Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Ada Grey Interviews for You: Kalman Strauss of Adventure Stage Chicago's...

I had so much fun interviewing Kalman Strauss for Adventure Stage Chicago. He'll be appearing in Reprise there September 16 & 17, then traveling with the show to Scotland for the Home Away Festival, and coming back for education matinees in Chicago. I had a great talk with him. We filmed our interview, and here it is! Hope you enjoy it!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Review of Forks & Hope's A Hero's Journey

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called A Hero's Journey. It was written by Christian Stokes and the Forks & Hope ensemble. It was directed by Aileen McGroddy. It was about the stories of many heroes all put into one fabulous play. I thought this was a super moving show that was funny at the same time. It is one of my favorite Forks & Hope shows. I thought it was great how they incorporated their own life stories with the heroes' stories. I actually felt some tears near the end. I really loved this show and there is only one week left to see it.

Two kings had a very important part in the story: Arthur (Andrew Bailes) and Sejong (Josh Mattingly). King Arthur, as you probably already know, formed the Knights of the Round Table and was a King of England and he was very successful in his endeavors. Of course he had problems, like his wife having an affair with his best friend, which was not great for him. I really liked the use of props in the Arthur story. They didn't have a fancy sword for him to pull out of the stone. They had an umbrella, which I thought was really cool, because the entire show was like a bunch of friends talking about their lives. No one would have a glowing sword at a campsite, but they might have an umbrella. King Sejong was the other king who was king of Korea and he simplified the way to write the Korean language. That made it so poor people could be poets and send each other letters. I really liked the letter movement section of this story where everyone was writing invisible letters in the air and talking about what Sejong did for the world. Both kings had their bad times, but they still both were very good for the country that they ruled.

I really liked the Greek mythology characters. I've always really liked Greek myths and I like seeing the characters portrayed on stage. Both Odysseus (Errol McLendon) and Psyche (Kelsey Shipley) have stories that seem really real even though they are myths. They are both prone to temptation; both go on a journey for someone they love; and both find their loved one after trials in spiritual realms. I thought the feather scene with Psyche was very moving. It begins with Psyche under a sheet tossing and turning, deciding if she was going to look on her husband. The light was shining so you could only see her shadow and feathers falling. The feathers are from her husband Cupid's wings. She decides that she is going to look at him and that doesn't work out very well because when she finally sees him he flies away. And when she picks up the feathers Kelsey tells her real life story, which is heartbreaking and hopeful. Odysseus' story is all about his mother and trying to get back to her in time and so was the actor's. He talked about losing his own mother which was very sad. It was also about going on an adventure and leaving his home in Mississippi. Both the character's and the actor's stories are about leaving what you know behind to move forward.

Two of the stories were fables. One was about a Maiden (Casey Pilkenton) who lost her hand but still found her way. The other was the story of an Armadillo (Austin D. Oie) who couldn't speak but still found his song. They were both about finding your way in difficult situations. The Maiden's story was one of my favorites because there were actual very hard real-life situations in the story even though it was a fable. Casey's personal story was also very sad, but it applied to the Maiden's story because she was feeling left alone in the world and the person she depended on the most hurt her. But there is still hope in the stories. The Armadillo's story was about sacrificing everything to find your song. It was kind of about how hard it is to be a musician, which I do believe is true. I really liked the song at the end. I thought it was very moving. It was about finding your song and the pain you have to go through to get that, but it is all worth it.

People who would like this show are people who like beautiful real life stories mixed with folklore, feathers, and armadillos. I think people should definitely go see this show. I had so much fun. It made me laugh. It made me cry. It was really amazing.

Photos: Candice Conner,

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Review of Brown Paper Box Co.'s Now. Here. This.

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Now. Here. This. The book was by Hunter Bell and Susan Blackwell. The music and lyrics were by Jeff Bowen. It was directed by M. William Panek and the music direction was by T.J. Anderson. It was about a group of friends who went to the museum for a day and throughout the day they realized a lot about themselves. The night I saw it the cast was Neala Barron, Matt Frye, Nick Shoda, and Kristi Szczepanek, but Kristi's role was usually played by Anna Schutz. I really liked a lot of the performances but I felt like the script didn't really hold together as well as it could have. I might have liked it more if there had been more scenes that connected the characters instead of so many that had single characters talk to the audience about their lives. I also would have liked more connection between the scenes and the songs, but I still liked it.

The main idea for this show is that you should always be in the moment and not be distracted by anything. The first song, "What Are The Odds," was all about how amazing it is that we were all put together in the same place at the same time. I feel like this was a great way to start the show because it really got everyone hyped up for the show and it was really fun. And the ending song, "This Time," was all about being at this show together at this time. That one was more sweet than fun, and I liked it because it showed all of the friends' stories put together as one, which is what I wanted the entire show. They wanted everyone to be in the moment, so they didn't give you programs before. I love looking at the program and seeing what is about to happen. It is fun to anticipate and get excited for the show. I'm not sure what I think about always being in the moment. I like multitasking; I feel like I get more done when I work like that. Reviewing is kind of the opposite of being in the moment. It is all about reflection and I like it a lot. I do think that it is good to be in the moment a lot because then you don't miss what is right in front of you. But if you are always just in the moment, you could also miss something--like anticipation and reflection.

Grandmas were a important symbol of loss and family in this show. Everyone talked about their grandmas. You find out how everyone lost their grandma, which I think for everyone is usually a really big deal in their lives. It is very bittersweet because everyone loved their grandma but was sad that they died. I thought that the stories about the grandmas might even be the actors' stories about their grandmas because they were so emotional and passionate about telling these stories that it didn't seem like they were just saying lines. But I'm pretty sure they weren't because the stories all worked together really well. I thought the projections in this section were very cool. The grandmas looked like they could have been the actors' grandmas, which made them all the more fun and more tied into the story. My favorite story was Neala's character's because she talked all about these little mints her grandma would give her. It seemed really perfect and sweet.

I really liked the song "Dazzle Camouflage," which was about fabulously blending in. Nick's character was going to a middle school pancake supper to perform the character Ed Grimley from SNL. He is trying to impress everyone at the school with his hilarity. I thought this was a really hilarious song and I loved all his impressions. The choreography (by Jenna Schoppe) was really dazzle-ly and I loved it. There is still a touch of sadness in the song because he knows that he shouldn't tell anyone now that he is gay. That is sad, but you know that eventually he does tell everyone, so it is not all sad.

People who would like this show are people who like grandmas, living in the moment, and dazzle camouflage. I think people should see this show. I liked it and when I reflected on it after the show I realized a lot of awesome things I hadn't realized in the moment.

Photos: Zach Dries

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Review of Definition Theatre and The New Colony's Byhalia, Mississippi

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Byhalia, Mississippi. It was by Evan Linder and it was directed by Tyrone Phillips. It was about a married couple, Jim (Linder) and Laurel (Liz Sharpe) who were going to have a baby. But then, when Jim finds out that he is not the father, he is of course not very happy about that. I felt like this was a very very moving story about racism, family, love, and forgiveness. I really loved this show and felt like they dug deeply into the issues of the play.

They didn't just say, "racism is a bad thing," they actually showed complicated situations. Like one of the situations is that one of the characters, Karl (Jeffery Owen Freelon, Jr) thinks his best friend is a racist but he still loves him even though he is mad at him for that and he has to just give himself a clean break and not say "I hate you and never talk to me again" but just "I'll get back to you when I feel like I can talk to you again." Another complicated situation in the show is with Celeste (Cecelia Wingate), the mother of Laurel. There are a few moments where you can't specifically call her a racist, but you feel like she is, like when she calls the baby a thing, which makes him seem like something that is not human. But you don't know if it is racist because we don't know if in other situations where she knew her daughter had been cheating on her husband she would still blame it on the kid. She also doesn't feel like the crib is safe that Karl makes, but we don't ever see the crib so we don't know if she is just saying that because it was built by an African-American man. They don't make it easy to say, "This woman is racist and I hate her." She seems to be racist, but she also loves her daughter and seems to have suffered through a lot with her husband. The play says racism is a bad thing, but you can have sympathy for and love for people who are racist and sometimes it is hard to prove to someone that they are being racist.

They also showed you what it is like to be the person whose heart is broken and the person who broke the heart, and that both of them don't feel good about themselves. The thing is that Jim and Laurel have both done equally terrible things, but Jim makes a point of saying that what she did was worse because she got pregnant. That isn't fair because they did the same thing, they just didn't turn out the exact same way. I still feel like both of what they did was not justified, but one thing wasn't worse than the other. I feel like they should both forgive each other, because it is clear that they both love each other so much even after so much heartbreak. The ending clarifies their decision, but doesn't make it seem like none of it ever happened. I think it is more realistic. Forgiveness is saying we can try this again, but you still did what you did and it hurt me, and it can't just never have happened. Ayesha (Kiki Lane) has a different way of dealing with her husband cheating. She says, "You have proven yourself to not be responsible enough to make decisions, so I'm taking charge." I think she does not forgive him, but continues because of her children. I think that is very sweet but at the same time very sad because she obviously doesn't want to be with him anymore.

I noticed the word plan was used a lot about humans in this show. Jim and Laurel both say that they are each others' plan still. And Laurel says it about the baby. I feel like plan is the right word because it is not certain. People are not reliable; they do the wrong thing sometimes. But you still rely on them. The word plan is saying this is what I want to do. So when you call a person your plan you are saying this is the person I want to spend my time on. Plan doesn't only mean human. It can also mean an actual literal plan like Laurel's plan to say the only rule in her house was be kind and be truthful. I think that her mother has completely messed her up, and she doesn't want to do that to her own kid. Her mother pretended that she never knew her husband was cheating, which means she was lying to herself and to everyone. The plan shows you that Laurel has come out from her mistake changed. The next generation may be more truthful, less racist, and more forgiving because of the mistakes that have been made.

People who would like this show are people who like plans, moving shows, and forgiveness. I think that people should definitely go see this show. I thought it was a beautiful and heartbreaking story and I'm glad that I got to see it.

Photos: Evan Hanover

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Review of Kokandy Productions' Tomorrow Morning

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Tomorrow Morning. The book, music, and lyrics were by Laurence Mark Wythe. It was directed by John D. Glover, with music direction by Kory Danielson. It was about a young couple, John (Neil Stratman) and Kat (Tina Naponelli), and an older couple, Catherine (Teressa LaGamba). It is about love, forgiveness, and how hard relationships are. This was a fun show that still had a lot of strong feelings, and I enjoyed it.

I really liked the song "The Reasons Behind Our Impending Divorce" because it was a catchy song but at the same time it was pretty sad--but slightly funny too. It was very complicated, and that's why I liked it. The song is Jack and Catherine singing about why they are getting a divorce and also at the same time about why they don't want to get a divorce. And on the other side of the stage Kat and John are madly in love, and that provides tension and sadness, because you see that they are so in love that they can't think about anything else, but the song shows you that love can fade over time, which is sad but true. I thought that both Jack and Catherine's voices were amazing and that they accentuated their feelings in the song. What they were saying was very powerful.

"The Secret Tango" was a very funny song. In the song, Kat was worrying if she would fit in her wedding dress and look beautiful enough on her wedding day and also making a lot of dieting jokes, which I thought was funny. One of my favorite lines was that she would get up in the night just to eat a Snickers bar. But my absolute favorite was how passionately she would sing about ice cream. Basically what she kept talking about was all the food she wanted to eat and it made me hungry. And then you find out the reason later why she is so hungry all the time, though I figured out why before they told me. I think that it is ok that I figured it out though, even though it is related to the big reveal at the end of the show, which I also figured out early, because the show is not really about the big reveal but about the relationships between the characters.

I also really liked the song "Look What We Made." I thought it was super sweet. It is about how beautiful their kid is, or will be, and how no matter what they are going to love that kid even if he becomes annoying or is mean to them. It is also about all the good things about the kid. I thought this was one of the most emotional and moving songs in the show. Both the dads who are singing the song are not very happy people at the time, but to see this glimmer of hope is really touching. I don't identify as much as the parents in the audience probably did, because they know what it is like to love your child so much that you would do anything for them and no matter what you would still love them. That doesn't always happen in romantic relationships, which is the point that the show is making. Romantic relationships don't always work out, but when you have a kid the most important person in your life changes to that kid and you have to do everything for that kid.

People who would like this show are people who like touching songs about parenthood, powerful voices, and passionately singing about ice cream. I thought this show had really talented actors and it was fun to talk about afterwards. I think that people who are actually married will identify with it and enjoy it even more than I did!

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Review of Emerald City Theatre's Schoolhouse Rock Live!

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Schoolhouse Rock Live. The book was by Scott Ferguson, George Keating, and Kyle Hall based on the series by George Newall and Tom Yohe. The music and lyrics were by Lynn Ahrens, Bob Dorough, Dave Frishberg, Kathy Mandry, and Newall and Yohe. It was directed by Morgan Ashley Madison. It was about this guy named Tom (Ron King) who was a school teacher. And then different parts of his mind--evidently named Dori (Eliza-Jane Morris), George (Jed Feder), and Shulie (Emily Goldberg)--were helping him make learning fun by singing a lot of Schoolhouse Rock songs. I liked the songs a lot and it was fun to see the songs done on stage. I felt like there wasn't much of a story though, even though they kind of pretended there was. This was a very silly and fun show.

I've always really loved the song "Just a Bill," and I thought in this show they did some really fun stuff with it. They had George dress up like the bill (costumes by Sarah Jo White) and then the women would dress up like people who worked in the government. They had debates on stage about this bill and then the bill became a law, and because it is anthropomorphic you feel like, no matter what this bill is, that you are glad it became a law. If we actually knew what the bill was, we might not be so happy it became a law. But it is really celebrating how the government works, the government system, not a specific law.

I really liked the song "The Tale of Mr. Morton." It is still stuck in my head. It is about predicates and the subjects of sentences. It is also about a very lonely man, who is a crazy cat man kind of, but he meets a woman who also likes him, which is great for him because now he doesn't have to just talk to his cat anymore. I find that this is one of the catchiest songs in Schoolhouse Rock. I think it has a very good beat and very easy-to-remember lyrics.

I thought the dances for the songs (choreography by Madison) seemed really fun and I could see that everyone on stage was working their butts off. Those dances require a lot of jumping around and energy on stage, and they really did do that well. One of my favorite parts was the box turning in "Three is a Magic Number." I thought it was engaging and very fun to watch. Another of my favorite dances was the one for "Unpack Your Adjectives." The dance told a story which I thought was super cool. It had this section where they ran into a bear and they screamed and ran away and then immediately started dancing which I thought was funny.

People who would like this show are people who like Schoolhouse Rock songs, number boxes, and anthropomorphic bills. I think a lot of people would enjoy going to this show with younger kids. It would be a new experience for the little kids and these songs are still fun and relevant.

Photos: Johnny Knight

Monday, July 11, 2016

Review of The Cuckoo's Theater Project's Anon(ymous)

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Anon(ymous). It was by Naomi Iizuka and it was directed by Rocco Renda. It was about a man named Anon, who I think is based on Odysseus, and the adventures that he goes on with the help of a goddess, Naja (Aziza Macklin) after he has been shipwrecked fleeing from a war with his mother, Nemasani (Priya Mohanty). On his journey to find his mom he makes plenty of friends and plenty of enemies. It is about love, modern-day crises with mythology mixed in, and persistence. This was a moving show. I liked it and I thought that it made some really good points about war, family, and immigrant experience.

I noticed a lot of characters from the Odyssey, and I am a big Greek mythology fan so I noticed a lot of references. I think those references were really fun. I noticed the Cyclops was a butcher named Mr. Zyclo (Jack Wright) who ate people. In the modern day people don't have the same fears as they used to, like Cyclopses and three-headed dogs. Now we are scared of mass murderers and guns and robbers. I also noticed Athena who was Naja. In the Odyssey, Athena is the one who is helping Odysseus. And in this version Naja is helping Anon. In this version their relationship is more romantic. I felt like it gave more romantic tension to the plot, which was good.

I also noticed Penelope who was Odysseus's wife, but in this version the woman called Penny was his mother. This one more payed tribute to the Odyssey instead of just laying it out, because they make a point that her name is not really Penelope, but her name is just "too hard" to pronounce. That's what the boss, Mr Yuri Mackus (Wright) says. He is like the suitors of Penelope who all want to marry her, and he wants to marry her too. I think it was a good decision to have the Penelope figure not be Anon's wife but his mother because he did a lot of things that would make you not like him as much if he were married, like kiss Naja. He rescues his mom from the boss because he loves her and not because she's his property, and I liked that better.

A really cool aspect of this show is that a lot of the people wore masks (by Amber Lee Olivier). That showed that all these people were kind of hidden to Anon. He's different from everybody else because he is not wearing a mask, and that makes him Anonymous to everyone else. It is kind of like reversing the mask. At one point everybody in the workhouse was wearing masks except the mother and that made her kind of the strange one, and then she is rescued by someone who is like her, her son, who is also not wearing a mask. I thought the entire concept of the masks was great and the masks were beautiful.

This show really made me consider the position of an immigrant, which can be complete confusion and distress because you are the outsider and some people don't feel like you fit in. At the beginning there was a poem about how beautiful Anon and Nemasani's home was and how there were huge butterflies and leaping frogs, but then one day a war started and they couldn't do anything about it. But they still want to go home because that was their home and they loved that place. But they can't can't go home because the place is destroyed and could actually hurt them. It is very complicated.

People who would like this show are people who like Odyssey references, beautiful masks, and epic stories about immigrant experiences. I think that people should go see this show. It's a moving mix of Greek myth and what's happening in our world today. I really liked it!

Photos: Sussan Pirll