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Chicago theater gets busy this week with a number of big new shows opening, including the Broadway-bound Big Fish and Quiara Alegría Hudes's follow-up to last year's Pulitzer Prize winner. Here's a guide to five top new plays.
Big Fish Oriental Theatre Opens April 19. On his deathbed, a father tells his son tall tales about his past that may or may not have actually happened. Audiences can decide for themselves at this new Broadway-bound musical adaptation by Andrew Lippa and John August starring two-time Tony winner Norbert Leo Butz.
The Happiest Song Plays Last Goodman Theatre. Opens April 22. Two lost soulmates find each other through the magic of Puerto Rican jíbaro music in this new drama by Pulitzer Prize winner Quiara Alegría Hudes.
Pal Joey Porchlight Music Theatre. Opens April 23. Porchlight Music Theatre artistic director Michael Weber and music director Doug Peck team up for Rodgers and Hart's Chicago-set 1940 musical, featuring such songs as "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" and "Zip." Adrian Aguilar plays the charmingly caddish title role.
Still Alice Lookingglass Theatre Company. Opens April 20. Lisa Genova's novel about a woman living with Alzheimer's disease is brought to the stage by Lookingglass ensemble member Christine Mary Dunford.
Yellow Moon Writers' Theatre. Opens April 24. David Greig (The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart) tells the story of two teenage Scottish outlaws through lyrical narration in his 2006 drama.
About Face Theatre, the 17-year-old LGBT-focused theater company, has named Andrew Volkoff to succeed the outgoing Bonnie Metzgar as artistic director.
Volkoff, a Milwaukee native, has served as associate artistic director at Barrington Stage Company in Massachusetts and New York's Genesius Theatre Group. He'll be formally introduced at About Face's annual Wonka Ball benefit April 26. In a statement, he indicated intentions to expand the About Face Youth Theatre program, as well as to find the itinerant company a permanent home.
Metzgar, who's stepping down after five seasons, has said she hopes to remain in Chicago. As her final act as artistic director, she'll stage the Chicago premiere of Alexi Kaye Campbell's The Pride, to run June 6–July 13 at Victory Gardens; Patrick Andrews, John Francisco, Benjamin Sprunger and Jessie Fisher will star.
Bring your passport to Let Them Eat Chaos. In the Second City's 101st Mainstage revue, an ensemble consisting of veteran performers Edgar Blackmon, Holly Laurent, Katie Rich and Steve Waltien and Mainstage newcomers Ross Bryant and Tawny Newsome leaves Chicago behind in favor of a space- and time-bending revue that loops in Vienna circa 1819, the opening of the Panama Canal, the distant future and more. If Grant Achatz attends the show, it will inspire at least a dozen new menu ideas for his restaurant Next.
Let Them Eat Chaos crackles with new ideas and spirited risks. Gone is the musical number that typically opens a Mainstage revue; left in its place is a stripped-down, improvised scene in which the ensemble takes turns playing the same character. It's a simple scene and it'd be easy to call it underwhelming were it not so true to the kinds of openings encouraged by gurus like Del Close, designed to warm up an ensemble and enhance group mind at the beginning of an improv show. The nature of the opening might even change from night to night. You may have to see this show more than once.
Lots of ideas are bandied about. We are living in a very strange time, Newsome's time-traveler proclaims in an early scene. We're also living in a busy one, as demonstrated by a woman so self-absorbed she hits major milestones in life (marriage, sex, childbirth) while so consumed by text messaging she never once looks up from her phone.
It was the scenes set in distant lands that captivated the most, including a sailor answering a siren's call, a telenovela-like exchange between a Central American poet and his illegitimate daughter, and banter between an American and Scottish soldier set against a backdrop of rubble and intermittent explosions in the European Theater of World War II. I'm not sure the Mainstage has ever strayed this far from ubiquitous mayor jokes, relationship scenes between thirtysomethings and impressions of South Siders. It was a welcome departure.
The set design makes these faraway landscapes possible. A curtain, so fiery red it will burn your retinas, is the only attention grabber on an otherwise threadbare stage. But this relatively blank canvas allows director Matt Hovde and his design team to create vivid backdrops that transport the audience from the high seas to deep space to a dream version of Chicago with the push of a button.
There are plenty of moments in which each ensemble member puts his or her best self forward, but to single out one would diminish the rest; that's not how you review an ensemble-based show. Suffice it to say I liked them most when they were given new muscles to flex. In an Act II standout, for example, a group of first graders are pressed with the challenge of drawing pictures based on an audience suggestion (in this instance, popcorn). The scene was one of the evening's biggest gut-busters thanks to the original interpretations each ensemble member produced.
There were also times when the material hewed close to formula. In a musical number, Newsome and Laurent take the NRA's grating and persistent claim that more guns are the solutions to America's problems to its logical extreme. It's joyous but also familiar territory. Ditto a number between Blackmon and Bryant that illustrates the stark differences between a black and white rapper.
If Let Them Eat Chaos falls short anywhere, it's in the lack of anarchy suggested by the revue's title. "Chaos is the nature of the universe," says a character in an early scene. That might not be what the visiting masses want to hear when they visit the Second City, but I'll take it anytime.
Pivot Arts, a recently launched organization with the mission of fostering the arts on Chicago's far North Side, will play host to a multidisciplinary arts festival to take place in a number of nontraditional venues in Uptown and Edgewater in June.
The Pivot Multi-Arts Festival will present a blend of music, dance and theater June 6–22, in such locales as Senn High School, Francesca's Bryn Mawr, the former Essanay Studios building on Argyle Street and the onetime vaudeville theater (and most recently a TCF Bank branch) at 1050 W Wilson Ave. Presenters will include the likes of Molly Shanahan/Mad Shak Dance Company, Mucca Pazza, the Neo-Futurists, Theater Oobleck and Manual Cinema. See pivotarts.org for a full schedule.
Steppenwolf Theatre Company today announced the lineup for this summer's eighth annual First Look Repertory of New Work, to be presented in its Garage theater. They include Edith Freni's family drama Buena Vista, set in an isolated Colorado cabin; Aaron Carter's The Gospel of Franklin, about a devout man who loves to witness to his factory coworkers but needs saving himself; and Janine Nabers's Annie Bosh is Missing, a portrait of a troubled young woman navigating the post-Katrina Gulf Coast in search of her estranged father.
The three plays run in rep July 29–August 25. The lineup will also include free readings of three additional works during Steppenwolf's Professionals' Weekend, August 8–11: Tempo, by Mike Batistick; Your Name Will Follow You Home, by Carlos Murillo; and Barbecue, by Robert O'Hara. Tickets go on sale Friday at 11am.
Lookingglass Theatre Company has announced plans for its 2013–14 season, beginning with a new adaptation of Marguerite Duras's The North China Lover, written and directed by Heidi Stillman (September 25–November 10).
In the winter, David Catlin will direct Rick Cummins and John Scoullar's stage version of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince (December 4–February 2). The season closes with the world premiere of Sara Gmitter's In the Garden: A Darwinian Love Story, about the romance between Charles Darwin and his future wife, Emma Wedgwood. Jessica Thebus directs (April 16–June 15).
Interrobang Theatre Project, one of Chicago's most promising young theater companies, has announced plans for its fourth season, to be presented entirely at the Athenaeum Theatre. The 2013–14 slate opens with a new production of Mark O'Rowe's Terminus, a collection of interlocking monologues that was previously seen in a 2011 performance by Dublin's Abbey Theatre at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Interrobang's production will star Christina Hall, Michaela Petro and Kevin Barry Crowley (September 12–October 6).
That's followed in the new year by The Pitchfork Disney, the surreal, dark fairy tale by Mercury Fur playwright Philip Ridley that's credited with kickstarting the "in-yer-face" era of British drama. The cast is set to include Andrew Goetten, Aislinn Kerchaer, Mark Lancaster and Josh Salt (February 6–March 2). Both Terminus and The Pitchfork Disney will be directed by Jeffry Stanton. The season closes with a new adaptation of Ibsen's A Doll's House by Chicago playwright Calamity West, directed by James Yost (May 8–June 8); casting remains to be announced.
In the midst of a 35th anniversary year that's seen performances of Mats Ek’s brilliant Casi-Casa, Alejandro Cerrudo’s monumental One Thousand Pieces, and the one-of-a-kind collaboration between HSDC and Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet this spring, Hubbard Street has announced its 2013–14 lineup. The focus for season 36: Hubbard Street’s international Fab Five, with additional surprises in the mix.
October 10–13, former HSDC dancer and rising choreographer Robyn Mineko Williams presents a new work for the company, along with Ek’s Casi-Casa and Ohad Naharin’s Passomezzo. Rounding out the programs is the “Compass” quintet from Alonzo King’s AZIMUTH.
The winter program, December 12–15, features an encore presentation of Cerrudo’s deftly crafted One Thousand Pieces, the company’s first evening-length work, set to music by Philip Glass and using members of the main company and dancers from Hubbard Street 2.
March 13–16, it’s all about two-time Prix Benois de la Danse–winner Jirí Kylián. The bill includes two premieres for HSDC: Sarabande—set for an all-male ensemble—and Falling Angels for an all-female cast of eight. Returning fare: the enigmatic 27'52'' and the sensuous audience-favorite Petite Mort.
Season 36 concludes June 5–8, with Nacho Duato’s Gnawa, created for the company in 2005, and William Forsythe’s daring Quintett. Capping things off is a world premiere from resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo, his 13th for the company.
As usual, all performances happen at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance (205 E Randolph Dr).
Subscriptions to season 36 are available beginning April 9. Single-ticket availability will be announced at a later date. For more info, contact the Hubbard Street Box Office at 312-850-9774, or visit hubbardstreetdance.com/36.
Gnit, the last play I saw Sunday afternoon at the 37th Humana Festival, is classic Will Eno. By that, I mean I was thrilled by it, but another critic seated in front of me loudly declared it "shit" before walking out at intermission. The premiere is helmed by Actors Theatre of Louisville artistic director Les Waters, who directed Eno's similarly divisive Middletown at Steppenwolf in 2011. Eno's latest is a loose comic adaptation of Ibsen's unwieldy Peer Gynt, itself based on Norwegian folklore. Ibsen's Peer is the son of a man ruined by his indulgences, who rather than face his own reality and responsibilities travels the world aimlessly in search of meaning. Eno's Peter Gnit (Dan Waller) is similarly abdicative; he explains the origin of his surname as being a typo the family just came to accept.