« In the News: Tartuffe at South Shore Cultural Center | Main | In the News: Aretha Franklin Replaced with Janelle Monáe In Performance with Chicago Symphony Orchestra »

SunSpots: Tipsy On Theater!

Stephanie's Just Hangin' Around!


Enjoy the Flavors of Chicago Culturally-Diverse Theater!


I really enjoy theater, so in this post, I will attempt to tackle some typical barriers to attendance and I'll also share some current productions!

I'd rather see a good movie.  Theater is better than movies because it’s live, three-dimensional and, when it’s really good, you’re transported from your seat and into the lives of the characters.

Theater is too expensive.  If money is an issue, preview performances are a fantastic way of seeing a quality production at a lower price.  A preview performance is not just snippets and there are no “do-overs.”  Rather, it’s like a dress rehearsal-plus.  Preview performances allow the actors to run through the entire script prior to the official opening.  The actors and directors then have an opportunity to make adjustments to pace, delivery, etc., and to make tweaks based on audience reaction prior to subjecting the performance to the scrutiny of critics.

What the heck is goin' on?  Sometimes theater can be kind of challenging – whether due to the subject matter, language (such as Shakespeare plays!) or writing style – but there are a number of ways to enhance the experience.  It can help to visit the production’s website for background material.  It’s sort of like going to school: you can just go to class unprepared and come out clueless or invest a little lead time so that you’ll know what questions to ask or which issues are important.  Most productions include one or more free artists’ talks – either pre- or post-performance and sometimes scheduled on a separate day.  These are wonderful opportunities to understand how an actor prepared for their role, or the reason for certain directorial choices or to dissect a plot twist.  I also find that attending with a group, followed by cocktails, is a fun way to debrief!

You’ll find that Soleil’s To-Dos Theater Listings approach diversity in a number of ways, focusing on diverse theater companies, playwrights, actors, subject matter and/or directors.  We include small companies and large institutions.  The sophistication of the subject matter ranges in a way that I analogize to wine: we’ll serve up some Cabernet Sauvignon (deep and resonating), Chardonnay (light and crisp), Riesling and moscato (sweet, but with some substance and subtle complexity), but not white zinfandel (‘cuz just like iceberg lettuce, it lacks substantive nutritional value).  Here are a few varietals currently in performance:

vera starkBy the Way, Meet Vera Stark
Goodman Theatre, through June 2nd

Meet Vera Stark follows the career of a fictional actress who struggles to attain success, but finds herself limited to small roles as a maid or slave.  The play is very much a Chardonnay comedy with a smooth finish, though the second half lapses a little too close to White Zinfandel for my taste.  The first half includes fine acting by Tamberla Perry (Vera Stark), Kara Zediker (Gloria Mitchell), TaRon Patton (Lottie McBride/Carmen Levy-Green) and Amelia Workman (Anna Mae Simpkins/Afua Assata Ejobo).  The second half takes somewhat of an incongruous turn with comedy that is a bit over the top, yet not quite funny.  It is nonetheless redeemed by a rather poignant ending, which I wish had been more of the focus of the second half.

Tamberla Perry and director, Chuck Smith, recently joined WBEZ’s Afternoon Shift to discuss the play, Black stereotypes and their personal struggles to find “respectable” Black roles.

misanthropeMolière Festival: The Misanthrope
Court Theatre, through July 14th

Despite the fact that Molière is a classic French playwright, born in 1622, I found The Misanthrope to be comparable to a nice Pinot Grigio – easy on the palate, even for the novice.  In a word – okay, 2 words – hilarious and delightful!  It has a modern feel, but is set in a French baroque society where social graces reign supreme.  This play doesn’t have a cultural diverse theme, but is cast, predominately, with actors of color - Kamal Angelo Bolden, A.C. Smith, Grace Gealey, Patrese D. McClain, Allen Gilmore – and others.  The costumes are gorgeous and all of the actors were fantastic, but Gilmore, in the role of Arsinoé – in drag – pretty much stole the show.  He completely, and convincingly, embraced the role, but didn’t take himself too seriously.  If Tyler Perry could pull this off with such finesse, I probably would have seen one of his movies by now.

In contrast to the theme of Vera Stark, in this clip, Patrese D. McClain expresses her delight to find that she was NOT being cast as a maid.  There’s also a snippet of Gilmore’s performance!

[caption id="attachment_1394" align="aligncenter" width="300"]Click to play! Click to play![/caption]


head of passes

Head of Passes

Steppenwolf Theatre, through June 9th

There are deeper Cabernet-esque notes of complexity, pain and loss in this production, featuring moving performances by Alana Arenas, Jon Michael Hill, Tim Hopper, James T. Alfred and Cheryl Lynn Bruce.  Okay – the stage design was pretty moving, too!

Here’s what audience members had to say about it:

head of passes video

Be sure to take advantage of our 2-for-1 ticket offer!

Othello: The Remix
Chicago Shakespeare Theater, through June 15th

Here’s a quick-paced, hip-hop adaptation of Othello.  Light and tasty, yet still complex, this performance is free of laborious Shakespearean-speak and full of humor and fun!

othello the remix

It would be nice to have a “theater sommelier” whose opinion we could trust – even if we don’t agree with it - wouldn’t it?  I read a review of The Misanthrope that completely overlooked the brilliance of Allen Gilmore’s performance.  Why are there no theater critics of color in Chicago – someone whose cultural perspective allows them to address subtleties (or blatant-cies) that other critics miss?  Do you know of someone?  Whose theater reviews do you rely on?

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>