Monday, January 23, 2017

Review of Level 11 Theatre's The Library

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Library. It was by Scott Z. Burns, and it was directed by Logan Hulick. It is about a school shooting and all the people who were affected by it. It was about a kid named Caitlin (Lindsey Markham) who was blamed for something she says she didn't do. It is about belief, memory, and legacies. I think this is a very heartbreaking show and I found it very intriguing.

Nolan (Scott Olson) and Elizabeth (Tricia Rogers) were the parents of Caitlin. They were very protective of her, but they still didn't believe everything she said because not all of it was true and they had had bad experiences before. But Dawn Sheridan (Maria Margaglione) seemed to need to believe that her daughter Joy ended her life by praying and being perfect. And she thinks that Caitlin is a liar about Joy. When she thinks that Caitlin helped the shooter it makes Dawn feel better about her own daughter. Dawn's Christianity is not depicted as something terrible. It is depicted as something that helps her through everything, but it makes Caitlin and her parents' already difficult lives a lot harder. She is not being mean or anything, but she should investigate her case more before refusing to see any other person's opinion. Dawn starts out being a person who gives forgiveness, even when it is not wanted, and ends up being forgiven. I thought that was a really great character arc.

Caitlin was a very immature teen girl, but even though she was kind of annoying at times, you still had sympathy for her because of her situation. I think everyone has been blamed for something they shouldn't have been blamed for. She wasn't judged like she was without reason. Even though they didn't have proof, they thought Caitlin might be a person who would lie, because she lied about other things connected to the shooting. I think that most of the decisions that she makes at the beginning are not very mature. But you see her develop over time and become a more thoughtful person. She has gone through probably one of the hardest things in her life and now she comes out the other side as a adult. I thought that was really moving.

I thought the way they used the set (designed by Alex Connor) was very cool, how they uncovered bookshelves as the plot progressed. And also they would make the library tables into a hospital bed, surgical tables, desks, and the tables in homes, and finally the tables in the library where the shooting took place. Then they basically recap what the 911 call was and the terror of the entire experience. I though the final scene was very moving and sad but it needed to happen. I thought it wrapped up the story well and it made me cry.

People who would like this show are people who like angsty teen heroines, cool character arcs, and moving tables and endings. I thought this was an insightful play about being a teenager in such a terrible situation. I think this was good show and people will learn a lot from it.

Photos: Kyle Hintz

Friday, January 20, 2017

Review of The Cuckoo's Theater Project's Women

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Women. It was by Chiara Atik and it was directed by Melissa Golden. It was about the women from Louisa May Alcott's Little Women but addressing all of the issues that you kept thinking about during the entire book, like why Jo marries a guy that is not cool enough for her, why Amy is such a jerk to Beth when Beth is dying, and why the characters have such a hard time communicating with each other. I'm a big fan of Little Women and I was really excited to see this. Jo was one of my role models. I don't think Little Women is a flawless book, but it is a good book, and it is a very feminist book for the time it was written in because it looked at real women's lives. A few years ago I saw a show called Lil' Women: A Rap Musical and it was a hip hop version of the novel. Of course it was not one hundred percent accurate to the book, but it wasn't making fun of it all the time. It was able to point out some of the flaws in the book but in an affectionate way. That was a perfect rendition of Little Women for me. Women also has some legitimate and funny criticisms, but sometimes it was a little bit harsher than I would like. It didn't always balance criticism with making you care about the characters.

Everyone seemed to be insanely mean to Beth (Jillian Leff) in this version. Amy (Francesca Atian) wouldn't even go in the same room with Beth, which doesn't happen in the book. Everyone makes Amy stay out because they don't want her to be sick. If Amy makes the choice it makes her seem like a jerk. Something that was kind of funny but also kind of sad was how Beth kept coughing the whole time. And Amy was like, "You have to keep the coughing to a minimum. It's at a six right now, and we need it to be at a three." I can see why that is funny, but you can also see why it is kind of sad. It makes you feel like Amy doesn't like her family. Sometimes you think that about Amy in the book, but this exaggeration makes her seem like a pretty awful person, not just someone who has little hiccups in their good behavior. The sisters seem a lot like mean girls, like Regina George. I think that is a funny idea to have all these well-meaning characters do such non-well-meaning things. But it does make you care about the characters less.

Meg (Emily Lindberg) seemed like a very angry person. She never really gets what she wants, even though she thinks all she needs to be happy in life is to get a husband. In this play Meg is kind of there to represent how weird it is that in the original book she is happy with a dull husband and a bunch of kids, which doesn't seem a lot like Meg. In the play, it seems like she gets a lot angrier as she is writing a letter to Jo (Aziza Macklin) because she knows how much fun Jo is having in New York and she wishes she was there instead of taking the first opportunity that she gets to be married. In Little Women she is a sweet and perfect second mother to everyone. Then to see her in such a state of anger and overreaction in the play is funny. But then you do feel sorry for her husband Mr. Brooks (Nick Glatter) who has to take all of it.

I really liked the last scene. I thought that it was very funny because it brought up the problem that the end of the book has; it seems like Alcott just wraps up the book really quickly by basically saying: Jo's getting married, everybody will be married, the end. There was one line in the play where Jo says to Professor Bhaer (Rocco Renda) "We will have a sexless--but not loveless--marriage." And then he said "To wrap this up quickly and efficiently: Yes!" It is so great because that is the first time where they bring up a problem with the book that I didn't feel was over exaggerated, and I found it hilarious. It shows you that Jo is a very independent person and doesn't need a man to be happy. She still gets to be who she wants to be even though the book says she has to get married to a man. Jo, in the book, is not a flawless character, but she is still a lovable character because she is relatable. In the play, the actress did such a great job portraying Jo in a way that made her seem like an actual person that you can care about. In the book, I feel like they try to mend her. They don't do that in the play. Everyone seems to keep their flaws, and Jo still gets to be who she wants to be, which I wish they had actually done in the book. I think that it is great to have flawed characters, even at the end, because no one becomes perfect over time.

People who would like this show are people who like angry Megs, nineteenth-century mean girls, and sexless--but not loveless--marriages. I really loved the idea of this show and I thought it had some great moments.

Photos: Candice Lee Connor

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Review of Men on Boats at American Theater Company

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Men on Boats. It was by Jaclyn Backhaus. It was directed by Will Davis. It was about a group of men led by John Wesley Powell (Kelli Simpkins) who were trying to travel through the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River. They were trying to get their entire crew to survive and come with them, but over time they broke into separate groups. It is about problems of patriotism, where the men go emotionally and literally, and challenging friendships. In this production, and I think all the other productions, the men were played by women or non-binary people. This play sends a strong feminist message even though it is not about feminism or women. I thought this was a great show. I found it hilarious but also very touching and exciting.

I don't think I've ever laughed as much as I did during this show. One of my favorite moments was when Sumner (Arti Ishak) finds a snake. Of course, if you find a snake crawling on you, you aren't going to be happy, but the way that she reacted was so over the top that it was hilarious. The other explorers see it and they try to get away from it as soon as possible but then the cook Hawkins (Stephanie Shum) starts smacking it repeatedly with a pan. I don't think I've ever laughed so hard in my life. The Howland brothers, O.G. (Avi Roque) and Seneca (SaraĆ­ Rodriguez), were hilarious but still terrifying. They were very funny, but they didn't really seem to care about the other members of the group, which is a problem on a expedition that is ninety-nine percent teamwork. O.G. would keep saying he had to go to the bathroom, but he was really going and stealing tobacco. It was hilarious that no one seemed to notice except Hawkins. Frank Goodman (Erin Barlow) was more like baggage on the expedition than a real explorer, but he was hilarious baggage for the audience. I don't know if he belonged on the American expedition, since he was British, and he was just out there because he wanted to do some exploring because he was rich. There was a moment where he was politely freaking out about the Howland brothers smoking while they were portaging and that was hilarious. The Howland brothers were also hilarious because they were so laid-back and cool. One of the boats they had, The Maid of the Canyon, only had two people, Hawkins and Hall (Lawren Carter), but it was the party boat. And whenever someone would say party boat, they would break into a song and dance which was hilarious. There were so many modern references. There was also a time when they had lost the whiskey but when they found it again they were so happy that the lights (by Brandon Wardell) all went rogue and they started doing this strange slow-motion mosh pit of dancing and holding up a giant jug of whiskey.

There was a hilarious and touching moment where Bradley (BrittneyLove Smith), who was the youngest crew member, he was going up a mountain with Powell, and Powell almost fell and then Bradley took off his pants and threw them over to him to use as a rope. He was using the slightest amount of effort he could possibly do and trying to look heroic. It was hilarious and touching because Bradley would do anything for their commander, but even though he was trying to seem manly he still seemed very young and adorable. The entire time I just wanted to get up and give Bradley a hug. It is also really funny how excited he was about everything. Like when they were going to the waterfalls he just screamed out at the top of his lungs "I'm nineteen!" even though that had nothing to do with the situation that was happening at the time. He starts out being in the same boat with Old Shady (Lauren Sivak). They are pretty much polar opposites; Old Shady is probably the least enthusiastic person you'll ever meet...except when he sings his ballads. By the way, what were those ballads? I think he sang one about the snake that he murdered, but it is hard to tell. And every single time everyone would pay as close attention as they could, but really not care. Except for his brother Powell, who is really into all that for some strange reason.

Everyone was very obsessed with naming things after themselves, especially William Dunn (Kelly O'Sullivan). I think they should have found out more about the place and not just taken everything for their own because those things might have already had names given to them by Native Americans. He seemed to think that he was the most experienced person on this expedition. But even though he was flawed, I still thought the character was lovable. He and Powell were frenemies because they had different opinions but they still worked together most of the time. The play does not just make fun of these flawed, privileged, white male characters. It shows you the good things about them too. Like William Dunn wanting to name the places shows that he is actually invested in the mapping project, not just wanting an adventure. Powell, even though he kind of left all his friends in the dust and took all the credit for himself, on the way through the Grand Canyon he was a successful and inspirational leader to most of them. I don't think the play thinks wanting to explore is stupid. I think the play thinks the characters could do the same things in a way that hurts less people.

I really liked the action sequences; I thought they were really cool. I thought it brought a lot of excitement to the show. They would get in the boats, which were like hinged signs that had the names of the boats on them. They would swerve and do all the things the actual boats would do, but just using people. It made each of those scenes even more exciting and gave them a lot more tension. Whenever the actual boat would break, the sign would break apart. I thought that that was really cool.

People who would like this show are people who like naming things after yourself, whiskey mosh pits, and rescue pants. I thought this was a really fun show. I think that literally everyone should see it. I would see it thousands of times if I could. I absolutely loved it. It was hilarious and amazing.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Review of Rasaka Theatre Company's Vanya (or "That's Life!")

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Vanya (or "That's Life!"). It was adapted from Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya by Lavina Jadhwani. It was directed by Kaiser Ahmed. This is an adaptation of Uncle Vanya, not the original Uncle Vanya because it went from the final act to the first act. It was about Vanya (Rom Barkhordar) and his niece Sonya (Puja Mohindra), and they live together with a friend of the family, Waffles (Raj Bond), and a nanny, Marina (Allison Cain). But then Vanya's brother-in-law Alexander (Bill Chamberlain) comes with his new, young wife Yelena (Tiffany Renee Johnson) because they want to take a break from the city. Vanya's problem is that he is angry with Alexander because he has done everything for Alexander, but Alexander is not as successful or brilliant as Vanya thought he would be. There is a doctor named Astrov (Richard Costes) who came to help with Alexander's health and Sonya has fallen in love with him, but so has her stepmother Yelena, but Astrov doesn't like Sonya back. I thought this was an interesting show; it made me think about how important stakes and structure are to Chekhov and theater in general.

It is definitely a challenge for actors to go backwards through a story, especially if it is a very high stakes show and the climax is very big. The stakes are high for the characters in Vanya. There is a marriage that could be ruined; there is a family that could be disconnected; there are people that could die, and there are people whose hearts could break. Knowing what is going to happen to all the characters at the end of the story at the beginning of the play kind of deflates the stakes. I do think it is important to have an element of mystery to a show in order for it not to be boring. In this version of the play, the mystery of the play ends up being how will the show work if we already know the ending. That is a very interesting question to ask and I think it must have been fun for the people making the play to figure out because you don't usually get to ask a question like that when you are doing such a well-known show. It can be difficult to have an ending that wasn't specifically written to be an ending. The end of act one of Uncle Vanya does not not seem like the end of a play at all. So, in this adaptation, they use direct address to the audience to make it seem more like an ending. Everyone talks to the audience about how they can maybe do this part now because they are stronger and they have gone through it so many times.

There was a lot of breaking the fourth wall in this show, and a lot of it made you feel a part of the show. Like some characters had physical contact with the audience. The nanny brought tea to one of the audience members. I thought it was great how the characters used pop tunes and performed them in a less poppy way than they are usually played. That was a really fun way to show the difference this show had from other Uncle Vanyas. It made it feel more modern. I think I felt most connected to Waffles and the nanny because they seemed to have genuine relationship with each other and with the audience. They seemed to trust us with their deepest darkest secrets, like the person who they've loved for as long as they can remember or why their marriage ended. I felt like they were really addressing us instead of just talking to themselves. Sometimes other times the direct address didn't work for me, like when some of the actors seemed to be talking out toward the audience but not talking to us.

People who would like this show are people who like reworked Chekhov, pop songs, and tea. I thought this was an interesting experiment and it had a lot of intriguing elements. Even though this isn't my favorite version of this play, I thought it was worth my time because of how different it was.

Photos: Scott Dray

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Review of Irish Theatre of Chicago's The Weir

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Weir. It was by Conor McPherson and it was directed by Siiri Scott. It was about a bunch of Irish men--Jack (Brad Armacost), Brendan (Bradley Grant Smith), Jim (Jeff Christian), and Finbar (Dan Waller) who lived out in the middle of nowhere and one day a woman named Valerie (Sarah Wellington) moves to town from Dublin and they decide that they want her to come over to the bar and hang out with them. And they end up telling each other things they never thought they would tell anyone. It is about friendship, trust, and finding comfort in others. I really loved this show. It was funny and moving.

I loved all the spooky tales. Each one moved the plot along so well. It wasn't a long monologue to get a small point across. Each story showed a stage in how the trust grew throughout the entire play, which I thought was cool. At the beginning Jack tells a story about a fairy road and a woman knocking on the door, but by the end they are talking about deeper things like the loss of loved ones. There is also a story that Jim told about being in a graveyard and meeting a pervert. It shows you how comfortable they are getting with each other because it is about something real. Perverts have been confirmed, but fairy roads have not. Valerie story has more baggage--something that sticks with you for your whole life. It is about a completely real thing followed by something that is slightly less believable but is no less emotionally draining. Like when you read a book and you know it is not real, you still feel for the characters. It is real for her. The last story, told by Jack, is really real. There is no supernatural part to it; it is just a normal sad life. I'm still thinking about that monologue because it seems so true. There are people who are very lonely and they didn't mean to be.

Even though there were a lot of sad moments, there were also some really hilarious moments. Valerie was seen to be a classy lady and she didn't really want a beer, so she asked for wine. It made everybody laugh hysterically; they were like "Do we really seem like people who would have wine around?" They try to seem like they do anyway. Brendan goes and gets wine from the house, which was hilarious because I think she would have been fine with a beer. And then the wine isn't good anymore, so she pretends to drink, which is funny. She's just trying not to be a jerk. There was this running gag where every time someone would have a drink, Brendan would start pouring the drinks, and his friends would say, "Will you have a drink?" and he would say, "Just a small one" and then pour himself a giant amount, which I thought was very funny. And it was also kind of hilarious the amount that they drank. I think one of them had at least 10 drinks in like an hour and a half. You would think they would make worse decisions, but I think they made better ones, like to be nicer to each other and help out Valerie.

Before Jack and Brendan and Jim meet Valerie, she is like an object of desire. They think she might have an affair with Finbar, which they don't want because he's married and they want Valerie to be with Brendan because he seems pretty lonely, being the owner of a bar and all. But I think it is great the way the author went with her, making her an actual feasible character and not just an object of desire. It is really interesting to see the difference between how they talk about her and how they treat her when she is in the room. I was worried at first that she was going to get harassed, which gave a great amount of tension to the room. But then it makes you feel better about the male characters when they treat her with civility and then as a friend.

People who would like this show are people who like spooky stories, deep friendships, and drinking a lot. I thought this was a really great show. I found it really intriguing. Even though it was a show that was all talking, it wasn't at all boring. There wasn't a moment I wasn't engaged.

Photos: Emily Schwartz

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Review of The Christmas Schooner at Mercury Theater

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Christmas Schooner. The book was by John Reeger and the music and lyrics were by Julie Shannon. It was directed by L. Walter Stearns and the musical direction was by Eugene Dizon. The choreography was by Brenda Didier. It was about a family of German heritage in Michigan who had gotten a letter from their cousin Martha (Cory Goodrich) in Chicago about how they couldn't get Christmas trees in the city. So the father Peter (Stef Tovar) decides that he is going to go to Chicago on a boat with all of his crew to deliver Christmas trees. This is all fine and dandy for a few years and then something terrible happens and everyone has to get through it and deliver the Christmas trees anyway. It is about family, the importance of tradition, and the dangers of seafaring.

I loved the conversation between Peter's son Karl (Peyton Owen) and Alma (Brianna Borger), Karl's mother, about the Christmas pageant at school. There was a hilarious joke that went something along the lines of "These kids at school were arguing about whether the Angel or Mary was the more important part. And one of them said 'It's harder to be a virgin than an angel.'" I couldn't stop laughing. Another charming moment is where Peter and Alma were dancing with some strudel when he had gotten back from delivering Christmas trees the first time. It was clear that he had really missed Alma and wanted some alone time. But it was funny how important the strudel was to the whole endeavor. One thing I really loved was how committed the actors who played this couple were to each and every one of their songs and scenes.

"The Blessing of the Branch" shows a German tradition in an American home and how much it means to them to have this tradition in their house. All of their friends--Rudy (Daniel Smeriglio), Oskar (Brian Elliott), and Steve (James Rank)-- and the grandpa Gus (Don Forston) pass it around the table with care. I think this is very sweet. At the end of the show they pass the branch throughout the audience, and I think that was a appropriate way to end the show. It reminds you how important tradition is to the family in the show.

In order to talk about a problem I have with the show, I have to give you a bit of a spoiler. Peter dies in this show because he is trying to deliver the trees in hazardous conditions. He falls overboard and dies. Everybody is very sad about this for a short time. But then the crew and his son Karl (Christian Libonati) decide it is really important to get those trees to Chicago this year, right now. So they decide to leave the hospital and get the trees that magically washed up on shore and put them on a different boat. Then they go to Chicago with the Christmas trees because they decide that the Christmas spirit is more gosh darn important than a man's life. I would feel like crap if I knew that I got my Christmas tree only because a guy died and he had a kid and a wife who had risked their own lives to bring me the Christmas tree because the Christmas spirit was so important. I don't feel like that is the best moral for a story, as you might have guessed from how I am phrasing these sentences. And it really made me mad that no one acknowledged how right Alma was about how dangerous it was to bring out the Christmas trees. Everyone was like, "No. It is totally fine. We'll bring your son with us too! It will be a blast!" And then everyone convinces her to take over her husband's part on the boat. They don't seem to value women's opinions, but the play still tries to make it seem feminist by making her the "captain."

People who would like this show are people who like family traditions, the importance of Christmas, and sexy strudel. I could tell the actors were really committed to this show and the audience really seemed to enjoy it. This is not fully my type of Christmas play, but I think many people will like it.

Photos: Brett A. Beiner

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Ada Grey's Top 10 Plays and Top 5 Musicals of 2016

I think this has been a great year for theater.  There were so many great shows that I couldn't even fit on this list.  Like I loved Hamilton, but I don't think they needed my honorable mention for people to know it was a good show to see. I only reviewed 79 plays this year because I was out of town for two months acting in The Hammer Trinity with The House Theatre in Miami and did runs of The Awake at First Floor Theater, Scarcity at Redtwist Theatre, and The Haven Place at A Red Orchid Theatre (which closes this Friday). I am very grateful to be able to see so many amazing shows every year and learn so much from them. Chicago theater means so much to me.  Whenever I go to the theater, I feel like I am seeing friends.

Top Ten Plays (in alphabetical order by title)

Mary-Arrchie Theatre's American Buffalo: "People who would like this show are people who like buffalo coins, burnt bacon, and paper hats. I feel like it is a great and moving story about trying to get something back. They are actually trying to get a lot of things back, not just the coin. They are trying to get their relationships with each other back and trying not to be categorized as losers--so to get their self-respect back. I think that people should definitely, definitely go see this show."

Waltzing Mechanics' Cosmic Events are Upon Us: "People who would like this show are people who like little pairs and big pairs, assassinating ladies' priests, and sock-y Stalin. People should definitely go see this show. It is awesome to watch and I really enjoyed it."

Strawdog Theatre Company's Distance: "People who would like this show are people who like sad but sweet family stories, getting a full taste of life, and pie. I think that people should definitely, definitely go see this show. It was a beautiful story with great actors, and it really makes you think a lot."

Haven Theatre's How We Got On: "People who would like this show are people who like water towers, expressing yourself through rap, and the Akai MPC! I think that people should definitely definitely go see this show. It was super super fun and I really loved every single character."

About Face Theatre's I Am My Own Wife: "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."

About Face Theatre's Le Switch: "People who would like this show are people who like adorable stories, flower shops, and insanely enthusiastic best friends. I think that people should definitely definitely go see this show. I thought it was an amazing and absolutely lovely heartwarming story. I absolutely loved it."

Eclipse Theatre Company's The Little Flower of East Orange: "People who would like this show are people who like stories with impact, sassy hospital workers, and gin slurpees. I think people should definitely go see this show. It was a very beautiful show and I really loved it."

The New Colony's Merge: "People who would like this show are people who like short pings and long buzzes, Street Fighter court cases, and high people making video games. I thought this was an amazing show. I really liked it. I felt like this was a great way to learn a lot about the history of video games and to laugh a lot at the same time."

Route 66 Theatre Comany's No Wake: "People who would like this show are people who like touching stories about parents, funny failed wrestling, and diving frogs. I think that people should definitely go see this show. I thought it was amazing and everything you could want in a play. I loved it!"

The Hypocrites' You on the Moors Now: "People who would like this show are people who like space, collapsing on pillows, and boss Marmee. I think that people should definitely, definitely, definitely go see this show. It was hilarious, amazing, and all of my favorite things put into one show: feminism, 19th-century books, and s'!"

Top 5 Musicals (in alphabetical order by title)

Paramount Theatre's Hairspray: "People who would like this show are people who like optimism, dancing, and Baltimore. I think people should definitely go see this show. I had a blast and I loved it!"

Underscore Theatre Company's Haymarket: "People who would like this show are people who like awesome women of the noose, circus trials, and dynamite. I think people should definitely go see this show. It was a super fascinating story and I hope everyone will go see it. "

Kokandy Productions' Heathers: "People who would like this show are people who like slow-motion fights, brain-freezing slushees, and popularity scrunchies. I think people should definitely definitely go see this show. I loved it! I had fun the entire time and I felt just really happy afterwards!"

Porchlight Music Theatre's In the Heights: "People who would like this show are people who like gossiping hairdressers, lottery tickets, and piragua. I think people should go see this show. It was so much fun to watch. It always kept me super involved and excited to see what would happen next. "

American Theater Company's Xanadu: "People who would like this show are people who like E-evil women, screaming Hermes, and high Zeus. I thought this was a really fun and great show. I liked it a lot and definitely think people should go see it. It was weird, silly, and just altogether really awesome."

Photos: Michael Brosilow, Michael Brosilow, Evan Hanover, and Emily Schwartz