Monday, November 3, 2014

November Openings, November Shows

There are certain days of the year when everybody wants to schedule everything, all on the same day. November 6 is one of those days. Four different shows bow on the 6th, all (I'm guessing) to fit their complete runs in before Thanksgiving. The good news it that you have a lot to choose from if you are so inclined. The bad news is that you will probably miss something good every time you choose something else.

Alphabetically, the first show of the cluster opening on the 6th is Illinois State University's By the Way, Meet Vera Stark, a thought-provoking comedy about a black actress in Old Hollywood, when performers like Vera and her friends were stuck playing maids and mammies, no matter how often they stole scenes or dominated the screen.Vera Stark comes from Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Lynn Nottage, who is coming to Illinois State University this weekend to talk to students and audience members after the November 8 evening performance and before the Sunday matinee on the 9th. Click here to see the details of Nottage's visit. The play itself jumps from Vera as an aspiring actress and real-life maid in the 1930s, her path to screen fame, and then her disappearance. In Act II, we see a TV panel put together to solve the mystery of whatever happened to... Vera Stark is directed for ISU's Center for the Performing Arts by Don LaCasse and stars MFA actress Faith Servant in the title role. You'll have eight chances to catch Vera between November 6 and 15.

The second contender on November 6 is Heartland Theatre's riveting family drama Falling, Deanna Jent's semi-autobiographical look inside a family struggling to keep up with the demands of a severely autistic son. Jent is an IWU alum and she, too, will be visiting Bloomington-Normal. We don't often get playwrights here, so two in two weeks is pretty remarkable. Jent is the Artistic Director of St. Louis's Mustard Seed Theatre, where Falling premiered. From there, the show, with director Lori Adams and scenic designer John Stark on board, moved off-Broadway, to New York's Minetta Lane Theater, where it played to sold-out audiences and garnered a host of Drama Desk nominations. Adams is back at the helm for Heartland Theatre, with a cast that includes Karen Hazen and Rhys Lovell as Tami and Bill Martin, parents of big-and-getting-bigger Josh, played by Daniel Esquivel. Ashley Pruitt plays little sis Lisa, while Ann B. White, as grandmother Sue Martin, upsets the family applecart when she arrives for a visit. While Jent is in town November 15 to 17, she will visit the IWU campus, answer questions and share the inside scoop on Falling at Heartland after the Saturday, November 15 evening performance and the Sunday, November 16 matinee, and watch a reading of her new play, Bloodlines, also at Heartland, on Sunday night at 7:30 pm.

During the run of the show, Heartland has scheduled short "postscripts" after almost every performance, with Julie Calmes of AutonomyWorks and Kim Williamson of Circles Behavior Consultation Services first up on the 6th. For the full schedule of talkbacks and discussions, check here.

We're halfway through the 6th! Let's celebrate with Rent, that musical callback to the late 90s, about Bohemian youth in the Village who want to make art in the midst of conflict with landlords, addiction and HIV/AIDS. Brett Cottone directs a cast of about 20, with Sean Stevens and Samantha Bettis at the top of the card as star-crossed lovers Roger and Mimi. Rent's preview on the 6th is followed by performance November 7 to 9, 13 to 16 and 20 to 23.

New Route Theatre officially christens its new space at 814 Jersey Avenue in Normal with the world premiere of Walking With My Ancestors by Ama Oforiwaa Aduonum, directed by Kim Pereira and featuring Leola Bellamy, John Bowen, Jajwannica Johnson, Cynthia Senefianso-Amedoda and Claron Sharrieff along with Ama Oforiwaa Aduonum herself. Email or call 309-827-7330 to reserve a ticket to this exploration of the African-American journey in America told through song, dance and the spoken word.

The new film Birdman, starring Michael Keaton as a formerly famous action/super hero, comes to Champaign's Art Theater Co-op on November 7th. The Art goes to 11 with one of my favorite movies, This Is Spinal Tap, showing on November 14, and another fabulous piece of filmmaking, Stanley Kubrick's war film, Paths of Glory, on the 17th. They'll finish up the month with another new film, The Theory of Everything, starring Eddie Redmayne as Stephen Hawking, showing on November 28.

The Ides of March, a "powerhouse rock and roll band" known primarily for their hit song Vehicle, will take you anywhere you want to go, as long as it's the Bloomington Center for the Performing Arts on November 15. I have two connections to this band. Some iteration of it (or perhaps a tribute band to it) played at my prom in 1974. And I once worked with the brother of Ides band member Larry Millas. Does that make me one degree of separation from the Ides of March? Or none?

Illinois Wesleyan University School of Theatre Arts enters November sweeps with the Broadway musical Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, beginning November 18 at McPherson Theatre. The madcap musical, with book by Jeffrey Lane and music and lyrics by David Yazbeck, is based on the Pedro Almodovar movie about women in Madrid being driven crazy by the men in their lives. On Broadway, Women on the Verge starred Sherie Rene Scott, Patti LuPone, Laura Benanti and Brian Stokes Mitchell, with the score, LuPone and Benanti nominated for Tony Awards. The show was nominated for eight Drama Desk Awards, with Benanti taking home the hardware. That's the Broadway Playbill you see at left. Watch for Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown at IWU from November 18 to 23.

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