Saturday, September 26, 2009

Yeast Nation Theatre Review: Needs Salt... flour, sugar, butter, etc.

Yeast Nation (The Triumph of Life)

American Theatre Company
Chicago, Illinois
September 25, 2009

In the very beginning, there was yeast. In fact, a whole world of yeast. Yeast Nation (The Triumph of Life) tells the story of the beginning of creation. For the religious, this play is about the first second of the first minute of Day 1, God created yeast. For the scientific, remember that evolution chart showing monkeys to apes to humans walking? This play is miles to the left of that first monkey depicted. From the creators of Urinetown, Yeast Nation is a musical about a group of microorganisms battling an anti-stasis movement. Whereas I do care about and can relate to the trials and tribulations of urine, I only am concerned about yeast when it’s missing from bread.

I wanted to care! Yeast Nation had all the storylines I love. Romeo and Juliet. Camelot. Ten Things I Hate About You. Put those plots in the middle ages or modern day, I’m engaged. Tell the tale from the initial Genesis moment, I struggle to be interested. Dress it up in glow in the dark ponchos with unappealing belly bulges or hot pink tight bodysuits with spiky things, I get distracted. Throw in a myriad of words like “fission” and “strictures,” I lose interest just as if it’s 2nd period biology all over again.

When I blocked out the science lesson, I could enjoy the multi-talented performances. Barbara Robertson (the unnamed) was a standout as a wise old woman breaking the 4th wall trying to relate the struggles of yeast to challenges of audience members. Unfortunately for me, that fission wasn’t happening. Star crossed lovers, Andrew Keltz (second) and Melanie Brezill (sweet), sang beautifully together. I wanted to root for them to get together in the end. But I didn’t care, they weren’t human. What do you call the people that hate on yeast? But I don’t really hate yeast, I just don’t want to consume it by itself. Although the singing and acting talent were there, Yeast Nation is missing some key ingredients to make it delicious.

The evolved microorganism to my right, Dick called it a “crazy staircase musical!”


Before the show, we went to Mrs. Murphy’s (3905 N. Lincoln) for the celebration of my favorite yeast, Guinness (and because I had a $25 coupon from a junk mail booklet). Mrs. M’s is offering a three-course Guinness inspired meal in honor of the 250th Anniversary for $25. Dick opted for this option topped off with a Guinness ice cream float. I went with the fish and chips salad. Clever idea but too much onion for my taste. The very friendly Bridget took care of us and ensured we made our curtain on time.

Post show, we headed to Tiny Lounge (4352 N. Leavitt). Unlike the original art deco version under the Addison brown line stop, Tiny Lounge has evolved into a contemporary, sleek modern establishment. The place was packed but we scored a table on the patio with the assistance of the owner. I enjoyed a hearty Lebanon red and Dick ordered up his favorite dirty martini with blue cheese olives. While reflecting on his own stasis, Dick was momentarily spooked by a table of cougars nearby. I assured him he was too old to be nervous about these highly evolved microorganisms. I did get a chuckle as I departed past their table and their candidiasis discussion. I realized I do care about the absence or presence of yeast just not the musical story of it.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Poseidon! An Upsidedown Musical Theatre Review: Tragic Success

Poseidon! An Upsidedown Musical

Hell in a Handbag Productions
The Chopin Theatre
Chicago, Illinois
September 24, 2009

When the first wave hit me, I was a little disoriented. Someone’s living room, prominence of the nurse and Indian lady characters, and the female lead in a magenta polyester jumpsuit? I had been told to re-watch The Poseidon Adventure (TPA) to enhance my enjoyment of Poseidon! An Upsidedown Musical. But unlike the poor unfortunate souls that didn’t listen to Reverend Scott, I was not doomed by my lack of a current TPA fix. I treaded water initially taking in the two storylines: TPA 1972 and the present day Poseidonites paying homage to TPA at a costume party. Well before the Poseidon capsized, I took the plunge and escaped into a warped version of a childhood memory.

Did you did you did you did you did you did you…. (bazillion more times) like his music? Yes, David Cerda, I didn’t just like… I loved your music, your play and even your magenta polyester jumpsuit. Well, maybe I just liked the jumpsuit. “ABC, 1, 2, 3, potpourri…” anything Ed Jones (Nonnie) uttered was laugh out loud hysterical. Elizabeth Lesinski (Linda), Kevin Grubb (Mike) and Derek Czaplewski (Reverend) channeled fantastically exaggerated versions of TPA originals. In Just Panties (what else do I need?) I was fearful that Linda DID NEED a little extra fabric to harness her torpedoes. The absolute star of the show is the capsize of the Poseidon. The phenomenal choreography of TPA characters and Poseidonite party goers delivers non-stop laughter.

After a very respectable 4 month summer run, Poseidon! An Upsidedown Musical closes this weekend.
Fans of TPA 1972, closeted poseidonites, people living disastrous lives, go see it! Take your friend that hates on life right now and plunge in! One of my favorite things about the show was Steve, who falls asleep at most plays, couldn’t stop laughing! We are talking giggles to chuckles to blown-out hysteria. If you can’t remember the last time you laughed out loud, your weekend furlough needs to include Poseidon! An Upsidedown Musical!

Poseidonites along for the journey summed it up as… Ellen – “was in tears;” Scubi – “side splitting fun;” Steve – “doubled over laughing;” Shawn – “Yes, I did;” and James – “Klassic Komedy Kitsch.”


Pre-show activity, as defined by James, is a production in itself. Scene 1, we crash an open house (3750 LSD, Unit 4H). Spacious two bedroom condo for $250K served with a lovely cabernet and blue cheese. Scene 2, we dine al fresco at Metro Pizza (2534 W. Division). Cheap slices of freshly made pizza! I highly recommend the rosemary potato pizza (and I don’t even like potatoes!) Scene 3, we race to Atomic Sketch at Evil Olive (1551 W. Division). On the last Thursday of the month, Atomic Sketch features artists creating and selling art. The host bar, Evil Olive, serves up its house specialty Templeton Rye as guests mingle among the artists and their work. Such a great opportunity to experience and support local artists, I’m repeating Scene 3 at my earliest convenience.

After the show, a booth at Emmett’s (corner of Halsted, Grand, Milwaukee) was the perfect locale to somber up over Guinness and nachos. The historical bar on Chicago’s west side had an eclectic selection of music within an old school pub ambiance. Maybe it was reliving TPA childhood memory, being slathered in cheese dripping nachos or getting somber too quickly but I couldn’t catch the wave at Emmett’s. I left a partially drank Guinness and headed home, not quite a disastrous ending but definitely looking forward to the morning after.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

History Boys Review: I'm Dropping the Class

History Boys
Timeline Theatre
September 18, 2009
Chicago, Illinois

Something happens and changes the course of events. This definition of history is repeatedly told to the audience during History Boys. Set in the 1980’s at a boys’ school in Northern England, History Boys writes history with a tale of a teacher fondling his students, a boy kissing another boy in front of his classmates, and a student seducing his professor. I went to school in the 80’s. Never would a group of boys joke about being fondled by a teacher. Nor would the hot guy kiss the loser guy in front of his classmates. Mr. Rethlake, Mr. Haas, Sister Katherine, nobody wanted to have sex with the history teachers …or any of the teachers. It didn’t happen.

So what happened? For me, it started with the script. Playwright Alan Bennett gets a D. He needs to shave off at least one hour from the three hour production. I get that it’s set in a school but don’t lecture at me! And if I’m not getting quizzed, no need to have the characters repeat and repeat the dialogue. Director Alan Bennett gets a C. Pick up the pace and drop the audio-visual aids. Scenic designer Brian Sidney Bembridge gets an A. Creating individualized dorm rooms as background gives the play a nonchalant depth. The boys collectively get Bs. There is a wonderful camaraderie when they are on stage together. I, also, appreciate that it must be difficult to leave the spotlight and become scenery for the duration. Alex Weisman gets an A for a solid performance as Posner (and an A+ for looking like Bill’s love child). Will Allan (Scripps) also gets an A for accent alone. And Joel Gross (Dakin), I’d like to see you after class to discuss your grade.

The boys in the back of the room summed it up as… Dick: “British ‘No Doubt’”, Bill: “I didn’t like” and James: “Too much hype!”


Avenue Tavern (2916 N. Broadway) was the dining choice for Dick and me. The bartender/server was not overly friendly. Perhaps “annoyed” is the best descriptor. Of course, he was responsible for the patio and the bar so I’m giving him a C. Not great, not horrid… the Avenue theme song. I was told to be careful that my barbecue chicken pizza was very hot. Sure, the plate was very hot, the pizza was not. I love BBQ but the pizza was drenched in it. Food was a C. Because we were going to the play, we offered the rest of our BBQ sauce… I mean pizza… to the boys at the next table. We made their day so I give us an A for congeniality.

From the people who brought you Ping Pong and Wakamono, Wang’s (3317 N. Broadway) is a fairly new bar in Lakeview. Lavishly adorned in an Asian motif, the tiny space boasts a cozy and hip vibe. Initially, the D.J. seems overpowering for a place the size of a large walk-in closet. But then something happens, you score a table by the open window, sip on a ginger martini, chair dance to the music, it becomes that moment. The moment that changes the course of events. The moment you realize History Boys is history. Wang’s gets an A+!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Spectacle 09 Theatre Review: A Frenzy of Frivolous Fun!

Spectacle 09: Last of My Species The Fearless Songs of Laarna Cortaan

Redmoon Theatre at
Belmont Harbor

Chicago, Illinois
September 10, 2009

For just three more days, a chunk of Belmont Harbor will remain transformed into the backdrop for Spectacle 09: Last of My Species The Fearless Songs of Laarna Cortaan. Redmoon’s very ambitious production is put up in a public park between the bike path and the cruising rocks. Setting up extensive lighting and sound equipment plus choreographing 60+ actors all within a wide open space, Redmoon creates what is best described and named a SPECTACLE for Chicago’s amusement.

Oversized big red shoe cut-outs, cymbal hats, seussical-type vehicles, it’s hard for me to let go and just enjoy the whimsy. I’m always looking for the point and some solid dialogue to engage me in a performance. (It’s why it takes me at least two days to actually BE on vacation and why I didn’t love Wall-E like the rest of the world!) Redmoon is always about a frenzy of frivolous fun. Spectacle 09, in particular, beckons the audience to escape from job pressures and the economy for 75 minutes and remember our childhood delight pretending a cardboard cutout was a playable violin. The last fifteen minutes were my favorite! A man and woman dancing a courtship ritual, two stories off the ground. Ariel acrobatics from a suspension ladder complete with long flowing drapes. Gorgeous!

Cancel your plans this weekend and go experience Spectacle 09! Tickets are $15. I may not know you, but I’m pretty certain you wouldn’t be doing anything as satisfying as Spectacle 09 at that price point. Here are some pointers to make your show more enjoyable:

1. Do not sit on the bleachers! Even sitting on cute little Redmoon pads, the bleachers are uncomfortable.
2. Arrive early with a blanket, wine and nibbles. Arrange a picnic area in front of the bleachers.
3. Soak yourself in insect repellant. Although I really didn’t get bitten, with the hordes of mosquitoes, I would have felt more secure if I knew I was repelling.
4. Let go! For 75 minutes forget that you hate your job, your life, your hair and just let the frenzy of frivolous fun sweep over you!

My bleacher buddy Bill announced, “Best Redmoon production I’ve ever seen!”


Sipping champagne at Belmont Harbor watching the sailboats on a beautiful September evening at dusk, this has to be my favorite pre-show drink ever! A guest of one of the board members, I tried the almond infused champagne (smelled great, too sweet) and settled into a nice Brut. Redmoon roped off the area closest to the lake and brought in couches and comfy chairs as a pre-show champagne and cheesecake fundraiser. Except for the moment when a jogger tried to crash the soirée, the serenity of the hour was a perfect transition from work to theatre.

Post show, we were introduced to a new BYOB Mexican tapas place: Chilam Belam (3023 N. Broadway) at Steve’s suggestion. The name means an awakening of consciousness and spirituality, it’s not the end, it’s a new cycle of naturalism and peace. Love that! We were greeted by the owner and served by her brother. The underground cozy nook of a place was packed out. Instead of waiting for a table, we arranged ourselves around the bar and enjoyed five small plates from guacamole to hanger steak. The food and service were stellar! The owner and her brother checked on us numerous times to ensure our experience was optimal. So, why then in a place harboring an awakening of spirituality and peace would I cause my dinner companions to scurry home to shots of Pepto Bismal? Because having eventually allowed myself to let go and feel the whimsy, by the end of dinner, reality was back and I realized I still hate my hair. Life imitating art. I became Spectacle 09: The Sequel.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Under Milk Wood: Listen Up!

Under Milk Wood
Caffeine Theatre at the
Storefront Theatre
Chicago, Illinois
September 3, 2009

Husband plotting his wife’s murder, blind sea captain reminiscing with his favorite whore ghost, dead woman henpecking both of her dead husbands, Under Milk Wood is a story of the quirky residents, living and dead, of a small Welsh town. It’s Northern Exposure without the snow. Town gossip navigates you through a “day in the life of” of Llareggub (backwards spells “bugger all”).

Magnificent ensemble cast, truly an “ensemble” performing in anonymity. The program lists all the actors but without headshots or assigned parts. Each actor is listed just as a “voice.” Other than saying things like; “the red head that looked like a cheerful version of Maggie Gyllenhaal” or “the girl with the good singing voice” or “the old guy” or “the other old guy,” I was forced to consider the cast only collectively. Nine actors effectively transform into 47 different characters (I didn’t count them but that’s how the show is promoted) with minimal props. It’s the Clark Kent – Superman thing but better. Already speaking with a Welsh accent, the actor tweaks the dialect a hint puts on glasses and “voila” transforms from a whore to uptight shrew. I’ve seen it done off stage but never with accents and always with a chaser.

Under Milk Wood was entertaining! The cast guides you through a maze of dreams and desires as shopkeepers, school kids and even cows (and a cute puppy). FASCINATING! There were a few speed bumps for me. Author Dylan Thomas wrote it originally as a radio play in the early 1950’s. (He died before its first production after drinking 18 whiskeys, becoming #48 of his quirky characters.) It’s very auditory, leading to some confusion initially, especially when combined with accents and a seussical-kind of language: Morgan Organ and Big-headed Bessie. My recommendation either see it more than once or Wikipedia it to get the plethora of characters straight. I’m torn. Let me know what you decide.

The voice to my right, Bill, gave the show these descriptors: cast great, Shakespearean prose and quick-paced.


Feeling adventurous, I tried the vegan option at Ecalpym before the show. It was a pretty tasty grilled vegetable pizza. Of course, I insisted on the addition of cheese which made all the difference. Vegans really should loosen up on the no cheese commandment. They are so missing out. I don’t go to Ecalpym for the food… I’ve certainly had better. I go for the view of the lake and the ability to get in and out, in time to make a 7:30 curtain.

Petterino’s (150 N. Dearborn) is absolutely THE perfect place for an after show drink. The bar is adorned with sketches of actor caricatures and stage playbills. It’s Chicago’s theatre archives in a bar that can be both cozy and contemporary. Even at the peak of a bustling theatre season surrounded by cocktail chatter, you can still enjoy an intimate drink with a friend. (Unless that friend is Bill, whose wine spilling incident breaks the tranquility.) Former dentist (probably with glasses) turned bartender, Eddie transforms a loud bar into a neighborhood pub. Warmly greeting guests and securing them a seat in a seemingly packed establishment, Eddie is one of the best bartenders in our quirky little city. He pours the wine, shares the latest theater gossip and when necessary mops up after the town drunk.