A Quick Little Plug for The Theatre School at DePaul University’s “1001”

Over the course of the next four years, you will see some plugs for various productions at DePaul University because I am involved with them and would really appreciate it if you came and saw the shows that my classmates and I have put a lot of time into.

So, that being said, I would like to say that the first Theatre School Showcase production opens in less than a week and it is “1001” by Jason Grote. (He blogs.) The play intertwines the story of Scheherezade and some of her tales with the story of Alan and Dahna, a Jewish man and an Muslim woman in pre-9/11 New York City. How everything intertwines and weaves together is very well done.

I sat through a run of the show Saturday and I think that if you can see this show, you should come see it. The show left me with so many things to ponder after the run that I was thinking about it for the next several hours. The production, which is directed by Carlos Murillo, is definitely for mature audiences and I mostly say that because, in addition to the content, I think it might go over the heads of some people.

The show runs from October 2 through the 11 at the Merle Reskin Theatre at 60 E Balbo Dr. Tickets are $15 for the general audience, $6 for students and $10 for the previews, which are Wednesday and Thursday. All performances are at 7:30 p.m., except on Oct. 4 and 11, which have a curtain time at 2 p.m.. If you would like more information, I recommend visiting The Theatre School’s website.

On another note, I do have to have oodles of charm for the crew position I have with this production!

Review: “Animal Crackers” at the Goodman Theatre

Hooray for Captain Spaulding!

Or maybe that should be hooray for director Henry Wishcamper and the talented cast of nine actors in George S. Kaufman, Morrie Ryskind, Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby’s 1928 musical “Animal Crackers,” which opened tonight at the Goodman Theatre. The original musical starred the Marx Brothers, but the 1930 film based off of the musical is possibly more familiar to many audience members.

This production takes the audience in to the slapstick world of the 1920s, before the election of Herbert Hoover and the stock market crash. The production also has Joey Slotnick, Jonathan Brody, the magnificent Molly Brennan and Ed Kross looking exactly like the Marx Brothers who played the roles of Captain Spaulding, Emanuel Ravelli, The Professor and Horatio Jamison. But it doesn’t have the allusion that one is watching four people try to act like the Marx Brothers, at least it didn’t for me.

The production, which has a lavish set designed by Robin Vest that depicts the interior of a Long Island estate belonging to Mrs. Rittenhouse (Ora Jones). The six member orchestra sits directly in the center of the stage, but you never really notice them until the actors interact with them. In fact, many of the aspects of this production work well. The double casting of some of the roles works well with the actors making the characters unique and donning different outfits and wigs, easily fooling an audience members. The breaking of the fourth wall with some of Slotnick’s lines doesn’t come off as heavy handed, nor do anachronistic remarks about being at Petterino’s in ten minutes. In fact, “Animal Crackers” is a hilarious, roll-’em-in-the-aisle comedy that is truly funny and features such antics that the two-and-a-half hours you spend inside the Goodman’s Albert Theatre fly by.

The benefit of this show is that Kaufman and Ryskind wrote a book that is hilarious without being stupid. Not once is there the feeling of “Hurry up and get to the numbers,” nor is there the feeling of “Hurry up and get back to the dialogue” during Kalmar and Ruby’s numbers, which are usually serving a purpose for the characters to express romantic feelings.

But that’s only if you enjoy slapstick comedy. Those that do not enjoy slapstick will probably find “Animal Crackers” to be repetitive, vulgar and tedious. And even to those of us that do enjoy slapstick, the show is not without flaws. The final scene, a result of The Professor’s gassing antics, seems completely unnecessary except to untangle the mystery of who stole the missing painting that is at the heart of the plot. The unfortunate thing is that is slows down the show immensely, but the fortunate thing is that it’s right at the end of the show.

The entire company does a magnificent job in this production, but primarily Brennan, who relies solely on physical humor for the role of The Professor, Brody and Slotnick, who ensure that the show never has a dull moment with their delivery of misunderstood phrases and double entendres while Jones as the rich Mrs. Rittenhouse.

But what works so well about “Animal Crackers” is that it never feels as though you are watching the actors imitate the classic film. It just sweeps you away like you’re slipping on a banana peel.

“Animal Crackers” continues at the Goodman’s Albert Theatre until October 25. For more info, visit goodmantheatre.org

Review: “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” at Court Theatre

“Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” which is running through October 18 at the Court Theatre, is part of August Wilson’s Pittsburgh cycle, but is set on the south side of Chicago in the 1920s. While the setting is different, the play still examines the circumstances around life for African-Americans at the time period the play is set in, like Wilson’s other plays.

And while Ma Rainey (Greta Oglesby) has her name in the title, the members of the band spend more time on stage than she does. The climatic parts of both acts rely on the performance of the actor portraying Levee, a headstrong horn player. James T. Alfred’s performance in this role is thoroughly captivating, making the character annoying at some parts, but ultimately a sad example of the powerlessness in the world of the music industry where white men called the shots and made money off of black entertainers, who at the end of the day, were viewed only by their color. Ma Rainey might be the big name and she may appear to call the shots, but during a problem between her and a white police officer, it is her white manager, Irvin (Stephen Spencer), who smooths things out.

And while the character of Levee might come off as being an obstinate person, he is truly talented and unfortunately lives in this world where there are certain things that are assigned to black people and how things are done with them and how their music should sound. It is the actions of Levee in both acts that create such intense and startling moments in the play, that at the performance I attended, you could only hear the actors breathing if you were close enough to the stage; they stop the heart, making one tense for what occurs after that.

This production features fine performances from all of the actors, each of whom has a large presence on stage, but when Oglesby is on stage, she steals the eye from everything else to focus on her, which is very suitable for Ma Rainey’s diva personality. The actors also mime the actions of playing instruments well enough to fool someone who has played an instrument for several years.

John Culbert’s set is so detailed in depicting the setting of the show that you can see the footprints that have been left by the wintertime sludge on the floor of the practice room. The set is storied, on a lower level is a practice room, a little higher up is the recording space and at the top is the entrance way. This works perfectly because when there is action occurring in two different spaces, you can focus both things simultaneously without being distracted and missing something important.

Parsons production comes together to create something so powerful that it is mesmerizing, heart-wrenching and thought-provoking all in the course of one moment. It creates a powerful moment on stage and in the audience, making Wilson’s words resonate through the space of the theater.

David Mamet’s “Anne Frank” Isn’t Going to Be Done by Disney

Remember how David Mamet was going to do an adaptation of “The Diary of Anne Frank” for Disney and basically everyone went “What?” because David Mamet doesn’t do a good job of writing about women (Have you ever read “Boston Marriage”?) and Mamet probably can’t write something that would be appropriate for Disney?

Disney announced that they have scrapped this project. Why is this? Well, it’s because it wouldn’t have really been “The Diary of Anne Frank.” According to MovieLine, it would have been “about a contemporary Jewish girl who goes to Israel and learns about the traumas of suicide bombing.”

To be honest, this really doesn’t shock me as something David Mamet would do. I kind of want to bang my head in to a wall because this is nothing like what was proposed to occur, but it’s ultimately not shocking from David Mamet, especially when you read the quote about it turning in to something very dark and intense.

By the way, The Onion has the best idea as to what Mamet’s “Anne Frank” would be like if it was actually “The Diary of Anne Frank.”

An Assessment of GLEE

Something that I hate about some musicals is that I find myself wanting the book to hurry up and get back to the numbers because the musical numbers are so much better and interesting. (I hate it even more when I find myself wanting the musical numbers to hurry up and get back to the book.)

GLEE has become like a musical where I want the spoken part to hurry up so it can get to the musical numbers.

Granted, I thought that last night’s story line was cute with it’s incorporation of “Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It).” But I still had this nagging want for the show to get to the song and dance numbers.

And would it really be too much to ask for Jane Lynch’s character and Rachel Barry (Lea Michelle) to have depth? Because the lack of depth in those characters is driving me nuts.

Oh, Google…

If you do a Google Image search for “Desire Under the Elms”, this image is one of the results:

This is because of the house in the recent production at the Goodman and on Broadway of “Desire Under the Elms.”

No, really, I even looked at the link it came from.

Can Playwrights Write a Modern-Day Greek Tragedy?

I apologize in advance for the several posts I’ve recently been posting that have been related to ancient Greek theater, but that is what I’ve been studying in two of my classes and my thoughts have been going about ancient Greek theater and its styles in the modern world.

One thought that did occur to me was whether or not current, contemporary playwrights could write a modern-day Greek tragedy, but with a common man as the tragic hero, similar to what Arthur Miller did with “Death of a Salesman.”

I ask this question because I don’t think that there are any current playwrights that have written a modern-day Greek tragedy. If someone is willing to argue that “August: Osage County” is, I’d be willing to have that debate, but I don’t think it is.

What I am asking for is not a show that the audience members could sit in the audience and go, “Ah ha! This is like an old Greek tragedy.” Because that would be a bit too heavy handed.

What I am asking for is a play with a tragic hero, a character who neither inherently evil or inherently good that has a tragic flaw, that follows Aristotle’s idea of a tragedy. A play that is a bit more plot driven than character driven, and has a revelation of a secret to the tragic hero and/or a reversal of fate. A play that is able to produce catharsis in the audience and make them pity the tragic hero’s fate and fear for their fate occurring to them.

I don’t think it’s too much to ask. But that might be because I am presently trying to write a contemporary Greek tragedy. If tragedies written more than 2,000 years ago still have the ability to pull at the audiences emotions and hold the same power it used to have, then I see no reason why modern playwrights can’t write a play that is done in the style of a Greek tragedy.

Two Theater Bloggers Walk Into a Coffee Shop

The other night, I met Zev Valancy, who writes the excellent blog On Chicago Theatre, for coffee/tea and a discussion about theater and various other topics.

Zev happens to know what he’s talking about in terms of Chicago theater than I do, so I highly recommend you read his blog. Actually, I just recommend you read his blog period because he has some very well founded opinions that he puts in a very thought out manner. So, go read his blog now.

I now really wish I had seen “Titus Andronicus” at the Court Theatre after listening to Zev talk about it.

So, I repeat. Zev is a nice, very intelligent guy who has a great blog. It might not be updated every day, but when he does have a new post, it is definitely worth reading.

Things I Have Learned After Living in Chicago For One Week

1). The Brown Line is quite possibly the most scenic line of the L. Very lovely.
2). The Fullerton Dominick’s is really messed up.
3). If you call 911 and ask for an ambulance, the fire truck will also come. I’m assuming that this is because the ambulance is part of the fire department.
4). Navy Pier really is an overrated tourist trap that I will only go near for WBEZ or Chicago Shakespeare. I don’t know why I ever doubted anyone.
5). People in Chicago don’t drive like people in Iowa. Actually I already knew that, but it’s still something nice to remember.
6). Unless you really don’t feel like walking the distance to get there, there is no reason to take the Fullerton bus to get to Halsted. Because it takes about one minute to get from the Fullerton and Seminary stop to Halsted.
7). Any object exploding sounds really loud if it explodes near your open window.
8). Construction crews start work really early. Trust me, I learned this the hard way.
9). The Harold Washington Library is absolutely beautiful. They also have a lot of books there, but the architecture is beautiful.
10). On really beautiful days, some businesses/restaurants will open up their windows, which might be windows that fold back or slide back. The breeze you get from this is very nice, but you do have to have something holding down the newspaper so it doesn’t go flying everywhere.