Saturday, September 1, 2012

Welcome to September!

September traditionally marks the start of the fall season for local theater companies. This year, Eureka College, Community Players and New Route jumped the gun on September, with "Five Women Wearing the Same Dress" last night and tonight only, "You Can't Take It With You" bowing on August 30 at CP, and "Fabulation" opening last night at New Route.

Alan Ball is most famous as the creator of TV's "Six Feet Under" and as the screenwriter behind the Oscar-winning movie "American Beauty." Before that, he wrote a play about Southern bridesmaid dysfunction called "Five Women Wearing the Same Dress," which Eureka College's theatre department chose as its season-opener. EC senior Becky Collins directs this not-all-that-romantic comedy for two (and only two) performances, of which there is one left. Tonight is your only chance to see Ball's dark, twisted take on bridesmaids, which features a pretty funny and slightly raunchy script.

"You Can't Take It With You" and its tale of the crazy Sycamore family keeps on keeping on through September 9, with a cast that includes Bruce Weise, Judy Stroh, Tom Smith, Melissa Fornoff and Spencer Powell under the direction of Jeremy Stiller.

Over at New Route, this new production of "Fabulation, or the Re-education of Undine,"stars Melissa James-Shrader as the Undine in the title, who goes from a fabulous life at the top of the heap to being back in the projects with Mom and Dad before you can say "Bad Boyfriend Stole All My Dough." Undine gets her comeuppance and then some, as she realizes that status and pretense aren't really enough to sustain her. Gregory D. Hicks both directs and plays a role in "Fabulation," which runs through September 9 at the YWCA of McLean County on Hershey in Bloomington.

Heartland Theatre returns for show #2 of its 2012-13 season (the annual 10-Minute Play Festival was show #1 back in June) with Melanie Marnich's "These Shining Lives," a play that is both heartbreaking and uplifting, exploring the value of life and women's work as well as the carelessness and perfidy of corporations exploiting their workers. "These Shining Lives" opens on September 7 with a special Pay-What-You-Can preview, followed by performances from September 8 to 23. This show is sponsored by the Bloomington-Normal Trades and Labor Assembly (AFL-CIO). As labor unions increasingly come under attack from politicians, we'd all do well to remember why they got traction in the first place. Because employers like the Ottawa watch factory in "These Shining Lives" willfully and knowingly poisoned the ladies who worked for them.

And speaking of perfidy... Charlie Chaplin's "Monsieur Verdoux" takes the screen at Champaign's Art Theater as the noon show on September 8 and 9, with another showing at 2:30 pm on September 12. This dark comedy turns Chaplin into a ladykiller (literally -- he kills the ladies he romances) as it takes sharp aim at the shortcomings of capitalism and the folly of war. Chaplin's Verdoux is a devoted family man who loses his job, so he makes ends meet -- and then some -- by marrying and killing rich old ladies. It's a brilliant movie, one that wasn't all that popular in the US in 1947 and isn't revived that often.

Timed to match its title to the date, "8," a play by Dustin Lance Black about Proposition 8, the ballot proposition and constitutional amendment that sought to eliminate gay marriage in California, gets a staged reading at Illinois State University's Center for the Performing Arts on September 8. That's one performance and one performance only of "8" on the 8th, with a cast that includes retired Chicago judge Tom Chiola and a collection of ISU faculty members, actors and alums. You can read about "8, the Play" here, with more info about the ISU production here and here. This staged reading is sponsored by the Prairie Pride Coalition as well as ISU’s School of Theatre and Dance, University Housing Services, Diversity Advocacy, and the LGBT/Queer Studies and Services Institute.

A different panel of improv comedians from "Whose Line Is It, Anyway?" played the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts under the "Whose Live Anyway?" moniker last year, but this time it will be Ryan Stiles, Greg Proops, Chip Esten and Jeff B. Davis. That means you can see a whole new "Whose Live Anyway?" show at 7:30 pm on September 8 at the BCPA. Stiles was a staple on "The Drew Carey Show" and "Two and a Half Men" as well as "Whose Line," Proops has been all over the game show world as a host and guest star, and Davis memorably popped up on "The Sarah Silverman Show." Still, Chip Esten is my favorite of the four and the reason I'd go to "Whose Live;" he played the boss at the Stamford branch of Dunder-Mifflin on "The Office," and he'll be showing up in the new "Nashville" coming to ABC this fall. Tickets for "Whose Live" are pricey, ranging from $29.90 to $55, depending on who you are and where you want to sit.

Mid-month, the University of Illinois Department of Theatre offers its biennial costume and prop sale held inside the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. I nabbed a hoop skirt there once, as well as a crazy military outfit from "Macbeth." This costume-and-prop bonanza is scheduled for Saturday, September 15, at 9 am. A ticket is required if you want to shop first (from 9 am to 11:30 am) but the sale continues with no entry fee after 11:30 am. They'll keeping going until either 4 pm or every item has been sold, whichever comes first. Costumes will be displayed inside the Studio Theatre, with props and other items in the hallway on the second-floor rehearsal level. Note that tickets for the early entry portion of the event only cost $3 and are very much recommended; they go on sale at 10 am on September 10th. Call 217-333-6280 for more information.

Illinois State University's Department of Theatre and Dance gets a later start than most, with Naomi Iizuka's "(Anon)ymous" on stage at the Center for the Performing Arts from September 28 to October 6.  Richard Corley directs Iizuka's contemporary take on "The Odyssey," with young Anon, played by Owais Ahmed for ISU, set adrift in an unfriendly world, trying to find his way back to his mother, here a seamstress in a third-world sweatshop. It's an excellent play with lots of opportunity for vivid character work from ISU's student actors. Click here for ticket information.

Finishing up the month, the McLean County Museum of History, Illinois Voices Theatre and Bloomington's historic Evergreen Memorial Cemetery join forces to bring you the annual Discovery Walk, where costumed actors portray real people who once lived in Bloomington-Normal. You can take the Discovery Walk over the weekend of September 29-30 or October 6-7 this year, getting up close and personal with former Bloomingtonians ranging from a fortune teller to a race car driver and a restaurateur. Click here for information about this year's selection of characters and how to get tickets to the Walk.

And, as always, stay tuned for more information about these shows and whatever else comes up as the month wears on. There's always more!

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