Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Heartland Theatre Wants Your 10-Minute CLASS REUNION Play

It's interesting when the postcards, emails and Facebook alerts for class reunions start popping up in your various mailboxes. Some people -- and not necessarily the ones you expect -- are really gung ho at tracking down every last member of the class and pushing them into not just coming to the reunion, but organizing flash mobs and surprise parties and cocktail hours and picnics. Others -- and not necessarily the ones you expect -- hide from every appeal, every message, every attempt to find them.

Heartland Theatre is interested in both those camps, as well as everybody in between, for its annual 10-minute play contest on the CLASS REUNION theme. Or, as they ask the dramatic question, "Who are you now? Who were you then?"

"Once the invitation to a class reunion lands in your mailbox, the questions begin. It’s not just whether you want to go or whether you have anything in common with those people anymore, but who might show up, who might not show up, what secrets they’re hiding or getting ready to spill, who did what to whom back then, and just how far past it you are now."

It's true that reunions have long been fodder for dramatic imaginations, from Jeffrey Sweet (Flyovers) to Stephen Belber (Tape), Jason Miller (That Championship Season) and Tyler Perry (Madea’s High School Reunion).  A hit man man going home for his reunion (Grosse Pointe Blank) is decidedly different from an unhappy housewife (Peggy Sue Got Married) or the last surviving members of Miss Lucy’s last Tapping Toddlers Class.

Who are you now? Who were you then? 

If those questions inspire you to write a 10-minute play, Heartland Theatre would like to see it. the basic idea is 2 to 4 characters that can be played by actors between 18 and 80, no more than ten minutes in length, and something to do with a class reunion.

Heartland Theatre provides info here, as well as rules and guidelines here. You will need to visit the rules and guidelines page to get to the entry form, which you will fill out and attach your play to officially enter.

The final deadline is February 1, 2015, but if you get your play in by January 1, Heartland's judges may offer a revision option if your play is close but not quite there in terms of advancing to the next round.

What are you waiting for? Get that Class Reunion play going!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

October 23 Openings, Part Three: WATER BY THE SPOONFUL at ISU

We have a multitude of entertainment options this week, with three good ones opening tonight. We've talked about ShakesFEAR!, a haunted house concept played around Ewing Manor and its grounds, and The Shape of Things, a provocative play by Neil LaBute that takes the stage at Illinois Wesleyan University through the weekend.

The third choice, Water by the Spoonful, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama for playwright Quiara Alegría Hudes, has a bit longer run than the other two. You can catch Water by the Spoonful at Westhoff Theatre tonight through November 1, with evening performances at 7:30 pm and matinees on the 26th and the 1st at 2 pm.

Water by the Spoonful is the second in a trilogy of plays by Hudes, all dealing with a veteran of the Iraq wars named Elliot. In the first play, Elliot, A Soldier's Fugue, itself a Pulitzer finalist, the title character was dealing with a family legacy of war and its echoes. In Water, family is also at the forefront, although this time it's Elliot and his cousin Yaz, as well as an online community of recovering addicts that begins to function like a family. The Happiest Song Plays Last, which premiered last year at Chicago's Goodman Theatre, brings back Elliot and Yaz as they struggle to find "peace and purpose in an ever-changing world."

The play takes place in North Philadelphia, where Ellot is trying to get back into civilian life while staying away from a dangerous addiction and some very bad dreams. He has a job -- at a Subway Sandwich -- and connections, to his cousin, Yaz, and the woman who raised him, who is dying. Addiction is also an issue for a small group of diverse online "friends" who gather every day to help each other stay sober. The connection between Elliot and the cyber-support group become clearer as the play progresses, delineating families and friendships bound and separated by blood and water.

Third-year MFA directing candidate Leah Cassella directs Water by the Spoonful for Illinois State University's Westhoff Theatre with a cast that includes grad student Ronald Roman as Elliot and Lauren Pfeiffer as Yaz. Jaimie Taylor will play Odessa, the leader of the addiction support group, with Joey Banks, Anastasia Ferguson and Hananiah Wiggins as the other members of her online family and Eddie Curley as someone from Elliot's past who haunts him.

Tickets are $12 for adults and $10 for faculty, staff, students or seniors. Tickets can be purchased at the College of Fine Arts Box Office, located in ISU's Center for the Performing Arts, from 11 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday, or by phone at 309-438-2535. For more information, click here or here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

October 23 Openings, Part Two: THE SHAPE OF THINGS at IWU

Yesterday, we talked about the fact that there are three different entertainment options taking a bow on the 23rd. The first (alphabetically speaking) was ShakesFEAR!, a haunted house/Halloween event from the Illinois Shakespeare Festival at Ewing Manor.

We wander over to Illinois Wesleyan's E. Melba Johnson Kirkpatrick Lab Theatre for the second choice opening tomorrow, a scary little piece called The Shape of Things from the acid pen of Neil LaBute.

On its face, The Shape of Things is LaBute's take on Adam and Eve, with the plot centered on a fairly innocent, insecure man named Adam faced with a manipulative, controlling woman named Evelyn. LaBute wrote The Shape of Things in 2001; its London stage production was followed by a 2003 movie with the same cast, including Paul Rudd and Rachel Weisz as Adam and Evelyn and Frederick Weller and Gretchen Mol as Adam's friend Phillip and his fiancee.

It's an interesting choice for IWU, especially on the heels of Sam Shepard's A Lie of the Mind, another look at the complex and messy state of relationships and gender politics in modern America.

Plus The Shape of Things is set on the campus of a Midwestern college, not unlike IWU except for the fact that it has graduate programs. At LaBute's fictional Mercy College, Adam is a fairly schlubby undergrad studying English Lit and slinky Evelyn is a grad student in art. They meet at the campus art museum where he works when she jumps a rope with the intent to pull the fig leaf away (or paint new genitalia on) a statue of God. As Evelyn throws a snare or two, Adam is smitten, enabling her to turn him into a very different version of himself. And after that... Let's just say things get tricky, even without an actual garden, apple or serpent. LaBute uses his trademark take-no-prisoners style and razor-sharp characters to examine art, knowledge, the morality and immorality of seduction, and the superficiality of sexual attraction based on what's on the outside. The title The Shape of Things refers to that last bit, the "obsession with the surface" Evelyn talks about in the play.

Professor of Theatre Arts Nancy Loitz directs The Shape of Things for IWU, with Evan Dolan and Elizabeth Ferris as Adam and Evelyn and Nick Giambrone and Cathy Colburn as Phillip and Jenny.

Performances begin tomorrow at 8 pm at the Kirkpatrick Lab Theatre and continue through Saturday night. Tickets -- $3 for the general public and $2 for students with a valid ID -- are available through the McPherson Theatre box office at 309-556-3232.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

October 23 Openings, Part One: SHAKESFEAR!

Have you been asking yourself why everything in town of a theatrical nature seems to open on the same night? I have no answer to that question, except that there are 52 weekends in the year and about ten other holidays that occupy weekend space. If you want to have an open weekend to open your show and no major obstruction during the run, it stands to reason you'll be choosing from the same dates as everyone else.

And that's why there are three different -- very different -- theatrical options opening this Thursday, October 23, with another stand-alone show on Saturday the 25th. But first... The 23rd!

Alphabetically, the first one is ShakesFEAR!, the Illinois Shakespeare Festival's newest foray into year-round events. ShakesFEAR! is mostly a good, old-fashioned haunted house set at stately Ewing Manor (in the dark), with actors portraying Shakespeare's scariest characters for your entertainment and an added attraction in something they're calling Juliet's Enchanted Courtyard, which is less scary and more appropriate for children (and adults) who prefer fun and crafts to the blood that won't wash off Lady Macbeth's hands or the parade of murder victims haunting Richard III.

I don't know that either Lady M or R III will be involved in ShakesFEAR!, mind you, but I think that's a decent bet, along with frightful choices taken from among Macbeth's three witches, Hamlet's scary dad back from the dead to deliver a message, dead Caesar back from the dead to taunt Brutus, Banquo's ghost, a fortune-teller or two with bad news, Prospero scaring up a storm, and maybe a tricky fairy like Puck or Ariel tormenting people in one way or another.

Whew. Shakespeare really is a good fit for Halloween, isn't he?

Illinois Shakespeare Festival Macbeth, 2013
Photo: Pete Guither
Featured: Wendy Robie, Amanda Catania, Eva Balistrieri

Andy Park, who is directing ShakesFEAR! for the Illinois Shakespeare Festival, had this to say about the fright-level: "I think ShakesFear has a few really scary moments along the tour. Part of the fear factor comes from touring Ewing Manor in darkness, but Shakespeare was brilliant at creating terrifying situations, images and characters. From gruesome abductions, horrifying death scenes, and even the appearance of ghosts, Shakespeare never shied away from fear."

If this sounds like just your cup of malmsey*, you have two "family-focused" options on October 23, 24 or 25. Option No. 1 is the Haunted Tour, a 30-minute guided your of the "Haunted Grounds" available for ages 10 and up for a mere $6. This includes entry into Juliet’s Enchanted Courtyard, the tamer choice for the young and weak of heart.

The Haunted Tour offers the Ghost of Will Shakespeare himself to introduce you to some of his scariest characters, which may or may not include the ones I listed above. Haunted Tours will start at 7 pm and keep going every 15 minutes till 9:45 pm. They will take 20 people per tour, which means you may want a reservations -- call 309-438-2535 -- if you have a group and you all want to go together or you want to be sure to get in at a specific time. Tickets will also be sold at the gate, but on a cash basis only. And remember, your $6 includes the Haunted Tour and Juliet's Enchanted Courtyard.

Speaking of Juliet’s Enchanted Courtyard... This option only costs a dollar. Yep. $1. For that, you get "Not-So-Scary" stories with Halloween shadow puppets presented by Michael Vetere of Illinois State University's Saturday Creative Drama Program and fun autumnal crafts. Treats like popcorn balls and hot chocolate will be on sale to supplement your enchanted experience. Tickets for Juliet's Enchanted Courtyard will be sold at the door. And remember -- one thin dollar is all you need.

*You'll want to stick with a cup of malmsey rather than a larger quantity like a half tun. Heed the tale of George, Duke of Clarence, who was rumored to have met his maker when drowned in a butt of malmsey. That's the way Shakespeare tells the tale, as well.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Chicago's Jeff Awards for 2014

The Equity half of Chicago's annual Joseph Jefferson Awards -- AKA the Jeffs -- were handed out Monday night Drury Lane Oakbrook. Big winners included American Blues Theatre, the Goodman and Writers Theatre, but the awards were spread out over a dozen different shows by the end of the evening. A tribute to the members of the Chicago theatre community who passed away this year -- a huge loss to a tight-knit community -- was an emotional highlight of the night.

So who walked away with the hardware? Here are your winners:

The Dance of Death, Writers Theatre

PRODUCTION (Play/Midsize)
The Normal Heart, TimeLine Theatre Company

PRODUCTION (Musical/Large)
Brigadoon, Goodman Theatre

PRODUCTION (Musical/Midsize)
Hank Williams: Lost Highway, American Blues Theater

Ain't Misbehavin', Porchlight Music Theatre

Nick Bowling, The Normal Heart, TimeLine Theatre Company

DIRECTOR (Musical)
William Osetek, Next to Normal, Drury Lane Productions

Brenda Didier, Ain't Misbehavin', Porchlight Music Theatre

The Seafarer, Seanachaí Theatre Company

Larry Yando, The Dance of Death, Writers Theatre

Shannon Cochran, The Dance of Death, Writers Theatre

Matthew Brumlow, Hank Williams: Lost Highway, American Blues Theater

Susie McMonagle, Next to Normal, Drury Lane Productions

ACTOR (Revue)
John Hartman, Depraved New World, The Second City

Renee Matthews, Old Jews Telling Jokes, Daniel Okrent & Peter Gethers, Richard Frankel, Tom Viertel, Steven Baruch, and Marc Routh

Gwendolyn Whiteside, Grounded, American Blues Theater

Mike Nussbaum, Smokefall, Goodman Theatre and South Coast Repertory

Sandra Marquez, A View From the Bridge, Teatro Vista

Mark David Kaplan, Les Misérables, Drury Lane

Jessica Rush, Gypsy, Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Rebecca Gilman, Luna Gale, Goodman Theatre

John Mossman, The Goddess, The Artistic Home

Rachel Rockwell, Brigadoon, Goodman Theatre

PigPen Theatre Co., The Old Man and the Old Moon, Writers Theatre

Malcolm Ruhl, Hank Williams: Lost Highway, American Blues Theater

Mara Blumenfeld, Brigadoon, Goodman Theatre

Bill Morey, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, Porchlight Music Theatre

William Kirkham, The Little Prince, Lookingglass Theatre Company in association with The Actors Gymnasium

Rebecca A. Barrett and Lee Keenan, Dorian, The House Theatre of Chicago

Collette Pollard, In the Garden: A Darwinian Love Story, Lookingglass Theatre Company

Katie-Bell Springman, Cock, Profiles Theatre

Mikhail Fiksel, The Old Man and the Old Moon, Writers Theatre

Lindsay Jones, Grounded, American Blues Theater

Sage Marie Carter, Les Misérables, Drury Lane

Austin Cook, Piano/Conductor: Ain't Misbehavin', Porchlight Music Theatre
Jeff Klapperich, Portrait Artist: Dorian, The House Theatre of Chicago

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Young at Heartland Stages FALL SHOWCASE October 25

If you've seen the Summer Showcase put on by Heartland Theatre's Young at Heartland troupe of senior actors, you know that they know how to put on a show. Their Summer Showcase tends to sell out and have audiences rolling in the aisles. For the first time, Young at Heartland is offering a Fall Showcase as well, spotlighting the pieces they've been working on this semester in their two-month acting workshop with instructor Kathleen Kirk and assistant instructor Matt Bedell. And this time it's prime time, with a 7:30 curtain on a Saturday night performance.

Members of the Young at Heartland Troupe
Most of the pieces they will be performing are homegrown, meaning they were written by members of the troupe specifically for this Showcase. Scripts by Bruce Boeck, Elsie Cadieux and Lynda Straw are in the mix this year along with a selection of monologues and poems on the general theme of "Taking Chances." Those chances may include moving on, a new restaurant or an old romance, taking a trip or writing a play.

Young at Heartland's Fall Showcase is set for Saturday, October 25 at 7:30 pm at Heartland Theatre in Normal. This event is open to the public at no charge, although donations at the door are encouraged to help defray program expenses and make it possible for Young at Heartland to continue their tours to area senior centers and retirement homes. Because their Showcases have proved so popular in the past, you are advised to arrive before 7:10, when the doors will open. Seating is first come, first seated.

For more information, click here or call 309-452-8709.

Friday, October 10, 2014


Ever heard of antonomasia? It means using a word or epithet in place of a name, like calling David Ortiz "Big Papi" or Elvis "The King," or the opposite, using a proper name to denote a type or characteristic, like calling any run-of-the-mill traitor a "Benedict Arnold."

Throughout history, women's first names have been used in the second way. A lot of them were tossed around to indicate sluttiness or general lack of class. Think "greasy Joan" keeling the pot and "Some men love must love my lady, and some Joan" in Love's Labour's Lost. There's no character named Joan in the play, but for Shakespeare, calling a woman a Joan meant she was the opposite of a lady.

Over the years, pretty much every common female name has had its turn in the hot seat as a synonym for a woman of loose character. And quite a few women's names -- Mary or Mary Ann, Alice, Pansy, Molly, Daisy, Nelly -- have been used as euphemisms for effeminate men. And then there's The Nance. Epithets like "nancy boy" or "Miss Nancy" gave way to "Nance," which became a term for "a flamboyantly effeminate stock character that is all swish, wrist flicks, and double entendres" in burlesque revues.

And that's where Douglas Carter Beane got the title for his play The Nance, about a man named Chauncey Miles who plays that kind of character in burlesque at Lower Manhattan's Irving Place Theatre in 1937. In a New York Times interview, Beane explained, "Gay characters like nances used to be the brightest ones in the burlesque sketch, usually the victor of the sketch — getting the upper hand on everyone else. But in the 1940s the nance character started becoming an object of ridicule, and by the 1960s it was just awful — the nance was usually subjected to offensive jokes and sexually derogatory put-downs that were really ugly."

His play became an examination of the personal and private sides of a gay man in the 1930s. Chauncey is a star because he minces and prances and exaggerates effeminacy on stage, but he has to suppress any hint of his homosexuality in his personal life for fear of being arrested or ruining his career. Or, as the Lincoln Center promotional materials put it, "At a time when it is easy to play gay and dangerous to be gay, Chauncey's uproarious antics on the stage stand out in marked contrast to his offstage life."

Nathan Lane played Chauncey in The Nance on Broadway at the Lyceum, in a production directed by Jack O'Brien. Although reviews were mixed, the play won three of the five Tony Awards it was nominated for, and took home a Drama Desk for its music. Aside from Lane, the cast included Andrea Burns, Cady Huffman, Miranda Hull, Geoffrey Allen Murphy, Lewis J. Stadlen and Jonny Orsini in his Broadway debut as a young love interest for Chauncey.

If you missed The Nance in its Broadway run, never fear. It will run tonight on most PBS stations under the Live at Lincoln Center banner. It will air at 8 pm Central time tonight on WTVP, Peoria's public television station, as well as WILL from Urbana, with repeats on both stations at 1 am.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Find Out Who's Paying the RENT at Community Players

Rehearsals are underway for Community Players' production of the musical Rent, Jonathan Larson's 20th century take on Puccini's La bohème. Players' Rent, directed by Brett Cottone, is due to open November 6 with a pay-what-you-can preview, followed by performances through the 23rd. I think that means we are somewhere in the neighborhood of 37,631 minutes before it opens, as opposed to the 525,600 minutes in the lyrics to Seasons of Love, the breakout hit from Rent. But who's counting?

For Community Players, Sean Stevens and Samantha Bettis will play Roger and Mimi, the star-crossed lovers -- he's a musician and she's a dancer and stripper -- who are both HIV positive; Aaron Wiessing will step behind the camera as Mark Cohen, the videographer who acts as the show's narrator; Breeann Dawson is set to portray Maureen, Mark's ex, who is now in a relationship with Joanne; Felicia Jiardina will take on lawyer Joanne; Tony Gannaway will play Tom Collins, an activist professor with AIDS; Chris Stanford will put on the pumps to play Angel, Tom's drag queen boyfriend who also has AIDS; and Matthew Henry completes the main cast as Benny, their former friend and current landlord. Yes, landlord. Remember, it's about rent. Or not paying rent because they are more concerned with making art than making money.

Making up the rest of the ensemble and filling in the A to Z of the show's Alphabet City setting will be Nick Benson Kallie Bundy, Latrisha Green, Ben Hauck, Kyle Holliday, Aimee Kerber, Missy Montefalco, Jake Rathman, Tony Smith. Chris Terven Austin Travis, Allyson Troyanovich, Becca Williams, Kristin Woodard and Isaiah Young.

Director Brett Cottone's team includes assistant director Bridgette Richard, musical director Rusty Russell, choreographer Wendy Baugh, producer and costume designer Alan Wilson, lighting designer Tony Meizelis, sound designers Rich Plotkin and Eli Mundy, and properties masters Dorothy Mundy and Carol Plotkin.

Click here to see all the details or here to buy tickets to Community Players' Rent.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Bloomington's Past Comes Alive Once More

For 20 years, Evergreen Cemetery in Bloomington has come alive in the fall, bringing back to life an array of characters from the area's past in the annual Discovery Walk. Those characters are based on real people who once lived and worked around here, from luminaries in politics, show business or sports to regular old folks like a carriage driver, a miner or a beekeeper. And whether they spent their lives in their own back yard or played on a national stage, they were all buried (or scattered) at Evergreen Cemetery.

Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn
This year, in honor of the 20-year milestone and the fact that longtime director Judy Brown, who helms Discovery Walk collaborator Illinois Voices Theatre, is retiring after this year, the characters portrayed are popular favorites, brought back from previous Walks. You'll see Bloomington's favorite son, Adlai Stevenson II, complete with the worn patch on the sole of his shoe; its favorite baseball player, cantankerous Hall-of-Famer Charles "Old Hoss" Radbourn (seen at right); and one of its favorite opera singers, Marie Litta, who died young after an illustrious but stressful career. They will be joined by Belle Blue Claxton, an NAACP supporter who worked tirelessly to desegregate the beaches at Bloomington's Miller Park; Celestia Rice Colby, a writer, suffragist and abolitionist; Asahel and Mary Gridley, the rich couple whose constant battles proved that money can't buy love; and cigar man Adam Guthrie, who ran a popular Bloomington hangout for tall tales and conversation.

Five of the eight actors in this year's cast are familiar faces from their past performances at Evergreen Cemetery, like Don Shandrow, who is back as Adlai Stevenson (seen at left), and Rhys Lovell, who returns to the role of Hoss Radbourn, which he also played last year in a full-length play at the McLean County Museum of History. Gabrielle Lott-Rogers plays Belle Blue Claxton this time out, while Todd Wineburner takes on Adam Guthrie and Kathleen Kirk is the female half of the Gridley war.

Kirk is joined by actor, director and scenic designer Jeremy Stiller in his first Discovery Walk, with fellow newcomers Jessie Swiech, who appeared as Eliza Doolittle in Prairie Fire's recent My Fair Lady, as Marie Litta; and Bridgette Richard, one of the Pigeon Sisters in Community Players' The Odd Couple, as Celestia Rice Colby.

The Discovery Walk at Evergreen Cemetery, a collaboration among Illinois Voices Theatre, the McLean County Museum of History and the cemetery, enjoyed record-breaking crowds last weekend even in terrible weather. That means this weekend, which is supposed to be nicer, should really pack 'em in. You are advised to pick up tickets in advance at the Museum, Evergreen Cemetery, the Garlic Press or Casey's Garden Shop or call the Museum at 309-827-0428 for more information. Tours are scheduled for 11 am and 2 pm on Saturday and Sunday October 11 and 12, 2014.

Monday, October 6, 2014

New TV: SELFIE? #fail

I'm trying to wrap my head around the meeting with TV execs where somebody pitched the idea of a new rom-com/sit-com pilot with George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion or its Lerner and Loewe musical progeny My Fair Lady as the jumping off point. I mean, why? Because you are so in love with Shaw's basic ideas of class, gender and privilege that you want to recapture it for 2014?

Well, that might be nice. Except for the fact that Selfie, the TV rom-com/sit-com stepchild in question, completely avoids those central issues, turning everything upside-down and missing the Pygmalion boat completely. So, yes, Selfie's creators did call the heroine Eliza Dooley and the hero Henry Higgs instead of Eliza Doolittle and Henry Higgins, they did make him sort of arrogant and controlling, and they set her up as someone in dire need of a makeover. But that's it. That's the extent of the Pygmalion influence. Instead of a lower class flower seller, director Julie Anne Robinson and writer Emily Kapnek, who are executive producers as well, have made Eliza a vacuous twit who has made herself a big deal on the internet. She has a gazillion friends and fans on Twitter, Youtube and Facebook and she knows her way around celebrity and fashion. But she is selfish, silly and immature. After video of her barfing on a plane goes viral, she turns to Higgs, a marketing expert, to turn her into someone new. But her makeover involves not passing as an aristocrat by way of learning a new accent or how to hold a spoon, but instead how to interact with real people and not come off as a self-centered, superficial ninnyhammer.

Say what you will, but that is not and never was Eliza Doolittle. When she successfully masqueraded as a lady, it showed the superficiality of aristocratic privilege, that she and her brain and her heart were more than equal with higher born people like Henry Higgins. When this Eliza tries to act like a real human being and not an idiot, she's showing... Absolutely nothing except that people who create their personalities around internet fame probably have feet of clay. Whoopdedoo.

Eliza's lack of appeal has nothing to do with actress Karen Gillan, by the way. Most people know her from her stint as Amy Pond on Doctor Who, where she was a decidedly different person from Eliza Dooley. Gillan has a lot of charm and energy and an acceptable American accent, and she gets a thumbs up from me for showing her versatility.

John Cho, who plays her Henry Higgs, is also charming and talented, and this role is the polar opposite of his Harold from the Harold and Kumar movies, although I suppose it  has some things in common with Sulu, the character he played in recent Star Trek movies. Henry is smart, smug and not thrilled with who Eliza is. I suppose that's okay. But when it comes to chemistry between Henry and Eliza or some reason to root for the two of them to get together -- this is, after all, a rom com -- I'm not seeing it.

A lot of commentators have been complaining about the title, although I don't think it's that awful. I think it's supposed to convey how selfish this Eliza is, which, again, means that her primary characteristic isn't like Eliza Doolittle. Is the idea of a selfie horribly dated or wrong-headed? I don't know. I doubt Selfie will be around long enough to find out. It's not the title or the lack of chemistry, but the unpleasantness at the center of Eliza Dooley's character that dooms Selfie as far as I'm concerned.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Thrills and Chills (and Assorted Fun Stuff) in October

Ah, October. So often you come with monsters and mayhem as your entertainment options. It may not be my cup of tea but it's just something you get used to when October arrives, kind of like pumpkin suddenly being all over everybody's food and beverages. Pumpkins, poltergeists, serial killers... Yeah, that's October.

So, yes, there is scary stuff on the menu this month, from the Art Theater Co-op's Scream + Shocktober Kickoff Party tonight to a Titanic-themed murder mystery dinner from CUTC in Champaign on the 18th and a Shakespeare-centric Halloween option called Shakesfear coming from the Illinois Shakespeare Festival on October 23, 24 and 25.

A Lie of the Mind, Sam Shepard's 1985 play about two severely dysfunctional families, domestic violence and the dangerous landscape of the human heart, is scary in its own right, if not for the same reasons as most Halloween fare. It also bears the distinction of inspiring my personal favorite among opening lines of my reviews. When I saw a University of Illinois production a very long time ago, I chose to open my review with "Sam Shepard plays are like eating dirt. They're gritty and real, but they don't taste very good."

This new Lie of the Mind started last night in the E. Melba Kirkpatrick Laboratory Theatre at Illinois Wesleyan University. Tom Quinn directs a cast that includes Nick Castellanos, Shen Yee Choong, Casey Cudmore, Steven Czajkowski, Alexa Eldridge, Forrest Loeffler, Debra Madans and Alec Sutton. If you're in the mood for some Shepard, you'll need to get to IWU's Lab Theatre before Sunday the 5th to see whether you think his plays really are like eating dirt.

On the not-necessarily-scary side, Heartland Theatre is currently accepting submissions in its annual 10-minute play contest. This year's theme is Class Reunion, the final deadline is February 1, 2015, and plays will be staged in June, 2015. And if you don't have a Class Reunion play handy, you have plenty of time to plot one out.

In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play) opens at Illinois State University tomorrow night, running through October 11. This delightful, transformative play isn't scary at all, unless you are frightened by the idea of women owning their sexuality. David Ian Lee directs Ruhl's play with a cast headed up by second-year MFA candidates Natalie Blackman and Colin Lawrence. For more information, click here.

Also opening Thursday is Naomi Iizuka's Polaroid Stories, a version of Ovid's Metamorphoses with dead end street kids, junkies and hookers instead of nymphs and princes. Iizuka's poetry and sharp edges make Polaroid Stories feel current and jagged, raw and real. Lisa Gaye Dixon directs for Illinois Theatre in the Studio Theatre inside the University of Illinois Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, with performances October 2 to 12. You can check out the show's whole program here to see who's who and what's what with Polaroid Stories.

The relationship musical, I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, with music by Jimmy Roberts and book and lyrics by Joe DiPietro, comes to Bloomington-Normal again via Prairie Fire Theatre October 3 through 11 at the Fellowship Hall of the First Christian Church in Bloomington. Click here for info.

The Art is taking its Shocktober thing seriously, offering Poltergeist on the 3rd, Psycho on the 8th, Re-Animator on the 10th, The Lost Boys on the 15th, The Exorcist on the 19th, Candyman on the 22nd, and an all-night horror marathon (featuring Halloween and Trick 'r Treat) on the 24th. That's a whole lot of fright! And in the case of Psycho, at least, a very good movie. Check out the Art's website for all the Shocktober details.

Your Normal LGBT Film Festival comes back to the Normal Theatre October 15 to 19, with a wide array of films and extras. There's The New Black on the 15th, followed by a discussion with Karess Taylor-Hughes, an activist who appears in the film; Lilting, followed by a social event at Medici's across the street, on the 16th; To Be Takei, about Star Trek actor and internet sensation George Takei, on Friday the 17th; Appropriate Behavior, with an after-party at University Galleries, on the 18th; and The Way He Looks, followed by a panel discussion on anti-bullying, wrapping up the festival on the 19th. Each of these films has a different take on today's LGBT experience, from Brooklyn to Brazil, from a Cambodian mother in London to a Japanese-American son in Hollywood and a black community in Maryland.

ShakesFear is what the Illinois Shakespeare Festival is calling its version of a haunted house. They'll have local actors portraying the ghost of Shakespeare and a host of his scariest characters in a Haunted Tour at Ewing Cultural Center or a milder choice called Juliet's Enchanted Courtyard for the fainter-of-heart (and the kiddies). Juliet's Courtyard will feature "Not-So-Scary" stories accompanied by Halloween shadow puppets, some hands-on fun with "autumn crafts" and Halloween tattoos that glow in the dark, and Halloweenie treats for sale in case you need a snack. The Haunted Tour is a half-hour experience led by the Ghost of the Bard. I'm guessing you might see a few witches, Mr. or Mrs. Macbeth, Hamlet's dad returned from the Great Beyond with revenge on his mind, Richard III and the parade of his victims, maybe even Iago or Tamora, Queen of the Goths. Something wicked this way comes... Juliet's Enchanted Courtyard costs one thin dollar, while the Haunted Tour is offered for $6. You can see the flyer for ShakesFear here.

ISU's School of Theatre and Dance offers another October option, this one the Pulitzer-Prize winning Water by the Spoonful by Quiara Alegria Hudes, directed by third-year MFA directing candidate Leah Cassella. Water by the Spoonful is the second of three Elliot plays written by Hudes, all three dealing with a soldier who has returned from Iraq and is trying to survive civilian life. Ronald Roman will play Elliot in this Spoonful, with Joey Banks, Eddie Curley, Anastasia Ferguson, Lauren Pfeiffer, Jaimie Taylor and Hananiah Wiggins as parts of his rag-tag network. Water by the Spoonful opens in Westhoff Theatre October 23, with performances through November 1.

And that's just the tip of the entertainment iceberg for October. Stay tuned for more creatures, goblins and ghouls as the month moves on.