Everything is Running This Weekend

This is a bit delayed, but I’ve been really busy. I’m writing this from my Blackberry. I just wrote my review of “Hello, Dolly!” and in a little more than four hours I’m seeing another show.

Anyway, it seems as though almost every theater in Eastern Iowa has a show running this weekend. “Hello, Dolly!” opened last night at the Englert Theatre in Iowa City and continues tonight and tomorrow afternoon.

Riverside Theater’s production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was supposed to open last night, but I don’t think it did because it was an outdoor production at it was raining pretty hard last night in Iowa City. But that should have performances tonight. Check Riverside’s website.

Cedar Falls Community Theatre’s production of “Kiss Me Kate” also opened last night and has a performance tonight and tomorrow afternoon. I’ll have some thoughts on it after I see it tonight.

And “The Odd Couple” is still running at the Old Creamery along with “Squabbles” at Iowa Theatre Artists.

So, you can’t say that there aren’t any plays running in Eastern Iowa this weekend.

There’s More to Theater Than Broadway, Part One: Chicago

Left, the Steppenwolf Theatre, home to the Steppenwolf Theatre Company, one of Chicago’s most well known theatre companies.

The subtitle for “The Theater Loop,” the theater blog for the Chicago Tribune, proclaims that it is a blog with “News from America’s hottest theater city.”

Some people might be confused about this subtitle. Chicago is America’s hottest theater city? I thought New York was the mecca of theater in America. While most people associate theater in America with New York City and that subtitle is simply a claim since there are two other Chicago publications have more thorough coverage, to think that Chicago simply has the big Broadway in Chicago shows is a really sad and misinformed thought.

Maybe you could span the horizon a bit more. After all, Chicago is home to the Court Theatre and the Tony Award winning Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Goodman Theatre, Victory Gardens Theatre and Chicago Shakespeare. But to quote the 2009 Not for Tourists Guide to Chicago, “You can’t swing Mrs. O’Leary’s cow without hitting a tiny, struggling off-Loop storefront theater.” (Mrs. O’Leary’s cow was the rumored cause of the Great Chicago Fire.)

According to the League of Chicago Theatres, there are more than 190 theater companies in Chicago. That number includes dance companies, college theater groups and children’s theater.

On top of that, in this coming New York theater season and in the past two seasons, there has been a strong presence from Chicago. “August: Osage County”? Came from the Steppenwolf. “Ruined”? Originated at the Goodman. The current production of “Our Town”? The Hypocrites. “The 4th Graders Present an Unnamed Love-Suicide”? Also from The Hypocrites. Robert Falls revival of “Desire Under the Elms” that had an air borne house and didn’t do too well on Broadway? From the Goodman. In the upcoming season, there will be a production of “Superior Donuts.” That was done at the Steppenwolf. That show that Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig are supposed to be in originated in Chicago.

Looking at that list, it seems as though at least the “mecca” of American theater has a strong influence from Chicago. (Did I mention that a lot of David Mamet shows started off in Chicago?) It seems to me that Chicago has one of the most vibrant theater scenes in America. Presently, the list of plays I would like to see that are running in Chicago that I won’t be able to see. Although, I might be able to see Victory Gardens’ production of “Blackbird” or “Busman’s Honeymoon” at Lifeline Theater.

But Chicago seems to at least be the starting block for a lot of Chicago artists. I think that if theater in Chicago didn’t matter, there wouldn’t have been a profile on David Cromer on the front page of the Arts and Leisure section of the New York Times in November.

The opportunities that Chicago offers for theater are pretty much limitless. Want to see a non-traditional approach to “Oedipus”? You can see that Chicago. Want to see a big, splashy, bad musical? Well, you can see that on Broadway, but you can also see that in Chicago. I know some people genuinely like big, splashy, bad musicals, henceforth why I mentioned it.

If you have doubts about what to see, I recommend looking at the Chicago Reader or Time Out Chicago‘s theater sections. Those two publications seem to have the most expansive theater coverage. Too lazy to read? Why not try “Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind”? (which I admittedly haven’t seen yet, but I will once I move out there.)

Or, when there are college productions going on, you could always try a college play. Several colleges have excellent theater programs*. And on that same note, a lot of the smaller theaters have lower ticket prices.

Anyone who claims that the theater scene in Chicago doesn’t matter isn’t aware of what is occurring there. Chicago has an expansive and interesting theater scene that offers many different options to people of differing tastes.

*I would like to say that I am a bit biased towards DePaul University’s Theatre School. Although, DePaul’s Chicago Playworks production of “Alice in Wonderland” is the most brilliantly scary show I have ever seen.

There’s More to Theater Than Broadway: An Introduction

Yesterday, I received an email from someone who wrote this,

“y r u covering theater in Chicago and IA? Only Broadway matters.”

Well, I happen to live in Iowa at the moment and I will be living in Chicago. And both areas have very vibrant theater scenes. (Chicago more so than Iowa)

Before you say, “Monica, don’t freak out over some teenager’s opinion,” I can’t let this go by. This is because one of my biggest pet peeves, right up there with people who clap in between movements of music, is that some people think that the only element of theater in America that matters is Broadway. It just drives me up the wall and I view it as being a bit ignorant.

I don’t think that it’s wrong to go see a Broadway show. When I’m in New York, I go see Broadway plays. (although, I confess that I’m much more excited for what I plan to see off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway.) Broadway is a place that songs are written about, a place known to so many people. It’s part of theater too and the actors, stage hands, producers, employees of the theater all need to get paid. But that’s the same case for regional theaters, community theaters, and off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway houses.

So, to try to make the case for why theater is much more than just Broadway, I will be doing a series of four essays. The first one will be about theater in Chicago, the second on theater in Iowa, the third one on off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway shows, and the fourth one on regional theater.


This Is Getting Ridiculous

Anyone remember that “Accent on Youth” got pretty poor reviews? (Well, it did better critically than “The Philanthropist” or “Guys and Dolls.”) Anybody remember how “Ruined” received almost unanimous praise and won several awards, including the Pulitzer?

Did you know that both shows are being done by the Manhattan Theatre Club?

Did you know that “Ruined” has been extended again? I think that this is the seventh time “Ruined” has had it’s run extended. (It is)

This question has been posed by several other bloggers recently, but why hasn’t the Manhattan Theatre Club considered moving it to Broadway? And I don’t mean that they move it specifically to the Biltmore Samuel Friedman. Any Broadway theater is what I’m talking about. Would the show be lost in a big Broadway house? Do they think it’s too risky? I would have to assume that because it’s been extended seven times it isn’t a risk.

Update: The question should be not so much “Why hasn’t MTC considered moving it to Broadway?” because, for all we know they have. The question should be “Why hasn’t MTC moved it to Broadway?”

Enter the Female Drama Critic

I’m going to start this off with an anecdote.

When I was in eighth grade, my family didn’t have that much money. So, for Christmas, my dad went out and purchased a copy of the New York Times and gave it to me as a present. After that, I started buying a copy of the Times or, when I was too poor to go and get a copy, I would read the theater reviews in my junior high library when a class I was in would be there. I got in trouble a few times for doing this and they eventually blocked the website.

That same year, my guidance councilor asked me what I wanted to do as a career. “I want to be either a theatre critic or an epidemiologist,” I replied. “Why an epidemiologist?” she asked. “I think diseases are really interesting,” I answered.

She looked at me and said, “Stick with the epidemiologist idea.” So I tucked my desire to critique theater as a career in the back of my head until my senior year, when I said I wanted to be a playwright and a drama critic. My high school guidance councilor told me to get a degree in “something useful, just in case.”
I was watching an episode of Theater Talk yesterday and one of the critics they talked to, Barbara Hoffman of the New York Post, who I didn’t know wrote reviews (my fault), commented that most of the critics didn’t like “9 to 5″ because most of the New York critics are men (true) and couldn’t relate to the female bonding story. She also compared it to “Wicked” in the female-bonding-men-can’t-relate-to manner.

Four things popped into my mind. The first was, “Wait, John Simon enjoyed ’9 to 5′.” The second one was, “Why didn’t I like ‘Wicked’? Because I’m female and I don’t like it.” The third one was, “Why are they not mentioning Elysa Gardner?” (Her review of “9 to 5″ was a bit of a meh) And the final thought was a reminder of a comment someone left on The Theater Loop in reference to John Beer being named the new theater critic for Time Out Chicago. That comment was, “Oh good. Heaven knows we need more middle-aged white male critics in Chicago.”

While that comment is directly in reference to the critics in Chicago, most people could apply that to critics anywhere. Four of the major New York critics are female. (I’m counting the woman at Entertainment Weekly.) Two of the critics for print publications in Eastern Iowa are female. The critic at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch is female. Those are the ones immediately coming to my mind.

The fact that there aren’t as many women that are drama critics is not something I lose sleep over.

How many girls, or boys, wake up one morning and come bouncing to the breakfast table going, “Mommy, mommy, mommy, I want to be a theater critic when I grow up”? I’m going to guess very few. That’s not a career people are probably going to steer children or teenagers towards. Especially with the fate of print journalism. From my own casual observation, more young girls would much rather be actresses than critics. Or directors, stage managers, or stage hands.

And I don’t think that if we have more female theater critics we’re going to suddenly have a better understanding of female problems and struggles and friendship on the stage. I don’t like “Steel Magnolias” nor do I like “Wicked.” Although, I don’t like “Wicked” as an objective analysis of the show. I know a lot of guys who like more chick-flick type shows.

Does anyone disagree with me? Agree? Do we need more female drama critics?

Some Interesting Things From Various Places

Over the course of the next few days, I’ll be doing a bit of an answering of some questions people have about this blog. For example: “Why is your blog so theatre centric?” Or “What’s with the St. Louis stuff?” Or “Why do you have some of those blogs on your blogroll?”

This is because presently my mind is not in the mood for blogging like I normally do. I probably wouldn’t have posted anything today if Theatre Cedar Rapids’ hadn’t announced their season. Also, I just learned to knit because I tend to be very stressed out. (Although, a woman just told me the other day that she wished she could have my voice on an audiobook to make her feel calmer. No, she didn’t see me play Katurian in “The Pillowman.”)

But, to amuse/provoke thought/discussion, I have some links to some articles and blog posts that I presently find interesting.

At “Everything I Know I Learned From Musicals,” Chris Caggiano has a post on why file sharing is bad, in this case with cast albums.

At “What Blows/What’s Good in New York Theatre,” Rocco discusses the Bret Michael’s incident at the Tonys.

Isaac Butler has an interesting post on how much playwrights get paid on “Parabasis.”

I’m not sure what to think about “Flamingo Court.” (From “Upstaged”)

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Judith Newmark has some interesting arguments for the performances of touring shows on the Tony awards. Also, Bill McClellan has probably the most interesting argument against Sonia Sotomayor as a Supreme Court justice. His reasoning is that Obama promised a judge with “empathy,” and Sotomayor has the incredible story, similar to President Obama’s, about overcoming adversity. McClellan wants someone who has been there with most Americans. Lost their job, maybe a functioning alcoholic. While I don’t have anything wrong with Sotomayor, I think McClellan has an interesting argument. I’m also pleased to see him not use the “racist” argument so many people have been using.

Some Thoughts on Theatre Cedar Rapids’ and Cedar Falls Community Theatre’s 2009-2010 Season

Yes, I’m going to give commentary on seasons I will miss most of.

First, let’s talk about Cedar Falls Community Theatre’s season. Their line up is “Kiss Me Kate,” “Luv,” “Death By Chocolate,” “Nuncrackers,” and “Moon Over Buffalo.” While “Death by Chocolate” and “Nuncrackers” make me roll my eyes a bit, but if I was living in Eastern Iowa when those productions on stage, I would consider seeing them.

This comes from the fact that CFCT lowered their student ticket prices to $10. Sure, “Death by Chocolate” and “Nuncrackers” might sound bad, but you’d feel a lot better taking a potential risk and paying $10 to see a play. It might be good, it might be bad. You’d pay the same amount of money to see a movie.

Oh, and I do have tickets to see “Kiss Me Kate” on Saturday. I’m in Iowa City reviewing “Hello, Dolly!” at the Englert Theatre on Friday, when “Kiss Me Kate” opens. I also intend to see “Luv” because it’s directed by Bill Dawson, who directed last season’s “Murder at the Howard Johnson’s,” which sounded a bit dubious, but everyone I’ve spoken to that saw it, it was really good. In fact, I’m kicking myself a bit for missing it.

And now for Theatre Cedar Rapids’ season. I think my mind just about exploded when I found out the season. Their season defies the stereotypes of community theatre, again. Look at it, “Altar Boyz,” Stoppard, “The Laramie Project,” “The Producers,” and “Rent.” The unedited version of “Rent.” More on that later.

Last time I checked, “Altar Boyz” wasn’t exactly “The Odd Couple” or “Leaving Iowa.” In fact, I’m rather pleased to see that they’re emphasizing the fact that it’s an off-Broadway hit. The Stoppard? Sure, I would have swooned more if they had done “Arcadia,” but at least they’re doing a play by Tom Stoppard.

I think that the the entire season sounds great. Come on, I hate “Annie” and I would consider seeing it there. “The Producers”? I’ve loved that show since I was 11 and I bought the soundtrack with the money I earned delivering newspapers. If I knew my schedule, I would try to make it to that show.

I think that “Proof” is a very interesting play; I saw a very good production of it at the Waterloo Community Playhouse a few years ago. As for “Still Life With Iris,” I don’t know much about it, other than that DePaul University’s Chicago Playworks did it last year.

And finally, to address them doing “Rent”: I was very pleased to find out that they’re doing the unedited version. Some people would probably be offended by the content. It could be very easy to go ahead and do the “Student Version,” but doing the unedited version is very artistically brave and I think it will pay off. (On another note, City Circle Acting Company in Coralvile is doing the student version of “Rent”)

What this season tells me is that they want to give their patrons good art and entertainment.

Really, the only way that I can think of they could make their season any better is if they did David Harrower’s “Blackbird,” or Martin McDonagh’s “The Pillowman” and they didn’t cut out any of the violence and swearing. Two other companies have done “The Pillowman” and I keep missing productions. Which really upsets me.

Someone hurry up and build that Amtrak line from Chicago to Iowa City.

Go see these shows.

Theatre Cedar Rapids Announces 2009-2010 Season

Yes, I posted this before when it was announced in their newsletter, The Marquee. But today Theatre Cedar Rapids finalized their 2009-2010 season.

This is the line up:

At their Lindale Location

-Altar Boyz–Sept. 11-27

-Rock n’ Roll–Oct. 16-25

-Annie–Nov. 20-Dec. 6

-The Laramie Project–Jan. 15-24

At the Iowa Theatre Building

-The Producers–Feb. 26-Mar. 14

-Proof–April 9-18

-Still Life With Iris–May 14-23

-Rent–July 9-25

According to Theatre Cedar Rapids’ community relations director Rob Merritt, they are doing the unedited version of “Rent.”

And Feb. 26 is the Grand Reopening of the Iowa Theatre Building. This will involve a gala and several festivities.

For more information, please see Theatre Cedar Rapids‘ website.