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.
Going to the theater is a treat that never grows old for me. Here are some of the plays I’ve seen recently, most of which were excellent.
The Drowning Girls at Signal Ensemble Theatre
This is a captivating production and a perfect example of the rich quality of Chicago storefront theater. Great direction, great acting, great staging. It’s a 70-minute play and you will enjoy every minute. Here’s how my review begins:
“The stage is set. Three claw-footed bathtubs. The kind your grandmother had. Props: Three scrub buckets, newspapers and a tea set. Costumes: Bridal gowns and veils, usually sopping wet.
“If this doesn’t sound like a promising start for a night at the theater, The Drowning Girls at Signal Ensemble Theatre will quickly change your mind. The play is a beautifully performed, balletic story of an English serial killer in the 19th century, who swindled from and then drowned his three wives. Actually, it’s the entrancing story of the three wives, who perform all the parts in the play from the brides submerged in their tubs to the husband(s), parents, lawyers, judge, reporters and scrubwomen.”
You can see The Drowning Girls through June 6. Signal is at 1802 W. Berenice, near the intersection of Irving Park and Ravenswood. See my review for details.
Three Sisters at The Hypocrites
Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters gets an excellent production from the always-interesting Hypocrites. It’s a fairly traditional staging except the color palette is used in a very inventive way. Director Geoff Button adapted the script to use more contemporary language without trivializing it. My review describes the story this way:
“The eponymous Prosorov sisters lead the excellent 14-person cast in a story that progresses over several years in a provincial Russian town at the turn of the 20th century. The sisters, all in their 20s, yearn to move back to Moscow, which they left 11 years ago when their father assumed the command of a brigade in the rural area. Now their father is dead and the town (and their social life) is dominated by the presence of the military base and its officers.”
The play is 2 hours, 20 minutes, and runs through June 6 in the Hypocrites’ new space at the Den Theatre on Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park.
Side Man at American Blues Theater
This is a fine production of Warren Leight’s Tony-award winning play, Side Man. It was first produced at Steppenwolf in the 1999-2000 season and I tried to keep that excellent production out of my thoughts and not let it affect my review of this production. This is a memory play about the jazz musicians—trumpet players—who were riding high in the 1940s and ‘50s before the rise of rock and roll. The story focuses on the career and family of one particular side man. His son takes us back and forth in time from the moment his parents met through their present difficult period.
Side Man runs two hours and continues through May 24 at American Blues Theater, staged at the Greenhouse Theater Center on Lincoln Avenue. There’s live jazz played on stage before the performance begins.
Between You, Me and the Lampshade at Teatro Vista
This new play about immigration and family issues by Raul Castillo runs through this Sunday at Victory Gardens/Biograph Richard Christiansen Theater (the upstairs space at VG). The 100-minute play (with one intermission) is well written with lively dialogue. My Gapers Block review says:
“Between You, Me and the Lampshade is an entertaining and poignant story told by an excellent cast under the capable direction of artistic director Ricardo Gutierrez. Original music and sound design by Victoria Deiorio create an authentic sound landscape for the story. Jose Manuel Diaz-Soto’s scene design is very much an aging trailer interior, including the turquoise kitchen.”
I recommend it. Take Mom on Sunday. Or take yourself.
Ghost Gardens at Chicago Dramatists
Ghost Gardens, a new play by Steven Simoncic, explores “how people in a dying community fight to overcome grief, illness, hopelessness, and air poisoned by a giant local corporation.” The play, set in Detroit, has certain charms and a couple of good performances, but it can’t overcome the fact that the script is rambling and disjointed. I wish I could recommend it. My Gapers Block review is here.
Ghost Gardens continues through May 31 at Chicago Dramatists on Chicago Avenue near Milwaukee.
The Herd at Steppenwolf Theatre Company
The Herd by Rory Kinnear is a story about several generations of an English suburban family who have a severely disabled child. The play looks at how different generations deal with the issues of parenthood and disability. Frank Galati directs an excellent cast of mostly Steppenwolf ensemble members, including John Mahoney, Lois Smith, Molly Regan and Francis Guinan. The writing is witty and tender and gets to the heart of these family matters. I didn’t review this, but you can check out other reviews here.
Running time for The Herd is 100 minutes. You can see it—and you should—until June 7.
Yes, there were some horrible things about 2013, mostly political, Congressional, in fact. But there were some great things about the year. Here’s are some of the things I want to remember about the last 12 months.
I’ve written about most of these things here, but I decided not to provide links because then the whole post would be links. If you want to follow up on a topic, check the Categories selections on the right. (Image courtesy PSD Graphics.)
- Retirement means I’m finally able to be a writer. Writing about the things I love. I was a business writer for 35 years, but it was never this much fun.
- Being “hired” to write for Gapers Block has been terrific. Thank you, Andrew and LaShawn. In just seven months, I’ve posted 71 articles, mostly theater and art reviews. All Gapers Block writers work as volunteers, but I do get free theater tickets and personal previews of art exhibits.
- Nancy Bishop’s Journal has been in business for 18 months and this year I wrote 65 new posts, as my WordPress Annual Report announced yesterday.
- An Iliad at Court Theatre was absolutely the best play of my year.
- The Seafarer at Seanachai Theatre, performed at The Den Theatre, was a close second. It’s been extended, so you can still see it until February 1.
- Homeland 1972 at Chicago Dramatists. How could I not love a play based on a Bruce Springsteen song? (“Highway Patrolman” from the 1982 album Nebraska.)
- Terminus performed by Interrobang Theatre Project at the Athenaeum.
- The Half-Brothers Mendelssohn by Strange Tree Theatre at Signal Ensemble Theatre. The time machine was worth the ticket price but the whole show was smart and funny.
- Remy Bumppo seems to do no wrong, at least this year. Both Northanger Abbey and An Inspector Calls were outstanding productions.
- Hypocrites is another company that does great work. Their production of the Chicago story titled Ivywild was wondrous.
- Trap Door Theatre’s production of The Balcony was outstanding, and so is most of this group’s work.
- There were many more excellent shows, many that I reviewed for Gapers Block. But I’ll stop at nine.
- Leonard Cohen at the Chicago Theatre. Leonard was his usual charming, sprightly self and left me cheering for a performer who knows how to present a great show. Both Leonard and I are approaching the age at which we might be called “super-agers” and I look forward to seeing how both of us do in our 80s.
- The farewell to Lou Reed, who died in October at 71, was a musical tribute played outside in a grove of trees near Lincoln Center. Watch this video to see friends and fans rocking out to his “Walk on the Wild Side.”
- The soundtrack from the film Inside Llewyn Davis, taking us back 50 years to relive the ‘60s in Greenwich Village, in the pre-Dylan era. The songs are all new arrangements of traditional folk songs, except for “Please Mr. Kennedy,” done in a hilarious performance by Oscar Isaac, Justin Timberlake and Adam Driver (providing the bass notes).
- “Dream Baby Dream,” the Springsteen song I couldn’t stop listening to
- Anticipation: A new Springsteen record, High Hopes, will be released January 14. We’re hoping that Bruce will finally come home to tour but so far the 2014 dates are only in South Africa and Australia.
Films (a few of my favorites, in random order)
- Inside Llewyn Davis, which I’ve seen twice and reviewed here last week.
- Russian Ark, a 2002 film by Aleksandr Sokurov, a technological and artistic masterpiece, despite being plotless. It’s a tour thru the Hermitage with a cast of thousands.
- Sound City, a documentary made by Dave Grohl about one of the last analog music production studios in Los Angeles.
- Anna Karenina, a gorgeous film innovatively staged—literally on a theater stage—with beautiful costumes, settings, cinematography and acting.
- Holy Motors, a bizarre masterwork directed by Leos Carax, starring Denis Lavant.
- Springsteen and I, in which his fans talk about how they came to be Springsteen fans and what his music means to them.
- 20 Feet from Stardom, a film about the background singers, mostly black and female, who make rock sound like the music we love.
- I didn’t see Spike Jonze’s Her until January 3, but it’s one of the top films of 2013. My review is coming up.
- The Story of Film: An Odyssey, written and produced by Mark Cousins, an Irish film critic. The fascinating 15-part series starts with the first barely moving pictures in the 19th century and ends with today’s filmmakers. TCM ran it on 15 consecutive Monday nights this fall and Netflix is streaming it.
- As always, a bow to the Gene Siskel Film Center and its dedication to excellent, rarely seen films
- House of Cards, the Netflix political drama available for binge-watching
- Treme, a somewhat flawed HBO series, centered on the eponymous New Orleans neighborhood, with great music; it ended this week after four seasons.
- Breaking Bad on AMC; it’s all over for Walter White. Looking forward to the final season of Mad Men, also to be shown in two parts. Will Don Draper finally become Dick Whitman?
- Stand Up for Heroes, the annual benefit concert for wounded warriors, on which Mr. Springsteen did a 20-minute set and told bad jokes.
- Palladia, the 24/7 rock music channel. What would I do without it?
Art and art venues
- The Art of Fashion X 3. The most underrated of the three exhibits–Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of the Ebony Fashion Fair—is at the Chicago History Museum until May 11. It’s a fabulous show; don’t miss it. The other two were Punk: Chaos to Couture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; and the Art Institute of Chicago’s Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity exhibit.
- Shutter to Think: The Rock & Roll Lens of Paul Natkin. This exhibit of the Chicago rock and roll photographer’s work for magazines, album covers and posters is excellent. It’s at the Chicago Cultural Center thru January 4, so you still have a minute to see it.
- Chicago’s Bauhaus Legacy, a superb exhibit at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art on West Grand Avenue. I wrote a feature about this excellent small museum for Gapers Block.
- The Work at Play exhibit of graphic design at the Chicago Design Museum in the Block 37 building, part of the Pop-Up Art Loop project. The exhibit honored the work of John Massey, a famous Chicago designer, and other important graphic designers
Books and book events
- I’ve written about short stories, my book group, ebooks on the CTA, and musical author book events: Richard Hell at the BookCellar and Peter Hook at the MCA
- Emile Zola, whose novels I binged on this year. Nana, The Ladies’ Paradise, The Joy of Life and Germinal are just the beginning.
- The 50th anniversary of the release of Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique.
Miscellaneous but important
- The death of Roger Ebert left a huge gap in film criticism and the movie biz.
- Edward Snowden and the NSA. Snowden’s release of NSA files, whether legal or not, made us aware of how much the government is invading our privacy. My view is that Snowden is a patriot and should be given amnesty so he can come home. He should not be imprisoned and tortured as Bradley/Chelsea Manning was for similar acts. Today the New York Times published a powerful editorial agreeing with me.
- Oscar Libre. After 32 years, it’s time to release Oscar Lopez Rivera, the Puerto Rican independence activist. I wrote about him a few weeks ago.
- And now, it’s time for ….