Sunday, January 6, 2019

Review of La Ruta at Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called La Ruta. It was by Isaac Gomez and it was directed by Sandra Marquez. It is about the community of Ciudad Juárez in Mexico on the border with the United States. They are a poor community and many of the women work in factories, and those are the women the play focuses on. Women are going missing and being abused and murdered throughout the community and people in authority are not taking it seriously. The play and the people's stories are based off of interviews with some of the women the characters are based on. It is about love and loss, denial and injustice. I think this is a heartbreaking and powerful story. It brought my attention to an issue that is not talked about very much. It is disgusting that the rape, murder, and abduction of so many women is covered up and ignored by authorities.

The first scene really sets a menacing tone. We learn that Marisela's daughter has gone missing. Marisela (Charín Alvarez) is waiting with her friend Yoli (Sandra Delgado) at the bus stop for Yoli's daughter Brenda (Cher Álvarez) and handing out flyers about Marisela's daughter. But as the buses keep coming, the tension starts to build because Brenda is not on the bus she was supposed to be on or the one after that. There is also, surprisingly, quite a bit of humor and you see a love between the friends. It diffuses the menace, but only for a short amount of time. And it makes you care about the characters even more deeply. Throughout the show they return to moments of humor and beautiful relationship building, which makes your connection to the characters even deeper.

Ivonne (Karen Rodriguez) is a very beautifully complicated character. She has many conflicted loyalties throughout the show which results in her having to make very difficult choices. She loves both her sister and her coworker Brenda, who also becomes a sisterly figure to her. She is forced to choose between them, but that doesn't necessarily mean she can get what she wants. She doesn't have as much control as she wishes she had because she doesn't have a gun or a penis. Other characters sometimes see her as the beacon of trouble and think that she has something to do with the disappearances. But they don't understand how complicated her situation is.

There are no men in this play which I think is a very interesting idea. I think it adds a lot to the story because instead of seeing men doing horrible things, we get to imagine them which shows them in vivid detail in our heads. We don't think of them as human, we think of them as mythical monsters. We get to see the men through the eyes of women who have lost people that they loved and nothing else matters. All they see is an evil entity who is trying to take away people they love. It is important to remember that it is terrible humans who do these things. There is someone to blame and they are blamable. Not representing them as humans in this play lets us put their actions first which is fair because they did not think of their victims as human beings. They thought of them as objects they could manipulate to their will. Because media and culture and government encourage the ownership of women, rape and murder become a way of telling women they shouldn't exists as humans. Because we don't see individual men in this show, we are able to understand the perspective of the women and how it is a bigger problem than just a few evil men.

People who would like this show are people who like stories about terrifying realities, complicated characters, and blended humor and menace. I think this is a very thought-provoking and powerful show. I really liked it.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Ada Grey's Top 12 Plays and Top 6 Musicals

I loved so much theater that I saw this year. From a flawlessly performed Gypsy to a surprisingly relatable brony play. From a chilling Hamlet to a laugh-out-loud funny Legally Blonde. From heartbreaking (The Light and The Color Purple) to terrifying (The Displaced and Hinter).  Theater this year has been eye-opening and beautiful in many ways. I'm so glad I got to see so much of it this year. And to close out 2018, here are my top 12 plays and my top 6 musicals!


The Antelope Party (Theater Wit)

People who would like this show are people who like not-always-magical friendships, plays about fascist Antelopes, and terrifying anime sunglasses. I think that everypony should go see this show. It is such an absorbing story. Everything--from the fabulous acting, to the set packed full of paraphernalia and references, the sparkly costumes, to the strange sense of menace that you feel throughout the play--draws you in. I loved it.

Read the full review here.

Birds of a Feather (Greenhouse Theater Center)

People who would like this show are people who like toxic masculinity hawks, humanized penguins, and show tune mating calls. ...It is so well-acted, hilarious, and moving. I really loved it.

Read the full review here.

Columbinus (The Yard at Steppenwolf's 1700 Theatre)

People who would like this show are people who like turning tragedy into art, realistic teen stories, and sobbing your face off. I think this is a really hard and beautiful and relevant show. The show addresses a lot of topics I'm very passionate about, and it handles those topics carefully and well. At the end they give you information about taking action. I think everyone should go and see this. The day that I am writing this review there has been another school shooting, so it has been hard to write. I think it is very important that people go see this show but also that they take action to help prevent any more mass shootings.

Read the full review here.

The Displaced at Haven Theatre

People who would like this show are people who like horror romcoms, suspense, and bubble wrap tickle monsters. ...I loved it!

Read the full review here.

Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea (First Floor Theater)

People who would like this show are people who like poetic solutions to real problems, mermaid cake, and awkward prayers. It is a really fascinating and beautiful story. I loved it.

Read the full review here.

Guards at the Taj (Steppenwolf Theatre)

People who would like this show are people who like moral questions, brotherhood, and harem duty. ...It is such an interesting, beautiful, and sometimes disturbing show. It has amazing performances. I loved it.

Read the full review here.

Hamlet (The Gift Theatre)

People who would like this show are people who like rotten decor, baby Hamlets, and Ophelia and Laertes playing video games. I think this is an amazing show. It basically did everything right, and I absolutely loved it.

Read the full review here.

Hinter (Steep Theatre)

People who would like this show are people who like Bavarian murder mysteries, complex relationships among women, and secrecy bread. ...It is a really great story with compelling characters. I'm still theorizing about this play and it was a lot of fun in a creepy way. I loved it.

Read the full review here.

The Light (The New Colony)

People who would like this show are people who like healthy relationship options, bantering couples, and enormous bowls of chocolate. It makes you think about the characters in so many different ways. I laughed, I cried, I felt angry, I had all the feelings in this show, and I loved it.

Read the full review here.

This Bitter Earth (About Face Theatre)

People who would like this show are people who like emotional arrangements, adorable and flawed relationships, and belting Gloria Gaynor in gay bars. ...It was a beautiful story, amazingly acted. I loved it.

Read the full review here.

The Shipment (Red Tape Theatre)

People who would like this show are people who like flipping the script, chilling transitions, and productive discomfort. ...I think it is a really important and thought-provoking show, and I want a lot of people to have this experience.

Read the full review here.

The Wolves (Goodman Theatre)

People who would like this show are people who like orange peel pictures, yogurt yurts, and angry water drinking. ...It is powerful and empowering and reminds you of how things felt when you were a teenager.

Read the full review here.


9 to 5 (Firebrand Theatre)

People who would like this show are people who like musical allyship, empower ballads, and awkward vixens. ...I think this is an important musical and I think they did a great job with it. I loved it.

Read the full review here.

The Color Purple (Broadway in Chicago)

People who would like this show are people who like inspiring stories, power pants, and suggestive chores. ...It is a powerful, surprisingly funny, heartbreaking, and heartwarming show. I loved it!

Read the full review here.

Company (Venus Cabaret Theater at Mercury Theater)

People who would like this show are people who like marriage karate, the evolution of relationship craziness, and crawling away from your problems. I really loved this musical. It has great lyrics, great music, and it was performed very well in a new and interesting space.

Read the full review here.

Gypsy (Porchlight Music Theatre)

People who would like this show are people who like metaphorical sets, engaging overtures, and flawlessly performed stage mothers. I think this is an amazing show. ...It made me see new things about Gypsy I hadn't thought of before. I loved it.

Read the full review here.

Legally Blonde (Paramount Theatre)

People who would like this show are people who like Irish fantasies, fabulous Greek choruses, and shopping for the cause of love. It is a lot of fun, hilarious, and a surprisingly communal experience. I really liked it.

Read the full review here.

Spring Awakening (Blank Theatre)

People who would like this show are people who like musicals about sexuality and adolescence, joyful mistakes, and learning how to grow up. It is beautifully complex, has heart-wrenching songs, and the characters are portrayed wonderfully. I really liked it.

Read the full review here.

Photos: Charles Osgood, Evan Hanover, Claire Demos, Emily Schwartz, Liz Lauren

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Review of Broken Nose Theatre's Plainclothes

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Plainclothes. It was by Spenser Davis and it was directed by Kanomé Jones and Spenser Davis. It was about a department store called Brady's with a large undercover asset protection staff. When a crisis situation arises, the team is forced to adapt to new monitoring and tensions between employees. I think this is a really well-written and performed show with a thought-provoking plot and complex characters. You love all of the characters, even though all of them are flawed. It made me think about the constructs and concepts of race, how people project their emotions and guilt onto others, and how ingrained systems of authority are. I really loved this play.

In the first scene you are introduced to Llermo (Alejandro Tey) and Bobby (Adam Soule) and T (Stephanie Shum). They all work in the same department at the same level with similar pay. They all seem to have fun at work and work well together. They joke around together. They may not really love their job, but they like each other. There is a new woman at the job, Syd (Elise Marie Davis) who wants to become a cop, but is using this as a practice for her real dream job. In this scene they are introducing Syd to how things work at Brady's, when someone tries to steal something in the store. This scene establishes how good things are at Brady's before the incident that is just about to take place. You get to see how close everyone is and you get the contrast with the next scenes so you can see how their relationships have deteriorated. It is very effective that we don't actually see the incident, we just hear it offstage and then T runs in with blood on her shirt. It is a jolt, a jumpstart into this play that just keeps getting more and more high stakes. Throughout the rest of the play you think, anything can happen at any time because this opening scene was so gutting and immediate.

The shoplifters, Jomal (Ben F. Locke) and Pete (David Weiss), are very different people but seem to shoplift for similar reasons. Jomal is a hyper, enthusiastic, and wears brightly colored booty shorts. But under that happy, carefree exterior is a more self-conscious person who thinks about his past actions. Pete is a internet star who seems to either have fallen on hard times or just wanted to steal something. They both seem to be compelled to get in trouble and have this strange confidence that they won't get caught even when they do. Pete is more snotty in his cockiness because he thinks his fame and money can get him out of anything. Jomal has a lot of confidence too, and no one seems to be able to bring him down, so it is surprising when Mary (RjW Mays) seems to be able to. Mary works in the lingerie section at Brady's and she and Jomal are frenemies; they argue a lot but seem to really like each other. She's always teasing him about the spelling of his name. But there is a shift in what Mary shows as her personality which was a very surprising and interesting way to conclude her character arc. She shows that she is capable of prejudice even against her own race.

Karina (Carmen Molina) is a supervisor for the undercover team. We don't see her until the second scene when she conveys what happened offstage that we did not see. At first, she seems like she might be a side character, might not ever show up again, because the first purpose we see her serve is just to convey information. But then we start to follow her and her relationships. We see one of the most quickly developed story arcs in the show. It runs parallel for awhile to T's story arc, then they cross paths, but they come to different conclusions. They both realize how corrupt Brady's really is, and they both have opportunities to climb the ladder--but the opportunities are not what they seem.

People who would like this show are people who like jolting opening scenes, interesting character arcs, and booty-short shoplifters. I think this is an absorbing, funny, and thought-provoking show. It has a really interesting plot and has phenomenal actors. I would definitely recommend seeing it.

Photos: Austin D. Oie

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Ada Grey's Shows of Christmas Past

Here are links to my favorite holiday shows that I reviewed in the past that are playing again this year. I'm sorry I won't have time to see them again! 

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! Tickets available 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! Tickets available 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! Tickets available here.

Q Brothers Christmas Carol at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

People who would like this show are people who like the Christmas spirit, busting a move with a busted leg, and smelling corn excessively. I think that people should definitely definitely go see this show. It is so much fun and a great thing to bring the whole family to. Read the full review here! Tickets available here

Photos: Michael Brosilow, Evan Hanover, Liz Lauren.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Review of Red Theater Chicago's An Oak Tree

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called An Oak Tree. It was by Tim Crouch and it was directed by Jeremy Aluma. It was about a man who was a hypnotist (Gage Wallace) and earlier that year he had been driving to a gig and hit a young girl with his car and killed her. Since her death her father (a different actor every night, Katy Collins when I saw it) has started to go crazy, and he decides to go to the hypnotist's show and see his daughter's killer face to face. It is about grieving, rationality, and oblivion. I think this is a really fascinating show. It really made me think a lot about how it would differ from night to night with different actors playing the father.

The general concept of the show is that the actor playing the hypnotist does the show every night and the other actor has never seen the show or read it. I think the reason the playwright made the decision to make the actor who played the father different every night was because the character of the father is so disoriented that having the actor who played the father actually be as disoriented as the character adds to the audience experience. I think it adds a lot to see the actor playing the father discover the same things that the audience is discovering in real time. The concept reminds us how theatrical performances are different every night even if the script is the same and it has the same actors. It also shows the importance of relationships in theater, not just between characters but between actors because you are watching two actors interact as well as two characters.

I think it is really interesting how the hypnotist seems to be filtering all his pain and suffering by making the volunteers in his show go through the same pain that he did. It seems like the show is saying that audiences, even without audience participation on stage, feel the pain that the characters are feeling and what the playwright has gone through. The hypnotist seems to be "recasting" his own role with audience members and making them feel the feelings he doesn't want to anymore. There is a strong theme of replacement in this show because you get a new actor every night but also the father has replaced his daughter with an oak tree and the hypnotist is recasting his life. In this play it seems that grieving is also a process of replacement.

People who would like this show are people who like intriguing theatrical metaphors, exploring grief, and immersive disorientation. I think that people should definitely go see this show. I think this is a really thought-provoking and unique show. I think it is very well acted and I love the concept.

Photo: Matt Wade

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Review of About Face Theatre's This Bitter Earth

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called This Bitter Earth. It was by Harrison David Rivers, and it was directed by Mikael Burke. It was about a couple, Jesse (Sheldon Brown) and Neil (Daniel Desmarais), who met each other at a Black Lives Matter rally. Jesse is black and Neil is white, but activism has a very different place in each of their lives. Neil is the activist and Jesse agrees with his views but isn't always invested in being an activist. It is about injustice, privilege, and love. I think this is a very beautiful show. It has amazing actors and an intriguing plot line.

This play is very interestingly structured. The climax you see at the beginning of the show, but you don't know exactly how it will end. You keep going back in time, but not in a straight line, jumping around to different points in their relationship, not completely knowing where you are at the beginning of a scene. But you eventually get more of an idea about where the scenes fit in the puzzle of the show. I think the writer chose to make this play nonlinear to make it like it is someone's actual memories and recollections of a person. It makes the play more powerful because of how unfiltered it seems.

I liked how many levels their relationship had. It really showed how an actual relationship is. It is not just happiness and it's not just all terrible. It depends on a given day; it is not a steady incline or decline. You get to see how their relationship has rough patches and high points. Of course the rough patches stick out in memory more, because people remember the bad times more than the good times. A good example of a rough patch they overcome is when Neil is going away to help out with the protests in Ferguson, but Jesse doesn't want him to go and is worried about him. Even though Jesse at first ignores the texts and Neil's attempts to reconcile, they both end up letting down their walls at the same moment and coming together no matter how far apart in distance they are.

I feel like the play rounds out their relationship really well and makes me care a lot about these characters and their relationship. I loved the scene where they are on their first date and "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor comes on and they both start busting out their cringe-iest dance moves and belting their hearts out. This shows one of the purest moments in their relationship, when they are still new to each other and finding out how much they have in common and how different they are in the best ways. I also really loved the scene farther into their relationship when they had moved in together, and Jesse's parents had just come for an impromptu visit. His parents were not the easiest of guests and the scene starts with Jesse and Neil waving good bye and both sighing simultaneously when their guests are out of sight and letting out everything they'd been keeping in during the visit. It was really funny and adorable to see them agreeing and laughing together. This scene came after some very tough scenes, so it was nice to have this reminder of their spark and how their relationship is worth fighting for. I think this play is most of the time arranged really well to keep you rooting for them and reminded of why they are together.

People who would like this show are people who like emotional arrangements, adorable and flawed relationships, and belting Gloria Gaynor in gay bars. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It was a beautiful story, amazingly acted. I loved it.

Photos: Liz Lauren

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Review of Neverland at The Prop Thtr

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Neverland. It was devised by the ensemble and directed by Olivia Lilley. It was about a boy named Peter Pan (Gaby Labotka) who rescues children from earth at the worst moments in their lives and takes them to live in Neverland where they will never grow up. Everything seems to be going smoothly until Peter finds a girl, Wendy (Valeria Rosero), with whom he has become infatuated because of her stories, which he thinks she has written but are actually the TV show Jane the Virgin. When Wendy comes to Neverland, people start to turn on Peter and question if Peter's old-friend-turned-arch-nemesis Hook (Kate Black-Spence) is actually as bad as Peter makes her out to be. It is about irresponsibility, growing up, and the glorification of war. I think this is a really great idea for a show. It had a lot of great performances and it was a really thought-provoking experience.

I think it was really interesting how Peter Pan is not the hero of the play. At the beginning of the show it just seems like he is rescuing kids from terrible things happening to them. He's joyful, playful, and seems to care a lot about his friends. But later you see he is actually very controlling and irresponsible. He starts to only like playing dangerous and unforgiving games, in other words: war. He has a very interesting origin story: that he was one of the boys who played female parts in Shakespeare's plays. I thought it was a very nice reference to how Peter Pan is usually played by a woman. He was in this case too, but it is interesting to think about how the character of Peter Pan in this play grew up playing women. I like how it seems to come full circle.

I think it was very interesting to have Wendy be a "bad" girl instead of the mother-like, responsible girl she usually is. In this play, she's a drug dealer, sneaks out at night, and isn't traditionally nurturing. I did think that how bad she was might have been a little overkill because anything less than sweetness and perfection would seem unlike what we expect from Wendy. She ends up being the leader of "the rebellion" and liberating the lost children by showing them what Peter is really doing. I think Wendy is a interesting character because of how she is the opposite of what you expect her to be, but she still ends up being an unexpectedly nurturing character. Nurture doesn't always look the same, and I think the way she shows it is a very unfiltered way of caring for other people, which gives her even more layers.

The character of Hook was so interesting and very well performed. Usually Hook is just the evil guy and doesn't really have another purpose, but here Hook seems to genuinely want to help the lost children (Rory Jobst, Mateo Hernandez, Bernadette Carter, Electra Tremulis, Tyler Brockington, Carolyn Waldee, Sissy Anne Quaranta, and Dylan Fahoome). In this show, the war has two sides, those who want to grow up and those who don't. Peter and a portion of the lost children don't ever want to grow up, but Hook and some of the other lost children accept that they are going to get older and grow up. They want to mature and do new things. Growing up is not seen as horrible but as natural. But Peter doesn't want to accept that and seems scared of the idea. There seem to be good things about being childlike--happiness, freedom, and playfulness--but Hook wants to temper that so that there is responsibility and some thought put into things. I think it is telling that Peter grabs the lost children from the most traumatic points in their lives. But because they are kept children they are not allowed to process the trauma or grow. So even though it seems like a rescue it will actually add a lot of issues to their later life. And Hook tries to help them with those issues.

People who would like this show are people who like layered characters, heartfelt Hooks, and Shakespearean Pans. I think this is a great concept and I had a lot of fun. I liked it.

Photos: Beth Rooney