Concentrating on the novel's expose of the sexual and financial hunger that ravaged 19th Century Parisian society, Olwen Wymark's adaptation traces this courtesan's rise and fall like a biblical parable. The American debut of this new adaptation opens Thursday, Dec. 12, at TrapDoor Theatre in a staging by ensemble member Beata Pilch that features, among 11 actors, Nicole Wiesner in the title role.
Clearly, "Nana" is not your usual holiday heart-warmer. "We chose the play because of its relevance to our own arguably decadent society, especially our obsession with distracting ourselves during hard times and wartime," says Pilch. "Like Paris in 1880, we're also a sex-driven society and, as the example of Monica Lewinsky demonstrates, we're easily led away from the real issues that affect our lives to follow a splendid scandal."
"CHRISTMAS ON MARS": The Artistic Home, 1420 W. Irving Park Rd.; $10; 773-404-1100: Opening Friday, Dec. 6, as a late-night offering, this anti-holiday, 60-minute comedy of calamities by the late Harry Kondoleon takes a gay airline attendant, self-absorbed actor, pregnant secretary and daughter-deserting mother to make an anarchic comedy. The characters share nothing but a selfish desire to cheat and a penchant for insanitybut that's quite enough.
Despite the name (or perhaps because of it), this too is no holiday heartwarmer. "The title refers not to the planet but to this nutty family," says director Sharon Hazel. "In the second act Kondoleon portrays the terrible panic of a family celebration, made worse by an unintended pregnancy and the clan's claustrophobic living conditions. Their efforts to make it a traditional Christmas for the soon-to-be-born baby fall short with every effort they make to be conventional and Rockwellian."
And the pleasure of this sardonic one-act? The delight you feel in knowing it's not your own family. Just walk away without regret. Closes Dec. 21.
"POSEIDON! AN UPSIDE-DOWN MUSICAL": Almost 30 years after the film first appeared, this campy '70s travesty created by David Cerda ("Touched by Jayne Mansfield," "The Birds," "Joan Crawford Goes to Hell," "Rudolph, the Red-Hosed Reindeer") celebrates the 1972 disaster film about passengers in an ocean liner who, literally upset, must escape by climbing through a sunken ship.
Directing the cast of 12 is Bailiwick Repertory artistic director David Zak. "If the audience lets their imagination collaborate with us, they'll find it easy to believe in a cast who will sing, dance, crash and burn anything to amuse them," says Zak, reticent about how he will actually depict an upside-down ocean liner. "Certainly 'Poseidon!' has physical tricks but the main draw is David Cerda's wacky sense of humor and the affectionate impersonations of Shelley Winters, Gene Hackman, Red Buttons, Ernest Borgnine, Carol Lynley, Jack Albertson, Malcolm McDowell and Stella Stevens. Plus the drag goes both ways." Neither sex is spared.
"BLAST!": Winner of the 2001 Tony Award for Best Special Theatrical Event and an Emmy for choreography, "Blast!" returns to Chicago on Wednesday, Dec. 11, to celebrate the youthful energy and outdoor pageantry of drum corps.
Directed by James Mason and based on the spectacles created by the drum corps Star of Indiana, the show features 54 athletic performers, most in their early 20s, from the U.S., Japan, Canada and Europe. These ambulatory artists perform on brass instruments, drums, mallets and electronic keyboards as well as flaunt traditional sabers and colorful flags.
"It's part of our heritage, just as Sousa was the Beatles of his time and just as Celtic dancing inspires 'Riverdance,'" says Mason. "Our love of the genre grew up with the spectacle of P.T. Barnum's circus bands that continues in the Super Bowl half-time shows."
With stopwatch timing and awesome lung power, the show creates a loud and proud tribute to the dynamic genre. "It takes you on a journey that lets you explore your own emotions," says Mason, "not just through the music but through the synergy of color, movement and music."
Bommer is a Chicago freelance writer.
Originally published Dec. 4, 2002.