Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Review of Fight City at The Factory Theater

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Fight City. It was by Scott OKen and it was directed by Jill Oliver. It was about a dystopian future where women are in charge and men are degraded and oppressed. It is about how if one gender is in power, even if it isn't the one in charge now, it doesn't mean everything would be better. The problem with society is inequality not who is in charge. It is about a woman named Barb (Jennifer Betancourt) who is a cop in this society where women are in power because there had been a disease that affected only men. Her mother Margaret (Mandy Walsh) used to be a fighter extraordinaire on the force, but one of her former students, Erica (Kim Boler), has gone rogue. So Barb and her partner Janet (Almanya Narula) go on a mission to find Erica and stop her from her evildoing. And a man, Weatherfoot (Harrison Weger), has just been placed on the police force which is very unusual, and he has to prove himself to the force and his boss (Jen Bosworth). I thought this show had a compelling story and world with really good fights (by fight directors Maureen Yasko and Chris Smith).

I thought all the fights were really well done. One of my favorite fights was the one where Margaret confronts Valentine (Susan Wingerter), Erica's engineer who has created this gun. Guns are forbidden in this reality. Valentine and her posse discover Janet and Margaret having a heart to heart and decide to ruin that by shooting at them. Margaret spits out a tooth and there is lots of face-bashing-in. It was very violent and it was super badass and I really liked watching it. It was sort of gross, but it was awesome to see women kicking butt, and you don't see women fighting ruthlessly that often in plays and movies. I also thought that Weatherfoot's fight with Steele (Eric Frederickson) was super awesome and it was part of the big buildup to the fight with Barb and Erica. I think it really added a lot to the intensity of the final scene. I think the ending battle with Erica really utilized everyone in the scene but not so much that it took away from the duel between the mortal enemies Barb and Erica. There is one character who is dead by this time who I really wish would have been involved; it didn't ruin the fight for me, but it would have added an emotional element to the end of the show. The death added to Barb's motivation, but I thought of another way she could have been motivated by a different character dying. I felt like it would have added to the effectiveness of the final scene if you got a little bit of an epilogue so it wasn't just that the fight ends and then the show ends.

I thought it was a really interesting concept that this world would be sexist toward men. The way they portrayed it was really good because it made me sad just like I would feel if the sexism was directed toward women. That shows that it was really good writing because it made me feel bad for them even though in our society right now men are the people in power. I think that Relf (Josh Zagoren) was a particularly good example of this. The actor did a really good job of portraying him as someone who was vulnerable but not feminine. He was a man but his demeanor was smaller. That is what made it powerful when he was being treated like crap all the time; he was clearly scared in an actual way. One scene that really got to me was when he came into the squad room in the police station with bruises all over him and no one ever seemed to notice the bruises. That really reminded me of things that happen to women today; they show up somewhere and something is clearly wrong, but people don't pay attention. Not all the men are defenseless though. Verne (Frederickson) can fend for himself and he starts a campaign for men's rights. He has this speech at the end of the show that is going on when the end battle is happening. It was really motivational because while this violent fight is going on in one corner, he is talking about the future of this world and how he is going to try and make it better. I liked that the men's rights group had a woman (Grace Odumosu) in it, but I wished that one of the main characters had been masculinist too. It was kind of hard to root for people who were grabbing men's butts without consent all the time. Weatherfoot is just trying to follow the rules of the system; he isn't really an activist. It was upsetting how he keeps being objectified by the women just because he's there.

I thought it was really interesting how the relationship between Janet and Margaret was all about looking out for Barbara. They were both mother figures even though only Margaret was her actual mother. I also liked how Margaret had taught Janet everything she knew, which made Margaret more of a mentor toward her. I wanted to see more of this relationship and more of each of their relationships with Barb. I would have also liked to delve deeper into Margaret's backstory with Erica. That is a common problem in shows that are generally based around fights, but I think they could have made it a bit longer and given more time to develop those relationships.

People who would like this show are people who like alternate realities, badass fights, and spitting out teeth. I think people should go see this show. It is a lot of fun to experience. I really enjoyed the fights and the universe the show puts you in.

Photos: Michael Courier

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Review of Brown Paper Box Co.'s They're Playing Our Song

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called They're Playing Our Song. The book was by Neil Simon, the music was by Marvin Hamlisch, and the lyrics were by Carole Bayer Sager. It was directed and choreographed by Daniel Spagnuolo. The musical director was Iliana Atkins. It was about a man and a woman, Vernon (Dan Gold) and Sonia (Carmen Risi), who were both songwriters; she writes lyrics, and he writes music. They start writing songs together, and at first they absolutely loathe each other, and then as time goes on they start to feel romantically toward each other. But they don't seem very compatible. She is an optimist and he is a pessimist. She will help anyone in need, and he doesn't really want to help anyone once he's cut ties with them. She is more adventurous, and he is more set in his ways. Also, Sonia has a ex-boyfriend that she is still taking care of. It is about the ways we make decisions, who you are meant to be with, and artistic collaboration. I think this is a very intriguing and funny and heartwarming show. It made me think about the ways gender roles can hurt relationships and how broken relationships can restart.

I think the songs "If She Really Knew Me" and "If He Really Knew Me" were really interesting songs because they sound like they would be the exact same song only replacing pronouns, but then they are actually different in an important way. They both want the other to help them find out who they really are, but she is more talking about if he has lived up to her expectations of who this great songwriter was. And for Vernon's song it is more about what she wants and if he is good enough for her. It kind of seems like Sonia knows she is good enough for him and doesn't need to shape up but just needs to realize if he's lived up to her expectations. And he wants to live up to her expectations, but he doesn't seem to really have any expectations for her. But as the play progresses you start to see those develop a little bit more. I think it is important because the message of the songs evolves so that Vernon wants her to actually do things instead of just for her to like him. It is good writing because you see the relationship evolve into both of them having expectations for the other.

I really liked the song "Right." I thought it was a really fun pep-talk-to-yourself song with Sonia and her voices (Elissa Newcorn, Ariana Cappuccitti, and Deanalis Resto). I really liked how her voices were like a girl group in the background that reminded me of The Supremes. The song was really catchy. Vernon also had voices (Mike Danovich, Bradley Halverson, and John Marshall Jr.) that would sing to him about his decision making, his romantic choices, and his songwriting choices. I thought that was a fun touch--cheesy but in a fun way. I thought the arc of "Right" was also really good. The voices in her head start out being pessimistic, but then they are won over and decide that maybe Sonia and Vernon have a chance after all. Another funny song was "They're Playing My Song" that happened when Sonia and Vernon went to a club on their first date. I don't feel like this is the most original melody in the world, but I have never heard a song about hearing your own song being played. And it was great to see all the performers having a blast with the song. It was funny how when they would hear their own songs they would jump up and immediately start jamming. I think if their songs hadn't been played they wouldn't have gotten up and danced and eventually gotten together. It shows that they are kind of self-involved people, which might actually make for a good couple because they won't notice when the other person isn't paying attention because they'll be so obsessed with themselves.

I think "Fill in the Words" is a very pretty but sad song. It is about how Vernon knows he needs to work on himself to get Sonia back. And he is worried that maybe she won't still be there by the time he gets back, even though she bought him a mini piano. He's realized that asking her to always fill in the words (or do all the emotional work in the relationship) is not the right way to keep a relationship healthy. I think it is really sweet how all of Vernon's voices came in and played some notes on his piano during this song. It shows you that he using all his voices to compose this song and the voices are all getting along. This song leads perfectly to the end of the play. I think it is a really good way to make the ending make sense because you know his internal monologue and the reason why he goes to visit Sonia in the last scene.

People who would like this show are people who like hearing their own songs, girl-group pep talks, and mini pianos. I think people should definitely go see this show. It is a fun show with talented performers and interesting ideas, and I really liked it.

Photos: Zach Dries

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Review of An American in Paris: A New Musical (Broadway in Chicago)

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called An American in Paris: A New Musical. The book was by Craig Lucas inspired by the motion picture. The music and lyrics were by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin. It was directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon. The musical score was adapted, arranged, and supervised by Rob Fisher. It was about a man named Jerry Mulligan (McGee Maddox) who was an artist who has left the army after World War II ends and decides that he is going to stay in Paris to pursue his career and a lady. The lady is Lise (Sara Esty) who is a dancer who he keeps running into and eventually they develop a friendship that isn't really just a friendship but she keeps trying to convince herself that it is. Jerry becomes friends with two other men, Adam (Etai Benson) and Henri (Nick Spangler), who just happen to also be in love with and/or engaged to Lise. It is about true love, rejection, and art. I think this is a really beautiful show to watch. I loved the changes they made to the story from the movie to make it less sexist and a more realistic look at post-war life. In the movie it seems like you show up in Paris and everything is calm. The problem in the movie is just that he can't get the girl, but in the musical it is also that resources are scarce and everyone is worried that something terrible will happen again. I liked that because they are doing more justice to history.

I think this play got rid of a lot of things that make the movie uncomfortable. But some of the things that were changed made some of the moments they kept in a bit stranger. For example, the song "I've Got Beginner's Luck," takes place during the scene where Jerry goes to a store to see Lise to tell her she got the part in the ballet. In the movie, he shows her that he is nice to old ladies and has good taste in perfume, and she is won over by his charms and GeneKellyness. In the musical, the scene in the store seems a little like he's trying to get her fired by ransacking the store, which is a little bit strange because he doesn't tell her that she got the part until after he starts doing this mischievous stuff. She can't really be super in love with him in the musical right away because she feels indebted to Henri and his family (Gayton Scott and Don Noble) for hiding her during the war, and because she is so resistant to him it seems like Jerry is being slightly forceful and creepy. There are a lot of good classic stories that feel slightly creepy now because of how we think about consent now. You do get distracted by the more theatrical elements like the dancing, singing, and visual elements, all of which I thought were gorgeous and amazing. There is also a song called "Liza," which was basically Jerry talking to Lise about how she doesn't seem like a Lise, because it seems like such a sad name. She seems more like a Liza to him. Generally, I don't think it is great that he is calling her by something that is not her name, but eventually she is won over by it, and you can see she wants to be Liza, and that might be why she wants to be with Jerry. She wants to be a happier person and he helps her become that.

I found the three rejected lovers had just as interesting plot lines as the lead characters, which I thought was really good writing. They didn't just seem like add-ons to further the plot for the main characters. You really get to know them on a personal level. I really liked the relationship between Henri and Milo (Emily Ferranti), Jerry's rebound girlfriend. They seemed to be genuinely good friends and they bonded over the people they had been with being together now. It is also nice that they are not romantically interested in each other. He seems kind of like her gay best friend. They sing a duet together called "Who Cares," where they are in different places but they are both telling their partners the same thing: that they don't really care what their partner does anymore. They know they deserve someone better for themselves and their partner deserves to happy. I think this is a really bittersweet song because you can see how sad they are to leave these people that they wanted to be with. They wanted their relationships to work out, and you see they still love them, but it is for the best to end their relationship. Milo also has a duet with Adam, "But Not for Me," which is about how everybody seems to be having a great time and I'm just over here in a corner, being single. I thought it was a really pretty song, but it was also slightly angry. It was basically like someone singing a lonesome song and then halfway through becoming very angry, which is the best idea for a song ever because it really captures what it feels like to be alone. You don't just pity yourself and be sad about it, you are also kind of angry at the world.

I think that the choreography in this show is absolutely magnificent. It is a perfect mix of the dance style from the movie with the choreographer's own style. I also really liked the "An American in Paris" ballet and how it was based on Jerry's art. I think it was really cool how geometrical the stage picture was and how the costumes (designed by Bob Crowley) were all so colorful. The women had these skirts that were like separate triangles, and when they would spin, all the triangles would shoot out and make a star around them. The whole ballet was hypnotizing because you were so intrigued by every movement. "Fidgety Feet" was a really catchy song and I still have it stuck in my head right now. The dancing was super upbeat and happy and perfectly contrasted with the rest of how that scene goes. Everybody seems happy for a bit, but the rest of that party doesn't go very well in the end. Everyone is sitting down for a lot of the dance, so just their feet are moving and then they'd switch seats by doing a fan kick, and I thought it was really awesome looking. It was very Broadway. The whole song was everyone was breaking out in dance in a very proper setting. In some musicals, they have like a rebellion where they win over all the people who were against what they were doing--like dancing or playing rock music. I think this was a really good version of that because there wasn't a huge fight or anything, just everyone having a good time even if it wasn't the most proper fun time.

People who would like this show are people who like songs that capture loneliness, colorful ballet, and fidgety feet. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It has beautiful choreography, good singing, and a really great revised story!

Photos: Matthew Murphy

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Review of About Face Youth Theatre's Brave Like Them

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Brave Like Them. It was devised by the About Face Youth Theatre Ensemble and it was directed by Ali Hoefnagel and Kieran Kredell. It was about a person named Danni (Kyla Norton) who at the start of the show identifies as female. She had gone back to her home town after her parents divorced and is exploring her sexuality and gender identity. She and her friend Jamie (Sandy Nguyen) discover the Riot Grrrls and want to join the movement until Danni realizes how lacking in inclusion the group at the club is because they aren't welcoming to Danni's new friends who are LGBTQ+. But Jamie has become close with the main Riot Grrrls in the town and doesn't want to give that up, even for her best friend. It is about identity, feminism, and inclusion. I thought this was a good show. It had a lot of really talented young actors in it. I think it is a powerful story and it made me think a lot about what it means to be inclusive and how important it is to be aware of your privilege.

I think the relationship between Danni and Jamie started out as a sweet one, but as the play goes on you see it fall apart in a way that is really heartbreaking. They used to be such good friends when they were younger and now you start to see them grow apart as they start to be interested in different things and start to disagree on more topics. I never really fight with my best friend, and I am ten years into that friendship, and it is terrifying to think what might happen to our friendship when we go to high school. But it is a sad truth that friendships that you have when you are young often do fall apart when you go to high school. Another reason why it is so sad is that I feel like their conflicting opinions don't need to drag their friendship apart, but they do. I think the way they try to heal the friendship by the end is really smart and grownup. After watching these teens act like teens, I think it is really great to see them make a grownup decision that doesn't end in anger and works for both of them. This is not just a discovering-who-you-are story, which is about being with yourself and discovering who you you want to be. It is also a story about growing up, making grown-up decisions with other people and thinking about what is best for everyone. You also see how much Danni grows in the scenes with her/their mom, Lydia (Mia Vivens). They admit to their mom that they prefer to use the pronouns they/them/theirs. And they also show their mom their 'zines. I think their relationship is really sweet, and you can see they went through some really rough times together. Danni basically ends up showing their mom their diary which I think is brave and meaningful.

Danni discovers who they really are when they become involved with a band soon to be called Space Sex Vacuum. The people in the band are Chris (Ben Flores), Noa (Jude Gordon), and Coe (Jimbo Pestano) and they want to rebel against the Riot Grrrls because that group is not welcoming they/them/theirs-identifying people to The Crocodile Club. I really liked their song about the audience at Riot Grrrl shows being polar bears and snowstorms. I loved the scene in the record store. It was really funny and a little heartwarming because you see all these people become themselves around each other. The Shopkeeper (Sharon Pasia) was really high and talking about space and what it would be like to have intercourse in space, how there would a space sex vacuum. The band has come to record store for band name ideas, and then the clerk ends up giving them the idea. She was a really funny character, but in the end she has sort of helped everyone like a guardian angel in charge of helping you find your place in the movement towards equality.

The sort-of villain of the show is the lead Riot Grrrl, Hannah (Lilian McGrady), who is basically trying to make it so girls can take over the punk scene. The movement starts out wanting to help girls feel safe and powerful, but it ends up excluding a lot of people. People shouldn't be excluded because of their identity, they should be excluded because of their actions, but Hannah is assuming that every man will do something terrible if they haven't done it yet. It is hard to have a safe space without excluding people, but when you exclude people they get angry about it and you are also not necessarily ensuring it is a safe space. It is so complicated because the Riot Grrrls in this show want to make a safe space for women, but they end up making something that is not welcoming to they/them/theirs- and male-identifying people even though a lot of those people probably haven't done anything threatening to women. I thought this show was going to be about the positive things the Riot Grrrls did for society, but it ended up making you aware of all the problems that the movement had with practicing inclusion. I was disappointed to know that, but I think it is important to come to terms with it.

People who would like this show are people who like stories about finding yourself, record store guardian angels, and crazy band names. I think people should definitely go see this show. It has some really great performances and an intriguing story. I really liked it. It closes on August 6, so everyone should go see it before the run ends!

Photos: Emily Schwartz