First up is Tree at Victory Gardens, a perfect pairing of director Andrea J. Dymond and playwright Julie Hebert, each known for powerful yet subtle examinations of painful subjects. This very long one-act traces the family connections (hence, “Tree”) of two people from entirely different worlds: a black man in Chicago and a white woman from Baton Rouge who turn out to be siblings. Anchored by the utterly truthful performances of Aaron Todd Douglas and Elaine Rivkin as the brother and sister, and soaring on the work of Celeste Williams as their now-demented now-lucid mother, the play works on both macro and micro levels: as an examination of how racism continues to poison American discourse, and as a dissection of the strains of family—any family. Jacqueline and Rick Penrod’s set is as full of twists and turns and dead-ends and opportunities for disaster as the plot itself. At the Victory Gardens Biograph through May 1—which is next weekend, so move fast or you’ll miss it.
And now for something completely different: There Is A Happiness That Morning Is, the latest from Theatre Oobleck, whose The Strangerer managed to connect Albert Camus and George W. Bush without diminishing either one—at least, not any more than they deserved to be diminished. This new piece is existential in its own way, weaving William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience around the fate of a hapless pair of college teachers whose decision to have sex on the quads leads to their delivering what are very probably their last lectures. By the time they were done, I was (in equal parts) rooting for them and resolving to read Blake. Find a stranger or more thought-provoking evening and it’s bound to be another Oobleck show. Through May 22 at the Storefront Theatre on Randolph Street.
Swing your partner, do-si-do! It may sound like a square dance, but Julia Rae Antonick’s new Commissura is far more elevated and intellectual—though the dancing can be riotous, and some of the audience is seated on moving platforms. (Don’t worry, they move slow.) Antonick’s piece for two couples, who are also couples off the dance floor, and two musicians, who sometimes move as well as play, explores the invisible connective tissue between two people. Sometimes that tissue is stretched to the breaking point, other times it works like lightning. Two weekends at the Fine Arts Building.
Columbia College has been the gold standard for dance education for years, but Northwestern is making great strides. A program by the NU group, all of them alums convened just for these performances, features new work by some outstanding choreographers and dancers: Julia Rhoads of Lucky Plush (whose new piece opens at the MCA in October), Peter Carpenter, Jeff Hancock, Annie Beserra of Striding Lion, Meghann Wilkinson of Lucky Plush, Adam Gauzza of Same Planet Different World, Michaela Stock of NYC’s Eyes of a Blue Dog, and Genevieve Garcia. Two weekends, the first at the lovely Building Stage.
The nation’s leader is weak and the opposition whittles away his legislative majority vote-by-vote. There’s talk of radical reform, spend-thrift economics and vanishing surpluses as politics and health care clash. No, it’s not America in 2011, it’s England in 1793. Alan Bennett’s The Madness of George III remains both pertinent and vastly entertaining precisely because of its rather-modern take on old history. Go see this totally fabulous new production at Chicago Shakespeare Theater (through June 12), and you’ll see why. Broadway veteran Harry Groener is masterful as King George III, who was not nearly as sympathetic in real life as he is in this play!
For those unfamiliar with Woyzeck, it’s a never-completed early 19th Century play by German author Georg Buchner which became a tremendously influential fore-runner of realistic proletariat drama. Completed and adapted scores of times as a play, opera and ballet, there is no “true” version of the work. Right now, you can choose from several as Chicago enjoys a mini-Woyzeck festival. Oracle Productions just extended their interpretation of the work at Oracle’s tiny Lakeview storefront, and The Hypocrites open their version this weekend, adapted and directed by Sean Graney. Then, About Face Theatre is offering the world premiere of Sylvan Oswald’s Pony, inspired by Woyzeck and its themes. The Hypocrites and About Face are presenting their productions together in rep at the Chopin Theatre (through May 22).