Review: Richard III

On Sunday, my fiancé and I went to see a production of Richard III at the Athenaeum theater. It was the closing afternoon of the show. It was an interesting show that presented some unusual issues.

Richard III is a fun, dark play. It’s my fiancé’s favorite Shakespeare play and I’m quite fond of it too. Richard is such a great villain who makes you complicit in his crimes. And he’s a villain because he feels like it. Other Shakespeare villains have reasons for their mischief. Even Iago felt slighted by a missed promotion. But Richard III chooses to be evil and you love him for it. I actually got annoyed that he started to repent in the end. I wanted my villain to remain true to himself. Blood, sin, and all.

This production had a fantastic Richard III. He was suitably smarmy and slimy. He wooed well but managed to convey all the corruption and guile through his sweet lips. There was one fantastic scene when Richard III held the slain Edward’s bloody skull while laughing at his easy wooing of Edward’s widow Anne. It harkened to Hamlet’s poor Yorick scene but this was deliciously dark. The actress who played Queen Elizabeth was also great. I felt the full weight of her grief and sorrow for her loss. She’s the only voice of reason in the entire play. It’s kinda neat to cheer for both characters who are so diametrically opposed from one another.

However, the problem with the play was the staging. I hated it. The set seemed suited for a serial killer’s nest. There was plastic sheeting hanging from three-quarters of the stage. At various intervals, there were black Xs made from tape randomly festooned to this plastic curtain. On both sides of the set, spilling into the aisle, there were trash bags, ladders, and more plastic. It was a statement. I expected blood to fall across the curtains. And thankfully, that didn’t really happen. The only bit that worked with the staging was when two characters drag bodies wrapped in plastic to put in the rubbish piles. It was creepy, but effective. But it was not worth the staging. It really distracted me during the entire play.

I’ve seen Shakespearean performances with minimal setting that have worked. We saw Richard II at the Athenaeum two years ago that used chalk as a key part of the set. And that worked. Here, if they had chosen to use a real curtain, maybe a royal red or purple, that would have been fine. But the plastic sheeting and garbage bags just looked sloppy and unsettling. Maybe that’s what the director wanted but I hated it.

The other issue was the costumes. There wasn’t a lot of reason to it. Queen Elizabeth wore a medieval style dress while everyone else wore modern wear. Either have everyone in modern outfits or have no one in modern outfits. I think Richard III would work well with suits and all. Richard III worked in a three-piece suit. But the mix mash of outfits was rather jarring.

So it was an interesting production to say the least. I still had fun with this evil Richard. But I hope that the staging will be better suited in the future.

That’s all!


Louis Sullivan: Lost and Found

So on Saturday, I went on another walking tour called “Louis Sullivan: Lost and Found”with the Chicago Architecture Foundation. It was a joint tour with the Art Institute of Chicago. It was fantastic. I learned more about his life and we saw amazing buildings and details of Louis Sullivan and other architects in a small radius of Chicago. The saddest thing we learned was that the firm Adler and Sullivan designed 188 building but only about 16 remain. Sullivan did design by himself so there are a few more buildings that survive.

Our first stop was the Auditorium theater. At one point, the building housed the opera, the Chicago Symphony Center, a hotel, and offices. However, the hotel was unpopular since it had a European setup: shared bathrooms. Eventually the opera company and CSO moved elsewhere. There were plans to tear the building down but it was too expensive. Now, the theater is used by a variety of groups like the Joffrey ballet. The old hotel side is now part of Roosevelt College. The interior is an excellent example of Louis Sullivan’s work.There is some speculation that Louis Sullivan is the inspiration for the Art Deco movement; the staircase details make a good case but it’s probably wishful thinking. There are also grates that were designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Very cool.

Auditorium Staircase

Auditorium Staircase

We also discovered that there is an incredible library on the 10th floor. If you ask the guard nicely, he may let you go up during library hours. The space was formerly a dining hall. The large room has beautiful wood paneling, decorative ceilings, huge arches, designed by Louis Sullivan. It’s a truly well-kept secret treasure in the Loop.

Roosevelt Library

Roosevelt Library

Next, we went to the Art Institute to check out the walls of architecture details on the second floor. If you take the entrance on Michigan and go up the main staircase, there are pieces taken from long-lost buildings, which are all around the staircase area. There are many beautiful, ornate objects designed by Louis Sullivan. Our guide called it the “Wailing Wall of Architecture.” It was impressive to see how forward thinking the architect was. There were pieces that looked like they were made in the atomic age but  pre-dated it by decades. BUt it was sad to realize how so many buildings were torn down.
We also went to the Chicago Stock Exchange room in the back. It’s an entire room saved from the building when it was torn down in 1972. It has these  vibrant colorful walls, giant chalkboards for stock trades, golden columns, and much more. It’s quite a treasure. However, our guide told us the story of Richard Nickel, a young photographer who was obsessed in historic preservation and  Louis Sullivan in particular. He managed to salvage many pieces from buildings as they were torn down. However, he died tragically in the Chicago Stock Exchange when he fell through the floor on a salvage mission.
Chicago Stock Exchange

Chicago Stock Exchange

We also took some time to look at the Carson Pirie Scott building. I learned that the store had bought up all these little buildings on the same block to add to its space. Only Marshall Field’s (Macy’s) got to be an entire block. I like the idea of one giant store sharing space with smaller buildings. That’s really neat. What was also cool was that one of the buildings was a Louis Sullivan with a white facade. However, when they were doing restoration after the store closed in 2008 or so, they discovered that the building next door was also a Louis Sullivan but with a black facade. It had been covered up in the 1930s and forgotten.
So that’s just a taste of the tour. It was great. Highly recommend it.
That’s all!


Five Shakespearean Movies

I’ve been thinking a lot about Shakespeare lately. Last week, I saw Since I Suppose, a play inspired by Measure by Measure. Earlier this summer, I saw both Hamlet and Midsummer Night’s Dream. This week, we watched the movie Henry V, and we are going to see Richard III this weekend. Shakespeare enough for you.

If you can’t tell, I’m really into Shakespeare. When I hear about a production, I’ll pretty much go automatically. Recently, I’ve decided that I’m going to see every Shakespeare play live. Some people go to all the states, I want to see all the plays. Movies don’t count. Nor do adaptations that resemble the plot like Since I Suppose. It’s got to be dripping with the language.

So while movies don’t count, I’m going to talk about five Shakespeare movies. I’ll admit that I haven’t seen many. I’ve always preferred live shows to movies. But I’ve been discovering that there are some great movies out there.

  1. Coriolanus (2011)

This has to be one of my favorite movies. It’s a Shakespeare play that I’m less familiar with. In this movie, Ralph Fiennes plays the lead character and he is brilliant. I’ll admit that I’m not actually a huge fan of his but he managed to blow me away. I also love that they seemed to set the movie in the Balkan States. It’s a nice update. I find it fascinating to watch a man who has done worthy deeds get taken down because he refuses to play politics. Brilliant.

  1. Much Ado About Nothing (2013)

This is the Joss Whedon production where he filmed it into two weeks at his house. He allegedly called his actor friends to see if they would do it. And I think this movie is pitch perfect. It’s not my favorite play (the Hero plot is disconcerting) but I think Whedon did an amazing job. I don’t think spending any more time or using different actors would have improved it.

  1. Henry V (2012)

This is part of a British TV series called The Hollow King. Tom Hiddleston plays Henry V. It’s interesting to compare this movie with the production we saw earlier this year at Chicago Shakespeare. The latter focused on Prince Hal more than the King. I really disliked Harry. In this movie, Henry V is much more magisterial. Mr. Hiddleston is a fantastic Henry V. This one is set in its era.

  1. Richard III (1995)

This is the Ian McKellan production. He plays a fantastic Richard III. However, the movie somehow descends into a bizarre land. They try to fit the play into a fascist world that sort of works, sort of doesn’t. All star cast though.

  1. Hamlet (1996)

This movie is the Kenneth Branagh version. So far it’s the only Shakespearean movie I’ve seen with the actor. For many years, I had sworn that I would only see Hamlet as a live production. I wouldn’t read it or watch the movie first. Then a production of Hamlet came and went from Chicago Shakespeare so I decided to bite the bullet and watch the movie. I chose a more traditional production of it. And boy, did I hate Hamlet the character. He’s a misogynistic twit. It’s neat to compare it to the Hamlet production I saw this summer. There, Hamlet is actually a bit sympathetic for the first time ever. But the movie is a fine, epic production set in its respective period.

So those are all the Shakespeare movies that I remember seeing. Any suggestions for movies I should see?

That’s all!

Review: All Our Tragic Part 2

This past Monday, I saw Part 2 of Hypocrites’ All Our Tragic. For those who are unfamiliar with it, the group took all 32 Greek tragedies and combined them into one twelve-hour play. Or you can see it in 3 hour chunks. Part 2 lived up to my expectations after seeing Part 1. The plays featured were Oedipus, Antigone, Ion, and the Foxes. I’ve read the first two so I was keen to see how they would play out. The latter two were new to me. Ion was another play about a tragic hero figure. The Foxes were about a political movement threatening ruling power in Thebes, which was fascinating and so distinct from the other plays. 

Part 2 was framed by the following question posed by one of the characters: “Would you rather be friendly, faithful, or feared?” It was interesting to see how various characters landed on that spectrum. Antigone definitely chose faithful; Creon tried friendly, and the rest were definitely in the feared category. One unexpected thing was how much I disliked Antigone. I’m all for family but her faith in family bordered on self-righteous/crazy. I couldn’t relate to her at all.
After six hours of play, It was nice to see how they created the characters. I was surprised that they chose to make Oedipus into a bit of a dullard. He’s not quite as dumb as Heracles but he’s definitely portrayed as a pretty face with not a lot going on. Not exactly what I had imagined in Oedipus. But it comes from the need to make the many characters in the entire twelve-hour play distinct from one another. Sure, there are going to be some repeat of themes but it would lose its punch if the characters were alike. So the Oedipus choice was an important one.
I went with a friend of mine who told me that I forgotten a key aspect of the show: it’s funny. While many terrible things happen on stage, there is humor to the show. It’s not doom and gloom all the time. And that makes it work. You need the levity or the plays will be a slog. And sometimes gory moments can be hysterical. For instance, when Heracles  cuts off his daughter’s arm in a magically induced rage, she later comments, “Well, I get to be what I always wanted!” Her mother asks, “What?” She responds, “I always wanted to be a lefty.” Horrible but fantastic.
And it’s kinda neat to see the inside jokes within the play. Actors reappear as other characters and they make some slight, but hilarious, allusions to their former roles. Nothing overt. Anyway, it’s not something you get to see in every play. But I suppose, it takes at least six hours of a play to have that happen.
I’m so terribly heartbroken that I won’t get to see Part 3. I am booked both nights, so there’s nothing I can do. But I will see Part 4.
Seriously, see the twelve-hour version if you can. Or catch parts 2,3, and 4 in the upcoming weeks.
That’s all!


Review: Our Dancing Daughters

This weekend, I saw Our Dancing Daughters (1928) at the Music Box’s Second Silent Saturday. This film was fantastic in so many ways. Joan Crawford plays the lead, a wealthy flapper, and is absolutely wonderful. The basic plot is that Joan Crawford is the life of the party. She meets a stranger and falls for him. However, Anita Page pursues him too but she just wants his money. It’s an interesting story that has an unusual moral to it, especially for its day.

Joan Crawford is all delight in this film. I don’t think I’ve seen her in anything else but I’ve been meaning to. And now I definitely shall. The highlight of the film is the scene where she begins dancing on a table at a party. While dancing, she is the embodiment of joie de vivre . I feel pure joy watching her. I swear that the scene was a highlight of my cinema watching of the year. It’s possibly one of the best scenes in cinema in my opinion.

The movie also has wonderful art deco scenes. The announcer of the series talked about how it was normal to get distracted from the plot by the sheer beauty of the film. There are the amazing drool worthy costumes of the characters. Lots of shiny dresses and ruffled fur coats. Then there are the amazing sets of Joan Crawford’s home, the Yacht Club, and much more.

It’s very interesting from a moral point of view. It reflects the changing of the times. Joan Crawford is the wild girl but good, while Anita Page is the “good girl” but full of deceit and envy. It’s not what I expected. I know that there were lots of films about flappers who are terrible people (loose morals, you know) who come to bad ends. Here, it’s a lot more interesting. And the movie definitely makes Joan Crawford into the heroine. But it’s not completely progressive. There is a whole subplot involving a friend who gave up her virginity to a man before she dated her husband. Those scenes are a bit painful to watch as the couple tries to deal with it. But I suppose I’ll take a little progress over nothing.

That’s all for now!

Review: Since I Suppose

In addition to the epic All Our Tragic, I recently saw Since I Suppose, a production by Australian group, one step at a time. It has to be one of the most unique performances I’ve ever seen. The play is based loosely on Measure for Measure. Only one person can experience it at a time; it’s a very personal performance. (Though I think they stagger it by twenty minutes). They asked participants not to reveal the secrets of the show so I’ll talk generally about it.

The performance was like a walking tour, LARP or video game, and play mixed together. I had to show up at a certain spot at my designated time to await a phone call. I was later given a phone and headphones that were my primary narrator for the play. The phone would tell me what to do and where to go. It was a combination of audio and video. The crazy part was that I had to follow the video. When a character walked down an alley or into a building, I had to follow them down the same alley or building. It was crazy watching the digital world map onto the real world. I was led all throughout the Loop and River North into a variety of buildings. It was such a private celebration of the city and the play at the same time. It took the familiar world and shifted it into new, sometimes terrifying possibilities. It also played with our obsession with our phones. Often times people are so engrossed with their phones, they miss out on the world around them. Here I had to be glued to the phone but I’d have moments of shock when the real world bumped into this uneasy fictional world.

There were interactions with actual people that were thrilling and poignant. I occasionally had tasks or decisions to make. I was blindfolded several times. There were a few moments where I definitely had the thought: “These guys better be legit or I’m taking some serious chances.” Very thrilling.

My favorite real world meets play moment was when I was waiting in a bar for a character to engage me in the next scene. A man with a very fake mustache asked me to find a place to wait for him. There wasn’t any place free so I asked these two guys if I could hang out for a few moments at their table (there was a spare seat). One of them said, “Sure. You’re a lot less creepy than that mustachioed man who was waiting here before.” And then the actor came over and I’m fairly certain he added to this bar patron’s sense of uneasiness. Oh, it was a wonderful unstaged moment.

I’d say go and see the play if you can but it apparently has sold out. So I’d recommend looking out for it in the future when this group hopefully comes back to Chicago with new mischief.

That’s all!

Part 1: All Our Tragic

So this week, I embarked on an epic theater experience. I saw Part 1 of the Hypocrites’ All Our Tragic. The group has taken the thirty-two Greek tragedies and combined them into one Odyssey-sized play. You can see it in one twelve-hour chunk or if you are like me and can’t sit still for that long, you can see it in pieces. So on Monday, I saw the first three hours and will be seeing subsequent sections in three-hour chunks.

Installment one was fantastic. The main plays (or the ones I discerned) were Heracles, Medea, and the Seven Sisters. I will admit that I don’t know these plays well; I’ve only read two of thirty-two but I think it was well done. The plays are nicely interwoven; characters from each interacted fluidly. I thought the acting was great. I really felt for some characters, reviled others (Jason!), and pitied and disliked others at the same time (Medea). Everything that these plays should do. They are messy plays to be sure; there was a lot of fake blood, fake limbs, but it was expected. These are tragedies after all.

I realized that with the exception of a shortened school production, I don’t think I’ve seen any Greek tragedies staged. Despite being the foundation of Western theater, these plays really aren’t produced very often. Or so it seems. I can understand why the lesser known plays wouldn’t be staged often but I don’t recall having a chance to see Oedipus or Antigone. And there is even a more modern version of Antigone by Jean Anouilh! So it was special to see these plays performed. I hope that the Hypocrites will consider doing the comedies. I’d love to see Aristophanes’ plays staged. But then again, I have a soft spot in my heart for Lysistrata, since I was in a high school production of it.

But what I love about these plays is how human they are. Sure there are heroes with G-dlike powers, fantastical monsters, magic, etc, but the action is so human. People’s  downfalls are from their own decisions. Sure, there are external forces but often it’s from pride, jealousy, ambition. That’s probably why they’ve survived; we can see these characters everywhere. It’s a nice reminder that we need to chill out and reflect on our choices maybe before it’s too late.

I think the Hypocrites did nice job of staging it. They do play around with staging of plays. We’ve seen them do various Gilbert and Sullivan shows where the stage was the entire theater. There were limited seats. And if a character needed to be where you were sitting, they would point at the seat for you to move for the scene. Very interesting. Here, there isn’t the same chaotic set up but they have a great stage. There is the main stage itself and then an opposing wall with several doors. It’s an unusual set up but it works. Entrances and exits are critical in this play. There’s a lot of dead bodies that have to be carted off stage. The play also interweaves wonderful American folk music skillfully throughout the show.

And there are snacks too.

So tomorrow, I will see Part 2 and I’m very excited. They do recommend seeing it in order but I’ve been told you can see parts of it without other parts. I know for a fact that I’ll be missing part 3. Or if you are feeling up to it, consider the twelve-hour show. I’ve heard it’s well worth it.

That’s all for now!