Celebrations are in order! This is a landmark week for all Americans, especially those who might want to choose their own home or their own life partners without discrimination or for those who might ever get sick and need health care. Like, all of us.
To celebrate, you might want to go to the theater. And I have some recommendations.
Moby Dick at Lookingglass Theatre
I have seen the legend of the great white whale in many forms on stage and screen and read the book twice (once in college). The new production of Moby Dick at Lookingglass is one of the best, perhaps the best, I’ve seen. The staging is very creative and the acting is excellent. Most important, director David Catlin’s script, which he adapted from Herman Melville’s novel, is strong and cohesive and manages to tell the whole story economically. The source of Captain Ahab’s monomaniacal hatred of Moby Dick, the habits and practices of the crew of a whaling ship, and even what life is like at sea. The friendship between Ishmael and Queequeg is sensitively told and the characters of Ahab and Starbuck take on reality.
My Gapers Block review also noted some of the other recent Moby Dick portrayals. I gave the play four stars, a “highly recommended” review. It runs two-and-three-quarter hours with two intermissions. It’s been extended and you can see it through August 28.
The Who and the What at Victory Gardens
This is a smart, funny play about a conservative Pakistani-American family and their attempts to come to grips with modern realities. Father Afzal is a widower, still grieving the loss of his wife and trying to do what’s best for his two daughters. Zarina, the older sister, past 30 and unmarried, is writing a novel about “gender politics.” If she gets over her writer’s block, the story she tells will be explosive in their conservative community. Ron O J Parsons, the director, has crafted a thought-provoking and moving play. Here’s my review. (Link added 6/29/15.)
The Who and the What, by Ayad Akhtar, runs just under two hours with one intermission. It continues at Victory Gardens through July 12.
All Our Tragic at The Hypocrites
The Hypocrites have remounted their compilation of all 32 extant Greek tragedies by Aeschylus, Euripides and Sophocles, deftly adapted by Sean Graney. It’s funny, poignant, slapstick, bloody … and really, it’s a theatrical experience not to be missed. You can binge on the 12-hour experience—but think of it as nine hours of theater and many food and relaxation breaks. I reviewed it last year.
All Our Tragic runs Saturdays and Sundays through August 9.
And also …. Chicago Dramatists Scene Shop Showcase
I recently had the opportunity to attend the Scene Shop Showcase that Chicago Dramatists holds twice a year to give a glimpse at new plays in progress. Scenes (about 10 minutes each) were shown from 10 plays by 10 playwrights. Chicago Dramatists is “the playwrights’ theatre” and they offer playwriting classes and present new plays in their Saturday Series of readings.
My friend Debbie Dodge invited me to attend the showcase. Her scene, “Ashes to Ashes,” was about siblings deciding how to handle a parent’s ashes. “Cut: A Restoration Drama,” by Brenda Kilianski, raised the circumcision question and controversially compared it to female genital mutilation. It’s amazing how much drama can be packed into 10 minutes.
The scenes are staged readings with some props and blocking. Many of the playwrights, actors and directors are Equity members. The scenes were performed on the Chicago Dramatists’ main stage, which was set for the show then in production.
The next Scene Shop Showcase will be in December. It’s open to the public and the cost is a suggested $5 donation.
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.
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
This 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.