by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
The American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA) held its annual conference in Chicago from June 13 – June 17. Theatre critics from all over the country had the opportunity to sample a variety of productions at various theatres. In addition to the business meetings, ATCA presented the Osborn and Primus awards to playwrights Darren Canady (New Play Award for an emerging playwright) and Caridad Svich (outstanding contributions to American theatre by an emerging female theatre artist). The featured speaker for Wednesday’s Perspectives in Criticism was Wall Street Journal critic Terry Teachout discussing “The Power of Enthusiasm.”
The Dual Critics traveled to Chicago a day before the conference started, so we could catch a Second City performance. Second City, famed for its improvisation comedy, has resident stages in Chicago and Toronto as well as Touring Ensembles, entertains over a million guests each year, and trains thousands of aspiring performers as well. We found the theatre packed on a Tuesday evening, and we enjoyed their lively “100 Year Revue.”
Wednesday evening all the critics attended the Goodman Theatre’s marvelous production of Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh” staring Nathan Lane and Brian Dennehy and an all-star cast of Chicago actors. The play opened in May and was winding up its run. It played to packed houses even through it had a running time of four hours and forty five minutes. The play is so outstanding there is talk that it may move to New York and Broadway.
We attended a matinee performance at TimeLine Theatre Company on Thursday. The theatre presents plays “inspired by history that connect with today’s social and political issues.” We saw the world premier of Chicago playwright John Conroy’s “My Kind of Town.” The play, a well-acted tense drama, was based on true incidents related to the torture of prisoners by Chicago police.
Thursday evening, we were the guests of the Black Ensemble Theater Cultural Center and saw the world premier production of “The Marvin Gaye Story: Don’t Talk About My Father Because God is My Friend.” This musical biography was written, produced and directed by the amazing Jackie Taylor. Ms. Taylor founded this group in 1976 with one purpose: to fight racism. This year the Black Ensemble moved into a new and spectacular $19 million building, and has plans to expand, by adding a restaurant and an arts school. Ms. Taylor does not sell subscriptions to the theatre. She will run one of her original bio-musicals as long as audiences are buying tickets. She has understudies for all the roles in each play; if a performer has to leave the cast she can continue on. She does offer a wild card ticket, with five admissions. The production had great voices, backup by a big band, and gorgeous costumes.
Friday found us at Theater Wit, a recently renovated complex with three theatres and four resident companies. Rental space is also available to other companies and performers, so there are always many different plays being staged. We saw BoHo Theatre’s production of the musical “Floyd Collins,” based on a 1925 incident in Kentucky, when an explorer becomes trapped in a cave, and a nationwide media frenzy erupts as rescuers try to save him. Other offerings included “Tigers Be Still,” described as “darkly comic” and “Goodbye Cruel World,” an adaptation of a Russian farce.
Theatre Wit has a unique membership plan. You can of course buy individual tickets, but for $29 per month you can see as many plays as you want as often as you want. If your favorite actor or actress is in a play, you can go once, twice or five times a week at no additional charges. You must agree to a three-month minimum. Twice a year, you can bring a friend for free.
We closed out our theatre excursion with the world premier musical of ‘Eastland” at the 2011 Tony Award Winning Regional Theater, Lookingglass Theatre Company. “Eastland,” written by Lookingglass Artistic Director Andrew White, concerns a 1915 maritime accident that occurred at the docks in downtown Chicago when a ship with 2,500 passengers capsized, killing 884 local residents. This 90-minute production was mesmerizing with outstanding voices, moving songs, and unique staging; a fabulous finale to a fine week of interesting theatre.
You don’t have to be a theatre critic to experience Chicago theatre. When you are considering an out of town theatre adventure, by all means give Chicago strong consideration. The League of Chicago Theatres has 250 theatres as members, from elegant to storefront; you can find it all in Chicago. Check out their website at chicagoplays.com
Thank you Chicago for hosting the American Theatre Critics Association. Yes, indeed, Chicago is our kind of theatre town, and with direct flights from Jacksonville to O’Hare and something for everyone, can also become your kind of theatre town.
CHICAGO, OUR KIND OF THEATRE TOWN
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM