Wednesday, February 22, 2017

My Review of Moana on the GenZ Critics Club Site

I was so happy to be chosen as a finalist for the GenZ Critics Club film review contest this year. You can read my review of Moana on their site. While you are there, check out the other great reviews!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Review of Love's Labor's Lost at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Love's Labor's Lost. It was by William Shakespeare and it was directed by Marti Maraden. It was about a group of scholars, led by King Ferdinand (John Tufts) and inculding Longaville (Madison Niederhauser), Dumaine (Julian Hester), and Berowne (Nate Burger), who have basically signed a contract that says we will not see any ladies or have any fun--or even really eat enough. But then the Princess of France (Jennie Greenberry) and her court comes for a visit. Of course, all these boys, even though they've only been studying for a few weeks, are very lonely and immediately fall in love with the Princess and her ladies: Katherine (Leryn Turlington when I saw it, but usually Taylor Blim), Maria (Jennifer Latimore), and Rosaline (Laura Rook). They all try to find a way to confess their love for each other and, of course, hilarity ensues. It is about attraction, waiting, and honesty. I think this is a really funny show and I really enjoyed it.

I really liked the aesthetic of the show. I think they took inspiration from The Swing by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, which is a painting from the 18th century of a woman on a swing in a very fancy dress with a hat and surrounded by a frame of trees. And there is a guy who is getting an "accidental" view up her skirt. The set (by Kevin Depinet) has a swing, the floor looks glossy like a painting, and the background looks like it has the trees and clouds from the painting, which I think is very cool looking. The style of the play seems very romanticized. It is about attraction more than true love. And the painting's other name is The Happy Accidents of the Swing, which I think refers to what one of the men in the painting's view is. He is not really falling in love with her, he just thinks she is attractive. The costumes (by Christina Poddubiuk) also look exactly like the painting. All of the women wore flat hats and pouffy dresses. And the men wore buckle shoes and breeches. I would happily wear any of these costumes. I think they are beautiful.

My favorite scene was where Berowne had written a love letter to Rosaline and he was thinking what she may think of it. And then the King walked in talking about his lady love, even though they had all sworn not to even talk to any women. And then Berowne hides up in a tree as quickly as he possibly can, which is, of course, hilarious to see. And then Longaville enters and the King hides and Longaville talks about his lady love and says some pretty embarrassing stuff. And then Dumaine walked in and Longaville hid and Dumaine starts talking about his love. And then the King pops out and starts talking about how terrible what Dumaine and Longaville have talked about is and how Berowne would be disappointed in them for falling in love. And then Berowne pops out of the tree scaring the crap out of everyone and starts talking about how the King has also fallen in love and written this love letter to the Princess. Then Costard (Alex Goodrich), who is basically a messenger who has great comic timing and who is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, runs in with Jaquenetta (Maggie Portman) who has Berowne's letter to Rosaline. Once Berowne sees it and realizes what the contents are, he rips it up and starts to eat it. The rest of the scene is going on behind him and he is at the front of the stage eating his letter. I was dying laughing. Eventually everyone makes him spit out the letter he has been eating and they realize what it is. He's just been chastising everyone else about writing love letters, so this is a pretty embarrassing experience for him.

I noticed a few moments that seemed a lot like other Shakespeare plays. I'm going to sue Shakespeare for plagiarizing Shakespeare! Don Armado (Allen Gilmore) had fallen in love with Jaquenetta and he seemed like Orsino in Twelfth Night because he was always mourning over being in love as if it were a terrible thing. And he wants music from his page Moth (Aaron Lamm) to make him feel better about being in love. Another moment I thought was a lot like A Midsummer Night's Dream. They basically did a play within a play, about the Nine Worthies, like he will later with "the most lamentable comedy and most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisbe" in Midsummer. They have one scared performer each: Sir Nathaniel (Greg Vinkler) and Snug the Joiner. There's the overly confident one: Don Armado and Bottom. And there's the badly cast one: Moth as Hercules and Flute as Thisbe. I also think that Rosaline seems a lot like Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing. She's witty, smart, and stands with her friends above anything, like Beatrice does with Hero. I think it is very interesting that Shakespeare would take inspiration from his own plays. Basically he tries out these characters and situations in Love's Labor's Lost, one of his earlier plays, and then he makes them more well-thought-through and more complex in the later plays.

People who would like this show are people who like eating love letters, swing "accidents," and self-plagiarism. I think people should definitely go see this show. I thought it was an absolute blast and I loved it.

Photos: Liz Lauren

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Review of Straight White Men at Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Straight White Men. It was written and directed by Young Jean Lee. It was about a family of four straight white men who are together for Christmas: the dad, Ed (Alan Wilder); the oldest son, Matt (Brian Slaten); the middle son, Jake (Madison Dirks); and the youngest son, Drew (Ryan Hallahan). The mother in the family has passed away and they are having Christmas without her. They are reflecting on the past and thinking about their responsibilities and privileges as straight white men and what is okay to do and not to do. They are also goofing off and having dance parties. I though this was a very interesting and hilarious show. I'm really glad I got to see it. It was interesting to see a day in the life of a suburban, politically liberal family; you get to see all the antics they get up to as well as their discussions of deeper topics. It really gets your mind working.

There is loud hip hop music playing when you first come in. I am a fan of a lot of hip hop, so I was nodding my head and tapping my feet. It is supposed to make some people feel uncomfortable and other people feel more comfortable. I think I was in the middle. I would have liked all the songs, except I was sitting between my parents, and there were some very explicit lyrics happening. There were definitely people--not my parents--around me that really did not like the music and felt really uncomfortable. Elliott (Elliott Jenetopulos) and Will (Will Wilhelm), have been dancing around in the audience and handing out ear plugs. Then they start the show and start to talk about themselves and what pronouns they each prefer to be referred to as (they and them), and basically warning everyone that the rest of the players in the show will be straight white men. And they tell you about the experiment with the loud music. Some people seemed to feel a little betrayed by the experiment, but the program explained it as well and I found the experiment very interesting. I would like to do an experiment like this myself. They said, "If you enjoyed that music, congratulations on your moment of privilege." It made me think about how there are a lot of people who might not feel comfortable at a typical show. Basically throughout the rest of the show Elliott and Will's job is to move the actors into position to start each scene, which I think is very interesting because it reversed the usual power of pushing around people. Gender nonconforming people get to control the type of people who have been trying to control them, straight white men. (Roll credits.)

There is a very big escalation of what is at stake for this family. Near the beginning, Jake and Drew break out this old board game that their mom made called "Privilege," which was intended to make them not jerks. That is the lowest the stakes are, because they are just playing a game. But by the end everyone is talking about what makes a terrible person and who in their family abuses their privilege. Basically they are trying to figure out what is wrong with Matt when he bursts into tears at the dinner table and why he is living at home with his dad when he graduated from Harvard and has always been smart and stood up for equal rights. In a normal play with straight white men in it, they just think about themselves as people, not as straight white men, which is a cool difference about this play. There are many plays that are about the experience of being gay, a woman, or a person of color. And there are lots of plays about straight white men but they don't think of themselves as having a straight-white-man experience--they just think of it as the experience. When some people think of a show called Straight White Men written by a woman of color, they might think that it is just going to be really really mean to white men. But it is actually trying to understand them, and I think it does a pretty gosh-darn good job of it by showing a bunch of straight white men trying and sometimes failing to be good people and thinking about how to use their privilege in an effective way for the rest of the world.

I felt like the sweetest moment was after they had gotten into a fight but they decide to make up by having a dance party all together. Matt seems very shy throughout the entire show, but in this scene he busts out some cartwheels and other gymnastics moves and does the worm and it is mindblowing. It is just so sweet to see this family having so much fun together. Another fun family tradition is where Ed buys pjs for his entire family and they have a pj modeling runway, which is hilarious. Basically each of them strikes a hilarious pose, anything from album cover to fashion magazine. I thought it was hilarious and adorable to see the cute family traditions. There is this one moment where Ed spills some chips and Matt had to vacuum them up and he had also just heard everyone there talking crap about him behind his back. The spilling was very convincing; I almost thought something had gone wrong. And Matt just comes out with a vacuum cleaner and does the longest vacuum cleaning ceremony you have ever seen. He's so zoned in on his vacuuming and making everything in that section spotless. Everyone has to put up their feet and they all sit silently. That is comedy gold.

People who would like this show are people who like loud hip hop, privilege board games, and vacuum cleaning ceremonies. I thought this was a really awesome show. I think it had a great story and message. I really loved it.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Friday, February 17, 2017

Review of Porchlight Music Theatre's The Scottsboro Boys

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Scottsboro Boys. The book was by David Thompson and the music and lyrics were by John Kander and Fred Ebb. Direction and choreography were by Samuel G. Roberson, Jr. It was about the Scottsboro case, but it was a musical. The Scottsboro case was a case of nine African-American men and boys who were accused unfairly of rape during the Depression: Olen Montgomery (Travis Austin Wright), Andy Wright (Maurice Randle), Eugene Williams (Cameron Goode), Haywood Patterson (James Earl Jones II), Clarence Norris (Stephen Allen, Jr.), Willie Roberson (Izaiah Harris), Ozie Powell (Trequon Tate), Roy Wright (Jerome Riley, Jr.), and Charles Weems (Jos N. Banks). That certainly isn't the most fun topic for a musical, but it is a story that needs to told. It is heartbreaking, disturbing, and it made me feel really angry and sad about the injustice that was done to these people.

My favorite song was "Go Back Home." It made me cry because they all had such beautiful voices and you could feel how much they wanted to get home to what they missed. Haywood and Eugene lead this song and they have little talking sections where they talk about what they hope to see when they get home. Eugene was talking about how he was really hoping he could get home for his 12th birthday, which is really sad because he is still very young but he has still been accused of this terrible crime because of a lie someone told. And he spends many years in prison because of it. It was insane to me that a little boy would be accused of something like this. Haywood had the most tragic ending, in my opinion. I think that by the end when you think back on the song it is even more sad. Even though he was innocent and wouldn't even lie, he still never gets to go home in the show.

Victoria Price (Banks) and Ruby Bates (Tate), the accusers, were played by two of the Scottsboro Boys, but they at first did not "make friends with the truth." And Victoria never does. Even though they were terrible people, they still made pretty funny characters. Especially Ruby because she wasn't as evil; she didn't make the plan and she also tried to get them out of prison once they had been put in. Both characters had great mannerisms, like they seem to always be fanning themselves. Ruby had a mink scarf that whenever someone would get on her nerves, she would scare them away with one of the faces. I think it was appropriate to have these characters portrayed by men because the Scottsboro Boys had been stereotyped and now that they have a chance to stereotype someone else, they do. I think that is pretty satisfying. There was only one female actor in this entire show, though, but she had a very important role even though she didn't speak until the end. She played a very key role in the civil rights movement's history. I thought that was a great reveal at the end: who she was and why she was thinking of the Scottsboro Boys.

The brothers, Andy and Roy Wright, were very close and they never seemed to get mad at each other. They seemed to help each other through everything, which was a very sweet relationship to see. They were going somewhere to get jobs to help their family and now they don't know if their family can pay for everything. They both seem to try and help the rest of the Scottsboro Boys get in touch with their families. Also, because one of them was a little older than the other, they didn't get to leave the prison together. Seeing them hug when they may never see each other again was so heartbreaking. This had a lot of emotional impact on me. You got to know so much about how they missed their mom and their sister, so when one of them gets to go off and see them and the other one may die, it was really moving.

All of the Scottsboro Boys were also part of a minstrel show in this version. It was run by the Interlocutor (Larry Yando), who would basically ask everyone questions. Mr. Bones (Denzel Tsopnang) and Mr. Tambo (Mark J.P. Hood) are basically like clowns in the minstrel show and in the real story they play many of the white characters. I thought that was interesting because you kind of got to see the opposite of the blackface minstrel show, where white people played black characters. I thought that the minstrel theme sometimes was disturbing though. It seemed as if they were trying to make light out of a very very dark story. I also think that because the show was written by white men, it seemed as if instead of progressing forward in history they were taking it back to a bad time but not because the musical needed it. I think if black writers had chosen to stage a minstrel show, it would have felt more comfortable and progressive because it wouldn't have felt like the writers were doing the same thing the Interlocutor was doing in the show--that is, making African-American people perform a minstrel show. I think the writers were trying to show the story in a unique way, but they leave themselves open to being seen as unprogressive. I did think the performers and the director (and possibly the writers, but it is hard to tell) worked to make the performances in the minstrel scenes more rebellious against stereotypes of their culture. You could see by the performers' expressions during the minstrel numbers that they were not enjoying this. But whenever they would do the sincere story, they seemed to be really feeling it, identifying with their characters and wanting the story to be told.

People who would like this show are people who like touching sibling relationships, going home, and scary scarves. I think this was a good show. It had some great and touching moments and I enjoyed it. It made me want to learn a lot more about this case and it made me think a lot about injustices that are happening today and how we all need to do something about it.

Photos: Kelsey Jorissen

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Review of Eclectic Full Contact Theatre's The History Boys

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The History Boys. It was by Alan Bennett, and it was directed by Katherine Siegel. It is about a teacher named Hector (David Belew) who worked at a British all-boys school and he teaches everyone's favorite class, General Studies--which basically means you learn a lot of important things in a fun way and then goof off. The boys are all trying to get into Oxford or Cambridge. They have two main teachers who are trying to help them out with this, Hector and Irwin (Justin Atkinson). The difference between them is that Irwin thinks that the only thing that matters is the results and Hector thinks the only thing that matters is the process of learning. And together they make some pretty smart people. It is not just about the teachers. The show is also centered around the students' experiences. Posner (Joshua Servantes) is trying to figure out his sexuality and basically figure himself out. Dakin (Mathias Blake) is pretty darn sure of himself, and he needs to learn to respect other people. Scripps (Taylor Sorrel) is the narrator and is struggling with religious belief. It is about education, hormones, and identity. I thought this was a fun but also distressing show. It was fun because of the relationships, but distressing because everyone was very messed up.

I thought that all of the scenes had great character connections. All the boys seemed like they had known each other for years and the new teacher, Irwin, seemed so confused around this sea of hormones and hyperactivity. I feel like you really get to see how close the boys are in the scenes with Hector. They all seem to know exactly what each other's sense of humor is and what they can do to make the others laugh. They had this tradition where they would take a movie and reenact one scene from it and see if Hector could guess what it was from. Of course, Hector was very knowledgable and knew most of the movies, but sometimes he would trick them and pretend that he didn't at first. They did a scene from Now, Voyager featuring Timms (Stephen McClure) and Lockwood (Matthew Harris) which was hilarious. They are two people who are very passionate about each other. The way Timms said "love" when he, as Charlotte, said "People who love you" was so shaky and regal at the same time and it was super funny. Lockwood was trying to be very very stoic and Lockwood did not really seem that way, so the result was that hilarity ensued. This scene showed how connected the boys were to each other and to the teacher because they have so much fun together and enjoy spending time together. That made the end all the more sad.

Posner has had a huge crush on Dakin, and Dakin knows that he does but he doesn't really seem to be mad about it or think that it is unusual. I think that relationship was very intriguing. Even though Dakin is not very nice to Posner about his affection for him, he isn't homophobic. Dakin basically never seems to take anything seriously and he uses the fact that he thinks everyone is attracted to him aggressively. He becomes a lawyer for a living which makes a lot of sense because he tricks people into being on his side even when it is not the right choice. Posner, however, doesn't seem to do as well as Dakin in love and life. He seems to be a really good person; he is nice and smart, but for some reason no one seems to care. And Posner, even though he likes Dakin, doesn't get the fairy tale ending he wanted. He gets something like it, but not what he wanted.

There are four different views on education in this play. The headmaster (Andrew Pond) thinks that all teaching should be very strict and precise. He seems to think that there are teachers and there are students and they cannot become friends or be on the same level. There is also a same-level teaching style; it is to become best friends with all of his students and have a blast all day, like Hector! This kind of closeness may lead to inappropriate relations, which is a problem with it, but it doesn't have to be that way if the teacher doesn't allow it. You can also be a parental figure like Dorothy Lintott (Lisa Savegnago). She seemed to be the sweetest teacher in the school and celebrates her students' ups and helps them when they are down. And then there's Irwin. Well, all he seems to care about is getting his students into a good school. I don't think he really wanted to befriend any of his students. It kinda seemed like he teaches for himself to get a good reputation. But by the end he seems slightly swayed by his students to become friends with them. I agree with Hector that learning should be fun and with Dorothy that you should be nice but also give students hard work, but I also agree with Irwin that sometimes you have to learn things that aren't fun for the sake of your education. I don't agree that you should lie if you are trying to get into a good college. I think you should tell the truth (which Irwin doesn't) because if the school doesn't agree with you, you don't want to go to that school.

People who would like this show are people who like unrequited crushes, different thoughts on education, and reenacting movies. I think people should go see this show. I think this is a great play and this production has a lot of really talented actors in it. I really enjoyed it.

Photos: Ian Smith, Katie Hunter

Monday, February 13, 2017

Review of Manual Cinema's Magic City at Chicago Children's Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Magic City. It was adapted from The Magic City by Edith Nesbit. It was conceived by Manual Cinema, co-commissioned by Chicago Children's Theatre, and devised by Drew Dir, Sarah Fornace, and Julia Miller. It was about a girl named Philomena (Sarah Fornace) whose parents had died when she was a baby and she was being raised by her older sister Helen (Julia Miller). Helen eventually gets a boyfriend, Brandon (Linsey Falls), and they eventually get married. And while Helen and Brandon are on their honeymoon, Philomena has to hang out with her stepbrother Lucas (Jeffrey Paschal). Eventually, she starts building a city out of junk in their storage room, and then she gets pulled into the world she has created and so does Lucas. It is about adjusting to your new life, sharing, and creativity. I thought this was a fun show. I love Manual Cinema's stuff and I think this is a great introduction for kids who might need more narration and color than a typical Manual Cinema show.

There were a lot of cool images in this play. Something that I found really cool was how they mixed dark colors with really bright colors (art direction by Lizi Breit and Dir). They also mixed the shadow screen images with live color video. Something I have always loved about Manual Cinema is how they put live action people in with puppets (designed by Breit, Dir, Miller, and Sam Deutsch). They incorporated miniatures as well (designed by Andrea Everman) because Philomenia and her sister had made many different worlds out of stuff lying around their house. I noticed a metaphor: Philomena eventually makes the best out of her situation just like she makes the best out of junk. They had a GoPro that was set up on the stage; it was there to film all of the actors not in shadow and to show you the miniatures up close. The cool thing was that they matched the projections so perfectly with the miniatures and real life characters. There was a moment that was very aesthetically pleasing to me where there was a ship that was stuck in a bottle that had a cork in it. Lucas was trying to get the little boat out. And that little sequence wasn't for nothing because Lucas used the boat to sail across to Phil-helen-ia, which is the world that Philomena and Helen created. There was also a rubber duck that seemed to be like a tugboat and I thought that was adorable and hilarious.

There were two famous historic figures in this show: Amelia Earhart (Miller) and Langston Hughes (Falls). It was fun seeing the shadow versions of them, and I thought it was cool that they were introducing these figures to kids at a young age. Amelia Earhart has always been one of my heroes, and I thought that it was awesome to see that she was a hero to Philomena in this story. I also really loved each of the scenes that they were in. Amelia Earhart gives Philomena a map. Sadly, eventually Philomena loses it. (I'd like to think I would be more careful with the map Amelia Earhart had given to me!) I thought it was cool and hilarious to see how Philomena reacted to seeing Amelia Earhart in the flesh--or in the shadow--in the Magic City. Langston Hughes was writing a poem but he was having a lot of trouble. Then Lucas decided that he was going to help. There was this little tune that Lucas played on a typewriter like it was a piano. Then Hughes and Lucas start playing a jazz song together on the typewriters. This was one of the most interesting scenes image-wise. It made me want a typewriter that was a piano; I'd write all my reviews on it.

The issue in the play is getting along and adjusting to new circumstances. I think a lot of kids have to adjust to things and a lot of pressure is placed on kids to get along with people. I think this play really shows where kids are coming from and kids can relate to it easily. Philomena-zilla is basically Philomena's inner demon, the part of her that just wants to destroy and kill everything. I think everyone has a zilla. Even Godzilla has a zilla! (So does Gamera--it gets very confusing.) Even though I did love Philomena-zilla, I did think she might have shown up too many times. I thought it was interesting how Philomena-zilla was the boss battle at the end. I think it might have been better to have just introduced her at the beginning and brought her back at the end because of all the times that they used Philomena-zilla it had gotten so that it was expected. Anger isn't defeated on the first try of course, but for the purposes of the story it would have worked better for me not to have to defeat her so many times.

People who would like this show are people who like building worlds out of junk, piano typewriters, and inner zillas. I thought this show was really fun to watch and people should definitely bring their kids to it. This is a good show that explores creativity, anger, and family in a simple but powerful way.

Photos: Charles Osgood

Review of Emerald City Theatre's The Snowy Day

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Snowy Day and Other Stories. It was written Ezra Jack Keats and adapted by Jerome Hairston. It was directed by Jacqueline Stone. It was about a little boy named Peter (Terry Bell) and he goes on a series of adventures in his neighborhood. When I was little I would read these books all the time. They were a huge part of my early childhood. I loved them because they convey a good story in a simple and relatable way with great details even though the story is simple. It was so amazing to see them on stage. I thought it was great how they mostly stuck to the story and didn't add in any characters. The movement (by Aileen McGroddy), costumes (by Branimira Ivanova), and set (by Martin Andrew) are all beautiful, and I loved the entire cast. I took a three-year-old friend of the family and also my 13-year-old friend and they both loved it, which I think shows the range this has to intrigue kids of all ages.

This show had a great aesthetic. From the moment you walked in, you could see all of the kids being mesmerized by the set. It looked a lot like geometrical building blocks. When they were covered in the snow it completely transformed the set. I noticed that they used things that would be familiar to younger kids, like the parachute that they used for the snow is a lot like parachutes that a lot of kids that age see in their school or classes. My younger friend really wanted to play on the set because it seemed like something that she recognized as a playground. (We now know you are not able to do that because we asked!) The costumes were almost exactly like the ones from the book. They even used some of the same patterns. It was amazing to see the clothes on stage that looked so much like the ones from the book. I think my favorite was probably Archie's (Felix Mayes) shirt which seemed exactly like the one in Goggles. Amy's (Kirra Silver) dress looked exactly like the one in the book; it seemed like they might have copied the pattern!

I loved how they didn't make the kids too fake-kiddie. They seemed very real. Like there was one moment when Peter was going to mail a letter to Amy inviting her to his birthday party and his mom (Sydney Charles) was putting on his raincoat and hat and he looked so mortified. You could tell he was thinking "Amy will never love me looking like this." And there was another moment in A Letter to Amy, where he was writing the letter and telling his mom about how he had to write the letter perfectly so "this way it's sorta special." And when you heard that you realized how this is basically his first crush and it is so important to him. And how he is throwing out all of these various drafts is so hilarious to see and then the outcome is just "Will you please come to my birthday party. Peter." with perfect punctuation! The mom's face when he finished reading the letter was so amazing; she just seemed to think it was adorable, which it was. And the character Archie was such a adorable nerd. He also kind of made it seem like Peter was one of his only friends at the time, which was sad but kind of cute. And Amy always seemed to want to talk to Peter, but Peter would chicken out, and the face that Amy would make--I have seen that face before on so many a seven-year-old kid.

I really liked the movement. I especially liked the puppets and how they were worked in with the movement. There was one time where Peter was making a snowman, and it looked sort of distorted, but that's because in the book The Snowy Day if you look at the snowman it looks like a lump with a creepy head on it, but still an awesome snowman. And when he made snow angels you could see the imprint of the point of his hood on the shadow, which I loved. It is also great to go back to the book after and see how many details they took from the book. Another thing I thought was adorable and exactly like a young child, was when Peter would slide down the slope he would want to go again and again and again. There was also cool movement involving people to make inanimate objects--like in Whistle for Willie they would use a few of the actors with a red, a yellow, and a green ball in their hands, and one of them had a orange glove on and they were pretending to be a traffic light. That was an amazing sequence and so awesome to watch.

People who would like this show are people who like kid love letters, people as traffic lights, and distorted snowmen. I think people should definitely take their kids to see this show. I think it is a great experience for kids of all ages and I really loved it.

Photos: Austin Oie