Tag Archives: Chicago Shakespeare at Navy Pier

Dunsinane

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Siobhan Redmond and Darrell D’Silva
Photo courtesy of the National Theatre of Scotland
and Royal Shakespeare Company

Imagine the war-torn Scotland that Malcolm and his English allies found themselves in, once the tyrant Macbeth was defeated.

If that isn’t intriguing enough, imagine that rumors of Lady Macbeth’s demise were mistaken. Imagine if her madness, too, was a rumor, probably put about to discredit her, and that Macbeth’s power had come to him because of his marriage to her—that she was the true heir to Scotland’s sovereignty. Then imagine that an Englishman who means well is in charge of restoring peace to a country where all this is true—a country he cannot begin to understand. You’ll have the setup for Dunsinane by David Greig. Artists from the National Theatre of Scotland and Royal Shakespeare Company are visiting Chicago Shakespeare at Navy Pier from February 26-March 22, 2015 to share this riveting production.

Have I mentioned that Sis gets me a subscription to Chicago Shakespeare every year? It’s a combination birthday and Christmas present. Sometimes we choose the three-play series, sometimes the four-play, and sometimes—though not often—we go for all five. This was one of those years, but oddly, we were iffy about Dunsinane. During our post-performance discussion, we remembered how we almost didn’t go. I channeled Julia Roberts (in Pretty Woman) to assert, “That would have been a big mistake. Huge.”

Dunsinane was about peace and war and politics, including sexual politics. There were a surprising number of laughs in it. In part, it was a cautionary tale about a nation that sees itself as a stronger, more culturally advanced power than its neighbors deciding to go in and meddle in the “lesser” culture’s government to keep themselves safe and bring enlightenment and better government. The nations in this story were England and Scotland, but they could just as well have been the United States and “pick-any-nation-we-believe-is-unstable-and-poses-a-threat-to-our-security.”

There was so much food for thought in this play, so many questions raised. Is peace a natural state, or even possible? What makes a person bad or good? In the end, will one of them do more (or less) harm than the other?

The writing was so excellent I haven’t even touched on the production, so here is what I haven’t said: while some roles were more demanding than others (Siobhan Redmond as Gruach, Darrell D’Silva as Siward) the ensemble’s acting was stellar, the direction and design (Roxana Silbert, Robert Innes Hopkins, Chahine Yavroyan) were so good as to seem inevitable, and the live music by Nick Powell grabbed me by the heart from the first drumbeats.

I feel lucky just to have seen it. You can still get tickets for some performances, though many are sold out as of this posting. Until March 22, 2015, check with Chicago Shakespeare.

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Pericles at Chicago Shakespeare

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Pericles suffered through a lot of shipwrecks

Usually when we see Shakespeare, we have some idea what to expect. Because of my past life as a theatre person, I rarely see an unfamiliar Shakespeare play in production. Either we’ve already seen a particular play (often multiple productions of it, in fact), or I’ve at least read it. However, Pericles, Prince of Tyre is one of those plays you almost never see in production for several reasons. First, it’s not considered one of Shakespeare’s best. Also, most people believe Shakespeare was not the sole author. A skeezy guy named George Wilkins is often credited with the first 9 scenes and Shakespeare with the last 13 or 14. Whenever I studied Shakespeare, it was one of those plays everyone turned up their nose at, so I never even read it.

Because we didn’t know quite what we’d let ourselves in for, and because we were there early enough, we decided to take advantage of one of the great features of Chicago Shakespeare at Navy Pier, the preamble. About an hour before many of the matinee performances, you can hear a lecture about the play you’re about to see; Stephen Bennett from Roosevelt University was the lecturer we heard, and he was excellent.

A good preamble helps place the play in context within Shakespeare’s canon, and the presenting scholar will also talk about the director’s production choices. The director, David Bell, who has a resumé as long as your arm, has wanted to direct Pericles practically forever. Bennett sketched out  some of the liberties Bell took with the script. The main change was doing away with the John Gower character, who was a historic figure (poet and a buddy of Chaucer’s) but not someone most modern audience members would have a clue about. Gower’s speeches were split among various members of the ensemble. For my money, Bell’s adaptation worked beautifully.

Like other Shakespeare “problem plays”, notably my favorite, The Winter’s Tale, there are plot holes you could drive a truck through. That kind of thing doesn’t bother me the way it does many theatregoers. It gave me the opportunity to wisecrack, Mystery Science Theater style. My favorite comments (delivered to Cookie, sotto voce) included: “Kidnapped by pirates is good.” and “She’s only mostly dead.”

Also, I think it would be an interesting experiment to take one of these less-loved Shakespeare plays and try to reimagine it in novel form, maybe explaining the plot holes. I’m mulling the idea over for an upcoming project.

Anyway, if you live in the Chicago area and  this post has piqued your interest, Pericles is still at Navy Pier until January 18, 2015.

Happy Birthday to Me

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Mmmmm…cake

We celebrated up a storm, starting on Saturday. I used part of my combination Christmas/birthday gift. Every year for the last decade or so, my sister has gotten me a subscription to Chicago Shakespeare at Navy Pier. We usually choose the 4-play subscription, unless the season doesn’t interest us that much. This year was interesting. We’ve already seen Cyrano de Bergerac, Merry Wives of Windsor, and now Gypsy. (Henry V is still to come—woo-hoo!)

As I’ve noted in previous posts, Chicago Shakespeare doesn’t only produce Shakespeare. They’ve put up Molière and Sheridan, among others. And director Gary Griffin has an ongoing interest in exploring the works of Stephen Sondheim, so we’ve also seen A Little Night Music, Sunday in the Park with George, and now Gypsy.

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CST production photo by Michael Brosilow

I thought Gypsy was swell. The cast was good from top to bottom. I went to school with some of the actors, like Rengin Altay and Matt DeCaro, so it’s always a kick to see them in professional productions.

Maybe it’s goofy to single out performers, since one of the great strengths of the show was how well the ensemble performed as a whole, but I should probably mention that Jessica Rush as Louise and Keith Kupferer as Herbie were very affecting. The single best part of the show for me was the first act finale, and the reason it was so chilling was because of the interplay among Louise, Herbie, and Rose. Of course, Louise Pitre as Rose was wonderful.

I was iffy with with a couple of artistic choices in the second act. It was hard to tease out whether these choices belonged to the director or to the actor(s), but in any case, they were minor. I can definitely recommend this production to anyone who still has the opportunity to see it. Get there by March 28, 2014.

The rest of the long birthday weekend was similarly excellent. Cookie (who joined Sis and me at the theatre) bought dinner for all of us, including BK and our son.

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We got carry-out from Clara’s

Clara’s heard it was my birthday and gave us a quart of pasta fazool for the price of a bowl, and topped dinner off with free tiramisu. Yum!

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Did I mention the cake?

On Sunday, BK, Son, Cookie and I had chocolate birthday cake (drool). Then Sunday night I experimented with tweeting (@cmbrennan09) through the Oscars, which made the long telecast more entertaining. It was especially fun to come up with my John Travolta name—Catapult Branana. That’s not what I got from the “official” John Travolta name generator, though. You can play along here.

Monday (my real birthday), my daughter Lori called to wish me a happy birthday and generally warm my heart. She had already sent my birthday gift a few weeks early. She knitted her fingers to the bone to make it. I’ve been wearing it, and it is gorgeous!

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Fabulous hat, right?

I actually got a bit of work done. Revision. Scary! But you feel so virtuous when you manage to make yourself do it. I also hit the gym. So I felt perfectly justified in taking off to go see American Hustle when BK came home early. We finished our evening with dinner at House of Emperor and a viewing of the latest episode of Castle. Sis called to offer birthday well wishes, as did Bro. What’s not to like?

My next post will contain a submission scoreboard update. Stay tuned.

Woo-Hoo! Free Story!

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An anthology of dreams

Getting ready for Capricon, and I have miles to go before I sleep. So, huzzah! Today is free fiction day on CB’s Mojo. I’m sharing a story that previously appeared in an anthology produced by The Journey.

The anthology, Drops of Midnight, was edited by Steven White. About a dozen of us (including such luminaries as Tim Yao and Katherine Lato) contributed. Here’s the teaser from the back cover:

In the dark alleys and gaslit pubs of lower London you can buy almost anything—including dreams.

Here you can purchase small glass bottles offering tales stolen from the subconscious. Taste the longing and regret of a woman escaping her father’s fate and trying to live up to his memory. Experience the dreams of a child trapped in a coma, needing to fly. Feel the pain and nobility of a dreamer living through the Holocaust, or a general on the eve of battle. Some dreams are surreal encounters, like meeting a faded celebrity; others are dark nightmares, like a demon torturing a man for his past. One woman daydreams of a lost loved one; another man makes a bargain that may cost him his dreams.

Sample a bottle of stolen dreams—twelve stories spanning time and place from writers exploring daydreams and nightmares.

Be careful which one you open…

This is how my story begins:

Belarus Lost
In honor of the Belarus Free Theatre

This isn’t my room.

Every morning it takes me awhile to remember that I’m not home. Only it isn’t morning yet. The only light in the room comes from a tiny amber LED on my cell phone as it charges.

My roommate and fellow actor, Elizaveta, snores softly in the next bed, undisturbed by whatever roused me. Of course, I wasn’t fully asleep. I haven’t slept well since we escaped.

We barely got out of Minsk with our skins intact. I’m still waiting for my body to release all the fear and tension of those last miserable days, when we didn’t know how many of us would get away, and how many would spend the next fifteen years—maybe more—in prison. Assuming we lived through the interrogations, that is.

Mercifully, all nine of us made it to New York. The play that we risked everything to perform was well received. Our American hosts praised our bravery and provided a house for us to stay in. They’ve also been trying to help us figure out what to do when the month-long theatre festival for which we were booked is over. One after another, they present solutions for us to consider. Aleksey and Natalya, our leaders, enthusiastically examine every idea they offer.

Our situation has begun to exhaust me. When I am away from the others, I wonder why I didn’t just seek work as an office clerk or a waitress. At least waitresses aren’t imprisoned for doing their jobs. But no, I had to have the magical electricity of the theatre, the thrill of passionate discussions late into the night, the certainty that our plays, which dramatize Lukashenko’s worst abuses, would save our country from his dictatorship. And finally, as it turned out, the necessity to flee if we wanted to reveal the truth about Lukashenko’s regime to a wider audience.

I don’t mean to make a sound, but something like a moan escapes my lips. Elizaveta stirs. If she finds me awake, she’ll ask what’s wrong and try to comfort me. I don’t think I can take that again. I’m tired of being the only one in our group who can’t seem to cope. I creep out of our room and close the door.

Now I don’t know what to do. I’m too jumpy to even consider sleeping. I thought a noise must have awakened me, but though I strain my ears, I hear nothing but the night traffic outside. I can’t just cower in the hallway. Of course no one is downstairs, but I won’t be able to relax until I’ve made sure.

I steal down the stairs in thick socks, wearing the old bathrobe that still smells of my mother’s potato babka. This house, lent to us by one of the rich New York theatre people, smells of a strong, scented cleaning product covering up mold, or old dust.

I look first into the dark kitchen. Nothing moves. I could turn on a light, but the street lamps outside, reflecting off a recent snowfall, provide enough light for me to be sure no one is in there.

Through a swinging door, I see no one in the deserted dining room. The living room, filled with mismatched, sagging furniture, lies across the central hall. I’m almost done making certain I’m the only one down here, but I won’t be able to let my breath out until I’ve checked the last room. I move back into the hall and approach the last door, which opens onto the library. And then I see.

The door is ajar. I push it open and go in. The room is so cold my breath comes in sharply. Immediately I see the reason, but the shock makes me unable to speak or scream. A window is fully open and a light-haired man helps a dark-haired, bearded companion over the sill and into the room.

To continue reading, click here.

If you’re interested in the rest of the anthology, here it is on Amazon.

Merry Wives of Windsor at Chicago Shakespeare

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CST photo – theater interior

My sister Liz, who is the best sister in the world – or at least the best sister I’ve ever had – gets me a subscription to Chicago Shakespeare at Navy Pier as a combination birthday/Christmas gift every year. We usually see four plays, unless the season doesn’t excite us that much, in which case we choose the three-play subscription. This year, we were excited. Of the productions available, we chose Cyrano de Bergerac (with Harry Groener in the title role-loves me some Harry Groener!), Merry Wives of Windsor, Gypsy, and Henry V.

Some readers are probably scratching their heads right now, thinking not all the plays mentioned are Shakespeare. These readers are right to wonder. Usually Chicago Shakespeare tosses in plays by other authors. I think their reasoning goes like this: if we want to keep subscribers, we can’t only repeat Shakespeare ad infinitum. Even when you dress Shakespeare up in different periods, people only want to see Midsummer Nights Dream or Macbeth so many times before they’ve had enough and start subscribing to the Goodman or Steppenwolf instead.

So, yes. Cyrano de Bergerac is by Edmond Rostand. It kind of goes with Shakespeare on account of all the swashbuckling and the poetical language. Gypsy has a book by Arthur Laurents, with music by Jule Styne, and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. It doesn’t exactly go with Shakespeare in any way, but it’s a great musical. Chicago Shakespeare has been exploring Sondheim’s work for several years now. We were late adopters on the musical front, but since starting to attend them, we’ve enjoyed these productions.

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Husbands and Merry Wives – Official CST photo by Liz Lauren

Anyway: Merry Wives of Windsor. This version was set in post WWII Britain. We liked it. Maybe it wasn’t the perfect production. It was a laugh riot, though. Some of our favorite actors were featured, the music was often fun, and the dogs were a huge hit. I was looking forward to Merry Wives (and Henry V, which starts in April) because I’ve totally been into the Harry-related history plays lately. Of course, Merry Wives is a comedy rather than a history, but it does borrow Falstaff and some of his cronies, so there’s a tangential link. If you’re interested, this production runs through January 19, and you may still be able to snag some tickets.