Chicago Theater Report for February 23, 2020

Below is a lightly edited transcript of the Chicago Theater Report that aired on Playtime with Bill Turck and Kerri Kendall on WCGO, 1590 AM, 95.9 FM in Chicago.

You can listen to the show archives at the links below (will become active as the recordings are made available):

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Brandon Jovanovich and Sondra Radvanovsky
c. Cory Weaver

This past week, The Lyric Opera premiered a new-to-Chicago performance of The Queen of Spades, Tchaikovsky’s examination of a man’s destabilization as he becomes caught up in sexual obsession and compulsive gambling. Conducted by Lyric Artistic Director Sir Andrew Davis, the music for this opera is astonishing, as are voices that sing its lyrics.

Sondra Radvanovsky as Lisa nearly brought me to my feet with her voice: While her character is portrayed as constantly in a state of confusion and pain, her voice remains powerful. Other standout performances included Brandon Jovanovich as Gherman: Not only is his singing top-notch, his portrayal of a man who is descending into madness is superb. Lucas Meachem, who dazzled Chicago with his portrayal of Don Giovanni last fall, portrays Prince Yeletsky, offering real warmth and tenderness to the role.

The staging of this production has proven controversial among critics and audiences alike, with the sets and costumes setting a decidedly pre-revolutionary story in the oppressive greys of the Soviet Union in the 1930s. The various disconnects can be a bit jarring, though I would note that the production includes stage effects that I simply did not believe were possible in live theater. Congratulations are in order to the tech crew that pulled the Lyric’s Queen of Spades off.

The run for Queen of Spades is a short one, and there are only two performances left, both matinees: Wednesday, the 26th at 2pm and Sunday, March 1st at 2pm. Visit www.lyricopera.org to purchase your tickets.

L-R: Michael Lewis, Jake Busse. Photo by Brian McConkey.

I must offer my strongest recommendation to Invictus Theatre Company’s production of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun. I’ve made no secret here on Playtime of my respect and admiration for Invictus, which I believe does a wonderful job of both producing excellent theater while also supporting the community. 

What I find particularly interesting about Invictus’s current season is that its two productions (Merchant of Venice and A Raisin in the Sun) feature men who have been pushed, prodded, and mangled by the social, economic, and political circumstances into which they have been born. 

As I watched Walter Lee Younger and his dreams alternately fester, explode and almost, but not quite, sag and dry up, just as Langston Hughes describes in the poem after which Hansberry named her play, I recalled watching Shylock doing much the same in response to the way wider society treated him. Both plays also point to ways in which racism and antisemitism aren’t merely sociological or psychological constructs, but are well-grounded in economic and legal systems.

This play’s story is set in Chicago’s South Side, where the Younger family lives and works. Family members each have their own dreams: Medical school, entrepreneurship, and owning a home. For once, members of the Younger family are actually at a point where these dreams may be realized, as they await the arrival of a life insurance check. 

Michael Lewis is particularly effective in his portrayal of Walter Lee Younger, a family man who, perhaps more than the other characters, understands the economics of his oppression better than anyone else. He is a man who has been afforded few chances in life: When they are offered to him, we see him stumble but then recover himself a bit, standing tall as he walks into a hazy future.

A Raisin in the Sun is performed at The Buena Theater, part of the Pride Arts Center, (4147 N. Broadway, Chicago IL. 60613) and runs through March 15th. Tickets can be purchased online by visiting InvictusTheatreco.com. I am noticing that shows are already selling out, so I’d advise getting yours as soon as possible.