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A ‘fully flavoured’ Playboy

“In a good play every speech should be as fully flavoured as a nut or apple,” wrote Irish playwright John Millington Synge in the preface to his 1907 comedy The Playboy of the Western World. By that standard, Playboy is a very good play—indeed, one of the greatest and most entertaining works in 20th-century English-language […]

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An Antigone for our times

The central characters of Redtwist Theatre’s current production are a conservative male government leader determined to impose his laws on everyone around him and a radical young woman passionately driven to defy those laws as unjust. This is no up-to-the-minute new drama about abortion rights in America, but rather a Greek tragedy from the fifth […]

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Living room absurdism

It may be difficult to comprehend today just how shocking Edward Albee’s drama Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was when it premiered in October 1962, the same week that the Cuban missile crisis began. While the atomic fireworks the world feared never happened, Albee’s three-act, three-hour-plus masterpiece detonated an explosion that rocked American culture to […]

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The bitch of living—1891 and today

This rock musical by librettist Steven Sater and composer Duncan Sheik debuted off-Broadway in 2006, and the play it’s based on, Frank Wedekind’s Frühlings Erwachen, dates back to 1891. But Porchlight Music Theatre’s moving new production feels troublingly timely in director/choreographer Brenda Didier’s taut, intimate staging, due both to the heartfelt performances of its excellent […]

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True blues

A fine cast backed by a first-rate jazz combo make Porchlight Music Theatre’s revival of Sheldon Epps’s concept revue Blues in the Night a delicious musical feast. A 1982 Broadway vehicle for Leslie Uggams, this durable jukebox musical—smartly staged for Porchlight by Chicago theater veteran Kenny Ingram—anthologizes a rich trove of 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s […]

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A 21st-century Oklahoma!

Director Daniel Fish’s controversial 2019 Broadway revival of the classic musical Oklahoma! has come to Chicago for a two-week run at the CIBC Theatre. I don’t know how Fish’s innovative rethinking of the work (first developed at Bard College’s Fisher Center in 2015, and then produced off-Broadway at St. Ann’s Warehouse in 2018 prior to […]

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Ghostly grief

In January of 2020, Black Button Eyes Productions presented the Chicago premiere of Duncan Sheik and Kyle Jarrow’s quirky musical ghost story Whisper House, about an 11-year-old boy living in a haunted lighthouse. Now the company—whose motto is “We help magic invade reality”—has returned to song-driven supernatural storytelling with Mary Rose, an original musical based […]

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Joan-sing for the holidays

Hell in a Handbag Productions’ campy spoof of A Christmas Carol replaces miserly moneylender Ebenezer Scrooge with hard-hearted Hollywood icon Joan Crawford, played by author (and Hell in a Handbag artistic director) David Cerda. In Cerda’s reworking of Charles Dickens’s behavior-modification fable, Joan—a tyrannical, tough-as-nails diva who abuses everyone around her, including her loyal personal […]

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Arrested development

AstonRep Theatre Company returns to live performance after a COVID-induced hiatus with a new staging of French playwright Yasmina Reza’s 2006 comedy, which the troupe previously presented in 2012. Reza’s play, in British playwright Christopher Hampton’s 2008 English translation, concerns two heterosexual married couples, the Novaks and the Raleighs, brought together because their 11-year-old sons […]

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Hamlet for Halloween

Invictus Theatre’s intimate, bare-bones modern-dress staging of Hamlet is storefront Shakespeare at its best. The company’s stated aim is to “promote a better understanding . . . of heightened language . . . to express the breadth of the human condition,” and this dynamic, clearly spoken non-Equity production delivers. Director Charles Askenaizer guides the ensemble […]

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The Things I Could Never Tell Steven is a musical portrait of an enigma

After a year-and-a-half shutdown, the storefront theater formerly known as Pride Films and Plays is back open for business in Buena Park. Returning to live performance, the LGBT-focused company now called PrideArts has not only a new name but a new artistic director, a reconfigured black-box space with new seats and upgraded air-conditioning, and a […]