Posts tagged ‘More than $20’

Killer Joe by Profiles Theatre, in the Royal George Cabaret

Tracy Letts is a genius. While Killer Joe is not the rich and sympathetic tour de force (sorry for that cliché) that August: Osage County is, it absolutely crackles with energy, uninhibited joy, reckless contempt, and a complete obliviousness to more sensitive audience members that is bracing, astonishing and thrilling. It seems that Letts has no objection to emotionally raping us, but like Joe in one of his more generous moments, he’s willing to let us off the hook with comedy. The humor is vicious, and gives us every opportunity to mock these low-class strivers as they foolishly scheme for the big payoff.

Our amusement, dependent on our perceived cultural superiority, is one example of Letts distillation of the Classical (with a capital C) comedic forms. It’s almost textbook. You have low-class buffoons, concocting a ridiculous plan to rise above their station. Of course, they get over their heads very quickly. We know from the beginning that this crew will be outsmarted at every turn, and end up in as bad or worse a place then when they started (hint: it’s a worse place).

As the stand-in for a comedic protagonist, Joe (Darrell W. Cox in a Jeff-winning performance) breaks the classical mold. One of the most amazing things about this production of Killer Joe is how sympathetic this sociopath becomes, how we connect with him as charismatic leader, despite his brutality. It is hard to imagine liking the first Joe, Michael Shannon, in this role as much as we like Cox. Don’t take that the wrong way…

As for the buffoons, Letts isn’t satisfied to simply give us a Launcelot Gobbo to chuckle at. Instead, he pulls in themes of opera and epic poetry. To set us up for absolutely anything, the play begins with a matricide plot hatched by Chris (Kevin Bigley), and readily assented to by his father, Ansel (Howie Johnson), and Ansel’s girlfriend, Sharla (Somer Benson). From that initial and seemingly ultimate betrayal, we spiral deeper along shrinking concentric rings of family dysfunction, cowardice, and more betrayal. Or perhaps the rings are just a spring, winding tighter and tenser each moment, taunting us until it snaps.

As in Dante, betrayal is the most hideous sin. The greater the traitor, the greater the punishment. Letts (and director Rick Snyder) might go too far with the punishment, but as Dante will tell you, the vilest traitors must spend eternity in Satan’s mouth. Joe makes a pretty good Satan, all in all, and we know before the second act begins that nobody is escaping his maw.

What is left to incorporate into this post-structural amalgam of classical forms? We need a little redemption, and we get it from the sacrificial lamb, Dottie (Claire Wellin). This all melds into a surprisingly moral play by the end, but not quite a morality play. Redemption here is not simple, and it is certainly not cheap, and we leave uncertain as to whether it is going to be enough to save any sinner among us.

Killer Joe is playing in the Royal George Cabaret, by far the best space in that theater. Killer Joe is on sale through July 18th. If you have enough tolerance for graphic violence, physical, emotional and sexual, then I recommend it. This production was a big winner at the Non-Equity Jeff Awards this year, taking the awards for Outstanding Production, Outstanding Director, and Outstanding Actor in a Principle Role, all in the “Play” category.


Music: Over The Rhine at SPACE in Evanston

This is a guest post by my lovely wife, Amy, of the April 28th Over The Rhine concert at SPACE in Evanston.

Greetings! I’m excited to be a guest blogger here, though my late posting date might not adequately reflect my enthusiasm. Aaron and I have a hard time learning how not to be busy. I’m actually writing this from my in-laws’ home in South Carolina, over a week past the show date. While I consider myself a big Over the Rhine fan, and I will admit to weeping on my first listen to their last studio album, The Trumpet Child, I wasn’t sure what to expect from this concert. I saw them tour on this album two years ago & feared a repeat performance. At the same time, I lamented having missed them on their last few trips through Chicago and was pleased with the venue. SPACE (The Society for the Preservation of Arts and Culture in Evanston) offers a great backdrop for music; its exposed brick, alternating sheer and velvet curtains and overhead lamps (which resemble nothing so much as the exposed gills of a mushroom cap’s underskirt) give a relaxed and comfortable, not too ritzy, feel.

Lucy Wainwright-Roche started the show, and though I initially wished for reprieve from an opening act (your dear writer struggles with a late school night), she quickly won me over with her dulcet voice and self-deprecating humor. The Bruce Springsteen cover “Everybody’s Got a Hungry Heart” which turned into a sing-a-long didn’t hurt either. I love a cover and a sing-a-long, as evidenced when I forced Aaron to attend one in Door County a few years ago on our vacation. Who can ever get enough of wholesome good times round the piano? To clarify, Ms. Roche played the guitar, not the piano, and her singer-songwriter fare, tales of the road and of heartbreak, was a far cry from a Door County meeting hall filled with 80 year old war veterans and scores of Scandinavians singing patriotic hymns. But we take our pleasure where we can.

The show was fantastic and further cemented this act as my favorite band. Over the Rhine, the husband and wife duet of Linford Detweiler (keyboard & back up vocals) and Karin Berquist (guitar, lead vocals, keyboard) took the stage joined by Jake Bradley (upright bass, electric bass and electric guitar) and Kenny Hudson (mandolin, dobro, pedal steel and lap steel). This was my first time seeing Hudson and his soulful feel provided complementary country warmth to Berquist’s vocals. While I had some trepidation about experiencing this show as “same old”, I was thrilled to find that OTR’s songs, instead of sounding more rehearsed, sounded simultaneously raw and beautifully broken in. The thirteen song set, followed by a three number encore drew from The Trumpet Child, Drunkard’s Prayer, Ohio (featuring Karin for two songs at the keyboard) and Good Dog Bad Dog (“All I Need is Everything”).

Several new songs were introduced, and they did not disappoint. Detweiler and Berquist are up front about an increased awareness of mortality in the wake of their parents’ illnesses and death. This is reflected in new songs like “Johnny & June” which asks ‘who’s gonna bury who,’ and “Only God”, a let’s-laugh-or-we’ll-cry look at the characters inhabiting the nursing home shared by Berquist’s mother following her stroke. Detweiler joins in for some duet vocals in the new songs and the connection between this couple is evident. That’s part of the appeal of this band. It feels like the songs they write are lived-in and true; their yearning for love and the divine permeates. Their new song “Infamous Love Song” (Aaron’s favorite) illustrates this perfectly, beginning, ‘I sing the bebop apocalypse / I lean in to you, God’s hands on my hips,’ and moving towards a chorus of, ‘Baby, our love song will survive.’ For someone raised with both tradition and taboo, this mix up of God and sex is magnetic. It obviously had a strong pull on the rest of the crowd too, as they were drawn to their feet twice in appreciation of the night’s offering.

If you’re not familiar with OTR’s music, check them out at Letters, tour dates and sweet graphics now sit alongside Karin and Linford’s invitation to fund a new album, giving a uniquely authentic slant to the term “indie music”. They’re headed to the west coast to record and, in return for your financial support, you’ll receive advance shipping on the album, recognition on the website & other perks depending upon how generous you can afford to be. (For example, I’m already enjoying demos of nine new songs!) Regarding Aaron’s pricing rules: this show was $40 each as we sprung for secured table seating. This means that a few weeks back, we didn’t see any performance at all to save up. We also paid $4.50 fees per person to buy tickets online. Thanks to Aaron for the opportunity to guest write & for stealing a set list post-show!