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Chicago Scene
by Michael A. Van Kerckhove
September 2006

Chicago theater has kept buzzing as summer ends and the new fall season arrives.

Summer’s Death

The Infamous Commonwealth Theatre, whose mission is to present “One Season, One Topic, Endless Possibilities,” kicks off its 5th Anniversary “Death” season with gay playwright, Christopher Durang’s, 1999 hit, “Betty’s Summer Vacation.” Durang’s attack on our never-satisfied media culture follows Betty (the fabulous Erica Peregrine) who just wants a quiet vacation away in her summer beach share. However she is thwarted by the arrival of other share-mates. These include a flasher, a murderer, and various other sitcom stereotypes (as well as a laugh track in the ceiling that talks back.)

Scott C. Morgan writes in the Windy City Times: “Outrageously rude and oversexed characters may be funny in half-hour increments, but Durang shows the horrors of what might happen if you encountered these one-note people in real life.” The production is part of the Fall of Durang Festival with other plays being presented by Oracle Theatre, Chemically Imbalanced Comedy, and Next Theatre Company. Through October 1, 2006.

Pride’s Final Breaths of Summer

While pride may be a year round thing, Bailiwick Repertory’s Summer Pride celebration transitions into the new season with a classic piece of gay theater, and a new spin on a classic tale. They celebrates 20 years of Pride with the late Robert Chesley’s “Jerker.” This was the first play in the inaugural Pride Festival.

The play tells the story of a relationship that blooms out of late night phone sex conversations, and was one of earliest to deal with the AIDS crisis. This production features Casey Chapman and Byron Abalos, and is directed by actor, director, and AIDS activist Madrid St. Angelo. Chicago theatre critic, Joe Stead, writes on his “Young people today cannot possibly understand the devastation that gay men went through in the early days of AIDS, where every encounter and new lover was a potential time bomb waiting to explode … That is why it is important to revisit early works like ‘Jerker’ so we never forget the lives and the losses.” Through October 8, 2006.

Stephen Dolginoff’s chamber musical, “Thrill Me,” is based on the infamous story of the murderous duo, Leopold and Loeb. Scott Gryder and Eric Martin, respectively, portray the murderers and lovers who kill a 14-year old boy simply for the thrill of it. The Off-Broadway hit’s Chicago debut has received reviews from the highest praises to the most wincing of words, which strikes me as a relationship just as complex as that of the two leading men. Also through October 8.

Dinner Time

About 10 years ago, I rented a quirky, dark, comedy video featuring Cameron Diaz, Ron Eldard, and Annabeth Gish, and I thought, “Hmm, this would make a great stage play.” Infusion Theatre Company did just that with their production of “The Last Supper.” The play, about a group of college liberals who invite those with extreme opposing views over to dinner to poison them, was penned by Dan Rosen and based on his screenplay of that little gem of an ensemble film. Lawrence Bommer writes in his Chicago Reader review: “This is a play that dares an audience to take sides-and take the consequences.” Through October 21, 2006, at the Chopin Theatre.

Inge’s Darkness

American Theater Company kicks off its 22nd season with William Inge’s “The Dark at the Top of Stairs.” It is perhaps a lesser known work than “Picnic” and “Bus Stop,” the plays that clinched his success. “Dark” was ten years in the making, and ultimately his final success before committing suicide 16 years after its premiere. The story of a Southwest family in the 20s oil boom originally started as “Farther off from Heaven,” which he wrote upon joining Tennessee Williams at the premiere of “The Glass Menagerie.”

ATC’s Web site features a wonderful article that highlights the relationship between the two plays. The Flood family in “Dark” “meet a different end than [the “Menagerie”’s] Wingfields. While Tom soliloquizes his family’s sadness and prepares to set out on the artistic life at the end of “Menagerie,” “Dark” ends with a homecoming, rather than a departure, and the hope that a family may survive instead of being torn apart. Was this the end Inge desperately wanted for himself? Was the hope of togetherness, rescued from childhood by a decade of rewrites, a feeling Inge craved during a life spent feeling like an outsider because of both his sexuality and artistic persuasions?”

ATC artistic director, Damon Kiely, directs. Through October 30, 2006.

Face Offerings

About Face Theatre has a couple of offerings of note on the boards this fall.

First is a collaboration with Lookingglass Theatre Company, a one-man hip hop musical, “Clay.” Written and performed by Matt Sax (a recent Northwestern U. grad), he takes over Lookingglass' Studio Theatre in their new Magnificent Mile digs. He beat-boxes and raps, and riffs on Shakespeare in beat poetry styling as he tells a tale of his parents’ divorce, falling in love with his step-mother, and learning “that to rap is to truthtell.” Chris Jones writes in his Chicago Tribune review: “Sax knows how to combine the tradition of the multi-character solo show in the style, say, of Heather Woodbury or Anna Deavere Smith, with the hip-hop tradition associated with Eminem or the Def Poetry Jam.” While not overtly gay-themed, perhaps it’s the motifs of alienation and that of a “vulnerable young kid who finds cathartic self-expression” that will appeal to the gay youth taking a break from the Michigan Avenue shopping. About Face artistic director, Eric Rosen, directs. Through November 20, 2006.

A little closer to Boys Town, “Say You Love Satan,” Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s “diabolical gay romantic comedy” will open at Victory Gardens’ Greenhouse space on October 11, 2006. The VG opens their current season at their new digs up the street in the renovated Biograph Theatre, while their original space turned Greenhouse hosts other Chicago companies.

From the About Face Web site: “You meet a guy. He’s got a body to die for. Can get into any nightclub, no matter how exclusive. Has all seven seasons of Buffy on DVD. And he’s read Dostoevsky in the original Russian. He’s perfect, right? Well sure. If making out with the Spawn of Satan is your idea of a good time. When lonely egghead Andrew has a fling with a mysterious stranger he meets in a laundromat, he gets way more than he bargained for.” Through November 19, 2006.

Into the Neo-Future

The Neo-Futurists, creators of the long running late night Chicago institution, “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind,” has a couple of productions of note in their prime time season. Summer into fall found “Roustabout: The Great Circus Train Wreck!” by ensemble member Jay Torrence about “the stories of five unknown circus performers who met their fate when an American military train plowed through a circus train outside of Chicago in 1918.” The show is “a cheerful eulogy exploring the nature of performance, self and tragedy.”

Rehearsals are underway for “Drag,” created by ensemble member Dean Evans. “Using the glamour and conventions of a rip-roaring drag show, four performance artists explore their desire to perform as the opposite sex. Drag deals with issues of sexual identity, sexual expression, and gender-bending.” The show runs November 2-December 9, 2006.

Late Night Rogues

Speaking of drag, this September saw the folks at Rogue Theater Company presenting their late night “Drag it Up,” “a totally improvised rock show in drag. [They] blend drag show, improv, and the audience’s shameful secrets into a rock and roll extravaganza. Before the show, the audience [was] asked to write down something no-one knows about them (anonymously, of course), and then the drag characters [took] them [to] create a whole hour show based on those dirty secrets.” Billed as “not recommended for children or the conservative!” Perhaps an extension is in order? October will see the 2nd installment of their late night Rogue-8 serial, a “superhero comedy where the audience votes on the outcome.” The show features “The Unfairy, a homophobic homosexual alderman who intends to make life difficult for gays and anyone who supports them.”

New “Ten” Writers

In October, my pals at NewTown Writers present “Take Ten: An Evening of 10 Minute Plays” on the Bailiwick Studio stage. Unlike with many NTW productions, I’m not involved with this one, but check out the writing and directing talents of friends, Michael Rashid, Mark Maroney, Floyd May, and Beverly Brume. Runs October 23 and 24, 2006.

Corn is Coming

Now in its 15th fabulous season, the kids at Corn Productions are getting ready to unleash the next installment of “Tales from Mom’s Crypt,” a terrifying and bawdy Halloween romp with Tiff and Mom. Congrats on their milestone anniversary as well as the continued success of “Floss!” now in its 7th year.

Post Card ~ Goshen, Indiana

My partner Ernie and I saw the New World Arts 9th season opener, “Danny and the Deep Blue Sea” by “Doubt” playwright and “Moonstruck” screenwriter, John Patrick Shanley. Their beautifully renovated warehouse space features a brick-walled art gallery and live music venue, and an intimate, 80-seat black box theatre space.

While not necessarily a gay-focused company, the group’s mission is to “engage the Michiana [Northern Indiana and Southwest Michigan] community through art that celebrates our human diversity and explores the compelling stories of our increasingly interconnected world, building a global culture of tolerance and understanding.” I’d say that fits them right in.

I had my directorial debut at Indiana University South Bend. “With Their Eyes,” is a collection of monologues created by students at New York City’s Stuyvesant High School, which is a mere four blocks from the fallen World Trade Center. We open October 13, 2006 in the Northside Hall auditorium.

Cheers, everyone!

“Chicago Scene” columnist and playwright, Michael Van Kerckhove,
may be contacted at

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