Showing posts with label Guest Review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Guest Review. Show all posts

Saturday, February 8, 2020

REVIEW: Jeeves Saves the Day at First Folio Theatre at the Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook Through March 1, 2020

ChiIL Live Shows on our radar

All photos by Tom McGrath

Guest Review 
By Catherine Hellmann

(Setting: A walk in Rogers Park on a chilly, slushy day.)

Me: Want to see a play with me next weekend?
Emily, my oldest, who is often a theater skeptic: Hmmm...what is it? 
Me: It’s British humor. 
Emily: Okaaayy…
Me: It’s in the ‘burbs. Free parking! (Emily has transitioned to the suburbs and often praises the ample no-cost parking to me.) 
Emily: Hmmm…
Me: It’s in a mansion. 
Emily: All right. 

And so my daughter agreed to join me for Jeeves Saves the Day by First Folio Theatre at the Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook. It’s a delightful show with great characters, a beautiful set, and fun costumes. 

Dan Klarer (Egbert), Lucinda Johnston (Aunt Agatha)

There is a funny script by Margaret Raether based on the characters by P.G. Wodehouse. The play opens with Bertie in the dining room, his head down despondently on the table. He has managed to get engaged to a wealthy woman whom he doesn’t love, and now he worries how he will get himself out of this entanglement.  Christian Gray and Jim McCance have these roles down pat from having portrayed Bertie Wooster and Jeeves, respectively, in five productions now. When Bertie hears that his awful Aunt Agatha will be visiting, he wonders aloud why he dreads seeing her. “Experience,” Jeeves explains drily. 

Jim McCance (Jeeves), Sean Sinitski (Sir Roderick), Lucinda Johnston (Aunt Agatha),
Christian Gray (Bertie)

Lucinda Johnston as over-the-top annoying Aunt Agatha is perfectly irritating. She is thrilled about her nephew’s social-climbing engagement. He wants to weasel out of his situation. She tells Bertie that in order for his “spine to hurt, he must possess one.” In a word association game, Bertie refers to his aunt as “my nemesis.” (For “alcohol,”  he promptly answers, ”Always,”)

Jim McCance (Jeeves), Christian Gray (Bertie)

Dan Klarer deserves special recognition as hilarious Cousin Egbert who is on a drawn-out scavenger hunt, continually bringing home odd items. (The best one is a large birdcage with straps that he wears like a backpack.) His physicality and odd movements are very funny and really add to the character’s goofiness.    

The wordplay is clever, as when a character thinks they see “an apprehension” instead of an “apparition,” and someone else refers to the “banana peels of life.” The language is a treat, as is the entire play.

And you get to see a show in a mansion...with free parking! 

Cath Hellmann is an educator and theater junkie living in Chicago. 

Opening Night
From left to right: Natalie Rae, Sean Sinitski, Lydia Hiller, Dan Klarer, Jim McCance, Joe Foust, Almanya Narula, Christian Gray, Lucinda Johnston

To begin the new year with laughs a-plenty, First Folio Theatre (Mayslake Peabody Estate, 31st St & Rt. 83) presents the World Premiere production of JEEVES SAVES THE DAY, by Margaret Raether, to continue its 2019-2020 season. Based on stories by P.G. Wodehouse and directed by Artistic Associate Joe Foust, JEEVES SAVES THE DAY previews January 29-31, opens February 1, and runs through March 1, 2020.

Lucinda Johnston (Aunt Agatha), Jim McCance (Jeeves)

Jim McCance (Jeeves), Christian Gray (Bertie)

The indefatigable Jeeves and his balmy employer Bertie Wooster are back. Once again, Bertie finds himself suffering the slings and arrows of misfortune at the hands of his relatives, caught between the magisterial machinations of his fierce Aunt Agatha and the plaintive pleadings of his cousin Egbert. Throw in the imperious Sir Roderick Glossop and the sexy chanteuse Red Hot Maisie Dawson, and you’ve got another precarious predicament that cannot be overcome…unless one calls upon the redoubtable Jeeves to save the day.

Almanya Narula (Maisie), Jim McCance (Jeeves), Dan Klarer (Egbert), Christian Gray (Bertie)

“We are thrilled to present this humor-filled production of JEEVES SAVES THE DAY to First Folio Theatre audiences this winter,” said Director Joe Foust. “We’ve followed Jeeves and his many adventures since First Folio Theatre began telling the Jeeves tales in 2008, and this new tale is filled with more energy and comedy than ever! Our two leads are reprising their roles of Bertie and Jeeves for the fifth time and their characters will experience a predicament unlike any they have faced before. We know audiences will relish the hilarity, hoping that once again Jeeves can save the day.”

In their fifth foray into the roles of Bertie and Jeeves, JEEVES SAVES THE DAY stars Christian Gray as Bertie Wooster and Jim McCance as Jeeves. The production also features Lucinda Johnston (Aunt Agatha), Dan Klarer (Egbert Bakewell), Sean Sinitski (Sir Roderick Glossop) and Almanya Narula (Red Hot Maisie Dawson). 

Almanya Narula (Red Hot Maisie Dawson)

The production and design crew includes Lydia Hiller (Assistant Director), Angela Weber Miller (Scenic Design), Rachel Lambert (Costume Design), Richard Norwood (Lighting Design), Christopher Kriz (Original Music and Sound Design), Wendy Huber and Margaret Garofalo (Properties Design), Dean Gnadinger (Technical Director), Joe Foust (Movement Designer) and Sarah West (Stage Manager) with Wallace Craig (Production Valet).

Performances take place at the Mayslake Peabody Estate, located at 1717 31st St., off Rt. 83, in Oak Brook. First Folio is easy to get to via the East-West Tollway (I-88) or the Stevenson Expressway (I-55). Free parking is available on the grounds. Preview tickets are $25. Regular priced tickets are $34 Wednesdays and Thursdays (seniors and students are $29), and $44 on Fridays through Sundays (seniors and students are $39). Tickets are on sale now and may be purchased by calling the box office at 630.986.8067 or online at

Sean Sinitski (Sir Roderick), Jim McCance (Jeeves), Lucinda Johnston (Aunt Agatha),
Christian Gray (Bertie)

Sunday, February 24, 2019



Operatic Adaptation of James Hurst’s 1960 Short Story Premieres in Chicago Having Received Rave Reviews at 2015 Prototype Festival

Guest Review
By Catherine Hellmann

Oh, how I love this city! On my way to the Studebaker Studio in the Fine Arts Building the other night, a sweet violinist on the street helped steer me in the right direction on Michigan Avenue. “What show are you seeing? The symphony?” No, Chicago Opera Theater. She was in the orchestra at the Auditorium for the Joffrey Ballet and said it is an amazing show. much culture in our world-class town. We are so spoiled.

The Chicago premiere of the contemporary opera The Scarlet Ibis was composed by Stefan Weisman with a libretto by David Cote. According to their press release: “Chicago Opera Theater presents the first full production of this operatic adaptation of James Hurst’s 1960 short story (apart from its festival debut), featuring the artistry of stage director Elizabeth Margolius and conductor David Hanlon. The opera stars Annie Rosen (who also performed in COT’s season-opening production of “Iolanta”) as Brother and Jordan Rutter as Doodle.”

Annie Rosen, mezzo-soprano, is amazing in the trouser role of Brother. Big Brother is the one who gives baby William his new nickname of “Doodle,” short for “Doodle Bug,” since the baby moves backwards. The opera opens with the mom in childbirth; Quinn Middleman sings her shrieks as the contractions continue on. William is a difficult birth, a tiny baby, and handicapped. However, he is born with a caul, “which is cut from Jesus’ nightgown,” according to his superstitious aunt. (A sheer curtain falls from the ceiling during the childbirth scene, representing the caul, which is a clever bit of staging.) It is believed that the caul will give him special abilities. Auntie is sung by a true contralto, Sharmay Musacchio, who hits the lowest notes I have ever heard from a woman. There is a great line where she insists the baby will be a boy because the mom is “carrying low, low, looooww,” with her voice hitting descending notes, playing a musical joke, resonating in that deep register.   

Because he is a sickly child, William is not expected to live. In a heartbreaking scene, his father, played by Bill McMurray, mourns his newborn as he constructs a small coffin. McMurray is so affecting in the role that his grief really moved me.  

But Wiliam not only survives, he thrives, under the guidance of his big brother. Doodle initially seems cognitively impaired. Until the day he gives Brother a huge smile; then big brother joyfully realizes “he’s all there.” Doodle is sung by countertenor Jordan Rutter. His voice is so high, I assumed the singer must be another woman in a pants role. Then I squinted at my program and saw the head shot showed a man with a beard. Wow. Having the two extremes of vocal ranges is unusual. The composer explains in the program that he wanted Doodle’s voice to sound “otherworldly” and “the female voices would be set lower than Doodle’s to allow his lines to soar above them all.”

The relationship between the brothers is so love-hate and typical. Doodle adores Brother. There are times when Brother is so big-brother mean to little Doodle, like calling him a “crippled runt,”  that I wanted Doddle to thump her with his cane!

But Doodle has too pure a heart. And he is too good for this world.

My Best Pal Mary had her reservations about the show based on the premise, but she fell in love with this unique production, as did I.

We later ran into the singer who played Auntie on Michigan Avenue. (great place to find musicians, apparently) “Weren’t you the aunt in the opera?” I called out. “Yes, I was,” replied Ms. Musacchio. She was gracious enough to stop and chat a couple minutes. I told her that she had that incredible low voice. She thanked me and said audiences don’t get to hear contraltos very often...or countertenors, either.

“Oh, a countertenor is like a unicorn!” I gushed. She laughed and agreed. They are just so rare.

Ms. Musacchio said she is from California but likes Chicago. She also said the entire cast is very tight, and it is “like a family” with Chicago Opera Theater. She had never experienced that kind of a closeness before.

What can I say? We live in a world-class city with fabulous arts and friendly folks. I can't imagine being anywhere else.  

Catherine Hellmann usually wins at “Three Truths and a Lie” because she really did walk 60 miles in three days (Avon Breast Cancer Walk), met Senator-Elect Barack Obama in the park, and sang twice at Carnegie Hall. She is a teacher by day and theater junkie by night. Her favorite job ever was leading tours at Wrigley Field

Chicago Opera Theater (COT) continues its 2018/2019 season with the Chicago premiere of the contemporary opera “The Scarlet Ibis.” Composed by Stefan Weisman with libretto by David Cote, “The Scarlet Ibis” was declared an “outstanding new chamber opera” by David Allen of The New York Times upon its debut at the 2015 Prototype Festival. Chicago Opera Theater presents the first full production of this operatic adaptation of James Hurst’s 1960 short story (apart from its festival debut), featuring the artistry of stage director Elizabeth Margolius and conductor David Hanlon. The opera stars Annie Rosen (who also performed in COT’s season-opening production of “Iolanta”) as Brother and Jordan Rutter as Doodle. 

The opening night and press performance takes place Saturday, February 16 at 7:30 p.m. at the Studebaker Theater (410 S. Michigan Ave.) Additional performances will take place Thursday, February 21 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, February 24 at 3 p.m.  

That same week, COT will present a week-long workshop culminating in the first full concert performance of “The Life and Death(s) of Alan Turing” by composer Justine F. Chen and librettist David Simpatico as part of Chicago Opera Theater’s Vanguard Initiative to promote the creation of new opera.

“COT’s mission to support the creation of new operatic work is exemplified in our February programming, with the first production of ‘The Scarlet Ibis’ since its debut at the 2015 Prototype Festival, and the first concert performance of ‘The Life and Death(s) of Alan Turing’ as part of our Vanguard Initiative,” said Stefan Edlis and Gael Neeson General Director Douglas R. Clayton. “COT is proud to provide an opportunity for Chicago to see such new and exquisite operas for the first time.”

Based on James Hurst’s classic American short story, “The Scarlet Ibis” is a moving tale about brotherhood, nature and family, set in North Carolina against the backdrop of World War I. It tells the story of a young boy named Doodle and his relationship with his brother, exploring the ways people ‘other’ those who are different and questioning what it means to be ‘normal.’ The piece was commissioned and developed through the HERE Artist Residency Program (HARP) and Dream Music Puppetry Program and co-produced by Beth Morrison Projects, premiering at the Prototype Festival in January 2015 in New York City.

“It’s thrilling to see ‘The Scarlet Ibis’ picked up for a second production following its premiere at our Prototype Festival,” said co-producer Beth Morrison. “Chicago Opera Theater is a forward thinking opera company, truly embodying what a 21st century opera company should be.”

Composer Stefan Weisman spoke to the development process of the opera stating, “One element of creating this opera that felt really unique was that the two leads are a countertenor and mezzo-soprano, both high voices for male characters. And they are played by two different genders. We are playing around with traditional notions of gender and power—the weaker of the two is the male singer, and the stronger is the female singer.”

Librettist David Cote continued, “The story is very much in the tradition of Flannery O’Connor, Tennessee Williams, even William Faulkner. The language is lush and flowery, the emotions run high and the ending is both beautiful and tragic. I’m not a Southerner, I grew up in small-town New Hampshire, but I drew on memories of living near a lake and playing in the woods to create the sense of nature and wonder in the opera.”

In addition to Rosen and Rutter, “The Scarlet Ibis” cast includes Quinn Middleman as Mother, Sharmay Musacchio as Aunt Nicey, Bill McMurray as Father and dancer Ginny Ngo.

Creative Team for The Scarlet Ibis

Composer: Stefan Weisman

Librettist: David Cote

Conductor: David Hanlon

Stage Director: Elizabeth Margolius

Lighting Design: Charlie Cooper

Scenic Design: Jack Magaw

Costume Design: Brenda Winstead

About Stefan Weisman

Stefan Weisman’s music has been described as "personal, moody and skillfully wrought" (The New York Times). His compositions include chamber, orchestral, theater, dance and choral pieces, and he has specialized in vocal works that explore edgy and compelling topics. His operas include “Darkling” (American Opera Projects), “Fade” (Second Movement), and “The Scarlet Ibis” (produced by HERE and Beth Morrison Projects and premiered in the 2015 PROTOTYPE opera festival). He is a graduate of Bard College (BA), Yale University (MA), and Princeton University (PhD). Presently, he is on the faculty of the Bard High School Early College in Queens, New York. 

About David Cote

David Cote is a playwright, librettist and arts journalist based in New York City. His operas include “Three Way” with composer Robert Paterson (Nashville Opera and BAM); “The Scarlet Ibis” (Prototype Festival) and “Fade” with Stefan Weisman. Other works include his plays “Otherland” and “Fear of Art;” song cycle with Paterson, “In Real Life;” choral works with Paterson, “Did You Hear?” and “Snow Day.” Cote was born and adopted in New Hampshire and is a proud alum of Bard College. His fellowships include The MacDowell Colony, and he is a member of the New York Drama Critics Circle, ASCAP and the Dramatists Guild.

About David Hanlon

David Hanlon is a composer, conductor and pianist praised by Maestro Patrick Summers as “one of the major compositional voices of the young generation.” He has often written work for Houston Grand Opera, including his chamber opera “Past the Checkpoints” about undocumented immigrants, the chamber vocal piece “The Ninth November I Was Hiding,” about his grandfather's arrest during Kristallnacht and “Power,” based on a text by a high-schooler about bullying. Hanlon was recently commissioned by the Opera For All Voices consortium to write a new chamber opera with librettist Stephanie Fleischmann, and recently conducted the premiere of his and Fleischmann's chamber opera “After the Storm” at Houston Grand Opera.

About Elizabeth Margolius

Elizabeth Margolius is a Chicago-based Joseph Jefferson Award-nominated stage and movement director with a primary focus in developing and directing new and rarely produced music theater, operetta and opera. Margolius’ Chicago and regional stage and movement directorial credits include “Miss Holmes” for Peninsula Players, “Machinal” for Greenhouse Theater, “The Bridges of Madison County” for Peninsula Players, “The Boy Who Grew Too Fast” for SUNY/Albany Opera Program and “Uncle Philip’s Coat” for Greenhouse Theater. Margolius has been a guest director, master artist and guest/adjunct lecturer at numerous colleges, universities and festivals including the University of Nebraska, DePaul University and SUNY Albany.

About Chicago Opera Theater

Chicago Opera Theater (COT) is a nationally recognized opera company based in Chicago, now in its 45th season. COT expands the tradition of opera as a living art form, with an emphasis on Chicago premieres, including new contemporary operas for a 21st century audience.

In addition to its programmed mainstage season, COT is devoted to the development and production of new opera in the United States through the Vanguard Initiative, launched in the Spring of 2018. The Vanguard Initiative mentors emerging opera composers, invests time and talent in new opera at various stages of the creative process and presents the Living Opera Series to showcase new and developing work.

Since its founding in 1973 by Alan Stone, COT has staged more than 125 operas, including over 65 Chicago premieres and more than 35 operas by American composers.

COT is led by Stefan Edlis and Gael Neeson General Director Douglas R. Clayton and Orli and Bill Staley Music Director Lidiya Yankovskaya. As of fall 2018, Maestro Yankovskaya is the only woman with the title Music Director at any of the top 50 opera companies in the United States. COT currently performs at the Studebaker Theater (Michigan & Congress) and the Harris Theater for Music & Dance (Michigan & Randolph).

For more information on the Chicago Opera Theater and its programs please visit

Monday, January 28, 2019

REVIEW: La Boheme at Lyric Opera Now Playing Through January 31st, 2019

ChiIL Live Shows on our radar
Lyric Opera of Chicago
Through January 31st, 2019

Guest Review
by catherine hellmann

“It is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.”-- Rodolfo in “La Boheme.” Actually, those words were written by Alfred Lord Tennyson. But our hero, Rodolfo could have easily stated them as well.  

You know how when you read a particular novel and it speaks to you in the manner of your current frame of mind? If you need hope, perhaps the book provides inspiration; if you are feeling nostalgic from a setback, the same book at a different time can seem poignant. I love how opera can stir up similar reactions in life’s journey. So is my attachment to the beautiful “La Boheme” by Puccini.

The last time I saw a production of Lyric’s “La Boheme,” I was struck by the overall sadness of the piece, the poverty, the struggles of the artists, Mimi’s chronic cough and eventual death. Downer, dude. Gorgeous music, of course, but oh so melancholy. (Did I mention I just had a miscarriage? Yeah, I was in a tough place…) Fast forward twenty years, and the healthy baby boy I eventually went on to have is now a Sophomore in college, and life is good. Hmmm...I did not realize how utterly charming and humorous  Act I of “La Boheme” could be! Opera as litmus test! No wonder this is the opera that Nicholas Cage takes Cher to in Moonstruck. The story and score are swoon-worthy.

Lyric Opera has assembled a marvelous international cast for its current “La Boheme.” Italian Maria Agresta as Mimi and American Michael Fabiano as Rodolfo are adorable flirting together and wowed us with their vocal theatrics this past fall at Millennium Park. Musetta is performed with relish for the role by Australian soprano Danielle De Niese; her Musetta is feisty, sexy, funny, and ultimately very empathetic with a compassionate heart. Her seduction aria to make Marcello jealous places her on a table in a restaurant while she removes her panties to place on his head, something we don’t see often in opera! Zachary Nelson as her on-and-off-again lover Marcello is her match.    


The sets and costumes are wonderful, especially the market scene with the crowds, including the Chicago Children’s Choir, out bustling, shopping for toys, perfumes, and corsets. I love the snow constantly falling as a reminder of how pretty snow can be when it is not dirty slush on the streets of Chicago!

And oh, that lovely music! Venezuelan conductor Domingo Hindoyan states that the first time he heard the entire score, “I was in love with every bar.” It is easy to see why. As my guy, who was seeing his first opera, observed,”It is a beautiful tragedy. Rodolfo’s heart is broken, but he has peace.” Rather than running away by breaking up with an obviously ailing Mimi, Rodolfo confesses his deep love for her and is with her to her last breath.

My favorite line in the libretto sums it all up: “You are the dream I’d like to last a lifetime.”

Catherine Hellmann is a teacher, writer, and theater junkie. She has tried to inspire urban and rural middle schoolers for over twenty years. A mother of three, she is thrilled to once again claim Chicago as home.  

Puccini's story of love, loss and the artistic world of 19th-century Paris comes to vibrant life in this stunning production at Lyric Opera of Chicago. A huge hit when it premiered it in 1896, the opera's popularity and power hasn't dimmed since. Featuring strikingly designed sets and costumes, not to mention an exciting cast of singers, including Maria Agresta, Michael Fabiano, Danielle de Niese, Zachary Nelson and more, La bohème finds the poor poet Rodolfo and the painter Marcello drawn into a tangle of love and jealousy after the frail Mimi knocks on their door. These youthful dreamers navigate the complicated maze of romance amid the colorful Bohemian enclaves of the city and its snowy streets, until they realize they can no longer hide from the world's harsh realities.

Click here for Lyric Opera's site, for more information and ticket sales

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

REVIEW: Compagnie La Pendue’s Tria Fata at The Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival

Surprisingly Intimate Puppetry Production 
Darkly Funny and Touching

Review of Compagnie La Pendue’s Tria Fata
Monday Jan 21 at Chopin Theatre
Presented as part of The Festivals Exchange

Guest Review
by d’arcy mies

In Tria Fata, La Pendue’s cast of two puppeteers present a cabaret that serves up life and death. A one-man band (Martin Kaspar Lauchli) fills the space with jaunty Klezmer music and (occasionally manipulates stringed puppets), while the graceful, black clad Estelle Charlier fills various roles, most notably, Death itself. Presented in French with English supertitles projected above the stage, the show is both intimate and expansive, at once personal and universal.

The main character, a red-haired old woman, bargains with Death for a little extra time, so she can once more review the memories of her life. The highlights of her life are presented: an amusing and bizarre childbirth scene, a highly symbolic coming of age vignette, and a heartbreakingly tragic love story. Each part is presented using different techniques: hand puppets and marionettes, shadow-puppetry, mime, and at the end, a touching and mesmerizing kinetic slide show. Tria Fata invites the audience to share in the old woman’s first breath, and her last, an unforgettable tribute to the human experience.

Photo Credit D'Arcy Mies

Photo Credit D'Arcy Mies

D'Arcy Mies is a Montessori teacher, mom, and long time theater lover who lives in Chicago burb, Franklin Park. She drives a "Tardis Blue" car decked out like Dr. Who's time machine and can often be found at pop culture events.

"Tria Fata" by Compagnie La Pendue (France)
Chopin Theatre, 1543 W Division

She is a puppeteer. He is a musician. Life and death are playing in their cabaret. The big imaginary machinery they are activating together strangely looks like the one which presides over our destinies: the Ancients believed this weaving loom belongs to the three Parcae—Tria Fata—where the threads of our lives are weaving, uncoiling, and breaking.

Presented as part of The Festivals Exchange —supported by The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation International Connections Fund

About the Festival
The Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival was founded in 2014 to establish Chicago as a prominent center for the art of puppetry. This biennial Festival presents the highest quality local, national, and international puppet shows in venues across the city. Invited artists lead workshops, public presentations and talks as an integral part of the Festival offerings. Additionally, the Festival hosts the Volkenburg Puppetry Symposium devoted to the advancement of scholarship and research in the field of puppetry.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

REVIEW: Victims of Duty at A Red Orchid Theatre With Michael Shannon

Chi IL Live Shows On Our Radar:
Victims of Duty by Eugene Ionesco 
at A Red Orchid Theatre
1531 N. Wells Ave. Chicago, IL 60610

By Catherine Hellmann, Guest Critic

Remember the old commercial for grape jelly that suggested: “With a name like Smuckers, it has to be good”? Well, I was reminded of this when watching Victims of Duty, “With a name like Ionesco, it’s got to be weird.” Absurdist theater makes me whimper, and to admit such a thing is like saying the Emperor has no clothes, or I am tragically unhip (which my teens can attest to anyway…)

Karen Aldridge (Madeleine), Michael Shannon (The Detective), and Guy Van Swearingen (Choubert)


Ionesco’s play begins with a quiet couple onstage. The husband, Choubert, is reading the newspaper; the wife, Madeleine, is sewing. They chat about dog poop on the sidewalk in the neighborhood, how the government is encouraging citizens to be detached to conquer problems, and opinions on theater. The husband, played by Ensemble Member Guy Van Swearingen, bemoans how nothing new ever happens in theater; everything is a “thriller.” (Cue: a visitor who will shake things up in this tranquil home.) Oh, and there is a clawfoot bathtub, half-filled with water, between them. Oh, and a now-famous movie star is in the production, which is really why anyone, myself included, wants to see it.

Aldridge, Van Swearingen, Shannon

With Michael Shannon from the Academy-Award winning movie The Shape of Water in the role of The Detective, A Red Orchid Theatre has a hit show that sold out its entire run in minutes. Both Van Swearingen and Shannon were in the original production at A Red Orchid in 1995, along with director Shira Piven; ticket sales then involved some begging. The space is small and intimate, which adds to the thrill of being there. A Red Orchid could realistically sell “safe” versus “unsafe seats” if the audience doesn’t mind getting wet from the pool of water onstage which the actors swish around in. (I wondered if the actors have an alternate set of clothing for their second show later that evening.)

Rich Cotovsky (Nicolas D’eu)



The Detective is searching for “Mallot with a t” who lived in their building. The sedate couple is intrigued and invite the seemingly timid but soon-aggressive Detective into their home. The biggest laugh came when the couple referred to the “sweet face” of the Detective. His interrogation involves force-feeding Choubert bread and having him submerge in the pool, as our memories can be fleeting like liquid. (I had sympathy for the stage crew and the splashing they will have to clean up after every performance.)

Karen Aldridge is wonderful as the wife who is initially darning socks mildly, then playfully changes into a sexy dress to entice the Detective. When he asks her for a cup of coffee, she willingly obliges by frantically bringing out cup after cup after cup, lining them up along the edge of the stage. (Reminding me of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” where T.S. Elliott observed: “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.”)

Mierka Gierten (The Lady)

Van Swearingen, Gierten,

In a time when the real/fake news is mind-boggling and our commander-in-chief is a former reality-tv star-Narcissist, do we need entertainment to be more absurd? As Ms. Piven writes in her Director’s Notes: “Now there is also a social/political resonance that we can’t escape, as much as we might want to. Themes of torture, blind compliance to authority and the absurdity (not to mention the insidiousness) of every aspect of our current political morass” was present in their rehearsals.

AldridgeVan Swearingen

Shannon, Van Swearingen, Aldridge

Perhaps Ionesco was warning us to be citizens who are not detached by society’s problems, for innocent bystanders who are unaffected by turmoil around them are not helping.

Victims of Duty is running through August 5. Good luck scoring a ticket.

Van Swearingen, Aldridge

Shannon, GiertenVan Swearingen, Aldridge

Check for last minute tickets, as some do become available. If you miss those, show up in person and try their standby lines. They are sometimes even able to get everyone in!

Ensemble Members Michael Shannon (The Detective) and Guy Van Swearingen (Choubert), as well as Karen Aldridge (Madeleine), Rich Cotovsky (Nicolas D’eu), and Ensemble Member Mierka Gierten (The Lady).

Title: Victims of Duty
Written By: Eugene Ionesco
Directed by: Shira Piven

Creative Team: Danila Korogodsky (Production Design), Ensemble Member Mike Durst (Lighting Design), and Brando Triantafilou (Sound Design)

Regular Run: July 17 – August 5, 2018
Tuesday, July 17 at 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, July 19 at 7:30 p.m.
Friday, July 20 at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 21 at 3:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 22 at 3:00 p.m.
Wednesday, July 25 at 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, July 26 at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, July 28 at 3:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, July 29 at 3:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Tuesday, July 31 at 7:30 p.m.
Wednesday, August 1 at 7:30 p.m.
Friday, August 3 at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, August 4 at 3:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Sunday, August 5 at 3:00 p.m.

Schedule: Tuesdays: 7:30 p.m. (July 17 & 31)
Wednesdays: 7:30 p.m. (July 11 & 25)
Thursdays: 7:30 p.m. (July 12, 19 & 26)
Fridays: 7:30 p.m. (July 13 & 20 and August 3)
Saturdays: 3:00 p.m. (July 21 & 28 and August 4)
and 7:30p.m. (July 14, 21 & 28 and August 4) 
Sundays: 3:00 p.m. (July 22, 29 and August 5)

Location: A Red Orchid Theatre, 1531 N. Wells Ave.
Tickets: $50

Box Office:Located at 1531 N. Wells Ave, Chicago, (312) 943-8722; or online 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

REVIEW: Tiresias Was a Weatherman by the Organic Theater Company at the Greenhouse Theater Through July 8, 2018

Chi IL Live Shows On Our Radar:
Tiresias Was a Weatherman 
by the Organic Theater Company 
at the Greenhouse Theater 2257 N. Lincoln Avenue 

By Catherine Hellmann, Guest Critic

According to the press release, “Jaime Mire’s new comedy
Tiresias Was a Weatherman deals with timely issues of today such as mental health, pharmaceuticals, predatory media, and extreme weather, in a world where a minimal scientific alteration to your brain could potentially save both you and the world.  Or at least that’s what they say…” 

John Arthur Lewis (Troy), Adam Zaininger (Sun), Laura Sturm (Joyce), Will Burdin (Wind), Colin Jackson (Thunder), and Joel Moses (Rain) in Organic Theater’s production of Tiresias Was A Weatherman, directed by Josh Anderson, associate director Anna Gelman, May 31 – July 6, 2018. 
All Production Photos by Anna Gelman.

The storyline reminded me of my favorite beach on the East side of Lake Michigan, Pier Cove. There is a pile of rocks along the beach that have inspirational quotes on them. The usual expressions of thanks, blessings, and encouragement are penned on the rocks...but one rock reads: “Take your meds,” which I think is awesome. Then all will be well, right? The emphasis on taking one’s meds is at the forefront of Mire’s play. 

Taylor Raye (Cindy) and John Arthur Lewis (Troy)

The taking of meds from “Crazy Pants Pharmaceuticals” (love that name!) can cause catastrophic meteorological effects, even deadly hurricanes. One of the main characters, a doctor named Troy, lost his only son, Paul, in the last huge storm. Troy, who seems to have no emotions, is later accused of using his dead son for publicity; he even refers to Paul’s autopsy as a “research cadaver.” Ouch. Troy needs a feelings chip...

Annie, Troy’s stepdaughter, is portrayed by Shaina Schrooten, who does a great job as the frustrated, emotionally distraught daughter of Laura Sturm’s Joyce. She misses her brother Paul terribly, and describes to her psychiatrist how losing a sibling is its own category of being orphaned. Like the character of Antigone, she just wishes for her deceased brother to be buried so he can rest in peace. “He deserves a burial,” she insists. Annie has some wonderful lines, like how she doesn’t consider pot to be a med on her health history paperwork---”it’s like toothpaste,” she explains.

John Arthur Lewis (Troy), Nyssa Lowenstein (Charlie), and Laura Sturm (Joyce)

Four actors personify the Sun, Wind, Rain, and Thunder. Some of their dialogue is expressed in rhymes like a Dr. Seuss book which makes their intentions less sinister. “We are the weather. We work well together!” But the plot is confusing. 

Was it just me being un-hip again? So I asked my date what I was missing. His response: “The Weather freaked out when meds weren't taken or taken on time, I think. I interpreted the weather as thought, like side effects ??? Does that make sense?  I say this because the weather was also encouraging Annie, a.k.a. Annabelle, to pop a pill. I wish I could be of more help but that's how I interpreted the weather.” This is one of those shows that you don’t want to take your parents to because if we were lost, mom and dad are really going to be clueless. 

Sara Copeland (Izzy) and Shaina Schrooten (Annabelle)

All of the actors are well-intentioned and do a commendable job. I was especially impressed with three actresses who are also in The Revolutionists,
which I reviewed last week. The two plays are showing in repertory at Greenhouse until July 8. Sara Copland, Laura Sturm, and Taylor Raye appear in both productions, which is admirable. As my amusing companion noted: ”How do they do that? I would be fucking up and saying my lines from the wrong play.” Taylor Raye is funny, offering some of the only humor in the show as a talk-show host who is a bit too admiring of her guest, the doctor.

John Arthur Lewis plays the doctor who has developed an experimental chip that can be implanted in a person’s brain to suppress and control emotions. Referred to as a “remote controlled brain inhibitor,” the talk show host is thrilled with the possibilities, but the doctor wants its uses to be kept in check. Troy must be his own test subject---he is so deadpan about everything.

loved the costumes, which are all black and grey for the human characters, but bright colors for the Weathermen. The Weathermen are a talented group who also sing, sometimes in harmony. They had a clever list of medications: “fuck it all, Adderall,” and “closure is overrated, just get medicated.” 

Shaina Schrooten (Annabelle) and Adam Zaininger (Sun)

The play ends with Annie’s birthday. As she observes, birthdays “make us look at ourselves---or we are just furniture.”

This show runs in repertory with The Revolutionists (check out my review here) through July 8. 

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