Critics theater picks; seances, the 'OVERWEIGHT, unimportant', and a 'Flowering Tree'

October 6, 2011

Kelly Kleiman

Do your Thursday nights consist solely of waiting for Friday? Here are three other ways to help you get through the night:
     •    Get thee to Stage 773 (the old Theatre Building) to see Open Face Theatre’s Drupelets: Three Vonnegut Vignettes. It’s performance art, it’s Vonnegut, what could be bad? Thursdays ONLY at 8 p.m. through October 27; tickets $15.
     •    If instead of American irony you’d like the double-distilled European type, check out Trap Door’s OVERWEIGHT, unimportant: MISSHAPE, opening tonight.  Let the company speak for itself: “Never before has degradation, perverse loneliness, and mankind’s toxic ego been so funny.” Thursdays-Saturdays through November 12; tickets $20-$25, with half-price offers available. The setting along is worth the trip: go to 1655 West Cortland, look for the gap between the buildings, open a door into the service gangway between the kitchen and dining room of the restaurant next door, open another door–and resist the urge to say “Swordfish.”


     •    And, though this properly belongs in the Dueling Critics’ discussion of Halloween shows (coming soon), I can’t wait: The Strange Tree Group’s The Spirit Play, in previews tonight and opening tomorrow at the Storefront Theater on Randolph. The Trees have never done anything dull, mixing phenomenally detailed period production design with music, dance and serious text.  The result is meta-theatrical, simultaneously revealing the tricks of the theater trade and the special form of reality it contains.  The Spirit Play takes place in 1870s Chicago, where the idle rich dabble in seances and end up on the wrong side of the divide between reality and–whatever. Take in tonight’s final preview or tomorrow’s opening; the show runs Thursday-Sunday through November 6.  $10-$20 with half-price offers available.

Laura Molzahn

And you thought it was just a place to hear schlocky music…This weekend Northerly Island hosts a dance performance, of all things—and a radically non-beer-guzzling, non-sausage-snarfing performance at that. Erica Mott presents the culmination of her Victory Project Trilogy, billed as “an examination of the female body both broken and victorious.” Intrigued by conversations she had with female veterans of the Korean, Vietnam, and Gulf wars, Mott started wondering whether “victory” is a gendered concept. Performance installations, text, movement, original music (mixed live), and elements of puppetry combine to “dismantle body parts and allegories that fuse and confuse patriotism and perversity.” Tonight through Sunday at the Northerly Island Visitor Center.

Natya Dance Theatre makes its solo Harris debut this weekend, Saturday only, in The Flowering Tree. The perfect show for families, it features a fairy-tale story—based on an Indian folktale about a girl who’s exploited for her ability to turn herself into a tree—complete with message and happy ending. And the bharata natyam dancing, acting, and mime take adults and youngsters alike to a rich new world, the Indian continent. A family affair, it’s choreographed by mother and daughter Hema and Krithika Rajagopalan and narrated by Krithika.

Jonathan Abarbanel liked Kelly's picks so much he repeated them...

Psychological realism long has dominated the American stage. Y'know, Miller and Chekhov and Neil Simon. Thank goodness Chicago troupes provide an occasional break from the mainstream, and the following two companies do so as part of their missions.Eastern European drama, where absurdism long reigned as a type of dramatic protest against Soviet-bloc rule, is at the forefront at Trap Door Theatre, currently offering the North American premiere of OVERWEIGHT, unimportant: MISSHAPE--A European Supper by late Austrian playwright Werner Schwab, directed by Steppenwolf Ensemble member Yasen Payenkov. The company declares that "never before has degradation, perverse loneliness and mankind’s toxic ego been so funny." Trained as a sculptor, Schwab churned out 16 highly-scatological black comedies in the last four years of his life, eight of which were produced before his death at 35 on New Year's Day,1994. OVERWEIGHT, unimportant: MISSHAPE continues at Trap Dorr (1655 W. Cortland) through Nov. 12.

Like the sachems who describe oobleck in the famous Dr. Seuss book, we can tell you what The Spirit Play at Strange Tree Group isn't, far more easily than we can say what it is. Well, it IS another world premiere by artistic director Emily Schwartz, and the clever Jimmy McDermott returns to Strange Tree to direct. The troupe calls it a play for Halloween, but just about everything the company ever has done would meet Halloween standards. Strange Tree Group consistently is one of Chicago's most imaginative companies, in both the visual and literary senses. Their work never is realistic, always appearing like some giant shadowbox come to life, and frequently exploring myths or fairytales of their own making. The Spirit Play continues at the Storefront Theater (62 E. Randolph) through Nov. 6.