High Fidelity – 2017

Set in a tiny found space converted to look and feel like a real record shop (wonderfully realized by Michelle Manni), and accompanied by an impressive live band, Refuge Theatre Project’s immersive remount of High Fidelity lives up to its last-year’s acclaim: it is infectiously catchy, cleverly comedic, and distractingly entertaining. Those more interested in heart than spectacle, however, will find themselves bored by intermission and disappointed by the end. The biggest joke, though, is that High Fidelity was made into a musical at all—a genre derided by the spirit of the film. But too few will mind this irony amidst the rollicking pop-rock and belly laughs of its musical successor.

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Cymbeline

Continuing its 29th season, the now itinerant Strawdog Theatre Company takes up its own existential theme of “exile” with Shakespeare’s complexly beautiful Cymbeline. A tragicomedy containing pastoral, fantastic, romantic, and historical elements—many of them concise allusions to his earlier plays—Shakespeare’s Cymbeline finds a coherent, quirky, and imaginative translation to the stage under the direction of Robert Kauzlaric.

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Eurydice

Director Hand’s vision of Eurydice’s world comes across as only half concocted. In effect a two-tiered set with a dilapidated brick façade half-obscured by a white, translucent tarp, the “place” of this world is highly ambiguous and suggests virtually no atmosphere to either the realm of the living or of the dead. The nicest touch is an elevator and sliding door, through which the newly deceased enter and in which they are sprinkled with the waters of Lethe (thereby losing their memories). But neither this embellishment nor even the stony inhabitants of Hades, each of whom are dressed like figures from the past—a half-cocked nod toward some theme of “nostalgia”—can redeem this set’s production value in some coherence of “world.”

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Phèdre

Not only for those who appreciate steeping in the viscous bath of lustful tremors, Phèdre also offers much fodder for post-production discussion for those who appreciate thinking. For one, the interplay of the gods, the emasculated Mars and the vindictive Venus, analogues perhaps for their respective passions—or, if psychology is more your bent, the animus and anima—is worth contemplating: specifically, what role does Euripides/Racine/Schmidt/Wiesner see these gods playing in affecting the characters and their actions; and what role does the ruler/patriarch Theseus (Carl Wisniewski) play in attempting to set right his kingdom overrun by passion?

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The Rosenkranz Mysteries: An Evening of Magic to Lift the Spirits

Herein also lies Dr. Rosenkranz’s personal philosophy on medicine: “There is something beautiful and wonderful about the unknown,” he says, “and I think, in that sense, magic and medicine share a DNA.” As Dr. Rosenkranz demonstrates in his performance, the doctor is the patient’s guide to the unknown realm of medical science just as the illusionist is the same to the metaphysical realm of the paranormal. The perspective with which the patient approaches medicine, whether as an impersonal and clinical system of testing and measuring or as a personal and cooperative engagement between two humans, is as much a paradigm that is set by the doctor as is the illusionist’s theatrics. Both establish the expectations and etiquette of their respective offices that largely determine the patient/audience experience.

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Winterset

Winterset is certainly a political drama, but one that is more timeless than it is merely timely: Anderson composed his script with a keen and empathetic, poetic eye, and his voice is as sympathetic toward justice and truth as it is understanding toward those who hide from it with violence or fear. Under the guidance of director Jonathan Berry, Griffin’s production of Winterset is one of the few Chicago shows I’d say demonstrates the potential of theatre in Chicago.

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Electra

To bring us all up to Electra: prior to Electra, Agamemnon, to appease the goddess Artemis in order to allow his troops to reach Troy, sacrificed his daughter, Iphigenia (Iphigenia at Aulis); then, to avenge the death of her daughter (and because she had, during Agamemnon’s 10-year absence, taken up an adulterous affair with Aegisthus, Agamemnon’s cousin and rival to the House of Atreus), Clytemnestra murders Agamemnon, prompting Electra to send her brother, Orestes, into hiding (lest her mother should murder him, too), until the time when he might return to avenge his father’s death (Agamemnon).

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Rutherford’s Travels

In the spirit of its newly rebranded mission to produce “boldly imaginative theatre” and “illuminate the human journey,” Pegasus Theatre opened this weekend Rutherford’s Travels, its World Premiere adaptation of Charles Johnson’s National Book Award-Winning Novel Middle Passage. A story about a newly freed slave who accidentally happens upon a slave ship bound for Africa, Rutherford’s Travels is an entertaining adventure and an impressive feat of adaptation.

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First Lady Suite

Overall, I found none of the stories compelling dramatically: I don’t understand what LaChiusa is trying to say here by dramatizing these particular stories. Perhaps something about how women have made a difference even in their historically secondary roles, but LaChiusa’s script doesn’t make an entertaining or intellectually stimulating enough case for me to care. Nevertheless, the show’s saving grace is its music and its style: some nice melodies and fine singing (particularly in chorus), and elegant costume and lighting design, by Alexa Weinzierl and Maya Michele Fein, respectively. If that’s enough to get your vote, cast your ballot there.

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Romeo & Juliet – The Joffrey Ballet

Pastor’s timely interpretation is timely indeed — if one sets one’s time by 20th century Italian history. Set over three periods of Italian political and social unrest, Pastor’s Prokofiev’s Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet becomes the 1930’s Capulet militaristic Fascists versus the Montague liberal low and middle classes; then, in the second act, the 1950’s Capulet Red Brigade political terrorists versus the Montague peace-loving liberal low and middle classes (?); and then, finally in the third act, the 1990s . . . we’re more or less back to plain-ol’ Romeo and Juliet — but in Berlusconi-led Italy of “increasing social divisions!” And for those of us who cannot imagine what these periods of Italian history must have looked like — any more than what Shakespeare’s time did look like — there are projections of Italian pedestrians milling about their ravaged country — which projections are not at all as helpful in focusing the story as they might sound.

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