Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Review of Route 66 Theatre Company's A Funny Thing Happened...

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Gynecologic Oncology Unit at Sloan-Kettering Memorial Cancer Center of New York City. It was by Halley Feiffer and it was directed by Keira Fromm. It was about two strangers named Don (Stef Tovar) and Karla (Mary Williamson) whose mothers Geena (Judy Lea Steele) and Marcie (Meg Thalken) both had cancer. They meet because their mothers are sharing a hospital room and a friendship starts. It is about family, loneliness, and grief. I think this is a really weird but fun show. The characters were really unique--I've never seen any characters like any of these people--and it was intriguing to watch.

I thought that the relationships in this play were very interesting to watch, although they were very messed up people. The relationship between Karla and Don started with conflict about the volume of one of Karla's bits. They are basically arguing through a curtain for the first twenty minutes of the play. But then they start to talk because they are sort of bored and they sort of don't have anyone else to talk to. They are feeling vulnerable because their parents are dying, they are alone, and either their childhood or their child's childhood isn't going that well. When people who are really deeply messed up have relationships, I am worried for the outcome. Messed up people definitely deserve happiness, but it might be better if they went with someone who didn't have so many of their own problems to throw onto the ones they already have. But if you love someone, you should definitely try it out. The relationship between Karla and her mom I think was really beautiful even if it was slightly weird. You really get to see that in the last scene because in the rest of the play Karla's mom is being mean. I liked how the ending scene was kind of a nod to the first one where Don asks why Karla has to read her bits aloud, and she says it's because her mom and she did that all the time when her mom was awake. Later you find out that that hadn't really been the case. I thought that it was a really great way to wrap up the play, to see a relationship turn into something more deep than it was in the beginning and to see Karla get something like the relationship she wanted with her mom.

This show had some very disturbing moments. Like the opening to the play was Karla writing a comedy bit about how she has been single for so long. It was basically about her "wet dreams." It was disturbing because she talked about rape and I don't think rape is ever really funny, at least not the way that I know the definition. But there were also some funny lines, like when she talked about the fedora. People who have seen the show will know what I mean. I also thought it was pretty disturbing how the mothers of the two main characters had to listen to graphic content concerning their children. I was disturbed because of some of the graphic content that was shown, and I didn't know it would be. The description did say there were dirty jokes, but to me it went past the realm of jokes into stuff that was more visual. And I didn't like how the last thing one of the characters would hear was this content. I think it was purposeful, and I think it is okay to have stuff that is disturbing, but I just wanted to point out how disturbing it might be to people my age.

This show also had some very humorous moments. Don read a story in the New Yorker that he found so adorable and funny. And the story was not adorable, because it was literally about a condom that had expired. But it was very funny and adorable to watch him try to get his point across about how funny the story was. Karla's response was basically a straight face. And that also added an element of humor. Also, Karla's mom wanted Don to feed her sparkling water. It was so funny because of how Don reacted to this request, at first thinking it was a joke. And then when he started doing it, he was narrating everything as he did it, which was ridiculous. I also thought this was a great segue into Don's story about his son. And he handled talking about his son much better in this instance than he had before. He had been completely stoic, walked into the bathroom, slammed the door; there were a few seconds of a pause and then very loud screaming and banging on various things. It was hilarious.

People who would like this show are people who like really long titles, sparkling water, and fedoras. I think this is a weirdly great show. It had some really great performances and some really great plot points. Not every moment worked for me, but I think that it still worked well.

Photos: Brandon Dahlquist

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Review of Strawdog Theatre Company's Barbecue at Steppenwolf's 1700 Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Barbecue. It was by Robert O'Hara and it was directed by Damon Kiely. It was about a family that gets together for a Barbecue-vention for their sister Barbara (Abby Pierce/Ginneh Thomas). It is about family, addiction, betrayal, and about things not being what they seem. I won't be able to say a lot of details about this show because there are so many plot twists I don't want to give away. I'm going to try to talk generally enough so that when you have seen the show, you will understand. I thought this was a really good show; the script was really crazy and well-written and the acting was great. I really liked it.

This is a very strange show. It plays with your mind a lot and makes you think things are real that are not and vice versa. Each character is played by two different actors. James T, the brother, is played by John Henry Roberts and Terence Sims; Lillie Anne, the sister who organized the intervention, is played by Barbara Figgins and Deanna Reed-Foster; Adlean, the sister who always seemed to be smoking, is played by Kristin Collins and Kamille Dawkins; and Marie, the opinionated, slightly shady, whisky-drinking sister is played by Celeste M. Cooper and Anita Deely. It makes me think about how the same story for two different groups of people can be so different, and not just because they were played by different people but because of what was revealed about them throughout the show. One of the stories kind of just ended and you don't get to see how it turns out but the other one is finished and you get to see a big reveal as to why we were switching back and forth. It made me think about the differences between a story and real life and the story of a story. I thought it was cool how they addressed issues of race and class in ways I never thought about or expected.

This play is about how addiction can mess up not only you but also your family and the people around you. It is about how you have to be thinking about your actions not just for yourself but for the people around you. Addiction doesn't look the same for everyone. It is always because they feel like they need the comfort of whatever it is, but they feel like they need it for different reasons. Sometimes it is because they are depressed; sometimes they feel like they have to replace something with a substance. Sometimes it is because they are stressed or feel a lot of pressure. Sometimes it is because they feel like they can't be who they really are. We hold on to things as if they were people, and try to distract ourselves from what is really going on in the world because it is hard because people can hurt you. That doesn't mean that drugs and alcohol can't hurt you too. Addiction is always at the center and the source of everyone's problems in this play. I think that makes for some very interesting storytelling for there not to be a villain that is human, but for there to be a villain that is an actual problem in our society today.

There is a lot of surprising humor in this play. But a lot of it is connected to big unexpected moments that I don't want to give away. But there were a lot of very funny bits and I thought the actors did a really good job delivering them in a very perfect way. One of my favorite moments was when one character brought out an electric device to shut another character up. When you see the show, you'll know what I mean. It was just absolutely hilarious.

People who would like this show are people who like surprising twists, funny but meaningful stories, and shady, whisky-drinking sisters. I think people should see this show. I think it is well-performed, well-written, and all around a fun show to be at.

Photos: Heath Hays

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Review of New Light Theater Project and Chicago Dramatists' Still Dance the Stars

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Still Dance the Stars. It was by Jayme McGhan and directed by Sarah Norris. It was about a couple, James (Martel Manning) and Anne (Bethany Geraghty), who were going through some rough times after being a viral sensation with their YouTube proposal. There were these stuffed animals that they used to collect from theme parks and carnivals when they were happy. They come to life in the couple's minds and have adventures that reveal things about why the couple's relationship has fallen apart, but also show a way back to happier times. It is about trying to rebuild relationships, loss, and finding your way home. I think this is a really really moving show. I cried so much. It was also quirky and had its humorous moments. It had such a beautiful meaning, and I really loved it.

I thought that it worked pretty well how each of the stuffed animals were played by, and somewhat influenced by, someone in the couple's actual life. There was a crew member of the television show that was going to interview Anne and James named Phillip (Michael Allen Aguirre) and his stuffed toy persona was a potato. I thought that was very funny because he was so awkward and sort of simple; the character really seemed ordinary and plain like a potato. Anne's sister Ashley (Courtney Knysch) was a thingus, which is basically a stood-up caterpillar with striped pants and like three tiny legs. She is very upbeat, sort of weird, and quick-witted. James doesn't really like her but Anne is getting a lot of help from her and is grateful. Anne likes all the weird toys, like the potato, and her weird thingus sister. But James isn't so keen on it. Anne's mother Margaret (Claudia Campbell) is a giraffe as a toy and is a minister in real life who has a very young husband about whom she talks pretty explicitly. I think she is a giraffe because she is very poised and sweet and helpful and comforting. I don't know why I think giraffes are comforting; maybe because they seem very slow, vegetarian, and chill. James's dad Clayton was a crocodile. He is a version of someone who has done a lot of damage, but is sweet and well-meaning now--like a taxidermy alcoholic crocodile, but slightly less morbid than that. There was also the person who would be interviewing them, Layna (Dana Martin), who plays Captain Lame-o. She is basically the villain of this alternate universe. She's not as bad in real life because she is an actual person, but she does seem to be taking advantage of them and asking questions she knows will be hard for them to answer. Hope (Ariana SepĂșlveda) is a stuffed hippo ballerina who doesn't seem to have another version of them in the real world. But the play eventually reveals who she is, and it is very gut-wrenching.

There were a lot of impromptu dance battles (choreography by Ashlee Wasmund) in this show. I thought they were hilarious and ridiculous, and sometimes they were even good. There were moves from break dancing, hip hop, ballet, and modern. The moves were very classic to the genres that they were performing, which I think showed how, in the mind of James, a guy who isn't a professional dancer, this is what he thinks these genres of dance would look like. I thought Hope and Anne in particular were good dancers. They had a dance together that was really moving. I was about to cry, and it was great.

This show wasn't all sad. I thought it was really funny when Phillip was asking Ashley out and he was talking about taking Ashley to White Castle, which is literally the least romantic place on this planet--I mean a graveyard is more romantic than White Castle; Buffy the Vampire Slayer makes that possible. I guess a sewer, but really the place you go for your first date should be a lot higher than that on the romantic-ness scale. I also thought the mom, Margaret, was really funny with all her inappropriate references. They are generally about her husband and her daughter finds them disgusting, which is hilarious. I think there was a perfect contrast between the humor in the fantasy scenes and the sadness when you see reality creeping back into their lives. That just made every time that something sad would happen even sadder. It is very true because the more fun you have in real life, the sadder the sad parts that come after are.

People who would like this show are people who like impromptu dance battles, White Castle, and taxidermy alcoholic crocodiles. I think that people should definitely see this show. It is hilarious, moving, and silly. It closes Saturday, so everyone should go see it while you still have the chance!


Photos: Tom McGrath

Ada Grey Interviews for You: Interview with Chase Phillips from Mowtown the Musical

I had so much fun emailing with Chase Phillips from Mowtown the Musical about playing Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson, who his favorite singers are, and his joyous reaction to getting cast in the show. Mowtown returns to Chicago October 3-8, 2017


Ada Grey: How does it feel to portray these music icons (Berry Gordy, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson)? Does it feel like a big responsibility?

Chase Phillips: It feels awesome to portray such important people especially when they were children. They all began making an impact on people’s lives when they were at a young age, so it’s very important to me that I do an incredible job.

AG: How did you react when you found out you got the part?

CP: I screamed, shouted and started to praise the Lord because I was so thankful to get the part.

AG: Which character that you play do you relate to the most?

CP: I would say Stevie Wonder because he was probably treated like he was different by kids when he was growing up but he pushed through it. At my old school, I was treated badly sometimes because I didn’t fit in, but I pushed through it and always did my best.

AG: Which song in Motown do you think is the most fun to sing?

CP: “The Love You Save” by the Jackson 5 because it’s a more upbeat song than all their other songs in the play that are about sad love.

AG: What are some of your favorite music artists?

CP: John Legend, Adele, Michael Jackson, and Tye Tribbett.

AG: What are some of the things you are looking forward to doing on tour? What will you miss about home?

CP: Traveling to all the different locations and meeting all the new people! I’ll miss my family, friends, dog, and my school.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Review of TimeLine Theatre Company's The Audience

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Audience. It was by Peter Morgan and it was directed by Nick Bowling. It was about Queen Elizabeth II's (Janet Ulrich Brooks) relationships with her prime ministers (Matt DeCaro, Carmen Roman, and Mark Ulrich) throughout her reign and which one was her favorite. They drink a lot of tea and booze and talk about politics and their lives. It is about developing relationships, government, and how being royalty isn't actually as powerful as you think it is. I think this is a really interesting show. It shows you behind the scenes of the relationship between royalty and the British Parliament. This show had great acting, a fascinating storyline, and made me want to learn more about the British government.

I think this play was really interesting because they showed Elizabeth as an actual vulnerable person. You don't think of that when you think of royalty. But this play shows you her memories as a child (Audrey Edwards and Sophie Ackerman at alternating performances) and how she was worried about her father becoming king and that she might mess up being queen. Brooks plays Elizabeth from her early twenties through her late eighties. I felt like I was seeing Elizabeth grow up. The way Brooks differentiated each age was phenomenal. When she is young she is uncertain about what she is doing, but as she ages she get more confident. Brooks adjusted her energy level, the way she talked, and the way she moved. It was really fascinating to watch. I have never seen her in a role like this before, and she just did it perfectly. During her her first meeting chronologically, she meets with Winston Churchill (DeCaro) and she is nervous and doesn't really know what to do, so she starts trying to engage in a conversation but Winston is not having that. They are drinking tea in the first meeting, but as her reign progresses, she starts drinking harder beverages. She starts becoming more confident and she starts insisting on understanding political and military situations.

Elizabeth's relationship with Harold Wilson (DeCaro) was very different from any other in the show. She connected with him and talked to him person to person more than with the other Prime Ministers. Wilson didn't really think he'd get the job, which made it hard for him to get started. But Elizabeth had just become more confident in her job, so I think she was sort of a guide for him. They had empathy for each other and I think that is why they became such good friends in the course of the show. I think it was really sad how Wilson by the end of the play had lost his amazing power to be able to read over something and have it completely memorized. They had this book that he'd read to show off his amazing abilities when he had met earlier with Elizabeth in Scotland. It was sad to see them try to recreate that memory later.

I had mixed feeling about Margaret Thatcher (Roman)--not about the actor but about the character. The actor made me hate Thatcher and admire her the same time. I think Thatcher was a badass, but she had very conservative ideas and would always stick by them and didn't really care about anyone else's opinions at all. I really loved her costume (designed by Theresa Ham), it looked exactly like something very Margaret Thatcher. It was buttoned up and she had like a silk scarf tied in a bow that looks like it is devouring her. It showed how uptight she was. She is usually very poised, and in the scene she has panic, but I didn't really feel sorry for her because it seemed like she was taking out all of her anger on Elizabeth and not listening to her, which is something Thatcher did in her career. I thought it was sad that Thatcher didn't have a good relationship with Elizabeth since she was the only woman Prime Minister in this play. I thought the difference between Thatcher and the other character this actor played, Bobo McDonald, who was Elizabeth's nanny, was just amazing. She would walk off stage as one of the people who loved Elizabeth the most and helped take care of her for so many years, and she would walk back on as someone who didn't respect Elizabeth at all.

John Major (Ulrich) was a really interesting character. He was so awkward and Elizabeth was slightly annoyed by it, which made for a funny scene because she just got slightly more annoyed as the scene went on. She had learned that these meetings weren't chitchats, but he was trying to make them into a chitchat because he was awkward and couldn't get into the conversations that they needed to have. I thought it was funny how, when Elizabeth finds out his father used to be a trapeze artist, she thinks it is exotic. And he points out that her father was the King of England and he thinks that is exotic. This shows you that their lives are exotic to the other person because that is the life they didn't get to live.

People who would like this show are people who like stories about the monarchy, empathetic relationships, and ravenous silk scarves. I think that people should go see this show. It had really great acting and really accentuated the range of many actors. It made me think about a side of Queen Elizabeth I'd never thought of before.


Photos: Lara Goetsch

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Review of Red Theater Chicago's The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity. It was by Kristoffer Diaz and it was directed by Jeremy Aluma. It was about a man named Mace (Alejandro Tey) who was a wrestler. He was trying to make his name known and call attention to the social injustice in the wrestling world, while still trying to keep his job. The wrestling world is dominated by everyone's favorite wrestler, Chad Deity (Semaj Miller), and is run by EKO (Mickey O'Sullivan). Mace invites a person his brother and his other brother played basketball with, VP (Priyank Thakkar) to audition to be a wrestler because VP is so great at self-promotion and seems like he can get anything he wants. It is about justice, being the guy in the background who always gets defeated, and fame. I think this is a really great show. It is a great concept with fluid dialogue and beautiful acting. I loved it.

This show has really good direct address. It is not just there for no reason. The audience is a character. Mace is talking to someone and is trying to get his point across. He is talking to the audience as a person. He is the narrator but he is also part of the story which I think is a very important thing you need when you want to do direct address. I liked how he had the power to bend time and step in and out of the story. Like when he is fighting with Chad Deity, he speaks about how he is feeling and how they are helping each other. There is also one part where VP steps in and says I am going to do the talking for Mace over here really quick because he is sort of busy doing this fight, which shows that it is not just Mace that has all of the power. It is more of a communal thing, which is more interesting to watch because you get to see multiple people's perspectives on what is happening in the story in the moment.

I really loved the way the play started and how they kept coming back to the same story. The story was about Mace's brother and other brother and how they all used to watch wrestling together. They had these dolls that didn't really move at all and they would eat soggy knock-off cereal. They kept coming back to this story because it was an important image in his mind; it is why he got into wrestling. He would study the moves. Wrestling is an escape from reality for him: that he is eating soggy knock-off cereal and he had the immovable doll wrestling guys. Even though the dolls look awesome, they are not fun to play with. He doesn't want to be a wrestling guy in a permanent pose; he would rather be fun to play with and movable. Even though he doesn't really like being the one who never wins even though he is more talented, he enjoys other aspects of his job, like being in one of the most popular wrestling shows at the time. He becomes a different person throughout the play; he sees wrestling not just as a dream job but as a job that has a bunch of problems. That kind of relates to the dolls, because he becomes aware of the world around him. He is not one of those stuck in a strong guy pose. He is responsive.

I think the fights (by fight director Kyle Encinas) were really accurate and cool. They reminded me of the channels I usually skip past on tv because wrestling usually grosses me out, but I didn't want to skip past this channel. I thought it was super intriguing. It reminded me a lot of the actual sort-of-stagey fights they do in professional wrestling; I think they translate well to the stage because they are already so theatrical. I really liked how the play wasn't trying to glorify wrestling. It was showing the good parts and the flaws. Wrestling is used to talk about social injustice instead of just being there for the fighting aspects. That doesn't mean the fighting itself wasn't amazing, it just gave it more depth and more reason for it to be there. I really liked when Mace was showing everyone how he and Chad Deity would fight. It all seemed super dramatic but then when he was telling us how it all actually happened, it seemed a lot less painful because he showed how he was acting and how he was not getting really physically hurt. Chad Deity was protecting him in the ring. And he gives Chad Deity all the glory even though he is not as good of a wrestler. Just because Chad Deity is more of an American Hero to people means that he has to win everything because the American fans want the American to win. Mace and VP are also American, but they have to pretend that they are not so there is a motivation for fans to hate them. Wrestling basically uses racism and xenophobia to make it so all the fans are rooting for the same person. Wrestling in this play seems to have more villains than heroes, which I don't think is a really good worldview. It is too simple because in the real world there are very few people who are totally evil. But the play isn't simple because it calls attention to these problems in wrestling and has a lot of people who do good things, like Chad Deity, Mace, and VP. But nobody's perfect. EKO is the villain but that is because he is representing what is wrong with wrestling: the racism, willful ignorance, crassness, and how money is the whole reason it exists.

People who would like this show are people who like amazing fights, flexible strong guys, and soggy knock-off cereal. I think people should definitely go see this show. It was a beautiful story and made me see wrestling in a new way. It made me think a lot about how the world is consuming racism and all these things they say they are against and not even noticing it. I really loved this show.

Photos: M. Freer Photography

Friday, August 25, 2017

Review of The Fair Maid of the West at Oak Park Festival Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Fair Maid of the West. It was adapted and directed by Kevin Theis from the play by Thomas Heywood. The fight choreography was by Geoff Coates. It was about a young woman named Bess (Amanda Forman) who is a barmaid and falls in love with a man named Spencer (Zach Livingston), who kills a man in self-defense and then he goes to Belgium with his friend Captain Goodlack (Debo Balogun). When Bess believes Spencer has been killed, she sets out to claim the body. She makes a crew out of a self-obsessed patron of the bar, Roughman (Aaron Christensen), the goofy bartender, Clem (Bobby Bowman), and Goodlack. They have many adventures along the way, including being shipwrecked on a very crazy island ruled by a misogynistic and indecisive king, Mullisheg (Jack Hickey), and his queen, Tota (Melissa Carlson). It is about determination, female power, and redemption. I think that this is a really fun and clever show. I liked it.

There were a lot of really funny parts to the show. One of my favorite funny characters was Roughman. He was harassing Bess, which doesn't sound funny, but he has a change of heart when he learns that he wasn't dueling with a strong strapping man but with Bess pretending to be a man. It was really funny and awesome when he discovered who she was and bowed down to her. I also really liked Alcade (Mark Lancaster); he was Mullisheg's attendant and he was just trying not to lose his job and trying to get everyone hyped up about the king. It was funny to see him struggle to try and please the king and also trying not to reveal to anyone that the king was making a lot of bad decisions. There was also great and humorous audience participation. They give you muffins at the top of the show to hurl at people giving the curtain speech. And they also gave out "flippies" which were flags to wave when Mullisheg, the King of Fez, would come out.

I thought the set (designed by Michael Lasswell) was really cool. I really liked how they used older technology to hoist open a door that they put a bed behind that they would then pull out. I thought it was cool how many levels there were and how they looked like a ship but could also be other locations. I also liked where the fights were placed throughout the show; they all furthered the story. My only complaint was that sometimes the fights seemed slow and didn't seem very captivating because of that. I really liked the fight that Spencer had with Joffer (Drew Mierzejewski) and his guards (Kate Booth, Bill Gordon, Ken Miller, and Bryan Wakefield). I thought it was cool how they did an outnumbered battle, but it was still really badass to watch whenever Spencer would defeat someone.

The play seemed really modern even though it was written a long time ago during the Renaissance. They made it so it was more of a heroic story for Bess and she wasn't a damsel in distress; the man was the one being rescued. I think that is very good for such an old play. I thought it was cool how they had two of the sidekick characters to Bess start out as not her friends but as her enemies. They each had a redemption story. Goodlack is going to take her inheritance by shaming her, but instead he apologizes once he sees what she is really like. And Roughman starts out harassing her and ends up respecting her. I think that Bess shouldn't have forgiven them quite so easily, but it made for an interesting group of people to be on her expedition. I haven't seen very many Renaissance plays that are so focused on the redemption and don't just end the play the minute it happens.

People who would like this show are people who like awesome sets, newfangled old plays, and hype about the king. I think that people should go see this show. It is a good story with great actors and lots of funny moments.


Photos: Cole Simon