Friday, January 19, 2018

Review of Babes With Blades Theatre Company's The Good Fight

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Good Fight. It was by Anne Bertram and it was directed by Elizabeth Lovelady. It was about the suffragettes in Great Britain in the early 1900s, trying to find new ways to protest so women can get the vote. They are experimenting with bombs and jiu jitsu, as well as spreading the word through print and protests. Their first in command, Christabel Pankhurst (Alison Dornheggen) has fled to Paris because the police are after her. So they put Grace Roe (Arielle Leverett) in command in place of her and she is trying to get a handle on things when she has been a follower her whole life. Things are especially hard because one of their women, Emily Wilding Davison (Taylor Raye,) has some very dangerous ideas and the face of the movement, Emmeline Pankhurst (Jean Marie Koon), is deathly ill because she is on a hunger strike and is being force fed in prison. It's about feminism, how far is too far, and the right way to use violence. I think this was a fun way to learn about the suffragette movement, which I have been interested in for a long time. Of course they can't tell the entire story of feminism, but they showed a lot of interesting and true things about it.

I think that Emily is a very interesting character. I love her determination but she is a very sad person and I feel a lot for her. I wish I could see a prequel that was all about her. Her relationship with her mother is heartbreaking and when she talked about her experience with force feeding, it hurt me to hear it. The performer did a great job with the character. The way she dies is very tragic and elaborate. She is pushing the limits of what the suffragettes should do in protest. I think that violent protest is acceptable if the violence is set on you first. But you have to be careful that you aren't blowing up property just because it is property. It should be a place that is actually affecting the cause.

I found the jiu jitsu (fight choreography by Gaby Labotka) very interesting, and I hadn't realized that they had used it in protests. Edith Garrud (Dornheggen) taught them all jiu jitsu, at the suggestion of Hilda (C. Jaye Miller). And it was super cool to watch these women fight in long skirts and huge hats, and doing it like rockstars. The suffragettes are trying to figure out when it is right to use the jiu jitsu and that brings up a lot of interesting points. Their protests are not supposed to hurt anyone because, if they do, they are afraid that people won't support them. But they decide that jiu jitsu is valid if the police attack them for just protesting. It turns the violence against the police, so that the women aren't just being mercilessly beaten and there is nothing they can do about it. Early in the play you see this happen to Gertrude Harding (Scottie Caldwell) while she is trying to sell some papers. That scene is placed there so that you understand what is at stake here.

I think it is very interesting how everyone in this play, once the war starts, switches all of their energy to doing stuff for the war. The government tells them that they should help with the war otherwise they are going to look like jerks, to distract the women from trying to get the vote. Even though World War I didn't start so that suffragettes could be distracted, the government took advantage of that. Sometimes you do have to focus on what is threatening you right outside the door, but you have to be careful not to abandon the cause that you have been fighting for.

People who would like this show are people who like jiu jitsu, votes for women, and big hats. I think this show asks a lot of interesting questions. I thought it had really good fights and some very talented actors. I liked it.

Photos: Joe Mazza

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Review of The New Colony's The Light

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Light. It was by Loy Webb and it was directed by Toma Langston. It was about a couple, Genesis (Tiffany Oglesby) and Rashad (Jeffery Owen Freelon, Jr.), who were celebrating their anniversary of dating. Rashad had planned a great gift for her, to go and see a concert with one of her favorite singers in it. But she wasn't so thrilled because she didn't like another of the performers who she'd gone to college with. That leads to a lot of secrets being put out in the open. And she can't see if they can continue the relationship after the things he has said. It is about the challenges of love, misunderstandings, and learning to really change. I think this was an absolutely beautiful, moving, and fantastic show. I think that every person that is in a relationship or ever wants to be, should see this show. It provokes so many emotions in you, it is beautifully acted, and the writing felt very real--like real life and real conversations.

The first 10 or 15 minutes of this play are just pure joy. They love each other so much. They are bantering. They are talking about an adorable child, Rashad's daughter, whose picture is on the refrigerator. Genesis is eating from an enormous bowl of chocolate. You feel close to them in the first few minutes. You see how adorable they are and you want them to be together forever. At the beginning you see him getting ready for her to come home, and how excited he is. He's trying to find the right position to sit in so he seems perfectly normal. Then when she comes home you see how well they know each other, and how they know how to make each other laugh. They know how to push each other's buttons, but in a sweet and adorable way. This makes every moment that they disagree so much more painful. It is terrible to see when their differences become so difficult that they can't make light of them.

Both of these characters are very complex. Neither of them is fully right all the time. There isn't a villain; it is just two people having an argument. Each of them has a point. Rashad thinks they should go to the concert because he pulled a lot of strings and got them VIP passes. It was a really nice idea because he knew how much she loved this one performer, but also he knew that she didn't like another performer there and didn't ever ask the reason why she didn't like him. I don't think Genesis should have to go to the concert, because the reason she has is very valid, but she could have told him the reason earlier so he could understand. I do think she isn't required to share this certain terrible part of her life if she wants to forget it and not let it define her. But, if she wants him to believe the truth of her story, she needs to give him the whole truth. If she had, he probably would have conceded about not going to the concert and chosen a different plan.

Men are taught in very different ways than women, so a lot of ideas about masculinity and relationships are different for men and women. But a lot of times, men say that it is too much work to learn about the woman's side of the story and they continue with their sexist ways. And even a lot of the time when they do want to learn they make the woman teach them, instead of trying to find it out by themselves. But in this play, Rashad wants to learn and he wants to teach himself. He loves Genesis and he wants to understand what he couldn't understand before. It is very important for the people in the relationship to take responsibility for their own learning rather than getting the other person to take you on as a project. Usually in stories, the man runs back and says "I've made a huge mistake. I love you" and the woman forgives him. Or sometimes she says, "no, you made a mistake. I'm not taking you back." But stories don't usually show you the healthy ending for both people involved, where forgiveness is asked for and waited for patiently and the person who has been wrong takes responsibility for changing themselves. This play shows that that is an option. You don't just have to just forgive each other and go back to the way that things were; you can work through it and make changes.

People who would like this show are people who like healthy relationship options, bantering couples, and enormous bowls of chocolate. I think that people should definitely definitely definitely go see this show. 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.

Photos: Evan Hanover

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Review of Black Button Eyes Productions' Nevermore

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Nevermore. It was written and composed by Jonathan Christenson. It was directed by Ed Rutherford. The musical director was Nick Sula and the choreographer was Derek Van Barham. It was about Edgar Allan Poe's (Kevin Webb) life, but dramatized so it sounded more like his poems and stories. It is about tragedy, poor choices, and what it means to have talent. I have never seen a musical about Edgar Allan Poe before, but I studied him for a while and know a lot about his life. This show made me think differently about his life and how different things in his stories could have related to exaggerations of his actual life.

I found it interesting how they combined "The Tell-Tale Heart" and Jock Allan (Matt McNabb), Poe's foster father. "The Tell-Tale Heart" is my favorite Poe story, and it was cool how they connected Poe's terror of his foster father with the story of a man who was repulsed and compelled by an old man's eye. The terror that he felt about his foster father wasn't just about how he behaved, but in the show it was about how he looked. He had a glowing swirl eyepatch that looked sort of hypnotic. He wanted to Poe to be a strong businessman, but this wasn't what Poe wanted. And he had a song about that, "Jock Allan's Advice," which was visually stunning. In addition to the glowing eyepatch, there were people playing automatons (Jessica Lauren Fisher and Ryan Lanning), who were sort of like his minions. He told them what to do, and they were wearing business suits. The man was wearing a top hat that had gears in it, that seemed to be his brain, that Jock Allan tightened occasionally. It had a little door in it and there was a light in the hat so you could see each gear; it was all very eerie. The costumes and masks (Beth Laske-Miller) and the props and puppets (Rachelle "Rocky" Kolecke) were absolutely beautiful and creepy.

Elmira (Megan DeLay) and Sissy (a mannequin moved and spoken for by Maiko Terazawa) were both like Annabel Lee because they were part of love stories that went wrong. They are each half of the character in the poem. Elmira was taken away from Poe by her "highborn kinsmen" because they thought he wasn't good enough for her. There's a line in the poem where he says "chilling and killing my Annabel Lee," and his wife, Sissy, died of tuberculosis, and because tuberculosis gives you a fever it would be chilling and killing her. Also the poem says, "I was a child and she was a child," but really it should be "She was a child and I was twice her age" because he was 26 and Sissy was 13 when they got married. Elmira and Poe had been like two baby goths in love because they liked to hang out in graveyards and talk about death. And it is really interesting how the poem "Annabel Lee" romanticizes all the women Poe is with, because the reality is darker than a kingdom by the sea.

At the end the first act, when Poe is thinking about how he wants to be a poet and is full of hope, they take down these white cloths and attach them to his back so he looks like the angel Israfel. He just wants to be as good of a poet as this angel. But it is not really possible because angels are thought of as the height of glory and the height of goodness, so it is pretty hard if you want to be as good as an angel. At the end of the show when Poe has died they take down these black wings and attach them, so he is more like the Raven. The Raven represents darkness and the truth and the darkness of the truth. The truth is that life is not as beautiful and innocent as you might want it to be. Being a poet for Poe is not as romantic as he thought; it doesn't bring fame and it doesn't bring happiness. You only get to escape your real life for a little bit. It is sort of like theater.

People who would like this show are people who like ravens, the darkness of poetry, and child mannequin brides. I think this is a very intriguing and original story. It was really fun to watch and I enjoyed it.

Photos: Cole Simon

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Ada Grey's Top 10 Plays and Top 5 Musicals

I reviewed 120 shows this year. There have been so many great ones, but I'm happy to say these are my top 10 plays and top 5 musicals! There were a lot of creepy, honest, crazy, hilarious, heartbreaking and thought-provoking shows.

Top 10 Plays

At The Table (Broken Nose Theatre)

People who would like this show are people who like inside jokes, friend piles, and jumping into lakes out of embarrassment. I have never seen a show that seemed so authentic while exploring so many relevant topics. It makes you really feel like you are at the table. I thought this was an amazing show and I absolutely loved it.

Ideation (Jackalope Theatre)

People who would like this show are people who like complex characters, searching for bugs while listening to Moana, and petite scones. I think people should definitely definitely go see this show. It is such a great story and so well acted. It combined humor, reality, and possible dystopian futures. I really loved it.

Men on Boats (American Theater Company)

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.

Pass Over (Steppenwolf Theatre Company)

People who would like this show are people who like genuine humor, terrifying truths, and caviahhhr. I think people should definitely definitely go see this show. It is so moving, hilarious, and important. I loved it!

Peerless (First Floor Theater)

People who would like this show are people who like Macbeth references, stylized language, and awkward slow dancing. I think that people should definitely definitely definitely go see this show. It is a really amazing, nerdy, creepy, and hilarious show. I really really loved it.

The Portrait of Dorian Gray (The Runaways Lab Theatre and Pop Magic Productions)

People who would like this show are people who like explorations of hedonism, new-fangled old stories, and lord pronouns. I think that people should definitely go see this show. I've really enjoyed both of the awesome shows I've seen from this company. They are really great at making you care about characters you thought you knew and showing you a new twist on them.

Significant Other
(About Face Theatre and Theater Wit)

People who would like this show are people who like relatable moments, wanting to be a salamander, and looking for towels. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It was such a good story, had great performers, and I loved it.

The Taming of the Shrew
(Chicago Shakespeare Theater)

People who would like this show are people who like new takes on classics, great acting, and bloomers. I think that people should definitely go see this show. I have never seen The Taming of The Shrew like this before, and I really loved it.

Two Mile Hollow (First Floor Theater)

People who would like this show are people who like hilarious parodies, metaphoric motorcycles, and birds. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It is such a fun play, but it also has a lot of really good points to make. I loved it!

The Woman in Black (WildClaw Theatre)

People who would like this show are people who like rocking chairs, invisible dogs, and being scared by coat racks. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It is super fun and creepy and I absolutely loved it.

Top 5 Musicals

Bonnie & Clyde (Kokandy Productions)

People who would like this show are people who like complicated characters, interesting histories, and photo shoots with your guns. I think people should definitely, definitely go see this show. It closes next weekend, so get your tickets while you still can. It has beautiful music, great performances, and I'm obsessed with this musical now.

Jesus Christ Superstar (Paramount Theatre)

People who would like this show are people who like retellings of old stories, amazing singing, and hilarious Herods. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It is a lot of fun to watch and it feels super meaningful. It had great actors and the singing was amazing. I loved it!

Lizzie (Firebrand Theatre)

People who would like this show are people who like feminist rock musicals, heart-wrenching songs, and watermelon blood. I think people should definitely definitely definitely go see this show. It has a great score and it is performed beautifully. I loved it!

Trevor (Writers Theatre)

People who would like this show are people who like being weird, Diana Ross, and studying underwear catalogs. I think that people should definitely go see this show. There were so many things I loved about it. It is a such an amazing and unique new musical. I loved it!

The Wiz (Kokandy Productions)

People who would like this show are people who like magic roads, player Tinmen, and wobbly witches. I think this is a amazing show it was so much fun to watch. I absolutely loved it!

Photos: Matthew Freer, Ian McLaren, Evan Hanover

Monday, December 18, 2017

Review of Red Velvet at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Red Velvet. It was by Lolita Chakrabarti and it was directed by Gary Griffin. It was about Ira Aldridge (Dion Johnstone) who was the first African-American actor to play Othello. He was asked by his friend Pierre LaPorte (Greg Matthew Anderson) to take over for Edmund Kean who had played the role for a very long time, but Edmund's son Charles (Michael Hayden) was not too keen on it. The other performers grow fond of Ira, even though at first they were racist and rude. He develops a close relationship with his leading lady who is playing Desdemona, Ellen Tree (Chaon Cross). They help each other become better actors, but the racist critics make the board of the theater question if they should even have a black Othello. It is about injustice, what makes theater beautiful, and conflict in communities. I think this is a heartbreaking but beautiful show.

The scene where Ira and Pierre have an argument about keeping Ira as Othello was really moving because you could see their friendship falling apart. It was also hard to know whose side to be on because Pierre is trying to help Ira and being completely honest about Ira's performance and why he thinks what is happening is happening, but it seems like he might be siding with people who are doing things for racist reasons. But maybe we should be on Ira's side because people are unfairly judging him because of his race and he is actually a talented actor. But then Pierre points out that Ira might have hurt Ellen during a scene, which would be a problem with him staying in the company. This scene makes you consider that maybe Ira wasn't right about everything. Even though people were doing terrible things to him, he was not just a victim; he made mistakes too. This makes him even more of a human character rather than a magical character who saves the theater for a bunch of white people. There is this strip of light down the middle of the stage in this scene and they are arguing only in the strip of light. You keep thinking the argument is over, and then it would begin again. It was beautiful to watch. I liked how this argument didn't make it so that there was just one person who was right and one person who was being terrible.

I really loved the character of Connie (Tiffany Renee Johnson), the backstage servant from Jamaica. I wish we had gotten to know more about her instead having just one scene where she spoke. It took place when she and Ira were the only people in the room. I thought it was really interesting to see her as a person with reactions and opinions. Until this point she seemed to be listening but not reacting; she was doing her job and that was it. In the scene with Ira, Connie seemed confused as to if she should talk to Ira like he was one of the white people, because she was supposed to serve him, or if she could talk to him like a equal. I could see that uncertainty and I think the actor did a great job with Connie's thought process in that scene; it was clear even though she didn't really say anything about it. I think Connie is useful to have in the show because she is there as an ironic presence to show how insensitive the company is. When she is on stage the company make a lot of racist comments, not really taking her into account or thinking of her as an actual presence. It is terrible because you can see she is uncomfortable, but she can't say anything about it.

I think this show had a really cool way of showing us how Shakespearean acting used to be in the nineteenth century and how broad it was and how it changed. I thought it was really cool to see how much Ellen's performance changed after she had talked to Ira and he showed her how acting can be more of a personal experience and not just for the audience and how you should connect with your scene partner to make the audience connect with you. I really loved how she noticed "Wow! This is a much better way to act than the way I've been doing it." I really liked how she took every suggestion he made as a joke at first, even though it seems like such rational things to suggest now.

People who would like this show are people who like backstage servants, fascinating arguments, and rational acting suggestions. I think people should go see this show. It is beautifully done, and I think this is a true story that needs to be known.

Photos: Liz Lauren

Friday, December 15, 2017

Review of Griffin Theatre Company's Violet

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Violet. The book and lyrics were by Brain Crawley and the music was by Jeanine Tesori. It was based on the "The Ugliest Pilgrim" by Doris Betts. It was directed by Scott Weinstein, the music direction was by John Cockerill, and the choreography was by Kasey Alfonso. It was about a woman named Violet (Nicole Laurenzi) and when she was 13 she got hit in the head with an axe and she has a scar. She is going to a preacher (Anthony Kayer) to get it miraculously removed. She meets two men from the military who really influence her, Monty (Will Lidke) and Flick (Stephen Allen). I think this show was performed really well. Everyone in the show has really amazing voices. I think it was an interesting and unique story.

My favorite song in the show was probably "Raise Me Up." The vocals from Lashera Zenise Moore as Lula were so amazing and she just slayed the entire song. The song is all gospel and everyone in the audience was so drawn into it. They were shouting out how amazing she was. So it felt like a concert. The environment was relaxed and open, so that was fun. I also really liked the songs "Anyone Would Do" and "Lonely Stranger" which were very different songs from "Raise Me Up," but also had great vocals from Brianna Buckley, Sarah Hayes, and Moore. Both of them were very sultry songs about how lonely these women were. None of the other characters paid attention to them while they were singing, which gave it sort of a dark undertone and made them seem more alone. Flick and Violet sang a song together called "Hard To Say Goodbye." They both sounded amazing and the song was heartbreaking. It was sad to hear them say goodbye because you know now is not the right time to say goodbye because they are so angry. It is passive aggressive, the way he is saying it isn't hard to say goodbye, because you can tell it actually is hard.

There were two songs that were centered on the family: "Luck of the Draw" and "On My Way." One was about getting closer to your family and one was about getting away from your family. In "Luck of the Draw" Young Violet (Maya Lou Hlava) learns how to play cards from her father (Matt W. Miles). It is a really cute scene; it is really adorable to see this bonding moment to show how close Violet and her father used to be. At first, he doesn't explain the game very well so that he wins all the time, but eventually she gets the hang of it. Violet is also on stage playing cards with Monty and Flick which shows how much she has learned over the years and is an interesting image. "On My Way" is all about how Violet can't wait to get away and go to a new place that she thinks will solve all her problems. It was also sung by all the rest of the people on the bus who all had the same mission to get away from something. I loved how they use every single voice in this song to sum up what the goal of Violet's story is: to get away and become a new person before she comes back.

There were some choices they made in the show that I found troubling or distracting. They didn't show the scar, which made me keep looking for it, and then when I couldn't find it, I kept looking which distracted me from the story. I know the Broadway production also made this choice, but I still found it strange. It made me think she could be crazy. It seems like they don't trust the audience enough to see the scar and still like the character, which is what all the good people in the show do. I feel like they should have trusted their audience more. I was also troubled by how she didn't want to just take away her scar but change her entire face, which I didn't think was necessary. She was naturally very beautiful. They also seemed to put Flick in the story as this character who is sort of a replacement for a relationship that has just ended for Violet. I think he deserves better than someone who treats him like a rebound. I also don't think it is fair that he has to teach her how to be a better person in relationships and how not to be racist.

People who would like this show are people who like card games with your dad, sultry songs, and passive-aggressive goodbyes. I think that people should go see this show. I think it has such amazing actors and great songs. I liked it.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Monday, December 11, 2017

Review of Red Theater Chicago's Little Red Cyrano

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Little Red Cyrano. It was by Aaron Sawyer and it was directed by Michael J. Stark and Aaron Sawyer. It was about a man named Cyrano (Benjamin Ponce) who fell in love with Little Red Riding Hood (Dari Simone), but she was in love with a man named Christian (Dave Honigman) who was not very poetic, but he wanted to gain the heart of Little Red, so he asked Cyrano to write for him. And Cyrano complied. This is a mashup of the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood and Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand. It is about love, poetry, and when being courteous has gone too far. I think this is a really fun show. It had some cool audience participation and I liked the use of sign language in it.

I don't really understand why this couldn't have been just an adaptation of Cyrano with the same cast. At first I thought they were trying to make it accessible to kids but putting in a character they already knew, but that didn't make a lot of sense to me either. Why couldn't kids be interested in a show with characters they weren't already familiar with? I enjoyed Red's performance a lot, but I thought she could have played Roxane very well as well. The story of Cyrano is already adaptable to a story with sign language. It is all about poetry and words, and using words in sign language is a different way to show the poetry and is beautiful to watch. Adding Little Red Riding Hood didn't make a lot of sense to me because she didn't need to be Red Riding Hood for the story to make sense. I didn't feel like these stories had enough in common to justify putting them into a mash up.

I was rooting for Cyrano and Little Red's relationship. It was pretty hard to take when she kept not realizing how much Cyrano loved her. But I liked the reciprocity of their relationship and it seemed really healthy except she didn't understand the depth of Cyrano's feelings. They seemed to talk to each other and respect each other. In Cyrano it is a little harder to decide whether Cyrano and Roxane together is better than Christian and Roxane together. But in this version, it was pretty obvious who you should be rooting for because Christian seemed like such a jerk. In the play Cyrano, Christian seemed like a sweet guy who didn't know how to express himself. But here he seemed like a selfish, self-obsessed guy who didn't realize how much Cyrano was helping him and took him for granted. And he ends up being the villain of the story too. It makes the story a lot less complicated; there's a clear decision you make at the start of the show, which is that Christian is a terrible person for Little Red, and it doesn't really change through the play.

I thought it was really cool how the actors asked the audience to sign and to be part of some of the scenes. One time they asked you to be trees. Sometimes people asked you to hold on to a letter that they had signed, as if it were a paper letter. They would make the sign for a letter, like a or g, and then they would give you the invisible letter, have you make the sign and hold on to it for later. I also really liked a lot of the performances. I really loved Cyrano; he made the character really lovable and you wanted the best for him, but you could still see the character's mistakes. I felt like his signing was very poetic and he really took time with each word and it was really beautiful to watch. Raganeau (Stark) was a baker whose wife, Lise (Christopher Paul Mueller), leaves him because he has not been charging soldiers pretending to be poets for their food. I found their relationship kind of sad but hilarious. She was like, "I wanted to go to Paris and we can't because you won't make these people pay. So bye." I thought Raganeau was able to convey a lot of emotion even without spoken words, and even if you didn't understand sign language you could understand his story. I also loved the woodsman character (Mueller). He had this moose hat and no one knew for a while that it was not a hat but that he was really growing antlers. It was really funny to see him try and explain that.

People who would like this show are people who like signed poetry, tragic love stories, and mysterious moose hats. I think that people should go see this shows. It uses sign language in such a beautiful way and I think a lot of the performers did an amazing job.

Photos: M. Freer Photography