Theater review roundup

Steppenwolf—Our Lady of 121st Street

Stephen Adly Guirgis is a playwright whose recent works identify him as a rising star. His plays have been described as “raw, streetwise, and intense.” His current work at Steppenwolf aptly fits the description. If the language of The Sopranos offends you, this is not the play to see.

Reuniting for the funeral of Sister Rose, their erratic teacher, a group of friends bring with them the memories of their childhood. The negativity experienced in and out of the classroom has evolved into the stress and anger of adulthood. Humor, when it occurs, is biting.

Robert Breuler is Father Lux, confined to a wheelchair and for all intents and purposes an agoraphobic, who is as disturbed as those coming together for the services. Having achieved varying degrees of success and failure, the group ranges from street walker to a detective with an identity crisis.

Hanging above the stage, a large room detailing the interior of an ornate funeral home dominates the set. In spite of action below, our eyes constantly return to that puzzling feature. Our Lady of 121st Street was originally produced by the LAByrinth Theatre Company in New York City, an artistic collective encouraging its members to try every aspect of theater. Guirgis, originally an actor in the company, was urged to write a one-act play, and he literally stumbled into playwrighting.

Our Lady… is not for everyone, but if innovation and daring intrigues, you may want to see the work. Closing March 28, tickets are available by calling (312) 335-1650.

The Graduate at the Shubert

Using a well-known actor to attract audiences seems to be a successful strategy. The current production of The Graduate stars Lorraine Bracco of The Sopranos as the infamous Mrs. Robinson. From book to film to play, the story set in the early ’60s retains a fascination with romance and illicit sex. The music of Simon and Garfunkel still rings in our ears when we think of Mrs. Robinson.

Our memory of the movie makes comparisons an occasional distraction, but Bracco and Jonathan C. Kaplan, as the confused Benjamin, dispel any doubts as to their ability to make the characters their own. Interviewed by Bob Sirott on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight, Bracco’s complete joy in her work is evident.

The supporting cast, Devon Sorvari (Elaine Robinson), William Hill (Mr. Braddock), Corrina May (Mrs. Braddock), and Dennis Parlato as the long-suffering Mr. Robinson give authentic performances. Parlato’s delivery of the famous one-word line “Plastics” brought expected laughter from the house.

Road shows constantly amaze me. The costumes of the females recall the elegance and beauty of the ’60s. The Goodman’s Light in the Piazza displayed equally beautiful costumes. The good news: designers are finally bringing back some of those wonderful clothes. The set, consisting of four walls of louvered doors, is ingenious. It makes one wonder how the actors remembered which door to open.

For the memory of a favorite film, The Graduate adequately fills the bill. Playing through March 14—Chicago Ticket Line (312) 902-1400.

Oliver! The Musical—Rockford

Public Schools’ All City Theatre

The arts are alive and well in the Rockford Public Schools. The support of the community, parents and a devoted group of young actors brought to the stage of the Coronado Theatre the familiar Dickens tale. Every aspect of the production involved students—production staff, make-up techs, costume crew, props, lights and sets. Speaking to Bill Howard during intermission, we learned that kids involved were from every school in the city. He supervised the sound crew.

The adult staff included LuAnn Widergren, fine arts coordinator/executive director; Pam Short, director; James Lowell Fry, orchestra director; George Harnish, scenic designer; Katherine Engel-Terasaki, associate director/musical director; Carol Hale, rehearsal pianist; Stepheni Woods, props manager; Terry James Mohaupt, publicity director; Donna Denning, musical director; Eileen Morrissey, make-up; Mark Iverson and Brigitte Hoppe, parent coordinators; Barbara Johnson, Brenda Saban and Jill Beardsley, choreographers; Thom Davis, costumer; Jon Sleger, light engineer; Eileen Kiefer, stage manager; Jim Radloff, master carpenter; and Bill Howard, technical and sound director.

Too often those behind the scenes do not receive the accolades so deserved. A sincere thanks to you all.

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