Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Review of Fight City at The Factory Theater

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Fight City. It was by Scott OKen and it was directed by Jill Oliver. It was about a dystopian future where women are in charge and men are degraded and oppressed. It is about how if one gender is in power, even if it isn't the one in charge now, it doesn't mean everything would be better. The problem with society is inequality not who is in charge. It is about a woman named Barb (Jennifer Betancourt) who is a cop in this society where women are in power because there had been a disease that affected only men. Her mother Margaret (Mandy Walsh) used to be a fighter extraordinaire on the force, but one of her former students, Erica (Kim Boler), has gone rogue. So Barb and her partner Janet (Almanya Narula) go on a mission to find Erica and stop her from her evildoing. And a man, Weatherfoot (Harrison Weger), has just been placed on the police force which is very unusual, and he has to prove himself to the force and his boss (Jen Bosworth). I thought this show had a compelling story and world with really good fights (by fight directors Maureen Yasko and Chris Smith).

I thought all the fights were really well done. One of my favorite fights was the one where Margaret confronts Valentine (Susan Wingerter), Erica's engineer who has created this gun. Guns are forbidden in this reality. Valentine and her posse discover Janet and Margaret having a heart to heart and decide to ruin that by shooting at them. Margaret spits out a tooth and there is lots of face-bashing-in. It was very violent and it was super badass and I really liked watching it. It was sort of gross, but it was awesome to see women kicking butt, and you don't see women fighting ruthlessly that often in plays and movies. I also thought that Weatherfoot's fight with Steele (Eric Frederickson) was super awesome and it was part of the big buildup to the fight with Barb and Erica. I think it really added a lot to the intensity of the final scene. I think the ending battle with Erica really utilized everyone in the scene but not so much that it took away from the duel between the mortal enemies Barb and Erica. There is one character who is dead by this time who I really wish would have been involved; it didn't ruin the fight for me, but it would have added an emotional element to the end of the show. The death added to Barb's motivation, but I thought of another way she could have been motivated by a different character dying. I felt like it would have added to the effectiveness of the final scene if you got a little bit of an epilogue so it wasn't just that the fight ends and then the show ends.

I thought it was a really interesting concept that this world would be sexist toward men. The way they portrayed it was really good because it made me sad just like I would feel if the sexism was directed toward women. That shows that it was really good writing because it made me feel bad for them even though in our society right now men are the people in power. I think that Relf (Josh Zagoren) was a particularly good example of this. The actor did a really good job of portraying him as someone who was vulnerable but not feminine. He was a man but his demeanor was smaller. That is what made it powerful when he was being treated like crap all the time; he was clearly scared in an actual way. One scene that really got to me was when he came into the squad room in the police station with bruises all over him and no one ever seemed to notice the bruises. That really reminded me of things that happen to women today; they show up somewhere and something is clearly wrong, but people don't pay attention. Not all the men are defenseless though. Verne (Frederickson) can fend for himself and he starts a campaign for men's rights. He has this speech at the end of the show that is going on when the end battle is happening. It was really motivational because while this violent fight is going on in one corner, he is talking about the future of this world and how he is going to try and make it better. I liked that the men's rights group had a woman (Grace Odumosu) in it, but I wished that one of the main characters had been masculinist too. It was kind of hard to root for people who were grabbing men's butts without consent all the time. Weatherfoot is just trying to follow the rules of the system; he isn't really an activist. It was upsetting how he keeps being objectified by the women just because he's there.

I thought it was really interesting how the relationship between Janet and Margaret was all about looking out for Barbara. They were both mother figures even though only Margaret was her actual mother. I also liked how Margaret had taught Janet everything she knew, which made Margaret more of a mentor toward her. I wanted to see more of this relationship and more of each of their relationships with Barb. I would have also liked to delve deeper into Margaret's backstory with Erica. That is a common problem in shows that are generally based around fights, but I think they could have made it a bit longer and given more time to develop those relationships.

People who would like this show are people who like alternate realities, badass fights, and spitting out teeth. I think people should go see this show. It is a lot of fun to experience. I really enjoyed the fights and the universe the show puts you in.

Photos: Michael Courier

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Review of Brown Paper Box Co.'s They're Playing Our Song

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called They're Playing Our Song. The book was by Neil Simon, the music was by Marvin Hamlisch, and the lyrics were by Carole Bayer Sager. It was directed and choreographed by Daniel Spagnuolo. The musical director was Iliana Atkins. It was about a man and a woman, Vernon (Dan Gold) and Sonia (Carmen Risi), who were both songwriters; she writes lyrics, and he writes music. They start writing songs together, and at first they absolutely loathe each other, and then as time goes on they start to feel romantically toward each other. But they don't seem very compatible. She is an optimist and he is a pessimist. She will help anyone in need, and he doesn't really want to help anyone once he's cut ties with them. She is more adventurous, and he is more set in his ways. Also, Sonia has a ex-boyfriend that she is still taking care of. It is about the ways we make decisions, who you are meant to be with, and artistic collaboration. I think this is a very intriguing and funny and heartwarming show. It made me think about the ways gender roles can hurt relationships and how broken relationships can restart.

I think the songs "If She Really Knew Me" and "If He Really Knew Me" were really interesting songs because they sound like they would be the exact same song only replacing pronouns, but then they are actually different in an important way. They both want the other to help them find out who they really are, but she is more talking about if he has lived up to her expectations of who this great songwriter was. And for Vernon's song it is more about what she wants and if he is good enough for her. It kind of seems like Sonia knows she is good enough for him and doesn't need to shape up but just needs to realize if he's lived up to her expectations. And he wants to live up to her expectations, but he doesn't seem to really have any expectations for her. But as the play progresses you start to see those develop a little bit more. I think it is important because the message of the songs evolves so that Vernon wants her to actually do things instead of just for her to like him. It is good writing because you see the relationship evolve into both of them having expectations for the other.

I really liked the song "Right." I thought it was a really fun pep-talk-to-yourself song with Sonia and her voices (Elissa Newcorn, Ariana Cappuccitti, and Deanalis Resto). I really liked how her voices were like a girl group in the background that reminded me of The Supremes. The song was really catchy. Vernon also had voices (Mike Danovich, Bradley Halverson, and John Marshall Jr.) that would sing to him about his decision making, his romantic choices, and his songwriting choices. I thought that was a fun touch--cheesy but in a fun way. I thought the arc of "Right" was also really good. The voices in her head start out being pessimistic, but then they are won over and decide that maybe Sonia and Vernon have a chance after all. Another funny song was "They're Playing My Song" that happened when Sonia and Vernon went to a club on their first date. I don't feel like this is the most original melody in the world, but I have never heard a song about hearing your own song being played. And it was great to see all the performers having a blast with the song. It was funny how when they would hear their own songs they would jump up and immediately start jamming. I think if their songs hadn't been played they wouldn't have gotten up and danced and eventually gotten together. It shows that they are kind of self-involved people, which might actually make for a good couple because they won't notice when the other person isn't paying attention because they'll be so obsessed with themselves.

I think "Fill in the Words" is a very pretty but sad song. It is about how Vernon knows he needs to work on himself to get Sonia back. And he is worried that maybe she won't still be there by the time he gets back, even though she bought him a mini piano. He's realized that asking her to always fill in the words (or do all the emotional work in the relationship) is not the right way to keep a relationship healthy. I think it is really sweet how all of Vernon's voices came in and played some notes on his piano during this song. It shows you that he using all his voices to compose this song and the voices are all getting along. This song leads perfectly to the end of the play. I think it is a really good way to make the ending make sense because you know his internal monologue and the reason why he goes to visit Sonia in the last scene.

People who would like this show are people who like hearing their own songs, girl-group pep talks, and mini pianos. I think people should definitely go see this show. It is a fun show with talented performers and interesting ideas, and I really liked it.

Photos: Zach Dries

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Review of An American in Paris: A New Musical (Broadway in Chicago)

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called An American in Paris: A New Musical. The book was by Craig Lucas inspired by the motion picture. The music and lyrics were by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin. It was directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon. The musical score was adapted, arranged, and supervised by Rob Fisher. It was about a man named Jerry Mulligan (McGee Maddox) who was an artist who has left the army after World War II ends and decides that he is going to stay in Paris to pursue his career and a lady. The lady is Lise (Sara Esty) who is a dancer who he keeps running into and eventually they develop a friendship that isn't really just a friendship but she keeps trying to convince herself that it is. Jerry becomes friends with two other men, Adam (Etai Benson) and Henri (Nick Spangler), who just happen to also be in love with and/or engaged to Lise. It is about true love, rejection, and art. I think this is a really beautiful show to watch. I loved the changes they made to the story from the movie to make it less sexist and a more realistic look at post-war life. In the movie it seems like you show up in Paris and everything is calm. The problem in the movie is just that he can't get the girl, but in the musical it is also that resources are scarce and everyone is worried that something terrible will happen again. I liked that because they are doing more justice to history.

I think this play got rid of a lot of things that make the movie uncomfortable. But some of the things that were changed made some of the moments they kept in a bit stranger. For example, the song "I've Got Beginner's Luck," takes place during the scene where Jerry goes to a store to see Lise to tell her she got the part in the ballet. In the movie, he shows her that he is nice to old ladies and has good taste in perfume, and she is won over by his charms and GeneKellyness. In the musical, the scene in the store seems a little like he's trying to get her fired by ransacking the store, which is a little bit strange because he doesn't tell her that she got the part until after he starts doing this mischievous stuff. She can't really be super in love with him in the musical right away because she feels indebted to Henri and his family (Gayton Scott and Don Noble) for hiding her during the war, and because she is so resistant to him it seems like Jerry is being slightly forceful and creepy. There are a lot of good classic stories that feel slightly creepy now because of how we think about consent now. You do get distracted by the more theatrical elements like the dancing, singing, and visual elements, all of which I thought were gorgeous and amazing. There is also a song called "Liza," which was basically Jerry talking to Lise about how she doesn't seem like a Lise, because it seems like such a sad name. She seems more like a Liza to him. Generally, I don't think it is great that he is calling her by something that is not her name, but eventually she is won over by it, and you can see she wants to be Liza, and that might be why she wants to be with Jerry. She wants to be a happier person and he helps her become that.

I found the three rejected lovers had just as interesting plot lines as the lead characters, which I thought was really good writing. They didn't just seem like add-ons to further the plot for the main characters. You really get to know them on a personal level. I really liked the relationship between Henri and Milo (Emily Ferranti), Jerry's rebound girlfriend. They seemed to be genuinely good friends and they bonded over the people they had been with being together now. It is also nice that they are not romantically interested in each other. He seems kind of like her gay best friend. They sing a duet together called "Who Cares," where they are in different places but they are both telling their partners the same thing: that they don't really care what their partner does anymore. They know they deserve someone better for themselves and their partner deserves to happy. I think this is a really bittersweet song because you can see how sad they are to leave these people that they wanted to be with. They wanted their relationships to work out, and you see they still love them, but it is for the best to end their relationship. Milo also has a duet with Adam, "But Not for Me," which is about how everybody seems to be having a great time and I'm just over here in a corner, being single. I thought it was a really pretty song, but it was also slightly angry. It was basically like someone singing a lonesome song and then halfway through becoming very angry, which is the best idea for a song ever because it really captures what it feels like to be alone. You don't just pity yourself and be sad about it, you are also kind of angry at the world.

I think that the choreography in this show is absolutely magnificent. It is a perfect mix of the dance style from the movie with the choreographer's own style. I also really liked the "An American in Paris" ballet and how it was based on Jerry's art. I think it was really cool how geometrical the stage picture was and how the costumes (designed by Bob Crowley) were all so colorful. The women had these skirts that were like separate triangles, and when they would spin, all the triangles would shoot out and make a star around them. The whole ballet was hypnotizing because you were so intrigued by every movement. "Fidgety Feet" was a really catchy song and I still have it stuck in my head right now. The dancing was super upbeat and happy and perfectly contrasted with the rest of how that scene goes. Everybody seems happy for a bit, but the rest of that party doesn't go very well in the end. Everyone is sitting down for a lot of the dance, so just their feet are moving and then they'd switch seats by doing a fan kick, and I thought it was really awesome looking. It was very Broadway. The whole song was everyone was breaking out in dance in a very proper setting. In some musicals, they have like a rebellion where they win over all the people who were against what they were doing--like dancing or playing rock music. I think this was a really good version of that because there wasn't a huge fight or anything, just everyone having a good time even if it wasn't the most proper fun time.

People who would like this show are people who like songs that capture loneliness, colorful ballet, and fidgety feet. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It has beautiful choreography, good singing, and a really great revised story!

Photos: Matthew Murphy

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Review of About Face Youth Theatre's Brave Like Them

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Brave Like Them. It was devised by the About Face Youth Theatre Ensemble and it was directed by Ali Hoefnagel and Kieran Kredell. It was about a person named Danni (Kyla Norton) who at the start of the show identifies as female. She had gone back to her home town after her parents divorced and is exploring her sexuality and gender identity. She and her friend Jamie (Sandy Nguyen) discover the Riot Grrrls and want to join the movement until Danni realizes how lacking in inclusion the group at the club is because they aren't welcoming to Danni's new friends who are LGBTQ+. But Jamie has become close with the main Riot Grrrls in the town and doesn't want to give that up, even for her best friend. It is about identity, feminism, and inclusion. I thought this was a good show. It had a lot of really talented young actors in it. I think it is a powerful story and it made me think a lot about what it means to be inclusive and how important it is to be aware of your privilege.

I think the relationship between Danni and Jamie started out as a sweet one, but as the play goes on you see it fall apart in a way that is really heartbreaking. They used to be such good friends when they were younger and now you start to see them grow apart as they start to be interested in different things and start to disagree on more topics. I never really fight with my best friend, and I am ten years into that friendship, and it is terrifying to think what might happen to our friendship when we go to high school. But it is a sad truth that friendships that you have when you are young often do fall apart when you go to high school. Another reason why it is so sad is that I feel like their conflicting opinions don't need to drag their friendship apart, but they do. I think the way they try to heal the friendship by the end is really smart and grownup. After watching these teens act like teens, I think it is really great to see them make a grownup decision that doesn't end in anger and works for both of them. This is not just a discovering-who-you-are story, which is about being with yourself and discovering who you you want to be. It is also a story about growing up, making grown-up decisions with other people and thinking about what is best for everyone. You also see how much Danni grows in the scenes with her/their mom, Lydia (Mia Vivens). They admit to their mom that they prefer to use the pronouns they/them/theirs. And they also show their mom their 'zines. I think their relationship is really sweet, and you can see they went through some really rough times together. Danni basically ends up showing their mom their diary which I think is brave and meaningful.

Danni discovers who they really are when they become involved with a band soon to be called Space Sex Vacuum. The people in the band are Chris (Ben Flores), Noa (Jude Gordon), and Coe (Jimbo Pestano) and they want to rebel against the Riot Grrrls because that group is not welcoming they/them/theirs-identifying people to The Crocodile Club. I really liked their song about the audience at Riot Grrrl shows being polar bears and snowstorms. I loved the scene in the record store. It was really funny and a little heartwarming because you see all these people become themselves around each other. The Shopkeeper (Sharon Pasia) was really high and talking about space and what it would be like to have intercourse in space, how there would a space sex vacuum. The band has come to record store for band name ideas, and then the clerk ends up giving them the idea. She was a really funny character, but in the end she has sort of helped everyone like a guardian angel in charge of helping you find your place in the movement towards equality.

The sort-of villain of the show is the lead Riot Grrrl, Hannah (Lilian McGrady), who is basically trying to make it so girls can take over the punk scene. The movement starts out wanting to help girls feel safe and powerful, but it ends up excluding a lot of people. People shouldn't be excluded because of their identity, they should be excluded because of their actions, but Hannah is assuming that every man will do something terrible if they haven't done it yet. It is hard to have a safe space without excluding people, but when you exclude people they get angry about it and you are also not necessarily ensuring it is a safe space. It is so complicated because the Riot Grrrls in this show want to make a safe space for women, but they end up making something that is not welcoming to they/them/theirs- and male-identifying people even though a lot of those people probably haven't done anything threatening to women. I thought this show was going to be about the positive things the Riot Grrrls did for society, but it ended up making you aware of all the problems that the movement had with practicing inclusion. I was disappointed to know that, but I think it is important to come to terms with it.

People who would like this show are people who like stories about finding yourself, record store guardian angels, and crazy band names. I think people should definitely go see this show. It has some really great performances and an intriguing story. I really liked it. It closes on August 6, so everyone should go see it before the run ends!

Photos: Emily Schwartz

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Review of Madagascar at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Madagascar. It was based on the Dreamworks Animation movie and the book was Kevin Del Aguila. The music and lyrics were by George Noriega and Joel Someillan It was directed and choreographed by Rachel Rockwell. The music director was Jermaine Hill. It was about a group of animals who escape from the Central Park Zoo: Alex (Jordan Brown), a lion, Marty (Gilbert Domally), a zebra, Gloria (Lisa Estridge), a hippo, and Melman (Stephen Schellhardt), a giraffe. Then they get sent on a boat for running away, and there is a shipwreck--because a bunch of spy penguins (Tony Carter, Leah Morrow, Erica Stephan, and Adrienne Storrs) have crashed the ship--and they wash ashore in Madagascar. Then they meet a tribe of lemurs (Aaron Holland, Ron King, Hannah Rose Nardone, Holly Stauder, and Stephan) who rule half the island; the other half is ruled by the Fossa (Ciera Dawn, King, and Garrett Lutz) who all they want to do is eat some delicious lemur. It is about friendship, self-control, and being wild. I thought this show was a lot of fun. It was a cool recreation of the movies I watched as a young child; it was very nostalgic for me, at least the height of nostalgia for someone who is almost thirteen. I also went with a younger child, and it was a lot of fun to see how much she enjoyed the story.

At the beginning of the show, when they are still in the zoo, the animals are getting ready for the field trip kids to arrive so they can show off their fabulousness. They were acting like they were going to be in a big rock show and the kids were acting like the animals were celebrities, so that was pretty funny and I think that was a great way to kick off the show. A little later, Marty sang a song, "Wild and Free," about how he wanted to go out into the wild and that that was where he belonged. He sang this on his 13th birthday, when he was having his midlife crisis, which is hilarious because it seemed like a combination of adolescence and a midlife zebra crisis. I thought there were really nice vocals for this song and the performer made it a pretty moving song, even while wearing a zebra costume (costumes by Jesus Perez). I've never seen that before. I also think "I Like to Move It," led by King Julien (Holland), is definitely a very catchy song. I thought it was a fun performances because they had great lemur puppets (designed by Sarah Ross) that really resembled the characters. It was a lot of fun to get up at the end and see a lot of kids dancing along.

My favorite character in the movie was Gloria, so it was really fun to see her portrayed live on stage. The costume was so fabulous--I've never seen a more dazzling belly button! I wish she had gotten her own song, because you could tell she had a great voice. I actually didn't like the penguins in the movie much, but I really liked them here. I liked the whole secret agent schtick that they were doing, and I liked how you could see the penguins' emotions through the actors. I think it was a good idea to use puppets for the penguins and lemurs, but it was good they didn't hide the actors' faces because then you still got to see the nuances of their performances, which I think was a nice touch.

Even though this show is a lot of fun, it had some questionable things about it. It feels like this show is saying that animals are better off in zoos, which is something a lot of people don't agree with. So you should be prepared to talk to your kids about that after the show. I feel like Madagascar was a movie I watched because everyone was watching it, and at the time, when I was four or five, I didn't take in the message of the story. But now that I do, I'm troubled by a few things, like how it seems to be saying animals are better off in a zoo, and how the moral "don't eat your friends" is pretty obvious, and how tragic the love story will be between a giraffe and a hippo because they are two different species. It is also troubling that carnivores are shamed for just going with the circle of life. Steak is basically the same thing as eating your friends, if your friends are animals, so it is not really that much better. Alex's steaks might be somebody else's friend, but you can't really make a Lion a vegetarian, though at the end it seems like he might become a pescatarian.

People who would like this show are people who like and ballad-singing zebras, potentially pescatarian lions, and dazzling belly buttons. I think there are a lot of kids who would really like this show and teenagers who will find it nostalgic. It had fun costumes and puppets, and a lot of the performers were really great.

Photos: Liz Lauren

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Review of Cirque du Soleil's Luzia

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Luzia. It was co-written by Daniele Finzi Pasca and Julie Hamelin Finzi. It was directed by Pasca, and the associate director was Brigitte Poupart. The acrobatic choreographers were Edesia Moreno Barata, Debra Brown, and Sylvia Gertrúdix González. It was a circus show about a clown (Eric Fool Koller) who jumped out of a plane and landed in Mexico and found a windup key that makes a whole magical land appear. He meets so many fascinating people, animals, and plants while in the process of trying to get water. This is a super mesmerizing and awesome show. It was a super fun experience and the circus elements were awesome to look at. It was just a really great show.

There were two juggling acts. One was with hands and one was with feet; one was with clubs and one was with soccer balls. The Football Dance (Laura Biondo and Abou Traoré) was a duet where they were doing soccer tricks, balancing the ball on their foot or their knee and and tossing it in the air. I thought it was really awesome because they used a practical thing and turned it into something mesmerizing and fun to watch. The performers were really into it and acknowledging the other when they would do something impressive. The more traditional juggling (Rudolf Janecek) was with these shiny silver clubs. I have never seen juggling so fast. You couldn't even track one. It was crazy. He did so many amazing tricks; it was so hypnotizing to watch. Whenever he would do anything impressive or when you were scared for him because he was doing complex tricks, you would get this jolt of energy when he got it right. I felt so connected to the performance, that when something went right it felt like a personal victory!

Water was a very big theme in the show. The clown was trying to get it and it was worked into lots of the different acts. The clown would keep getting rained on or see a pool of water and try to fill up his canteen, but the word hated him, so he couldn't get any in his canteen. I wanted to keep telling him, stop being so excited about the presence of water and just get some because it is going to disappear in thirty seconds. It was kind of frustrating but really hilarious. He was so clueless to the pattern of things. It was not the kind of clown humor that was just somebody falling down for a laugh. He would prepare for so long to get in the pool, but by the time he was ready to get into the pool, it was gone. Also, everything was like a dad joke to him; he would really enjoy his own jokes. The rain was first introduced with the Trapeze (Enya White) and Cyr Wheel (Angelica Bongiovonni) act when it started raining and the performers would do their tricks in the water and it was beautiful and glorious to watch. They had moments where they would come together and moments where they would move apart, and it was beautiful. There was also an aerial straps act, where a demigod (Benjamin Courtenay) befriends a jaguar (puppeteers Gerardo Ballester Franzoni, Biondo, and Emmanuel Cyr; puppet designer Max Humphries) and performs this act above and in the water, flipping around so his long hair sprays rings around him. It was really captivating and awe-inspiring.

There were three larger group acts that I especially enjoyed. Adagio was an act where there were three men (Anton Glazkov, Krzystof Holowenko, and Grzegorz Piotr Ros) who were pursuing this lady (Kelly McDonald) at a jazz club. They would toss her from person to person, and they would lift her, and she would do flips in the air and land on a piano. It was really graceful. It was amazing because it was so seamless. Everything fit together so perfectly, and it seemed effortless. Masts and Poles was a dance that was performed by men and women (McDonald, Stéphane Beauregard, Dominic Cruz, Devin Henderson, Marta Henderson, and Maya Kesselman) and it was really cool. I was scared for their heads when they would slide down and their heads would almost touch the bottom, but perfectly not. It seemed so perilous and it was really terrifying but gorgeous to watch. At the very beginning of the show they had hoop diving with these people (Beauregard, Cruz, D. Hendersen, M. Hendersen, Michael Hottier, Kesselman, and Ian Vazquez) in beautiful hummingbird costumes (designed by Giovanna Buzzi). They would flip through these hoops, do backflips, and jump off of people's hands--all on a moving treadmill. They would sometimes do two-person jumps, which was really terrifying. The anticipation was terrible, but in a good way.

People who would like this show are people who like mesmerizing circus, hummingbird hoop tricks, and water. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It is so much fun to experience. The performers are amazing and it is such a crazy fun show.

Photos: Matt Beard © 2017 Cirque du Soleil

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Review of Eclipse Theatre's Megastasis

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Megastasis. It was by Kia Corthron and it was directed by Aaron Todd Douglas. It was about a young man named Tray (Anthony Conway) who had a joint at a party that changed his life. He is trying to find a way to stay out of jail and take care of his kid, but he can't because the judicial system makes it very hard for people of color and poor people to be able to get reduced sentences and rebuild their lives after prison. It is about the strength of family, injustice, and coming home. I thought this was a really good and meaningful show. It had a really powerful story that needs to be told. I loved how much you got to know and see about the characters; I loved so many of them and I was really invested in the outcome of the story.

This play shows you how it is hard to live and how hard it is for anyone to help you, but there are a lot of people that will try to help you. That is something that counts, because it shows that even though they can't always help you, they want to be there for you. That is what made this play so moving. Tray's grandpa, Dex (Darren Jones), really tries to help him out by helping raise Tray's child, but he can't always be there for him. Once he lost almost everything he had, he felt like he was no use to Tray anymore. I think he could have been a lot of use to Tray, even without his resources, but I do understand why he felt like he had to leave. But he wasn't only useful to Tray because he had a house; his being there was useful and his advice was useful, but he gets discouraged because he feels like the system is after his whole family and he doesn't know how to protect them anymore. It is so terrible to think about people feeling helpless because of the power of the judicial system, which will take most of what you have if you give in and if you try to fight back they might take everything you have. Then after you have served your sentence, you get out and you are supposed to be a new person and live a new life, but they don't let you do that either. There is some hope at the end because you see that Tray and the grandpa find a home in each other and his daughter Mica (Martasia Jones). But you are still furious at the world because even though this is a play, there are real people that have to deal with this system. There are other people that want to help Tray, and I think, in the end, they do at least something to help, even if they can't really overcome the powers of the system. Gina (Ashley J. Hicks) becomes a lawyer and tries to help Tray to the best of her ability. She has a full time job, but says he can call her any time. She gets him a job, but she can't change the judicial system or what has already happened. Tray's cousin Dubby (Gregory Fenner) is always there for Tray and lets him move into his house after Tray gets out of jail. He is really supportive and nice, but he can't take care of him forever. Tray has to fend for himself, so Dubby can live his young adult life. Tray should also be able to live his young adult life, but small mistakes with huge consequences get in his way.

There were many bittersweet moments because all the sweet moments had bitterness because they are so real. It is kind of like real life because often moments are not actually fully good because there is sometimes a dark side to a lot of situations. Nakeesha (Martasia Jones), the mother of Tray's child, was giving Tray hope that they still could have a family. The sweet part is that they really seem to like each other and they have this cute flirtatious thing they do. But it was very sad because at the exact same party where that happens, everything falls apart even though everything seemed so good a minute ago. Later, Tray has an encounter with the grandpa, who he hasn't seen in years and years. He gets him Chinese food, which is really sweet, and they talk about what has been happening. The reunion is really nice to see, except you suspect the grandpa is never coming back. At the beginning of the show Tray and Dubby were sitting on the street drinking and talking, and it was really sweet, but then the cops (Darren Jones, Hicks, Martasia Jones, and Christian Castro) keep interrupting. It is really sweet because they are having a conversation and joking around. Then the cops show up and act like Tray and Dubby have just been holding up a bank. They are different cops each time, but they all think, "we have to stop and search these people innocently talking on the street." Throughout the whole play the system keeps ruining everything for Tray, his relationships and his ability to get a job. The play starts with disrupting a conversation between cousins and goes on to taking a man away from his whole life. Throughout this play things escalate step by step from being searched on the street to being put away for many years in prison.

It might be hard to believe, because it was such a sad show, but there were some funny moments. One of my favorites was when Dubby, Gina, and Tray were all in a dorm room and they got these Double Stuf Oreos and they started to eat them. Well, Gina did. But Dubby just started licking the cream out of them. It was so funny because Gina kept staring at him like he was crazy. And he'd look back at her like, what's the problem? I thought it was hilarious because it showed how high they both were and showed you the dynamics of the relationship. There is another funny moment, that was also a little bit sad, when Dubby is visiting Tray in prison and they are reminiscing about their childhood and how they went to the circus and they got cotton candy. Tray kept crying because when he would eat it, it would disappear in his mouth. That was funny, cute, and sad all at the same time. You do stuff when you are a kid that you can't understand later, so it's funny when you look back on it. It was a sweet, genuine, and hilarious moment. I saw this as a bit of a metaphor too. It was kind of saying that Tray gets good and sweet things in his life, but they keep disappearing.

People who would like this show are people who like meaningful stories, bittersweet moments, and eating the cream out of Oreos. I think that people should definitely, definitely go see this show. It is beautiful and heartbreaking with a touch of humor and a little bit of hope. The acting was great and I loved it.

Photos: Scott Dray