Thursday, February 15, 2018

Review of Short Shakespeare! A Midsummer Night's Dream at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called A Midsummer Night's Dream. It was by William Shakespeare and it was adapted and directed by Jess McLeod. It is about Hermia (Faith Servant) and Lysander (Christoper Sheard) who are forbidden from being together because Hermia is engaged by her father Egeus (Jarrett King) to Demetrius (Andrew L. Saenz). And Helena (Ally Carey), who has been friends with Hermia since they were very young, is in love with Demetrius, but Demetrius wants to be with Hermia. The four lovers go off into the woods where they encounter some mischievous fairies, Puck (Travis Turner) and Oberon (Sean Fortunato), who are trying to get a changeling boy from Titania (Christiana Clark), who is Oberon's queen. Also in the woods, the Mechanicals--Peter Quince (King), Bottom (Adam Wesley Brown), Snout (Richard Costes), Snug (Hannah Starr), Starveling (Drew Shirley), and Flute (Lane Anthony Flores)--are rehearsing to put on a play for Theseus (Fortunato) and Hippolyta (Clark) on their wedding day. This is a play about love, magic, and worlds coexisting and occasionally coming together. I think that this is a really good introduction to Shakespeare for kids and everyone in the audience seemed to be really into it.

I think the set (by Lauren Nigri) was really beautiful. It looked like a Romantic period painting. It had this colorful background and there were ruins and big rocks. The lover's costumes (by Izumi Inaba) looked like something out of a Jane Austen novel. I think they set it in the Romantic period because they were trying to showcase, especially with the fairies being trees, the artificial naturalistic beauty of the Romantic view. The fairies are not really trees, they are pretending to be. They are tricking everyone around them into thinking something is nature that is not. Like someone building an arch and then ruining it so that it looks like nature has taken over even though it hasn't. The lovers are Romantic romantics because they are all obsessed with love and matching up but also with finding beauty in the hardest situations. Like when Lysander and Hermia have to sleep on a bank and they are so enthusiastic about everything that is happening, even though they have to sleep on the "dank and dirty ground."

The scenes with the Mechanicals weren't as wacky in this production as they usually are. Usually they take themselves so seriously, especially Bottom, which is where a lot the humor comes from. But this version of Bottom didn't seem super stoked for the show and he seemed sort of confused about Titania, which I think is a interesting approach to the character. It is more realistic for him not to just go along with a random woman seducing him in the woods and be totally fine with it. But when you make Bottom less ridiculous it means those scenes are a lot less crazy. In "The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe," two of the performers broke out of their shell or hit their stride during the performance. I though that was interesting because you got these characters not just as vessels for comedy. The Lion, played by Snug, started out very mousy and scared but then everyone was encouraging her and Snug got back up on stage and roared her little heart out. It was so adorable and she was just so motivated and transformed. A similar thing happened to Thisbe, played by Flute. Thisbe starts out ridiculous with a very monotone and high-pitched voice but, then Flute turns the scene where Thisbe discovers the dead Pyramus into a moving scene and actually starts acting and doing well with it. Everyone in the theater started applauding like crazy. Even though there were these moments of Snug and Flute discovering their talents and actually showcasing them, that doesn't mean there wasn't any comedy in Pyramus and Thisbe. If there wasn't, it wouldn't have felt right. Snout, who played the Wall, just seemed really excited. It was hilarious how excited he was to play the Wall. Then once he got to the show, he took it so seriously, and was making sure everyone understood he was the Wall, and he was so proud of it. It was adorable and hilarious. The moon, played by Starveling, was also hilarious. He started getting very angry when people would talk over him. And he ripped the dog out of the thorn bush and started speeding through his lines because he was so angry that people were talking over his moment.

There was a choice they made near the end of the play, when the lovers finally get together: that Helena and Demetrius share a moment together alone on stage. I've never seen that happen. I thought it was really nice because this is the relationship that has changed the most, and it shows the difference between real human connection and the purposeful artificialness of some of the rest of the play. They kiss and then they talk about how they are going to talk about their "dream." That line is usually said to the group, but giving it to a scene between just Helena and Demetrius is sweet and effective. Puck has changed the way Demetrius feels about Helena by using a magical natural object (a flower) to unnaturally affect his feelings. It usually doesn't work out well to force someone into a relationship. But I had some hope for this relationship because they show you this moment of actual connection with just one line that shows you that they are actually going to talk to each other. Maybe they aren't just together because a random fairy told them to be.

People who would like this show are people who like Romantic sets, enthusiastic walls, and random fairies hooking you up. I think that people should go see this show. It is a great way for kids to learn about Shakespeare's plays, and it has some great performances in a beautiful space. I liked it.

Photos: Liz Lauren

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Review of Porchlight Music Theatre's Merrily We Roll Along

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Merrily We Roll Along. The book and music were by Stephen Sondheim and the book was by George Furth, based on the original play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. It was directed by Michael Weber. Music direction was by Aaron Benham and the musical staging was by Christopher Pazdernik. It is about three old friends Frank (Jim DeSelm), Mary (Neala Barron), and Charley (Matt Crowle), who were all writers who met each other in the '50s. It is about their friendship and how they grow apart (or in this case grow together because the story is told backwards). It is about Frank looking back on his life and realizing all the mistakes that he's made. It is about remorse, unrequited love, and making it in the artistic world. I thought this was a really fun show about not-so-fun topics. I loved the score, and the performances were great.

My favorite song in this show is "Opening Doors." It is basically about all the ups and downs of an artist's life: getting jobs, losing jobs, auditioning, disappointment, and excitement. This is a thing about the artist's life that doesn't get written about a lot in musicals--the experience of the people writing the musicals. You can be passionate about it and still be annoyed with it a lot of the time. I liked how they used typewriters and other unconventional objects, like pencils, as musical instruments. It is also showing how art is work and they are turning this object that is thought of as being used for work into something to make art. Inside this song there is another song called "Who Wants to Live in New York," which Charley and Frank take to a producer, Joe (David Fiorello). He says that it is not catchy enough. It makes you wonder how Sondheim ever got produced, since I think it might be one of his catchiest songs! That is not to say I don't love Sondheim. He is my favorite musical writer, but you can't always tap your feet to the beat. Earlier in the show, but later in their lives, the friends--along with Joe and Beth (Aja Wiltshire), Frank's wife--sing a song called "It's a Hit" after Charley and Frank have just opened their musical, which is the backwards payoff of opening doors. It is basically talking about all the people they had proved wrong. For some reason, in this play, even though you know everything is going to be terrible soon for almost everyone, you still feel happy for everyone when something good happens to them. I think there is a very cool contrast between the songs, but they both make you happy. Even in "Opening Doors" there is a sense of happiness with what they are doing, even if they aren't yet as successful as they want to be.

Mary and Charley sort of get left in the dust once Frank has a hit. Mary has been in love with Frank for a really long time, but has always hid her feelings. In the first scene of the play, everyone sings a song called "That Frank," at a party which is after his movie premiere. You get to see how she feels from the beginning of the show; she loves him but she feels like he is being a jerk all the time. She is so mad at him at the party, and she misses the old Frank. That sets us up to pay attention to how she looks at him or says different little lines in the scenes later on in play. You want to know where who Frank is today came from. And you get to know that because of how Mary keeps singing and talking about how things used to be. I wish the writers had given her a bigger part other than just being in love with Frank. But I think she actually rocks the reprise of "Not a Day Goes By," which she sings during Frank and Beth's vows. It is so heartbreaking and she sings it beautifully. It is not like I think the unrequited love part was unimportant of not effective, or didn't add to the story. I just think they should have given Mary more to do than just be in love with someone. I wanted to know about her backstory and her career. Charley sings a song called "Franklin Shepard, Inc." that is basically Charley's side of the story, talking about how Frank is just a corporation instead of being an actual person who writes music with him. The song is super fast and there are a lot of sounds mixed in with the talking. And everything is so rapid fire that your brain doesn't fully hear that somebody went "brringgg" instead of saying an actual word. I think Crowle did a great job with this with making the repetition in this song still interesting and funny each time.

Both of Frank's wives, Gussie (Keely Vasquez) and Beth, had their hearts broken by him. Something that I liked about that is that they didn't just go off crying. They actually had complex feelings about it. Beth sings a song, the first "Not a Day Goes By," which is the second chronologically, where they are in divorce court and Frank asks if she still loves him. And she says, "Of course I do. There is not a single day that I don't love you, but you have hurt me so many times that this is not going to work out." She seems to be singing it angrily and fiercely, which is a great contrast to the reprise, where she is saying her vows to Frank. It shows you love is hard and complicated. You continue to love the person you love even though it is not the healthy option. And Beth eventually realizes that even though she loves Frank, she shouldn't be with him if it isn't good for them anymore. The contrast between the songs shows you that love can be very scary but it can also be beautiful. And then there is Gussie. She is not sad and confused. She was very direct and asked Frank "Are you in love with this person?" And he said yes, and she was like, "Ok. Goodbye. You're a jerk." It might just be because she has been through so many divorces before and she is used to the feeling of it. This is her most sympathetic moment because at that point you don't know that she was the other woman in Beth's case. I think it is interesting how the sympathy you have have for Gussie decreases as the play goes on. Your sympathy for a lot of the other characters either stays the same or increases. Except for Frank who wobbles around. He could seem like a good person in one scene and in the next scene he could be acting insanely selfishly. Frank is a kind of an anti-hero. He has so many flaws, but you still want the best for him because that will be the best outcome for the people around him who you think are better people.

People who would like this show are people who like heartbreaking unrequited love ballads, corporation people, and typewriter songs. I think people will have a lot of fun at this show. I enjoyed the great performances and the amazing score. I liked it.

Photos: Michael Courier

Friday, February 9, 2018

Review of Nice Girl at Raven Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Nice Girl. It was by Melissa Ross and it was directed by Lauren Shouse. It was about a woman named Josephine (Lucy Carapetyan) who was in her late thirties living with her mom, Francine (Lynne Baker), in a suburb of Boston in the 80s. And she was feeling pretty crappy about her life because she felt like she had wasted it. She feels like she needs to find someone to be with and find some friends. She becomes friends with a girl from work named Sherry (Stella Martin) who is a lot more free spirited and takes on Josephine as a project to teach her how to have more fun and attract men. Josephine reunites with a friend from high school, Donny (Benjamin Sprunger), who is going through a separation with his wife and works at the butcher shop. But her mom isn't too happy about it and is still treating her like a teenager. It's about getting older, mother-daughter relationships, and self image. I was really pulled into the story and it had talented actors. I really liked it.

I think the friendship between Josephine and Sherry is very sweet because they both have something they can give each other. Josephine can give Sherry a listening ear, and Sherry can help Josephine on her quest to be a more exciting person. I really loved the scene where Sherry was helping Josephine get ready for her date. It was the first time Sherry met Francine, who was not very pleased to see her, especially in such a revealing top. Sherry was doing Josephine's hair, and she wins over Francine by talking about Frank Sinatra. I thought Sherry was a hilarious character; she had all these insane stories that she didn't seem to know were crazy. But she is also a really sad person. She's been betrayed so many times and she doesn't get to spend much time with her kid. She is disappointed in herself and she wants another chance with another guy, but it is very hard for her. I think she is a really interesting character who should have her own spinoff series. I don't think she is a bad influence. It is weird because she doesn't make a lot of smart decisions, but she knows how to have a good time and is learning to be confident in herself and Josephine really needs that. She is also a very caring person. She ends up being a really good friend who is willing to give up something she wants for her friend.

Francine and Josephine had a very difficult relationship. Francine thought that Josephine was "the nice girl" and wanted to keep her that way. It is a very teenage drama about a 30 year old. That was a very new concept, and I really liked that. Francine doesn't want her daughter to have any fun or go out to any clubs even though she is a grownup. Francine is also claiming to be very sick, but her daughter doesn't believe her anymore. Josephine is still trying to help her, but her mom doesn't realize that this wasn't really Josephine's plan for her own life. The sad thing is that they seem to really love each other; they just have a difficult relationship because they aren't the same kind of person. Or at least Josephine doesn't want to be like her mother, even though she might kind of be like her. She's mad at her mom because she feels like her mom is taking advantage of her. Francine wishes that her daughter would spend more time with her and confide in her, but she doesn't know how to express that to her now. She keeps talking about ice cream, and that's not something that appeals to Josephine every night now because she is a grownup. So Francine ends up nagging her almost, and then Josephine ends up resenting her. And when Sherry has a problem, Francine is able to do for her what she should be doing for Josephine, which is comforting her and helping her when she needs it. Francine can be the mom Josephine wants her to be, but just not for Josephine because their relationship is too damaged.

Donny and Josephine have this really adorably awkward relationship. They both bond over feeling like failures, which might not be the best premise for a relationship. They are both pretty desperate for attention and for love. He starts to win you over when he talks about making dinner for her sometime. But he has a lot of secrets. He also seems scared to be alone because he was married for a really long time. And now that he is dating again, he is kind of terrified to make anything official in case his wife wants to get back together, which is really sad. But he keeps leading Josephine on and telling her things that mean a lot to her, but don't mean the same thing to him. I think he is a really complicated and strange character. You don't get to know a lot about him until near the end of the play. He is an interesting character because at first he just seems like the "prize" the lead character is going to get, and in a lot of movies and plays that role is a woman. The trope is usually somebody seeing the "prize" and being like, "I'll never be able to be with them" but then at the end they get together and you usually don't learn anything about the "prize." In this play, you actually get to learn the dark things about the "prize," and not just view this person as an object.

People who would like this show are people who like complicated "prizes," obliviously insane stories, and ice cream with your mom. I think people should go see this show. I liked how it played with the high school drama idea and turned it into something new. I really liked it.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Review of Hinter at Steep Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Hinter. It was by Calamity West and it was directed by Brad DeFabo Akin. It was about the Gruber family--Andres (Jim Poole), Cazillia (Melissa Riemer), and their daughter Viktoria Gabriel (Eunice Woods) and granddaughter Elsa--who lived on a farm in Bavaria. They were murdered one night and their neighbors Frieda (Lauren Sivak) and Klara (Sigrid Sutter) came over to see what had happened to them and discovered them. They call in Inspector Herzog (Peter Moore) from Berlin and people start to seem more suspicious and the audience discovers secrets about the family and their relationships with each other and their neighbors. I thought this play was absolutely fascinating. I love murder mysteries, and I loved watching this one unfold on stage. It was suspenseful, eerie, and occasionally humorous.

I think it is interesting how this show works backwards. You see everyone finding the bodies first before looking at the actuality of the time leading up to their deaths. I think that is really cool because it lets you theorize before you get more information. I also really liked how you get to see all of these meaningful relationships between women: some are friendships, some are romantic, and some are parent-child. But you really got to see into each one. They all had meaning to them, and they all had a backstory with each other. This play is focused on the female relationships. The relationship between Elizabeth (Sasha Smith) and Klara is very complicated. There isn't a single word to describe it. They are romantic with each other and they want to protect each other, but Elizabeth did something that really hurt Klara which they don't talk about for a long time, which exposes the flaw in their relationship. Viktoria's relationship with her mother is also very complicated because she loves her mother, but her mother has stood by her father's side even when she found out about the terrible ways he has behaved. Maria (Aurora Adachi-Winter) and Frieda are the beacons of light for Viktoria because they are offering her a way out. But there is an itching suspicion that I have that they might have ulterior motives. Just because this play talks a lot about female relationships, that doesn't mean they idealize them. I think it is really awesome how many layers they showed in each of these relationships, even though this play isn't super long. The writer and director don't cram the play with facts and action, they find a way to make everything make sense but also keep a bit of the mystery in the relationships. They don't tell you everything, but you have enough to understand the characters.

It is not that the men don't have significant parts, it is just that the play is more focused on the women's relationships and builds them up to something instead of them just being there, like happens in some plays. The men all seem like outsiders, even though some of them live in the area. The inspector, however, is a complete outsider. He is from Berlin, doesn't know anyone, didn't know any of the people who died, and is therefore not very respectful of the bodies. The postman, George Siegl, (Alex Gillmor) just sees them a few days a week. Lorenz (Nate Whelden), Viktoria's admirer, didn't use to be an outsider, but he has come back from the war a changed man, and not in the healthiest way. Andres lives in the house with the family, but he is sort of an outsider because he has done terrible things. He is blatantly disobeying the rules of how a family should behave toward each other. In this play, men are the outsiders, and women have this ring of connections.

I like how this play takes normal everyday occurrences and puts more meaning to them. In both acts of this play, people eat Viktoria's bread. In the first act, Frieda, Elizabeth, and Klara are hungry so they decide to eat some of it. And they start talking about how terrible the bread always was. In the second act, which happens earlier in time, Klara eats the bread and acts like it is good. She covers up her true feelings about it. Viktoria seems to be challenging everyone who eats her bread to tell her it is terrible. I think that the bread that Viktoria makes seems like it could be a metaphor for secrecy then. All these women are trying pretend that nothing is the matter even though something definitely is. Even when someone is challenging them to tell the truth, it feels impossible to because they feel like not admitting that anything is wrong is probably what Viktoria wants. It is sad because she is not specifically asking for help, but she still wants it. There's a really great moment in the play where Frieda is talking to Maria about Viktoria's escape plan. And she says that you can't help people if they don't ask for it. And Maria says, "Yes you can. You absolutely can." I think that is a beautiful moment that shows how Viktoria might want to be helped and be able to be helped even though she feels like she can't ask for it. It is really sad that when she decides to pull the trigger on a big decision she doesn't get to make it. That's what makes this play so compelling and depressing is they way that you already know the ending of her story but you are still hoping that maybe something will work out.

I have a lot of theories about who might have killed everyone, but I don't want to spoil anything. So you can click here if you want to see my theories.

People who would like this show are people who like Bavarian murder mysteries, complex relationships among women, and secrecy bread. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It is a really great story with compelling characters. I'm still theorizing about this play and it was a lot of fun in a creepy way. I loved it.

Photos: Gregg Gilman

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Review of The House Theatre of Chicago's Hatfield & McCoy

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Hatfield & McCoy. It was by Shawn Pfautsch; the original songs were by Pfautsch and Matt Kahler. It was directed by Matt Hawkins. It was about two families, the Hatfields and the McCoys, who were both from the South. They had had a feud ever since the Hatfields had killed Asa "Harmon" McCoy (Cody Proctor) because he was a Union soldier. When Rose Anna McCoy (Haley Bolithon) and Johnse Hatfield (Kyle Whalen) fall in love, their families become pitted against each other even more than before. It is about devotion to family, forbidden love, and violence. I think this is an absolutely fascinating and breathtaking show. I really liked it.

This is a romanticized version of the relationship between Rose Anna and Johnse. The real version was they met, they liked each other, he impregnated her, abandoned her, and then married her cousin. But I like this version a lot better. It would have been cool if they'd kept the part where she rides a horse, while pregnant, in the dark mountains to warn him about a McCoy attack. (He STILL married the cousin.) Then they could have used the House Theatre's puppet skills! Rose Anna and Johnse seem to be dumb in love at the beginning but by the end you see all the ways they do connect and you start to think it is real love. This is a lot like Romeo and Juliet because they fall in love over dancing together. I think you actually get to see even more depth to Rose Anna and Johnse's relationship, because they don't spend so much time talking about how beautiful the other is. They seem to be actively trying to get everyone to get along, but Romeo and Juliet conceal their love instead of using it for good. Rose Anna and Johnse sang a song together that was a version of the morning lark/nightingale debate that Romeo and Juliet have. I thought it was a really sweet rendition of it. They seemed to be singing it to each other, which I thought was very nice. It was just a genuine and adorable song. I also really like how they had Rose Anna sing Romeo's part of the balcony scene and how she was admiring him from afar instead of the other way around.

I think the violence in this play was really effective. There were so many guns you couldn't keep track. It made this story not just a love story, but gave it some action. It wasn't just for the heck of it; it moved the story forward a lot of the time. It is definitely trying to say that violence is not the answer, but the choreography (by Hawkins) of the violence makes it really mesmerizing. The people who were using the most amount of violence were always in the wrong, and that was clear, but they were complicated characters, not just villains. I feel like Devil Anse Hatfield (Robert D. Hardaway) was a very violent but sympathetic character. You could see he loved his family, but he wouldn't put anything else above that. And he only seems to care about his own family, and will do what he has to do to keep them safe, and he's also paranoid about it. He's not selfish; he's clannish. He thinks that his family is most important, and even when he is faced with someone who thinks family should be first, like Sarah McCoy (Stacy Stoltz), he has sympathy with her but not enough to change his behavior and spare her family. The first time Devil Anse actually loses someone, he uses violence to mourn them. And that leads to more mourning and more violence. It is an endless cycle of violence and death and loss.

Even though the families have a feud that has been going on for a really long time, they share a lot of the same interests. They both love folk music. They both think family comes first. They both believe in God, but they have slightly different ways of approaching religion. And neither family was good at managing their children or at family planning. The McCoy boys--Tolbert (Tommy Malouf), Pharmer (Royen Kent), and Bud (Ethan Peterson when I saw it)--and the Hatfield girls--Victory (Jenni M. Hadley), Ellie (Tia Pinson), and Grace (Ann Delaney)--are always running wild; they always seem to have a gun or a knife. They could have done a three brides for three brothers situation there, but the brides would have killed the brothers. It was interesting that the McCoys seemed more refined in general with their plays and their no-nonsense father (Anish Jethmalani) and sweet mother, but they had the most unpredictable family member, "Squirrel Huntin" Sam McCoy (Bradley Grant Smith). Sam never stopped being drunk, but he seemed to also care about family, which was sad because he couldn't help them. And when he tried to help them it was drastic. Levicy Hatfield (Marika Mashburn) also seems to drink her problems away, but she never gets the opportunity to do anything as drastic as Sam did.

People who would like this show are people who like forbidden love stories, drunk uncles, and loads of guns. I think this is an awesome show. It is a compelling, romantic, and complicated story. I really liked it.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Review of 20% Theatre Chicago's Spark

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Spark. It was by Caridad Svich and directed by Denise Yvette Serna. It was about three sisters, Evelyn (Isaly Viana), Ali (Jenn Geiger), and Lexie (Gaby Moldovan) Glimord who are struggling to adjust to living together again when Lexie comes back from military service. Evelyn is in a relationship with a car salesman, Hector (Magdiel Carmona), and Ali, the youngest, wants to be a boxer. Lexie is angry at Evelyn when she comes back because she blames Evelyn for some of her trauma. It is about sisterhood, recovering from trauma, and origins. This play had intriguing themes, but I wanted to see more complexity in the character relationships and more clarity in the plot.

I think the strongest scene for showing the relationship between the sisters was when they were all out on the porch tending to Ali's wounds after a boxing match. I thought it was lovely how they were helping Ali deal with her hurt. It was also really sweet how Evelyn wanted to take care of Ali and was like a mother figure to her. I think why it was hard for Evelyn to have Lexie back was that Ali also really looked up to her and the older sisters have very different ideas about life. Evelyn is very spiritual and works hard, while Lexie thinks more that you have to fight to get what you want. Ali is inspired by Lexie's return to be more like her and enter the military. But also to box, literally fighting. She comes back from the fight and she is pretty beat up. But she still won, which means that even if you have gotten what you wanted, you can still be damaged in the process. I think that is a very true sentiment.

I have a theory that they were implying that when Lexie goes out into the woods to get drunk and meets this guy (Vito Vittore) that the guy was a apparition or a figment of her imagination. The lights turned purple. I think they might have been implying that that character was Lexie's dad. He sang at the end about children, sons and daughters. And he had been in the military, just like her dad. It would have been nice to actually resolve that and figure out what was happening instead of not addressing it again. That is a pretty significant encounter for Lexie, but she never really dives into it. She does come back home after, so you see that she has changed, but you don't really know by whom she has been changed or for what reason. She embraces her family and wants to be closer to them, which is another reason I think it might have been the apparition of her father in the woods. There is a possibility that I missed something, but I think the play could have been clearer.

I feel like the show's relationships weren't completely believable all the time. I also felt like the characters didn't have very many levels. These things are related, because if a character only has a few notes, then they can't have multiple levels in their relationships. The dialogue was often first level; people just say what they mean. And sometimes the conversations seemed to build up to nothing. There was a scene where Evelyn was laying out sticks on a blanket to help her sister find her way home. I thought that was going be some kind of metaphor, but it turned out she actually believed the sticks would create a magical a path to help her sister get home. It could be it was a metaphor for their family's heritage giving them direction, but that didn't really seem to happen in the play. This show often seems like it is going to give some meaning to what you see, but sometimes it doesn't come through.

People who would like this show are people who like boxing, possible paternal apparitions, and magical sticks on blankets. This is a show that makes you think a lot and has a lot of interesting themes like sisterhood, war, and abandonment.

Photos: kClare McKellaston

Monday, January 29, 2018

Review of Boy at TimeLine Theatre Company

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Boy. It was by Anna Ziegler and it was directed by Damon Kiely. It was about a boy named Adam (Theo Germaine), who was born a boy named Samuel, but when his parents (Mechelle Moe and Stef Tovar) went to have him circumcised, the doctor made a mistake and cut off more than he was supposed to. So then the parents decide to raise Adam as a girl named Samantha. They have Samantha meet with Dr. Wendell Barnes (David Parkes) to make sure Samantha is acting in a traditionally feminine way and adjusting to the new identity. After high school, Samantha becomes a "he" and changes his name to Adam. Adam goes to a party and meets this young woman, Jenny (Emily Marso), whom he immediately has a connection with. But he has some secrets that he is keeping from her that make the relationship more difficult. This play is about being who you really want to be, how helping isn't always truly helping, an how acceptance and love are connected. I thought that this play was really amazing. It was so moving and a beautiful love story. But it wasn't just about the romance; it was also about loving yourself.

Jenny and Adam's relationship was really sweet. Adam seems so invested in Jenny's child and they have this adorable witty banter. I loved how Adam was always trying to out-nerd her about everything. Like when they met for the first time and he was dressed like the monster from Frankenstein, she said "That is a great Frankenstein costume." And he says, "I'm not Frankenstein. I'm the monster. Frankenstein is the person who made the monster." She seemed to find it kind of weird but also adorable. He brings Jenny's child books from the library he works at and it is sweet to hear them talk about the books they read as kids. But Jenny feels like Adam is paying more attention to her child than to her, and she worries that maybe he isn't attracted to her at all. They are both worried that the other person isn't attracted to them: Jenny because Adam doesn't try to do anything physical with her and Adam because he is worried that Jenny will be freaked out by what he looks like after his surgery. They try to work through it together though; they don't just say "the other person is acting weird, so this relationship is over." I think they end up being a good example of people who love other people without focusing on the gender identity or insisting that people be like they used to be.

Adam has a complicated relationship with his parents. They both want him to be happy, but they also both had a plan for his life--for him to be Samantha---that he rejected, which might have hurt his parents. But they are dealing with it pretty well. There is a really heartwarming scene where Adam's dad comes over to have a beer. He says something to Adam that he really needed to hear, and I started bawling. It is so great he has a dad whose top priority is for his children to be happy. Adam's relationship with his mom is more difficult. She really likes his new girlfriend, but it is hard for her to accept who he is now because she still misses Samantha. That is really sad, but she needs to realize that this is what makes her son happy; not being Samantha is the way for him to be happy.

Dr. Barnes is actually doing something pretty revolutionary for the late 60s by saying that someone born a boy can become a girl. He's interested in this for medical reasons, like if someone lost their parts or was born with both parts and thought they had to choose. He is interested in helping people, if they have a condition, but he isn't interested in helping people for their happiness if they are born a different sex than their gender identity. It is disappointing because he is doing so much, but he could do so much more if he just opened his mind a little more. What he wants for Samantha is for her to become a feminine woman. He's not sexist because he respects Samantha as a woman and thinks she is capable of doing a lot of things. They start a book club together because at first Samantha doesn't like reading. It is a really sweet thing that he does for her. And they seem like they have a really beautiful connection. Except that when Samantha decides she wants to become Adam, he doesn't accept that. It is hard to decide how you feel about a character like Dr. Barnes because you want to like him and have him be a good person to the people that he loves. It is really hard to see him be disappointed but also to see him disappoint people.

People who would like this show are people who like respectful dads, book clubs, and Frankenstein's Monster costumes. I think people should definitely go see this show. It has a beautiful and moving story and amazing actors. I really loved it.

Photos: Lara Goetsch

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Review of Shattered Globe Theatre's Five Mile Lake

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Five Mile Lake. It was by Rachel Bonds and it was directed by Cody Estle. It was about a man named Jamie (Steve Peebles) who lived in a small town in Pennsylvania. He worked at a coffee shop with a woman who he was in love with, Mary (Daniela Colucci). She wanted to get out of town as soon as she could, but she wanted to stay and take care of her brother Danny (Drew Schad) who had just come back from the war in Afghanistan. Jamie's brother Rufus (Joseph Wiens) and Rufus' girlfriend Peta (Aila Peck) come for an unexpected visit from New York, and the brothers don't really get along because they are very different people. Jamie is thoughtful and wholesome and Rufus cares most about himself and loves the big city. Drama ensues. It is about sibling rivalry, being right for someone, and how the events in your early life affect you later. This was a really intriguing show and it had some really talented actors and some thoughtful direction in it. I enjoyed it.

One thing I noticed about the direction is that the director seems to think that people doing everyday things is interesting, and I agree with that. I worked with this director, on Scarcity at Redtwist Theatre, and there was a scene where my character made coffee and didn't say anything--just made the coffee, sat down, and waited. I think it really works because it makes the audience more engaged with the character because they seem like a real person who does things that they do and they connect with that. It is very humanizing. In this production, Mary and Jamie both arrange a lot of muffins. (It would be cool to think of this show from the displayed muffins' perspective. They get to see a lot of stuff happen!) While Jamie and Mary are arranging, you get to see how these characters go about their everyday life and how they really feel--and sometimes how they express their emotions when no one else is around. They are two characters doing the same general action, but they are doing it differently and that shows you different quirks about the two characters.

A really interesting relationship that I liked was between Jamie and Peta. Even though they have just met, they have this real connection. They seem to get along very well and they seem to want the same kind of things. They both like quiet and being away from the city. They both like the lake. She admires him for the work he’s done on the house. And they both find each other very interesting. I love the scene when she is in the bathtub and she and Jamie connect over very deep and meaningful things like her depression and her wish for a home and a child, which is also what Jamie wants. I think it is a fascinating and beautiful scene. I think they would be very good for each other. But, sadly, she is still with Rufus who doesn’t seem to be good enough for her. Rufus is a very complicated character. I don’t know what to think about him. I feel sorry for him, but I really think he should be better to his girlfriend if he really loves her. Rufus and Mary also have a bonding scene, but they relate to each other about very different things, like gummy worms and wanting to escape, and their love for baked goods. I don’t think that’s a great basis for a relationship. They have also known each other for longer, but they still don’t have the same beautiful and true bond that Jamie and Peta have, which is interesting to think about. I’m worried that maybe what Rufus and Mary want should have happened a while ago, when they were teenagers, but shouldn’t happen now.

I do wish that we had gotten to see the women interact for more than a few seconds. It feels like the men get all this back story and talk to each other--and sometimes to the women--about their feelings. The women have back stories but they don't talk to each other about them and they are sort of rivals at the end. This play seems to focus on the sibling relationships and between boyfriend and girlfriend. It is not at all interested in a relationship between two women, even though the play was written by a woman. Women don't always have to write about women, but I do think all playwrights should try to pass the Bechdel test.

People who would like this show are people who like exploring sibling relationships, bathtub connections, and arranging muffins. I think this is a good show with really intriguing relationships. I’ve thought about it a lot since I saw it, and I really liked it.

Photos: Evan Hanover

Friday, January 19, 2018

Review of Babes With Blades Theatre Company's The Good Fight

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Good Fight. It was by Anne Bertram and it was directed by Elizabeth Lovelady. It was about the suffragettes in Great Britain in the early 1900s, trying to find new ways to protest so women can get the vote. They are experimenting with bombs and jiu jitsu, as well as spreading the word through print and protests. Their first in command, Christabel Pankhurst (Alison Dornheggen) has fled to Paris because the police are after her. So they put Grace Roe (Arielle Leverett) in command in place of her and she is trying to get a handle on things when she has been a follower her whole life. Things are especially hard because one of their women, Emily Wilding Davison (Taylor Raye,) has some very dangerous ideas and the face of the movement, Emmeline Pankhurst (Jean Marie Koon), is deathly ill because she is on a hunger strike and is being force fed in prison. It's about feminism, how far is too far, and the right way to use violence. I think this was a fun way to learn about the suffragette movement, which I have been interested in for a long time. Of course they can't tell the entire story of feminism, but they showed a lot of interesting and true things about it.

I think that Emily is a very interesting character. I love her determination but she is a very sad person and I feel a lot for her. I wish I could see a prequel that was all about her. Her relationship with her mother is heartbreaking and when she talked about her experience with force feeding, it hurt me to hear it. The performer did a great job with the character. The way she dies is very tragic and elaborate. She is pushing the limits of what the suffragettes should do in protest. I think that violent protest is acceptable if the violence is set on you first. But you have to be careful that you aren't blowing up property just because it is property. It should be a place that is actually affecting the cause.

I found the jiu jitsu (fight choreography by Gaby Labotka) very interesting, and I hadn't realized that they had used it in protests. Edith Garrud (Dornheggen) taught them all jiu jitsu, at the suggestion of Hilda (C. Jaye Miller). And it was super cool to watch these women fight in long skirts and huge hats, and doing it like rockstars. The suffragettes are trying to figure out when it is right to use the jiu jitsu and that brings up a lot of interesting points. Their protests are not supposed to hurt anyone because, if they do, they are afraid that people won't support them. But they decide that jiu jitsu is valid if the police attack them for just protesting. It turns the violence against the police, so that the women aren't just being mercilessly beaten and there is nothing they can do about it. Early in the play you see this happen to Gertrude Harding (Scottie Caldwell) while she is trying to sell some papers. That scene is placed there so that you understand what is at stake here.

I think it is very interesting how everyone in this play, once the war starts, switches all of their energy to doing stuff for the war. The government tells them that they should help with the war otherwise they are going to look like jerks, to distract the women from trying to get the vote. Even though World War I didn't start so that suffragettes could be distracted, the government took advantage of that. Sometimes you do have to focus on what is threatening you right outside the door, but you have to be careful not to abandon the cause that you have been fighting for.

People who would like this show are people who like jiu jitsu, votes for women, and big hats. I think this show asks a lot of interesting questions. I thought it had really good fights and some very talented actors. I liked it.

Photos: Joe Mazza

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Review of The New Colony's The Light

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Light. It was by Loy Webb and it was directed by Toma Langston. It was about a couple, Genesis (Tiffany Oglesby) and Rashad (Jeffery Owen Freelon, Jr.), who were celebrating their anniversary of dating. Rashad had planned a great gift for her, to go and see a concert with one of her favorite singers in it. But she wasn't so thrilled because she didn't like another of the performers who she'd gone to college with. That leads to a lot of secrets being put out in the open. And she can't see if they can continue the relationship after the things he has said. It is about the challenges of love, misunderstandings, and learning to really change. I think this was an absolutely beautiful, moving, and fantastic show. I think that every person that is in a relationship or ever wants to be, should see this show. It provokes so many emotions in you, it is beautifully acted, and the writing felt very real--like real life and real conversations.

The first 10 or 15 minutes of this play are just pure joy. They love each other so much. They are bantering. They are talking about an adorable child, Rashad's daughter, whose picture is on the refrigerator. Genesis is eating from an enormous bowl of chocolate. You feel close to them in the first few minutes. You see how adorable they are and you want them to be together forever. At the beginning you see him getting ready for her to come home, and how excited he is. He's trying to find the right position to sit in so he seems perfectly normal. Then when she comes home you see how well they know each other, and how they know how to make each other laugh. They know how to push each other's buttons, but in a sweet and adorable way. This makes every moment that they disagree so much more painful. It is terrible to see when their differences become so difficult that they can't make light of them.

Both of these characters are very complex. Neither of them is fully right all the time. There isn't a villain; it is just two people having an argument. Each of them has a point. Rashad thinks they should go to the concert because he pulled a lot of strings and got them VIP passes. It was a really nice idea because he knew how much she loved this one performer, but also he knew that she didn't like another performer there and didn't ever ask the reason why she didn't like him. I don't think Genesis should have to go to the concert, because the reason she has is very valid, but she could have told him the reason earlier so he could understand. I do think she isn't required to share this certain terrible part of her life if she wants to forget it and not let it define her. But, if she wants him to believe the truth of her story, she needs to give him the whole truth. If she had, he probably would have conceded about not going to the concert and chosen a different plan.

Men are taught in very different ways than women, so a lot of ideas about masculinity and relationships are different for men and women. But a lot of times, men say that it is too much work to learn about the woman's side of the story and they continue with their sexist ways. And even a lot of the time when they do want to learn they make the woman teach them, instead of trying to find it out by themselves. But in this play, Rashad wants to learn and he wants to teach himself. He loves Genesis and he wants to understand what he couldn't understand before. It is very important for the people in the relationship to take responsibility for their own learning rather than getting the other person to take you on as a project. Usually in stories, the man runs back and says "I've made a huge mistake. I love you" and the woman forgives him. Or sometimes she says, "no, you made a mistake. I'm not taking you back." But stories don't usually show you the healthy ending for both people involved, where forgiveness is asked for and waited for patiently and the person who has been wrong takes responsibility for changing themselves. This play shows that that is an option. You don't just have to just forgive each other and go back to the way that things were; you can work through it and make changes.

People who would like this show are people who like healthy relationship options, bantering couples, and enormous bowls of chocolate. I think that people should definitely definitely definitely go see this show. It makes you think about the characters in so many different ways. I laughed, I cried, I felt angry, I had all the feelings in this show, and I loved it.

Photos: Evan Hanover

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Review of Black Button Eyes Productions' Nevermore

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Nevermore. It was written and composed by Jonathan Christenson. It was directed by Ed Rutherford. The musical director was Nick Sula and the choreographer was Derek Van Barham. It was about Edgar Allan Poe's (Kevin Webb) life, but dramatized so it sounded more like his poems and stories. It is about tragedy, poor choices, and what it means to have talent. I have never seen a musical about Edgar Allan Poe before, but I studied him for a while and know a lot about his life. This show made me think differently about his life and how different things in his stories could have related to exaggerations of his actual life.

I found it interesting how they combined "The Tell-Tale Heart" and Jock Allan (Matt McNabb), Poe's foster father. "The Tell-Tale Heart" is my favorite Poe story, and it was cool how they connected Poe's terror of his foster father with the story of a man who was repulsed and compelled by an old man's eye. The terror that he felt about his foster father wasn't just about how he behaved, but in the show it was about how he looked. He had a glowing swirl eyepatch that looked sort of hypnotic. He wanted to Poe to be a strong businessman, but this wasn't what Poe wanted. And he had a song about that, "Jock Allan's Advice," which was visually stunning. In addition to the glowing eyepatch, there were people playing automatons (Jessica Lauren Fisher and Ryan Lanning), who were sort of like his minions. He told them what to do, and they were wearing business suits. The man was wearing a top hat that had gears in it, that seemed to be his brain, that Jock Allan tightened occasionally. It had a little door in it and there was a light in the hat so you could see each gear; it was all very eerie. The costumes and masks (Beth Laske-Miller) and the props and puppets (Rachelle "Rocky" Kolecke) were absolutely beautiful and creepy.

Elmira (Megan DeLay) and Sissy (a mannequin moved and spoken for by Maiko Terazawa) were both like Annabel Lee because they were part of love stories that went wrong. They are each half of the character in the poem. Elmira was taken away from Poe by her "highborn kinsmen" because they thought he wasn't good enough for her. There's a line in the poem where he says "chilling and killing my Annabel Lee," and his wife, Sissy, died of tuberculosis, and because tuberculosis gives you a fever it would be chilling and killing her. Also the poem says, "I was a child and she was a child," but really it should be "She was a child and I was twice her age" because he was 26 and Sissy was 13 when they got married. Elmira and Poe had been like two baby goths in love because they liked to hang out in graveyards and talk about death. And it is really interesting how the poem "Annabel Lee" romanticizes all the women Poe is with, because the reality is darker than a kingdom by the sea.

At the end the first act, when Poe is thinking about how he wants to be a poet and is full of hope, they take down these white cloths and attach them to his back so he looks like the angel Israfel. He just wants to be as good of a poet as this angel. But it is not really possible because angels are thought of as the height of glory and the height of goodness, so it is pretty hard if you want to be as good as an angel. At the end of the show when Poe has died they take down these black wings and attach them, so he is more like the Raven. The Raven represents darkness and the truth and the darkness of the truth. The truth is that life is not as beautiful and innocent as you might want it to be. Being a poet for Poe is not as romantic as he thought; it doesn't bring fame and it doesn't bring happiness. You only get to escape your real life for a little bit. It is sort of like theater.

People who would like this show are people who like ravens, the darkness of poetry, and child mannequin brides. I think this is a very intriguing and original story. It was really fun to watch and I enjoyed it.

Photos: Cole Simon