Arts & Culture » Performing Arts Feature

Belarus Free Theater's King Lear, the Hypocrites' Glass Menagerie, and eight more new stage shows

Shakespeare in Belarusian and a reimagined Tennessee Williams play are among the highlights this week.

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Danielle Pinnock - MICHAEL BROSILOW
  • Michael Brosilow
  • Danielle Pinnock

[Recommended] Body/Courage Danielle Pinnock started hating her body in junior high. Her adolescence and early adulthood were full of diets and self-loathing. A few years ago, she started interviewing other people about how they felt about her bodies and transformed the interviews into a series of monologues. The subjects encompassed a wide range of ages, races, genders, and nationalities, and Pinnock embodied them all with skill, empathy, and humor. Now, in the project’s final incarnation, Pinnock has interwoven the monologues with her own story to show all the different ways people can feel uncomfortable in their own skin. The project helped her come to peace with herself. She hopes it will do the same for her audience. Her fantastic performance(s) and good humor far outweigh any preachiness. —Aimee Levitt

Shannon Noll and Alex Young in Evicted! at the Annoyance - EVAN MILLS
  • Evan Mills
  • Shannon Noll and Alex Young in Evicted! at the Annoyance

Evicted! Each week in Shannon Noll and Alex Young’s “episodic sketch show,” the pair receives an eviction notice from their “evil landlord” and attempts to make good on a ridiculous amount of back rent. The duo was $16,000 in the hole on the night I attended, saddled with an overly friendly and attention-starved landlord (played by an appropriately annoying Meaghan Strickland) who seemed to want hang time just as much as the money owed to her. Shannon’s money-making plan to participate in a tickle party and Alex’s ability to “real estate” her way into Trump Tower were funny sketch fodder, but the 45-minute show could benefit from smoother transitions, tightened-up scenes, and fewer oddball ideas.
—Marissa Oberlander

The Explorers Club at Windy City Playhouse - MICHAEL BROSILOW
  • Michael Brosilow
  • The Explorers Club at Windy City Playhouse

The Explorers Club Playwright Nell Benjamin erects easy targets for ridicule—self-congratulatory, myopic Victorian men (here a pack of pseudoscientists faced with the possibility of admitting a woman to their private club)—and tries to knock them down through farce. But the tenuous, underdeveloped plotting and two-note characters result in a middling two-hour wacky sitcom largely devoid of the heightened stakes that make farce farcical. Even the assemblage of three angry mobs—including the British army—bent on sacking the club never produces a palpable sense of danger. Part of the problem comes from director David H. Bell’s overly pleasant production, which rarely contains a sharp angle or bracing contrast despite some winning performances. Luckily there’s a bar in the lobby and a second onstage. —Justin Hayford

Falling Circus, a "Monty Python-style" sketch show at the Public House Theatre - MATT MAHAFFEY
  • Matt Mahaffey
  • Falling Circus, a "Monty Python-style" sketch show at the Public House Theatre

Falling Circus A typically weird old Joe Martin cartoon depicts a printing press with a man’s body stuck in it. Two executives are standing nearby, and one says to the other, “This idea of yours, Jenson, about a human newspaper . . . I thought there was more to it.” Exactly. When I heard that an octet of young writer-performers had put together a “Monty Python-style” sketch show, I was excited to see what they’d do to make Python’s signature physicality and absurdity their own. The wrong thing, it turns out. Imagine a Beatles tribute band that’s decided to write new Lennon/McCartney tunes and perform them as the Fab Four might. That’s what these folks mean by “Monty Python style.” They even speak with English accents and imitate Terry Jones’s screechy-lady voice. The best I can say is that I’d like to see Abby Harvey in something completely different. Otherwise, Falling Circus is jaw-droppingly bad. I really thought there’d be more to it. —Tony Adler

Joanne Dubach in Hans Fleischmann's reinvented Glass Menagerie, at the Hypocrites - EVAN HANOVER
  • Evan Hanover
  • Joanne Dubach in Hans Fleischmann's reinvented Glass Menagerie, at the Hypocrites

[Recommended] The Glass Menagerie Hans Fleischmann’s 2012 adaptation of Tennessee Williams’s semiautobiographical masterpiece at Mary-Arrchie Theatre was a study in dramaturgy gone right, as is this luminous revival with the Hypocrites. In a gut-wrenching performance as the narrator, Tom—reimagined as a broken soul murmuring to himself in the gutter—Fleischmann (who also directed) goes from gnawing regret about the family he left behind to something resembling full-blown psychosis. This exceptional production’s fine cast also features Joanne Dubach as Laura; haunting scenic and lighting design by Grant Sabin and Matt Gawryk and an original, never-intrusive score by Daniel Knox re-create the fractured, dreamlike experience Williams so poetically describes. Every bold choice amplifies every one of the play’s subtleties, making this—to my mind, at least—the definitive Glass Menagerie. —Dan Jakes

Teagan Walsh-Davis and Nate Cheeseman in Chicago Slam Works' cabaret show Incendium - JOSEPH RAMSKI
  • Joseph Ramski
  • Teagan Walsh-Davis and Nate Cheeseman in Chicago Slam Works' cabaret show Incendium

[Recommended] Incendium Cabaret is about performing for the sake of performing. It’s showing up in your best clothes and singing your best songs. That’s what happens in Chicago Slam Works’ Incendium— a crew of actors sing or “slam” (as in poetry slam) their own written material to entertain the captive audience in hell. I love seeing actors have fun, and when these performers improvise around their pieces, they light up. The poetry, though, is on the whole quite bad, although I enjoyed Angela Oliver’s song “Emotionless Sex,” which brought the house down with laughter. A fickle meter, the anapest (so serviceable to Clement Clark Moore on the night before Christmas) is the undoing of a lengthy parable about the theater life, although Nate Cheeseman tries. Funnily enough, as this earnest cast insists, it turns out the afterlife is a lot like being a professional actor. You wait an eternity for the phone to ring, and when it does, you’re not supposed to pick up. —Max Maller

Aleh Sidorchyk in Belarus Free Theater's King Lear at Chicago Shakespeare Theater - NICOLAI KHALEZIN
  • Nicolai Khalezin
  • Aleh Sidorchyk in Belarus Free Theater's King Lear at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

[Recommended] King Lear The Belarus Free Theater’s King Lear is visually inventive, endlessly stunning, and authentically great. As performed at Chicago Shakespeare Theater under the direction of Vladimir Shcherban—whose approach is at once wryly Beckettian yet full of a very un-Beckett-like exuberance—the production uses a trunkful of dirt to demystify the land wealth at the center of the conflict between Lear and his daughters, Slavic folk tunes to give that conflict a deep tribal resonance, and an exquisite, nestlike crown to tell us all we need to know about kingship and paternity. Aleh Sidorchyk’s thuggish, jolly Lear and Victoria Biran’s tormented, ungenerous Cordelia cast their father-child relationship in a brilliant new light. The show is presented in Belarusian with English supertitles, so Anglophones will do well to look the play over before seeing it. —Tony Adler

Horton Foote's The Old Friends at Raven Theatre - DEAN LA PRAIRIE
  • Dean La Prairie
  • Horton Foote's The Old Friends at Raven Theatre

The Old Friends For the first 45 minutes of this Raven Theatre production, a clot of boozy, middle-aged, ersatz Texans with accents from several imaginary southern states hang out in someone’s living room waiting to go to someone’s party somewhere. Two of them are married, maybe the rest are related. The old lady can’t stand living here anymore, who knows why, and when somebody offstage dies, she’s apparently really stuck. Granted, playwright Horton Foote, one of America’s most boring important playwrights, writes an exceptionally lifeless opening, but director Michael Menendian’s uncharacteristically shapeless scenes render it nearly opaque. Once it becomes clear that two former lovers are fitfully reuniting after three decades, there are people onstage to care about. Everyone else remains unpleasant and/or uninteresting all evening.—Justin Hayford

Other Letters A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters inspired this epistolary romance by Bryan Renaud and Carin Silkaitis. Like its source material, the play uses back-and-forth correspondence to chart a couple’s decades-long entanglement, from childhood to middle age. But here both of the letter writers are of the same sex, introducing fresh societal obstacles into the characters’ record of longing and bad timing. The authors have written two versions of the script—one for two men and another for two women; they’re being presented by the Other Theatre Company in repertory and with different performers at each show. At the one I saw (which featured Alex Weisman and Will Allan seated at side-by-side tables and reading from scripts), the results were touching and tender. —Zac Thompson

Arc Theatre's The Things We Keep - EMILY SCHWARTZ
  • Emily Schwartz
  • Arc Theatre's The Things We Keep

The Things We Keep This new drama by Mark Boergers jumps around in time to show how brothers Rob and Tom and their cousin, Evelyn, are shaped by their dealings with their aunt, Marie, an artist whose pack-rat tendencies eventually tip into hoarding. At the center of the story is a shared secret that paradoxically strengthens and corrodes the family’s ties. But too much remains vague and unarticulated about the characters and their motivations (especially Marie’s) for the changes in their behavior to cohere. A dark turn in the play’s second half feels like sheer authorial imposition. The cast of Natalie Sallee’s staging for the Arc Theatre manage to make the script’s sometimes lofty language sound natural, but the production is morose even when it’s supposed to be light. —Zac Thompson

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