August theater reviews: No summer slump in Chicago

August may mean the summer doldrums with nothing happening for Parisians and Berliners, who have to get on a train or drive south to find a beach. We lucky Chicagoans have our own built-in lake and beach, so we don’t have to go away for summer fun. There’s lots going on at the lakefront and in the theaters, both large and storefront. Here are a few theater tips from my last couple of weeks.

Assassination Theater at the Museum of Broadcast Communications

GB-AssassinationTheaterYes, this is a single production titled Assassination Theater: Chicago’s Role in the Crime of the Century, which lays out in excruciating detail how the Chicago Outfit was directly involved in the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy and also that of his brother Robert five years later. (I did wonder whether it was a new theater company to be dedicated solely to assassinations and started making a list of how many productions they could muster before they ran out of murders. It would take years, but no, this is a one-off production.)

Journalist/author Hillel Levin researched and produced this documentary production staged in a theater space at the Museum of Broadcast Communications, 360 N. State St. The ingredients are four actors, three projection screens and a minimum of props and costume changes. The story is dramatic and gripping and if you’re a fan of political conspiracy and love to immerse yourself in historical detail, you will love it. If your theater taste runs to musicals and light comedy, stay away. The show could perhaps have been cut by 15 minutes, but I usually think everything is 15 minutes too long.

My review notes that “The story line of Assassination Theater offers persuasive evidence that the JFK autopsy was falsified and the real facts covered up then and in the 1964 Warren Commission report.” The evidence of Mob involvement is not quite as persuasive but I would be willing to give it some study. You can see this show through November 7.

Things You Don’t Say Past Midnight at the Windy City Playhouse

GB-ThingsYSSPM-McClainKenyonThis is a fast-moving, funny, smartly acted and directed sex comedy at the Windy City Playhouse, a new venue in the Irving Park neighborhood that I’ve written about before. Three couples converse and romp about in three bedrooms arrayed across the large playing space. Their interests finally converge and the comedy reaches its apex in a six-way phone call. The play is clever, edgy and a little vulgar but there’s no nudity (in case you were worried or hopeful).

This new theater company is a nonprofit, but had a well-funded startup. The venue is very comfortable with good sightlines, comfy seating and an attractive bar/cafe in its lobby. The company has been bringing in established Chicago actors and directors to stage their productions and the quality is obvious.

Things You Don’t Say runs through October 4. Windy City Playhouse is at 3014 W. Irving Park Rd. Read my review.

The Jacksonian at Profiles Theatre

GB-Jacksonian2-Bowman,IselyThis is one of those plays that I really wanted to like because it has the right ingredients for a fabulous production. Honored playwright: Beth Henley (she won a Pulitzer for Crimes of the Heart and has written many other plays and films). Ingredients: Sex, drugs, murder and a sidedish of politics. Staging: By one of Chicago’s finest Equity storefront theaters. The Jacksonian is set in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1964 and the title is the name of the rather seedy motel where Bill Perch is staying, since both his marriage and his dental practice are in decline. The other characters are the motel bartender and waitress and the dentist’s wife and teenage daughter, who my review describes as “Cassandra in a cocoon.” The scenes flow back and forth from the December “night of the murder” to sexy bar and bedroom scenes.

The storyline is interesting and the play and characters definitely keep your interest. So even though I would say my rating is “somewhat recommended” because the nonlinear progression of scenes is a little incoherent, it’s still a worthwhile 90 minutes of theater. The Jacksonian runs through October 11 at Profiles, 4139 N. Broadway. Read my review.

Kafkapalooza at First Floor Theater 

GB-Kafka-PoseidonFirst Floor Theater’s annual Litfest, made up of eight short plays inspired by the stories of Franz Kafka, had a short run at the Flat Iron Arts Building in Wicker Park, so I’m sorry if you missed it. Sometimes when you see one of these evenings of short plays, a few of them are good and most are forgettable. But all eight of these plays, running 10-15 minutes each with one to five actors each, were interestingly written and well-performed. My review describes my favorite, titled “The Applicant,” drawn from a fragment of a story that Kafka wrote about Poseidon, bored with the paperwork required in his job as god of the seas, and wishing for a vacation.

First Floor Theater says its mission is to stage stories of individuals facing moments of radical change. I was impressed with this effort and look forward to their next outing.

Show Me a Hero on HBO

Speaking of individuals facing radical change, HBO’s current miniseries definitely fits that description. The story is based on actual events that took place in Yonkers, NY, from 1987 to 1994, when the city was trying to implement scattered-site public housing under a court order.

NSBJ-showmeaheroThe “hero” is the young mayor, Nick Wasicsko, played by Oscar Isaac, who’s elected because of his vote against a housing bill but then realizes that the city has to change. There are some great performances by actors such as Bob Balaban as the judge, Alfred Molina as a city councilman passionately opposed to the change, and Catherine Keener as a Yonkers resident bitterly opposed to the new housing that would be in her neighborhood. There are some very ugly but realistic scenes of Yonkers citizens protesting outside city hall and in council chambers. Of course, their arguments are that it’s all about property values and “lifestyle,” not racism. Uh-huh.

The characters are not all politicians and angry residents. Several subplots weave together the stories of public housing residents who will eventually be able to benefit from the new housing.

Isaac really proves his acting chops in this series, following his fine performances in A Most Violent Year and Ex Machina. Of course, I first wrote about him in 2014 when he starred in the Coen Brothers film, Inside Llewyn Davis, which all the critics, including me, raved about. Too bad it bombed at the box office and in awards season. I still think it’s a great film and I recommend it too.

One of my favorite things about Show Me a Hero is that it’s threaded with music by Bruce Springsteen from beginning to end. The mayor is a Springsteen fan and the songs all fit the dramatic action. Last week, in parts 3 and 4, the Springsteen songs were “Tenth Avenue Freezeout,” “Brilliant Disguise” and “Secret Garden.” Can’t wait to hear what tonight brings.

Tonight is the third and final part of the six-part production, being shown on three Sunday nights. It will be available on demand if you’re an HBO subscriber and I’m sure it will have another life streaming and on DVD soon.

Images courtesy theater companies and HBO.

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