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

Monday, March 5, 2018

Review of The Wolves at Goodman Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Wolves. It was by Sarah DeLappe and it was directed by Vanessa Stalling. It was about a all-girls teen soccer team and there was a new girl on the team, #46 (Erin O'Shea), who is trying to fit in. All of these girls have been in the exact same dynamic with the exact same girls for a really long time and it seems like that is getting overthrown, but maybe #46 has something the team needs. The new girl isn't the team's only problem. They are also trying to get through their own personal problems with gossip, anxiety, grief, depression, eating disorders, sexuality, identity, and the consequences of teen drama. I think this is a really compelling show that had very realistic character dynamics; the relationships were clear and they talked about things that actual girls talk about. It was amazingly acted and immersed you in the story.

This show has a lot of really close bonds between characters. Players #7(Natalie Joyce) and #14 (Aurora Real De Asua) had been very close for a very long time. They did everything together, but they didn't really think about other people in the group as people who had feelings. It literally takes a physical injury for #7 to start acknowledging other people. They would talk back to the captain, #25 (Isa Arciniegas). They had a coach, but he wasn't very interested and was always hungover, so #25 seems to really be in charge. They also pick on #46 for even existing and talking. There were definitely problems in their relationship; whenever they hung out with #7's boyfriend, #7 would try to get #14 to hook up with some rando so they could get her out of the way. Player #25 is one of the only people who fully accepts #46 and takes her aside and helps her to be able to play the position that she wants and deal with the people on the team. Player #25 is the voice of reason in this field full of gossip and hormones; she just wants to make them all a team. There were three girls #8 (Cydney Moody), #11 (Sarah Price), and #13 (Mary Tilden), and they were all sort of nerds. They would acknowledge the references to Middle Earth, which was the most adorable thing in the world. And they would talk about articles they read, even if they didn't fully understand them. Like #13 pronounced Khmer Rouge incorrectly. They were potential outsiders who were insiders with each other.

Not everyone had their friend group. Player #25 was too mature to be in any group; she was the leader and couldn't get distracted. But we find out that she has found someone not on the team who understands her and helps her and I ship them. Player #2 (Taylor Blim) is a good girl. She doesn't want to hurt anyone's feelings, but she ends up doing it more than she realizes. She tries to fit in to all these different groups, but none of them fully accept her. Her mother is overprotective and makes her wear protective headgear because she keeps hurting herself, but I have theories of other reasons that might be happening. The goalie, #00 (Angela Alise), always got nauseous before games and is anxious and anti-social and doesn't talk to anyone much. But she is actually one of the most talented ones on the team. Even though not everyone is always hanging out together, they are still a team. They take this picture with orange slices in their mouths and they are waiting for #46 to get in the picture. And when she turns around, she just seems so distraught to have seen them with orange peels in their mouth. I thought that was adorable. Them taking this picture is a very nice moment, where you get to see all of them as a team and getting along even though they might not share the same opinions.

I thought this play did a great job of recreating how a lot of teen relationships actually are. It is a very true teen thing that people can love each other and still say dumb things to each other and talk behind each others' backs. This can ruin a friendship even if people didn't realize what they were doing when they actually were doing it. There are a lot of moments of social tension felt by the characters in this play. Like how #2 is talking about how #46 lives in a yogurt, when she doesn't know #46 is listening. But #46 actually lived in a yurt, and #2 is so embarrassed about being overheard and getting the name of where #46 lives wrong. Player #46 is embarrassed because she lives in a yurt, but she also owns it because she basically schools #2 about what a yurt is. Another moment of tension was when the girls were stretching and talking about how their favorite coach was so much better than their coach right now, but he had to go take care of his mom because she had cancer. And they are all yelling at #8 about how she seems to want his mother to die, which is not true...and they forgot that her mother had cancer. She says nothing is wrong, while she does everything, like drinking water, very angrily. This is something I've noticed my friends do when they are angry or think they've been accused unfairly. I thought it was interesting in the final scene how they made the audience feel the same tension that the characters would feel. Basically what happened was that you knew someone was dead, but you did not know who. And each living character would come on stage, one by one, between bits of dialogue. And as each person came in, you would be relieved that that person wasn't dead. Once the last person came in, you were crushed. This is how actual teenager social situations can feel. It feels like everything is riding on this, no matter how small the thing is. It feels like life or death, even when it isn't. But this actually is.

People who would like this show are people who like orange peel pictures, yogurt yurts, and angry water drinking. I think that people should definitely definitely go see this show. It is powerful and empowering and reminds you of how things felt when you were a teenager.

Photos: Liz Lauren

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Review of Saltbox Theatre Collective's 4.48 Psychosis

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called 4.48 Psychosis. It was by Sarah Kane and it was directed by Brian Fruits. It was about depressed people talking about their insecurities and their thoughts of suicide. The script of this play has no stage directions or assigned dialogue or specified characters, so every production is different. The first production only had three people, and this has an ensemble of 12 people (Alli Braun, Dane Van Brocklin, Carly Crawford, Lauren Demerath, Gavin Farrow, Kevin Garrett, Brian Bengston, Alison Call, Anne Ogden, Lauren Partch, Bryce Saxon, and Ryan Smetana). It reminded me a lot of performance art because of the artificial way that they moved, the way they would often be in their own universe and then start to notice each other, and they also often spoke directly to the audience. I feel like this is a valid way to do this show, but I would have been more interested in seeing them try to create 3 or 4 consistent characters throughout the play, rather than many actors being assigned speeches almost at what felt like random.

I feel like this piece had a lot of interesting images. At the beginning, each person was entering one by one. And they were doing a repetitive movement at different tempos. And then the last person walked in, and everyone started turning towards her. And she went to the wall and started doing the same repetitive movement that most of them had been doing before, but on the wall. And then they all started making a motion like they were using a paintbrush. One of my favorites images was when, at the end of the play, they actually painted on the wall. They all dipped in their paint brushes, and at first it seemed like they were just making random shapes. But then it started to turn into letters that read "Please open the curtains." It was really moving to see all these people working together to make one big thing at the beginning and end of the play. For a lot of the rest of the play, they were not working together. They might help lift someone, or engage with someone, but these were the times they were all doing an equal thing together, which was really cool visually and emotionally. There had been these tiny little curtains at the bottom of the wall, which I though was there for no reason, but it turned out they had a purpose to make a statement at the end.

I think that more consistent and defined characters would have helped make everything a little bit more understandable. It is different when you have complex characters that you get to know and understand how and why they are depressed. If you don't know someone and they just come up and start yelling about their depression and how much they hate their genitals, it is harder to feel compassion for them. I'm not saying that depression has to have a cause. A lot of depressed people feel depressed because they just are. They don't have a reason for it; they just are. But it still helps to know the context of their lives and not have their depression reduced to just statements. I know that suicide and depression are very serious topics, and the ensemble treated these statements respectfully. The only way it feels right to feel about this is to feel bad. I wasn't expecting it to be uplifting, but I was expecting more levels in the way I responded. I expected it to be heartbreaking, but not relentlessly depressing. That might be what the playwright was going for, but that isn't what I look for in theater.

People who would like this show are people who like performance art, ensemble pieces, and painted messages. I think there were some really beautiful moments in the show and it was performed with a lot of passion.

Photos: Corwyn Cullum

Friday, March 2, 2018

Review of Haven Theatre's Fear and Misery in the Third Reich

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Fear and Misery in the Third Reich. It was by Bertolt Brecht, translated by Eric Bentley, and directed by Josh Sobel. It was stories about people in Germany right before World War II, showing snippets of their lives. It was not called Happiness and Sunshine in the Third Reich, so it was depressing and heartbreaking, but it was beautifully acted and told some important stories in a compelling way. It is about fear, humanity, and resistance. I think it is really educational in an engaging way. All the stories are based in truth, and it shows you how important it is not to let fear take over because people use fear to get the destructive power that they want.

A really haunting and compelling scene was one where a husband (Niko Kourtis) and wife (Alexis Randolph) begin to fear that their son (Joe Bianco), who was a part of the Hitler Youth, was going to tell the group what his parents were saying. It was really eerie and depressing how scared they were of their own son. They had all these precautions, like a picture of Hitler, in their house to show that they were loyal. It is so heartbreaking how they are running around frantically imagining how their son could rat them out. There is a little bit of dark humor in this scene because of how many places they try before they find the perfect place for the Hitler picture. Then, after they have been running around like chickens with their heads cut off, their son shows up with some chocolate because he has just been to the candy store, not to the Hitler Youth. But you don't actually know if he is telling the truth or not, which keeps the tension in the air. I think that this scene captures the fear and paranoia of many people living in the Third Reich.

One of my favorite scenes was when the Jewish wife (Alys Dickerson) of a German doctor (Bianco) was packing up and calling people on the phone to say she was leaving town. And she had these moments when she would pick up the phone and become a whole new person. She was so falsely cheery and high-pitched when she was talking to some of the people; but there was one person, who she was asking to take care of her husband, who she sounded more genuine with. The difference between these two types of phone calls was so drastic, it showed you how she wasn't this comfortable with everyone. And the contrast was so eerie because it really shows how in this time of the demonization of Jewish people in Germany, she had to be so careful about what she said and how she acted in front of people. There is a lot of silence in this scene, which I think is very effective; it shows her thought process. I think the actor in this scene did a great job of keeping the silence interesting by showing the way she felt throughout the scene. She buried her head in the suitcase, and it was such a moving moment because she was taking comfort in a reminder of her problems because she had nothing else to give her comfort. Before her husband comes home, she rehearses what she is going to say to him and also imagines his responses. When he comes home, he does a lot of the things she was scared he would do, like giving her her fur coat because he knows she is not coming back for a very long time, even though he is saying he'll see her soon. That is insanely heartbreaking to me.

The interviews of the factory workers seemed so manufactured, like everyone was struggling to give the right answers. They all seem to be afraid of the consequences of saying the wrong thing, which could be anything from losing their jobs to being sent to a camp. One worker (Elizabeth Dowling) was stuttering and clearly terrified and was checking to see if everyone thought she was saying the right thing. But this play shows you how that fear can happen anywhere, not just when you are being interviewed on the radio. There is a scene near the beginning of the play where a German officer (Siddhartha Rajan) is having a beer with his sweetheart (Dickerson) and explaining to another person (Jessica Dean Turner)--who has come to visit her sibling, the cook (Kyla Norton)--how he marks people with white chalk if he thinks they are "troublemakers." The sweetheart and the cook are trying to play it off like it is normal, but it is disturbing because the officer is being so aggressive and weird with the cook's sister. And at the end he has managed to mark the sibling without anyone noticing, which is a terrifying ending. And the cook and sweetheart tell the sibling she needs to go because she might actually be marked. They can't tell if the officer is serious or not. Another scene shows that this fear of saying the wrong thing can even happen to you if you are judge (Amanda de la Guardia). When the judge is asked to preside at a trial for a man who runs a store and was beaten up by SS officers, he keeps trying to find out from his wife (Randolph), his secretary (Dickerson), a lawyer (Rajan), and the investigator of the case (Simon Hedger), who is his closest ally, what is the safest thing to do. But there isn't a way to make everyone happy. He doesn't know what route to go to guarantee his survival.

People who would like this show are people who like uncertain judges, heartbreaking fur coats, and paranoia chocolate. I think that people should definitely go see this show. This is a brutal and fascinating show with some amazing performances. I really liked it.

Photos: Emily Schwartz

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Review of Steppenwolf for Young Adults' The Burn

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Burn. It was by Philip Dawkins and it was directed by Devon de Mayo. It was about a girl in high school named Mercedes (Phoebe González) who had just transferred schools and is being bullied by three girls Tara (Birgundi Baker), Andi (Nina Ganet), and Shauna (Dyllan Rodrigues-Miller). Mercedes is very religious and she has just lost her brother. They are putting on the play of The Crucible at their school, and Mercedes and Shauna both audition of their own accord. The other two bullies don't want to do the play, but they are forced to by their teacher (Erik Hellman). The dynamics in their relationships are already a lot like the ones in The Crucible, but you see more layers and you get closer to the characters of the accusers in this play. It is about bullying, power, and vulnerability. I think this is a fascinating and smart teen drama. I really liked it.

I think that the relationship Mercedes and her teacher Erik have is really sweet and kind of confusing. A lot of people may think that their relationship is based on the John Proctor-Abigail relationship in The Crucible because they read that scene and she is playing Abigail in the play. But their relationship isn't inappropriate. He seems to want to help her and finds her to be a very interesting person. She interacts with people in a very different way than anyone else does. I think he is trying to show her something new--the world of theater--that she hasn't experienced before. And she is trying to show him the way to heaven. They have ways of identifying with each other, but they have different things they want to teach other people. He wants to protect her because she has had such a hard time, but he also relates to her. We don't know a lot of his story, but we know that his family was very religious and now he isn't as religious anymore. Their relationship is not romantic, like the John Proctor-Abigail relationship, but it is still meaningful. It goes beyond what you expect from this relationship, but not in an inappropriate way.

There is not a single person in this play who hasn't made a bad decision, but you still have sympathy for them. Even the people who are bullying Mercedes have redeeming qualities. A lot of people think that Tara is an idiot because she doesn't try at school, but she actually understands a lot more things than they think. People think they can slip past her radar more than they actually can. She also has a pretty crappy family life and is living with her father and stepmother and her mother is neglectful and depressed it seems. Her mother might be literally insane, but Tara uses literally incorrectly a lot of times, so I'm not exactly sure. She is very clever and she is strong, but she just uses her strength for the wrong things and overreacts. Andi is in love with Tara and she wants to be the person that people think she should be. She likes basketball and sports, but she is acting like she comes from a disadvantaged background when she actually doesn't. But she is also just lovestruck and doesn't know what to do to make this person like her, so that makes me feel sorry for her. Shauna, even though she makes fun of Mercedes at first, when she actually has an interaction with Mercedes, she becomes friends with her. She is hiding a lot of parts of her personality from Tara and Andi; she actually likes to act and play video games. Once she figures out that when you are bullying someone online and think they don't even know about it, they are still an actual person with feelings and don't deserve to be treated otherwise, she stops bullying her and tells Tara and Andi that Mercedes is actually a really nice person.

The people who seem like the heroes also make bad decisions. Erik is a recovering addict and he doesn't always handle his emotions in a completely healthy way. When he is provoked, a switch goes off and he becomes an angrier person, even if just for a second. But he also wants to help his students and make them love theater and for reading plays not to seem like a chore. He wants it to be fun. He just wants the kids that he teaches to love what he loves. He wants to get better; he had problems and he is trying to fix them. It is just hard. Mercedes is a very religious person and she wants to be worthy of things. She has a very high standard for herself, but when people push her, she turns into to the people who are bullying her. I understand why she does it. She sees these people who have power because they are mean to other people, and she says, "Oh, I know how to get them back by doing the same thing, only doubling it." That just makes it so she is the bully and they are the victims; it makes her the villain of her own story, even if they did the bad thing first. There is no one on this planet who isn't a little messed up by their circumstances. But just because something bad has happened to you, doesn't mean that you should take it out on other people. Everyone has an excuse for what they do, but that doesn't make what they do valid.

People who would like this show are people who like meaningful teacher-student relationships, sympathetic mean girls, and using literally not in a literal way. I think that people should go see this show. I think it is a really compelling story with complicated characters. It uses The Crucible in a relatable way and modernizes it and shows you things about it you might not have thought of before. I loved it.

Photos: Michael Brosilow