Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Review of Ideation at Jackalope Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Ideation. It was by Aaron Loeb. It was directed by Gus Menary. It's about a group, who all worked for the same company, that has been set with the task of making a plan to get rid of people who had this deadly virus that was going to spread across the world. They are trying to decipher what this plan is actually supposed to do, where they are in the system, and how they can make this plan morally justifiable. It is about trust, humanity, and what we don't know about but still believe. I thought that this was a super fun, intriguing, and altogether awesome show. I really enjoyed it.

I think the characters in this show are very human; it was fascinating to see all their different responses to the same situation. When it comes to solving the problem of getting rid of infected people, Hannah (Rachel Sullivan) doesn't want it to be painful. I found it interesting that even though she is having an affair, which is not a very moral thing, she still doesn't want people to get hurt. It is ironic because she is doing something that could potentially hurt her friends and family. Sandeep (Kaiser Zaki Ahmed) wants to get the job done and he thinks it is a very serious topic. He is also trying to be moral, which means he questions the whole project. But he is also having an affair, which shows that even people who are very moral do immoral things. Then there is Ted (Michael Kingston) who has a wife and two kids and is altogether the dad of the group. They call him "Papa Bear." I think that he is the least concerned out of everyone as to what might be actually going on with the assignment. He thinks it is childish to make up theories as to what is going on when he thinks they should just be doing the assignment. Brock (Japhet Balaban) is the most obsessed with figuring out who is behind the scheme; he turns against everyone at some point. He might be paranoid, but he explores so many options that there is a chance that one of them is actually true. He came up with this system where they would have V equals a number to indicate what level they are and how much they know. And if they think somebody knows more than "one," they could be the person behind all of this. I think it is really interesting how he came up with this secret code to describe what level people were at in the system.

Very early in the show you get to learn what many of the characters are like when they get agitated. It is all because of the the intern, Scooter (Henry Greenberg), who is the son of one of the board members. And he keeps pretending that he did things, like set up the room or get coffee when he was asked, even though he obviously didn't. He can't avoid talking and correcting people if he thinks they are wrong, which shows he is not a very good notetaker, which is supposed to be his job. They fire him, but that might be a problem because his father is on the board and might get mad. He's kind of a Draco Malfoy character because he is running to his father to save him from the mean guys who are doing the right thing by firing him. We see that Hannah, though she is one of the most irritated by Scooter, is also the most afraid of losing her position because she is so high up. I think Brock hates Scooter the most and is the most aggressive in dealing with him. That might be because they are kind of similar. He's everything Brock might not like about himself, like how he wants to be in control even in a room where he is not the one with the most power. I think that because Ted has kids, he understands both Brock and Scooter and how power is so important to them. Kids are not really allowed that much power, so they can become power hungry when they get to the real world.

This play about killing a bunch of possibly diseased people is actually quite humorous some of the time. Here are some of my favorite funny moments. Whenever Ted was feeling stressed, he'd go to Starbucks for a petite scone, which I think is an absolutely amazing idea because who couldn't go for a petite scone when they are stressed? But it is not as traditional as going outside to get a breath of fresh air. Petite scones is just a funny name in the first place. And to have it be a substitute for a breath of fresh air is just hilarious. Another really funny moment was when they were searching for listening devices in the room because they were sure they were being spied on. They think, "We should listen to some music really loud so they can't hear what we are saying." And Ted starts playing "How Far I'll Go" from Moana, because it was the last thing he was playing on his phone. And they start frantically tearing through the room looking for places that might be bugged. And this goes on for several minutes and it was perfectly hilarious because they were listening to this kids' song played insanely loud and everything was going to crap. There were also some jokes that were more on the dark side. An example of this is when they are riffing on the idea that Sandeep has a new album called Color Me Incredulous, with the new hit single "You Can't Bury That Many Bodies at Sea." That seemed so much like a joke people would make without actually thinking about it. Like I make dark jokes like that when I am working on projects with friends. I hope I wouldn't make a joke in this serious a situation, but I think when people do, it is because they are not really thinking about it and they want the humor to defuse the serious situation.

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

Photos: Joel Maisonet

Monday, June 19, 2017

Review of Pass Over at Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Pass Over. It was by Antoinette Nwandu and it was directed by Danya Taymor. It was about two men named Kitch (Julian Parker) and Moses (Jon Michael Hill) and they seem to be living on a street corner and they want to escape the danger of where they live; they want to pass over. Mister and Ossifer (both played by Ryan Hallahan) were both trying to stop them. Kitch and Moses are best friends trying to survive and go to a place where they will always be accepted, won't have to be afraid, and have access to things that comfort them. It is about brotherhood, racism, and getting to the promised land. I thought that this was an amazing show. It was super moving, funny, and terrifying in a real way. I loved it.

I think that there are a lot of similarities between this show and Waiting for Godot, like how the the two main characters are opposites. Moses is more like Gogo and Kitch is more like Didi. (Gogo is the pessimist and Didi is the optimist.) They are also trying to get away from where they are. In Godot, Didi and Gogo are always wondering why they can't leave. And in Pass Over, they are also waiting to leave. They also think about killing themselves in both plays. In Godot they want to hang themselves with their belts from a tree, but they discover that one of them might be left behind because one of them could kill themselves and, if the belt broke, the other wouldn't be able to die. In Pass Over they discover the same fact, but instead it is about hitting each other over the head with a rock. I almost started crying because I didn't want them to die, but there was also humor in the scene because they kept realizing how their plan was flawed. The set (by Wilson Chin) was also kind of similar because they have one prominent tall feature, which in Godot is a tree and in Pass Over is a lamppost. It gives you the same feeling because even though there are a lot of trees in the country and a lot of lampposts in the city, we never really notice lampposts and we never really notice trees because they are such a normal part of our everyday life, but when they are isolated they stand out and it gives you a very lonely feeling. Another similarity that Godot and Pass Over have is that hats (costume design by Dede Ayite) are a big part the show. Ossifer's police hat shows the authority he has, and when they take the badge and the hat he becomes powerless. Mister only seems to take off his hat when he is pissed off, which is kind of the opposite of Ossifer. Kitch uses his hat to hide pie, and he really loves food and it is like one of the biggest parts of what he hopes his life will be like when he passes over.

The first scene where Kitch and Moses meet Mister, Mister is bringing food to his mother's house Little-Red-Riding-Hood style. He has lost his way and he decides he should share some food with Kitch and Moses so it doesn't go to waste. But the thing is, he is more like the wolf when you actually get to know him. He has a much darker side when you get to know him. There was one moment where Moses and Kitch ask what to call him, and he says they should call him Master. And everyone in the audience and in the play is like, "Hold the phone." You find out that is just his name, but it still scares you because he is the white guy with a fancy white suit who could remind people of a plantation master. You are scared for Kitch and Moses because you are not sure what Mister means by that or what authority he has. This character seems less dangerous than Ossifer at first because he seems to want to be friendly and give them some food. He seems to be a friendly guy whistling "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'" and giving out food, but he turns out to be representing racism, white privilege, and the danger of people who have always gotten what they want and think everything belongs to them. This scene shows Kitch and Moses hungry but afraid of what might happen if they continue to eat. I thought it was very sad and terrifying. I think the playwright was trying to make the audience feel the same way that Kitch and Moses were feeling: scared, uncomfortable, and hungry. I think they did a really good job of making us feel those emotions.

Even though this play talks about some very serious and terrifying things, that doesn't mean it doesn't have funny moments. The relationship between Kitch and Moses was very sweet and funny in a lot of scenes. The humor didn't seem fake or planned. It seemed very genuine, like when you are hanging out with your friends and you are just goofing around. I really enjoyed watching their joking interactions play out; it was a lot of fun to witness. There was a recurring moment where Kitch would order room service from a fancy hotel in his mind. And he would always order caviar and tell them not to forget the "caviahhhr". He ordered it in a fancy British voice. I don't think even if he had come into a lot of money, he would have immediately sprouted a British accent! Then Moses has to break it to Kitch that caviar is fish eggs, and Kitch is very grossed out by that. It was very funny because he kind of recoiled from his fantasy and then they talked about how they could write a whole book about what Kitch doesn't know, which shows you how much they are like brothers because they are not afraid to tell each other the blatant truth in a humorous way. There was also another recurring joke about weed. Kitch asks Moses if he wants some weed. And Moses says, "No, If we are going to get off the streets we have to be respectable." And then there is like a long pause and then Moses says he does want some. But then Kitch says he doesn't have any. And Moses gets really mad and later tries to get back at him, which I found very funny. Sometimes when there is humor, there is a sad element to it. Like when they are trying not to say the N-word because they think that will make it so they won't get shot. But then it is very hard for them not to do that because they are so used to saying it. And when they are trying to tell the other person not to say that word, they use it to address them, which was hilarious, but it was sad they were trying to speak in a way they didn't usually speak just because they were afraid.

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

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Review of Griffin Theatre Company's Ragtime

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Ragtime. The book was by Terrence McNally, based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow, and the lyrics were by Lynn Ahrens. The music was by Stephen Flaherty with new orchestrations by Matt Deitchman. Music direction was by Jermaine Hill and Ellen Morris. Choreography was by William Carlos Angulo. It was directed by Scott Weinstein. It was about the residents of Harlem, the rich white people, and the immigrants in New York at the beginning of the 20th century. It is about history, justice, and what America looks like. I think this is a really moving and beautiful show. I think the story is, really sadly, relevant today even though they are talking about a hundred years ago. It was an amazing show and I really enjoyed it.

My favorite storyline was about Sarah (Katherine Thomas) and Coalhouse Walker, Jr. (Denzel Tsopnang). Their performances were almost flawless, which is not even exaggerating. I keep thinking about how amazing they were and will bring it up in random conversations because they were so fantastic. "Your Daddy's Son" was a song that Sarah sang to her baby to help him fall asleep which was basically about how he reminds her of his father and kind of asking for forgiveness for abandoning him. This song is still making me cry as I'm writing this. She clearly misses Coalhouse but she doesn't want to give in to actually seeing him. It is a bittersweet song and she performed it so well. "Wheels of a Dream" was their first duet, which was about how they wanted their son to have the best life he could, which was really sweet and probably the most happy song they would sing. They were so hopeful. And then their wheels of a dream get destroyed by these stupid racist firemen (Joe Capstick and Jonathan Schwart) who break their car. "Coalhouse's Soliloquy" is the song he sings right after he has faced a terrible tragedy. It was so deeply felt and it was a beautiful melody and sung beautifully. It was basically about how he would never do anything fun again because he would miss the person he lost so much. I can't even talk about "Sarah Brown Eyes," their second duet, because I'll start crying on the spot. But it was absolutely heartbreaking, goddarnit.

"He Wanted to Say" was a song about how Mother's Younger Brother (Matt Edmonds), when he was trying to join forces with Coalhouse, wanted to say so many things that he didn't. It is led by Emma Goldman (Neala Baron) and Coalhouse also wanted to say things in this song. The song is about what people want to say but don't. If they were to say those things, things may have turned out differently. In this song, all the different groups of people were together; we see an immigrant, a privileged white person, and someone who is black. I think that is what the entire play is going for, to make everyone come together and to help everyone see each other's side of the story.
The song "Justice" is the beginning of Coalhouse's dream of everyone understanding each other. But then he starts to go off the rails because he is understandably impatient because he has been working for years on getting people to understand each other. He just wants a better life for everyone already, but he realizes that people are a lot more cruel than he thought and it is not just a matter of breaking cars anymore. So he turns to violence, which he eventually decides against at the last minute. But sadly he doesn't get the peace that he was hoping he would get. The play thinks all groups in America should work togethers, but it recognizes that it is really hard to get that.

This show also had some fun moments, like "The Getting Ready Rag" where the residents of Harlem (Marcellus Burt, Danielle Davis, Frederick Harris, Arielle Leverett, Alanna Lovely, and Juwon Tyrel Perry) help Coalhouse get ready to go see Sarah. It was super fun and by the end of the song everyone seemed to be having a very good time dancing along. "What a Game" was about the Father (Scott Allen Luke) and the Little Boy (Ben Miller) going to a ballgame and how it was not as refined as the father remembered. One of the funny moments was because the other people at the ballgame were swearing and yelling at the players, and the father was trying to keep the son from swearing. It was kind of adorable and also kind of hilarious. The father doesn't really understand what the world is like because he hasn't really seen that much of the world despite all the places he's traveled. He doesn't want to face anything that isn't exactly what he wants.

People who would like this show are people who like heartbreaking romances, the history of learning to understand each other, and swearing at ballgames. I think people should definitely go see this show. It is really amazing and it moved me to tears. I loved it!

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Review of Chimera Ensemble's The Totalitarians

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Totalitarians. It was by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb, and it was directed by Scott Westerman. It was about a woman named Francine (Vered Hankin) who was a campaign manager for Penelope Easter (Rachel Slavick) who was running for office in Nebraska. Francine's husband Jeffrey (Brian Sheridan) is a doctor and has a patient named Ben (David Lovejoy) who convinces him to come to a park with him to talk about this conspiracy theory he has about Penelope Easter: that she is going to turn the government into a totalitarian regime. It is about politics, conspiracy theories, and how terrible people are. A lot of people already know there is a lot about the government that is corrupt, but they show it to you in this show in an exaggerated way.

Each act opens with one or two men talking through a kazoo and they are wearing black hoodies and masks over their faces. They are saying stuff through the kazoos, but you can't understand what they are saying. It is pretty funny because they are clearly trying to say something important, but you can't understand them. Also, Ben would start coughing and then apologize through the kazoo for the coughing, which is funny to me. They are trying to seem mysterious and scary, but they come off as harmless and silly because they are apologizing through a kazoo. You do find out later that one of them is actually capable of killing people, and it makes you see these scenes as more menacing.

I like when plays have women in power in them and this play certainly did do that. People listen to Penelope and she is trying to get power and is very forceful about it. Francine is using her speechwriting skills to get Penelope power and also to boost her own career. She uses key words like freedom, so people will say, "That's exactly what I want!" without the speechwriter or candidate actually saying anything. But just because these characters had power, that didn't mean they used their power for good or anything that didn't seem purely self-centered. I think the play is saying that these particular women get their power by telling people what they want to hear, even if what they are saying doesn't really make sense. The men with the kazoos are like the opposite of that because they are saying something that makes sense, but no one understands them.

I think humor can be used to make points about politics, but the humor in this show didn't always work for me because the humor sometimes seemed gross and mean. I was often too troubled to laugh, even though some other people in the audience were laughing. It doesn't seem like they want you to understand or care about the characters. The characters didn't seem to have a lot of layers. I think the point they were trying to make about the characters was that everyone is basically terrible. I think that is a valid point to make, but I didn't really enjoy watching it be made. I enjoy seeing more into why people are doing things, even if I don't agree with what they are doing. I think even if villains aren't doing the right thing, it doesn't mean they don't have interesting stories. I also like to see features on characters that are something you can identify with. I like it when plays offer explanations and explorations rather than just criticizing.

People who would like this show are people who like nonsensical speeches, gross humor, and kazoo apologies. This show was funny at points to me and it had some good performances. I think the play has important things to say about politics, they just didn't always do that in the ways I prefer.

Photos: Justin Miller

Monday, June 12, 2017

Review of Irish Theatre of Chicago's The My Way Residential

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The My Way Residential. It was by Geraldine Aron and it was directed by Kevin Theis. It was about a woman named Willa (Belinda Bremner) who had just been sent to an old folks' home, and she was not very happy about it. But she ends up meeting a young man named Byron (Terry Bell) from South Africa who works there. They develop a close bond and become family to each other. It is about friendship, learning about another culture, and neglect. I think that this is a really powerful and fun show. It made me laugh and it made me cry; it gave me all the feels.

This was a good show, and you'll see how much I loved it in the rest of the review, but I felt like the script was slightly flawed. I felt like it exaggerated characteristics of some of the characters to show how terrible they were. I don't think they needed to be so terrible for it to still make sense that Willa and Byron didn't like being where they were. Willa's daughter, Catherine (Carolyn Kruse), was not really a very good daughter or a good wife. The author made it so she did so many terrible things, like not visit her mother at the home because she had to go sleep with this guy who wasn't her husband, that she seemed villainous. I think it would have been more interesting if they had given more layers to that characters. I don't think Jack (Jeff Christian), her husband, was a needed character because you don't really get to know much about him other than that he is very posh and not very interesting to his wife. Sister Chang (Christine Bunuan) was the manager of the home. She was another character who seemed pretty evil. She would break into residents' rooms and steal their chocolate, and what is worse that stealing chocolate!? The problem is that she doesn't really have a backstory or a reason why she is doing all these bad things. By no means was it the actors' faults. They were just doing what the roles asked. I've found all these actors very layered and likable in other shows I've seen them in.

There were a lot of sweet moments between Byron and Willa in this show. They show you the connection they have built, and it is super sweet to see their relationship grow over time. One of my favorite moments was when they were celebrating Willa's birthday and Byron showed her gumboots, which was a dance that he learned in South Africa. She was just so captivated by the dance and found it so exciting, and it was just adorable. The dance consists of hitting rubber boots in a rhythmic pattern while stomping and shouting. I thought it was super cool. He is sharing a part of his culture and she shares a part of her culture, also known as fig rolls! They also planned the house together that he was going to build in South Africa, with a veranda. They decided against having two verandas, because if one had the better view, why would you ever go on the second veranda? This scene showed you that even though their cultures are quite different, they had a lot in common--like their practicality and their love of verandas. He does respect her opinions and takes her seriously, but sadly he is the only one who does. The bathtub scene was really moving because Byron basically rescues Willa from being stuck in the bathtub forever, but he has to do it without opening his eyes because she doesn't want him seeing her nude in the bath. He sings her a lullaby afterwards to calm her down. It is really moving and beautiful to watch.

There were also a lot of funny moments in the show. Byron told a story about a man in his village whose girlfriend lived across these crocodile-infested waters. And he had just gotten new shoes that he wanted to show off to his girlfriend. But to cross the waters he couldn't wear the shoes, so he had to balance them on his head. The people watching him saw a crocodile coming up behind him and what they saw was.... Then Byron said, "...him putting on his clothes and his girlfriend liked the shoes very much and they were married soon after." I thought this was a very funny story because it all turned out okay, but he had Willa and everyone in the audience on the edge of their seat waiting to find out what happened to the guy in the crocodile waters. Also, there was a scene where Byron was warning Willa about the drugged cupcakes that Sister Chang would give to residents if they caused trouble. And he starts to give her tips about how people act when they have been drugged by the cupcake, so she can pretend to be drugged when she isn't. After she tries it the first time, he says, "No. No. More like you're drunk!" And then they simultaneously start acting like they are plastered, slurring and twirling their fingers, and it is hilarious.

People who would like this show are people who like gumboots, verandas, and pretending to be drugged by cupcakes. I think this is such a good show and people should go see it. It has great actors, an intriguing storyline, and shows a really sweet relationship. I really enjoyed it.

Photos: Emily Schwartz

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Review of Her Majesty's Will at Lifeline Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Her Majesty's Will. It was adapted by Robert Kauzlaric based on the book by David Blixt, and it was directed by Chris Hainsworth. It was about William Shakespeare (Javier Ferreira) and Kit Marlowe (Bryan Bosque) who go on a mission together to save Queen Elizabeth from Catholic rebels (LaQuin Groves, Mike Ooi, Don Bender, and Martel Manning). This play reminds me a lot of fan fiction, which is a good thing, because it is a lot of fun to nerd out about Elizabethan playwrights. I think this is a really fun and conceptually intriguing show. I was always wrapped up in the story and interested to see how the relationships between the characters unfolded.

The set (designed by Eleanor Kahn) was really cool. It was mobile; many part of the stage could move around and become different things. It reminded me of Elizabethan stages because they made it so there were two levels to the stage and it was very simple but it wasn't boring. It could quickly change from being a carriage to the stage of Newington Butts (which is a very silly name) or a tavern to a bearbaiting ring. A place like The Globe didn't have elaborate sets either, so everyone would have to use their imaginations to feel where they were. So this set made you feel like you were actually at an Elizabethan theater. There was a character who was the Chorus (Heather Chrisler) who was basically the guide to the story and talked to the audience about what characters were thinking. It is very Elizabethan to have a Chorus, which is another thing they used to make the story clearer and show where scenes take place. I wish they had given the Chorus more to do, though, because I felt like it would have been nice to see more of a relationship established between her and Shakespeare because then the ending, when they are sad to see each other go, would have made more sense to me. I think it would have been helpful to have had another female actor so that they could establish more what each female character's role in the story was. She was good at playing different parts and distinguishing each one from the other, but I still think it would have been helpful to have another female actor to give the other one more time to play the Chorus.

Marlowe and Shakespeare were really adorable because they had this (for awhile) unspoken romance. They seemed to really enjoy spending time together and wanted to be more than friends, but Marlowe was slightly more open about it than Shakespeare was. I think Shakespeare was still figuring out his sexuality, and Marlowe was not. He knew who he was and who he was attracted to. And Christopher Marlowe was actually openly gay and people were more okay with that back then. I find it infuriating that we haven't really gone forward with our views over time because people have become less tolerant rather than more. One of my favorite scenes between them was when they stole a carriage and they thought they might have actually kidnapped the queen. They were talking back and forth about what the possibilities were of who was inside the carriage. Marlowe seems pretty cool about it because he knows what he is doing. But Shakespeare is freaking out because he is thinking of all the possibilities of who they could have accidentally kidnapped. They seem good for each other because they each have something the other hasn't. Marlowe has self-confidence in who he is and Shakespeare thinks through things and takes small steps before he takes a big one. The reason why they are such a good couple, I think, is because they teach each other about things. Marlowe teaches Shakespeare how to be a good spy and how to accept who he is, and Shakespeare teaches Marlowe about what love is. That is very corny, I know, but it is very true.

They had a lot of clever jokes about Shakespeare, jokes about how his life would pan out. People say he stole ideas for his plays and this play hints at that when Shakespeare says, after just seeing The Spanish Tragedy that was written by Thomas Kyd, who is someone he imitated, "I would never steal from anyone!" It was just kind of a playful wink. The Spanish Tragedy also sounds a lot like Faustus to me, which is pretty funny because that would mean that both Shakespeare and Marlowe were like, "Hey! You want to steal from this guy? " "Sure!" They also show you where some of the ideas for Shakespeare's characters come from. Like Sir Toby Belch and Falstaff seem to be based on Kit Marlowe's friend Robert Greene (Peter Greenberg) who seems to basically live in a bar, talk about how awesome his stomach is, and have a younger girlfriend. There was also a fool, Dick Tarlton (Dan Cobbler), who was another one of Kit's friends. He reminded me a lot of Feste who was another singing fool. He helps Shakespeare and Marlowe escape from the Catholic rebels, and you can imagine that Shakespeare might have put him in a play to thank him for what he did. The whole play was a lot like Twelfth Night. Marlowe disguises himself as a woman, so he's like Viola. Shakespeare is like Orsino because he is in love with Viola and finds out who he really is. Or maybe they are also Sebastian and Antonio. And there is a lot of adventure in both plays. Shakespeare's nemesis, Sir Thomas Lucy (Cobbler) reminded me a lot of Malvolio. The only thing that would have confirmed that for me is if he had worn yellow stockings.

People who would like this show are people who like Elizabethan stagecraft, adorable couples, and stealing from Thomas Kyd. I think that people should go see this show. It is such a fun experience. I really liked it.

Photos: Cole Simon

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Review of About Face Theatre's Bright Half Life

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Bright Half Life. It was by Tanya Barfield and it was directed by Keira Fromm. It was about two women, Erica (Elizabeth Ledo) and Vicky (Patrese D. McClain), who are a couple in New York. The show takes place over about 45 years and you see them learn things together and grow together and grow apart. It is about what truly makes a person happy, how somebody can shape your life, and love. I think this is a very beautiful show. It has so many adorable and sad moments. It really spoke to me, and I felt very close to both the characters. Whenever they would feel hurt, I would feel hurt. Whenever they would feel happy, so would I. It made me realize how beautiful and hard life can be at the same time. This is just a really amazing show. I really really loved it.

There were a lot of really really cute scenes. One of my favorites was the Ferris wheel scene. Each of the scenes was spread out over the course of the play. They come back to it, sometimes building on it and sometimes revisiting it. The Ferris wheel scene was about their third date and they are kind of starting to become more comfortable around each other. And Vicky wants Erica to go on the Ferris wheel to basically conquer her fear of heights. They establish that Erica actually is terribly afraid of heights, and they establish an even closer bond than they had at the beginning of the scene because Vicky helps Erica get through it by anything from singing to her to having her look into her eyes. And it starts to become slightly less harrowing for Erica. This scene is really where you see their relationship blossom. There is one scene where they are going mattress shopping and they are waiting for the salesperson to come back. And while they are waiting, Erica decides it is a great idea to jump on the bed. And they are doing that and trying to make sure that nobody sees. It is just such a an adorable scene to see them having a great time and just being immature together. The optimist and the pessimist kind of alternate in the course of the play. In situations that require bravery, Erica is definitely the pessimist, but in situations that include doing something silly, Vicky is definitely the pessimist. Basically, a pessimist can be won over, but if you won't budge, then you are just no fun. Erica cares less about what people think of her, but she cares a lot about having no chance of any danger coming her way. Vicky cares a lot about what people think of her but likes taking physical risks.

There are also a lot of heartbreaking scenes. The first scene you see happen is not the first chronologically. It is after they had broken up. Erica comes over to Vicky's house so she can get some help because her Dad is dying. And that is sad because she is so grief-stricken that she decides to ask Vicky to marry her, even though they had just broken up. Which I don't think is the smartest idea, because there was clearly a problem in your relationship if you have just broken up. Even if you are soul mates, you should probably wait a little bit and try to get the relationship moving again before you make that commitment. You see how desperate Erica is, that she will literally take any comfort and she has basically resorted to her ex-girlfriend. Another heartbreaking scene was when Erica said that she didn't know herself anymore or who she was. I think it is heartbreaking for both of them because I think Erica is telling Vicky the truth, but Vicky doesn't like it. And Vicky gets very mad with the circumstances and Erica because she is so disappointed, which is completely understandable because she is very hurt, but it is not helpful. This scene really moved me a lot because you see how hard both Vicky and Erica are trying, but it isn't panning out the way that they wanted it to because of the different types of people that they are.

This play teaches you a lot about life. It helps you really see how beautifully complicated life is. It shows you that life can throw you a lot of obstacles, and even if you feel like you have the worst hand ever dealt to you there is someone who will try to help you. Even if they fail, that they tried still means they cared about you. The play is realistically romantic. It is not all lovey-dovey and saying everything is perfect in every relationship. It is saying there are struggles in every relationship, but that doesn't mean there is no such thing as love.

People who would like this show are people who like realistic romance, grief proposals, and jumping on mattresses. I think this is such an amazing and beautiful show. I really hope that everyone gets to experience it.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Monday, June 5, 2017

Review of New Millennium Theatre Company's The Incredible Hank

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Incredible Hank. It was written and directed by Alex B. Reynolds. It was about a file clerk named Hank (Mike Movido) who has super-strength but is kind of in denial about it. He refuses to admit to anyone that he has super powers; he just wants to use them for filing. But he does have to use his superpowers for saving the world (not by filing) when a bomb has been placed in his workplace. With the help of his not-so-super sidekick Carl/TexasJustice (Jordan Pettis) and Mirageo (Derrick Ferguson), who is NOT a sidekick but actually has superpowers, Hank must defeat Flamelia (Jessica Rae Olsen) and Winterion (Scott Myers) after their boss Dr. Manticle (Megan Gill) has been killed. I think this show had a lot of clever moments and an interesting and fun concept.

The entire show is very goofy. You have to really enjoy crazy stories to really enjoy this show because it is pretty nonsensical and a lot of fun. If people are expecting a high-budget, stunt-filled, actors-swinging-from-the-ceiling show, that is not what you are going to get. But you are going to get a pretty funny comedy show about a person who doesn't want to be a superhero. The whole look of the show felt pretty low-budget, but that didn't strip it of its fun, and it had very visually interesting elements. They had these cartoons (by Tom Pleviak) of the characters in the program that were really cool to look at. And I thought the comic book cover on the back was very funny, clever, and well-executed. The costumes (by Jen Mohr) got the message across about who these characters were and what their powers were in a way that went really well with the feel of the rest of the show. They also used puppets to show the flying aspects and also some of the fighting, and I thought that was a very clever way of getting something that could look dumb if it was a person, like flying or the reverse centaur, and make it look cool and funny.

This felt to me like the kind of the thing that if I saw it at an improv show, I would think, this is completely genius! How did they think this up on the spot? But because it was scripted and had been worked on and rehearsed, it loses that spark of immediacy, so you have to make up for it by creating a more full story. That kind of story would have more developed characters and a more compelling and developed story. They were on their way to doing that, I just think they weren't completely there yet in every scene. The acting style was very goofy, and I think everyone realized they were in a goofball show, so that was appropriate and they were committed to the style. Nobody was like, I wish was performing Oedipus Rex. I do prefer when shows have a little more depth to them even if they are goofy, but I respect the style of this show.

There were a lot of clever moments that I really liked. They had this one character, Carl/TexasJustice, a white man whose "superpower" was basically guns. But the police (Chris Woolsey, David Coupe, and Chelsea DeBaise) didn't ever question him about the shooting of Dr. Manticle. They only accused Mirageo, an African-American superhero who is like the Flash. It makes you think about actual problems with racism in the real world, even though it is a goofball show. And guns aren't actually a superpower; they are just a way to kill. I was not expecting to get this kind of message in this show, but I think it did work. The Alpine Lion (Woolsey) was a very clever concept for a character--because who would think that the superman of this town would be an arctic explorer? He has a very long red beard and a badass fur coat, even though it clearly isn't always winter here. (If it were, there wouldn't be so many people in spandex! Ha.) I think Hank is also a very clever character because he is so awkward; he is like the opposite of a superhero, but he has superpowers. I would have liked to see his filing powers in action. Though it was pretty hilarious when he tries to dismantle the bomb with his super strength.

People who would like this show are people who like unlikely superheroes, goofball stories, and reverse centaurs. I think this is a fun show to watch. It has a lot of silly and clever elements. I liked it.

Photos: New Millennium Theatre Company

Friday, June 2, 2017

Review of Something Marvelous's Johnny 10 Beers' Daughter at Chicago Dramatists

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Johnny 10 Beers' Daughter. It was by Dana Lynn Formby, and it was directed by Emmi Hilger. It was about a father, Johnny (Randy Steinmeyer), and a daughter, Leila (Arti Ishak) who both served in Iraq with the Marines. It was about their relationship and how it is changed by war. It is about war, PTSD, and how complex your duty is to the world, your country, and the people around you. I think this is a really beautiful and moving show. The relationships are so well-written and it really made me feel for the characters.

This play did something that is very hard to do: combine humor with terrifying situations that actually don't end well. There was a scene where the dad and the daughter were talking about funny stories he had from his time in Iraq. It started out with a story about a ferret-like creature that the dad and his team almost ran over. There was a line where he was talking about how he saw the creature making his little ferret bucket list. And I thought that that was absolutely hilarious. But then his friend says something that he finds funny because he's been in this situation, which is, "You killed somebody's grandmother today, and you're worried about running over a ferret?!" It is his everyday thing now to have to kill people so, when someone jokes about it, it is kind of like someone joking about buying a pizza. But his daughter reacts with concern for her dad because he finds that funny. And you sense she is also scared for herself because she realizes what she has gotten herself into by joining the Marines. This scene was funny, sad, humanizing, and horrifying. It is hard to make people feel all different types of emotions packed into one tight scene, and they did a really good job of it.

The play calculated every scene by beers because Johnny was known as Johnny 10 Beers because his motto is basically nine beers is never enough. They used projections (designed by Michelle Underwood) to tell you what scene we were on, but not in a normal way--with the word Beer. And they used a recording of one of the songs (music and sound design by Barry Bennett) that Leila and Johnny would sing together about drinking and being a Marine. It was really interesting that they had a scene for every line of the song and every beer Johnny drank and stacked. He poured out one too for T-Bone, who was his best friend and was killed in the war, but later you think it is possibly for someone else. There are also other repeating themes, like fishing, broken promises, and writing letters. The set (designed by Nicholas Schwartz) is even made out of letters. This gives the story a pattern to go along. There are a lot of things in the Marine life, like their drills, which they need to do over and over again until they can do them in their sleep. And they basically do the same thing with the show's pattern. They are both scarred by what they have seen, and repetition seems familiar and easy to them. But it is sometimes something else, something tragic. With repetition, time seems endless, which is tragic because it doesn't seem like anything new happens which I think is one of the best parts of life. But then it also is beautiful because repetition, when it is memory, can help you see things that might be over that you miss.

I think it is really beautiful to see Leila grow up because you see her from as young as when she was seven, up until after she was deployed as a Marine many times. Then you also see all the terrible things that she's gone through, and that makes it depressing to see her going through so much and seeing her dad go through so much for her. I think the actor playing Leila did such a great job at growing so much over a long time in such a short play. I think that plays about seeing people grow up into adults are all heartbreaking because thinking about the parent's experience is really terrible, especially in this play. He is seeing a part of himself going away and having the risk of being killed. The beautiful part is that he is seeing a part of himself maturing and learning more.

People who would like this show are people who like touching stories, meaningful repetition, and ferret bucket lists. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It is a gorgeous, awesome story with great performances. I really loved it.

Photos: Anthony Aicardi

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Review of 20% Theatre Company Chicago's Tight End

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Tight End. It was by Rachel Bykowski and it was directed by Kallie Noelle Rolison. It was about a teenager named Ash/Ashley Miller (Amanda Forman when I saw it, usually Bryce Saxon) who wanted to be a football player at her high school. Her coach, Coach D (Patrick Pantelis), doesn't feel like girls should be able to play football with boys because he thinks boys will overpower girls on the field. Her mother, Darla (Rachel Mock), also wants the best for Ash and doesn't want her to get hurt, but she does want her to get what she wants, which is to be on the team. Sam (Erich Peltz) is her first friend that she gets on the team, even though they start out as enemies. Sam gets persuaded that girls should be able to play football. It is about feminism, football, and friendship. I think this show is really intriguing and I think it is a great story to tell. The play starts out exploring whether girls should play football with boys, and for a lot of the play it does seem like that is possible and it can all work out, but the ending kind of changed your mind about that and can make you wonder if she ever should have played football. The message wasn't immediately clear to me, but I feel like they were saying that women should have the same rights and opportunities as men, but that there are dangers to that for women.

Sam and Ash have a really meaningful friendship that they both really needed. Neither of them had had true friends, it seemed. They both have very troubled relationships with their fathers and they both needed someone to be there for them. But the thing is, it didn't start out that way. It started as a competitive relationship where they were trying to outplay the other. And she called him a homophobic slur. She explains it by saying that's what all the guys call the other guys. But he is actually in the closet, so it is especially offensive and scary to him. It shows you that on this football team, people are being trained to say homophobic things to one another to hurt each other. And that creates a very scary environment for anyone who is actually gay or bi or isn't homophobic because they are scared to say anything because they will be accused of being gay like it is a bad thing. Ash gets picked on in a similar way because she is a girl, but for a while she just wants to make everyone else feel bad instead of helping other people who might feel her pain. She doesn't have the power the coach would have to change the culture of the football team; she basically has to live with the way that the game is. She might change some people's view of a girl's ability to play the game, but she can't change the game itself.

I really liked the way they organized the show. From the beginning you knew that something bad was going to happen to Ash, but you wonder what that specific thing is and how terrible it is. It really pulled you into the story right off the bat, like Moby Dick or Riverdale, how it starts out being narrated by somebody who already knows what happened but reveals the details and reasons bit by bit. I did feel like the dialogue seemed to be slightly choppy and unrealistic at times. People told the blatant truth in asides to the audience, but you did't see the different tactics they used to try to get they wanted in the dialogue. The tactics and the dialogue sometimes felt repetitive. It also may have helped to have more characters you see on stage. I wanted to know more about the other people on the football teams; I think it might have made me understand Ash's experience more.

I think that the way the show ended was slightly confusing to me at first, but after I thought about it for a while, I realized the message they were trying to give. At first I thought the play was about overcoming obstacles and people realizing girls can play football. That would have been much more upbeat, but it wouldn't be very unexpected or different. The ending shows that it doesn't just take one girl to change the way people see football. I went to the theater thinking I was going to see a girl-power play. But it wasn't that simple and life isn't that simple. It taught you that it will take a lot of change in the society of sports (and the world) so that women can be treated equally in environments that are usually perceived as masculine. Ash gets on the team, trains really hard, and becomes a good football player. People recognize her skills, but she is still in danger in that environment because the people around her don't respect women. Even though women are capable, there are still dangers. She broke through the glass ceiling and then was met with a bunch of men who wanted to bring her down. That's the depressing truth of life right now, but if we change the system it can be different.

People who would like this show are people who like powerful stories, strong women in bad situations, and overcoming obstacles. I think this is an intriguing play. It made me think a lot about what our society is like today and what we can do to change it. I liked it.

Photos: kClare McKellaston

Friday, May 26, 2017

Review of Chicago Theater Workshop's Little Miss Sunshine

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Little Miss Sunshine. It was based on the film by Michael Arndt. The book was by James Lapine and the music was by William Finn. It was directed and choreographed by Maggie Portman and the music direction was by Nick Sula. It was about the Hoover family: Olive (Sophie Kaegi); Sheryl (Sharyon A. Culberson), her mother; Richard (Greg Foster), her father; her grandpa (Ken Rubenstein); her brother Dwayne (Kyle Klein II); and her uncle Frank (George Keating). They are going on a road trip so Olive can participate in a beauty pageant, but they don't always get along that well together. They are all trapped in a van together with nothing to do but think about their problems: drug addiction, depression, marital problems, teen problems, and self-doubt. It is about family, resilience, and accepting life. I think this show has a really interesting concept. I've never seen the movie before, so I don't know how many of its strengths and weaknesses were in this show. The script didn't feel like a completely intelligible musical for someone who hadn't seen the movie, but it certainly had some enjoyable moments.

There was a repeated visual moment of the family pushing the bus and struggling to get on it again. The bus was represented by a few character blocks, but the outside of the bus, which they would occasionally lower down, wasn't used in these scenes. They would use strobe lights and the family would lift each other up in slow motion, which was very cool to watch, but I feel like they might have used this too many times. Each sequence being a minute or two, it got slightly boring after you'd already seen it. This sequence is kind of like a metaphor for their family being broken but they all have to push hard and work together to make it work again. I think that is a good lesson to learn.

"I Can't Stand it Anymore" was a repeating song that the mother, father, and brother Dwayne sang. Each of the three sections of this song were about how life was terrible and things needed to change. This isn't the only song about how everything sucks, but I think it was the most well-orchestrated one. When the mother and the father sing it, it is about marital problems. But when it gets to the brother, it is about losing all of his dreams. The character Dwayne never talks until he finds out some terrible news. So he sings the third section of "I Can't Stand it Anymore" to express his unhappiness. It is surprising and interesting to see him talk for the first time in the show and for it to be such a display of anger and sadness. I've worked with Kyle before, so I knew he had an amazing voice, and I was afraid they weren't going to let him sing or talk in this show, so I was very very thankful that they did give him a song and he did a great job with it.

The very last song, "Shake Your Bandonkadonk," was sure a toe-tapper. It was sung by Olive during her pageant. It was not the most appropriate of songs for a young girl and that made it hilarious. She absolutely rocked this song. I thought it was super sweet how at the end of the song her entire family started to sing and dance with her, even though she was being kicked off for singing an inappropriate song. That shows you that even if something goes wrong, the whole family will stand up for each other, and that is what they have learned throughout the course of this road trip. It was also super weird to hear that the grandpa had helped choreograph this entire dance, but you know that the grandpa really did love Olive and was just trying to do what was going to make her win the pageant. He doesn't understand the rules of the pageant, but he does understand what the pageant is actually about that people don't want to admit: putting a bunch of young girls on display for people to judge their bodies. He doesn't really object to it like I do, or find it as creepy, he just knows what it actually is.

People who would like this show are people who like dark family comedies, slo-mo jumping onto buses, and shaking your badonkadonk. This show had a lot of fun parts and there were some good performances. The audience seemed to really enjoy it.

Photos: Joel Maisonet

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Review of Silk Road Rising and Remy Bumppo Theatre Company's Great Expectations

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Great Expectations. It was by Charles Dickens and it was adapted by Tanika Gupta. It was co-directed by Lavina Jadhwani and Nick Sandys. It was about a boy named Pip (Anand Bhatt) who was growing up in Bengal. He was sent to play at old, rich Miss Havisham's house (Linda Gillum), and he wanted to grow up to be a gentleman so that he could impress the girl that he had been playing with there, Estella (Netta Walker). He gets his chance from a benefactor who remains nameless. We get to watch him learn how to become a gentleman, but also see how it is more important to be a vital part of society and appreciate where you came from. It is about how love doesn't always work out, being a gentleman is more than just having money, and how it feels to be a stranger in new places and how you can also feel like you are a stranger in your home. I thought that this was a really great show. I have never seen a version like this of Great Expectations, and I really, really enjoyed it.

Love is a very prominent topic in this show. But not just romantic love. One example is Herbert Pocket (Lane Anthony Flores) and Pip. They have a very sweet and pedagogical relationship, but their roles change over the course of the play. At first Herbert teaches Pip things like table manners, but later Pip starts to teach him about being more accepting of different cultures. Also Joe (Anish Jethmalani) and Pip have a familial relationship. Joe is like a father to Pip even though they aren't actually related by blood. (Joe is Pip's brother-in-law.) He always says "Ever the best of friends, Pip." It is heartbreaking to watch Joe be so devastated at Pip's leaving the village for the city of Calcutta. Joe's wife (Alka Nayyar) was very strict and wanted the best for Pip but she didn't think he was grateful enough. She doesn't really show love to him until the end. She provides for him, and I don't think she would have done that if she didn't love him, but it is hard to see the love because she is so brutal about it. There are also romantic relationships like Estella and Pip and like Biddy (Rasika Ranganathan) and Pip. Biddy has romantic feelings for Pip, but sadly they are not accepted until it's too late. Biddy still loves him even after she gets married, but, because she is a faithful wife, she only expresses platonic love to Pip after she is married. Estella and Pip seem to both love each other, but Estella is a bit too stuck up to tell Pip about her feelings. Love in this play doesn't seem to always work out the way that we hope it will, but it is always there in every form.

Pip becomes a gentleman even though in the 1800s it wasn't the most normal thing to have somebody from the lower class become a gentleman. The external part of being a gentleman is manners, a posh accent (which he gets from hanging out with Herbert), English clothes, and money. One of my favorite scenes was when Herbert was teaching Pip how to have more genteel table manners. This scene plays differently than other Great Expectations that I've seen. In the ones I've seen before there is just a class difference between Pip and Herbert. But what is going on here is a class difference but also a cultural difference because Pip has probably not used a fork before because that is not a part of his everyday culture. The scene is funny because you see how polite Herbert is being despite being confused by how Pip doesn't know the English manners that Herbert was taught. But Pip seems hungry and scared and nervous about being in a restaurant, so that makes it less hilarious because you feel sorry for him. I think they did that on purpose because it emphasizes how much of a stranger Pip is in this new place. I think the moral of the whole play is that gentility is not really having good manners at the table but being kind to others and helping them out when they have problems. Both Herbert and Pip learn how to do that when they start helping out Magwitch (Robert D. Hardaway). Magwitch isn't seen by the world as a gentleman, but he is very generous and kind. He has been to jail, he didn't go to school, and because he was born in Africa he isn't given the same privileges white people have.

I think this play's main theme was being a stranger. Of course Pip is an example because he moves to the city when he was in the country before. But you also see so many other people being introduced to new places. Magwitch didn't feel like he was home anymore in Africa because his country had been taken over by white men. So he becomes a sailor and he is a stranger in all the places that he travels. Then he becomes a criminal and is treated unfairly and so they send him to the Andaman Islands, which is like a giant jail. The scene where Magwitch is talking about how it feels to be a stranger everywhere he goes is very sad; the actor seemed to be really feeling the pain and it was a beautiful performance. Estella is also a stranger because she was given away and sent to a strange old house to live with a recluse when she was only three. She got used to it and, when she was put in a boarding school when she was a teenager, she got used to that. As you can see she seems really good at readjusting, but you see that she hides her feelings all the time. By the end you learn she is not as cold as people think. I think that it is a really nice touch for Estella to have a soft side, even though she doesn't show it to anyone in her life. But the audience sees it in the way she looks at Pip when they meet as young adults. Joe is another example of feeling out of place. When he goes to visit Pip, he doesn't know any of the customs and he does stuff like spit his tea out onto the plate. You feel sorry for him because he just doesn't know what to do and he's scared and just wants to get it over with. Joe is a very lovable character, which makes it even harder to see him out of place and terrified.

People who would like this show are people who like table manners, new takes on Dickens, and being ever the best of friends. I think that people should definitely go see this show. I think this adaptation captures the true meaning of Great Expectations, even though it has differences from the book. They still had a lot of my favorite scenes in it. It is so much fun. I really loved it.

Photos: Johnny Knight

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Review of First Floor Theater's American Hero

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called American Hero. It was by Bess Wohl and it was directed by Cody Estle. It was about a sandwich shop and there were three employees, Jamie (Annie Prichard), Ted (Chris Daley), and Sheri (SaraĆ­ Rodriguez), and it was about each of their individual lives. Sheri is trying to take care of her sick dad. Ted wants to be able to get a better job higher up in the corporation than just a sandwich finisher after losing his job at Bank of America. Jamie had kids and was in a custody battle with her ex-husband. Bob (Brian McKnight) owns the franchise and eventually decides to run off into the sunset without a word leaving his employees to fend for themselves. It is about developing friendships, falling on rough times, and trying to give people what they want. I think this show was a lot of fun. It had a lot of funny and touching moments. I really liked it.

I really loved the set by Jeffrey D. Kmiec. It looked so realistic; it transported me to a sub shop in a mall in the middle of nowhere. It even smelled like pickles to me. The billboard they had on the window was so cheesy and the whole restaurant was red and blue, which I personally think are not the most flattering colors for a restaurant, which added to the atmosphere more. It was kind of like an even more depressing Subway and that was appropriate! The costumes (Sarah Jo White) also really added to the atmosphere because the uniforms did really remind you of every sub shop you've ever been to. The uniforms for the sub shop really showed that all of these people were all being de-personalized by the corporation. But you also see them in their street clothes, which showed more of their personalities. Ted was very put-together and businesslike. It almost seemed like he still thought he was working at a bank. You see by Sheri's clothes how hard of a worker she is and also how tired she is because she is always wearing a sweatshirt and stretch pants. And Jamie is very put-together, but not businesslike like Ted, but more to call attention to herself.

The first scene was a job interview between Bob and Sheri. Bob was basically asking her a few question and then had her fill out a job application. He looked at it for like two seconds and said, "You're hired!" I found this funny because his standards were so low for people to work at his sandwich shop that he didn't even care what was on her job application. And she didn't seem to care at all about even really seeming interested in the job, which I found funny. I really liked the scene where they were all learning what they had to do as their part of the job. They had to make a sandwich in twenty seconds flat. And it was so anxiety-provoking and hilarious at the same time. Jamie wouldn't even fully wrap the sandwiches, but Ted would very meticulously choose his meats like this was a walk in the park and not a vital situation. And Sheri had the easiest job and just squirted mustard on the bread with a glare on her face. And Bob would ask her questions and she wouldn't know the full answer so she would just say one thing and trail off, and that was hilarious. I think probably the strangest scene I have seen in the whole history of scenes was when a giant, floaty, fear-eating sandwich (Brian McKnight) came to the sandwich shop in the middle of the night to tell Sheri she must save the sandwich shop by making her own sandwiches. It was a super hilarious scene and also just so weird.

These characters are not the most likable characters the first time you meet them. But as the play goes on, you do really come to love them. The audience learns more things about the characters in every scene. What you learn explains why the characters make the decisions they make. They were all such quirky characters, and none of them were in a good place, so they made bad decisions, but the bad decisions made them seem more human. As a result, you get to see them grow more throughout the entire play which makes you have a closer relationship to the characters. I'm not saying anything more specific because a lot of the nice things they do for each other are huge spoilers. So, you'll have to go and see the show!

People who would like this show are people who like the smell of pickles, slowly choosing meats, and fear-eating sandwiches. I think people should go see this show. I think this is a super fun show. I really enjoyed it!

Photos: Ian McLaren

Friday, May 19, 2017

Review of The Plagiarists' Circle House

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Circle House. It was conceived and edited by Jessica Wright Buha and it was directed by Kate Nawrocki. It was a promenade-style tour with three different tracks. Circle House is a rehabilitation center for people who don't want to leave the world and stop being ghosts. Tick (Jhenai Mootz), Tack (Judi Schindler), and Tock (Sara Jean McCarthy) are not ghosts, they are time, but also have the job to help the ghosts get on their way. You'll follow either Tick, Tack, or Tock and the ghost that they are in charge of. I followed Bracken (Elaine Small) and Tick. The show, at least the track I saw, is about memory, forgiveness, and how hard it is to let go. I thought that this was a really moving and enjoyable play. It had some really memorable and beautiful moments. I really liked it.

This entire show took place in the North Mansion in Berger Park and you walked around the mansion in the course of the play. One of the most memorable scenes for me was the scene when Bracken was remembering when she played this game with her brother Peter (Graham Emmons) and they would do this boat ride where one person would have their eyes closed and the other would be narrating everything that was happening. I thought it was a super sweet moment to see them play a game that seemed genuinely like a game kids would play. It seemed like they are both on an equal level, which might be unusual for siblings, but I think their bond was strong enough that it didn't seem fake. It is also really nice to see them throughout their entire relationship with each other, so you get to see how it evolves. It was a really interesting thing to watch.

There is one task that Bracken is set to do, which is basically to cut a worm in half. And she really doesn't want to do it, so she decides to name the worm. The audience gets to name the worm. In our case, it was Timothy. And that made you love the worm even more and worry for him. And then Bracken is basically hiding a fugitive worm in a Tic Tac box for the rest of the show. That is hilarious but also kind of sweet. And they keep giving you scares that Tick was going catch the worm. Of course you are on Timothy and Bracken's side the entire time. At points you might forget Timothy is there, but various encounters will remind you that he is there, and at the end Timothy is very important. I think this situation sets up your feelings about Tick to be more complex because she seems to be against the worm and Bracken.

There is an issue that is brought up in the show that I am still thinking about and want to talk about. Basically the entire point of this rehabilitation center for ghosts is to make it ok for them to let go. And there were people, kind of like their coaches, who were saying that is what they should do. But the coaches come to be seen as the villains of the play and they would always walk in and try to stop the fun of the vision that came with memories the ghosts had. I feel like even though you don't want to forget things, it is okay to forget, especially if it does bring you pain to remember. I think just dispersing into the universe after death is a good idea. If you can't see people you love in real life, I think letting go would be the best idea. But I don't feel like the play agreed with me in the end, and that's okay to have different opinions. But I do feel that the way the play ended was not the way I agreed with emotionally. It didn't make me like the play less, it just made me think about the issue more.

People who would like this show are people who like boat games, stories about memory, and fugitive worms. I think that people should go see this show. I think it is a really great experience, and I really enjoyed it. I would love to find out what the other stories that were being told were!

Photos: Joe Mazza at BraveLux

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Review of Haven Theatre's We're Gonna Die

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called We're Gonna Die. It was by Young Jean Lee, and it was directed by Josh Sobel. The music director was Spencer Meeks. It was a compilation of stories about life from childhood to adulthood and songs performed by the storyteller/singer (Isa Arciniegas) and her band (Sarah Giovannetti, Jordan Harris, Meeks, and Elle Walker). It is about life, death, and how we should savor what we have. I thought this was a really moving and fun show. The songs were really catchy and I thought all the performers were great and, even though the singer was the one telling the stories, all the performers were really present. I really liked it.

The first story was really sweet. It was about the singer's friends she had as a child. It was about them playing a game on their bikes: basically two of them were murderers and had killed the other's husband and she wanted to get revenge. But it grew sad because eventually they all grew apart from each other and her friends started being mean to her and running away whenever she came up to them. I identified with the strange games that you would play as a child and also the rejection that you can get from other kids. The later stories were mostly about things that haven't happened to me yet. I think it was good that they put in something that even younger people could relate to, even though the show is not specifically for kids.

There was a song that was an impersonation of the singer's mother's impersonation of her own grandmother. It was basically about how crappy it is to be old. She would shift back and forth between creepy old grandma and her own voice. I thought that was funny. She is hobbling around the stage and creeping out her fellow band members with the lecture about how everything will suck when you are old that she is singing. She also had another strange family member who was her uncle. He turned out not to be weird but human, and he just didn't know how to express himself. He was a bachelor and everyone thought that he was weird. And one night, the singer snuck into his room to play a joke on him. And she was going to grab his ankles when he went to bed, but he just ended up falling asleep at his desk while yelling at himself, which is really sad. I think if I had been under the bed at that time, I would have been terrified because seeing someone that is an adult breaking down is just scary because you think they are the people that are supposed to make everything better.

Now for the title song, "We're Gonna Die." I have never heard such a catchy song about the inevitability of death. It was kind of comforting in saying that it would all be ok if you were dead. But it was kind of not comforting because it was saying that it is still going to hurt a bunch of people. I think you want to make a good impression on the world before you die, so it is good if people are sad, but you still want them to get over it. They released balloons, even though it was a song about death, and it actually was a lot of fun throwing around balloons with the rest of the audience. It reminds you that life is too short to spend thinking about death all the time, and it is better just to have fun with everyone when you can.

People who would like this show are people who like murderous bike games, catchy songs about death, and mortality balloons. I think people should go see this show. It is a fun, sad, and epiphanic experience. I loved it.

Photos: Austin D. Oie

Monday, May 15, 2017

Review of Theatre Above the Law's What Rhymes With America

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called What Rhymes With America. It was by Melissa James Gibson and directed by Tony Lawry. It was about a father named Hank (Dan Sauer) who was trying to rebuild his relationship with his daughter Marlene (Olivia Nicholson) after he has gotten a divorce from his wife. He is trying to win back his wife, but is also interested in other women. There's a woman named Sheryl (Brittany Vogel) who is being a supernumerary with him in the opera. And they seem to be a good match for each other, but he seems to be more interested in the awkward aspiring writer, Lydia (Alicia Ciuffini), but it seems that his (unseen) wife always gets in the way. It is about family, trying to find love, and deeply flawed people. I think this show had a lot of interesting moments and characters.

I was really surprised that a show that had mostly women characters did not pass the Bechdel test. Most of the scenes have Hank in them, and even when Marlene and Lydia have a conversation together they are mostly talking about Lydia's dad who has died. And then Hank even enters that scene. I thought it was troubling that the women never talk to each other and the few seconds they talk together it was about their dads. The main character is a man, and the play is about all the women in his life but mostly in the context of their relationships with Hank.

Sheryl and Hank's scenes were very humorous and uncomfortably funny because she was always complaining how she never got any acting roles. She doesn't understand why no one wants to cast her, but the audience could kind of see that it was because she was overdramatic as a person and also in all of her roles. There is a funny moment where she does the audition for Hank that she had done earlier for Lady Macbeth and had been cut off in the middle. Which, if you know anything about auditions, if they ever say "That's all we need to see," that is not a good sign! When she is doing it for Hank, she is gesturing a lot and using invisible props and she is using the language like she's trying to impress her audience. She also basically explains everything that she is doing to Hank so he will understand her acting better. And I kept wondering if she did that in the audition. If she did, that might have been the reason why she was stopped in the middle of the audition! I kind of feel sorry for her, but at the same time it is hilarious to watch her lack of self-awareness, but also slightly sad.

I thought it was really interesting how the first and last scenes of the play take place with Hank and Marlene on opposites sides of a door because Hank's ex-wife doesn't want them to see each other. He really loves his daughter and he wants to be able to see her again. I think there are some sweet moments in these scenes. I thought they were heartbreaking and some of the best scenes in the play. I think it was realistic how Marlene reacted to her parents getting a divorce. She started getting all emo and writing these songs about deep stuff. It was funny and sad at the same time.

People who would like this show are people who like stories about dads, songs about deep stuff, and over-explained Lady Macbeths. I think this show has good moments and I think a lot of people will really enjoy finding humor in the very flawed people.

Photos: Molly Maloney

Monday, May 8, 2017

Review of Circle Mirror Transformation at Redtwist Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Circle Mirror Transformation. It was by Annie Baker and it was directed by Scott Weinstein. It was about an acting class at the community center in a small town and about the relationships between people in the class. The teacher Marty (Lynda Shadrake), is married to one of the students James (Adam Bitterman). There's also a teenager, Lauren (Talia Payomo), a former actress from New York, Theresa (Emily Tate), and a recently divorced carpenter, Schultz (Michael Sherwin). It is about regret, doing what is best for yourself, and community. I think this was a super moving but also humorous show. It had amazing actors and you really felt like you were part of the class and in that room.

There were a lot of really relatable moments for anyone who has ever taken an acting class. One of the most cringeworthy moments was when Schultz was asking everyone to reenact his childhood bedroom. That involved having people become a bed, a tree, a baseball glove, and a stuffed snake. They are trying to make it feel like his bedroom, but he decides it doesn't, so instead of just saying "great job, guys" he decides to just say, "No. This doesn't look like my bedroom." Well of course it won't actually look like his bedroom because it is a bunch of people bending into shapes to try to look like things in his bedroom. If it resembles his bedroom slightly, it means they did a pretty good job. You have to accept that the exercise is about trying to capture the spirit of something, not exactly recreating it. It was also really relatable how the out-of-class relationships impacted the class. You could see people slowly realizing that people were together as a couple or liked each other or were mad at each other. It is so perfect because it shows you all of the drama of drama class.

Schultz and Theresa's relationship was insanely complicated because they were infatuated with each other for a while, but then Theresa saw they weren't right for each other, but he clung on like a barnacle. They still want to take this class, but they are angry at each other. They are trying to get in touch with who they really are in class, but then their relationships in class alter who they really are. Marty wants to use the acting class to help people find who they really are, but she is devastated when she finds out secrets about her own husband. Lauren wants to actually learn how to act, which I don't blame her for, it actually being an acting class and all. It is sad when she finds out it isn't actually what she thought it was. But even though it isn't really the class she was looking for, she still learned a lot about living actual life from it and started an important relationship.

The last scene was heartbreaking. You realize that things that happened in class ended things for some of the characters. (I'm being vague because this is the last scene and I don't want to give away to much.) It was bittersweet because there were also things that people have talked about in class, like about their dreams, that you find out come true. That made me really happy to see characters you have grown to love be so happy. You realize that the conversation that you think is just an exercise in the drama class is actually in real life years from now. The final scene shows you that all the stuff in the class that seemed pointless and cringeworthy is really helpful for people in the future to help them become successful people if not successful actors.

People who would like this show are people who like the drama of drama class, complicated relationships, and human baseball gloves. I think people should go see this show. It is funny, touching, and I really liked it. It closes soon, so don't miss it!

Photos: Jan Ellen Graves