44th Annual Non-Equity Jeff Awards

“At the Table”, Michael Perlman’s drama of scintillating conversation between diverse friends during a weekend in the country, took home the most honors on Monday, June 5, during the 44th Annual Non-Equity Jeff Awards ceremony recognizing excellence in non-union Chicago theatre. The awards show was held at the Athenaeum Theatre for the first time, a fitting venue since it is home to several non-Equity theater companies.

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Bright Half Life

This memory play starts out in time order as we see how and when Erica and Vicky meet, become an item, move in together, adopt children and eventually marriage. This multilevel play is told in flashbacks, flashforwards, dreams and fantasies. This play grabs us and makes us follow the disjointed memories because we like and care about both characters. We learn about their foibles, wants and desires as, in most relationships, one or the other holds the power, as the stakes shift as the power shifts. Early on Erica is tha aggresive one yet once thwy are committed, Vicky becomes incharge of most events.

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The Night Season by Strawdog Theatre

The Night Season. An ensemble play I would describe as more about loneliness than love, The Night Season is an experiential success insofar as it offers the same disappointment of loneliness by not only conveying loneliness’s disappointment through its characters but also by leaving its audience disappointed at its end—all this despite its sentimental conclusion in which many characters actually find love.

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Three Days of Rain at BoHo Theatre

With six roles and three actors, a lot no doubt rides on the actors’ performative skills. The first act felt rocky, in that I found it difficult to identify the “real” characters behind their attitudes: Ned is high-strung and rambles; Nan is quiet and brooding; and Pip is chummy and smiling. And while the conflict eventually brings out other depths in Nan and Pip, it felt a little too late for me to care; and Ned was never clarified, or redeemed for that matter, for me.

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Harvey

This funny show is pure whimsical fantasy played out with innate sweetness with a pleasant lighthearted touch. Elwood is a lovable guy who was smart and now wants to be pleasant. His simple credo is infectious. It is so refreshing to see strong dramatic actors like Timothy Edward Kane, Karen Janes Woditsch, Jacqueline Williams, and A.C. Smith perform comedy. Their timing rendered many laughs.

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Relativity

At she bonds with Einstein, Harding segways from Einstein’s work to his personal life. She speaks about a child he had in 1902 who was never spoken again after 1904. Here playwright St. Germain fictionalizes about what happened to the baby and what Harding’s connection is to that happening. Einstein’s reaction to that baby, now a grown women, and to that women’s child, a genius savant makes for a compelling story.

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Black Pearl: A Tribute to Josephine Baker

What makes this biomusical work so well is the combination of terrific period dance numbers depicting traditional vaudeville, ragtime, and roaring twenties dances with outstanding performances by the two Josephine Bakers. We see Joan Ruffin, as the older Josephine as she narrates the Baker story deftly until she ‘becomes’ her. But the real star is Aerial Williams as the younger Josephine. Aerial is a true beauty, a fabulous dancer/singer and an exquisite actor. She has a terrific stage presence that becomes electrifying. She has charm to spare yet is tough as need be. Aerial Williams gives a star-studded performance here.

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Things to Ruin: The Songs of Joe Iconis

Wikipedia would have us believe Things to Ruin is “A rock concert about young people hell bent on destruction and creation,” but it’s unlikely Wikipedia saw the production I did. For me, at its worst Things to Ruin is about a group of former high school theatre nerds (I use the term affectionately), now grown into struggling actors and wayward young adults, who hang around a bar exorcising the ghosts of their Emo years while bemoaning the failures of their present. At its best, the show sometimes manages to transcend the hallmark sound of musical theatre, relay a sentiment not entirely infantile, and actually land in genre (though typically it does not stray far from the roots of Rock). At its best, Things to Ruin is very good; at its worst, it’s mawkishly sentimental. The good news: it’s more often at its best.

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