Sunday, September 16, 2018

Review of The Shipment at Red Tape Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Shipment. It was by Young Jean Lee, and it was directed by Wardell Julius Clark. It was a compilation of different short monologues, dances, and scenes about race and representations of black experiences. The show tries to make the audience feel uncomfortable to make the point of the play more effective, and it flips the script to say how wrong people are to pretend that we live in a post-racial society. I think this is a really powerful show. It takes a while to process, which I think adds to the experience. It was a really great show. It is a lot to handle, and I think the playwright wants it to be that way. But the discomfort is important for everyone to feel. And once you've thought about it for a while, you can move past the discomfort and nonproductive guilt and think about all the true and thought-provoking things in the show and how you can notice more effectively the crap that is happening around you and respond to it in a way that helps the situation but without taking over.

There was this dance (choreographed by Breon Arzell) at the beginning of the show with Sheldon Brown and Hunter Bryant. They started doing this dance that seemed almost like marionettes and like they didn't want to do what they were doing. That was sad because what they were doing seemed enjoyable except that they seemed very forced. Then when the scene ended, they took off their cheesy grins and just became very serious and walked off very businesslike, like what they had just done was humiliating to them. I think they were trying to show a modern minstrel act where the enthusiasm is all a ruse and the audience is silently convicted for laughing at it at first. This is kind of an introduction into how the show is going to try to get across its points. Young Jean Lee also used discomfort to get across her points in Straight White Men, and it was really effective there too.

There was also a stand up comedian (Marcus D. Moore) and I thought I had a general idea what it was going to be like. But he proceeded to use stereotypes about every person in the theater in some way, even himself. It was very explicitly sexual and graphic. It was hard to hear, especially sitting with a bunch of people when he is saying terrible things about everyone. I couldn't decide if Lee wanted us to feel alone or not alone in this mockery. I thought I would feel alone and alienated, but since the comedian was stereotyping everyone, I ended up feeling less alone. And then the end of his speech he ended up talking about his wife and kids, and it made you feel bad about dismissing him as an jerk. I think it is supposed to make you confused about how to think about this character.

They also had a scene that sort of reminded me of an old video game because of the robotic tone in their voice and their back and forth movements. They seemed to have only about two movements for each character. The plot is the plot of a stereotypical cautionary-tale movie about a black kid (Eric Gerard) who wants to be a famous rap star, so his friend (Brown) convinces him to sell drugs. He ends up in jail, joins a radical group, and then he becomes famous. And then he feels awful and he confesses to God and his grandma (Kiayla Ryann) comes down from heaven and tells him a story about cranes. It is showing how all these stereotypes get replayed and replayed. And sometimes it seems like that is the primary story people tell about black people. This scene leads into three of the actors (Brown, Gerard, and Ryann) staring at you for a minute and then breaking into song (music direction by Sydney Charles). I thought it was a really powerful switch from them playing these really clunky stereotypes to just being real people looking at us.


The last scene of the show feels a lot like a short play. It is about five friends who are having a party and find out it is their friend Desmond's (Brown) birthday. And at first it just seems like a normal party, but as it goes on, you find out not everyone is as emotionally stable as you thought. It is really distressing to see all of these people fall apart, but it was also interesting to watch because the actors were so amazing. There is also a big reveal at the end that I'm not going to give away. It was hard to wrap my head around, but it made me think back on the scene and how it changed it. The fact that all these things would be changed with the new information made me really think that just by changing one thing about a character it can completely change the way we see the morality and behavior of that character.

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

Photos: Austin Oie

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Review of New American Folk Theatre's Scraps

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Scraps. It was written by Anthony Whitaker and directed by Jamal Howard. It is an imaginative sequel to The Patchwork Girl of Oz by L. Frank Baum. It is about a living rag doll named Scraps (Brittney Brown) who lived in Oz and did the same thing every day until she got swept away by a kite when she was hanging out with her friend the Tin Man (Vic Kuligoski). And when she dropped down she fell into the house of her creators, Dr. Pipt (Jeffrey Hoge) and his wife Margolotte (Kelsey Shipley), only to find that Dr. Pipt was gone and Margolotte decided that she wanted to turn into a statue again. So Scraps seeks the help of Queen Ozma (JD Caudill), Dorothy (Charlie Irving), and Jack Pumpkinhead (Kelly Combs), and while she is there she meets a Prince (Kuligoski) who is amused by her and wants to take her back to his land. On her visit she meets the Prince's sister, Princess Langwidere (Combs), who lets her try on some of her spare heads, and Scraps feels so beautiful she decides to take it and go on an adventure as this new beautiful person. It is about self-discovery, what it means to be beautiful, and adventure. I think this is an intriguing show with a good moral and it was fun to see the connections to the other Oz stories.

Scraps is a very complex character, which I was not necessarily expecting. At the beginning of the show, it seems like she has one level. But as the show progresses and you see what she struggling with inside; you see that she has been pretending to be content with the way she looks and the way people treat her for a very long time. It was really moving to see her struggle with something I struggle with a lot and many other people do as well. A story that is familiar from childhood but is turned into a piece for adults is a really good format to get such an important point about standing up for yourself across. I feel like it is easier to learn in contexts that are familiar.

I really loved Dorothy and Ozma's relationship. They were so adorable together and I loved how open and loving they were with each other and how they didn't need a label for their relationship. That is weird for Oz, because Oz is a land of labels. Literally everyone's name is exactly what they seem to be: the Wicked Witch, the Cowardly Lion, the Emerald City. But the labels are not always right: the Cowardly Lion isn't really Cowardly and the Emerald City (in the book) is not really emerald. (But the Wicked Witch is pretty wicked.) All that matters is Dorothy and Ozma's connection with each other, and that is not really anyone else's business. Dorothy doesn't like the spotlight and is a very private person. Ozma says about themselves that they are neither a boy or a girl and live in between, which is again not putting a label on yourself. In the original story Ozma being a boy was just magic and done to hide Princess Ozma, but here it is exploring the ideas of being gender non-binary and how this character that most of us know from the stories was dealing with issues people deal with in the real world.

I thought this show had some cool production elements. I really like the costume (by Zachary Ryan Allen) for Scraps. It looked like a character costume you might see at an amusement park, but you could still see the actors's face, which I think was really important for this role because she is a very expressive character. It was made out of a bunch of patches and she had string for hair. The Tin Man was an interesting meld between a costume and a puppet. Each of the limbs of the Tin Man were strapped to limbs of the actor, so when the actor walked, the Tin Man would walk. I also think they did an amazing job for a show with a small budget. They had a set (designed by Whitaker) that was really good at conveying where they were for each scene but wasn't super extravagant. I think this show benefitted from the simplicity of the set because there are so many different story lines and characters, so those need to be the focus.

People who would like this show are people who like charismatic rag dolls, an effective moral, and unlabeled Oz. I think people should go see this show. It is an interesting and fun experience. I liked it!

Photos: Paul Clark

Friday, August 31, 2018

Ada Grey Interviews for You: The Cast of Tootsie (Broadway in Chicago)

I had so much fun interviewing the cast of Tootsie. It begins performances September 11th at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. I can't wait to see the show!



Thursday, August 30, 2018

Broadway in Chicago's Summer Concert at Millennium Park

I had so much fun going to see the Broadway in Chicago Summer Concert at Millennium Park. It was such a good time and had so many talented performers. It made me really excited for the season to come. It featured songs from revivals like Hello Dolly, Fiddler on the Roof, and Cats. It also showcased songs from new musicals like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Anastasia, A Bronx Tale, and Come From Away. And there was a song from the new jukebox musical featuring songs sung by Elvis Presley, Heartbreak Hotel. Four performances really stood out for me, from Falsettos, Book of Mormon, Dear Evan Hansen, and Miss Saigon.

I really loved the performance of "What Would I Do" from Falsettos by Whizzer (Nick Adams) and Marvin (Tally Sessions). That song always makes me very emotional because of how important these two characters are to each other even though their relationship has not been perfect all the time. I've only listened to the soundtrack, so I am really excited to get to see one of my favorite shows this season.

I'm really interested in Miss Saigon after seeing Emily Bautista's breathtaking performance. She sang "I'd Give My Life for You" with such passion and amazing vocals. It seems like a very dramatic and tragic story, and I'm excited to cry in a theater with a bunch of other people!

"You and Me (But Mostly Me)" from Book of Mormon, sung by Elder Price (Kevin Clay) and Elder Cunningham (Conner Peirson) was really hilarious. I didn't see Book of Mormon the last two times it was in town because it probably wasn't appropriate for an 8 or a 12 year old. Elder Price and Elder Cunningham's relationship was really funny and I'm really excited to see the entire story of this musical I've waited so long to see.

I'm so thrilled Dear Evan Hansen is coming to Chicago. I'm a fan of the soundtrack, and I'm really looking forward to seeing the story that goes with it. I thought that Ben Ross did an amazing job with "Waving Through A Window." His vocal range is amazing and I'm interested to see what he does with the character. It was really moving to see all the nominees from the Illinois High School Musical Theatre Awards join him to sing "You Will Be Found." It was just awesome to see the star of a touring company singing with all these people who want to make musical theatre their career.

Photo: Broadway in Chicago

Monday, August 13, 2018

Review of The Story Theatre's Leave Me Alone!

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Leave Me Alone! It was written by Paul Michael Thomson and directed by Matt Bowdren. It was about a guy named Ivanov (Sean Gallagher) and he was a politician. His wife Anna (Brenna Welsh) was dying but she didn't know it. He didn't want to pay attention to her because she made him feel guilty, so he hired a doctor to stay with her called Dr. Love (Ayanna Bria Bakari), who ended up falling in love with her. Ivanov owes a bunch of money to the Lebedevs, Paul (Randolph Johnson) and Aida (Nicole Laurenzi), and he ends up having feelings for their son Sam (Jordan Dell Harris), starting when his wife is sick. This play is about morality, depression, and political decision making. I have never seen the Chekhov play Ivanov, which this was based on, but I thought this play was very interesting.

I really like Chekhov's writing, but there is not a great representation of people who are not white, straight, and depressed in his plays. So I really liked that this play represented people of color and the LGBTQ+ community in the writing and casting. Everyone still seemed pretty depressed. I also really liked that two of the primary relationships (between Dr. Love and Anna and Ivanov and Sam) were gay relationships. I thought the actors in both of those relationships were really spot-on and their performances made me emotional. But I found it strange that their sexuality is very accepted by everyone in the play. I really wish that was the case in the world, but we aren't there yet. I was expecting to see a representation of how people get treated in the world because of their sexuality, even by their own families. But it is also nice to see a play that isn't primarily about the struggle. The attacks on Ivanov and Sam's relationship are about age, not about them both being men, which I think is good to focus on, but in the playwright's note it says this play is about how we haven't come so far since Ivanov's first production. But I think it is very different from how many gay people would have been treated back when the first production of Ivanov was happening. Also everyone seemed to hate Dr. Love, but not because of her sexuality. They hated her because she was too perceptive and noticed all their crap.

It is really hard to like a lot of characters in Chekhov because a lot of them are interesting because of how messed-up and melodramatic they are about their lives. A lot of their lives are pretty crappy, but they throw it out of proportion. They overreact about little things and then when really terrible things happen they are just tired and they kill themselves or give up spectacularly. Is there any character at the end of a Chekhov play who isn't dead or wishes they were? It's like they live in the So-over-it Union. In Leave Me Alone! I feel like there are more characters that are sympathetic. I felt like they were more relatable to people today because it was set in modern times and the way you can live vicariously through them. I felt like Dr. Love, Anna, and Sam keep getting targeted by those in power, but they don't give up. I liked the direct address in this play and felt like it made it more personal. That also might be a reason why I related to these characters and found them more sympathetic. Overall, I found the play less depressing than a lot of Chekhov.

People who would like this show are people who like gayer Chekhov, perceptive characters, and a little vacation from the So-over-it Union. I think this is a really powerful show and I think this was a really good Chekhov adaptation. This show only had a two-week run, and I'm so sorry I couldn't get the review out before it closed. I'm looking forward to what this company does next!


Photos: David Hagan



Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Review of Eclipse Theatre Company's Bus Stop

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Bus Stop. It was by William Inge and it was directed by Steve Scott. It was about a young woman named Elma (Jillian Warden) who works at Grace's (Sarah Bright) diner, and there is a snowstorm happening outside, so a whole busload of people have to spend the night there. Cherie (Daniella Pereira) is a singer in a club and she is trying to get away from her boyfriend Bo (Anthony Conway) who is forcing her to marry him. Bo is traveling along with Virgil (Zach Bloomfield) who is like a father figure to him. Dr. Lyman (Ted Hoerl) is a professor who has quit his job and is traveling the world to feel free. He develops a close relationship with Elma. The bus driver, Carl (Matt Thinnes), seems to have a very intimate relationship with Grace. The Sheriff stops in for coffee and to help out Cherie so she doesn't get taken away by Bo again. There are all these people getting to know each other and bonding, but also sometimes the people that already know each other are growing apart. It is about how people relate to each other, old-fashioned ideas of what women want, and redemption. I thought this was a very well acted show but that the script, because it is pretty old, had some disturbing implications.

The general problem with the script is how Bo can physically and verbally abuse someone and she will forgive him and say, "Aw, never mind. He's really cute though isn't he?" Which is problematic for so many reasons. One of the reasons it is so troubling is because it seems to be saying that he was just so in love with her, he had to kidnap her, which isn't a good excuse. I also feel that the way that Bo is supposed to learn his lesson is disturbing: by getting beaten up by the Sheriff. In this production it was particularly distressing to watch because of the current violence against black people by law enforcement in America. I'm not sure if we were not supposed to think about race, but it is hard not to when a white sheriff is beating up a black man and no one is standing up for the victim and we are supposed to think everyone just gets along okay afterwards. It is not like Bo hadn't done anything wrong, but there were better ways to prevent him from bothering Cherie. I also found the answer to the question that Grace asked Carl after they had had a night together--if he was married--was a little late to ask that. And also he did not ever give her a yes or no answer, which is what you call a red flag. I don't think relationships have to be perfect examples in plays; bad relationships can be interesting to watch on stage. But if they aren't examples of good relationships, I don't like to see them placed in front of you as fine.

Near the end of the play they decide to put on a talent show, where everyone can show off their amazing talents. Cherie sings, of course, and Virgil plays the guitar. And Bo whines about his rope tricks. Dr. Lyman and Elma perform a scene from Romeo and Juliet, with casting out of an Opera, also known as casting a very young woman opposite an older man. It actually sums up very well what each of the characters is passionate about and their personalities. Dr. Lyman is a romantic just like Romeo and sort of foolish. Juliet is upstanding like Elma; they both want to do what is right and want to be loved. Cherie is very sultry and vulnerable but self-assured. Virgil is very sweet and gentle, and you can hear that in his guitar solo. And Bo, again, mopes, but then does still cheer on his girl, but he ends up overwhelming her performance, so it doesn't end up being that supportive.

I do really love the mentorships in the show. They really bring some lovely non-romantic relationships into the storyline, which is so full of romance. I really love the relationship between Elma and Grace. They seem to really help each other out, and Grace treats Elma as a sister and tries to teach her and help her to become a self-aware person. They also had really cute jokes they had together, like how Grace didn't like cheese so she never restocked it. I also really love the relationship between Bo and Virgil because you never really get to see Bo be vulnerable or not try and be the strong, manly cowboy that he usually is around anybody else except Virgil.

People who would like this show are people who like significant mentorships, nonexistent rope tricks, and a lack of cheese. I think this is a really interesting show to watch. It has really great actors and a compelling storyline. It just has some old-fashioned and misogynistic ideas that I'm not a huge fan of.


Photos: Scott Dray

Monday, July 30, 2018

Review of Brown Paper Box Co.'s Everybody

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Everybody. It was by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and it was directed by Erin Shea Brady. It is a reassessment and adaptation of Everyman, a 15th-century morality play. The cast changes roles by random draw every night amongst 5 people. One person plays the character Everybody (the night I saw it, it was Alys Dickerson), who has been summoned from the audience by Death (Kenny the Bearded) to go to the afterlife. Everybody can take one person with her: her Cousin (Hal Cosentino when I saw it), Kinship (Francesca Sobrer when I saw it), Friendship (Donovan Session when I saw it), Stuff (Alex Madda when I saw it), or Love (Tyler Anthony Smith). While Death and God (Chelsea Dàvid) follow along, Everybody learns about who really cares about her. I think this is a really interesting and beautiful show. It brought up so many powerful points and it really made me evaluate life, which might not seem very fun but it was very eye-opening and surprisingly funny.

Everyman was a Christian, gendered morality play, and Everybody is a non-gender-specific, not-religion-based morality play. I think Everyman really needed an update, and this is exactly what it needed to be to show a story that everyone could relate to. The play shows the inclusiveness of it by the audience not knowing who will play who at the start of the show. You don't even know at first who is the audience and who are the actors. I found that interesting and exhilarating. I had no idea what was going to happen, but I was excited to find out. I think allegory is a good way to tell this specific type of story, where there are a lot of moral questions. Allegories make things that are not people into characters to make the ideas more understandable. The moral of the story, in my opinion, is accepting your life, accepting your body, accepting that terrible things will happen to you, accepting that you are going to die, accepting that people who you love might not love you back. That is not the most depressing thing it the world because you are accepting it, and it is just part of what is going to happen. The rest of your life could have some really amazing parts to it, but there are going to parts of it that we aren't going to like. There are going to be things and consequences we aren't going to like. Acceptance is important because without acceptance you are lying to yourself and as with any lying it will make you sadder in the long run.

There was a very interesting scene where Love was first introduced and made Everybody completely humiliate herself by taking her clothes off and running around saying how much she has disappointed herself. You don't expect Love to completely humiliate someone, especially when it is anthropomorphized, but it is probably realistic. Usually the kind of love that might lead you to humiliate yourself is romantic love, but I feel like the character of Love in this play is not just romantic love. It is showing all the kinds of love in one. He comforts her afterwards and stays with her until he can't anymore, until the very end. That shows how devoted love can be even though some kinds of love can humiliate us.

There are a lot of really funny moments in this show, despite it being philosophical. One of my favorite funny moments was when a dream ballet happened and Time (Nora Fox) and God and Death were all dancing in skull masks across the stage. It was so ridiculous and just kind of popped up half way through the show. It was nice in this play full of so many sad realizations to have this really humorous but vaguely ominous moment. It had a reason for being there--it foreshadows Everybody's impending death--but it was still a nice break and made me think about death in a more lighthearted way. I also really loved the character of Stuff. She was appropriately stuffy and sort of stuck up, and unlike other characters who Everybody asked to go with her, Stuff was honest with her that she wasn't going to come and that Everybody was just being used by Stuff, who would just move on when Everybody died. It was very humorous to see the one thing you think will be compliant--your stuff--be so unnecessarily cruel and self-absorbed. I found Friendship's monologue very funny in how general it was. He would say something like, "Did you know that that one guy that we know got married/divorced/married again/divorced again." It was hilarious and interesting to see the no-no of theater--being general instead of specific--working so well for a play. Which brings us back to how effective it can be to make a show like this that everybody can find a way to relate to.

People who would like this show are people who like relatable plays, evaluating humiliating love, and hilariously ominous dream ballets. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It is an amazing experience, and I really loved it.


Photos courtesy of Brown Paper Box Co.