May mashup: My pop culture diary

Busy end-of-May at Nancy’s house. House guests, including two perfectly darling grandsons, and a family wedding at a grand venue. So I haven’t seen much theater since the last time we chatted. Still, there were a few great movies, one so-so play, and news about a new website that I’m writing for. You’ll find some TV recs too.

 First, some architecture notes 


South Shore Cultural Center. Photo courtesy Chicago Park District

A lakefront wedding. The wedding was at the beautiful South Shore Cultural Center, right on the lakefront at 71st Street. It was originally a private country club and it’s now part of the Chicago Park District. If you haven’t been there, it is simply lovely and worth a visit. If you’re planning an event, it should be on your list of venues.

The country club, built in 1906, was designed by Marshall and Fox, who designed the Drake and Blackstone Hotels. It was expanded in 1916, also by Marshall and Fox. (Benjamin Marshall also designed the elegant Beaux Arts apartment building at 1550 N State Parkway.) The wedding ceremony was held in the beautiful solarium, looking out at the lake, and then we moved to a reception hall for champagne and greetings, and finally to the dining room. You can see some CPD photos here.

An architecture scavenger hunt. If you’re a fan of Chicago’s Loop architecture, you should sign up for the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s scavenger hunt next Saturday afternoon, June 7. The game starts and ends at the Railway Exchange Building at 224 S Michigan; there’ll be an awards reception in the grand atrium. You’ll find the details in my story on Gapers Block.

Theater notes


Photo by Michael Brosilow.

M Butterfly at Court Theatre. The script by David Henry Hwang is marvelous, very smart and well-written. I thought the Court production left a little to be desired—it was a bit flat. The reviews were definitely mixed from “not recommended” to “highly recommended.” I imagine director Charles Newell might have taken some notes and spiffed up his production since then. The play tells the amazing story of the French diplomat who was deceived for 20 years by a male opera star posing as a female diva. Despite my review, I do recommend a trip to Hyde Park.

Here’s my review; my rating was “somewhat recommended.”  This is a New York-based theater website that covers Broadway, off-Broadway, Washington, Connecticut and, now, Chicago. My first review (of Cock at Profiles Theatre) is now up on See it here. It’s a terrific show and I highly recommend it. It runs until June 29; details are at the end of my review.

My headline is “… A Riveting Play That Explores All the Meanings of Its Title.” Here’s how my review begins:

Cock is a play title you very rarely find in a theater review headline. I’m hoping that’s because of fear of internet anti-obscenity filters, rather than puritanism on the part of copy editors. The play by Mike Bartlett is a comedy about sexual identity, a love triangle and a power play among three characters: John, a bisexual who is fighting to discover his identity; M and W, his lovers, who battle each other and John himself to determine the course of their lives.

Movies I loved…or at least liked

The Normal Heart. HBO’s production of Larry Kramer’s play about the early years of the AIDS epidemic is excellent. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I had read enough about the production, and the playwright’s involvement, to be optimistic that its edges wouldn’t be softened. And they weren’t. We needed to be reminded about the terror of the disease first known as “gay cancer.” And to be reminded that the war is not over. The tagline, “To win a war, you have to start one,” is an ideal descriptor.

The acting is excellent. Mark Ruffalo plays a very believable Ned Weeks (Larry Kramer) and there are terrific performances by Julia Roberts, Jim Parsons and Matt Bomer. I originally saw the play off-Broadway in about 1985 and Timeline Theatre did an excellent production last year. I highly recommend the HBO film. Here’s the trailer.

Stoker and Blue Velvet. My film group discussed Stoker last week and we’re discussing Blue Velvet soon. They are both excellent films and each is weird, creepy and outrageous in its own way.

Stoker (2013, 99 minutes) is the first English-language film by the Korean director, Chan-Wook Park. (He directed the so-called vengeance trilogy, which includes Oldboy.) His title is surely meant to remind us of Bram Stoker, who created Dracula, but Stoker is just a family name. A family whose father is killed in a mysterious auto accident, whose daughter ( Mia Wasikowska) is obsessed with hunting and saddle shoes, and whose mother (Nicole Kidman) can’t get her daughter to love her. But at the funeral, an uncle (Matthew Goode) appears out of nowhere and befriends mother and daughter. The story is a bit of a takeoff on an Alfred Hitchcock film, Shadow of a Doubt, about a young girl’s relationship with her serial-killer uncle. Stoker has lots of strange and beautiful cinematography and features a psychologically steamy piano duet of Philip Glass music.

If you stay up late or get up early or set your DVR, HBO is showing Stoker June 1 at 3:20am CT.

Blue Velvet (1986, 120 minutes) is an early David Lynch film, before Twin Peaks. The weirdness is set off when an earnest young man (Kyle MacLachlan) finds a severed human ear in a field as he’s walking home. The plot revolves around his boy detective attempts to solve a mystery with a very young Laura Dern as his co-star. Isabelle Rossellini is a nightclub singer who performs “Blue Velvet” and Dennis Hopper is her crazed tormentor, who uses a mask to breathe in gas to energize his crimes.

Roger Ebert hated this film so much that he gave it one star in 1986. He and Gene Siskel disagreed on it, however. (When it was revived 20 years later, one reviewer said it was still “a hilarious, red-hot poker to the brain.”) Here’s a clip of the “At the Movies” review from 1986. Go to 2:35 to see Roger and Gene debate the film.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction

Yes, tonight is the night that we can see the E Street Band inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Their frontman, Bruce Springsteen, was inducted in 1999. The induction ceremony took place in April but tonight is the three-hour-plus event, with all the honorees, along with a bunch of special guests performing. The band is being inducted in a category that used to be known as sidemen and now is called the Award for Musical Excellence.

Other inductees are Peter Gabriel, Nirvana, Hall and Oates, KISS, Linda Ronstadt and Cat Stevens. Artists are eligible for the Rock Hall 25 years after their first recording. Rock Hall members (including me) voted for a list of eligible musicians and then the panel of judges picks the inductees. My DVR is already set.

3 Comments on “May mashup: My pop culture diary”

  1. Marge says:

    Congrats on your Andygram gig! I’m glad you are touting the South Shore Cultural Center… it is a gem! The Obamas were married there. The Parrot Cage cafe there is run by Washburn Culinary Institute students and good. I think you can eat outdoors with a great view of the lake in the summer. I hope your post prompts people to check it out.


  2. melindapower says:

    I’m going to see M. Butterfly tomorrow. I’ll let you know what I think. Melinda


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