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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 or call 773-275-5255.         


Published in Theatre Reviews
Monday, 27 April 2015 05:00

Review: A Coffin in Egypt

A legend in her own right, Frederica von Stade graces the stage with poise and perfection in Chicago Opera Theater's "A Coffin in Egypt". A veteran mezzo-soprano, her performances, recordings and television specials have garnered her six Grammy nominations, a cascade of European awards and recognition, and even an award from President Reagan in 1983 in recognition of her significant contribution to the arts.

The story presented in the opera comes from a tale by revered American dramatist Horton Foote, who's often seen play "The Trip to Bountiful" exemplifies his recurring themes of family, community and the triumph of the human spirit.

Ricky Ian Gordon, award winning composer, crafted this opera specifically to showcase Ms. von Stade's virtuosity. The opera was commissioned by Houston Grand Opera, The Wallis Annenberg Center, and Opera Philadelphia.

Bringing together a wealth of skill and experience, unfortunately this show lacks a riveting climax. Essentially it is a monologue of a dying woman, ruminating on the memories and men that shaped her life. Sprinkled with a few strong songs, the majority of the music is asynchronous and wandering. The music stays mostly at the lower end of Ms von Stade's range, disappointing since her most beautiful moments are in the higher, longer notes where her voice is free and stunning. This is ironic and disappointing considering that this is supposed to be a piece to showcase her talent.

Although her emotions revolve constantly as she fixates on each memory, the lighting is too static and realistic to reflect, enhance or build her moods. The lighting did however enhance the boredom that grew until the curtain fell.

The set was charming however, reflecting the place and the lady's emotional turmoil with a simple and elegant design. Veteran scenic and costume designer Riccardo Hernandez met the challenge of being both scenic and costume designer for this production with success! Mr. Hernandez has also collaborated with the Goodman Theatre here in Chicago as well as in Paris, Norway, and the Moscow Art Theatre.

Chicago Opera Theater presents Ricky Ian Gordon's "A Coffin in Egypt" April 25 through May 3 at the Harris Theater (205 E. Randolph). Tickets are now on sale at


Published in Theatre Reviews

Buzz News' Kimberly Katz talks with M. Night Shayamalan at C2E2 in Chicago on his new Fox series Wayward Pines starring Matt Dillon

Published in BuzzBlog

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 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   

Published in Theatre Reviews

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

Published in Theatre Reviews
Wednesday, 04 March 2015 06:00

Review: This Is Modern Art

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.

Published in Theatre Reviews

Though Jackie Robinson is heralded as the first African-American baseball player to participate in the Major Leagues, more than a half of century earlier Moses Fleetwood Walker challenged the color barriers by integrating the game of professional baseball in the year 1884 when the Toledo Blue Stocking were admitted into the league.

As James A. Riley, a baseball historian and the author of several books on the Negro Leagues puts it, "Walker was playing at a time when the Civil War was not in the distant past. Many of the fans would yell things out of the stands when he'd go into the game. They'd call him names."

Moses Fleetwood Walker was much more than a baseball player. He was an inventor, an entrepreneur, an author and a dedicated family man who achieved a wealth that was very uncommon for African-American men at such a time. Though that is interesting enough in itself, The Trial of Moses Fleetwood Walker is the story of a black man put on trial for murder when most were still met by lynch mobs for their alleged crimes – especially to a white man. “Fleet” as he was frequently called by friends and family, was accused of stabbing a white man to death during an altercation outside a tavern. Alleging he was confronted and threatened by a mob of angry white men, he claimed has actions were in self-defense. Of course, the other side has a completely different story to tell and we are soon emerged in the trial of the decade that takes place in Syracuse, New York and is manned by an all white jury.

Playwright Ervin Gardner is able to use actual court transcripts to bring this remarkable story to life. And though some of the dialogue is a bit rough around the edges in places, the story is compelling enough to keep us on our toes. The direction by Jackie Taylor is strong and really capitalizes on key moments while Nick Ferrin, as Fleetwood Walker’s sharp-as-a-tack defense attorney, puts on a brilliant performance displaying a wit, passion and even charm, characteristic of the hero we can’t help but cheer for.

In the Trial of Moses Fleetwood Walker we get a glimpse of late nineteenth century racial tensions and see both liberal and racist views. In this powerful courtroom drama we also get a rich lesson in humankind as the play goes beyond the color of one’s skin and identifies people as individuals.

After hosting a handful of very well done musicals (“One Hit Wonders”, “The Marvelettes”), it is still a nice change of pace to see The Black Ensemble Theater go back to the biography drama though the house band provides a nice touch adding the perfect, mood enhancing background music.

The Trial of Moses Fleetwood Walker is not just engaging throughout, it is also an important story in our rich American history that most probably have never even heard. Playing at The Black Ensemble Theater through March 15th, this is a show to keep on your radar. The Black Ensemble Theater is located at 4450 N Clark Street in Chicago. For tickets and/or more information call (773) 769-4451 or visit

*Photo - Nick Ferrin (Harrison Hoyt), Casey Hayes (A.C. Hancock), Andre Teamer (Moses Fleetwood Walker), Leslie Collins (Arabella Walker)

Published in Theatre Reviews

I really enjoyed this funny little musical comedy about the ups and downs of mastering your first date with someone special. Aaron and Casey have been set up in a blind date by mutual friends. Aaron is a slightly nerdy Jewish boy in a steady finance job while Casey is an artsy, independent girl who has previously had a penchant for stoic bad boys that she never had to commit to.

I found myself really rooting for both characters to overcome their personal demons. Aaron’s demon from the past is a cheating yet outwardly devoted blonde ex- fiancé’ who actually left him at the altar. Casey struggles to overcome the dark, cynical humor and pickiness that forces her to alienate truly nice guys and write them off as “just friend” material before anything deeper can materialize between them.

The show opens with some great, funny but true observations about how many people lie on their online dating profiles and just how much “Googling” a person tells you about a person before you even meet them.  The internet, an unforgiving and never forgetting entity, all its own has truly changed the way we date and view each other and probably not for the better. Now we can just collect a bunch of facts and rarely give the other person a chance to relate to us in person for a few hours and see how the unrelated facts of their past add up.

There were several really hysterical numbers by supporting cast members who interject with their really timely advice - warnings that she is not Jewish and the occasional “bailout call” from Casey’s best gay friend or BGFF, Reggie.

Although the show and plot is aimed at twenty and early thirty-somethings, I still identified with much of it and actually learned a thing or two. For example, when Aaron’s best friend (an edgy womanizer) tries to tell him over and over not to even bring up the subject of his ex-girlfriend, I really got how tempting it is to talk about your past relationships but that it must never, never be done! As Casey’s face falls when he begins to talk about the blonde blue-eyed stunner who left him, it just ruins the moment and you see how much of a major issue and chip on his shoulder (against all women in general) and that Aaron’s seemingly innocent baggage still weighs heavy for him. There was a very funny moment when Aaron finds out the raven-haired Casey is not Jewish and again his whole world seems to come to a stop because he knows in his heart he will probably marry a Jewish woman, yet here is a very, very attractive non-Jew who could be quite good for him and would be a great complement to his own neurotic, negative critical impulses.

Charlie Lubeck and Dana Parker in the two lead roles do very nicely to illustrate their characters neuroses. Parker has a nice singing voice and you really believe she is as fiery and artistic as she appears.  The entire ensemble does a great job with each of their numbers. Cassie Slater is very funny as Dana’s married with children older sister living in the suburbs, unhappy as hell yet wanting her little sis to experience the safety of marital bliss. Adam Fane as Dana’s best gay friend absolutely steals the show with his rap and dance numbers trying to save Dana from this fateful first date.  Shea Coffman and Anne Litchfield as Aaron’s male macho best friend and dreamy ex-fiancé’ have great comic chops as they morph in and out of the scenes playing different supporting characters that round out the show nicely.

I loved the intimate and colorful set created by Thad Hallstein and lighting design by Brandon Lewis, which made the audience feel we were really saddling up to the bar with these two kids on their first date. The staging included an adorable live four piece band of young players that was visible just off stage left in soft red and green lights of a Friday night bar in Chicago or any town.

“First Date” is a fun, funny and ultimately informative production that I think will become a first date favorite for many, many couples, young and old. “First Date” is being performed at the quaint and cozy Royal George Cabaret Theatre. For tickets and/or more information, visit  

Published in Theatre Reviews


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 to purchase tickets. #TittiesAreComing

Published in Theatre Reviews
Saturday, 31 January 2015 00:00

White Guy on the Bus Provocative and Engaging

White Guy on the Bus is a powerful and very well-acted drama that asks several questions about modern day racism. In this highly provocative piece by Bruce Graham, we are met with race issues and opinions based on life’s experiences coming from both sides of the fence. We see how perception of race can be altered as one’s life situation changes or after impactful events occur. In this world premiere taking place at Northlight Theatre, award-winning Graham may have unleashed his best work to date.

Francis Guinan leads a very strong cast in this gripping story that mostly takes place in an upper class suburb. Ray (Guinan) is a successful “numbers guy” who makes the rich richer while his wife, Roz, has declined to teach in a privileged suburban school to work in one that is predominantly black in a tough neighborhood. We see a successful family whose son, Christopher, has recently become engaged to Molly. It doesn’t take long before Roz and Molly are engaged in tension-filled debates on race issues and socioeconomic divide – Roz who often speaks from her experiences of working with inner city school kids and Molly who has led a mostly sheltered life and appears to get most of her opinions from college. As the story continues we see that perspective changes with circumstance. And we soon wonder why Ray ditches his Mercedes to take round trip busses through the inner city on Saturdays. As Ray does this he befriends Shatique, a young black single mother who visits her brother in jail each Saturday.

White Guy on the Bus goes from engaging to intense with little warning. As the story progresses so does its intrigue. Guinan is commanding in a lights out performance as a man who is faced with heavy challenges while Mary Beth Fisher is also impressive in her role as Roz, organically delivering her lines to perfection. Patrice D. McClain makes her Northight debut and is very impressive as Shatique, a role that demands much expression and inner conflict. Also putting out a strong acting performance is Jordan Brown as Christopher in his return to Northlight (Sense and Sensibility).

This is a story that raises curiosity from the get go and builds interest with a sure-footed steady pace all the way to its climactic ending. Artistic Director BJ Jones does a stellar job in this play’s direction quickly moving the story back and forth without big scene changes.

White Guy on the Bus is a terrific piece of Chicago theatre that will certainly stick with you afterwards and perhaps have you questioning your own perspectives towards race issues. White Man on the Bus is playing at Northlight Theatre in Skokie through February 28th. For tickets and/or more information call 847-673-6300 or visit

*Photo - Mary Beth Fisher and Francis Guinan in White Man on the Bus

Published in Theatre Reviews
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