Don't-Miss List July 5-11: A pair of worthy rivals, and a pair of worthy revivals

July 5, 2012

Kelly Kleiman and Jonathan Abarbanel

A Steady Rain, The Chicago Commercial Collective at Chicago Dramatists, 1105 West Chicago Avenue; first preview this Saturday (the 7th) at 8 pm, opening night Tuesday (the 10th) at 8; tickets $35-$40.

The original cast and crew reunite to stage Keith Huff’s powerful two-character police drama, which investigates the nature and extent of friendship as well as the impact of crime on the people whose job it is to solve it. The piece had its 15 minutes of fame when Hugh Jackman (Wolverine) and Daniel Craig (007) did it on Broadway; but having seen both that production and the original in Chicago, I strongly recommend this one. Director Russ Tutterow understands every nuance of the piece and actors Randy Steinmeyer and Peter de Faria are so authentic as to be terrifying. Through September 2; the perfect play for our long hot summer. -KK

Crowns, The Goodman Theatre, 170 North Dearborn Street, opens this Monday (the 9th) at 7 pm; tickets $29-$88.

The press for Crowns describes it as “the most-produced new musical in the US over the past decade.”  Now the show returns to its roots at the Goodman, with author Regina Taylor at the helm, bringing Gospel music and a sure feel for the world of the African-American church and the Southern ladies who keep it going.  Any show featuring E. Faye Butler and Felicia Fields is worth watching for them alone. Through August 5. -KK

Electra, Mary-Arrchie Theatre, 735 W. Sheridan Road (at Broadway), second floor; through July 29; tickets $15-$20.
Of the hundreds of Greek tragedies written over the centuries of the Athenian Golden Age, only 32 survive. We presume that those 32 are among the finest and most popular of their kind, so it's good that several of them still are performed fairly frequently. But why-oh-why can't directors leave them alone? Are they so afraid of history and antiquity—or ignorant of them—that they can't find an honest translation of a play and stage it as it is? Why must they always "re-imagine" or update or—worse still—pretend they are poets and classical scholars and "adapt" the texts?  Do they think modern audiences won't get it otherwise? Hey, audiences will get it if a Greek tragedy is staged with the simplicity, directness and vigor of the original. Be that as it may, our long and hot summer is bringing re-conceptions of three of the most famous Greek tragedies.
 
Mary-Arrchie Theater, going strong after 26 years, is presenting Euripides' Electra, adapted by notable director Sonja Moser, and staged with an ensemble of undergraduate theater students from Illinois State University, which has a highly-regarded School of Theatre. Moser sets Electra "in John Deere country," which actually is Moline, IL, and is bringing rock music, meta-theatrics and teen angst to this tale of daughter-and-son revenge on Mom. Since the real John Deere started the company in 1837 when American still was an agrarian nation, the rock music might be unnecessary. And pure Greek tragedy, by definition, is meta-theatrical (hey, masks, music, chant, dance, verse, etc.), so are we reinventing the wheel here? -JA
 
Oedipus el Rey, Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave.; through July 29; tickets $15-$50.
 
Victory Gardens is the venue for a broader re-conception, this one based on the most famous of all Greek plays, Sophocles' Oedipus the King. Latino playwright Luis Alfaro has not adapted any translation of the play, but uses the well-known story as the basis for his original work, Oedipus el Rey, in which the city-state of Thebes becomes the Los Angeles barrio, and Oedipus is an ex-con gangbanger who rises to power. Alfaro achieved considerable national success in 2004 doing something similar with Electra, retitled Electricidad (performed locally at the Goodman Theatre). Victory Gardens artistic director Chay Yew has staged Oedipus el Rey. - JA
 
Antigone, Cold Basement Dramatics, Oracle Theatre, 3809 N. Broadway; Aug. 2-19; inquire for tickets.
 
Although it won't overlap the first two plays, down the road apiece we'll see an update of Sophocles' Antigone, a stand-alone play that nonetheless functions as a sequel to Oedipus the King (even though it was written earlier), and focuses on the fate of Oedipus's children in the form of a metaphysical argument about obedience to the law vs. obedience to the gods. It will be presented by Cold Basement Dramatics as staged and—what else—adapted by the troupe's artistic director, Jack Bourgeois, who is setting it in 1964; an era several decades before he was born. Warning: those who are nostalgic about the 1960's either don't remember them or weren't there. It will be an extremely intimate production in the tiny Oracle storefront space. - JA