||[Aug. 9th, 2005|11:13 am]
"Billy the Mountain and Other Wartime Stories." Elbo Room, 2871 N. Lincoln, 773-561-0494. Through 7/28: Thu 7:30 PM. $12.|
Striding Lion's madly energetic, tuneful show, based on a Frank Zappa mini-opera about an ambulatory mountain and his arboreal wife, combines rough edges with polished dance. The athletic musical numbers come off better than the dreary sketches in between them, but overall, "Billy the Mountain" is a joyous expression of a peculiarly American madness.
"The Dean Evans Show" 5153 N. Ashland (second floor), 773-275-5255. 7/22-7/30: Fri-Sat 8 PM. $5-$10.
Who needs celebrities? For the next few weeks, skip Leno and catch the Neo-futurariam's live late-night talk parody, The Dean Evans Show. I am almost positive Tom Cruise won't be there. Dean Evans, who is something like a small, mentally disturbed cannonball, interviews locals that are less famous than fascinating: Yuri Lane (the Human Beatbox), Jason Bitner (Found Magazine), the Windy City Rollers, etc. etc. The shtick — grinning sociopath and mild-mannered sidekick fail miserably at the talk show format — is a lot of fun, but the shtick doesn't stop Evans from delivering a straight-ahead good interview. With any luck, the show will keep running, and give us a whole new class of Chicago celebrities-next-door.
"Amerikafka" Trap Door Theatre, 1655 W. Cortland, 773-384-0494. Through 7/30: Thursday-Saturday 8 PM. $17; two for one Thursday.
You couldn't ask for a better Kafka hero than Tom Bateman as Kafka himself. With his fragile features and massive eyes, Bateman looks like a wounded baby bird with a sharp sense of humor. His subtle, relatively realistic performance centers the sheer madness of "Amerikafka," Trapdoor's latest production. The play is a Yiddish style staging of Kafka's unfinished novel, "Amerika," with Kafka as audience member and occasional interlocutor. It's also a bio-drama about the famous author's love affair with the Yiddish theatre, a eulogy for a demolished culture, an exorcism, a vaudeville act, and a musical. There is nudity. There are puppets. There are nude puppets.
"Amerikafka" is overstuffed, and over-long. It could use more jokes and less oddity. In short, it's an ambitious, glorious, well-staged, surprising mess. But what's wrong with getting messy?
"Book of Days" Steep Theatre, 3902 N. Sheridan, 312-458-0722. Through 7/23: Thursday-Saturday 8 PM. $15.
"Book of Days" at Steep Theatre is the only play that's ever made me angry and hungry at the same time. Lanford Wilson's drama, part whodunit and part passion play, concerns murder, adultery and the making of artisanal cheese. I cared passionately about all of it, even (especially) the provolone.
Krista Forester anchors a fine cast as staunch, freckly Ruth Hoch, the bookkeeper/amateur actress who sniffs out a murder while headlining "Saint Joan" at the community theater. The first act sometimes gets bogged down in a mass of characters, but as Ruth's hometown turns hypocritical and vicious, it becomes impossible not to root for her. In fact, I had to bite my lip to keep from rooting for her out loud.
"The True Ballad of Falls Blessing" Strawdog Theatre Company, 3829 N. Broadway, 773-528-9696. Through 7/23: Friday-Saturday 8 PM, Sunday 7 PM. $15-$20.
Packed with twisted Old West archetypes, dramatic confrontations, and incidental music, "The True Ballad of Falls Blessing" doesn't have a boring moment. Still, this ensemble-created musical feels incomplete. Each character has enough material for one normal-sized play, but the multiple storylines never cohere, and there are either too many songs or not enough. Come to this play for bountiful entertainment, not answers. With the riveting Jamie Vaan as a supernatural shyster, and Jennifer Avery, bringing effortless depth to her role as a farm-owning spinster.
"Queen Lucia". 6912 N. Glenwood, 773-761-4477. Through 7/24: Friday 7:30 PM, Saturday 4 and 8 PM, Sunday 5:30 PM. $18-$24.
A wonderfully little musical for Lifeline's wonderful little stage, "Queen Lucia" builds its big numbers around the most trivial events. Emmeline "Lucia" Lucas (dexterously played by Elise Kauzlaric) is the center of culture and society in Riseholm, an English town that is itself the center of nowhere. Her supreme, circumscribed dominance is threatened by the arrival of Miss Olga Bracely, an opera singer who is not only more cultured and talented than Lucia, but kinder, smarter, and more fun at parties.
The plot demands a certain amount of operetta silliness, and Lifeline delivers-- most notably with the second act closer: Lucia's aria of revenge, delivered against a backdrop of bunny-hopping partygoers. But the emotional weight of the play lies on the shoulders of Georgie Pillson (the adorable Jamie Axtell), Riseholm's resident repressed homosexual. Georgie, used to living a vicarious life, is thrown by the effects of his divided allegiance to Lucia and Olga. So was I. Without making a fuss about it, and without anything bad ever happening, "Queen Lucia", a frothy piece of English kitsch, unnerved me with the vague suggestion that it might be a tragedy.
"Stardust" (Kid's Pick) Theatre Building Chicago, 1225 W. Belmont, 773-327-5252. Through 6/26: Thursday-Saturday 7:30 PM, Sunday 3 PM. $23.
Most people in the English-speaking world either love Neil Gaiman or don't know who he is. Those in the latter category should know: Griffin Theatre has scored big in bringing the cult author's wise, lovingly bent adult fairy tale to the stage. It's hard to say what they'll benefit more from—Gaiman's beautiful language or his rabid fan base.
William Massolia's script is a lightly pruned version of the book, faithful to a fault. This faithfulness makes for a solid adaptation, but a few risks and departures could have made for a great one. I was longing for a little theatricality, something bold and gorgeous that would exploit the conventions of drama in the way that Gaiman exploits the conventions of the written tale. The actors, at least at first, were similarly tentative, seeming uncomfortable in their English accents and their fairy world.
But both the script and the cast warmed up for a second act that moved, and was moving. And although "Stardust" the novel is emphatically not for children, "Stardust" the play is my kid's pick for the week. Just because you're taking the brood to see a fairy tale play with richly costumed witches, beasties, ghosts and falling stars doesn't mean you shouldn't get to laugh. And this production goes beyond the cheap parodies of "Shrek"; it's a subtle, knowledgeable, tweaking of the genre. That's what adult fairy tale means — not obscenity, but sophistication.
"The Cabinet" Viaduct Theater, 3111 N. Western, 312-850-8440, ext. 111. Through 6/5: Wed-Fri 8 PM, Sat 6 and 9 PM, Sun 3 PM. $20-$25.
"The Cabinet," a new entertainment by larger-than-life puppet troupe Redmoon, is a delirious exploration of the small. Miniature paper sets hide behind the many doors of a stage-sized cabinet, frail cut-outs represent the minor characters, the villain has unnerving tiny dolls' hands. In its elaborate tichyness, the show is like something put together by maniacal and precocious children.
The story, taken from silent-film classic "Das Kabinett des Doktor Caligari," concerns a murderous hypnotist, and the recorded narration is appropriately hypnotic. Sometimes too much so. In between the unboxing of new little mechanical delights, the show's pace can drag. But Redmoon makes up for everything after curtain call, when the actors invite the audience backstage to touch, hold and thoroughly inspect the puppets and other marvelous toys.