Working for the Weekend: Critics picks for 5/6-5/8

May 5, 2011

Kelly Kleiman

The Conquest of the South Pole at Strawdog Theatre has nothing whatsoever to do with the conquest of the South Pole. Well, maybe that's a bit strong: it's true that the unemployed miners in this contemporary Russian play find some sort of relief from their lives by fantasizing that they're Norwegians racing to the Pole against the English party led by Scott.  But the fantasies have limited power to overcome the men's despair, and the men have even less power to change their lives. 

Conquest is a distinctively European work, borrowing blackouts and scene announcements from Brecht and existential despair from Beckett. But the all-American (and always excellent) Strawdog troupe, under the sensitive direction of Kimberly Senior, inhabits these characters fully and richly. Particularly remarkable is Senior's work with and through Jenny Avery; between them they manage to make the wife character, often an afterthought, into the emotional and thematic center of the production. And it goes like the wind: 80 minutes, no intermission. Through May 28 at the Strawdog on Clark Street in Lakeview.


And, in the department of utterly reliable companies, tonight Steep Theatre in Edgewater will open Festen, a drama of family revelations in the tradition of Steep's excellent Brief History of Helen of Troy and Harper Regan. If you missed Steep's recent rendition of Mamet's Lakeboat, you missed something really special; so (though I haven't seen it yet) my suggestion is that you don't miss this one. Through June 11; tickets $22.

Laura Molzahn

Give her credit for chutzpah. And for a conscience. Moved by the pilfered belongings she saw at the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum in Poland, choreographer Kate Corby launched a two-year project on genocide. She’s halfway through.

Her solo Brute—exploring the isolation and grief of female survivors—surrounds dancer Emily Miller with 100 pounds of red clothes.

Catch, which focuses on empathy, was the result of Corby’s effort “to understand the most heinous of human brutality,” she says. In part the result of reading Frans de Waal’s 2009 study of empathy in apes, it incorporates “the ritualistic call and response of animals in the wild.”

The project hasn’t been easy.

“I’m thinking my next project will have to be about sunshine or babies or something like that,” Corby says.

Right. It’s hard to imagine this smart, committed choreographer—whose half-funny, half-menacing trio Go wowed the crowd last summer at the A.W.A.R.D. Show!—doing something truly lightweight.

Kate Corby & Dancers performs these three works plus a new duet one weekend only at tiny Link’s Hall. Expect this excellent fringe-y company to take Wrigleyville global. 

Jonathan Abarbanel

First it was a novel, then it was a 1978 animated feature film with guys like John Hurt and Zero Mostel providing the voices, and now Watership Down is live on stage as adapted by Lifeline Theatre Company.

However you slice it, this tale by Richard Adams concerns a heroic band of--uh--rabbits searching for their very own promised land. Actually, I think they've found it in Millennium Park, although they have to share it with the geese. Watership Down continues through June 19 at least.

Just about the hottest young playwright around these days is Sarah Ruhl, whose tremendously varied works have been short-listed for a Pulitzer Prize and won a slew of other awards.

In Chicago where she was born and raised, Ruhl has affiliations with the small Piven Theatre in Evanston and the mighty Goodman Theatre in The Loop.

Right now, the Goodman's got her in romantic comedy mode with the world premiere of Ruhl's Stage Kiss, a backstage look at actors as lovers both onstage and off. Stage Kiss runs through June 5.