Non-Equity Jeff Awards Announced

Okay, one more theater-related thing this week, and then no more til my next (potentially controversial!) review. Last week the Jeff Committee announced nominees for the Non-Equity Jeff Awards (the Tonys of Chicago), so I checked out the list to see if anything looked familiar. And lo!

Opus” — Redtwist Theatre (for Play, Director, Ensemble, Sound Design, Artistic Specialization)

A Behanding in Spokane” — Profiles Theatre (Supporting Actor)

One Flea Spare” — Eclipse Theatre Company (Supporting Actor)

Under the Blue Sky” — Steep Theatre Company (Supporting Actress)

We Live Here” — Theatre Seven of Chicago (New Work, Artistic Specialization)

Cyrano” — The House Theatre of Chicago (New Adaptation, Original Incidental Music, Costume Design, Fight Design)

The Spirit Play” — The Strange Tree Group (Original Incidental Music, Artistic Specialization)

The Sea” — Theatre Mir (Sound Design)

For my money: Opus was one of my favorite shows last year and definitely deserves Director or Play. I would not give it Artistic Specialization (it was nominated for Music Coach); one of the actors never once did vibrato on her viola!

Caroline Neff, yes, should of course win Supporting Actress for Under the Blue Sky. We Live Here was another one of my favorites and deserves a win for New Work (and Cyd Blakewell, who was also great in last year’s MilkMilkLemonade, was a standout here).

Cyrano was terrific, and the fight scenes were breathtaking. I did like the music in The Spirit Play.

Hey, eight nominated shows! Not bad. And I agree with most of the nominations for those shows. Even better. Some of the nominated shows are still running, so check them out while you still can.

New Centerstage Review Up

Ugh, Neil LaBute, ugh. He’s often described as “edgy” or “controversial,” and as is often true with other artists described in those terms, that translates to “nasty” and “boring.” I didn’t intend to take on the American premiere of his latest, In a Forest, Dark and Deep, but I didn’t read my editor’s schedule closely enough and found myself reviewing it last Thursday. (I should add that I did my best to go in with an open mind and see this production for what it was, rather than what I expected it to be.) There’s no question that LaBute can write decent dialogue and quickly take an audience to new depths of discomfort, and that’s a talent. But to do so without once writing a convincing female character is hackish. And to claim that you want to explore issues of truth and intimacy in your play, but then making your play clearly take sides and pass moral judgments, is dishonest.

Here’s an excerpt from my play review:

Cox is wonderful as a man who knows his place in the world and likes to opine on how others should live in it. Lowe is good too, but she has much less to work with, and there’s the crux of the problem. Betty is an incoherent character, a cheap assemblage of all the things men hate women for supposedly being: snobbish, slutty, unfaithful, bitchy, ambitious.

You can read the rest of the review here. I’m in the minority here in the theater world; LaBute is still quite the popular figure. Chris Jones loves him (although I think Jones and I have had opposite reactions to every single play we’ve both happened to review, so that’s not too surprising).

It’s too bad Profiles is so enamored of LaBute as to make him a resident playwright, because they have a talented group of people working there who could spend their time on plays that explore the breadth and depth of the human condition rather than LaBute’s sour misanthropy disguised as controversial profundity.

New Centerstage Review Up

Profile Theatre’s A Behanding in Spokane was thrilling and discomfiting, but also empty and hopeless. Staged like a particularly well-executed playwriting exercise, we begin truly in media res, as a one-handed man shoots into a closet, calls his mother, and opens the door to let in a frantic young woman waving a dessicated human hand. What. is up. Here’s an excerpt of my play review:

Thad Hallstein’s set is so spot-on, it looks like he picked up the dingiest motel room he could find and put it down in the middle of the theater. Such a room requires a mood as bleak, and Cox sets the tone with his cruel, efficient treatment of Marilyn and Toby, and his singular focus on getting back what is rightfully his.

You can read the rest here.

I’ve never seen a Profiles show before, and while I enjoyed this show somewhat (I think the review came off more positive than I intended, oops), I’m not sure I’ll be back. They have produced just about every Neil La Bute play ever written, and I’m not super interested in supporting a theater that’s that obsessed with putting on La Bute’s misanthropic, sexist, would-be Mametism.