WBEZ | American Theatre Company http://www.wbez.org/tags/american-theatre-company Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Play about Columbine school shootings also a response to Chicago violence http://www.wbez.org/blogs/alison-cuddy/2013-02/play-about-columbine-school-shootings-also-response-chicago-violence <p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/photo_7.JPG" title="columbinus (Alison Cuddy/WBEZ)" /></p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.soundcloud.com%2Ftracks%2F78850232&amp;color=ff6600&amp;auto_play=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p>I still remember where I was when news broke about the shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton Colorado. I was a graduate student in Pittsburgh, although I was already plotting my escape from academia and a move to Chicago.</p><p>I ran into two professors in the hallway, who were analyzing media coverage of the event. One of them, in tones both sardonic and frustrated, said (of the way the news outlets were portraying the shooters Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold) &ldquo;So what&rsquo;s our choice? To call them evil? Or to call them insane?&rdquo;</p><p><em>columbinus</em>, the newly reworked 2005 play by P. J. Papparelli, is an attempt to unpack and unravel the way events like Columbine, even before they&rsquo;re over, get trapped in such rigid moral framings.</p><p>The play is an oral history of the events, based on interviews with survivors, witnesses, police and other community members in Littleton. Some of the videos Harris and Klebold made are reenacted, and their short stories and journal entries are part of the script. For the first act, which is kind of a kaleidoscope perspective on teen life (how identities and cliques are formed, the way adolescents interact both with various authority figures and one another), Papparelli talked with young people across the country.</p><p>There are lots of plays about and by teenagers but what&#39;s interesting about <em>columbinus</em> is the way it takes them as a serious subject of study.</p><p>Like other minority or marginalized figures, teens too suffer from representations that either villify (super predators) or glorify (super consumers) their potential. In <em>columbinus </em>that either/or dynamic is done away with, as many characters morph from upper to under dog, and say or do things that elicit both our sympathy and our displeasure.</p><p>Papparelli makes use of all-too-familiar stereotypes (the characters go by such titles as &quot;jock&quot; &quot;freak&quot; &quot;loner&quot; and &quot;perfect&quot;), only to dig into the messy beating hearts and minds that lie behind the labels.</p><p>When we sat down to talk before a performance, Papparelli said the impetus of the play was to examine &quot;these two specific teenagers,&quot; Klebold and Harris, and what was going on with them &quot;that they would do what they did.&quot;</p><p>But he was also interested in teen culture more generally. And as he talked about the tough-going nature of the teenage years, he became visibly emotional.</p><p>&quot;I think about Dylan and Eric and I don&rsquo;t sympathize with a thing they&rsquo;ve done. It haunts me and will always haunt me. But I empathize with being a teenager, the feeling of loneliness that&rsquo;s inside their journals. How could they be that disconnected and that alone and no one around them saw this? I don&rsquo;t believe that!&quot;</p><p>Papparelli has also formed a strong bond with some of the Columbine survivors and their relatives he interviewed.</p><p>Ruth and Paul Feldman came with their now grown children Brian and Emily to see <em>columbinus </em>for the first time. Though the younger Feldmans weren&#39;t talking, Ruth said they had to leave during the second act, which recreates the shooting in grueling and sometimes graphic detail.</p><p>Her husband Paul stayed, but it wasn&rsquo;t easy. &quot;You know it&rsquo;s still alive in me. Another shooting happens and it all comes back again. I get this sad depressed feeling. You know, why do they keep doing this?&quot;</p><p>Former Former Columbine student Brooks Brown was friends with Dylan Klebold.</p><p>He attended the play with his parents.&nbsp;Afterwards, at a post-show talk-back, they and cast members took questions from young theatre students.</p><p>One student asked simply: &quot;Who do you blame?&quot;</p><p>Though his father Randy seems angry over what he thinks was a failure by local police to effectively respond to and then investigative the shooting, Brooks seemed to have reached a different perspective.</p><p>&quot;For a long time I blamed myself, that I could have done more. My brother was in the cafeteria, I had friends who died, friends who were maimed, friends who were in wheelchairs. It&rsquo;s an awful experience and I think actually the place I&rsquo;m ending up is not necessarily a blame, of that person&rsquo;s at fault, this person&rsquo;s at fault. It&rsquo;s where could I have done something positive that would have stopped this. How could I have helped this person?&quot;</p><p>P. J. Paparelli, the Feldmans and the Browns all seem to share a similar faith in the play: That audiences, after seeing it, will ask themselves that very question: &quot;What can I do to help?&quot;</p><p>Not just in the wake of school shootings like the one at Columbine (or Sandy Hook Elementary or Northern Illinois University). But as a response to what Vice President Biden recently called the <a href="http://www.philly.com/philly/news/20130211_Biden__in_Phila___decries_Sandy_Hook-plus_of_daily_shootings.html">&quot;Sandy Hook-plus&quot; </a>of daily gun violence, in communities across the United States, including right here in Chicago.</p><p><em>columbinus is at the <a href="http://www.atcweb.org/">American Theatre Company </a>through March 10.</em></p></p> Tue, 12 Feb 2013 05:09:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/alison-cuddy/2013-02/play-about-columbine-school-shootings-also-response-chicago-violence Stereotypes on parade http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-02-10/stereotypes-parade-96244 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2012-February/2012-02-10/_msb2696.jpeg" alt="" /><p><p>The good news is that Chicago theaters are trying to grapple with the issue of race this season (so much, by the way, for the notion that America would somehow become “post-racial” after the election of President Obama). The bad news is that failed efforts on the topic tend to reinforce stereotypes, leaving audience members more firmly entrenched than ever in the positions they held when they walked in the theater.</p><p>And there’s every possibility that what I have to say about three recent onstage attempts to deal with race and racism reflects nothing more than my being more firmly entrenched than ever in my original position. Nonetheless:<br> <br> David Mamet's <em>Race </em>at the Goodman is a clever meditation on euphemisms, and would make a very good essay on that subject. It's not, however, much of a play: Act I addresses the question of whether a wealthy white man raped a black woman, whereas Act II focuses on whether a junior&nbsp;black woman lawyer betrayed her white male supervisors. I can see there's supposed to be a parallel of betrayal here, but it doesn't work. Instead we have a play without a plot, or characters, really (they're embodied positions and prejudices instead). Chuck Smith's direction is true to the scripts: He makes each of the performances as hard-edged and un-nuanced as it can possibly be, so that Mamet's point is clear as day. And he gives due emphasis to the best line in the play. Apparently cleared of betrayal, the young woman chides her superiors: "The silver spoon disappeared and you fired the maid." The rest of the dialog just replaces Mamet's well-known penchant for profanity with racial and sexual epithets, and this does not constitute progress. It just seems like the kid in school who got laughs by saying "doody-head." Not Mamet's finest hour.<br> <br> <iframe allowfullscreen="" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/v9n7cuJl3Ds" width="560" frameborder="0" height="315"></iframe></p><p><em>Disgraced</em> by Ayad Akhtar at American Theater Company does even less to turn ideas into characters, and while its plot structure is clearer than Mamet’s double-helix construction the clarity serves only to reveal how formulaic it is. I wasn’t offended by the portrayal of the characters because I didn’t believe in any of them, and I certainly didn’t believe in their interactions. A very lapsed Muslim lawyers is married to a white artist preoccupied with Islamic art. His law partner (a black woman) is married to her agent (a Jewish man). Ostensibly, these couples are close friends, but they sit down to dinner and discuss race, ethnicity, religion and prejudice as if they’d never considered or discussed these issues before, and the results of this single conversation are so devastating that our protagonist reverts to his religious Muslim roots and beats his wife unconscious. Once again, the director–-in this case Kimberly Senior–-does what she can with the material, and the actors are obviously making earnest efforts to turn these puppets into people, but what we’re left with is either a set of hideous stereotypes–-the greedy Jew, the animalistic brown man, and so on–-or a sense that the entire issue is insoluble and therefore not worth talking about. I doubt this was the playwright’s intention.<br> <br> It may be that the difficulty with both plays is that they’re too short: <em>Disgraced</em> runs 90 minutes and <em>Race</em> just a bit more than 100. Each seems to suffer from the absence of scenes which might have enlarged the characters or better explained the internal dynamics of the groups being examined. Jonathan and I will discuss the costs and benefits of this recent trend towards bare-bones plays on <em>848</em> next Friday, February 17. &nbsp;</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-February/2012-02-10/_msb2696.jpeg" style="width: 600px; height: 400px;" title="Sally Murphy in 'Time Stands Still' at Steppenwolf"><br> <br> On the other hand, <em>Time Stands Still </em>at Steppenwolf manages to offer caricatures in lieu of characters despite having two full acts and an all-white cast. Playwright Donald Margulies seems to want to tell us the story of white war correspondents who (depending on your perspective) draw necessary attention to or leach off of the suffering of black and brown people around the world; but no sooner has he raised this issue than he shifts his focus to male-female relationships, or rather to the ways in which a Good Woman puts husband and children ahead of everything and a Bad Woman thinks about other things. Bright career woman Sarah turns out to be incapable of love, while dim-bulb stay-at-home mom Mandy turns out to represent all that is good and true in the world. This is a fantasy characteristic of middle-aged Jewish men but I’m sorry to encounter it in Margulies, who is a throughtful and skilled playwright when he’s not busy grinding an axe against feminism. Austin Pendleton might have gotten more humor out of the script but the cast, led by Sally Murphy, does fine work. The problem is the play itself, which seems like a box of Crackerjack without a prize: enjoyable while it’s going on but ultimately empty and completely disposable. Suffice it to say I saw the original production in New York with Laura Linney and didn’t remember that fact until a few key gestures triggered my&nbsp; memory. This makes sense: Why remember the umpteenth iteration of a stereotype?</p></p> Fri, 10 Feb 2012 14:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-02-10/stereotypes-parade-96244 Critics theater picks; early Halloween, Chicago Dance Crash(es), and 'Brand' yourself http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-09-28/critics-theater-picks-early-halloween-chicago-dance-crashes-and-bra <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-September/2011-09-29/dancecrash.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><u><strong>Kelly Kleiman</strong></u></p><p>If the essence of Halloween is violence and terror (rather than candy, as I firmly believe), the Chicago theater community is getting into the ghoulish swing a bit early this year.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-September/2011-09-28/riffraff.jpg" style="margin: 10px; float: left; width: 203px; height: 300px;" title=""><a href="http://maryarrchie.com/now.html">Mary-Arrchie Theatre Company just opened <strong><em>Riff Raff</em></strong></a><em> </em>by the actor Laurence Fishburne, about a drug deal gone bad. If the description fails to spook you, check out the blood-spattered poster. But don't wait til Fright Night: the play only runs through October 30, Thursdays-Sundays at Angel Island on WEST Sheridan Road. $18-$22, with student and senior discounts available.</p><p>If what you want is Halloween pure and simple, and with a local twist, try <a href="http://www.screamsinthepark.com/HOME.html"><strong>Screams in the Park</strong> at Rosemont,</a> a haunted house which claims to have reconstructed the lair of serial killer H.H. Holmes (<em><a href="http://www.randomhouse.com/crown/devilinthewhitecity/home.html">The Devil in the White City</a></em>) in a suburban parking lot. It opens tomorrow (Friday) and runs through October 31 (natch), Tuesdays-Sundays. $20, or $30 if you want to skip the line and go straight to having your heart stopped. Not recommended for children under 13.&nbsp;</p><p>Finally, if you need some solace after all these things going bump in the night, you might consider <a href="http://www.atcweb.org/bxo/nowplay.php">American Theatre Company's <strong><em>The Amish Project</em></strong></a><em>.</em> What could be more peaceful? But don't be fooled: this is the Chicago premiere of a play about a schoolyard massacre and its sequelae and--to quote the press release--about "the limits of forgiveness." I guess. Through October 23 at ATC; tickets $10-$40.</p><p><u><strong>Laura Molzahn</strong></u></p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-September/2011-09-28/dancecrash.jpg" style="width: 448px; height: 500px;" title="Bubble Chest Bump with Jessica Deahr, Mary Tarpley "></p><p>Who could resist a show called “Immediate Gratification”?<strong> <a href="http://chicagodancecrash.com/">Chicago Dance Crash</a></strong> is billing it as “the self-proclaimed TV dinner of dance productions,” dedicated entirely to those with short attention spans. Guest choreographer Harrison McEldowney contributes an ode to, uh, self-love. And Paul Christiano both directs and choreographed several of the works, including <em>ADHDivas</em>, <em>Tyranny of the Geek</em>, and <em>101 Cures for Boredom</em>, which manages to incorporate Nerf guns and bubble wrap. Check out <a href="http://timeoutchicago.com/arts-culture/dance/14937853/preview-chicago-dance-crash-immediate-gratification">Zac Whittenberg’s excellent <em>TimeOut </em>preview</a> of the show, which runs Friday and Saturday at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts.</p><p><a href="http://www.lunanegra.org/">Luna Negra Dance Theater celebrates <strong><em>mujeres</em></strong></a> in a program of three works choreographed or inspired by women. Guest choreographer Asun Noales, head of Spain’s <a href="http://www.otradanza.es/">Otra Danza</a>, contributes the new <em>Juana</em>, based on the story of Juana la Loca (“Joanna the Mad”), a 16th-century Spanish queen whose “madness” may have been a matter of political convenience to her enemies. A new piece by Luna Negra artistic director Gustavo Ramirez Sansano, <em>Not Everything</em>, was inspired by the work of photographer Graciela Iturbide, and former company member Michelle Manzanales reprises her dance based on four Frida Kahlo self-portraits, <em>Paloma Querida&nbsp;</em>(“Beloved Dove”). Saturday only at the Harris.</p><p><u><strong>Jonathan Abarbanel</strong></u></p><p>On October 8, 1871, the City of Chicago went up in flames in a holocaust that burned for three days and went down in the history books. (Never mind that an even worse fire, with a greater loss of life, was burning at the same time up in Wisconsin.) You can spend the precise 140th anniversary of that event watching <a href="http://www.lookingglasstheatre.org/content/box_office/the_great_fire"><em><strong>The Great Fire</strong></em></a> at Lookingglass Theatre in the Water Tower Pumping Station, one of the few buildings to survive the fire.<em> The Great Fire</em>, written and directed by John Musial, opens this weekend and runs through Nov. 20. Lookingglass is devoting its entire 24th season to history, mostly Chicago history and disastrous Chicago history at that!</p><p>Before he began to write socially-radical realistic dramas in the 1870's, such as <em>A Doll House</em>, Henrik Ibsen was writing heroic tragedies in verse and epic plays of Norwegian history. One example, his seldom-seen <a href="http://redtapetheatre.org/on-stage/"><strong><em>Brand</em></strong></a>, is receiving a rare production by Red Tape Theatre Company at St. Peter's Church (621 W. Belmont). Appropriate to the venue, <em>Brand </em>concerns a moralistic minister who's certain belief in a God of Vengeance rather than a God of Love costs him everything. <em>Brand </em>continues through Oct. 29. Another sprawling early Ibsen drama, the folkloric and picaresque <em>Peer Gynt</em>, will be staged Nov. 15-Dec. 18 by Polarity Ensemble Theatre at the City's Storefront Theater.</p><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/A6kqP3Zvpuc" width="560" frameborder="0" height="315"></iframe></p></p> Wed, 28 Sep 2011 15:28:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-09-28/critics-theater-picks-early-halloween-chicago-dance-crashes-and-bra Top 5 directors of 2010 http://www.wbez.org/blog/city-room-blog/onstagebackstage-top-5-directors-2010 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/cat on a hot tin roof.jpg" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><img height="476" width="450" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2010-December/2010-12-15/cat on a hot tin roof.jpg" alt="" /></p><p>I already honored Ron OJ Parson for his outstanding direction of <a href="http://courttheatre.org/ ">Home at Court Theatre</a>, by honoring <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/city-room-blog/onstagebackstage-top-5-chicago-actors-2010">every one the actors</a> he directed in that superb production. That means I get five more bites of the apple!</p><p>1. Michael Menendian, &quot;Cat on a Hot Tin Roof&quot; at <a href="http://www.raventheatre.com">Raven</a>. I don&rsquo;t understand it, actually&mdash;for some years, Raven was known as a middling producer of chestnuts. With the same company and leadership, in the last two years it&rsquo;s come roaring out as a premier interpreter of classics. Menendian&rsquo;s thoughtful and re-focused Cat . . . (not Maggie&rsquo;s play, in this rendition, but Brick&rsquo;s and Big Daddy&rsquo;s) comes on the heels of his definitive &quot;Death of a Salesman&quot; last year, literally the best production of that play I have ever seen&mdash;and I saw Dustin Hoffman do it on Broadway. It&rsquo;s a joy to see a journeyman turn into master craftsmen, and ours not to reason why.</p><p>2. Mark Ulrich, &quot;Mary&rsquo;s Wedding&quot; at <a href="http://www.rivendelltheatre.net/ ">Rivendell</a>. If instead of being &ldquo;Chicago&rsquo;s Premier Women&rsquo;s Theatre&rdquo; Rivendell were run by white men and did work focused on white men, it would long since have been acknowledged as a top-tier troupe, spoken of in the same breath with the Hypocrites and Timeline. Maybe having one man write and another direct this year&rsquo;s superb show (following hard on the heels of last year&rsquo;s unforgettable world premiere, &quot;These Shining Lives,&quot; about the women killed by their job painting radium-dial watch faces) will help overcome that reputational lag. In any case, Ulrich&rsquo;s expert handling of this delicate play about war and remembrance included one of the toughest tricks to turn in the theater: presenting a surprise ending without making the audience feel deceived by everything that came before.</p><p>3. Jaime Castañeda, &quot;Welcome to Arroyo&rsquo;s&quot; at <a href="http://www.atcweb.org/">American Theatre Company</a>. From Dallas and now based in New York, Castaneda&rsquo;s stop in Chicago should be remembered for taking a lively but overstuffed script by Kristoffer Diaz and turning it into a thrilling evening of mixed-media theater. I saw the show in the company of a class of high-school students who began the evening in the usual state of boredom, both real and assumed. Long before intermission they were completely enthralled, cheering on the characters and clearly identifying with their fates. That&rsquo;s directorial magic.</p><p>4. Ira Amyx, &quot;Shakespeare&rsquo;s King Phycus&quot; at the <a href="http://www.strangetree.org/">Strange Tree Group</a>. Amyx came up from Set Designer/Tech Director (at a company whose tech is always noticeable, for better or for worse) to do a slam-bang perfect job with this nearly bare-staged parody of every Shakespeare play ever written using every comic device ever thought of. He kept his tiny cast in constant motion and his not-as-large-as-he-deserved audience in constant laughter. Look for more from him, and from the rest of the elaborately talented and deeply peculiar Strange Trees.</p><p>5. Dale Calandra for &quot;Sweet Bird of Youth&quot; at <a href="http://www.theartistichome.org/">Artistic Home</a>. This was the other half of this fall&rsquo;s unplanned Tennessee Williams festival. Unlike Menendian, whose task was to take a play well-known for being perfect and do something knew, Calandra faced a relatively unknown and difficult script&mdash;the title metaphor nearly jumps off the page and bites you&mdash;and managed to make it feel contemporary even while keeping it in period; to share the focus between the two main characters without losing focus; and to engage the audience with the philosophical and spiritual considerations of aging without losing the visceral pleasures of one of Williams&rsquo; sexier scripts.</p><p>Runners-up: <br />Stuart Carden for &quot;Travels With My Aunt&quot; at <a href="http://www.writerstheatre.org/">Writers Theatre</a><br />Amanda Dehnert for &quot;Peter Pan (A Play)&quot; at <a href="http://www.lookingglasstheatre.org/">LookingglassTheatre Company</a><br />Robert Falls for &quot;The Seagull&quot; at the <a href="http://www.goodmantheatre.org/">Goodman Theatre</a>.</p><p>&nbsp;</p></p> Wed, 15 Dec 2010 15:30:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/city-room-blog/onstagebackstage-top-5-directors-2010