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by Michael A. Van Kerckhove
Hello, and happy winter—like it or not. Chicago got blasted in the first storm of the year, though down here in Northern Indiana, we managed to escape a direct hit. The Christmas lights are up, the new bird feeder’s been hung, and there is plenty of theater to see while taking quick trips into the City. ’Tis the season for many Holiday theatrical goings on!
This December, Lifeline Theatre, whose mission is to “collaboratively develop literary adaptations and original theater” wrapped up their production of “A Room With a View.” This tale of a young woman’s coming of age was adapted by ensemble member Christina Calvit from the novel by the gay author E.M. Forster (of “Maurice” fame), and directed by fellow ensemble member, Dorothy Milne. Hillary Clemens played Lucy Honeychurch, the heroine caught between suitors and the evolution of social customs from Victorian to Edwardian. Creative theatrical elements brought Forster’s sprawling prose to life. In his Chicago Tribune review Chris Jones wrote that the production “deserves theaters full of mothers and rapt daughters, probing together how the perils of growing up have changed and how they surely remain the same.”
An Hour’s Time
This November and December, TimeLine Theatre, known for their efforts to connect history with current socio-political issues, presents Lillian Hellman’s classic and controversial 1934 play, “The Children’s Hour.” Accusations of a lesbian affair surrounding two female teachers at an all girl boarding school lead to tragic ends. Director Nick Bowling has taken a step away from a traditional presentation. The first act is staged realistically, but as the women’s lives become more chaotic, so too does the staging. Here, Bowling colors the stage with an Expressionistic approach, taking all the design elements with him. For Chicago Tribune critic, Chris Jones, this works, as it makes the “melodramatic final act” more palatable to contemporary audiences. The theater’s web site features interviews with the young actors (ages 10-15) who play the school’s students. Through December 17.
In conjunction with “The Children’s Hour,” TimeLine presents William Luce’s “Lillian,” a one-woman show about the life of the playwright. Set in 1961 in a New York hospital waiting room, Hellman looks back on her life while awaiting word on the condition of her longtime companion, novelist Dashiell Hammett. Louis Contey directs Janet Ulrich Brooks in a role originated by Zoe Caldwell on Broadway in 1986.
Hell in a Handbag Productions
Hell brings back David Cerda’s holiday parody, “Rudolph the Red Hosed Reindeer,” the story of a little reindeer who just wants to be himself. This 8th (non-consecutive) run plays at the Theatre Building through December 30, 2006.
Annoyance was responsible for the Chicago cult hit “Co-ed Prison Sluts.” This year, it has something for the whole family. The “Annoyance Christmas Pageant” remounts — in live-action — two beloved animated specials: “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” (sans parody) and “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”
Sharing the Annoyance space this year is GayCo as they bring back last year’s hit comedy, “Do You Fear what I Fear?” This year’s updated run features “twisted carols, lesbians finding their faith, circuit boys losing their patience, [and] Chicago losing its Marshall Fields.”
When the Going Gets Tough
Also tackling that last sticky subject is Shantz Theatre (a transplant from Minneapolis) with their late night Holiday sketch show, “Requiem for a Department Store, or How Jesus Taught Me to Shop at Macy’s.” At Gorilla Tango Theatre through December 17, 2006.
Nakedness Saves - Sailing Ends
Bailiwick’s Barenaked Lads present a new revue for the Holiday season: “Barenaked Lads Save Christmas” where the boys “take on family values, crabby scrooges, and all those tacky people who dare to re-gift!” The show runs through January 7, 2007 with a special New Year’s Eve performance and party.
For Bailiwick’s family theater goers, this year marks the 12th and final year of their musical, “The Christmas Schooner,” about the boat that carried Christmas trees to Chicago from across Lake Michigan. Through December 31, 2006.
It’s a Wonderful Radio
Now in its 5th year, American Theatre Company presents “It’s a Wonderful Life: a Live Radio Play.” The script was adapted by Joe Landry from the Frank Capra film. The ATC ensemble performers are joined by live music and sound effects for a unique theatrical experience. Through December 31, 2006.
And what’s a Holiday season without Sedaris? Theatre Wit! presents its annual production of “The Santaland Diaries,” adapted by Joe Mantello from the David Sedaris book. Lance Baker returns as the not-so-happy elf.
The Afterlife in Evanston
Evanston’s Next Theatre Company presents the Chicago premiere of gay playwright, Christopher Durang’s, latest play, “Miss Witherspoon.” New Yorker, Miss Witherspoon, has unfortunately died. The afterlife that she has landed in is one of Bardo, the Buddhist intermediate stop to reincarnation. Problem is, she’ll have none of that, much to the chagrin of her case worker, a sari clad woman who claims to be Jesus. Gandalf from “Lord of the Rings” is also recruited to convince her to make her return to Earth. Chicago actress Linda Kimbrough (whose performance and career are much praised in Hedy Weiss’ Chicago Sun-Times review) plays the title role. Director Jason Loewith says of the piece in Anne Brennan’s Chicago Tribune preview, “It’s a kinder, gentler Durang. It’s the play Samuel Beckett would have written if he were on antidepressants.” Through December 17, 2006.
Return of Ugly
After a successful stint in last year’s Around the Coyote Fall Arts Festival, Philip Dawkin’s comedy, “Ugly Baby” makes its triumphant return as its own late night destination. “564 Things to do With a Peanut” (Act 1), features a gay couple in a hospital waiting room. Adoption plans go awry and minds are changed when they discover the child is the ugliest thing they have ever seen. “Bedfellas” (Act 2) takes place behind the scenes of a gay wedding ceremony where the Jewish half of the couple learns that his Italian boyfriend is a member of the mob. Kosher meets gangster as family members farcically come and go, and love and trust are questioned. The ensemble cast includes Cynthia Castiglione, Nick Lewis, Jaya Subramanian, and Stephen Rader. Eric Reda directs. The fun runs at Strawdog Theatre through January 27, 2007. www.uglybaby.4ringcircuis.net
365 in Chicago
Many Chicago theater companies are participating in playwright Suzan-Lori Parks’ “365 Plays/365 Days” National Theatre Project. In November 2002, she began writing a play a day for a year. Four years later, the year’s worth of plays will receive their premiere(s). From November 13, 2006 to November 12, 2007 several hundred theaters from across the country will produce these plays in their own creative style. A different Chicago theater takes the reigns each week during the festival. Companies in the first wave include Dog & Pony Theatre, The Gift Theatre, Urban Theatre Company, Rubicon Theatre Project, Bailiwick, Serendipity Theatre Company, ATC, and The Artistic Home.
20 Years of Concern
The Chicago theater community’s AIDS charity, Season of Concern, celebrated its 20th anniversary this November, a positive milestone as well as a reminder of continued need. SOC raises money that is channeled to various local direct-care organizations. In honor of their anniversary, SOC Executive Director Stephen Rader announced the expansion of the organization’s mission. Starting in January, SOC will be “extending their efforts help to people in the theater community who are struggling with other catastrophic or life-threatening illnesses and accidents” in addition to HIV/AIDS.
On that note of giving, I leave you now and wish you a warm and wonderful — and fabulous! — holiday season and New Year. See you in 2007!