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Chicago Scene
by Michael A. Van Kerckhove
July 2007

Hello and Happy Summer! It’s a time of Pride and fireworks and escaping the heat with some good theatre (assuming the company can afford air conditioning). Either way, here’s some of what’s been going on around these here Chicago parts.

Revisiting Laramie

The Chicagoland area has seen a number of productions of “The Laramie Project,” Moisés Kauffman and the Tectonic Theater Company’s theatrical presentation of the Matthew Shepard story. It’s a story about anti-gay violence that’s worth revisiting.

The Theo Ubique Theatre (in association with Michael James) closed their production, directed by Fred Anzevino, at the No Exit Café on June 24. The Windy City Times’ Scott C. Morgan called their production a “solid take.” While originally nervous about the minimal production elements of the space, Morgan went on to say the “eight-member cast reaffirms the magic of theater by reminding us that great actors need only add a pair of glasses or a scarf to delineate a variety of strong and distinct characters.”

The company was recently honored with several Jeff Recommendations for their production of the Stephen Sondheim review, “Side by Side by Sondheim.”

Center! Halsted! Open!

Chicago’s GLBT community welcomed the much anticipated Center on Halsted in a ribbon cutting ceremony on June 5 (and those living in Boystown welcomed being able to walk on the west side of the street at Halsted and Waveland). The Center is the Midwest’s largest GLBT community center. It features office space for community organizations, a recreation center, meeting rooms, a café, and a Whole Foods as its anchor retail partner.

The Center also houses the Hoover-Leppen Theater space. Powerhouse Chicago theater company, About Face, was rumored to be the Center’s resident theater company, though the Center actually partnered with two smaller companies, GayCo and Hubris Productions.

Chris Jones writes in his June 18 Chicago Tribune piece of the diverse (and often non theater-related) programming of the space that makes working with smaller companies more in tune with the Center’s goals.

Hubris’ production of Terrence McNally’s Love! Valor! Compassion! plays at the Center July 5 to August 12.

About Face has announced they will produce Douglas Carter Beane’s Broadway hit, “The Little Dog Laughed” at the Hoover-Leepen early next year. They recently closed their current season with the revival of their 2004 hit, Pulp, Patricia Kane’s musical take on lesbian pulp fiction novels of the 1950’s.

Out of Floss

Don’t you hate it when you actually remember to floss and when you yank that gum massaging goodness out of the little plastic container you realize you’ve reached the end of the line with only five inches left to work with? Alas, with a beautiful opening, there must also be the closing of a beautiful thing.

Corn Productions and its fans experienced their final “Floss!” on May 19 after a nearly 7-year run. Corn’s take on cultural dance shows featured a contingent of The Beboian Arts Group who were sent to present their people’s history through dance in order to raise funds to save their sinking island home. Several gay Beboians have made an appearance throughout the run making for an even more exciting cultural exchange. A permanent home in The Chicago Reader’s “Highly Recommended List,” scores of fans, and many dedicated performers over the years kept the little phenomenon at Lincoln and Berteau alive for so long.

In a letter on the company’s Web site, Robert Bouwman—Artistic Director, Floss! co-creator (and one half of the infamous mother-daughter drag duo Tiff & Mom) muses:

“I think the show was about you, the audience and everyone that worked in/on the show. About what a person put into it, as audience or actor, and the meanings we derived, both good and bad. I think ‘Floss!’ told you a lot about yourself … but only if you listened.”
Summer Reading

Two beloved Chicago theater companies are currently running their summer programming of readings for those who enjoy a bit camp, trash, and the bizarre with their entertainment. Think of them as good beach books for the theatrically inclined. First off, Hell in a Handbag presents “Summer Camp!” (“cabaret readings for serious campers”) presented in Mary’s Attic in Andersonville. The program includes actor, playwright, and drag legend, Charles Busch’s “Die Mommy Die!,” Erin Purcell and Greg Jackson’s “Go-Go Kitty, Go!,” and Kevin Murphy and Dan Studney’s “Reefer Madness: The Musical.”

The Neo-Futurists present “It Came from the Neo-Futurarium VI: Curse of the Neo-Futurarium,” readings of screenplays for the stage. This year’s line-up includes “Xanadu,” “DreamQuest,” “Mesa of Lost Women,” “Madam X,” “An After School Special Triple Feature,” and “The Ten Commandments.”

Bailiwick-A-Go-Go!

It’s summer, so that means plenty is going on at the Bailiwick. The company found theater gold in snagging the rights to the American premiere of “Jerry Springer: The Opera.”

Apparently, Broadway wasn’t interested, but what better place than Chicago, home to the daytime talk cultural phenomenon? The show, originally a huge London hit for Richard Thomas and Stewart Lee, stars Brian D. Simmons as the man — “Jer-ry! Jer-ry! Jer-ry!” — himself. He is surrounded by an endless ensemble of talk show denizens all seeking their “Jerry Springer moment.”

If there was a question that the Bailiwick could pull of such an immense undertaking, Chicago Tribune critic, Chris Jones, answered with a resounding, “[They] pulled it off in grand fashion.” Jones, an Englishman himself, saw the original four years ago, so he has a good perspective in reviewing this production. He praises the production values, talent, and Bailiwick’s tackling of the trouble spots in the script. He also shares his thoughts on how each culture takes on the material: “In London, this show … smacked of smug anti-Americanism. … But in Chicago, the piece functions as a kind of campy self-meditation.” “Talkin’ Broadway”’s Chicago columnist, John Olson, feels the show fits in with the “outsider” theme of recent Bailiwick musicals such as “Parade,” “Gypsy,” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman.” He also praises the production’s fearless supporting cast. He singles out, among others, Joe Tokarz, as serial cheating husband, Dwight; Ryan Lanning as Dwight’s transvestite lover, Tremont; and Jeremy Rill as both Jerry’s warm-up man and Satan. The show has been extended through August 19.

After last year’s successful production of Jack Heifner’s “Seduction,” the Shamelessboyz of London return to the Bailiwick with “Dangerous,” Tom Smith’s all male adaptation of “Les Liaisons Dangereuses.” This production marks the official kick-off of this year’s Pride Series.

Also on the boards for the Pride Series is Just Say Love, Massachusetts playwright David Mauriello’s pondering of what brings a couple together. Is it simply physical attraction, or is it something much deeper?

Matt Trucano directs Jake Jay’s double bill of one-acts, “How to Ruin Love” and “The Lady who Loved.” The latter, about the women who’ve supported and cared for gay men with AIDS over the decades, received a 2003 GLAAD Award nomination. July 2-August 26.

New York playwright, Kevin Christopher Snipes makes his Chicago debut with the Bailiwick production of his play, “A Bitter Taste.” The piece, originally produced by NYC’s Ensemble Studio Theater in 2006, tells the tale of two friends who must deal with the blackmail attempt from an underage male prostitute.

Chicago pianist, Mikel A. Murphy, premieres “Sharps, Flats, and Other Alterations” his “hilarious and heartbreaking one-man musical about a gay man’s journey into self-realization.” On his Web site, Mr. Murphy gives the following description:

“Steve, a shooting star in development … [is] pulled into Earth’s magnetic field, [and] he must give in to the force, fall through the atmosphere and incarnate as a human in order to find out how stars are formed. But since he wants to be a magical star in the shape of a musical note, Steve must bump up against all kinds of sharps, flats and other accidentals to smooth out his rough edges.”
Appropriate for a Pride celebration, Ashlee Hardgrave and James Morehead present “Rainbow Connection,” “a musical tribute to signs and symbols of gay culture, issues and history.” The show should satisfy everyone’s CD collection as the musical styles range “from classical to cabaret and Broadway."”

HSM

What, you don’t know what that stands for?! Why, “High School Musical,” of course! This summer, my husband, Ernie Nolan, directs and choreographs Emerald City Theatre Company’s production of the one-act “Theatre for Young Audiences” stage adaptation of the Disney Channel smash (which I think of as a sanitized, if cute and catchy mash-up of “Grease” and “The Breakfast Club”).

Thirteen Chicago area high school students were cast this past spring to wow audiences at the former Victory Gardens main stage, now dubbed The Greenhouse. Tickets are selling fast! Don’t disappoint your nieces, nephews, and any other young ones in your lives. The show runs July 15-August 11.

BoHo is Wilde

Firstly, congratulations go to the Bohemian Theatre Ensemble for their production of Side Show’s recent Jeff Award wins (including Best Musical, an honor shared with TimeLine’s “Fiorello!”)

This summer, BoHo presents Moisés Kauffman and the Tectonic Theater Company’s “Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde.” The play, which incorporates courtroom testimony of the trials that lead to Wilde’s downfall, will run at the Heartland Studio July 27-August 26. The company is currently wrapping up their production of “The Life,” the Tony winning musical of life in Time Square’s streets during the 1970’s.

Camino’s Coming - For Real

Chicago has definitely seen its share of gay playwright Tennessee Williams’ productions over the decades. One we haven’t seen, however, is his 1953 non-linear, literary figure filled dream play, “Camino Real,” a piece that divided critics and ultimately failed in its originally Broadway run. A quote found oft repeated is from Walter Kerr of the New York Times, who dubbed it “the worst play yet written by the best playwright of this generation.” On the other hand, Clive Barnes, also of the NY Times, called it his best play, “torn out of a human soul.”

Mom and Dad Productions, “a small not-for-profit theater company, whose mission is to produce and promote classic and emerging classics for those who do not traditionally attend the theater,” thinks it’s time for Chicago audiences to decide for themselves. Their production runs at the Athenaeum Theatre on August 10-September 15.


Well, that should do it for summer in Chicago. Many theater companies have started to announce their fall schedules. It looks like we’ll have a fabulous new season ahead of us. Until then, have a wonderful rest of your summer! Cheers.


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

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