From Russia, With Translation

The USSR is hot these days, and Chicago’s theater industry is right there to capitalize on the interest. Coming up, for instance, is The Peace of Brest-Litovsk, a Russian political thriller by Mikhail Shatrov that will have its American premiere at the Civic Theatre April 16 through May 6. Officially Brest-Litovsk is the first production to appear in Chicago under a three-year cultural-exchange agreement between the League of Chicago Theatres and the Union of Theatre Workers of the Russian Federation. Unofficially, it’s a chance for a slew of fervent backers to jump on the Russian bandwagon. No fewer than three typewritten pages of sponsors and supporters are listed in the production’s official press kit, including the Civic Center for Performing Arts, Court Theatre, and Wisdom Bridge Theatre. American Express Company, which of course wants to maintain a high Russian profile, forked over a hefty $100,000 to tie in as the major corporate sponsor. Also involved is the state of Illinois, which chipped in $50,000 in seed money to establish another Brest-Litovsk supporter–the Illinois Russian Theatre Association (IRTA). IRTA was formed, so we’re told, to facilitate exchanges among theaters, artists, and commercial enterprises in the Soviet Union and the U.S. IRTA Will be the beneficiary of Brest-Litovsk’s first-night gala celebrating the growing ties between Chicago and Russia.

At the risk of seeming impolite amid all this glasnostic camaraderie, one has to wonder if the Chicago public will embrace the production as warmly as have members of the city’s theater industry. The answer to this question, after all, will help determine how much more theater winds up being exchanged. The play will be performed in Russian with simultaneous English translation. And local theater types whove seen the translation say it’s a tough piece to plow through–on the page anyway. That’s not surprising given the subject matter: Lenin’s political struggles surrounding the Bolshevik party’s settling of the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty with imperial Germany in 1918. Can’t wait to dive into that dusty Russian history book, can you? Still, Brest-Litovsk’s supporters, such as Court Theatre artistic director Nicholas Rudall, insist the play will surprise those who see it. “It’s a very visual experience,” says Rudall. “What should have been a boring piece becomes very exciting.”

Weisberg Watch: There Goes Another Alienated Arts Exec

Don’t doubt it for a minute: Commissioner Lois Weisberg is the boss in the Department of Cultural Affairs. But not everyone is thrilled about that. Last week John Wilson, one of the founders of Chicago’s annual Art Expo and a mover and shaker in the city’s arts community, penned his letter of resignation from the department’s Exhibits Committee, which was set up to advise the department on what shows should appear at the Cultural Center. Wilson says he was peeved because Weisberg (who’s constantly telling people she knows nothing about art) has booked a fashion and architecture exhibit at the Cultural Center without consulting the committee. “If she’s going to make all the decisions,” says Wilson, “I’ve got better things to do with my time.” Others on the committee, however, decided to roll with Weisberg’s pulling of rank. Adds Arlene Rakoncay, executive director of the Chicago Artists’ Coalition and another Exhibits Committee member. “As long as Weisberg didn’t start making demands about the content of the exhibit, most of us were willing to go along with it.”

Another Art Mart: More Is More?

Now that Wilson’s Art Expo is firmly established, a new group hopes to piggyback on the success of the Navy Pier event. Cleveland-based communications mogul Robert Edgell and California-based dealers David and Lee Ann Lester are planning the first International Gallery Invitational (IGI) to coincide with this year’s Art Expo; it will run for four days at McCormick Place starting May 10. The trio is bringing in art valued at approximately $100 million, including works by Andrew Wyeth, Grandma Moses, Picasso, Pissaro, Monet, and Marc Chagall, as well as an extensive collection of Latin American art. As plans now stand, the IGI will be an annual affair, but those plans will certainly change if the hoped-for synergism fails to materialize.

Toscanini, the Video

The music-video craze has hit the classical market. This week RCA Victor Gold Seal is releasing the first in a series of digitally remastered compact disc collections of the recordings of Arturo Toscanini. The inaugural releases feature Toscanini’s recordings of the Beethoven and Brahms symphonies, as well as Verdi’s Aida, Falstaff, and Requiem. In conjunction with the musical releases, RCA also is unveiling Toscanini, the Television Concerts (1948-1952) on both videocassette and laser disc. An RCA source said the joint release of video and musical recordings will happen with increasing frequency in just about every musical niche: “All of our new contracts are now being written with a video clause in them.”

Improv Launches Laugh Lunch

Audience development is the goal as the Chicago Improv launches what it calls the “Luncheonette Set.” To lure midday crowds, the Wells Street comedy showcase is offering a $7 package consisting of a light lunch, unlimited Coca-Cola products, and 20 minutes of stand-up humor by Chicago comedians. If that’s too much excitement for you in the middle of the day, soap operas will be shown in the bar area, and sports and cartoons will be on in the poolroom.

Risky Business:. Chicago-Bred Musical on Broadway

At least one worried would-be investor in the Broadway-bound, Chicago-bred musical A Change in the Heir was phoning Chicago theater observers from New York last week trying to figure out whether the fairy-tale musical has a real chance of becoming a big hit. Stewart Lane, the show’s New York producer, is seeking to capitalize the production at around $900,000. New Tuners Theatre originally produced it at the Theatre Building for approximately $60,000. There is reason for potential investors to be concerned about their money and the fate of A Change in the Heir. In the past New York critics haven’t been kind to the Windy City’s musical efforts. Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?, the last Chicago musical to move to Broadway, closed promptly after receiving some of the most vicious notices in Broadway history. A Change in the Heir is scheduled to open April 29 at the Edison Theatre. Director David H. Bell, long a fixture at Marriott’s Lincolnshire Theatre, makes his Broadway debut with the musical.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bruce Powell.