Hordes of swarming, diving birds are attacking a cabin in Somewhere, America -- and, we later assume due to dead radio noise and a major power blackout, the entire country -- while two strangers seek shelter and safety within its walls. They don't know why the birds are attacking but they've seen enough carnage to know stepping outdoors during the beak- and talon-filled ambushes every six hours at high tide means undoubtedly walking into their own deaths. They pass the hours by talking, learning about each other, reading, writing, and most pressingly, discussing their survival. Food is scarce, they have no working transportation, and there's no electricity.
When a third party enters the scene seeking refuge, the two unhesitatingly take her in. The group dynamic now changed, suspicion and mistrust seep into the threesome's thoughts and behavior like an intravenous disease. The silence and long, drawn-out hours don't give the characters the opportunity to ruminate over their regrets, worries, and doubts so much as shove them into a dark, smothering heap of them.
While most of us are familiar with Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 cinematic horror masterpiece, and maybe less of us with the novellette by Daphne du Maurier, I had never heard of this story being put to the stage. Adapted by acclaimed Irish playwright Conor McPherson, Griffin Theater Company's The Birds is an entirely original story set in the apocalyptic universe created by du Maurier and later expanded upon by Hitchcock. The play is less about the literal horrors caused by insane, vicious birds attacking as much as the metaphorical: What would we do to survive? In what ways would we change if society collapses? Would our values regress if nobody is there to enforce rules and keep score? What are we capable of? As The Birds will show, the monsters outside are no match for the ones lurking inside.
The Birds is playing at Theater Wit Thursdays through Sundays until July 19th. Visit theaterwit.org for tickets.
I know about as much Russian as a non-native speaker needs. I know how to say hello and goodbye (Preevyet and Da sveedaneeya). I know how to say thank you (Spaseeba), I even know how to say my little monkey (moya malen'kaya obez'yana) though that doesn’t come in handy too often. Just today I learned the Russian word for amazing (Izumitel'nij). But in Russian and English “amazing” falls short of describing the exceptional performance of “Up & Down” by the Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg.
“Up & Down” is a story set amidst the roaring 20’s. A young psychiatrist falls in love with one of his mental patients who, as it turns out, is a fabulously wealthy socialite. They are wed and soon he is swept up into the money-fueled glitz and glamour that made the 20’s so spectacular. He wrestles with his desire to love and cure his new wife, the enticement of the sensuous social scene, and being the honorable psychiatrist performing his life’s work. Ultimately he succumbs to the pleasures and temptations of the times and it becomes his undoing.
Audience members might liken Eifman’s “Up & Down” to Baz Luhrmann’s version of The Great Gatsby. The set was bright and sleek, art-deco inspired and neon-powered. The dancers danced the Charleston and the tango to Gershwin’s jazzy score. Everything leant itself to immersing the company and audience into the 1920's providing the perfect backdrop for Eifman’s story. As Eifman himself said of “Up & Down, “This ballet is both a tragic and bright chronicle of a person’s spiritual death—the story about how a dream of happiness turns into a disaster, and an externally beautiful and carefree life flowing to the rhythms of jazz, into a nightmare. I want audiences to feel all of the emotions of these characters and become just as immersed in the characters’ lives as the dancers are.”
Eifman is often referred to as one of the leading choreographers in the world and it is easy to see why. His style is classic yet edgy, flowing yet jagged, smooth yet striking. He doesn’t force the audience to know the difference between a jeté and a relevé. His style of storytelling is easy to follow and understand, not an ounce of pretentiousness or far reaching concepts to be found. His dancers are afforded the room to convey charm, humor, lust, pain, and even madness. Despite criticism of the American debut of “Up & Down,” I found the ballet to be captivating. This was the ballet to turn new audiences onto the ballet; the story had loonies, beer drinkers, figments of a mind manifested as an evil twin, lust and love, glamour, humor, silent movie stars, evil investors, and a twist ending. What more could you want? “Up & Down” was also the perfect ballet to celebrate the Auditorium Theatre’s 125th year. It personified the timelessness of the ballet while pushing the art form into the modern world.
“Up & Down” might have come and gone, but should you find yourself in the same city as this St. Petersburg Ballet Company, grab and friend and say “da-vai!” Let’s go to the ballet!
If RENT made a baby with an episode of Dateline, the result might be something like Murder Ballad, the musical. This rock opera tells the story of a love triangle gone out of control, and there is much in the way of drama, energetic pop/rock anthems, suspense, and -- you guessed it -- murder.
In New York City, Sara is an Upper West sider who seemingly has it all: money, a good husband, a beautiful daughter, but she also harbors a dark, destructive past that was never fully left behind. When she reconnects with her unpredictable ex, Tom, her life takes a turn towards the chaotic and explosive.
The audience is launched head-first into the story as the four-person cast of Murder Ballad belts and wails their way through 75 minutes of frenzied rock numbers, strung together by a crooning fly-on-the-wall narrator. A unique element of this show is the voyeuristic set-up and theme. Essentially, you are sitting in Sara's kitchen, and Tom's bedroom, and the King's Club, the divey downtown joint that serves as the homebase for this tale. You're not onstage or offstage, you're sharing the space with these folks. You can even order a complimentary drink at the bar before showtime, then take a seat with your friends to hungrily watch the plot unfold. Because after all, to paraphrase from the show's finale, drama is delicious entertainment, "until it happens to you."
Murder Ballad, created by Julia Jordan and Juliana Nash, and directed by James Beaudry, is playing at the Flat Iron Arts Building (1579 N Milwaukee Ave) until May 9th. Tickets available at bailiwickchicago.com.
Five years ago, anonymous graffiti artists caused quite the hubub at the Modern Wing of the Chicago Art Institute when they "bombed" a major wall of the wing. Their message was clear: THIS is modern art. While a clever, powerful statement, and seemingly jabbing at the art that resides within the walls of the modern art wing, it presents a paradox: Isn't graffiti, by definition, a rebellious art? Would graffiti still be as powerful and compelling if it were inside the museum rather than outside?
This Is Modern Art, written by Kevin Coval, attempts to answer these and hundreds of other questions regarding high art versus common art versus street art and so on. The play, while neither a knuckle-whitening drama nor a belly-clenching comedy, merely seeks to educate the viewer on this commonplace, yet mysterious, art form. You'll learn the differences between "tags," "stickers," "throw-ups," and "pieces," short for "masterpieces." You'll learn the names of dozens of Chicago graffiti artists, or "writers" as they're called. You'll see what goes into "bombing" -- spray painting an urban canvas as much as possible without getting caught -- a city location, the preparation that needs to be done, the items to have, the backup plan, the lookout, the logistics... it practically gives you a how-to guide.
We pass by graffiti every day in this city. Some of us may see it as an eye sore that should be scrubbed away, as vandalism, as criminal activity. Conversely, some of us may see it as art that makes the city more vibrant and beautiful, as spontaneous creativity, as colorful accents on a gray urban backdrop.
But what does this art say? What does it do? It wants to be respected and appreciated, surely. It wants recognition from those who decide what belongs in a museum and snub it as low art. But does graffiti even want to be in a museum? In and of itself, graffiti is rebellion. It's anti-establishment. It's instant social/political commentary. And it's fleeting, temporary. If the Art Institute commissioned a graffiti writer to fill a wall inside the museum, could this still be considered graffiti? Or would it lose the essential qualities that make it graffiti art?
Maybe the point isn't to be in a museum; maybe graffiti seeks to dismantle these labels and present the notion that art should be free and accessible to everyone. Maybe, and most likely, it just wants to get us talking, and if we are, then it has done its job.
This Is Modern Art (based on true events) is playing at Steppenwolf's Downstairs Theatre through March 14th. Tickets may be purchased at the box office or by calling 312-335-1650.
Game of Thrones, breasts, and booty: if you're an admirer of any of these three -- scratch that, four -- things, then you are well-suited to play the Game of Thongs. A burlesque revue of the wildly popular HBO show and book series by George R. R. Martin, Game of Thongs is an hour-long adventure through the land of Breasteros and across an overwhelming Narrow Sea of pasties.
Things are awry in the kingdom of Breasteros when Ned of House Stark-Naked is appointed the new Hand Job of the King and must travel to the capitol, King's Landing Strip, to assist his old friend King Robert of House Bare-ass-eon. As the tale unwinds, we meet the other members of House Stark-Naked, the closer-than-appropriate Lannister sibling duo, a pack of dancing direwolves, the sensitive Jon Snow ("the only bastard hot enough to melt the Wall"), the hilariously petulant to-be-king Joffrey, and as many other GoT characters that could be crammed into sixty minutes as imaginably possible.
("Wait, who died?" "Jon Arryn." "Who's that, again?" "The old Hand Job of the King! His death started all these shenanigans!" "Oh, right, right." Even the characters can't keep the characters straight.)
We also meet Daenerys Tits-bare-yen and her brute of a fiancé Drogo. Their marital bliss is interrupted by the insufferable Viserys who, when receiving his final punishment, a vat of golden glitter dumped on his head, realizes he "will never be royal!" (You guessed it; queue the Lorde track.)
A tribute as well as a parody, Game of Thongs affectionately makes fun of the well-loved drama everyone can't seem to get enough of. As a burlesque, it's less erotic than it is cheeky -- after all, you will find more nudity in the TV show than you will in the burlesque -- but if you're a fan of Game of Thrones, exuberant camp, or can appreciate a well-placed set of glittering pasties, you will certainly survive the Game. For in the Game of Thongs, you strip or you die.
Game of Thongs is playing at the Gorilla Tango Theatre every Friday at 10:30PM until June 26th. Call (773) 598-4549 or visit gorillatango.com to purchase tickets. #TittiesAreComing
"But how does one know if they've gone mad?" asks Alice of the elusive Cheshire Cat as he swings on a rail, hanging twenty feet off the ground. "You see, a dog growls when it's angry, and wags its tail when it's pleased," he answers. "Now, I growl when I'm pleased, and wag my tail when I'm angry." He grins and disappears, leaving a baffled Alice to contemplate the difference between madness and sanity, the similarities they share, and whether or not they might just be one in the same.
Set in the alternate world that exists beyond – or through – the parlor mirror, Lookingglass Alice is based on Lewis Carroll's sequel to the ever-familiar Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: Through the Looking-Glass. So instead of going down the rabbit hole, we literally step through the looking-glass into a dreamy (and sometimes nightmarish) world of opposites, nonsense, and whimsy, as if we too have dozed off after a game of chess and awake to find a new dimension waiting for us above the fireplace mantle.
With or without its befitting name, the Lookingglass Theatre couldn't be a more apt setting in which to tell this tale, with its open, industrial structure taking the viewer out of the space of traditional theatre and promising something more immediate and exciting.
Part children's entertainment, part Cirque du Soleil, part vicarious drug trip, Alice takes the audience on a journey simultaneously magical and dark, funny and frightening, alarming and calming, and above all, surreal. Characters have different proportions through the looking-glass, some excessively tall, some uncharacteristically small; one can run fast for hours and wind up in the very same spot from which they started; Red Queens float on umbrellas in the ocean; cats play with oversized balls of yarn (or is it you who are under-sized?); Alice spins so fast on a suspended hoop you don't know which end is her head and which are her legs – the visual equivalent of how both the audience and the heroine feel after their disorienting passage into the world within the mirror.
A very physical show, Alice is the sort of spectacle meant to be enjoyed by all types of audiences. Young children might be best left at home – the loud noises, confusion, and surreality of it all can be a little overwhelming – but it's undoubtable that physical feats like continuous two-person backflips, the lifting and balancing of actors as though they were weightless, and an anxious finale where Alice wraps herself in ropes mid-air and falls without hitting the ground will impress adults, teens, and kids alike.
Remarkably executed by a vastly talented five-person cast, Alice is less a play than it is an experience. It's colorful and unpredictable. What it lacks in plot, it makes up for in intrigue. Where it forgets logic, it remembers absurdity. You may run in place for ninety minutes and end up in the self-same spot, but you'll have gained a gleeful acceptance of your own madness and the insight that our world is not always as it looks.
Lookingglass Alice, directed by David Catlin, is playing at the Water Tower Water Works space at 821 N Michigan Ave through February 15th, 2015.