Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Review of The Taming of the Shrew at Chicago Shakespeare

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Taming of the Shrew. It was by William Shakespeare and it was conceived and directed by Barbara Gaines. The Columbia Women's Club scenes were by Ron West. It was about The Columbia Women's Club putting on their annual play, The Taming of The Shrew, losing one of their cast members and gaining another, and their ideas about women's suffrage. I think this is a really fun and eye-opening play. It made me think of the The Taming of The Shrew in a whole new way and made me realize you don't have to accept the sexist ending.

This play sort of takes place in two different worlds: Shakespeare's play and the Women's Club. You get to see the women's feelings about the play through little chunks in between scenes, which I think actually added a lot to the play because all these women's views are changing, not only about this play, but about women's rights in general. You can see people becoming a little more uncomfortable about their lines and a little less certain that what they are saying is right. At the end of the play, when Katherine (Alexandra Henrikson) gives her submission speech, you can sense everyone in the room start to get more uncomfortable and feel more depressed. I was like, "Oh no. This is going to be the saddest ending of all time." But instead they still tried to resolve things in the frame narrative. I think it did help to not leave everyone thinking "Feminism is hopeless; men are terrible." It left me thinking more about some of the things women did accomplish by displaying how they felt.

I think there were a lot of really great performances in this. I thought Henrikson did a great job showing her arc in both her role as Katherine and as Louise Harrison, who plays Katherine. Crystal Lucas-Perry played Mrs. Victoria Van Dyne and that character playing Petruchio, and those two characters were so different and played so well. I hated Petruchio so much when he was being mean to his wife, who didn't even want to be his wife. He was unappreciative but also a straight-up sexist. Kate Marie Smith, who played Olivia Twist and that character playing Lucentio, seemed so gallant and heroic as Lucentio. She made the part not just a boring dude who is in love with a pretty lady. I really liked Olivia Washington as Emily Ingersoll and that character playing Bianca. You got to see not only Bianca's arc, but Emily's of breaking away from her mother and becoming her own person. Bianca refusing to come to her husband when asked was kind of a parallel to how Emily had just broken away from her mother, which I think was a super interesting parallel. I think Lillian Castillo was really great comic relief as Lucinda James and Biondello. She also had a really great mustache for Biodello. When Biondello noticed that the real Vincentio (Cindy Gold) was actually there, and it wasn't the fake one (Ann James), his reaction was just priceless.

I think this show had some really great visual aspects as well. The set (by Kevin Depinet) was really magnificent. I loved the huge arch that was at the entryway and the glass door; it was all very 20s and reminded me a lot of the Newberry Library. The costumes (Susan E. Mickey) were also really cool. I loved how they used their bloomers as the breeches because they'd lost most of their costumes. I loved how they matched to the dresses they were already wearing. I thought that was really funny. And a way they produced a funny moment out of the bloomers was when Elizabeth Nicewander (James) wandered in and saw that everyone was taking on their skirts. At first she was shocked, but then she was like "Oh. Oh well." and just took off her skirt.

People who would like this show are people who like new takes on classics, great acting, and bloomers. I think that people should definitely go see this show. I have never seen The Taming of The Shrew like this before, and I really loved it.

Photos: Liz Lauren

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Review of Steppenwolf for Young Adults' The Crucible

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Crucible. It was by Arthur Miller and it was directed by Jonathan Berry. It is about a group of girls--Betty Parris (Kristina Valada-Viars), Susanna Walcott (Stephanie Shum), Mercy Lewis (Avi Roque), Mary Warren (Taylor Blim), and Abigail Williams (Naïma Hebrail Kidjo)--who were dancing in the forest with Reverend Parris' (Peter Moore) slave Tituba (Echaka Agba)and they are suspected of trying to call on the devil. Instead of just taking the punishment they would have gotten, they start accusing other people of witchcraft which leads to destruction and death. But one of the girls, Abigail, has had an affair with her old employer, John Proctor (Travis A. Knight), so she tells everyone that his wife Elizabeth (Valada-Viars) is a witch so that she can be with him, which is really messed up. And when Reverend Parris realizes he can't deal with all these witches on his own, he gets Reverend Hale (Erik Hellman) to help him. But eventually Reverend Hale realizes that maybe the children are lying. It is about the faults of religion, flaws in the judicial system, and acts of courage. I think this is a really intriguing and beautifully done show. It had great visual aspects and it was also really well acted.

There were a lot of really great visual aspects to this show. The set (by Arnel Sancianco) was eerie, like a skeleton of a house on a platform. And the actors all walk out on stage completely silent and sit around the platform in chairs. And then this drum music starts and the girls get up and start to dance with Tituba. I thought that was a really cool way to start the show. It was such a change from the silence and put-togetherness of the actors coming on stage at first. Then it became this loud drum music (by Kevin O'Donnell) and stomping dance. To me, it kind of represented how the play goes. It starts with something normal, a girl being sick, and then it turns into accusations of witches witches everywhere, basically everything going crazy. I thought it was cool how the actors changed on stage too. All of of the costumes (by Izumi Inaba) for different characters played by the same actor were added on to the base costume, and they were all black and white. Against a dark-colored set it was a really cool image.

John Proctor is a very complicated character. He makes a really bad choice to have sexual relations with his employee while his wife was sick. That doesn't make it okay at all; that makes it worse. But he knows he made a mistake and he wants to make up for it by helping save his wife's life. But before he knows his wife's life is in danger, he is sort of mean to her because of how guilty he feels about what he has done. That doesn't make it okay to be a jerk to her. It is sad that they don't get a happy ending, which is how you want it to go. But that is probably not how it should go because he deserved to have a little bit of consequences, but I think the consequences he got from the outside world were too harsh. His wife wanted to forgive him and live with him, but he couldn't do that in the end because he didn't want to lie again, even if it wasn't to her. He becomes a better person over the course of the play. Abigail is also complicated because you know that she isn't doing the right thing by accusing hundreds of people. But you feel sorry for her because you know the reason why she is trying to get Elizabeth out of her life is because she felt like John Proctor had promised her something. Abigail has been tricked by John. But she also makes a mistake. And she doesn't try to make up for it. She just makes many more mistakes that kill 20 people. But also, Abigail gets called a whore because she slept with John even though it probably wasn't all her idea. And even though John gets called a lecher, you mostly remember that he's honest in the end. I'm not sure the play is really trying to forgive Abigail, but it is really interested in forgiving John. But as an audience member I can see ways to forgive Abigail, especially with these particular performances. She does a good job of making me hate her in some scenes and in other scenes be able to see where she was coming from, which is a really hard thing for an actor to do. John Proctor is also not kind to her, he is physically rough with her, which I think adds a lot to how you can sympathize with her.

This show expresses basically what it feels like being a teenage girl. You feel like you want to be noticed, and you'd do anything to get that attention. They want a little excitement in their lives, so they dance in the woods and drink blood, like hanging out with your friends and going to a party when you are not supposed to. And the society around them believes them when they are lying and doesn't believe them when they are telling the truth, which is pretty messed up. I think it is great to have this as part of a theater for young adults show, because so many people will identify with it. It is always good to learn from things other people have done without having to face the consequences yourself. And this is why theater exists--to generate that learning but also catharsis. And that is good to show teenagers.

People who would like this show are people who like eerie sets, thinking about characters in new ways, and witches witches everywhere. I think that people should definitely go see this show. I think it is a really great production of this play. It made me think about it in ways I hadn't the first time I saw it.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Review of Choir Boy at Raven Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Choir Boy. It was by Tarell Alvin McCraney and it was directed by Michael Menendian. It was about a young man named Pharus (Christopher W. Jones) who went to an all-boys boarding school. And he was the choir lead for the school's a cappella group. But he had an enemy, Bobby Marrow (Patrick Agada), who wanted to bring him down because of his position in the choir and also his sexuality. Bobby's friend Junior (Julian Terrell Otis) is not completely on board with the whole making-fun-of-Pharus thing. The other student Bobby is trying to get on board is David (Darren Patin) a minister in the making who also isn't really sure about himself. AJ (Tamarus Harvell) is Pharus's main supporter. They are roommates and basically best friends. Bobby's uncle is the headmaster (Robert D. Hardaway), so it doesn't seem like Bobby gets the right consequences for his actions. Headmaster Marrow wants Pharus to succeed but moreover he wants his nephew to succeed, so he is sort of stuck. They have a new teacher, Mr. Pendleton (Don Tieri), who has come out of retirement to teach these teens, but he is not always aware that what he is saying might be racist. I thought that this was a fascinating and complex show. I loved the plot and I think it had some really great performances and musical arrangements.

I think Pharus is a really complicated character. You're rooting for him most of the time, but it seems like he has some faults. Like he tries to get what he wants without always considering other people's feelings. He is very competitive. One thing that is really good about him is that he will be himself no matter what other people think. He is also a really good friend to AJ and he wants to do well by his mother. As the choir leader, he seems to get everyone to do what they need to do. I think it makes for a very interesting story to have a main character who doesn't have all noble purposes. He loves people, but he also loves attention and being in the spotlight, and he is willing to make other people unhappy to get that.

I really loved the music in the show. I think the arrangements (music director Frederick Harris) were really great. I really loved the song "Rockin' Jerusalem." I think it was super cool and had some really good choreography (by Breon Arzell). They are all calling their parents while they are singing it and basically you get to hear how their home life isn't that great, and how they are all afraid of disappointing their parents or that they already have. The song is happiness and jubilation but while they are actually talking they are not happy or full of jubilation. "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" was a pretty sad song, as you can probably tell by the title. It is really sad because it shows how these kids don't get to see their parents much anymore. That actually might be their experience; they might feel like a motherless child. They are teenagers and they have a lot of stuff they should probably be talking about to their parents. But they aren't because they can't because their parents aren't actually there. They can talk to them over the phone, but that isn't the same. All of the song selections really worked with what was happening in the play, which made it super moving.

I think the show has three characters that are kind of the voice of reason in this teenage tornado: Mr. Pendleton, Headmaster Marrow, and AJ. Headmaster Marrow, when he is talking with Pharus after he has messed up the school song (but for good reason), he talks to him about it and finds out what the circumstances were and tries to solve the problem. Mr. Pendleton, although he doesn't make the best first impression, he does grow on the students and makes the choir get back together. And he talks to the headmaster about the headmaster's cluelessness about the sexuality of his students. AJ helps out Pharus a lot by helping him make his accusations and ideas a lot less extreme. But he also has a lot of fun with him and doesn't act like the adult in the room at all times. I think it is important to have the voices of reason in all these different packages instead of just having one guardian angel watching over everything because you get to see all the different ways people can do the right thing. And it shows that Pharus has someone there to talk to, literally in his room, and other resources, but there are other people in the show who don't know they have that, and they would be better for it if they knew they did.

People who would like this show are people who like voices of reason, complicated heroes, and Rockin' Jerusalem. I think that people should definitely see this show. I have never seen a show like it. It had a really interesting plot and was really well performed. I really liked it!

Photos: Dean La Prairie

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Review of Kokandy Productions' Bonnie & Clyde

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Bonnie & Clyde. The book was by Ivan Menchell. The music was by Frank Wildhorn, and the lyrics were by Don Black. It was directed by Spencer Neiman. The music direction was by John Cockerill, and the choreography was by Aubrey Adams. It was about a couple, Bonnie Parker (Desiree Gonzalez) and Clyde Barrow (Max Detogne), who committed robberies and murders during the 1930s. It is about their lives and how they were brought together and how terrible their deaths were. It is about love, fame, and family. I think this show has a such great songs and a really compelling story. I really liked it.

My favorite song was "Picture Show." It was about how Young Bonnie (Tia L. Pinson) wants to be a movie star like Clara Bow and Young Clyde (Jeff Pierpoint) wants to be like the outlaw Billy the Kid. It was my favorite song because it was sung so well and it had really great music and is super catchy and I am still thinking about it now. It shows us the evolution of these characters and how even when they are adults their values are basically the same as when they were children because they still want fame but once they become adults, at that point in their lives, they will do anything to get what they want. You imagine they would grow out of it, but they never did. The adult version of "Picture Show" is "The World Will Remember Us" sung by the grown-up version of Bonnie and Clyde. It is saying "people will remember us because of our outlandish actions, not just because we could be like someone famous." They have discovered their way out of the Devil's Back Porch, where they live, and it is through each other, a few people's lives, and a lot of their money and cars.

There were a lot of visually stunning moments in this show. One of my favorites was in "The World Will Remember Us" where they recreated the famous Bonnie and Clyde photo shoot that they did with their guns. The pictures are just the most badass thing I've ever seen. (I'm a big Bonnie and Clyde nerd at this point. I watched a documentary and read a book.) Everyone looks so amazing in them but you are kind of afraid at the same time. I love how they just left them at a crime scene. Oopsie daisy, just dropped these badass photos. The recreation in the musical was so spot-on and perfect. I loved that moment. "God's Arms are Always Open" also had a great visual moment where it was basically a montage of Clyde robbing all of these different people, but also having a gospel section, led by the Preacher (Nathan Carroll), in between each robbery. The Preacher is reassuring Buck Barrow (Cisco Lopez) that he's doing the right thing going back to jail and that God will forgive him. Buck turned himself in because his wife Blanche (Missy Wise) wanted him to go back so they didn't have to live in fear anymore. Whenever the people singing gospel would raise their hands in praise, Clyde would put his gun up like he was robbing them. It was so disturbing and so cool-looking.

I had very complicated feeling about the characters of Bonnie and Clyde because they had done so many terrible things but were so in love with each other. And they were real people, which makes it more complicated because you want them to win, but in real life they would have just kept killing a bunch of people, which wouldn't have been great. "You Love Who You Love" is a song Bonnie and Blanche sang beautifully as a duet. It is basically about how hard it is to be the significant other of their partners and talking about how they can't choose who they love, even though it is hard being them. You see that Blanche especially is sort of a bystander and that they did terrible things, but it was because of love. I thought this was a really sad but true song. You can't help loving people even if you don't want to. You can try, but it hurts. "Raise a Little Hell" was a song that Clyde sang about how he had done so many bad things already, so why doesn't he do some more. There were some great vocal acrobatics in this. It is complicated because it is a terrible thing to say, but he is doing these things to get back to the person he loves most and away from all the people in jail who hurt him. So he has a good motive, but that doesn't make what he does to people okay. "Dyin' Ain't So Bad" is a really sad song sung by Bonnie and Clyde, but it is really beautiful. At the time, they are not doing anything wrong, they are just saying their feelings and that they know they haven't been saints, but they lived the life they wanted to and if they died now it wouldn't be so bad because they had the life that they wanted. They wanted to be famous, they wanted to be together, and they wanted to be happy.

People who would like this show are people who like complicated characters, interesting histories, and photo shoots with your guns. I think people should definitely, definitely go see this show. It closes next weekend, so get your tickets while you still can. It has beautiful music, great performances, and I'm obsessed with this musical now.

Photos: Evan Hanover

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Review of The Rembrandt at Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Rembrandt. It was by Jessica Dickey, and it was directed by Hallie Gordon. It was about a man named Henry (Francis Guinan) who worked as a museum guard in the Rembrandt gallery. And he was so entranced by Rembrandt. So one day, when a new recruit, Dodger (Ty Olwin), shows up along with an art student, Madeline (Karen Rodriguez), they all band together and it leads to a plan to touch the Rembrandt. Then the story switches from the present day to back to 1653, the time of Rembrandt. Rembrandt (Guinan) is going through some tough times and he has to get a painting of a philosopher out to his patron. Then Homer (John Mahoney) shows up on stage and starts talking about life and toilets. The last scene shows Henry going home to his sick husband, Simon (Mahoney), and his nurse Martin (Gabriel Ruiz). It is about dedication, art, and human connection. I think this is a beautiful show. It has such a great story, such great actors, and is so moving. I was crying by the end.

Community is a very big theme in this show. Every person has a team. Rembrandt is on a team for creating art. He is the artist but there are also people behind the scenes. Rembrandt's partner Henny (Rodriguez) is there to support him and get him food, since he is drunk and painting. His son Titus (Olwin), has gotten him paints and is talking to him and helping him splatter the canvas. Henry also has a team at the museum. It starts out just being him and Jonny (Ruiz). They both work at the museum and are both working to make sure the art is secure. Then as Dodger and Madeline come in, the purpose of the team starts to shift away from Jonny and his goal of protecting the works of art and not touching them. Simon has a team which is his nurse Martin and his partner Henry. They are a team to make the end of Simon's life a good one. The nurse is there by obligation, but Henry and Simon have a really strong bond and the last scene is really beautiful. Perfect segue into talking about my favorite scene!

My favorite scene was the last scene with Henry and Simon. They are basically joking around and having a good time, but some really deep things come up, like they talk about how Henry feels like he disappointed Simon and wasn't a good enough partner. They also reminisce about when they first met and how everyone seemed against them. The scene shows that they are very in love, even though they have been together for so long. They hadn't been a perfect couple; they'd been through some hard times. But they persisted. It was very realistic in a really powerful way. It was very moving because it seems like a couple that could actually exist: not perfect but persisting. I think my favorite funny moment in this scene was when they were talking about pistachio pudding and Simon didn't want any of the chocolate that they had; he only wanted pistachio. Henry was talking about how he would get it tomorrow. And Simon was complaining about his chocolate pudding. Then Henry reveals [spoiler alert!] that he's had the pistachio pudding all along. (*gasps*) Simon then jokes about how what if he'd died right then, and he never got his pistachio pudding, even though Henry had it all along. It was hilarious, but it was also kind of bittersweet. Simon was joking about the inevitability of death, but they still found it funny because it was such a prominent part of their lives right now. It was so moving because it was so genuine and adorable. And you just want them to be together forever, but you know that can't happen.

There were a lot of funny/charming moments in this show. One of my favorites was when Dodger and Madeline were having an argument and then suddenly Henry bursts in and says something along the lines of "You guys should definitely go on a a date," and that was funny because that was the last thing they wanted right then. But then they did end up making plans to go on a date, and I actually think they would be pretty compatible. There is also some physical comedy when they are all about to touch the painting and Jonny, the guard with the gun, pulls out his gun and threatened to shoot them. It is really overboard, but it is really hilarious because you are pretty sure he won't do it. Dodger is the one who starts the idea to touch the painting, and he just starts telling people to touch it, which I don't think is the best work etiquette. Homer probably wasn't a really funny guy in real life, but in this play he was pretty funny. And he talked about everything from toilets to poetry. Homer tells us how it is weird that people use the toilet in a pot, and you realize that poetry and toilets are not that far apart. Both are things that disguise everyday life as something more sophisticated. I've never gone so deep into talking about the similarities between toilets and poetry. And I don't think I ever will again.

People who would like this show are people who like touching paintings, poetry toilets, and pistachio pudding. I think people should definitely definitely go see this show. I think it is such a beautiful story. It is funny, has so many beautiful messages, and the acting is great.

Photos: Michael Brosilow