The Art of Politics: How Lois Can Go

Is Lois Weisberg, our commissioner of Cultural Affairs, beginning to show her true colors? People are wondering in the wake of her “creative” solution to the problem of “The Chicago Show,” an exhibit scheduled to open May 5 at the Cultural Center. All involved in what was to have been a juried exhibit agree it was set up to include and reflect the best work being done by artists from the city and vicinity. But when the ethnically mixed jury recently finished judging (in a blind selection process) some 1,400 pieces submitted for consideration, lo and behold; it was discovered that only 6 of the 90 or so pieces chosen were by minority artists. A hue and cry immediately arose from minority artists and arts administrators, who claimed this small representation would never do. Weisberg may not know much about art (a point she reiterates with alarming frequency in interviews), but she knows a political mine field when she sees one. To solve the looming crisis, she decided to invite an additional 20 minority artists to appear in the show–to round out the numbers, as it were. Never mind that such an action clearly undermines the integrity–to say nothing of the dignity–of the judges and the judging process. Never mind that it’s a blatant change of rules in the middle of the game. Politics must be served.

Sources inside the Cultural Affairs Department argue that the art show wouldn’t have had a chance in future years had Weisberg not taken quick action: Mayor Daley would have blamed her and the Department of Cultural Affairs for any adverse political fallout from the show and perhaps would have canceled it for good, these sources contend. Maybe, maybe not. But what’s disturbing here is the clear indication of Weisberg’s priorities. If hers is to become yet another city department in which politics is served first and foremost, then one has to begin wondering what Weisberg can ever hope to accomplish in the way of a cultural agenda.

Actors’ Enmity, or The Impudence of Being Honest

Oh to be a fly on the dressing-room wall at the Body Politic Theatre. Last week, cast members in the Body Politic’s current production of The Importance of Being Earnest found themselves the subject of critical scrutiny from an unexpected source–fellow cast member James Deuter. In an interview with reporter Jack Helbig in New City, Deuter unabashedly ticked off his assessment of fellow performers: “Poor Henry Godinez is woefully inadequate as John Worthing….He doesn’t have a way with the language. Celene Evans (Cecily), God knows what she’s doing. She’s so dumb she doesn’t have a clue she’s doing anything wrong so she comes out smelling like a rose.” Any regrets from Deuter about his honesty? “I expect the shit will hit the fan,” he says unflinchingly. “But life’s too short, you know.”

How Many Russians Does It Take to Satiate an Audience?

Cultural glasnost may be wearing out its welcome around here. Sources indicate that another U.S. city is actively bidding to land the famed Bolshoi Ballet, which is touring the U.S. this summer, and a successful bid by that city could mean a cancellation or cutback of one of the company’s planned stops. Because of slow ticket sales for last week’s appearance by the Don Cossacks Russian dance company at the Chicago Theatre, execs connected with the Bolshoi tour are said to be growing jittery about the Chicago engagement: the top ticket price for the Bolshoi’s run here is expected to be $70 or so; will enough Chicagoans be willing to shell out that kind of money in the dog days of August?

More Ballet Notes

Meanwhile, Ballet Chicago appears to have found a new friend in Randy Green, executive director of the Civic Center for Performing Arts. Green is taking the fledgling company–with its managerial and financial problems–under his comforting impresarial wing, agreeing to help underwrite Ballet Chicago’s three-night appearance (April 25, 27, and 28) in the Civic Center’s Spring Festival of Dance. “It’s really a co-presentation,” explains Green. “We’re working on a long-term situation with Ballet Chicago.” Green believes he can help the troupe find a larger audience with his marketing and promotional clout. Plus he apparently prefers over the long haul to invest in a local company rather than an out-of-town group such as the Joffrey Ballet. Green, unwilling to meet the Joffrey’s financial demands, dumped the New York-based company from the dance festival lineup this season.

The Joffrey rolls into its new local home, the Auditorium Theatre, next week with a lineup of repertory that won’t include The Pantages and the Palace Present Two-a-Day, the newest work from artistic director Gerald Arpino. Both Auditorium and Joffrey budgets were too tight to allow the company to bring the elaborate piece here. But all is not lost. During its March 13-18 run, the Joffrey will revive Arpino’s Trinity, an exuberant work set to a rousing rock score by Alan Raph and Lee Holdridge.

Oh What a Feeling

Take one look at the invitation to the $500 first benefit performance of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera on May 29 and you’ll see how much clout corporate underwriters have these days in the arts world. The logo of the primary benefit sponsor, Lexus, the luxury car division of Toyota Motor Sales, USA, is boldly (and we mean boldly) emblazoned across the top of the invitation. And for last week’s cocktail reception to announce details of the lavish benefit, Auditorium officials all but blasted away the theater’s front entrance to get a gleaming white Lexus in the lobby. Now Lexus execs are wheeling and dealing to get a car into or near the Chicago Hilton & Towers ballroom, where the benefit dinner will be held. Perhaps Phantom tickets, which will top out at $55, will be offered with 4.8 percent financing.

This Winter’s Winner

Playwright Scott McPherson’s Marvin’s Room, with an unforgettable performance by Laura Esterman, is turning into one of the big hits of the winter season. Goodman artistic director Bob Falls already has commissioned McPherson to write another script. The show has been extended at least through March 18 at the Goodman Studio, and now commercial producers Michael Cullen, Sheila Henaghan, and Howard Platt are negotiating to transfer the production to another venue after its Goodman run.

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