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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The Room

A Red Orchid Theatre’s production of Pinter’s The Room is, I’d say, recommended for an audience with a mature and sophisticated appreciation for theatre. Not that it’s pretentious or elitist, but, if one is not willing to follow its absurd and esoteric progression thoughtfully, one will likely be frustrated and confused by its conclusion (though perhaps still entertained by its menace and occasional comedy). For it is a sobering production that demands something of you, and you will only get something out of it to the degree to which you give in to it.

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I Am Who I Am: The Story of Teddy Pendergrass

Continuing its 40th Anniversary Season’s playlist of greatest hits, Black Ensemble Theater opened Jackie Taylor’s I Am Who I Am this week, yet another musical homage to one of America’s legendary Soul singers, this time Teddy Pendergrass. Featuring some very fine vocal performances accompanied by the Black Ensemble Band, the production takes us through Pendergrass’ musical career, from his time with Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes in the early ‘70s all the way up through his “Teddy 25” performance in 2007. Shining the blinding light of grace and gratitude, the play side-shuffles the dark side of Pendergrass’ personal tragedies, making it a consummate feel-good tribute that will delight long-time fans and likely entertain newcomers with an appreciation for or openness to Soul music.

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Fantasy Land for Dummies

If avant-garde, absurdist-cum-intellectual theatre with socio-political spice doesn’t sound like your fantasy of choice, I would encourage you to reconsider: having once been suspicious of “avant-garde” theatre, and being none too impressed by the typical fare of Chicago theatres’ socio-political commentary, I write with confidence that Trap Door offers something truly fresh and interesting in their curious productions. And while maybe not their strongest production to date, Fantasy Island for Dummies is still more exciting, exploratory, and entertaining than most — so long as you’re willing to dive into the oddly fantastical.

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Bleacher Bums

I can only imagine that Open Space thought a production of Bleacher Bums would be a commercial guarantee given its timeliness because, apart from the elaborate bleacher set, very little thought seems to have gone into this show. The most apparent and pervasive misstep in the production is its failure to make the baseball game a visceral reality. With no other crowd sounds other than the actors, the setting felt empty and devoid of energy; and the actors themselves, apart from Erik Burke as the zealously impassioned Cheerleader, brought little conviction to the game’s reality and only intermittent enthusiasm for its progress — and when there was action occurring on the field the actors oftentimes looked in different directions! (Was this supposed to be funny?) Moreover, the Wrigley Field scoreboard was a static projection of a JPEG image, so it never changed score, batter, count — anything. Why? A commentary on the sometimes-interminable feeling of baseball games? A la Beckett’s “Waiting for Santo”?

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