Self-Imposed Hiatus

I haven’t been posting as often as I normally do because I haven’t had anything to say. This week, I am actually stepping back and taking a break from blogging because no one wants me to turn into a hot box of crazy. Again. And I almost turned into a hot box of crazy today on the train ride home. This is a sign that I need a break.

I need time to write and drink plenty of tea.

So, you can expect to see another post on here next Monday.

Note: That should say “another post from me” because the play I’m supposed to review tonight (Tuesday) is going to be reviewed by the wonderful Bob of Confessions of a Chicago Theatre Addict and will be posted here.

A Post For My Mother

My mum. If you don't understand the shirt, I can explain it to you.

Today my mum turns 50.

This is the first year I haven’t been with her to celebrate her birthday and this will also be the first year that she won’t be with me to celebrate my birthday, a inevitable event that occurs as we get older and move away from our parents.

Of course, this birthday is in a way a milestone and is the main reason why I chose this birthday to write this. I realize that this is oddly personal, but there is a theater connection here.

I don’t think that I would have an interest in theater if it wasn’t for my mother.

She took me to my first play when I was five, which was the national tour of Beauty and the Beast. (I know, that seems really odd when we’re talking about me.) She took me to plays when we moved to Iowa, encouraged me to audition and would give me tips on how I said lines and would remind me to project. I remember that she would include my sister and I in the process of selecting the plays that we would go see at the local children’s theater.

My mother was not a Mama Rose, a term I give any mother who tries to vicariously live through their daughter(s) that perform. She was supportive and encouraged me to do theater. She nurtured me and got involved in theater when I was cast in my first play at the age of nine. Unlike some Mama Roses at the children’s theater, who would be in charge of the costume crew for a play and then only change their child, my mother actually ran the crew. She didn’t hover over me with rehearsals and there was no need for her to do that during tech and the run of the show.

My mother eventually was bitten by the theater bug and was in the next play that the children’s theater did. (I was on the props crew.) As time progressed, my mother made more onstage appearances than I did, but still did a variety of things. We would run the light and sound boards together, which we did for a production of Charley’s Aunt. When she stage managed a production of a stage adaptation of Junie B. Jones, I served as the assistant stage manager and learned various tips and tricks for stage managing that would later help me when I stage managed a show.

She is also an actress that I greatly admire; the comedies being performed in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls area are probably a little more dull without her in them. She posses an incredible comedic timing while playing the roles straight, never for laughs. She can only be onstage for one scene, but steal the entire show. Any tip or compliment I would receive from her on my acting I took with great honor. When I did a staged reading of a stage adaptation of The Wolves in the Walls that I wrote and directed, she played the Queen of Melanesia. She simply sat there, miming the motions of gardening before saying her one line, “What?!” and I had to refrain from bursting out into laughter.

After we read through my first original play, we had an discussion about the motivations for the characters and my ideas with it. She encouraged me to apply to DePaul University and we both went to Chicago for my interview, which required her to leave a math teacher’s conference early. But it was worth the memories of food at Venus, the math section of the Borders on Michigan Ave at 9 p.m.. Only with her could I sing a rousing rendition of “The Ladies Who Lunch” while sitting in traffic on I-90.

I will also remember her reaction to someone telling her that she’d have to go to Chicago to see the shows I worked on. The person had made it sound like a horrible thing and my mother said, sarcastically, “I know. I’ll have to go to Chicago and see plays. And I’ll have to eat.”

She has managed to see the one show I’ve worked on since moving to Chicago. Even though I was only on the house and public relations crew, she still made it out here for opening weekend. When we talk, she’ll ask me about the shows I’ve seen recently. On the main screen of her iPod touch is a bookmark of my blog. She gives me constructive suggestions and I take them. She has dropped everything and came to Chicago when I ended up in the hospital.

If there is one thing I miss, it’s the commentary that she’d share with me about a play we’d see. Our opinions might’ve differed, but she stood by her opinions and she always told me to stand by mine and to think for myself.
On Friday, I walked to Swirlz Cupcakes to pick-up a cupcake for two reasons: one was as a celebration of her birthday and I felt as though I needed to pick it up then because cupcake shops would be packed on the 13 and 14 due to Valentine’s Day. The second one was because I was craving a cupcake.

The two cupcakes that caught my eye were the red velvet cupcake and the bittersweet chocolate. My mother is a true chocolate lover and prefers dark chocolate to milk chocolate. I decided to get the bittersweet chocolate because that seemed very appropriate for the occasion.

So, I lift a cupcake to my mother, who not only gave birth to me and my sister, but also helped nurture a love for the theater for me.

Hopefully we’ll be able to see another play soon.

Happy Birthday

I Finally Went to See a Play at Steppenwolf

Last night, I went to see American Buffalo at Steppenwolf, which is really odd because it took me ridiculously long to finally get over there and see a show because a). It’s not that far from where I live and b). it’s the freaking Steppenwolf Theatre. I’ve been wanting to see a show at Steppenwolf since I lived in Iowa.

Nonetheless, I had been psyched for American Buffalo since the season was announced and finally got around to seeing it last night. (I had been really busy the past few weeks and I was also in St. Louis before then.)

I can say that at least with this production, which is directed by Amy Morton, it has the energy, fast-paced dialogue, wit and profanity that have become atypical of David Mamet’s plays. But unlike Mamet’s newer plays, American Buffalo is an interesting and engaging work because it isn’t a bloody lecture. There are actually characters that drive the plot, not sock puppets to convey Mamet’s political views.

The play, which focuses on a heist involving a buffalo nickel, takes place in the a junkshop in Chicago in the 70s, run by Don (Francis Guinan). Between discussions with Bob (Patrick Andrews) and Teach (Tracy Letts), there are things that may or may not be true, things that are misconstrued and plans that are set in motion.

The trio of actors all give great performances because they’re constantly on their feet and they work together to create a great work of art. Guinan’s Don is almost a hard love parental figure to Bob, who Andrews manages to make a suspicious but sympathetic character. And Letts is unbelievable as Teach; he is the force that drives the play. Upon Teach’s first entrance, he goes off on a rant about running into a lesbian couple that all of the characters know. While delivering this speech, he started to go red in the face at the performance I was at. His timing and emotion, particularly at the climax is almost terrifyingly incredible.

So, yes, if you haven’t seen it, go see it. Now. (Okay, tomorrow) Also, you might have the benefit of not having Mike Nussbaum yelling George Michael lyrics into a banana as your memory the first performance of the “telephone scene.”

“August: Osage County” — National Tour at Cadillac Palace Theatre

It took me two-and-a-half years, but I finally saw August: Osage County last night and I can say that it was well worth the wait.

Tracy Letts’ three-and-a-half hour long play explores the relationships and dynamics of the dysfunctional Weston clan in a way that is at many times funny but resonates with familiarity because Letts’ has captured how a family behaves. Even though most of us don’t have families quite as dysfunctional or messed up as the Weston family, we have secrets, we fight, we judge and feign excitement at seeing relatives we haven’t seen in ages.

But at the head of this family that is worried about the missing patriarch, Beverly (Jon DeVries), is the acerbic, pill-popping Violet (Estelle Parsons). She tells it like it is and lets many of the secrets out. “Nobody slips anything by me,” she says. “I know what’s what.” Even though Violet is a damaged woman, she has this odd all-knowing, all-seeing quality to her that makes her seem dangerous as she verbally assaults many of her family members, mainly her adult daughters. As Violet, Parsons plays the role with venom while making the character seem realistic with her crying spells over the disappearance of Beverly. Parsons makes the character seem larger than life, which is how the play and Todd Rosenthal’s massive house feel in the large Cadillac Palace theater. Even in this venue, which is significantly larger than the Downstairs Theatre at Steppenwolf, where it premiered, the show manages to get underneath your skin and feels inescapable.

In this play, the women in the family dominate the scene, but it’s the struggle between Barbara (Shannon Cochran) and Violet that is the fascinating part of this play. The showdown between the two of them at the end of the second act is completely exhilarating and filled me with adrenaline just watching. Cochran’s performance as a daughter that squares off with her mother while slowly turning into her is subtle and fascinating.

The entire 13-member ensemble of this play delivers terrific performances as they say Letts’ exquisitely written dialogue. The play works well in this space, and probably other large spaces, because of Anna D. Shapiro’s natural direction and work on the climactic end of the second act, which focuses on a funeral dinner that seems to not have gone that well, but would probably mirror a dinner shared with any dysfunctional family.

If you haven’t seen this masterful play, I urge you to see it before the national tour leaves the Cadillac Palace Theatre on Feb. 14. If you have seen it while it was at Steppenwolf or on Broadway, go see it again. It’s the best three-and-a-half hours you’ll spend in a theater.

In keeping with the new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations that unfairly discriminates against bloggers, who are now required by law to disclose when they have received anything of value they might write about, please note that I did pay for my ticket.

“Rush Limbaugh! The Musical” — Second City e.t.c.

Last night, I went to the opening night of Rush Limbaugh! The Musical at Second City e.t.c.. Zev Valancy had an extra ticket, so I tagged along. The latest show focuses on the titular talk show personality and is funny, but has its problems.

My biggest problem with the show was that the jokes seemed to be really easy shots to make; it should come to no surprise to anyone familiar with who Limbaugh is that there is a song about Oxycotin. But at the same time, the jokes had an odd cathartic effect. Seeing Limbaugh skewered is funny and does provide one with a bit of schadenfreude.

The show also feels as though it loses steam in the second half, which deals with recent and future history. But that might be that some of the remarks are all too familiar; there is a nice quality of distance provided by the first half that looks at Limbaugh’s humble beginnings as a sock hop DJ with a radio show in 1968. (The first big number of the show is about holding on to the 50s.)

The show manages to poke fun at both the right and the left — Hilary Clinton and Barney Frank, who pretty much speaks in double entendres, are recurring characters. The Barney Frank gag, although still funny by the end, gets to be a bit tiring after a while. One of the numbers, a parody of “Totally Fucked” from Spring Awakening, looks at the hasty conclusion of fecklessness of the Democrats. (See: the recent Massachusetts elections.) The musical happens to have parodies of numbers from Wicked, Rent, Dreamgirls and Les Miserables, all of which work well, particularly “La Vie Conservative,” which is still stuck in my head.

During the show Limbaugh is seen cozying up to Ann Coulter, Donald Rumsfeld and Karl Rove, two of which felt a bit off. I realize that it’s Rush Limbaugh! The Musical and not Ann Coulter! The Musical, but there was a lot possibilities with Coulter that were not taken advantage of. With the portrayal of Rove, he was reduced to a slapstick jokester, which, while funny, felt a bit odd for someone that’s been portrayed by the media recently as the mind behind the Bush presidency. (But, then again, there was the MC Rove thing.)

Mark Sutton does an excellent job playing the role of Limbaugh by imitating some of his speech patterns. I also thought that in a scene where a young Limbaugh addresses his listeners that Sutton had a very odd resemblance to Glenn Beck addressing his viewers.

But the odd thing of this satire is that there is a slight chance that how it ends might actually happen, which is a bit chilling. But at the very least, Second City’s show is funny. Yet I’m still not sure how I feel about it as a whole.