Ken Payne

Ken Payne

Cor Theatre this time brings its latest production, “Love and Human Remains”, to the intimate Rivendell Theatre in Edgewater. A psychological thriller that made waves in the 1990s for its daring and gutty material, “Love and Human Remains” is a story that revolves around a handful of Chicago couples amidst a serial killer on the loose.

It takes a good part of the first act before we get a good feel of who’s who in this play. Beginning with a dominatrix who tales the tale many of us have heard at some point about Cuba Road where a young man is murdered in the woods while trying to get help after car trouble strands he and his girlfriend, we are soon introduced to roommates David and Candy to which are the main focus in the story. David is gay and is quick to use biting sarcasm every chance he gets. A former child actor now turned waiter, he is unattached and willing and able to find quick sex anywhere he can. Candy is looking for love and though attractive and seemingly kind-hearted, she doesn’t seem to have much luck. As the story progresses David’s tall and good looking friend Bernie is introduced, he often appears drunk and bloody, chalking it up to bar room fights due to his propensity to hit on unavailable women. Meanwhile the bodies are adding up.

Written by Brad Fraser and directed by Ernie Nolan, this is a play with much crotch grabbing and excessive nudity as the lesser known worlds of S&M and underground gay hook ups are also explored. It is a story of instant gratification, obsessions, guilt and consequence. It is also a story of hopefulness and finding companionship.

Andrew Goetten as David and Kate Black-Spence really steal the show with their electrifying performances. Goetten delivers Jeff Goldblum-like musings and over-analyzed histrionics, hitting perfectly called for tone inflection and sentiment on cue to project his feelings ever so effortlessly. At the same time, Black-Spence is able to channel her emotions in just the right way so that we can really feel for her character’s sadness, guilt, loneliness and hope.

The first act moves a bit slowly and we kind of wonder if the ever present ensemble chants and comments in the background are necessary or detracting from the play’s story. By the second act it becomes apparent the play would probably be better if acted out as a traditional presentation piece rather than being an ensemble piece whereas surrounding characters in the background are constantly chiming in along or around the main scenes. Still, the play does come together enough in the second act to where its intrigue becomes the focal point and we crave to see the outcome for each character.   

It’s dark, sexual and is funny in more places than one would expect. In time, it even becomes rather absorbing as a thriller.

“Love and Human Remains” is being performed at Rivendell Theatre in Edgewater through July 11th. For tickets and/or more information visit ww.CorTheatre.org.  

Hell in a Handbag Productions tests the boundaries of morality once again as only they can, this time kicking off its 2015-16 season with “Miracle!”, the hilarious lampoon of The Miracle Worker. Instead of Helen Keller, we meet Helen Stellar, a deaf and blind 20-year-old drag queen who is thrust into performing at The Brass Connection, otherwise known as The Ass Infection. Written by Dan Savage, a well-known authority and activist on sexuality and GLBTQ issues, “Miracle!” doesn’t hold any punches, unapologetically injecting its braised humor into its audience with rapid fire speed and pinpoint accuracy.

Artistic Director David Cerda is brilliant (as always) as Helen Stellar’s protective drag queen mother and biological father, Crystal Pain, owner and show coordinator of The Brass Connection. Cerda, a true master of satire, takes the role of Crystal and knocks it out of the park with his deadpan delivery, stark remarks and physical comedy. In “Miracle!” we also get a deluge of tremendously funny performances from Handbag favorites Ed Jones, Elizabeth Lesinski, Sydney Genco and Steve Love as well as newcomer Kristopher Bottrall who is very impressive as Bailey Legal.

Everything is going smoothly at The Brass Connection, or so it seems. Gloria Blaze (Jones), Sissy Jizzmore (Jamie Smith) and the girls perform in the club’s nightly revue while Helen Stellar stumbles her way through an awkward dance routine with the help of a shock collar that “protects” her from falling off the stage. But when Bailey Legal gets jealous of the attention that Helen receives, a call is made to Child Protective Services and an investigation ensues as to the child’s well-being. After assessing the situation, caseworker Annie Sullivan (Lesinski) determines that Helen’s environment is unfit for tapping into her true potential. It is soon agreed that Annie take Helen for a period of three weeks so that she can work with her one on one. This proves more difficult than anticipated as Annie tries to connect with Helen by pressing sign language into her hands in relation to surrounding objects. Of course this process, as done by Handbag is also brutally droll.

Still, Annie’s persistence pays off as we begin to see a transformation occur in Helen. As part of her therapy, Annie takes Helen to a lesbian bar (opening up another world to which Savage is able to find the humor) to work out her performance kinks in an attempt to show a shock collar is not needed. Performing with Helen during the bar’s Bearded Slam event is also therapeutic for Annie as she reaches deep inside herself to conquer her own stage insecurities. Before too long, it is time for Annie to return Helen to Crystal as we, the audience, wonder what the outcome will be.  

The humor is offensive, but tasty. It’s campy dialogue gutty and unforgiving yet we relate to it so easily. Perhaps we are looking at something in the neighborhood of Helen Keller meets The Birdcage on crack, and that would be putting it mildly.

As funny as “Miracle!” is, whether a dance and song routine with attitude and pizazz (“Stop in the Name of Love”, for one) or in its multitude of hilarious character interactions, there is actually a heartwarming story taking place with plenty of feel good moments. I’m not going to go as far to say that one might get teary-eyed, but it is certainly not beyond the realm of possibility. The show triumpantly ends with a big finale number that has audience members clapping to the beat and cheering for the show’s wonderfully colorful characters.  

As a longtime fan of Cerda, Jones and Lesinski, I am happy to say that this Handbag nucleus of comic wunderkinds have once again hit their stride in what is a fully entertaining story that generates laughs as quickly as its many wig changes.   

“Miracle!” is being performed through July 10th at Mary’s Attic, a cozy upstairs theatre located at 5400 N. Clark Street in Andersonville. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.handbagproductions.org. If you are looking for a night of memorable comedy in a fun atmosphere, this is a summer event that you will not want to miss. Hell in a Handbag Productions – the king, or queen, of parody done right. 

“Picasso at the Lapin Agile” is a charming “what if” story that has twentieth century groundbreakers Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso unexpectedly meeting at a bar in 1904. Set in Paris, France at the Lapin Agile, both men are on the brink of remarkable ideas – Picasso just a few years away from his famous Les Demoiselles d’Avignon and Einstein months away from publishing his revolutionary theory of relativity. Both men are also very confident in their genius and competitive in gathering attention for their intellect.  

Written by Steve Martin in 1993, “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” debuted at Chicago’s Steppenwolf on October 13th of the same year following a brief workshop of the play in Melbourne, Australia. There are plenty of laughs as Einstein tries to impress the bar patrons with his wayward predictions of the future such as the automobile being a fad, or France becoming the superpower of the twentieth century while Germany becomes the voice for peace.

At one point, Picasso, quite the ladies’ man and not one to be pushed out of the spotlight - especially in front of one of his lovers, challenges Einstein to a drawing duel, creating a scene that is preposterously funny and really shows the boyish competitiveness in each of them. It takes many an intriguing debate or perceptive musing before the two fianlly realize that their contributions to the human race are equally valuable. Interestingly enough, Martin makes a weighty statement on how the contributions of these great difference makers of the twentieth century are remembered by most as Einstein and Picasso meet Elvis towards the end. As the three look to the heavens and see their names in the stars, Elvis points out, “There’s my name. Above both of yours and three times as big.”

The play is filled with interesting characters. Outside of Einstein and Picasso, we have a bartender, Freddy, who now and then surprises all with a profound statement of his own. We also have an idealistic barmaid, Germaine, Picasso’s art dealer, an inventor and a few regular patrons at the bar to which Einstein is often found attempting to break down his theories in a much simpler language in order for them to understand.

Superbly directed by Josh Anderson, the Organic Theatre Company’s current production of “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” at Greenhouse Theatre is an insightful piece that is both imaginative and funny. Joel Moses is wonderful as Einstein and Anthony Perrella Jr. is equal to the task as Picasso, together providing just the right touch of parodic humor to each character while keeping an appropriate tribute in place.      

The highly amusing “Picasso at the Lapin Agile” is being performed at Greenhouse Theatre through June 26th.  For tickets and/or more show information visit www.greenhousetheatre.org.   

Fantastic stories filled with mermaids, giants, tornadoes and witches are told and Edward Bloom always comes out as the hero. These are the enchanted tales Edward has been telling his son, Will, since he was a child. Each story is more larger than life than the other and each act more heroic than the last. The only problem is that these stories have caused Will much embarrassment throughout life as they are told to anyone who will listen because Edward really seems to believe them as outlandish as they are. Years have gone by in a small Alabama town while Edward and Will have grown far apart. As traveling salesman Edward spends much of his time on the road, distancing himself from his son.

But as Edward’s life nears its end when his cancer advances, Will is determined to find out the truth about his father’s stories, and wanting to understand him better he carries out his own investigation and comes across a few surprises. Meanwhile, Will and his wife are planning for their first child.

“Big Fish”, currently playing at Theatre at the Center, is based on Daniel Wallace’s 1998 novel “Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions” that was later turned into the popular 2003 Tim Burton film “Big Fish” starring Ewan McGreggor, Albert Finney, Jessica Lange and Billy Cruddup. The main difference here is the Broadway version being a musical –and it works…well.

From the first number “Be the Hero”, an enthusiastic piece on slaying dragons, defeating giants and, well, being a hero, we get a healthy taste of Edward’s zest for storytelling. Edward is brilliantly played by Stef Tovar, and, though quite a bit younger in appearance than the sixty-year-old-ish father we expect to see from the story, Tovar couldn’t be more perfect for the role. Tovar’s ability to transform from that of an excited, awestruck boy as he goes from story to story to a loving husband, or a father who desperately wants to be close to his son, is quite fun to watch. Tovar, a whirlwind of energy, makes Edward’s character believable seemingly effortlessly and we are easily able to identify with him. At the same time Colette Todd, who plays Edward’s loving wife, Sandra, also puts on a tremendous performance as his perfect support system. Todd is charming as can be as she dances as sings her way to our hearts. Tovar and Todd are well cast and together are a tour de force to be reckoned with.

“It’s a good show. It’s got a lot of heart. It will make you laugh. It will make you cry”, says director William Pullinsi.

Pullinsi couldn’t be more correct. There are plenty of funny moments but also a great sadness as we see people who love each other so greatly have so much difficulty connecting.   

The song and dance numbers and uniquely choreographed and sang to perfection. Nathan Gardner, who plays Will, is among the talented singers in this amazing cast and really lets it go in “Stranger”, an emotional number where he describes the distance that has become between him and his father.  

Besides its enriched song and dance numbers, captivating story and strong acting performances, theatre-goers are treated to a colorful set and a display of dazzling costumes. Some of the scenic displays are simply breathtaking - one in particular invoking "oohs" and 'aaahs" from the audience.

Says Todd on the massive set and costumes, “There was one day when an actual semi-truck arrived to the theatre and all of these remarkable costumes were unloaded and unpacked.”

“Big Fish” is a beautiful story about father and son relationships that should not be missed. It is a heartwarming story filled with hope and living life as large as you can. “Big Fish” is being performed just thirty-five or so minutes from downtown Chicago at Theatre at the Center (1040 Ridge Road, Munster, IN) through June 7th. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.theatreatthecenter.com.  

If you come with a dollar you may just leave with two. However, if you are not careful, you could also lose the shirt off your back. In the Neo-Futurist’s latest endeavor “Trust Us/Screw You” we cautiously enter the world of the confidence man, as we meet the mark, the roper and the inside man. Created by Phil Ridarelli and Dan Kerr-Hobert, we follow the evolution of the age-old grifter from the 1920s to the deception that exists on massive scales today by banks, media and stock markets.  

Ridarelli and Kerr-Horbert also star in this production which is considered a two-man show, barring an occasional plant and a band whose members also contribute in a variety of roles. “Trust Us/Screw You” has a rich, vaudevillian flavor and is often reminiscent to The Three Stooges as the fast-talking Ridarelli and Kerr-Horbert size up one of their targets before hitting them with the swindle, ala Moe, Larry and Curly.

In "Trust Us/Screw You” the audience gets a close-up look at many of the scams confidence men were known to use in taking advantage of the average, unsuspecting Joe before fleecing their victim dry. An assortment of social experiments are used with audience members as the two “work” the crowd with seemingly simple card tricks, nutshell games and other scams using the art of misdirection – the key to all successful cons.

Seasoned acting pros Ridarelli and Kerr-Hobert are hypnotic and work incredibly well together in re-creating these old school hustlers (they always work in teams as we learn), paying special homage to one of Chicago’s most notorious confidence men, Joseph “Yellow Kid” Weil. The show is filled with one hilarious moment after another as the two victimize its clueless audience one susceptible mark at a time. As the show progresses, stories are shared regarding the scams they personally fell victim to from subway swindles to real estate deceit, likening the process and its players to a play whose cast of characters put on a show of smoke and mirrors for gain at a sucker’s expense. With that in mind, as funny as the sketches are portrayed, “Trust Us/Screw You” is also a learning experience, or perhaps a bonding experience for all those who have been victimized in the past – most likely each and every person in the theatre.    

Said Ridarelli and Kerr-Hobert on the creation of “Trust Us/Screw You”, “We knew that if we did a show about con men, we’d have to do our best to screw over the audience. That’s been our goal since day one, and hopefully, we can pull it off in a way that the audience won’t go home hating us.”

The show is quick-paced with a ton of laugh out loud moments and the atmosphere so warm and welcoming that one gladly volunteers to be dragged onto the stage to participate when called for rather than slink into their chair to avoid the possible embarrassment. It is also engaging and educational as we learn the mechanisms, techniques and lingo of the American Confidence Man.

“Trust Us/Screw You” is a highly entertaining experience that might leave you with an empty wallet (kidding) but will certainly send you home having had a thoroughly enriching time with more laughs than you can handle. “Trust Us/Screw You” is currently playing at The Neo-Futurium. For tickets and/or more information visit www.neofuturists.org or call 773-275-5255.         

                                                                   

In Irish Theatre of Chicago’s newest production “The White Road”, performed at The Den Theatre in Wicker Park, we get exactly what we are hoping for – an intense adventure that pits man against nature at its most vicious form. Based on the true heroics of Irish-born polar explorer Ernest Shackleton, “The White Road” tells the story of yet another incredible undertaking where all hope lies solely in one’s will to survive.

Setting sail from South Georgia on December 5th, 1914, Shackleton’s Trans-Antarctica expedition triumphantly leaves shore aboard The Endurance with a crew of twenty-eight with the intent on crossing the Antarctica continent from one coast to the other by way of the South Pole. Hopes are high and excitement is in the air as the crew embarks on a journey never before accomplished.  

Said Shackleton beforehand, "After the conquest of the South Pole by [Roald] Amundsen who, by a narrow margin of days only, was in advance of the British Expedition under [Robert Falcon] Scott, there remained but one great main object of Antarctic journeying - the crossing of the South Polar continent from sea to sea". 

As history tells, it was a plight that was never meant to be.

Upon approaching Antarctica they are met with pack ice that surrounds their sea vessel threatening to sink it. Completely alone and hundreds of miles away from any form of civilization, this is where one of the greatest tales of survival begins.  

In the two-hour-plus play, we meet a variety of characters that make up this memorable crew – and we like them all. From a nature photographer who keeps the camera rolling at all costs to life and limb, to an enthusiastic stowaway boy starved for adventure, to a whaler/banjo-plucker who lifts the men's spirits with song, we don’t just see a nameless crew, instead we really get to know a unique and diverse lot of individuals. Piven ensemble member Paul Dunckel’s performance of the fearless expedition leader makes Shackleton highly likeable, as the wise and self-sacrificing explorer. Dunckel leads this talented cast with the constitution and perseverance one would associate with an expedition leader, whereas he can convincingly make the tough decisions whilst his loyal troops still rally behind him.

Along with Dunckel, Irish Theatre Company ensemble members Kevin Theis and Matthew Isler are accompanied by Nicholas Bailey, Steve Herson, Neal Starbird, Michael McKeogh, Joseph Stearns, Stephen Walker and Gage Wallace, comprising this fine cast that generates a whirlwind of strong performances.   

Making this play even more entertaining is the way the set is used to put us aboard The Endurance smack dab in the middle of the frozen, glacier-filled waters. Sound effects are strategically used in tandem with projections to successfully create storm effects while creative choreography takes us on a deadly hike through icy mountains.

This is one of those true incredible adventure stories that are long forgotten by most that, thanks to storytellers like The Irish Theatre of Chicago, we now get to experience and share in the surprisingly unbelievable depth of human spirit brought on by fantastic circumstances.

I should note that though this is a wonderful story taken from the pages of early 20th century history, if you are thinking of bring a young adult, be aware that there is a scene containing as a crew member streaks across the deck of the ship. 

Fittingly directed by ensemble member Robert Kauzlaric and written by Karen Tarjan, the world premiere run of “The White Road” is being performed at The Den Theatre through June 13th. For tickets and/or more information visit www.irishtheatreofchicago.org

powder-blueYou might not think of Starved Rock as a place to get your rock on, but last weekend the popular national park was jumpin’ to The King’s music during a three-day event that had premiere Elvis Presley impersonator Michael St. Angel belting out one classic after another. Often making the rounds from table to table during Starved Rock Lodge’s Tribute to the Stars Series dinner event, St. Angel had the blissful audience clapping along and often joining in for some of those choruses we know so well. With an abundant repertoire of Elvis classics and even some Bobby Darin, Jay and the Americans and Engelbert Humperdinck sprinkled in, guests enjoyed an action-packed two-set performance that ended in two standing ovations.

This is the third year in a row performing at the Starved Rock Lodge for Michael St. Angel where he entertained for both matinee and evening shows. St. Angel’s first set included many of Elvis’ earlier hits including “Return to Sender”, “It’s Now or Never”, “Viva Las Vegas”, Darin’s “Mack the Knife” and also a very inspired rendition of Jay and the American’s “Cara Mia”. With the look, moves and a voice that puts him among the best of Presley impersonators, St. Angel’s tribute is thoroughly fun to watch and take part in.

Part two of Michael St. Angel’s enactment of The King was more about the Vegas years. Re-entering the room clad in Elvis’ trademark white jumpsuit to the theme of 2001: A Space Odyssey, St. Angel immediately jumped into “See See Rider” and aptly followed up with many greats such as “The Wonder of You”, “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Suspicious Minds”. Infusing even more energy into his show as the night went on, fans feasted on St. Angel’s enthusiasm and charisma to which it seemed there was an endless supply. Of course – the crescendo - it wouldn’t be a true Elvis concert without “American Trilogy”, and St. Angel didn’t disappoint, performing the song flawlessly before ending his show with the same song Elvis often ended his concerts, “Can’t Help Falling in Love”.

Michael St. Angel, located in the Chicagoland area, plays roughly fifty to sixty shows per year. Depending on the gig or request, St. Angel can perform with or without a full band and is available for corporate events, private parties, weddings and/or summer festivals. Should one not opt for a full band, St. Angel is accompanied by a serious sound system that is sure to rock the house regardless. Fans are also encouraged to drop by and check out Michael’s act on the fourth Friday of each month at Chef Shangi-La’s in North Riverside.

You can’t help but notice the fervor St. Angel has for Elvis’ music during his performance – and that’s what you really want in a tribute entertainer. It’s clearly not just a job but a passion – the passion to pass on Elvis’ legacy in a way fit for a king – or The King.  

For upcoming performances and more information on Michael St. Angel, visit his website by clicking here. For upcoming Starved Rock Lodge entertainment click here.

 

“Look, We Are Breathing” at Rivendell Theatre is a powerful drama that deals with the coping of loss. Written by Chicago playwright Laura Jaccqmin, “Look, We Are Breathing” examines the grieving process when the one taken away so unexpectedly never really amounted to much nor has shown the potential to ever become much of anything at all. This is the case when high school hockey player Mike is killed in a drunk driving accident on his way home from a party. Always a troublemaker with a bad attitude, rude and the perennial class clown, Mike is disrespectful to his parents, his teachers and is one to take advantage of a girl’s innocence given the chance. He’s exactly what we don’t want to see in a teenage boy. Passing thoughts wonder if maybe the world would be a better place without someone like Mike.

This hard-hitting four-character play deals with the aftermath of Mike’s tragic accident. A series of flashbacks throughout the play help us get to know Mike while narratives from his English teacher Leticia, his mother Alice and his one-night stand, Caylee, provide us with more of an understanding of Mike’s behavior and the effect it had on those close to him – and those who wanted to be close to him.  

The set is simplistic. A chest-like trunk sits center stage that is used at times for a dining table or a car when need be. But the sets simplicity in this case is a plus as it helps direct focus where it should be – on the characters and story. Cast members Lily Mojekwu (Leticia), Brennan Stacker (Caylee), Tara Mallen (Alice) and Brendan Meyer (Mike) make a special point of making eye contact with the audience members in this intimate thirty-six seat theatre, as they explain themselves and open up as though expecting comforting words in return.

This play works because of its absorbing story and the very heavy-duty acting performances by each and every cast member. “Look, We Are Breathing” is a gripping story that is sure to draw in the average theatre goer, and might relate especially to those who have suffered recent losses. Towards the play’s end Caylee talks about what could have been rather than reflecting on Mike’s past behavioral issues and lack of promise of any sort. Then we stop and think - Even when you question if someone's life is worth it, when they are young, they have no time to grow out of it – and that’s the truest tragedy. They have no time to grow up to be the ENT doctor, to build meaningful friendships, to become a loving parent or to contribute in making this world a better place. We learn compassion and empathy as we grow older and “Look” understands that rather than judging one’s short past.

True to their claim that Rivendell Theatre Ensemble is Chicago’s only Equity theatre dedicated to producing new work with women in core roles, “Look” presents three strong characters in a mourning mother, a girl who believes there was more to a relationship than there really was and a teacher who tries desperately to get through to a student who has built many walls.

“Look, We Are Breathing” is playing at Rivendell Theatre (5779 N Ridge Ave, Chicago) through May 16th. For tickets and/or more show information call 773-334-7728 or visit www.RivendellTheatre.org.            

                                                                                                                                                      

When it comes to family, can there be boundaries crossed to which mercy and forgiveness should no longer considered? And should this barrier be traversed upon, is it even possible to wholeheartedly exonerate those who do even if one wants to? In Rory Kinnear’s debut play The Herd (aptly named for so many reasons) these questions are raised as we are confronted with a fractured family, presumably from an upper-middle class suburb in England, who get together to celebrate Adam’s twenty-first birthday. Adam is disabled and has the mental function of that less than a one-year-old, much like writer Rory Kinnear's adult sister, thus the seed of inspiration for this hard-hitting dramedy that perfectly utilizes the perfect amount of comic bite to ease the tension and often uncomfortable moments in this well-crafted story. Though Adam has recently been institutionalized and home visits have become a rarity, his presence is strongly felt throughout even though we never see him. 

Three generations of family have converged at Adam’s house as they await his arrival from the hospital via his caretaker. His mother, Carol, frantically races around to make everything perfect and her parents (superbly played by the great John Mahoney and Theatre Hall of Famer Lois Smith) are patient and ever optimistic of the day’s events. Adam’s thirty-two-year-old sister Claire has brought her new boyfriend over to meet her family and has some other news of her own to share. We soon learn how much Carol has sacrificed in her life to care for Adam and the stress that comes with such a burden. Yet it is also apparent it is a burden of love. Molly Regan is a turbine of passions and steadfastness in her portrayal of Carol, making a tough role appear seamless.

In anticipation of Adam’s appearance, balloons, party favors, a large birthday cake and happy faces all around seemingly provide a happy environment but that quickly changes when Adam’s father, Ian, who abandoned the family some time ago, shows up unannounced. It doesn’t take very long before layers are quickly peeled between he, Claire and Carol soon becoming an emotionally charged free for all.

As internal issues come to a head between the three, it is Carol’s parents, Brian and Patricia, who attempt to douse the flames whether it be by way of humor or simply sound observation. It is refreshing to see how the grandparents assert themselves as the voice of reason in this story as Kinnear places an obvious importance on the wisdom of elders in an age where the aging are so often disrespected and disregarded.

the-herd1

The way humor is so often used as an escape for such heavy subject matter in Kinnear’s “The Herd” is very true to life. He is not afraid to joke about death nor is Kinnear afraid to tap into the unpopular inner thoughts we might have, such as wondering if Adam’s death will allow Carol to live again. Smith’s sharp waggishness along with Mahoney’s spot on comic delivery only strengthen already strong characters that we can quickly trust and rely upon.

As the play nears its end, we are hit with the decision of whether to forgive or not. Frances Guinan makes a compelling case as Ian and, though he opens up and lets himself become vulnerable in seeking forgiveness and once again gaining acceptance, we wonder if he can be trusted despite his apparent sincerity. Guinan is marvelous as he rolls up his sleeves and, as he does in so many roles, really puts his heart and then some into his performance as Ian.  

Kinnear’s “The Herd” at Steppenwolf is highly recommended. Its all-star cast, engaging dialogue, moving story and elaborately designed set all contribute into making this a nearly perfect theatre piece.

“The Herd” is playing at Steppenwolf through June 7th. For tickets and/or more show information, visit www.steppenwolf.org.   

In celebration of Roosevelt University’s 70th anniversary, the Auditorium Theatre brings in two iconic stage and television veterans for its one night performance of “An Evening with the Roosevelts”. Ed Asner, known mostly for his portrayal of “Lou Grant” on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and much more recently as “Santa Claus” in the holiday hit Elf, takes on the role of Franklin Roosevelt while Loretta Swit, identified mostly as “Margaret ‘Hot Lips’ Houlihan” in the 1970’s breakout hit M.A.S.H. plays Eleanor Roosevelt. 

The one evening performance is broken down into two plays – the first has Asner portraying the former President in “FDR” followed by Swit as the famous First Lady in “Eleanor”. As Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Asner touches on his battle with polio, his running for governor then president and the attack on Pearl Harbor that forced America into the second World War. Wondering beforehand if Asner would be a good fit as FDR, I left with mixed feelings. Asner’s gruff and forward delivery along with a very visible dedication to the role seemed to work well enough to make one eventually get past the obvious disparity in appearance. Still as spunky as ever, the eighty-five years young Asner can be a fireball when called upon and he also generates a fair share of laughs from the crowd. His intensity is admirable, his emotional capacity impressive and his timing still impeccable. Hobbling around the set with a pair of canes, Asner also adds a physical dynamic that is as believable as the lines he delivers. Unfortunately, as good as Asner is, the material and formatting come off a bit lackluster. Slow-paced and a lack of redeeming values and poignant realizations leave this show less than memorable outside of Asner’s passionate performance.

Loretta Swit can also be a pleasure to watch as she portrays Eleanor Roosevelt in her compliment to Asner’s “FDR”, but the same holds true as far as her show’s lack of engaging material and its tendency to drift back and forth. The Emmy-Winning actress’ one-woman show starts after the death of Franklin Roosevelt. “Eleanor” begins when President Truman asks her to head the American delegation to the newly created United Nations. Eleanor ponders the offer for some time before accepting the offer, realizing the massive potential such a position could have on women’s rights. We also learn about FDR’s affair and the conflict within herself on whether to leave him or not. Swit is charming and graceful as the First Lady but she is also no nonsense when need be.

To see two such famously polished actors perform such important roles from our great American History is still novelty enough despite the not so engrossing scripts. Plus, each show contains plenty of factual tidbits that may be unknown to some, making this special event a great history lesson – or refresher, as well. 

The Auditorium Theatre has plenty lined up right around the corner with scheduled performances by Damien Rice, Lila Downs, Chicago Rhythm Fest and The Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg. THE NFL Draft will also be taking place at the Auditorium Theatre beginning April 30th, making its first appearance in Chicago in just over fifty years. For more Auditorium event information visit http://www.auditoriumtheatre.org/.  

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