Wednesday, September 29, 2010

U of I Opens New Season at Krannert Center


I have to be honest. I didn't expect Eugene Ionesco's "The Bald Soprano" and "The Lesson," two shorts plays often performed together, to kick off the University of Illinois Department of Theatre's fall season.

"Soprano" and "Lesson" are considered Theatre of the Absurd, or that part of Theatre of the Absurd that concentrates on the inability of language to fully communicate. Confession: I was in "The Bald Soprano," along with a few other poor souls in my 9th grade drama class, while another group worked on "The Lesson." I don't know why my junior high drama teacher thought these difficult, quirky, somewhat nonsensical plays were appropriate for teen actors, but I don't recall enjoying the experience. I do remember that my classmates Barb Westwood and John Walker took "The Lesson" to the city-wide junior high drama festival, but a rival school brought the Pyramus and Thisbe part of "A Midsummer Night's Dream," and I feel sure they must've won. Sorry, Barb and John. You tried your best, but "The Lesson" was not meant to be performed by 14-year-olds.

If you like Theatre of the Absurd and you want to see what director Tom Mitchell does with a new translation of the plays by Tina Howe, "The Bald Soprano" and "The Lesson" open October 7th inside the Studio Theatre and close the 17th.

From the absurd to murder and mayhem... After Ionesco, U of I turns to Shakespeare and "Macbeth," the one whose name we're not supposed to say inside the walls of a theater lest we be visited with very bad luck. So don't read this aloud in a theater, all right? I'm writing from my living room, so I should be okay. "Macbeth" is directed by Robert Anderson, who was so good as Bottom in "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival a year or so ago. This one is in Colwell Playhouse, with performances from October 14 to 24.

The third show (still in October) on the schedule is "Iphigenia and Other Daughters," a look at the effects of the Trojan War on the members of the House of Atreus, written by Ellen MacLaughlin, perhaps best-known as the original Angel in "Angels in America." Robert Quinlan directs "Iphigenia" in the Studio Theatre, running from October 28 to November 7.

After that, we skip to February and "The African Company Presents Richard III," a play by Carlyle Brown that sets a black theater company in New York City against a rival white company that chooses to present Richard III at the same time, using nefarious means to close down the competition. Shut out of their own theater, the African Company looks for other ways to stage their play and keep their art alive. Robert Ramirez directs this fascinating play inside the Studio Theatre from February 3 to 13.

If you've noticed that three of the four directors so far are named Robert, you are not alone. We change first names and gender with Lisa Gaye Dixon, the director of the fifth play in the U of I season. She's taking on "A Midsummer Night's Dream," which has also come up three times in this post. At the moment, the score is Robert 3, Midsummer 3. And Richard III.

Dixon is staging "Midsummer" as a Bachanalia at a Carnival celebration in the Caribbean, promising music, magic and madness. And I think some sexy bits, what with the talk of transgression and being "fraught with anticipation." Oh, and nudity. Mature audiences are invited to party down with "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in the Colwell Playhouse from March 3 to 13.

The last production on the schedule does not break the Robert vs. Midsummer tie, but it does offer George Bernard Shaw's "Misalliance," directed by Kathleen Conlin for the Studio Theatre. "Misalliance" features a heroine named Hypatia, and how often do you get to see one of those? Plucky Hypatia longs for excitement to fall out of the sky, and it does, in the form of a dashing aviator named Joey, who brings along an equally captivating circus performer named Lina Szczepanowska. As Hypatia pursues Joey, most of the other males are sniffing after the exotic Polish acrobat. Romance! Satire! Long Shavian monologues about the position of women in society! You'll find all of that and an airplane crashing through the scenery (can't wait to see how they pull that off in the Studio Theatre) in "Misalliance," opening March 31 and closing April 10.

For tickets or more information, visit the Krannert Center website. We'll have to pay attention to see if there are any Roberts in the casts of these shows, or any references to "A Midsummer Night's Dream." One of them must win!

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