Don't-Miss List July 11-17: A perfect musical, global themes

July 12, 2012

Kelly Kleiman and Jonathan Abarbanel

Jonathan and I will debate Oedipus El Rey (at Victory Gardens through July 29) and talk about the risks and rewards of adapting a classic to another time, place or culture. –KK


Floyd Collins, Bohemian Theatre Ensemble at Theatre Wit, 1229 W. Belmont in Chicago; final four performances: Thursday July 12th through Saturday at 8 p.m., Sunday at 1:30; tickets $28 (pay a scalper if you can find one).

Unless some miracle happens, this Sunday will be the final performance of Bohemian Theatre Ensemble’s Floyd Collins, Adam Guettel’s musical about a man trapped in a Kentucky cave and the media circus (perhaps the world’s first) which grew around him. BoHo’s production, directed by Peter Marston Sullivan with music direction by Alan Bukowiecki, is absolutely perfect, except for the fact that it’s going to close.  

Please, please, somebody find a new house for this impeccable show, which rests on the vocal and dramatic talent of Jim DeSelm as Floyd.  He receives more-than-able support Jon Harrison as his brother and Greg Forster as the reporter who befriends him and unwittingly magnifies the accident into a disaster.  They and the ensemble surrounding them take a gorgeous but difficult score — essentially an opera derived from Celtic and bluegrass roots — and make it sound conversational and natural to contemporary urban ears.  As if this weren’t accomplishment enough, DeSelm sings the soaring “How Glory Goes” (as well as much of the rest of his part) while lying perfectly still in his “cave.”  Talk about suffering for your art!

Get a ticket this weekend if you possibly can, and/or flood the BoHo box office with requests to remount the show. This version of Floyd Collins is to musicals what The History Boys at TimeLine was to history plays — a great theatrical evening doubling as an opportunity to see a small company explode into the stratosphere.  

As a side note, this has been an amazing season for musicals in Chicago. In the past ten months we’ve been given the perfect Sweeney Todd (Drury Lane Oakbrook), the perfect Follies (Chicago Shakespeare), the perfect Pippin (Music Theatre of Chicago), the perfect Light in the Piazza (Theo Ubique) and the perfect A Little Night Music (Writers Theatre).  And yet Floyd Collins outdoes them all. Check out the trailer on YouTube; and then see it, see it, see it, see it. –KK

Gruesome Playground Injuries, Rasaka Theatre Company at Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division; 1-312-477-1070; $25; through Aug. 5.

For nearly a decade, Rasaka (Hindi for "new art" or "new aesthetic") Theatre Company has been Chicago's only South Asian-specific theater troupe. While it caters to a wide general audience, the company has almost always kept a low profile and has done very few fully staged productions (although it has done many staged readings). Thus, one greets with pleasure Rasaka's Chicago premiere of Rajiv Joseph's 2010 play Gruesome Playground Injuries, which is a love story (title notwithstanding). It concerns an accident-prone boy and a somewhat masochistic girl who meet as eight-year-olds, and it follows them for the next 30 years through repeated visits to the school nurse's office and various permutations of their difficult relationship. Rasaka artistic director Lavina Jadhwani has staged Gruesome Playground Injuries. Author Rajiv Joseph is the American-born son of a European mother and an Indian father. –JA

Kokkola, Akvavit Theatre Company at Rivendell Theatre, 5775 N. Ridge Avenue; 1-773-334-7728; $25; through Aug. 5.

Hey, what's going on in Finland? Well, for one thing it boasts a lively contemporary theater movement, which the new local troupe Akvavit is making its own with the American premiere of Kokkola, by Leea Klemola. In fact, Akvavit's mission is to explore contemporary Nordic theater, while tossing Ibsen and Strindberg, etc. into the ashbin of history. They describe Kokkola as "an alcohol-infused mash of Northern Exposure and Fargo" about "people who recoil at unnecessary contact and prefer to express their feelings with deeds rather than with words." Akvavit says it has a nasty sense of humor but still is "strangely full of warmth and of the many possible ways to love without sex." FYI, Kokkola is the name of a town of 36,000 where playwright Klemola was born, way up there in Finland. –JA