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Hedy Weiss Reviews: ‘The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window,’ More


Chicago Sun-Times theater critic Hedy Weiss reviews four plays that address – each in their own way – societal challenges and conflicts.

Goodman Theatre’s revival of “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window,” the rarely staged second play by “Raisin in the Sun” author Lorraine Hansberry, offers a sharp and knowing look at Greenwich Village bohemians facing the contradictions in their ideas about race, politics, homosexuality, marriage and more on the eve of the Civil Rights movement in what Weiss calls a “revelatory production.” 

Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s ambitious production “Tug of War: Foreign Fire” draws “Henry V,” “Edward III” and “Henry VI, Part 1” into a “fugue on the theme of ‘perpetual war.’”

TimeLine Theatre’s Chicago premiere of British playwright Lucy Kirkwood’s “Chimerica” offers audiences a “crafty exploration of two superpowers” – China and the United States – through the story of a search for the man captured in a masterpiece of photojournalism, “Tank Man.” 

Iconic works of photojournalism are also present in “The Body of an American,” a play centered on Canadian photojournalist Paul Watson’s picture of an American staff sargent being dragged naked through the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia in 1993. 

More about the plays:

“The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window”
Highly recommended
When: Through June 5
Where: Goodman Theater, 170 N. Dearborn St.
Run time: 2 hours and 45 minutes, with one intermission

Grant James Varjas (David), Diane Davis (Iris), Chris Stack (Sidney Brustein) and Miriam Silverman (Mavis) in “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window” by Lorraine Hansberry. (Courtesy of Goodman Theatre)Grant James Varjas (David), Diane Davis (Iris), Chris Stack (Sidney Brustein) and Miriam Silverman (Mavis) in “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window” by Lorraine Hansberry. (Courtesy of Goodman Theatre)

“Lorraine Hansberry’s play ‘The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window’ — now receiving a revelatory production at the Goodman Theatre — has its flaws. But those flaws are inconsequential when compared to all that is fascinating about this work that debuted on Broadway in 1964, just a few months before the playwright’s untimely death … To be sure, the play can sometimes feel a bit clumsy and overwritten. But director Anne Kauffman’s production, which plays out on Kevin Depinet’s monumental set, celebrates the ambition and reach of it all.  (The play, not incidentally, is almost entirely about white people, yet race is ever-present.)” Read Weiss’ full review.


“Tug of War: Foreign Fire”
Highly recommended
When: Through June 12
Where: Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E. Grand Ave., Navy Pier
Run time: 6 hours, with brief intermissions and a meal break

King Edward III (Freddie Stevenson, at center) rallies the British troops to battle (from left to right: David Darlow, Larry Yando, James Newcomb, Dominique Worsley) in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of “Tug of War: Foreign Fire,” adapted and directed by Barbara Gaines (Liz Lauren) King Edward III (Freddie Stevenson, at center) rallies the British troops to battle (from left to right: David Darlow, Larry Yando, James Newcomb, Dominique Worsley) in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of “Tug of War: Foreign Fire,” adapted and directed by Barbara Gaines (Liz Lauren)

“This is, to be sure, no ordinary slog through standard-issue Shakespeare. For her impeccably clear, fast-paced, handsomely staged production, [adapter and director Barbara] Gaines has assembled a cast of 19 superb actors and musicians who transform themselves in countless ways over the course of the three plays. In several cases women (who have far fewer roles in the histories) play male characters without ever causing distraction. And throughout, the actors join their clarion voices with  the onstage musicians in a surging score that features everything from such traditional American anthems as ‘Johnny I Hardly Knew Ye,’ ‘When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again’ and Frank Loesser’s ‘Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition,’ to riffs from Bach and Mahler.” Read Weiss’ full review.


“Chimerica”
Highly recommended
When: Through July 31
Where: TimeLine Theatre, 615 W. Wellington Ave.
Run time: 2 hours and 55 minutes, with one intermission

Security Guard (Dan Lin) and Zhang Lin (Norman Yap) in TimeLine Theatre’s production of Lucy Kirkwood’s “Chimerica.” (Courtesy of TimeLine Theatre)Security Guard (Dan Lin) and Zhang Lin (Norman Yap) in TimeLine Theatre’s production of Lucy Kirkwood’s “Chimerica.” (Courtesy of TimeLine Theatre)

“‘Chimerica’  is now receiving a riveting Chicago premiere by TimeLine Theatre – that peerless company devoted to work that probes history in the most unexpected and engaging ways. And under the razor-sharp direction of Nick Bowling, who has gathered a uniformly impressive group of Asian (and Caucasian) actors, and deployed  the talents of set designer Brian Sidney Bembridge and master projection designer Mike Tutaj, it keeps you watching, listening and guessing for close to three fire-breathing hours”

“To be sure, nothing is quite what it appears to be here, and East-West perceptions can be warped by the simplistic assumption that if we all like Starbucks and KFC then we all see the world in the same way. At times Kirkwood’s appraisal of Americans can be snarky in the singular way of the British. And a crucial act of violence engaged in by Joe seems more than a little gratuitous. But this is a powerhouse play, sharply tragic and comic, deeply moving and always insightful.” Read Weiss’ full review.


“The Body of an American”
Highly recommended
When: Through June 19
Where: Stage Left Theatre at Theatre Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave.
Run time: 95 minutes, no intermission

Dan O’Brien (Ryan Hallahan) and Paul Watson (Don Bender) in the Stage Left Theatre production of Dan O’Brien’s “The Body of an American.” (Courtesy of Theatre Wit)Dan O’Brien (Ryan Hallahan) and Paul Watson (Don Bender) in the Stage Left Theatre production of Dan O’Brien’s “The Body of an American.” (Courtesy of Theatre Wit)

“‘If you do this, I will own you forever.’ That is the fearsome warning Canadian photojournalist Paul Watson believes he heard as he shot pictures of the battered, hog-tied (perhaps already dead) body of Staff Sgt. William David Cleveland, the American soldier notoriously dragged through the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia after the downing of his U.S. Black Hawk helicopter in 1993.”

“The taking of that photograph, and its long-term impact on Watson’s psyche, was the catalyst for Dan O’Brien’s ferociously honest, astonishingly vivid two-man play, ‘The Body of an American,’ now receiving its Midwest premiere in a breathtaking production by Stage Left Theatre.”

“‘The Body of an American' has arrived at the same moment 'Chimerica,' another play focused on a hugely influential photograph, is on stage at TimeLine Theatre. And together they serve as crucial reminders that in an age of selfies it is still the fearless souls who venture into the nightmarish conflagrations of this world who make a difference, and more often than not pay a high price for doing so.” Read Weiss’ full review.


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