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Fall Chicago Theater (Sweet Bird, Sunday in the Park, Good People, etc,)
Posted by Play Esq. 2012-10-29 19:45:58

Just back from Chicago last night (and barely missed a hurricane cancellation...whew!!) after a long weekend of theater (and one brilliant opera).  Instead of commenting on individual threads or creating new ones for productions not yet discussed at length, I thought I would start this thread for myself and for others to give their thoughts about Fall Chicago theater.

As for my trip, I wish I knew where to start...this is my first theater/opera trip in a long while where everything I caught was simply wonderful.  Those performances include "Sweet Bird of Youth," "Sunday in the Park with George," "Metamorphosis," and "Good People" (a simply devastating production of Elektra led by the incomparable Christine Goerke was also apart of the trip).  I suppose the initial draw for this trip (and a good place to start) was "Sweet Bird of Youth" at the Goodman.  Much like EricMontreal22, I really have never found this to be a problem play.  To the contrary, I find it quite exceptional and one of Williams' best. Thankfully Cromer's production does justice to the work.  Particularly, and quite brilliantly, Cromer cuts the second bar scene from the second act and instead uses it to open the third.  For anyone who hasn't seen or read the play, the bar scene isn't easy to stage as so much is going on at any moment.  Kudos to Cromer for using a rotating stage to elegantly and effectively bring this challenging scene to light.  Essentially (and I do Cromer no justice by trying to describe this scene...), the stage is planked by both the hotel bar on one end of the stage and a elevated platform behind.  The stage is rotated repeatedly clockwise and counter-clockwise to frame the dialogue.  Execution was simply breathtaking.  Of course, the cast (all uniformly excellent...) deserve a great deal of credit for this expert execution: namely as dialogue was delivered so seamlessly and effortlessly by both cast and director. 

And what a pair of leads to head this cast: Diane Lane and Finn Wittrock were both marvelous.  Wittrock's beautifully naked chest opens the play, and it would only be too easy to take no regard of his dialogue and simply stare in awe throughout the scene.  However, by the end of the scene, Wittrock's beautiful physicality slipped away.  His beauty surely remained, but Wittrock's performance highlighted how facile beauty can be.  Wittrock's Chance Wayne is every bit the gorgeous scoundrel Williams intended the character to be.  Lane, as can be expected, is a marvel performer with a natural knack for subtlety.  It is only too easy to make Alexandra Del Lago a over-the-top, scene-chewing, faded star.  In Lane's hands, the character is tormented but always practical and always in control.  Generally, the gentle balance of powers between she and Wittrock (which is simply too important to lose in this play) was maintained.    However, Lane (who perhaps knows this character a little too well...) took the better hand when it was for Wittrock to show his cards.  No matter: performances of this magnitude cannot always be restrained.  

In hindsight, this may have been, in both production and performance, the highlight of the trip.  (side note:  Lane's performance was almost not to be - the two performances immediately before mine either did not go on or Lane was replaced by an understudy as she was said to have laryngitis).

Wow...didn't think I would have so much to say about that performance.  I have fewer words about the rest of the productions not because each wasn't fantastic (if not the equal of "Sweet Bird") but for the sake of brevity.  

Sunday in the Park...perhaps my favorite Sondheim, the one I would travel almost anywhere to see a great production.  Considering the reviews, I would have thought this would have been the highlight of my trip.  That was not to great as Gary Griffin's production is, it could not erase memories of the fantastic Sam Buntrock production that began at the Menier Chocolate Factory before making its way to Broadway.  In fact, many of the digital projections were reminiscent of the Buntrock production.  To its credit, this was the first "Sunday" I have seen staged on a thrust stage.  Not much was added by the staging, and often times, I felt it was probably a disturbance for those who were sitting to the left and right of stage center.  Carman Cusack, a revelation, saved this performance from just being another regional "Sunday."  Cusack's "We Do Not Belong Together" was simply heartbreaking and was the only moment in the production where I was a bit choked up (for me this has always happened during "Sunday" but I was rather ambivalent hearing the song this time around.)  Let me be clear: this was a very very good production of the piece...if not definitive.  I did appreciate in the reprise of "Sunday" (SPOILER???) the cast joined George on stage, without wigs or costume (makeup as well?) dressed in pedestrian clothes all in white, and sat in front of him just waiting to be modeled.  It gave great weight to the final line: "White: a blank page or canvas. His favorite – so many possibilities."  I left with a big grin on my face.

Metamorphoses...I am very late to the game of this magically staged production directed by Zimmerman.  I really don't think I can add to the volumes of comments, commentary, and printed pages that have been written about this piece.  All I can simply say is that, after so many years of hearing and knowing about this production, I had the opportunity to finally see it as directed by its creator.  Wonderfully appreciated and truly memorable. 

Good People...truth be told, I didn't love this play when I saw it a few years ago on Broadway.  Enjoyed it very much, but hardly loved.  It seemed (to use a "big" word twice in a post...) pedestrian and less then profound.  My conception about the play hasn't changed, but as performed by the incredible Steppenwolf Theater Company (the main reason I gave this show a second go...), I have a new found respect for what a company can do to a piece.  As with ANY Steppenwolf performance I have seen, each person on stage is a standout, but attention must be paid (and has been by every critic who has seen her performance...) to Mariann Mayberry.  Don't get me wrong, I thought McDormand delivered an amazing performance two years ago, but what she lacked in grit and earnestness, Mayberry has in spades.  Though I believed McDormand acted a very good down-on-her-luck "southie," I actually felt Mayberry's plight.  The second act confrontation scene had me on the edge of my seat...even though I knew how it was to end!  Director K. Todd Freeman (new to me until this trip) kept the audience rapt in suspense.  Thanks to this company, I now have a new respect for this well as the overwhelming desire to see "Virgina Wolf" again.  

Sorry for he length of this post, I really intended it to be shorter but could not restrain my enthusiasm.  Would love to hear what others thought about these pieces/other Fall happenings in Chicago.  I made a (smart?) decision to take an earlier flight on Sunday to avoid the hurricane, so I lost an opportunity to see something else.  Assassins, Hamlet, and Wasteland were all tops on my list. I wonder what others thought about these shows...especially Wasteland.

Fall Chicago Theater (Sweet Bird, Sunday in the Park, Good People, etc,)
Posted by EricMontreal22 2012-10-29 20:29:04

It was a great pleasure to read your reviews (obviously, for me, particularly of Bird)--thanks for taking the time to write them out.

One question--do you think Cromer moved the bar scene to Act III for staging issues? (Ie do they need the intermission to set up the stage?) It still strikes me as a bit odd, partly because it simply makes Act II so very short--but I'm glad you felt it worked. And I'm also glad you had such a great trip.

Fall Chicago Theater (Sweet Bird, Sunday in the Park, Good People, etc,)
Posted by AwesomeDanny 2012-10-29 21:14:58

Thanks for all of the reviews. I unfortunately haven't been able to see that much theatre in Chicago this fall as I have recently for various reasons. And there's just so much to see! I did see Sweet Bird last month, and I'll be seeing Sunday next week.

Regarding the change in location of that scene in Sweet Bird, I'm positive that it was because of the set change. The one set change within the play (back to the hotel room in Act III) took a bit longer than it probably should have, and the scene changes did not look like they could have really happened seamlessly. Having a short Act II didn't seem like a big problem, although it did feel a little strange. Each of the three acts seemed to have a different tone.

Play Esq, I'm curious to hear what you thought of the supporting cast in Sunday. From what I remember reading, Gary Griffin seemed to fill them out with some really great local talent.

Fall Chicago Theater (Sweet Bird, Sunday in the Park, Good People, etc,)
Posted by EricMontreal22 2012-10-29 21:30:38

"I unfortunately haven't been able to see that much theatre in Chicago this fall as I have recently for various reasons. And there's just so much to see!"

I said it in the Sweet Bird thread, I think, but ain't that the truth. I had never really paid too much attention to Chicago theatre before, but when I was looking up info on Sweet Bird and went to some Chicago theatre sites I was blown away by all the things I would have had interest in seeing.

That does make sense about the acts being thematically different, Danny. Although it does leave the Princess missing from Act II (I think, if I have the scenes correct in my memory), which I think some critics complained about.

Fall Chicago Theater (Sweet Bird, Sunday in the Park, Good People, etc,)
Posted by JeaniusIsMe 2012-10-29 21:43:22

Thanks for starting up this thread. I've only been able to see Sunday so far, but I was debating whether or not to catch Good People and Metamorphosis before each close- and now I think I will definitely catch both.

Fall Chicago Theater (Sweet Bird, Sunday in the Park, Good People, etc,)
Posted by AwesomeDanny 2012-10-29 21:47:57

When I saw Sweet Bird, which I went into almost cold, I was surprised that Alexandra de Lago was as small of a role as it is, but I don't think that was because she was missing from the second act (which she was) but because the play is really driven by Chance. Oh, and I thought Finn Wittrock was just fantastic. However, I did not love the text itself as much as you two seem to. I felt that the play didn't really pick up until after the second scene of the first act. It was interesting in the beginning, but not as compelling as the rest of the play. Do you disagree?

Fall Chicago Theater (Sweet Bird, Sunday in the Park, Good People, etc,)
Posted by Play Esq. 2012-10-29 21:51:16

Thank you both.

I agree, it does make the second act jarringly short (people around me were looking around in uncertainty) but I believe the choice was less based upon convenience than artistic decision. Of course I could be wrong (who knows what's in Cromer's brilliant mind?) but I think the choice was done not of set necessity but to add impact to the third act.

Because these two scenes were played together we got to to see both sides of Chance (his confidence and his acceptance of a fate that he could not previously accept) and Alexandra (her weakness in broken glasses and strength after getting her call). The actual scenic aspects were negligble for the second act, so had Cromer wanted to make both scenes operate together (as written) that would not have been a technical problem. But the dramatic climax occurs at the second act, second scene. Attaching this scene to the resolution of the final scene amplified the impact of both scenes.

Fall Chicago Theater (Sweet Bird, Sunday in the Park, Good People, etc,)
Posted by EricMontreal22 2012-10-30 01:14:04

Danny, I think ou're right that the Princess' role is played up a bit in people's minds (of course it doesn't help that Diane Lane was the star name--in the original Broadway production, Paul Newman was probably at least as well known by then, if not more so, than Geraldine Page). That probably won't be much different i the upcoming London production which is already being sold on Kim Catrall's name.

(I recently read an interesting interview with Albee about what influence he had from Williams. I think he protested a bit too much, but one thing he said that did have *some* truth was that critics often claim with both his and Williams' work that the women drive the action. He pointed out that they often have the more flamboyant roles, but that often when you looked at it the men were at least as important, if not more so--of course this depends on the play, but still with Williams, it seems more often than not producers decide to agree to a revival based on a well known actress they can get, and then cast around her).

I actually LOVE the first scene of Sweet Bird--I think it has some of my fave Williams writing, and I like all that stuff (that some don't) where it goes into Chance's very stylized monologue, etc. *But*, I will admit it's a slow, and fairly long, scene to open with--and it does point out a criticism many have with the play, that it seems like two plays stitched together. I actually *like* that aspect, but I do understand the criticism. I think Williams must have done it partly on purpose--although the play did spring from two different short story ideas of Williams (which isn't unusual--Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and several of his others came from two different ideas joined together, as well).

Play Esq. that makes sense, and I didn't think of the thematic point you make. Certainly, it does seem like Cromer wouldn't have done it that way, if he didn't think it worked--whether it was instigated by a scene change, or not.

Fall Chicago Theater (Sweet Bird, Sunday in the Park, Good People, etc,)
Posted by Play Esq. 2012-10-30 12:58:12

Totally forgot that Streisand and Brolin were in the audience at the performance I went wonder Lane returned to the show when she did: step-mother-in-law was coming!