Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Arts at ICC Goes for the Absurd, Mysterious, Scary and Grungy in Theater for 2016-17

I haven't seen an official announcement, but I've pieced together Illinois Central College's upcoming theater season by using their monthly calendar for Arts at ICC events. Here's what I've found on the schedule for theater at ICC in 2016 and 2017:

The House of Blue Leaves by John Guare
September 23-25 and 30; October 1-2
"John Guare's poignant Obie Award-winning comedy unfolds in New York City on the day the Pope is expected to visit. Hearts are palpitating in the sleepy borough of Queens, but not entirely on account of His Holiness. Bunny Flingus, a femme fatale from Flushing (or thereabouts) is stirring things up in the quiet, unfulfilled life of aspiring songwriter Artie Shaughnessy. Artie longs to leave his unhappy marriage, elope with Bunny, and write a hit song that will top the charts."

Murder at Café Noir by David Landau
November 11-13 and 15-20
"The most popular mystery dinner show in the country, Murder at Café Noir has enjoyed weekly productions coast to coast since its premiere in 1989. This forties detective story come to life features Rick Archer, P.I., out to find a curvaceous runaway on the forgotten island of Mustique, a place stuck in a black and white era. The owner of the Cafe Noir has washed ashore, murdered, and Rick's quarry was the last person seen with him. He employs his hard boiled talents to find the killer. Was it the French madame and club manager, the voodoo priestess, the shyster British attorney, the black marketeer or the femme fatale? The audience votes twice on what they want Rick to do next and these decisions change the flow of this comic tribute to the Bogart era."

The Bone House by Marty Chan
February 24-26 and March 3-5
"An audience comes to hear a lecture about serial killers. Self-proclaimed mind hunter, Eugene Crowley, recreates gruesome murders to convince the audience that a serial killer is on the loose. As the lecture progresses, the audiences suspects Crowley might actually be the killer himself. But before they can act, members of the audience are shuffled throughout the lecture hall so that they sit beside strangers. Crowley presents his final proof, an inkblot that the audience must scrutinize for a full minute. The lights are turned off and the negative image of the inkblot forms the face of the killer. However, in the blackout, the true killer makes his presence known and proceeds to eviscerate Crowley, leaving the audience’s imaginations to create the picture to go along with the sounds and sensations in the dark. This play is a psychological experiment about the nature of fear, imagination, and deification of serial killers."

Suburbia by Eric Bogosian
April 14-15 and 18-23
"In the parking lot of a convenience store in the suburban town of Burnfield, a group of 20-year-olds get together one autumn night to welcome an old pal, now a star returning from a successful national tour with his rock band. His arrival in a limousine replete with entourage precipitates an all-night whirlwind of drinking, sex, and violence. As the sun rises over the convenience store parking lot, tragedy and comedy have laced through these nine young lives and changed them forever, some of the group have found their way out of Burnfield while the rest are left to deal with a tragedy and its lasting consequences."

House of Blue Leaves, Murder at Cafe Noir and The Bone House will be performed on the Main Stage in the ICC Center for the Performing Arts in East Peoria, while Suburbia will be performed in the Studio Theatre in the CPA. For ticket information, visit Arts at ICC's online ticketing page or call the box office at 309-694-5136.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Neil Gaiman's American Gods (the Series) Includes ISU Alum Yetide Badaki

Casting news has been coming quickly for the TV adaptation of Neil Gaiman's American Gods, a 2001 fantasy novel that won both the Hugo and Nebula Awards in the Best Novel category.

This month, Gaiman released a 10th anniversary mass market paperback edition with a different cover, one that includes the additional material he added for the actual 10th anniversary back in 2011.

In 2014, Gaiman told fans that HBO was developing American Gods as a possible series, and in 2015, it was announced that the project was moving to Starz, with Gaiman himself writing some of the scripts and Bryan Fuller and Michael Green as "creators." As details have leaked, it appears that the first season, the one filming now, covers the first third of the book, leaving the rest of the book for future seasons. Some elements of Gaiman's Anansi Boys will also be incorporated into the series.

Gaiman's book uses fantasy and mythology from different parts of the world, with characters who reflect African, Celtic, Egyptian, Germanic, Hindu, Native American, Old Norse, Slavic and other mythological traditions to tell a story about modern gods mixed with ancient ones. The new gods have arisen from the American obsession with celebrity and technological "magic," while the old ones, deities and spirits who were either already part of the Americas before Columbus or came to it with the immigrants who believed in them, are fading away. An ex-con named Shadow Moon becomes the center of the war between the gods of the past and the present, with a mysterious man named Mr. Wednesday, who happens to be the corporeal form of the Norse god Odin, as his tricky, untrustworthy guide.

Yetide Badaki
Casting details have been trickling out for some time, with stars like Ian McShane (Mr. Wednesday) and Gillian Anderson (Media) among those announced. The big news for alumni from Illinois State University's Department of Theatre is that Yetide Badaki, who appeared in several ISU shows and at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival when she was a student, has been cast as Bilquis, a voracious goddess of love by way of the Bible's Queen of Sheba. Bilquis and her method of, well, dispatch ("vagenda of manocide," indeed) were one of the most notorious bits in Gaiman's book.

At ISU, Badaki played Abigail Williams, the young woman who hatches the witchcraft plot in The Crucible, in a 2002 production at Westhoff Theatre that looked like it was being performed inside the bones of a giant whale, as well as Thyona, the bride who hatches the homicide plot in Charles Mee's Big Love, Natella in Brecht's The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and the title role in Electra.

She also played the Player Queen in Hamlet and Hymen in As You Like It at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. In Chicago, she had roles with Steppenwolf, Victory Gardens and Writers Theatre and was nominated for a Joseph Jefferson Award for her performance in I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given to Me by a Young Lady From Rwanda at Victory Gardens in 2006.

American Gods is scheduled to premiere in early 2017 on the Starz network. Here's the cast as announced so far:

Ricky Whittle as Shadow
Ian McShane as Mr. Wednesday
Omid Abtahi as Salim
Gillian Anderson as Media
Yetide Badaki as Bilquis
Demore Barnes as Mr. Ibis
Corbin Bernsen as Vulcan
Emily Browning as Laura Moon
Kristin Chenoweth as Easter
Dane Cook as Robbie
Crispin Glover as Mr. World
Orlando Jones as Mr. Nancy
Mousa Kraish as the Jinn
Bruce Langley as Technical Boy
Cloris Leachman as Zorya Vechernyaya
Chris Obi as Mr. Jacquel
Melissa Roxburgh as Zorya Polunochnaya
Pablo Schreiber as Mad Sweeney
Peter Stormare as Czernobog
Jonathan Tucker as Low Key Lyesmith

You'll see several of these characters, including Badaki's Bilquis, in the trailer released for Comic Con. She's the one sitting up in bed looking sultry.

For more content, visit the Starz American Gods page.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

BOEING BOEING Opens September 1 at Community Players

If farce is your cup of tea, you won't have much longer to wait till it's back on the boards in Bloomington-Normal. Boeing Boeing, the "non-stop comedy" about a swinging bachelor in Paris in the 60s with a squad of comely flight attendants popping in and out, begins next week at Community Players with a preview performance on September 1.

After that, Boeing Boeing runs from September 2 to 4 and 9 to 11 in a production directed by G. William Zorn and produced by Chris Terven. Zorn's cast includes Dave Krostal, Josh McCauley, Cristen Monson, Bridgette Richard, Jen Schuetz and Terri Whisenhunt.

Krostal stars as Bernard, the bachelor at the center of the farce, with McCauley as his more timid friend in from America. Schuetz plays Bernard's housekeeper, the one trying to keep order while Bernard's three girlfriends, all flight attendants with different airlines, Gabriella (Richard), Gloria (Whisenhunt) and Gretchen (Monson), make their unscheduled arrivals and departures.

Although Boeing Boeing was first written in French by Marc Camoletti and produced at the Comédie-Caumartin in Paris, the play found its greatest success in London. Beverly Cross's English translation of this flighty farce ran for more than seven years (and most of the 60s) in the West End theater district. A 1965 Broadway run was short-lived, but a revival in London and New York did just fine, showing once again that Boeing Boeing has legs.

For more information on the Community Players production or to see ticket information, click here.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

McPherson and More in 2016-17 From the Station Theatre

Urbana's Station Theatre has announced its 2016-17 season, with an interesting mix of pieces. They'll begin with two Conor McPherson plays in a row, with The Night Alive, what the New York Times called "a group portrait of five highly imperfect people fumbling in the dark" followed by The Birds, McPherson's take on the classic Daphne du Maurier story. Interestingly, neither McPherson's Birds nor Alfred Hitchcock's famous film hews to the storyline or character in du Maurier's story. The original angry birds who turn on mankind for no apparent reason are there in all three versions, however.

Every Brilliant Thing, written by Duncan Macmillan and Jonny Donahoe, was originally performed as a one-man show by Donahoe, albeit the one man used lots of audience interaction as he shared an engaging and sometimes amusing list of reasons to stay alive.

Mother and son Adrienne and Adam Kennedy are behind Sleep Deprivation Chamber, which shared an Obie for Best Play with a different short work by Adrienne Kennedy. The action that informs Sleep Deprivation Chamber sounds like it was ripped from today's headlines, with an African-American man beaten by police after a minor traffic stop. It was written in 1996, making it all the more heartbreaking, as we all ponder how long this kind of injustice will continue.

Urbana's own Deke Weaver and Tom Mitchell will direct work that reflects long-term projects they've undertaken, with Weaver weaving (I couldn't help myself) the B story—B for Bear—from his Unreliable Bestiary and Mitchell returning to the work of Tennessee Williams to find St. Louis Stories.

On the lighter side, Robert Askin's Hand to God offers a hilarious and very irreverent puppet show that asks pointed questions about religion and true believers, as does The Christians, Lucas Hnath's respectful, probing look at a successful pastor who has a change of heart about a core principle of his faith. Both shows have seen successful New York runs and multiple award nominations.

If you want a quicker summary, that's two Conor McPherson plays, both involving a young woman who enters a household and blows it up, two one-person shows, two autobiographical pieces, two original adaptations and two examinations of religion and faith. Here are longer descriptions of the plays on the Station's season, direct from their website:

October 6–22, 2016
THE NIGHT ALIVE by Conor McPherson
Directed by Kay Bohannon Holley
Featuring Gary Ambler, Lindsey Gates-Markel, Jim Kotowski, David Butler, and Mathew Green.
"Tommy's not a bad man; he's getting by. Renting a run-down room in his Uncle Maurice's house, just about keeping his ex-wife and kids at arm's length, and rolling from one get-rich-quick scheme to the other with his pal Doc. Then one day he comes to the aid of Aimee, who's not had it easy herself, struggling through life the only way she knows how. Their past won't let go easily, but together there's a glimmer of hope that they could make something more of their lives. Something extraordinary. Perhaps.
"With inimitable warmth, style and craft, Conor McPherson's The Night Alive deftly mines the humanity to be found in the most unlikely of situations."

November 3–19, 2016
THE BIRDS by Conor McPherson
Directed by Thom Schnarre
"Conor McPherson boldly adapts for the stage the Daphne du Maurier short story that inspired Alfred Hitchcock's classic horror film—a gripping, unsettling, and moving look at human relationships in the face of societal collapse. The play takes us to an isolated house, where strangers Nat and Diane take shelter from the relentless masses of attacking birds which are hitting the eastern seacoast in the not-too-distant future. There they find relative sanctuary, but not comfort or peace; there's no electricity, little food, and a constant sense that someone lurks in the shadows to take what little comforts the couple shares. When the young and alluring Julia seeks refuge with the couple, her presence brings both unsettling news of the outside world and a growing discord in their claustrophobic existence. Survival becomes even more elusive as paranoia takes hold of their makeshift fortress."

December 1–17, 2016
EVERY BRILLIANT THING by Duncan Macmillian and Jonny Donahoe
Directed by Katie Baldwin Prosise
"You're six years old. Mum’s in hospital. Dad says she's 'done something stupid.' She finds it hard to be happy. So you start to make a list of everything that's brilliant about the world. Everything that’s worth living for. 1. Ice cream. 2. Kung Fu movies. 3. Burning things. 4. Laughing so hard you shoot milk out your nose. 5. Construction cranes. 6. Me.
"You leave it on her pillow. You know she’s read it because she’s corrected your spelling.
"Soon, the list will take on a life of its own.
"A one-person interactive play about depression and the lengths we will go to for those we love."

January 19–February 1, 2017
HAND TO GOD by Robert Askins
Directed by Mikel Matthews, Jr.
"After the death of his father, meek Jason finds an outlet for his anxiety at the Christian Puppet Ministry, in the devoutly religious, relatively quiet small town of Cypress, Texas. Jason's complicated relationships with the town pastor, the school bully, the girl next door, and—most especially—his mother are thrown into upheaval when Jason’s puppet, Tyrone, takes on a shocking and dangerously irreverent personality all its own. Hand to God explores the startlingly fragile nature of faith, morality, and the ties that bind us."

February 16–25, 2017
BEAR written and directed by Deke Weaver
"Bear is the fourth installment in artist and University of Illinois School of Art + Design faculty member Deke Weaver's lifelong project The Unreliable Bestiary—a collection of performances and books for every letter of the alphabet, with each letter representing an endangered animal. Ultimately a site-and season-specific theatrical triptych, Bear will find Weaver and his collaborators delving into the peculiar myths, rituals, and cycles of living of the stocky-legged, big-pawed omnivores. Bear’s fall chapter will take small groups of adventurers on short hikes to bear-related outdoor installations set in local parklands and will culminate with a final tale told in a close, dark, den-like setting. Information about BEAR’s winter and spring chapters will be updated at"

March 2–4, 2017
ST. LOUIS STORIES inspired by the works of Tennessee Williams
Directed by Tom Mitchell

March 23–April 8, 2017
SLEEP DEPRIVATION CHAMBER by Adam Kennedy and Adrienne Kennedy
Directed by Latrelle Bright
"In this autobiographical drama, a broken tail light leads to the brutal beating of a highly educated, middle-class black man by a policeman in suburban Virginia. The Kennedys interweave the trial of the victimized son (accused of assaulting the offending officer) with the mother's poignant letters in his defense and her remembrances of growing up in the 1940s, when her parents were striving 'to make Cleveland a better place for Negroes.' They have created a gripping examination of the conflicting realities of the black experience in twentieth-century America."

April 27–May 13, 2017
Directed by Jaclyn Loewenstein
"Twenty years ago, Pastor Paul's church was nothing more than a modest storefront. Now he presides over a congregation of thousands, with classrooms for Sunday School, a coffee shop in the lobby, and a baptismal font as big as a swimming pool. Today should be a day of celebration. But Paul is about to preach a sermon that will shake the foundations of his church's belief. A big-little play about faith in America—and the trouble with changing your mind."

For more information on the Station Theatre's upcoming season and to find reservation information, visit their website here.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Don't Miss Krannert Center's Costume & Prop Sale 8-27 in Urbana

University of Illinois's Krannert Center for the Performing Arts cleans out unwanted or unneeded props and costumes from its vaults every other year, inviting in anybody who wants to come and look over their version of a garage sale (although I believe it's held in an empty theater space). This Saturday, August 27, is the chosen day for the 2016 Costume and Prop Sale and preliminary info indicates it will be held in the Studio Theatre inside Krannert Center.

If you want to get in early, you can buy a pre-sale ticket for $3 and shop your heart out between 9 am and 12 noon. If you prefer to take your chances on what's left, admission is free after 1 pm.

Given that this year it's in the Studio Theatre, which is not that big a space, I don't know how much will be available. In past years, when it was in a huge rehearsal space deep within the bowels of Krannert Center, I picked up a hoop (the kind that goes under a hoop skirt), an American Civil War-era ladies' jacket (that could've been worn with the hoop skirt), a Regency-style dress that looked like it had just emerged from the sea, a strange plaid tunic with leather bits stuck to it, and a suede vest with floral bits stuck to it. I can't identify the production my hoop or the jacket came from, but I'm pretty sure the dress was from a production of Twelfth Night set in the Regency period, the plaid was from Macbeth, and the vest was from a 1960s-inspired hippy dippy Midsummer Night's Dream.

You may be just as lucky as I was. Or luckier. Who knows? It will cost you $3 to see the best stuff.

Monday, August 22, 2016

ISU's Fall Shows, Now With Casting and Website Update

Since I posted a piece on Illinois State University's 2016-17 theater schedule in June, ISU (as a whole, it appears) has undergone a massive website change, meaning that the schedule is no longer listed in one place. The handy history chart – detailing what had been performed at ISU each year back to somewhere in the 90s – is also MIA. If those things reappear at some point or if one of you finds where they've been moved to, I would love to hear about it. I am a big fan of a good list, especially one that qualifies as reference material. And this time, I'll copy and paste it somewhere just so I know it's safe.

Until then... Well, here's a reminder of what's happening with ISU theatre this fall, now updated with casting information in the wake of last week's auditions. Although I haven't found an event listing with a link to ticket-buying information for all of these shows together, there is a short one ("Upcoming Events") at the bottom of this page that hits the beginning of Waiora and does have a ticket info button.

WAIORA by Hone Kouka
September 30 to October 9, Center for the Performing Arts Hone Kouka was the youngest-ever writer to win New Zealand's Bruce Mason Playwriting Award in 1992. He is of Ngati Porou, Ngati Raukawa and Ngati Kahungunu descent, and he often writes about Maori characters and issues. Waiora tells the story of a Maori family struggling to find an identity and a sense of home when they move from a rural life to a more urban one.
Directed by Kim Pereira
Wai: Brandi Jones
Amiria: Emilia Dvorak
Boyboy: Alex Levy
Rongo: Hannah Spohnholtz
Steve: Mac Byrd
Louise: Emma Harmon
The Tipuna: William Brown, Anastasia Ferguson, Anthony Harden, Cayla Jones and Chloe Szot

TWO SHORT PLAYS: THE COFFEE BAR by Ali Salem and THE WALLS by Griselda Gambaro
October 21 to 29, Westhoff Theatre
These two short plays, to be performed together as one evening of theater, deal with how artists respond in the face of political repression and fear. Egyptian playwright Ali Salem used humor and satire in The Coffee Bar, his 1968 play that critiques the politics of power and the effect on the powerless, while Argentinian playwright Griselda Gambaro wrote The Walls in 1965, putting a harsh spotlight on the kidnappings, torture and executions that were part and parcel of daily life under the Argentinian police state.
Directed by Janet Wilson
Producer: Gina Cleveland
Author: Daija Nealy
Coffee Bar Attendant: Simran Sachdev
Directed by Bruce Burningham
Young Man: Daniel Esquivel
Usher: Ryan Groves
Functionary: Daniel Balsamo

IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE: A Live Radio Play, adapted by Joe Landry
December 2 to 9, Center for the Performing Arts 
It's a Wonderful Life, the 1946 Frank Capra movie about a man who meets an angel on Christmas Eve and learns his ordinary life was worth living, often shows up at the very top of Favorite Movies Ever lists. Joe Landry reimagined it as a 1940s radio play, with actors behind big standing microphones, scripts in hand, sound effects performed with wood blocks and car horns, and a big APPLAUSE sign cuing the audience.
Directed by Connie de Veer
George Bailey: William Olsen
Mary Bailey: Sarah Seidler
Billy/Clarence: Jack VanBoven
Violet/Zuzu: Breeann Dawson
Gower/Potter/Joseph: Mark de Veer
Mrs. Hatch/Stage Manager/Foley Artist/Pianist: Marixa Ford
Pete/Peter Bailey/Burt/Ernie/Sam W.: Everson Pierce
Announcer/Mr Welch/Martini/Tommy/Harry: Jacob Artner
Ruth/Matilda: Gina Sanfilippo
Janie/Sadie Vance/Rose Bailey: Becky Murphy

And there you have it. With the addition of the Fall Dance Concert, with performances November 3, 4 and 5,  ISU's fall season is complete. You can find info on individual performances, including ticket prices, if you use the ISU Event calendar and ask for the month you want.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Bradley Announces Its 2016-17 Theatre Arts Season

Bradley University's Department of Theatre Arts has announced its 2016-17 season, with four shows that mix a surreal dystopic fantasy with comedy horror, heartbreaking history and a little Shakespeare just for fun.

On tap are Anne Washburn's Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play, where future survivors of some sort of apocalypse comfort themselves with performances of an old episode of The Simpsons. That will be followed by Emergency Prom by Steve Moulds, with a high school dance thrown by the kids who didn't fit in at the regular old prom; Melanie Marnich's These Shining Lives, a look at the short, tragic lives of "Radium Girls," who endangered their lives while painting watches that glowed in the dark; and Twelfth Night, Shakespeare's bittersweet comedy with mismatched lovers, identical twins and the triumph of chaos over order.

This is how they're describing the upcoming 2016-17 season:
Mr. Burns:  A Post-Electric Play by Anne Washburn. Music by Michael Friedman and lyrics by Anne Washburn.
September 22 - October 2, 2016
Part thriller, part musical, Mr. Burns asks how the stories we tell make us the people we are. In a near future where a cataclysmic series of nuclear disasters has left America without electricity, infrastructure, or mass communication, a small group of survivors huddles around a fire trying to remember the dialogue from a popular episode of The Simpsons. Seven years later they have become a theatre troupe, traveling the lawless, ravaged country to stage bits of The Simpsons in exchange for food and shelter. 75 years later still, the epic story of the nuclear disaster has become myth, enacting in musical theatre form the creation story of a new society and the dimly recalled saga of a revered hero named Bart.

Emergency Prom by Steve Moulds
November 10 - 13, 2016
A play featuring our fabulous freshman class It's 1996, a time before texting, Tinder, and Snapchat, and the misfits of Glen Burnie High hated last weekend's prom. What's an unlikely band of outsiders to do? Throw the prom they should have had, a do-over prom, an emergency prom, where Gus and Corey won't break up, where Stephanie and Billy will finally get together, where Patrick might get lucky, Manuel will have the "high school moment" he dreams of, and Melissa will get to dance with the secret love whose silence is breaking her heart. A hilarious, heartfelt look at a group of friends taking destiny into their own hands.

These Shining Lives by Melanie Marnich
February 16 – 26, 2017
In the 1920s and 30s, hundreds of Depression-era women in Central Illinois enjoyed well-paying jobs for the Radium Dial Company in Ottawa, about 70 miles from Peoria. There they painted faces onto watches and clocks with luminescent paint made from radium—an element whose toxicity was never explained to them—until their hands began to glow in the dark and their health problems grew too serious to ignore. Based on the historical record this haunting, inspirational play celebrates the bonds of friendship and solidarity that unite four young working women; the conflicts they share; and the vindication they seek that may or may not come in time. "Perfect, touching, and wistful..." —Talkin' Broadway

Twelfth Night by William Shakespeare
April 20 – 30, 2017
"If music be the food of love, play on..." The perennial favorite and arguably Shakespeare's most transcendent comedy. A tale of young love in all its excess diverse, abetted by mistaken identity, gender confusion, unforgettable songs and exquisite poetry—not to mention some of Shakespeare's most vivid clowns and one of the greatest practical jokes in theatrical history. Originally written to celebrate the end of the Christmas season in the court of Queen Elizabeth, our production will herald the end of the school year and the beginning of summer.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Normal Theater Starts Bill McBride's "Six Week Film School" with Film Noir

The Normal Theater will be launching a new kind of film series this fall, with a more academic component added to a slate of classic movies. There's no homework or tests or tuition, but you can definitely learn some things about the movies if you're so inclined. In what they're calling "The Six Week Film School," the Normal Theater will screen a group of films that exemplify a particular film genre, topic or filmmaker. In this case, the dark and deadly detectives of Film Noir get the spotlight in the fall, while the oeuvre of director Alfred Hitchcock will be the topic in the spring.

William McBride, Associate Professor of Film and Drama at Illinois State University, will be the guide for this series, offering insight and information on both themes and the six films chosen to fit those themes. As part of that undertaking, McBride will provide background information so that movie-goers can read ahead on the movies and the issues they spark and then lead discussions after the films.

Everything in this series -- the movies, the readings and the discussions -- is free of charge. It's all scheduled for a series of Wednesday nights (not consecutive weeks this fall, as you can see from the list below, but consecutive Wednesdays next spring), with the movies to start at 7 pm. I don't know how you find out about the readings for The Maltese Falcon, which is up first, but maybe info will appear on the event's Facebook page before September 21. Or maybe everyone knows The Maltese Falcon well enough that its salient points need no introduction.

"Film Noir: Visual Style and Fortune" is scheduled for select Wednesdays from September 21 to November 16, while "Alfred Hitchcock: Master of Style" will run on six Wednesdays in a row between February 1 and March 8.

As you can see, "Film Noir: Visual Style and Fortune" consists of six of the absolute best examples of Noir:

The Maltese Falcon (September 21)
In this 1941 classic directed by John Huston, Humphrey Bogart stars as hard-boiled private eye Sam Spade, hired by a duplicitous dame (Mary Astor) whose story changes more often than her handbags. In the end, Sam finds himself on the trail of a bejeweled bird statue that everybody seems to want, but he has to get past a parade of bad guys, played by the likes of Elisha Cook Jr., Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet. It's based on a novel by Dashiell Hammett and it's worth noting that most of these movies do derive from crime literature as classic as the film genre it spawned.

Double Indemnity (September 28)
The insurance biz has never seemed more diabolical than in this 1944 thriller, with Barbara Stanwyck as a femme fatale who'd like to off her husband and Fred MacMurray as her cat's paw. Edward G. Robinson plays his boss at the insurance agency, the one who smells something rotten. Written by Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler and based on a novel by James M. Cain, Double Indemnity was also directed by Wilder.

Murder, My Sweet  (October 12)
Dick Powell made the leap from a boyish tenor in Warner Brothers musicals to tough, sardonic PI Philip Marlowe in this twisty crime drama from 1944, based on Raymond Chandler's novel Farewell, My Lovely. It's got two murders, missing jewels, a meathead of an ex-con, an evil stepmother, and Marlowe getting repeatedly knocked around, beat up and shot at as he doggedly follows the clues.

The Postman Always Rings Twice (October 26)
Nobody ever looked as good in a turban as Lana Turner playing another married woman who wants her much-older husband dead in this 1946 take on a James M. Cain novel. John Garfield is the drifter who happens into her life and turns her on as they conspire to commit murder. Turner and Garfield create all kinds of sparks, making it about as sexy as you can get for a movie made during the Code era, and her array of white costumes make this black-and-white gem look really nifty.

Out of the Past (November 9)
Out of the Past may be the darkest, most cynical entry yet, fitting the postwar paranoia of 1947. The story surrounds a laconic tough guy played by Robert Mitchum, trying to forget his smoky past but choked by it just the same. Back then, he was hired by a crooked businessman (Kirk Douglas) to find his girlfriend (Jane Greer), who supposedly shot him and absconded with a big pile of cash. He found her, but that's when things got really sticky. By the time it's all done, you'll understand why it was originally called Hang My Gallows High.

Chinatown (November 16)
The first five movies on the schedule were made between 1941 and 1947, but Chinatown vaults all the way to 1974, making it what some consider the very best example of Neo-Noir. It's set in Los Angeles in 1937, with private detective Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson) way over his head when an investigation runs afoul of a wealthy woman (Faye Dunaway), her evil father (John Huston), and a whole lot of water. Directed by Roman Polanski from a script by Robert Towne, Chinatown brings the Film Noir discussion into the jaded post-Vietnam era.

If you're keeping track, that's four hard-boiled private eyes, two drifters and one insurance agent as protagonists, two married women and one girlfriend trying to rub out their partners, five lying ladies, and a pair of messed-up daughters as the love interests, California and more California, and a metric ton of cigarette smoke.


Saturday, August 13, 2016

60 Amazing People Turning 60 in 2016

As a lead-up to my birthday last week, I did a list of 60 people turning 60 on Facebook. Just to keep that list in one place, I decided to add it here, too. Keep in mind that this is in no way a complete list of the fantastic or famous or infamous people who turned 60 this year. I don't have time for the Mel Gibsons of the world and I had to make choices to get my list down to 60.

But here is the list I chose to represent 1956:

Imelda Staunton
Imelda Staunton, January 9
Phyllis Logan, January 11
Robby Benson, January 21
Geena Davis, January 21
Ann Dowd, January 30
John Lydon (Johnny Rotten), January 31

Nathan Lane
Nathan Lane, February 3
Arsenio Hall, February 12
Paula Zahn, February 24

Tim Daly, March 1
Mimi Lieber, March 1
Bryan Cranston, March 7
Lesley Manville, March 12
Dana Delaney, March 13
Ingemar Stenmark, March 18

David E. Kelley, April 4
Christopher Darden, April 7
Andy Garcia, April 12

Sela Ward
Paige O'Hara, May 10
Sugar Ray Leonard, May 17
Bob Saget, May 17
Dean Butler, May 20

Tom Irwin, June 1
Björn Borg, June 6
Patricia Cornwell, June 9
Joe Montana, June 11
Brian Benben, June 18
Anthony Bourdain, June 25
Chris Isaak, June 26
Paris Barclay, June 30

Tony Kushner
Alan Ruck, July 1
Tom Hanks, July 9
Sela Ward, July 11
Mel Harris, July 12
Tony Kushner, July 16
Dorothy Hamill, July 26
Delta Burke, July 30
Anital Hill, July 30
Deval Patrick, July 31

Maureen McCormick, August 5
Adam Arkin, August 19
Joan Allen, August 20
Kevin Dunn, August 24

Adriane Lenox
Adriane Lenox, September 11
Gary Cole, September 20
Debbi Morgan, September 20
Linda Hamilton, September 27

Christoph Waltz, October 4
Stephanie Zimbalist, October 8
Stephen Spinella, October 11
Mae Jemisin, October 17
Martina Navratilova, October 18
Carrie Fisher, October 21
Rita Wilson, October 26
Juliet Stevenson, October 30

Ann Curry, November 19
Cherry Jones November 21
Hinton Battle, November 29

Larry Bird, December 7
David Sedaris, December 26

David Sedaris

Monday, August 8, 2016

TCM's "Summer Under the Stars" Shows Off a Different Star Every Day in August

In August, Turner Classic Movies looks to the stars with their "Summer Under the Stars" event. Every day, TCM programming will highlight a different star, from Edward G. Robinson on August 1 to Dean Martin on August 31. We've already missed Robinson and a few others, but there are some wonderful actors coming up, with Esther Williams today and Hedy Lamarr, Spencer Tracy, Ralph Richardson and Cyd Charisse right around the corner.

Spencer Tracy Day on the 11th is especially strong, with Captains Courageous, Desk Set, Judgment at Nuremberg and Bad Day at Black Rock in the lineup, followed by the original A Star Is Born for Janey Gaynor; Time Bandits, The Wrong Box and The Fallen Idol to showcase Ralph Richardson; Singing in the Rain and The Band Wagon for Cyd Charisse; All About Eve for Anne Baxter, Footlight Parade and 42nd Street to show off Ruby Keeler's dancing feet; Casablanca, Key Largo, Sabrina and The Maltese Falcon for the many moods of Humphrey Bogart; Whatever Happened to Baby Jane and Now, Voyageur for Bette Davis; Frankenstein and The Mummy for Boris Karloff; The Americanization of Emily and Support Your Local Sheriff to highlight James Garner; Easy Living and The More the Merrier to prove why Jean Arthur was the queen of screwball comedies; and Laurence Olivier's Hamlet for Jean Simmons, who played Ophelia. Plus, of course, a ton more movies that may catch your eye.

Here's the full list of stars, including the ones already showcased, in case you'd like to watch your favorites streaming at TCM:

August 1: Edward G. Robinson
August 2: Lucille Ball
August 3: Bing Crosby
August 4: Fay Wray
August 5: Karl Malden
August 6: Montgomery Clift
August 7: Jean Harlow
August 8: Esther Williams
August 9: Tim Holt
August 10: Hedy Lamarr
August 11: Spencer Tracy
August 12: Janet Gaynor  
August 13: Ralph Richardson
August 14: Cyd Charisse
August 15: Roddy McDowall
August 16: Anne Baxter
August 17: James Edwards
August 18: Angie Dickinson  
August 19: Ruby Keeler
August 20: Humphrey Bogart
August 21: Bette Davis
August 22: Robert Montgomery
August 23: Brigitte Bardot
August 24: Constance Cummings 
August 25: Van Johnson
August 26: Boris Karloff
August 27: James Garner
August 28: Jean Arthur
August 29: Charles Boyer
August 30: Jean Simmons
August 31: Dean Martin

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Take Your Marks: August Entertainment Is Already Racing Ahead

As we come to the end of the summer, lots of people are looking for something to see or do, even as they gear up for back to school and the start of the official fall season. If you've already finished the new Harry Potter script and you're not ready to jump into fall just yet, you might want to check out these options:

Prairie Fire Theatre opens its production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! tonight, with performances at 7:30 pm August 4 to 6 and matinees at 3 pm on August 6 and 7. Director Rhys Lovell's cast includes John McHugh as Curly and Megan Koch as Laurey, with Aric Diamani (Ali Hakim), Reid Gramm (Will Parker), Anna Karnick (Ado Annie), Blake Miller (Jud) ad Carolyn Stucky (Aunt Eller). All performances will take place in Westbrook Auditorium in Presser Hall on the campus of Illinois Wesleyan University. The box office number is 309-824-3047 if you'd like to call for tickets or check out the event's Facebook page for more information. As an added bonus, the Summer on Stage youth theater program will present Oklahoma! Jr. at 11 am on Saturday August 6, also in Westbrook Auditorium. Their info is here or here, if you look directly below the image for the full Oklahoma! production.

A handful of performances remain at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival. If you haven't had a chance to visit Ewing Manor for a show (or a picnic, a walk in the gardens and a show), you can still see Peter and the Starcatcher tonight or August 6, 9 or 11; Twelfth Night tomorrow or August 7 or 12; and Hamlet August 5, 10 or 13. Philip Dawkins' Rodeo is also offered free of charge on the grounds of Ewing Manor at 10 am on August 6 and 13, and The Improvised Shakespeare Company will perform August 7 at 5:30 pm. For tickets to Starcatcher, Twelfth Night, Hamlet or Improvised Shakespeare, check out the tickets page for the Illinois Shakespeare Festival here.

The Art Theater Co-op continues its Big Screen Noir series with Cape Fear tomorrow night at 10 pm and Kiss Me Deadly at 10 pm Friday and Saturday, 11:30 am Sunday, and 10 pm on August 11th. This is the original 1962 Cape Fear with a good guy (Gregory Peck) trying to protect his family from a very bad guy (Robert Mitchum), fresh out of prison and stalking all of them to get revenge. The Simpsons sent it up in their famous Cape Feare episode, which itself inspired Anne Washburn's Mr. Burns: A Post-Electric Play, with her characters re-enacting the episode as a sort of religious experience. Mr. Burns will be on a couple of area theaters' 2016-17 schedules, so if you want to see where it all started, now is the time. Even if you don't care about Washburn's play, it never hurts to further your Noir education.

And, of course, the Rio Olympics are also happening. Some games and matches have already started, although the big kickoff is August 5, when NBC brings us the opening ceremonies at 6 Central/7 Eastern. Swimmer Michael Phelps will be carrying the flag for the United States. You can find lots of video pieces, the broadcast schedule and results on the NBC Olympics site, or try out an official trailer from Brazil to clue you in on the different venues. For my taste, this one from the BBC is shorter and way more fun, however.

Closer to home, the Normal Theater will air The Court Jester, the 1955 Danny Kaye musical that features songs by Sammy Cahn and Sylvia Fine along with the famous "vessel with the pestle" speech to keep Danny's character from drinking poison. Hint: Stick with the chalice from the palace, Danny. Glynis Johns, Angela Lansbury, Mildred Natwick and Basil Rathbone are all part of The Court Jester's fabulous cast. The film is part of the Normal Theater's Tuesday Night Classics series, on screen August 16 at 7 pm.

Galaxy Quest is part of a different Normal Theater series, the Friday Night Late Show.  Given that we lost Alan Rickman this year, that Comic Con was last week, and that Star Trek is back with a new film, Galaxy Quest couldn't be more timely. In the film, Rickman plays one of the cast members of a very cultish TV show called (not surprisingly) Galaxy Quest that ended years ago but still inspires an incredibly faithful following. When the cast of that show, including characters played by Rickman, Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver and Tony Shalhoub, attend a fan convention, they are kidnapped by real aliens who think they are the heroic characters they played on TV. It's not as complicated as it sounds, but it is a pretty adorable movie, with Rickman's classical actor Alexander Dane, who's been trapped playing a sort of Spock-like character called Dr. Lazarus, a real highlight.

And in the world of series TV, Mr. Robot is back on USA and UnREAL is trashing up the place on Lifetime, Dancing on the Edge promises to finally tell us who really killed chanteuse Jessie on PBS, The Get Down, a hip hop miniseries from Baz Luhrmann set in the 1970s in the Bronx, begins August 12 on Netflix, Fear the Walking Dead returns to Netflix August 21, and a show called Gomorrah (although the poster says Gomorra) that looks at power and machinations inside an Italian crime syndicate, premieres August 24 on the Sundance Channel.

That's enough to keep anybody busy!