Friday, September 23, 2016

Review of Adventure Stage Chicago's Reprise

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Reprise. It was a devised piece directed by Sarah Rose Graber. The composer and music director was John Szymanski. It was about a little boy (Kalman Strauss) as he grew up (played at older ages by Jacob E. Kelly and Jose Nateras) with a violin given to him by Harriet Vittum (Justine C. Turner) at the Northwestern Settlement House. The story is that he comes back many years later and returns the violin, and that did really happen. They made the play to imagine what he'd been doing with it all those years. I think that is a very interesting idea for a show.

I love live music on stage in plays. It really can immerse you in the story. It makes you feel like you are really there. I thought the music in this show was very simple but nice at the same time. Music can really bring people together, and this show really emphasized that. I felt like Kalman Strauss was really great at playing violin. So it was really cool to see him start out pretending to be a really bad violin player and how he got to grow into an amazing one.

Everyone in the show seemed very committed to telling the story and really making sure that everyone in the audience was really into it. There was a lot of direct address that made the audience feel very involved. One of my favorite scenes was when the boy and his friend (La Shone Kelly) were playing marbles and one rolled under the door and they had to go get it. And they found the music room, and that is when both of their loves for music started. They aren't supposed to be in the music room, so Harriet catches them. And then she gives him a violin because his father had played violin and he still wanted a part of his father with him. The friend was really charming and fun to watch. I also really liked Turner who made Harriet a very lovable character.

I had a couple of ideas about how this show could have been even better. I feel like, since none of the story about the boy was based on the truth except the end where he brings back the violin, they could have been more creative with their choices. It would have been fun if they had had some crazy ideas in with the realistic ideas. Like, what if he thought the violin possessed magical powers? Or what if he used it in a duel to win over his wife? That would have been really fun to watch. I feel like the triple casting of the main character was a little confusing. I think they were trying to show the ethnic diversity of the settlement house, but it was confusing because at the beginning they specifically said he was from Poland. It might have been clearer to have the violin be passed down to people from different immigrant groups in that same settlement house. They ended on that note, but along the way it seemed like they wanted you to think it was the same Polish person. I think it was supposed to represent the diversity of Chicago as time went on, but because it was supposed to be the same person, the story didn't reflect specific things about African-American or Lantinx communities.

People who would like this show are people who like music, Chicago history, and runaway marbles. I really liked how the show had a powerful sense of community. It was a fun show.

Photos: Johnny Knight Photo

Review of Porchlight Music Theatre's In the Heights

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called In the Heights. The music and lyrics were by Lin-Manuel Miranda and the book was by Quiara Alegría Hudes, and it was conceived by Lin-Manuel Miranda. It was directed and co-choreographed by Brenda Didier and it was co-choreographed by Christopher Carter and the music direction was by Diana Lawrence. It was about a young man named Usnavi (Jack DeCesare) who was living in a mostly Latinx neighborhood called Washington Heights. And he ran a bodega and had a huge crush on a hairdresser named Vanessa (Michelle Lauto). Nina (Lucia Godinez), a young woman who grew up in the neighborhood, has just come back from college and her friend Benny (Stephen Allen) is trying to get her attention. It is the day before 4th of July and there is going to be a big celebration. And somebody in the neighborhood has won the lottery--basically everyone gets a lottery ticket every day--but nobody knows who's won at first. It is about wanting better opportunities, gentrification, and community. I really enjoyed this show. I think it is a really great musical because it really brings you into the world of the characters. I liked that there aren't any specific villains; there are just people who make mistakes, which seems more like reality.

"96,000" was one of my favorite songs. I thought that the entire song was really fun to watch. There was lots of cool dance and I love Lin-Manuel Miranda's writing. I especially liked the rapping section in this song. It was very very clever. One of my favorite lines was "Oh no, here goes Mr. Braggadocio / Next thing you know, you’re lying like Pinocchio." He uses a word you would probably never use like braggadocio and rhymes it with the name of a children's book and Disney movie. He rhymes something uncommon with something very common. Everyone has very different ideas of what they would do with the money. Vanessa wants to get out of there and so does Usnavi, except he doesn't want really to leave. He just feels like he does. I thought that Carla (Leah Davis) just wanting a new weave for $96,000 was kind of hilarious because it was clear that nothing like that would be that expensive. And Abuela Claudia (Isabel Quintero) wants to return to her home. And Benny wants to go to business school with the money and then he thinks Donald Trump will be his caddy because he'll be so rich.

I loved the dancing in this show! I especially loved it in "The Club." They had a bunch of people carrying around different ladies. And they danced with such flair and passion; it was so much fun to watch. "Carnaval del Barrio" was probably the biggest dance number, with flags, hip hop, and the singing Piragüero (Stan DeCwikiel Jr.). I thought that it was super fun and it showed the community and the love that the people in the neighborhood had for each other, even though they were going through some pretty tough times.

Easily the funniest song was "No Me Diga." It was Vanessa, Nina, Daniela (Missy Aguilar), and Carla and they were all catching up because Nina had been away at college. Daniela tells Vanessa that Usnavi is with Yolanda, and then Vanessa says "He'd never go out with someone like that. Please tell me you're joking." And Daniela says "I am. I just wanted to see what you'd say!" That reminded me of a few of my friends who just say things to see how I'll react. And Carla is hilarious in this scene because she doesn't understand any of the thousands of innuendos that the other women make.

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.

Photos: Gretchen Kelley

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Review of The House Theatre of Chicago's A Comedical Tragedy for Mister Punch

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called A Comedical Tragedy for Mister Punch. It was by Kara Davidson and it was directed by Shade Murray. It was about this girl named Charlotte/Charlie (Sarah Cartwright) who lives on the streets and she meets this puppet master named Pietro (Adrian Danzig). Pietro offers room and board in exchange for her helping him with his puppet show. And they were trying to avoid the law who is represented by a single Officer (Will Casey) because Pietro didn't have the proper papers to be in England. And she is trying to get Pietro and Polly (Echaka Agba) together, but their relationship is confusing to her and to them. I thought this was a fun show. I thought the puppets (by Jesse Mooney-Bullock) were amazing and I liked the story a lot!

I thought the puppets were really great and I thought it was very cool how they had actual puppets and actors in costumes (by Izumi Inaba) that were designed like puppets. One of my favorite costumes and puppets was the dog (Owais Ahmed). The dog was like a giant mop made out of Charlotte's hair when she cut it to become Charlie. I liked that because the entire time it looked like what her hair looked like in the beginning. Joey the Clown (Joey Steakley) was another very cool looking puppet and costume. And he also had a great really funny personality--the nervous guy who doesn't want to lose his job and is really giddy all the time. I really loved the Crocodile (Michael E. Smith) costume too. I liked how the tails on the coat acted like an actual tail for the Crocodile. And the speech he gave about being a crocodile was hilarious too! Punch (Johnny Arena) and Judy (Carolyn Hoerdermann) are very classic puppets. Almost everyone knows what they look like. These particular designs were kind of grotesque, and I find Punch and Judy actually kind of scary, so I think that was very appropriate. They did look like the classic Punch and Judy, but because they are human sized I think it might have been even more disturbing.

I have never been a person who enjoys watching the violence of Punch and Judy. The first time I saw a Punch and Judy story I got very upset because it wasn't just quarreling; it was very violent murder and betrayal, and the rest of the audience thought it was just hilarious because it was unrealistic and it was puppets. And almost every Punch and Judy show, Punch kills his and Judy's baby and that makes me feel very sad because it was just an innocent baby that couldn't do anything. I liked that in this show Charlie feels the same way I do about the violence and murder in Punch and Judy. In this show there is actual realistic violence between the humans, which I think is a great comparison to the puppet violence in the show because it might make people think about what they are laughing at in Punch and Judy. I think it is okay to laugh at horrible things when they are exaggerated, but it is good to be reminded that in real life the things Punch does are very awful things.

I noticed something about the relationship of Pietro, Polly, and Charlie. It is like the Punch, Judy and Joey relationship because Charlie runs around all the time for Pietro and Polly and Pietro seem like they really like each other a lot. But by the end they aren't getting along anymore, which when you see the end of the show is even sadder. When you have the comparison between puppets and people, that makes you think about the Punch and Judy relationship and why you are laughing at it. The comparison of Charlie and Joey shows you that they both need more recognition for all their hard work from their bosses.

People who would like this show are people who like awesome puppets, examining why we laugh at violence, and crocodile coattails. I think people should go see this show. I really enjoyed it and it made me think a lot.


Photos: Michael Brosilow

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Review of Chimera Ensemble's Sister Cities

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Sister Cities. It was by Colette Freedman, and it was directed by Ashley Neal. It was about four sisters whose mother has killed herself and they hadn't seen each other for awhile. There were secrets that some of them had kept for years and they all get revealed while they are waiting for the coroner. It is about family, identity, and mourning. I was excited to see an all-female cast, but I wish the characters were more believable. This production seemed to work on being very heartfelt and sad, but I think it might have worked better as a fast-paced dark comedy, so you didn't notice the unbelievable aspects.

Austin (Nicole Fabbri) is a one-hit-wonder writer who went on a world book tour and was now famous but then she goes and stays with her mom Mary (Rainee Denham) and stops writing. She had known secrets about her mother for a long time and was thought of as her favorite. What is interesting about her is that she can convince her sisters that she has done the right thing by drugging one of her sisters and telling the rest of them that she should be okay. There is also a flashback with her mother to try to convince the audience, but I didn't find it very convincing. I didn't feel like she was wrong, but I felt like the way her mother convinced her seemed unbelievable because how does Austin have more sympathy for the spider than her mother to begin with? (I don't want to spoil the show for you, so I can't give more information.)

Baltimore (Norma Chacon) was the youngest child and she was the classic baby of the family because she was a college student who wasn't very focused on her work and she doesn't really know what she wants to do with her life. She is very fearless because she goes up and hangs out with her dead mother in a bathtub. That is also sweet because it seems like she really does love her mother and is going to miss her a lot, and that is why she goes upstairs and hangs out with her dead mom. But even though she loves her mom, they didn't have a great relationship. She always felt kind of left out being the youngest child and all. And when she would talk about how much her mother should smell it seemed like something she had to say to make the plot keep moving, but it didn't seem very human to me.

Carolina (Katlynn Yost) was a lawyer and she kind of tried to keep the entire situation together while everyone else was joking like, "Mom! Am I right?" Everyone was like, "You are acting all lawyer-y," but I thought she was mostly acting like a reasonable human being. I think it is okay to make light of the situation, but I feel like they went a little bit too far because none of the other sisters are doing what they are supposed to do to get their mother's funeral all set up. I actually felt like Carolina was pretty reasonable overall and I liked that about her. But I'm not sure that the script wants you to like her; I think it wants you to think she is a party pooper.

Dallas (Anna Donnell) pretends to be very perfect, but she's not as perfect as everyone thought. They all thought she was a goody goody two shoes, but when the sisters find out she has a dark secret they decide it is fine if she is a jerk to them because they feel sorry for her. That made her seem very manipulative to me. She only told her secret to make everyone feel sorry for her so that she won the argument. I think the secret was supposed to make the audience feel sorry for her, but I don't feel like I felt sorry for her because it was something she had complete control over and then she used it to manipulate her sisters. I don't have any sisters, so I don't relate to the play that much. Maybe people with siblings would understand it better.

People who would like this show are people who like naming children after places, sister rivalry, and spiders. I'm looking forward to seeing what this company does with a different script.


Photos: Tori Howard

Friday, September 2, 2016

Review of Timeline Theatre Company's Bakersfield Mist

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Bakersfield Mist. It was by Stephen Sachs, and it was directed by Kevin Christopher Fox. It was about a woman named Maude (Janet Ulrich Brooks) who lived in the middle of nowhere and she found a painting at a junk shop and thought it was so ugly that she would bring it to her friend as a joke. Then a friend suggests that it could be a Jackson Pollock painting, so she calls in Lionel Percy (Mike Nussbaum), who used to be a curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is still an art expert, to tell her that it is real. She doesn't even want to hear that it's fake, even if it is, and that is why things get complicated. It is about the definition of art, acceptance, and what it means to mean something. I really liked this show. I thought it was very fun and interesting. When my mom read me the description, I said "Yep. I want to go to that show," and I was definitely not disappointed!

I thought the set (by Jeffrey D. Kmiec) was really cool and very realistic. It made me even more immersed in the show. It felt like a place someone would actually live. It was the size of a trailer and looked like an actual trailer. One of my favorite parts of the set was a big messy shelf full of books, games, and a goldfish tank. I liked it because it was kind of funny because it looked like a very dangerous place to put a fish and because it just seemed true. I know so many people who have random shelves like that.

The characters had different ways of looking at evidence about the painting. Maude thought that if her friend thought it was a Jackson Pollock it was probably a Jackson Pollock. And also if she felt like it was a Jackson Pollock, it was a Jackson Pollock. Lionel had some of the same methods. He thought if he felt that it wasn't a Jackson Pollock, then it wasn't. They both went with their instincts/blinks. In the play a blink means what you feel about the painting after you blink once. But Lionel doesn't trust the instincts of anyone who didn't go to years and years of art school. But he trusts his own blink more than he does fingerprints. I loved this play so much because it doesn't tell you for sure if the painting is actually fake. She has fingerprints on her side and he has art history and statistics on his side. Maude wants it to be real because it reminds her of her son and she wants there to still be some part of her son in the world that people appreciate. Lionel wants his reputation to stay good, so he wants it to be whatever he thought at first. They agree what they feel is good evidence, but they don't agree on which feeling is right. I wanted it to be real but I don't actually think it was.

The show was talking about a lot of really deep issues, but it was still hilarious at moments. One of my favorite funny moments was when Maude tried to serve pigs-in-a-blanket to Lionel. It was so funny because it is such a basic food to make, and she acted like it was all fancy, but Lionel does not eat them of course and acts snobby about them like they are disgusting, which they may well be. There were fights (by Chris Rickett) in this show too, which I didn't expect, and they were actually quite humorous. I don't want to give too much away about this moment, but cheez balls and stuffed animals are involved.

People who would like this show are people who like abstract expressionist art, blinks, and cheez-ball fights. I think people should definitely go see this show. It was a really fun and deep show. I really enjoyed it.

Photos: Lara Goetsch

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Review of Strawdog Theatre Company's Distance

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Distance. It was by Jerre Dye and it was directed by Erica Weiss. It was about a woman with dementia named Irene (Janice O'Neill) who is trying to deal with her illness but kind of loses control of herself and it was also about how her daughter Luvie (Anita Deely) and caretaker Dolly (Loretta Rezos) and longtime friend and hairdresser Leonard (Stephen Rader) deal with her illness. This play is about family, reality, and stress. This is a very heartfelt and heartbreaking play, but it still had funny moments. I really enjoyed it and I think it is great to have plays where you can feel a bunch of different emotions. I saw it in previews, and the show was already amazing.

Luvie and Irene seemed to really love each other but they really got on each other's nerves. They weren't best friends or anything and Luvie thinks her mom is very disappointed in her. But later she finds out that her mom is proud of her and thinks she is smart because her mom didn't know who she was talking to so she talks to Luvie about how smart Luvie is. Because of her dementia, Irene sometimes thinks she herself is a 6 year old and she thinks she is going to miss her train. Luvie plays along with it and says she'll help her get to the train. It is hard for her to see her mother like this, where the roles are switched, and she has to act like the mom. In fact, some of the time Irene thinks her daughter is her mom. I thought it was very sad.

The relationship between Dolly and her son Dylan (Caleb Fullen) was very complicated, too. It was clear that Dolly wanted the best for her son, but they still sometimes hated each other. She knows that her son should not be living at home anymore and she knows her son should not spend so much time playing video games. And she has to make her son very mad to do what is best for him. She wants him to get the full taste of life and she wants him to actually do something with his life and not sit around all day playing video games at his mom's house. He seems like the stereotypical loser, but you see by the end that he actually has a heart. You see that because of the way that he treats Irene when he goes to help her. He is somewhat of a jerk but he still helps her. I noticed with Dolly and Dylan particularly that there is a really cool pattern in this show with they way that characters speak. They all spoke almost as if they were cutting each other off but not quite. They would kind of finish each others' sentences. It showed the closeness of all the characters and made the show very realistic.

Leonard is Irene's hairdresser and one of her most loyal friends. Then he becomes good friends with Dolly, but Dolly takes it the wrong way. She doesn't know that he is a "gaybird," which is what she ends up calling him. That was one of the funniest scenes in the play, when she asks him if he's ever been married before and says some lucky girl must have snatched him up. It is kind of obvious--he's always hinting about it--that he's gay. He keeps calling her honey and sugar, very taken aback that she doesn't understand at this point, and he said it bunches and bunches of times, but she was so oblivious. I loved the end of this scene. It was very funny because when Dylan finds out his television is gone, Leonard's reaction to Dolly and Dylan having a huge fight was to just continue to eat his pie. Leonard and Dolly turned out to still be a good couple--not a romantic one though. They are good for each other because they help each other explore things they hadn't known much about before as they get to know each other.

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. I am still thinking about and processing the show now.


Photos: Tom McGrath, TCMcGPhotography

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Ada Grey Interviews for You: Kalman Strauss of Adventure Stage Chicago's...

I had so much fun interviewing Kalman Strauss for Adventure Stage Chicago. He'll be appearing in Reprise there September 16 & 17, then traveling with the show to Scotland for the Home Away Festival, and coming back for education matinees in Chicago. I had a great talk with him. We filmed our interview, and here it is! Hope you enjoy it!