The final weekend of the 37th Humana Festival here at Actors Theatre of Louisville coincides with Louisville's appearance in the Final Four—"the men's and the women's teams," a charming local theater supporter pressed upon me at a Thursday night cocktail party held to welcome the visiting industry professionals and press. She lamented (jokingly, I think) that I'd likely be seeing a play when the Cardinals face off against the Wichita State Shockers tonight.
Yet downtown Louisville seems nearly as proud of its theater this weekend as its college basketball teams. "Enjoy the Humana Festival," a security guard at my hotel said Friday upon noticing my red lanyard. And the energy created by the mixing of industry types and eager locals is enjoyable indeed, even if my first day's offerings were decidedly mixed.
I've just touched down in Louisville, Kentucky, for the final weekend of Actors Theatre of Louisville's 37th annual Humana Festival of New American Plays, which I'll be reporting back on here.
It's the first year of the festival under ATL's new artistic director, Les Waters, whose most recent work in Chicago was the 2011 premiere of Will Eno's Middletown at Steppenwolf, in a production that found a spot on my top-ten list for that year. Waters and Eno reunite at Humana for Gnit, with a cast that features Chicago actors Dan Waller and Linda Kimbrough.
Also among the six plays I'll be seeing this weekend are O Guru Guru Guru, or why I don't want to go to yoga class with you by Mallery Avidon, an artistic associate with Chicago's Pavement Group, and Appropriate by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, a coproduction with Victory Gardens Theater that will open the fall season at the Biograph. It's directed by Chicago Shakespeare Theater associate artistic director Gary Griffin. The weekend is rounded out by new works from Jeff Augustin and Sam Marks, a collaborative piece by Rinne Groff, Lucas Hnath and Anne Washburn, a slate of ten-minute plays by Sarah Ruhl and others, and discussions and conversations with dozens of industry professionals from across the country. Check back here throughout the weekend for updates.
Today the Auditorium announced its 2013–14 season, noticeably big on dance with spots of music in between. We’re inclined to focus on dance, so we’ll save any suspense: Music includes Israeli singer-songwriter Idan Raichel of Idan Raichel Project on November 9, the annual “Too Hot To Handel: The Jazz-Gospel Messiah," January 18 and 19 (one-hour student matinee on the 17th), and Chick Corea and Béla Fleck on April 5.
Now, on to dance.
Court Theatre, the longstanding professional institution on the University of Chicago's campus, has announced the lineup for its 59th season, beginning with the Chicago premiere of The Mountaintop, Katori Hall's popular two-hander that imagines the last night of Martin Luther King Jr.'s life. Ron OJ Parson will direct (September 5–October 6).
In the season's second slot, Timothy Edward Kane will reprise his 2011 performance in An Iliad, which earned a spot on my top-ten list for that year. The remount will run just four weeks (November 13–December 8). In the new year, Parson will helm Seven Guitars—the only remaining work in August Wilson's ten-play "Century Cycle" he hasn't yet directed (January 9–February 9).
Court follows with the Chicago premiere of Water by the Spoonful, the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, directed by Henry Godinez (March 6–April 6). It's the second piece in a trilogy that will run here out of order—the final play, The Happiest Song Plays Last, has its world premiere at the Goodman Theatre this month. (The first play in Hudes's triptych, Elliot, a Soldier's Fugue, was co-produced by Rivendell Theatre Ensemble and Teatro Vista in 2006). The season closes with a new production of David Henry Hwang's M. Butterfly, helmed by Court artistic director Charles Newell (May 8–June 8).
The slating of new works like The Mountaintop and Water by the Spoonful is somewhat unusual for Court Theatre, which has a mission of producing classic texts and isn't often among the contenders for Chicago premieres. "Each show that we choose, the first criteria is always about the quality of the text, the quality of the language, the quality of the writing itself," Newell said in an interview today. "Both of those plays, when I read them I was just blown away. And part of when we think about 'classics' is, what do we think is going to survive the test of time? What will we be wanting to produce in 20 and 40 and 100 years? I think there are timeless, classic themes in both of those plays, in the same way that M. Butterfly has proven itself a modern classic."
Of An Iliad, Newell says, "This is a show that needs more life, that we couldn't figure out a way to make happen when it was playing. Luckily, Tim Kane said, 'Yeah, I want to come back and do it again.'" Revisiting the piece isn't just about meeting audience demand; it will also allow for more fully realized tie-ins to complementary U. of C. programming, Newell says.
M. Butterfly will also play a part in the larger university world, coinciding with "a major exhibit the University of Chicago's going to be doing around visual representation of performance in Chinese opera," Newell says. "This production will be a sort of centerpiece for that art exhibit that is going to be at the Smart Museum. It's a unique opportunity we have here at Court, to integrate into the intellectual firepower here at the university—to make art while scholarship is being made."
With a successful 2012–13 campaign nearly in the rearview (Delfos Danza Contemporanea plays Thursday 4 through Saturday 6), the Dance Center looks ahead to 2013–14 in anticipation of its 40th anniversary. The higher-ups have wasted no time in assembling next season’s lineup of local, national and international sensations.
Is there anything that can't be turned into an arbitrary brackets contest this time of year? Strike another one off the list: On the heels of Vulture's Sitcom Smackdown, now we have a Shakespeare Showdown, courtesy of Chicago Shakespeare Theater.
Chicago Shakes has seeded 64 of the Bard's most iconic characters. (The one seeds? Othello, Falstaff, Juliet and Richard III.) You have until Monday, April 1 to fill out a bracket and e-mail it back to the theater; after that, public voting takes place at CST's Facebook page through April 15. If your chosen winner matches that chosen by the vote, you'll be entered to win four tickets each to the terrific Othello: The Remix and the upcoming Henry VIII.
Rick Cluchey, who co-founded the San Quentin Drama Workshop in 1958 while serving a life sentence in prison and later, after his sentence was commuted, became a friend and protégé of playwright Samuel Beckett, will perform two solo pieces in a brief May run presented by Shattered Globe Theatre.
The evening will pair Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape, in a performance originally directed by the playwright himself, with Cluchey's own Sam and Rick, in which he reminisces about his friendship and working relationship with the Nobel Prize winner. An Evening of Beckett runs May 2–12 at Stage 773; tickets are $28 and go on sale Monday via Stage 773's box office (773-327-5252) or shatteredglobe.org.
Connor Tillman in yellow, shorty-shorts scooting around on roller-skates (not blades but skates) as part of a “talent show” for his family gets the funny rolling in Hello, World – It's Me, Connor!, his new solo show at Chemically Imbalanced Comedy. Part of CIC’s Solo Series – sharing billing with Dan Bazaldua – Tillman’s show is a mix of impersonations (Hugh Jackman as an OBGYN was my favorite) and quirky observations like someone reacting to their first time in the animatronic world known as Rainforest Café.
At-times Hello, World seemed a little disjointed, l wanted to see something tying the sketches together a little more concretely, but Tillman is such a likable performer that this slightly scattered-brained approach doesn’t take away from the laughs and sometimes actually adds to them. With an easy, every-man type quality, Tillman can make even a personified tree who just finds everything “so heavy” into a memorable bit.
“No Sinatra, you’re being a [redacted],” says Dan Bazaldua doing an impersonation of Luciano Pavarotti during karaoke in Bazaldua’s solo show Hollywood Moonlight, the second part of the night. Moonlight is like an old-Hollywood where are they now, the structure being a reporter profiling a man who had small parts in famous movies like Casablanca but who never made it big. Bazaldua’s storytelling is really clever and I liked how he used props and costume changes to embody characters like Jimmy Stewart. As the story unfolds, Balzaldua weaves a narrative that is both funny and touching in the way it comments on friendship and, well, mortality. There is also a musical-loving security guard who happens to be a hand puppet, and that’s always a good time.
CIC's Solo Series with Connor Tillman and Dan Bazaldua runs Fridays at 8PM until April 19th. Tickets are $10, CIC is located at 1422 W Irving Park Road.
The League of Chicago Theatres has announced the finalists for this year's Broadway in Chicago Emerging Theater Award. Those vying for the seventh annual prize, awarded by vote of the League's member theaters to a company between three and ten years old, include:
- 16th Street Theater
- Bailiwick Chicago
- Filament Theatre Ensemble
- Pavement Group
- Sideshow Theatre Company
The winning theater receives $5,000, consultation with Broadway in Chicago staff and a marketing package that in past years has included advertising in the Chicago Tribune and Time Out Chicago. Previous recipients include the House Theatre of Chicago, Silk Road Theatre Project (now Silk Road Rising), the side project, Steep Theatre, the New Colony and Theatre Seven of Chicago. The 2013 award will be presented at the League of Chicago Theatres' annual gala, May 20.
A number of young artists associated with the Chicago-based Internet sensations Team StarKid are branching out with a more traditional theatrical project—with, of course, an online twist.
Producers Julia Albain and Corey Lubowich are launching a Kickstarter campaign dubbed Judas Redux, which purports to let contributors in up close on the process of putting up a show, culminating in a three-week run of Stephen Adly Guirgis's The Last Days of Judas Iscariot to open August 23 at Stage 773. The show's cast will include StarKid stars Lauren Lopez, Joey Richter and Brian Rosenthal. The Kickstarter has a not exactly teensy goal of $36,000; it's set to go live sometime in the next few hours (watch JudasRedux.com for the link).
As for StarKid proper, the group's sketch show Airport for Birds and Other Great Ideas (directed by Lubowich) has one more performance this Sunday at UP Comedy Club. Time Out Chicago was the first local publication to profile the troupe following its relocation to Chicago from its birthplace, the University of Michigan.