DBH and I saw three plays recently – and none of them resonated with us. Yet most received sterling reviews. What’s wrong with us - especially after our delight with How to Succeed in Business without Really Trying?
First, we saw The White Snake, produced and directed by Mary Zimmerman. This woman can create. She’s a former MacArthur Fellow and now creative director at both The Goodman and Lookingglass Theaters in Chicago. She usually provides a thrill ride for her audience. Several years ago, her production of Metamorphosis at Lookingglass brought me to tears as I stood to applaud at the end, it was so stunning. But White Snake, produced at Goodman (where I feel the stage was too large for such a small production) was flat. There isn’t much of a story – a Chinese tale about a demon white snake who longs to be human and experience love, and the man who loves her. Same old, same old. Lots of Zimmerman stagecraft and panache, but no real heart.
Then onto to Cabaret, produced by The Citadel Theater Group in Lake Forest. We love Cabaret, and this is the fourth time we have seen it in two years. Are we Cabaret-ed out? No, this play always grabs my heartstrings. And per usual, the romance between Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, who have the most lyrical songs and the best voices, did play beautifully. But Sally Bowles? Cassie Johnson played her with such an affected accent and no singing voice at all. Granted Sally is supposed to be a hard case cabaret floozy, but she does have a lot of great song and dance numbers and Cassie didn’t hit the mark with us. Dominic Rescigno’s Emcee was nuanced, but small. The Kit Kat girls and boys were suitably sleazy and Citadel did a good job of staging a large production in a very small space.
I wanted the Cabaret production to be mind-blowing. My two nieces, ages 16 and 13 were with us - their first really adult musical theater. They both had just studied the Holocaust, so it was appropriate that they see how theater can treat such a tragic subject with music, laughter, respect and awe.
Lastly, we raced to see Exit Strategy, a new play by Ike Holter produced by Jackalope Theater in the depths of the old Armory on North Broadway. The reviews were stunning. Focusing on the closing of a Chicago public high school, the characters are five teachers, a vice-principal and a student. The audience was studded with teachers who laughed and cried throughout the performance. Maybe you had to be a teacher to love it. But, neither DBH nor I felt emotionally involved. That’s the fault of the playwright, who actually used the ghost of a character who kills herself in the first scene to pull the plot development along 2/3 of the way through. A ghost? Does this author think he is Shakespeare? On the other hand, the actors were wonderful. Unlike a lot of newer plays, Exit Strategy actually makes the actors sustain long scenes of intense emotion and they nailed it. But the play did not come together into a cohesive emotional build. In fact the ending (when the bulldozers come) was flat as a pancake for us.
On a higher note, we discovered a great new restaurant, Broadway Cellars, directly across from the Armory. DBH had the biggest plate of meatloaf and mashed potatoes ever (BP claims to be a comfort food restaurant) and I enjoyed Salad Nicoise with excellent rare tuna. I snitched a few bites of the mashed potatoes with gravy and they were yummy. We will return.