Friday, August 28, 2009

ALL MY SONS: Americana Mama Drama

All My Sons
Timeline Theatre
Chicago, Illinois
August 27, 2009

Falling in love with the girl next door, sipping grape juice on the porch, Benny Goodman on the radio, All My Sons is set in the good old days, simpler times. I so wanted to join the Keller family in their backyard and perhaps un-shell a few peapods. Maybe pitch horseshoes. (It’s the same feeling I had about the movie Arachnophobia, did it really need those spiders?) The Kellers are that family on the block. The house, where people gather. The ideal family!? Cue the spiders!

Janet Ulrich Brooks (Kate) is a standout as the mom, who denies that her son was killed in the war. Looking like Anne Bancroft’s ghost, Brooks engages in some haunting moments of crazy trying to keep her illusion real. Cora Vander Broek (Ann), I loved her dress in the first act and her performance in the second. Speaking of clothes, I was distracted from Erik Hellman’s performance (Chris) by his unflattering pants. Roger Mueller (Joe) reminded me of a dad… corny jokes, good natured, murderer… not my dad, but somebody’s. The four neighbor characters seemed unnecessary to the plot and I had to wonder if Arthur Miller wrote the parts for some actor friends needing work.

Playwright Arthur Miller opened All My Sons on Broadway in 1947. It must have been radically controversial for the time period to portray war profiteering. His story is solid with flawed, interesting characters. Timeless? Not really! But Arthur couldn’t have predicted that in 2009, being disgraced wouldn’t be considered a fatal end. And that honor wouldn’t be synonymous with war. But the biggie for me, that doesn’t translate over 60+ years, the anticipated marriage proposal. When I get a note from a guy in the mail (e-mail) asking me to come to his house, I don’t go assuming marriage.

This show’s run starts on Monday, August 31st. I’m publishing a review from a preview night. Deal with it Chris Jones! I answer to no one!

Clueing me in on the pivotal moment when the title’s meaning is revealed, Dick describes All My Sons as pure Americana mama drama!

Theatre Thursday is Chicago’s great concept to woo audiences! For $25, we enjoyed two drinks and the “all you can eat” Americana buffet at Kendall’s (2263 N. Lincoln) plus the show. C.J. broke all preconceived notions of pretty bartenders. She was friendly, efficient and even nice to the old people who didn’t tip on their free drink tickets. The food pitch should have been described as the “all you can eat chips and salsa” Americana buffet, because the wings and pizza were scarce.

Rainy, cold night? Perfect post-show drink choice was Firefly (3335 N. Halsted). Not quite “pretty,”our bartender and server, Mark and Tod are always friendly, efficient and nicely generous with wine pours. Deciding to go to Firefly after a play is choosing to continue your theatre experience by becoming part of the cast of a nightly drama. Cue the spiders! Crazy drunk, freeloading twenty-somethings, dumped bartender, disgrace is definitely not fatal in 2009.

Friday, August 21, 2009

HIGH FIDELITY: The Movie is Awesome!

High Fidelity
The Route 66 Theatre Company
Pipers Alley
Chicago, Illinois
August 20, 2009

My all-time “Top Five” reasons this production of High Fidelity doesn’t work…

#5. Too much of a good thing: Talented cast way under-utilized with limited character material. It’s most obvious when everyone is herded out on the stage to just sing back-up. Superfluous! Cut the cast by half. Let the actors double up on parts, for more of an opportunity to showcase their individual abilities. Retooling with creative casting would be more true to the High Fidelity essence and less about being a big Broadway musical production.

#4. Techno No: Give Marty and Bobby the rest of the run, off. Projected images of records, old girlfriends, The Boss are unnecessary. If the script is strong enough, cheap techno props aren’t needed to tell the story. Oh wait… I see the problem.

#3. It’s not funny: Housed in the Second City building that has launched a plethora of comedy legends, like, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, John Candy, Tina Fey, there is an expectation of, at minimum, a chuckle. Nothing! I was painfully aware of occasional chortles and giggles, rippling through the audience, from what I guess to be friends of the cast or suburbanites. Channel the legends and tweak the script.

#2. Stef Tovar, you’re too old to play Rob: I tell you this, because I’d want someone to tell me. Give up that dream, Stef! If Star Wars was a musical, I’d want someone to tell me that I couldn’t play Princess Leia (for more reasons than age) and probably could only be considered for a storm trooper. As Artistic Director, you know it’s true, Stef. So, I’ll leave you with one last word of advice, “Ian.”

#1. Did you see the movie? Rob, Dick and Barry would never come to see this depiction of their lives. This version took their rock & roll and “down with the establishment” existence and High School Musical-ed it. How can I believe Rob is this dead beat, stoner rebel if every time he sings about Laura, it sounds like Grease’s “…stranded at the drive-in, branded a fool…?” If High Fidelity is suppose to be a musical, perhaps it should be more Mama Mia and use classic rock to tell the story. If copyrighting is too expensive, what would Rob, Dick, and Barry do? Pirate the songs! Now, that’s staying true to the rebel essence!

My all-time “Top Five” things I liked in High Fidelity: Michael Mahler, Dana Tretta, the musicians interchanging instruments, free Doritos and #1. It made me nostalgic to rent the movie.

My seatmates, James and Bill’s all-time “Top Five” comments on this performance: talented cast, songs not memorable, disjointed, too long and “Nick Hornby won’t be happy.”


Add-ons to my all-time “Top Five” things I liked about High Fidelity
(#6.) I liked a bar available in the theatre, (#7.) an encouragement to drink during the performance (you need a little something, something) and (#8.) sitting at a table for drink placement. Post show across the street at Corcoran's (1615 N Wells): (#9.) we scored a table in the quieter coach house to enjoy a breezy summer night without being victim to the down pour. (#10.) Jalapeno poppers with cream cheese (you were so right, James!)

Add-ons to my all-time “Top Five” reasons this production doesn’t work...
(#6.) I didn’t like the Dixie plastic glasses of wine (seriously, it’s a fricking musical, not a bad ass concert), (#7.) water only available for purchase and (#8.) the round for three people with tip, $24 (and the water was from Costco, come on!). Post show at Corcoran’s, (#9.) all the servers look alike so it was hard to wave down the right one (#10.) when exiting, we had to walk past the cast drinking at the bar. I always like to compliment actors, but I left with only a whisper of “Good luck with that!”

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Arabian Nights: A Magic Carpet Ride

The Arabian Nights
Lookingglass Theatre
Chicago, Illinois
August 6, 2009

Get over that the main story of a story within a story within a story is… a story of a woman forced to tell stories at knife point for nearly three years and you will become victim to the enchantment of The Arabian Nights. The music, the lighting, the dancing, erotic elements of the multiple tales lit the building in smoldering sensuality. I teetered between uncomfortably aware of gawking tendencies and delight that rolling around on a rug in loose pajamas could be so hot.

Mary Zimmerman, writer, director and choreographer, is the mastermind behind this brilliant production. Zimmerman uses only minimal scenery of oriental lanterns and rugs having opted to fill the stage with her fourteen actors. The actors are the interactive scenery and the audience is challenged to decide who to watch. For me, it was obvious that the night, The Arabian Nights, belonged to the ladies. Stacey Yen, serving as the primary narrator, not only marvelously verbally mimicked a character, but physically shadowed. It was fascinating to watch her gestures synchronized perfectly to her story’s character. Minita Gandhi and Emjoy Gavino were exceptionally fluid portraying a variety of different characters. By donning just a cap, Emjoy intriguingly changed her look from belly dancer to boy. Emjoy serves the simple warning to any gal about the danger of putting on a hat.

Although I loved this show, there were a couple speed bumps for me. One of the tales allows two actors to improvise their parts. The audience and cast mates seemed to enjoy it, but for me any improv is too long (stick to the writer’s words). Also, the fast-paced, high energy of the first half of the show leaves the audience breathlessly awaiting the explosion of excitement following intermission. The first tale in Act 2 is more wordy than visual leading to just a few moments of… “come on! somebody roll around on the rug.” Following that long tale, it does pick up especially in one of the last scenes when all the characters are simultaneously acting out different stories in a wonderfully exciting and chaotic climax.

My evening side kick, Jen , described the show as dynamic, colorful and clever.


Pre-show, we dined al fresco at Bistro 110, 110 E. Pearson. Bistro was featuring a special menu as their salute to Julia Child. Although the duck with peaches sounded delectable, I knew my fish eating vegetarian (too lazy to look that word up) gal pal wouldn’t be any assistance in eating ½ duck. So, we went split-zies on Julia’s scallops paired with a nice Bordeaux. For starters, we ordered the brie stuffed artichoke. The sauce was so amazing that I wanted to dip my bread and my hand in it. Bistro 110 guests should always request Nathan’s section, his recommendations were flawless. Not only did he encourage me to dip my hand in the artichoke sauce, he gave us the recipe for it.

Once again sensibility of my evening companion prevailed and I once again boarded the CTA 146 without a post-show drink. It seemed like a thousand and one nights before the overcrowded 146 made its appearance at the Water Tower stop. Perhaps, CTA could take a lesson from The Arabian Nights , dim the lights, add a rug, exchange the unflattering bus driver’s uniform for some flowing robes, who knows where a moonlit drive down LSD will lead?