Review: All Our Tragic Part 4

Earlier this week, I saw Part 4 of the Hypocrites’ All Our Tragic. This is the twelve hour long piece of all thirty-two Greek tragedies. Since I can’t sit still for twelve hours, I’ve been seeing it in three hour chunks. Sadly, due to prior commitments, I missed part three. Good news is that they are rebooting the show next summer. Spoilers ahead. But then again, I think you should expect that everyone dies.

I know I’ve said this before but the entire project is fantastic. The Hypocrites have undertaken a monumental task of combining these thirty-two plays in ways that are relevant, poignant, and emotional. Congrats to them. That being said, I think Part 4 was my least favorite. But I suppose that is inevitable when you see a play in chunks. Some parts are going to be better than others. Part 4 was a bit too chaotic for me. For instance, there was one part when the fire alarm was going off (in the play, not the theater) and various characters were just yelling at each other. It didn’t work for me. Maybe I was bothered by the chaos since these were the plays that I was least familiar with. Also, there seemed to be a bit more deus ex machina than I expected: characters returning from the grave, etc. And there was a weird bit in the forest including a Priestess Butchers who feeds people to the bats.

However, I did love that I learned about new plays. One of them Helen and Helen was truly bizarre. It’s a play about Menelaus and Helen trying to get home from the Trojan wars. They end up on an enchanted island where Menelaus meets a woman who claims is the real Helen. She claims that a witch had whisked her off before Paris kidnapped her. Menelaus has to choose which Helen to keep and which Helen to kill. When he has done the bloody deed, he’s still not sure who was who. And then Helen proceeds to carry around the other Helen’s head for the rest of the play. It’s actually hilarious, though immensely dark.
I went with a friend who had some interesting critiques at the end of the show. She said that the show faced the same problem that other modern remakes of Greek tragedies face: they bring in modern concepts like forgiveness and free will  that the Greeks didn’t have the same thoughts about. She said these were ideas derived more from the Judeo-Christian philosophy. It’s an interesting question. Are these plays about the inevitability of fate? Or are they about how we humans are really good at mucking things up for ourselves due to overbearing pride, loyalty, and love?  For me, I think that most of the characters are the authors of their own doom. They decide that they have to avenge themselves. It seems that few, with notable exceptions of Oedipus and Jocasta, are fated to do horrible things. But then again, maybe the fate aspect was toned down in this production. Or that’s what I see in my Judeo-Christian belief system.  I love this play makes me question our point of view of the world.
The show closes on Sunday, I believe. So you have time to go see it. Or watch it next summer. It’s well worth the many hours. I know I’ll see part 3 this summer.
That’s all!

Battle of the Bands

Earlier this week, I went to the“Battle of the Bands and the Beers.” It was orchestral Chicago Sinfonietta facing off against punk marching band, Mucca Pazza, at the Chicago Symphony Center. There was also a beer tasting by Two Brothers Brewery.

I was there because of Mucca Pazza. I love them. I’m extremely fond of brass instruments (the tuba is my spirit animal) and love marching bands. Mucca Pazza is one of my favorite bands in Chicago. They compose their own music, wear mismatching band outfits, and they wander around the audience. You really never know what they are going to do in a show. I’ve seen them with My Brightest Diamond, a 100th birthday celebration for Studs Terkel. Wherever there is Mucca Pazza, good times are assured. And if that wasn’t enough, I also have a friend who is a cheerleader who wears the t-shirt “I heart scientists.” So I went to see Mucca Pazza on the Chicago Symphony Stage. This was a most excellent performance.

I had never seen nor heard of Chicago Sinfonietta before I got a random mailing about the concert. From its bio in the program, the orchestra seems to be an alternative to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. I think it strives to be more diverse in music. They don’t stick to the classical repertoire but branch out into other styles. Hence the joint show with Mucca Pazza.

The set list was quite unusual. All the songs seemed to be based on folk songs. The first set of songs was “English Folk Song Suite” by Vaughn Williams. As the title suggests, he incorporated British folk songs into this orchestral piece. Florence Price, who was the first African-American female composer to debut on the CSO stage in 1933, composed the second suite: “Dance of the Canebrakes.” The conductor noted that this might be the third time this piece has ever been performed. It was quite lovely. Benjamin Britten composed the third piece “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, Op. 14.” The piece features various sections of the orchestra, like the violins, the brass, etc. They are supposed to battle each other. Apparently, while it’s intended to teach children about the orchestra, it’s really hard to play. I really liked the beginning and end, but I got lost in the middle. Alas.

And then it was the second act. Mucca Pazza crept on stage from all sides. Musicians shielded their faces from the audience with their horns, drums and pom poms. And then the music began to play. Half the band emerged from the piano elevator in the middle of the stage. What a lovely entrance! They played their classic “Holiday on Ice.” It was full of vim and vigor. It was great to have the band and orchestra both play. It added to the majesty and silliness. The cello section actually spun their cellos during the piece. Kudos for that! Then the cheerleaders began a falsetto version of “Brother John” or “Frere Jacques,” which was a fantastic bridge to Mahler’s “Excerpt from Symphony No. 1 in D Major.” In the piece, he turned this children’s song into a funeral dirge. Lovely. Then Mucca Pazza came back and played my favorite song “Rabbits and Trees.” Again, the stage was filled with dancing brass players. The song ended with someone’s head in a tuba. Who could ask for anything more?

And then there was the finale. It was Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. The Sinfonietta played the Russians, and Mucca Pazza was the invading French. I had not known that I wanted to see this but I’m glad that they met this unrecognized need. It was positively brilliant! The orchestra played their section, inspired by Russian folk songs, while Mucca Pazza members periodically appeared in the wings, on the balcony, even in the seats. During one vignette, members of the band traveled across the stage as if they were soldiers on their way to Russia. Or the bandleader, who has magnificent muttonchops, appeared randomly and glowered menacingly at the Sinfonietta. Several times a random band member ran across the stage holding a tiny canon. It was so wonderful that you should be sad that you missed it. Sadly, history was against them. Mucca Pazza all died at the end of the piece, falling down on stage and the balcony. But I believe that they won this battle regardless.

What a show! I can’t wait to see what Mucca Pazza has in store for us next.

That’s all!


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!