My summer playgoing began last week with a visit to Chicago, where I saw performances by Chicago Shakespeare Theater, the Court Theatre, and the House Theatre of Chicago. All are reviewed in this morning’s Wall Street Journal:
Shakespeare never wrote a tougher play than “Troilus and Cressida.” Is it a comedy or a tragedy–or both? It all depends on how you direct it. When Barbara Gaines, the founder and artistic director of Chicago Shakespeare Theater, first produced this knotty tale of love and death in the Trojan War, she emphasized the romance. Now she’s wrapping up her company’s 20th anniversary season with an opulently violent “Troilus” staged with breathtaking speed and concentration and climaxing in the best battle scene I’ve ever seen on a stage.
This is a wartime “Troilus” with a hard political edge–the main set piece is a blood-soaked obelisk reminiscent of the Washington Monument–but Ms. Gaines has taken care not to wear her opinions on her sleeve. Instead, she lets Shakespeare do the talking: “And appetite, an universal wolf,/So doubly seconded with will and power,/Must make perforce an universal prey,/And last eat up himself.” You’re more than welcome to draw parallels with the war in Iraq if you wish, but it’s no less acceptable to approach Ms. Gaines’ “Troilus” as a broader parable of man’s monstrosity to man….
The phenomenal success of Lincoln Center Theater’s production of Tom Stoppard’s “The Coast of Utopia” has made regional theater directors Stoppard-conscious. I plan to spend the next couple of months reporting on a string of American revivals of his plays, and I’m happy to say that the first show on my list, the Court Theatre’s blithe and incisive mounting of “Arcadia,” is an extraordinarily fine piece of work….
In addition to well-established companies like Chicago Shakespeare and the Court, the Windy City has no shortage of small troupes whose productions are comparable in quality to the best that Off Off Broadway has to offer. I sang the praises of Remy Bumppo Theater Company in this space last September, and this time around a theater-savvy local steered me to the House Theatre of Chicago, a gaggle of twentysomethings who put on shows in a converted garage across the street from a North Side viaduct. (The lobby contains a bar and a pool table!)
You can’t get much farther off the beaten path than that, but Ben Lobpries’ “Hope Springs Infernal” is more than worth the extra mileage….
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