Tim Miller presents his new solo show, “1001 Beds,” based on his new book of the same name. Says Miller: “It’s a kinky and funny journey through the beds and hotels and life on the road as a traveling salesman — oops, I mean a performance artist!”

• In January 2006, our friends, Cassie Wooley and Kelli Morgan, debuted their cabaret show, “Girl in the Mirror,” at Davenport’s, one of Chicago’s premiere piano bars and cabaret venues. Ernie directed the show, and put together the program with the girls. Songs included:
      “Twenty Something” by Jamie Cullom
      “Climbing Uphill” from “The Last Five Years”
      “I Know Him So Well” from “Chess”
      “I Wish I Could Go Back to College” from “Avenue Q”
      “Who Will Love Me As I Am” from “Sideshow” (which nearly sent me over the edge.)

Cassie and Kelli were joined on piano by the fabulous Ken McMullen. With their sellout shows, they were invited back for more dates this winter. Ernie is hoping to join the girls on stage for a new show, with the working title of “Two Girls and a Gay.” Hot.

• For a late night cabaret wet dream this past January, Bruised Orange Theater Company presented “Femme Fatale,” a show that imagines Liza Minnelli, Bette Davis, Liz Taylor, Katherine Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe, and Sophia Loren all coming together to “prove their immorality” by performing a cabaret show directed by Joan Crawford. Scary.


Well, that about covers it for this moment. Plenty of offerings are in the works for late winter into spring. I’ll tell you all about them next time. Cheers!

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

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