Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Exclusive Interview: Aly Renee Amidei

There's a new sheriff in charge of Horror Theatre in this town and her name is Aly Renee Amidei. She was recently appointed Artistic Director of Wildclaw Theatre Company.We had a chance to catch up with her after a long night and 8 whole racks of ribs.

Aly! So great to see you! Do you want to share these ribs with us for breakfast?

No thanks, I don’t eat meat from the bone...for breakfast.

Well, whatever. I mean, it’s a little disrespectful, but not the end of the world. So, what have you been up to lately?

Well, WildClaw Theatre just closed it’s most successful play ever, Carmilla.

I saw that!

Me too.

Now if I’m not mistaken, you adapted it into a play also. Is that right?

Yes. I had been mildly obsessed with the play since I was a teenager. WildClaw’s artistic director, Charley Sherman, was encouraging company members to write. So I took up the challenge and we wrote a proposal for the DCA space. We got picked...meaning, the City of Chicago called my bluff and I had no choice but to write it.

Now you say you were into it in high school... was that because you wanted to be taken away by an older, toothier, lesbian stranger?

I am not so sure I was that aware of the lesbian angle when I was 13...all I knew then was that it had vamps and girls. I REALLY liked vampires as a girl. that I think about it I also REALLY liked The Hunger...which had older toothier lesbian vampires. Hmmm.

Well thank you for confirming my theory that all 13 year olds are lesbians. So now that was such a success for your young company, you have decided to take over the reigns as Artistic Director?

Well the company decided...I didn’t just roll in and punch Sherman in the groin. But yes, I will be the new artistic director starting in May. I am very excited. A bit woozy but excited.

I think you are a great choice, and let me tell you why. You, as a costume and set designer, have been involved in hundreds of productions, and know how to deal with that side, and also, you know more about the genre than almost anybody alive. Which in turn makes you super hot and also a little bit gross.

That is an amazing compliment. Thanks.

So, you are a member of some other organizations too, correct?

Yes. I have been at Strawdog for more than five years now...doing costumes, makeup, and a set. Plus writing for the Hit Factory. I recently was the makeup designer for The Master and Margarita.

So what have you learned from being under 2 different Artistic Directors that you can bring to your new job?

Nic (Dimond, Artistic Director at Strawdog) and Charley (Sherman, WildClaw) are super different. I mean there are the obvious differences...but both are passionate about the mission of these two companies. Nic really helped us with the ‘Whole Wide World in a Little Black Box’ concept: immersion, genuine human connections, etc...It looks good on paper...but also works when you are trying to make art. With WildClaw, the mission is putting horror on stage and taking it seriously. Sounds simple right? But it is deceptively tricky. Finding horror to actually put on the stage has been the biggest challenge. There is just not a lot of it out there that fits our mission. We will not being doing Little Shop or Rocky Horror. So we either need to write it ourselves or inspire the horror lovers of the world to write some awesome spooky theatre for us. We want horror to be infectious. And for that infection to spread...whoa...sorry this is getting weird.

Speaking of weird, I have been working on an adaptation of a dream I had that I think you guys might really like. It starts out with this Indian guy getting eaten by rats and birds and then he brings his half-ate ass to America and gets a job at a factory where he falls in love with this centaur but it turns out that it’s really a centaur ghost.

You had me at centaur.

So what’s up next for WildClaw?

Oh how I wish I knew. We definitely have Deathscribe coming up in December. This is our annual radio play festival. We will be opening up for submissions soon. But our next stage play is still being decided. We have a bunch of play readings scheduled and everyone is writing frantically.

Well we are so excited to see what the future holds. You guys are really getting at a market that hasn’t existed before.

Yeah and what is super cool is seeing people in the theatre that had never been to a live play before. And even better, is some of our horror audience is actually going to see more theatre....not just us

Well maybe next time you could talk to us more about some lesbian stuff.

Definitely. I am working on a play where a young girl is seduced by an older woman..but it turns out she is a werewolf....

Then it’s good you are a costume designer, so you can design your own merkins. Werewolf pubes are hard to read on stage.

My entire career has been leading towards that very goal.

-Anderson Lawfer, Eric Roach

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Woman In Black (First Folio)

What do you think about "Horror" plays?
I usually think they are dumb, because they are never scary. I always go to a play and think, " this proscenium space, can you possibly scare me? I am a grown ass man!"
In fact, most scary plays are more historically based and not even the least bit frightening, but there are a few companies in town that can give you a jolt from time to time.
Where you might least expect a nutpunch of fright is in the heart of Oak Brook at First Folio Theatre Company.

I must admit that I don't know the first thing about First Folio. Mainly because I don't ever go to the suburbs, and when I do it's to go to Arby's or Walmart. It seems like it is managed and Artistically Directed by a couple people and that's it. Their lengthier Artistic Associates list boasts some big names including Nick Sandys (who is British) and Melanie Keller (who is this foxy little red head).
The talent on their list is unmistakable.
In Woman In Black the same holds true featuring two of Chicago's top talents.

Firstly, there's this dude named Kevin McKillip who has a speaking voice to rival the best in town. He also sort of has Steve Carrell face. Having Steve Carrell face is a compliment dressed up in a weird sounding statement, but mainly it means you have a defined nose and a strong chin, but your eyes are far enough apart and you can wear any color tie. You all should be so lucky enough to have Steve Carrell face.
McKillip's teammate on this project is none other than the legendary Joe Foust. Do you know about this guy Joe Foust? I bet you are immediately thinking of the magician and alchemist from the 1500's but that was Steve Foust. No, this is a different guy all together.
When I first moved to town, I spent some time hanging out with some Defiant Theatre people and this character Joe Foust was often the topic of conversation. His excellent acting skills were discussed, but more importantly, it was his wild streak that people really loved. For example, legend has it that during a performance of Defiant's "A Chorus Line", Foust punched an usher and then spit on a fellow cast mate. When asked to apologize, he quoted a line from "Equus" took off his pants and ran to a nearby graveyard. Now this is a mild story about Joe Foust, and while I had never seen him perform, I have had the opportunity to have a cocktail with him and meet his beautiful family and children, and I have to tell you that he is one of the sweetest men I have ever met in my life. And better than all of that, he is really an incredible actor.

In Woman In Black, Foust and McKillip play these 2 dudes who are going to be putting on a play version of this story that happened to one of them. It concerns a man who goes to this mansion because he needs some receipts from this lady who just died. When he gets out there to the mansion, no one in the town will look at him or talk to him, presumably because they are scared of the house. Well the guy gets this dog and they stay out at the house and also there is a ghost.

I don't want to spoil anything, but there is a ghost.

So that's all I can tell you about the play I'm afraid, but you gotta see these guys make it awesome. It's really great, and you get to go see this really cool mansion where the show is called the Mayslake Peabody Estate. So if you are looking for a great place to take a date this weekend, you will definitely with out question get laid from taking them to see this play.


-Anderson Lawfer, Eric Roach

Friday, April 15, 2011

C T Gaaaaaaaaay (Red Line)

Our own reviewer, Monica Reida, has decided to take the biggest challenge of all. She will be reviewing ALL CTA train lines and bus lines over the next few months for our website. If you have a question or comment for her, leave it here!

The Red Line is the train I take the most often and thanks to that I have some really freaky stories to tell. Like the time I was coming back from a show at the Side Project, and the train I was on stopped, opened the doors, and the lights went out. Or times people vomit on the train. Or have sex on the train. But if you’ve taken the Red Line, you’ve probably already seen this. The other stuff, not being on a train that suddenly turns into a scene from a horror film.

(Side note: Who the hell would have sex on the Red Line?)

The Red Line isn’t like the Brown Line, which has really nice, semi-new stops. Half of the Red Line stops are nice and the other half are decaying and/or smell like piss. One of the most notable creepy Red Line stops is the Wilson Stop, which I once used to go see a Pegasus Players show, back when they were still a big thing. Guys, that stop is incredibly scary. I mean, sure there’s Truman College and a Harold’s Chicken Shack nearby, but that stop freaks me out.

Then there are stops like the Chicago, Lake, and Jackson Stops, which have nice tile work and escalators that actually work. The Grand and North/Clybourn stops are getting there, mostly because Apple decided to finance the renovation of one of those stops. The Harrison stop isn’t fancy and the entrance seems to be leaky, but they’ve got nice haikus to read while you wait for the train. So if you’re into haikus, that’s great for you.

The cars themselves vary. If you get one of the sexy new trains the CTA’s testing, that’s great for you. Otherwise, you can get fairly clean rail cars or cars where all of the seats either have gum or Flamin’ Hot Cheetos dust on them. The other night I was on a car that had a bunch of sand covering the floor as if a sandbag had burst. I have no clue how that got there unless someone decided to do a mobile sandbox.

Plus, if you take the Red Line, you sometimes have to fight teenage girls with Forever 21 bags for priority seating if you’re in a cast, boot, or on crutches. Even if you’re like, “Hey, I’m in a boot because my foot got injured. I need to sit down and rest my foot,” they’re like, “Nuh uh, my bag of cheap clothing and I deserve this seat.” Then you say, “Please?” while getting wide-eyed and sad only to be ignored while they feverishly text their boyfriends.

Also, the Red Line never seems to run quickly when you need it to. I’ll be on the Red Line on the weekend and my travel time is half of what it is when I’m on the train at 7:25 a.m.. I then think to myself, “Why can’t you run this fast when I have to be somewhere on time?”

Taking the Red Line is a love/hate relationship. Most of the time, it will get you to where you need to go because it’s the closest to your destination. Sure, it smells bad, is dirty, and sometimes breaks down in between North/Clybourn and Clark/Division (which always sucks), but sometimes you have to take it because the Brown Line won’t get you to where you’re going and you live too far away from the Brown Line. Plus, the Red Line runs 24-hours a day, which always comes in handy when you go to a late night show or go barhopping. Or go to a late night show and then go barhopping.

The Red Line stop at Garfield is also nicer than the Green Line stop. Just throwing that out there.

Sure, there are a lot of other lines on the L that are much nicer. (By “a lot,” I mean three.) But sometimes you’ve got to take the Red Line and it works well for getting you to and from your apartment and job. Most of the time.

Seriously though, CTA, fix the Wilson Stop. People probably want to go to the Harold’s Chicken Shack on the North Side.


B, if you get the new trains.

-Monica Reida

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Three Faces of Doctor Crippen (Strange Tree Group)

I'm sure by now you have the term "First World Problems". It is a phrase used to describe issues we may come across in our lives that in the grand scheme of things, aren't terribly bad. Problems like, bad tasting tap water and chlamydia. Problems like parking meter buyouts and lines at the Six Flags.

These are all valid problems for us to have, because they happen to all of us in developed countries. In the scope of our fairly comfortable lives, things that cause us stress can kill us the same way a ruthless dictator or vicious lion can kill a dude in a smaller 3rd world country.

Now there is another term that we are going to be discussing today. That term is "White Man's Problems" and is totally different from "First World Problems".

What is a "White Man Problem"? It certainly isn't a problem that only white men deal with, but it IS a problem that if you ever imagined it happening in your head, the lead would definitely be a white fella. Maybe Ray Romano or Tim Allen. Problems that are sort of ridiculous in that they shouldn't be problems for ANYone EVER.
Problems created by arrogance and ignorance for yourself. For example, faulty Scuba diving equipment. Molesting Choir boys at your Church. Being trapped in an avalanche while you are snowboarding. Hoarding cats. Murdering your Vaudeville star wife in London and fleeing to America with your secretary who is disguised as your son. Choking to death at a Van Halen concert. Slipping on watermelon at a Gallagher show. Sleeping with your therapist. Turning into a mutant with super powers.


Let's go back a couple there... Murdering your Vaudeville star wife in London and fleeing to America with your secretary who is disguised as your son? "That seems pretty specific" you say.

Well it is specific because that's what the play I saw was about! "The Three Faces of Doctor Crippen" is about a white man's problem.

Strange Tree Group, admittedly one of my favorite theatre companies, has set up house at the luxurious Steppenwolf Garage space. This space has a lot to offer a new company searching for it's audience because #1, it says Steppenwolf right in the name there, and #2, it says Garage right in the name too and parking is expensive these days, so a garage is a welcome change of pace.

Emily Schwartz, the Artistic Director and house playwright for the company is interested in a sort of "Lemony Snicket with a side of dick jokes" aesthetic that I really like. Her ability to jump back and forth between humor and authentic emotional realism is unrivaled as a Chicago playwright and maybe in the world. You don't see plays like this anywhere else.

Do you ever get sick of young playwrights who only wanna talk about the dangers of life and genocide and shit like that? Me too.

A common theme I find in her work is loss or escape which are certainly prevalent themes in a lot of work around town, but she doesn't treat it like a bad thing. Loss can be celebrated and escape can be dangerous in the way it is in novels without winking at the audience or somehow bargaining with them to take the trip with you. She doesn't spend a lot of time on the why and spends more time on the hope and confusion that comes along with it.

Sort of like Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car". Which by the way is the jam escape and loss song.

Schwartz's material would be useless though, without her trusty cast of goofballs from Indiana University. These dudes...
Let me tell you something. We all SAY we are in ensembles or whatever, and we all SAY we play off each other the way we should but I encourage all of you and your fruity ensembles to go see these dudes. They control the stage with swagger and ease. They believe in what they are doing and have developed timing together to create a new thing. Confidence is their secret weapon, y'all.

"Doctor Crippen" is about this guy who has three distinct personalities. Private (the workhorse Scott Cupper), Fantasy (the curly headed dreamboat Matt Holzfeind), and Public (the best fucking speaking voice in town Stuart Ritter). These three personalities navigate this doctor's decision to murder his terribly horrible and disgustingly crude wife (the magnanimous and flourishy Kate Nawrocki). I mean, this bitch had it coming. She has been blowing dudes from all over England in her husband's house. PLUS she is an American that has moved to England, so you know all these guys are bragging about getting head from an American broad. So Crippen falls in love with his secretary (the prudish harlot Delia Baseman), they hop on a boat to America and are being pursued by the legendary Inspector Dew (the completely mystifying in every way Bob Kruse).
So Crippen dresses his secretary up as his son to fool the other guys on the boat, and get to America to safety. Well this plan is just super ignorant in a lot of ways, but the main reason is because Mexico is right next to America. In Mexico they welcome people like him. Mainly because he is a Doctor.
They don't welcome murderers in Mexico.

Anyway, back in England, there are 3 women with 1 personality called the Guild or something and they are just perfect as well. Everybody in this play is wearing white face (like it isn't white enough) but in turn, it makes it harder to emote with your face. So the ability these women have at communicating expressions is great. They are for the record, the always wonderful Carol Enoch, the Carol Burnett-y Jennifer Marschand and the glorious Jennifer Henry.

The 3 different personalities of the Doctor don't start off as distinct as they need to for the transition that happens. Ya see, as the Doctor becomes increasingly paranoid the personalities start to become one, but it is unclear which is which at the top. And of course, this play is not about anything that will make you think or start a revolution over, but sometimes that is ok, too.

If you can get past that, then you are gonna have a great time!
Go see this Goddammed play or ELSE!!


-Anderson Lawfer, Eric Roach

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

I Am Montana (Mortar Theatre Company)

This review reprinted with permission from The Drudge Report:

Conservative culture warrior and play-maker, Samuel D. Hunter, has crafted an eye-popping exposé of the impending liberal threat in America’s heartland. Long before James O’Keefe bravely pulled left-wing America’s pants down and spanked its flabby behind with his justice-spoon (don’t forget to donate to his ‘relieve my credit card debt’ campaign at, Samuel D. Hunter was uncovering the true effects of dumb-o-crat policies and revealing the march towards perversion taking place in the values stronghold of our nation.

The result of his years of muckraking is the committed satire, I Am Montana, now receiving its Chicago premiere with Mortar Theatre Company. Sure, on its surface I Am Montana may appear to be the whimsical sort of socialist fairy tale the left-wing media will fall all over themselves to shove down your throat. And in a way, their ignorant enthusiasm will be beneficial for the piece; a butt in a seat is a butt in a seat. But while your standard Pelosi-loving audience member is sipping away on his latte, bragging about his sushi dinner, and inflating the deficit with his bleeding-heart “social justice,” you will be discovering the truth—a little word our liberal-minded buddies seem to have difficulty with. Remember, my friends: It’s not about what you watch but how you watch it.

Let’s look at the facts: A young man, Eben Shamir (the excellent Derek Garza), with a great customer service job at the up-and-coming multi-national corporation, Valumart, is asked to give a speech at the company’s annual conference and appear in their new television commercial; pretty good stuff. The conference/commercial opportunity is in the great state of Iowa and as Eben calls the great state of Montana his home, he hops in his GMC Jimmy and heads east (the ground transportation angle is an great “screw you” to the TSA). Eben is accompanied by his coworker and best friend, Tommy (a heart-breaking Sentell Harper), and the hilarious “drug addict” cum gun advocate Dirk (the hilarious Josh Nordmark). So you’ve got three boot strap-pulling go-getters well on their way to celebrity and fiscal solvency when what do you think happens? The liberal menace sticks its filthy finger into their American pie.

In his powerful new book, I Think, Therefore I Am…NOT a Liberal, renowned culture-knower and Professor of Histrionics Calvin A. Doosher identifies the seven symptoms of the liberal mind. I won’t go into them all right here as it really is a fascinating read, but I think number six, “Forced Sympathization and the Secret Liberal Brainwash,” is especially prescient to this piece.

With a very clever dramatic stroke, play-maker Hunter has made the choice to haunt our three protagonists (not proletariat, mind you) with the encroaching threat of Obama’s American plan: Terrorism, homo sin-uality, and anti-Coporatism that will chase every remaining job away from this fair land while encouraging us to sodomize each other and blow everything up for no reason.

We meet these three boys in the prime of their lives and watch haplessly as the forced liberal agenda—first appearing to them in visions, then perverting and ultimately twisting their fragile minds and bodies—tears them apart. It would be just like ol’ Barry over there in the White House to force you to sympathize with a terrorist (the fantastic Nicholas Roy Ceasar, doubling as the delightful Valumart spokesperson, Valupig) and Hunter has spared no vitriol towards the administration on this count. I won’t reveal the details, but Eben has a lot to combat as he stares into the dark hole of evil temptation.

You see Eben’s America should be an America of opportunity; an America of Freedom. In America, Eben has the right to choose where he wants to work, how he wants to get to a work related conference, and with whom he wants to spend his time while he’s getting there. And, God bless it, he’s even got the right to take care of a plant if he wants. It’s all a man can do in this crazy world. Now I ask you: Who the heck is going to tell you that you can’t take care of a plant if you want? Who is going to look you in the eye and say, “We’re gonna force you to get another job”? Who has the right to shove terrorist-humanizing so far down your throat you can’t even breathe anymore? Nobody. Help us up! We’re running out of air!

Samuel D. Hunter and director, Rachel Edwards Harvith have cleverly planted these clues for us to uncover. The threat is clear. The solution is simple.

Now, some in the “media” will try to claim that corporations are slowly destroying our men and women by forcing them to shill for nation-sized conglomerates who are accountable to no one and whose manipulation of the American government has lined their pockets with our sweat-soaked dollars while they move their manufacturing jobs and bank accounts to countries whose tax codes and working conditions are such that a Cambodian child will work eighteen hours a day at sixty cents an hour to put a poly/cotton blended t-shirt on the racks of those same stores who will quash any attempt their employees make to better their lives which would destroy even the strongest spirit after enough time and all so they can balloon their profits to fuck everyone out of everything they make and avoid paying a single cent of tax just when the country needs it most. They will claim that, but they will be wrong. Look at the facts.

I Am Montana: A

-John Taflan

Monday, April 11, 2011

Dirty Blonde (BoHo Theatre)

"Dirty Blonde," from a strictly dramaturgical standpoint, is a solid play, but when you add the cast of BoHo Theatre's production to the mix- hot damn, do things get good! Before seeing the show, I knew very little about Mae West except that she was exceedingly clever and kind of a hooch, so I assumed "Dirty Blonde" would be a one-dimensional "sexy funny" play about a "sexy funny" woman. Well, I feel like an asshole, because I was wrong.

"Dirty Blonde" is half biography of Mae West, a telling of how her rapier wit and loose morals secured her place as a pop culture icon, and half fictitious tale of how two Mae West devotees find their way to each other. For West-neophytes there's just enough history to keep you up to speed, and for West-aficionados the show hits her high points without dragging the show down with exposition. Then you've got a slow-burning relationship story that gets odder and odder, but which is played with such sincerity that it doesn't even seem all that weird. (And trust me, it's pretty weird.)

There's a cast of three actors that portray about a dozen roles between them. They sing, dance, do accents, play piano, wrestle, and more. Not only are they a talented bunch, but they're incredibly likable. (I just read over a review I did of another BoHo production and I wrote that they were very likable, too. Props to BoHo for consistently finding performers that I like- I should let them start setting up dates for me.) This is important because the warmth and believability of the actors keep the show from veering into campy bio-drama, and keep it as a sincere piece of Theatre. (I capitalized the "T" because Theatre is important!)

Nicholas Bailey masterfully tackled a broad range of character roles, serving as somewhat of a narrator for the biographical parts of the show. He also served as the show's resident ivory tickler, but his standout role was probably as Ed Hearn, Mae West's flamboyant pal. David Tibble also skillfully handled a number of old-timey character parts, but he really shined as Charlie, one of the show's awkward protagonists. The dorky sweetness of Charlie played a nice contrast to his broader ensemble roles. Anne Sheridan Smith, who split her time as Mae West and Jo, the show's other protagonist, was really quite wonderful. As Jo she was sweet yet plucky, but then as Mae she'd immediately snap to brassy, sharp and vulgar. You liked both characters for different reasons, yet there was a commonality that the two shared that made you understand why Jo was such a Mae West fan.

The show was 100 minutes without an intermission. The show moved fast enough that it really didn't need it, but, well, I wouldn't have objected had there been one.


-Dyan Flores

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Goat or, Who is Sylvia? (Remy Bumppo)

10 things on The Goat or, Who is Sylvia? At Remy Bumppo

1. As I was looking for the numbers on the seat, I guess it looked like I might take this older dude’s seat. So he turns to me from the aisle and says: “I don’t think so.” Not “Excuse me.” or “Let’s take a look at our tickets.” Urge to kill rising, rising. Hey, my seat is right behind that of a Head Critic. Urge to kill falling.

2. Michael Pacas and Katherine Keberlein are the understudies. Hey BackStage Theatre hey.

3. The set, of a totally homey and modern well-appointed living room, is a place I want to live in someday. It’s really beautiful. And, you know when you see a few liberal magazines of the educated organized in a way both bragging and decorative that someone is about to get their comeuppance for making all that money and not knowing better about whatever it is they are supposed to know better about.

4. Nice Aaron Sorkin-ey dialogue with a correct use of who/whom runner. The audience is warming to the play. Nick Sandys and Annabel Armour have a good chemistry. All their jokes seem to be landing. All the actors are very good.

5. First mention of the goat. But…is this like a metaphor for something or…huh. Wait…you don’t mean that he and…how would that even work?

6. Oh man, the play just got weird. Annabel Armour is KILLING IT. She is so SO great.

7. One of the books on the shelf: Primary Colors. Another: Memoirs Of A Geisha.

8. The play just got weird again. You could hear a pin drop right now.

9. Hey Annabel Armour’s back and…oh…my…god…holy crap.

10. Well, that was sort of like putting the audience in tepid water so we didn’t realize the heat was increasing gradually enough that we were all getting boiled alive. Like how they do to frogs. You won this time Albee but we’ll be back. I jotted down the conversation of the couple next to me:

Lady: “That was stunning.”

Man: “Annabel was absolutely…absolutely… it’s …it’s…”

Lady: “I agree.”

Go see this play!

-Anita Deely


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Night and Her Stars (The Gift Theatre)

The Gift Theatre’s matchbox of a space provides some of the most innovative staging in the city. How in the hell the two brothers in ‘The Lonesome West’ went twelve rounds without barreling over into the audience is a miracle.

Night and Her Stars,’ now playing in the Jefferson Park space, transported the audience back into the 1950s and the Golden Age of Television, and the geriatric crowd on hand was more than willing to accept it.

Michael Patrick Thornton could’ve directed his thirteen member ensemble in my hall closet and they still wouldn’t have seemed cramped for space.

‘Night and Her Stars’ tells the story of the match-fixing scandals of the game show 21. But Richard Greenberg’s play is about much more than one controversial story. Mental health seemed to be prevalent in much of this play and in the performances, in addition to the glaring question television’s effect on the public and on the individual viewer. I like television, so naturally, I liked this play. I also like being hypocritical by blaming television for all the world’s ills, and the play satisfied that side of me too.

What can one say about Raymond Shoemaker? The guy is committed. As Herb Stempel, the obsessive, bipolar, Jewish knowledge junkie with illusions of a star-studded future as an actor, Ray chews up his scenes with an amusing and complex precision, nailing every moment with intensity. I’d pay fifty bucks to see this guy, in character, go toe to toe with IBM’s Watson in Jeopardy. It would be compelling entertainment. Stempel could not have cast more perfectly.

In addition to Shoemaker, the cast was full of kick-ass performances. No plays a jerk like Ed Flynn, and his turn as the Geritol sponsor was no exception. I was only disappointed that wasn’t on stage more.

Jay Worthington’s performance as a nervous, self-loathing prodigal son Charles Van Doren was incredibly compelling. Worthington captures a delicate balance between accomplished academic and father’s insecure pupil, his shy, nervous demeanor the perfect complement to Shoemaker’s aggressive obsession. If only there had been a third contestant, played, of course, by Dan Behrendt…

A special highlight came in the form of the American Chorus, an ensemble of actors that played various social groups and individual viewers, moving the story forward and providing the proper social context of the times. Thornton’s staging really took off during these moments.

This is also your last chance to see Lindsey Barlag before she becomes Lindsey Patrick Thornton later this spring, so don’t miss it! Barlag, one of RYCI’s Ten Women of Chicago Theatre, had the most memorable moment of the evening, with a cameo as a letter-writing housewife afflicted with a severe case of dermatillomania.

If you want to come down with a severe case of iluvathegiftheateromania, see ‘Night and Her Stars.’


-Michael Dice Jr.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Black Watch (National Theatre of Scotland)

10 things The National Theatre of Scotland’s Production of Black Watch Brought To Mind as I Was Watching It.
  1. When you enter the theatre, you hear bagpipes and drums and there is a light smoky haze with search lights moving all around the space which is set up like a basketball game, with bleachers on each side. If every piece of theatre felt like an event like this one does, we’d all be rich.
  2. The announcement telling the audience there would be “staff on each side of the stage to offer medical assistance” …are we going to die?
  3. All these boys are so young and cute and not one belly on them. The acting is really really good. And their accents are gorgeous. Wait, what did he just say? No bother, I’ll catch up.
  4. The Black Watch, which is a battalion of soldiers from Scotland with a long storied history, used to wear kilts in battle. Wow.
  5. Changing the scenery in front of the audience is the only way to do it. Blackouts=boosauce.
  6. There have been, like, 8 “holy crap I am so surprised and mesmerized by this moment” moments in this show. That is about 1 every 13.125 minutes. There’s your formula, theatre companies of Chicago; do that and you are guaranteed success.
  7. Every time I hear a live bagpipe I want to yell “Bagpipe! Bagpipe!” like when a kid sees a fire truck. Good thing I have learned to control that impulse because when the live bagpipe enters the scene, it’s sad.
  8. What would be like to tell your family you were going to be stationed in a place known as the “Triangle of Death”?
  9. The Iraq war was a terrible terrible mistake.
  10. I hope everyone gets a chance to see this.
Anita Deely