Monday, May 23, 2016

Review of Disenchanted (Broadway in Chicago)

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Disenchanted. The book, music, and lyrics were by Dennis T. Giacino and it was directed by Christopher Bond. It was about fairy tale princesses rebelling against sexism in their Disney movies. Snow White (Merritt Crews), Sleeping Beauty (Daniella Richards), and Cinderella (Madison Hayes-Crook) were your hosts for a kind of vaudeville show. I really enjoyed some of the songs and performances, but I felt it was not a completely successful rebellion against sexism. The audience seemed to really love this show, though, so it is not a terrible show for everyone. I was just hoping for more.

It sounds like a great idea to critique Disney princess movies, but I don't feel like it hit a home run like I hoped it would. I do believe that some Disney movies are sexist, but I do think they are getting better. I love Disney movies; I even love the sexist ones. The sexist ones were made a long time ago and were based on really old stories. It is okay to watch sexist stuff if you don't partake in the negative messages but analyze them and separate them from the good messages. When I was a little kid, my mom said I couldn't watch any Disney princess movies until I was a feminist. And I asked what a feminist was and she said, it is someone who thinks women should have the same rights and opportunities as men. And I said, "Well, of course!" So then I got to watch Cinderella. Disenchanted had a good goal to show the sexism in Disney movies, but I felt like they were making points I'd heard many times before and I wanted a bit more originality and also a bit more truthfulness. When they made an accusation that didn't seem true to me, that made me think they were just fishing for things to not like about Disney's portrayal of girls to make the show longer and it weakened their case.

One example of telling lies about Disney movies was a song called "Big Tits." It was claiming that all Disney princesses had large breasts because all of the male animators just wanted to make them that way. I know that Disney did have some female animators, but I know there were more men. But the song is kind of telling a lie, because the princesses don't all have the same figure and almost none of them have big breasts, except maybe Pocahontas, who has pretty normal sized breasts. I felt like the song was very unneeded and made me feel angry. And also don't think it is bad to represent women as having large breasts because a lot of actual women on this earth do have large breasts and it doesn't mean they always have to be sexualized. I also think that if there is something wrong with men animating women with big breasts then there should also be something wrong with men writing a song and directing women to draw attention to their cleavage. I don't always think that is wrong, but here it seemed to be a double standard.

I really liked Ann Paula Bautista's performance. She played Mulan, Pochahontas, and Princess Badroulbadour (who is who Jasmine is based on). I felt like she made the entire show a lot more enjoyable for me. She got to sing songs that I thought were funny and clever and more often actually had a point that made sense to me. I felt like it was really interesting that they made Mulan a lesbian. I thought that made for some interesting plot lines, like how Cinderella and Mulan seem to "get together." The Pocahontas song talked all about how they don't tell her true story, and I think that is a really good thing to talk about because they don't tell her true story whatsoever. But, as she rails on about how they don't tell her story, she doesn't really tell her actual story. They already made this show pretty dark, so I think they could have mentioned how she was kidnapped and maybe married to someone she didn't want to marry, and died in her early twenties. I also enjoyed Uche Ama as The Princess who Kissed the Frog. Her song was all about how it took so long to have an African American princess in a Disney movie. But if the writers wished it had been sooner, why didn't this play introduce her character sooner? It would have been really awesome to have her voice in the earlier songs in the play. I also thought the costumes (by Vanessa Leuck) were very cool and modernized and made the princesses look more awesome.

People who would like this show are people who like new versions of Disney princesses, parody, and cool costumes. I thought this show tried very hard to make this a groundbreaking new kind of show, but I feel like they just missed the mark for me. I think the audience I saw this with enjoyed it, so maybe you will too.

Photos: Dahlia Katz

Friday, May 20, 2016

Review of Promethean Theatre Ensemble's The Lion in Winter

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Lion in Winter. It was by James Goldman and it was directed by Brian Pastor. It was about this king Henry (Brian Parry) and queen Eleanor (Elaine Carlson) who are not in a happy marriage anymore. But the kingdom is going to go to someone else because the king is going to die soon. But each of the kids, Richard (Jared Dennis), Geoffrey (Nick Lake), and John (Tom Murphy), have been a disappointment to the parents and haven't been very nice to their parents either. So that makes them not very appealing for the throne. There is a King who is staying for the holidays, Philip of France (Evan Johnson); it is a big royal family Christmas get-together. You can tell from the beginning that it is not going to turn out amazing; the king isn't just happy to have a wife at the time, he needs a mistress too, Alais (Heather Smith). And two of his sons and his wife have all held rebellions against him and his rules, so that means that none of them have a great relationship with their dad. John is the one who doesn't rebel against him (at least not until the play is over). I thought that this was a very funny show. Given that the main theme is betrayal and bad family relationships, I didn't think it would be. I really liked this show because it was funny and emotional and a lot of it was so unexpected.

I really liked all the witty lines that were in this show. A lot of the wit comes from the despair or confusion or hatred that the characters are feeling. They use wit to overpower people and to get over or hide their own sadness. I think Eleanor hides her fear during some of her lines, like when Henry says the day my sons work together will be the day pigs fly. And she, of course, replies with a sassy remark: "There'll be pork in the treetops come morning." And when Henry and Eleanor are having their daily friendly argument, there's a very funny line where Henry says that she'll let her bridge down for anybody and she says "there's not much traffic anymore." I think that was a very clever way to say, "Well, I don't get much attention anymore" and make him feel bad about what he did. Even though she is the same age, even younger, she doesn't get even half as much traffic as Henry. I think that is because old rich men are more appealing to young women than old rich ladies are to young men. I think it is terrible that the king gets as many women as he wants but the queen is locked away in a castle and it is supposed to be totally ok.

There is a recurring theme of betrayal in this show. Everybody betrays somebody in the course of the play, and most of the time more than one. The King of France betrays 4 people and all in the same scene! Alais betrays the Queen sometimes but sometimes she loves her and thinks of her as a mother. The sons betray each other at least once and all of them betray their father and then they betray their mother. And then they betray the King of France. I think the weird thing is that the parents do really love their kids; they are just not very good at showing it. The sons want the crown and they want all the power that they can get. When Richard breaks down with his mom, it made me think that maybe he did actually love her. And John loves his dad, but maybe only because his dad is the only one who loves him. It is kind of depressing to have everyone in the same family betraying each other when you feel like they should love each other. But there is such a heck of a load of betrayal that it becomes funny.

I found it very hard to see most of the male characters in this show as good people. You found the things that they did funny, but you didn't sympathize with them whatsoever. Geoffrey is a little bit different. Even though he does some bad stuff and he's plotting all the time, he is the underdog and that makes him a little more likable and understandable. He thinks he is so smart that nobody can stop him, but that isn't fully true in the end. Because the women were so mistreated and one of them didn't even really know what she was supposed to be doing, I found them more sympathetic. Eleanor is so clever and sassy, but mistreated, that you want to see her get justice. I found it weird that I only really sympathized with a few people, because usually there are only one or two villains in a play. This play was full of people who could be villains in other plays. I think that was super awesome and I really liked that because I usually enjoy watching villains more than heroes anyway, even if I don't like what they do.

People who would like this show are people who like loads of betrayal, sassy queens, and pork in the treetops. I think people should go see this show. I thought it was very funny and very clever. It was a great way to experience my first encounter with The Lion in Winter.

Photos: Tom McGrath

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Ada Grey Interviews for You: The SpongeBob Musical

I had so much fun interviewing Ethan Slater (SpongeBob), Danny Skinner (Patrick), Carlos Lopez (Mr. Krabs) and Nick Blaemire (Plankton) from The SpongeBob Musical. I'm really looking forward to seeing the show!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Review of Babes With Blades' 180 Degree Rule

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called 180 Degree Rule. It was by M.E.H. Lewis and Barbara Lhota and it was directed by Rachel Edwards Harvith. It was about this woman named Ruth Alice Bennett (Amy E. Harmon) and she was a female film director in the 30s and 40s. And she was in love with an actress named Margot Faber (Lisa Herceg) and it was about how they had to hide their relationship from everyone except their closest friends. There is also a woman who teaches about the movies named Katie Dunham (Kate Black-Spence) and she is trying to find out about Ruth's death as part of her research. This show was about love, trust, and prejudice in Hollywood. I thought this was a moving, fun, and beautiful show. I really loved the story. I had never seen a play about women directors in Hollywood and I thought it was a really powerful story. I would like to see more plays on this subject in the future.

One of my favorite scenes was when Margot and Ruth first meet and you can just see the spark between them when Ruth walks into the room. Ruth is working on backdrops and Margot is an actress in the movie. The director (Tommy Bullington) seems to disapprove of Ruth because she thinks it's ok to offer advice about directing to a famous director. She says there should be more longing in Margot and Gilbert Bailey's (Jason Andrew Narvy) lines in the scene. Then Margot and Ruth have their first kiss very unexpectedly and very suddenly. It shows that their relationship has been produced by movies and will always be connected to movies but then they continue to love each other off screen too. I feel like it is the start to a beautiful relationship and you can see it in their very first scene together. But then you can also see that it is not going to be easy all the time because they are both so committed to the movies that they don't want to reveal that they are lesbians to the public because both their careers could be ruined. I think it is very sad that they have to choose between the art that they love and the person that they love.

I thought that it was a great idea to have the character of Katie Dunham be such a big part of the show because she gives the perspective of an outsider looking in. But then she turns out to be a super big part of the story. You think she is an outsider but she turns out to have a lot of insight on all the characters' lives. One of my favorite parts is how she bribed the people she was talking to with their favorite food and drinks. It was funny how she knew exactly what they wanted and how they were willing to tell secrets they promised they would never tell for pie, which sadly sounds a little like me. I just found that absolutely hilarious, but at the same time it shows you how Katie really cares about finding out the truth because she did all this research on Ruth Alice Bennett and her friends, even what they liked to eat and drink.

I thought that the fights (violence design by Libby Beyreis) were super cool. There was one head bang on a table that looked completely real. I was a little afraid the actor actually got hurt! There was also another fight with Nazis that had a great story behind it and also was a great fight to watch. Those are my favorite kinds of fights, where it is not just about the hitting and the punching; it is also about having a good story to go along with it. I thought all the fights in the show were amazing, but I wasn't surprised because every single time that part of Babes with Blades shows blows me away!

People who would like this show are people who like awesome fights, sad but beautiful love stories, and pie. I think that people should definitely go see this show. I loved the story and the fights and everything about it. It is my favorite show at Babes with Blades since Bo Thomas and the Case of the Sky Pirates!

Photos: Johnny Knight

Friday, May 13, 2016

Review of The Few at Steep Theatre Company

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Few. It was by Samuel D. Hunter and it was directed by Brad Akin. It was about these people named QZ (Dana Black), Matthew (Travis Coe), and Bryan (Peter Moore). They all work or used to work for this newspaper for truckers. But Bryan has left for four years after his friend died and used to be in a serious relationship with QZ and has come back because he doesn't have anywhere else to go. It is about how no matter how long you leave somewhere, when you come back there will still be a shred of what used to be there. Even though the paper has changed and Matthew now works there and Bryan and QZ now argue all the time, it still feels like there is a little of the same paper and a little of the same people left. It is about people who are not very good at being people; they have trouble interacting and not hurting themselves or other people. Some of it is kind of depressing, but some of it is also kind of hopeful. I thought this was a really moving and funny show. I really enjoyed it a lot. You definitely need to get your brain working before you see this show because there are a lot of things to hypothesize or try to understand. And if you don't, you wouldn't be able to understand the show.

For their newspaper they have these personal ads where people will put out a little message in the newspaper so that they could find somebody to love. QZ has set up this voicemail so that she doesn't have to pick up the phone every time and people can still leave their message. QZ doesn't really want to pick up the phone because she would rather spend her time quietly playing Tetris. The game disconnects her from the outside world and in the world of Tetris there are no people asking her for help or telling her what to do there are just little colorful blocks. QZ wants the paper to keep going, and when Bryan is around she feels like she has to be really cool and like she is not hurt at all by him leaving. Bryan has a different way of coping. He doesn't distract himself from the messages; he listens to the messages even when he is not copying them. There is this one woman named Cindy who is trying to make one of the ads but doesn't really know how. And it is very funny because she doesn't really know what she is doing and she keeps trying to start over and talking to the answering machine like it will talk back. She seems like such a sweetheart, but it is also kind of sad and depressing because she asks for the person to be nonviolent, which probably means she was hit and abused by her last partner. I feel like this phone message sums up the entire play because she has some very very funny moments but then she is not a completely well character.

The BB gun scene was my favorite scene. I found it so hilarious because the way that Matthew acts is like it is a real gun and it is a dire situation and all he can do to save his cause is to shoot Bryan. The audience thinks it is a real gun at first, but then Bryan says that it is a BB gun and then everyone just kind of laughs it off. Matthew's cause is that he wants the paper to continue being up and running and he wants Bryan to work with him to make it more like it was when he read it as a kid. It shows you that Matthew is not a violent person, but he is trying to be very threatening for his cause. It is funny and sad, though, because this is what it has come to, shooting each other over a newspaper. And the BB gun, even though it isn't a real gun, does too much damage for a BB gun which I felt like was the funniest part because of Bryan's reaction and how he really thought he wouldn't get hurt. I found that very hilarious, especially when he chased Matthew around the room and Matthew said, "You can't catch me. I'm spry." It seemed like Matthew had made up a catch phrase, and it was an awesome one too!

When I started writing this review I couldn't entirely tell who the main character was. It might be Bryan because he has a big problem and now he is coming back to a new situation. It might be QZ because during the play she sees what she actually wants to do with her life. It might be Matthew because he is the one who discovers new things and he is the one who has a big cause. I thought that that uncertainty was really cool because you got to know all of the characters very well, instead of just really learning a lot about one and the others being on the sidelines. And you can say that there is no main character or that they are all the main characters. I felt like all of these characters, you understood them, but they couldn't understand themselves. Which I find very sad, now that I think about it. But in a weird way I think they understand each other, and that makes it less depressing. They are people who are so disappointed in themselves that they couldn't understand themselves, but I do think that it is kind of sweet that they understand where each other are coming from.

People who would like this show are people who like awesome catch phrases, equally fascinating characters, and Tetris. I think that people should definitely, definitely go see this show. I found it moving and lovely. I really loved it.

Photos: Gregg Gilman

Monday, April 4, 2016

Review of The Gift Theatre's Richard III at The Steppenwolf Garage

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Richard III. It was by William Shakespeare and it was directed by Jessica Thebus. It was about this man Richard (Michael Patrick Thornton) who was trying to kill and marry his way to being the king. He was not a good person, but he is pretty good at strategizing. And it is about people trying to thwart his plans and him trying to get what he wants. The only thing he fears is death. It is about determination, expectations, power, and ruthlessness. I thought this was a really cool show because the man who played Richard actually couldn't walk without machines and I felt like that added a lot to the story because you got to see what it was like to have a disability and not just an actor pretend to have a disability. And Richard actually has a disability, so that was appropriate. I felt like it was very interesting and I hadn't heard of a Richard III that had done this before.

I felt like Thornton was a very believable actor. I never felt like I could relate to Richard's kind of character before, or understand where he was coming from. But I felt like I really did in this show because of how he did his direct address. He did it sincerely and you could kind of understand where he was coming from. I didn't like the character's choices, but I did understand him. Most of the time he didn't seem very Shakespearean; he seemed very modern. If you didn't know that this was by Shakespeare, you might think it was written more recently, which I think is really cool. Thornton is using Shakespeare's language, but he speaks it as if that is how he spoke every day. The ghost scene at the end was the only time I felt disconnected from Richard. It is possible that that is what they were going for because it is a really weird scene. Richard is tired and seemed slightly more typically Shakespearean and there is paranormal activity, so that makes it a lot harder to believe. But overall I really did like the performance.

Margaret (Shanésia Davis) I think was the most sympathetic character in the show. She had gone crazy because of the death of her husband Henry VI. And she was also really cool because she could curse people. I liked that because she was kind of like a witch but not exactly because she did it for a good reason. This is the first witch I have seen in a Shakespeare play who was not evil. At first she is not very powerful; she has been banished. But then she starts cursing people and then eventually people start taking her seriously. I think that it is good to have a powerful woman character in the show because most of the powerful people are men. I'm not saying it is a feminist play at all, but it is good to have some female character that has some kind of power in a show that was written that long ago.

I thought the way that Richard got women was not a good way to do that task. He sees Anne and he says, "Oh, she'll get me closer to being king," and then he marries her and then when he feels like her job is done he'll have her murdered and pretend to be sad about it. And then he tries to do the same thing with Elizabeth's daughter after he has killed Elizabeth's other children. I feel like this is not the nicest way to get girls, especially because by that time Anne kind of knows that he is not a very good person, but she goes with him because she is vulnerable. It shows you that in this world, women are very vulnerable and don't exactly don't get to think about what is best for themselves. Margaret, however, finds a way: go crazy and be banished. But I don't think every woman should have to do that!

I thought that Young York (Brittany Burch) and Young Edward (Hannah Toriumi) might have been more believable and more sympathetic if they were portrayed by actual young boys. I think a lot of companies are scared to work with kids because they think they will be little monsters all the time and won't be productive. But by the experience I have had in theater with kids, if you get the right ones and in the audition make sure they understand direction and will be good to work with, then I think you can avoid making women pretend to be young boys, which can make the characters seem less realistic. I think I am the person who is most sensitive to this kind of casting because I'm a kid. A lot of people probably it didn't bother them.

People who would like this show are people who like murderous courtship strategies, believable villains, and crazy banished witches. I think that people should go see this show. I feel like it was a really cool, awesome, and new version of Richard III. I thought it was fun and afterwards I am still thinking a lot about it.

Photos: Claire Demos

Monday, March 28, 2016

Review of Strawdog Theatre Company's DOA

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called D.O.A. It was from the script by Russell Rouse and Clarence Greene and it was adapted and directed by Elizabeth Lovelady. It was about this man named Bigelow (Mickey O'Sullivan) and he had just gone on vacation to San Francisco. While he was there he was poisoned and told that he only had a few hours to live. And he spends those hours trying to find out who poisoned him. And he talks to his girlfriend/secretary Paula (Megan Skord) and tries to make up to her. It was about redemption, revenge, and determination. I found it super mysterious and cool and very exciting. I really liked this show.

The show was performed in a very small space, which I think made the show even cooler because you felt like you were right there in the scenes. All the set (Mike Mroch), costumes (Raquel Adorno), and props (Jamie Karas) were all in black and white. Most of the lighting (John Kelly) was very dark too. It made it more mysterious and feel more threatening. It also made it seem like a noir, black and white movie. It was like watching an old movie brought to life. I thought the makeup was super cool. I liked how it was black and white too. I also liked how people's faces were the only bit of color in the whole show. It was a cool contrast to have everything black and white and the skin color was the only kind of color that there was because it put together stylization and humanity.

I loved all the fights (by R&D Choreography). I felt so involved in the experience that when someone got out a gun, I was worried I would be shot myself. My favorite fight was the one where Bigelow and Chester (Sean McGill) were using flashlights so you would only see a part of the fight and then another flash of the fight and then darkness. It was super creepy, but I really loved it. I also really liked the fight between Paula, Mrs. Phillips (Carol Ludwick), and Ms. Foster (Kelsey Shipley). It really showed a lot of girl power and it was really action-packed and cool. Even though it wasn't a very long fight, it was really cool and I really liked it.

Paula and Ms. Foster were two of my favorite characters. They were super powerful and both of them were pretty clever. I think that Ms. Foster's planning was a little bit better, but then Paula foiled her plan and they had an awesome fight. I also thought it was really cool that they had Ms. Foster and Mrs. Phillips be in love with each other. I thought that was a really awesome update from the older story. I thought that Bigelow had a lot of flaws, but he was still a cool character. He seemed to really like his girlfriend, but he didn't tell her truth, and I don't understand why he would do something like that if he really loved his girlfriend.

People who would like this show are people who like noir, badass women, and flashlight fights. I think people should definitely go see this show. It was a really awesome and exciting experience, and I really loved seeing this show.

Photos: Tom McGrath