Arts & Culture » Performing Arts Feature

Anon(ymous), Pygmalion, and seven more new theater reviews

A haunting show from the Cuckoo's Theater Project and George Bernard Shaw's classic are among this week's best bets.


[Recommended] Anon(ymous) When Naomi Iizuka wrote Anon(ymous) in 2006, there were 8.4 million refugees registered with the UN. By the end of 2015, there were 21.3 million. Those numbers seem enormous, but of course they all represent someone: a mother, a son, a daughter, you or me, yearning for a home that no longer exists. Politicians love to paint immigrants as terrorists or a problem that must be dealt with, but conveyed through the lens of Homer's Odyssey, this production helps us see the people behind both the photographs and the propaganda. Directed by Rocco Renda for the Cuckoo's Theater Project, it's a diversely cast and imaginative show employing physical theater and powerful sound and light design that make you realize anyone could become anonymous. —A.J. Sørensen

Company, at Writers Theatre - MICHAEL BROSILOW
  • Michael Brosilow
  • Company, at Writers Theatre

Company It's smooth, entertaining, great looking (thanks to Todd Rosenthal's witty set), and features 14 talented actor/singer/dancers doing delightful work. But there's a problem with William Brown's staging of the musical by Stephen Sondheim and George Furth: cell phones. The tale of Robert, a 35-year-old Manhattanite whose married friends force him to confront his bachelor status, Company premiered in 1970, and its sensibilities are consistent with the era. Which makes them passe for ours. Brown clearly has an impulse to update, yet cell phones are where his rethinking ends. Gender remains binary here, sex stays hetero, and ring-a-ding-ding still qualifies as a worldview. Even Sondheim's music channels a pop brightness reminiscent of period TV themes. Sure, Thom Miller's Robert seems reticent about getting amorous with his various girlfriends, suggesting the possibility of homosexuality. But his behavior is also explicable as commitment phobia. The only real point of communication between 2016 and 1970 is the thought of what it must've been like for the two gay authors to pretend they weren't writing about themselves. —Tony Adler

The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged), at the Heartland Studio Theatre - DAN OSBORN
  • Dan Osborn
  • The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged), at the Heartland Studio Theatre

The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged)There are those who think that Shakespeare's plays need to be translated into an accessible language of sight gags and fart jokes in order to be appreciated by semi-educated modern audiences. This aptly describes the committee that thought up The Complete Works of Shakespeare (Abridged). Less a play than a long, dumbed-down SNL skit, it skewers Shakespeare's plots and language in service of a highlight reel of choice bits that pretty much shreds everything that ever mattered to anyone encountering the Bard of Avon. The play makes Shakespeare look stupid, and the actors apparently go along with that--is this what these people actually believe, or is it just cheap shtick for cheap laughs? —Max Maller

Urban Theater Company's Lolita de Lares - ANTHONY AICARDI
  • Anthony Aicardi
  • Urban Theater Company's Lolita de Lares

Lolita de Lares In 1954, Lolita Lebron led fellow members of the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party in an armed attack on the U.S. House of Representatives. If you're curious to know why she did it, or how desperate things might have been in Puerto Rico at the time, you'll learn little from Migdalia Cruz's incessantly tangential 1995 play. Cruz lets flights of poetic fancy lead her anywhere except into the heart of the matter, and her politics are simplistic and reductive (Lolita is little beyond a zealous patriot). Director Marcela Muñoz struggles to makes sense of the fundamentals—like who or where half the characters are—and her exuberant but unpolished cast can't extract convincing psychological states from Cruz's needlessly florid dialogue. —Justin Hayford

Nick & Gabe: American Champions - COURTESY SECOND CITY
  • Courtesy Second City
  • Nick & Gabe: American Champions

Nick & Gabe: American Champions In Nick and Gabe's America, everything is bigger, better, faster—like an athlete on steroids. So it's no coincidence that over the course of this one-hour sketch-comedy revue one of the more prominent motifs is lampooning SportsCenter's Top 10 Plays, thunderous dunks and all. On the one hand it's a joke about redundancy; on the other hand it's about domination. That sense of supremacy resonates throughout this mockery of democracy, with some of the more biting quips coming at the expense of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan ("We're definitely not still in Iraq") and the failure to close Guantanamo Bay. This may sound like stale material, but astute observations about chants of "USA," along with original gems like ditties about our national parks and a group called the Beach Brothers, make this show worth your hard-earned American dollars. —Matt de la Peña

Oak Park Festival Theatre's Pygmalion - JOHNNY KNIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Johnny Knight Photography
  • Oak Park Festival Theatre's Pygmalion

[Recommended] Pygmalion Not many plays survive being transformed into a popular musical (exhibit A, the almost never produced Green Grow the Lilacs, source for Oklahoma!). George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion does—it's just too rich to be thought of as mere source material for My Fair Lady. This current revival by Oak Park Festival Theatre, directed by Jason Gerace, emphasizes the darker elements in a witty meditation on class and sexual politics—there's more than a whiff of Christian Grey in Kevin Theis's overtly aggressive Henry Higgins, and the sexual tension between him and Amanda Drinkall's streetwise Eliza Doolittle is always faintly sizzling. Likewise, every repetition of Eliza's iconic line "I'm a good girl, I am" reminds us how common it is for a woman like her to be sexually exploited by a man like Higgins. —Jack Helbig

Windy City Playhouse's This - MICHAEL BROSILOW
  • Michael Brosilow
  • Windy City Playhouse's This

This Four college buddies simultaneously endure near middle-age crises in Melissa James Gibson's dramedy about life during the diaper-bag years. After a dinner party for a widow turns sour, a desperate act of infidelity forces the group to examine what friendship in adulthood really means and where along the way their idealistic life plans went askew. Gibson gives a lot of grown-up concepts (waning marital sex drives, post-30s bachelorhood, adultery) the Neil Simon treatment via a lot of light zingers. Even in Windy City Playhouse's well-acted production, though, director Carl Menninger's cast has trouble working its way up to the climactic, hard-to-justify images that the show hinges upon. Even more curious is a hot, cartoony Frenchman who seems to have walked on from a different play entirely. —Dan Jakes

The Unfortunates, at Theater Wit's SoloChicago - EMILY SCHWARTZ
  • Emily Schwartz
  • The Unfortunates, at Theater Wit's SoloChicago

The Unfortunates In Aoise Stratford's one-woman play--a hit at the 2013 New York Fringe Festival—Victorian prostitute Mary Jane Kelly takes a late-night breather in her regular London watering hole, empty save for a silent, invisible male customer. She's Jack the Ripper's final victim, so his identity is a safe bet. For 90 minutes she flirts, cajoles, bargains, and ultimately relives her desperate life story, complete with multiple characters and accents. While Gail Rastorfer as Kelly is engaging (although sometimes given more to enthusiasm than craft), the familiar, squalid details of Kelly's story feel like grittier-than-average Dickens. Worse, the play makes no dramatic sense. Why is she carrying on for this stranger? Why does he listen? And what barkeep leaves his saloon unattended for so long? —Justin Hayford

[Recommended] The Woman Who Amuses Herself Victor Lodato, perhaps best known for his 2009 novel Mathilda Savitch, wrote this intriguing drama about the 1911 theft of Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa from the Louvre by Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian expat who had worked at the museum. Though his intention was to return the Renaissance masterpiece to the Italian people, Peruggia kept the canvas all to himself in his Paris apartment for more than two years—because, according to Lodato's interpretation, he fell under the emotional and spiritual spell of the lady with the mystic smile. (The play's title is a reference to the painting's Italian name, La Gioconda, which means "the happy one.") Lodato presents a wide range of responses to the enigmatic image from characters ranging from Walter Pater to Marcel Duchamp to an elderly Italian peasant who reveres the Mona Lisa as a madonna figure. The play is at its best when focusing on the psychologically erratic Peruggia, compellingly played by Nathan Thompson. Idle Muse Theatre Company's fine production, directed by Nathan Pease, also features imaginative visual projections by Laura Wiley. —Albert Williams

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