Archive for the ‘Literary – Theatre’ Category

PostHeaderIcon A Boy’s Pursuit of Love & Identity

The bulletin board outside a Hyde Park church featured this challenging quote by renowned author, Elie Wiesel: “Is Silence the Answer? It Never Was.” That truth took me back to the play I had seen a few nights earlier, Timeline Theatre’s Chicago premiere of “Boy” by talented playwright, Anna Ziegler.

Anna Ziegler, Playwright

Anna Ziegler, Playwright

I sat through the opening-night performance transfixed by the compelling dramatization of a highly-relevant issue for our times as well as the superb acting of the Timeline ensemble, notably Theo Germaine who plays the lead character, Adam Turner.

The play tells a true and disturbing tale of gender identity, something Americans have become sensitized to in recent years with the case of Bruce (now Caitlin) Jenner and the politically tawdry bathroom choice squabble.

Last January, National Geographic declared America to be in the midst of a “gender revolution”. I recently read that The New York Times had used the term, “transgender”, a total of 1,169 times in 2017 or an average of 100 times each month. In 2016, Oregon became the first state to legally recognize a third gender option of intersexuality. Personally, in the past 18 months, I have been getting acquainted with several acronyms related to different gender roles: Cis, Trans and Non-Binary. At the play’s opening, I added Genderqueer and TGNC, for trans-gender non-conforming identity, to my vocabulary along with the pronoun they/them to refer to an intersex person.

Jenny (Emily Marso) Adam (Theo Germaine)

Jenny (Emily Marso) Adam (Theo Germaine)

“Boy” transfers this biological phenomenon to the stage. Adam Turner’s early life was marked by tragedy. Due to a botched circumcision, he suffered a mutilation. A well-meaning doctor convinced the parents to raise him as a girl and their identical twin as a boy. When the play opens, Adam begins to develop an attraction to Jenny, as finely portrayed by Emily Marso.  As the relationship develops, Adam is increasingly torn between his feelings of desire and his fear of revealing the secret of his gender. The play revolves around Adam’s anguish over his secret and which way to turn.

It’s a testament to the actors’ craft and Damon Kiely‘s sure-handed direction that we audience members share in Adam’s agonizing dilemma and Jenny’s frustration and incomprehension. “Boy” also features a revealing soundscape crafted by Karli Blalock that, if you listen closely, comments very appropriately on Adam’s psychological turmoil. Some of the song snippets played before and during the performance include “Void in My Heart”, “I Want to Know What Love Is”, “Playing with Girls” and “In My Room”. I left the theater feeling uplifted by Adam’s brave struggle and having learned more about this once-hidden topic, now coming out of the shadows.

Don’t be scared away by the subject matter from going to Timeline. You won’t be hectored or lectured. Instead, what’s on view is a gripping portrayal by an accomplished playwright who dramatizes the wrenching humanity behind today’s sensational headlines and the ignorant rants of hateful yahoos.

“Boy” runs through March 18th at Timeline, 615 West Wellington Ave. For tickets and information, visit












PostHeaderIcon The Queen Bee and Her Drones

In this internet age, when everyone knows everything about everybody, few people have managed to retain an air of mystery. One such is Elizabeth II Regina who has ruled Great Britain longer than any prior monarch (55 years and counting). We know more about the prime ministers who have served the Crown during her reign; familiar names like Winston Churchill, Anthony Eden, Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair and, most recently, Theresa May.

Elizabeth & Anthony Edan

Elizabeth & Anthony Edan

Of course, the Royal Family invites endless gossip about the private lives of the Windsors: Princes Philip, Charles, William and Harry and their wives and dating partners. Only Elizabeth resides in deep privacy. We see her at official ceremonies in her classic frocks and dowdy hats but who she is and what she thinks are hidden. She must be clever and “on the ball”, so to speak, to maintain her legitimacy and appeal for so long.

Well, one person has pierced the velvet veil surrounding her. That is Peter Morgan, playwright of “The Audience”, the season-opening play at Timeline Theatre. He first plumbed the royals in his earlier play, “The Queen” about how Princess Diana’s death affected Elizabeth.

For this effort, he has plumbed historical sources to create believable characters who served as the Queen’s ministers. Morgan received advice on the political and historical content of the weekly audiences the Queen had with her prime ministers from Professor Vernon Bogdanor, the former tutor of David Cameron. His greater accomplishment is to take us inside Buckingham Palace and Elizabeth’s mind to give us what sound like her real remarks.

Director Nick Bowling‘s staging is masterful. Timeline’s bare-bones stage is carpeted to resemble the Queen’s palace. The action takes place in the round with Elizabeth’s ministers entering from one of four surrounding doors. Yet, Elizabeth always stands at stage center, true to her place and power.

Elizabeth & Harold Wilson

Elizabeth & Harold Wilson

The first to enter is John Major, a “nervous nelly” who complains of sniping within his government and calls himself an “invisible man.” The Queen deflects his woe-is-me litany with witty repartee. The stage is next occupied by a figure full of bluster, Winston Churchill. Elizabeth is steely with him, showing that she will not be cowed by his claims of “tradition,” though she is only a monarch in her late twenties. The next, out of order, is the raffish Labor PM, Harold Wilson, a man proud of his lower class roots.

“The Audience” begins as a high-end costume drama of middling consequence. No great matters of state are exposed. That all changes in Act II when Elizabeth faces two formidable opponents who presume they are her equal, Anthony Eden and Margaret Thatcher. Eden tries to pull the wool over her eyes with his handling of the Suez Canal disaster while Thatcher’s combativeness and racism on South Africa sits in contrast to the Queen’s sympathy for that nation’s people and her commitment to the Commonwealth. The play ends with a touching encounter with Wilson, her favorite minister.

Janet Ulrich Brooks as Elizabeth

Janet Ulrich Brooks as Elizabeth

Janet Ulrich Brooks gives a commanding performance as Elizabeth. She is onstage for the entire play and displays a full range of emotion as well as facial expressions to convey her feelings. It is a performance not to be missed. Elizabeth has usually seemed a blank slate to me with her prime ministers grabbing all the headlines. Morgan’s triumph is to make us see her as the true central figure, guiding her nation through the last days of empire and throughout the tumultuous last half-century.

After two hours of sparring with a cast of wily public servants, the Queen defiantly claims, “I’m still here!” You, reader, should make a beeline for Timeline to catch this totally satisfying drama while The Queen remains in residence through November 12th. For tickets, contact Timeline at


PostHeaderIcon Paradise’s Case of the Blues

The time is 1949. Inside the Paradise nightclub in Detroit’s Black Bottom neighborhood, the five characters in “Paradise Blue” act out their personal dramas unaware that their lives are about to be turned upside down. Outside, Southern blacks have been migrating to Black Bottom at the rate of 1,000 a month for the past 30 years, turning the area from predominantly white to black.

An estimated 350 black-owned businesses exist in the neighborhood. It is a vibrant part of the city that blacks call their own but politicians call “blight”. Like many Northern cities at this time, Detroit’s power brokers are planning an “urban renewal” project to tear down Black Bottom’s dilapidated buildings, displace the current residents and erect an expressway to take the city’s fleeing white residents to the suburbs.

Paradise Blue--Timline Theatre

Al’Jaleel McGhee as “Blue”

Dominique Morisseau  situates the reality of this racial/political dynamic, only six years after Detroit’s race riots, inside Club Paradise.  It opens with the jazz club’s owner, Blue, playing runs on his trumpet. The club was started by his father but is having financial troubles in the face of newer competition. Blue also has personal troubles of his own that he hides with blustery, bullying outbursts at his fellow musicians and faithful lover, Pumpkin.

“Paradise Blue” is one of a cycle of plays that focus on Detroit, playwright Morisseau’s, hometown. The first was “Detroit ’67”, another riot-filled year. This is the second of Morisseau’s plays that Timeline has presented following last season’s “Sunset Baby”. “Paradise” is a more gut-wrenching production than “Sunset” and features two first-rate portrayals by the female leads, Tyla Abercrombie as the sassy, worldly Silver and Kristin Ellis as the innocent, poetry-loving Pumpkin. Ronald Conner delivers the best male performance as Corn, a kindhearted piano man. The titled protagonist, Blue, played by Al’Jaleel McGhee, delivers a disappointing, one-note performance dominated by anger. If that is how Ms. Morriseau wrote the part, Blue deserves to be a more complex personality so we can sympathize with his plight.

Tyla Abercrombie as “Pumpkin”& Al’Jaleel McGhee as “Blue”

Aside from Blue, the play’s characters are well-drawn and the dialogue sounds true. The action is smartly-paced and keeps the audience anticipating what comes next. While Blue is plotting the sale of the club and leaving his loyal drummer and pianist behind, Silver is busy making Pumpkin aware of her own agency. The arc of Pumpkin’s transformation from a mousey figure to a woman who finds her voice to challenge Blue is the drama’s essential core. When the group learns of Blue’s plan to abandon them, he pays the price.

This second of Morisseau’s Detroit trilogy clear parallels the Pittsburgh play cycle of August Wilson. A key difference is that women, rather than men, predominate and drive the action. Timeline is clearly interested in supporting this playwright’s promising development and so should we. “Paradise Blue” makes for a gripping night of theater that ends Timeline’s 20th anniversary season on a high note.

“Paradise Blue” plays at Timeline Theatre, 615 W. Wellington Avenue, through July 23rd. For tickets and information, visit or call the box office at 773/281-8463, x6.



PostHeaderIcon The Disappearing Mathematician

Srinivasa Ramanujan (1887-1920) was a mathematical genius whose contributions to the theory of numbers include pioneering discoveries related to the partition function. He was mainly self-taught and his mastery of fractions, infinity and string theory was unequaled by living mathematicians of the time.

Such a topic does not sound like the makings of an award-winning drama. Yet, the renowned British theater company,  Complicite, conceived and mounted this homage to Ramanujan in London in 2007 where it captivated critics and took home several prestigious honors. Complicite was founded in 1983 and is known for a highly-physical brand of performance. It characterizes its key working principles as “seeing what is most alive, integrating text, music, images and action to create surprising, disruptive theatre.”

Juliet Hart as Ruth

Juliet Hart as Ruth

Timeline’s production of “A Disappearing Number” is remarkably faithful to that mission of surprise and disruption. It opens in a classroom where Ruth, an infectious  math teacher, is rhapsodically lecturing about the beauty of prime numbers, Fibonacci sequences and the like. The atmosphere is charged for actors and audience alike. At lecture’s end, Al, a clearly-captivated stranger, sticks around. The first inklings of what becomes an intense relationship take root, paralleling the intellectual connection of Ramanujan and famed Cambridge mathematician, G.H. Hardy.

The production’s staging is quite thrilling as it hurtles forward at breakneck speed, bombarding viewers with visual stimuli that use all four walls of the theater and often leave the audience racing to keep up between Ramanujan’s struggles at Cambridge one moment and Ruth and Al’s star-crossed love affair the next. Timeline’s staging is a tour de force and a strong scenic design by William Boles.

However, I grew increasingly frustrated at the constant disruptions for updates on Ruth and Al. Al, we learn late in the show, is not a student but a hedge fund executive who appears in Ruth’s classroom one day and becomes infatuated by her intensity. While figures play a major role in both their lives, the lovers exist on two different planes that can never meet. The attempt to make Ruth a modern counterpart of her Indian idol struck me as flawed on Complicite’s part since it drew attention away from the true protagonist.

The play’s bait and switch tactic means we catch only fleeting, skimpy glimpses of Ramanujan: in India developing his theories, enduring physical hardships and racist attitudes by Royal Society mathematicians save Hardy. The play barely skims the surface of his life. He eventually contracts tuberculosis that leads to his tragic death at the age of 32.

So much of this mathematician’s achievement remains untold. Had I not seen the film, “The Man Who Knew Infinity” last year, I would have little idea about the full story of this great man’s achievement.

Timeline deserves high marks for its faithfulness to Complicite’s conception. Kudos go to Juliet Hart’s portrayal of Ruth and to Nick Bowling for keeping all the play’s story balls moving. The play is a qualified success. Its misdirected focus on Ruth and Al’s doomed affair made the real disappearing number Ramanujan himself.

A Disappearing Number” is playing at Timeline Theatre through April 9th. Performances run Wednesdays through Sundays at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m. with matinees on Saturday at 4 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. For more information or to purchase tickets, call 773/281-8463 or visit

PostHeaderIcon The Queen Who Kept Her Head

Last month, I made my way to Timeline Theatre for my latest history lesson. This time, it was a fascinating modern take on the House of Tudor (1485-1603). I do remember enough from my high-school History days about Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. I can’t recall ever hearing about Thomas Seymour and Katherine Parr. Yet, the latter figure was noteworthy. She was Henry’s sixth wife and the only one who outlived him.

As part of its 20th season, Timeline is presenting a highly engaging re-imagination of her marriage to the tempestuous Henry with the American premiere of Kate Hennig’s play, “The Last Wife”. It was first presented at the Stratford Festival in Canada last year where it enjoyed a three month, sold-out engagement.

Hennig’s play is not some Masterpiece Theater historical drama. Here, the actors are in modern dress and speak modern English. The action is set not at court but in the couple’s private quarters. Integral to the play’s appeal is that the audience, at one moment, is spying on their secret royal lives, complete with young children and raging quarrels, while, a moment later, we seem to be witnessing a 2016 dysfunctional family.

"Henry" grabs "Katherine"

“Henry” grabs “Katherine”

A modern note was struck right at the outset when Henry, convincingly played by Steve Pickering, barges in, grabs Katherine and forcibly kisses her, demonstrating his dominance, while a startled Seymour looks on. Immediately, my mind flashed to Donald Trump and the fresh revelations of his predatory conduct with numerous women.

The play accurately portrays Katherine’s keen mind and love of power.  AnJi White skillfully portrays a modern woman whose voluptuous figure can seduce and reduce two powerful men to her will. Parr must also have enjoyed an alluring figure. She was Henry’s consort before their marriage, carried on an illicit affair with Seymour and had four husbands in her life. She deserves greater recognition for getting Henry to pass the Third Succession Act of 1542 that restored his daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, to the throne. Without her persuasion, no Queen Elizabeth I. History turns on such twists of fate.

Steve Pckering & Anji White as Henry & Katherine

Steve Pckering & Anji White as Henry & Katherine

There’s no better way to get your English History refresher than to see “The Last Wife”, now playing through December 18. For tickets and information, visit or call 773/281-TIME.

I also want to call attention to the full range of Timeline’s education efforts. I am only familiar with the richly informative outer lobby displays mounted for each production. This time, there was a video about Henry , a life-size depiction of Henry with a cutout for female patrons to insert their face and six panels depicting each of Henry’s wives. In the earlier production, “Bakersfield Mist”, the lobby featured an art history primer on Jackson Pollock and Abstract Expressionism. Post-show discussions with company members and a monthly panel discussion, Sunday Scholars, examining the themes of each play are regular features.

Timeline is now celebrating the 10th anniversary of its “Living History Education Program” for students at Chicago Public schools. Students explore the connections between history, art and their own lives. The intent is to teach students theater skills while fostering their capacity to think creatively. Since the program started, Timeline has turned history into Living History for more than 3,500 students.

To honor the theater’s 20th anniversary season and its mission to present stories inspired by history, Timeline was awarded the 2016  MacArthur Foundation’s Award for Creative and Effective Institutions. Bravo!