Jane Austen as Opera, dance gets botanical, and 9/11 theater tributes

September 8, 2011

Kelly Kleiman

I really thought I could not bear to see another Cyrano. Edmund Rostand's verse drama about the nasally-challenged romantic is so terminally depressing that the only appropriate critical response to it is a good stiff drink. What else can you do, confronted with a man who wastes his life silencing his love for a woman and instead making it possible for his rival to win her, and then dies?

Happily, though, the House Theatre's Cyrano is a free-handed adaptation of the story into modern prose, with a sure sense of through-line and a determination to eliminate the repetition that mars the original. Top that all off with director Matt Hawkins's perfect casting of the heart-warming Shawn Pfautsch as Cyrano, and you've got yourself an evening of romance mixed with swordplay (also created by Hawkins); what's not to like? The House version of this oft-told tale suggests that its point is not how great and honorable it is to sacrifice oneself for love but how idiotic and horrible it is to decide that one is unworthy of love, a decision which distorts everything Cyrano does. The protean Stacy Stoltz (who was Stella in Writers' Theatre's acclaimed Streetcar) manages to make Roxanne not a complete ninny but a strong-willed woman who won't accept less than perfection in her love. Likewise, the gorgeous Christian (played by the gorgeous Glenn Stanton) isn't merely gorgeous but also a brave and honorable, if tongue-tied, soldier. Except for a four-handed piano lament played by Cyrano and Roxanne, the music in the show isn't really worthy of the text; but with Cyrano placed at a center-stage piano for most of the evening, it would probably cause grave disruption to just cut it out. Cyrano plays through October 16 at the Chopin Theatre in Wicker Park; tickets are $25, $10 for students and industry members.

The coming week is so full of openings that choosing among them seems as random as rolling dice. In that spirit, I will arbitrarily choose the ones I'm NOT able to attend: Farragut North, a Chicago premiere to start Stage Left's season at Theatre Wit, on the theory that Stage Left is always thought-provoking and smart and that a play about "a wunderkind press secretary" may include some jabs relevant to our new mayor; Quest Theatre's Enter Love, a new musical about modern relationships, on the theory that a company celebrating its 10th season in business must be doing something right; and Chamber Opera Chicago's Persuasion, on the theory that one can never have enough Jane Austen. Farragut opens tonight, Thursday; Enter Love opens tomorrow at the Quest space, 1609 West Gregory in Andersonville; Persuasion opens Saturday at the Athenaeum, and--take note--plays only through next Sunday. Let me know how they are!

Laura Molzahn

It takes a big man to fill a 15,000-square-foot loft, but Jonathan Meyer just might be the guy. Whencethe third and final work in his “Home” series—is being staged at the Lacuna Artist Loft Studios in Pilsen (also the very evocative site of Melissa Hawkins’s staging of Vincent River). We’re asked to dress for a “dusty environment” and to expect nudity. Traveling all over the space, Meyer’s autobiographical solo explores “awkwardness, confession, and fear”—but no worries, the previous two in the series were quite amusing. He’s accompanied by composer Christopher Preissing, four vocalists, and a directed “crowd” of 10 to 12 people. Friday through Sunday, two weekends.

Or you can retreat from urban angst into pastoral Lotus-eating by traveling to the country—well, the suburbs—to see Momix in an evening-length work about nature, Botanica, at Ravinia. Expect bizarre trompe l’oeil life forms concocted from live dancers, projections, costumes, and props.

The Other Dance Festival, now celebrating its tenth year, opens this Thursday and Friday with a great lineup. Each week of the fest’s four is different, and each show is preceded by a “video lounge” showing of past ODF participants. It’s a wonderful way to  survey the past, present, and future of Chicago’s best contemporary dance. 

Jonathan Abarbanel

It is a national week of remembrance and tribute, and theater is no exception. Several special productions are dedicated to the people and events of 9/11.

Oracle Productions, under its year-old policy of charging no admission, remounts a 2002 work by Chicagoan Sean Farrell, Life Separates Us, which explores the indirect impact upon all of us of grim national events, related through three troubled couples who seek marriage therapy. Life Separates Us, which runs at Oracle through Sept. 25.

TimeLine Theatre, which is busy enough with two productions running, does even more by offering two free performances of Anne Nelson's 2002 docu-drama, The Guys, one of the first and most powerful theater pieces to emerge from 9/11. It concerns a New York fire captain who lost eight men in the Twin Towers and now must prepare eulogies to deliver at their funerals. The Guys will be presented Sunday and Monday at 7PM at the Mercury Theater.

Finally, we don't know if this sublime or ridiculous, but be prepared for Twins: A 9/11 Musical, offered by The Gentiles at Studio Be (3110 N. Sheffield), Sunday only at 7PM and 9PM. Say authors Brad Einstein and Zach Zimmerman (who also perform the work), the show "looks back on that fateful day to realize the terrorists weren't the only scumbags. From an egomaniacal flag manufacturer to a dog-punching first responder, Twins finds the comedy that was silenced in this holy moment of tragedy."