WBEZ | Strange Tree Group http://www.wbez.org/tags/strange-tree-group Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Murder most foul but fantastical in Middle America, grim reality for Vietnam POWs http://www.wbez.org/blogs/onstagebackstage/2012-10/murder-most-foul-fantastical-middle-america-grim-reality-vietnam-pows <p><div style="font-family: arial; font-size: small; "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS6628_Wasteland_087-scr%20%281%29.jpg" style="height: 414px; width: 620px; " title="Nate Burger in TimeLine Theatre's 'Wasteland' (Courtesy of the theater)" /></div><div style="font-family: arial; font-size: small; ">&nbsp;</div><div><u><em>Wasteland</em>,<a href="http://timelinetheatre.com">&nbsp;TimeLine Theatre Company</a>, 615 West Wellington (at Broadway), 773-281-TIME,&nbsp;Wednesdays-Sundays through December 30, $32-$42</u></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>William Brown&#39;s unsentimental direction makes the world premiere of Susan Felder&#39;s two-man play &mdash; one man onstage, one man a disembodied voice &mdash; a relentlessly intense experience, turning those black POW-MIA flag from an abstraction into flesh-and-blood reality. Two guys named Joe find themselves in neighboring cells (or, rather, underground tiger-cages) and come to rely on each other as the sole source of sanity in an apparently endless captivity. Nate Burger captures the visible Joe&#39;s desperation with every move, word and gesture, while Steve Haggard gives a fully realized performance with just his voice, making the invisible Joe his brother&#39;s keeper and tormentor in equal measure. Sartre&#39;s <em>No Exit</em> has nothing on this: you won&#39;t breathe for the entire show, or for several hours afterwards. A truly extraordinary experience.&nbsp;&ndash;KK</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><u><em>Funeral Wedding: The Alvin Play</em>, <a href="http://strangetree.org">The Strange Tree Group</a> at Signal Ensemble Theatre, 1802 West Berenice in Lakeview,&nbsp;<a href="tel:773-598-8240" target="_blank" value="+17735988240">773-598-8240</a>,&nbsp;Wednesdays-Sundays through November 18, $25</u></div><div>&nbsp;</div><div>&quot;We don&#39;t need no stinkin&#39; . . .&quot; Halloween! That must surely be the cry of the Strange Tree Group, whose work is spooky at any time of year, as well as fanciful, allusive and designed to the nines. Here the Group revives Artistic Director Emily Schwartz&#39;s 2006 tale of a family wrenched apart by a remembered murder, because everyone remembers it differently. Imagine Rashomon in middle America &mdash; albeit a deeply skewed version of middle America. Scott Davis&#39;s scenic design conjures up the attic refuge of Alvin, the son who knows the truth but is determined to hide out from it. As absorbing to watch as it is impossible to describe, <em>Funeral Wedding</em> is equal parts creepy and spooky, mysterious and ooky, plus a heaping helping of charming. &nbsp;&ndash;KK</div><div>&nbsp;</div><div><u><em>The Burnt Park Boys</em>, <a href="http://griffintheatre.com">Griffin Theatre Company</a> at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont; 773-975-8150; $25 previews (through Nov. 10) then $36; runs through Dec. 22</u><br /><br />West Virginia has been in the news as a major snow dump, courtesy of Storm Sandy. It&#39;s also the setting for the Chicago premiere of <em>The Burnt Part Boys</em>, a 2006 musical about two young, rural WVA boys, circa 1962, who go on a quest. It&#39;s the sort-of thing Griffin Theatre does very well, frequently merging strong storylines and adolescent angst with sometimes-comic and sometimes-serious intent. This show&mdash;described as family-friendly&mdash;concerns the teenage sons of a coal miner killed in a mining accident, so I&#39;d guess the tone is serious but warm-hearted. Jonathan Berry, a Griffin veteran, is the director for The Burnt Part Boys, which features a blue grass-influenced musical score. FYI: Griffin is in the process of converting a former police station in Andersonville into a permanent company home. Until then, they remain an itinerant troupe. &ndash;JA<br /><br /><u><em>Long Day&#39;s Journey Into Night</em>, <a href="http://eclipsetheatre.com">Eclipse Theatre Company</a> at The Athenaeum, 2934 N. Southport; 773-935-6875; $28; runs through Dec. 9</u><br /><br />Eugene O&#39;Neill would not allow this autobiographical play to be published or performed in his lifetime, having ripped it out of his heart and soul in 1941. Eye-witnesses remarked that O&#39;Neill would exit his little writing cottage with tears streaming from his eyes. <em>Long Day&#39;s Journey Into Night</em> is from his mature years as a man and writer. As such, it stuns with deep compassion as much as it stings with the truth of O&#39;Neill&#39;s conflicted, guilt-ridden family circle. In New London, CT you can visit the small house facing the ocean where the play is set (now an O&#39;Neill museum) and understand the claustrophobia of its creaking floorboards and narrow corridors. Eclipse Theatre Company has devoted its 2012 season to O&#39;Neill and concludes with his greatest play, presented in a space as intimate as the O&#39;Neill house itself. Eclipse artistic director Nathaniel Swift puts it all together. The play is long&mdash;four acts&mdash;and every minute is essential if you are to understand the love and pain of the four haunted Tyrones (the O&#39;Neills). &ndash;JA</div></p> Thu, 01 Nov 2012 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/onstagebackstage/2012-10/murder-most-foul-fantastical-middle-america-grim-reality-vietnam-pows Don't-Miss List: 1 anti-war ballet, 2 comedies, 4 nights of ElectionFest and a partridge in a Strange Tree http://www.wbez.org/blogs/onstagebackstage/2012-10/dont-miss-list-1-anti-war-ballet-2-comedies-4-nights-electionfest-and <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/RS6502_Joffrey Green Table-scr.JPG" style="height: 537px; width: 620px; " title="The Green Table (Courtesy of the Joffrey Ballet/Sean Williams)" /></div><p><u><em>ElectionFest 2012 </em>at&nbsp;Pine Box Theater at <a href="http://www/theaterwit.org">Theater Wit</a>, 1229 W. Belmont; 1-773-975-8150;&nbsp;$13; Oct. 22, 23 and 29, 30 ONLY</u><br /><br />You can&#39;t see it until Monday night Oct. 22 but you&#39;d better plan now &#39;cause there only are four performances. Pine Box Theater, an itinerant troupe that &mdash; uh &mdash; came back from the dead last year after several years&#39; absence, has cornered the market on notable local authors and directors. Under the collective title <strong><em>ElectionFest 2012</em></strong>, Pine Box is offering a dozen ten-minute plays in two bills of six plays each. The list of authors is a who&#39;s who of top local dramatists, among them Laura Eason (Lookingglass), Sarah Gubbins (just won a Jeff Award), Nambi E. Kelley, Paul Oakley Stovall and Andrew Hinderaker (new play currently at the Gift Theatre). And the directors are every bit as good, among them Julieanne Ehre, Lisa Portes, Vincent Teninty and Joanie Schultz. The plays all speak to the issues dividing us this political season, with individual titles such as <em>Guess Who&#39;s Not Coming to Dinner?,&nbsp;</em><em>A Letter to Mama-in-Chief Obama,&nbsp;The One Percent</em> and <em>A Moderate Threat.</em>&nbsp;&ndash;JA</p><p><u><em>Funeral Wedding: The Alvin Play</em>,<a href="http://www.strangetree.org"> Strange Tree Group</a> at Signal Ensemble Theatre, 1802 W.<br />Berenice; 1-773-598-8240; $25-$45 (VIP tix); runs through Nov. 11</u><br /><br /><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/home-title-alvin-photo.png" style="height: 156px; width: 300px; float: left; " title="'Funeral Wedding or The Alvin Play' (Courtesy Strange Tree Group/Tyler Core)" />I&#39;ve always been partial to The Strange Tree Group, which seems to channel Edward Gorey,&nbsp;Charles Addams, Edgar Allan Poe and classic fairy tales and parallels the meta-theatric staging&nbsp;techniques of Redmoon and Building Stage. <strong><em>Funeral Wedding: The Alvin Play</em></strong> is written by the troupe&#39;s founding artistic director, Emily Schwartz, and first was done in 2006 when Strange Tree Group was new. Now this perfect-for-Halloween ghost story has been revamped and re-imagined as it tells the tale of a haunted young man trapped between past and present while unraveling family secrets. Hint: think murder. &ndash;JA</p><p><u><em>We&rsquo;re All In This Room Together</em>, <a href="http://www.secondcity.com">Second City e.t.c.</a>, 1616 North Wells Street, 312-337-3992, $23-$28, open run</u><br /><br />It&rsquo;s not often you get to see a Jeff Award-winning show: By the time the Jeff Committee hands out the Equity awards in October, most of its honorees have long since closed. An exception is this revue by the nearly-as-established-as-the-mainstage second company at Second City. (Query: Does that make e.t.c. the Fourth Company in some Platonic semi-improvisational universe?) Earlier this week the show won Best Production&ndash;Revue as well Best Director&ndash;Revue for Ryan Bernier, so this weekend&rsquo;s performances should be particularly sharp and vibrant. Tuesday through Sunday at 8 p.m., plus 11 p.m. shows on Friday and Saturday. &ndash;KK<br /><br /><u><em>Blackademics</em>, <a href="http://www.mpaact.org">MPAACT </a>at the Greenhouse, 2257 North Lincoln Avenue, 773-404-7336, $15-$23, now in previews; opens Monday the 22nd</u><br /><br />For a different brand of humor, check out Idris Goodwin&rsquo;s new play about a pair of African-American college professors whose friendly dinner turns into a catfight of epic proportions, with a little help from their smilingly hostile waitress. What sounds like a cross between Jane Smiley&rsquo;s <em>Moo</em> and Clare Boothe Luce&rsquo;s <em>The Women</em> opens Sunday, under the joint direction of Marie Cisco and MPAACT Executive Director Shepsu Aakhu. Thursdays through Saturdays at 8, Sundays at 3 through November 25.&nbsp;&ndash;KK</p><p><u><em>Human Landscapes</em>,<a href="http://joffrey.com"> The Joffrey Ballet</a> at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 East Congress Parkway, 800-982-2787, $31-$152, Friday the 19th through Sunday the 28th</u><br /><br />The Joffrey&rsquo;s autumn home stand features the celebrated antiwar ballet <em>The Green Table</em>. German choreographer Kurt Jooss created the Expressionist piece after the First World War but it has only gained resonance in the century since. The program also includes a Jiri Kylian work returning to the Joffrey repertory after nearly 30 years on hiatus, as well as James Kudelka&rsquo;s frankly named <em>Pretty BALLET</em>. Friday through Sunday this weekend, Thursday through Sunday next weekend, 7:30 evening performances and 2 p.m. matinees.&nbsp; &ndash;KK</p></p> Thu, 18 Oct 2012 09:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/onstagebackstage/2012-10/dont-miss-list-1-anti-war-ballet-2-comedies-4-nights-electionfest-and Don't-Miss List June 27-July 4: A Pinter comedy and Illinois Shakespeare Fest http://www.wbez.org/blogs/onstagebackstage/2012-06/dont-miss-list-june-27-july-4-pinter-comedy-and-illinois-shakespeare <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Pinter%27s%20The%20Lover%20Soul%20Theatre.jpg" style="width: 620px; height: 413px; " title="Harold Pinter’s ‘The Lover’ plays at A Red Orchid Theatre starting Thursday. (Courtesy of Soul Theatre)" /></div><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/blogs/onstagebackstage/2012-06/i-not-robot-critic-speaks-out-while-she-still-can-100470"><u>Dueling Critics on <em>Eight Forty-Eight</em>, 91.5FM and WBEZ.org, between 9 and 10 a.m. Friday June 29,&nbsp;FREE!</u></a><br /><br />Friday we debate the <a href="http://www.strangetree.org/">Strange Tree Group</a>&rsquo;s new satire <strong><em>Goodbye Cruel World</em></strong>, and try to persuade WBEZ contributor Dan Weissmann that <a href="http://sendmyrobot.com/">critics really can&rsquo;t be replaced by robots</a>. I&rsquo;ll be there, provided I can find my oil can. If you miss the conversation, you can listen to it here on the site.&nbsp;&ndash;KK<br /><br /><u><strong><em>The Lover</em></strong>, opening Thursday June 28 at 7:30; Soul Theatre at <a href="http://www.aredorchidtheatre.org/">A Red Orchid Theatre</a>,<br />1531 North Wells in Chicago; Thursdays-Sundays through July 15; tickets $20, $10 for students<br />and seniors</u><br /><br />It&rsquo;s hard to imagine the words &ldquo;comedy&rdquo; and &ldquo;Harold Pinter&rdquo; in the same universe, much less the same sentence; but <strong><em>The Lover</em></strong> is Pinter&rsquo;s one-act stab at a sex farce. I might be hesitant to recommend the show but this production features the impeccable Mick Weber, who illuminates every stage he steps on.&nbsp;&ndash;KK&nbsp; &nbsp;<br /><br /><u><em>All-American Holiday Pageant</em>, The Paper Machete, Saturday July 1 at 3 p.m.; The Green Mill, 4802 North Broadway in Chicago; donation requested</u><br /><br />This is a special edition of Christopher Piatt&rsquo;s spoken-word &ldquo;Salon in a Saloon,&rdquo; featuring a range of comic talents relieving themselves (you should pardon the expression) of their thoughts about God, country, sex, drugs and rock-and-roll. Expect fireworks as the writer-performers speak the speech trippingly on the tongue.&nbsp;&ndash;KK</p><p><u><a href="http://www.thefestival.org"><strong>Illinois Shakespeare Festival</strong></a>, Ewing Manor, Bloomington, Ill. 309-438-2535<a href="http://www.thefestival.org;$27-$47">; $27-$47</a> (various discounts also available); rotating rep through August 11</u></p><p>Year after year, the <strong>Illinois Shakespeare Festival</strong> (ISF) has gained respect as an important regional destination theater; the kind of place where you go to see three plays in two days and enjoy the ambiance of antiquing, Victorian homes, luxe b&amp;b&#39;s and good restaurants available in the Bloomington-Normal area, which is home to the ISF. The troupe&#39;s playhouse has perfect sightlines and great intimacy for Shakespeare outdoors, as it was meant to be. Even the grounds of the ISF are worth a visit: the Tudor-style Ewing Manor with its beautiful gardens and wide lawns where picnics are encouraged. The ISF&#39;s 35th season opens this week with <em>Othello </em>and <em>As You Like It</em> with <em>The Rivals</em> joining the rotating rep in mid-July. Many mornings also provide a free performance of <em>The Comedy of Errors</em> as part of the ISF&#39;s Theatre for Young Audiences program. FYI: excellent website for planning a visit.&nbsp;&ndash;JA</p><p><u><a href="http://www.barntheatre.com"><strong>The Barn Theatre</strong></a>, 13351 W. M-96, Augusta, Mich. 269-731-4121; $34; season runs through Sept. 2</u></p><p>They used to call it &quot;the straw hat circuit&quot;: summer stock theater presented in a tent or an old barn by a company of performers whom you&#39;d see in a different show every week or two. It was, and is, great fun for thank goodness there&#39;s a little bit of old-fashioned summer stock still around. Indeed, you won&#39;t find summer stock any more classic than in Augusta, Mich., a rural town about two hours around the tip of the lake, where <strong>The Barn Theatre</strong> has been offering professional seasons since 1949 in a genuine old dairy barn. The opening show is <em>Pal Joey&nbsp;</em>(through July 1), followed by <em>Legally Blonde</em> (July 3-15), <em>The Wedding Singer</em> (July 17-29) and three more shows. Plenty of free parking on the lawn in front of the barn, kids welcome, refreshments available. Warning: The nearest accommodations, other than a state park campground, are in nearby Kalamazoo or Battle Creek.&nbsp;&ndash;JA</p></p> Thu, 28 Jun 2012 05:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/onstagebackstage/2012-06/dont-miss-list-june-27-july-4-pinter-comedy-and-illinois-shakespeare The Dueling Critics creep you out http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-10-21/dueling-critics-creep-you-out-93377 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-October/2011-10-21/rockyhorror.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Remember when Halloween was a holiday for children? Well, forget it–children’s shows are way outnumbered among this year’s offerings about ghosties and ghoulies and long-legged beasties and things that go bump in the night. But there’s plenty for the spookily-inclined theatergoer.</p><p><strong>Kelly says go to...</strong></p><p>The Strange Tree Group demonstrates that it’s possible to traffic in ghosts without alluding to Halloween or descending to juvenalia. Its <a href="http://www.strangetree.org/spiritplay/"><strong><em>The Spirit Play</em></strong></a> might almost be described as a serious re-imagining of <em>Blithe Spirit</em>, opening with a seance that’s supposed to be a fraud and a joke but mysteriously produces a genuine connection with the Beyond. Like all the Group’s work, <em>The Spirit Play</em> is both charming and thought-provoking, featuring marvelous original music, a multi-layered text, and several startling effects. The performances are lovely and the evocation of 1870s Chicago in costume, setting and speech is superb. Thursday through Sunday at the DCA Storefront Theater, 66 East Randolph, through November 6. Tickets are $20, but only $15 on Thursdays.&nbsp;</p><p><img alt="" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-October/2011-10-21/Bobby-Corn_DaNile-400x600.jpg" style="margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; float: left; width: 267px; height: 400px; " title="">Likewise not directly about Halloween but in keeping with the spirit of the season is <a href="http://www.theplagiarists.org/">The Plagiarists’</a> <strong><em>Caesura: A Butchery</em></strong>, which somehow throws together Shakespeare’s <em>Julius Caesar</em>, Voltaire’s <em>La Mort du Caesar</em>, and Eliot’s <em>Murder in the Cathedral</em> with a whole bunch of other&nbsp;violent and creepy sources–and nonetheless claims to be funny. Fridays and Saturdays through November 5 at RPB Rorschack, 4001 N. Ravenswood, $15.</p><p>The Cornservatory, too, seems to think horror is funny–or at least that its offering, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=126381350794950&amp;ref=nf"><strong><em>Nightmares on Lincoln Avenue 3: Calculated Ramblings of an Unsound Mind</em></strong></a>, is both. A series of funny-scary sketches use Chicago history as their bases, so expect a visit from the Devil in the White City.&nbsp; (To give this particular devil his due, the Cornservatory is also offering a Halloween show for kids, <a href="http://cornservatory.org/?page_id=1291"><strong><em>Bobby Corn and the History of Da Nile</em></strong></a>.)&nbsp; <em>Nightmares</em> . . . runs Wednesday through Saturday, and on Halloween weekend will run Sunday and Monday, too.&nbsp; 8 p.m. at the Cornservatory, 4210 N. Lincoln Avenue, tickets $10-$15.</p><p>Isn't there anything else for the kids? There is. But though it’s sponsored by a theater, it’s not actually a show. On Saturday afternoon, October 29, Raven Theatre will present <strong><em><a href="http://www.raventheatre.com/special-events">Boo Haha!</a>,</em></strong> its “first annual Fall Family Festival,” featuring face-painting, a parade and other family-friendly activities–but no performance.&nbsp; Still it’s worth checking out, especially as admission is FREE. From 2 to 5 p.m. at the Raven, 6157 North Clark Street; children must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.</p><p><strong>And Jonathan suggests...</strong></p><p>Yeah, right. Kelly says Halloween isn’t for kids anymore, but she doesn’t list the REALLY adult shows. Of course, I always go where angels fear to tread.</p><p>Leave it to the voluptuaries and ecdysiasts of Off-Off-Broadzway to come up with a burlesque-inspired Halloween sketch comedy musical revue, with the tasteful title of <a href="http://www.stage773.com/Show?id=8"><strong><em>Trick or Teets</em></strong></a>, a title which suggests milk-based sweets. It’s being performed Wednesdays only, but with a Halloween night show as well, at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont; 773-327-5252; $20.</p><p>Denizens of the South Loop may have walked by the old Harrison Hotel many, many times and been creeped out by thoughts of the horrors occurring within its increasingly seedy walls. But why leaves the details to your imagination when you can catch <a href="http://www.athenaeumtheatre.com/press-releases/SHADOWPRESSRELEASEDRAFT4.pdf"><strong><em>Between the Shadow and the Wall</em></strong></a>, set in the Harrison Hotel? This world premiere Halloween play, written and directed by Jamie-Lee Wise, concerns a scientist with contact lenses that blind the wearer to everything false. What he’s doing at the Harrison, the people he meets, and why anyone would be after his lenses is the stuff of psychological thrillers, which this play is. <em>Between the Shadow and the Wall</em> runs through Nov. 13 at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2930 N. Southport; 773-935-6860; $22-$27.</p><p><img alt="" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-October/2011-10-21/rockyhorror.jpg" style="margin-left: 10px; margin-right: 10px; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; float: right; width: 350px; height: 226px; " title="">Of course, Halloween wouldn’t be the same without Edgar Allen Poe. Then again, I suppose Halloween wouldn’t be the same without the Catholic Church, but I digress. <a href="http://www.citadeltheatre.org/poe-in-octo.html"><strong><em>Poe in Octo</em></strong></a> is an adaptation by suburban playwright MEH Lewis of several Poe stories for outdoor performances. The show is presented by Citadel Theatre at the Mellody (sic) Farm Nature Preserve in Lake Forest (350 N. Waukegan Road). The hours are family-friendly, assuming your kids are mature enough for Poe (recommended for 10 and older), with 4:30PM shows Thur.-Sat. <em>Poe in Octo</em> runs through Oct. 29; 847-735-8554; $15.</p><p>Finally, if you simply haven’t enough imagination or daring for something new and different, such as the above-listed shows, you can fall back on <a href="http://chicagorocky.com/"><strong><em>The Rocky Horror Show</em></strong></a>, offered by the brand-new Underscore Theatre at the Underground Lounge, 952 W. Newport, running Thur.-Sat. at 8PM through Oct. 29, with a special Midnight show on Sunday, Oct. 30 (which means, of course, the show will play on Halloween proper). Tickets at the door for a suggested donation of $18-$25.</p></p> Fri, 21 Oct 2011 21:12:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-10-21/dueling-critics-creep-you-out-93377 Critics theater picks; seances, the 'OVERWEIGHT, unimportant', and a 'Flowering Tree' http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-10-06/critics-theater-picks-seances-overweight-unimportant-and-flowering- <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-October/2011-10-06/Natya Dance Theatre (6); photo by Amitava Sarkar.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><u><strong>Kelly Kleiman</strong></u></p><p>Do your Thursday nights consist solely of waiting for Friday? Here are three other ways to help you get through the night:<br> &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; •&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Get thee to Stage 773 (the old Theatre Building) to see Open Face Theatre’s <a href="http://www.openfacetheatre.com/Upcoming_Shows.html"><strong><em>Drupelets: Three Vonnegut Vignettes</em></strong></a>. It’s performance art, it’s Vonnegut, what could be bad? Thursdays ONLY at 8 p.m. through October 27; tickets $15.<br> &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; •&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; If instead of American irony you’d like the double-distilled European type, check out&nbsp;Trap Door’s <a href="http://trapdoortheatre.com/current-season/"><em><strong>OVERWEIGHT, unimportant: MISSHAPE</strong></em></a>, opening tonight.&nbsp; Let the company speak for itself: “Never before has degradation, perverse loneliness, and&nbsp;mankind’s toxic ego been so funny.” Thursdays-Saturdays through November 12; tickets $20-$25, with half-price offers available. The setting along is worth the trip: go to 1655 West Cortland, look for the gap between the buildings, open a door into the service gangway between the kitchen and dining room of the restaurant next door, open another door–and resist the urge to say “Swordfish.”</p><p><img alt="" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-October/2011-10-06/seance-2.jpg" style="width: 500px; height: 343px; " title=""><br> &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; •&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; And, though this properly belongs in the Dueling Critics’ discussion of Halloween shows (coming soon), I can’t wait: The Strange Tree Group’s <a href="http://www.strangetree.org/spiritplay/"><em><strong>The Spirit Play</strong></em></a>, in previews&nbsp;tonight and opening tomorrow at the Storefront Theater on Randolph. The Trees have&nbsp;never done anything dull, mixing phenomenally detailed period production design with&nbsp;music, dance and serious text.&nbsp; The result is meta-theatrical, simultaneously revealing the tricks of the theater trade and the special form of reality it contains.&nbsp; The Spirit Play takes place in 1870s Chicago, where the idle rich dabble in seances and end up on the wrong side of the divide between reality and–whatever. Take in tonight’s final preview or tomorrow’s opening; the show runs Thursday-Sunday through November 6.&nbsp; $10-$20 with half-price offers available.</p><p><u><strong>Laura Molzahn</strong></u></p><p>And you thought it was just a place to hear schlocky music…This weekend Northerly Island hosts a dance performance, of all things—and a radically non-beer-guzzling, non-sausage-snarfing performance at that. <a href="http://www.ericamott.com/the-victory-project-trilogy/">Erica Mott presents the culmination of her <strong><em>Victory Project Trilogy</em></strong>,</a> billed as “an examination of the female body both broken and victorious.” Intrigued by conversations she had with female veterans of the Korean, Vietnam, and Gulf wars, Mott started wondering whether “victory” is a gendered concept. Performance installations, text, movement, original music (mixed live), and elements of puppetry combine to “dismantle body parts and allegories that fuse and confuse patriotism and perversity.” Tonight through Sunday at the Northerly Island Visitor Center.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://www.wbez.org/sites/default/files/blog/insert-image/2011-October/2011-10-06/Natya%20Dance%20Theatre%20%286%29%3B%20photo%20by%20Amitava%20Sarkar.jpg" style="width: 500px; height: 386px; " title="Natya Dance Theatre (Photo by Amitava Sarkar)"></p><p><a href="http://www.natya.com/">Natya Dance Theatre</a> makes <a href="http://www.harristheaterchicago.org/events/2011-2012-season/natya-dance-theatre">its solo Harris debut this weekend, Saturday only</a>, in <strong><em>The Flowering Tree</em></strong>. The perfect show for families, it features a fairy-tale story—based on an Indian folktale about a girl who’s exploited for her ability to turn herself into a tree—complete with message and happy ending. And the bharata natyam dancing, acting, and mime take adults and youngsters alike to a rich new world, the Indian continent. A family affair, it’s choreographed by mother and daughter Hema and Krithika Rajagopalan and narrated by Krithika.</p><p><u><strong>Jonathan Abarbanel</strong></u><strong> </strong><em>liked Kelly's picks so much he repeated them...</em></p><p>Psychological realism long has dominated the American stage. Y'know, Miller and Chekhov and Neil Simon. Thank goodness Chicago troupes provide an occasional break from the mainstream, and the following two companies do so as part of their missions.Eastern European drama, where absurdism long reigned as a type of dramatic protest against Soviet-bloc rule, is at the forefront at Trap Door Theatre, currently offering the North American premiere of <em><strong>OVERWEIGHT, unimportant: MISSHAPE--A European Supper</strong></em> by late Austrian playwright Werner Schwab, directed by Steppenwolf Ensemble member Yasen Payenkov. The company declares that "never before has degradation, perverse loneliness and mankind’s toxic ego been so funny." Trained as a sculptor, Schwab churned out 16 highly-scatological black comedies in the last four years of his life, eight of which were produced before his death at 35 on New Year's Day,1994. <em>OVERWEIGHT, unimportant: MISSHAPE</em> continues at Trap Dorr (1655 W. Cortland) through Nov. 12.</p><p>Like the sachems who describe oobleck in the famous Dr. Seuss book, we can tell you what <em><strong>The Spirit Play</strong></em> at Strange Tree Group isn't, far more easily than we can say what it is. Well, it IS another world premiere by artistic director Emily Schwartz, and the clever Jimmy McDermott returns to Strange Tree to direct. The troupe calls it a play for Halloween, but just about everything the company ever has done would meet Halloween standards. Strange Tree Group consistently is one of Chicago's most imaginative companies, in both the visual and literary senses. Their work never is realistic, always appearing like some giant shadowbox come to life, and frequently exploring myths or fairytales of their own making.<em> The Spirit Play</em> continues at the Storefront Theater (62 E. Randolph) through Nov. 6.</p></p> Thu, 06 Oct 2011 14:25:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-10-06/critics-theater-picks-seances-overweight-unimportant-and-flowering- 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