Delicious! A Season’s Highlights

Anthony Kayer in "Arnie The Doughnut." Photo by Suzanne Plunkett

I’ve been reviewing theater for the Chicago Reader since last summer, and this seems like as good a time as any to look back on some favorites.  Keep in mind, I’ve only seen a small fraction of what’s out there– the Reader’s got a small army of us– so there’s a lot of good stuff that I’ve missed.

In no particular order, here are the five that I’m most psyched to have seen– the ones I walked out of, thinking, “Damn!  That was unusually awesome. I’m sure glad I’m alive.”

Arnie the Doughnut, Lifeline Theater
On the morning he’s born, chocolate-covered Arnie gamely resolves to find his life’s purpose. Discovering the shocking truth when his owner attempts to take a bite, Arnie makes his objections heard. Frances Limoncelli’s adaptation retains the absurdist zing of the 2003 children’s book by Laurie Keller while freely adding complementary ingredients, including zippy songs by George Howe and a Kafkaesque subplot involving a totalitarian condo-board president. Brandon Paul Eells brings not only sweetness but wit to the title role–this doughnut is a naive goofball, but nobody’s fool–and makes Arnie’s terror and disillusionment truly affecting. The entire cast provide spirit, charm, and jazzy harmonies under Elise Kauzlaric’s capable direction. The show is a delight–delicious and substantial, even without a kid tagging along. Continue reading

The MCC: Chicago’s (99% Invisible) Jailhouse Skyscraper

The Metropolitan Correctional Center, or MCC, is a federal jail in the middle of downtown Chicago.  When the brilliant Roman Mars invited me to collaborate on a Chicago-architecture episode of his world-rocking show about design, 99 Percent Invisible, this was the building I wanted to feature.  (I’ll explain why below, but first, have a look.)

The Metropolitan Correctional Center

First, did I mention that it’s a jail in the middle of downtown Chicago?

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Woyzeck, reimagined. Twice.

Published in the Chicago Reader, April 28 2011

Avant-gardists have always been drawn to Woyzeck, and it’s easy to see why. For one thing, it was unfinished when its German author, Georg Büchner, died young of typhus in 1837. Some scenes look like fragments, some may’ve been rejects, and there’s no clear indication of their order, so an experimenter has plenty of room to mess around.

It’s also as dark as can be. Based on a sensational crime of the period,Woyzeck follows the unraveling of a soldier who, driven crazy by poverty and powerlessness, kills the mother of his infant child. The piece is full of biting social satire—with blackly comic, over-the-top scenes of powerful assholes abusing the hapless antihero—and constitutes a blueprint for pretty much all of Bertolt Brecht, parts of Waiting for Godot, and Monty Python at its nastiest.

This spring, six Chicago theaters and an opera company have banded together to present the Woyzeck Project, a festival anchored by two shows running now at the Chopin Theatre: About Face Theatre’s premiere production of Pony by Sylvan Oswald, which tosses a few Büchnerian elements into a contemporary story about transgender identity, andWoyzeck itself, as adapted and directed by Sean Graney for the Hypocrites. In addition to sharing a venue and a starting point, the two productions employ the same set, sound, lighting, and prop designers. Continue reading

coming soon: The Godcast

It’s an extension of an old project from the Vocalo days, started with my friend and then-colleague Usama. (I think this may be the first example), under the name "God Talk." I’m wondering about the name for the next version: "God Talk: The Second Coming"? Or maybe, in tribute to Roman Mars, "100 Percent Invisible"?

I was out Sunday and took a few notes on what seem like promising leads. Using my camera. Here’s one:

Old friends here, and an old benefactor gone

Starting to migrate content from the old over here.  Starting with two old favorites:  The Pink Nun and the Rat Patrol.

Coincidentally, very sad news tonight.  Cliff Doerksen, who edited the Pink Nun story– my first for The Chicago Readerdied recently.  He was just 47.  News got around today.  Cliff had moved on from The Reader by the time I published there again, so that was my only encounter with him, but he did a lot to make that story shine.

RIP, Cliff.  From the testimonials appearing now, it’s clear I missed a lot by not knowing you better.

I’m heeee-eere! (Or will be soon.)

I’ve been playing around with this for a while, and although the site is still a work-in-progress, I’m moving the domain over here.

It’ll take a day or two for the whole InterWebs to figure out the switch, but in the meantime… yay!

Everyone’s a critic

Including me!  Here’s my first long review from The Chicago Reader.

No Wonder

An adaptation of Ted Kooser’s memoir misses the heart of its subject.

First, respect: It takes balls to adapt a book like Ted Kooser’s Local Wonders for the stage—especially as a musical, like Virginia Smith and Paul Amandes have done in this show receiving its local premiere at Chicago Dramatists.

Like Henry David Thoreau’s Walden or Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Kooser’s 2002 book strings together observations of the writer’s immediate environment, which for Kooser is rural Nebraska. The only obvious organizing principle is the passing of a single year’s seasons, and the point is that if you think nothing happens during that time you’re just not paying attention. Any corner of the world, at any moment, closely observed, Kooser shows, is full of incident and charged with meaning.

The perspective is bracing, and the structure, like a sonnet, sets a challenge to the writer that, when artfully met, provides its own pleasures to the reader. But the book doesn’t offer ready-made dramatic material.

Continue reading