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Buzz News Chicago: Theatre and Concert Reviews

I've never been much of a magic fan. I'm always nervous for the magician just in case his trick doesn't work. But in Fooling Buddha, David Kovac seemingly does the impossible. Not only are his magic tricks top notch, he actually made me an unafraid appreciator of magic shows AND Buddhist philosophy while making me laugh at the same time. 

 

Kovac tells the story on how he grew up in Milwaukee during the 1970's raised by hippie parents who were Buddhists and forward thinkers way before their time.  Sent to a catholic school as a child to learn about African studies from Jewish teachers and being a nerd who loves magic at that time couldn't have been easy, but Kovac sure makes it funny. 

 

Kovac is a brilliant monologist though who has somehow managed to use his talent and love of magic to write a delightful one-man play full of memorable Buddhist quotes and koans (puzzles). Playing all the roles including his own mother, father and baby sister sitting around the dinner table, the bully who picked on him relentlessly and the magic shop owner to whom became a huge source of inspiration, the audience is never confused about which character is speaking.  Kovac’s delivery of beautiful Buddhist sayings like "A Miracle is a Tragedy with a Happy Ending" flow smoothly and segue so magically into each new story, pardon the pun, the 90-minute show with no intermission moves so quickly it left the heartily laughing audience visibly wanting more.  

 

Kovac’s conveyance of his one-man show is so quick and flawless, it left me struggling to mentally take notes in order to remember all the included wonderful bits of ancient knowledge. I guess I'm not the only one because David notes that Buddhism is known as the philosophy with 80,000 sayings and he proves that every time he is taught by his parents with another great, peaceful yet realistic Buddhist saying handy for almost every situation or problem that arose in his young life.  

 

The set he uses is beautifully and colorfully designed. A pleasure to watch, the set is full of secret doors and realistic windows that unfold to reveal new rooms. It is a lovely set made with great detail to the period and set with soft cozy lighting.   

 

I can't stress enough what a great writer David Kovac is and the intermingling of magic and Buddhism works perfectly to demonstrate the magic that is inherently implied in Buddhist philosophy. Kovac’s jokes and autobiography are finely told, and combined with his captivating illusions, Fooling Buddha provides a wonderful night of highly intelligent and uplifting storytelling. 

 

Kovac tells the audience he wants them to leave feeling like winners, like a magician who has just successfully shown spectators an illusion and received their applause. One of the most beautiful sayings in the show does just that in one beautiful line when he says, "There are billions of massive stars blazing across the night sky and inside you is the very same energy that lights the world." 

 

Highly Recommended.

 

Fooling Buddha is being performed at First Folio Theatre inside the enchanting Mayslake Peabody Estate in Oakbrook through April 24th.  For tickets or more information on the show, visit www.firstfolio.org.

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

Based on the 1988 cult film “Heathers” starring Wynona Ryder and Christian Slater, the talented cast of “Heathers: The Musical” bursts onto the stage with enough energy to "bully" the audience right back into the mean late 80's when this particular tale of murder in high school first raised the issues of teen cruelty over twenty-five years ago. Dark and questionable is the subject matter that it be made into a musical, but the show does have its moments. After all, we are talking about a film that may have forewarned us of the tragic school shootings to come in its wake. 

Veronica, the nerdy girl who becomes a "Heather" at the expense of her friendship to the truly kind "fat girl" in her class is well played here by Courtney Mack. Mack shows a full range of emotions as she realizes what has begun as simple teen angst and bullying has turned her new outsider boyfriend, J.D., whom she meets hanging around a 7-11 store all day into a serial murderer. Adding to Mack’s solid performance, Chris Ballou also does a fine job in taking on the role of J.D..  

Haley Jane Schafer, Rochelle Therrien and Jacquelyne Jones, are each fantastic as the “Heathers" - the meanest, prettiest girls in school who rule with an iron lipstick case. Each of the Heathers' has her own unique flavor of comedy and delivery and each are very good dancers as well as vocalists.

That said, the set which was a big colorless lump full of doorways did not make you feel you were in a high school at all and was actually a distraction at times. Also, the costumes the Heathers DID wear were great - very sexy period costumes, but then they never changed clothes until almost the end of the show, leaving some disappointment. As gorgeous, skinny, fickle fashion mongers, this inconsistency made the show feel much to be desired when it came to dressing them as the story progressed with the lack of colorful, sexy clothing and accessory changes as occurs in the movie and would be a big part of their real high school lives. 

The songs may not have been on the most memorable side, but the show did have a few good laughs. There was some terrific physical comedy in the slow motion fight scene between the two jocks who terrorize all the girls in school with jokes about date rape, etc. 

Certainly a challenging task at hand, James Beaudry's direction in this small venue with so much young and energetic talent falls short in that it seemed the play starts at a very high level of energy and volume and continues at that exact same volume even during the ballads. Instead, there needed to be some genuine reflection and time to rest for the characters to be fully formed and also to rest the audience’s ears – simply put, more dynamics. 

All in all, this cast did a great job with the materials they were given and delivered a funny, bitter and scary version of what life in high school was like then and now. See "Heathers" with the expectation of a few decent yuks, a handful of entertaining musical numbers ("Big Fun" comes to mind) and a sometimes pretty accurate nostalgic peek at high school in the late 1980's.   

Kokandy Productions of “Heathers: The Musical” is being performed at Theater Wit through April 24th. For more show information, visit www.theaterwit.org.  

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

Filled with clever and rapid-fire dialogue exchanges, The New Sincerity is a fast-moving comedy written by Alena Smith, one of the nation’s top young, up and coming women writers. The play’s title is explained well in its press release - "Erudites among us know "New Sincerity" is an actual term used in music, aesthetics, film criticism, poetry and philosophy, generally to describe art or concepts that run against prevailing modes of postmodernist irony or cynicism." And there is plenty of cynicism and irony to be found in the latest comedy/drama at Theater Wit that deals with millennials and the idealism of the Occupy Movement. 

As co-founder of a highly regarded online political journal, Asymptote, Benjamin, a Harvard literature graduate, is always looking for hard-hitting and thought provoking material to maintain status among their peers and competitors. Just less than a block away from their office is the Occupy Movement where protesters converge in the park all throughout the day and night. Benjamin’s newly appointed senior contributor, Rose, has a strong interest in doing a piece on the protest, but he is insistent she stay far removed for fear of taking sides. Disregarding Benjamin’s direct order, Rose not only checks out the movement firsthand but creates a relationship with one of the protesters, Django. As feared, word gets out about an Asymptote staff member being associated with the Occupy Movement and Benjamin not only takes the criticisms from his co-owner and faithful readers, but he fears how this will affect his fiance's upcoming book release since her last book, Death of the Left Wing clearly believed that the modern protest is dead and ineffective. Furious at Rose for screwing up the journal’s branding, she finally convinces Benjamin to visit the movement, which he reluctantly does. 

The story then becomes that of an opportunist and the hypocrisies that come about as Benjamin realizes the potential afoot and does a complete turnaround to where he can’t get enough coverage on the movement, even to the point that he lies about being involved from day one. We also see the hollowness in Benjamin regarding his relationship with women as he states he does not really believe in love and deep connections, much the opposite of Rose. 

Smart and brutally honest, The New Sincerity offers tremendous acting performances by each of its four cast members. Drew Shirley as is energetic and finely projects the qualities to make a convincing Benjamin who is incapable of fully connecting emotionally. At the same time, Maura Kidwell as Rose is perfectly cast as the grounded one who seems to get it in the play while Erin Long as the very funny tell-it-like-it-is intern Natasha and Alex Stein as the protest because there’s a protest protester Django also provide a huge spark.

I really enjoyed the set which was a cozy two-story office with large windows giving us a peek at New York City. As the scenes changed, large computer monitors would tell us what month it was giving us a nice idea of a time frame.

I liked the direction of this play by Jeremy Wechsler, as I felt he outstandingly captured the essence of millennium living, ideals, social media marketing and stereotypes. The often overly politically correct gender pronoun usage was also addressed when a friend of Django’s insisted on being called dragon as she did not identify with male or female. I wasn’t quite sure if Smith was taking a jab at renaming our own gender to whatever we want or embracing the fact that we can.   

The New Sincerity has plenty of very funny dialogue exchanges and provides a story that is paced very well with plenty of memorable moments. I recommend this fiercely funny play, which is being performed at Theater Wit through April 17th. For more show info visit www.TheaterWit.org.            

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

On the 400th year anniversary of William Shakespeare's death Lyric Opera of Chicago appropriately chose to commemorate the famed playwright’s life by putting on an outstanding production of Romeo and Juliet. Helping to make this such a special piece of operatic theatre, Joseph Calleja and Susanna Phillips as the tragically famous lovesick couple do a magnificent job vocally and emotionally throughout the show to bring the real spirit of youthful, love at first sight to life. 

 

The show begins with the stage curtain up and the entire cast ominously moves towards the audience singing the overture which was very effective in setting the tone of the times the play is set in. 

 

Soprano Susanna Phillips, perfectly complimenting tenor Calleja, is especially great in her role. Dressed all in pink with gold sparkles, she embodies the very essence of springtime love in her opening number.  When, at one point, she begs her nanny to stop talking about her impending marriage to an older man that Juliet does not love you really want her to get her wish, as her fresh hopeful desire to just dance and enjoy life is very infectious.

 

Joshua Hopkins as Romeo’s best pal Mercutio and Jason Slayden as Juliet’s short-fused cousin Tybalt also take to their roles with vigor and precision, really capturing the two sworn enemies’ disdain for each other while baritone Christian Van Horn is well cast as Friar Laurence, who means well though his efforts only end in tragedy.   

I loved ALL the costumes by Jennifer Tipton!  The rich, fabrics and colors, her hats and accessories for the women brought the whole stage to life. Also, the swashbuckling style of leather and velvet for the men was extremely entertaining and fitting to watch both their swordplay and Romeo’s lovemaking to Juliet.

 

Michael Yeargan's unit set is foreboding and appropriately towers over the cast as if to say there is no escape from this time period and its rules. However, I was looking forward to several set changes. Instead, the central platform served as a ballroom dance floor, Friar Laurence's cell, a town square and the crypt where the young couple meet their fate. I felt this modern touch of using a single large white sheet to signify Juliet's bedroom, then the church, and the burial shroud, etc., etc., was very one dimensional. The cast, so visually stunning, is so large even the hefty set seemed to barely contain them in various scenes. Still, overall, the production is a grand spectacle that is as colorful and enchanting as it is memorable.

 

Directed with fierce and daring force by Bartlett Sher, the Tony Award-winning Broadway director who's making his Lyric debut with this French piece by Charles Gounod, Romeo and Juliet succeeds marvelously on many levels. Of course this can only be accomplished with the comprehensive orchestral conducting of Emmanuel Villaume, who leads the often powerful and sometimes dreamy soundtrack to create a truly hauntingly tragic yet beautiful experience.  The romanticism of the writing is so beautiful, so poetic, I found myself watching the screen high above the stage trying to memorize some of the pure poetry as the play went along. The lines of love and adoration spoken by Romeo and Juliet to each other were so exquisitely written, I have never seen an American adaptation of this or any love story which compares to this poetic version of the play.

 

No spoilers but there is a slight change to the ending scene that might throw off a few viewers but I still found it quite enjoyable. 

 

This is a perfect opera to take your date to for an evening of romance that will thrill and delight. Your children will love this show because it renders the story of forbidden love and the destruction of such love because of unforgiving, ignorant family feuding and brings it to life in a compassionate and ever so romantic way.

 

Romeo and Juliet is being performed at Lyric Opera of Chicago through March 19th and is sure to please the casual and more adventurous theatre and opera lovers alike. For more information on this piece so wonderfully adapted for stage, visit www.LyricOpera.org. 

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

This excellent stage production of the 2013 musical Far from Heaven was based on Todd Haynes‘ 2002 motion picture of the same name. 

 

Far from Heaven is set in 1957 Hartford, Connecticut, well before the advent of the sexual revolution. Cathy Whitaker played by Summer Naomi Smart discovers that her handsome, successful businessman husband Frank is having affairs - with other men! Frank was played very well and very selfishly - if not compassionately - towards his wife whose world is crushed unexpectedly by actor Brandon Springman. 

 

After a time of trying to convert her husband back to heterosexuality by a psychologist, Cathy and her husband realize the emptiness and futility of their sexless and coldly critical relationship continuing just for the sake of the children.

 

Cathy's new gardener and widowed single father of a ten-year-old daughter, Raymond Deagan (Evan Tyrone Martin), becomes her friend and the scandal of her own life in spite of their necessarily platonic enjoyment of each other's company.

 

Evan Tyrone Martin has a wonderful rich smooth voice, arguably the best in the show and a nice natural quality to his acting. Summer Naomi Smart is stunning to look at as the real life "Stepford Wife" whose world comes crashing down when she tries to surprise visit her husband on a night he is "working late again" and gets the shock of her life when she finds him in the office in the arms of another man.

 

I've seen Ms. Smart in many musical comedies but this is the first time I have seen her really let loose in a dark way, especially in the scene when she confronts her husband about his homosexual affairs and lets out a terrifying and mournful wail that truly came from deep inside her character’s psyche. It was nice to see her tackle then take the reigns on this multi-dimensional role.  

 

Grant Saban‘s set seemed too much like a doll house to me, very one dimensional in color and shapes but perhaps that was intentional in terms of the subtext of the repressive 1950's. However, William Morey‘s gorgeous period costumes, which reminded me of a cross between Lucille Ball and Mary Tyler Moore's beautifully tailored and colorfully designed outfits in their respective series, brought the whole set to life.

 

Bri Sudia‘s performance is rich and dynamic as Cathy’s best friend Eleanor, who is very sympathetic about the sexless and lovlessness of Cathy's picture perfect marriage yet deserts her best friend over the issue of an interracial friendship. All of the supporting characters and girlfriends of Cathy Whitaker in this production do an excellent job in their respective roles and deliver as many ironic laughs as possible with subject matter that really is just a lot of sad statements about the wasted loves of many marriages in the fifties - marriages, which were built on lies and social and financial convenience rather than genuine love and real sexual attraction. 

 

Turning this subject matter into a musical may have made it more fun and palatable, but also detracted from the seriousness and tragedy of a woman who has given birth to two children and ends up totally alone, a single mother in the fifties, because of years and years of lies from a man who was supposed to be her best friend and true love. Yet the accompaniment of a great live orchestra really brings this sometimes somber score to life when needed. 

 

Finely directed by Chuck Larkin, Porchlight Musical Theatre's Far from Heaven is playing at Stage 773 through March 13th. For more show information on this absorbing and well-pieced-together production, visit www.prochlightmusictheatre.org.  

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

I haven't enjoyed a full night of dance as much as these three pieces presented by Joffrey Ballet at the Auditorium Theatre in a very long time, the first a world premiere and two marvelous pieces back by popular demand.

 

The world premiere is Ashley Page’s Tipping Point. Page refers to Adès’ music as the “primary investigator”, transforming its dark, dramatic tones into physical form. “It’s not easy to write so specifically about an abstract dance work that hasn’t been created yet,” he said, “but I want to stress that this will not be a narrative ballet… My task as choreographer is to try to harness this complex, often powerfully dark material and make it ‘visible’ to the audience.” And Ades does just that.

 

In Tipping Point twelve dancers, sometimes in pairs or groups of three, sway and are swept away by the music in beautiful free flowing gowns which reveal a hint of red or orange colors each time they leap, which is very powerful to watch. 

 

Although Page mentions this piece is not a "narrative" one, it does seem to allow the audience to unleash our own inner narratives while watching especially as it ends with a couple "trapped' or perhaps "saved" in what seems to be a box made entirely of white light. 

 

With lush, yet melancholic music by Benjamin Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem, Jiří Kylián’s 1981 creation (performed by the Joffrey four years ago) its inspiration is Edvard Munch’s Dance of Life portrait from 1899 of a group of women staring hopefully at the sea.

 

In "Forgotten Land" six couples move in and among each other, sometimes dancing with modern and complex movements of joy and other times pulling apart in anger. It seems that all are haunted by some memories of loved ones and sometime delight and revel in their memories - while other times they are overcome with despair defeated or aggravated by the same ghosts floating like foam put of the gray seas  painted on the massive backdrop behind them.

 

The story ballet RAkU is artistically honest and truly narrative with a smashing score by Shinji Eshima. RAkU retells with beautiful video screens and exquisite choreography the torching of Kyoto’s Golden Pavilion in 1950, the work of an evil monk sexually obsessed with the Emperors wife. With the emperor away engaged in battle, the Monk takes advantage of the lonely Empress and after a frantic dance to get away from what seemed a dance meant to comfort her, she is raped by the priest, thrown finally way up against a giant white wall like a butterfly finally pinned into a glass case. Then the monk sets fire to her castle which was also her temple and their home. 

 

When her dutiful soldiers return and find her in this bedraggled state, using her last sword as a cane in order to crawl across the stage as if she still believes she has the strength to avenge her family, they have the awful duty of presenting her with a box full of the ashes of her own home and possibly the Emperor himself.

 

It is a moment in ballet that I will never forget when the Empress, played with magnificent emotion and perfection to craft and detail by the phenomenal Victoria Jaiani, takes down her jet black hair and pours the white ashes her own face and body before succumbing to her wounds with one last graceful breath and the deathly uncurling of her graceful white fingers and legs. Brava! 

 

I highly recommend seeing the well-chosen pieces in "Bold Moves" for a full night of dance that will leave you feeling both refreshed and deeply moved at the same time. 

Published in Theatre Reviews

Melissa Thodos the creator of Sono’s Journey and her designers, which premiered at the Auditorium Theatre Saturday, did a wonderful job telling the story of Sono Asato, a dancer who broke age and race barriers from the time she was just fourteen years old. At that same young age, Sono Asato was the first dancer of Japanese descent AND the first American to join the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. 

 

I loved the way Thodos chose to use a narrator to tell the story of Asato’s life and used real pictures from Sono's life. I overheard one audience member saying during intermission, the narration really helped the audience understand and empathize with Asato’s life journey without making us guess or make assumptions based solely on the dance and music for each vignette – a very correct observation. 

 

I loved the costumes and lighting, which created a dreamy effect. The dancers were superb in bringing Sono Asato’s unique and trademark hand gestures and delicate yet earthy and natural style of dance to life. Asato’s hands were especially beautiful and expressive resembling the grace and power of mudras of ancient meditation statues. 

 

I found it very interesting that when Osato was refused work abroad with her ballet company, it was a female theater company owner and old friend who welcomed her back to Broadway “dance shows" in order to keep making money dancing to survive. 

 

I also loved the vignette which included how her parent's originally met and fell immediately in love when her father Shoji was sent to photograph her beautiful mother for a performance portrait.   

 

Osato, now ninety-six-years-old, and still a delicate beauty, was brought onstage in a wheelchair and it was announced that Mayor Rahm Emanuel had declared that day, January 8th to be SONO ASATO DAY in Chicago. Sono Asato looked radiantly beautiful as she received her flowers and a roaring standing ovation for her groundbreaking, door opening bravery and exceptional dance performances in the classic works, Sleeping Beauty, Pillar of Fire and The Beloved.

 

I felt very much honored to be there in Sono Asato's presence that night during the Mayor's announcement. I felt privileged to add my enthusiastic applause and shouts of "Bravo!" for her and the delightful show "Sono’s Journey".

 

Dance enthusiasts and appreciators will have two more opportunities to see Sono's Journey this winter: February 20th at the North Shore Center in Skokie, and March 5th at the Harris Theater in Chicago, as part of Thodos Dance Chicago's new "Chicago Revealed" Winter Concert series. This particular production is a beautiful piece of work that everyone should experience.

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

I never got hooked on Lost, it was too confusing after a while. I am not a fan of The Walking Dead or Fear of the Walking Dead. Both are filled with too much gross, face eating bloody gore for my taste. I disliked Twin Peaks which was creepily sexist and unsettling to me. 

 

My theory for the reason this generation of young people are especially intrigued with increasingly more scary and realistic looking horror films, video games and TV shows is because the world around them is filled with the news of real human against human atrocities every day and these films make them feel safe. As if saying to themselves when they turn off the TV, "Hey my life is difficult, there are innocent people and animals suffering all around the world but at least I’m not being chased every day by flesh eating zombies! 

 

I probably would not have even watched "Wayward Pines" in its entirety, but after interviewing the extremely nice and forthcoming show's star Matt Dillon and Wayward Pines' executive producer/director, M Night Shyamalan, at Chicago's most popular TV and fiction fan nerd fest, C2E2, I became intrigued. 


                                                                         

First of all, the entire cast was extremely impressive with amazing Oscar nominated supporting cast members like Melissa Leo, Juliette Lewis ,Toby Jones, Carla Gugino, Terrence Howard and of course the show's star, the still handsome and fit Matt Dillon. Dillon, nominated himself for an Oscar for his work in the 2004 film "Crash", is known primarily as a film actor who had not really been seen much on the big screen since his explosively funny portrayal as a blundering private eye in the hit "Something About Mary”. Putting all this great, mature, experienced talent together along with the involvement of wunderkind M Night Shyamalan and I figured there wasn't a way this show could flop unless there was something seriously wrong with the plot. 

 

The series was adapted for television and written by Chad Hodge. Now, I haven't read the successful series of books by Blake Crouch it was adapted from, which is apparently okay, as Matt mentioned in our interview that the cast was also instructed they need not read the books in order to experience the story fresh as written. 

 

Hodge did a fantastic job on the script, especially given that he was limited in certain elements by the ten episode series being picked up by FOX instead of a more freewheeling, R rated cable channel like Showtime, HBO or AMC. I asked M Night about this choice of networks and he felt that the limitations of prime time television actually helped the story immensely as it required the writers to infuse the script with sensuality where possible, not nudity and intelligent suspense, not constant gore, which made the show palatable for a huge mainstream audience. After seeing all ten episodes I completely agree.

 

Of course,  because of M Night's groundbreaking twist in his hit film the "Sixth Sense" I feared that "Wayward Pines" might try and pull off an easy and unsatisfying "this was all a dream" or "everyone is really dead" type of plot curve.  I really enjoyed that the major "secret" underlying Wayward Pines existence (which was revealed around episode five) that the entire town was actually still on earth far into the future ala "Planet of the Apes". 

 

There were and still are some major holes in the story, like how did Dr. Jenkins, played with mind bending creepiness by veteran actor Toby Jones keep going back and forth in time to get more groups of people?

 

Also, if someone told you that you and your family had been spared an end of civilization death (albeit without your permission) and forced to live in a nice little town where all the money is fake and you only need to eat, drink and show up for your fake job then enjoy your brand new house and be merry - why would so many go nuts and kill themselves? 

 

And the biggest hole that many Matt Dillon fans have pointed out online was that with all that super advanced scientific technology and Dillon's character's exceptional defense and fighting skills, why he wasn't able to figure out a way to detonate the bombs remotely that saved the rest of the town without blowing himself up in the process?

 

I don't want to dwell on those minor plot glitches because Hodge includes many very interesting and relevant ideas about the problems the human race faces right now including how these problems are affecting the minds and actions of today's youth and future generations. 

 

The Wayward Pines website sets the scene with this quote about the mysterious town and the "Rules" which must be followed by its citizens under threat of execution;

 

“Imagine the perfect American town, beautiful homes, manicured lawns, children playing safely in the streets... Now imagine never being able to leave. You have no communication with the outside world. You think you’re going insane. You must be in Wayward Pines."

"Do Not Try to Leave. Do Not Discuss the Past. Do Not Discuss Your Life Before. Always Answer the Phone if it Rings. Work Hard. Be Happy. And Enjoy Your Life in Wayward Pines."

 

This description of their "government" enforced lifestyle along with these eerily intrusive and nonsensical rules for living are in and of themselves a marvelous description of how many Americans and especially young people feel every day. People look at their mindless jobs, their endless struggle to make ends meet, to take care of ailing family members etc., while feeling very alone and almost as if they are going insane in a mad world they did not willingly "choose" to live in. The modern world seems - to young and old alike - to be full of rules written by privileged white men, some of which are highly intrusive, threatening, useless and even deadly.

 

In "Wayward Pines" Abbies (short for "aberrations") is the nickname for the creatures, once "normal" humans, who have somehow deteriorated into cannibalistic, mindless yet somewhat clever and predatory monsters.

 

I also enjoyed Hodges' choice that the "aberrations" were once human, not some made up aliens or animals that have suddenly become violently carnivorous, because that is exactly what is happening now all around the globe.

 

On an international level the Isis members who attacked all those innocent citizens in Paris which would normally be the Wayward Pines or civilized "safe place" while the Isis members are the aberrations.

                                                                                       Matt Dillon at C2E2 *Photo by Kimberly Katz

 

In India where a woman or female child is raped every 22 minutes, the village center or city is thought to be the "Wayward Pines" (safe place) while men, rapists from these same towns who recently gang raped and in the process murdered two three year old toddlers would be considered the Abbies of that area.

 

In America, on a community level, the young man who walked into the Sandy Hook day school and killed 26 women and children would be the Abbie. On a family level, in any country, the family home or unit seems to be the "safe place" our youth can grow and  blossom in - but the incestuous relative or stranger rapist/serial killer who attacks and "consumes" children or kills other family members would be the Abbie, etc., etc. 

 

At the very end of the final episode we find out that even though the children, or "First Generation” as they are proudly called, know the truth about their imprisonment, they continue to idolize the now dead Dr. Jenkins and his methods of watching everyone on hidden cameras and publicly killing those that even speak of resisting. It was a surprising if depressing plot twist but probably realistic that vulnerable, prideful young minds once programmed for violence will continue to practice and propagate this type of behavior rather than try to revolt and create their own peaceful utopia.

 

Matt Dillon was a brilliant casting choice for the lead in this new type of TV mini-series, partly because of his physical ability at the age of 51, to still realistically play an action character. Dillon has proven in the past that he is both a fine dramatic and comedic actor and also because he has wisely chosen interesting roles here and there that have kept him from becoming over exposed or identified with a lot of B quality projects. Dillon had a fiercely protective and intense presence throughout that kept the show from becoming stagnant or boring. 

In this case, from a talent agent's point of view, not a critic, I think Dillon wisely agreed or even suggested to be killed off at the end of the show, that way if Wayward Pines was a flop, he would be instantly onto the next project, no harm no foul. If Wayward Pines turned out to be a huge success, the writers could easily dream up some way to revive his character from the past, perhaps even through flashbacks alone, which would put Dillon in an excellent bargaining position for future episode rates. 

 

The final episode seemed to imply that the actor Charlie Tahan who played Matt Dillon's son was going to follow in Dillon's footsteps as the lead actor of the second season. However, Tahan, as good as he is as a sensitive young actor, is just not appealing, sexy or strong enough to carry this show. But who knows? Hot, new, young characters may be introduced that will effectively preserve the show's adult "sexy" factor. 

 

If the writing and major adult, character actor involvement in the plot lines continues, I am convinced that a second season of Wayward Pines will be a hit even without Matt Dillon's presence. However I agree with many other viewers who have expressed their opinions through social media that they will have little or no interest in the show if Dillon's character is actually finished. Matt Dillon's sexy, strong and urgently heartfelt portrayal as the rescuer in Wayward Pines will not be easy to replace, especially if he and others are replaced by less mature actors in their 20's to just satisfy a younger audience. 

 

Dillon's next project is Zach Braff’s remake of “Going In Style”. Matt Dillon will costar alongside Michael Caine, Alan Arkin, Morgan Freeman and the ageless Ann-Margaret due out in May of 2016. 

 

Also, after our interview Dillon expressed a strong desire to direct again as he did quite well critically by writing, directing and starring in his directorial debut "City of Ghosts" which also starred James Caan and Gerard Depardieu. Dillon has also been working on a documentary about Afro-Cuban musician El Gran Love.  

 

Wayward Pines is a production of FX Productions. The series was developed for television by Chad Hodge and executive-produced by Donald De Line, Ashwin Rajan Hodge and Shyamalan. Hodge wrote and Shyamalan directed the premiere episode and the second season is set to debut in the summer of 2016.

 

Published in BuzzBlog

 

"Gotta Dance" is a partly fictional partly true story based on the 2008 documentary film by Dori Bernestein about the New Jersey Nets and the basketball team’s efforts to boost flagging attendance by creating the first-ever hip-hop halftime dance team comprised only of those 60 and older. 

 

Georgia Engel, best known for her role on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, plays a school teacher who secretly loves, listens and dances to Tupac in her spare time. Engel steals the show with practically every line of hers getting huge laughs, showing that not only can she still sing and dance at the age of 67, Engle has lost NONE of her terrific comedic timing. 

 

Also, Stefanie Powers most famous for her role on TV's "Hart to Hart" looks, dances and sounds absolutely beautiful in her role as the slightly bitter divorcee. Once crowned Miss NY Subway, she refuses to let go of her youthful image holding on any way she can, including Botox and still taking three dance classes a week at the age of 73.

 

Two of the best songs in the show “Dorothy/Dottie” and “The Prince of Swing” are the work of Marvin Hamlisch (“A Chorus Line”), who worked on the show just before his death in 2012.

 

Dance team member Camilla is played by a tall, thin, gorgeous Broadway singer and dancer, Nancy Ticotin, who at age 58 engaged in a HOT, sexy affair with her 25-year-old salsa partner (Alexander Aguilar). Ticotin's excellent dancing and voice are really standouts in this show and her affair with a younger man is entirely believable as she looks and dances with the grace of a woman half her age. 

 

Mae, who is an adorable, well-meaning but slightly confused and off balance dancer is played by Lori Tan Chinn. Chinn gives heart wrenching but casually delivered rendering of “The Waters Rise”, a moving song about her husband’s deterioration from Alzheimer’s disease. 

 

The sole man in the dance group is Ron played adorably by Andre De Shields, a still mourning widower who has a fantastic mellowed out yet modern feel to his Jazzy dancing and delivery of straight forward encouragement to the ladies around him in the show. 

 

Like many of the characters in the show, I "used to be a dancer" until I was disabled in an accident so I really loved the fact that they showed that practically everyone has some of the ability to keep dancing at an advanced age, whether it's hip hop, swing, or tap if you like!

 

"Gotta Dance" also showed the ageism young dancers face when being "retired" forcibly from their dance squads at the ripe old age of 27. 

 

I highly recommend "Gotta Dance". This is a funny, fast paced, heartwarming and inspiring show every single person should see at some time in their life.

 

"Gotta Dance" reminds us all we are spirits living in bodies that may be slowly deteriorating, but we need never give up the JOY of DANCING our young or old bodies - in our living rooms at least! Playing at Bank of America Theatre through January 17th, tickets and more show info can be found at www.BroadwayInChicago.com. 

Published in Theatre Reviews

Bruce Norris, also a member of the Steppenwolf ensemble, wrote and directed this very funny, fast moving play about a gynecologist turned politician, Bill Pulver, who ends up putting a young prostitute into a coma during rough sex play. 

 

The play opens at a press conference as the news hits the public about the young woman struggling for life on a respirator where it is also noted  with disgust that she was wearing a child's school uniform when found - much like Pulver’s uniforms his own two young daughters wear to school.

 

As the play goes on, we find out this is not a one-time event, and in fact it is slowly revealed that he has been seeing various prostitutes for over a decade and has spent more than $76,000.00 of he and his wife's money on his “hobby”, or “sex addiction” which is never made clear. 

 

I really enjoyed that the female characters far outnumbered the male characters in this play. It gave each of the leads especially Mary Beth Fisher, who plays Pulver’s wife Judy the chance to really tear up the stage with some fantastic speeches. 

 

Steppenwolf favorite Tom Irwin in the lead as Pulver is perfect as the slightly charismatic, Bill Clinton-ish character who thinks he has no reason to say he's sorry to the public or anyone else. Pulver feels that cheating on his wife with a prostitute is not an ongoing affair, but rather a victim-less crime and a necessity for any man who has been married as long as he has. Pulver refuses to apologize to the public at the press conference and seems to think what he has done is as common as using porn anonymously on the internet except that the porn actually comes to you and has sex with you. 

 

The couple has a preteen daughter they adopted from Asia who shows a slideshow throughout the play describing how different species of animals have much more dominant females than humans do. Some that do not even require a male to reproduce. Cassidy was who was played sensitively by Emily Chang is literally sickened by the arguing going on around her, grabbing her inhaler and running offstage which neither parent seems to notice or really care about. 

 

For the most part, I thoroughly enjoyed this brilliantly written, witty, almost manifesto-like feminist play. Refreshing is that Norris is not afraid to bring to the surface such taboo subject matter, for instance when the older daughter brings up how upset she is and genuinely concerned with issues like female genital mutilation, a desperately important and horrific feminist and human rights desecration I did not even know existed when I was a teenager.

 

But then completely disappointing is when Norris writes a final scene where the victim awakens from her coma and seems to be seeking publicity for a book about her injuries. This scene seemed to turn everything around as if it was her fault or intent in some way to capitalize on his crime and shows the husband and wife on opposite sides of the stage breathing a sigh of relief, almost as if to say that if she's not “dead”, and wants some retribution, she probably is a just a whore who "asked for it”, and he is just a regular cheating husband just like any other husband except that he wanted to hold public office while continuing to cheat on his wife with prostitutes. It was almost as if Pulver should be absolved of his wrong doing and may actually even become the victim when the rest of the play, up until that point, steered us otherwise.

 

I know some men will be aggravated watching this play but intrigued while women will just love it. In fact, there was a gentleman sitting next to me who stated in the after play discussion, "His wife is such a shrew, I think he had a right to cheat on her." I quickly asked, "Even if that's true, did he have the right to lie to her for a decade? To expose her to any number of sexually transmitted diseases, including AIDS without her knowledge?" The man fell silent and could not answer me, but I suspect he and his wife had quite a rousing discussion on their ride home! 

 

Funny, smart and dark, running 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission, "Domesticated" is exciting to watch, full of great performances and highly recommended. “Domesticated” will get you and your partner  talking - and maybe in the process even fuel a few long overdue divorces of its own.

 

“Domesticated” is playing at Steppenwolf Theatre through February 7th. For more show information visit www.steppenwolf.org.  

Published in Theatre Reviews
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