When She Danced" Theatre Review: Isadora, The Original Dancing Queen

When She Danced

By Martin Sherman

Directed by Nick Bowling

Thru December 20th

From the first glimpse of a man’s naked ass to the hurling of a champagne glass, When She Danced captivates the audience in the indulgent passions of a celebrity. Set in 1923, Playwright Martin Sherman illustrates a day in the life of Isadora Duncan. Famous for introducing an unconventional modern dance form to society, Isadora is struggling to support the lavish lifestyle of her husband, Sergei Esenin, a Russian poet. Seventeen years younger and a raging alcoholic, Sergei speaks no English and is jealous of Isadora’s cult-like following. Grieving the deaths of her two children, Isadora wants to open a dance school in Italy “… something small for 500 to 1000 girls to study nothing….” To pitch her idea, she sells her furniture to buy champagne for a dinner party. Bad choices in men, grandiose future plans and drunken artistic passions, When She Danced is a party well-worth selling a piece a furniture to get to.

Russian, Greek, French, Italian, at first the multiple uses of language and accents is chaotic. Later, it’s just backdrop for the colorful eccentric life of Isadora. Jennifer Engstrom becomes Isadora Duncan. Draped in a blanket and unabashed about personal space, Engstrom intimately converses with old and new friends. During her “rehearsal,” Engstrom’s face is animated in emotion to the music but she never moves. Alexandros Eliopolos (played by Alejandro Cordoba), her accompanist tells her that he wants to see her dance. She replies, “I never rehearse my feet.” Timeline Company member Janet Ulrich Brooks plays Miss Belzer, a Russian translator. Delivering some of the most hysterical moments, Brooks is forced to translate Sergei’s (played by Patrick Mulvey) mean-spirited comments to her idol, Isadora. Even without an interpreter, Mulvey breaks the language barrier with his expressive energy.

Under the direction of Nick Bowling, the climax of the dinner party scene is particularly free spirited entertainment. The entire production is well-paced with spotlighted soliloquies of memories of seeing Isadora Duncan dancing. The one speed bump for me is both Engstrom and Mary Williamson (as Mary Desti) at times struggle with strained vocal chords most probably from frequent shouting matches. When She Danced is a sneak peak into the life of a woman who was infamous for her scandal on stage and off stage. Kind of a Brittany Spears meets Madonna type. Isadora Duncan was definitely a woman who danced to her own tune.

My dancing partner, Shawn says the show is an “enjoyable Timeline production”


To get in the mood for a matinee set in Paris, we choose the nearby La Creperie (2845 N. Clark) for brunch. This very popular hole-in-the wall has its own cult-like following. Brunch is bustling and we secure one of a few tables open. When in Paris… we order crepes! There are two categories to chose from: savory and sweet. I want to go with sweet. But denying my passion for a Grand Marnier soaked crepe, I go savory. I order the ham, swiss, and egg crepe. It arrives with bacon and potatoes. Quite the feast and much more than I can eat. It’s good but rich. I’m reminded why I haven’t been to La Creperie in a few years. I don’t really like crepes.

After spending a couple of hours watching Isadora chugging champagne, I wanted to channel my own inner artist over a glass of wine. On an unusually warm November evening, we chose Yoshi’s Cafe (3257 N. Halsted) so we could dine al fresco one last time in 2009. With chandelier lights hanging from the awning rafters, Yoshi’s patio is a perfect spot to enjoy a bottle of Pinot Noir and appetizers. The mussels are not only a hearty portion but individually an ample plump size. The Japanese pumpkin ravioli easily falls into my “all things pumpkin are wonderful” category and the cream sauce is worth asking for extra bread to sop up the last drop. Our server was friendly and efficient with wine and appetizer recommendations. The evening was perfectly pleasant. I didn’t get the pumpkin crème brulee. Or hurl a champagne glass against the wall, see a man’s naked ass or create tumultuous drama. But hey, tomorrow is another day to get it right, Duncan style!

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