11.8.09

Culture Vulturing, Summer Edition

I've been a busy Lazygal over the past three weeks, spending time on travel and Culture. It's been fun - of course, the problem is, as always, being away from home and the comforts therein. Without further ado, here's what I've had going on in Chicago and Niagara-on-the-Lake:

Shows:
Up (Steppenwolf Theatre) I've been a fan of Steppenwolf since working (front of house) on Balm in Gilead in 1984. Yet I've never been to their theatre... until this summer. Up is based on the true story of Larry Walter's 1982 balloon/chair flight. I can see this transferring to Off-Broadway, because it's not a Big Play, something the current gods of Broadway seem to require.

Little Brother (Griffin Theatre) is an adaptation of Cory Doctorow's book/polemic against Homeland Security. The production was a little frenetic, and my first impression was that this would make a great college/high school production (it's akin to The Laramie Project). Beyond that... I clearly remember September 11, and don't want to live through another day like that one. Thing One's comment was that, as someone who had protested Vietnam and who held freedom dearly, watching people jump from the Twin Towers' windows made him reassess how he felt about losing some of those freedoms (for those of you that don't know, he works on Wall Street and his office literally overlooks The Pit - he saw the second plane go in to the Tower).

Brief EncountersBorn Yesterday* (Shaw Festival) is, of course, the play upon which the Judy Holliday movie is based (ok, there was also a remake but let's not dwell on that, shall we?). The Shaw's production has an incredible set and the main actors are wonderful in their roles. "Billie" did have a few ticks (it took me a while to realize she was more like Carol Burnett than Ms. Holliday), but the chemistry between her, Verrell, Brock and Devery was very real and made for many amusing (and dramatic moments).

Star Chamber (Shaw Festival) was part of the original Tonight at 8:30 series that Coward wrote - apparently he decided it was too on-the-nose and it has rarely been produced since. This year, the Shaw undertook to present all ten plays, something rarely done. Clearly, this was an update in terms of costume to the 1960s and the Mods but really the themes here are timeless. Self-absorbed actors? Check. Flustered and ignored lawyer? Check. Desire to Do Good albeit blindly? Check.

Albertine in Five Times (Shaw Festival) tells the story of Albertine's life using five actresses ranging from 20 to 70. Her sister interacts with all five, asking questions, prompting memories and helping Albertine make sense of (and come to grips with) her past. Tremblay's play is very powerful and I now need to see more of his works.

In Good King Charle's Days (Shaw Festival) reminded me why I never go to certain shows and talk about certain topics with my father, the Emeritus Professor of Physics. Since one of the leads here is Isaac Newton, of course he had an opinion - not about the acting, or the portrayal of the character, but on the historical figure (note, he's commenting on the person not the accuracy of the play). Thing One and I enjoyed the play up through the last act - yes, Shaw pontificates and bends history and does things to get his point across. But as a work of drama, the first two acts hold. The third act is very weak, and the ending? Let's not talk about that. Benedict Campbell's Charles was well-worth the next strain (we had second row seats), ditto Graeme Somerville's Newton and Ric Reid's George Fox. The others were varied in their abilities with only one totally miscast.

Back to Coward, with Play, Orchestra Play. Usually one thinks of Coward as a writer of relatively light, frothy fare, but in Shadow Play he disproves that. Fumed Oak reminded me of The Autograph Hound (henpecked husband finally rebels, except here he leaves), and Red Peppers had moments but mostly felt like bickering for bickering's sake. None of these grabbed me as Must See Again plays.

Finally, Brief Encounters brought my Coward total to seven. The performance was saw was the final one of an all-day Coward marathon put on by the Shaw. 300 intrepid souls made it to the end; we saw the last two shows of their day. Perhaps the knowledge that this was a Big Day inspired the actors, because this was the perfect series to end on. Hand Across the Sea was (is) the weakest of the series, again proving that Coward can be hit-or-miss. Even there, though, Thom Marriott manages to be watchable - and his Albert in Still Life is lovable. As for We Were Dancing, how many Coward plays leave for intermission with a Bollywood musical number? Truly an inspired choice.


Food in Chicago:
Pops for Champagne I love fries, and Pops has some of the best I've tasted. Couple that with some rose champagne...

Eno. Wine... cheese... chocolate. Who needs more? Oh, all right. Add some olives and charcuterie to the meal. (ps - try the Serena with your dessert)

Adobo Grill This is my new favorite Mexican restaurant! I'm a huge fan of avocado, but not such a huge fan of guacamole... until I ate here. They make it at your table. And the ahi tuna ceviche? Those two are all I need to have a yummy meal. (Thing One and I aren't sure if it's better than, or equal to, Tamales... guess we'll have to eat at both again and judge!)

Misc:
Shedd Aquarium (Chicago) The last time I was at an aquarium was in the early 1980s. Perhaps I've held on to some romantic notions of what they're like, but the Shedd didn't live up to any of them. A visit to Coney Island or Boston is called for, methinks.

Peller Vineyards
and Inniskillen Winery - two of the many that dot the Niagara peninsula. Lunch at the Peller is a must, but take a tour of the many vineyards; I promise you'll develop a real appreciation of icewine.

Nothing cultural on the calendar for quite some time - I trust you'll agree that I've been there, doing quite a lot and now deserve some time with my books and Netflix.



* thanks to Everything O for pointing out embarassing typo!

2 comments:

Everything O said...

it was Born Yesterday that inspired the film, not Brief Encounters, but I think you know that, just a typo i'm sure

Alice in Infoland said...

Aquariums: go to Baltimore. All others pale in comparison.