Recently in Nightlife Category

500 Clown : MacBeth at Steppenwolf Theater

Although Edie and I had already been dating about three weeks at this point, our first theatrical night on the town was to see the 500 Clown rendition of MacBeth. Given the fact that the last time I saw a 500 Clown performance a burly clown shoved my head up his kilt, I wasn't sure whether this would be the best way to impress her. So when the overly vigorous performers chose some other poor schmuck in the audience to abuse and humiliate this time around, I sighed in relief and faked a yawning stretch as I put my arm around her.

As always, the clowns' attempt to eke out something resembling a classic play turned out hilariously. Edie said she kept waiting for the actual tale of MacBeth to emerge, but alas, the rowdy clowns could barely get past the opening scene before all hell broke loose and things crescendoed into chaos. Before long they were arguing amongst themselves as to which should play MacBeth and then began beating each other into bloodied and abused pulp -- Suspender wearing, big-shoed pulp.

Despite the highly questionable cultural value of this deconstruction of MacBeth the evening turned out well and needless to say Edie agreed to go out with me again regardless of my apparent penchant for low-brow shenanigans. As they say: All's well that ends well and therein lies the rub, except perhaps when the rub involves the sweaty thighs of a kilt-wearing clown.

500 Clown is a Chicago-based performance troupe specializing in raucous physical performances of various "classic" works in theater. Of course, at the hands of the self-proclaimed clowns they are, these classics quickly devolve into hilarious and impressive episodes.

My first experience with them was at their rendition of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein". This scenario quickly proves that clowns and science do not mix, as each character finds him or herself battling laboratory furniture.

Two other things that do not mix are clowns and the "fourth wall". This was proven to me in no small terms when I soon found my head up the kilt of wildly gyrating clown. Yes, I'm sure the other audience members got a big kick out of it (hardy har har!), but as I sat there stunned and all alone in the dark interior recesses of that clown's kilt, my humiliation was surpassed only by my fear of what might appear should I inadvertently look up. To my great relief, the age-old question of whether a clown opts to go au naturale under his kilt remains a mystery.

The skill and entertainment value of this show was really impressive. It was a perfect fit for the Steppenwolf Theater and I promptly purchased tickets for their upcoming dramatic rendition of MacBeth.

The Police at Wrigley Field Chicago

An aging version of the Police played at Wrigley Field over the July 4th weekend. The place was packed with middle aged fans screaming like girls every time a favorite tune was performed. This was the first concert I had seen at Wrigley and found it had both positives and negatives.

On the positive side, the outdoor venue in the heart of the North Side really added to the experience, and the weather that night was great. On the negative side, the distance from the bleachers to the stage was rather enormous and had it not been for the several jumbo-trons, there was not much to see other than an amazing variety of fans.

The Red Line runs a few blocks from my home and drops you off at the doorsteps of Wrigley, making the transportation issue a breeze, though the train ride home was packed.

A friend of mine is a die-hard Police fan, so attending this concert was her idea. She certainly had a good time and I enjoyed the experience, but I doubt I'll bother to see many more 80s band / reunion tours in the near future.

Verdi Requiem at Chicago Symphony Orchestra

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra held its performance of Giuseppe Verdi's Messa da Requiem, known also as simply "Verdi's Requiem". It is a full orchestral piece first performed in 1874 as a Roman Catholic funeral mass on the anniversary of the Italian poet Alessandro Manzoni, a favorite of Verdi's.

I confess I don't frequent the Symphony Orchestra but was familiar with the Requiem to make an evening of it. To say that I sat in the "nosebleed section" would be an significant understatement, as I was so high up the musicians looked like ants on a croissant. The aisle stairway was also amazingly steep, ensuring that one small misstep would result in your bloodied, operatic demise 100 feet below.

Despite my persistent visions of falling to my death, the performance was quite enjoyable and provided enough high culture to last me a year or two.

Madeleine Peyroux at Ravinia

Madeleine Peyroux's sole Chicago stop on her current tour was at Ravinia where I was able to catch her while enjoying a wonderful picnic under blue skies on the Pavilion Lawn. Ravinia is an extraordinary place - easily accessible from Chicago via the Metra and highly conducive to a very laid back and romantic concert experience.

Madeleine Peyroux was more impressive in live performance than on any of her studio work. She is petite, young and pretty, but belts out gutsy jazz vocals as if she were Ella Fitzgerald reincarnated. The spunk and polish of both herself and her skilled band made the performance nothing but spectacular. Her songs ranged from haunting contemplations to fun up-tempo Jazz/Blues fare. Definitely the right type of music for a barefooted picnic in the Summer.

Long-time New Orleans' Jazz standard Dr. John opened for her with more mainstream southern Jazz numbers. His seemed a very folksy presentation, but a good opening for Peyroux nonetheless. But from the first song Peyroux opened with, the entire atmosphere of the place changed and all ears seemed fixed on the music (though there were still plenty of wine glasses being raised).

The concert was thoroughly impressive and I will definitely catch her the next time she comes around.

Oedipus Complex at Goodman Theater Chicago

"Oedipus Complex" is the work of director Frank Galati and places 20th century Sigmund Freud alongside Sophocles' Greek tragedy Oedipus Rex. In it the narrative swings back and forth between Freud's Viennese lecture hall crammed with sober students before whom he contemplates his own childhood experiences and a full-blown recreation of the Oedipus tragedy. The parallels and implications which emerge through the interplay of the two are significant and insightful, though I confess I had to apply myself rather vigorously through what seemed to me to be a rather dry and uneventful drama to arrive at them.

The play was presented at the Goodman Theater where I have seen top-notch adaptations of classic plays after which I walked away quite moved and impressed, and so I expected the same from Oedipus Complex. But the effect of this play was quite the reverse, leaving me with a feeling that I had experienced too many weaknesses in the production to say I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The primary thorn in my side throughout was the far less than impressive performance of Ben Viccellio playing Oedipus who displayed neither the dramatic presence nor emotional depth to bring his central character to life. I've recently seen several similar plays , whether purely classical adaptations or contemporary-classical hybrids in which the actors playing the lead roles nearly exploded on stage with vibrancy and tragic convictions. But Viccellio's Oedipus was wholly disappointing to the point of his shortcomings being so pronounced that they overshadowed my entire experience. Instead of a fiery self-driven man of power shaking his fists at the Gods of Fate, we got a limp-wristed stoic whose every line seemed to end with a whimper as if to say "Believe me, please!".

One thing of value I did derive from this was a keener insight into Freud's use of the Oedipus figure and how Sophocles' original tale does in fact speak to contemporary situations. As to whether or not Freud's sexuality-centric application of the tale represents this relevancy is wholly up for grabs.

Iggy Pop at Congress Theater - Chicago

When I was in high school, I had the chance to see Iggy Pop when he opened for the Rolling Stones in Detroit. That evening was such a wild experience that I wanted to see him once more while he still has some of his high-octane antics left in him.

He recently played at Chicago's Congress Theater where he literally and irrevocably rocked the house and all its inhabitants. Iggy seems to be made for these smaller venues. He immediately obliterated the traditional "fourth wall" between performer and audience by inviting fans by the droves up onto the stage to help him sing and gyrate until he simply disappeared into the writhing mass of people. Then, when things eventually cooled down a bit after a few numbers and he felt the wall creeping up again, he simply took several running leaps through it from the stage and into the crowds below who were more than eager to catch and pass him around the concert hall atop a sea of tattooed arms.

"The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow" is a tale about Jennifer Marcus, a brilliant adopted Chinese girl living in suburban America who seeks out her birth mother in China using a robot she names "Jenny Chow". The narrative is a highly creative mish-mash of music, technological references, tear-jerking emotionalism, and razor-sharp inside jokes involving the perspectives and plight of internationally adopted/reared children.

Jenny Shin, who makes her debut performance with Chicago Dramatists here, plays Jennifer Marcus and does a wonderful job acting and narrating this rather face-paced up-tempo tale. But in addition to raw energy, Shin also effectively delivered on the highly emotional pivotal points of the character's self-discovery and self-resignation. She was literally in control of the audience emotional reactions throughout.

Definitely worth seeing and experiencing.

The Sparrow at Steppenwolf Theater

"The Sparrow" had a very successful run at the House Theater of Chicago resulting in a second sold-out run at The Steppenwolf Garage Theater from March 15 through April 21, 2007.

This plan was phenomenal on several levels, not least of which was the cast headed by Carolyn Defrin who plays Emily, an ostracized girl who begins to display strange powers after returning to her home town after an exile of sorts. Defrin acts, sings and dances vigorously throughout and really brings the interesting storyline to life.

Also of note here are the very creative theatrical devices which are used in lieu of elaborate stage props and sets. The Garage Theater at Steppenwolf is a rather intimate venue and does not allow for much in the way of changes in set, so the cast must improvise in order to depict and convey these elements. Small handheld houses announce the setting of particular scenes, large video screens and aggressive soundtracks pull audiences into youthful merriment, and terrified writhing of the floor amazingly depicts a fearful reach into the skies.

This was a thoroughly impressive play which I am glad I had a chance to see during its second run.

A/other Lover at LiveWire Chicago Theater


An audience member provides her feedback to the cast following the play.

A/other Lover (Another Lover) is written by Resident Playwright Joshua Aaron Weinstein and was performed by the LiveWire Theater Company at The Side Project Theater in Rogers Park.

One of the potentially great things about attending small independent theater is the chance to see fresh and experimental fare performed by hungry up and coming talent. At theaters like Side Project, which opens it space to a variety of local theater ensembles, you can literally sit in the same seat and experience a wide swathe of Chicago's impressive diversity of performing arts.

But this degree of access occasionally proves to be a two-edged sword, as was the case with A/other Lover, which, although perhaps built upon an interesting premise nonetheless came across as a rather bewildered and unfinished production.

The cast was decent with the most convincing performance by Glenn Proud as Joe and the Chicago stage debut of Erin Barlow as Cherry. But with a running time of a mere 48 minutes and a storyline which was as uncompelling as it was unbelievable, both cast and audience had a undeniably perplexed look on their faces when the lights suddenly came up.

Granted, Weinstein attempts what could be an interesting experiment in "overlapping" nearly every element of the play, but while his intent may be apparent, it seems also as clear that he needed to spend more time on the actual story, ideally developing it to a strength matching the presence of his ambitious mechanical technique. And I do mean everything overlaps; The characters' dialogue, the plot's time line, and whether by design or the restricted space of the theater, even sets blend and collide. Interestingly there is at one point a scene where the play and its narritival content switch places, amounting to a play within a play. Even the play's title, the unpronounceable conflation "A/other" displays this tendency.

I found this experimental attempt quite fascinating and requiring some interpretation on the way home, but this play ultimately, like its title, may indeed contain a meaning which is intuitable, but nevertheless is quite clunky and awkward when read and nigh impossible to pronounce.

Blithe Spirit at Gift Theatre Company

Blithe Spirit is a play written in 1941 by Noel Coward the popular English playwright. Its genre is "comedic farce" and, among other things, deals humorously with the topic of death. This caused a slight scandal when it first debuted at a time when England was dealing with the grim realities of World War 2. But the uproar was short-lived, however, and the play soon broke all prior box office records.

Although death is a primary thread throughout the play, which amounts to a comedic ghost story, Coward's work delves primarily into the complexities of muddled human relationships, especially those of ideal, remembered or simply pragmatic love. The narrative consists of three primary characters: Charles, the socialite and somewhat relationally aloof husband of Ruth, his second wife, and Elvira, Charles' first and more rambunctious younger wife who is deceased.

When Charles and Ruth invite the eccentric medium Madame Arcati over for dinner to entertain their socialite guests to some popular spiritism, things go awry as Charles soon begins seeing and hearing his dead with Elvira. There soon emerges a triad of relationships between the three through which Coward uncovers very real and often tragic, unrealized human sentiments albeit in farcical ways. Elvira is clearly intent on disrupting Charles' current marriage out of the dsire to be loved and not forgotten. Ruth gradually comes to recognize Elvira's presence and must then deal more clearly with her role as second and likely less-loved wife of aloof Charles. And as Charles becomes more acclimated to Elvira's presence and jealous desire for love, he tries increasingly to have his cake and eat it to with both women, an endeavor he finds more difficult than he imagined.

The Baby Killers at Dream Theater Company

POWERFUL, MOVING AND HAUNTING!!

Despite its disturbing name, this is without doubt one of the most meaningful plays I have attended in a long while. Though a fictional tale, this engaging drama effectively combines a hearkening back to the tragic outcomes of an era prior to child labor laws with the more modern social norms of contemporary China and its prescribed views toward female infants. This comes across strongly as a historical piece, set perhaps in a quasi-European locale, and seems as if it could easily pass for recollection rather than fiction. Historical elements such as the era-bound songs played throughout and the torn white patch on Annabelle's jacket, which can only remind audiences of the similar patches sewn on the Jews' clothing during Nazi Germany's rule as a sign of degraded identity, all lend a sad realism to this moral tale.

Author/Play write Jeremy Menekseoghu creates an all too familiar yet terrifying world in which parents must choose only one amongst their children to become the "chosen". The others, they are told, will fall smilingly into the kind arms of the Orphanages who will care, protect and provide for them.

But whereas Capitalism mercilessly trumps the good will of Charity, so will the machinery of child labor inevitably envelope the welfare and lives of those fated children cast aside by their parents. This tale, above all, brings to a boil the confrontation between our desire for a life of comfort and luxury and the inhuman price we are willing to pay for it.

This play was simply astounding and wholly lived up to the stated philosophy of the Side Project Theater. Baby Killers is performed by Dream Theater Company whom I shall now diligently follow due to their gritty content and excellent performance here.

Putnam County Spelling Bee at Drury Lane Theater

This evening my cousin Marie and I went to the Drury Lane Theater on the north side of Water Tower Place to see the play Putnam County Spelling Bee. As the title suggests, the storyline revolves around a spelling bee of elementary children set in the Chicago area. It is a musical comedy involving a handful of goofy/geeky child stereotypes and their inner struggles, inquiries and triumphs.

This is the first play Ive attended which lacked an intentional message other than its entertainment value. Being entertained is nice, but Ive become accustomed to walking away from a theater with at least a modicum of contemplation regarding the play I had just seen. But not here. This is akin to watching an episode of Gilligan's Island with a song about a boner thrown in. The characters are well defined and play effectively against each other. The storyline is entertaining and coherent, yet honestly shallow. And the final result is somewhere between clowns in a little car and adults acting like children.

One major part of the play is its audience participation which is determined beforehand, apparently while I was still working my martini, based on volunteers' spelling capacity. The three "winners" of the preliminary spelling contest are then whisked away to reappear on stage as cast members.... and then publicly humiliated during the course of the evening. Glad I stuck with my martini.

There are to my knowledge three versions of this play, depending on the time/evening attended. There is the G-rated childrens version. The Standard version, and the Raunchy version, where spelling bee words include anatomical parts and libidinous activities. I went to the 2pm weekend show and thus wound up in the Standard show, though the Erection Song was quite memorable, particularly its explosive conclusion.

Hamlet at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Tonight's play was Hamlet at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater on Navy Pier. The theater was beautiful and the props, though minimalistic, were very effective and adequately eery. The character of Hamlet was played by Canadian actor Ben Carlson who did an outstanding job.

This was the first time for me to see Hamlet dramatized and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I seem to be getting high doses of Shakespeare lately thanks to some interesting offerings around the Chicago area.

This was intended to be a belated birthday gift for a girl I was dating, but alas, by this time she was already contemplating "To Be (with Scott) or Not To Be (with Scott)? Indeed, that is the question." I went with my friend John instead. :P

Othello in Mask at Side Project Theater

I recently saw Othello in Mask at the Side Project Theater in Rogers Park. This play follows a strict lyrical adherence to Shakespeare's Othello but with the cast performing in various masks through which the characters are identified. It was performed by the Polarity Ensemble Theater who did an impressive job. Most remarkable, I felt, was Mason Hill's performance as the diabolical Lago, though other reviews give heartfelt nods to Cliff London as Othello and Leah Morrow as Desdemona. After the show the cast headed over the pub across the street to mingle with the audience, so I bought Lago a beer and chatted a while.


Hizzoner at Prop Theater Chicago

I went to see "Hizzoner" (pronounced "Hiz honor") tonight at Chicago's Prop Thtr (theater) on North Elston.

The play revolves around critical moments in the life of Chicago Mayor extraordinaire Richard J. Daley (father of current Chicago Mayor Richard Daley). The play is produced by Neil Guintoli who, amazingly enough, (in addition to producing this) also plays the role of Dick Daley AND holds an uncanny resemblance to him.

Guintoli accomplishes an absolutely captivating depiction of Daley, ranging from a convincing, down-to-earth Chicago-Irish accent to the hard-nosed, occasionally boisterous temperament of "hiz honor".

Hizzoner has been highly regarded by reviewers and indeed lives up to the reputation, coming across very powerfully, especially to Chicagoans and particularly to residents of south-side Bridgeport (Daley's originally all-Irish neighborhood) and Sox fans. The play is predominantly fact-based, with only a dramatized/fictional account of Daley's occasional and ultimate discussion with a very unusual yet wrenching depiction of the Angel of Death.

The play covers some of the most critical moments of Daley's mayoralty, including the building of the 1968 Democratic Convention and subsequent protester demonstrations/riots, the building of the John Hancock Tower, the scandals involving two of his top administrative staff, the mayor "welcome" received by a new seminary student from North Carolina named Jesse Jackson, and the hard-nosed impact of the (now beloved and deceased) Tribune journalist Mike Royko.

This was alot of fun, especially in the small venue of Prop Theater. It currently runs through the end of November 2006, but has a history of being extended repeatedly.

Jean Sartre's No Exit at Side Project Theater

Tonight I saw "No Exit", the play by existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre. It was playing at the Side Project Theater in Rogers Park, as was performed by the LiveWire Theater Chicago troup. The Side Project Theater has received nothing but rave reviews for its highly intense format and venue. The theater focuses exclusively on plays which deal with stark human issues and tensions, and for that reason "No Exit" was an excellent addition to their 2006-2007 season. The venue itself is incredibly small, seating only 30. The front row, which is where I sat, puts the audience less than 5 feet away from the actors, who perform on the same level as those seated (viz., there is no elevated "stage"). Thus if the actors are good (which they were), it all makes from a very dramatic and absorbing experience.

The production is directed by Christopher Dennis. The cast is comprised of Don Hall as Garcin, Saren Nofs-Snyder as Inez, Danielle O'Farrell as Estelle, and Jeremiah Musgrove as the Valet. Although all the cast was excellent, particularly Don Hall, it is without doubt that Saren Nofs-Snyder's wholly convincing and piercing depiction of Inez holds the entire play's intensity together.

King Lear at Goodman Theater

I saw director Robert Falls' King Lear tonight at the Goodman Theater in Chicago. The play was simply phenomenal and I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in a contemporary vision of Shakespeare's darkest poetic drama.

The character of Lear was played by Stacy Keach. I've seen Keach in alot of B-grade films, but here he completely blew me out of the water with the sheer quality of his theatrical skills.

I was very glad we had the chance to see this before it packs up and moves onto another city.