Capsule reviews from Chicago stages

Theater season never really ends in Chicago but there’s always a flurry of openings in September. Here are a few plays I’ve seen recently and recommend for your consideration.

Churchill by SoloChicago

Ronald Keaton, a journeyman Chicago actor, turns himself into the great British leader for this one-man show that’s continuing at the Greenhouse Theater Center. The run is so successful that it’s moving into the large downstairs mainstage space.

Keaton has been a successful Chicago actor for years, performing comedy, drama and musicals, at suburban and city theaters, large and small. But he rarely has performed the leading or “hero” role, until now. He has created his own role, his own show and his own production company, as Chris Jones describes in this article about Keaton.

The show is excellent and Keaton takes us through Churchill’s life from childhood through his period as prime minister during World War II. The 135-minute show, performed with one intermission, runs through Sept. 21 and then Oct 3 to Nov. 9. Here’s a video clip of Keaton as Churchill.

The Whaleship Essex by Shattered Globe Theatre

Shattered Globe, which has a long and solid history among Chicago storefront and midsize theaters, is now staging a stirring tale of shipwreck and survival, based on an actual event that inspired Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Here’s how my Gapers Block review starts.GB-WhaleshipEssex-1

“Tales of the whale–the commercial treasure and leviathan of the sea–and the sailors who set out in wooden ships to hunt them, are endlessly fascinating. Herman Melville’s Moby Dick stands as one of the great adventure tales of world literature.

“A story that inspired Melville is being staged now by Shattered Globe Theatre in the exciting adventure/survival play, The Whaleship Essex by ensemble member Joe Forbrich. The two-hour-plus drama is staged with meticulous attention to nautical detail through the use of lighting, projections and simple wooden benches that serve as the whaleboats in which the whalemen leave the ship to capture whales. Or survive a shipwreck, as the case may be.”

There’s some excellent acting by this large cast, directed by Lou Contey. The acting and creative staging persuade us that the crew is indeed fighting to survive an attack by an enraged whale. Fortunately, a few seamen survived to write accounts of the Essex disaster. The Whaleship Essex continues at Theater Wit on Belmont through October 11.

The Arsonists at Strawdog Theatre

TheArsonistsMax Frisch’s 1953 radio play, The Fire Raisers, was adapted for the stage in 1958 and was understood as a metaphor for the rise of the Nazi Party and citizens’ inability to recognize evil. This 2007 adaptation by Alistair Beaton keeps the chilling symbolism of the arsonists who intend to start fires, political or residential.

Director Matt Hawkins does a fine job with Strawdog’s small cast, performing on a two-level stage in their second-storey venue. The chorus of firefighters serves to warn us of coming events as well as fight them when they occur. Time and place are ambiguous in The Arsonists, but it should set off warning bells for all sorts of evil occurrences or political skullduggery in the 21st century.

The Arsonists, 90 minutes with no intermission, runs through Sept. 27 at Strawdog on Broadway near Grace. And here’s a dining tip. Tutto Fresco Trattoria at 3829 N Broadway is a neighborhood jewel and just steps away from the theater.

King Lear at Chicago Shakes

I’m reviewing Chicago Shakespeare’s new production of King Lear, starring Larry Yando. Tonight is opening night, so I’ll post my review later this week.





Doubles and doppelgängers on page and screen

Did you ever think you might have a double, someone identical to you but unrelated? A doppelgänger, that is, or “double goer” in German, a lookalike or alternate self. The term has ominous portents in some traditions and the concept has appeared in various cultural forms many times over the centuries.

Two current films, both based on novels, explore the idea of the double or doppelgänger. They are both fascinating films and generated a great discussion at a film group meeting this week. (These films are available on DVD or streaming on Amazon Instant Video or Netflix.)

The films and the books from which they are adapted are:

Enemy directed by Denis Villeneuve and starring Jake Gyllenhaal, adapted from The Double, the 2002 novel by Jose Saramago, the Portuguese Nobel Prize winner, who died in 2010. (The original title translates as The Duplicated Man.)

The Double directed by Richard Ayaode and starring Jesse Eisenberg, adapted from the 1846 novella, The Double, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

Both films stand on their own as distinctive works of art. There’s no need to read the books to appreciate them. But both books are excellent and well worth reading.  The Saramago book is one of his best.

Both films tell the story of men who suddenly discover that another person looks and sounds exactly like him. The double seems to be trying to take over his life, or is he really? They raise questions of duality and identity, of psychic bifurcation. They follow the general plot lines of the original novels fairly closely but the endings vary dramatically.

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Enemy is set in a contemporary but dystopic-looking Toronto. Skyline scans are tinted a murky sepia tone; Brutalist concrete architecture is featured; spiders and their webs are a recurring theme. (Note: there are no spiders in the Saramago book.) Gyllenhaal plays Adam, a college history professor who we see teaching about dictatorships and totalarianism. By chance he sees an actor who looks exactly like him on a DVD he’s watching. He researches the actor and finds out his name and address from a production company. When he goes to the actor’s agency to find out more about him, the security guard thinks he’s the actor. When he calls the actor’s home, his wife mistakes Adam’s voice for her husband’s.

Now believing that he really has a double, Adam contacts Anthony; eventually they get together and discover they are identical, even to scars, moles and birthdays. I will not tell you the rest of the plot, but Anthony and Adam’s girlfriend are killed in a car accident. It may be that Adam will take over Anthony’s life, or at least his wife invites him to do that. The film has a scary and bizarre ending. The book’s ending, in which a third double phones Adam to request a meeting, was also quite intriguing.

In The Double, Jesse Eisenberg is Simon James, a minor functionary in a government bureaucracy set in an indeterminate time and place. The locations and exteriors are Kafkaesque, and seem to be in an industrial European city. Office and computer equipment looks like it’s from the 1950s or ‘60s. One day a new employee joins the department and the director, played by Wallace Shawn, thinks he will be the best employee ever. His name is James Simon and he is identical to Simon James, which no one else seems to notice. James, however, is brash and charismatic, whereas Simon is timid and bumbling. (Mood, setting, plot and characters follow the Dostoyevsky story closely.)

Although Simon befriends James, the latter gradually takes over Simon’s life, his job, his love interest (Mia Wasikowska), even his apartment. The ending suggests that James is Simon’s alternate self, and he has to dispose of him. The film’s ending is somewhat ambiguous and different from Dostoyevsky’s more defined ending.

Both films are well done; I would rate both as three stars out of four. Both Gyllenhaal and Eisenberg do excellent jobs of being the same person, but not quite. They do appear together in the same scenes but usually not together in the same scene with a third person. The film group had a spirited argument about self and identity and whether Adam/Anthony and Simon/James were “one bifurcated psyche,” as Gyllenhaal says in an interview. (I agreed about Simon/James but not about Adam/Anthony. I chose to suspend disbelief and accept that there could be an exact duplicate or doppelgänger.)

Film group members suggested other fine movies that deal with duality/identity/doubles, such as Adaptation (Charlie Kaufman, 2002), Mullholland Drive (David Lynch, 2001), and The Double Life of Veronique (Krzysztof Kieslowski, 1991). In a 2013 film, The Face Of Love (Arle Posin), a widow falls in love with a man who seems to be her late husband’s double.

There have been several articles recently on the current interest in doubles or doppelgängers. I particularly like this quote from a Slate article: “Any story constructed around the theme of the double—one of the most ancient in literature, which plays on the human fascination with identity and belonging, repetition and uniqueness—lives and dies by its ending.” Here we have four works of art, two on page and two on screen, and four endings.

Saramago’s novel and Villeneuve’s film open with this statement:

“Chaos is order waiting to be deciphered.”

After seeing both films and rereading both books, I would say chaos still waits to be deciphered. And that’s what makes life intriguing. There’s a surprise around every corner.


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A long tragic Sunday—Binge theater

It was a sunny warm summer Sunday, and a holiday weekend. Most people would spend their time outside, hiking, biking, on the beach, at a family picnic. I spent 12 hours inside a mostly darkened theater, having one of the most captivating theatrical experiences of my life.

 All Our Tragic at The Hypocrites

Yes, it was my All Our Tragic binge day at The Hypocrites. Some people binge on Orange Is the New Black. I’ve binged on three plays a day at theater festivals and at the six-hour production of Gatz, a reading of The Great Gatsby. This time I binged on 12 hours of Greek tragedy, including uncounted beheadings, stabbings, poisonings, horse stompings and ritual sacrifice. It was exhilarating.

(Actually, Chicago Magazine did total them. See the Death by Numbers chart. There were 63 murders and gallons of blood.)

If you consume or read about theater, you know that All Our Tragic is the latest production created by the very creative and passionate Sean Graney, founder and former artistic director of The Hypocrites. All Our Tragic is actually a four-act play adapted from all 32 surviving Greek tragedies by Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles. Graney has mashed them up into four parts titled Physics, Politics, Patriotics and Poetics.

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All Our Tragic is tragic, yes, and involves lots of murders, yes, and blood, yes. But it’s also a bit loopy, with marvelously crazy costumes, lots of pop culture references, and anachronistic musical interludes by the Odd Jobs. Three women (sort of the chorus in a Greek play) dressed as waiters, maids or nurses, play stringed instruments and sing songs such as “When the Saints Go Marching In,” “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” “Shenandoah,” and “Hard Times.”

There are some excellent performances among the cast of 23 (14 actors, 3 Odd Jobs, and six Neo-Titans or fighters). Walter Briggs goes from wide-eyed innocent Herakles to general and king Agamemnon. The talented and versatile Zeke Sulkes plays Aegeus, the king with goat feet, as well as Kreon and others. Luce Metrius is really fine as Jason and Achilles. Christine Stulik, Erin Barlow and Dana Omar stand out among the seven sisters (think of the Pleiades) armed with lethal umbrellas.

Those should be familiar characters, even if you haven’t seen many classic Greek plays. You’ll remember these stories from reading about Greek mythology and Greek heroes. (Herakles carries an illustrated book of the Greek heroes because he wants to be one.)

It’s really only nine hours of theater, broken up with intermissions and food breaks. The show is the first production at The Hypocrites’ new space on Milwaukee Avenue at street level below the Den Theatre. You don’t need to leave the theater because snacks are served at all breaks with lunch and dinner meal breaks. Coffee, water and a cash bar are available. The food is vegan, Middle Eastern and delicious. Dinner break is an hour and there are many restaurants nearby, in case you want to leave the theater.

The Greek marathon goes on from 11am to 11pm Saturdays and Sundays through October 5. You can also see each play separately on Friday nights and some Mondays. But the immersive experience is mesmerizing and worth giving up a day of your life. There wasn’t a moment when I wasn’t fully engaged. I was never bored or checking the time on my smartphone. The full house audience Sunday also came to stay and be fascinated by the Hypocrites’ tragic bash.

This post is sort of a wandering commentary about what it’s like to spend a long tragic Sunday with The Hypocrites. I haven’t tried to write this as a review because there have been plenty of those already, including this amazing one by two of my Gapers Block colleagues, who did team coverage of All Our Tragic.

My rating for All Our Tragic: 4 stars.

My Name Is Asher Lev at Timeline Theatre

GB-AsherLevThis weekend I also saw and reviewed the excellent new Timeline play, My Name Is Asher Lev, at Stage 773 on Belmont. This is the story about the young Hasidic man in Brooklyn who is torn between his family and religion and his passion to be a painter. The play is written by Aaron Posner and adapted from the best-selling 1972 novel about the Brooklyn Hasidic community by author and rabbi Chaim Potok.

Director Kimberly Senior has done a terrific job of working with the three actors, two of whom play many parts, and creating a strong and compelling whole. Here’s my review in Gapers Block.

My rating for My Name Is Asher Lev: 4 stars.


Suggestion for theater-lovers 

 See the Theatre in Chicago website for compilations of current plays. It’s a great resource.





Steve & Rob on The Trip to Italy: Sequel without equal

A sequel that’s at least as good as the original? I wouldn’t have thought that possible, but I wasn’t going to miss The Trip to Italy, the latest road trip by Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. Their first culinary journey film was The Trip (2010) in which these two hysterically funny, highly literate British comics traveled and ate in restaurants in the north of England. The pretext was that Rob was asked to take on this assignment for The Observer and his girlfriend was not able to go, so he asked his old friend Steve. The highlight of these films is not the food, although there are food porn scenes and clearly these two enjoy eating and drinking fine wine.

The-Trip-To-Italy-movie-posterNope. The highlight is their interaction, banter and constant dueling impressions of famous actors. In The Trip, they outdid themselves in imitating Michael Caine at many stages of his career. In The Trip to Italy, they try to outdo each other in the best Brando, De Niro, Pacino, Bogart and Eastwood impressions. In one hysterical scene, they imitate Tom Hardy and Christian Bale in their unintelligible dialogue from behind the Batman mask. However, that is outdone by the impressions of the various James Bond actors, culminating in the bawdiest joke you will ever hear about a kumquat.

Coogan and Brydon also show their British loyalty by retracing the paths of their favorite Romantic poets, Byron and Shelley, posing in front of their plaques and statues and quoting them at length. Oh, and they drive a new Mini convertible, but that is homage to what Michael Caine drove in the 1969 caper film, The Italian Job. (Better than its 2001 remake, but both are very funny.) Another lovely moment is the two singing along to Alanis Morissette’s Jagged Little Pill, the only CD Rob brought along. (First they have to debate how to pronounce her first name and whether her father was named Alan and really wanted a son.)

Coogan and Brydon are laugh-out-loud, snort-thru-your-nose funny. The 108-minute film is mostly improvised and director Michael Winterbottom may only need to plot out the itinerary and turn these two madmen loose. They travel down the Ligurian and Amalfi coasts, stopping in half a dozen places to dine and visit. The scenery is gorgeous, from the seacoasts to the streets of Rome to the glories of Capri.

There are some serious points in this lightly fictionalized film. The two leads play themselves, but their backstories are fictionalized. In the film, Coogan has a teenaged son who joins them briefly and Brydon has a wife and young daughter. Occasionally, they will stop their banter and mourn the problems of being aging men. While watching a table of young people drink and chat, Coogan notes that he probably would have gotten a smile from at least one young attractive women. “Now they just look straight through you,” he laments.

Here are the trailers for The Trip to Italy (2014) and The Trip (2010). The former is in theaters right now and the latter is available on Netflix streaming and other sources.

Both Brydon and Coogan are well-known comics and actors in England, but you may not be familiar with them. Coogan played the journalist Martin Sixsmith in Philomena, where he helps the character played by Judy Dench to seek out the child she was forced to give up for adoption when she was a teenager living in an Irish convent.

24 Hour Party People

24hourpartypeople-posterMy other favorite Steve Coogan film, however, is 24 Hour Party People from 2002. Taking place in 1976 through 1992, it’s the story of the birth of the punk rock scene in Manchester, England, set off by a legendary concert by the Sex Pistols. The concert audience was only 42 people, but was one of those events that hundreds claim to have attended.

Among those rocking with the Sex Pistols that night were four young musicians who were inspired to form the band Joy Division. Tony Wilson (Coogan), a Granada TV presenter, was there and decided it was his mission to bring this new kind of music to a larger audience. He founded Factory Records to record it and later opened a club, The Hacienda, to present it. The Hacienda became part of the rave and drug culture and eventually closed down for lack of revenue. The two-hour film is mainly the story of Joy Division, which later became New Order, and other Manchester bands.

I just watched the film again on YouTube and it’s as good as it was the first time I saw it. Click on this link and see it in its entirety.

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Midsummer movies: Foreign films + Talking Heads

Europeans may consider August a month for a long holiday, but Chicagoans, those American workaholics, are not taking the month off. We’re busy making and consuming art. Mostly consuming.

Foreign films: Brazil and the UK

Ano-em-que-meus-pais-poster01August is foreign film month for the Chicago Film Lovers Exchange. We’re discussing a film from a different country each Wednesday night. Last week we took on Brazil and member Ana led a discussion on The Year My Parents Went on Vacation, a film told from the point of view of Mauro, about the events surrounding the 1970 World Cup and political turmoil in Brazil. Mauro’s parents leave him to live with his grandfather (not knowing that the elderly man just died) because they have to flee the right-wing dictatorship that overthrew the elected left-wing government. (Familiar political story, isn’t it?) How Mauro survives and builds his own community is the crux of the film.

Ana recommended another interesting film also told from a child’s viewpoint. Valentin is an 8-year-old boy whose parents have scattered and left him to live with his grandmother in 1967 Buenos Aires. Valentin is determined to be an astronaut and walks around in heavy boots to prepare for zero gravity. He knows there are problems in his family and decides he’ll solve them himself, since the grownups have failed him.

Both films are charming and troubling. Troubling because both Mauro and Valentin are deserted by their parents.

blowup posterThis week the group discussed Blowup, the landmark 1966 film written and directed by Michelangelo Antonioni (his first English-language film). It’s about a successful fashion photographer in mod London, played by David Hemmings, who shoots film in an isolated park to kill time one day. When he processes the film, he sees evidence of a possible murder, and crops and blows up the negative to try to determine what happened. Vanessa Redgrave plays the woman in the park.

Blowup is on many lists of best films of the decade and century and, as a character study, it benefits from multiple viewings. One of the treats of the film is a club scene where the Yardbirds are playing: Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page as young musicians. The cameras and darkroom equipment used by the photographer are fascinating and represent an evolution in the history of photographic technology. In the park scenes, he’s shooting with one of the first Nikon Fs, a 35mm single lens reflex camera that enables him to move agilely, compared to the Hasselblad medium-format camera and the 4×5 sheet-film camera he uses in his studio.

Summer Music Film Festival: Stop Making Sense

The Music Box currently is showing its annual Summer Music Film Festival with great films like Purple Rain, Hard Day’s Night, Good Vibrations and Rubber Soul. The festival benefits Sound Opinions, the rock and roll talk show, and WBEZ.

Best of all, the 30th anniversary version of Stop Making Sense, the concert film by the Talking Heads. It’s 95 minutes of magic, directed by Jonathan Demme. You can see it again Tuesday, August 19, the last night of the festival. I may go again.

The Big Suit. Photo courtesy

The Big Suit. Photo courtesy

The film is a real treat on the big screen; I was very excited to see it that way because I’ve only seen it on a TV screen. Stop Making Sense opens with David Byrne walking out on an open stage with a boombox and a guitar. He starts off with “Psycho Killer” and near the end of it is joined by bassist Tina Weymouth. One by one, more band members join him as roadies push the drum kit stand on stage, then the keyboard stands. Chris Frantz on the drum kit, Jerry Harrison on guitar, two backup singers, Steve Scales on percussion and Alex Weir on guitar. Finally Bernie Worrell hops up on the keyboard stand and the band is complete. Musicians change off instruments throughout the concert, which was filmed over two days at a theater in Los Angeles.

Demme’s touch is obvious in dramatic performer lighting and visual projections. Byrne’s creative madness is on display throughout, in his dancing, marching, duets with his bandmates, and finally, in the Big Suit. In the second half of the concert, Byrne appears in a giant suit to perform “Girlfriend Is Better.” Gradually over the next few songs, the tall skinny Byrne takes off pieces of the suit. The concert also includes one number by the Tom Tom Club, a group made up of the other band members, sans Byrne.

Just one more: Mood Indigo

Mood_Indigo_posterI’ll mention one more film that gave me great pleasure recently. It’s Mood Indigo or L’écume des jours, written and directed by Michel Gondry (who we know for Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and The Science of Sleep).

Mood Indigo is a charming romantic film with some surrealistic features. The film bounces delightfully from one strange situation to another. Colin’s shoes run down the steps in front of him and he slips into them at the bottom. A tray of petit fours is served that actually are tiny ovens. When Colin’s sweetheart Chloe becomes ill, it’s diagnosed as caused by a water lily growing in her lung. There are some magical events and weird gadgets in this film that remind me of the crazy animation of Triplets of Belleville.

Gondry is a former art student and drummer for a pop-rock band. He gained his reputation directing music videos, including five of them for the Icelandic singer, Björk. He then made many award-winning commercials for major corporations, which gained Hollywood attention and smoothed his way into film direction.

Mood Indigo is adapted from a cult novel by Boris Vian. You will either love it or hate it.

Springsteen 65th birthday bash 


Bruce at 64 on the beach at Rio

Consider this a save-the-date notice. If you’re a Bruce Springsteen fan, or just a fan of Americana and roots rock and acoustic music, you’ll be interested in the 65th birthday party we’re planning for Mr. Springsteen. No, he won’t be there. But Bucky Halker and friends will be there, to play Springsteen music and read some poems and doggerel.

The date is Saturday, September 27, at Fitzgerald’s in Berwyn. Tickets are $10 and are on sale now.

The event is being planned by the Phantom Collective, a grassroots Chicago group partly inspired by pub theater. The Phantom Collective sponsors programs of music and theater pieces—mostly from the North American and Anglo-Celtic traditions— at various venues around town. Nothing formal or regularly scheduled; that’s why it’s a phantom.




Ibsen on screen: Lust, ambition, ego and envy


Photo courtesy Gene Siskel Film Center.

A Master Builder is a really special film running for just a few more days at the Gene Siskel Film Center. So I urge you to see it, if you are fond of the work of Henrik Ibsen, of Wallace Shawn and Andre Gregory, of Jonathon Demme, or of great filmmaking in general. Check out my review on Gapers Block, where the headline is: A Master Builder: A Claustrophobic Stew of Lust, Ambition, Ego and Envy.

Chicago actor Lisa Joyce is hardly an unknown, but her performance here as the bewitching Hilde is stunning. In fact, the ensemble of seven actors is excellent.

There are rumors that A Master Builder will be added to the Criterion Collection of famous Shawn/Gregory collaborations, which now include My Dinner with Andre and Vanya on 42nd Street. That would be in the Buy It category for me.

Art that mystifies and moves: Magritte, Koudelka and Paschke

Chicagoans are fortunate to have two major art museums and many medium and small galleries, where you can see a vast array of classic and contemporary art. I took advantage of that this week, seeing Rene Magritte’s “elective affinities” and Josef Koudelka’s photographs at the Art Institute, and Ed Paschke’s vivid character studies at the new Ed Paschke Art Center.

Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938

Magritte is the current major exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago. You’ll find it in Regenstein Hall, on the second level near the rear of the building. One of the benefits is that you get to walk thru the beautiful hall of Asian sculpture, which is displayed in a setting of rich golds and oranges. Then, when you turn right and walk up a short flight of stairs, you’re greeted with the hallway of Ellsworth Kelly color-field paintings, one of my favorite exhibits.

magritteposterThe Magritte exhibit runs until October 13 and it is well worth seeing, both for the art itself and for the creative way the work is exhibited. Magritte’s art was influenced by his work in advertising and theatrical design as well as by his connections with Andre Breton and Tristan Tsara, the founders of surrealism and of the Dada movement, respectively, as well as Salvador Dali and Joan Miro.

Magritte’s work is bizarre, quirky, and deliberately deceptive and shows his keen and intelligent sense of humor. One of his best-known works is the word-image painting, “The Treachery of Images,” a smoker’s pipe with the legend, “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.” Another work titled “The Interpretation of Dreams,” shows a two-by-two grid; each square includes an image and a label. But three of the four are labeled whimsically. Only the valise is in fact labeled as a valise. Most of his paintings are subtle and sometimes mystifying, like “Entr’acte,” a 1927 painting showing disembodied leg-arm parts on a stage-set background.

In “Not to be Reproduced,” we see the back of a man looking in a mirror at the back of his own image. In a painting titled “La Clairvoyance,” a painter (Magritte himself?) paints a large bird while looking intently at his model, a pristine egg.

Here’s a video teaser about the exhibit.

Curator Stephanie D’Alessandro is to be commended for bringing in Canadian opera director Robert Carsen to design the imaginative setting for Magritte’s work. No large white galleries here. Instead, the walls are dark gray and the only illumination is on the paintings themselves. The space swerves and snakes thru the display area so you only see one or a few works at a time. Near the end, there’s a series of very small galleries, like the tiny side chapels in a cathedral, each with one work hanging alone for your bemusement.

I heard two people talking as they walked out of the exhibit. One said, “Well, what did you think?” And her friend said, “I don’t know, I thought it was odd.” The first person said, “Well, I thought it was depressing. All those dark walls….”

Trust me, it isn’t depressing. Magritte puzzles and amuses. You’ll find yourself laughing aloud at some of his “mysteries.” Go on a day when you need a mood enhancer.

Josef Koudelka: Nationality Doubtful


Koudelka: “Greece 1994 (Athens)” from the series Archaelogy

The Art Institute also is showing a large exhibit of dramatic photographs by the Czech-born Magnum photographer, Josef Koudelka. They’re displayed on the main level of the Modern Wing. In one gallery are his panoramic landscape photographs, some large and framed, and smaller ones, displayed in horizontal bands across the gallery walls. His landscapes are not green and pastoral. He photographs old industrial and mining sites, destroyed monuments and the detritus of modern life.

Across the hall in a second gallery are two very moving exhibits of human scale. “Gypsies” is composed of 22 photos, portraits of musicians, individuals, groups and interiors showing the lives of the Roma people, photographed in Rumania, Slovakia and the “Czech lands.” They’re grainy, black and white, and very human. Most stunning is a funeral image of a family standing on both sides of a body wrapped in white; the scene is naturally lighted from the window in a Caravaggesque manner.

The second exhibit is titled “Invasion” and was photographed in August 1968 as Russian troops and tanks invaded Prague. Koudelka loaded his camera with East German movie film and shot for six days. He then managed to process the film and Magnum smuggled the negatives to the US. The exhibit includes a video of a CBS newscast about the invasion, showing dozens of Koudelka’s images.

View of the Ed Paschke gallery. Photo courtesy Ed Paschke Art Center.

View of the Ed Paschke gallery. Photo courtesy Ed Paschke Art Center.

Ed Paschke in Jefferson Park

paschkeposterThe Ed Paschke Art Center, a museum dedicated to the work of Ed Paschke of the Chicago Imagists, opened last month in Jefferson Park. I have always been a fan of Paschke’s work, which is brilliantly vivid and gorgeously grotesque. I visited the new center this week and wrote an article about it for Gapers Block. You can read it here and see a few images from the center. The 30-minute video is particularly interesting because Paschke is so articulate about how he works. There are interview segments from the 1970s and the early 2000s.

This poster is from the 1990-91 retrospective of Paschke’s work at the Art Institute. This poster has been hanging in my bedroom ever since and has lulled me to sleep every night.


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