Weekly Adventure: Chicago Poetry Bordello

Julia Davidson’s iPhone

Never has the word “adventure” been more appropriately used on this blog. Last night, Julia and I went to a brothel. And after paying the entry fee, buying a drink, and watching a burlesque dancer, we were led behind a curtain and… were read a poem.

The Chicago Poetry Bordello (recently renamed based on stupid legal challenge) is an amazing production (I really can’t think of a more appropriate word) that sets up ‘happenings’ (again for lack of a better word) that are meant to recreate the atmosphere of Chicago’s world famous turn of the century brothels, but replace the sex with poetry on demand. Complete with private readings that take place on beds. (By the way, if you haven’t read Sin in the Second City you really should.)

Last night’s show took place downstairs at the Chopin Theater, and it was as Julia so aptly put it on Facebook, like something out of Midnight in Paris. I honestly felt like I had stepped back in time somehow when I climbed out of the Division Blue Line stop. Along with the “Poetry Whores” who were all amazing, and the aforementioned burlesque dancer, there was a silhouette artist and a Tarot Card reader. (Who was eerily accurate by the way.) My only regret was that we had to leave early (damn employment and CTA schedules), but I cannot wait for them to have another show, I may just have to become a regular.


Bonus Adventure: A Fine Frenzy and Joshua Radin at The Vic

This past weekend was Northwestern’s Homecoming and to kick off the celebration Julia and I went to see one of our favorite fellow Wildcat alums – Joshua Radin, with added bonus of the absolutely adorable A Fine Frenzy.

The opening act was a new discovery named Madi Diaz, who I originally thought was called herself “Bad Ideas” and I was really confused, because her songs were really great.

A Fine Frenzy sings one of my theme songs (which she unfortunately didn’t sing on Friday) and so I was happy to see if she was going to be as lovely in person as she is on record…and she totally is. She dances like a complete spaz and her hands never stop moving while she sings, but she has the cutest smile. And her songs can make me giggle or break my heart.

Joshua Radin was a total Northwestern boy, (I mean he’s obviously a man now whatever), and not just because he used unnecessary complicated words like “ symbiotic” to pump the audience’s energy up. I don’t really know how to describe why, he just was. And he’s really cute, and his set involved a lot of table lamps, and his songs are catchy.


Weekly Adventure: The Verona Project at Northwestern

I have been to a million plays at Northwestern over the last five years, but rarely have I had as much fun as I did last night at The Verona Project. An adaptation – sort of – of Two Gentlemen of Verona the play, written by Amanda Dehnert,  is a riff on a fictional band’s fictional concept album. I know that sounds strange, but what it means in practice is all the actors play instruments (some of them seemingly play every instrument) and are dressed like folk-indie rockers, complete with tweed jackets and hipster glasses. 

The show is in the workshop stages (it is part of the American Musical Theater Project) and you can tell, the actors are on book for some obviously new scenes and some of the songs end a little abruptly. But that being said the cast had an amazing energy and the songs were catchy and emotional and exactly what I wanted them to be. (Particularly the first act love song “Everything is Perfect” – that could be a single from an indie band right now and I would buy it.)  

The cast was wonderful, especially Chance Bone (yes that’s actually his name) as Proteus whose selfish tour of self discovery pushes the convoluted (read Shakespearean) plot along. I  loved Michelle Schechter as the shallow but kind-hearted Thuria – whose monologue about being a secondary character her in own life struck a great chord. And Madeline Weinstein as Julia whose pluck and sorrow moved me to tears.

Also as Jules and I exclaimed at intermission, it was so refreshing to see a love story about two men that lets their conflict be identical to the straight characters (in fact it was hard to know at times who the straight characters were) instead of AIDS or depression or random unexplained death. I can’t tell you how many plays I sat through in that same theater complex that broke my heart with an unnecessary tragic ending, it was great to just enjoy the fun.


The show runs Thursday-Sunday through November 4th at the Josephine Louis Theater 20 Arts Circle Drive in Evanston

Thing I Love: Nashville

I’ve never been to the city of Nashville, though I would love to go, so clearly this isn’t a post about some unexpected mid-week trip. No I’m getting a little obsessed with the new night-time soap Nashville. It combines a few of my favorite things:

  1. Country Music  – the songs are produced by T-Bone Burnett ( of Walk the Line and Crazy Heart fame) and the duet at the end of the second episode totally sealed the deal, this is a show about music which actually takes the music seriously which is nice
  2. Soap Opera villains – Rayna (the main character portrayed wonderfully by Connie Britton)’s conniving father (Powers Boothe) complete with squinty eyes and gravelly voice demonstrates perfectly why soaps are so much fun, there is no subtlety here – but there is drama  and I can’t wait to see what happens next

3. An excuse to hate on Hayden Panettiere – she plays a vapid teen star girl who sings stupid slutty music and uses sex to manipulate everyone away from Raina – and therefore gives me a guilt free reason to grimace every time she comes on the screen

Classics from the Queue: Strictly Ballroom

Continuing in the theme of movies I’ve lied about seeing, I finally sat down and watched Baz Luhrmann’s camp-fest Strictly Ballroom last night. And I really cannot believe that I put it off for so long. The only world that can really describe this movie is ridiculous. But I mean that in the most fabulous way.

Basically the movie follows a group of deranged ballroom dancers trying to stop our hero Scott Hastings (Paul Mercurio) from dancing non-regulation steps at the Pan-Pacific Grand Prix (the phrase “Pan-Pacific Grand Prix” is repeated so many times that it becomes a quotable line though out of context it’s barely funny and makes no sense). His shocking choice to dance his own steps causes him to lose his partner and take up with hapless beginner Fran (Tara Morice) – who, with some help from her Spanish family, turns out to be awesome. Plus she is one of like 3 characters in the movie without hair bleached to the edge of its life, so you can tell she’s genuine.

The movie is silly and fun, and whizzes by, and really celebrates dance – I especially loved the sequences where Scott’s long-suffering father Doug (the lovely cartoonish Barry Otto) dances on his own, beer belly jiggling in front of him. I may have danced around my kitchen in celebration at the end. All I was missing were the sequins.

Extra Bonus Adventure: Seamus Heaney Reading for Poetry Day

I know, I know, a week ago I was writing about how with football season I wouldn’t be able to write about anything interesting for a while, but I guess I should have turned the page on my calendar before I got worried. (Yes I still use a paper calendar…)

Anyway last night I had the thrill of being in the same room with one of my heroes. The Poetry Foundation and the Art Institute invited Seamus Heaney, the Northern Irish Nobel Laureate, to read from his ridiculously large and amazing body of work to celebrate Poetry Day.

He was amazing, I mean if you know anything about me and his work that shouldn’t surprise you, but I don’t just mean that his poetry is amazing, (Though he did read both “Digging” and “Casualty” which basically means I can die happy now) but his manner and style were also just exactly as I wanted them to be.

He read without using the pretentious “poet voice” that makes me cringe, and handled the awkward interstitial moments by sharing lovely anecdotes about his family and just the right amount of background about Northern Ireland and what he called the “shadow time” there.  

The only complaint I have about the whole experience is that people should really not get up and ask questions unless they have something to ask. And no you don’t get three questions, and when they announce that they will not be having a book signing, do not get up and ask a man to sign something for you in front of everyone. It’s just awkward, and puts him in a terrible situation. (Also on far less annoyed side note – you don’t have to explain your connection to Ireland to ask Seamus Heaney a question, almost all of them did that – it was very weird.) But if you must get up and take up the speaker and everyone’s time, please try to be an adorable little girl who asks if “his poems have a life of their own.”

And while the man with the three-part question was annoying, the third part “how do you write with such clarity” did allow for one of the best lines of the night from Mr. Heaney, “I don’t know, pure bloody genius.”

Bonus Adventure: Regina Spektor at The Chicago Theater

I had a long day yesterday, compounded by getting caught in the rain without my umbrella and accidentally spilling meat sauce down the front of my dress at Subway, but it was all turned around by the angelic voice of Ms. Regina Spektor. I have seen her in concert before , but only outside at Dillo Day (which if you didn’t go to Northwestern/listen to Stephen Colbert’s speech from my commencement means I was drunk). So I was very excited to go actually hear her sing last night.

And I was in no way disappointed. She played a beautiful set, with a great mix of older songs and stuff from her new album. It was interesting to see the contrast between the seemingly shy girl giggling between songs and the powerhouse voice, but it just made the emotion in the songs hit me even harder.

The Chicago Theater, which I had never been inside before last night, is a legendary, spectacular venue, and she had a, at some points, overly complicated, light show going on behind her (not to mention a drummer with a rather impressive ‘fro) but she still managed to capture my attention with each song. It was money and sleep time (really almost as valuable as money to me) well spent.

Click Here to watch her sing “Better” (I’m having trouble enbedding Vimeo)

(But just as a side note Only Son your voice has a nice tone to it, but just play an acoustic set – playing your iPod on stage at the Chicago Theater is a little lame.)

Weekly Adventure: The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart

A couple of months ago my mother left a play and left me a garbled phone message that sounded like this: “Hi sweetie, I just left a play in a bar. It was Scottish, you probably won’t ever be able to see it, but you would love it, it’s got a great line about poetry and Hell.”

Aside from making no sense, I didn’t understand why she would call to gush about a play I couldn’t see. Well thankfully she was wrong, because the Chicago Shakespeare Theatre has brought the Scottish National Theater to my fair city for a run of that exact show. It’s called The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart and she was right I loved it.

For the CST run they’ve converted the black box theater on the top floor into a bar, complete with free drams of whiskey. The play tells the story, mostly in verse, of a folklorist from the Scottish borderlands who wanders after a kindly stranger out of the snow into a library, because that’s how you draw a nerd into Hell. (That’s how the devil would get me anyway.) Once pulled in she gets locked in a 4 millenia long battle of wits with the Devil to earn her escape. But it’s also a love story of course. (And it’s a testament to the power of the actors that it is actually a believable one.)

But the plot is so not the point. This play was an experience unlike anything else I’ve ever been to. Starting with the cast member joining Julia and I at our table before the show started, handing us a stack of paper napkins and telling us to start making snow. Most of the time I find audience participation cheesy, and I get terrified that I am going to get signaled out or embarrassed, but the company created such a wonderful atmosphere that by the end of the show we were all stamping our feet and singing modified Scottish football chants.

Seriously if you’re in Chicago, please go see this, because I can’t explain it any more (I honestly don’t know how to) but everyone really should experience it. Also to clarify my mother’s voicemail, she was trying to tell me that in the world of the show, you can tell you are in Hell when you are forced to speak in prose instead of poetry, which seems about right to me.

The show runs through October 28th at the Upstairs theater at CST 800 E. Grand Ave (the far eastern edge of Navy Pier)

Weekly Adventure: Good People at Steppenwolf

I haven’t been to a play in forever aka like a month and half, but it was thrilling to head back to my favorite pastime with one of my favorite people, Julia!! (who finally has come to her senses and left dreary old England for Chicago!!) She recently joined some sort of discount deal at Steppenwolf, so I got a free ticket to tag along with her to last night’s performance of Good People by David Lindsay-Abaire.

I was a little hesitant at first, because even though I had heard universally good things about the play and the production, Linday-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole depressed me so much when I first read it that I was afraid of being sent down an emotional spiral. But this play is different, it’s sad sure, but the love between the characters and the wry humor especially between Molly Regan’s Dottie and Lusia Stus’s Jean had me laughing so hard that I was literally smacking my knees and stamping my feet, all two seconds after I was wiping mascara off my face from crying.

The play is about the class divide, and how we think about unemployment and those who manage to make a prosperous life for themselves from rough beginnings. The main debate, like the political one going on in this country right now, is between those who believe that prosperity all comes down to personal choice and those who believe that scales are tipped by luck. I think if you know me you know where I come down on this, but that’s not really the point I want to make here. What’s so brilliant about this play is that it addresses this question that is so highly politicized today without ever talking about politics, except for a throwaway line or two about food stamps.

This is a personal story and it is grounded beautifully by Mariann Mayberry’s performance as Margaret. She is so heartbreakingly believable in this role of a woman who feels trapped by her circumstances and tries so hard to be a good, “nice,” person. 

I could go on and on about every member of the cast and pretty much every aspect of the plot, but I won’t, I’ll just tell you that you should go see it if you can.


The show runs through November 11th on the Steppenwolf Mainstage 1650 N Halsted Ave

Things I Love: Emily Owens, M.D. & The Mindy Project

Despite my disappointment in The New Normal (I’ve pretty much given up on that) there have been a few bright spots in this premier season. My two favorite pilots so far are female centered (shocking I know) medical comedies. I know I know, neither Emily Owens, MD or The Mindy Project are breaking any new ground as far premises go, but I find them both so charming and entertaining that I don’t really care.

Plus, after a season filled with “girls” it’s also great to have some shows centered around female characters that have at least the professional side of their lives figured out. (But apparently we have to be doctors for that to happen – oops.)

First – The Mindy Project – featuring my favorite Mindy Kaling, whose pop culture obsession makes me feel less embarrassed about the amount of times I check people.com during the day, and whose book title basically describes every anxiety I have. She uses her new show (which happens to be set in a OBGYN practice, but could really be set anywhere) to both praise romantic comedies (especially ones from the golden era of the genre – the mid 90s) and make fun of their clichés – in the pilot her meet-cute with Bill Hader ultimately leads to her drunkenly giving a speech at his wedding to someone else about Downton Abbey (and other things) – because meeting in an elevator doesn’t automatically mean life-long happiness.

Also Chris Messina is awesome.


Emily Owens MD, which for some reason is on the CW and is therefore probably not on as many people’s radars, but you can watch the pilot on Hulu right now before the premier, is a more straight forward medical show, complete with protagonist voice-over, but what saves it from complete cliché-ville is Mamie Gummer (daughter of Meryl Streep and all around awesome actress) who plays the “why are we never out of high school” frustration so perfectly. I want to be friends with her, and so I’ll do the next best thing, which is watch her show.