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Tuesday, December 2, 2003

'Christmas Carol' a joyous present for entire family
One of the best ways to test the success of any production of "A Christmas Carol" is to listen carefully to precisely when the kids in the audience laugh the loudest.

Monday, December 1, 2003

London calling
On the surface, Tracy Letts' "Man from Nebraska," which received its world premiere this weekend at Steppenwolf Theatre, is yet another version of that classic tale of a white, middle-class American man in the throes of a profound mid-life crisis that has apparently seized hold of him from out of the blue.

Friday, November 28, 2003

Clever and breezy but no threat to Moliere's memory
In "Affluenza," the little satirical comedy about affluent North Shore society that received its world premiere Monday night at Victory Gardens Theater, you have been snapped, crackled and popped by James Sherman. In fact, you have been imitated all the way down to the rhymed couplets of the dialogue. Imitated, but hardly matched.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Masters of 'Space'
And now, at the end of a pencil point, comes Live Action Cartoonists, the newest little theatrical troupe to emerge from Northwestern University.

'Angel City' was good Shepard -- in its time
Sam Shepard may still have a certain film star allure as a counterculture cowboy; you might think of him as something of an aging East Village alternative to Clint Eastwood. But his plays now feel as if they are stuck in a time warp of the 1960s and '70s, and for the most part they just haven't aged as well as their creator. Or perhaps they've spawned so many imitators in the intervening decades that it's difficult to separate the originals from the knockoffs.

Monday, November 24, 2003

La La La Human Steps "Amelia"
Strangely erotic yet emotionally arcane. Classically structured. At times hypnotic, at other times relentlessly repetitive. And always fiercely virtuosic. All these descriptive phrases may be applied to "Amelia," a recent full-length work by the Montreal-based choreographer Edouard Lock, which was performed by his La La La Human Steps company this weekend at the new Harris Theater for Music and Dance in Millennium Park.

Cliche-ridden 'Pucci: Sport' falls short
On the way out of Skokie's North Shore Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday night I noticed a few boys -- somewhere between the ages of 9 and 11 I'd guess -- playfully throwing themselves into the sports-derived dance moves they had just seen onstage. So on some level, "Pucci: Sport," the 75-minute piece by choreographer Peter Pucci that works variations on the dance elements of 10 different athletic pursuits, must be deemed a success.

Friday, November 21, 2003

'Black' Russian play packs fierce, melodramatic punch
Much has changed in Russia in the past decade or so, but the beneficiaries of those changes tend to live in the country's largest cities -- Moscow, St. Petersburg and a handful of others. For those in the smaller towns and villages of this vast and largely rural country, life remains bleak, dreary and impoverished. And the tension between the "old Russia" and the "new Russia" is often palpable.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Globe Theater reinvents Shakespeare's world
Mark Rylance, artistic director and leading actor with London's Globe Theatre, has a great deal to feed upon as he prepares to play his role in the company's production of Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night," the dark romantic comedy that will make its final stop on a U.S. tour next week at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre.

Taking human steps in pointe shoes
Born in Casablanca in 1954, and transplanted early on to Montreal, Canada, choreographer Edouard Lock had his first encounter with dance in a university drama class at the age of 19. Two years later, he created his first piece for one of Quebec's most influential contemporary dance troupes. And by 1980 he had his own company, Lock-Danseurs, eventually changing the name to La La La Human Steps.

At Ravinia Festival, Sondheim's 'George' really will visit the park
headline:At Ravinia Festival, Sondheim's 'George' really will visit the park

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

'The Misanthrope'
British playwright Martin Crimp is not the first to compare today's show business celebrity culture to 17th century French court life, when King Louis XIV reigned in gilded splendor over a circle of fawning aristocrats and a daring playwright by the name of Moliere alternately entertained and enraged his majesty. Others, including fellow British dramatist Neil Bartlett, have sensed the correspondences between present-day Hollywood-style glitz and the royal world of an earlier time: the moral bankruptcy and hypocrisy, the outrageous wealth, the self-promotion and empty flattery, the shrill gossip and the mix of rampant narcissism and wild insecurity.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

'Accidental Rapture'
Midway through "Accidental Rapture," a new work by Ohio-based playwright Eric Pfeffinger, we hear the thundering of horses' hooves and the unmistakable roar of the apocalypse in progress. Neither the believers nor the nonbelievers in attendance immediately understand what has hit them, even if before the great cataclysm they were all quite sure which side they were on: Whether secular or religious, all were convinced they were with the angels. But now, do they want to be among the righteous who are offered salvation? Or having witnessed the spirit become flesh, so to speak, have they grown strangely disillusioned? Has their fantasy of rapture become too palpable, even mundane to inspire them?

'Burlesque' is rich tapestry of artistic expression
The backdrop for "Black Burlesque (revisited)," a mesmerizing collaboration devised by three performance ensembles with roots in New York, the Caribbean and southern Africa, was a tattered, homespun, marvelously artful thing.

'Burlesque' is rich tapestry of artistic expression
The backdrop for "Black Burlesque (revisited)," a mesmerizing collaboration devised by three performance ensembles with roots in New York, the Caribbean and southern Africa, was a tattered, homespun, marvelously artful thing.

Monday, November 17, 2003

Cunningham sparkles and his troupe shines
When the complete and unexpurgated history of the performing arts in America is finally written, there will no doubt be a thick chapter titled "On the Bus." And many of the best stories will be lifted from the archives of dance troupes who spent their early years packed in a van, headed for dates all across the country.

Saturday, November 15, 2003

Actor serves sexuality with 'Twist'
Actor-writer Paul Stroili, now at the Lakeshore Theater in his one-man show "Straight Up With a Twist," claims he was a "metrosexual" long before that term was ever coined. In other words, he was decidedly heterosexual (attracted to women and desperately hoping they'd return the favor), yet he also possessed all the traits of the modern urban male (and then some) that are generally deemed feminine.

Friday, November 14, 2003

'Broadway Bound'
Writers are born spies. They may not consciously lurk in the shadows, pull on disguises or engage in reconnaissance activities. But they naturally listen and observe and soak up information -- mostly having to do with human behavior and emotions. And they remember it all. Then they do something far more dangerous, even treacherous: They use it.

'Dr. Sex': from Bailiwick to Broadway
It appears "Dr. Sex," the zesty new musical comedy about fabled sex researcher Dr. Alfred Kinsey -- which has been attracting enthusiastic crowds since it opened here at Bailiwick Repertory in September -- will soon be dancing to Broadway.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

Gotta dance: A weekend of kinetic treats
The idea of a retrospective and in-depth symposium on the work of Merce Cunningham -- of the kind that gets under way today and continues through Saturday, courtesy of the Dance Center of Columbia College -- should have great allure for Chicago audiences who have had only fleeting opportunities to see the modern dance master's company during its five decades of existence.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

'Boston Marriage'
Dissect almost any David Mamet play and you will discover that it is, at its core, a meditation on power and primacy in a ferocious world. You also will quickly realize that the principal weapon of choice for beating out one's fiercest competitors is language.

'Nickel and Dimed' skillfully stokes the conscience
For starters, "Nickel and Dimed," Joan Holden's very moving stage adaptation of the acclaimed nonfiction book by journalist Barbara Ehrenreich, should be required viewing (a) for every member of Congress who ever studied a bill proposing an increase in the minimum wage, and (b) for every CEO who has had to make such a base salary decision. It should especially be required for those who sanctimoniously respond by reciting all the reasons an increase might be economically counterproductive.

Monday, November 10, 2003

Grand evening of dance on wide open stage
Anew theater is always a cause for celebration, and if that theater also can double as a bunker -- well, given the current state of world affairs, that may not be an entirely bad thing.

Song and dance fever
he glitterati were out in force Saturday night as the curtain finally rose on the 1500-seat Joan W. and Irving B. Harris Theater for Music and Dance in Millennium Park -- designed to be the new home for many of Chicago's mid-size performing arts companies and presenting organizations.

The stars shine in 'Manhattan' and tribute to Blake/Razaf
headline:The stars shine in 'Manhattan' and tribute to Blake/Razaf

Saturday, November 8, 2003

Luna Negra adds drama to dance
Luna Negra Dance Theater, Eduardo Vilaro's four-year-old company dedicated to exploring Latino culture through dance, takes its name seriously. As it is demonstrating in its current season at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, it is not just a showcase for splendid dancing, but for the whole gamut of theatrical activity -- from film, music and design to rich characterization. The dancers have highly distinctive stage personalities, and the various choreographers whose work they perform clearly know how to exploit their dramatic skills.

Friday, November 7, 2003

'Jesus Christ Superstar'
It was in the mid-1960s that John Lennon stirred up a firestorm by offhandedly proclaiming that the Beatles were "more popular than Jesus Christ."

Thursday, November 6, 2003

Now and forever: Woodbury's 'What Ever'
Heather Woodbury loves the story told to her by someone who works at WBEZ radio here.

The Jeffs revisited: Smaller Equity companies flex muscles
The list of this year's Jeff Award winners -- with a near sweep for Famous Door Theatre's two-part "Cider House Rules" -- was published in Tuesday's paper. But that list told only a very small part of the story. As they say, you had to be there to get a sense of what the evening was all about, and to be reminded, yet again, of just how extraordinary the Chicago theater community is, and of how remarkable the people who work in it really are.

Tuesday, November 4, 2003

'Cider House' rules the Jeffs
Famous Door Theatre's hugely ambitious two-part stage adaptation of John Irving's novel "The Cider House Rules" --a herculean effort and formidable artistic success that nevertheless left the company with a bit of a cash crunch -- swept the annual Joseph Jefferson Awards ceremony held Monday night at Skokie's North Shore Center for the Performing Arts.

Dance showcase exposes the powerful, playful
Just as sculptors need clay or stone, choreographers need trained bodies to mold. But bodies are expensive and not always easily available. And that is just one of the many reasons that Dance Chicago's choreography initiative, underwritten in large part by the Chicago Community Trust, is so invaluable. It helps support the work of both talented young choreographers and the dancers who are their crucial instruments of expression, and it gives them all a stage on which to test that all-important product, "new work."

Hedy Weiss
Hedy Weiss

Lights, camera, action for Studio 5 street scene

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Letters to Santa
Help the Chicago Sun-Times' Season of Sharing fulfill a needy child's wishes with the Letters to Santa program and Empty Stocking Fund. You may be the only Santa some children know this year.

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