Saturday, June 27, 2009

EVITA: "Local girl makes good"

Theo Ubique Theatre Company
No Exit Cafe
Chicago, Illinois
June 26, 2009

Dinner theatre conjures up certain images in anyone’s head. Sitting in the No Exit Café, some of those stereotypes were actualized: old people and bad food. Even in our forties, we were the youngsters in the crowd. My eggplant parmesan was tasty but almost pureed (perhaps intentional for the audience). Dick’s* meal looked like a TV dinner that wasn’t completely reheated. Get past dinner with the geriatric set and everything else falls into place like a well choreographed musical.

The no frills and intimate size of the cafe space are the ideal backdrop for this show. This is especially apparent in the canteen scene where I felt an urge to join the tango lessons on stage. The fourth wall disappears with the cast in dual roles as servers. Ensemble member, Anthony Apodaca (pictured here with me) was fabulous as a server, actor, singer and dancer. This experience is even more profound because you get a glimpse into the life of many talented and underpaid actors who wait so they can act. The tip at the end is for the wine service and a little “follow your dream” pocket money. (You’re right, Dick, we should have tipped more!)

I had never heard of the Theo Ubique Theatre Company until Evita swept at the 2009 Jeff Awards. Now, they are on my radar. Using all the right elements; intimate setting, talented cast, spectacular choreography, a live musical combo, Ubique produced an impressive theatre experience. Dick was enamored with Maggie “Evita” Portman who he thought was a look alike for Le Ann Rimes. (I said Natalie Maines from the Dixie Chicks.) My favorite part of the show was Chris Damiano playing Che. I fall hard for a man with a soulful voice combine it with a handsome face and put him in revolutionary fatigues and I’m a goner. I’m banking on “his beloved Rose” being a cocker spaniel. “..I love him and hope he loves me…”

Final note on the show from my evening’s theatre companion: Dick liked the music and thought the production was low budget with big impact.

Waiting for the Show

Experiencing the unpredictable timing of the CTA red line, we arrived express at the Morse stop thirty minutes early. Having extra time is pivotal to actually finding the theatre café which from the outside looks like a vacated space. It also allowed us to mix with the local homeless folks and get a drink at The Glenwood. Pear martinis were the perfect pre-curtain cocktail at this neighborhood joint.

Post show, we headed to my favorite wine bar, Marty’s. Marty’s is the upscale “Cheers” in my life located in Andersonville. The host greets me with a big hug, a “where have you been” and snaps his finger to get us immediately escorted to the patio. Feeling every bit the celebrity, I strut through the crowded bar waving at my favorite friendly bartenders. Although it’s the staff that keeps me coming back to Marty’s, the “new guy” serving on the patio would be the exception. When I order a glass of shiraz, he bluntly informs me that it’s awful and that I want the malbec (pronouncing it male beck). The “new guy” could certainly get some tips from Anthony on serving and acting like you enjoy it.

*This is his real name. He doesn’t need to be protected and certainly isn’t innocent.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

9 to 5: $120 Blockbuster Rental

Marquis Theatre
Times Square
New York, New York
June 20, 2009

Who hasn’t seen the movie 9 to 5? Apparently, the three leads, in the current Broadway production, each own a beta, VHS and DVD copy of it. Their performances mimic the original performances perfected on the silver screen by Lily Tomlin, Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton. Is it a problem? Not when you want to experience a big budget musical NYC style, entertain three teenagers and enjoy an amusing rerun.

Before the curtain rose, I wondered how a plot pre-dating the influences of Anita Hill, Alexis Colby and pant suits would transcend to 2009. It couldn’t so the producers smartly set it where it belonged back in 1979. A year established in the PLAYBILL and reinforced on stage with typewriters, bad hair and an egotistical, sexist, tyrannical boss. Like watching an episode of Seinfeld for the bazillionth time, I knew every punch line before it was uttered. But like spending the evening with a friend telling the same stories again, I could enjoy it accompanied by a lychee martini. And because it’s my dream to have a life moment actualized in a choreographed dance number in the parking lot of Treasurer Island, I liked the addition of songs and dance numbers.

Here’s the big speed bump, Allison Janney’s singing! I loved her in West Wing, American Beauty, Juno, and Away We Go. She’s proven her extensive range from drama to comedy. (Come on, Al, be happy with that and four Emmys! Save your singing for the car or karaoke night) Although to Janney’s defense, Lily Tomlin probably would have sang it exactly the same way.

Who hasn’t seen the movie 9 to 5? Apparently, out of my five theatre companions, only Steve and me had actually viewed the movie and really only I remembered it.

Final words from the second row of the mezzanine: Mike – “9 to 5 gets a 10,” Ashley – “girls rule,” Michael – “cute, fun, entertaining,” Abby – “big boobs rode Texas backwards,” and Steve – “I liked the songs and dance numbers best in the movie!”

Waiting for the show
Ruby Foo’s in Times Square was a great stop for sushi and a drink pre-curtain. Decorated in Mah-jong tiles and Japanese lanterns, the atmosphere is a little Asian oasis to the bustling hordes of people walking and sitting in a makeshift pedestrian mall steps from the door. A word of warning: don’t forget to sign your credit card receipt or they will track you down via your friend’s cell. If your friend is anybody like Steve, you know this moment will become a joke with a longer run than Cats.

After being overly stimulated by the techno light show of advertisements and the naked cowboy in Times Square, a nightcap at the Rainbow Room for the view is a perfect plan. Unfortunately, it no longer exists as we found out. The historic Rainbow Room has cut its hours and is closing for good on Sunday. So, instead of being on top of The Rock, we went below street level and had a ginger martini in the plaza. Even if the server is a little bitchy, tip 20%... people need to pay rent and NYC is expensive!

Saturday, June 6, 2009

THE WALLS: Some Crazy Shit

Rivendell Theatre Ensemble
The Walls
May 17 - June 20, 2009
The Steppenwolf Garage
1624 N. Halsted

The Walls experiencing the treatment of mental illness through history. So many things worked for me in this production from the start, walking through a gallery of colorful paintings in juxtaposition with entering the theatre and its stage of oversized stark white frames. A powerful cluttering of whispering in the beginning and ending of the play to mark the start and finish of one crazy ride. And the best part: the cast.

A strong cast with four out of the five main actors effectively translating crazy in each's own individual style. My fave had to be Meighan Gerachis playing the artist Virginia. In a pivotal scene, Gerachis is dripping in sweat with lipstick schmeared. She delivers her crazy rant a few feet from my seat and I was uncomfortably fearful that she had indeed snapped and was coming through the fourth wall to allow death to imitate art. Next, Tara Mallen playing Alice was superb. A full range of crazy starting with a monologue suggesting Alice is an ordinary housewife with a temper that is not acceptable for the 1930's and ends with a lobotomized timid, confused robot. Playing Jane, Danica Ivancevic impressively physically transforms her face from pretty to distorted, crazy ugly in her portrayal of a "cutter" in the 1880's. I thoroughly enjoyed Mierka Girten as Lucy. Girten, as a modern day crazy, was most relatable. Everyone has a "Lucy" in their life. Someone who magically brings any party to life and ensures its a crazy fun time but who ultimately comes down in a messy implosion that needs to be cleaned up (little nod out to my good friend Taya!). I struggled with Lacy Katherine Campbell as the main character, Carrie. I'm not sure why. Was it played a little too screechy for my taste? Or was it because I didn't like the seemingly non-crazy character? Maybe I wasn't suppose to like Carrie. Or maybe in general I just like crazy people best.

The Walls: A tribute to the evolution of thought as women are committed to asylums for their noncompliant behavior over the decades. A disturbing premise, as throughout the play, I continued to ask myself "at what age would I have been first committed?"

Last words from my play sidekick: Bill describes The Walls as powerful and dark with strong acting.

Waiting For The Show

On a gorgeous Friday evening boasting 85 degree temps, we opted to dine al fresco at Bilgers. Bilgers is a neighborhood fave because of its private garden complete with a Japanese Maple and fresh herbs. There is a limited view of activity on the sidewalk for people watching but the real draw here is the tranquil and comfortable feeling. One of the owners insisted I smell cuttings from his sage and thyme plants while the other ensured my wine glass was topped off. Although the french fries were soggy, I enjoyed my portion of the cheeseburger and who doesn't like $8 in coupons making the cost minimal?

Post show, we strolled down Halsted to The Black Duck. The Duck has a cozy, upscale lodge-look where we scored a table by open french doors in the front. Sipping a nice Malbec was a perfect way to recap the play and conclude the evening.