Don't-Miss List May 3-9: Multi-generational dystopia unfolds at Circle

May 3, 2012

Dueling Critics on Eight Forty-Eight; WBEZ 91.5 FM and WBEZ.org, between 9 and 10 a.m. Friday May 4th, FREE!

Jonathan and I will go at it hammer and tong over the Goodman Theatre’s The Iceman Cometh, starring Nathan Lane and Brian Dennehy. We’ll also chat about the phenomenon of celebrity in Chicago–how we confer it, how we respond when it visits, and whether it gets in the way of seeing what’s actually onstage. If you miss our conversation on the air you’ll find it here on the site by Friday afternoon. -KK

When the Rain Stops Falling, Circle Theatre in Oak Park; Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 through June 17, tickets $24-$28

As the home of stylish comedies of manners and exuberant musicals, Circle Theatre isn't usually where you'd look for new and deeply reflective drama.  But they've taken it on here in the form of Andrew Bovell’s poetic account of family dystopia, and it is a beauty–as Jonathan commented, the kind of work you'd expect to see at Steppenwolf. Set in London and the Australian outback over a period of 80 years, the play investigates both how family injury repeats itself generation after generation and how damage to the earth gradually becomes irreparable. Directed with great tenderness and clarity by John Gawlik, this is a contemporary play to see and then think about all the way home. -KK

The March at Steppenwolf; Tuesdays through Sundays at 7:30 plus matinees on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays through June 10; tickets $55

If it's not official, but it should be: Frank Galati is the nation's premier interpreter of the work of E.L. Doctorow. Having turned the author's voluminous Ragtime into a successful musical, adapter-director Galati now grapples with Doctorow's epic tale of the Civil War, whose sesquicentennial we're celebrating this year (or mourning, depending on your politics).

The evening begins a little awkwardly with a school-pageant introduction to the conflict, but soon we’re invested in all of the many characters as they variously follow, join or try to stay ahead of Sherman’s march to the sea, the war's final campaign. Galati doesn't hesitate to quote Mother Courage and Her Children, the uber-story of human beings crushed under the wheels of war, but those homages don't interfere with his own vision. In a huge cast, Ian Barford stands out as a Confederate soldier living by his wits on the fringes of the Union army, while Phillip James Brannon manages to play a wise old servant and a photographer’s apprentice with equal persuasiveness and Harry Groener brings brilliance to William Tecumseh Sherman's many-faceted life. It's a less showy role than King George in The Madness of . . . but the performance is no less magnetic. Here's hoping Groener stays in Chicago forever: with his flair for playing leaders, maybe he'll run for mayor. -KK

Music Mad, Chicago Treasures and Prop Thtr at Chief O’Neill’s, 3471 N. Elston; tickets $25, dinner reservations separate

Not much happened on the watch of Francis O’Neill, Chicago’s Superintendent of Police from 1901 to 1905. President McKinley was assassinated, but that was in Buffalo, and, oh, yes, the Iroquois Theatre burned down, killing more than 600 people. That left O’Neill plenty of time to make a lasting mark as a pre-eminent collector of authentic Irish music (he was Ireland born and bred before coming to Chicago at age 25).

Wikipedia tells us that he recruited many traditional Irish musicians into the police force and collected tunes from some of the major performers of the time, among them Patsy Touhey, who regularly sent O'Neill wax cylinders. O’Neill published several seminal collections of Irish music before he died in 1936. His life, career and passion for Irish music are celebrated in Music Mad, created over an eight year span by Adam Whiteman. The show takes place—where else?—at Chief O’Neill’s, an Irish pub and restaurant on Elston Avenue, kitty corner from the Prop Thtr, the show’s co-producer. Music Mad plays Thursdays and Sundays through June 28. You can have dinner before the show and you can bring the kids, especially if you dress them as leprechauns. -JA

Her Naked Skin, Shattered Globe Theatre Company at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont; tickets $34

England, 1913: suffragettes, demonstrations, women arrested and imprisoned. Besides losing weight in jail, many women also became in tune with their sexuality and even with uh, diverse sexualities, if one buys into Her Naked Skin, a historical drama by Rebecca Lenkievicz, presented in its regional premiere by Shattered Globe Theatre at Stage 773. Hey, what happens in Reading Gaol stays in Reading Gaol, right? Whatever, it must have worked because British women acquired the right to vote before American women did (although several Western European nations had granted female suffrage years earlier). Anyhow, Shattered Globe is sporting a very large cast of 18 for Her Naked Skin, which runs through June 3. -JA