“People in the City” take on Chicago

Wendy Mateo and Lorena Diaz are two elderly women impatiently waiting for coffee and menus at a neighborhood diner one minute and two sloppily drunk young Cubs fans outside Wrigley Field another. No big deal, just another night out for the so-called “partners in crime.”
Starring in “People in the City: Bodegas, Beisbol and the American Dream” through Oct. 14 at Luna Central, 3914 N. Clark, the “tall and short” duo, Mateo and Diaz, make up “Dominizuelan,” an Latino improv comedy group originally based in Lakeview.
Portraying 20 different characters throughout their approximately 70 minute long show, the synchronization and casualty Mateo and Diaz exude on stage appears effortless and familiar. As audience members turned to each other in fits of laughter and aghast, it was clear that the pair have no trouble nailing each stereotype they set out to mimic.
While they tackle improvisations of many Chicago characters locals stumble upon on a daily basis, corner “Streetwise” peddlers for example, “the short Dominican and tall “Venezuelan” fail to touch upon their backgrounds in “corporate America.” Despite that, it is hard to fault them. Having toured nationwide, they group also tie their connections to New York City and Miami into the show.
Their portrayals, crude yet honest, had theatergoers leaving the show telling their girlfriends how they see elderly men just like the two presented, outside their grocery stores all the time.
Presented by the nonprofit, “pan-Latino” arts organization, the International Latino Cultural Center of Chicago, it is fitting that the set of colorful sketches will run throughout the course of National Hispanic Heritage Awareness month. With a new T-Mobile sponsorship, ticket prices were cut in half to $10.
“We fa-moose,” said Mateo to Diaz as a small group of fans approached them after their Thursday, Sept. 27 show. “But we keep real.”

Photo courtesy of Wendy Mateo

DePaul celebrates “Spring Awakening” this fall

Abortion, masturbation, sex and nudity are often not choice topics of discussion throughout private, Catholic institutions.
However, DePaul University, known as the country’s largest private Catholic school, will jump start their Theatre School Showcase series with a focus on many of these themes. Opening Friday, Sept. 28, is DePaul’s take on one of the most controversial shows introduced in years…”Spring Awakening.” The show tells a story revolving around teenage sexual exploration and expression during a time when religion and authority’s presence was overwhelming inhibiting.
A modern take on a century old German play, the rock musical is the first of that variety to be performed on DePaul’s Merle Reskin Theatre stage, 60 E. Balboa Ave., in two years.
“There’s a lot of expectations,” said Alexis Links, The Theatre School production coordinator. “It’s definitely been the hot topic around here recently.”
At a Catholic university supportive of drag performances in student centers and weeks devoted to LGBTQA awareness, it should come as no surprise that DePaul was behind putting on the show from the beginning.
“What the story is about is the danger of not talking about it {sexual exploration} and the tragedy that happens when people are forced to keep quiet,” said the show’s choreographer and Theatre school professor, Julia Neary.
“It speaks more loudly to the frustrations of teen angst in a vocabulary that wasn’t allowed in our parents generation.”
Not only does Neary have experience working with the student cast members in preparation for the “Spring Awakening” run, but she also has had many of them as students in her Acting and Movement classes, allowing for an easier, more “collaborative” choreographic process.
Neary said that the language she uses in class was familiar to many involved and helped the cast form a safe and comfortable performance environment, something especially important when approaching such heavy subjects as teenage abuse and abortion.
“I wanted to make sure students felt comfortable embodying the characters and performing in a more open environment,” said Neary. “It was important that the movement that I had them do come from a more organic place. “
To compliment Neary’s teaching approach, Professor of Musical Theatre and “Spring Awakening” music director, Mark Elliott, appointed sophomore Janie Killips as his assistant to better the bands efforts to understand the importance and role of the show’s music.
“I think it took off some pressure,” said Killips, of her participation with fellow students, explaining her comfort with the shows music and message despite the initial hesitancy from many fellow classmates. “This was really in my ‘box.’”
The education of youth on topics that are oftentimes disregarded or avoided until major tragedy strikes is the overall theme stressed by both Neary and Killips.
“It speaks a great deal on the power of being informed,” said Neary. “It is a very pure story.”
Reflected in both content and subtext, it is hoped by DePaul that “Spring Awakening’s” emphasis on young adult voices being heard is draws a significant parallel to their overall mission as well.
Under the direction of Damon Kiely, “Spring Awakening” will run through Oct. 6.

A tale of two Mindy’s

The pilot episode of “The Mindy Project” has Mindy Lahiri all over the place…spending the night in jail, in the delivery room, a wedding reception toast, on a date, and even at the bottom of a pool.

In what may be Mindy Kaling’s biggest gig since playing Kelly Kapoor, on NBC’s, ‘The Office,’ she plays Lahiri, a thirty-something, single, romantic-comedy/Hollywood ending obsessive OB/GYN.

Similar to her character, Kaling has also been all over the place. Over recent years she has written a best-selling novel, voiced cartoon characters and co-written and produced multiple episodes of ‘The Office.”

Set to follow the season 2 premiere of Fox’s wildly successful comedy, “New Girl” on Tuesday, September 25 at 8:30 p.m., Kaling’s newest project presents a female character lead most women probably won’t want to punch in the face but, instead, would want to meet up with to grab drinks.

After a recent painful breakup, Lahiri is hung up on not having a boyfriend and shallowly dispelling her insecurities with thoughtless hookups with men she knows are no good.  Despite unhealthy fixations but with an honest charm, she insists that she is motivated to change her playgirl ways.

 For a pilot episode, Kaling is in good company. Bill Hader of “Saturday Night Live” is the oral surgeon heartbreaker who leaves her for another woman after two months and “The Office” costar, Ed Helms, also appears as Dennis, a “too perfect” date she runs out on. One of many fellow doctors she works with, Chris Messina’s, Danny Castellano, compliments Lahiri’s anxiousness with a temporarily charming quick wit and occasional patience for her ramblings.

Based on one episodes impression, I’ll be sticking around for episode two, rooting for both Mindy Kaling and Mindy Lahiri…that they both earn the well-deserved fairytale end to a story many setbacks in the making.