“We all go a little mad sometimes”--even more so in our current political moment. This idea serves as the driving force behind Second City’s 108th mainstage revue, Do You Believe in Madness?, a politically-charged 120 minutes exploring lunacy both in and out of the White House. With a timely concept and a talented cast, the show should be a home-run, but its sketches are plagued with underdeveloped ideas. A joke is only as good as its punchline, and the knockout rarely happens here.
Holmes and Watson are iconic. You’d be hard pressed to find someone unfamiliar with Sir Conan Arthur Doyle’s famous detective duo. Ever since their creation in the nineteen hundreds, the characters have been adapted into different personas and time periods across decades of different media. The characters can take the shape of whatever artistic mold they find themselves in, but paramount to an accurate portrayal is the duo’s signature wit and deductive rapport with one another.
In 2019, “to wear the pants” is a common idiom signifying relational dominance. In 1899, when actress Sarah Bernhardt decided to don trousers and play Hamlet, such a phrase could be applied only to men. Theresa Rebeck’s dramedy Bernhardt/Hamlet begins in this “scandalous” moment, as Berhardt prepares to take center stage in the britches of the Bard’s most famous character, but its cultural significance extends well past its setting. Witty, poignant, and dynamic, Goodman Theatre’s Bernhardt/Hamlet is a thought-provoking show that reminds us not only how far we’ve come, but also how much further we have to go.
Sports dramas are never just about sports; before the game-winning shot swishes in at the final buzzer, coming of age lessons must be learned, emotions stifled must be unleashed, and decades of sexism must be unraveled. The Chicago premiere of Lauren Yee’s basketball drama The Great Leap embodies this approach, taking on a range of complex issues with audience members watching court-side. Yee’s dialogue is witty and moving, and the technical elements shine on Steppenwolf’s upstairs theatre turned basketball court. Yet The Great Leap stretches a bit too far in its reach, resulting in a show that’s engaging but slightly muddled.
In our darkest moments, we seek someone who will guide us toward light. From 2010-2012, writer Cheryl Strayed acted as such a glimmer to hundreds of strangers, overseeing an advice column called “Dear Sugar” with tremendous empathy, openness, and honesty. Now, thanks to a well-crafted adaptation of Strayed’s book (a collection of these letters and responses) by Nia Vardalos, audiences at Victory Gardens Theater have the opportunity to bask in Strayed’s glow as well. In a 90 minute journey filled with words powerful and profound, Victory Gardens’ production of Tiny Beautiful Things is a moving, cathartic theatrical experience.
Writers Theatre’s 2019/20 season opener, Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s Into the Woods, is on its surface a fairytale--but these woods are much darker, and what starts as a collection of well-known fables turns into a deep reflection on life, relationships, and what happens beyond “happily ever after.” This depth elevates the musical beyond that of a punchy fairy tale mashup, but it also creates challenges: how do you find the balance between the show’s humor and its didacticism, its whimsy and its sensibility? Magically, under the direction of Gary Griffin, Writers Theatre manages just that. With an extraordinarily talented cast and a unique artistic re-imagining, WT’s Into the Woods conjures up both levity and depth in its enchanting spell.
Pomona opens with a question: is it a boon or a burden to know the horrific things that happen behind closed doors? Is it better to know how the sausage gets made or does ignorance of it keep us sane? And in our friend Ollie’s case, is it wise to find out what really happens in the dark underground of Pomona?
Steppenwolf Theatre’s 1982 production of True West is arguably one of the most significant events in Chicago theatre history. The company’s original production, starring Gary Sinise and John Malcovich, was the first show in the company’s history to go on national tour and established Chicago as one of the premier cities for theatre work. Since Steppenwolf’s production, True West has seen countless revivals across the country, including the legendary role-switching performances of Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly on Broadway in early 2000.
It’s all about who you know. From getting into the right college to securing the perfect post-graduate job, having connections can make all the difference...but at what cost will you use these to get ahead? This is the driving question behind Windy City Playhouse’s newest immersive offering, Jonathan Caren’s The Recommendation. While the play itself was not written to be immersive, Windy City’s bold transformation heightens the tension within the text, and the end result is a riveting production of what otherwise might have been a somewhat lackluster play.
It’s easy to understand why Goodman Theatre’s production of Meredith Wilson’s 1957 Broadway hit The Music Man, just a week into its original run, has already been extended for a second time. The feel-good show has mass appeal and a recognizable name--one of those plays that falls into the “timeless classic” category (even if there’s nothing “timeless” about its outdated jokes and gender politics). But as far as Goodman’s production itself goes, there’s not much new to draw audiences in; despite a few high notes and standout performances, Mary Zimmerman’s revival overall lacks the essential chemistry and magic that has historically helped 21st century audiences overlook the show’s flaws.
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