Sunday, July 30, 2017

Review of Madagascar at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Madagascar. It was based on the Dreamworks Animation movie and the book was Kevin Del Aguila. The music and lyrics were by George Noriega and Joel Someillan It was directed and choreographed by Rachel Rockwell. The music director was Jermaine Hill. It was about a group of animals who escape from the Central Park Zoo: Alex (Jordan Brown), a lion, Marty (Gilbert Domally), a zebra, Gloria (Lisa Estridge), a hippo, and Melman (Stephen Schellhardt), a giraffe. Then they get sent on a boat for running away, and there is a shipwreck--because a bunch of spy penguins (Tony Carter, Leah Morrow, Erica Stephan, and Adrienne Storrs) have crashed the ship--and they wash ashore in Madagascar. Then they meet a tribe of lemurs (Aaron Holland, Ron King, Hannah Rose Nardone, Holly Stauder, and Stephan) who rule half the island; the other half is ruled by the Fossa (Ciera Dawn, King, and Garrett Lutz) who all they want to do is eat some delicious lemur. It is about friendship, self-control, and being wild. I thought this show was a lot of fun. It was a cool recreation of the movies I watched as a young child; it was very nostalgic for me, at least the height of nostalgia for someone who is almost thirteen. I also went with a younger child, and it was a lot of fun to see how much she enjoyed the story.

At the beginning of the show, when they are still in the zoo, the animals are getting ready for the field trip kids to arrive so they can show off their fabulousness. They were acting like they were going to be in a big rock show and the kids were acting like the animals were celebrities, so that was pretty funny and I think that was a great way to kick off the show. A little later, Marty sang a song, "Wild and Free," about how he wanted to go out into the wild and that that was where he belonged. He sang this on his 13th birthday, when he was having his midlife crisis, which is hilarious because it seemed like a combination of adolescence and a midlife zebra crisis. I thought there were really nice vocals for this song and the performer made it a pretty moving song, even while wearing a zebra costume (costumes by Jesus Perez). I've never seen that before. I also think "I Like to Move It," led by King Julien (Holland), is definitely a very catchy song. I thought it was a fun performances because they had great lemur puppets (designed by Sarah Ross) that really resembled the characters. It was a lot of fun to get up at the end and see a lot of kids dancing along.

My favorite character in the movie was Gloria, so it was really fun to see her portrayed live on stage. The costume was so fabulous--I've never seen a more dazzling belly button! I wish she had gotten her own song, because you could tell she had a great voice. I actually didn't like the penguins in the movie much, but I really liked them here. I liked the whole secret agent schtick that they were doing, and I liked how you could see the penguins' emotions through the actors. I think it was a good idea to use puppets for the penguins and lemurs, but it was good they didn't hide the actors' faces because then you still got to see the nuances of their performances, which I think was a nice touch.

Even though this show is a lot of fun, it had some questionable things about it. It feels like this show is saying that animals are better off in zoos, which is something a lot of people don't agree with. So you should be prepared to talk to your kids about that after the show. I feel like Madagascar was a movie I watched because everyone was watching it, and at the time, when I was four or five, I didn't take in the message of the story. But now that I do, I'm troubled by a few things, like how it seems to be saying animals are better off in a zoo, and how the moral "don't eat your friends" is pretty obvious, and how tragic the love story will be between a giraffe and a hippo because they are two different species. It is also troubling that carnivores are shamed for just going with the circle of life. Steak is basically the same thing as eating your friends, if your friends are animals, so it is not really that much better. Alex's steaks might be somebody else's friend, but you can't really make a Lion a vegetarian, though at the end it seems like he might become a pescatarian.

People who would like this show are people who like and ballad-singing zebras, potentially pescatarian lions, and dazzling belly buttons. I think there are a lot of kids who would really like this show and teenagers who will find it nostalgic. It had fun costumes and puppets, and a lot of the performers were really great.



Photos: Liz Lauren

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Review of Cirque du Soleil's Luzia

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Luzia. It was co-written by Daniele Finzi Pasca and Julie Hamelin Finzi. It was directed by Pasca, and the associate director was Brigitte Poupart. The acrobatic choreographers were Edesia Moreno Barata, Debra Brown, and Sylvia Gertrúdix González. It was a circus show about a clown (Eric Fool Koller) who jumped out of a plane and landed in Mexico and found a windup key that makes a whole magical land appear. He meets so many fascinating people, animals, and plants while in the process of trying to get water. This is a super mesmerizing and awesome show. It was a super fun experience and the circus elements were awesome to look at. It was just a really great show.

There were two juggling acts. One was with hands and one was with feet; one was with clubs and one was with soccer balls. The Football Dance (Laura Biondo and Abou Traoré) was a duet where they were doing soccer tricks, balancing the ball on their foot or their knee and and tossing it in the air. I thought it was really awesome because they used a practical thing and turned it into something mesmerizing and fun to watch. The performers were really into it and acknowledging the other when they would do something impressive. The more traditional juggling (Rudolf Janecek) was with these shiny silver clubs. I have never seen juggling so fast. You couldn't even track one. It was crazy. He did so many amazing tricks; it was so hypnotizing to watch. Whenever he would do anything impressive or when you were scared for him because he was doing complex tricks, you would get this jolt of energy when he got it right. I felt so connected to the performance, that when something went right it felt like a personal victory!

Water was a very big theme in the show. The clown was trying to get it and it was worked into lots of the different acts. The clown would keep getting rained on or see a pool of water and try to fill up his canteen, but the word hated him, so he couldn't get any in his canteen. I wanted to keep telling him, stop being so excited about the presence of water and just get some because it is going to disappear in thirty seconds. It was kind of frustrating but really hilarious. He was so clueless to the pattern of things. It was not the kind of clown humor that was just somebody falling down for a laugh. He would prepare for so long to get in the pool, but by the time he was ready to get into the pool, it was gone. Also, everything was like a dad joke to him; he would really enjoy his own jokes. The rain was first introduced with the Trapeze (Enya White) and Cyr Wheel (Angelica Bongiovonni) act when it started raining and the performers would do their tricks in the water and it was beautiful and glorious to watch. They had moments where they would come together and moments where they would move apart, and it was beautiful. There was also an aerial straps act, where a demigod (Benjamin Courtenay) befriends a jaguar (puppeteers Gerardo Ballester Franzoni, Biondo, and Emmanuel Cyr; puppet designer Max Humphries) and performs this act above and in the water, flipping around so his long hair sprays rings around him. It was really captivating and awe-inspiring.

There were three larger group acts that I especially enjoyed. Adagio was an act where there were three men (Anton Glazkov, Krzystof Holowenko, and Grzegorz Piotr Ros) who were pursuing this lady (Kelly McDonald) at a jazz club. They would toss her from person to person, and they would lift her, and she would do flips in the air and land on a piano. It was really graceful. It was amazing because it was so seamless. Everything fit together so perfectly, and it seemed effortless. Masts and Poles was a dance that was performed by men and women (McDonald, Stéphane Beauregard, Dominic Cruz, Devin Henderson, Marta Henderson, and Maya Kesselman) and it was really cool. I was scared for their heads when they would slide down and their heads would almost touch the bottom, but perfectly not. It seemed so perilous and it was really terrifying but gorgeous to watch. At the very beginning of the show they had hoop diving with these people (Beauregard, Cruz, D. Hendersen, M. Hendersen, Michael Hottier, Kesselman, and Ian Vazquez) in beautiful hummingbird costumes (designed by Giovanna Buzzi). They would flip through these hoops, do backflips, and jump off of people's hands--all on a moving treadmill. They would sometimes do two-person jumps, which was really terrifying. The anticipation was terrible, but in a good way.

People who would like this show are people who like mesmerizing circus, hummingbird hoop tricks, and water. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It is so much fun to experience. The performers are amazing and it is such a crazy fun show.

Photos: Matt Beard © 2017 Cirque du Soleil

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Review of Eclipse Theatre's Megastasis

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Megastasis. It was by Kia Corthron and it was directed by Aaron Todd Douglas. It was about a young man named Tray (Anthony Conway) who had a joint at a party that changed his life. He is trying to find a way to stay out of jail and take care of his kid, but he can't because the judicial system makes it very hard for people of color and poor people to be able to get reduced sentences and rebuild their lives after prison. It is about the strength of family, injustice, and coming home. I thought this was a really good and meaningful show. It had a really powerful story that needs to be told. I loved how much you got to know and see about the characters; I loved so many of them and I was really invested in the outcome of the story.

This play shows you how it is hard to live and how hard it is for anyone to help you, but there are a lot of people that will try to help you. That is something that counts, because it shows that even though they can't always help you, they want to be there for you. That is what made this play so moving. Tray's grandpa, Dex (Darren Jones), really tries to help him out by helping raise Tray's child, but he can't always be there for him. Once he lost almost everything he had, he felt like he was no use to Tray anymore. I think he could have been a lot of use to Tray, even without his resources, but I do understand why he felt like he had to leave. But he wasn't only useful to Tray because he had a house; his being there was useful and his advice was useful, but he gets discouraged because he feels like the system is after his whole family and he doesn't know how to protect them anymore. It is so terrible to think about people feeling helpless because of the power of the judicial system, which will take most of what you have if you give in and if you try to fight back they might take everything you have. Then after you have served your sentence, you get out and you are supposed to be a new person and live a new life, but they don't let you do that either. There is some hope at the end because you see that Tray and the grandpa find a home in each other and his daughter Mica (Martasia Jones). But you are still furious at the world because even though this is a play, there are real people that have to deal with this system. There are other people that want to help Tray, and I think, in the end, they do at least something to help, even if they can't really overcome the powers of the system. Gina (Ashley J. Hicks) becomes a lawyer and tries to help Tray to the best of her ability. She has a full time job, but says he can call her any time. She gets him a job, but she can't change the judicial system or what has already happened. Tray's cousin Dubby (Gregory Fenner) is always there for Tray and lets him move into his house after Tray gets out of jail. He is really supportive and nice, but he can't take care of him forever. Tray has to fend for himself, so Dubby can live his young adult life. Tray should also be able to live his young adult life, but small mistakes with huge consequences get in his way.

There were many bittersweet moments because all the sweet moments had bitterness because they are so real. It is kind of like real life because often moments are not actually fully good because there is sometimes a dark side to a lot of situations. Nakeesha (Martasia Jones), the mother of Tray's child, was giving Tray hope that they still could have a family. The sweet part is that they really seem to like each other and they have this cute flirtatious thing they do. But it was very sad because at the exact same party where that happens, everything falls apart even though everything seemed so good a minute ago. Later, Tray has an encounter with the grandpa, who he hasn't seen in years and years. He gets him Chinese food, which is really sweet, and they talk about what has been happening. The reunion is really nice to see, except you suspect the grandpa is never coming back. At the beginning of the show Tray and Dubby were sitting on the street drinking and talking, and it was really sweet, but then the cops (Darren Jones, Hicks, Martasia Jones, and Christian Castro) keep interrupting. It is really sweet because they are having a conversation and joking around. Then the cops show up and act like Tray and Dubby have just been holding up a bank. They are different cops each time, but they all think, "we have to stop and search these people innocently talking on the street." Throughout the whole play the system keeps ruining everything for Tray, his relationships and his ability to get a job. The play starts with disrupting a conversation between cousins and goes on to taking a man away from his whole life. Throughout this play things escalate step by step from being searched on the street to being put away for many years in prison.

It might be hard to believe, because it was such a sad show, but there were some funny moments. One of my favorites was when Dubby, Gina, and Tray were all in a dorm room and they got these Double Stuf Oreos and they started to eat them. Well, Gina did. But Dubby just started licking the cream out of them. It was so funny because Gina kept staring at him like he was crazy. And he'd look back at her like, what's the problem? I thought it was hilarious because it showed how high they both were and showed you the dynamics of the relationship. There is another funny moment, that was also a little bit sad, when Dubby is visiting Tray in prison and they are reminiscing about their childhood and how they went to the circus and they got cotton candy. Tray kept crying because when he would eat it, it would disappear in his mouth. That was funny, cute, and sad all at the same time. You do stuff when you are a kid that you can't understand later, so it's funny when you look back on it. It was a sweet, genuine, and hilarious moment. I saw this as a bit of a metaphor too. It was kind of saying that Tray gets good and sweet things in his life, but they keep disappearing.

People who would like this show are people who like meaningful stories, bittersweet moments, and eating the cream out of Oreos. I think that people should definitely, definitely go see this show. It is beautiful and heartbreaking with a touch of humor and a little bit of hope. The acting was great and I loved it.

Photos: Scott Dray

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Review of Kokandy Productions' Little Fish

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Little Fish. The book, music, and lyrics were by Michael John LaChiusa, based on stories by Deborah Eisenberg. It was directed by Allison Hendrix. The music direction was by Kory Danielson and the choreography was by Kasey Alfonso. It was about a woman named Charlotte (Nicole Laurenzi) who was getting over her smoking addiction. The show follows her path to recovery. It is about friendship, running away, and finding yourself. I think this is a really moving show. It had good music and a great cast.

Charlotte has a lot of meaningful relationships in this show; some are friendships and some are romantic. The overall most important relationship is the one that she has with herself. Her closest friendship that she had was with Kathy (Aja Wiltshire). I really liked the song that Kathy sang, "Remember Me" about how she wanted Charlotte to remember her. It was really sad because she had just been to the doctor and she had a lump and she was worried about what it could be. I think the reason it was so sad was because she was worried that no one would remember her except for Charlotte. It is kind of bittersweet because she knows that her best friend will remember her, even though she isn't famous and hasn't made a huge mark on the world, like the carvings she saw in Peru. There is another character named Cinder (Teressa LaGamba) who is a drug addict and also the first friend that Charlotte has in New York. They are not really friends because they want to be friends; they are friends because they live together. "It's a Sign" shows us that Cinder sees the world as something that can be predicted according to her own ideas. She never assesses the situation before she flips out. That means she probably won't keep a friendship for very long, and you see that in "Poor Charlotte," which is basically Cinder saying how much Charlotte has wronged her because she stepped on her towel. It shows that their friendship wasn't really meant to be; maybe the sign was that if you walk in on your roommate snorting cocaine the first time you meet, it probably isn't going to work out. "It's a Sign" was sung so amazingly; it was mesmerizing and slightly terrifying because you are so scared for Charlotte and her life in this house. Charlotte also had a male best friend whose name was Marco (Adam Fane) who sang a song called "Little Fish" (roll credits) that was basically about giving her and himself some comforting words, which are about how little fish should stick together and keep moving. If you have a bunch of tiny fish and you are all sticking together, you might eventually be okay in the end. This song is kind of lullaby-ish because it is supposed to be a comfort song; everyone is looking out for each other and that is beautiful. It doesn't mean that everything is ok, but there is a possibility that everything could be. It is like an adult "Mockingbird" lullaby with actual problems, not just breaking a looking glass or if a mockingbird won't sing.

She also had three very different relationships: one made her feel scared, one made her feel good but guilty, and one made her feel worthless. Her last "romance" that we see is with her boss, Mr. Bunder (Carl Herzog), who she wasn't really interested in, but he was definitely pretty interested in her. He took her out to celebrate the anniversary of his ex-wife's death, which I think is a really morbid thing to do, even if she wasn't a very good wife. The song was very Frank-Sinatra-inspired. But whenever I think of Frank Sinatra now, I think of Panic! At the Disco, so it was a very nice Death-of-a-Bachelor tribute. I think it was a really good song and had some very nice light cymbals. I really loved that there was a live band (Danielson, Charlotte Rivard-Hoster, Mike Matlock, Kyle McCullough, Jake Saleh, and Scott Simon); it really immerses you in the show and it makes you notice things you might not notice if you couldn't see the musicians. Mr. Bunder said some pretty disturbing things, but the song was very catchy, like a lot of popular songs. It scares her because she is not sure how to turn her boss down because he is her boss. John Paul (Darren Patin when I saw it, usually Curtis Bannister) was Kathy's boyfriend that Charlotte was sort of going out with, which is not the best thing to do to your best friend in my opinion. She likes John Paul because all the ladies want him and he likes her. John Paul was a player, so whenever Charlotte would step away for a minute, he would immediately start dancing with another woman. I thought the dancing was really good; it was very sensual, which is why Charlotte got so uncomfortable being out with her friend's boyfriend. Robert (Jeff Meyer) was the boyfriend she was with before she came to New York who made her leave where she was. He was not very good to her, especially when it came to her writing. Throughout the musical, whenever she was doubting herself, he would be the voice of that. He would tell her that she wasn't good enough--not just in her imagination but in their relationship. Just because they had a good time dancing doesn't mean he was good for her. So she has to find herself by herself.

She finds herself by herself with a little help from Anne Frank (Kyrie Courter). She has a dream about the historical figure, in the song "Flotsam," and Anne helps her see how some bits of this and some bits of that are good and that things that seem useless can actually be beautiful when you look at them all together. I think it is a very inspiring song because it is very true. And hearing Anne Frank tell you this might help it to be more meaningful. Charlotte had a very powerful song called "Simple Creature" at the end about how all she wanted was to get through life. She talks about how she knows what she wants now, how she can make decisions, and how she really wants lunch. I think that is definitely a good start for her, because now she knows what she wants other than a cigarette. I think that is a beautiful ending because it is not about her solving all her problems; it is about how even the smallest thing is a start. It connects to "Flotsam" because it doesn't seem important in "Simple Creature" that she wants to eat lunch, but it is a small thing that she's decided on her own that can join with other good decisions to help her be herself.

People who would like this show are people who like Anne Frank giving you advice, light cymbals, and lunch. I think that people should go see this show. It's a really powerful story with good actors and songs. I really liked it!


Photos: Michael Brosilow

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Review of Theater RED's The Wayward Women

Once upon a time I went to a show in Milwaukee and it was called The Wayward Women. It was by Jared McDaris and it was directed by Christopher Elst. It was a Renaissance-style play about a man named Cordelius (Timothy Rebers) and his servant Julian (Zach Thomas Woods) who are stranded on an island of Amazon women, ruled by Penti Celia (Alicia Rice) with her magistress Dotara (Reva Fox). Julian decides to disguise himself as a woman so he can pretend to be Cordelius' sister to gain the favor of the Amazons. The Amazons have a festival coming up, but two of their Dames, Anu (Madeline Wakley) and Grendela (Jennifer A. Larsen), are quarreling. Cordelius and Julian fall in love with Aquiline (LeAnn Vance), who is a squire to Grendela. Pinne (Brittany Curran), squire to Anu, discovers that Julian is a man. Over the course of the play, most of the women fall in love with Cordelius and the kind of hijinks that you would expect from a Shakespearean comedy ensue. I think it is an intriguing concept to do a Shakespearean play that is written in the twenty-first century, and I am really glad to see that Milwaukee has storefront theaters like we do in Chicago.

In a show called The Wayward Women, with a mostly female cast, I was hoping it would be more feminist than it was. Even though it had a largely female cast, they mostly did not portray women as being interested in anything other than men. The plot was following men, the women were obsessed with men, and even though the women are in power, it doesn't seem to be a very well-run society. People were getting into fights all the time and no one seemed to like each other very much. I am not saying it is not okay for women to like men; all I'm saying is that if you are writing a show about women you want to not talk so much about men.

There were lots of elements that reminded me of Shakespeare. They really tried to emulate Twelfth Night. They had a Sir-Toby-Belch-like character, Grendela, who is drunk all the time and plants a letter for Anu, who is a little like Malvolio but less conceited and seems smarter until she falls for Grendela's trick. You have cross-dressing (Viola and Julian), pirates (Antonio and Flachel), and songs like Feste sings are sung by Pinne. They seemed to be just borrowing the ideas more than exploring the ideas of Twelfth Night. It was interesting to discover all the similarities, but it would have been fun if it was sometimes more of a parody or illuminated different aspects of Twelfth Night you hadn't noticed before.

My three favorite characters were Grendela, Penti Celia, and Dotara, who were all Amazons. Grendela is very impulsive and often drunk. Whenever she sees anything she wants, she tries to go and get it. She was funny and sort of stereotypical but in a funny way where they acknowledged she was a stereotype of a woman who doesn't have traditional morals. Penti Celia is the duchess and wants to keep her kingdom in order, but she doesn't always do the best job. She seemed very poised and refined, which I think was a really good counterpoint to the rest of the women in the show. Dotara was the right-hand woman of Penti Celia. She helped her make all her decisions. Everyone was sort of scared of her, but she also seemed sweet. I thought it was funny how she treated Cordelius like a child and Cordelius didn't like it very much because he wasn't used to that because be was so beloved by everyone else. I think these three female characters were my favorites because the performers really seemed to know what they were saying and what their characters' motivations were.

People who would like this show are people who like borrowing from Shakespeare, singing squires, and drunken dames. I think this is a very interesting concept for a show. It had some good elements, and it was fun to discover the different characters and plot points taken from Shakespeare plays.

Photos: Traveling Lemur Productions

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Review of Something Rotten (Broadway in Chicago)

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Something Rotten!. The book was by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O'Farrell. The music and lyrics were by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick. It was directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw. It was about a man named Nick Bottom (Rob McClure) and he was a writer in the Renaissance who wants to create a play that is better than Shakespeare (Adam Pascal). So he asks a fortune teller, Nostradamus (Blake Hammond), what Shakespeare's next big play would be and also what the next new type of play would be. Nostradamus sees into the future and finds out that the next big thing will be called musicals, so Nick decides to make Omelette: The Musical!, which is the poor man's Hamlet--literally because Nick is out of money. And instead of spending the money he has left on food for his wife, Bea (Maggie Lakis), and brother, Nigel (Josh Grisetti), he goes and spends it on fortune tellers. Nigel falls in love with Portia (Autumn Hurlbert), the daughter of Puritan preacher Brother Jeremiah (Scott Cote). As you can imagine, hilarity ensues. I think this is a super fun show. It was a blast to be at and it was super fun recognizing all of the references to Shakespeare plays and musicals, which are two of my favorite things.

Nick Bottom really seemed to hate Shakespeare. He even sang a song--with a reprise!--about how much he hated him, with the very original title, "God, I Hate Shakespeare." He was saying how much he hated Shakespeare and everyone else in his theater troupe--Francis Flute (Patrick John Moran), Peter Quince (Con O'Shea-Creal), Tom Snout (Kyle Nicholas Anderson), Yorick (Daniel Beeman), Robin (Pierce Cassedy), Snug (Nick Rashad Burroughs)--and Nigel were horrified about how he could hate Shakespeare. Shakespeare is a superstar and Nick feels jealous because now that Shakespeare left their group, he is super famous. One of my favorite lines from this song was when Nick was talking about what people were like when Shakespeare walked into a room: "And they’re all “Oooh!” and he’s all “Stop” and they’re all “Yay” and I’m all “Blech.” It was so relatable because when you feel jealous you start not making quite as much sense and wishing people would shut up about how great the other person is. I really liked the song, "Hard to Be the Bard" which shows Shakespeare's perspective. It was funny and conceited at the same time. It showed how hard it was for Shakespeare to write anymore because it easier to be famous and the actual work is hard. And then he eventually breaks down in front of people because he didn't know they were there, but when he realizes it, he tries to cover it up and act like he hadn't done anything. The song was a really funny mix between David Bowie and someone conceited. My favorite lines were: "You're not even close, you remember that dammit, your play's gotta be in iambic pentameter! So you write down a word but it's not the right word, so you try a new word, but you hate the new word, and you need a good word, but you can't find the word." This was so relatable to me when writing reviews because sometimes you can't find the word and it's really frustrating...anxiety-provoking...it's hard (it's hard).

There was a song called "A Musical" that was just full of musical references which I appreciated for my nerdy self. Nostradamus is singing about how a musical is what they'll need to put the Bottom Brothers' theater company on the top. They referenced everything from Seussical to Rent. I loved the reference to A Chorus Line at the end where they all held up their "headsketches" in front of their faces. There was reference to Les Mis about how there is no talking and how they sing everything very slowly and stay on one note for a very long time so when they change you notice. (Imagine I just sang all that.) And Annie was probably the most obvious one; they literally got out buckets and started scrubbing the floor. It was hilarious to see people from the Renaissance scrubbing the floor and singing "It's a Hard Knock Life." It was so much fun to watch because everyone in the room was connecting over these references. It was just hilarious.

A lot of times in my reviews I write a paragraph about all my favorite funny moments. But this whole review is full of funny moments because the whole show is pretty comedic. So I'm just going to talk about funny moments that weren't in the last two paragraphs! One of my favorite characters was Brother Jeremiah. He was not very keen on his daughter Portia's relationship with Nigel because Nigel was a poet who wrote about love--because that is what poetry was in the Renaissance. Jeremiah was very funny because he was saying that he was against all of these "sinful" things and then he would accidentally make innuendos or show how he really felt about those things. It was so hilarious how he said "Come on, boys!" after every time he hinted but tried to cover up that he was gay. Omelette: The Musical! was so so hilarious. It was basically a musical about breakfast and every single musical ever and Hamlet. One of my favorite moments from this musical was when one of the eggs was still on stage and just popped out, seemingly innocent, and started belting "And I am Telling You" from Dreamgirls. It was so hilarious and perfectly timed that I needed to talk about it. It made me laugh so much.

People who would like this show are people who like musical references, belting eggs, and how hard it is to be the bard. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It is so much fun to watch and especially fun for big Shakespeare and musical nerds. I loved it!

Photos: Jeremy Daniel

Friday, July 14, 2017

Review of Hir at Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Hir. It was by Taylor Mac and it was directed by Hallie Gordon. It was about a family in California who is trying to figure out what they are doing. The father, Arnold (Francis Guinan) has had a stroke and the mother Paige (Amy Morton) is making changes to the way they live their lives because she doesn't want to be trapped by her husband to do what he wanted anymore, even though her plan is not really what she wants anymore. Their son, Isaac (Ty Olwin), is coming back from the war, and all he wants is to be back in his old home again, but it isn't like it used to be, and he was expecting something else, so he is very shaken by that. And Max (Em Grosland) is going through transition from her to hir. It is about family, change, and being broken. I think this show was super moving and sad, but not without humor. It really makes me think about what it would be like to feel like your whole life is falling apart and you don't know how to fix it.

The set (by Collette Pollard) I think was absolutely gorgeously gross, which was perfect for the show. It looked exactly like a starter home, but the thing was it looked like a starter home mixed with dirty laundry and the aftermath of a pride parade. The aesthetic of the play is terrifying realistic mixed with fancy theater. There is a giant fancy curtain which they raise to show the cluttered mess. It looks so refined, and then they reveal what is on the other side of the curtain. But once the act break ends, the curtain comes up and the stage looks different again. But even though things have changed, that doesn't mean things aren't going to fall apart. The family seems like it was just a normal family until the father had his stroke. But you find out that there was always a mess behind the curtain that is the family. No one really saw it until the person everyone was scared of was debilitated.

I became very invested in the characters because they were like real people; they were messed up like real people. But sometimes they were so messed up it was funny. It kind of makes you feel bad for laughing, but you do anyway. People are going to laugh in different places depending on what their experience with their families has been. Sometimes people will laugh at things that they recognize. Sometimes they will laugh at things because they are uncomfortable and don't know what to do. It is such a crazy mix. I think this show is supposed to make you uncomfortable and not really know what to laugh at. The mother would spray the father with water whenever he would do something she didn't like. You spray water on your pet when they do something you don't want them to do. When she did the spraying in a passive way, it was funnier to me because she seemed not to care and it was less aggressive, but when she took the time to look at him, it was less funny because it seemed more threatening. There was also another moment that was like that where Paige kept turning on the blender even though it made Isaac puke because of what had happened when he was at war. It is funny because she's doing it just to experiment and find out if that is what is making him puke, which is terrible, but the absurdity of the whole situation made it funny. I think that the writer did a great job at making us laugh and cry and cringe all at the same time.

This play shows you that this family isn't perfect, they aren't even good, but everyone in it is so compelled by the idea of family and how to make it what they want. Isaac, when he comes home, is expecting the family he remembers, but when he gets back everything is different. When he realizes that everything is different, he tries to make it what he wants, which is his father in charge again. It wouldn't make everything okay, but Isaac wants it because that is what he remembers. That is what his normal is. We know what the father used to want. He wanted everything in order and to have everything his way. And now he seems to be enjoying wearing a dress, having make-up put on, and wearing wigs. He seems comfortable being more classically feminine. But then when his son comes home and wants him to be a "man," he remembers who he used to be. He used to be an ultra-masculine guy who was a jerk. I think it is kind of sad because he doesn't seem to entirely want to go back. But he still does because he thinks that is what men are supposed to do. Max is also kind of persuaded by hir brother to behave in more of an ultra-masculine way. Hir family dynamic shifts around all the time. Hir father used to be in charge. Then hir mother was in charge and then hir brother came home and tried to change the dynamic back to what it was at first. You would think that as a non-binary person, Max would not like the new hyper-masculine structure of the family that is largely run by male power. But it is appealing to hir because ze definitely didn't want to be a girl anymore. I can't blame hir because it is hard to be a girl, especially a girl in this specific family structure. Paige's ideal family structure is a smart family that is not run by her husband and is perfectly open and progressive. But what she actually does when she is in charge is be abusive and aggressive whenever she doesn't get what she desires. She doesn't really want this progressive homeschooling family that she has created as much as she wants the opposite of what her husband wants. Basically what she wants is revenge.

There's a scene where they are fussing over the air conditioning, and it is between the three people (Arnold, Paige, and Isaac) who want to run the family. I think this is a metaphor. The air conditioner is kind of the house and the whole family. They all get into a fight without any words while they glare at each other while they do what they want. The air conditioner had always been a prominent issue in the show, so it is a great a metaphor for the family and how they feel like there can only be one person who truly runs the family. What happens to air conditioner in the end is what happens to the family.

People who would like this show are people who like plays about messed-up family dynamics, air conditioning metaphors, and blender experiments. I think this is a really sad but powerful story. I really enjoyed it and think everyone should get to experience it.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Monday, July 10, 2017

Review of Moby Dick at Lookingglass Theatre Company

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Moby Dick. It was adapted and directed by David Catlin from the book by Herman Melville, in association with The Actor's Gymnasium. The circus choreography was by Sylvia Hernandez-DiStasi. It was about a guy named Ishmael (Jamie Abelson when I saw it, Walter Owen Briggs at matinees) who was going whaling on a ship called The Pequod with his friend Queequeg (Anthony Fleming III) who he met at a hotel. The captain, Ahab (Nathan Hosner), had his leg bitten off by a whale with a name: Moby Dick. And Ahab is trying to kill him for revenge but endangering everyone on the boat while they are doing that. His first mate, Starbuck (Kareem Bandealy), is trying to keep him from putting the crew in danger and he also wants everybody to do their job, which is to get whale oil not revenge. It is about obsession, death, and understanding. I thought this was a really great show. I thought the circus elements tied in very well. Even though this is a story about a bunch of men on a boat trying to kill a whale, they made it beautiful and haunting by adding circus and musical elements (composed by Rick Sims).

This show incorporated a lot of circus into the story. There was a woman who represented the sea (Mattie Hawkinson) and she pulled men to their deaths in a seductive manner. She had this long flowing skirt that basically enveloped the whole stage. When she would walk offstage, it billowed behind her and it was super majestic to look at. All the people who were going out whaling have to give up seeing women for a long time, so it is like they are seeking the one thing they don't have while they are whaling and then they see that in the sea and then they die. There was also a beautiful and tragic death of a character named Mungun (Javen Ulambayar). He falls from the sails into the water and the Fates (Kelly Abell, Cordelia Dewdney, and Hawkinson) pull him down, but he is still trying to fight to get back up. There is this suspenseful music playing and Mungun is lowered on a rope and the fates are trying to get Mungun on the sea floor. They are pulling him down and he is pulling them up. It was super dramatic and fun to watch. I think the most haunting section was when you see Moby Dick, but he is made up of the Fates gone rogue. Their makeup is all smudged and they roar and they go on a rampage as one creature. It was slightly disturbing and intense. I was shivering a bit. I really liked how they portrayed Moby Dick's attack. Why it seemed so alarming was that everything seemed normal and then these alarms sound (designed by Sims) and you see these flashing lights (designed by William C. Kirkham), and it seems like there is a fire in the building, but no it is Moby Dick come to kill you! They make it so you are scared before you even know what is going on. There is also a great surprise for the audience when Moby Dick arrives for a second helping of Ahab, which I am not going to spoil.

Queequeg and Ishmael had an adorable relationship. When they first meet, they are kind of terrified of each other. But then they develop an unlikely (because they are from different sides of the world) friendship, where they learn about each others' cultures and they find out they see the world in a similar way by the end. I think you'd be crazy not to ship them! #Ishqueg'sShipHasSailed They both are searching for adventure and think of themselves like Jonah from the Bible. They both tell stories. Ishmael narrates the story that we are watching; Queequeg has a story that he carries around with him in tattoo form. Queequeq carves a story onto his coffin when he thinks he is going to die. And then the coffin ends up saving Ishmael's life, which means Ishmael is kind of saved by Queequeg's story. It is really sad because they had a really strong bond but they aren't together anymore.

Ahab has basically decided that he will not rest, or let his men rest, until Moby Dick has been captured and killed. Even when one of the crew, Cabaco (Micah Figueroa), jumps off the whaling boat out of fear and then goes crazy, Ahab won't turn around. That really shows you how messed up he is and how obsessed he is about killing this specific whale, even though it is hard to believe the whale did it on purpose and deserved to die. I think Starbuck is on the wrong ship because he isn't in it for the kill, he is in it to support his family. You get to see two other ships that are more motivated around getting the job done. One of them even has a captain, Captain Boomer (Raymond Fox), who has lost an arm to Moby Dick, but he isn't obsessing over him. He is moving on with his life with one less limb. This character was very funny because he was so cheery even though he was talking about how he lost his arm. There was another ship, The Rachel, that becomes obsessed, but the captain, Captain Gardiner (Fox) is obsessed over something that makes sense: his son got taken away by a whale, but he might not be dead yet. This character was heartbroken when you see him because he is so terrified and he just wants some help. But will Ahab help him? No! Because he's a jerk and he's too obsessed with this whale that doesn't really matter. Ahab does have a moment when he shines through his craziness. Starbuck wants the old Ahab back, and he sees it when Ahab starts to think of his wife and son. Ahab is about to turn the ship around, when the thing he is looking for shows up right in front of him. I think it is super interesting to see the roller coaster of emotions Starbuck and Ahab go through, and it is really heartbreaking to see when Ahab ruins most of their lives even though deep down he knows what is right.

People who would like this show are people who like beautiful circus elements, whale obsessions, and Ishqueg. I think that people should definitely definitely go see this show. It is moving, funny at points, and really mesmerizing to watch. It is so much fun to experience. I loved it!

Photos: Liz Lauren

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Review of The Runaways Lab Theatre's The Portrait of Dorian Gray in Association with Dirty Pop

Once upon a time I went to show and it was called The Portrait of Dorian Gray. It was based on the novella "The Picture of Dorian Gray" by Oscar Wilde and written by Olivia Lilley and the ensemble. It was directed by Olivia Lilley. It was about a woman named Dorian Gray (Dorothy Humphrey) and she was drawn by her friend Ivy (Jojo Brown) as a tattoo. And Ivy didn't want to use it as a tattoo and so she gave it to Dorian. And the portrait starts to get more and more decrepit while Dorian stays young. She starts a reign of terror, murdering people with words, drugs, and knives. Lord Henry (Peter Wilde) is a comfort to Dorian, helping her get over her guilt, but Lord Henry is oblivious to how terrible she is being. It is about youth, temptation, and appearances. I think this was a really good show. It was a new and intriguing version of this story. I really liked it.

I had not read the book when I saw the show, but I was intrigued by the show and wanted to read it, so I did. I think there were a lot of differences, but those differences didn't make me angry like sometimes differences in adaptations do because they weren't trying to make an exact adaptation of the book. But they were true to the book with all the feelings and aspects and the major plot points. It had the same main idea which was basically that Dorian was obsessed with staying young and being beautiful and was not facing the consequences for her/his actions. One of the changes I really liked was to Sibyl Vane (Mary Kate Young), the person that Dorian drives to suicide with his harsh words. In the book she is an actress and in the play she is an Instagram star, which an interesting choice. It shows how much of a mask she is wearing in both cases. When she is an actress she is not being herself. And when she is being who she is on the internet, that is also not who she really is. She was more pathetic in the book. She was young and innocent and didn't know what she was doing. But in the play you felt like maybe she could fend for herself, and then when she can't it is even more sad. In the book, Dorian falls in love with Sibyl's characters, and in the play she falls in love with her persona. I think that was a good update. It wasn't just for the sake of updating; they really pursued the topic of the internet throughout the play. They didn't just drop in the reference to Instagram "for the kids." They also changed Alan from the book to Alice (Kat Christensen). And instead of making the character just a scientist, they made her someone who designed drugs and dealt them. Both acted as clean-up crew of Dorian's victims. I think the play really showed how messed up Dorian was, and she treated her body in a way that if she hadn't been immortal, she would probably be dead. That is also true in the book, but not quite as clear.

Both the book and the play are actually quite funny, even though they are about a character who is dangerous, selfish, and impulsive. One of my favorite moments that was funny, but also slightly sad because of what it leads to, was where Ivy was invited to come over by Dorian and she got so excited. She was so excited and giddy. She gets to Dorian's house and she brought the wine and was freaking out but trying to be cool. But she ended up being adorably awkward, like asking about if they should toast and being in awe of how famous Dorian was. It was adorable and funny, but by the end the romance that she had in mind doesn't really work out. Also, there is another hilarious moment near the top of the show, when Lord Henry is introducing lordself to Dorian and says, "my pronouns are lord." It was so hilarious and perfectly timed. It was amazing. Lord Henry also had a most-likely improvised moment, where lord's purse broke and lord said, "You can't buy quality these days" which was just a perfect line.

Dorian had two very important relationships: with Ivy and Lord Henry. One of them thought they were more important emotionally to her than they were, which was very sad and moving, and I think that is why I love this story so much. Ivy is the equivalent of Basil Hallward, the painter, in the book. It was so heartbreaking how Dorian used Ivy because it was clear that Ivy really loved Dorian. You could see it on Ivy's face. Her performance was heartbreaking and breathtaking at the same time. She was so true to the character's pain but it wasn't like she wouldn't let any humor into her performance. In the book, Basil is also infatuated with Dorian, but it seems to be more like admiration. I think that is because at that time people were more terrified of being discovered as gay. Oscar Wilde had to write about how Basil felt about Dorian in a more toned-down way. Oscar Wilde did go to prison for "gross indecency," which is infuriating because he just wanted to be who he was and he was arrested and sentenced to two years in prison for that. Lord Henry is basically the guide for Dorian through all of her her ups and downs. Lord introduces her to a new way of living that wasn't so restricted. Lord takes her to a leather bar, which is where she meets Alice and starts her killing spree. In the book, Lord Henry introduces Dorian to a book, a scandalous book, that introduces him to the idea of doing whatever he wants whenever he wants to whoever he wants. Once Dorian in the play is introduced to drugs, she discovers how immune she feels to everything and embraces her hedonism.

People who would like this show are people who like explorations of hedonism, new-fangled old stories, and lord pronouns. I think that people should definitely go see this show. I've really enjoyed both of the awesome shows I've seen from this company. They are really great at making you care about characters you thought you knew and showing you a new twist on them.

Photos: Nico Fernandez, Michael Rivera

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Review of Organic Theater Company's Emilie: La Marquise Du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Emilie: La Marquise Du Châtelet Defends Her Life Tonight. It was by Lauren Gunderson, and it was directed by Bryan Wakefield. It was about a a woman named Emilie (Laura Sturm) and she was dead. And she came back to reflect on her life and eventually see what she needed to understand about her life's work. She was a feminist scientific writer in the 1700s. She had a very fascinating but too short life. I think this is a super intriguing, fun, and sad play. It explores lots of different types of partnerships and it really makes you think about what life was like for women in this time period.

Emilie had a lot of romantic relationships. She switched back and forth between lovers throughout the show and it was really interesting to see the relationship she had with each one of them. Her husband (John Arthur Lewis) she didn't necessarily have a very romantic relationship with. They had an understanding and a respect for each other. And it was really bittersweet when she talked about him because they never had a lustful relationship, like she did with the rest of the people she loved. But she did still love him. He respected her feminist, scientific, and romantic pursuits. I am slightly worried that the husband wasn't always pursuing his own happiness. He and his wife seemed to have an understanding that they could both do what they wanted, but we don't really know anything about the husband's life. Voltaire (Joel Moses) was the lustful relationship she found. It was also an intellectual relationship. He also respected her work, but only to a point. He ends up betraying her by dissing her work by writing an article, which really hurts their romantic and intellectual relationships. He is selfish in their relationship, but that doesn't mean that they don't love each other. Her final relationship is very short because of her death. But the person I think she connected most with and was most equal with was a poet, Jean-François. They write together, like she and Voltaire did, and he really admires her. I think all these men are very important to her and shape her life in very different ways. You see that how she approaches her relationships with men changes over her lifetime. At first, she doesn't have a choice, but she still has a connection with her husband. Then she meets Voltaire who she loves because of lust and because they both want knowledge to rule over everything. But Voltaire literally stalks her until she gives in. She chooses Jean-François because she sees that he understands her and admires her and she sees potential in his writing. That doesn't mean that their relationship has nothing to do with sex, but she pursues him, which shows us she is making a choice and she has learned who she is and what she wants. Over the course of the play, she is helpless, then lustful, and then all she wants is to be happy. And then she dies.

The whole show seemed very performative until the moving moments, which then felt very real. I think that was a really perfect contrast because it really made it all the more moving to see these characters as real people (because they are historical characters after all) after for much of the play seeing them as self-conscious characters. Except for Emilie, the other characters seemed to understand that they were fake, or visions in Emilie's mind. There was a scene where Emilie was talking to her daughter, who is played by an ensemble member called Soubrette (Sara Copeland), who was about to marry a prince. She really didn't want to marry the prince because she wanted to live her own life like her mother. And because the Soubrette also plays young Emilie, it is more moving because Emilie sees herself in her daughter. The relationship felt very real in the scene, even though the Soubrette as a self-conscious character is supposed to call attention to the non-realistic parts of the show. In the moment, though, both actors make you believe it is a real mother-daughter relationship that you care about.

Even though the main character is dead by the beginning, this is still a pretty funny show. I really liked the scene where Emilie met Jean-François and she meets these women (Copeland and Gay Glenn) who are so intrigued and confused by her. They are so over the top that it is funny to watch. They would flutter their fans and do huge, grand gestures. Even though all the women at this party thought Emilie was weird, I liked how much she owned it. I think that is a really good life lesson: to own your weirdness. When Emilie met the poet, Voltaire was very defensive about her liking him. She said something along the lines of, "I've always loved poetry" and Voltaire was like, "She means my poetry." And then she was like, "No I don't" and he was just shut down. #noteverythingisaboutyouVoltaire.

People who would like this show are people who like the contrast between theatrical and realistic storytelling, fascinating biography, and shutting down Voltaire. I think that people should definitely definitely go see this show. It is a beautiful, moving, and hilarious show. I laughed; I cried. It was altogether a great show.


Photos: Matthew C. Yee