By Julian J. Frazin
Michael Best & Friedrich Entertainment Critic
May it please the court...
One of the most pleasant experi- ences an audience member can have is when he or she attends a performance, not expecting much, and is surprised to enjoy an exceptional production.
That's what happened to me at the Chicago premiere of "Traces" at the renovated Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place, 175 E. Chestnut St.
What could I expect from an acrobatic production that billed itself as "No WIRES! No NET! All HEART!" Another Cirque du Soleil knock-off? My fears were not allayed by a dimly lit stage with no sets or dazzling scenic elements. Here was a cast of seven bedraggled young performers dressed in an assortment of wrinkled white shirts, T-shirts and sweats. I said to myself, "This had better be good."
And it was! It was sensational! This assortment of six young men and a young woman from Canada, without benefit of fanfare, casually toss off synchronized paces of twisting, turning, leaping and death-defying circus arts with such amazing dexterity and courage!
Known as "The 7 Fingers," this Montreal-based group consisting of Mason Ames, Valerie Benoit-Charbonneau, Matheiu Cloutier, Bradley Henderson, Philippe Norman-Jenny, Xia Zhengqi and Florian Zumkehr are unassumingly listed in the program as "artists." With great individuality and tons of attitude, that they are indeed.
This is an irreverent, yet touching and extraordinary production choreographed and directed by former trapeze artist Shana Carroll and lifelong circus veteran Gipsy Snider.
It is scheduled to run through Dec. 19, but hopefully it will be extended through the new year. It is the perfect fare for Michigan Avenue holiday shoppers of all ages.
I wish I could be as enthusiastic about the Lookingglass Theatre's production of J.M. Barrie's "Peter Pan," adapted for the stage by Amanda Dehnert, who also directs.
Lookingglass has swinging acrobatics and flying, plus a large cast of "children" and "villains" rushing erratically about. This classic children's tale has a wonderful cast in the major roles with Ryan Nunn (Peter Pan), Kay Kron (Wendy), Thomas J. Cox (Captain Hook) and Aislinn Mulligan (Tinker Bell).
However, absent the whimsy usually associated with this tale, and a tone too darkly menacing for younger children, this "Pan" will struggle to find an audience.
I have always felt that one of the major themes in many of Edward Albee's plays can be summarized by the title of his 1977 drama, "A Delicate Balance." Albee knows how quickly our "normal lives" can come to an abrupt stop with the sudden intrusion of an unexpected, unsettling circumstance.
Albee once again confirms this view in "At Home at the Zoo," which recently had its Chicago premiere at Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. The evening consists of two one-act plays - "The Zoo Story," Albee's first play written in 1959, and its prequel, "At Home," written 45 years later.
Both acts begin with Peter, a staid, middle-aged, middle-class New York textbook publisher, seated alone reviewing a manuscript.
In Act I he is on a couch in his Manhattan apartment, where he is approached by Ann, his wife of many years, who, emerging from their kitchen, declares, "I think we should talk."
In Act II, he is seated on his favorite bench in Central Park when he is joined by Jerry, a disheveled, wild-eyed resident of a West Side rooming house, who has just come from the zoo and wants to talk.
Ann, played by Annabel Armour, starts their conversation by noting that their marriage has been too normal and voices her desire that it be more dangerous and exciting. Peter, in a pitch-perfect performance by Tom Amandes, confesses his fear that his circumcision is regressing. Albee provides conversation funny and forlorn, humorous and hostile, reminiscent of "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" without the drunkenness and foul language.
In Act II, Peter good-naturedly listens as Jerry, in a powerful performance by Marc Grapey, loudly tells of his visit to the zoo. All goes well, until Jerry decides to usurp Peter's customary spot on his favorite park bench. Suddenly Peter's animalistic instincts cause him to defend his "turf"- with catastrophic results.
You can sense the "delicate balance" in Peter's life shift as it is threatened in Act I and then tips with his confrontation in Act II.
I rest my case.
"Traces" 4 gavels
"Peter Pan" 2 gavels
"At Home at the Zoo" 4 gavels