Sunday, September 30, 2012

"Once Upon a Time" Is Back, Sans Curse, Avec Magic

When we last saw the residents of Storybrooke on ABC's Once Upon a Time, they had just lifted the Evil Queen's curse, meaning they all suddenly knew they'd once been fairytale characters in an alternate world. Boom! Zap! Young Henry was revived by love after eating a poisoned apple, Snow White and Prince Charming remembered who they were and ran into each other's arms, and Belle found her way back to her Beast, who happened to be Rumpelstiltskin.

But lots of questions remained about how the town and its assorted fairies, dwarves, witches, princes, princesses, werewolves, puppets, crickets and one very Mad Hatter would be affected by the end of the curse and the rolling purple smoke now filling the town.

Tonight, Once Upon a Time came back, complete with the magic unleashed by Rumpelstiltskin. So what does that mean?

Well, we got to see Emma, the take-no-prisoners real woman who'd started Storybrooke's clock ticking again, reunited with her parents, Snow and Charming, who appear about the same age as Emma because time was stopped in Storybrooke while she was growing up in the outside world. They didn't fuss about that weirdness for too long, though. Mostly they just deferred any explanations till later, since they had major evil to fight, and, as a family, they are really into fighting evil.

We also saw the townspeople try to torch Regina, the Evil Queen, and Rumpelstiltskin send some sort of scary wraith after her. There's a magical medallion that burns its imprint into the hand of its owner working here, too, with flashbacks (or flashes sideways) to The Enchanted Forest and some new characters also wrangling with the same medallion and the same wraith. Those characters are a royal couple (Philip and Aurora) and Mulan, a Chinese warrior who has been fighting alongside Philip. Both girls seem to be enamored of Philip, who has a dangerous run-in with the medallion and the wraith.

In case you're not down with Disney characters, Aurora comes from the 1959 Sleeping Beauty, and she is considered to be No. 3 in the line of princesses they market to young girls, right after Snow White and Cinderella, who already exist in the Once Upon a Time universe. Mulan didn't get the Disney treatment till 1998, when the movie Mulan came out, but she's got her bonafides, too.

The really intriguing thing about this first episode didn't happen till the very end, when we find out that the curse didn't touch a certain corner of Fairytale Land, the corner where Mulan and the Prince were hanging out. They were suspended in time, too, but not swept away to Maine like all the others. But now, when evil Regina does not get offed by the wraith but does get medieval on Emma and Snow, the two of them end up dumped back into that tiny, torn-up corner of Fairytale Land, with Mulan and Aurora ready to smack them down for perceived injuries to Philip.

War of the Women, coming up?

As a season premiere, I didn't feel this episode was really an A+. More like a B-. It wasn't very action-packed, for one thing, and the wraith seemed a bit too much like Harry Potter's Dementors. Not that there's anything wrong with Dementors. It's just that an ogre or a banshee might'vebeen amusing as an alternative.

I did think they did a good job of introducing the new people (Sarah Bolger as Aurora, Jamie Chung as Mulan and Julian Morris as Philip) without losing sight of the old ones, although the mysterious man at the very beginning was a little too mysterious for my taste.Is he Rumpel's son? Henry's bio dad? One and the same? Or somebody else whose identity will be revealed later? Not really enough clues to whet my whistle.

I'd like to see Regina (Lana Parilla) defanged for a bit longer than two seconds, and Snow (Ginnifer Goodwin) and (Josh Dallas) Charming step up and not be so stupid. I'd also prefer Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle) and Belle (Emilie de Ravin) get it together and create a formidable team rather than fight with each other. We saw a hint at the end that that might happen (plus a chipped mug. Yay, Chip!) as well as Regina back in full-on evil form, while Henry goes home with his granddad, Prince Charming. Kinda sweet. I also appreciated the fact that Snow and Emma (Jennifer Morrison) may have some bonding time while they're stuck in Alterno World. This is, after all, Emma's first taste of Fairytale Land, so it should be fun seeing how she handles it. I also see some parallels between tough girls Mulan and Emma and pretty princesses Aurora and Snow, and it'd be awesome if they all form a kick-ass girl group to go after Regina.

But what about Red Riding Hood, Granny, the Mad Hatter, Jiminy Cricket, Pinocchio and Gepetto, the Seven Dwarves, the Blue Fairy, and all the other characters they set up last season? Not much info there. I guess we have to wait and see.

I liked Once Upon a Time well enough last year to go along for the ride, even if it does take time. But don't try my patience too long, Horowitz and Kitsis. I like some development and relationship changes, too.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

IWU's A SHAYNA MAIDEL Opens Tuesday at McPherson Theatre

Illinois Wesleyan's School of Theatre Arts opens its fall season Tuesday night with Barbara Lebow's A Shayna Maidel, a play about two Polish Jewish sisters separated by the Holocaust. Rose, the younger sister, escaped from war-torn Poland with her father, but her mother and sister, Lusia, were left behind when Lusia fell ill. By the time she was well enough to travel, the Nazis had overrun the area, sending Lusia and her mother into a concentration camp. Lusia survived, but her mother did not. When the play begins in 1946, Rose has become a very Americanized, very stylish New Yorker, and the unexpected reunion with her long-lost sister leaves her conflicted and unsure. There's confusion, guilt, a huge cultural gap, and unwanted feelings. Is it going backwards to remember how it used to be? And how can you form a family with someone you don't even know?

Lebow's play bowed off-Broadway in 1987, with Melissa Gilbert as Rose, followed by a 1992 TV movie called "Miss Rose White" where Kyra Sedgwick took the role. Both versions received good notices, as audiences were taken with the emotional depth and universal themes in the script.

Professor Nancy B. Loitz directs A Shayna Maidel for IWU, with Curtis C. Trout as scenic designer, Zachary Wagner as costume designer, Stephen Sakowski as lighting designer, and Toby Algya as sound designer. Wesleyan's cast includes Annie Simpson as Rose Weiss, who changes her name to Rose White to sound more American, Ian Scarlato as Rose's father Mordecai, and Amy Stockhaus as Lusia, the sister newly arrived from Poland. Sarah Menke, Allyce Torres and Ben Mulgrew round out the cast.

Loitz's production of A Shayna Maidel opens in McPherson Theatre on Tuesday, October 2nd, with an 8 o'clock performance. Performances on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday are also scheduled for 8 pm, with Sunday's matinee beginning at 2 pm. For ticket information, call 309-556-3232 or click here for the box office webpage.

Keep the Comedy Coming: Support the Improv Mafia and the CIT

The Improv Mafia, Illinois State University's first and only improv troupe, has enjoyed a great deal of success in years past at the national College Improv Tournament. Third last year and second the year before, they won the whole enchilada in 2009. National champs right there, folks!

Now Improv Mafia is lending a hand to raise funds for that very tournament. The College Improv Tournament has launched an Indiegogo site to try to put together enough cash to do things like provide food and water to teams when they compete, give them a break on lodging, and maybe even offer food and lodging to volunteer judges and videographers. They'd also like to get better video equipment, and if you saw the video from last year's national or regional competitions, well, you know better video would be a very good thing.

If you'd like to contribute to the effort -- and come on, who wouldn't? A sense of the ridiculous is important in an uncertain world! -- you can pop right over here and give anything from $1 to $10,000. They hope to raise $5,000, which isn't so very much after all.

And just look at what you get for your contribution. For only $25, you get a ticket to a regional match, where you just may see the Second City, Improv Olympics, Saturday Night Live or Octavarius stars of tomorrow. At the other end of the spectrum, for $1000, your package includes 6 VIP tickets at the National Finals, food and bev for you and a guest, pictures with the winning team, an autographed poster, an opportunity to give an improv suggestion and co-present an award at the regional, and entry to all the matches at a regional site. That's a lot of stuff!

Keep the improv dream alive! Support Improv Mafia's quest to turn everyone into centaurs, superheros and clowns by visiting the Indiegogo site and kicking in $1 or $10,000 today.

Friday, September 28, 2012

AMAZING RACE Casting Call in Bloomington-Normal

Are you the perfect combination of brains and brawn and foreign language skills? Have you always wanted to climb across the top of the Singapore Flyer? Zorb in New Zealand? Look for a needle (or at least a clue) in a field full of Swedish haystacks? Lasso a yak? Perform a bottle dance in Paraguay? Drink buckets of borscht? Ask for directions or find a cab in six different cities where they speak six different languages?

If you answered yes to all of those questions, you might just be what The Amazing Race is looking for. And they're coming to Normal to find you.

You'll need a partner, someone with some connection to you, like friend, lover, ex, co-worker, teammate, family member, etc. And you both have to be over 21 and U.S.. citizens. (Just a hint: "Seeing where this goes" and "testing the relationship" don't seem to work too well as the basis for partnerships on this show.) You can see the eligibility requirements here.

Yodeling in Bavaria on The Amazing Race
And if CBS and The Amazing Race people like you and your partner, if they think you have what it takes to pop on TV, you might be scrambling, running, climbing, ziplining, dancing, cycling, learning, eating, drinking, thinking, swimming, assembling, paddling, solving, and generally challenging yourself all around the world. The one thing you won't be doing much of is sleeping.

There are usually 11 teams of two, with teams eliminated one at a time during most legs of the race. During those legs, they look for clues, finish "roadblocks" and "detour" tasks, and try to avoid last place on an elimination leg. When it's down to three teams, it's a race to the finish line, and the duo that crosses the line first wins a cool million bucks.

The casting festivities are happening near the ISU campus in the apartment complex called The Flats, at 611 Osage Street in Normal. WMBD 31, the Peoria CBS affiliate, is holding this official casting call tomorrow, Saturday, September 29, from 10 am to 2 pm, in conjunction with SAMI. They're asking you to come out and convince them -- in two minutes on camera -- that you belong on The Amazing Race. You'll save time and impress the producers if you download and fill out the video release form before you go.

If you were watching the Emmys, you may've noticed that The Amazing Race just picked up its 8th win in the Outstanding Reality Competition Program category. Season 21 begins on September 30th, so maybe this local casting call is just a way to publicize the new shows. Or maybe they really do want some Normalites in the race, if only to keep putting NORMAL in the Chyron.

Click here for more info on the casting call. Click here to see the CBS site for The Amazing Race.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Fred Astaire (X 3) Tomorrow on TCM

Turner Classic Movies knows the key to my heart. Lots and lots of Fred Astaire!

As part of a slate of musicals airing between all day (and moving chronologically from 1939 to 1957), TCM will be offering three fairly unusual Astaire choices.

Ziegfeld Follies is up first, beginning at 6:45 am Central time. It's a 1946 MGM extravaganza starring William Powell as impresario Florenz Ziegfeld. The framing device is Mr. Z, up in heaven, thinking back on his career as the master of the lavish musical revue and imagining a new show starring a parade of Hollywood stars. In the comic sketches and musical numbers that follow, we see the likes of Lena Horne, Judy Garland, Esther Williams, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball and Fanny Brice. Oh, and Fred Astaire. Fred introduces a bevy of beauties with "Here's to the Girls," and dances twice with Lucille Bremer, an MGM starlet at the time. He also dances with Gene Kelly. Yep. The two biggest dancing stars ever. It's the only time Astaire and Kelly were paired on film until they hosted That's Entertainment II in 1976. The comedy bits are pretty creaky (and I never did really appreciate either Skelton or Victor Moore, who shows up, as well) but Astaire is a gem throughout.

The next Astaire film offered -- The Belle of New York -- begins at noon. Fred is a turn-of-the-century swain, smitten with a straitlaced temperance worker played by Vera-Ellen. He knows he's in love because he starts walking on air. Seriously. It's that fantasy element (all the air-walking) that made Belle of New York a bit of an oddity and maybe accounts for its lack of popularity. Whatever the reason it didn't connect back in 1952, Belle of New York is worth a look now, if for no other reason than it is so rarely broadcast.

And the last Fred flick of the day is also the last of the TCM musicals o' the day, airing at 3:30 pm. It's Silk Stockings, a Cold War remake of Ninotchka that pairs Fred with the beautiful Cyd Charisse. He's an American film producer, while she's a chilly Soviet agent sent to Paris to get a Russian composer out of Fred's decadent capitalist clutches. But of course, he defrosts Comrade Ninotchka, introducing her to the pleasures of fancy lingerie, champagne and dancing the night away. Along the way, three cultural commisars (Peter Lorre, Jules Munshin and Joseph Buloff) sing about cheery, eerie "Siberia" and how it's "Too Bad, We Can't Go Back to Moscow," in some of the strangest songs Cole Porter ever wrote.

None of these three are among my favorite Astaire movies, but, as I always say, any Fred is better than no Fred.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Six Friends Launch HOODOO LOVE for Chicago's Collective Theatre Company

One of the best things about the Masters program at Illinois State University that I am currently involved with has been meeting people like Le'Mil Eiland. There's no two ways about it: Le'Mil is awesome.

He's also one of six theatrically inclined friends who attended Thornridge High School in the late 90s who've gotten back together to form a new theatre company in Chicago. It's called the Collective Theatre, and its very first show opened last night at the Athenaeum Theatre on Southport Avenue in Chicago.

That show is Katori Hall's Hoodoo Love, a heady concoction of dreams, superstition, love, jealousy, deception and singing the blues. It's set in Memphis in the 1930s, where a woman named Toulou yearns to be a singer in a jukejoint just off Beale Street. Toulou dreams not only of musical fame, but of catching the eye of Ace of Spades, a blues man with a wandering soul. She's so desperate to have him that she goes to her friendly neighborhood hoodoo woman to get a love spell.

The spell works, but it's one of those "Be careful what you wish for" scenarios, realizing Toulou's dreams in a way she could never have imagined. The music of desperation and desire is woven throughout Hoodoo Love.

Nelsan Ellis, one of the six founding members of the Collective Theatre Company as well as star of HBO's True Blood, directs a cast that includes Lynn Wactor as Toulou; Toni Lynice Fountain as Candy Lady, the hoodoo woman; LaRoyce Hawkins as Ace of Spades, and Mark Smith as Jib, Toulou's double-dealing brother. This production of Hoodoo Love runs through October 21, with tickets available here or by calling 773-935-6875.

Aside from all going to Thornridge, Le'Mil Eiland and the other five founders of the Collective Theatre Company all participated in speech and theatre. Eiland, Ellis, Broadway veteran Francois Battiste, Chicago actress and teacher Veronda G. Carey, marketing and promotions manager Metra Gilliard and metallurgist and engineer Jasond Jones were all state champions, too, which is no mean feat.

As it happens, I have vivid memories of The People Could Fly, the "performance in the round" that won Le'Mil a state championship in 1998. It was a stunning little show, one that showed just how good "performance in the round" can be.

Eiland also competed in Drama and Oratory at the state level. As for the others... Battiste was half of a Dramatic Duet Acting team that won state in 1994, while Carey and Gilliard won as a duo in that same event in 1995, Jones took the state trophy home in Group Interp for The Colored Museum, and Ellis was a state champion in Oratorical Declamation in 1997.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

"Spirits of Educators Past" Celebrates B-N Educators with Theatre and Food

As you make plans to attend this year's Discovery Walk at Evergreen Cemetery, you should also know that you'll have another chance to interact with some of Bloomington-Normal's historical personages. In what is being billed as "dinner with a dose of drama," Beyond the Books Educational Foundation will celebrate its 20th anniversary with a "Spirits of Educators Past" dinner theater performance starting at 6 pm on Thursday, October 25.

This event is presented in conjunction with Illinois Voices Theatre, the organization that arranges the theatrical part of the Discovery Walk. Judy Brown, artistic director of Illinois Voices, is acting as co-director for these "Spirits." The program will include four characters who had a significant impact on education in the Bloomington-Normal area, including Jesse Fell (played by Todd Wineburner), Sarah Raymond (played by Devon Lovell), Arthur Pillsbury (played by John Bowen) and Georgina Trotter (played by co-director Kathleen Kirk.) Three of the four have made appearances at the Discovery Walk in previous years, and Kirk's character, Georgina Trotter, will be there this year.

"Spirits of Educators Past" is being held at the Brown Ballroom at the Bone Student Center on the Illinois State University Campus. Tickets are $40 per person (including dinner and the performances) and available online or by phone at 309-530-2320. They are also available at a variety of local shops and offices, and you can see that list, as well as the menu for the dinner part of the evening, here.

Beyond the Books Educational Foundation awards grants to public school educators in McLean County Unit District No. 5 and Bloomington District 87, offering them the opportunity to "go beyond standard classroom experiences." In the last 20 years, Beyond the Books has awarded almost $400,000 to area educators to help them expand the scope of their teaching with creative, innovative projects that would be otherwise beyond the limits of school districts’ budgets.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Emmy Night Has Come and Gone

It always drives me crazy that the Emmy voters love shows and especially performers I don't, and they love them over and over and over again. John Larroquette, Cloris Leachman, Rhea Perlman and Michael Richards, I'm still looking at you. Yes, I love Ed Asner. So his pile of Emmys plus all those wins for fabulous West Wing, fabulous Hill Street Blues and fabulous Mad Men are fine by me. They're almost enough to make me think there is merit in the Emmys, after all. Almost.

Last night, with Jon Cryer nabbing Best Actor in a Comedy... I am definitely tipped over onto I Hate the Emmys side. With that one award, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences showed exactly how irrelevant they are. So very, very.

That's why I'm not going to talk about who won what. Except for Cryer and the Homeland wins and, as always, handing out statuettes to the random movie stars who dropped by (Kevin Costner and Tom Berenger, this time), it was pretty much the same as last year. Feel free to find whatever it was I said about last year's awards and just lather, rinse, repeat.

Let's talk about something more fun. The fashion! As always, the Tom & Lorenzo site has a terrific rundown of who wore what, with big, glossy photos, good and bad. They noted all the yellow on the red carpet, and that was hard to miss, what with Julianne Moore, Julie Bowen and Claire Danes all winning and all showing off neon yellow in different shades.

I liked how Moore looked in her big, sweepy Christian Dior gown that was the color of lemon meringue pie, and Bowen looked great on camera, too, in a fitted dress that was more of an acid yellow shade.

Claire Danes... Not so much. Her dress was a strange, dark mustard yellow that doesn't look good on anybody, plus it made her hair look green, like she'd been swimming in too many chlorinated pools. The dress itself was shapeless and baggy and not at all flattering. Yes, I realize she's pregnant and trying to camouflage it. But there are better ways to do that than wearing a sack dress in a hideous shade.

In the end, I'd say the battle of the yellows goes to Julianne Moore. With that fire-red hair set off against lemon yellow, with the way her skirt moved and flowed, she was a showstopper.

My favorite dress of the night, though, was on Ginnifer Goodwin. It was a strange orange flocked thing, and I hate orange as a rule. But this looked great. Different, eye-catching, fun. And totally her.

Others who looked fab include Amy Poehler, snazzy in a sparkly black dress with lots of cleavage, and Tina Fey in a stunning purple Vivienne Westwood gown with a Byzantine bodice.

Well, now that I've refused to talk about the awards and summed up the fashion, what's left? Jimmy Kimmel. He was aw'ight. Not that funny. Some of the bits were painful. Same old, same old.

John Stewart's swearing was probably the most entertaining thing that happened all night.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Who'll Be at the Discovery Walk, Part 1: Bellamy, Bowen, de Veer and Lovell

The McLean County Museum of History is gearing up for next weekend's Discovery Walk at Evergreen Cemetery, organizing all the volunteers and rehearsing the actors and getting out all the signs and programs and tables and chairs and... Well, all the details they have to add up every single year.

As part of that Getting Ready effort, the Museum is also releasing the names and bios of the actors who will be playing Bloomington-Normal's historic personages this year. So far, we've seen four of them, which is half of the acting corps required to get this show on the road. Or in the cemetery.

So who's who this year?

Fresh off her performance in New Route Theatre's Fabulation, Leola Bellamy will be joining the Discovery Walk in the role of Sophia Huggins, a psychic who advised a variety of clients in the late 19th Century, when spiritualism was all the rage across the country. Bellamy is new to the Discovery Walk, although she is involved with several area theaters. She's also a mother and grandmother and a member of the World of Life Ministries. She describes herself as "a passionate performer who hopes to pursue a career in theatre."

John Bowen is also happy to be performing with the Discovery Walk for the first time. He notes that the script for the role he will be playing -- fashionable man about town William C. Handy -- was written by Michael Pullin, to whom this year's Walk is dedicated. Bowen is a familiar face on area stages -- you may've seen him as the preacher in Heartland Theatre's The Diviners, or as Charles Lindbergh in Hauptmann at Community Players.

Gwen de Veer is returning to the Walk for the second straight year. Last year, she played Frances Ela, a young wife anxious to get her husband home from the Civil War. This time out, she will again be in a paired scene, as her character, Madame Annette, a pseudonymous columnist for the Daily Bulletin, will interview Leola Bellamy's supposedly clairvoyant "Aunt Sophia" Huggins. Gwen has most recently been seen in Electra in Chicago, and she did Sirens and Proof (opposite John Bowen) at Heartland Theatre before that.

And the fourth actor just revealed to be back in the Walk is Rhys Lovell, who has played a variety of characters over the years, ranging from injured Civil War vet Lewis Ijams to baseball great Hoss Radbourne. This year, he'll be Jerry Wunderlich, a dashing race car driver who became a stuntman in Hollywood and cozied up to movie stars. Did he secretly marry the screen siren who starred opposite Rudolph Valentino in "The Sheikh"? Maybe. Maybe not.

Lovell is currently teaching and directing at Eureka College, where his production of Harold Pinter's Other Places opens in November.

If you'd like to see Bellamy, Bowen, de Veer and Lovell and get acquainted with the colorful characters they're portraying, you have a choice of 11 am and 2 pm performances on Saturdays and Sundays, September 29-30 or October 6-7.  The Walk part of the name means it is a walk, and you should be prepared to be on your feet for about two hours as you follow a tour guide among the eight actors stationed throughout Evergreen Cemetery.

For more information on the characters in Discovery Walk 2012, click here. For ticket information and general details, click here.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

David Foster Wallace Bio Scheduled for Reading and Reception in Uptown Normal

Babbitt’s Books has announced that D. T. Max, author of Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace, will be coming to Uptown Normal on October 12 to read from and autograph copies of his book.

Max will read from Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story at the Coffeehouse on Beaufort Street at 7 pm on the 12th, followed by a reception and book signing at Babbitt's, directly across the street.

Babbitt's has copies of Every Love Story for sale right now if you'd like to get it ahead, or you can purchase a copy at the bookstore before or after the reading. The Coffeehouse will also have copies of the book to sell at the time of the reading, but those will limited to cash sales.

The subject of the book, author David Foster Wallace spent his early years in Champaign-Urbana, where his father was a professor at the University of Illinois and his mother a professor at Parkland College. Wallace returned to Illinois in 1992 to join the faculty at Illinois State University, where he wrote his most famous book, Infinite Jest. It was during his time at ISU that Wallace became attached to Babbitt's Books, which he called his favorite bookstore in a piece in Condé Nast Traveler magazine. Wallace's unfinished novel The Pale King was released posthumously in 2011, and Babbitt's also held a reading and celebration of Wallace's life in conjunction with its publication.

Max's new book has been well-received, with Dave Eggers, author of A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, calling the book "very well researched, deeply sympathetic, and incredibly painful to read. We should feel grateful that this story was told by someone as talented and responsible as D.T. Max."

For more information on the October 12 events, you can visit the event's Facebook page or contact Babbitt's Books at 309-454-7393.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Who's Included in the List of Most-Produced Playwrights?

The online arm of the Theatre Communications Group is giving a sneak peek at the list of America's Most-Produced Playwrights that will appear in the October issues of American Theatre. They note that a) they don't include Shakespeare in the count because he slamdunks everybody else, and b) this is not a complete list compiled from all the plays performed anywhere in the U.S., but instead comes from only those TCG member theatres which self-reported their seasons by press time for the October issue of American Theatre. How that limits the discussion is also interesting as a topic of conversation, but for the moment, let's go with the list they have.

The TCG list includes the following playwrights and the number of productions they have scheduled at TCG member theatres in the 2012-13 season:

David Lindsay-Abaire (19)
Matthew Lopez (15)
David Mamet (15)
Donald Margulies (15)
Bruce Norris (15)
August Wilson (14)
Katori Hall (13)
Brian Yorkey/Tom Kitt (13)
David Ives (11)
John Logan (11)
Ken Ludwig (11)

TCG is commenting on the lack of diversity on the list, which certainly jumps out at you. Eight of the eleven playwrights listed are white males.

There has been a long conversation about the paltry number of productions for female playwrights in the U.S. and how that does not reflect either the population in general or the population of playwrights. In the past few years, women like Annie Baker, Yasmina Reza and Sarah Ruhl had broken into the ranks of the most-produced playwrights, but all three have vanished from the list for the coming year. In fact, Katori Hall stands alone as a women on that &%$# list.

Locally, we're seeing plays by Constance Congdon (Tales of the Lost Formicans), Rebecca Gilman (The Glory of Living) and Naomi Iizuka (Anon(ymous)) at Illinois State University, while Barbara Lebow (A Shayna Maidel), Shelagh Stephenson (The Memory of Water), Debbie Horsfield (Red Devils) and Dolly Parton, along with 9 to 5 collaborator Patricia Resnick, will appear on Illinois Wesleyan's schedule. Melanie Marnich (These Shining Lives) is playing right now at Heartland Theatre, and Eve Ensler (The Good Body), Katori Hall (The Mountaintop) and Lynn Nottage (Fabulation) are part of New Route Theatre's season. Community Players has one musical (25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) with a book written by a female (Rachel Sheinkin) and one straight play (To Kill a Mockingbird) written by a man (Christopher Sergel) but based on a book written by a woman (Harper Lee).

Over in Urbana, U of I will offer a version of Dracula adapted by Liz Lochhead and Nilaja Sun Latrelle Bright's No Child..., while the Station Theatre has Paula Vogel's How I Learned to Drive and Or by Liz Duffy Adams on its schedule.

That's pretty good, considering what most theatres nationwide are doing, but still... There's room for improvement. There's room to include Julia Cho, Kia Corthron, Lisa Dillman, Lisa Kron, Deborah Zoe Laufer, Suzan-Lori Parks, Tanya Saracho, and dozens more playwrights who are out there writing plays that are valuable because they're so very different from each other.

Speaking of different from each other, what about playwrights of color? Except for August Wilson, who is no longer with us, Katori Hall is all by herself in the landscape of African-American playwrights, and Matthew Lopez is the lone Hispanic name on the list. That seems decidedly odd when you consider that Lynn Nottage and Quiara Alegría Hudes have each won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama (in 2009 for Nottage and this year for Hudes), Rajiv Joseph, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Kristoffer Diaz are recent Pulitzer nominees, and Yussef El-Gundi won the covered Steinberg New Play Award last year.

Where are the productions of their plays?

If you're wondering what the people on the list are all about or why they're there, well, David Lindsay-Abaire wrote Rabbit Hole and Good People, currently playing at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre; Matthew Lopez wrote The Whipping Man, about a Jewish Confederate soldier and his slaves; David Mamet is the idiosyncratic voice behind much-produced plays like Glengarry Glen Ross, November and American Buffalo; Donald Margulies will be banking on Dinner With Friends for years; Bruce Norris wrote Clybourne Park; Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt created the musical Next to Normal; David Ives is responsible for All in the Timing, an incredibly popular program of short plays, plus Venus in Fur and School for Lies, an adaptation of Moliere's Misanthrope; John Logan scored big with Red; and Ken Ludwig is best known for farces like Lend Me a Tenor and his newer Fox on the Fairway.

Of that group, only Hall, Ives, Logan, Lopez and Ludwig have not won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Whether that means the Pulitzer is good for marketability and Hudes's day is coming, or that the Pulitzer committee tends to like the same people that play selection committees do... I don't know.

I keep coming back to something Tanya Saracho said about why she writes what she writes.

"I do what I do because I don't see images of myself onstage. I want to complicate the image of what a Latina woman is without standing on a soapbox. I'm dedicated to telling Her stories -- to letting us look at life through her eyes. Politically and socially we have gone voiceless for so long and that is obviously reflected in the American Theatre. We have so much to say; I'm making it my job to make us listen."

I want to listen, Tanya. Please keep writing.

Comedy Tonight (Last Night) on NBC -- The Office and Parks & Rec Returned

The Office and Parks and Recreation are back! NBC's Thursday night comedy line-up has been its calling card for a good, long while and, for the most part, I have been on-board with that. Cheers, The Cosby Show, Seinfeld, Family Ties, Friends, Frasier... Some very good stuff there.

More recently, we've had Community, Parks and Recreation, 30 Rock and The Office. They haven't enjoyed the boffo ratings of Cosby and Seinfeld before them, but they've made me happy, anyway.

Even so, I was severely disappointed with The Office last season, with my major reactions being "All this Andy humiliation is appalling," "OMG Robert California is a terrible character" and "OMG Nellie is terrible character." So I tuned in last night with some trepidation. Can this sinking ship be righted?

Mindy Kaling and B. J. Novak have left the building, and their characters' departures were dealt with right off the top in the season premiere episode, which aired last night. That prologue/back story/catch-up was funny and disposed of both Kelly Kapoor and Ryan the Former Intern as neatly as possible.

The other big development was that two new people have been added. One is schlubby and wears glasses and has been dubbed Dwight, Jr. by his colleagues, while the other is bright and good-looking and serves as The New Jim. Neither Dwight (Rainn Wilson) nor Jim (John Krasinski) appreciated that, and a big chunk of the episode was devoted to how they handled the comparisons as well as feeling old and over the hill in general. We also found out that Dwight is not the father of Angela's baby, and that Angela's husband may be having some kind of thing on the side with Oscar (Oscar Nunez). Oscar also took a car that had belonged to Angela (Angela Kinsey) after rigorous adoption interviews conducted at the office.

The "Dwight and Jim Feel Old" section overlapped Andy's plot, which involves him hating on Nellie, who is still hanging around for inexplicable reasons. Now, instead of "Humiliate Andy" as the game du jour, we're getting "Get Nellie." It's not anymore fun than the first one.

Overall, I found the episode pretty much as cringeworthy as last season, although Creed was pretty funny summing things up in his usual clueless way. GRADE: D for DOPEY and DISMAL

Parks and Recreation is a better show all around, and unsurprisingly, it had a better season premiere, too. It dealt with reunions, as Leslie (Amy Poehler) and Andy (Chris Pratt) went to Washington DC to see their romantic partners, Ben (Adam Scott), now working on a congressman campaign, and April (Aubrey Plaza), who went with Ben as his intern.

The reunions were sweet and funny, and sad, too, as everybody figured out that long-distance relationships are tough to keep up. Leslie also realized how small and unimportant her (previously) exciting job on the town council is when compared to Ben's new high-powered gig, as shown by cameos from Senators Barbara Boxer, Olympia Snowe and John McCain, who were all fun and fizzy in their brief roles. So far, Leslie and Ben are working hard to stay together (even if it's on Skype) but we know it's rough sledding ahead.

Meanwhile, back in Pawnee, Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) didn't agree with how the usual employee-appreciation BBQ should go, and the unappealing Ann-Tom match-up was officially declared over, even though they felt the need to pretend they were still into each other. I totally didn't get that last part, I hate them together, and I hope they can split up and play scenes with other people now.

For me, the A (Leslie Goes to Washington), B (Ron Makes a Hash of the Picnic) and C (Andy Is a Goof) stories all worked, with only that slacker about Ann (Rashida Jones) and Tom (Aziz Ansari) leaving me cold. GRADE: A for AWESOME

Can't wait to see how Leslie and Ben survive their troubles. Probably won't waste any time on how they write off Dwight or how the new guys fit in The Office.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Heartland Announces RED Cast

Director Christopher Connelly has announced his creative team for Heartland Theatre's upcoming production of Red, the play by John Logan about artist Mark Rothko and his struggle to stay true to his artistic vision in the face of a huge commission. Art, commerce, life, death... Rothko's vision of Red is ultimately about staying alive.

For Heartland, Dean Brown, who did such excellent work in Proof and Bus Stop at Heartland, will play Rothko, while Rian Wilson, most recently seen in a riveting performance as Buddy in The Diviners, will play Ken, the artist's assistant who challenges him.

Also working on the play are Rachel Krein (stage manager), Kenneth Johnson (scenic designer), Anita McDaniel (lighting designer) and Noga Ashkenazi (assistant director.)

Logan's play won six Tony Awards for the Broadway production that starred Alfred Molina and Eddie Redmayne as Rothko and his assistant. The play itself, director Michael Grandage and Redmayne all won in their categories. That version of the play was originally produced at London's Donmar Warehouse, where Grandage was the artistic director.

Red is scheduled to open at Heartland Theatre on November 1, with performances through November 18th. For more information, you can read about the play here and see reservation information here.

The Intriguing "Equivocation" Makes It to Chicago

Bill Cain won the Steinberg New Play Award for Equivocation back in 2010, and when he accepted his award (and his check), he gave a great speech along with it. I said at the time that I hoped Equivocation would get a production close to me sometime soon.

It didn't.

Victory Gardens Theatre in Chicago has attempted to remedy that, with a production of Equivocation directed by Sean Graney that opened in previews September 14. The Victory Gardens Equivocation officially opens September 24 and runs though October 14.

Victory Gardens' press info describes the play like this: "In London in the year 1605, a down-and-out playwright called Shagspeare (yes, it’s him) receives a royal commission to write a play promoting the government’s version of Guy Fawkes’ treasonous Gunpowder Plot. As Shag navigates the dangerous course between writing a lie and losing his soul, or writing the truth and losing his head, his devoted theatre troupe helps him negotiate each step along the way. At once an explosive comedy of ideas and a high-stakes political thriller, Bill Cain’s award-winning Equivocation deftly reveals the cat-and-mouse games in politics and art, and the craft of learning how to speak the truth in difficult times."

In interviews, Cain has said that he was trying to write about "how theater people live. It’s about a bunch of hairy, quarreling guys in Shakespeare’s company telling stories."

Hairy, quarreling guys hanging out with Shakespeare telling stories... What could be more fun?

We deal with Shakespeare a lot around here, so I think "Equivocation" should be right up our Bloomington-Normal Illinois Shakespeare Festival alley. Anybody for a road trip?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

New on TV: Mob Doctor and Revolution

Last night, two new fall shows bowed, with "The Mob Doctor," starring Jordana Spiro as a tough surgeon who can't get rid of family ties to the mob, and "Revolution," the one where electricity (and apparently fossil fuels?) have been wiped from the world. Oddly, both showed off Chicago sets last night, with our "Mob Doctor" tied to Bridgeport on the South Side and "Revolution" offering the Loop partially under water and Future World Wrigley Field (where we see that the Cubs won the World Series in 2012, which is probably reason enough for the world to get zapped.)

"The Mob Doctor" is on Fox, and it is, I think, a strange little show. Spiro is a bit more world-weary than your normal TV doc, and her issues trying to save patients, spar with an unethical superior at the hospital, and keep her brother, the one whose gambling debts got her into this mess, from getting rubbed out by the mob, are certainly a unique mix. In last night's premiere, she bucked the system at the hospital, refused to kill a prosecution witness in the operating room to appease the thug threatening her brother, and got a favor from a more powerful crime boss to get rid of that threat entirely. Unfortunately, that put her into even hotter water with the new overlord. The show has a gritty, no-nonsense look and feel to it, and there was even a chase scene under the L tracks in the premiere.

I don't know Spiro, who is apparently from "My Boys" and "Dexter," but she was fine, and she has an excellent supporting cast with Zeljko Ivanek as a hospital administrator on her side, Zach Gilford ("Saturday Night Lights") as her love interest, and William Forsythe as the Big Bad who helped her out, with a large price tag attached.

Although I did stay tuned for the whole hour, I can't say I was enthralled or compelled enough to go back. Honestly, the premise seems clunky and forced, and I'm not sure it's strong enough for episode after episode of the same hospital/crime mashup.

"The Mob Doctor" airs at 8 pm Central Monday nights on Fox.

And then there's "Revolution." Last year's "Terra Nova," about a family trying to survive a dystopic future world, didn't work out very well, but this season's "Revolution," about a family (or at least a couple of pieces of a family) trying to survive a dystopic future world, has a bit more "Hunger Games" in the mix, with a young woman battling mysterious militia forces as she travels across a new, powerless America to try to find and free her captured brother.

Daniella Alonso is properly smart and feisty as the girl with the crossbow, and she is backed up by Billy Burke as her uncle, someone she hadn't seen in 15 years, but who is now on her team as they look for her little bro. Her life is further complicated by an attraction to a hunky guy who seems to be on the wrong team, even though he's saved her life a couple of times already.

The great actor in the background on "Revolution" is the eminently watchable Giancarlo Esposito, who never puts a dramatic foot wrong.

It's fun to see the famous Chicago Theatre sign distressed and wet, and the Cubs in-joke is amusing. And the sword fight in the pilot was quite nicely done. But how long can they keep Nora and Uncle Miles moving, not finding Danny, but somehow staying away from Captain Neville and his evil minions and their superior firepower?

I confess I am also not clear on the underlying mythology of what exactly does and doesn't work in this "Revolution" world. Guns, crossbows, engines, dams? Why and how do these work or not work under the No Power rules?

"Revolution" looks a lot spiffier than "The Mob Doctor," with a pilot episode directed by Jon Favreau, but even so, it's not really the kind of thing I'm likely to keep watching. "Revolution" takes the 9 pm slot on Mondays on NBC.

Monday, September 17, 2012

"Good Body" at New Route -- Back With Another One Shot Deal

Last year, New Route Theatre was all about the One Shot Deal, with Wednesday night performances -- one Wednesday each, once a month -- for all of its shows. Earlier this year, New Route broadened its horizons and moved into a new performance space with longer runs, but that doesn't mean New Route has abandoned the One Shot Deal.

This Wednesday, the One Shot Deal will be back in business with Eve Ensler's provocative play, The Good Body, described as "a passionate, funny, frank, revealing, and shocking look at how women, of all backgrounds, view their bodies."

Ensler is, of course, the author of The Vagina Monologues, which was a passionate, funny, frank, revealing, and shocking look at how women of all backgrounds viewed their vaginas. The Good Body focuses on a broader canvas, from fat and flab to fad diets and fascist trainers, with what exactly a "good body" means explored from various perspectives that cross age and cultural boundaries.

For New Route Theatre, Bridgette Richard will direct a cast that includes Samm Bettis, Connie Blick, Tracy Brasfield, Jesse Caruso, Angelia Mendoza, Dorothy Mundy, Nancy Nickerson, Jennifer Rusk and Sara Schram-Bronson.

If you'd like to see The Good Body, its one performance will take place on Wednesday, September 19, at 7:30 pm at the Eaton Studio and Gallery in downtown Bloomington. Tickets are $5 and available at the door, but be aware that seating is limited at the Eaton Gallery and you should arrive early if you want to be sure to get in.

For more information, you can check out the Good Body event page on Facebook, or email Don Shandrow, New Route Theatre Artistic Director, at:

Getting Ready for Illinois Shakes Fest 2013... Already!

Illinois Shakespeare Festival 2013 will be the first under new artistic director Kevin Rich, so the announcement of what exactly will be happening next summer has been hotly anticipated. Will it be two Shakespeare plays and something sorta kinda related, as in the past? Something completely different? And what will happen with Theatre for Young Audiences? Inquiring minds want to know!

Do I know now? No, I do not. But the news is coming soon, according to information released today by the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. They haven't announced the '13 season, but have announced that they will be announcing it... On Wednesday, October 10th at the Ewing Cultural Center in Bloomington.

It's a long time to wait, even so, but we can pass the time guessing what the new schedule will be. I'll go out on a limb and guess "Hamlet," which hasn't been done here in awhile, "Comedy of Errors," which was last summer's Theatre for Young Audiences choice, and, for something related but not Shakespeare...

"She Stoops to Conquer" and "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" have both been done at the ISF in the past, but it's been awhile. so I think I'll go with "She Stoops." On the other hand, I chose "Hamlet" for no real reason, and "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern" goes beautifully with "Hamlet." Nah. I'll stick with "She Stoops."

My psychic prediction is therefore: "Hamlet," "Comedy of Errors" and "She Stoops to Conquer." If I'm right, I will start... Yeah, never mind. Because, seriously, there is no way I'm right.

One other intriguing hint has been offered, however, since they will be using Two Blokes and a Bus (and their big red double decker bus, just like you'd see in London, except this one is a food truck instead of public transport) to provide a food option for the announcement event.

Will Two Blokes and a Bus be linked to next summer's Shakespeare Festival?

Maybe we'll find that out on October 10th, as well. Stay tuned!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Ashley Lucas Goes Inside "Doin' Time" Next Tuesday and Wednesday at ISU

Ashley Lucas plays many roles. She is a playwright, actor, author and editor, as well as producing artistic director at the Teatro Latina/o Series and a member of the Dramatic Arts faculty at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

Lucas is especially interested in the issues surrounding women and criminal justice; her work in that area includes co-editing a book called "Razor Wire Women: Prisoners, Activists, Scholars, and Artists," with sociologist Jodie Lawston and a play, "Doin' Time," a one-woman piece based on interviews with over 400 prisoners across the United States.

When Lucas arrives at Illinois State University next week for a special residency, she will perform "Doin' Time,"which "uses monologues, voiceovers and video to take the audience through a variety of perspectives on the families of the incarcerated," according to ISU's press release. Lucas is herself the child of an imprisoned father, and she wove together strands from her own experience with the interviews and letters she'd collected from prisoners, their family members, and prison workers to create "Doin' Time."

Lucas will perform "Doin' Time" at ISU's Westhoff Theatre at 7:30 pm on Wednesday, September 19, and that performance will be followed by a panel discussion. Before that, she will offer a workshop for the English Department on "Writing Social Justice" at 10 am on Tuesday, September 18, and a discussion of MURAP, the program at the University of North Carolina that prepares and supports minority students interested in PhDs, with ISU's School of Theatre and Dance, at 5 pm on the 18th.

Rooms have not yet been assigned to the latter two events, so stay tuned for more info before Tuesday.

All three of Lucas's events are open to the public and completely free. Her residency is being sponsored by the Crossroads Project, a committee within the School of Theatre and Dance "dedicated to encouraging and exploring performances and symposia that address the issues and experiences of underrepresented ethnic peoples in the United States and the experiences of international cultures, including Asia, The Middle East, Africa, Latin American, and the Indigenous Peoples of the World."

For more information, you can visit the Facebook page set up for these events.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Luminous "These Shining Lives" Lights Up Heartland Theatre

At the beginning of Melanie Marnich's "These Shining Lives," the main character, a woman named Catherine Donohue, steps forward to tell us that her story is not a fairy tale, even though it begins like one, and it's not a tragedy, even though it ends like one. That establishes some major points in this play -- that time is precious, that this will not be a straightforward narrative, and that the real Catherine Donohue may be long gone, but she has still has something to say, something she will say, directly to us.

Marnich frames her story around women: Catherine and three friends named Charlotte, Frances and Pearl, who work together at the Radium Dial Company in Ottawa, Illinois, in the 1920s and early 30s. These ladies bond over their shared work, enjoying a sense of independence and financial security as working women, but their joy is short-lived as, one by one, they begin to feel ill, to fall apart physically as a result of the poisonous radium-laced powder they work with. The company hired only women, and even though they knew the risks presented by radium, instructed their workers to sharpen their tiny paintbrushes by licking them before every stroke, as they painted with radium to make watch and clock dials glow in the dark.

Catherine's story is real. The real Catherine Donahue decided to fight the company that denied any wrongdoing, to try to get a legal and moral victory even as she wasted away to nothing, physically broken but spiritually unbowed. For the Heartland Theatre production of the play, directed by Don LaCasse, lovely Colleen Longo plays Catherine with joy and spirit, making her end even more tragic.

She also shows good chemistry with Paula Nowak as feisty Charlotte, Reena Artman as gentle Frances, and Christine Juet as goofy Pearl, the one who keeps popping up with bad jokes. LaCasse has not directed them to physically indicate the characters' decline, meaning they don't adopt the withered postures or twisted limbs I've seen in previous productions. A bit of that might've been helpful just to illustrate the difference, but the message is still clear: These are young women, made old well before their time.

The two men in the cast are also good, with Jared Kugler showing warmth and honesty as Catherine's husband, among other roles, and Todd Wineburner tackling the good (a lawyer who fights for them) and the bad (the boss at the watch factory).

Again and again, LaCasse's production brings home the time message. You can hear it in Isaac Mandel's sound design, with the ticking clock, and see it in the surrealistic watch pieces painted on the back wall of the set (designed originally by Michael Pullin and then put into play by Jake Wasson.) Harrison Hohnholt's lighting design is also important to this luminous story.

In the end, "These Shining Lives" is poignant, tragic and important. We shouldn't be so callous with the lives around us, whether it's part of the job or not.

A panel discussion on the issues raised in the play will follow the 2 pm matinee performance on Sunday, September 16. Panelists will include Sandra Harmon, Emeritus Professor of History and Women’s Studies Program at ISU and Ed Carroll, Professor of History at Heartland Community College, who is originally from Ottawa and whose family was affected by the tragedy. This discussion is free and open to the public, whether you've seen the play or not.

If you have seen "'These Shining Lives" and want to learn more about the Ottawa Radium Girls, the 1987 documentary "Radium City" is now available on Youtube in its entirety. What that documentary will tell you is that women like Catherine worked, women like Catherine died, women like Catherine were buried, and then their remains were dug up and tested, the factory (housed in a former high school) was turned into a meat locker (yes, a MEAT locker, with people's food stored there) and eventually razed, and radioactive rubble dumped all over town. Who did the dumping? More citizens of Ottawa, male this time, once again not protected properly from the toxic mess they were working with.

In 2011, a statue was commissioned to memorialize the Radium Girls, and Chicago Magazine reported that the radioactive pollution remained in Ottawa.

By Melanie Marnich

Heartland Theatre Company

Director: Don LaCasse
Scenic Designer/Tech Director: Michael Pullin and Jake Wasson
Lighting Designer: Harrison Hohnholt
Stage Manager/Board Operator: Andrea Davis
Properties Designer; Melissa Mullen
Sound Designer: Isaac Mandel
Costume Designer: Jeanine Fry
Assistant Director: Jared Sanders

Cast: Colleen Longo, Reena Artman, Paula Nowak, Christine Juet, Jared Kugler, Todd Wineburner.

Running time: 95 minutes, played without intermission

Remaining performances: September 14-15 and 20-22 at 7:30 pm and September 16 and 23 at 2 pm.

For reservation information, click here.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Has Richard III Been Unearthed?

I'm not talking about "Richard III," the Shakespeare play, which has never really been hidden. You know that view of Richard, painted as a hunchback and murderer, scheming to do away with anybody (including the sweet little princes in the tower) who stands in his way, the one yelling "My horse! My horse! My kingdom for a horse!"

Nope. Not him. I'm talking the historical Richard III, the last of England's Plantagenet kings, the one who lost on Bosworth Field in 1485, leaving the door open for a line of Tudor kings and queens, including Queen Elizabeth I.

The real Richard, felled at Bosworth Field, was supposed to have been buried in the Grey Friars Church in Leicester. That church was closed and its stone ruins carted away, which meant that nobody was actually sure where Richard III was buried or if his remains were still there. But earlier this year, archaeologists from the University of Leicester decided that a car park (i.e., a parking lot) in the middle of Leicester was the most likely spot for Grey Friars, and they started a dig last month. They found what they believe to be the Grey Friars choir stalls, and then found human remains. And today, in a press conference, Richard Taylor, Director of Corporate Affairs at the University of Leicester, revealed that they believe those remains might very well belong to Richard III.

Taylor said, "The articulated skeleton found in the Choir is of significant interest to us. Dr Jo Appleby has carried out a preliminary examination of the remains. There are five reasons for our interest:
  1. The remains appear to be of an adult male.
  2. The Choir is the area reported in the historical record as the burial place of King Richard III. John Rous, reports that Richard 'at last was buried in the choir of the Friars Minor at Leicester.'
  3. The skeleton, on initial examination, appears to have suffered significant peri-mortem trauma to the skull which appears consistent with (although not certainly caused by) an injury received in battle. A bladed implement appears to have cleaved part of the rear of the skull.
  4. A barbed iron arrowhead was found between vertebrae of the skeleton’s upper back.
  5. The skeleton found in the Choir area has spinal abnormalities. We believe the individual would have had severe scoliosis – which is a form of spinal curvature. This would have made his right shoulder appear visibly higher than the left shoulder. This is consistent with contemporary accounts of Richard’s appearance. The skeleton does not have kyphosis – a different form of spinal curvature. The skeleton was not a hunchback and did not have a 'withered arm.'
"Both sets of remains are now at an undisclosed location where further analysis is being undertaken.

"I need to be very frank. The University has always been clear that any remains would need to be subjected to rigorous laboratory analysis before we confirm the outcome of the search for Richard III.

"We are not saying today that we have found King Richard III. What we are saying is that the Search for Richard III has entered a new phase. Our focus is shifting from the archaeological excavation to laboratory analysis. This skeleton certainly has characteristics that warrant extensive further detailed examination."

So there you have it. Remains of a man with a curved spine and a significant injury consistent with a battle wound have been found where Richard III was supposedly buried. Is it him? They'll be doing DNA tests and trying to find a match with a known descendant of Richard's older sister. The descendant is a Canadian furniture maker, who is probably feeling very odd right now, to be in the center of this historical storm. Stay tuned for more news from Leicester!

And thank you to my friend, the wonderful author and blogger Margaret Evans Porter for the story.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Blast From the Past: My Review of Anon(ymous) at U of I in 2008

Naomi Iizuka
Naomi Iizuka's "Anon(ymous)," a riff on the Odyssey in a contemporary, global setting, will be the first show in the new fall season from Illinois State University's Department of Theatre and Dance. The show opens September 29, with performances running through October 6 in the CPA. It's directed by MFA director Richard Corley, and stars Owais Ahmed as Anon, the boy from nowhere who finds himself adrift in an unfriendly world.

I've seen "Anon(ymous)" before, and, although I remembered that I liked it a lot when it played the black box Studio Theatre at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Illinois, I wasn't all that clear on why. So, as we prepare for a new "Anon(ymous)," I thought it might be instructive to pull the review I wrote for that first "Anon(ymous)" out of the archives and run it again. It originally ran in the Champaign News-Gazette in November, 2008. I don't know what the headline was (now you know that reviewers don't write their own headlines) so I'm running it without one.

And here goes...

Guest director Alec Wild seems to go for peripatetic material. Two years ago, he directed “Gint” for the University of Illinois Department of Theatre, a modern retelling of Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt,” wherein our hero travels all over the world to find himself.

This year, Wild has taken the reigns of Naomi Iizuka’s “Anon(ymous),” a modern retelling of Homer’s “Odyssey,” wherein our hero travels all over the United States to find himself.

You can see the original “Odyssey” in this “Anon(ymous)” – most obviously in the form of the Cyclops (here a one-eyed butcher named Zyclo) and the enchantress (Circe to Homer, but a barfly named Serza to Iizuka) – but the other characters are there, too, if you know your “Odyssey.”

There are differences, most especially the concept of home. Through all of his adventures, Odysseus is trying to find his way back to Ithaca, while the young hero of “Anon(ymous)” has no home left to find. His homeland was destroyed in a war, and there’s nothing left there to go back to, he tells us. All he’s really looking for is his mother, from whom he was separated when their leaky fishing boat overturned. That sends him through layers of American life, as he meets up with people with different faces, different accents and different rungs on the ladder of success.

Wild has cast his story with a multicultural cast, which suits the material nicely. As he did in “Gint,” Wild employs story theater and group interp techniques, so that his actors use voice, movement, a long expanse of cloth and a few chairs to create a battlefield and then a sweatshop, moving smoothly from one to the other.

That works especially well with the gripping opening, the storm-tossed seas, and a scene where Anonymous and his companion travel by truck with a monster. The entire ensemble is very good, with excellent group work as well as individual characterizations.

Some of the more vivid characters include Christa Sablic’s caged bird, Jake Szczepaniak’s cleaver-wielding Zyclo, Nasreen, a feisty young woman played by Jenna Jiminez, Dominique Worsley’s blind restaurant owner, Jonathan Butler-Deplessis’s take on best pal Pascal, a string of villains portrayed by Jeremiah Lowry, Kathryn Muck’s seductive Serza, and Jennifer Nelson’s spoiled beach princess, Calista.

At the center of the piece, Jennifer Bradford exudes warmth and strength as Penny, the mother our hero keeps looking for, while Volen Iliev is appealing and compelling as Nobody/Monkey/Anonymous himself.

If there’s a weakness here, it’s that the ending comes a little quickly. After all of his trials and tribulations, Anonymous finds his version of home too fast, it seems.

If you go:

What: “Anon(ymous),” by Naomi Iizuka

Where: Studio Theatre, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts

Creative Team: Director: Alec Wild. Scenic Designer: Stephanie Charaska. Costume Designer: Amy Bartelt. Lighting designer: Kantrina Linam. Sound designer: Doug Cross.

Cast: Jennifer Bradford, Volen Iliev, Jeremiah Lowry, Jake Szczepaniak, Christa Sablic, Jennifer Nelson, Paige Collins, Dominiqie Worsley, Jenna Jimenez, Kathryn Muck, Jonathan Butler-Duplessis.

Running time: 1:15, played without intermission

Remaining Performances: Wednesday through Saturday, November 5-8, at 7:30 p.m., Sunday, November 9, at 3 p.m..

Box office: 333-6280,


Well, if I had it to do over again, I would probably not use "peripatetic" in the first sentence. And I would try not to end it so quickly, such that my own writing has the same fault I just assigned to the script of "Anon(ymous)."

But it's still interesting to revisit my reaction to that version of the show as I anticipate seeing the next one. And I hope you've enjoyed this little trip in the Wayback Machine. Because many of my reviews were not published online, this is the only way to see them again other than visiting the News-Gazette newspaper library or searching through archives. I think this is probably a bit easier.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Megan Hilty Shines as Broadway's "Blonde"

If there was one good thing about NBC's pretty wretched "Smash," which purported to show how a Broadway musical gets from cradle to stage, it was introducing a lot of us to Megan Hilty. She plays Ivy, the chorus girl who yearns to be a star but keeps getting shoved aside, and she's been terrific, no matter what nonsense the script throws at her.

Because the musical they were working on in Season 1 of "Smash" was about Marilyn Monroe, and because Hilty was so good at it, I'm sure it seemed like a no-brainer to the Encores! folks to cast Hilty as Lorelei Lee, a character Monroe played in the movie version of "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes." Monroe famously wore a bright pink dress and sang "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" in a number whose style was appropriated by Madonna when she sang about being a "Material Girl," making the number even more iconic.

But as a Broadway show, "Gentleman Prefer Blondes" was a different affair, with Carol Channing as Lorelei, the innocent (if materialistic) Little Girl from Little Rock. Lots of other things are different, too. Yes, Lorelei still has a best friend, Dorothy, but Dorothy's on-stage beau, Henry Spofford, is turned into a little boy in the movie, with a handsome (poor) private detective added to the mix, plus Lorelei and Dorothy are showgirls girls instead of Follies girls. The music is also very much changed in the movie, with "A Little Girl from Little Rock," "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend" and "Bye Bye Baby" the only holdovers from the score Jule Styne and Leo Robin wrote for "Gentlemen" on Broadway. Oh, and there's a lot more French in the stage musical, for that c'est la vie/très jolie feeling.

To be perfectly honest, the plot makes a lot more sense in the Anita Loos/Joseph Fields stage version, based on Loos' novel. The whole button/zipper thing, for example, with Lorelei showing some smarts at the end, is pretty fun.

Megan Hilty fans who only know the movie "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," which is coincidentally airing tonight on Turner Classic Movies (at 10:45 pm Central time), may be a bit confused as to why she's singing about how delightful it is down in Chile, or even why she does an encore of "Diamonds" with a mood change, on the cast recording of the Encores! "Gentlemen" just released by Masterworks Broadway. It doesn't really matter, after all, because she sounds just as sparkly and adorable as anybody could ask for in a Lorelei. The cd booklet from Masterworks also has enough pictures of Hilty in various fetching costumes to let you know she looked great on stage, too. All three of her "Little Rocks" are fun and fizzy, and she navigates her way through "Diamonds" (and its encores) and the title song with loads of charm, never losing her way with Lorelei, who is, after all, a golddigger, even if she's sincere about it.

Rachel York is another standout, channeling a brassier 50s feel for her portrait of BFF Dorothy, who matches nicely with Aaron Lazar's goofy rich boy Henry. York gets "It's High Time," a hilarious ode to booze that sets up her character as a saucy dame as well as placing the scene in the 1920s during Prohibition. And Lazar does a very pretty "You Say You Care," with all kinds of romance from him as she expresses her doubts about marriage. Poor York also has to deal with "Keeping Cool with Coolidge," a novelty number that, again, sets the time period but is otherwise a little odd. Still, she gives it her all and makes a good impression, even singing about Calvin Coolidge.

Lorelei's suitors also come off well, from Clarke Thorell's sweet Gus Esmond, Jr., on "Bye Bye Baby," to Stephen A Buntrock's robust Gage on"I'm A'Tingle, I'm A'Glow," and Simon Jones as silly Sir Francis on that "Chile" number.

The orchestra is also sharp and on target throughout, with Rob Berman, the music director at Encores!, adding a program note about Hugh Martin, who did the original vocal arrangements. I never would've figured out why the vocal mix sounds different, but Berman's comments about Martin's use of eight-part harmony, "in which the men sing the same four parts as the women, but down one octave," resulting in a "thick, textured sound that resembles a saxophone or brass section in a jazz band" are fascinating.

Encores! performances are limited, and the chances of the show transferring a few blocks to Broadway for a longer run are not good, so let's all say thanks to Masterworks Broadway for making this more permanent record of an Encores! show available. To show proper gratitude, let's all buy lots of copies of "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes."