Friday, December 9, 2016

Review of Griffin Theatre Company's Winterset

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Winterset. It was by Maxwell Anderson and directed by Jonathan Berry. It was about a young man name Mio (Maurice Demus) who is looking for a way to redeem his father's name because he feels like his father had an unfair trial. Then he falls in love with a girl named Miriamne (Kiayla Ryann) but her brother Garth (Christopher Acevedo) is in trouble with this guy named Trock (Josh Odor) who killed the paymaster that everyone thought Mio's father killed, but Trock got out unscathed. Garth knows that Trock is the murderer, so Trock wants to make sure Garth doesn't tell anyone. The judge in the trial, Judge Gaunt (Larry Baldacci), is wandering around aimlessly acting crazy by the river where Miriamne lives and he is questioning his decisions about the trial. The show was about love, determination, and justice. I thought this was an interesting show and it made me curious about the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti that it was based on.

The two main characters, Mio and Miriamne, have a very rushed but adorable relationship. You question a lot of their decisions, like immediately saying that they are in love with each other, but they do seem to really love each other. These are tough roles to play without making them sappy, but I think the actors did a great job showing them as real people. If things had gone better, I think Mio and Mariamne would have stayed together for a very long time, possibly forever. Their romance reminded me a lot of Romeo and Juliet, but it wasn't a copy of any sort. They would do anything for each other and their families are the people who don't want them to be together. Miriamne's brother Garth really doesn't like Mio. Mio's father is the thing that is keeping Mio away from Miriamne, even though he is dead, because Mio is kept away from her because he is worried that his mission to clear his father's name will hurt her. It is kind of ironic that him trying to keep her away from him made her angry and then got her hurt. Garth is an overly protective brother which shows how much he loves his sister and doesn't want her to get hurt, but it is her decision. Garth's behavior doesn't give her very much freedom, which she really wants, and that shows that his kind of love is not very respectful of his sister's choices. Her father Esdras (Norm Woodel) seems to have a more laid-back sense of things for most occasions, which just shows the different ways that people express love in this play.

Mio was very determined to expose whoever had actually killed the paymaster that his father was blamed for killing. Having a goal set is very good, but it can be dangerous and Mio does face the consequences of his and of Trock's determination. Trock is determined that nobody finds out that he is more than just a creepy guy--he is a gangster and murderer. You know he is determined because of the lack of limits that he has for keeping a good name. He will kill anyone who gets in his way, he'll threaten an entire family, and he'll even try to kill his partner Shadow (Bradford Stevens). And he does all this while dealing with a chronic illness. Which kind of makes him amazing, but not a good person. It shows what happens when two determined people's determinations collide. I was definitely on Mio's side. Trock just kind of seemed like a jerk.

Justice is a very big theme in this show, but it doesn't seem like anyone ever gets it. There is only one instance where there might have been justice: when the corrupt Judge Gaunt may have gotten a taste of his own medicine, like if the policeman (Johnny Moran) didn't actually put him on a train home like they said but took him to an insane asylum. I thought that might have been what happened because of the way the cop said that they were going to take him on a train home in a kind of hinting way to the rest of the people. I think the playwright thinks that justice is a good thing but it is hard to get and things don't always work out the way you want them to.

People who would like this show are people who like determined enemies, intriguing love stories, and hopefully-fake trains home. People should definitely go see this show because it is not just your classic love story; it brings up a lot of topics that the world is dealing with right now like injustice, poverty, and loneliness. I found this show very interesting and I am still thinking about it.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Friday, December 2, 2016

Review of The Hypocrites' Cinderella at the Theater of Potatoes

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Cinderella at the Theater of Potatoes. It was based on Cendrillon by Pauline Viardot-García and it was adapted by Andra Velis Simon. It was directed by Sean Graney. It was about Cinderella (Amanda Martinez) who was an orphan and was found in the cinders when the orphanage burnt down. And that is why she is called Cinderella. In this version, there was no prince, no magic, and Cinderella is rewarded because she is good at singing not just because she is pretty and has suffered. I liked all those changes. It's about feeling unwanted, loving your art, and helping those in need. I thought this was a really fun and funny show. I enjoyed it and I thought it had fun audience participation moments and great music.

The beginning of the show seems like there's a party going on. There are a bunch of writers and composers: George Sand (Gay Glenn), Fanny Mendelssohn (Dana Omar), Louise Viardot (Aja Wiltshire), Ivan Turgenev (Joel Rodriquez), and Pauline (Leslie Ann Sheppard) who organized the entire event and wrote Cendrillon. This is where the theater of potatoes comes in. People are probably wondering, "Why the heck is it called Cinderella at the Theater of Potatoes?" This should clear it up for you. Pauline makes a theater where you have to pay with potatoes and then you get to do or watch a show. Then they made soup out of the potatoes! I liked that it was not just a Cinderella story; it was the story of people getting together and expressing their love for music and theater. I thought it was cool how they got cast in the show as different characters. Sometimes they would be pleased with their role and sometimes they would not. Louise does not want to be a stepsister; she wants to be Cinderella. Fanny is excited to play the Composer because she has never actually been acknowledged as a composer before because she published under her brother Felix's name.

I think that it was cool that there was no prince. They showed a lot of girl power by trying to avoid the topic of romance altogether. I think that is a good idea. Romance can be exciting to have in a show, but it is a problem when it goes so far as to make it seem like the woman can't do anything for herself because she is overwhelmed by how much she loves a man. Cinderella is trying to get a role in an opera (written by the Composer) because of her talent, which she has a lot of. She has one of the most angelic voices I've ever heard. I got chills. I thought the stepsisters (Wiltshire and Elle Walker) seemed like jerks to poor people, but other than that they weren't that bad. They weren't the wicked stepsisters; they were more the inconsiderate, not-reading-the-room stepsisters. I liked that they were not pure evil because most people have something good about them. They were really kind to each other and they were not untalented, which I thought was another good change. At the end, Cinderella doesn't go away and never talk to the stepsisters or the Baron (Rodriquez) because, as she says in a song, they are her family and even though they are mean to her sometimes, she still loves them.

I really loved the set (designed by Regina Garcia), costumes (designed by Alison Siple), and the audience participation. There was a mouse section that I sat in thanks to my crazy mom, in which you got to squeak whenever they said "mouse" and wear mouse ears. You feel closer, like you are actually in the show. The set also makes you feel closer to the show because the set has playing spaces all around you. The set is very patterned--there are a bunch of flower patterns on the wall in very bright, circus-like colors. I also loved the costumes. The costumes complimented the set very nicely. They were big and pouffy and had very elaborate patterns, and you could not go without noticing them. All of this makes you feel very welcome and ready to have a party.

People who would like this show are people who like party patterns, not-reading-the-room stepsisters, and potato currency. I thought this was a very fun show. It is a great holiday show to see with your kids or your out-of-town relatives, but you will still enjoy it. It is funny, interesting, and you see a lot of really great talent!

Photos: Joe Mazza

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Review of Turtle at Redtwist Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Turtle. It was by Jake Jeppson and it was directed Damon Kiely. It was about a woman named Molly (Emily Tate) who was a mother of two young children and her daughter (voiced by Miranda Garrabrandt through the baby monitor) was obsessed with turtles and they loved watching turtle documentaries together. Then Molly became obsessed with turtles but she never knew how much turtles could shape her relationship with her husband Sloan (Drew Johnson) and his brother Pete (Michael Sherwin) and sister-in-law Grace (Carolyn Kruse). This play is about how a small thing can change your life, the struggles of being a parent, and feeling disconnected from the people you love. I thought this was a really intriguing and exciting show.

I really loved the opening monologue. What I especially liked about it was how light it was, so that the big things that happened later in the play were more surprising. The monologue was Molly trying to get both of her kids to calm down. You learn about how she is a stressed mom and all she wants to do is have a bit of peace and quiet, but still be a good parent. I think it is a great introduction for Molly's character; it shows you the classic suburban mom and how protective she is, but then as the play continues you get to see not just the parenting part of her life but also her relationship with her husband and his family. There was one moment that I found very funny where Molly accidentally burns the grilled cheese for her kids and then she acts like it is totally fine when she is clearly very pissed off, and says "Just let mommy scrape off the burnt parts real quick."

I think the turtle is in the play to show how much Molly cares about her children and how much she wants the best for her entire family, but still wants to be happy. The play takes something important away from the turtle to show how Molly is when something important is taken away from her. When the turtle loses its babies, it loses its purpose; a turtle's occupation is basically to make more turtles. That shows how Molly kind of realizes that once her children are gone she will have a completely new life like the turtle when it goes to the aquarium. The turtle shows us Molly's dedication to the people that she loves and has to love, but it still isn't a happy ending for anyone because even if you feel like you are doing the right thing, it doesn't mean that everything will turn out in the end.

In this play, politics are sometimes a distraction from what is going on right in front of you. Pete, who is Sloan's brother, his marriage is not going great, but instead of talking about his marriage and trying to fix things he decides to talk about politics instead. He has also just been fired from his job, but then he won't even talk to anyone about it. But Molly doesn't use politics as a distraction she uses it as connection by having knowledge of the election so she can talk more with her brother-in-law, who she might like as more than a brother-in-law. Even though he uses politics as a distraction he also finds a connection with her.

People who would like this show are people who like connections through politics, intriguing stories about motherhood, and symbolic turtles. I think people should see this show. I felt like it was an interesting show and I had never seen anything like it before.

Photos: Jan Ellen Graves

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Ada Grey's Past Holiday Show Reviews

I'm in rehearsals for a show at A Red Orchid Theatre called The Haven Place (read more about that here), so I won't be seeing many more shows before the end of the year. Below I've put links to some of the holiday shows I reviewed in the past that are playing again this year.

The Ruffians' Burning Bluebeard

People who would like this show are people who like 1903 humor, reasonable/not-very-reasonable snack-eating fairies, and halves of cotton balls. I think that people should definitely definitely go see this show. I had so much fun and so much fear and afterwards you are very sad about it but you are also remembering all the wonderfully horrible jokes, and "Rehab," and clowns coming out on camel carts, and flowers being thrown to the audience.

Read the full review here!

The House Theatre of Chicago's The Nutcracker

People who would like this show are people who like heartwarming family stories, sugar plum cookies, and toys that understand innuendo. I have seen it since I was five or six and I am absolutely in love with it. And I notice new things every year. You should all make it a tradition.

Read the full review here!

Goodman Theatre's A Christmas Carol

People who would like this show are people who like creepy Christmas stories, scarf comedy, and family. I think that people should definitely go see this show. I thought it was beautiful, funny, and amazing!

Read the full review here!

Emerald City Theatre's A Charlie Brown Christmas

People who would like this show are people who like Charlie Brown, dancing dogs, and Christmas. I think that people will enjoy this show. It is perfect for little kids and it is fun for families to go to together.

Read the full review here!

American Blues Theater's It's a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago

People who would like this show are people who like angels, phone romance, and hilarious drunks. People should go see this show because it is funny and anybody who likes the movie would love this show. It makes you feel like you are a fancy person in the 1940s.

Read the full review here!

Photos: Michael Brosilow, Liz Lauren, Austin D. Oie Photography, and Johnny Knight

Monday, November 21, 2016

Review of About Face Theatre's I Am My Own Wife

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called I Am My Own Wife. It was by Doug Wright, and it was directed by Andrew Volkoff. It was about a woman named Charlotte (Delia Kropp), who was transgender starting in the 1930s, and she was trying to live life as a woman in Nazi Germany and then in Soviet East Germany, neither of which supported LGBT rights at all. It is also about the people--all played by Ninos Baba and Matt Holzfeind--that she meets on her way to and after creating her famous Mahlsdorf museum. This entire play was created because Doug Wright (played in the show by Scott Duff) heard about her and her museum and wanted to interview her. And you find out many interesting stories, but everyone starts questioning their truth. I thought this was an inspiring and great show because this woman has lived through so much oppression but never stepped down from who she wanted to be.

My favorite character is often not the main character, but in this show it definitely is. Charlotte had a very big personality and even if the rumors they were saying were true, I still loved her. She seemed like such a fabulous and brave person and she had such an exciting life. I wish I could have been friends with her. I loved the way that Charlotte would rave about her friends, like each of them was her idol. I also liked how brave she was and how she wouldn't take any crap from anyone. She also told some stories that everyone thought could easily be tall tales. Like she said that she killed her father because he was a Nazi and said he would hurt her mother. It shows that she wanted to protect her mother more than anything, even if it wasn't true that she actually killed her dad. It was so sweet; I really wanted to believe her at all times.

Charlotte was always talking about her aunt and how amazing she was because she was lesbian and liked to dress like man and she understood where Charlotte was coming from. In the scene where she introduces you to her aunt, I instantly found out she had the coolest aunt in the history of the world because her aunt gave her a book that was supposed to help her understand who she really was. The aunt also found Charlotte, when she was a boy, dressed in dresses. Charlotte expects her to go on a rampage, but she doesn't. She helps her. I thought that was a really beautiful moment. And if this character of the aunt is made up, it just shows that Charlotte needed a character like that in her head so that she could continue with her life.

Alfred Kirschner (Holzfeind) was a very interesting man. He was a very good friend of Charlotte and he was also obsessed with gramophones. When Charlotte went over to his house, she found that he had a bunch of gramophones and a bunch of records. And he said something along the lines of, "I have eight thousand records" and she said something like, "Oh, I only have seven...thousand records." I thought that was hilarious and adorable and it was the start of a beautiful friendship. They were both part of the LGBT community in East Berlin. He had a lot of men hanging around his house (all played by Baba) and they would all have very different personalities, but they were all kind of snotty to Charlotte because she was transgender. I was hoping the people in the LGBT community would have been nicer to the T. Alfred goes to jail because he sold illegal clocks with Charlotte. I thought that was kind of ridiculous but also kind of sad. It shows you how much it sucked to live in East Germany at that time. I don't want to think Charlotte sold him out; I do think Alfred would have helped her be safe by taking the fall for them both selling illegal clocks.

People who would like this show are people who like inspiring stories, record hoarders, and illegal clocks. I think people should definitely go see this show. It was a really great and beautiful show, and I really loved it.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Review of Theater Unspeakable's Moon Shot: A Race to Space at Chicago Children's Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Moon Shot: A Race to Space. It was devised by Theater Unspeakable and directed by Marc Frost. It was about the United States and the Soviet Union's battle to get to space first. I generally love Theater Unspeakable. They do a lot of great and intriguing work. They do most of their performances on a tiny platform and there are no props and they use their bodies and mime for props. I thought this was a really exciting idea for a show, but I think they tried to pack a lot of plot points into a short time, so at times it was hard to understand. I still enjoyed the movement of the piece and thought it was a fun show.

Theater Unspeakable uses a platform for everything that happens. In this show, actors did step off the platform for some of it. I really like the movement in all of their shows. I think the reason why it has so much impact is because of how treacherous it is and also how much fun the actors (David Gordezky, Quenna Lené, Sarah Liken, Aaron Rustebakke, Rejinal Simon, Orion Lay-Sleeper, and Vanessa Valliere) are having making the play and doing the movements and portraying so many characters. It is fun to do something that is really challenging and they all seem to have a figuratively and literally close relationship because they are literally and figuratively standing on each others' shoulders. The performance style is not just fun to look at; it has meaning. It shows you that teamwork is really important; if someone literally or figuratively falls, your colleagues will pick you up again.

I really liked how people were not just characters or objects, but they also played space. They would lift up somebody who was supposed to be in space and carry them around the stage. They seemed to be floating, like they were actually in space. I thought that was really cool. I also really liked the character of Wernher Von Braun (Lay-Sleeper). He was the rocket scientist from Germany who worked for the Americans and he went on t.v. with Walt Disney and they put that in the show and I thought that was really cool. At first I thought that was made up, but it isn't. It is all true; you can watch it on YouTube. In the show, he seemed to be really uncomfortable on t.v. which I thought was very funny.

One of my favorite celebrity animals is Laika the dog and I am really glad that they put her in the story, even if it was just a brief cameo. I liked how they just presented her as a normal dog, and then you realize she is in a rocket ship. And then you get worried that the dog is going to die, and you should be. If you know the story of Laika, you know it doesn't go well. But she is still one of the first astronauts. I saw a show about Laika when I was six that I really enjoyed. I feel like the moment about Laika the dog might be obscure for people who didn't already know about sending dogs into space. I felt like the show didn't get to give you enough context or detail about what you were seeing in this scene and some others. But it was it was really fun if you did already know a lot about the race to space.

People who would like this show are people who like space dogs, tiny platforms, and awkward German rocket scientists. This is a fun show and I feel like it is an experience that no other theater will give to you. I'm sorry this review didn't come out sooner. I saw it halfway through the run and there weren't many performances, but I hope that you'll have another chance to see it when it is remounted.

Photos: Ben Gonzales

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Review of First Floor Theater's Deer and the Lovers

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Deer and the Lovers. It was by Emily Zemba and it was directed by Jesse Roth. It was about a boyfriend, Peter (Alex Stage), and a girlfriend, Qiana (Shadee Vossoughi), who were going to her parents' retreat and they find a dead deer inside the house and the deer had crashed the window and caused a mess. Then Peter's sister Marnie (Kay Kron) came with her husband Felix (Tony Santiago) because they thought they were invited. They call animal control and Lenny (Matt Nikkila) arrives and says they can't do anything with the deer, so they are stuck with a giant dead deer in their house. Everyone has their secrets, which all get revealed. It is about betrayal, misinterpreting signs, and the challenges of love. I really liked this show. I thought it was very funny, but it also had some great messages.

One of my favorite misinterpreted signs was when Marnie was in the forest and she found a squirrel, or the squirrel found her, as it hurled itself out of the tree toward her, which she thought was a big sign. She thought it was a sign that her life was useless, and she announced this to the world that her life was useless because of the squirrel. I thought it was hilarious but also kind of sad at the same time, because it was clearly not what the squirrel was trying to do. Felix also misunderstands Qiana; he thinks that they are more serious than they actually are. Peter also misinterprets how into him Qiana is. This is kind of sad, because you like both the characters and want them to be happy. The entire play seems to be wanting you to root for Peter, but then your views kind of change throughout the play, which is think is very interesting. The audience also might be misinterpreting things. And Lenny is a very good example of that, but you have to see the show to find out what I mean.

Betrayal can be funny if it is in a play, which sounds like a cruel thing to say, but it is true. I really liked the scene where Qiana and Felix found each other all covered in blood, and for some reason that was really attractive to them. And they proceed to make out. They try to lay out a couch so it is more like a bed, but then both their romantic partners walk in, and they are trying to get everything straightened up again. They are acting very suspicious but no one seems to notice, and the seat that I was talking about wouldn't stay up, so then throughout the entire scene they were trying to get the couch back up again, but that didn't work, so they keep trying while smiling awkwardly. I thought that that was very funny. There was another betrayal where Marnie went to a sperm bank instead of having a child with her husband because she thought he was having an affair, which she would be correct about. And there was one moment where Marnie was talking to everybody and shouted at the top of her lungs, "I AM WITH CHILD!" And when she said that it was all in slow motion, which was very funny. And there is a really funny fight (violence design by Amanda Fink) that ensues after that. And I do really like slapstick comedy and funny fights.

Qiana is alarmed by the deer and she thinks she is a deer and needs antlers, which is when the audience starts to think she is crazy. She's gone a little overboard with the whole deer metaphor. It actually kind of reminded me of Nina in The Seagull because she goes crazy over a dead animal (that her boyfriend kills) and then identifies with that animal, just like Qiana. Qiana wants antlers so she can feel more powerful, and Nina thinks of herself as a seagull because she feels like she is dead inside but she wants to be able to fly. I don't know if the deer really means anything, but everyone is trying to make it mean something. Peter is trying to make it mean that this is the perfect time to propose. Qiana is trying to make it mean that everything is a disaster and she has to do something about it. They have very different ideas of how the deer died at first. Qiana thinks the deer died from trying to get out of the house. Peter thinks the deer died trying to get in. I think that might actually be a metaphor because Qiana is trying to get out of the relationship and Peter is trying to get Qiana more into the relationship.

People who would like this show are people who like squirrel signs, uncooperative couches, and funny but deep stories. I think people should definitely go see this show. It was very funny and I loved it.

Photos: Ian McLaren