The Don't-Miss List: An unseasonal 'Spring Awakening'

December 8, 2011

Kelly Kleiman

All's quiet on the theater front (except for various holiday-themed openings, of which enough, already) until Saturday, when two exciting openings are scheduled at exactly the same time. Pick your poison:

Redtwist Theater on Bryn Mawr Avenue in Edgewater is doing the Chicago premiere of Opus, a play about the internal politics of a string quartet whose members regard it as a substitute family. (If it's like most artistic organizations, that would be the family in Long Day's Journey Into Night.) The company's work is generally excellent and occasionally stunning. Redtwist's production of The Man From Nebraska was superior in every way to the world premiere production the play received at Steppenwolf.

Which doesn't mean you shouldn't go to Steppenwolf instead, where Amy Morton is directing Enda Walsh's Penelope, just the second Homeric tale on Chicago stages this month. (An Iliad at Court Theater closes the very next day, suggesting some sort of matter-antimatter relationship between The Odyssey and The Iliad.) Chicago's only previous exposure to Walsh, who seems to be breathing down Conor McPherson's neck for the title of latest-greatest Irish playwright, was a brief visit to Chicago Shakespeare in 2009 with a touring production of his The Walworth Farce, so at this moment the cast is better-known than the play.  It includes Steppenwolf ensemble members Ian Barford, Yasen Peyankov and Tracy Letts, the last of whom has stepped in for John Mahoney, who had to leave the show to attend to family matters. You know you're really something when your understudy has won the Pulitzer Prize.

Opus is at Redtwist Thursdays-Sundays through January 15; tickets $25-$30.

Penelope plays Tuesdays through Sundays at Steppenwolf through February 5; tickets are $20-$78. 

Laura Molzahn

If you like dance, love the holidays, but hate The Nutcracker, you can scratch that itch this weekend with several shows having little or nothing to do with the Sugar Plum Fairy. Tap/body percussion troupe Be the Groove opens its third annual seasonal showcase—this year titled Winter Break Down (Louder Than Your Christmas Sweater)—at the Hoover Leppen Theatre of the Center on Halsted. M.A.D.D. Rhythms are the special guests this Friday and Saturday, and Chicago Dance Crash performs with BTG next Friday and Saturday. The Sunday matinees are family-friendly.

Chicago Tap Theatre opens (and closes) its inclusive Tidings of Tap,” this year with all-live music, at the UIC Center for the Performing Arts Friday through Sunday. And if you’d like some nibbles with your holiday festivity, check out Monday evening’s Night Roars!” modern-day variety show, presented by Striding Lion Performance Group at the Logan Square Arts Center.

Also on Monday, Hubbard Street performs on the CSO’s MusicNOW program, devoted to contemporary tunes, at the Harris. HSDC artistic associate Terence Marling presents the brand-new Twice (Once), set to composer Anna Clyne’s “haunting, elegiac” Within Her Arms. And on Friday only, Deeply Rooted Dance Theater performs its deeply felt season closer, “Chicago Women of Song,” also at the Harris.

Jonathan Abarbanel

Curious Theatre Branch offers a one-weekend return engagement of its one-weekend hit from earlier this season at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Still in Play: A Performance of Getting Ready. This time the venue is Wrigleyville’s Links Hall (3435 N. Sheffield) and the performances are this Friday-Sunday only, Dec. 9-11. Written by Jenny Magnus, Still in Play: A Performance of Getting Ready is play built out of the rituals of an acting troupe preparing for a show. It may sound like so much cotton candy, a mere gossamer of a show; but, hey, this is Curious Theatre Branch, a troupe which often finds profound somethings in nothings. It’s directed by Stefan Brun  with music by The Crooked Mouth.

Spring Awakening is the modern, hip rock musical version of a seminal modernist play written by Frank Wedekind in Germany in 1891 and still widely produced. Although already seen in Chicago in the touring version of the Broadway production, this new staging by Griffin Theatre Company is the first locally-mounted and intimate production of the musical. In 1891, sex was a taboo subject even among adults, so you can imagine the scandal Spring Awakening caused when Wedekind used both realism and meta-theatrical devices to broach teenage sexuality including masturbation, rape, homosexuality and pregnancy, and the total adult hypocrisy surrounding said subjects. The musical gives it a modern dress skew, yet one wonders if teens today can possibly be as benighted as those of 1891. Nonetheless, Spring Awakening in any form is a powerful cautionary tale; presented by Griffin at Theater Wit (1229 W. Belmont) through Jan. 8.