If you are Jewish, you will especially appreciate and love this play which is full of biting humor and keen observations about how modern day Jews define themselves philosophically and how that vision of themselves plays out in their family relationships.
“Bad Jews” is set in a beautiful New York pied de Terre or studio apartment on the Upper West Side of New York bought by the parents of brothers Liam and Josh and they are being visited by relatives following the death of their beloved grandfather
Their first cousin Diane Feygenbaum is a rabbinical student with an Israeli boyfriend who insists on being called by her Hebrew name Daphna a has to share the studio with them for a few nights and is outraged by the fact that spoiled cousin Liam has actually missed his grandfather’s funeral because he lost his cell phone while skiing in Aspen.
During the course of the play we find out that Daphna is very intent on inheriting the gold Chai (Hebrew for the number 18, and symbol of Life) medallion necklace worn by her grandfather during the holocaust. In fact, he had to hide it under his tongue for two years in the Holocaust death camp he was kept in while the rest of his family members were killed. It turns out Liam has a plan to give the medallion to his “shiksa” girlfriend instead of an engagement ring just as his grandfather gave it to their grandmother 50 years prior.
A ferocious verbal fight breaks out and the true feelings of each cousin for the other and their Jewish values, or lack thereof, pour out with the fury and passion that sometimes occurs particularly after the death of a loved one.
Liam, played by Ian Paul Custer and Daphna played by Laura Lapidus are both hysterically on point in their portrayals. The fantastic monologues for these two characters, written to perfection by Harmon and well directed by Jeremy Wechsler are cutting but truthful, funny yet excruciatingly honest.
Non-Jews will find this play funny and full of Jewish stereotypes handled with great political correctness. Jews will see themselves in all their self hating and neurotic glory, with intelligence bursting at the seams.
I think Daphna could have been played with a little bit more compassion and a little less self righteous bitterness. At one point she mentions poignantly her education about the holocaust and her grandfather’s “tattoo’” or concentration camp number burned into his arm. We realize as an audience just how deeply touched and perhaps scarred emotionally a sensitive child is by being thoroughly exposed to the horrors of the holocaust at the tender age of 13 , as every Jewish child who studies for a bat mitzvah is required to do.
There are a lot of self-hating Jews out there. I was one of them for a while, in part because of the patriarchal and misogynistic attitudes towards women in the Old Testament that Liam brings up during the play to combat Daphna’s self righteous religious rants. Ironically, it took the realization that Jesus or “Yeshuah” (Jesus’ Hebrew name) was the greatest Rabbi, indeed the greatest Jew who ever walked the earth that made me the proud, comfortable, self loving Jew I am today.
The title by Harmon, “Bad Jews” is both eye catching and absolutely perfect because by the end of the play it is clear there are no bad Jews, only good Jews who are internally judging themselves or being judged by others too harshly.
Skillfully directed by Jeremy Wechsler, I highly recommend this thought provoking and hysterical piece of theater for its brilliant writing and two fantastic performances created lovingly and delivered with mind blowing rapid fire delivery by Lapidus and Custer.
“Bad Jews” is being performed at Theatre Wit through June 7th. I highly recommend this play. For tickets and other info visit www.theatrewit.org.
"Anna in the Afterlife" is a play based on author Richard Engling’s friendship and collaboration with Fern Chertkow, a dear longtime friend, writer, and colleague who took her own life in 1988.
There was so much in this play that I enjoyed in terms of its emotional themes and the exploration of what happens to your consciousness immediately after death. The play also admirably tries to answer the question of what happens after death if you commit suicide.
Richard Engling played himself in this production which I think was meant to be sort of an homage to the Woody Allen type of storytelling but unfortunately Engling’s writing is so much better than his acting ability for the stage that all of the very talented supporting actors were forced to sort of dance around him, helping him into each moment on stage instead of playing the characters directly to each other as trained actors normally would.
The stage and lighting design were lovely to look at and helped define the storyline which jumped around in time a little too often to follow the main idea of the play. Literally jumping back in time to meeting his friend in Paris then back to his struggles in the afterlife then to visit all three splintered personalities of his friend as a little girl, young woman and deceased spirit, became very confusing after a while but were still interesting and evocative scenes in and of themselves.
The play in its current state can be moving at times and even has the ability to connect with its audience in areas particularly if you have recently lost a loved one and can easily identify with the soul searching and guilt that seems to universally accompany any death. Anna in the Afterlife might hit home especially if a friend or family member has suffered from cancer or another painful disease or has taken their own life.
The play definitely needs a rewrite though to make it more comprehensible as there is much to learn from this piece and many interesting ideas to ponder about grieving and the nature of life and death and consciousness. Also, Engling should step outside of the next production and cast a really talented and mature stage actor who can play his life in such a way so that we feel more compassion for his character’s flaws and struggles.
Directed by Susan Padveen, Anna in the Afterlife is playing at the Greenhouse Theatre Center through May 24th. For tickets and/or more information visit http://greenhousetheater.org/.
Buzz News Chicago's Kimberly Katz speaks with Wayward Pines star Matt Dillon at C2E2 on the new Fox series directed by M. Night Shayamalan.
I truly adore anything with Cole Porter’s amazing music performed as well as the cast at The Marriott Theatre. Porter’s songs “I Get a Kick Out of You”, “You’re the Top”, “Easy to Love” and “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” are lovingly performed and choreographed to perfection.
“Anything Goes” is the still fresh and funny tale of a group of passengers setting sail for romance and adventure on a spectacular ocean liner from New York to London. When some of the passengers complain to the Captain there are not enough celebrities on board, the Captain realizes that even criminal celebrities are exciting enough to qualify and invites the two “infamous crooks” on board to dine at his table to appease the rest of the guests hunger for drama and notoriety.
Stephanie Binetti (who plays the siren Reno Sweeney) is absolutely sensational in this role. I loved that she was more glamorous than strident, less Ethel Merman and more Liza Minelli, as it were.
Jameson Cooper as Billy Crocker started out a little bit lukewarm in my eyes but after he warmed up and performed his beautiful, heartfelt rendition of “So Easy to Love”, he really won me over. One could certainly see how Cooper as Billy Crocker can so easily charm Hope Harcourt, played by the lovely Summer Naomi Smart, with his genuinely romantic and earthy interpretation of these classic lyrics.
I never get tired of the dynamic and original staging in the round at The Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. This makes the big dance numbers (which there are plenty of) especially rich. Having the large cast move up and down the aisles throughout the show makes every single seat in this intimate playhouse a great seat!
Moonface Martin is played with amazing comic timing by Ross Lehman. At the same time, Moonface’s blonde bombshell moll, Erma, played by Alexandra E. Palkovic, adds just the right of amount of real old time sex appeal to this show.
I highly recommend this fun, soaring production of one of Broadways’ most beloved shows for the entire family, especially for young people who have never been exposed to the wonder and magic of well done theater in the round!
“Anything Goes” is being performed at The Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire through May 31st. For tickets and/or more show information, visit http://www.marriotttheatre.com/show/anything-goes.
"On the Town" with music by Leonard Bernstein; book and lyrics by Tony-winning writing partners Betty Comden and Adolph Green is about to be staged on Broadway but the Marriott Lincolnshire has beat Broadway to the punch with this thoroughly entertaining and beautifully staged rendition which has never before been staged in Chicago.
Three young sailors arrive in New York City with just one night, 24 hours to have fun and find love hopefully in the arms of one young lady named "Miss Turnstiles" for the month of June. "On the Town" really captures the frantic energy of youth and love, when every hour of your life, indeed every minute counts desperately to you as life calls you to return to work, or other duties forcing you to leave your hopes and dreams behind.
The two young leads, Max Clayton & Alison Jantzie are both very, very talented young dancers and singers. Alison Jantzie is lovely and is absolutely delightful in her role as "Miss Turnstiles" a struggling actress who is bullied into burlesque dancing as a way to stay afloat in the big city.
Marya Grandy and Johanna McKenzie Miller were perfectly cast as the other two female leads. Grandy and Miller are both mature actresses with great voices and superb comic timing which held the whole show together and gave it real belly laughs and heart as well.
Alex Sanchez’s choreography and director David H. Bell use the intimate space at Marriott Theatre to their full advantage filling the stage with 22 dancers and some of the most exciting and even classically erotic ballet and modern dance numbers I have seen in a long time.
Nancy Missimi’s period costumes are so much fun to watch on the dancers. I absolutely love this period of fashion especially for the women Thomas M. Ryan’s brightly light New York City set caught my eye even before I entered the theatre and utilizes a turntable effect to show cabs driving through the city and other action in a fun and exciting way visually.
I highly recommend seeing "On the Town" while it is here in Chicago. "On the Town” is a funny, and romantic way to end the summer and remind yourself that life goes by fast, you have to get out "On the Town" once in a while to really celebrate it!
“On the Town” is playing at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire through October 12th. For tickets and/or more information, visit www.marriotttheatre.com.
I was eager to see the show but felt really bad as I settled into my seat for the opening night of GODSPELL at The Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire. Pain was shooting through my legs, and my mind was overwhelmed after yet another day of wrangling with difficult business decisions. But by the time I left the theatre I genuinely felt uplifted and renewed by the youthful and fresh energy and the heartfelt message of hope in Jesus that poured out of this production.
The cast could have, and maybe should have, been cast older; except for two token adults most of the cast seemed straight out of high school or college. Their voices were fantastic in the way singers on American Idol are, but as soon as they formed the Tower of Babel as 9 to 5 city workers dressed in black and grey, I thought what do these kids know about how hard the workplace is? Later during the heavier scenes regarding Jesus’ scourging and crucifixion I thought, what do these kids know about loss? Though one thing this young cast did have was talent – and plenty of it.
Brian Bohr played the role of Jesus. I was at first shocked and taken aback by a Jesus who resembled a 22 year old, baby-faced, California surfer kid wearing a sky blue preppy polo shirt. But Bohr’s rich, smooth voice and determined lightheartedness eventually won me over. Although I was surprised by Bohr's youthful appearance and super clean cut costume and looks, I grew to enjoy his interpretation of the role because it reflected on just how very strong and happy Jesus must have been during his early ministry before he was attacked and weighed down with betrayal.
Samantha Pauly had the most dynamic voice of the women and did a great job with the humor and tone of “Turn Back O Man”. At the same time, Devin DeSantis who had more of the hippy, wildman look I would have expected from Jesus, also had a great rich voice and made a very sympathetic Judas. The numbers were exciting and colorful, especially “O Bless the Lord My Soul” where golden hula hoops were incorporated into the dance choreography and “Light of the World” that really had the audience toe tapping and nodding their heads to the beat.
As always I thoroughly enjoyed the use of the intimate space at The Marriott Theatre and all of the colorful ways the entire theatre was decorated with multicolored plastic drinking cups sticking out of fence walls like a rainbow. I noticed that most of the audience seemed to feel the same way, as more people were laughing and chatting after the show rather than stretching and yawning on a weeknight and rushing to get home.
Overall this is a great production that is perfectly suited for everyone. Even the crucifixion scene was exceptionally light and non-violent as Jesus is tied up and crucified with blue and white silks suspended from the ceiling. I especially recommend this as a children’s theatre production for parents who want to take their children to an adult theatre piece with a great message about Jesus and the Gospel of John and Luke that will be very clean and cheerful all the way through.
GODSPELL is playing at The Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire though August 10th. For tickets and/or more information, visit www.marriotttheatre.com.
If you have any fondness for tales of the golden era of Hollywood, and in particular the work of the beloved movie star comedian, Jack Lemmon, you will thoroughly enjoy this moving and entertaining one man show starring Jack’s son, Chris Lemmon.
Writer and director, Hershey Felder had a similar solid hit last year with "The Pianist of Willesden Lane” in which a daughter tells the story of her mother surviving the Holocaust. Jack Lemmon Returns script was originally based on a memoir by Chris Lemmon titled, A Twist of Lemmon. Felder took the book, added some wonderful music and had Chris do the entire piece, not as himself- but as Jack, which makes this piece especially unique and enjoyable. All of the monologues flow beautifully into each other along with the music and never before seen photographs projected above the stage to create a touching, and funny progression that is very polished and theatrically satisfying.
There is no hash slinging ala “Mommie Dearest”, but Chris acknowledges Jack’s two decade long struggle with alcohol addiction. A telling moment about Jack’s narcissism is when “Jack” describes the thrill of winning his first Oscar for Mister Roberts and realizing after a few hours of celebration that he had literally left his wife behind, sitting all alone in the auditorium, which signaled the end of his marriage to Chris’s mother and actress, Cynthia Stone.
Lemmon has wonderful stage presence, as himself and as his dad, Jack. I was unaware that both he and his father were such gifted pianists. Jack introduced Chris to music, who later earned a degree in classical piano and composition. Chris recalls how after his parents divorced, while he was only two, Jack would make time to visit him almost everyday at his beach side home to play piano together. Chris says that although his new stepmother did not really welcome his presence, Jack was still “a little bit in love with his mother” and he remained his father’s beloved “hotshot” son without interruption.
The one piece of video in the show was of French Actor/Director and Mime Jean-Louis Barrault's performance in the silent film Children of Paradise, which Jack Lemmon studied intensively. It shows how ahead of his time Jean-Louis Barrault’s expressive hand gestures were - like a series of poetically powerful hand mudras, which were able to make people laugh and cry at the same time.
Chris does an amazing job of recreating young Jack’s many complicated trademark mannerisms, comical stuttering and gracefully manic hand gestures. He also does some fantastic impersonations of the friends in Jack’s start studded life like James Cagney, Billy Wilder, Jerry Lewis, Gregory Peck and even Marilyn Monroe.
Chris Lemmon grew up near Marilyn Monroe and relates a great story of how he snuck into her yard once while she was surrounded by secret servicemen during a tryst with JFK. The armed men tried to remove him but Marilyn stopped them and said “No! That’s Jack Lemmon’s son! “
The ninety minutes flowed so quickly and intensely that I wanted it to go on longer and pack in even more star recollections. Chris said afterwards that he and Felder had a rough time cutting the piece down to this exact running time especially when it came to cutting a section about Jack’s great friendship with actress Shirley Maclaine. He further explained that an intermission or even three extra minutes could stop the pace of this one man show in its tracks.
There is a real market for this special piece. After the show I felt like I had experienced a visit with real Hollywood royalty in both Jack and Chris and wanted to see Jack Lemmon’s movies again, and read Chris Lemmon’s biography with this new perspective.
At 59 Chris Lemmon is the perfect age to play his father as a young man and into old age when Jack died of cancer at the age of 76.
Chris’s stage version of his beloved father is more than an impersonation. Because of Chris’s skill and because Chris Lemmon is “blood”, his remarkable performance borders on actually “channeling” his late father’s huge spirit. It is truly exciting and haunting to watch. At times I felt I was actually witnessing Jack Lemmon joyfully “stepping into” his son’s face and body. After congratulating Chris and meeting his lovely wife and daughters at the end of the night, we hugged goodbye and I told him how much I loved his dad. I could have sworn I saw Jack Lemmon himself with his broad smile winking at me over Chris’s shoulder.
Hershey Felder said after the show that they brought “ Jack Lemmon Returns” to Chicago first because of all the cities in the U.S., Chicago is the only city that truly welcomes new theatre and longs for it’s success, instead of sitting arms crossed in judgment.
Do not miss your chance to see this remarkable and beautifully written and directed piece of theatre while it is running here at The Royal George Theatre, which is being performed through June 8th. Visit http://www.theroyalgeorgetheatre.com/ for more info.