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Weekend Theater Review Roundup

Several Chicago Shows opened this past week. See below for a quick-fire round up of reviews.

Photo 1BELLEVILLE @ Steppenwolf Theatre

Paris is the city of love and all things romantic. So, for a newlywed couple living in the City of Romance, life should be sweet and full of happiness. Unfortunately, on an unsuspecting day when Abby comes home to find her husband viewing internet pornography, what the couple thought was just an average marriage may actually hide tragedy and crisis innocuously unobserved and dangerously under the surface, slowly unraveling a surmounting cracked trust and sanity before the couple’s very eyes and waiting to tear each other apart.

Amy Herzog’s smart and terribly eery Belleville had it’s original Premiere at Yale Repertory Theatre in 2011 and was quickly followed by an Off-Broadway run earlier this year. The show opens on a bright and sanitary white Parisian apartment and from the get-go, one can tell this isn’t your typical contemporary play about a couple’s rocky trip down Romance Lane. With Herzog’s slow-burn script, Anne Kauffman’s lulling direction and superb acting from Cliff Chamberlain and Kate Arrington, Steppenwolf’s newest production offers an off-kilter dichotomy that presents a stagnant playing space that’s rich with uneasiness and an immense Hitchcockian tone that’s completely of the Thriller variety that elicits subtly, nervousness and tension that is truly terrifying.

Fresh Roasted Rating: Highly Recommended

When: Through Aug. 25
Where: Steppenwolf Theatre,
1650 N. Halsted St.
Running Time: 1 hour, 45 mins.
Tickets: $20-$78 at 312-335-1650 or steppenwolf.org
Click here for Belleville Full Review

Photo 2Hedwig and the Angry Inch (Haven Theatre) @ Theatre Wit

Tweetable Review: Haven Theatre’s production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch is a worthy mounting of a fine-lined show. Kyle Trent’s direction proves the new Chicago director can take unorthodox material and create a well structured character journey and hire the right people to help make smart and wise artistic decisions. Daniel Friedman’s lighting design blasts the stage with amazing life – suddenly one of Theatre Wit’s venues becomes a rock club before an audiences’ eyes, complete with stage fog and the “less is more” mentality, which carries perfectly. Additionally, Trent’s casting of his reliably-principle actor is the remarkable thing that most will focus on here – and why not.

Ryan Lanning has brought his version of a sensitive and funny Hedwig this time around with loving and feminine touches to the role not normally seen which helps uncover the existence of a sadness and longing that many performers bi-pass in exchange for rage and vitriol.  Hedwig and the Angry Inch can be a daunting task as the show is essentially an hour and a half one-man show, but Lanning handles his responsibilities of well-paced timing, connection to his fellow actress (Lauren Paris) and booming vocals (that are a prime fit to the actor’s range and instrument) with poise – esp. when cutting through musical director Kory Danielson’s tightly-knit Angry Inch backing band; instead of getting a rehearsed musical theatre piece, we get a live music gig that seems electric (no pun intended) and perfect for this show.

Fresh Roasted Rating: For this particular production, its hard to give one solid rating because Hedwig and the Angry Inch simply won’t resonate with many people due to it’s unconventional style of material and subjects discussed.  With that said, Haven Theatre’s inaugural show is most certainly Recommended for direction, performance and overall production.  For fans of the material however, Haven Theatre has created a Highly Recommended show which deserves to be seen.

When: Through Aug. 11
Where: Theatre Wit
1229 W. Belmont
Running Time: 1 hour, 30 min. (no intermission)
Tickets: theatrewit.org
Click here for Hedwig and the Angry Itch Full Review

Photos 3The Casuals @ Jackalope Theatre

Tweetable Review: I have to admit that I have always had a penchant for loving the 1950’s. There is something about the time period in which the Nation was going through under-pinning change that signified a movement from innocence and naivety to something drastic like the cultural changing landscape of the 1960’s, all while holding toothy-white smiles, eating hamburgers at the local drive-in and listening to Buddy Holly. The truth is we lived in a time in which the heads of state condoned the participation of witnessing A-Bomb testing live and in-person – it seems a bit forehead slapping in hindsight. But Its with this pre-tense that audience members can step into Jackalope Theatre’s newest show at the Storefront Theatre but it is also with this pre-tense that one soon realizes The Casuals will be more thought than solution.

Overall the production has some great ideas to present audiences but unfortunately the thoughts never presented fully. Instead of being given full exploration on topical ideas of secrecy and truth-in-knowledge, we are given stunted walls of plot and unexplained roads that lead nowhere. Co-writers, Bone and Swanson have setup a structure that gives audiences a non-linear story that helps for intrigue and motivation to keep the show moving but its ultimately the direction and lack of pacing that keeps The Casuals from really hitting its mark.

With this said, Jackalope Theater should be proud for mounting a production that has several things going well for itself. The Casuals is thought-provoking with shades of timely subject matter, a cast that is entertaining and features at least three solid performances and production quality that is very well thought through. Perhaps next time the company can mount a show that answers its own questions instead of being so concerned about how well the props actually function live on stage.

Fresh Roasted Rating: Somewhat Recommended for production quality and performances from Brad Smith’s captivating and underscored Les and Norm Woodel’s intimidating Military officer.

When: Through July 28
Where: DCASE Storefront Theater,
1650 N. Halsted St.
Running Time: 2 Hours, 10 Min.
Tickets: $15, 774.340.2543 or online at Tix.com
Click here for The Casuals Full Review

~ Matt Miles, 24/7 Contributor
Producer of Fresh Roasted Films

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