Sunday, December 2, 2018

Review of Red Theater Chicago's An Oak Tree

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called An Oak Tree. It was by Tim Crouch and it was directed by Jeremy Aluma. It was about a man who was a hypnotist (Gage Wallace) and earlier that year he had been driving to a gig and hit a young girl with his car and killed her. Since her death her father (a different actor every night, Katy Collins when I saw it) has started to go crazy, and he decides to go to the hypnotist's show and see his daughter's killer face to face. It is about grieving, rationality, and oblivion. I think this is a really fascinating show. It really made me think a lot about how it would differ from night to night with different actors playing the father.

The general concept of the show is that the actor playing the hypnotist does the show every night and the other actor has never seen the show or read it. I think the reason the playwright made the decision to make the actor who played the father different every night was because the character of the father is so disoriented that having the actor who played the father actually be as disoriented as the character adds to the audience experience. I think it adds a lot to see the actor playing the father discover the same things that the audience is discovering in real time. The concept reminds us how theatrical performances are different every night even if the script is the same and it has the same actors. It also shows the importance of relationships in theater, not just between characters but between actors because you are watching two actors interact as well as two characters.

I think it is really interesting how the hypnotist seems to be filtering all his pain and suffering by making the volunteers in his show go through the same pain that he did. It seems like the show is saying that audiences, even without audience participation on stage, feel the pain that the characters are feeling and what the playwright has gone through. The hypnotist seems to be "recasting" his own role with audience members and making them feel the feelings he doesn't want to anymore. There is a strong theme of replacement in this show because you get a new actor every night but also the father has replaced his daughter with an oak tree and the hypnotist is recasting his life. In this play it seems that grieving is also a process of replacement.

People who would like this show are people who like intriguing theatrical metaphors, exploring grief, and immersive disorientation. I think that people should definitely go see this show. I think this is a really thought-provoking and unique show. I think it is very well acted and I love the concept.


Photo: Matt Wade

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Review of About Face Theatre's This Bitter Earth

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called This Bitter Earth. It was by Harrison David Rivers, and it was directed by Mikael Burke. It was about a couple, Jesse (Sheldon Brown) and Neil (Daniel Desmarais), who met each other at a Black Lives Matter rally. Jesse is black and Neil is white, but activism has a very different place in each of their lives. Neil is the activist and Jesse agrees with his views but isn't always invested in being an activist. It is about injustice, privilege, and love. I think this is a very beautiful show. It has amazing actors and an intriguing plot line.

This play is very interestingly structured. The climax you see at the beginning of the show, but you don't know exactly how it will end. You keep going back in time, but not in a straight line, jumping around to different points in their relationship, not completely knowing where you are at the beginning of a scene. But you eventually get more of an idea about where the scenes fit in the puzzle of the show. I think the writer chose to make this play nonlinear to make it like it is someone's actual memories and recollections of a person. It makes the play more powerful because of how unfiltered it seems.

I liked how many levels their relationship had. It really showed how an actual relationship is. It is not just happiness and it's not just all terrible. It depends on a given day; it is not a steady incline or decline. You get to see how their relationship has rough patches and high points. Of course the rough patches stick out in memory more, because people remember the bad times more than the good times. A good example of a rough patch they overcome is when Neil is going away to help out with the protests in Ferguson, but Jesse doesn't want him to go and is worried about him. Even though Jesse at first ignores the texts and Neil's attempts to reconcile, they both end up letting down their walls at the same moment and coming together no matter how far apart in distance they are.


I feel like the play rounds out their relationship really well and makes me care a lot about these characters and their relationship. I loved the scene where they are on their first date and "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor comes on and they both start busting out their cringe-iest dance moves and belting their hearts out. This shows one of the purest moments in their relationship, when they are still new to each other and finding out how much they have in common and how different they are in the best ways. I also really loved the scene farther into their relationship when they had moved in together, and Jesse's parents had just come for an impromptu visit. His parents were not the easiest of guests and the scene starts with Jesse and Neil waving good bye and both sighing simultaneously when their guests are out of sight and letting out everything they'd been keeping in during the visit. It was really funny and adorable to see them agreeing and laughing together. This scene came after some very tough scenes, so it was nice to have this reminder of their spark and how their relationship is worth fighting for. I think this play is most of the time arranged really well to keep you rooting for them and reminded of why they are together.

People who would like this show are people who like emotional arrangements, adorable and flawed relationships, and belting Gloria Gaynor in gay bars. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It was a beautiful story, amazingly acted. I loved it.

Photos: Liz Lauren