CLOSED: “I Sailed With Magellan” @ Victory Gardens’ new theatre @ Biograph

Baker, Riley and Grapey (in dress)
Justin Cholewa and Laura Scheinbaum
Josh Akerlow, Bubba Weiler and Morgan McCabe (in dress)
Bubba Weiler and Marc Grapey
Desmin Borges and Justin Cholewa

Chicago Reader review:
"CRITICS CHOICE.  Claudia Allen's strong suit as a playwright has always been feisty old women in small towns, so it's a stretch for her to adapt Stuart Dybek's 2003 "novel in stories," dominated by urban male voices. But Allen's script is remarkably sure-handed and often riotously funny, providing an elegy for a working-class, pre-Starbucks cityscape (well reflected by Jeff Bauer's clever multilevel set). Dispensing with narration, the episodic script cuts back and forth between the 1950s and '60s in Little Village as young Perry Katzek grows up with a penny-pinching father (played to perfection by Marc Grapey) and a sad-eyed wastrel musician uncle (an affecting Lance Baker) damaged by the Korean war. Sandy Shinner's fluid direction and the rock-solid ensemble capture the roiling energy and tender truthfulness of Dybek's world." Kerry Reid

Tribune review:
"This is the third show about a Chicago boyhood I've reviewed within the last 18 months, but 'I Sailed With Magellan' is by far the best.  Anchored by Marc Grapey doing some of the best work of his career, Sandy Shinner's production is very pleasurable. And the acting is appropriately colorful, with Lance Baker turning in a rich portrait of a drunken musician gone to permanent seed under the watchful eye of Rob Riley's decent barkeep. Enormously enjoyable in dramatic form, I Sailed With Magellan has Chicago down, hot and cold."  Chris Jones

SunTimes review:
"Steelworker Dad (a hugely zestful, broadly comic turn by Marc Grapey as 'the good provider" who is at once coarse, bullying, penny-pinching and loving) is not above ordering his young sons, Perry (Bubba Weiler as Dybek's alter ego) and Mick (Josh Akerlow), to charge into traffic to retrieve car parts later sold on Maxwell Street. Yet Moms (Morgan McCabe) appreciates her husband's steadiness, which is a fine counterpoint to the chaotic life of her brother, Lefty (Lance Baker, in his element as a richly romantic but damaged man). A jazz musician who turns to drinking and gambling after serving in the Korean War, Lefty is Perry's favorite relative throughout childhood and the classic lost artist.  RECOMMENDED. " Hedy Weiss

Daily Southtown review:
"'I Sailed With Magellan' is filled with joyous passion and an enchanting spirit. It is one of the most moving shows of the summer season.  The players personify the humanity of their characters. Bubba Weiler is charming as the boyish Perry, and Justin Cholewa is right on as the teenage Perry. Rob Riley delivers a nice turn as Zip, the owner of the bar; Lance Baker breaks your heart as Lefty; Desmin Borges does a nice turn as a dangerous hood, Joe; and Morgan McCabe is a convincing mom."  Betty Mohr

Time Out review:
"FOUR STARS.  In demonstrating how an environment shapes a writer, this show is all aces. The hardscrabble cast is good."  Christopher Piatt

Variety review:
"No question that Allen's overall affection for Dybek's work and for Chicago itself emerges, and Shinner's cast makes the most of their likeable characters. That makes this show a potential local favorite."  Steven Oxman

Daily Herald review:
"Directed by Sandy Shinner, Victory Gardens’ production — which unfolds against a backdrop of Mike Tutaj’s revealing projections on Jeff Bauer’s gray, hardscrabble set which effectively evokes this rough-around-the-edges enclave — is affectionate and sincere. Colorful and intimate, it’s filled with memorable characters (especially Lance Baker’s broken Uncle Lefty, a former jazzman turned shell-shocked veteran; Marc Grapey’s blustering, penny-pinching patriarch and Cholewa’s sexually frustrated urban romantic). Moreover, offbeat colloquialisms like 'Jesus Christ on a camel' and references to the lakefront, Maxwell Street market, the Red Line and other Chicago area landmarks lend it credibility.Barbara Vitello

We even made the sports section:
"Life imitated art Monday night when a fan ran out onto the field in the ninth inning at Wrigley Field as the Cubs faced Colorado.  Currently showing at Chicago's Victory Gardens Theater is "I Sailed with Magellan," based on the book by Chicago author Stuart Dybek about his memories growing up in 1950s and 1960s in Chicago.  The show includes a scene in which Uncle Lefty—a free-spirited jazz man and Cubs fan played by actor Lance Baker—jumps out of the Wrigley bleachers and runs on the field to shake Willie Mays' hand.  He is taken out by a Wrigley Field security guard, and Uncle Lefty is promptly incarcerated into a 'loony bin.'"

The most elaborate show Victory Gardens has every attempted, this adaptation of Stuart Dybek's much-beloved book of Chicago stories has a cast of 10 enacting over 50 roles, with 400+ light and sound cues, video projection, actors "swimming" in an onstage "Lake Michigan,"  and another long-awaited opportunity for me to wear a fake mustache.  Let me know if you're interested in checking it out or if you have questions– my address is to the right.

This, from the Victory Gardens website:

Claudia Allen turns her skilled hand to Dybek’s first work of fiction  – inspired by his memories growing up in 1950s and ‘60s Chicago – City of Big Shoulders, from Little Village to the lake front, Baha’i Temple to Maxwell Street.  Swim off the rocks.  Down a shot at the Zip Inn.  Get chased across Wrigley Field.  Have sex on the beach – almost.   Breathe deep and listen to Dybek’s wonderful memories and provocative characters:  passionate, poetic, profane, and joyous.

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About Lance Baker

An actor and director in Chicago and on the road.

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