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by Michael A. Van Kerckhove
Happy spring into summer, everyone!
I must say, Chicago got an early dose of summer over the Memorial Day weekend with temps in 90s. Ernie and I went to see the new show by The House, “The Boy Detective Fails,” over at the Viaduct, and we were roasting. We felt especially bad for the actors in their sweater vests and jackets and whatnot. Maybe the Bailiwick really is on to something. Could it be that the lack of clothing in many of their summer productions has more to do with actor comfort than anything else? Hmmm. It’s a theory, anyway. With that, here’s a look at work on the boards of the recent past and near future.
Bailiwick Repertory’s Annual Summer Pride Series turns 20 this year. Their first production, in 1987, was Robert Chesley’s “Jerker.”
To kick things off, David Pumo’s “Love Scenes” finally comes to Chicago after hitting the coasts. Donna Jean Fogel directs Moe Betran in this one-man show featuring six characters ranging from “a 20-year-old hustler falling for his kinky mentor, a 50-something martini drinker whose partner wants to have an open sexual relationship, and a drag diva ending her search for a rich husband to settle for true love.”
Jim Provenzano’s stage adaptation of his novel, “Pins,” about “loving peer pressure, supportive yet confused families, and the mad tangle of emotions set against the backdrop of competitive high school wrestling” makes its midwest premiere June 15, 2006.
The series welcomes its first international company as London’s Shameless Boyz present Jack Heifner’s “Seduction,” “a sexy and raunchy new all male gay interpretation of ‘La Ronde.’ ”
Martin Moran’s “The Tricky Part,” the story of a 40-something actor’s Catholic school childhood and his sexual awakening on a weekend trip with a camp counselor, makes its Chicago premiere this summer.
In a stylistic departure for Bailiwick, they present Tommy Rapley and Bob Lobpries’ “Dorian,” a dance-music-magic-puppetry filled adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s “The Portrait of Dorian Gray.”
After premiering at the University of Michigan in 2003 and touring several performance festivals and university medical schools, Brian Lobel’s “Ball” rolls into Chicago. In this solo performance piece, Lobel “attempts to answer one central question: in a world of Lance Armstrong victories, books and speaking tours, what’s an awkward, unmasculine, unathletic, average 20-year-old boy with cancer to do?”
All of this falls on this heels of this spring’s production of Nicholas A. Patricca’s “Oh Holy Allen Ginsberg, Oh Holy Shit Sweet Jesus, Trantic Buddha, Dharma Road!” Father Gerard Gallagher “lives out dramatically the question of how the individual can live creatively and authentically in spite of all the contradictions inherent in his person and in our society today.” In May, the show ran for seven performances at the Dublin Gay Theatre Festival. Bailiwick is the first American company to be invited to participate.
This spring, Chicago Theatre newbies, Collision Theatre Company — founded by graduates of DePaul University’s Theatre School — presented their inaugural production of “Shotgun Wedding.” This new work, written and directed by Chris Garcia Peak, takes place in a world ruled by the “Adam & Eve Religion,” whose rules are too tempting not to break.
In order to keep their status, a family must marry off their lesbian sister to a man, lest she be exiled to New Zealand for therapy. In creating the work, Peak pulled from “the work of playwright Charles Mee, Dorothy Parker, various 18th century cookbooks, Russian history books, Tammy Faye Baker, Chekov, Shakespeare, Marilyn Monroe movies, burlesque shows, George W. Bush, the fight between Brooke Shields and Tom Cruise, Grimm fairy tales, and old wives tales.” “Collision” indeed.
This spring, Live Bait Theater continued its commitment to solo performance work with two full-length shows playing in rep. My “Working Stiffs” and “Solo Homo” cast mate, Joe Steiff, presented his tale of “guns, gays, and government cheese,” Golden Corral. It’s his story of growing up and coming out in Appalachian Southeast Ohio complete with the back of a pickup truck, a chalk board where he draws a map of the region for us, and a copy of Heart’s “Dreamboat Annie” album.
Live Bait regular Edward Thomas-Herrera reprised his “Fun while it Lasted,” an emotional journey through family, Catholicism, homophobia, and alcohol as he makes his way to Houston to face his mother’s death. There, he finds out she was an advice columnist of a paper in El Salvador. “None of my mother’s advice was any good. It was too steeped in Roman Catholicism to be of any use to a gay boy in love with Morrissey.” He says in Jonathan Abarbanel’s 2004 Windy City Times review.
This July and August, Live Bait presents its 11th Annual “Filet of Solo” festival.
Speaking of “Working Stiffs,” this month I celebrate my 5th year of presenting solo work and short plays revolving around gay men in the work place. In homage to that first sweaty performance in the Bailiwick Loft — I’ve graduated to the Studio since then — I am revising and reviving my “The Two Turns of Table 12: A Waiter’s Tale.”
I will also play a drag queen in James Wilke’s “Undercover,” which also features the talents of Cookie Crumbles, Mike Rogers, and Lin Sedlar. Also on hand for the show will be Jackie Trimier, Joe Steiff, Robert Klein Engler, Michael Rashid, Michael Miller, Jennifer Hunt, Loyd A. May, Kevin Standifer, Lon Ellenberger, Anthony Whitaker, and Noah P. Lederach.
Musical Theatre fans in Chicago have recently been rewarded with two, home-grown treats.
First, is the Broadway in Chicago production of William Finn and Rachel Sheinkin’s “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” at the Drury Lane Theatre Water Tower Place. With the record breaking success of the Chicago company of “Wicked,” producers realized that we’re not simply a stop over for National Tours. Our “Spelling Bee” has been enjoying amazing reviews and is anchored in for an open run. The cast (which many say outshine the New York gang) is made up of local and regional talent. Spellers include Derrick Trumbly, Christine Werny, and Jen Sese.
TimeLine Theatre Company’s mission is to present “stories inspired by history that connect with today’s social and political issues.” They have produced the rarely seen “Fiorello!,” the Jerry Bock and Sheldon Harnick composed story of New York’s reformist mayor, Fiorello H. LaGuardia. This Tony-and-Pulitzer Prize-winning show from 1959 is TimeLine’s first musical-and the venture has turned out to be well worth the risk. It’s a hit!
The cast includes artistic director P.J. Powers in the title role, Rebecca Finnegan as his pining assistant, my dear friend Michael Kingston (who “brings comic perfection” as praised by Chicago Sun-Times critic, Hedy Weiss) as his right hand man, and the amazing Cassie Wooley as his Italian-bred first wife. The show just missed the deadline for this summer’s Jeff Citation Awards, but here’s looking the next year!
Show Me the Corn
Those crazy Corn Productions kids are back with an all new original musical. Forget the jocks, cheerleaders, burnouts and other high school cliques. The “Show Choir” kids really ruled the school! Right?
In 1986 the St. Ben’s Academy Show Choir, the Syncopations, lead by Sister K. really did rule. They are back together for their 20th-year reunion and Sister K. is terminally ill. The gang decides to put together a benefit show just for her. “Along with revisiting the good times, painful wounds are reopened, unspoken truths are revealed, and the harsh realities of a lost and misspent youth are laid out for all to see.” The show was written by Company Members Jenni and Nick Caruso and directed by artistic director Robert Bouwman.
Special shout out to Todd “Mom” Schaner for his Jeff Nomination for “Actor in a Supporting Role - Musical or Revue” for The Bad Seed: The Musical.
The Secret Lives of Gays
That fabulous gay sketch comedy group, GayCo, is back with an all new revue. From their press release: “When Will and Grace was just a glimmer in Hollywood’s Queer Eye, GayCo Productions, founded ten years ago at Chicago’s famed Second City, was already winning awards for their unique brand of sketch comedy where ’gay’ is the given not the punch line.”
“The DaVinci GayCode” “proves nobody knows more about secrets than those who’ve been in the closet. GayCo turns their satiric laser vision onto the many little wars fought every day in America: Sperm donors verses Lesbian couples, party boys verses P-FLAG parents, late-life lesbians verses the closet, gay men’s bodies verses the march of time, and born-again zealots verses logic. Join GayCo on their satirical trip into the dark corners of life in post-Brokeback America.”
To celebrate their 10th Anniversary, the troupe will present a special retrospective edition of the show when Chicago hosts Gay Games VII in July.
The Face of Proust
About Face Theatre continues its relationship with Steppenwolf in the Mary Zimmerman-penned and Eric Rosen-directed new work, “M. Proust.” Stage, film, and television actress, Mary Beth Peil, stars as Céleste Albaret, the “unlettered country girl” who served as Marcel Proust’s housekeeper during the last dozen years of his life. Based on the writings of both figures, the play examines this most unlikely of relationships and how Albaret became “his closest companion and his steadfast defender against persistent rumors of his ’secret life.’ ”
This summer, the About Face Youth Theatre program presents its latest work, “The Home Project,” at Victory Gardens. Based on interviews with LBGT youth about home and homelessness, the work “is filled with astonishing, disturbing, and ultimately triumphant stories of young people who struggle to create a perfect society while battling complacency, violence, and apathy.”
This spring, Ernie Nolan (that’s my Ernie) made his Chicago Theatre for Young Audiences directorial debut with a new adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” produced by Emerald City Theatre Company. With book and lyrics by Emerald City co-founder Alyn Cardarelli, sitar-tinged music by Steve Goers, and sari-and-turban embracing costumes by Kate Stransky, the production aimed to stay true to the story’s roots in India.
Ernie’s hours of watching Bollywood musical DVDs has paid off! The production incorporated wonderful puppet work created by Kate Stransky and Mark Dunworth, which gave us great moments with the jungle’s monkeys and Kaa the snake (performed by the fabulous Star Velasquez.)
The comic duo of John Cunningham’s Tibaki the jackal and Stephen Rader’s villainous Shere Khan added laughs for both the kids and the adults, as well as a bit of camp. There was plenty to enjoy for everyone in the audience, but with Ernie’s gay sensibility spilling into the costume concepts, there was definitely a skin factor that could be appreciated by our friends, and all the moms, in the house.
Magnolias of Steel
This month, The Storytellers Theatre Company, presents Robert Harling’s “Steel Magnolias.” The group’s mission to explore “new, creative and updated versions” of previously published and produced shows is exemplified in the casting. In a Shakespearian twist on a modern story, all the actors are men. The play is susceptible to a patina of camp-drag-fabulousness - especially with Dolly Parton and Sally Field’s turns in the film - but the production aims to play it, um, straight. After all, once upon a time, Lady McBeth was played by a man-not Julia Roberts.
There are plenty of fond recent memories and things to look forward to in the coming months.
Ernie and I will be leaving Chicago for South Bend, Indiana, where Ernie was recently hired as an assistant professor of theater at IUSB. We both plan to keep up with our creative ties in Chicago, so I will continue writing the Chicago Scene. I hope to include a few regional goings-on as I explore the Northern Indiana/West Michigan (known as “Michiana”) arts scenes.
Have a fabulous Pride and rest of your summers!