Tuesday, July 17, 2018

STACY KEACH IS ERNEST HEMINGWAY IN GOODMAN THEATRE'S PAMPLONA THROUGH JULY 19

by Dwight Casimere

 Stacy Keach onstage as Ernest Hemingway in Jim McGrath's Pamplona
 The author at the height of his career
 Dwight Casimere with Stacy Keach on Opening Night at the Goodman



The esteemed television, stage and film giant Stacy Keach's onstage transformation into that giant of the literary world, Ernest Hemingway, in Goodman Theatre's World Premiere production of Jim McGrath's play Pamplona, directed by Goodman Artistic Director Robert Falls, is a miracle to behold. Originally scheduled for last spring's season, Keach had to bow out following 11 preview performances after suffering an onstage seizure on opening night. Those who attended this season's opening were richly rewarded for their wait, for Keach delivered a performance of monumental proportion.

The play takes place with Keach pacing the confines of a rundown hotel room in Pamploina Spain like a caged animal, in a set crafted with creative genius by Set Designer Kevin Depinet. Faced with a looming deadline to write a magazine article on a duel between two famous bullfighters, Hemingway is facing the twin demons of writer's block and deep personal depression. Just a few years on the heels of winning the Nobel Prize for Literature, the famous writer finds himself at a dead end. Fighting desperately to get past the opening line of his article, writing and re-writing the words until they almost become a mantra to failure. The bullfight becomes a metaphor to Hemingway's deepening dilemma. 

Keach is in top form, conveying the writer's inner turmoil with subtle changes in his rich, booming voice and gestures that alternately convey explosive emotional fury and surrendering weakness. His character, for example, plays a continual game of cat and mouse with the front desk, begging to have a bottle of whiskey sent up after telling the clerk to ignore the request at all costs. Projection design by Adam Fleming masterfully weaves in a backdrop of projected images that punctuate the writer's narrative with images of his parents, influences such as Gertrude Stein and episodes of the war that molded his legendary pesona and shaped his psyche. The Original Music and Soundscape by Michael Roth also further advances the emotional progression of the play to its climax.

Pamplona is a masterpiece of modern stagecraft. This is an opportunity to see a multi-media legend at the pinnacle of performance in a vehicle that seemed to have been written just for him. Go see it. For information, visit GoodmanTheatre.org.

BROADWAY IN CHICAGO WAITRESS A FROTHY, TASTY LEMON MERINGUE PIE THROUGH JULY 22

by Dwight Casimere



As heartwarming as a generous slice of Apple Pie and as soul-satisfying and easy-to-digest as a hunk of Lemon Meringue, the musical Waitress, now through July 22 at the Cadillac Palace is a delightful mix of stagecraft and musical alchemy that joyfully explores the triumph of the human spirit over seemingly insurmountable adversity. 

As effervescent Desi Oakley (Broadway's Wicked Les Miserables, Annie) portrays the indefatigable waitress and would-be national pie contest contestant with her quirky recipes for "My Husband Is A Jerk" Chicken Pot Pie and Betrayed By My Eggs, among others, she hopes to somehow extricate herself from her abusive marriage and the confines of a small town roadside diner through sheer will and true grit and a super-imaginative set of recipes. The entire enterprise is moved swiftly along by an imaginative book Jessie Nelson and music and  lyrics by Sara Bareilles and directed by Diane Paulus. With a whimsical set by Scott Pask and an on-stage band with Conductor/Pianist Nadia DiGiallonardo at the helm which at times telegraphs the emotional underpinnings of the scenes, the production goes down as easily as a slice of Chocolate Chiffon. Based on the late Adrienne Shelly's 2007 film of the same name, the musical was heralded as Broadway's first with an all-female creative team. The biting subject matter, tempered with a healthy dose of heart-warming sentiment is a recipe that others would be wise to follow for a truly great evening of theatre.

Jenna's desire to enter an upcoming national pie contest with a $20,000 prize that will spring her from the clutches of her abusive husband Earl, played with unabashed bravado by Nick Bailey (Broadway's Casa Valentina, Off-Broadway's Hit The Wall). He delivers the evening's most heartfelt ballad "You Will Still Be Mine." The whole thing  is compounded by the fact that she's pregnant, the result of a drunken night of passion.

Jenna's aspirations are bolstered by the emotional support of a gutsy pair of co-workers Becky, sung by Charity Angel Dawson, who originated the role in Cambridge, and Dawn (Lenne Klingaman) and a too-cool-for-himself line cook Cal, played with terrific comedic timing by Ryan G. Dunkin (The Buddy Holly Story, Cheers:Live On Stage National Tours). Perhaps the single most animated and hilarious character, with his angular balletic moves, is the character Ogie (Jeremy Morse-American Rep Waitress) who lends his bad impromptu poetry and love of Revolutionary War re-enactments to the heady mix. 

Bryan Fenkart (Broadway's Memphis) is her uneasy love interest, her gynecologist, Dr. Pomatter, who has all the warmth of a cold metal medical probe. Broadway veteran and Helen Hayes and Jeff Award winner Larry Marshall lends his considerable theistic chops to the role of Joe.

The music in Waitress is a refreshing mix of rock, country and some uptempo numbers that bend musical genres,  enough to keep your ears perked throughout. The solid message is that, like a recipe for a good pie, we're all a variation of the basic mix of flour, sugar, and butter that life somehow blends, folds and tempers through baking in the crucible of life experience. The outcome is partly in our own hands and partly in our openness to experience life's unexpected benefits and surprises. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

GOODMAN THEATRE SUPPORT GROUP FOR MEN-NOW THRU JULY 29

CHICAGO PLAYWRIGHT RETURNS TO CHICAGO AFTER TV SHOW SUCCESS TO DELIVER A BLOCKBUSTER PLAY ON MALE IDENTITY IN THE #METOO GENERATION





by  Dwight Casimere

It starts with a quartet of Chicago guys from  varying backgrounds sipping Rose wine in an apartment above a noisy bar on the border of Wrigleyville and Boy's Town on Chicago's near north side. One of them, Delano (Anthony Irons-Goodman-Two Trains Running, Congo Square Ensemble), is the only African American in the group, whose wife left him for the evening to do the house cleaning while she went to the Women's March. You can already see where this is going. Roger (Goodman veteran Keith Kupferer-God of Carnage, High Holidays), is a construction worker who spends his days cleaning "The Bean" in Millennium Park. Alex/Allejandro (Chicago veteran Jeff Kurysz ) is the lone Hispanic in the group. He, of the ambivalent sexual proclivity, becomes the catalyst to a series of events that pushes the boundaries of the group's gum and spit cohesiveness. Brian (Ryan Ritley-Goodman-Objects in the Mirror) is the lynchpin and organizer of the group which is a male bonding group which meets every Thursday evening. Brian, at 51, is the oldest "Genius" working at the downtown Apple support store. The sole intent is to provide the men with a safe place to unburden their fears, triumphs, failures and foibles. Men, historically, are reluctant to talk about their feelings. Its almost a genetic trait that comes with the territory. So Brian's idea was to lend his apartment every week to the exercise. Its based on a loosely fabricated Native American ritual kindred to the smoking lodge. A 'talking stick' is fashioned from an old baseball bat wrapped in pucca shells and some random fake Indian symbols. The possessor of the stick is deemed free to talk about whatever comes into his mind, followed by some meaningless whoops and chest beating, reminiscent of a Boy Scout troop around a campfire. The only hint of authenticity here is that Roger claims to be 1/16th or 1/32nd Iroquois, although he has little, if anything, in the way of factual information to support the claim.

What ensues in Chicago playwright Ellen Fairy's rollicking take on male existence in the #metoo environment is one of the funniest plays you'll see all season here, or anywhere else. Fairy was an unknown local playwright in 2009, when her play "Graceland" opened at the now-defunct Profiles Theatre in Chicago. The play garnered rave reviews and quickly moved to Broadway where she in turn got tapped as a writer for some of TVs top shows; Showtimes "Nurse Jackie" and "Masters of Sex," to name a few.

In "Support Group" A bar fight breaks out in the street outside the bar below the apartment and a woman (so they think) is attacked by a group of drunken patrons. The group swings into action with shouts and threats to call the police. Roger is the only one who makes a decisiver, if unpopular move, that drives the mob away. Another sighting is an unidentified woman (they think) performing a sex act on a man in a nearby alley. Enter Kevin (Tommy Rivera-Vega-Goodman-Lottery Day, Mother Road) a closet cross-dresser who has a disastrous coming-out, who hides in Brian's closet to evade police capture (Officer Novak-Goodman veteran Eric Slater, and Officer Caruso-Goodman Theatre-two seasons of Christmas Carol). It turns out he was the person being beaten by the mob. Wearing a red wig and an ill-fitting dress, he makes a weird, if unwelcome addition to the support group. It turns out that he may be its most meaningful element.

Of all the characters, Roger, the middle-aged "Bean" polisher, is perhaps the best developed. I'd bet anything that his character is based on the playwright's father. We later learn that he was the unsuspecting victim of a sudden vertigo attack who is assigned the purgatory of polishing "The Bean" after a lifetime career of building such icons as the Hancock, Sears (now Willits) , and (unfortunately) Trump Towers. The group, and a late-night personal encounter with cross-dressing Kevin, brings him to an epiphany that is the play's denouement.
For the play to have been written by a woman, it shows remarkable insight into the psyche of a group of men approaching middle age, who are grappling with the tenuous threads of interpersonal relations, sexual identity and the 'mastodon effect' of facing emotional extinction and social/sexual irrelevance in a changing world of gender crisis. Support Group for Men will have you laughing your head off. It will also leave you scratching your scalp pondering the thorny issues that it throws in your face in an overwhelmingly entertaining manner. For tickets and information, visit GoodmanTheatre.org. 

Thursday, June 21, 2018

INNS OF NEWPORT A CONVENIENT OASIS IN THE EYE OF TOURISM SEASON




Admiral Farragut Inn, The Clarkson. The Cleveland House and more offer variety, value








Story and photos by Dwight Casimere



NEWPORT, R.I.-Summertime is the busiest time of year in Newport, Rhode Island with wall-to-wall festivals adding to the already crushing stream of visitors to the Mansions and the numerous historic and nature sites in and around this idyllic harbor city. Fortunately, there is a network of quaint, yet elegantly appointed bed and breakfast inns that are within walking distance to all the action, yet off the beaten path enough to afford peace and quiet and a thoroughly relaxing environment.

Inns of Newport offers an enticing selection of properties that respond to the needs of the most discriminating traveler. The inns are all historic, yet. each has its own distinctive character. Frequent visitors to Newport tend to rebook with Inns of Newport for subsequent visits, either to reserve a favored room, or to experience a different property. For example, the Wynstone is graced with wood-burning fireplaces, deluxe jacuzzis and accoutrements that harken back to the golden age of travel. Admiral Farragut Inn and The Clarkeston both have an historic feel that rekindles images of Colonial times. Adding to the variety is The Cleveland House, which has exquisetly appointed rooms and serves as the unofficial 'hub' of the Inns of Newport properties, located on Clarke Street, a quiet, residential lane just a few blocks up the hill from the main shopping district and harborside restaurants. One of the outstanding features of the Inns complex is the stupendous breakfast that is offered each day. It includes a small, but scrumptious menu of hand-prepared breakfast items such as blueberry pancakes or hand-turned omelettes and a selection of fresh-made pastries and cookies, muffins, scones and shortbreads made each day in their ovens. The fresh-squeezed orange juice is a highlight! The communal breakfast tables in both the Cleveland and Wynstone Inns  become meeting places for travelers from points hither and yon who quickly become friends who anticipate reuniting to trade gossip and travel adventures at the start of the day.

Variety, excellent location and superb value are the hallmarks of the Inns of Newport. For further information, visit InnsofNewport.com











Tuesday, June 19, 2018

2018 NEWPORT JAZZ FESTIVAL AUG 3-5

PAT METHENY, CHARLES LLOYD, GEORGE CLINTON AMONG ICONS STAR AS WORLD'S OLDEST JAZZ FESTIVAL TURNS 64


by Dwight Casimere

 Newport Jazz Festival Artistic Director Christian McBride leads his Big Band

NJF Artistic Director Christian McBride waves to the crowd after George Wein makes official announcement of his appointment

Newport Jazz Festival Founder George Wein expounds on passing the baton to Christian McBride

Harlem Swing Dancers get into the groove

Just into his first year as the Artistic Director of the Newport Jazz Festival, Christian McBride has left his indelible mark on this year's lineup.  The 64th Annual Festival features one of the living legends of modern jazz, the legendary Charles Lloyd, celebrating his 80th birthday during all three days of the festival, August 3-5 in three different settings. Friday, he will perform with his current group, Sangam. Saturday, he'll reunite with his longtime quartet with Jason Moran, Reuben Rogers and Eric Harland. Sunday, he'll team up with singer and songwriter Lucinda Williams. Friday Night's Concert at the International Tennis Hall of Fame features the meteoric Pat Metheny with Antonio Sanchez, Linda May Han Oh and Gwilym Simcock.

The rest of the weekend is a cornucopia of the most diverse and exciting talent on the current musical horizon. Long-time Newport Jazz favorites like Jon Baptiste, Joshua Redman and Michel Camilo return to the Fort Mason stages, along with a dazzling array of searing vocalists. Gregory Porter makes a triumphant return along with the scintillating Jose James, who celebrates Bill Withers at the Friday Night Concert with a tribute concert, Lean On Me.

Lovers of jazz piano will delight in the talents of Matthew Whitaker, Isaiah Thompson and Emmet Cohen in the intimate setting of the Storyville stage. 

Laurie Anderson makes her Newport Jazz Festival debut. Other first-timers include GoGo Panguin, Martquie Hill, Sonnymoon, Nicole Mitchell and the Black Art Jazz Collective. Newport Harbor won't need fireworks to round out the festival, the inimitable pilot of the Mothership, George Clinton, sets the Harbor Stage ablaze with his P-Funk All-Stars. Satellites orbiting the northeast coast will be sure to pick up the spontaneous combustion emanating from the festival stage.

Welcome to the 64th Annual Newport Jazz Festival!

Here are some scenes from last year's festival:

 Jack DeJohnette presents Hudson with John Scofield on guitar

 John Scofield and Jazz DeJohnette present Hudson, they're latest collaboration


 Cecile McLorin Salvant on the Fort Stage
 Esperanza Spaulding mounts the Storyville Stageto host a tribute to pianist Geri Allen who passed away just weeks  prior to last years festival

Benny Golson presents his many compositions in concert


Macao Parker performs what he calls "jazz with a little grease on it"
 Trombone Shorty electrifies the Friday Night Concert stage at the International Tennis Hall of Fame


 The Roots Band at the Friday Night Concert

 A full moon over the International Tennis Hall of Fame at the  Friday Night Concert



Newport Jazz Festival Raffle winner

 Sunrise and sunset over Newport Harbor


Tuesday, June 5, 2018

GOODMAN THEATRE FATHER COMES HOME FROM THE WARS NOW THRU JUNE 24


PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING PLAYWRIGHT SUZAN-LORI PARKS CONFRONTS THE IRONY OF BLACKS WHO SERVED THE CIVIL WAR CONFEDERACY

by Dwight Casimere

 KAMAL ANGELO BOLDEN AS HERO
 HERO WITH AIME DONNA KELLY AS HIS LOVE PENNY
 CHICAGO BLUES STAR MELODY ANGEL IS THE MUSICIAN/NARRATOR

PLAYWRIGHT SUZAN-LORI PARK


Pulitzer Prize winner Suzan-Lori Park's Father Comes Home From the Wars (Parts 1,2,and 3) clocks in at a whopping 3 hours and 15 minutes (including two 10-15 minute intermissions), but audiences will find themselves preening their ears to hear every word, with unwavering attention. The plays tells the story of Hero, a Texas slave during the time of the Civil War (played with resounding conviction by Chicago theatrical favorite Kamal Angelo Bolden (Court Theatre, Northlight Theatre, Victory Gardens, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre) , who is faced with a dilemma; join his master as his servant in the Confederate army with the (alleged) promise of freedom, or stay behind as a slave on the plantation. Not much is said in the history books about the role of slaves who served on the side of the Confederacy, but it is a fact that many were brought into the war by slave holders, some as manservants to their masters and others who fought willingly and vigorously,  with the promise of freedom once the war was over.

 Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks confronts Heros's conundrum head on with a brilliant and absorbing play that presents itself in blank verse, a similar form to that used by Shakespeare. At times, her work rises to Shakespearean proportions with its use of alliteration, hyperbole and irony, tragedy  and  a touch of wry humor, thereby touching all of the theatrical bases over the course of the play's three-plus hours. It is a masterpiece of theatrical writing and director Niegel Smith brings this epic trilogy to life on the Owen stage with an electrifying production.

The play opens with Chicago blues artist Melody Angel in her Goodman debut  as the Narrator and Musician, setting the tone for what lies ahead with full-throated vocals and strumming guitar, bringing to mind the late great Odetta. Her vocals act as a reference point and a reflection throughout. The rest of the cast is similarly superb. The rapid-fire verbal interplay between 30-year Goodman veteran Jacqueline Williams as Leader and fellow Goodman veteran Ernest Perry , Jr.  as The Oldest Old Man at the beginning of the play is priceless, and an indicator of the on-stage delights that come.

Performances are exceptional throughout. Aime Donna Kelly in her Goodman debut as Penny, Hero's devoted love, who waits for him while he is away at war, explodes with the force of Kilauea in the final scenes. Jaime Lincoln Smith is a bottomless pit of suppressed emotion as Homer (in his Goodman debut), the would-be runaway slave who loses his foot due to Hero's betrayal. Goodman Theatre regular Demetrios Troy brings a touch of irony in his role as Smith, the Union Army mixed-race soldier who offers Hero yet another path to Glory. A bright spot in 'Father' is the long anticipated appearance of Brittney Love Smith as Odyssey Dog, also in her Goodman debut. 

Suzan-Lori Parks is the only African American woman playwright to win A Pulitzer Prize. From this production of Father Comes Home From The Wars, its conceivable that there are many more such accolades in store for her in the future. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

GOODMAN THEATRE HAVING OUR SAY: THE DELANY SISTERS' FIRST 100 YEARS NOW THRU JUNE 10

VETERAN RESIDENT DIRECT CHUCK SMITH SCORES HIT WITH MAJOR REVIVAL OF EMILY MANN'S STAGE ADAPTATION








by Dwight Casimere

Goodman Theatre veteran Resident Director Chuck Smith's revival of Emily Mann's Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters' First 100 Years, is the triumph of the Chicago theatrical season. The play, starring Ella Joyce (Goodman's Jeff Award-winning Crumbs from the Table of Joy) as Bessie. and Marie Thomas (Broadway's Don't Bother Me I Can't Cope, TVs L.A.Law, Amen, Knots Landing) as Sadie, is an historical time-travelogue, narrated by the two sisters who speak to the audience from a  magical set by 30 year Goodman veteran Set Designer Linda Buchanan. It recreates the living room and kitchen of the Delaney's Mount Vernon, N.Y. home. The back story of how they managed to purchase the home in 1957 in the then-segregated lily-white suburb is one of the play's many  narrational gems. Goodman's veteran Costume Designer Birgit Rattenborg Wise also deserves praise for her spot-on designs as does the creative work of Lighting Designer John Culbert and Sound Designer Ray Nardelli. The artful use of historic photographs projected on screens above and around the stage, by Projection Designer Mike Tutaj, further enhances and advances the story-telling.

The history books don't really tell you a lot about what life was really like for blacks who lived in the south in the years after the Civil War and the end of slavery and about the early years of the black migration to the north's urban centers. We hear the names of W.E.B. Du Bois, Bookler T. Washington, Mary McCleod Bethune, and others, but the Delany sister's acccount, as authored by Amy Hill Hearth, who did the original article on the Delany sisters in the New York Times in 1991 and co-authored the subsequent book which became the foundation for Emily Mann's stage adaptation, gives verbal flesh and blood and a vivid pictorial image of those turbulent years. In those times, America saw the emergence of the black middle class and the resulting backlash of Jim Crow.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the publication of the Delany's New York Times bestselling memoir, and as co-author Hearth and playwright Mann have pointed out in numerous interviews, its a pity how little has changed in terms of race relations. Particularly striking is the fact that Bessie and Sadie, were the daughters of a father who was raised as a slave, and a mixed-racial mother who was the daughter of a free African American woman, and a father who was a white Virginia farmer. The two lived a common-law marriage in separate houses for fifty years because mixed-racial marriages were outlawed in the entire country.

The Delany sisters lived a privileged life as children, even by today's standards. Although they grew up in North Caroline, they were raised on the campus of St. Augustine's College in Raleigh, North Carolina where their father, the first African American Episcopal bishop, was the vice principal and their mother worked as a matron. The  sisters then moved to New York as young adults to pursue higher education and careers; Bessie to become only the second black woman to become licensed to practice dentistry in New York City, and Sadie to become a school teacher, the first to be certified to teach high school-level domestic science (at a white school, no less) also in New York City. 

Their story of the impact of Jim Crow laws, which began in their home state of North Carolina when the girls were grade school aged, is particularly telling and frightening. Seen from a child's perspective, the two relate how they were suddenly ordered to the back of the streetcar that they rode regularly while sitting in the front ("so the breeze could catch Sadie's long hair!", and forced to drink from a separate drinking fountain at the park they frequented as children on family outings without any prior restriction. Sadie's recounting of her childish act of defiance (I'm gonna drink me some of that white water!) is one of the play's funniest, yet saddening, moments. 

Their narrative also depicts the dawning of the segregation movement, which spread like wildfire, particularly with the premiere of the film Birth of A Nation (Originally titled The Clansman) by D.W. Griffith and starring Lillian Gish in 1915. The film fanned the flames of racism and brazenly displayed beatings, lynching and untold brutalities against blacks, which fomented similar acts around the country. W.E.B. Du Bois and the NAACP mounted protests at the films' premiere and sparked a national movement against Jim Crow laws and lynching. The sisters had their own tale of Bessie's brush with a lynch mob, while she was traveling North to attend college. The story is conversely funny and chilling.

The Delany sisters recount their stories with a great deal of pride and joy, proudly presenting family sepia-toned photos from a tattered family album, brandishing them as if they were priceless historic objects, which are artfully reproduced in overhead screen projections.The photos act as footnotes to their stories of racial pride and prejudice.

 Its amazing how thoroughly actors Joyce and Thomas inhabit the personas of the Delany sisters. They literally become submerged in their characters. I found myself reflecting on my own late mother and aunt who, in their later years, lived as an inseparable couple, much like the Delany sisters.

During the two-hour performance, with one intermssion, the audience feels as if they are actually sitting in that house with them as they sip tea and prepare a celebratory meal in honor of their revered father's birthday. Just rattling off the menu of sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese, pound cake and other soul food delicacies is enough to make your mouth water, just as the sister's at times loving and at others, heartbreaking recounting of their trials and triumphs, will have you wanting to hear more. These two remarkable  women who survived the odds and whose  lives straddled two defining centuries in the history of America. Through it all, they held their heads up, to paraphrase Henley's Invictus, "bloodied but unbowed," and emerged proud, and fiercely loyal to their race, their heritage and their country.

BELOW: SCENES FROM HAVING OUR SAY-Photos Courtesy Goodman Theatre