Family secrets and dreams are explored in Raul Castillo's Between You, Me and the Lampshade in a world premiere of the play being staged by Teatro Vista. Set in a barren area of Rio Grande County in south Texas, the play addresses immigration issues as well as family tensions.
Jesse (beautifully played by Sandra Marquez) is an attractive Mexican-American woman with a teenaged son, Woody (Tommy Rivera-Vega), and a career as a social worker. ("Likes to fix other people's problems. Not so good at taking care of her own," Woody tells a friend.) They live in a trailer outside town. Late one night, a Mexican border crosser named Amparo (Aysssette Munoz in a fine performance) breaks into the trailer. Jesse confronts her with a gun. The young woman doesn't speak English and has suffered a serious snakebite. How Jesse tends to Amparo's wounds and her dilemma plays out for the next 100 minutes.
After Jesse (short for Yesenia) decides to help Amparo, she hides her from Woody as well as from her admirer Max, a customs and border protection agent (James Farruggio).
Whether delirious from the snakebite or just dreaming, Amparo summons up Meme, her hombre, and they converse in English, much to Amparo's surprise. ("Wait! Why the hell am I speaking in English?") Amparo and Meme were part of a group of Mexicans who crossed the river from Mexico during the night. Meme was killed in a shootout and grows more and decomposed during Amparo's dreams. Because he's gone, Amparo despairs of getting to Chicago, where Meme has bought them a house.
Jesse's efforts to keep Amparo's presence secret take on a slapstick tone when Max arrives and tries to get Jesse to go out with him. But Woody, who knows a little Spanish, finds and befriends her. Jesse also is keeping another secret from Woody, who doesn't know who his father was.
Woody is a video game player and, in one story thread, he's playing with Kristen (Bryce Gangel), an LA girl. Their flirtatious gaming turns into a travel itinerary for Kristen, who ends up on Woody's doorstep. How did she get there so fast? "Well, an Uber, two planes, a bus and then a cab. Pretty smooth all things considering."
Later Jesse and Max go out on a date and Max shows his softer side when he discovers Amparo and speaks to her in her own language. Woody and Kristen seem ready to get Amparo to Chicago, so a happy ending may be in store.
Between You, Me and the Lampshade is an entertaining and poignant story told by an excellent cast under the capable direction of artistic director Ricardo Gutierrez. Original music and sound design by Victoria Deiorio create an authentic sound landscape for the story. Jose Manuel Diaz-Soto's scene design is very much an aging trailer interior, including the turquoise kitchen.
The dialogue is lively and well written, with some conversational exchanges in Spanish. The general tenor of the conversation will be fairly clear (although you may miss a few jokes). The script could stand to be tightened up by judicious editing and/or eliminating one character, to cut 15-20 minutes from the running time. The Kristen story easily could be trimmed from the play. She and Woody have some funny lines and an LSD experience, but the relationship doesn't add anything to the story flow...and perhaps detracts from it.
Playwright Castillo may be familiar to audience members as an actor. He plays Richie in the HBO series Looking and costarred with Sandra Oh in Victory Gardens' production of Death and the Maiden last year. He has written several other plays and is a member of LAByrinth Theater Company and a writer in residence with the Atlantic Theater Company, both in New York. He grew up in McAllen, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley, across the border from Reynosa, Mexico.
Teatro Vista's staging of Between You, Me and the Lampshade continues at Victory Gardens Theater's Richard Christiansen Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., through May 10. Performances are Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 3pm. Tickets are $25-30 and can be purchased online or by calling 773-871-3000.
If the idea of spending 80 minutes looking at nothing but the screen of a teenage girl's computer doesn't terrify you or make you feel creepy, you might actually enjoy bits and pieces of Unfriended (formerly titled Cybernatural), the latest from Blumhouse Productions and, oddly enough, producer Timur Bekmambetov. Not unlike last year's more ambitious and interesting Open Windows, Unfriended carries out the beats of a horror movie shown only from the vantage point of one girl's laptop, with little cheats built in. Keep in mind that a person can Skype with several people at once, or play YouTube videos to give us visual film clips that act as flashbacks, or receive messages via any number of social media outlets that can serve as unspoken dialogue.
Our lead character also investigates the possibility that the ghost of a recently dead friend is terrorizing her and her pals by going onto websites and message boards about such phenomena, all the while getting vaguely threatening messages from someone who may or not be dead. I'll admit, director Levan Gabriadze (Lucky Trouble) and screenwriter Nelson Greaves actually make this exercise rather amusing and clever, although not especially scary. The kids on the Skype call are picked off one by one, supposedly by the ghost of their friend who killed herself after she was cyber-bullied when a humiliating video of her is posted by persons unknown.
Last year, the Chicago Loop Alliance invited the public to interact and experience the alleyways of downtown Chicago. Bringing interactive artists such as Luftwerk, and hosting a party-like atmosphere, the Loop was transformed into a pop-up urban experience. Beginning May 15, the CLA will be hosting six nights of ACTIVATE one night each month until October.
Nearly $400,000 was produced for local Loop businesses in the first seven ACTIVATE events from 2013-2014 and more than 14,000 attended the event during the series. The series will be continued this year from May until October with new artists, music, and culture, which were carefully curated for the public.
Mallory Sohmer is a freelance documentary filmmaker from Chicago and a Columbia College alumna. She co-directed the new film, Drum Beat Journey, the story of four inner-city youth who travel to Petit Mbao, Senegal, to participate in a drumming workshop. The program used music as a vehicle to capture and connect with the young men in an engaging and original way. But this is not just a film about drumming; it's about stepping into another culture to learn about oneself.
Sohmer's first film, The Living Documents (2009), a call for social justice, told the story of Nicaraguan indigenous rights attorney Maria Luisa Acosta and the circumstances around the murder of her husband Frank Garcia. It aired on the Documentary Channel (now Pivot) and resulted in a hearing with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2013.
Ana Sekler: Drum Beat Journey, what phase are you in with this project?
Mallory Sohmer: We're currently in post-production and have been working on the film for a long time, since 2011. I'm co-directing it with my friend Kate Benzschawel.
If you're itching for a packed day of art, events, exhibitions and ceremonies, then the Hyde Park Art Center will tend to your creative needs this Sunday, April 19. Being the first space to exhibit the work of the Hairy Who artists in the early 1960s and currently housing a flourishing residency, several galleries and ongoing events, the HPAC is a hotbed for Hyde Park artists and locals.
A meditation on time and life--and the problem of deciding when, if ever, you're a grownup. That's kind of the story of Jordan Harrison's The Grown-Up at Shattered Globe Theatre. Directed by Krissy Vanderwarker, the cast of six actors moves through 18 scenes of varying lengths. In each, Kai (Kevin Viol) has moved on in his life, aging a bit but still trying to believe in the magic of the future. The 75-minute play is impressionistic, sometimes entertaining, but the scenes don't create a coherent plotline and the story doesn't build our interest in Kai.
We first meet him as a 10-year-old listening to his grandfather (Ben Werling) tell a story about a magic doorknob. The man who built their house was an old sailor who had sailed as a cabin boy on a pirate ship. He survived a shipwreck with the only part of that great ship that survived: the crystal eye of the mermaid figurehead from the ship's prow. This magic doorknob can open the door to anywhere, his grandfather says.
Imagine a secret society that tasks itself with the mission to abolish terrible fan fiction from the internet, a group that embraces the sci-fi and fantasy fiction 'canons' with such rigidity that any variation on their beloved tales must be mocked out of existence, even while their own inside jokes and pitiful puns are riddled with the indecipherable, ludicrous mash-up of their geek culture. Then picture an unlikely Mary Sue sort of heroine who simply must write about the unspoken love between Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy because it makes her and her diehard fans happy. By this point, you can clearly see the window for comedy that has been opened. But until you see the show yourself, it is doubtful you could also imagine how the rich layers of theme and subtle ironies fold in so seamlessly with scenes that involve feuding superheroes being taught lessons about grammar. But just because you can't imagine it ahead of time, doesn't mean it didn't happen.
Strange Bedfellows Theatre's new production, Badfic Love, written by Adam Pasen and directed by Aaron Henrickson, makes it happen by pairing an award-winning story with a lively and capable cast.
A/C is looking for new contributors who are passionate about the arts and about Chicago. We'd like to have some new writers who are interested in covering all forms of the arts--theater, dance, comedy, fashion, circuses and other forms of performance plus visual arts, photography, architecture and design. We like to highlight the quirky nature of the arts in Chicago too, so feel free to suggest something new. If you're interested, we would love to hear from you.
As a contributor to Gapers Block, you would be expected to write at least one post a week for the A/C page, plus items for the Slowdown event calendar. We are looking for writers who can cover the arts in general or who are especially interested in one of the forms above. (If you'd like to write about music, that comes under the Transmission or Music page.)
NOTE: Gapers Block is a volunteer entity; while the position is unpaid, writers benefit from building clips; receiving free admission to plays, performances and other cultural events; media access to press conferences and other events; and occasionally other perks.
If you are interested in writing about arts and culture for Gapers Block, please send two to three writing samples, a little note about yourself and why you would like to write for GB to email@example.com with the subject line, "Contributing to the A/C page."
I have some questions about this one. We all know author Nicholas Sparks is a fan of his characters writing letters, and that's cool. It's a dying art form, and to actually see a person take pen to paper is unexpectedly refreshing and comforting in this age of handheld devices, no punctuation and lack of capitalization. In the latest of his novels adapted for the screen (I believe this is film number 10), The Longest Ride, the character of Ira Levinson (played as an elderly gent by Alan Alda and a strapping younger man circa the 1940s by "Boardwalk Empire's" Jack Huston) writes an endless series of letters to his beloved and eventual wife Ruth (Oona Chaplin formerly of "Game of Thrones").
Todd Rosenthal's set design for The Hotelman Arms hotel in The Upstairs Concierge is handsome, done in Prairie Style with Frank Lloyd Wright-type stained glass window panels, faux oak staircases, moldings, cabinetry and doors. Even the typography of the "Your New Family Home" motto signage is an arts and crafts font.
The multiple doors and staircases are clues that this is not going to be a drama that would have attracted Frank Lloyd Wright, however. They're signs of a farce to come, as we learned from those witty French farces by Georges Feydeau.
Unfortunately, Goodman Theatre's new world premiere of Kristoffer Diaz's The Upstairs Concierge is not a witty French farce. Its celebrity- and baseball-driven plotline doesn't work as a contemporary comic romp. The plot is a mish-mash and the dialogue is flat and rarely funny.
End Days by Deborah Zoe Laufer is the first production in the sparkling new Windy City Playhouse in the Irving Park neighborhood. It's a worthy outing for this new Equity theater company. End Days is a play about people who fear the end of the world is coming -- or vehemently reject that idea -- and they all seek solace from a wild variety of counselors.
Is the end of the world approaching? Sylvia Stein (Tina Gluschenko) believes so and since Jesus (yes, Jesus, played by Steven Strafford) follows her around and assists in her preparation, it's no wonder she continues to pass out flyers and engage in public prayer. Sylvia's Goth atheist teenaged daughter Rachel (nicely played by Sari Sanchez) thinks her mother is a madwoman and resists her demands for prayer and repentance. Her father Arthur (the excellent veteran Chicago actor Keith Kupferer) really doesn't give a damn. He has trouble getting out of his pajamas or leaving the house. It turns out he's suffering from PTSD as the only survivor on his company's floor in the World Trade Center on 9/11.
For Radiohead fans, it was exciting to discover the Tympanic Theatre Company was putting together a festival of short plays (titled Today We Escape) based on Radiohead's OK Computer album. While it's not my favorite (In Rainbows wins that honor for me), I do love a number of the songs on it, including Karma Police and No Surprises. The thought of a local company pairing young playwrights and a fresh, young company with source material that I thoroughly enjoy seemed a brilliant idea to me. Seemingly a match made in heaven.
Neagle, Anderson, Houton and Cumming. Photo by Johnny Knight.
The first time I saw a Tom Stoppard play was on my first trip to London in 1981. We saw a production of On the Razzle, adapted from an 1842 Austrian farce that also inspired Thornton Wilder's The Matchmaker. (Going "on the razzle" is an English term for drinking and partying.) The play was silly and charming and the linguistic acrobatics were breathtaking. I'm not even sure I loved the play but the dialogue was dazzling.
Stoppard's plots and characters have evolved and deepened over the years, but stunning verbal acrobatics are still a hallmark of his writing. Stoppard's Travesties in a new production at Remy Bumppo Theatre is a brilliantly conceived, acted and produced surrealist comedy -- and the language still makes me gasp.
There's a scene fairly early in Furious 7 where most of the primary players are attending the funeral of a fallen comrade. At one point, Tyrese Gibson's Roman says to Paul Walker's Brian O'Conner something to the effect of "I'm tired of going to funerals." O'Conner's response is "One more." In the context of the film's plot, he's referring to the funeral of the man who put their friend in the ground, but to the viewing world, both sides of that conversation have a more chilling resonance, given Walker's shocking death during the production of Furious 7.
Gapers Block is proud to present 20x2 Chicago, a live event where 20 people are asked the same question and given two minutes each to answer in whichever way they choose. The results may take any form, from spoken word to music to film, and can be as varied as the emotions and reactions they evoke. This edition's question is "What's Next?" See the answers on Saturday, April 18 at Schubas, 3159 N. Southport Ave.
20x2 is a mainstay of afterhours programming at SXSW Interactive in Austin, TX, and Chicago is its first official offshoot. The last Chicago show was Oct. 21, 2014, and featured the question "How do you do?" Responses ranged from an arm-wrenching party trick to a giant "cootie catcher" game to a set of rules against small talk. Who knows what the speakers will come up with this time?
Mallory Sohmer is a freelance documentary filmmaker from Chicago and a Columbia College alumna. She co-directed the new film, Drum Beat Journey, the story of four inner-city youth who travel to Petit Mbao, Senegal, to participate in a drumming workshop. The program used music as a vehicle to capture and connect with the young men in an engaging and original way. But this is not just a film about drumming; it's about stepping into another culture to learn about oneself. Read this feature »