WBEZ | #onstage/backstage http://www.wbez.org/tags/onstagebackstage Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Mueller family making the mortgage through local theater http://www.wbez.org/blog/city-room-blog/onstagebackstage-mueller-family-making-mortgage-through-local-theater <p><p>The Mueller family of Evanston should have no trouble paying the rent this winter, due largely to the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire where the family is triple-dipping for the next few months. The upcoming Marriott production of &quot;Guys and Dolls&quot; stars sisters Abby Mueller and Jessie Mueller as the romantic and comic female leads respectively, Sarah Brown and Miss Adelaide, while their proud papa Roger Mueller offers support as kindly Arvide Abernathy. &quot;Guys and Dolls&quot; begins previews Jan. 26 and runs Feb. 6-March 27, however those Muellers already are drawing rehearsal pay.</p><p>But wait, there's more! Parallel to the Marriott musical the two Mueller sons also are trodding the boards. Chicago son Andrew is making his debut at Chicago Shakespeare Theater in &quot;As You Like It&quot; (running through March 6) while Denver son Matthew Mueller appears in &quot;Boeing! Boeing!&quot; in Colorado Springs. Matt Mueller is a summertime regular with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival.</p><p>Proud mama Jill Shellabarger also is no slouch as an actor, but is taking some time off. We hear she's in negotiations with Actors Equity Association to establish a special &quot;clan plan&quot; for hiring all the Muellers at once.<br />&nbsp;</p></p> Tue, 04 Jan 2011 20:53:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/city-room-blog/onstagebackstage-mueller-family-making-mortgage-through-local-theater Chicago theater 2011: Turn us on http://www.wbez.org/blog/city-room-blog/chicago-theater-2011-turn-us <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//augu3.jpg" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><img height="300" width="450" title="" alt="" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-January/2011-01-03/augu3.jpg" /></p><p>So here&rsquo;s what I&rsquo;m looking for when I go to the theater: that one moment when I&rsquo;m not suspending disbelief, but simply not experiencing disbelief at all. Those rare moments occur when an actor somehow slices through the gauzy curtain hung between his reality and ours, so that what we&rsquo;re watching is not a simulacrum of life but life itself. For me, the jolt that accompanies such an experience is sexual, carrying the essential charge of life: love as against death. No wonder the Puritans shut down the playhouses: when they feared theater contributed to the stoking of passion, they were absolutely right.</p><p>A handful of these occasions come to mind. Several years ago somehow two companies ended up presenting &quot;The Lion in Winter&quot; at the same time. Both productions were capable, neither inspiring&mdash;until the instant in one of them when Richard bolted across the stage to prevent his mother from knifing herself and landed sobbing in her lap. Another was in an otherwise journeyman piece called &quot;My Old Lady,&quot; when Gene Weygandt managed to infuse the line, &quot;Don't get close to me. I poison everything I touch&quot; with so much raw truth that it seemed indecent and voyeuristic to watch the embrace that followed. Likewise, the instant in &quot;August Osage County&quot; when Amy Morton said to Jeff Perry, &ldquo;It&rsquo;s over, isn&rsquo;t it?&rdquo; and burst into tears. Each of these performers&mdash;including the one whose name I don&rsquo;t know&mdash;have ever since been in the ranks of Actors Whose Work Breached Whatever Defenses I'm Supposed To Have.</p><p>Years ago, when William L. Petersen did &quot;In The Belly of the Beast&quot; at Wisdom Bridge, Richard Christiansen&rsquo;s review included the line, &quot;As I drove home from the theater, I had to pull over to the side of the road to weep.&quot; Everyone made merciless fun of him and of the line, but critics who aren't stagestruck like that at least a couple of times a year should get another job.</p><p>I&rsquo;ve occasionally been charged with letting emotional responses to productions supersede or interfere with the intellectual effort necessary to address what their producers had in mind. But in fact my intellectual side hardly ever turns off, and is almost always able to evaluate what a director had in mind and why it succeeded or failed. I&rsquo;m actually looking for theatrical occasions that will stun my busy brain into silence, so I can hear the truths only theater can speak.</p><p>We go to the theater for entertainment, sure, and relaxation; but those we can find in lots of other places. We go to the theater particularly to experience life through the bodies of actual people exposed to circumstances we couldn&rsquo;t otherwise imagine or tolerate, and to accompany those people through an emotional wringer and come out safe the other side. If that doesn&rsquo;t happen, it hardly matters what the artists intended. And if it does, we understand why the Greeks regarded theater as a form of worship.</p><p>Here&rsquo;s to another year of those life-changing moments. Here&rsquo;s to another year of being stagestruck.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Mon, 03 Jan 2011 17:43:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/city-room-blog/chicago-theater-2011-turn-us Top 5 overlooked shows of 2010 http://www.wbez.org/blog/city-room-blog/onstagebackstage-top-5-overlooked-shows-2010 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//Thebetterdoctor.jpg" alt="" /><p><p class="MsoNormal" style="text-align: center;"><img height="364" width="485" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2010-December/2010-12-28/Thebetterdoctor.jpg" title="" alt="" /></p><p class="MsoNormal" style="text-align: left;">With the burgeoning number of theater blogs, Chicago productions are rarely overlooked completely. But a few that I saw in 2010 weren&rsquo;t given the props they deserved. When creative productions go unnoticed, that&rsquo;s bad news for both the industry and the theatergoing public.&nbsp;</p> <p>1) <a href="http://www.tellintalestheatre.org/">Tellin&rsquo; Tales Theatre</a>&rsquo;s &ldquo;A Midsummer Night&rsquo;s Dreamers&rdquo; ran just two weekends in June, but it was a find. This evening of four monologues on the subject of insomnia, curated by Tekki Lomnicki, was often hilarious and/or disconcertingly up-front and true. I don&rsquo;t know why this particular, highly personal brand of performance&mdash;a cross between stand-up and autobiographical confession&mdash;seems to have gone out of style.</p> <p>2) Despite its attention-grabbing title, &ldquo;Six Dead Queens and an Inflatable Henry!&rdquo; was neglected by both the Trib and TimeOut in April. <a href="http://www.piccolotheatre.com/index.html">Piccolo Theatre</a>&rsquo;s freewheeling take on Foursight Theatre&rsquo;s 1999 show had a manic charm from the get-go, when all six of Henry&rsquo;s dead wives roiled beneath the covers of a giant raked bed. Heavily caricatured yet poignant, the queens bickered jealously over their standing with the king&mdash;never mind that he&rsquo;d had them all murdered. Ultimately they formed an odd, likable little community of losers.</p> <p>3) In June, newcomer <a href="http://bootstrapscomedy.com/">Bootstraps Comedy Theatre</a> joined forces with the Silent Theatre Company in &ldquo;The Better Doctor,&rdquo; a wordless spoof of/homage to silent film. In a loopy way, writer-director Matt Lyle lavished attention on his very funny show, which included a live two-man band and humorous projected titles. Bootstraps&rsquo; impressive debut, which looked at health care reform through the lens of a more innocent era, made me wish for more from them, especially spot-on physical comedian Samuel Zelitch. So far the company hasn&rsquo;t resurfaced.</p> <p>4) <a href="http://www.katettheatre.org/">Ka-Tet Theatre</a>&rsquo;s &ldquo;In the Jungle of Cities&rdquo; wasn&rsquo;t exactly neglected when it opened in late October. But it didn&rsquo;t get the respect it deserved, including from me. Bertolt Brecht&rsquo;s early play raises plenty of barriers to appreciation, including but not limited to an inexplicable plot and unsympathetic, inexplicable characters. But under the direction of Max Truax, Ka-Tet not only remained true to Brecht&rsquo;s difficult vision but expanded on it. One made-up character&mdash;the Barker, played by Rory Jobst&mdash;recited the same boxing anecdote into a wall several times. And made it funny. Tracy Otwell&rsquo;s brilliant set transformed Red Tape&rsquo;s ancient, pedestrian church gym/theater into a surreal hell.&nbsp;</p> <p>5) <a href="http://chicagotaptheatre.com/">Chicago Tap Theatre</a> does tap-dance, but artistic director Mark Yonally also has a gift for theater&mdash;including tap-danced narratives. His endearing, satirical wordless comedy about online dating, &ldquo;LoveTaps,&rdquo; played two weekends in March at Stage 773, but did anyone but dance fans go? In a genius ploy, audiences got to vote on who&rsquo;d hook up with whom in Act 2. And in June, Yonally&rsquo;s shamelessly theatrical &ldquo;Queen Suite&rdquo; closed the &ldquo;Tap Out Loud&rdquo; showcase with a choir, an opera singer, a marching band, and dozens of tap professionals and students of all ages coming up onstage (and spilling off it&hellip;) to freely interpret six songs by Queen.</p><p><strong>(Photo credit: The Better&nbsp;Doctor, featuring Kim Lyle and Samuel Zelitch)</strong></p></p> Wed, 29 Dec 2010 12:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/city-room-blog/onstagebackstage-top-5-overlooked-shows-2010 Top 5 Chicago actors in 2010 http://www.wbez.org/blog/city-room-blog/onstagebackstage-top-5-chicago-actors-2010 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//writers-theater_aunt.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><em>All this month, the theater writers from our &quot;Onstage/Backstage&quot; blog are compiling their favorites in 2010 Chicago theater. Today, Kelly Kleiman lists her top 5 actors of the year.&nbsp; <br /></em></p><p style="text-align: center;"><em><img style="width: 483px; height: 398px;" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2010-December/2010-12-12/writers-theater_aunt.jpg" alt="" title="" /></em></p><p><strong>Sean Fortunato</strong> in Travels With My Aunt at Writers Theatre. Yes, yes, I&rsquo;ve just seen this performance so it&rsquo;s apt to come to mind; but believe me, I&rsquo;ve been a fan of Fortunato&rsquo;s at least since 2003, when in Northlight&rsquo;s production of the musical At Wit&rsquo;s End he played the founding editor of The New Yorker.&nbsp; (The New Yorker should have been so lucky.)&nbsp; In Graham Greene&rsquo;s&nbsp; bizarre fusion of Auntie Mame and Under the Volcano, he manages to portray persuasively both a repressed middle-aged English banker and the banker&rsquo;s madcap Aunt Augusta, complete with understated homage to the original Aunt Augusta, the one created by Oscar Wilde.&nbsp; Comic actors rarely get their due, so I&rsquo;ve put him first.&nbsp; His comic chops are incomparable.&nbsp; Long may he wave.<br /><br /><strong>Mary Beth Fisher</strong> in The Year of Magical Thinking at Court Theatre and in The Seagull at the Goodman.&nbsp; Fisher has made a career of playing women torn between their very considerable brains and their less well-governed hearts, a pattern set by her perfect-pitch performance as the overstrung college administrator in Rebecca Gilman&rsquo;s Spinning Into Butter at the Goodman in 2001.&nbsp; She&rsquo;s sometimes poorly served by her roles&ndash;Sarah Ruhl&rsquo;s cutesy-poo magic realism doesn&rsquo;t bring out Fisher&rsquo;s best&ndash;but this year she got not one but two roles of a lifetime.&nbsp; She was perfectly cast and utterly in command as Joan Didion, the famously intellectual writer who confronts two different heartbreaks&ndash;the death of her husband and the illness of her daughter&ndash;in a single ghastly year.&nbsp; And Fisher&rsquo;s work as the self-absorbed actress Arkadina in The Seagull was, counter-intuitively, exceptionally generous: she exerted her substantial reserves of control to resist the impulse to take over the stage, letting the play belong to its author, its concept and its questing and agonized youth.&nbsp; <br /><br /><strong>Caroline Neff</strong> in Harper Regan and in A Brief History of Helen of Troy, both at Steep Theatre.&nbsp; After giving fine support in Harper Regan early in the year, Neff got to show her true range and capacity in the role of a young girl who&rsquo;s either just desperate for attention or having a psychotic break.&nbsp; She stayed on that tightrope of ambiguity even as she was compelled to race from one end to the other, using her manic energy to move the lumpen people around her: uncomprehending teachers, passive lovers, a virtually silent father.&nbsp; An astonishing display of recklessness leavened with mourning and true grit, her work held the audience riveted.<br /><br /><strong>Francis Guinan</strong> in Guide to the Perplexed at Victory Gardens and The Seagull at the Goodman (and, cheating back into late 2009, in American Buffalo at Steppenwolf, his home company).&nbsp; Guinan came into his own with August Osage County three years ago (at Steppenwolf, then on Broadway, then in London), but this has been the year he&rsquo;s finally stepped into the spotlight.&nbsp; His forte is portraying fundamental middle-aged decency shot through with all the ambiguities middle age presents, and in this he&rsquo;s a worthy heir to John Mahoney.&nbsp; First he embodied Donny, the unwilling and unwitting paterfamilias in American Buffalo; this year it was the broken husband in Guide to the Perplexed and the resigned Judge in Seagull.&nbsp; The characters are past their primes, but the actor is anything but.<br /><br />More cheating: the 5th top actor is actually the <strong>entire ensemble of Home at Court Theatre</strong>.. Seeing Kamal Angelo Bolden&rsquo;s deeply felt work as the farmer in search of redemption made me regret even more having missed his turn as the title character in The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity last year at Victory Gardens.&nbsp; He&rsquo;s a star on the rise&ndash;creating his role in Home, for instance, for the Signature Ensemble in New York&ndash;so we may not have a chance to see a lot more of him on Chicago stages; but as Home demonstrates, one can always hope!&nbsp; Let&rsquo;s be clear, though: without Tracey N. Bonner and Ashley Honore, who between them play all the other characters he meets, Bolden would be shouting down an empty corridor.&nbsp; The women&rsquo;s ability to turn on a dime from comic bawdy to innocent, from traitorous to tender to tragic, is amazing beyond description.&nbsp; Of course, when everyone in a play is great, that means the direction is great, which is why Ron OJ Parson gets a star of his own on the Kleiman Walk of Fame.</p><p><em>(Photo of Sean Fortunado (center) from Travels With My Aunt at Writers Theatre)&nbsp; </em></p></p> Mon, 13 Dec 2010 10:33:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/city-room-blog/onstagebackstage-top-5-chicago-actors-2010