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The Mistress Cycle in Chicago

Updated: Feb 20, 2020

Playwright: music by Jenny Giering, lyrics by Beth Blatt. At: Apple Tree Theatre at the Auditorium, 50 E. Congress. Phone: 1-800-982-2787; $49. Runs through: Aug. 8. Photo by Michael Brosilow

It's such a clever idea, you wonder why it's not implemented more often: you've got this huge downtown theater, see, sitting empty most of the year waiting for the kind of extravaganzas that will justify its full-operation expenses. And you've got a sellout show playing in a remote neighborhood at a shoebox-sized playhouse no bigger than the stage of the aforementioned Loop arena. So you move the entire production, audience seats and all, onto the space behind the footlights in the big room—a win-win solution for all involved and a boon to automobile-challenged city theatergoers curious about a musical revue titled The Mistress Cycle.

For "mistress" is not a precise label, and the characters whose social status is nowadays defined by that term vary according to their time and place. Cultures the world over have long acknowledged the benefits of more than one person fulfilling the duties ( often including reproductive responsibilities ) associated with maintaining a household, and with few other employment options open to women, a daughter fair of face and small of prospects could do worse than to settle for the not-insubstantial security and material comforts—room and board, an allowance and severance pay—of being the "number two" wife.

Those whom we meet are a medieval Chinese concubine barely out of her teens, a court lady of the early French renaissance twenty years older than her royal protector, a turn-of-the-century Storyville madam, and a belle-époque artist-journalist. They have come to instruct a modern career photographer contemplating an affair with a married man in the ways of their sorority. Over a sleek 90 minutes, Jenny Giering's lush melodies and Beth Blatt's poignant lyrics acquaint us with the risks and the rewards encountered by those who accept the opportunity to forge their own destinies independent of official recognition.

Whether you agree with every tenet of Giering and Blatt's manifesto ( they claim, for example, that there is "no male equivalent" to "mistress" ) , there's no denying the appeal of five cheerful songbirds—Susie McMonagle, Angela Ingersoll, Charissa Armon, Karen Marie Richardson and newcomer Christine Bunuan—warbling sweet/sassy serenades, accompanied by the likewise decorative Diana Lawrence at the grand piano, while they lounge sensuously in Amy Jackson's rosy-textured boudoir, clad in Erin Fast's cleavage-accentuating gowns. Summer is a lazy season, but this intimate and insightful confection only plays until Aug. 8, so don't wait too long before getting your tickets.

View the full article HERE.

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