Friday, October 13, 2006

Chicago Lyric

Last weekend, I went to Chicago with someone I know. We had a very cultural time. First night, we saw Two Noble Kinsmen by Shakepeare and Fletcher at the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre on Navy Pier. It was pretty good, despite cuts, faithful to the spirit of the authors. Not too much schtick or grossness. It had an Arthurian quality from the Chaucer tale, a Greek quality from the storyline, and a Shakespearean something, although apparently Fletcher did the heavy lifting. (It was Shakespeare's last writing effort). The playbill revealed director Darko Tresnjak shares an alma mater--Swarthmore College. He did a really good job conjuring up Greek gods in the temple sequences. Overall, a good show, especially considering how dreadful Swarthmore's theatre department used to be. If you are in Chicago, don't miss it. The Navy Pier is very nice, too, with a magnificent view of the illuminated Ferris Wheel, the Chicago skyline at night, and the full moon over Lake Michigan. It would have been romantic, if not for the Halloween Ghouls performing ghost routines for tourists, sponsored by a local business.

Speaking of Halloween, next day, it was off to Steppenwolf Theatre to see The Pillowman. This play is by Britisher Martin McDonagh. When someone I know saw the program note linking the author to London's Royal Court Theatre, she said "uh oh..." Boy, was she right. Icky, sadistic, creepy, sociopathic, and cruel. If you enjoy watching maladjusted teenage boys pull wings off flies, you'll like this play. I guess it was scheduled for the Halloween season--scary to think who would pick such a show. The audience suffered through it. We left at intermission.

We also dropped by the Chicago Film Festival to see a Spanish television documentary called Imitation of the Fakir. This was a trip down memory lane for us--24 years ago we were picked up by a limousine when our documentary screened. The film was sort of interesting, about orphans who lived in an institution near Barcelona. During the Spanish Civil War, priests and Franco supporters hid out there from the Anarchists, who were shooting any Marquis they could find. The Marquesa was absolutely charming. And the insight was that the Fascists were just as afraid of the anarchists as vice-versa. For some reason, the filmmakers include a segment with a young socialist, who was anti-Franco. He's a relative of the Marquesa, but lived after the Civil War. It fuzzed up the storyline a bit, since obviously the Church-run orphanage was a home for high-class fascists. Susan Sontag's "fascinating fascism." The amateur film starring the children of yesteryear was a McGuffin. Most interestingly, many of the interview subjects spoke in Catalan. The landscape was beautiful. The characters very Catalonian. Made one think of George Orwell.

Finally, we saw Iphegenie en Tauride by Gluck at the Chicago Lyric Opera. The staging was a horrendous Euro-Canadian graffitti festival (sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts--why am I not surprised?) But if one closed one's eyes, or looked at the magnificent proscenium arch, or the supertitles, it was a great show. The singing by Susan Graham and Paul Groves, as well as the rest of the cast, was perfection on a stick, the orchestra just lovely. And the Chicago Lyric Opera House well worth seeing as a great world stage. More democratic than most, as a friend pointed out--no box seats.

We had dinner after the Opera at Russian Tea Time--owned by a couple from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, who were friends of the vice-rector of the University where I taught as a Fulbright. Unfortunately, I couldn't say "Privet" because they were on holiday. It was great--authentic Russian cuisine, not to mention the Latkes, Herring, and other haimisch dishes...