Critics theater picks: Seeing 'Red', an updated Greek tragedy, and married dancers

September 22, 2011

Kelly and Jonathan picked two of the same plays this week, so let's see what they both say about them...

Kelly: Then, though the official opening is next week, Sunday is the Jewish press opening of Red (though if God is willing to have us spend Christmas in a Chinese restaurant, She probably wouldn't mind our spending Rosh Hashanah in a theater). John Logan's play about the painter Mark Rothko (speaking of Jews) won the Tony last year, and is now onstage or in process at nearly every regional theater in the country. (Interesting choice to let a dozen nonprofit productions bloom instead of creating a single commercial national tour. Maybe this is the playwright's gift to the nonprofit theater community in which he had his start.) I'm a huge fan of Rothko as well as Logan, having seen a retrospective of the painter's work at the Guggenheim which began at the base of the central ramp with early figurative efforts and pulled the viewer further and further up as Rothko clarified and simplified and purified, until at the very top he was working with pure light. It will be fascinating to see how this pilgrim's progress is expressed on the stage. Through October 23 at the Goodman; 1 hour 40 minutes without intermission (hey, art means suffering); tickets $54-$74 but half price on the day of performance and only $10 for students.

Jonathan: John Logan made his name and early fame as a Chicago playwright in counterpoint to the stylistic clout of then-reigning champ David Mamet: Logan's plays were literate, educated and often played with structure and theatrical device vs. the blue-collar, straight-ahead, slam-bang Mamet. Logan's fondness for historical subject matter and biography served him well in Hollywood (GladiatorThe Aviator, The Last Samurai) and serve him well again in his first play in far-too-many years, Red, a smart, stimulating two-character play about American abstract artist Mark Rothko. Having won six Tony Awards last year, Red now is being produced by 30 regional theaters, with our own Goodman Theatre first out of the gate. Artistic director Robert Falls is at the helm.

Kelly: Then on Monday Remy Bumppo opens Mourning Becomes Electra, directed by new artistic director Timothy Douglas but starring company veterans Annabel Armour, David Darlow and Nick Sandys. This version of O'Neill's Civil War trilogy condenses 9 hours into a single three-act evening, and what makes it remarkable is that unlike most O'Neill the play focuses on the women: their strength, their decisions and their suffering. At the Greenhouse on Lincoln; Wednesday-Sunday through October 30; tickets $35-$40. 

Jonathan: Remy Bumppo Theatre introduces its new artistic director, Timothy Douglas, with its first Eugene O'Neill work, his mighty Mourning Becomes Electra, elaborately inspired by the Greek tragedies of Aeschylus but transformed to post-Civil War America. Originally written in three nearly-full-length parts, it frequently has been reduced in various ways, and so it is at Remy Bumppo where the production will run about three hours. Properly honed and calibrated, the tale of the Mannon family and passionately calculating Lavinia can be Electra-fying. 

Kelly adds: 

This is big-deal opening weekend, so what I'm looking forward to are the big-deal openings, specifically:

The Real Thing, tonight (Thursday) at Writers' Theatre. This Tom Stoppard play about a playwright's collapsing marriage hit so close to home when I saw its London premiere that I haven't been able to make myself see it since--and that was in 1982. What's tempting me back (other than a serious case of "Oh, get over it, already!") is the personnel bringing it to life this time. Director Michael Halberstam is nearly unmatched in his ability to handle intellectual material that's also deeply emotional. And if leading man Sean Fortunato (most recently brilliant in Writers' Travels With My Aunt) can't make the quicksilver leaps from comedy to sobriety and back again required by Stoppard's difficult text, no one can. Tuesdays-Sundays through November 20 at the "big" theater (not the back of the bookstore), 325 Tudor Court in Glencoe; tickets $45-$65. 

Laura Molzahn

Two small-ish companies—Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre and Inaside Chicago Dance—hit the big time one night only (for now), Saturday at the Harris. As part of the New Stages for Dance Initiative, Dance/USA and MetLife (working in Chicago with Audience Architects) have provided $42,500 for 16 local companies to get “affordable access to quality venues.” This is the first of eight shows. Highlights include a world-premiere collaboration between the two artistic directors, Wilfredo Rivera and Richard A. Smith, set to an original Afro-Latin/R&B composition by Stu Greenspan. 

Eiko & Koma—the married couple who’ve been life-and-work partners for 40 years—deserve some kind of prize. They already got a MacArthur “genius” grant, in 1996, but I think they should be pronounced Mr. and Mrs. America too. If only Japanese-Americans who get naked in public were allowed to represent “American values”! As part of their nationwide retrospective, the duo perform “Regeneration” in the MCA Theater, tonight through Saturday, including their first-ever fully nude piece, Night Tide(1984). Pueblo musician Robert Mirabal plays live during their newest, Raven (2010).

The Other Dance Festival, approaching the third of its four programs this weekend, flash-mobs Saturday, noon, at the Randolph Street Market, 1340 W. Washington. Free, and you can check out the cool vintage and “modern vintage” stuff.