Friday, July 31, 2009

The Hollow Lands: Next stop - EDEN!

The Hollow Lands
Steep Theatre Co.
Chicago, Illinois
July 30, 2009

Boy meets girl and falls in love. Simple, right? Not the way The Hollow Lands tells a love story. Irish immigrant boy meets girl, who previously had been held in captivity by Indians is permanently marked with facial tattoos, and did I mention she’s married? Okay, so now we’ve got a tale of two young lovers smitten who finally get together… end of story? Not by a long shot! It’s only the end of Act I! The Hollow Lands is a tapestry of complicated characters dealing with issues of the times: 1815-1857. Social class, slavery, women’s inequality, Indian persecution, cults, redemption, salvation, true freedom, this well-paced performance gives the audience an entertaining history lesson.

The mega talented cast energetically delivered scuffles and monologues dripping in blood and passion. A few standouts were Michael Salinas equally hilarious with an ejaculation prayerful rant to uttering just a few words as a woodsman. Yosh Hayashi portrayed Hayes as a drunken but likable asshole in his search for true freedom and Eden. Hayashi’s physicality of his zealous performance left me exhausted after three hours. I imagine Yosh spends the 21 hours between performances sleeping! And speaking of 21 hours, Boyd Harris was charming as Danny but the real nod out goes to his mother. Mrs. Harris told us she was attending her 7th performance. Boyd, your mama loves you!

For a small production company that I had never heard of, Steep began its seduction from the moment I arrived. The concrete mosaic welcome mat of the logo beckoned me to take a chance and fall in love because Steep was in it for the long haul. Cheerfully painted lobby, candle lit bathroom, but I knew I was truly smitten when the ticket guy passed out Milano cookies right before the third act. Girl meets theatre company and falls in love… end of story? I’m no Mrs. Harris but I’ll definitely be back for the next Steep production.

My playdate for the evening, Tom, described the performance as brutal, epic, and tragic.

Waiting for the Show

Because we were in his hood, Tom took me to one of his favorite haunts: Sabaidee, 5359 N. Broadway. I’ll admit I had preconceived notions from Tom’s description of “great Cambodian food “and “cheap”. My thoughts of dingy and dank disappeared immediately when I walked into the brightly lit, friendly ambiance of this Cambodian-Vietnamese restaurant. Even better, the owner waited on us. And even though Tom had recently returned from Viet Nam, he opted for the owner's suggestion of Combo 1 (beef, sticky rice, and papaya salad). The owner chose Kao Poon Gai Soup for me. I loved the spicy curry flavor with chicken and rice noodles. Although I could never verbally request it, if I saw it on a menu, I would definitely point order it.

Because it was a school night and I had just lived through forty years of history in three hours, I decided against my usual nightcap. Instead, I flagged down the 146 right outside the theatre and was transported from the wild, unknown territory of the Berwyn stop to my native quiet Lakeview homestead. There wasn’t any more gunfire or blood shed in my presence that night but riding the CTA that close to midnight always lends itself to the possibility.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Our Future Metropolis: Did Chicago follow the Plan?

Our Future Metropolis
Lookingglass Theatre
Chicago, Illinois
July 21, 2009

Having experienced traffic coming to a complete halt on the Kennedy, Red Line and the lakefront bike path, I’ve often asked myself “whose brilliant idea was this?” Tuesday night, I got some insight to that question. “One man show” describes Our Future Metropolis as a production and the content. Raymond Fox portrayed Daniel Burnham (1846-1912) presenting his “Plan of Chicago” in a lecture hall format. Accompanied by “lantern slides” illustrating the vision, Burnham encourages his audience to rally to make Chicago the next Paris. The Lookingglass Theatre building, aka 1871 fire survivor, was the perfect backdrop to transport the audience back in time to 1909.

Since reading "Devil in the White City" is the foundation for my limited Chicago history knowledge, what worked best for me was the addition of a panel discussion following the show. Community experts in city planning and Burnham’s “Plan of Chicago” joined director John Musial and Raymond Fox on stage for a Q&A. To add to the nostalgia, Daniel Burnham V was also present to field questions from the audience. Although 2016 Olympic discussions were alive with cynicism, I was most intrigued to learn there are plans to extend the lakefront parks in the near future. And even more fascinating to me, that there is a Chicago 2040 Plan being developed. I don’t know what I’m doing in 2010 or even this weekend. It amazes me that a group of people are currently making decisions that will affect my life in 30+ years. My mom will be so pleased that there is indeed A PLAN.

If anything, the evening left me with more questions than answers: was the lagoon plan partially completed? Did the rebel rouser Montgomery Ward really preserve the lakefront? Is Daniel Burnham V single? Will I be able to see 2016 Olympic tennis matches from my condo? Does Chicago 2040 provide discounted senior packages?

My Chicago native sidekick, Bill shared that his evening’s ah-ha moment was learning that the “Plan of Chicago” was connected to social order with a strong motivation for a better society.


Before heading downtown, we stopped for a bite at my neighborhood fave, Bilger’s. With new ownership pending at Bilger’s, I’m trying to get in as many meals as possible before its Lakeview departure. I also heard tonight’s cuisine was the result of a visiting chef but my meal wasn’t anything I hadn’t had before. Still, I do love when the owners pour a nice glass of petite syrah and sit down to discuss the latest gossip.

Where better to toast the “Plan of Chicago” than from the 96th floor of the Hancock? Sure, it’s pricey. And it’s packed with tourists from foreign lands, most notably Aurora. Plus, the décor and lighting is tired and unflattering. And when asked for input on the great turkey club –guacamole debate, the server, mistaking us for suburbanites, responded with “the turkey is a sandwich and the other is a dip.” All that to the side, the view is magnificent! THE plan, A plan, SOME plan is working because looking out the windows to see the old/new Sears/Willis Tower and the lighted brilliant majesty of Chicago, I fell in love all over again with my adopted hometown. Well done, Mr. Burnham (Mr. Bennett, Mr. Ward, etc), well done!

Saturday, July 11, 2009


Lonesome Losers of the Night
Theo Ubique Theatre Company

Theatre on the Lake at Fullerton
July 10, 2009

Sans the singing, a bartender pushing shots while two drunks fight over a whore sounds like any Saturday night at Jacqueline’s. Lonesome Losers of the Night has 21 songs. I know because I counted them down in anticipation of the end.

Losers is more of a music revue than a musical. After every song, the rhythm of the experience is broken for the audience to applaud. This is my ongoing pet peeve with this type of theatre experience. I want to clap at the end in admiration of a talented cast and wonderful script. Maybe at intermission, even if I don’t like the first act, as my way of cheerleading the cast into a better second half. Of course, I love to spontaneously burst out in applause at a powerfully magnificent aria flawlessly delivered. But after every song, come on that’s like a dog wanting a treat every time it sits up. I sit up all the time, where’s my treat?

The cast itself was great. Led by my newest crush Chris Damiano (Che in Evita), the singers were beautifully soulful. Their piano accompanist, Joshua Stephen Kartes, masterfully and entertainingly became a fifth character with his passionate performance. My issue was the material. Too many songs and no script! Sure I think the inane moments of my life would be prettier sung with a great piano accompanist. But in reality, who wants to hear it? And be coerced into applauding it?

Bottom line what does a French guy know about a wharf bar in Amsterdam anyway? Jacques, there’s a reason why what happens at the wharf, stays at the wharf. My advice is to skip Lonesome Losers of the Night opt instead for Jacqueline’s! If you really want singing, and who doesn’t , bring cash for the jukebox.

Sharing the sultry and sweaty experience at Theatre on the Lake, my playmates had this to say: Birthday boy Scott thought lyrical, emotional and repetitive. Dick described it as long bartender songs.

Before the show, we ate at Sushi-X at 543 W. Diversey. We strategized that our early dinner plans fell perfectly into the happy hour: ½ price rolls zone. Unfortunately, we found out on arrival that you can only be “happy” Sunday through Wednesday. If not “happy”, we were certainly content with the quick, friendly service and tasty rolls. The Godzilla lived up to its name and I had trouble eating it attractively. First ever, we ordered and enjoyed a crab ragoon roll. Turning crab ragoon into sushi certainly allows the diner to pretend it’s healthier. Kudos on that idea, Sushi-X!

Having watched the cast down more than a dozen shots each during the show, I left the theatre all boozed out. We decided to bathe in ice cream to beat the heat. Windy City Sweets, 3308 N. Broadway, is the perfect spot for such indulgence. Dick estimated $10 million in ice cream and candy inventory. Scott and I think he may be delusional but agreed that they did have a Willie Wonka like selection.

I biked past Jacqueline’s, 3420 N. Broadway, on the way home. I’m certain I saw Greg pushing shots to several drunks and counted more than a handful of whores. I almost stopped but hey it wasn’t Saturday!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Graceland: Not Elvis' Final Resting Stop

Extended through August 16th
Profiles Theatre
4147 N. Broadway

July 2, 2009

Buying the house a round and going home and shooting himself. It’s hard to imagine the humor in that scenario. But it’s that mystery of a father’s death that is the catalyst for Graceland’s witty dialogue about family dysfunction, love woes, and career confusion. I was swept up in the moments of the play. I want to quit my job and deliver edible arrangements. I want to get drunk and hit on men. I want to feel less lonely because a young thing thinks I’m beautiful. I was there but I wasn’t, so I could laugh… really hard.

Jackson Challinor did a marvelous job of playing a quirky, vulnerable teenager. (How old are you, Jackson? Would it be a felony? But I could go for your dad too!) The dad, Darrell Cox, balancing perfectly an SNL wild and crazy guy meets Mike Brady. (Hey, the play is targeted for the 40’s crowd and so are my pop culture references.) Eric Burgher, as the dead guy’s son, delivers the most haunting line to his sister: “Your jokes aren’t even funny.” Ouch, those words in a fight can never be taken back. Unfortunately, every time his sister, Cheryl Graeff, a dead ringer for Miranda, made a sexual advance, all I could think was “What about Steve?”

My favorite part was the Chicago references, like; Graceland cemetery, air and water show, R.J. Grunts, Marshall Fields and smoking ban. It created a lovely intimacy that made me want to find playwright Ellen Fairey and say “I live in Chicago too. We are so connected.” Probably the best compliment to Fairey’s tight script, the end came much too swiftly. But what else would you expect from a play set in a cemetery?

When asked to describe Graceland with three words, here are the responses from my seat mates… Joe: observant, dramedy and absorbing; Bill: funny, witty, humorous, familiar; Dick: Sorkinian, funny, actor-ish.


Having inaccurately judged the play’s locale, I suggested Jaiyen’s on Broadway, a sushi-thai-BYOB restaurant. Bill and I went for the old standby, crab rangoon – delicious. The venture into new territory, chive dumpling was a lesson learned. Jaiyen’s menu was promoting their seasonal sushi rolls to “beat the winter blues.” The menu might have been dated but the rolls proved tasty, especially the asparagus Christmas one. The service was quick and friendly. As one of their two tables, we were out the door in 45 minutes making my error in distance a non-issue.

Post show, we headed to Firefly on Halsted, always a cozy choice for a bite and drink later in the evening. Firefly has been around for a while and showing signs of decay. Bill reported the bathroom was dirty without paper towels or a working lock. For me, it’s the clientele transformation. It’s been Lincoln-park-afied, lots of Trixies. It makes me long for the boystown bar days when it was wall-to-wall good looking men with a sprinkling of the occasional fag hag. For a moment, I considered buying the house a round and going home and shooting myself in the head. Instead, I opted for the beignets with caramel sauce followed by only a momentary inkling of regret.