Friday, July 6, 2018

Review of Mercury Theater's Avenue Q

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Avenue Q. The book was by Jeff Whitty and the music and lyrics were by Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez. It was directed by L. Walter Stearns, the music director was Eugene Dizon, and the choreographer was Kevin Bellie. It is a musical that uses puppets as a lot of the characters, but also has humans like Sesame Street. Just think of Sesame Street, but without all of the boundaries. It is about a young puppet named Princeton (Jackson Evans) who has just gotten an English Degree and is now trying to find what he should do with the rest of his life. He decides to move to Avenue Q and he meets a young woman named Kate Monster (Leah Morrow) who was a kindergarten teacher who wanted to open up a school for monsters. He also gets to know his neighbors, aspiring comedian Brian (Matthew Miles), recent immigrant from Japan and therapist Christmas Eve (Audrey Billings), roommates Nicky (Dan Smeriglio) and Rod (Christian Siebert), and friendly neighborhood pervert, Trekkie Monster (Jonah D. Winston), who has a very strong opinion about what the internet should be used for. And overseeing it all is Gary Coleman (David S. Robbins), yes, that Gary Coleman, who is the super in Princeton's building. I thought this was a really fun show. It was an absolute blast to watch.

I thought the characters Rod and Nicky had some really funny songs together and they surely went through a journey. They were a lot like what anyone over the age of 13 suspects Ernie and Bert's relationship might be like. They had a song called "If You Were Gay," which was Nicky repeatedly telling Rod that if Rod were gay that would be ok. He'd been suspecting it for a very long time. And Rod just hides behind his book of Broadway Musicals of the 1940s and denies that he's gay. It is super humorous to see this conflict between two people where Nicky knows Rod better than Rod knows himself. "Fantasies Come True" is the song where Rod realizes he may actually have feelings for Nicky. You notice this side of Rod you haven't seen before because he's always been this cranky kind of guy. You notice him being a lot more open and clear-minded, but not for long because you realize it is a dream. When he's awake, he thinks that being gay is terrible, but when he gets to live in his fantasy world, he realizes that the way he is going to be happy is if he really embraces who he is. He gets up and realizes all the things he thought Nicky was saying in the dream weren't real, which kind of defeats him again. It seems like a very realistic emotional thing. You don't think of a show with puppets being an emotional experience, but it really was.

I was also surprised how compelling the romantic relationships were between Kate Monster and Princeton and also Christmas Eve and Brian. They seemed to actually have a lot of big problems, but a song that I think really showcased in a humorous way how people really feel about their significant others is "The More You Ruv Someone," sung by Christmas Eve and Kate, which is about how the more you love someone, the more you want to kill them. You spend a lot of time with them and you get to know them super well, so you love a lot of things about them but you also find things that you hate. It is also really cool to see Kate Monster and Christmas Eve helping each other out with relationship issues. It is compelling to see puppets have relationship problems because usually puppets and cartoons and other things like that take you out of reality, but this pulls you back in and makes you think about things you might not have thought about before. Kate Monster and Princeton had a cute relationship, but they didn't start the romantic part of the relationship in the best way. It becomes a very sexual relationship very quickly because of the influence of alcohol. There are actual problems that come out of it, just like real relationships based on alcohol. (Ed. Note--Ada wanted echoes and sparkles for the word alcohol and is saying it breathily: "like a unicorn would say equality," she says. I wish I had the typography for that.)

Even though there are a lot of touching and realistic moments in this play, it is 95% a comedy. And it was absolutely hilarious. One of my favorite character duos was the Bad Idea Bears (Stephanie Herman and Smeriglio). They showed up several times in the show basically just to give Princeton bad ideas and then scream whenever he would do what they wanted and sob profusely whenever he wouldn't. This show was showing you that bad ideas can be fun--until they are over and then the consequences are not so fun. The Bad Idea Bears are basically the embodiment of that. "The Money Song," when I saw it, went a little bit awry in a very funny way. They were passing a hat in the audience to collect money for Kate Monster's school. Somebody put a glow-in-the-dark condom in the hat and the cast could barely keep it together. The show already had a lot of audience participation, but this was great because you felt like you were sharing a hilarious experience with them that was unexpected for everybody. Even if it was a plant, it was still hilarious and added quite a bit to the show because they seemed so genuinely surprised.

People who would like this show are people who like surprisingly moving puppet musicals, dark humor, and excitable bears. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It was so much fun to watch and had a lot of fun surprises.

Photos: Brett A. Beiner

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Review of Lost and Found Productions' Burnham's Dream: The White City

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Burnham's Dream: The White City. The book and lyrics were by June Finfer and the music and lyrics were by Elizabeth Doyle. It was directed by Erik Wagner. The music direction was by Paul W. Thompson and the choreography was by Jessica Texidor. It was about Daniel Burnham (Pavi Proczko) and his partner John Root (Sam Massey) who were both architects who won the contract to build the World's Fair in Chicago in the 1890s. It is about all the challenges they face and how it affects their personal lives. It is also about the people connected to the fair who were less well known and had less power but contributed a lot to the fair. It is about obsession, true freedom, and tearing down relationships while putting up buildings.

I think this is a really interesting idea for a musical and it did acknowledge problems of racism and sexism in the fair, but I would have liked it if they did more than just acknowledge that and explored the problems more and focused more on the people who had gotten less credit for their work than Burnham. I feel like Burnham is a difficult character to root for because he behaves in racist and sexist ways, so it would have been more satisfying to have Ida B. Wells (Arielle Leverett), Margaret Burnham (Laura Degrenia), Michael O'Malley (Chase Wheaton-Werle), and Bertha Palmer (Genevieve Thiers) as the central characters. I think I would have enjoyed a whole musical about building the women's building or Ida B. Wells' protests or the conditions of workers at the fair. I feel like the musical ends in a way that makes it seem like all the problems have been solved even though they haven't created a resolution or actually improved things. So at the end they try to act like everyone has accepted that people should be equal and the world is all in harmony, even though there's not much evidence of that having happened in the show.

I think the most powerful song in the show is "Sweet Land of Liberty." It is one of the songs that isn't the opinion of white men. It is sung by Ida B. Wells when she wants to have a building dedicated to the work of black people. It is all about how she doesn't see America as a land of freedom if people who look like her aren't given basic human rights or a platform to express themselves and be listened to. This is a song that really showcases how Burnham doesn't really care about anyone but himself. The entire time Ida is singing to him, he is going about his daily tasks, showing an exact example of what she's talking about. That is infuriating in multiple ways. A very similar thing happens in the song "Never Marry an Architect," where Margaret is talking about how her husband never pays attention to her because he is always thinking about buildings. And then he comes home and starts seducing her through building puns. But then he announces that he is going away to build the fair and not coming back for months or years. He doesn't even finish his cake. Basically, he again proves the exact point the woman singing has just made.

I did like John Root a lot better as a character because he would actually listen to people and not just interrupt and mansplain for the rest of their song. He also had a really sweet song called "Celestial City," which was about his vision for the fair. He wanted it to be a collage of all of these different cultures where everyone could get along and learn from each other. I think his dream is a lot more clear and well thought through and progressive than Burnham's dream. I would have liked to have more time with Root in the show before he dies. It would have been a lot sadder to know a lot about this character and then have him die. We never meet his wife and I feel like if we did and got to know more about her and other people more impacted by his death, that would have been a lot more heartbreaking.

People who would like this show are people who like celestial cities, brave activists, and architecture puns. I think this is a really interesting idea for a show. I'd love to see a version of this show not so focused on Burnham or one that cast him as the antagonist. I'm sorry I couldn't review this show before it closed.

Photos: Evan Hanover




Saturday, June 30, 2018

Review of Broken Nose Theatre's The Opportunities of Extinction

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Opportunities of Extinction. It was written by Sam Chanse, and it was directed by Jen Poulin. It was about a couple, Mel (Echaka Agba) and Arjun (Richard Costes), who have decided to go camping in the desert to cut the tension in their relationship. Also Arjun, a professor, has said something on Twitter that makes a large portion of the community turn against him, and the school is investigating. Mel is trying to write a book about these passengers on a plane that is about to crash and all their last moments and stories. And also she has just recently found out some news that she needs to tell Arjun. When they get to Joshua Tree National Park, they meet Georgia (Aria Szalai-Raymond), who works at the park and who is very devoted to the Joshua trees who are about to go extinct because climate change makes it hard for more baby trees to grow. The play is about love, death, and the beauty of evolution. I think that this play is intriguing, heartbreaking, and has unique characters.

Georgia had these really great monologues throughout the show. They were very often disconnected from the scene; she would step out of the scene or just walk out and just start talking to the audience about nature. I feel like you learn lot about Georgia in these monologues even though she isn't specifically talking about herself. She seems to compare her family situation to the extinction of the trees. It makes her comforted because she realizes that that is just the way nature works. It is like if you watched a documentary and the narrator was talking about anteaters but secretly comparing them to her own life. The thing that makes it so heartbreaking is that Georgia is not explicit about the connection between her family and the trees. But when you hear her actual story you realize how like the situation of the trees her own situation is.

The couple in this show seems to have a lot of problems for a lot of reasons. I thought it was really interesting how they talked about relationship problems that aren't usually talked about in plays because people in relationships try not to think it's a big deal. Like how Arjun is always on his phone all the time, and Mel keeps telling him not to, and to pay more attention to her, but he seems like he can't stop doing it. People think that it is minor because everyone does it, but it could actually completely disconnect you from the people that you love. There are even bigger problems like Arjun losing his job and Mel disappearing for two days, but the minor issues were also major because they reveal major problems. Arjun says he doesn't like Mel's book and that is fine because it is always better to be honest when you think something won't do well. You don't want someone to waste their time. But it seems like Arjun doesn't like the book because it hits too close to home and he relates too much to a lot of the characters, and that is not ok to say that something is poorly written just because it makes you feel guilty.

I think this play is about how natural evolution is so similar to human life and how we should embrace the beauty and accept that we are all kind of a mess. It is weird to think of how similar we are to all these plants and animals and how superior we think we are. Everyone thinks it is really sad to think about death, and that makes total sense. But I think there is a lot of beauty in the world starting over. I think it is a beautiful idea to think that someone's work can be done and they just get to rest. Extinction is not always sad because it can make room for more beautiful things. The end of a relationship can make room for better opportunities and happier people. Even though I am not for the extinction of Joshua trees, and I feel like we should try to prevent it, it is the way evolution works. Evolution is really painful, but this show does a really good job of showing how extinction doesn't just have to be depressing.

People who would like this show are people who like thought-provoking monologues, major minor relationship issues, and baby trees. I think this is a really interesting show that brings up a lot of issues I am still thinking about. I liked it.

Photos: Austin D. Oie

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Review of The Displaced at Haven Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Displaced. It was by Isaac Gomez, and it was directed by Jo Cattell. It is about a woman named Marisa (Karen Rodriguez) and her boyfriend Lev (Rashaad Hall) and they were moving in together for the first time. They didn't feel completely alone when they were in their new place. Paintings kept falling, faucets kept turning on at random moments, books kept flying. But the problems in the apartment uncover problems in their relationship and reveal the differences in privilege between the previous tenants and the new ones. I think it is really interesting how they put together romantic comedy, horror, and relationship drama. It was a very suspenseful, thought-provoking, heartwarming and heartbreaking show. I think this was a really awesome show. It was cool to watch and had a good and enveloping story.

This production was very good at building suspense. They had a really unpredictable lighting system in their house (lighting design by Erik S. Barry) that kept flickering and going out, so it was really suspenseful whenever they were in the dark. I think the visual effects (rigging by Nosewind Productions, designed by Rachel Flesher with assistant Zack Payne, and carried out by assistant stage managers Mitchell J. Ward, Rukaya Ilah, and Justine B. Palmisano) in this show were really good at keeping you on your toes. There were a lot of moments where Marisa and Lev would just be having a conversation and something supernatural would happen and they would try to find an explanation for it that didn't involve dead peoples' spirits haunting them. Also the Alexa kept playing the music the previous tenants had listened to and made it kind of distorted (sound design by Sarah D. Espinoza), and that was really creepy because an Alexa is something you feel like you have control over. It's a robot that does your bidding, so it is especially scary when it doesn't do something you've asked it to do or won't turn off or turns on at random moments.

I think it was interesting how throughout the show Marisa and Lev changed how they would protect each other. Their relationship would go on upswings and downswings, which made it more suspenseful to see who would be mad at who and who wouldn't want to help the other in the next moment of panic in response to something strange happening. The visual effects end up provoking a lot of the emotional effects on the audience and the couple. Like when the couple is kissing and a book flies out from the bookshelf and hits Marisa, the romance is immediately deactivated. It seems at points that this invisible power is so in charge of their actions and their happiness. It seems like it could be a metaphor for the outside influences that affect relationships, which is really interesting to watch and learn about. There was one section of the show where somebody knocked on the door and you could see Marisa and Lev were terrified. Also, when the knocking got louder, Marisa put on her scary big man voice. It is funny, but it is also sad that she thinks she has to put on this big man voice to make people go away.

I really liked the way the dialogue was phrased and the genuineness of the couple's relationship. A lot of times in horror movies or plays the dialogue is elevated to fit the mood of the play or movie. But I think it is a lot more scary and suspenseful when everyone is a lot more chill than they should be given the circumstances. Like when the paintings fall down, they laugh about it, and the first time the light burns out they don't freak out about it. But that just makes you more nervous for them because they are clearly not as worried as you think they should be. The dialogue was also very witty and they seem to enjoy spending time together and making each other laugh, which makes the audience even more invested in the relationship. Also because you are in their home and they don't think anyone else is around, you get to see them act like themselves and act like goofballs, like when they played tickle monster with a bubble wrap cape. It made me love their characters more and it made me want their relationship to really work out.

People who would like this show are people who like horror romcoms, suspense, and bubble wrap tickle monsters. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It closes this weekend, so go and get your tickets while you still can. I loved it!


Photos: Austin D. Oie

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Review of Guards at the Taj at Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Guards at the Taj. It was by Rajiv Joseph, and it was directed by Amy Morton. It was about two friends Humayun (Omar Metwally) and Babur (Arian Moayed) who were both guards at the Taj Mahal before it was the Taj Mahal, when it just being built. They have known each other for a very long time, and they are faced with a difficult task. It is about brotherhood, duty, and what makes the world beautiful. I thought this was a really funny and moving show that made you think about what people see as morally correct and what people actually do.

I thought the first scene of the show was a super great scene because you got to know the characters so well. They are like a smarter Pinky and the Brain. They are very good friends, but they are polar opposites. The first person you see is Humayun who is onstage while the audience is taking their seats. He is very stoic, but he also has a sweet side: he really likes birds, so when he sees them chirping in the tree, even though he is supposed to be stoic and immovable, he smiles. When he realizes he is smiling, he immediately goes back to being stoic. It seems like he feels like he can't express emotion because that makes him seem week, but when he is around Babur he really can't help himself. Babur is very cheerful and bad at time management and in awe of everything. He also feels like he should be stoic, but he is less successful at being stoic than Humayun. It is adorable to watch them interact and then have Humayun realize he has to shut it down and be professional. This scene is very humorous because of the realizations they make that you have made just seconds before. There is a terrible job they don't want to do, and then they realize they are going to be the ones to do it. And it is not harem duty, which is the job they want.


The characters said a lot of sexist things, but the audience sort of glazed over it because it was set a long time ago. It was kind of tough for me to ignore the sexist comments. I think it was probably realistic for the time and I still loved the characters and didn't want anything bad to happen to them. I don't think it was a bad choice to make them say sexist things because that was true to the time period. But it reminded me that it is easy to gloss over sexism if you feel for a character or a person because sexism is such an inherent part of our culture. There are no female characters in this show, but women get talked about quite a bit. Mumtaz Mahal was the favorite wife of Shah Jahan and she died and was beautiful and Shah Jahan wanted to make something as beautiful as her. (Why does the world favor beautiful women over smart women? Maybe because no one wants to look at a smart building?) The other women who get mentioned are the women in the harem. Women in the harem are wives, concubines, and employees of Shah Jahan and they are basically there for his pleasure, to demonstrate his power over other people, and to protect the harem. They don't mention these women protectors in the play, but they seem so cool. They were called urdubegis. It would be cool to have a play about being one of the women in the harem that takes place at the same time. They could also be struggling with when it is moral to do your duty and when to refuse, just like Babur and Humayun do. You could call it Urdubegis at the Harem.

There is a very big plot point in this show that I want to talk about, but it is a really big spoiler, so if you've already seen or read the show, you can read the spoiler paragraph at Ada Grey Spoils It for You.

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

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Friday, June 15, 2018

Review of Hamlet at The Gift Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Hamlet. It was written by William Shakespeare, and it was directed by Monty Cole. It was about Hamlet (Daniel Kyri), a prince of Denmark, whose father (Robert Cornelius) had died and whose mother, Gertrude (Shanesia Davis), had married his uncle Claudius (John Kelly Connolly) soon after. His friend Horatio (Casey Morris) sees the ghost of Hamlet's father and tells Hamlet about it. When Hamlet encounters the ghost, his father tells him about his brutal murder, so Hamlet decides to try to get revenge against Claudius. I think this is a really great version of Hamlet. It has amazing actors, a fabulous set, and a director with a new and awesome vision.

I have never seen a set (designed by William Boles) like this one before. There was a plexiglass wall between the audience and the stage. It gives you the feeling of looking in on all these scenes, seeing something that you're not supposed to, that was meant to be private. It can give the feeling that you are very separate from them, but also that they are just like you, that you and the characters are looking in mirrors, and you are just like them. Behind the plexiglass was a White-Housesque hallway with a filthy carpet strewn with trash, and there were smears on the lower part of the wall. It looks rotten, but it seems like they are still living in it. The characters would take things that they used throughout the show and just throw them on the floor, so you get to see all these different sections of the show on the floor, and it keep getting more uninhabitable. The something that is rotten in the state of Denmark is not just the monarchy; it's also the decor.

I really liked the emphasis on the father-son relationship in this show. In a lot of Hamlets, they use Hamlet's dad's ghost as a jump scare and motivation for Hamlet to avenge his father's death. But father-child relationships are so much more than that, and it is good to see why Hamlet is avenging him, how close their relationship was, and how much Hamlet depended on his dad. I think Kyri's performance did a great job of really showing the in-depth thoughts of Hamlet and how hard it was for him to let go of his dad. The ghost cannot usually touch people, but he can in this show. And Hamlet hugs him, which draws you in more to their relationship. Also the ghost was wearing a hospital gown. It shows that he didn't die right away, which makes it a lot more powerful. He is not in full fighting gear, which makes him seem more vulnerable. Also, when they are doing the play within the play, Hamlet doesn't let the play alone show Claudius that Hamlet knows what he had done. He started playing a mix of a video of baby Hamlet with his dad and The Lion King, which I think was even more powerful. They let it play all through the intermission so you could marinate in it. It is like the play never really stops.

Usually when I see Hamlet, I know that there are going to be a lot of deaths, but I don't care about all of them. But in this one, I most certainly did. Polonius (Cornelius) is usually self-important and foolish, but in this production he seemed like a really good dad to Ophelia (Netta Walker) and Laertes (Gregory Fenner). So it makes more sense when Ophelia goes crazy when he dies. Ophelia seemed very reasonable. So much more reasonable than I've ever seen Ophelia be. In other productions, sometimes she seems like a jerk to Hamlet and sometimes she seems like a victim, but she was neither in this one. She seems less influenced by the people around her in this production, but she is still not disobedient to her father. In some productions she is a wilting flower, but in this production she is very grounded and a fully-alive flower, which is why it is so powerful to see her go from 100 to 0, from fine to completely not fine. Also, Laertes has a heartbreaking death, and it is not just because of the awesome fight choreography (by Gaby Labotka). It is also because of all the times you see him interacting with Ophelia in really normal ways, like eating Cheetos and playing video games. They are just siblings who love each other, and he is so heartbroken by Ophelia's death and his father's. They are such a tight-knit family that when they fall apart you really feel it.

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.


Photos: Claire Demos

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Review of About Face Theatre's Bull in a China Shop

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Bull in a China Shop. It was by Bryna Turner and it was directed by Keira Fromm. It was about Mary Woolley (Kelli Simpkins) and Jeannette Marks (Emjoy Gavino), who both were working at Mount Holyoke, a women's college, in the early 1900s and were in love. The show looks at their relationship over a long period of time. It is about love, relationships, and different kinds of feminism. I thought this show was intriguing and beautiful to watch.

The language was very modernized, but all of the visual aspects were very period. The costumes (Mieka van der Ploeg) and hairstyles seemed very early 20th century. Everyone uses modern phrases, especially Pearl (Aurora Adachi-Winter), who was one of Marks' students. She uses the term "ship" to mean wanting two people to be together, which was, I am pretty sure, not what it meant in the early 20th century. It just meant things that set sail. They also use the f-word a lot, which is not impossible, but wasn't super common for women back then. The way the dialogue is phrased reminds us that oppression of gay people and women is still going on today. It doesn't make you think of it as all prejudice that happened in the past. Some things are better now, but not everything. It also lets you relate to them on a more intimate level because they talk in a way that you yourself do.

There is a really interesting love triangle between Woolley, Marks, and Pearl. Both Pearl and Woolley are in love with Marks. But Pearl also "ships" Woolley and Marks, which makes it very complicated. Jeannette sees her relationship with Pearl as a teaching experience, but Pearl doesn't fully understand that, which makes for some very heartbreaking scenes. And Woolley also used to be Jeannette's teacher, so it seems like Jeannette is trying to have the same story, but she gets to be the Woolley in the situation with Pearl. But Woolley stuck with her, which is not something Marks is planning on doing with Pearl. Woolley doesn't seem to want an equal relationship with Marks, even though she says she wants equal rights. Marks also wants to be the person in charge, though, which she can only be with Pearl. Even though Woolley and Marks are trying to get away from social norms, they end up putting them on. The problem is neither of them really want to be what is considered "being the wife" in that time period. They should both be able to be powerful, but they seem to be becoming the thing they are trying to get away from. There is a line in another About Face show, looking out//looking in, that was something along the lines of "relationship issues aren't just for straight people," and I think that line perfectly applies to the relationships in this show.

There are a lot of different types of feminism, which I don't think everyone understands, but that is showcased in this play. Pearl is very young and is idealistic and is really going for everything being perfect and completely equal, which is not realistic for her lifetime. But I think it can be a good way to look at things, to go for the best and just keep trying. Marks would get arrested for protesting and not care if she gets out. She is very "ride or die" about the vote. She is less optimistic than Pearl, but they essentially want the same things. Woolley has a pretty different perspective than these two. At first she seems to think that only individual women should have power, not all women. She doesn't think the vote matters enough for all this fighting. She goes through the biggest change of her perspective. It is very interesting to watch someone who thinks of herself as an influencer get influenced by people around her.

People who would like this show are people who like analyzing feminism, heartbreaking love triangles, and early 20th-century shipping. I think that people should go see this show. It is a heartwarming and heartbreaking story about love and feminism. I liked it.

Photos: Michael Brosilow