Two theater reviews, one inspired by Bruce Springsteen

Two new theater reviews for your consideration. Both are excellent examples of why Chicago is such a great theater town.  Homecoming 1972 only runs through this weekend but you can see Mine until August 11.

Homecoming 1972 at Chicago Dramatists

Chicago Dramatists is a fine, playwright-oriented theater company with a comfy small space at 1105 W Chicago Ave.  Homecoming 1972 is a riveting play about the after-effects of the Vietnam war and its impact on those who served and those who stayed at home.  As I note in my Gapers Block review, about halfway into the play I realized that it was based on the Bruce Springsteen song, “Highway Patrolman,” from the acoustic 1982 album, Nebraska.  Frank, Joe and Maria? Those are the characters in the story Springsteen tells in that amazing song. Here are the lyrics, a summary of the play.

You’re probably thinking, “She’s obsessing again. Nancy thinks everything in life links back to Bruce Springsteen.” Well, I do think that. But in fact, the playwright Robert Koon is known to be a Springsteen fan too. I talked to some cast and crew members after the show and they confirmed that.

SPRINGSTEEN_NEBRASKA_5X5_site-500x500The Nebraska album is  a mournful record of  life in the late 1970s. Except for a few songs like “Atlantic City” and “Open All Night,” the album is basically a series of stories about downtrodden, lonely characters.  Springsteen recorded it in his bedroom on a tape recorder, intending it to be a demo to be released with a full E Street Band treatment. But his manager convinced him to release it as his first acoustic album. Its initial reception was lukewarm but in the years since, it has been acknowledged as one of his finest albums.

Chicago’s Tympanic Theatre Company produced Deliver Us From Nowhere last year, a series of 10 short plays based on the 10 songs on Nebraska. It was an interesting attempt but less than successful theatrically.

You can read my review of Homecoming 1972 here. I strongly recommend it.

Mine at The Gift Theatre

The Gift Theatre performs in a tiny storefront on the northwest side.  It’s a theater that I’ve been meaning to go to, since its work always gets outstanding reviews. I finally did that this week and reviewed a play called Mine that combines contemporary fears about parenting with reversion to medieval folklore.  It’s a very intense and haunting play, made more intense by the small performance space.  I often think when i see a play like this in a tiny space how much different it would seem if performed on a proscenium stage with a great deal of distance between players and viewers.

Read my review and try to see Mine — you have about six weeks to get there.


Moving north: A theater director’s odyssey

My newest article on gapersblock.com is about a theater director who moved to Chicago from Charlotte, NC, to find a more challenging and dynamic theater scene.  As you may know, I have a strong North Carolina connection. I’ve been there many times to spend time with my son, his beautiful lawyer wife and their two darling cherubs. I’ve spent  time mostly in Greensboro but also in Winston-Salem, Durham, Raleigh and Charlotte. I know a little about the arts scene in Charlotte from my time with the giant law firm that has an office there. And I’ve been to a whole bunch of Bruce Springsteen concerts in North Carolina since 2002. (Greensboro is one of my favorite places to see Bruce; the audiences there are great!)

jimyost BareBones2I met Jim Yost, the director, when I attended his current production, Orange Flower Water, at the Raven Theatre a few weeks ago.  (The play is a co-production of Jim’s company, Barebones Theatre Group, with his new Chicago company, Interrobang Theatre Project.) You can see a link to my review on the right.  I thought his move to Chicago from Charlotte might make an interesting feature for Gapers Block, the website about everything Chicago.  So Jim and I had a good conversation recently in my office away from my home office, a Panera Cafe, and the story, in interview form, went up today.

It’s been years since I recorded an interview, transcribed it and turned it into a story. (I did that a lot earlier in my career.) It’s not a quick process, as any writer will tell you. But it’s a rewarding one — and getting the subject’s voice and style just right in the interview is important.

So here’s the story of Jim Yost and his move north to Chicago.  His closing remark, which I didn’t put in the story? “I really love Chicago, except for the winter.” I told him he would get used to it. That’s why stores sell mittens, earmuffs, scarves and big puffy jackets.

(Photo courtesy of Interrobang Theatre Project.)


Smudge, a parent’s bad dream

Ka-Tet Theatre is presenting a very interesting, dark and challenging play at the Athenaeum. Smudge by Rachel Axler is a 90-minute odyssey from ultrasound to reality. Here’s the beginning of my review at gapersblock.com.

It’s a prospective parent’s worst nightmare: Will our baby be perfect? A missing finger or toe and many congenital diseases can be adapted to or treated, but in Smudge, Ka-Tet Theatre asks us to think about how we would deal with an even more dramatic birth–an infant that may not be quite human.

smudge-Ka-Tet-GB“This thing doesn’t need a mother,” Colby (Stevie Chadwick Lambert) says midway through this one-act, 90-minute play. “It’s got tubes.”

— *** —

Please read the review here.  And check out this play for a rewarding evening of theater from one of our interesting small theater companies.

Stevie Chadwick Lambert (with Mr Limbs) and Scott Allen Luke. Photo by Andrew Cioffi