Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Drama, Music, Food, and Windy City Fun

What a Weekend!

Sometimes things just click. With a generous offer from friends for lodging, we boarded Amtrak in Galesburg for the ride into Chicago on Thursday morning. Senior rates make this pleasant three hour ride cheaper than driving and infinitely less stressful. Upon arrival we strolled down Adams to the Art Institute, checked our bags, and cuddled down in a seat in the Fullerton Lecture Hall for a noon presentation on Georgia O’Keefe. This was part of the Voices series and featured a short introduction by a curator and then an illustrated impersonation of O’Keefe by a Chicago actress.

Downstairs for a sandwich and then some gallery wandering mainly in a ceramics show called “For Hearth and Altar.” It featured African ceramics collected by a U. of Iowa artist. They were mainly large, fairly simple jars for holding liquids and grains, but impressively displayed on open raised platforms and disks.

We took a cab around 3:00 PM to Carolyn and Gordon Kirk’s apartment. After a little rest, we headed out toward the American Theatre Company’s venue at 1909 W. Byron St. Had a pleasant Mexican Dinner at a restaurant just down the street and returned to the theatre to see the Chicago Premiere of Matt Fotis’ The Van Gogh Exhibit and The Zebra Baby. Former students Matt, Jeanette Nielsen Fotis, Kyle Anderson, and Lana Raines were involved in the productions. Attendance on this Thur. night was sparse, but earlier in the week two positive reviews had appeared in the Chicago Reader and the Windy City Times and bookings were up for the weekend. Lots of hugs and chats after the show.

Friday saw us walking over to the Water Tower area. Did some shopping, picked up two half price tickets for the Goodman’s well reviewed Pericles , and then walked over to the Museum of Contemporary Art. A big show had just gone down and the one that was left was not too exciting. We didn’t stay overly long.

Back to the apartment for a stretch out and then back to the streets around 5:00 PM for dinner in the Loop. We stood in the rain for an hour and finally made it inside of the Berghoff for dinner. The historic restaurant will close in February and since we had had our first meal there on our honeymoon in 1959, we had a nostalgic stake in having one last schnitzel and stein of dark. This lovely eating spot will be sorely missed.

Finished dinner around 7:15 PM and walked the three blocks over to the new Goodman Theatre where we settled in to our half price restricted view box quite comfortably. There was room behind to spread out our damp coats and two comfy padded chairs with arms. With an easy lean out we could see everything but the left wall. For 17 bucks a seat a true bargain.

There may be some doubt as to how much or little of Shakespeare’s hand is in the script of Pericles, but Mary Zimmerman’s director’s mark is unmistakable throughout the production. The show is physically beautiful at every turn and the movement and choreography are stunning. The curtain rises on a great grey room punctured by massive side windows. The rear wall is dominated by a high open balcony on the right, a door center, and a smaller window left. Behind those windows projections and colors change frequently. The costumes, which range from ancient Mediterranean and Pirate chic to Guys and Dolls gangsters, are lush and colorful. Another Zimmerman signature is wafting billowing fabric. Blue silk strips get an intense workout during the several storms at sea that punctuate the action. Scene changes move like ballet figures as everyone from the supers to the stars take their turns to move the props. In one change an entire dinner table with banquet is moved on piecemeal in perfect symmetry. And then there is a field of sea grass that is borne in by at least twenty players. Each actor crosses the stage dropping off two little bundles as they process leaving behind a golden tan maze of little bunches of grass that function as the garden through which the virginal Marina is pursued by an assassin. It is a brilliant and beautiful conception.

I leave the story until last as it is stretched as thin as the gauze that floats around Thaisa’s head and shoulders in the marriage scene. You must simply give up your search for credible action or depth of theme and give in to the fairy tale fable of losses, epic journeys, miraculous cures, and deadly riddles. At one time or another there are echoes of Macbeth, TheWinters Tale, The Tempest, Twelfth Night, and The Merchant of Venice.

One of the more difficult devices in Pericles is the use of John Gower, an early English poet, as a chorus and narrator. Zimmerman diffuses this character by re-assigning the narration to a sequence of other characters in the play. This, along with some modern asides, seems to make chorus device a bit less creaky.

The actors all labor professionally. The speaking is clear; the energy mighty. Marguerite Stimpson as Marina comes off best amongst the principals. She makes an impressive shift from pig-tailed adolescence to a tamer of whoremongers and kings. Pericles, Thaisa, and Cleon seem to suffer from the lack of real character depth that Harold Bloom cites in his book, Shakespeare:The Invention of the Human. The leads have to play it straight and thus pale in comparison to the smaller but juicier character roles like Naomi Jacobson as the bawd, Michelle Shupe as Dionyza, Evan Zes as Leonine, and Jesse Perez as Boult.

All in all look, listen enough to hang onto the thread of the plot, and then just let the sights and sounds roll. You will have a lovely evening at the theatre.

While Pericles was engaged in his anguished search for his lost wife and daughter, the rain we had stood in over at the Berghoff had turned to a wet slushy snow. It was a squishy trudge to the Red Line on State Street.

Saturday was an equally pleasant day with more coffee and conversation. Later in the afternoon we walked all the way down to Miller’s Pub on Wabash for an early dinner of Roast Leg of Lamb with mint jelly and spinach pie. The already fine repast was made even better by a pint of Guinness that was not too warm and not too cold.

From Miller’s we walked to Orchestra Hall for a Chicago Symphony concert.
The evening began with forty-five minutes of the contemporary composer John Adams and his composition titled “Na├»ve and Sentimental Music.” Though many in the house and some in our group seemed to find it intriguing, I thought it might be better titled “Numbing and Grinding Music.” Only the second movement, which was softer and filled with some interesting sounds, really moved me. The first and third movements just seemed noisy and repetitious. So much for the modern. A Mozart Horn Concerto followed and it was sublime. The evening capped by an equally fine Fifth Symphony by Sibelius. It was bright and crisp and sharp. We took the 151 bus back to the apartment.

Sunday morning was spent gazing out at the Chicago skyline while sipping coffee and reading the Sunday Tribune and the Sunday New York Times. After a light lunch, we walked on down to the Esquire Theatre around noon to see Judi Dench in her latest movie titled “Mrs Henderson Presents.” This was a pleasant film that will not go down as a great moment in cinematic history. Like Pericles this is a slight romantic piece that is engagingly acted by Dench and Bob Hoskins but doesn’t really stand the test of any kind of deep evaluation. It simply demonstrates the adage that you don’t need to do much of anything as long as you do it well. It’s all velly English with its droll humor counterbalanced by the sound of air raid sirens and exploding German bombs. Skin is plentiful in this story of the famous Windmill Theatre’s “Revudville” frozen nudes during the Blitz, but the film is never erotic. Perhaps that’s why the boys in the audience are ever so well behaved. A pleasant diversion set against the background of wartime London.

And that was that. Back to the apartment to pick up our suitcases and then a cab to Union Station for the Illinois Zephyr back to Galesburg. Everything was on time and we got home to Monmouth around 9:00 PM. Pooped but grateful for the occasional forays to the big city.

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