Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Review of Ghostlight Ensemble's An Ideal Husband

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called An Ideal Husband. It was by Oscar Wilde and it was directed by Holly Robison. It was about a man, Robert Chiltern (Aaron Wertheim), and his wife, Lady Chiltern (Madeline Pell). They throw a dinner party and end up inviting a woman, Mrs. Cheveley (Sam Bianchini), who tries to blackmail Sir Robert into helping her promote a financial scheme in parliament. Robert tells his friend Lord Goring about this, and Lord Goring decides to help him. Sir Robert's sister, Mabel (Halie Merrill), is in love with Lord Goring but is going about it by being mean to him. It is about the "duties" of a wife, avoiding accountability, and the ultimate powerlessness of women. I think this was a very interesting take on a troubling and old-fashioned play. It is funny up until the end, when the play goes to another level of sexism, but I could see how the production was trying to show the problems with sexist ideas.

This play has a lot of very sexist ideas. By the end of the play every single woman has lost any power they had, and Wilde seems to think this makes a happy ending. He thinks that wives should be loyal to their husbands, no matter what the husband's flaws or mistakes. Mrs. Cheveley is somebody who abuses her power at the beginning of the play, so you kind of feel like she deserves to lose her power. But you also see that this seems like the only option for her to get what she wants. She is excluded from politics and most jobs. I'm not saying that what she did was right, but I do think she has some reasons for it. Lady Chiltern at the end of the play is basically convinced by Lord Goring to take back her husband and support him in his new job even though she thinks it would be better if he didn't take it. That was kind of infuriating to me, but it wasn't like they could change the ending of the play. They can just change how she reacts to it, and they did initially make it so she seemed offended by the entire prospect. I don't think that forgiveness is unreasonable, but I do feel like women should not be obligated to accept the lies that they are told. Lady Chiltern shouldn't have to do all the work because she is not the one who messed up. Even though Mabel gets what she says she wants at the end, I am worried about what he married life is going to be after Lord Goring's speech to Lady Chiltern. It seems like she might be expected to do the same things Lord Goring told Lady Chiltern to do, which doesn't seem like what she would want in the end because she is a very spunky and modern-minded woman. I do think the show did a good job of acknowledging that there was sexist dialogue without changing the dialogue.

This production made you feel like you were part of the world of the play. Mason and Phipps, the butlers, were played by the same person (Michael Wagman) and in this production, the butlers were sort of the narrators and spoke directly to the audience. At the beginning, Mason would say who was coming into the room and what their status was. His lines were taken from stage directions and that was very interesting. It was a nice introduction but also they are very funny stage directions, which you normally wouldn't hear. I think they ended up adding quite a bit of clarity because there are a lot of characters in the play, and they all have posh-sounding names, and a lot of the ladies don't have first names in the program--they are just "Lady." Also, the play was done in the Berger Park North Mansion, a real house built near the time the play premiered, which was very interesting because it immersed you in the entire party in the first act and made you a character in the play. It also makes the set (by Sam Gribben) look very realistic because it was real. The costumes (by Stefanie Johnsen) also contributed to the immersion. The points they were trying to make about the show were new, but they still tried to immerse you in the time it was set in.

This show has some really great classic farce moments in addition to witty banter. There's a classic but funny misunderstanding joke where Lord Goring is talking to Robert about how the woman in the other room loves him and only wants to help him, and he assumes Lady Chiltern is the one in the other room, but it turns out to be Mrs. Cheveley. The audience knows it is Mrs. Cheveley, and so does Robert, but Lord Goring thinks he knows who is in there, but doesn't. The look on Robert's face when Lord Goring says the woman is in love with him is absolutely priceless. Also, when Lord Goring's father, Lord Caversham (Richard Engling) shows up he asks his son immediately if there is going to be a draft in the room they are about to enter. And when his father finds out there really is a draft, he has a very violent reaction to it. He starts yelling at him about getting married, even though that doesn't have anything to do with the draft. I thought it was funny how all of his anger at his son built up throughout this one scene. There is also a lot of witty banter in this show. One of my favorite moments is when Lord Goring and Phipps were talking about the triviality of the flower in Lord Goring's buttonhole. Phipps tells him that the florist has recently suffered a loss in the family, which may explain the lack of triviality in his most recent buttonhole. Also, Lord Goring has a fabulous line where he says that what is unfashionable is what other people wear. It is funny because it is such a confident thing to say and Lord Goring has enough confidence for ten people.

People who would like this show are people who like new takes on classic plays, immersive theater, and trivial buttonholes. I think that people should go see this show. I think it is a funny show that has layers to it. It makes you mad at the characters at the end, but it is funny and keeps you on the edge of your seat. I really liked it.


Photos: Maria Burnham/Ghostlight Ensemble

Monday, April 16, 2018

Review of The Sound's Red Bowl at the Jeffs

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Red Bowl at the Jeffs. It was by Beth Hyland and it was directed by Rebecca Willingham. It was about a woman named Elena (Georgi McCauley) who had recently directed a version of Chekhov's Three Sisters that was nominated for a Jeff Award. And she has broken up with her boyfriend Gabe (Aaron Latterell), who had been in the show as Vershinin and is now dating Julie (Ella Pennington) who had played Irina. I think this show is really funny and relatable for people who are in the Chicago theater community because there are so many moments in this show where they will have had an experience almost exactly like that. That is very true for me. You have a lot of empathy for the characters, so it is hard to watch them go through such recognizable problems. The play is about friendship, betrayal, and the beauty and the struggles of making theater that is appreciated.

I really liked the very first part of the play where Elena, Caroline (Anne Thompson), and Alex (Faith Servant) were talking while they waited for the rest of the cast to show up. I loved their friendship and how their conversation was so casual. The rest of the show didn't have much casual conversation, everything had an underlying meaning and sometimes a backhanded tone. It was really nice at the beginning to see three women just talking about their lives and having genuine love for each other. It shows you how not everyone is in competition with each other. Alex had an audition that morning for the Goodman's Our Town, which ends up being a plot point later, but at this moment it just seems like a normal thing someone would talk about in their day, and Caroline does not seem jealous about Alex's opportunity. It seems like a lot of other times when people bring up opportunities in this show, people seem very jealous. I understand the feeling of jealousy, but I feel like a lot of the people in this play handle it in an immature way, which I think is why it is great to have this scene right at the beginning. It also makes the stakes in the play seem higher because there are friendships you care about right from the start.

This show had some really great Chicago theater inside jokes. If you know a lot of names of theater companies in Chicago, you will have probably noticed that a lot of names of theater companies have red in them. A Red Orchid, Redtwist, Red Tape, Red Theater, Redmoon. And of course this show is about a theater company called Red Bowl. Also Devin was on check avail for a Dick Wolf show throughout a good portion of the Jeffs. Being on check avail for Chicago ______, is one of the most nerve-wracking experiences and a lot of actors in Chicago have been through this experience. They also bring up that the play that wins everything is a really long show and no one really saw it. I'm kind of one to to talk about long shows, having been in a nine hour one, but I found it very funny all the jokes about how long the play was.

I thought it was interesting how they connected Three Sisters to this play. They didn't just try to make the show a new version of Three Sister, they just put some references and similarities in there. Hank (Carter Caldwell) was basically just Solyony--a little bit off and he sort of seems like he might need help. Sophie (Margaret Kellas) is really fake and loud, just like Natasha, and she is cheating on the play by sitting with her Hairspray cast just like Natasha cheated on Andre. Andy (Andrew Cutler) is told the person he loves doesn't love him just like Tuzenbach. Also everyone loves Devin (Pernell Myers) like the sisters love Andre. Caroline is the mother figure, like Olga. And Julie is young and kind of clueless just like Irina. Moscow is the Jeffs, everyone is trying to get there, but it is not certain if it is actually going to be good or not or even mean what they hope it means. I thought it was interesting that out of all the characters in this show, the one who seems most like a Chekhov character is Elena, the director, who didn't play a character in Three Sisters. She is depressed and reflecting on the past all the time and she is also the one who triggers a lot of the bad things happening. She is like a walking Chekhov play. Also her inability to be happy when everyone else is is very Chekhovian. Almost at the end of the play, there is a scene where she is alone on stage just staring forward and it was just very depressed Chekhov character of her to stare forward straight-faced and miserable and realizing she messed up.

People who would like this show are people who like inside Chicago theater jokes, supportive female friendships, and walking Chekhov plays. I think that people should go see this show. It is a lot of fun, and I think that even people outside of the Chicago theatre community will enjoy it too!


Photos: Montana Bruns

Friday, April 13, 2018

Review of Refuge Theatre Project's The Spitfire Grill

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Spitfire Grill. The music and book were by James Valcq and the lyrics and book were by Fred Alley. It was based on the film by Lee David Zlotoff. It was directed by Christopher Pazdernik and the music direction was by Jon Schneidman. It was about a woman named Percy (Lauren Paris) who had just recently gotten out of jail and was trying to start her life over. She has seen a picture in a magazine of what the leaves look like in the fall in Gilead, Wisconsin, so she decides to go and live there. She gets a job working at the Spitfire Grill for Hannah (Katherine Condit). The Sheriff, Joe (Alex Christ), is her parole officer. And Hannah is getting older and is having problems with her health so she decides she should sell the grill. Percy comes up with the idea to have a contest to raffle off the Spitfire Grill. Hannah's nephew Caleb's (Gerald Richardson) wife, Shelby (Emily Goldberg) who is an employee there is also really excited about the idea. But some people in town aren't too excited about Percy or the raffle, like Effy (Nicole Michelle Haskins), the local busybody. It is about home, letting go, and turning over a new leaf.

"Something's Cooking at the Spitfire Grill" was a great introduction to all the characters. The way everyone reacts to Percy arriving is the way their personality is going to be for the rest of the show. Effy was a really great comic character, a very classic small-town gossip. In this song, Effy is basically spreading all these rumors about Percy and the most scandalous thing to her was that Percy might have tattoos, which seems pretty funny, especially because about 5 seconds later, everybody finds out Percy has been to prison. You also get to see a friendship start between Shelby and Percy. I really like their friendship throughout the show. They are very opposite kinds of people, but they bond almost instantly. The song reminds me of a square dance. Everyone is passing these rumors in an orderly fashion, like "swing your rumors round and round. Kick that girl out of our town."

A thing that is really interesting about this production is that it is performed in a real restaurant, Windy City Cafe. This was really great for the grill scenes and it was great to see the actors use the space to its full extent. I think it would have felt more immersive if all the audience were at tables. The performers were in a diner, but it felt like the audience was watching them instead of also at a diner because so many of them were just in rows of chairs. Most of the play does take place in the Spitfire Grill, but there are some scenes I think would have benefited from being in a theater with a full lighting plot. For example, they could have done something really cool with the colors they talk about in "Shine" with lighting or a set change to indicate where Percy was and the impact on her of the beautiful colors of fall. It is supposed to be very poetic, and I think it could have benefited from having a more versatile space.

I really like the stylized movement in the song "Ice and Snow" where they used shovels and tire chains and were doing a sort of stomp thing. They were singing about the hardships of winter and the song takes you right into spring. Effy, Joe, and Caleb were all discovering the beautiful things about spring and being thankful that winter was over. Using everyday objects made it work in my brain with the rest of the show which was very realistic and not stylized in its movement. But because they were using everyday objects it was in keeping with the realism of the rest of the show.

People who would like this show are people who like site-specific theater, stylized shoveling, and square dance rumors. I think this show has some really cool elements and a lot of strong performances. It was a lot of fun.

Photos: Zeke Dolezalek

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Review of Emerald City Theatre's Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical. The script and lyrics were by Mo Willems and the music was by Michael Silversher. It was directed and choreographed by Aileen McGroddy. It was about a toddler named Trixie (Deanalís Resto) who went to the laundromat with her dad (Matt Miles) and her stuffed animal, Knuffle Bunny. In their excitement she accidentally leaves Knuffle Bunny at the laundromat. The caution in the cautionary tale is listen to your toddler and make sure you have everything before you leave. It is about parental anxiety, security, and the beauty of the everyday through a young person's eyes. I thought some of the songs were very charming and the performances were strong.

My favorite song was "AggleFlaggleKlabble" in which Trixie laments the loss of her one true love, Knuffle Bunny, with dream ballet included with large full body Knuffle Bunny puppet (designed by Angela McIlvain) played by Ayanna Bria Bakari, with backup dancers with candelabras (Jar'Davion Brown and Emilie Modaff). It was hilarious because the tune sounds like a love ballad off a Whitney Houston album, but when the words begin they are gibberish. Trixie was miming a lot and when the giant Knuffle Bunny comes out on stage it just took it to the next level of hilarity. I was dying. But it was also kind of sad because you can see Trixie overflowing with emotion over her loss. It is amazing how much meaning Resto could put into gibberish.

I do feel like the musical adds something that is not in the book that was strange to me. I think it is great that the musical makes the mom (Abby Murray Vachon) a more central figure, but it also makes the dad seem a lot more incompetent. He doesn't seem to know how babies work: how they get upset at loud noises a lot of the time and they cannot always keep track of their own things or express themselves clearly. The play seemed to be saying, "Oh, its fine. The mom can just take care of the real parenting." That is an unhelpful idea in my opinion. Some kids only have one parent, but if they are fortunate enough to have two, they should be able to count on both of their parents for help when they need it. I don't think it is a healthy thing in society that we let the dad off the hook for some of the work of parenting. I feel like, in the book, when he makes a mistake he learns faster from it. I realize they basically had to fill an entire play with his mistake, but I feel like they could have made it so that he seemed a little more knowledgeable about how to take care of Trixie in general. I think the actor did a really great job making him seem like as good of a father as he could with the script. I think it is really a problem with the translation from book to musical not with the performance.

I love how excited Trixie is about the world. It was so adorable when she found a pigeon (puppeted by Brown) who wanted to befriend her who was the pigeon from another Mo Willem's book, Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. That was a fun reference for people who had read that book. And Trixie seems so mesmerized by the pigeon and it was so fun to watch. At the beginning of the song "Washy Washy" the laundromat sign glowed in the distance and the laundromat turned into a discotheque. I think that was a really good way of representing how a lot of children get excited about everyday things that adults sometimes don't notice the fun in or how they could make it fun. I don't see the beauty in all those things anymore, but it was really nice to see that feeling represented in a play. It was so cool to watch the kids in the audience discover the beauty of theater while they were watching Trixie discover the beauty of the world

People who would like this show are people who like the beauty of pigeons, disco laundromats, and Knuffle Bunny dream ballets. I think this show is really great for young children but can also be very nostalgic and fun for teens and adults.

Photos: Austin D. Oie

Review of Remy Bumppo Theatre Company's hang

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called hang. It was by debbie tucker green and it was directed by Keira Fromm. It was about a woman, listed in the program as 3 (Patrese D. McClain), who has come into an office to tell 1 (Eleni Pappageorge) and 2 (Annabel Armour), who work there, her big decision. And she was not having any of their happy-go-lucky demeanor. The first part of the play you are trying to figure out why 3 is there and what she is upset about. In the second half you are trying to figure out what she has made a decision about and why she has to make it. Even though your main character doesn't have a name, you want her to get justice, but you are not sure exactly what she is getting justice for or at the expense of whom. Some of the questions get answered clearly and some never do. I really like mystery in plays and seeing things unfold and letting your imagination take over for some moments, so I really liked this show. It is funny in moments, but in very dark ways, which made me love it even more because I love dark comedy. You are holding your breath a lot of the time because you are waiting to see what the heck is going on, and I found that super exciting and terrifying.

At the beginning it seemed like 3 was there for just a business meeting or maybe a therapy session. Or they might be interviewing her about a crime. But at no point did it cross my mind that she was there for what she was there for. They build this sense of dread in a really interesting way. The most genuinely hospitable things started to sound menacing because of the amount of times they ask and the way she turns them down. They kept wanting to hang up her coat, or get her some water, or inform her about the heat of the water. Also, they, 1 and 2, kept wanting to get 3 some kind of tea and listing all the types of tea they had on the premises. She kept turning them down angrily and they seemed sort of put off by the fact that she doesn't want tea and they won't let it go. They even take the time to report to 3 that the herbal tea has arrived halfway through the play. At that point the tea just seems absurd and there is no reason anymore to talk about the tea. It seems like they are really really trying to make her at home--almost threatening her to relax. And when she won't, they seem to get more determined to make her feel at home. The repetition of asking about the tea is what makes it so terrifying to me. It is such a simple thing they can let go but they want to avoid the real subject so much they'll keep talking about it for an hour. It almost made me worry that the tea was poisoned for a minute. It is also what makes it funny, to see them persisting and 3's reaction to their whole four-act play about herbal tea.

In the program it says that the time it takes place is "nearly now," but that could be taken a bunch of different ways. I personally think it must be the near future when certain laws have come back to the UK, because some of the things they mention don't seem completely legal nowadays in Great Britain. But this entire transaction could be illegal. There are so many ways to think about it. It sort of seems like it is in the future. The style and automation of the lights seemed futuristic. But they still have IKEA, which makes you think it might be days away. It makes it seem less futuristic. In the play, 1 and 2 are trying to normalize pretty horrible things, which might make it seem like it might be in the future. But they also bring up things that are very normal to us today, like IKEA furniture, which makes us think it might be very close at hand, that these characters' world might become our reality. It adds urgency to the end of the show and it made me think a lot about what I think might happen next in play and in the real world.

This paragraph is full of spoilers, so if you have seen the show already and want to read it, here's the link.

People who would like this show are people who like futuristic politics, the persistence of IKEA, and excessive herbal tea. I think that people should go and see this show. It is such an interesting concept and it is beautifully acted. I loved it.

Photos: Michael Courier Photography

Friday, April 6, 2018

Review of Pretty Woman: The Musical (Broadway in Chicago)

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Pretty Woman: The Musical. The book was by Garry Marshall and J.F. Lawton. The music and lyrics were by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance. It was about a woman named Vivian Ward (Samantha Barks) who was a prostitute in Hollywood, and one day she meets a very rich businessman named Edward Lewis (Steve Kazee). He needs some directions to get back to his hotel, but then he ends up getting a bit more than directions. He hires her to come with him to multiple business functions that week as his date. Even though Vivian has a hard time fitting in, she seems to charm almost everyone that she meets. Even though it is supposed to be a business arrangement, Edward and Vivian find themselves developing feelings for each other. It is about classism, roots, and what money can and can't buy. I think this show had a talented cast and it was a lot of fun to watch.

I liked the opening song, "Welcome to Hollywood." It was very upbeat and it introduced you to all the characters very well. Vivian is running away from her landlord, which shows you that she is going to be living on the edge for the rest of the play. Edward is leaving a party early, which shows you that he doesn't seem to enjoy himself enough. It also shows you Vivian's closest relationship with Kit DeLuca (Orfeh), who is another prostitute, a best friend, and sort of a big sister figure who encourages her to look out for herself. She also has an amazing voice. The song is sung by The Happy Man (Eric Anderson), who is trying to hand out flyers. He dances through life, moonwalking and swiveling everywhere that he goes. He is like a narrator who introduces you to people. He is a hilarious and fun character to start the show off with.

My favorite song was "On a Night Like Tonight," which was sung by Mr. Thompson (Anderson), who is the hotel manager. Mr. Thompson is trying to teach Vivian to dance before her night out with Edward. It reminded me of "Kiss The Girl" from The Little Mermaid in a way, because it was like, "You want this person, go and get them. Here are your instructions. These bellboys (or fish if it's The Little Mermaid) may assist." There is this great tango section between Giulio (Tommy Bracco) and Mr. Thompson, where they are just working the dance floor. They have many dramatic pauses. It was beautiful and hilarious, and quite well tangoed.

My favorite scene was the one at the opera. I don't why, but that gliding opera box made me so happy. The opera selections by Alfredo (Brian Calì) and Violetta (Allison Blackwell) were sung amazingly. The high note from Violetta was jaw-droppingly gorgeous. In this scene you really get to see the reasons why Edward loves Vivian: her quirkiness and the way everything is new and beautiful to her. It shows how Vivian appreciates art and culture, even though she is new to opera and those kind of fancy exclusive spaces. She seems to fit in and is so absorbed in Violetta's performance, and Edward is singing "You and I" to her, and it is such a pretty image to see her so involved in something and him falling in love with the way she is being drawn in. So even though the song was pretty cheesy, it was staged very effectively.

People who would like this show are people who like gliding opera boxes that give me joy, Hollywood moonwalking, and tangoing bellboys. I think people should go see this show if they are really big fans of the movie. I had never seen it before, and I still enjoyed a lot of parts. I think the performers did a great job with what they were given.



Thursday, April 5, 2018

Review of Eclectic Full Contact Theatre's As You Like It

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called As You Like It. It was by William Shakespeare and it was directed by Katherine Siegel. It was about two women, Rosalind (Chloe Baldwin) and Celia (Jessica L. Fisher) who lived in Duke Frederick's (Nick Dorado) court. Rosalind's mother, Duke Señor (Honey West), had been banished, and now Rosalind was also being banished for trying to protect Orlando (Aja Singletary), whose brother Oliver (David Gordon-Johnson) had set up a wrestling match with Charles (Kyle Burch) in the hopes that his sister Orlando would be killed. And Orlando and Rosalind have fallen in love with each other, and they both end up in the same woods as Rosalind's mother. But Rosalind has disguised herself as a boy named Ganymede, so no one recognizes her. She decides that she is going to give Orlando lessons to win the love of Rosalind. It is about love, deceit, and fidelity. I think this is a really great show. It shows you twists on these characters that I had never seen before and I really liked.

I thought that Orlando and Rosalind's relationship was just so adorable. They were a little bit terrified of messing up around each other but they still wanted to be around each other. So they were kind of confused about how to handle that, which was charming. When Rosalind first sees Orlando, she's immediately drawn to her and understands that she needs to help her even though the person Orlando is fighting is on Rosalind's family's side. It is such a beautiful moment to see them fall in love with each other at first sight and sort of nervously glance at each other throughout that entire scene. They had these moments whenever they would leave each other's sight, where they would literally have to be pulled away from each other. It was hilarious and relatable. Even when Rosalind is in disguise, Orlando adores Ganymede. Even when she doesn't understand that she's with Rosalind, Orlando loves the person that Rosalind is as Ganymede. I like how it shows a love that is not because of gender or the way that someone looks; their love is, no matter what. These characters aren't just the adorable lovers, they also provide a lot of comedy because of how their conversations develop. I think it is remarkable how Baldwin shifts between Rosalind and Ganymede and you never lose track of how that character really feels and what she wants. I think the two actors who played Orlando and Rosalind had great chemistry and worked really well on stage together.

I loved the choice of making Orlando a woman in this version. It reversed a literary stereotype which is homosexual panic, where a man thinks he is falling in love with another man. But then it turns out that that man is a woman and that is usually a moment of relief. I'm not sure that in Shakespeare's time they had the homosexual panic moment in these crossdressing comedies, but it is a tendency in some productions I've seen. What was nice in this version is that there was no panic about being gay; it was actually a straight or bisexual panic. Orlando thinks, "Holy crap, I might be straight or bisexual!" It is a break from the way society typically thinks about the relationships in these plays. I also thought it was really interesting how Duke Señor's banishment seemed to be because she was transgender. Everyone at Duke Frederick's court kept messing up her pronouns and saying father instead of mother. That is not a storyline I would have even thought of, but I think it was genius. It let them address all these social issues that are really relevant now. This play does make you think about gender fluidity, but I wouldn't have thought about it with this character. They didn't change anything about the play except the pronouns and mother/father, but it still worked beautifully for that character to be trans. With the character Jacques (Laura Carney), I could not remember what the character's pronouns were (the character is originally a man but the actor identifies as a woman in her bio) and then I noticed it didn't really matter in this case, even though I like to respect people's and character's pronouns. Sometimes it is interesting not to think about that. The most important thing about Jacques is the pessimism. And that bitterness certainly came through, no matter what the gender of the character was.

Two of the other sets of lovers in this play can be problematic characters, but I thought the actors did a good job of making them as unproblematic as they could be without altering the script. Silvius (Christopher Sylvie) is in love with Phebe (Alice Wu), but the feelings weren't reciprocated. Phebe is in love with Ganymede. And Ganymede makes a deal with her that if she still wants to marry him after she learns this one thing, which is that he is a woman, she can, but if she doesn't she has to marry Silvius. I understand that Rosalind wants to look out for Silvius because she is empathetic and he's madly in love with Phebe. But no one should be forcing women into marriage by tricking them. But the actors did a good job of showing Phebe seeing Silvius in a new way and not just begrudgingly marrying him. That makes it seems less like she is being forced into something she doesn't want to do. She doesn't get to say a lot more after she discovers who Ganymede really is, but she uses expression and movement to show that she is not angry about marrying Silvius. Audrey (Megan DeLay) is not the brightest or most mature person, so that is why the clown, Touchstone (Tim Lee), is so appealing to her. Because he is actually quite smart, you might think that he might be abusing her innocence and stupidity. But it was clear from his performance that he was actually in awe of how she sees the world as this magical, beautiful place that is not filled with the hurt he has seen.

People who would like this show are people who like adorable couples, un-begrudging forced marriages, and straight panic. I think people should go see this show. It has great new takes on a lot of the characters and some phenomenal performances.

Photos: Katherine Siegel

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Review of Jane Bond: Funny But Deadly at Laugh Out Loud Theater

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Jane Bond: Funny But Deadly. It was an improv comedy show based on James Bond movies with an all-female ensemble. At the beginning of the show they get a lot of suggestions on slips of paper for villain names, household objects, and places that they put in a huge martini glass. They create a theme song based on the movie title that someone who was picked from the audience made up. The night I saw it, it was When Paradise Dies, and it was about Jane Bond going to Iceland and trying to defeat a villain who I think was called Dr. Polka Disco, who wanted to kill her father Panic! at the Disco, but also is trying to turn everything into a discotheque. There's also a love interest, who was called Integrity when I saw it and had a cute little Icelandic giggle. So that gives you a general idea of how crazy this show can get. I think this show is a ton of fun. It has so many great nods to the wackiness of James Bond films and a hilarious cast. It was a really fun structure to see everyone play with and it was interesting and hilarious to see how the story would unfold.

There was a whole Panic! at the Disco joke train that I really enjoyed that was just basically them making references to songs that would make sense in the context of the conversation. That was really funny and everyone was bouncing off each other with another reference. It was just perfect. I loved both the villain's goons. They were really on top of it the night I saw it; they were taking cues really well and pushing the jokes in the right direction to get to the next plot point. There is this scene that I assume exists each week, where scientists are working on objects that turn into other objects for Jane Bond's next mission. The joke is that all these household objects turn into other not very useful household objects, instead of spy gear. I thought that was a really fun twist on the original films. Jane Bond's girlfriend in Iceland
is very meek and adorable and doesn't really seem to understand how not to get killed. And whenever the bad guys would grab her she would just say, "No no no no no no" and start putting her hands in front of her mouth. I was laughing my head off.

People who would like this show are people who like James Bond spoofs, martini glass suggestions, and useless spy gear. I think that people should go see this show. It was so hilarious and had some amazing performances and great character work. I really liked it.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Review of Organic Theater Company's Why Do You Always Wear Black?

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Why Do You Always Wear Black? It was based on the works of Anton Chekhov and it was devised by the ensemble and directed by Anna Gelman. It was a feminist exploration of female characters in Chekhov. Most of Chekhov's female characters conform to certain types, only some of them go crazy and some of them don't. Some of them are lovestruck throughout the entire play (Ariana Silvan-Grau), which reminded me of Sonya in Uncle Vanya. Some of them are trying to take care of everyone and are hard working (Taylor Wisham), like Varya in The Cherry Orchard or Olga in Three Sisters. There's the romantically depressed one (Kat Christensen), like Irina in Three Sisters or Masha in The Seagull. And the one who wants to escape and doesn't seem to care a lot anymore (Nyssa Lowenstein), who reminded me of Nina in The Seagull. I think going to the theater in Russia in the late 19th-century must have been like watching reality tv. People are depressed, want to get out of wherever they are, want to be in different relationships, have terrible mothers, and are always fighting. I think this is a funny but surprisingly moving show that used a lot of Chekhov's techniques to make me care about the characters even though the play is sort of making fun of them.

They had these crackers that they ate in multiple scenes during the show. They were very messy and provoked so many responses in the characters. Sometimes people were stress eating them, sometimes people would be bonding over them, sometimes it provokes a truce. But it is always messy, which I think was meant to show us the hardships of relationships, but that messy things can make people closer. My favorite cracker moment was probably when Silvan-Grau and Lowenstein were mad at each other, clearly, and they were seated next to each other on the floor. They just started having a silent competition of who was going to eat the most crackers, trying to get the ones the other was reaching for. Then eventually they both just started laughing and seem to have made up. It just seemed so real and so true, I guess: sitting down and fighting and then realizing how stupid you're being. It was such a beautiful moment for some reason, to see two people look at each other with a mouthful of crackers and realize what they are doing and how ridiculous it is. You care a lot about the relationships, even though they aren't always explicitly identified, because the actors are committed to the relationship in the moment. And when the relationships shift, they are committed to the new relationship.

I thought there was a very interesting use of movement. In the first scene they all ran in one at a time. The first person would look around. Then they would move on to the next motion as the next person came in and looked around. That went on with every single person. And as the movement continued, they started to get faster and more frantic. It was almost funny how angry everyone was getting at each other for sitting in the wrong place. In Chekhov there's not usually that much running around, but in the silence and the sitting around there is so much reckless emotion. The franticness of this scene showcased the reckless emotion that is in every Chekhov play. I think they chose the movement wisely; it wasn't like the movement in a Chekhov play, but it showed what Chekhov is trying to do with silence and language and makes it physical.

Men are hardly ever physically present in this show, but they have a lot of impact on the women's lives like they do in every Chekhov play. There's a monologue where Lowenstein was talking about how Russian women are given their father's name but with a feminine ending. And she wants to be her own person, and she knows she can be more of her own person if she doesn't have her father's name. But the only way to do that is to get married, but then she is still going to have a man's name with a feminized ending. It is sad that there is no way for her to escape a man owning her. And men are sort of looming over all women who have their husband's or their father's name. I think it was a really powerful speech that you would remember throughout the show whenever they would talk about men. Throughout the play there is a suit coat on the chair that Christensen keeps putting her arm in and wrapping it around her, so it looks like a man is holding her. She always seems to try and take comfort in it, but it never seems to actually help. I thought that was a cool visual metaphor they used.

People who would like this show are people who like meaningful movement, analyzing Chekhov, and cracker contests. I think that people should go see this show. It is powerful because it removes the female characters from the context of the plays to show how much their decision are governed by male actions. But it also showcases the relationships between women in a genuine-feeling way. I really really liked it.


Photos: Anna Gelman

Ada Grey Interviews for You: Deanalís Resto of Emerald City Theatre's Kn...

I had so much fun talking with Deanalís Resto about our favorite childhood books, her biggest inspiration, and her Selena doll. She's currently playing Trixie in Emerald City Theatre's Knuffle Bunny.


Friday, March 30, 2018

Review of The Cuckoo's Theater Project's She Kills Monsters

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called She Kills Monsters. It was by Qui Nguyen and it was directed by Angela Forshee. It was about a teacher named Agnes (Hilary Griffin) whose family had all died in a car crash. She was clearing out their house when she found her younger sister Tilly's (Jillian Leff) Dungeons and Dragons notebook. And Agnes felt like she hadn't been close enough to her sister in real life, so now she wanted to find out more about what Tilly had loved. And she asks this teenage boy, Chuck (Matthew Torres), to be her dungeon master and he agrees. They start to play in Tilly's world and Agnes starts to get to know more of Tilly's secrets. It is about sibling relationships, nerdery, and mourning. I thought this show was hilarious, surprisingly heartfelt, and it had a mix of badass and ridiculous fights (by fight director Kai Young), which I loved.

This show has a lot of great characters that make you feel like you are in a video game. Dungeons and Dragons is not a video game, but role playing games really influenced video games. Lilith (Erika Lebby) was the demon daughter of the devil and she was the girlfriend of Tillius (Tilly's character) in the game. Tilly has made her this sexy demon queen with not a lot of clothing on. And what clothing she has is mostly leather and fishnet. She had the best opening line I've ever heard which is, "Violence makes me hot." It is very common in video games to show as much cleavage and have the least sensible outfit to kill someone in as possible. Those characters are usually created by men. But in this case it is a young woman who has created it. It is weirdly empowering because women don't usually get to choose how their gender is sexualized. Tilly is doing it for her own pleasure, but it is still different because it is still breaking a gender and sexuality barrier. Kaliope (Ari Kraiman) is an elf and she is pretty badass. She doesn't feel emotions in the same way as humans do. A lot of the humor that comes from her character is watching her cluelessness about how human emotions and language work. Like when they give Agnes her D&D name, Agnes the Ass-hatted, Kaliope doesn't seem to notice the hilarity of the name because she just sits there straight-faced. I think it is a really cool contrast how clueless she is but how badass she is because she can literally whip out a bow and arrow and kill ten people but she can't understand why ass-hat is such a funny word. Orcus (Zach Tabor) was the Overlord of the Underworld who kind of didn't want to go on the adventure in the first place, but was forced to go along. He also had an obsession with TV shows, like Friends and Quantum Leap, which he is mad about missing. I think he is hilarious because he is overly specific about the reasons why Quantum Leap is so good. I loved the specificity of these characters. Even though at first they seem like stereotypical fantasy characters, they actually have a lot of fun quirks and recognizable problems.

This show had so many hilarious moments. One of the most surprising and funny characters in the entire show was Farrah (Elisabeth Del Toro), a tiny, cruel, badass fairy. When the group of adventurers wanted to pass through her territory, she was not too keen on that and she basically goes maniac on them and tries to slice them up with two swords. It is funny because it is very surprising to see this sweet little fairy go berserker and spout obscenities at them. Evil Gabbi (Liz Lengyel) and Evil Tina (Keyanna Khatiblou) were the homophobic mean girls at Tilly's school, but also demons in her D&D world. Basically they just manipulated and yelled at the adventurers, but they would occasionally use the Force too. They have this dance battle instead of actually fighting. And, surprisingly, the adventurers had already choreographed a dance and Agnes could suddenly do backflips. Gabbi and Tina did a dance that was mainly strutting and you could see that they could kind of tell they were losing at moments, which produced some of the best facial expressions. Steve (Michael Saubert Jr.) is a random guy who keeps showing up and getting defeated in the most pathetic ways possible by monsters even though he enters with as much gusto as a drag performer called Miss Gusto Wind. Each time he walked in, you knew something terrible was going to happen to him, and it was hilarious every time because each way he got killed was so original and sad.

I think this show has a really powerful message as well. It is all about mourning and figuring out how to deal with your decisions and regrets. Agnes gets to meet the versions of Tilly's characters as Tilly's actual friends and enemies in real life. And it is really interesting and sad because you see the people mourning Tilly, but you have just seen her alive in the game. It is really heartbreaking. You see how Agnes' obsession with the game is damaging parts of her real-life relationships, like with her boyfriend Miles (Graham Carlson) and her friend Vera (Lakecia Harris). But it also brings her closer to those people once they understand what she is actually doing. Grief is something that can separate people but also bring them closer together. And I think this play really shows that relationship well.

People who would like this show are people who like swearing fairies, nerding out, and unexpected backflips. I think this is a really moving, nerdy, and very funny show. I think that it has so many talented performers who worked well with the beautiful but ridiculous script.

Photos: Candice Lee Conner

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Review of Broken Nose Theatre's Kingdom.

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Kingdom. It was by Michael Allen Harris and it was directed by Kanomé Jones. It was about a family who lived near Disney World and their entire home was devoted to Disney. But their lives were not always full of magic and wonder. They struggle with homophobia, racism, complicated relationships, violence, illness, and alcoholism. But this show isn't sad all the way through. It is heartwarming, funny, and clever. It has a lot of back and forth banter in it which shows you the relationships between the people. It is about devotion, family, and how magic can be translated into real life. I think this show has some very sincere and powerful performances and I was really drawn into the story.

I thought the family relationships were really complex but based in affection. All they want is the best for each other, but they are not all good at accepting help when they need it. The heads of the family are the fathers, Henry (Watson Swift) and Arthur (Christopher McMorris). Henry has cancer, and Arthur wants to get married now that it is legal. But Henry isn't so keen on that. Alexander (Michael Mejia-Beal) is Arthur's biological son, but was raised by both his fathers. He dated Malik (Byron Coolie) since college, but then they broke up because Malik was afraid he'd lose his position on his NFL team if he came out. Phaedra (Regina Whitehead "RjW" Mays) was Alexander's cousin and they were very close and they helped each other out a lot. She is in a relationship with a woman whose husband is in jail. And she has been to jail herself and her daughter doesn't want her around her granddaughter because she doesn't trust her. Something that is really sad about this play is watching how these characters who love each other shut each other out. Like how Henry and Arthur don't agree on if they should get married or not and when Alexander starts drinking Phaedra is trying to help him but he refuses to take any help. They have some very emotional scenes together where it is clear that Phaedra is really concerned for Alexander's well-being, but he just won't listen and doesn't seem to care. These are some of the saddest scenes in the play. There are glimpses of things that might change, but a lot of times they are foiled.

Something I found very interesting was how all the family had names of kings or queens who had stories told about them that were larger than life. And Malik's name literally means king. I think it is using the power of naming hopefully, as if it were magic. It is looking at a child and saying, if I name him Alexander, maybe he'll be Great. But then you see all these people with namesakes who were powerful but they are powerless over many of the events in their lives. Henry has no power over cancer. Alexander seems to feel powerless over alcohol. Phaedra can't change her past. Malik can't change the way he feels. You compare all these people in your head to mythologized Kings and Queens and it makes you think about the differences between fairy tales and reality. They live so close to this world full of magic, but their proximity to Disney isn't going to save them from their real life. But even though their lives aren't perfect, it doesn't mean they can't have their happy ending.

Some houses have pictures of Jesus everywhere, but their house has shrines for Mickey Mouse everywhere you turn. It is a religious experience for them it seems, and Disney World is like their paradise. Henry and Arthur like how at Disney World the characters and employees treat everyone like worthwhile human beings and with respect. They feel happy there and can enjoy themselves without the pain of the real world. So even if the proximity doesn't change their lives, being there makes their lives more livable. Phaedra also has a religious Disney experience by talking to Mufasa from the Lion King while she is high. She just started talking to him about how great her weed was, like they were old friends. And she also realizes that she can take more control of her own life. So even though Disney is this magical unrealistic thing, it actually does help her get her act together.

I have a paragraph where I talk about my favorite scene between Malik and Alexander, but it is a little spoiler-y so you can check it out here.

People who would like this show are people who like complex family relationships, the contrast between fairy tales and reality, and talking to Mufasa about weed. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It is a beautiful story with compelling characters. You feel like you are in every scene with them and like you are part of their family.


Photos: Devon Green

Monday, March 26, 2018

Review of New American Folk Theatre's Hot Pink, or Ready to Blow

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Hot Pink, or Ready to Blow. It was by Johnny Drago and it was directed by Derek Van Barham. It was about a group of friends: Cadence (Charlie Irving), Brichelle (Janyce Caraballo), and Tatanya (Brittney Brown). They lived in New Pompeii and it was about that time of year that the virgin sacrifice would be chosen. And it turns out that their virgin sacrifice wasn't such a virgin. So the friends are trying to find a way that they won't be next in line to be sacrificed. I think this is a parody done right. It uses over-the-top comedy to further the story instead of just being exaggerated for the sake of it. It makes valid points about double standards, high-school relationships, and the pressures of the patriarchy and tradition on young people. I think this is a surprising and hilarious show with larger-than-life characters dealing with elevated versions of real problems.

One of the early scenes was also one of my favorite scenes. The three girls were getting up in the morning and talking to their families. They had very different family lives. Tatanya lived with her mother (Anthony Whitaker), who was drunk always and was still mad that she was denied the honor of being the virgin sacrifice when she was a teenager because she was pregnant with Tatanya. They are very different sorts of people. And they have very interesting conversations that may not be completely appropriate. It is not really a parenting situation because Tatanya is more reasonable that her own mother. I thought the timing and delivery in this scene were so perfect and hilarious. Brichelle didn't have parents that were at home. From the clues I got, I think they joined a cult. She was now living with Lenny (Tommy Bullington) her unmotivated, always-eating-cereal brother. He seemed to be like the classic 80s brother who is just there to give you a noogie from time to time. But they actually have kind of a sweet relationship, and he actually loves her and wants to protect her. It is the most sincere male-female relationship in the whole play. (Which isn't saying a lot, but there it is.) Cadence has a seemingly healthy relationship with her father, the Mayor (Josh Kemper), but as the show goes on, you see he is the patriarchal patriarchy man. His priorities are basically money and tradition over everything else. I think tradition can be a good thing, but not when every year you have to kill an 18 year old for it. These scenes let you get a glimpse into the lives of these three girls. I think it is really cool that this show that is basically a spoof gives you actual feelings about the character, even if it is just in very brief scenes.

In the world of New Pompeii women are considered pure if they are virgins, and "huge sluts" if they are not. There is no in-between for them. But you kind of have to be a "huge slut" to save your life. So the options are basically die or get laid once and be called a "huge slut." I feel like men's sexuality is a lot more normalized than women's in the world because having heterosexual sex is basically a rite of passage for men but makes women dishonorable. People don't seem to understand that it doesn't make any sense to shame a woman for doing the same thing as men get praise for. But the play shows you that there is also a lot of pressure on men to conform to these ideas. Chadwick (Kemper) is pretty much a overly sexual jock and obsessed with getting laid by any girl he lays eyes on. He tries to convince them in the dumbest ways possible. He basically harasses them until a teacher comes by to save the day. But the pressure is also on guys because society has told them they have to be overly sexual about everything to prove that they are a man. He is one of the villains of the story, but he also has social pressures to be the man that society thinks he should be.

I think that all the performers were really committed to their characters, no matter how ridiculous they were. This is a very important thing in parody and satire. It takes you out of the comedy and the context if somebody is making fun of their own performance, but that did not happen here. Some of my favorite characters that were not the three lead girls were Bangs (Caitlin Jackson), Bruce (Will Kazda), and the News Reporter (Elise Marie Davis). The reporter at the beginning of the show I thought was hilarious because she took everything she said so seriously and philosophically, like Neil DeGrasse Tyson narrating Cosmos. She would go into this classic newscaster thing, being really chipper and kind of fake, and then go back into philosophical Neil DeGrasse Tyson mode. Bruce was Cadence's boyfriend who didn't actually seem all that romantically interested in her. He was more interested in Chadwick. His sexuality was stereotypical enough to be pretty obvious to everyone who was not his girlfriend. He was dropping hints for Cadence the whole show: talking about his admiration for Chadwick and sashaying every time he left the room. It was fun at the end of the show to see his fabulous fouettés. They seem to be good together as friends, she just doesn't understand how in the friend zone she really is. Bangs I think is the most badass character in this show. She is not shy about anything. Cadence, Tatanya, and Brichelle hate her at first, but then they learn to love her because of the knowledge that she gives them about sexuality. She offers a new perspective about women and sexuality. She is like a sex-positive angel in disguise. The night I saw it, there was a woman in the front row of the audience who seemed to be intoxicated in some way and was talking to people on stage and making extraneous noise. She did this during one of Bangs' scenes, and Jackson handled it as badassedly as Bangs would. So I wanted to give her props for that.

People who would like this show are people who like committed performances, criticizing double standards, and sex-positive angels in disguise. I think people should go see this show. It is really funny and strangely thought-provoking, and I really had a lot of fun watching it.

Photos: Austin D. Oie

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Review of About Face Theatre's Time is on Our Side

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Time is on Our Side. It was by R. Eric Thomas and it was directed by Megan Carney. It was about two friends, Curtis (Rashaad Hall) and Annie (Maggie Scrantom), who have a history podcast together in Philadelphia. They have a monthly reenactment radio play where they hire their friends Rene (Esteban Andres Cruz) and Claudia (Riley Mondragon) to act in it. Claudia found this diary in a secret compartment in one of Annie's chests that used to belong to her grandmother. And Curtis wants to find out more about Annie's grandmother, but Annie doesn't want him to do that; she doesn't think he has the right. It is about inheritance, boundaries in friendship, and learning the truth about people that you love. This was a mystery, but not a murder mystery. It was about discovering and diving deeper into family secrets.

Mr. Blankenship (Cruz) and Mr. Ramondi (Mondragon) were two of the most memorable characters in the show. They are neighbors and they had been friends with Annie's grandparents Gisella (Mondragon) and Lawrence (Cruz) and are talking with her about them. Mr. Ramondi is very welcoming, shiny, and loud and just seems like a very fun person to hang out with. His neighbor across the way, Mr. Blankenship, is just about the opposite of that. He is begrudging, grumpy, and obsessed with Jeopardy! But you love him anyway. Mr. Ramondi embraces the past and the new times, and celebrates how much things have improved. Mr. Blankenship gets angry at people who want to know about the old times because they have it so much better now. It is hard for him to go through again because he has lost a lot of people that were close to him during that time. Cruz and Mondragon also both had really lovely portrayals of Annie's grandparents. They had a very sweet scene at the end of the play, which I won't give away, but it was really meaningful and bittersweet. I have a theory that maybe all of the scenes with the grandparents, and when Annie and Curtis were interviewing the older people, that might have been part of their podcast's monthly reenactment. So, Rene and Claudia were actually playing the roles of the grandparents and Mr. Blankenship and Mr. Ramondi. I think that would be really cool if that idea was planted purposefully in the show.

There were a lot of funny moments in this show. Claudia had a very welcoming personality and is friends with everyone. As Curtis said, she is a "celesbian," which I think is the best phrase ever. It comes up multiple times, and I think it is hilarious that everyone's heard this term that Annie has not. Curtis also had this wall of his house that he put all his theories about Annie's grandmother's secret life. It was insanely intricate and covered up the entire wall. It looked like a murder board on a crime show. He compared himself to Olivia Pope, and people keep shutting him down on that comparison. Rene even compares him to a totally obsessed serial killer--except that he forgot the yarn that would complete the look. I thought both those comparison were hilarious. Whenever Annie would not get a pop culture reference, Curtis would say that she would be terrible at Celebrity Jeopardy!. And she would say something along the lines of, "I don't think that's how that works." But people just kept bringing it up as if Celebrity Jeopardy! was trivia about celebrities instead of celebrities on Jeopardy! Even Mr. Blankenship makes this mistake even though his obsession is Jeopardy! I thought that was really funny.

I think the relationship between Annie and Curtis started out as a really beautiful, happy, and healthy friendship. But once they discovered the diary, they get drawn further apart because Curtis wants to find out more about Annie's grandmother, but Annie doesn't want him to because she feels like it isn't his story. But Curtis feels like it should be a story for the entire LGBTQ+ community. So he starts investigating without her consent, which I think is a very tough topic because I feel like consent is key even in friendships and you need to make sure you both are happy and getting what you need. But I also think that Annie's grandmother's story should be out there for people who are struggling to be themselves. It is hard because Annie doesn't feel like Curtis has the right to investigate the story, so it is not consent. But I'm not sure that Annie has the right approach to this topic or the ownership of the story. I feel like the playwright was trying to make you see the threat to their friendship but want to figure out a way that the story can get told where Annie doesn't feel betrayed. The play becomes mostly about how Curtis is trying to find a way to tell the story and get consent so he can save his friendship.

People who would like this show are people who like Jeopardy! obsessions, murder boards, and celesbians. I think that people should definitely go see this show. I thought the story was really intriguing and all the performances were great!



Photos: Michael Brosilow

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Review of Black Girls (Can) Fly! at the Logan Center for the Arts

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Black Girls (Can) Fly! It was written and directed by Sydney Chatman. I was about a young girl named Bessie Mae (Nana Gyang-Akoto) who is staying with her grandmother (Kona N. Burks) for the summer and is dealing with her anxiety about violence. Her grandma has started this club called the Fly Girls, which is a group of young girls (Christina Ames, Grace Ames, Dana Blanchard, Briohna Booker, and Samaya Sigle) who are inspired by black women aviators and scientists, such as Bessie Coleman and Mae Jemison. They are going to put on a show about the women they are inspired by. Bessie Mae was skeptical at first and thought it might be lame for her to join, but then she sees the importance of all these women in her dreams. I think this is a really educational, talent-filled, and fun show.

I loved everyone's energy in the opening. All the Fly Girls seemed to be having a great time. That is what you want to see in a show with kids, that everybody is enjoying themselves. They had these light up shoes and glow-in-the-dark bracelets, and they had a dance routine in the dark that made use of those elements. They shared these poetic speeches about the situation Bessie Mae was in, anxious about the Fourth of July fireworks and actual gunshots in her grandmother's neighborhood. They are introducing you to the ideas and the characters in the show, but they are not just exposition. You get to see their personalities and their bond with each other.

The relationship between the grandma and Bessie Mae felt very real. They seem to be sort of estranged at the beginning, but you see Bessie Mae being won over by her grandma's ideas about how everyone should know about these women who were underappreciated because of their race and sex. The grandma also wants her granddaughter to hang out with other girls rather than just moping around. I think that, after her grandmother convinces her, they have a more functional relationship, and I would have liked to have seen more of it. The grandma believes in participating in her community and Bessie Mae learns that it can actually be rewarding. There is a scene where the grandma is showing Bessie Mae the Fly Girls' show. They have all these picture frames with pictures of their idols who defied the laws of gravity and defied the laws of the patriarchy. And they give you a little of a backstory on them, which I think was really interesting. It made it so you could have the knowledge that the grandma wanted the world to have. It made you feel like you were participating in the Fly Girls' community.

I saw this show at the Logan Center with several school groups. The school groups really seemed to enjoy it, and so did I. It was a one-day run. They have done it at a festival, so hopefully you will get another chance to see it. I think it could be expanded and have a full run and go far. I think a lot of people would want to come see it. I had some ideas for expanding it. I would have liked to see actors playing the Fly Girls' idols. It would have been cool to see someone like Bessie Coleman talking to Bessie Mae during her dream. It would be good to have more than the dates and facts, although those were useful. I wanted to meet her and see her as an actual character. I think it would have been interesting to have all the characters of the historical women have dialogue and scenes. It would make them even more memorable.

People who would like this show are people who like learning about underappreciated heroines, organizing to kick the patriarchy's butt, and awesome light-up shoes. I think people should definitely go see this show if they get a chance. It has an important and powerful message about black female empowerment, which could make the world a better place.

Photos: Jean Lachat

Friday, March 16, 2018

Review of First Floor Theater's Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea. It was by Nathan Alan Davis and it was directed by Chika Ike. It was about a young man named Dontrell (Jalen Gilbert), who was about to go to college, and he had had a dream about his ancestor on a slave ship and he wanted to go and make contact with his spirit. This has become a pattern in his family; his grandfather had been put in an asylum for trying to steal a fisherman's boat to go and try and connect with his ancestor's spirit in the water. Dontrell's family is not very supportive about his dream because they are worried that what happened with his grandpa will happen with him. So he tries to learn to swim, but almost drowns and gets rescued by a lifeguard, Erika (Kayla Raelle Holder), who agrees to help him learn how to swim. They form a very deep connection. It is about being connected with your ancestry, family, and hope for the future. I think this is a really poetic and beautiful show. It had really beautiful visual aspects and great acting.

I really liked the concept of the show. I think it is a really cool melding of poetry and realism. When you walk in, there are symbols all over the wall (scenic design by Eleanor Kahn), different levels, a doorway, and they put up sails halfway through the show. And the light (design by Rachel Levy) was blue and everything seemed fluid. So you have a feeling that the show will be a hero's journey at sea, and at first it is really stylized. There is a lot of movement (choreographed by Breon Arzell) and it is really beautiful. But then it is not a ship in the middle of nowhere or a island or any of the things you think the story you are expecting would entail. It is somebody waking up from a dream and recording their thoughts on a tape recorder, then his sister coming in and telling him to come down for breakfast. It is just a very normal thing. There is also a lot of poetry and realism in the romantic relationship between Dontrell and Erika. They have this poetic relationship where they immediately trust each other and say a lot of really big things in the first day, but they also seem like real people falling in love. They are feeling things that make sense for people falling in love, but it seems to be sped up. I think the writer is using poetry to show real things, real problems, and real stages in life. Instead of searching for his ancestry online or with a DNA test, Dontrell has to actually get a girlfriend, get a boat, and go on a journey to find where he comes from.

There is a scene where Dontrell's Mom (Shariba Rivers) is trying to throw a fake party for Dontrell so he will come home and she can confront him about the scuba gear that she found. Then everything gets out of hand, but in the midst of the craziness, you get to learn a lot about the characters. A lot of really true things are said. Dontrell's mom yells at him because she is scared he is going to get hurt if he goes scuba diving, but more she is afraid that he will not be able to fulfill his potential. For the party Danielle (Destinty Strothers), Dontrell's sister, has made a mermaid cake. And I was trying to think about what that meant. I think that it might be that Dontrell can't just be where he is at the moment. He is half going to college and half going to sea. He is half and half, like a mermaid. Everyone wants a piece of the cake, even before Dontrell arrives. The Dad (Brian Nelson, Jr.) just walks in and despite Danielle's best efforts, takes a piece of cake. It shows that he is in his own little world a lot of the time. He doesn't seem to always pay attention to the things around him. He doesn't seem to look people in the eye; he even argues with his wife from the other room instead of talking to her face to face. The only time he really seems to engage with someone is when he talks to Dontrell about how they call women "bitches," but they are just strong women and men are too scared to admit it. I think that was a really true speech and it was really cool to see how the Dad altered between when he really didn't care about something to when he was talking about something he believed in.

I loved the humor in this play. I loved the moment when Dontrell goes to visit his cousin Shea (Brianna Buckley) where she works at the aquarium and he has this little monologue to the clown fish and calls him Nemo and talks about how cool Nemo's dad is and about how he is going to be found real soon because there are a lot of people out there looking for them. It is really sweet, but sort of weirds out his cousin when she sees him talking to a fish. She had the best facial expressions. I also really loved the handshake between Dontrell and his friend Robby (Jerome Beck). It was long, complicated, and ridiculous, and they seemed to be having a great time together. The audience literally applauded when it was finished. It shows you how long they've known each other, how close they are, and how much time they've spent together. There is also a really sweet but humorous moment where Erika and Dontrell's mother are praying together and Erika doesn't really know what to do. She doesn't know if she is supposed to pray out loud, so it takes her a long time to get started. And then the mother says that she herself is already praying silently, and it is so awkward that it is funny, but they end up having a really great connection.

People who would like this show are people who like poetic solutions to real problems, mermaid cake, and awkward prayers. I think that people should definitely, definitely go see this show. It is a really fascinating and beautiful story. I loved it.

Photos: Evan Hanover

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Review of Mary Stuart at Chicago Shakespeare

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Mary Stuart. It was a new version of Friedrich Schiller's play by Peter Oswald. It was directed by Jenn Thompson. It was about Mary (K. K. Moggie), Queen of Scots, and she had been imprisoned by Queen Elizabeth (Kellie Overbey) for wanting to take the crown. Mary is trying to convince Elizabeth to set her free. But Queen Elizabeth seems to like having power and uses it to manipulate the people around her. It is about power, freedom, and loyalty. I think this is a really compelling and intriguing show. I think they use a lot of powerful visual metaphors and it has incredibly strong leads.

The set, by Andromache Chalfant, looked a lot like a prison. It looked like stone panels held together with metal bolts. The panels would move back and forth for scene changes. I talked to my friend Courtney afterwards, and she said that the set reminded her of the work of the architect Louis Kahn. I looked him up, and the pictures of the Salk Institute look a lot like the set. It has the stone walls and a strip of water down the middle. It is very simple, but simply beautiful. The set could also be interpreted as a castle, since Mary Stuart is imprisoned in a castle. And the set also functions as the inside of Elizabeth's castle, which can be a metaphor for having responsibility for the entire country on your shoulders being a kind of prison. It's really interesting how much meaning you can get from a set that seems so simple. The lighting (by Greg Hofmann and Philip Rosenberg) at the end of the play worked with the set and it made me really emotional when the light shone through a cross made by the set. It made me think about how at the end, Mary was even more free than she had been before she was imprisoned because she doesn't have to deal with the troubles of being a queen. It reminded you that Elizabeth and Mary's religious beliefs weren't so different because they are both on stage with that cross made by light shining through the castle/prison. I think it was a really breathtaking visual metaphor.

The performances of both Mary and Elizabeth were phenomenal. They had this chemistry on stage, not a romantic chemistry but a hatred chemistry, that was so realistic and perfect. You could see that both characters had sympathy for each other, but not much; you would see these little glimmers of understanding. There was a speech that Mary Stewart had in a patch of water that she directed at Elizabeth and she was just going off on her and she just had all this passion in every word that she would say. Elizabeth just stood there, as if she were not fazed at all; she was so cold. And Mary realized she needed to make herself more of a physical threat and she just let out all of the anger she had built up when she was imprisoned. She starts splashing around and yelling; she is showing her emotions that are internal externally to intimidate Elizabeth. It is heroic in a way because she is fighting for her freedom and the freedom of her closest companions Melvil (Patrick Clear) and Hanna (Barbara Robertson). Elizabeth had some very great deceptive scenes. She is deceiving the people around her, but when they leave the room, you see her alone for just a moment with what she has done. You get to see the subtle moment of her pushing away the thought that what she has done isn't right. You have some sympathy with her, even though she does some terrible things and makes some bad mistakes, because you see that moment.

Loyalty is a very prominent concept in this show. Everyone is being loyal and disloyal to someone at all times basically. Some of the characters are romantically two-timing the queens, like Robert Dudley (Tim Decker) and Mortimer (Andrew Chown). Mortimer is tricking Elizabeth into thinking he can be trusted, but his real goal is to free Mary and get her to love him. But his desire for that gets perverted and nonconsensual. He essentially tries to rape her in one scene, and it was disturbing because the audience was laughing at it. I can understand if people were uncomfortable. And I see that the disconnect between him exclaiming how much he loved her and was going to try to save her and her trying to get away might be funny if he wasn't actually trying to rape her. Dudley is looking out for his own safety and trying to figure out if his own safety is worth more than his love for Mary. I'm not completely sure if he loves Elizabeth in the same way he loves Mary, but he is more loyal to Elizabeth--which might just be because he is scared of her. But he loves himself more than either of them.

People who would like this show are people who like loyalty triangles, glowing crosses, and splashing and yelling to get your point across. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It is very politically intriguing and shows you a lot of different perspectives. I really liked it.


Photos: Michael Brosilow

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Review of Anna Karenina at Lifeline Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Anna Karenina. It was adapted by Jessica Wright Buha from the novel by Leo Tolstoy, and it was directed by Amanda Link. It was about a woman named Anna (Ilse Zacharias) who was married to a boring man, Karenin (Michael Reyes). She wanted more excitement in her life, which now revolves around her child, Seryohza (Michelle Stine). She goes on a trip to help her sister-in law Dolly (Aneisa Hicks) and brother Stiva (Dan Cobbler) reconcile. She meets Count Vronsky (Eric Gerard), who is exactly what she wants: exciting and infatuated with her. Vronsky has a previous arrangement though, with Kitty (Brandi Lee), and she thinks he is going to ask her to marry him. So she's turned down the proposal of Levin (Dan Granata), who is crushed. It is about difficult decisions, trying to find happiness, and regret. I thought this show had an intriguing story that was told in a fascinating way.

They used movement (designed by Kasey Foster) and sound to indicate that something significant was happening in Anna's life. In the early stages, someone is hit by a train, and Anna witnesses it. This is a very significant thing in her life because she has never experienced anything like it before. The ensemble would make swishing movements with their bodies and exhale to recreate the sound of what a train makes when it stops. It makes you feel like time is slowing. This also happens when she meets Vronsky. There the sounds could be people noticing them falling in love, in like gasps, or her own breaths. She thinks a relationship with him would be romantic and breathtaking, but when they first met I thought it would be more dangerous because they were making the same sort of movements they had when the man was hit by a train. I thought that it was interesting how they used the movement and sounds as a sort of foreshadowing. There are other stylized elements in the show. The set (designed by Joanna Iwanicka) had colorful silhouettes of women's profiles that were in the background. They also used different elements of the set to be something different than what they appeared. Like the stairs were used as a buggy and a bed. I think all these stylistic moments were effective for drawing your attention to the moments and making you think about their significance.

Levin and Kitty were my favorite characters because they seemed to be the most logical characters. The reason they loved each other wasn't only because of passion or duty; it was because they saw they could be good together. Since this is based on a novel, of course the relationship had its rocky points, but you could tell they both wanted to work it out. They were a very responsible couple for a novel! Levin went a little crazy, but they tried to get through it. A lot of the time in plays the side couple is not very interesting, but in this play you do get to follow their story apart from that of the main characters. You get to see their troubles, and you are rooting for them the whole way through their relationship. They are pretty adorable. There is one line that Kitty has where she says, "I might be a little bit pregnant." And they are both so happy. Kitty is so charming and adorable that it hurts. And Levin is just so philosophical and lovable. They are kind of a mismatched couple, but it works. I thought the performances were really great; they made me understand why these people should be together even if they were both kind of insane.

I feel like Anna Karenina is sort of an antiheroine. In fact, she goes a little beyond that. There are not many redeemable qualities for her. She abandons her child, is pretty rude to her husband who only wants to do well, and she ends up dismissing Vronsky's worries about them getting married and her getting a divorce. I understand that she is a victim of a sexist society because when she leaves her husband it is considered unacceptable. (Her brother has cheated on his wife, but it doesn't really seem to affect his life outside of his relationship with his wife.) One way she goes beyond being an antiheroine is that she is abandoning her child. She keeps talking about how much she loves him, but it doesn't seem to influence her decision that much. It is hard to like her when she talks about how much she loves people but then doesn't really show it. I do think that she should be able to follow her desires, but I think she should think more about the people around her before immediately indulging in what she wants.

People who would like this show are people who like stylized movement, antiheroines, and adorably mismatched couples who are a little bit pregnant. I think this show sees the story of Anna Karenina in a new and fascinating way. I liked it.


Photos: Suzanne Plunkett