A showcase for the richness and diversity of Chicago theater

A showcase for the richness and diversity of Chicago theater

By Edith McCauley

By Edith McCauley

Theater Critic

The annual conference of the American Theatre Critics Association, Inc. held in Chicago June 11-16 gave the participants an in-depth look at the lively theater community and its growing importance to the culture and economic development of the city of Chicago. Critics came from all over the United States from New Bedford, Mass. to San Francisco, Calif. The international community was also represented, with delegates from Canada, the United Kingdom, Korea, France, Romania, Russia, Sweden and Bulgaria.

Hotel Allegro hosted the conference, and Tuesday’s festivities included meetings and lunch there. An opening reception hosted by the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs at Maxim’s Restaurant was followed by our first theatrical performance at the Victory Gardens Theater. Presented last year’s Tony for excellence in regional theater by the association, the opening event came as a grateful thank you from the company. Famed for their outstanding productions of new works, their playwrights ensemble is unequaled. The Old Man’s Friend by James Sherman, the latest in a series starring Bernie Landis, examines the relationship between a terminally ill father and his daughter, Susan. Lily Shaw, seen most recently here in NAT’s Blithe Spirit, struggles to balance a career, family and an estranged father. Playing to an audience of critics is, to say the least, challenging. The cast met the test.

Lunch at Steppenwolf Theater and a performance of The Royal Family (earlier reviewed here) followed a membership meeting. Michael Gennaro, executive director, and Martha Lavey, artistic director, shared their vision of Steppenwolf and an appreciation for the support of the community enabling the amazing growth of a company that receives worldwide recognition. The evening’s events included a reception, silent auction and a Showcase performance at the Court Theatre presented by the League of Chicago Theatres.

So much to do and so little time. Thursday began with a Conversation With Jerry Herman at the Goodman Theatre. Jonathan Abarbanel, conference chair, interviewed the legendary Herman, whose Mame and Hello, Dolly! have become musical theater classics. He continues his work and is in the process of negotiating a television production of Mame. Disappointment in movie versions of his work has made him leery of the media. A Spectacular made for a Las Vegas venue failed when the producer backed out, but a CD has been made and is currently available. Herman’s stories of his beginnings in New York and the opportunities to perform and learn his craft evoked another time. Regrettably, venues of that period no longer exist.

Our evening treat, a performance of The Tempest at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre on Navy Pier, starred Larry Yando as Prospero. Appearing in nearly every theater in the area, he was named Best Actor in Chicago 2000 by Chicago magazine. An enchanting fairy tale, the story encompasses magic, young love, revenge, an ogre, two bumbling drunks, and spirits who fly through the air. Barbara Gaines, artistic director, continues to bring to her audiences the best of the bard. Her innovative productions make Shakespeare’s plays as new today as when they played in Stratford. Their new season includes Love’s Labors Lost, Julius Caesar and The Winter’s Tale. Note: While a high school student, I saw my first Shakespeare, The Winter’s Tale, at the old Studebaker Theater in the Fine Arts Building.

Choices for Friday’s performances included Gypsy Love at Light Opera Works, Talley’s Folley at Northlight, Misalliance at Writer’s Theatre, and Damn Yankees at Marriott Lincolnshire. Damn Yankees has played to sold-out houses and closes this week. The original, choreography by Bob Fosse, exquisitely staged by Director David H. Bell and performed by a cast equal to that of any on Broadway, continues the tradition of excellence for which the Marriott is known.

The Chicago Theater community welcomed the ATCA Conference with open arms. From the smallest off-Loop theater to the thriving Randolph Street District, we made the world aware of the energy and talent that makes Chicago, not the Second City, but THE City when you want to see the best of THEATER.

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