Posted inArts & Culture

Byther Smith

Byther Smith’s emotionally intense, somewhat elemental blues style reflects the hardscrabble life he’s led. Born in Monticello, Mississippi, in 1932, he lost both his parents when he was still a toddler, and shortly thereafter one of his sisters died in a fire. As a young man he boxed and did manual labor, but once he […]

Posted inArts & Culture

This So-Called Disaster

After playing the ghost in Michael Almereyda’s underrated modern-dress-Manhattan film of Hamlet (2000), Sam Shepard invited Almereyda to film his own rehearsals for the San Francisco stage production of his autobiographical play The Late Henry Ross, featuring Nick Nolte, Sean Penn, James Gammon, and Cheech Marin. The play holds relatively little interest for me even […]

Posted inArts & Culture

Where the Wild Things Are and Other Bedtime Adventures

Children are not necessarily more discerning theatergoers than adults–but they tend to be much more open about their dissatisfaction. Emerald City Theatre Company’s musical–based on three stories by Maurice Sendak, including his single most famous tale–held my three-and-a-half-year-old daughter spellbound for its full 70 minutes, though she did fidget whenever things got too scary, moving […]

Posted inArts & Culture

Brilliant Traces

The New Leaf Theatre’s elegant quarters in a Chicago Park District building must have presented something of a challenge to scenic designer Marni Woloszyn. It can’t have been easy to replicate a spartan cabin deep in the Alaskan wilderness in a room notable for its polished woodwork and floors. Still, the design never detracts from […]

Posted inArts & Culture

No Way to Treat a Lady

Jazz musicals about famous killers are an odd American staple, but they generally sell tickets. Composer Douglas J. Cohen aims to capitalize on the genre in his pop-pastiche adaptation of the quirky 1968 film No Way to Treat a Lady, but whether or not he succeeds can’t possibly be determined from William Pullinsi’s chintzy, cardboard […]

Posted inArts & Culture

Steve Earle & the Dukes

As rush jobs stuffed with filler go, you could do a lot worse than Steve Earle’s The Revolution Starts Now (E-Squared/Artemis). Hurriedly packaged for pre-election-day release, the album exists mainly for the sake of two pissed-off roots-country anthems (the title track and “F the CC”) and one protest ballad (“Rich Man’s War”). Elsewhere, it bears […]

Posted inArts & Culture

Gator Bait

A Reasonable Facsimile Theatre Company presents this campy late-night send-up of Claudia Jennings’s 1976 bayou revenge tragedy exactly 25 years after the Playboy Playmate, drive-in sexploitation queen, and Evanston Township High School graduate died a la Jayne Mansfield in a head-on collision. The film is a curious choice for satire; unimaginative and amateurish, it’s all […]

Posted inArts & Culture

The Zodiac Effect

We’re warned at the start of this evening of “paranormal illusions and theatrical seances” to “believe nothing and trust no one.” As if Dr. Zodiac really needed to encourage our skepticism–it’s quite a challenge to credit his claim that he reads minds with 99.7 percent accuracy. Though he does divine pretty well what his various […]

Posted inArts & Culture

Visiting Mr. Green

Portraying antithetical men brought together by community service in Jeff Baron’s play, Rich Baker and Michael Henry find opportunities to make us care about their characters in this competent Janus Theatre production. Though Henry often overplays his reactions, he does well when young corporate executive Ross recalls his first gay love and relives the disappointment […]

Posted inArts & Culture

George Gershwin Alone

Hershey Felder’s splendid one-man portrait of George Gershwin distills the essence of the short-lived composer and his enduring music. Skilled as an actor, singer, and pianist, writer-performer Felder reveals the links between Gershwin’s work and his personality: ambitious, charming, passionate, and playful, yet imbued with a melancholy loneliness that adds emotional depth to compositions ranging […]