“Middleton creates a fully realized portrait of Norma as sexually and ideologically conflicted, the product of a broken home, and an uneducated addict with a shifting moral code. The multi-dimensional portrayal is engaging. The real Norma was no saint. Neither was she a villain. Instead, like so many impoverished women trapped by society’s legal control of female reproduction, she needed options, support and validation. Middleton’s interpretation of these dramatic tensions gives the audience a Norma McCorvey who is desperate for acceptance, aware of her limitations, and always in search of her personal truth.
That said, some of the play’s other characters are difficult to endure, and in the quest of fair and balanced dogma, the playwright performs too many narrative contortions to make them work. For example, there’s Flip (Ryan Kitley), the “minister of the Free Methodist Church and future head of Operation Rescue.” Norma meets Flip and his family while volunteering, post-Roe v. Wade decision, at an abortion clinic. Audiences can see Flip for the manipulative, flim-flam spiritual practitioner that he is, just as easily as we understand why Norma is seduced by the ideas of forgiveness, salvation and community.
So why for God’s sake (pun intended), does Loomer bother with Flip’s reformed, dissipated youth backstory? It’s frustrating, inauthentic, and seems to imply, however unintentionally, that Flip now walks the right moral path and is a fit judge of Norma’s spiritual journey. Egads. Hasn’t she endured enough without the extra heavy helping of mansplaining?”
“This rendering of Ms. Bernhardt offers a financially profligate legend who will never stop needing the approval and over-involvement of men in her life, be it her adult son Maurice (Luigi Sottile), her fellow actors or the transactional playwrights who trade art for sexual and emotional inspiration. She is in charge only in the pedantic, street-wise vein of a narcotics dealer.
Bernhardt had money, sexual magnetism and position – products judiciously withheld to advantage throughout her long career. However, minutes into Bernhardt/Hamlet it’s made clear that the now 55-year-old actress is no longer flush with any of these resources. She is, in fact, desperate. The publicly and critically shocking decision to dive headlong into Shakespeare’s alpha male tragedy is born, not of inspiration, but of a necessity to generate cash and headlines. Any theater history student knows this effort produced gossip, but certainly not riches or reborn critical acclaim. It was shortly after this experience that Ms. Bernhardt turned to film for salvation.
The material’s unacknowledged structural incongruity persists for over two and a half hours and is broken up only by long passages of dialogue from the work of male masters like Mr. Shakespeare and Mr. Rostand (John Tufts). As a critic and committed feminist, I found my patience routinely tested by these lengthy diversions from what should be the characters’ pursuit of their own deliberated truths – most notably, Ms. Bernhardt’s. Her relationship with Mr. Rostand as written is pathetic and depressing for both parties, only eclipsed by an utterly misguided collaborative attempt to remove the “poetry” from Shakespeare. Because somehow that places an actress on more equal gender footing? The idea is never adequately explained.”
“Whenever a high-profile theater undertakes the revival of a beloved, oft-staged musical classic, it assumes many risks. Among them is the possibility of the source material failing to connect with a modern audience, or that the given production will fail to say or add anything new. But if there’s one thing Chicago’s artistic community knows about the partnership between Goodman Theatre (Sweat, The Winter’s Tale, The Wolves) and Tony Award-winning director Mary Zimmerman, it’s this: neither party shirks a challenge.
Helming her 16th Goodman production, Ms. Zimmerman offers her visionary take on The Music Man, the timeless tale of a con artist who collectively romances a small town in Iowa – and gets the girl. The musical, with book, music and lyrics by Meredith Willson, won five Tony Awards during its original Broadway run in the late 1950s and continues to leave a significant imprint on American pop and musical culture. Broadway will be welcoming its own star-studded version with Hugh Jackman and Sutton Fuster in 2020).
Yet Goodman Theatre’s take on The Music Man is not the fusty fodder of 20th Century summer stock. Ms. Zimmerman, her cast and creative team make this abundantly clear in the production’s utterly magical first few minutes. The experience gave me goosebumps, and that’s no small feat considering the scene’s otherwise routine ubiquity in thousands of local productions.”
“Part of the fun in this Bohemia is that we know more than the silly and angry characters do. We think we can see the story’s ending, and can thus relax and enjoy the show. In this reimagining of Shakespeare’s work, the audience is treated to modern pop cultural breadcrumbs like a cool line dance sequence choreographed by Tommy Rapley, and a joke about the band Queen. Mr. Falls’ production and its 19-member cast invite us all the way in during the show’s second half, after holding us at paranoid arm’s length in Sicilia.
But in a bit of late-career paradigm busting, the Bard throws his audience a science fiction curveball. Or does he? A rushed, climactic ending may leave heads scratching, but after a night to sleep on it, I’ve decided that this is a good thing. Few of Shakespeare’s most famous plays end in mystery. Goodman Theatre’s production of The Winter’s Tale embraces ambiguity with gusto, offering a smartly realized and multi-dimensional realization of one of Shakespeare’s most cryptic works.”
“In 2000, the United States had not felt the full pain of NAFTA and its crippling of the blue collar workforce. We had yet to experience the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the dot com bust, a housing market implosion and an ensuing, not coincidental spike in opioid addiction that followed these events.
By 2008, we had waved goodbye to Clinton’s budget surpluses, years of relative international peace and the promise of economic stability for those willing to work hard and pay their union dues. The methodical union busting that swept through American industries following NAFTA’s passage drives much of the action in Ms. Nottage’s electric script.
Veteran Ron OJ Parsons returns to direct Goodman Theatre’s rendering of Sweat. The story examines the lives of two generations of friends in a Pennsylvanian Rust Belt town just before, during and after everything about the community’s economic rubric changes. Where generations of residents once moved from high school graduation to factory floor, guaranteeing good wages, a pension and ability to provide for their families, NATFA demanded the acceptance of a new paradigm. Relocated production and the undercutting of worker bargaining which had driven the expansion of the middle class since the end of World War II became the new normal. Opportunities and bank accounts shrank while the temptation to scapegoat “others” (typically immigrants and Americans with brown skin) proved irresistible.”
“Goodman Theatre Artistic Director Robert Falls has chosen well in selecting Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People for a new adaptation, currently onstage in the Albert Theatre. One hundred and fifty years after its debut, the play’s themes feel ripped from today’s headlines. Press materials succinctly describe Ibsen’s complex masterpiece as follows, “When a water contamination crisis puts their community in peril, two brothers—Dr. Stockmann and Mayor Stockmann—face off in a battle of political ambitions and moral integrity.”
If this synopsis evokes visions of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, which dumped millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, or if it reminds one of the Flint water crisis, which is approaching its fourth lead-fueled anniversary, this is no accident. Falls’ staging of An Enemy of the People tweaks the timeless source material just enough to leave absolutely no doubt that we’re looking at today’s sociopolitical climate. Ibsen was ahead of his time but he didn’t coin the term ‘fake news.’ Audiences will see terrific actors in comely period costumes rather than MAGA hats, but Falls and his production team won’t let us leave Trump’s America.”
“Sometimes a fantastic piece of art is offered at the perfect cultural moment for receiving its honesty, and it amplifies a work that would still be effective in a vacuum. Such is the case with Goodman Theatre’s Chicago premiere of The Wolvesfrom playwright Sarah DeLappe.
#MeToo meets the empowered social consciousness of Generation Z in this 2017 Pulitzer Prize finalist. DeLappe’s work introduces a number of twists to bring freshness to the teen girl coming-of-age comedy-drama. For one, all of the onstage action occurs on a truncated soccer field. Scenic design veteran Collette Pollard, a regular Goodman contributor, should clear space on her mantel come awards season. By the end of the performance, I was ready to fold my program into a Jeff Award and hand it to her. It’s hard to overstate how well the creative team as a whole executes DeLappe’s vision.
The dynamic and diverse cast of 10 young women who make up the players and supporters of a fictional soccer club do so much more than provide an audience with real, accessible and imperfect characters. The Wolves is a literal exercise in personal growth. For 90 minutes, these girls grapple with issues as complex and relevant as racism, eating disorders, death, sexual discovery, menstruation, gender dynamics and more – all while doing calisthenics. It’s like watching old Michael Jackson concert footage – how could he continue singing full-throated AND dance that way?”