Review: Midnight Circus

On Friday night, we went to see Midnight Circus in Welles Park. It’s a circus that performs in parks throughout Chicago during the early fall. The circus started in 2007 to show people some awesome circus while raising money for the Park System. It’s a kid friendly circus in a tent. They encourage families to bring blankets, etc. so the kids can sit on the ground right next to the ring. This circus seems based around a circus family. The father is the ringmaster. His wife is his righthand and their two kids are clowns/circus performers.  It’s wonderfully good fun with amazing circus.

My favorite act was a duo tight wire act. I know I’ve mentioned this before but I am very biased towards wire walkers. I have taken lessons for years and thoroughly enjoy it.  Ariele Ebacher and Abby Suskin performed the best duo tight wire act I’ve ever seen. The act was full of grace and power. The two of them danced across the wire like it was merely the ground. The footwork was so incredible. At one point, they danced across the wire while one wore high heels and the other wore point shoes. The footwear did not slow them down at all. It was figuratively and literally leaps and bounds better than the other duo wire acts I’ve seen this year.
Another favorite act was a duo trapeze act. I have misplaced my program so I don’t know their names. I always get excited when I see tricks that I didn’t know was possible before. I’ve seen duo trapeze acts where one person may throw the other but it’s usually a one time occurrence. In this act, one woman tossed the other into the air and then caught her so many times that it almost felt like a swinging trapeze act. Very cool.
In addition to these amazing aerial acts, there were fun ground acts. There is a wonderful puppy who jumps through hoops, which is always fun. There is a juggler, Book Kennison, who can twist himself in knots while juggling. It’s really impressive. I also really liked a young woman who performed on hula hoops. She added modern dance element to it that worked really well. And then immediately afterwards, one of the clowns came on in a similar outfit and did a parody of her act. It was really hilarious. And there was some awesome handbalancing on stacked chairs by the amazing Matt Roben.
Sadly, the last performance is tonight and it sold out. But they’ll be back next year. So check them out!
That’s all!


Chicago International Film Festival

Right now, the Chicago International Film Festival is going on. It’s an annual event that is now in its 50th year. Films from all over the world, mostly new but some old, are playing downtown for about two weeks. I absolutely adore it. I try to go to a couple of movies because the movies can be amazing and may not make it to other theaters. It’s where I saw Nina Paley’s Sita Sings the Blues, the animated story of Sita from the Hindu classic The Ramayana. See it here:

Last year, I discovered that there are some silent films in the festival, which was really exciting. So this year, I’m going to the two silent films and one film from Latin America. Yesterday, I went to the “Centenary of the Tramp.” It’s been 100 years since Charlie Chaplin debuted on the big screen. It was a bit of a history lesson combined with three shorts. David Robinson led the session; he wrote one of the definitive books on Chaplin. Mr. Robinson also runs a major silent film festival in Italy each year. Someday I plan on going.

It was a great history lesson into the life of Charlie Chaplin. The first short was “Kid’s Auto Races.” Back in the day, movie studios would film public events, like parades, races, etc. and do improvisational comedy in front of it. This short was about a man who discovers they are filming the boxcar race and won’t leave the camera alone. It’s not a terribly great film; it’s rather dull but it’s the first instance of Charlie Chaplin (I think) in his legendary outfit on the big screen. Mr. Robinson made the argument that the Tramp himself did not really emerge for a year or so. He showed us the beginning of Mable’s Mistake (or something like that). In this scene, Chaplin plays a drunkard in a hotel who is propositioning ladies. However, Mr. Robinson pointed out, he’s wealthy enough that he can give a tip to the clerk so the hotel doesn’t throw him out. He can’t be playing the Tramp there. Many of the characters that he plays in his first movie contract varied widely. Only later with another studio did he develop the Tramp, the lovable everyman.

One really exciting thing that I learned was that Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton acted together in a comedic movie called LimeLight. It’s from 1952 so it’s a different era. It’s supposed to be fun. Mr. Robinson talked about the supposed rivalry between the two but they both were keen to work with each other. Allegedly, Chaplin was told that Keaton was down on his luck and immediately called for him to be in the movie. Of course, Keaton was doing well in TV. I have to see this film now. It sounds like my cup of tea.


The final and longest short that we saw was The Immigrants. Spoilers ahead. It’s a film about Charlie Chaplin, as the Tramp, who comes over on a ship to America. On board, he gets up into mischief but also meets a young lady and her mother. It’s an uneven film; it ends a bit abruptly. But it has some nice scenes. At one point, they are in a café with a rude and brutish head waiter. A fellow customer is short on his bill so the entire restaurant staff beat him up. It’s hilarious in the way that only physical violence in comedies can be. There is also a wonderful scene with the waiter involving Charlie Chaplin’s hat. The whole bit is based on the practice that men should take their hats off indoors. Would that there be more humor surrounding hats!

However, I take issue with the ending. The lady and Chaplin wander outside in the pouring rain when they find a marriage license office. Now, the two are clearly falling for each other. Chaplin suggests that they get a license. She demurs. After a few minutes of conversing, he picks up her kicking and pulls her into the office. While they clearly like each other, I felt that it was disturbing. Clearly, she doesn’t want to get married yet. This was played as a gag a long time ago but it rings false now.

That’s all for now!

Review: King Lear

Earlier this week, we saw King Lear at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. This was one of the last tragedies that I had neither seen before nor read. Also, this production ticked off another on my list of Shakespearean plays to see. I was rather pleased by the production. Spoilers ahead.

I’m always fascinated with the staging at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater. They always do such creative staging. This production was set in the present day and it worked. The play is so fundamentally human that it is something we can recognize every day. We lose our temper over misunderstandings and we make hasty decisions. Each character seems so human. Most characters aren’t necessarily evil or bad (though you can make a strong case for Edmund and Goneril). Some characters start morally gray like Regan who is more selfish than evil. But her selfishness drives her into cruelty. Others are the good guys but they lack the ability to defend themselves like Cordelia and Edgar. There is an old trope that one sin leads to the rest. I think this play really demonstrates that. Cordelia’s pride causes King Lear’s rage and it all snowballs from there. Would that Cordelia have had Hamlet’s tongue!

The play is a beautiful meditation on age and illness. Barbara Gaines read King Lear as afflicted with dementia. It really came out in the production. At various points, he’d be lost in his own mind, represented by Frank Sinatra songs. Fascinating directorial device. So beautiful and sad. The play really shows the dilemma that the three sisters face. It’s hard to deal with an ailing parent. And sadly, not all children deal with it in a positive, helpful manner.

The performances were spectacular. Larry Yando plays a fine Lear, full of sound and fury but full of vulnerability and ultimately sorrow. It’s a fantastic look at how the strongest of people can be brought low by circumstance, and ultimately their own pride. My personal favorite performance was Ross Lehman as the Fool. I had seen him before as another fool, Feste, in one of my favorite plays of all time: Twelfth Night. For those of you in Chicago, that was the show with the pool. I think he is the bees knees in acting. The witticisms of the fools flow off his tongue like water on a waterfall. It is pure delight to see him perform.

The staging was excellent. They made it rain on stage! The play recreated a mighty storm with impressive lightning. And you could feel the man’s pain as he became more and more drenched. They did have a single tree in the background for the second half that reminded me of Waiting of Godot. I’ll have to admit that I kept waiting for King Lear to ask: “Why are we waiting?” and for the Fool or Kent to ask “We’re waiting for Godot.” Now I really want a crossover production. It’s not completely crazy; both talk about age, hope/despair, etc.

So go on and see it before it closes on November 9th.

That’s all!

Review: 1925 Ben Hur

On Tuesday, I went to see 1925 production of Ben Hur with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Stephen Copeland, formerly of the Police. As readers of my blog know, I’m a big fan of silent films and will take any opportunity to see silent films on the large screen. It’s so much more fun that way. I was particularly keen to see Ben Hur with the CSO because many silent films had orchestras accompanying them. Most of the silent films I’ve seen have had a live organist, which was really cool. So I was curious how it would sound with the full orchestra.

Reading a bit about it beforehand, it’s a curious film. It cost $4,000,0000 in the 1920s to film, which is the equivalent of $200,000,000. Also, there were some accidents with the pirate attack scene. There are unsubstantiated rumors that actors may have drown when the fire got out of control on the ships. Also, the chariot race killed at least one person. Eventually, rules and regulations about film safety were instituted as a result of all of these problems.
The experience was not quite what I expected. Part of it was the score; the other part was the movie itself. Stephen Copeland, a percussionist and composer, actually composed the score and played along on a series of percussion instruments. As a result of this performance, I really think that full drum sets and full orchestras shouldn’t mix. It was an uneasy clash of jazzy/pop drum with a classical sounding orchestra. It really jarred me through the entire piece. Some of the orchestral music itself was poppy, which did not jive with the 1920s film in front of me. Maybe this is a sign of my age but I really disliked it. I’ll admit that there were parts when the music worked with the film. The parade scenes, the great naval battle, and the chariot race were thrilling. But the rest of the work did not work for me.
Then there is the movie itself. Now, I haven’t seen the 1959 Ben Hur with Charlton Heston yet. I’ll probably get around to it. But the plot didn’t work for me.
I thought the character of Ben Hur was dull.He didn’t have a personality aside from “good guy.” Spoilers ahead. For instance, when the slave ship he is on is attacked, he saves the commander’s life. I don’t understand why. He was working in the galley as a slave because of the Romans. I don’t get why he would turn around and save any of them. The film emphasized the brutality of the Romans on people.
There were also too many conveniences for me. This doesn’t usually bother me but it did in this film. For instance, the young slave girl happened to know to go to the Valley of the Lepers to find Ben Hur’s mother and sister. Everyone had thought they had long died. Too much Deus Ex Machina. Anyway, I will admit that I prefer silent comedies to drama. I’m not sure why this is.  Perhaps it’s because comedic characters have more of a personality. Or the film takes itself less serious. I may not have seen a really good drama yet.
Oh well. It was worth checking out but I don’t need to see this version again. I may see the 1959 version but I won’t go out of my way to do so. I’ll continue with my beloved series at the Music Box with an organist.
That’s all for now!


Monday night, we went to see “Explorers” as part of Chicago Ideas Week. It was my first time at any Chicago Ideas Week. The event felt modeled after TED. Speakers had about 15.5 minutes to speak on their topic. Anyway, the event was fantastic. Five people talked about their crazy adventures in the skies, in caves, and even in space. 

It started with Amelia Rose Earhart who is the youngest woman to fly around the world in a single engine plane. Yes, Amelia Earhart. She’s not related nor did she change her name. It was the  name her parents gave her. After many years of fielding questions about flying, she decided to check it out and discovered that she loved it. So eventually, she decided that she was going to follow in her namesake’s footsteps across the planet. Earlier this year, she did it. She said that she was very fortunate; they didn’t have any issues with weather, engine, etc. They did get held up by armed men for twelve hours in Papua New Guinea but that eventually got sorted out. Amelia Earhart has started a foundation to encourage and support women and girls in aviation.
Ameilia Rose Earhart

Ameilia Rose Earhart

 I had the opportunity to talk to her after the event. I told her that my great-grandmother flew planes and actually knew Amelia Earhart. I explained that someday I was going to try flying a plane, even if only one time. She told me that I definitely needed to do it. Huzzah! If that doesn’t light a fire under me, I don’t know what will!
The other huge highlight for me was astronaut, Capt. James Lovell Jr. He has over 7,000 flight hours, went to the moon several times…and was on Apollo 13. He was the man who actually said, “Houston, we have a problem.” Now, space generally scares me so I avoid planetariums, etc. But hearing Capt. Lovell Jr speak was a dream come true. He talked about his missions to space. For instance, on the Gemini flights, they were learning about the physiological effects of zero gravity on the human body. They learned that the heart is 10 beats slower than on earth, your blood is thinner, and your leg muscles can start to weaken since you don’t need them the same way. Fascinating!
Capt. Lovell Jr did talk about Apollo 13 and the brilliance of the team that got them home safely. He said the movie was fairly accurate; however it was originally 3 hours and had to be cut down due to the studio. He talked about the series of little mistakes that led to the explosion on Apollo 13. Incredible.
Capt. James Lovell Jr.

Capt. James Lovell Jr.

The other three speakers also had accomplished some incredible things. Lucian Perkins, a filmmaker and Pulitzer prize-winning photographer, talked about his journey into war-torn Yemen where he got to see first hand the civil war going on between the sheiks. Lev Wood, Captain of Secret Compass, shared his story of why he decided to walk the length of the Nile. He mentioned how locals would join him for a period of it; sometimes for a few hours, while some folks for days. One man was with him through the entire  desert for 46 or so days. At the end, they met an ice cream seller. Lev Wood bought the man an ice cream. He tasted it and immediately threw it down. The man said that his tongue was on fire. It was the first time he had ever experienced ice! Jut Wynne, ecologist, explorer & research scientists, SETI Institute, talked about his work in caves and the applications for planetary habitation.
I’m so pleased to have gone to this. I’m going to two more presentations for work. So I’ll let you know how those go.
That’s all for now!


Review: Alice

This weekend, we attended/participated the production of Alice by the Neo Futurists and Upended Productions. It’s a novel piece that is very much a walking tour around Andersonville. It was a lot of fun. Alice in Wonderland is one of my favorite books and I really enjoy any opportunity to see an adaptation of it. I need to watch more film adaptations of it but I try to see any theater production of it. 

I think it did an amazing job of making the audience feel like Alice as she a through Wonderland. We were all Alice and we wandered through this world, never knowing what would happen next. I don’t want to get into too many details since part of the show is the element of surprise. We were led through various stores and establishments and met various characters from Alice in Wonderland. Some were adaptations of characters from the book but the show kept close to the source material. When the characters veered from the source material, I felt that that it still worked; the additions were relevant. The play made me want to go back and connect characters in the book to the various actors. Each interaction was very different. Some were monologues; some were participatory.

But the show was more than going from one place to another. They did an excellent job of making the walk fun and entertaining. People passed out petitions about various Wonderland causes or characters would suddenly appear from no where. And there were many playing cards along the way. Plus there is graffiti all around the neighborhood for the production. We wandered in alley ways, through stores, and up and down the street. It was really a mini-tour of the neighborhood. And to be sure, there are little things to eat and drink on the trip. Because you have to have opportunities to “Eat me” in Alice’s world.
I was also impressed by the level of coordination. The piece reminded me a lot of the personal play “Since I Suppose” that I saw in September. That’s the one where I was the only going through it (well, there was a person 20 minutes before me and 20 minutes after me) that led me on a wild romp around the Loop and River North. It takes an incredible amount of coordination to make such a play/tour happen. Alice seemed flawless.
I have to mention one unscheduled occurrence with the public. Out of Site, the performance art series in Wicker Park, has taught me to look at how audience members and the general public react. The dialogue between artist and the audience is important and worthy of note. During one piece inside a building, we were in a room watching and interacting with actors. The door was open and other people in the building could look in. I glanced out the door and saw a man, completely transfixed with his mouth hanging open in complete shock. It was absolutely perfect to the occasion.
The show is going on until November 2nd, I believe. So go on and have a wonderland time.
That’s all!