Make It Better, September-October 2017 — Read my recommendations for Chicago-area plays.
Playbill, September 2017 — On December 4, 1956, Sam Phillips—the record producer famed as the father of rock ’n’ roll—telephoned the Memphis Press-Scimitar with a hot tip. Acting quickly, the newspaper rushed a reporter and photographer over to Phillips’ little storefront recording studio, Sun Records.
The photo caption in the next day’s paper set the scene: “The only thing predictable about Elvis is that he’s unpredictable. Yesterday, Carl “Blue Suede Shoes” Perkins was cutting some new records at Sam Phillips’ Sun Records studio. … Elvis dropped in. So did Johnny Cash. Jerry Lee Lewis was already there.” The Press-Scimitar’s reporter remarked, “It was what you might call a barrel-house of fun.” …
Photo: Memphis Press-Scimitar
Crain’s Chicago Business, August 26, 2017 — Read my story on “How to navigate the season’s big cultural fests” and my recommendations for the season’s concerts.
Photo: Robert Loerzel
Playbill, August 2017 — Plot spoilers aren’t a big worry with Sophie Treadwell’s 1928 play Machinal. Just about every description of the expressionist drama says it was inspired by the true story of Ruth Snyder, a Queens housewife who murdered her husband and was executed at New York’s Sing Sing. Chicago’s Greenhouse Theater, which is currently reviving the play through September 24, doesn’t bother hiding any of these facts. The theatre’s poster for Machinal shows an electric chair.
So, there isn’t really much suspense about how Machinal ends. It isn’t that kind of true-crime entertainment. “It is more about how she got there than what she did,” says Greenhouse’s artistic director, Jacob Harvey, who is directing the play. …
Photo: Evan Hanover
Playbill, July 2017 — Arts agencies consume a microscopic fraction of the $4 trillion U.S. budget. And yet government funding for the arts is controversial; calls to eliminate it never fully subside. But there was a time when the government did more than just provide grants. For a few years, the government actually had its own theatrical troupes, with Uncle Sam paying actors, directors, and playwrights to put on shows in New York, Chicago, and other cities. …
Photo: NYPL for the Performing Arts
Playbill, June 2017 — A fence divides two backyards in Native Gardens, a new play at Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater. A white couple has lived for a long time on one side of the fence. On the other side, a Latino couple has just moved in. When you see that fence, it’s hard not to think of Donald Trump’s wall.
But playwright Karen Zacarias wrote her script a couple of years ago, when few people expected Trump to become president. By the time Native Gardens made its world premiere—in January 2016 at Cincinnati’s Playhouse in the Park—Trump was leading polls in the Republican primaries, but he still seemed like a long shot to end up in the White House.
Now that Trump actually is president, will that change the way audiences perceive Zacarias’ comedy, as it receives its second production? Zacarias, an immigrant from Mexico who lives in Washington, D.C., pondered that question as she considered how much to revise Native Gardens for its Chicago run. …
Photo: Liz Lauren
Make It Better, May-June 2017 — Read my recommendations for Chicago-area plays.
Photo of Mike Nussbaum: Michael Brosilow
Make It Better, May-June 2017 — When David Catlin was creating Lookingglass Theatre’s stage version of “Moby Dick,” a sentence in the first chapter of Herman Melville’s novel jumped out at him. The narrator (that fellow who introduces himself by saying, “Call me Ishmael”) remarks: “I cannot tell why it was exactly that those stage managers, the Fates, put me down for this shabby part of a whaling voyage…”
Those stage managers, the Fates.
These words made Catlin think about the role that fate plays in Melville’s classic story. How much is Captain Ahab, that manically obsessed whaler, in control of himself? “How much do we control? How much is fate present?” asks Catlin, a founding Lookingglass Ensemble member who teaches at Northwestern University in Evanston. …
Crain’s Chicago Business, April 4, 2017 — Can a flag improve your life? If your city just happens to have a municipal flag with a cool, eye-catching design that everyone seems to like, will that somehow make your city a better place to live? … Read the rest of my op-ed at Crain’s Chicago Business.