Friday, December 27, 2019

Ada Grey's Favorite Shows of 2019

Chicago theater has had so many amazing stories to tell this year, which is why making this list was so difficult. From an in-depth look into the future and past of the world to a competition to win a truck in Texas, so many stories have showed me new ways to think about theater and had an impact on me. I have great respect for all the shows I saw and the effort that went into them, even if they didn't make this list. Chicago theater has so much to offer and the shows I saw this year made me remember why Chicago is such a special place for theater. Here are my top productions of this year.

Top 7 Plays

Cardboard Piano (TimeLine Theatre Company)

People who would like this show are people who like analyzing religion in a creative way, adorable secret lesbians, and dueling cardboard pianos. I think this show is really beautiful, heartbreaking, and amazingly acted. All the elements in this play were beautifully done. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It moved me a lot and I think it has important insights.

Read the full review here.


Girl in the Red Corner (Broken Nose Theatre)

People who would like this show are people who like literal family conflicts, relatable wrestling, and paint-shade-obsessed mothers. I think this is a really well-done show with great actors. It added something new to the wrestling play genre and it was very enjoyable. I really liked it.

Read the full review here.


Happy Birthday Mars Rover (The Passage Theatre)

People who would like this show are people who like subjecting objects to human emotion, follicles of memory, and love-fueled extinction reports. I think this is a gorgeous show with amazing performers. It made a lot of points that made me think about my own life in ways I hadn't before. It was an absolutely transformative piece of work and I definitely recommend seeing it. I loved it.

Read the full review here.


Kentucky (The Gift Theatre)

People who would like this show are people who like good Kentucky Christians, the fear of becoming your parents, and Cheesecake Factory caskets. I think this is the perfect dark family dramedy. The relationships within the show are amazing, the play is performed wonderfully, and it is written and directed perfectly. I love it so much.

Read the full review here.


Lottery Day (Goodman Theatre)

People who would like this show are people who like complicated heroines, the Marvel Universe of Chicago Theatre, and confidently awkward people. I think this is a really great show. I was so engaged in it the entire time. It has amazing actors, is beautifully written, and has an amazing director. I loved all of it.

Read the full review here.


Red Rex (Steep Theatre)

People who would like this show are people who like holding a mirror up to the Chicago theater community, realistic plays about plays, and making fun of artsy bullcrap. I think this is an amazing show. I loved the concept and it was done so well all around. I loved it.

Read the full review here.


True West (Steppenwolf Theatre Company)

People who would like this show are people who like intriguing backstories, partly hidden comparisons, and an abundance of toasters. I think this is an amazingly done piece of work and I loved it. I'm still thinking of it weeks later.

Read the full review here.


Top 5 Musicals

The Band's Visit (Broadway in Chicago)

People who would like this show are people who like gorgeous performances, memorable movement, and romantic roller rinks. I think people should definitely, definitely go see this show. I think it is a very important show because it shows how people with a history of conflict are more similar than they may think and are capable of true connection. I loved it!

Read the full review here.


Falsettos (Broadway in Chicago)

People who would like this show are people who like important musicals that make you love every character, complex child characters, and brilliantly heartbreaking and frank laments. I absolutely loved this show. It is an amazing story. It is beautifully acted, and this is a gorgeous musical.

Read the full review here.


Hands on a Hardbody (Refuge Theater Project)

People who would like this show are people who like plays that challenge the basic structure of good vs. evil, bridge-burning tension, and Ronald-ettes. I think that people should go see this show. It is very heartfelt and fun, and it has great performances. I really liked it.

Read the full review here.


Head Over Heels (Kokandy Productions)

People who would like this show are people who like queer representation in the foreground, joyful communal musicals, and fabulous dancing sheep. I think this is a very cohesive, funny, and electric show. I really loved it.

Read the full review here.


Six (Chicago Shakespeare Theater)

People who would like this show are people who like empowering queens, Renaissance references, and group brags about female power. I think this is an amazing show. Every single artist in this show is insanely talented. It is very empowering. It is a musical that looks back on the past and shows how the situations these women were in are relevant today. It shows how even if the queens are not here now, women can take back their stories, apply them to their own lives, and re-envision and revise them. It was inspirational, and it was a blast.

Read the full review here.

Photos: Lee Miller, Claire Demos, and Nick Roth

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Review of Red Tape Theatre's Queen of Sock Pairing

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Queen of Sock Pairing. It was by Sophie Weisskoff, and it was directed by Zach Weinberg. It was about Celia (Elena Victoria Feliz), who was at the beginning of her independent adult life as an artist. She is trying to find ways to navigate her love life, her desires, her art, and her purpose. This is made more difficult by her toxic relationship with Cai (Aaron Latterell) and her demanding work environment. She works for an intense mother, Joan (Brenda Scott Wlazlo) who is getting divorced from her slightly sympathetic husband, Jonathan (Scot West). Celia takes care of their intelligent child Walden (West) and gets along well with him. It is about sexual fantasy, dominance, and creating. This was a thought-provoking show with compelling performances.

What I deduced about Celia in this play is that she believes that sex and giving people pleasure is one of her arts. But she has this obstacle where she believes that her job is to be submissive, and her boyfriend reinforces that, making her feel like she doesn't have a choice. Her boyfriend judges her on their sex by how much she submits to him, just like people are judged on their art and told whether or not it is good based on the desires of the viewer. If you consider sex as an art form, it can neglect the needs and wants of the people involved. It makes sex a performance instead of a partnership. Art made only for an external audience, that doesn't take into account the artist's own point of view, isn't fully truthful. I find it interesting that there is a metaphor in this play that connect sex and art. It is not something I really thought of before.

The Narrator (Jalyn Greene) is not just the narrator, they are a character that may be Celia's inner voice. There is a section where the Narrator is repeating words that seem to be going through Celia's head. The words are babka and slut. She is working with language and these words seem to be haunting her. Babka is something she doesn't understand (because she misidentified the sweet bread) and slut is something she thinks about herself. It is two words about insecurities that she has: about not understanding things and about how she could be perceived. The babka and slut are two words that are very repeatable. They have a large impact because of the plosives and the meaning, the plosives are important because she seems to be an artist with words. It seems like the Narrator is a presence that switches between thinking Celia's actions are justifiable and not. The Narrator seems to be less present (or even absent) on stage when Celia is speaking her mind or standing up for herself. When she knows what she is saying or what she wants, she has less internal conflict. Having a narrator character that is a subconscious means you don't know what is just in her head and what is reality. I thought that was an interesting layer to add because it left sections to audience interpretation.

People who would like this show are people who like embodied brains, sexual discovery, and slutty babka. I think that this is a very original and compellingly-done show. I think it had a lot of great things to say.

Photos: Austin D. Oie



Friday, November 29, 2019

Review of The Passage Theatre's Happy Birthday Mars Rover

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Happy Birthday Mars Rover. It was by Preston Choi and it was directed by Alison Thvedt. It was a compilation of politically-, historically-, and socially-driven scenes and snippets about humanity, exploration, and nature. There are six actors (Sarah Lo, Vic Kuligoski, LaRose Washington, Cory Hardin, Liz Cloud, and Em Haverty) in this show who each play many different roles of different ages, genders, and species in the scenes. There is a full scale of tones, demographics, and messages. It is about the future, love, and extinction. This was an absorbing and enthralling show with really amazing performances and a non-preachy, funny, heartbreaking story of existence.

The vision of the future in this play made me think about how much I value life, and I hope life can be preserved for humans, but ultimately it is okay that humans will eventually go extinct. It is not just human life that is beautiful and important. The play both starts and ends with an absence of humans, and I think that was super effective. There is a really interesting through-line, in many of the later scenes, of people commemorating the dead with pieces of their hair in jars. It is supposed to keep someone alive in your memory to have a piece of them--having something more than a memory. The hair is proof of uniqueness and existence. It is a tradition from the past that is seemingly carried on in the future. It tells us that humans are sentimental and want to be remembered. Humans have an evolution but they stay remarkably the same. There was a scene in the play where it was, as the title suggests, Mars Rover's birthday. The Mars Rover sings happy birthday to itself, but the engineers back on earth have programed it to sing happy birthday to itself. This scene has an evolution in the play, where it is again the Mars Rover's birthday, but this time as it is singing it starts to malfunction and dies. The feeling that I had at this time perfectly exemplified what the play was saying earlier about how the Rover is an object and the engineers should not get emotionally attached or sing happy birthday, but I did care that it was dying. That is the human problem, that they get attached to things but also don't know how to take care of them. It is because humans love things but also destroy them, that the future looks dark for humans.

The play looks at a lot of different types of love, from sexual to parental, crushes to life-long partnership. There is an insanely cringe-y and hilarious sex scene about royalty having bad sex even though one of them is definitely gay and the other is mostly hoping not to be beheaded. It does seem like they love each other, just not the way their parents want them to. They both know they have to make it work even if they don't want to. We also see love between inanimate objects, which is very sweet, between Voyager 1 and Voyager 2. The first scene is just Voyager 1 transmitting its hopeful message until it can't any more and keeps saying "please flip to side B," but there is nobody there. But then another Voyager comes by and flips it to side B, and for one moment it feels like someone else is there. It is sweet to see this symbol of hopelessness (because there is no one there listening) find something to help it. It is like love because it is helping someone when they can't help themselves and letting them know you are there for them. It is hope in the face of hopelessness. The smallest things can have the biggest impact, even if you'll never see that person again. There was this very lovely scene called "Under the Sea" that featured a father trying to record a voiceover for a documentary on jellyfish, but he was interrupted by his daughter who was delivering messages from her mother that were not considerate and criticized his work. But then he learns that his daughter really does love his work and care about what he does. It was very heartwarming to see how much this meant to him. This scene is a good reminder of why people have children, so they have something to look forward to and something they can love unconditionally. In another scene called "Housewives," they make the counterpoint that parenting can be painful because of your undying love for your mortal child.

This play talks a lot about extinction and different attitudes towards it. There is this series of extinction reports done by a cast of middle-school-age characters. One kid did an extinction report on the T-Rex, and he was talking about how he wanted the world to go extinct except for one other girl in his class whom he was in love with. He also seemed very upset about another kid's project, because he saw the kid as an obstacle between him and his one true love. This also exemplifies how humans want to destroy the things between them and love. This entire scene was hilarious because he kept getting distracted by his hatred for his rival and his love for the girl. And he was such a dorky and passionate kid that it was more adorable than terrifying. There was another humorous but dark reality check--I think this play did that sort of thing very well--that was a game show featuring a husband and wife who were having some marital problems but also trying to find places humans could live other than earth. They are facing the harsh realities of their marriage while facing the harsh realities of earth's impending extinction. This is a double whammy that you can't not laugh at because of how dark it is while also being paired with two people trying to make it seem like everything is fine when it is very clearly not. Since these two people have to deal with the fact of extinction every day as well as the impending extinction of their relationship, it is funny to watch in a way that is more of a coping mechanism than flat-out comedy. I feel like this is smart to have this subtext-filled discussion of extinction where it means two things.

People who would like this show are people who like subjecting objects to human emotion, follicles of memory, and love-fueled extinction reports. I think this is a gorgeous show with amazing performers. It made a lot of points that made me think about my own life in ways I hadn't before. It was an absolutely transformative piece of work and I definitely recommend seeing it. I loved it.


Photos: Evelyn Landow

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Review of Porchlight Music Theatre's Sunset Boulevard

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Sunset Boulevard. The book was by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, based on the film by Billy Wilder, and the music was by Andrew Lloyd Webber. It was directed by Michael Weber, choreographed by Shanna Vanderwerker, and music directed by Aaron Benham. The story follows Joe (Billy Rude), who is a screenwriter in Hollywood in 1949. He is running away from people trying to repossess his car when he finds himself in an extravagant house owned by silent movie star Norma Desmond (Hollis Resnik). When he is hired to help finish her screenplay, he finds himself in a difficult situation because of her extreme loneliness and delusions. He discovers an elaborate plot to keep Norma in the dark about her own irrelevance, headed up by her butler Max (Larry Adams). He also ends up falling in love with his friend Artie's (Joe Giovannetti) fiancee, Betty (Michelle Lauto), while trying to write a script with her. It's about fame, ambition, and manipulation. I really love the story of this musical and the performances were great.

There were a lot of different versions of romantic relationships of various degrees of dysfunction portrayed in this show. The relationship between Joe and Norma is very dysfunctional and manipulative from both sides, even though the relationship begins because of Joe's manipulation of Norma's wealth and desperation to serve himself. The first time they actually kiss, Joe's motivations are not sincere, and it begins to unravel different layers of lies in Norma's life. Joe and Betty's relationship is also built on deception because they are both in relationships, one that they both know about (Artie and Betty) and one that Betty is unaware of (Joe and Norma). They both have similar interests, they work well together, and they listen to each other, so that could make a good relationship, but because they aren't dealing with their problems so they can be together, the consequences of their deceptions plunge them into the deep end. The relationship between Max and Norma is the most dysfunctional but also features the most genuine love. This relationship shows when you are as devoted to someone as much as Max is to Norma, undying love can lead you to do things that are not good either for your beloved or yourself.

I have never really been a huge fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber's music, but I thought the performers did a great job with what they were given. One of my favorite moments was the song "The Greatest Star of All," which was sung by Max about Norma. I was totally absorbed in the story of this song, and the performance seemed insanely effortless. He sounded so broken; it was really effective and I wanted to hear more. It was painful to hear him sing about the love he felt for her every day. I also liked "Too Much in Love to Care," the song where Betty and Joe confess their love for each other and learn how much they have in common. It was very sweet and well-performed. Their voices blended nicely together--it sounded like one voice. I like how Betty was not just the girl next door; she was actually smart and complicated, and she cared about the work she did. I think Michelle Lauto fully conveyed that in a way that was really intriguing to watch.

Even though the story was narrated by Joe Gillis, it seemed like the story was actually written by Norma Desmond, and the production elements reflected that. When you first walk into the theater, there are spotlights on posters (projections by Anthony Churchill) of Norma's films like Her Husband's Trademark and Bluebeard's 6th Wife. It is immediately obvious on whom the focus is. Also, Norma has a bunch of ballads that make up her inner monologue about how amazing she is. Everything in the production is excessive and elaborate, just like Norma's movies. The movie that Joe writes is based in sincerity and realism; it is a simple story of boy meets girl. But that is not Sunset Boulevard. Norma's movies feature extravagant characters that are dramatic and tragic. The costumes (by Bill Morey) showed very distinct characters and felt heightened, poised, and elegant. The set (by Jeffrey D. Kmiec) reflected a movie soundstage because it was able to be many different locations, but it also reflected the tone of the play because it had elaborate details and seemed larger than life.

People who would like this show are people who like extravagance, captivating performances, and drowning in deception. This is a really well-executed production with an amazing cast and beautiful production elements. I enjoyed it.


Photos: Michael Courier

Friday, November 8, 2019

Review of The Gift Theatre's Kentucky

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Kentucky. It was by Leah Nanako Winkler and it was directed by Chika Ike. It was about a woman named Hiro (Emjoy Gavino) who is coming back to her hometown in Kentucky for her little sister Sophie's (Harmony Zhang when I saw it, usually Hannah Toriumi) wedding--to talk her out of it. Sophie is now a born-again Christian and is marrying the pastor's son Da'Ran (Ian Voltaire Deanes). She feels guilty for leaving her sister and her mother, Masako (Helen Joo Lee), with an abusive father and husband James (Paul D'Addario), so she returns to try to get them to come to New York with her. It is about what home is, lost connections, and different types of love. I think this is an insanely well-written show with fantastic actors and great direction. It was overall an amazing show.

At first I thought that this was going to be a play about the damage that religion has done to families and the world and that I would be rooting for Hiro to rescue her sister. But instead it has a highly respectful view of religion even if the main character doesn't agree with religion as a concept. It shows how some people need religion in their lives to survive and some people don't find comfort in that and how these two types of people can cohabitate and love each other. I liked that the minister, Ernest (Michael E. Martin) and his wife, Amy (Jessica Vann), despite the usual stereotypes, were genuinely nondiscriminatory and kind Kentucky Christians. The Christians in this play, their religion is based on love and forgiveness. So even when Sophie's father lashes out and yells at his own family and his daughter's new family, they forgive him because that is what they believe is right.

I really like this playwright's dark humor, and I especially liked it in this show. When Masako found out that her beloved cat Sylvie (Martel Manning) had died, she was so devastated that she carried around the body in a Cheesecake Factory bag from the rehearsal dinner. This at first seemed funny because it was a callback to two separate things--the cat dying (which was, at first, performed as a comedic bit) and going to Cheesecake Factory (which everyone except for Hiro was much too excited about). But then it becomes a depressing scene of her cradling and singing to her dead cat because she felt like Sylvie was the only living thing that loved her. It shows really layered writing, which gives the audience multiple things to hone in on. There is also one section where Hiro and her high school friends (Emilie Modaff and Maryam Abdi) are out at a bar and start counting how many people at their school died in motorcycle accidents and from drug overdoses. But then when Hiro actually encounters Adam (Manning), whose friend died from a drug overdose, she sees him as a real person instead of this faceless victim. This play has dark humor, but it also uses a character's realizations about dark humor to further her development.

This play tackles trauma and the effects of "life-ruining" people. James, the father, had abused his wife and children for years, but his wife has stuck with him this whole time and forgiven him. There was a moment that made the strength of Masako's choice clear, when she talks about how when her husband has Alzheimers and she is changing his diaper, he will finally love her and say thank you for everything she has done. She has been waiting for him to love her for so long and has this light at the end of the tunnel she is hoping will happen. But of course that is not guaranteed; she is feeding herself lies and hurting her daughters through that. This creates a distance that she is painfully aware of. Every time she sees something that reminds her that her daughter is getting married, she says, "I'm losing her," which is absolutely heartbreaking. This role was played beautifully and I think Lee fully captured the pain and love Masako had, while still letting her have comedic moments which are needed for a character like this. (The rest of the paragraph may be a spoiler, so skip it if you are worried about that.) Hiro ends up walking her sister down the aisle in the place of their father. But before she decides to, it seems like she might refuse to do it. That shows how Hiro is scared of becoming her dad. But her choice to do it in the end shows that she has learned from the trauma of how her father has treated her how to change to be what her sister needs in that moment. In the end, their father shows up and sees what role he has truly played in his daughters' lives, but of course, since he is who he is, he never apologizes and says he thinks the whole idea of walking your daughter down the aisle is stupid. At the same time, Hiro lets herself let her sister have her own life the way she wants to do it, which really ties together that relationship in a way that is not neat but fully realizes that relationship which i think was the exact right thing to do.

People who would like this show are people who like good Kentucky Christians, the fear of becoming your parents, and Cheesecake Factory caskets. I think this is the perfect dark family dramedy. The relationships within the show are amazing, the play is performed wonderfully, and it is written and directed perfectly. I love it so much.


Photos: Claire Demos

Sunday, November 3, 2019

Review of WildClaw Theatre's Hell Followed With Her

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Hell Followed With Her. It was written by Bill Daniel and directed by Josh Zagoren. It was about a woman named Willow (Sophia Rosado) who comes to the town of Dodge, Texas looking for a criminal on the run, Glanton (George Zarante). The people in the saloon she has walked into notice that she is a bit unusual, but they all have secrets of their own. As a zombie plague infects the town, the saloon-goers slowly notice the strange happenings and become more involved with them than they ever wanted. The show is about strangers, revenge, and having to make difficult choices. I think this is an intriguing concept with some unforgettable characters.

The atmosphere at Wild Claw shows is always very immersive. From the second you walk into the space you really feel the dread and terror that is to come. By the time you walk through the hallway into the onstage saloon, many of the actors already were on stage drinking and talking. The set (co-designed by Rachel Watson and Greg Williamson) had a natural chaos about it. The tables didn't seem to be in their original places but everyone seemed used to it. Maybe there had been a bar fight three years ago and all the tables got pushed to the side and no one ever put them back because they didn't care about it. The lighting (Conchita Avitia) was very dark and natural to the location. The costumes (Satoe Schechner) seemed very lived-in which was perfect for the outlaw vibe of every character. Even if they weren't all technically outlaws, they sure dressed like them.

One of my favorite characters was Shelby (Nora King), who was part of Glanton's clan. She frequently had witty interjections that I was always looking forward to. This character was blind and was a lot smarter than people took her for. She knew a lot about being a criminal and guns and it was funny to see everyone's reaction to her extensive knowledge. Another character I really liked was Cole (Josh Razavi when I saw it, usually Ardarius Blakely). He was a very stoic man; he didn't talk or move for a good chunk of the first act. He seemed to have a soft spot for Willow and he didn't seem to want to hurt anyone, despite coming off as a tough guy. Denton (Gregory Madden) was the sheriff and genuinely seemed like a good person. He was the only person who from start to finish seemed to be doing everything for the greater good. In a show with zombies and outlaws, I think a stable presence whose motive is keeping peace is something that is welcome. I wish I had known more about these characters; I would have enjoyed more in-depth explorations of a few characters instead of having little bits about a very large cast of characters.

This show had gender-blind casting, which is something I usually like in a show because it gives opportunities to gender nonconforming folks and women in shows with largely male casts, which are a lot of shows in the history of theater. I think this play wanted to be feminist and inclusive. It features a strong female central character and a majority non-male-identifying cast. But the majority of the characters in the show were male-identifying, even when played by women and people who were gender nonconforming. They are not telling many female stories, and the one major female story that they tell ends up turning into a straight romance, when the story didn't need it. It would be an interesting town if the characters who had traditionally male pursuits in the time period (and were played by non-male actors) were women and nonconforming characters. I know sometimes scripts can't be changed, but since this was a world premiere, maybe it could have been revised to better reflect the casting or clarify why most of the characters had to be male.

People who would like this show are people who like westerns, immersive atmosphere, and zombie bar fights. I think this is a cool show. It is perfect if you are in a spooky mood.

Photos: Clark Bender/WildClaw Theatre

Friday, October 11, 2019

Review of Promethean Theatre Ensemble's Blue Stockings

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Blue Stockings. It was by Jessica Swale and it was directed by Spenser Davis. It was about a group of girls in the late nineteenth century at Girton College in Cambridge, who were very controversial for their time because women were not yet given the right to graduate with degrees from Cambridge. It is about choosing between knowledge and romance, threats to female friendship, and self-worth. I think this is an intriguing idea for a show, and it was interesting to learn about these women characters.

I noticed how the women students at Girton--Tess (Heather Kae Smith), Celia (Julia Rowley), Maeve (Imani Lyvette), and Carolyn (Elise Marie Davis)--seemed to be using men's words (in the form of quotation) to make their points in class. It shows that all of the ideas that were respected by society in that time were the ideas of men. By the end they begin to express their own theories and ideas, moving from quotation to contradiction of male theories. They are led to this new way of thinking by their teacher, Miss Blake (Cameron Feagin), who showed them their ideas were just as smart if not smarter than any man's and that they had a right to express them. We see the male students drinking and having fun, while the women have to work five times as hard to try to gain access to (but probably not even get) the achievements that the boys are getting. While all the women are working their butts off, the men are drunkenly proclaiming that women will never be as smart as men are.

I thought the female friendships were very compelling, but I would have liked to have seen more attention paid to them. The female friendships were what I found most interesting, but the play spends a lot of time focused on the men and how misogynistic they are instead of giving the female characters more stage time and character development. The most compelling moments were moments of human connection like when Tess was having a breakdown because she was too focused on her relationship on a boy from another college in the university and wasn't paying attention to her studies. Tess starts to open up to Celia about how she thinks she will never succeed so it seems useless to try. This was one of my favorite moments in the show because you get to see Celia grow because she starts to help Tess in an authoritative way, which we haven't seen from her. Celia always seemed afraid of her brain power and wants to make herself smaller. But in this moment she sees Tess in need and she is propelled by that moment to be brutally honest, talk about herself, and give advice in a unapologetic way. I was sad that the first act ended with the permanent departure of my favorite character, Maeve, because she seemed to be the most mature, intelligent, and likable character in the show. She has to return home to care for her family because the head of Girton, Elizabeth Welsh (Jamie Bragg) believes that appearances are more important than the actual education of women. She is obsessed with getting men's approval for her college, and to do that, women have to appear to value traditional female roles and duties over their education.

I found the focus of the play inconsistent in an unhelpful way, especially in the second act because it shifted its focus from the relationships within Girton to the men and their place in the lives of the women. And at the end, after focusing on a fictional love triangle (between Tess, Ralph [Kevin Sheehan], and Will [Martin Diaz-Valdes]), the play tries to tie it all up like the end of a documentary. I was also disappointed in how the climactic scene of the play featured pretty much only monologues from men, as if the play is more interested in the male view of the situation even though we already know these men's views from earlier in the play. Their pitying apologies weren't convincing at all to me. I'm not sure they were supposed to be, but I was't sure why such meaty monologues were needed if we weren't supposed to be convinced.

People who would like this show are people who like learning about feminism, historical fiction, and drunken male proclamations. I think this is an interesting topic for a show. It has inspired me to look more into this time in history and learn more about the lives of women pursuing education and advancement.

Photos: Tom McGrath, TCMcG Photography

Monday, September 30, 2019

Review of Remy Bumppo Theatre Company's Howards End

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Howards End. It was adapted by Douglas Post from the novel by E.M. Forster, and it was directed by Nick Sandys. It was about a woman named Margaret Schlegel (Eliza Stoughton), who was very close to a woman, Ruth Wilcox, whose dying wish was to have Margaret inherit Howards End from her. However, Ruth's family decides to ignore her wishes about the property. Margaret and her sister Helen (Heather Chrisler), end up being very close to the Wilcox family after this betrayal, of which they are unaware. The sisters meet a man named Leonard (Terry Bell) after a concert, and they want to help him better his financial situation so he can be as artistic as he can be. This show is about money, intelligence, and the inequality of straight romantic relationships. I think this show is empowering and captivating, and I liked it.

I thought the women's relationships were very interesting to look at in this show. Dolly Wilcox (Emily Tate) sees other women as a threat and Jacky Bast (Jodi Kingsley) sees them as competition. We feel the relationship between Margaret and Ruth, even though we never see it, because it very clearly influenced Margaret. Her opening monologue describes her relationship with Ruth and the time they spent together. Ruth was a comforting presence in Margaret's life. I don't think Margaret thought she was as important to Ruth as she really was because Ruth wasn't a very expressive person, and Margaret didn't know about the gift of Howards End, which would represent independence from male figures, freedom from marriage, and a place for her and her sister to feel safe. The sisters's relationship reflects Margaret's with Ruth, but Margaret takes on the role of Ruth, by becoming Helen's sanctuary. In fact Howards End is a place where women can feel safe, but also independent. I think the key thing is that they don't feel like they are hiding at Howards End, they feel safe, and independently so. Howards End is a system of female inheritance that has been thrown off by toxic masculine systems and by the women who feel safer within those masculine systems.

The production elements were visually striking. During Margaret's opening monologue, there were all these people standing around with umbrellas. When the scene ended, they bustled along like nothing had happened, which shows how everyone is moving on after Ruth's death, but Margaret is stuck because she doesn't have the property from Ruth that would give her independence. It also shows that Margaret is more of a "noticer" than other people. I liked how every setting used many similar elements (furniture, floor, and walls). At first it seemed like it was just because they understandably didn't have time in transitions to change the whole set. But later I understood the effect it has to unsettle the audience and make us feel like Margaret, Helen, and Leonard, who are all searching for home. Margaret, Helen, and Leonard discover that a place can feel like home, but it has more to do with the people in the place. Helen feels like home to Leonard. Her sister is home to Helen, and Howards End is only really a home for Margaret when her sister is there. Even when they sleep outside, they feel like they are at home together.

Leonard Bast is a victim of society and circumstance. Even when the Schlegel sisters try to help him, they don't really understand his situation. They sit around being intellectuals all the time, and they want him to be able to do what they do because they see he is a very smart person. But the problem with that is that they are not giving him the one thing that they have that he doesn't--an independent income. If they had stayed out of his life, the tragic events that follow probably wouldn't have happened. The play seems to be saying that you should help unfortunate people but with the thing they need not with unrealistic expectations without support.

People who would like this show are people who like feminist sanctuaries, indirect but specific narratives about society, and symbolic umbrellas. I think this is a really intriguing show. It had so many interesting connections that I loved dissecting. I really liked it.

Photos: Michael Courier

Monday, September 9, 2019

Review of Teatro ZinZanni's Love, Chaos & Dinner

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Love, Chaos & Dinner. It is a cabaret with circus acts, comedy and food, and it was directed by Norm Langill. It was a farcical, witty, suggestive night of exuberant spectacle. It was a really fun group experience; it felt like the whole audience was at one big dinner party hosted by slightly insane people.

Rizo (Amelia Zirin-Brown) is the songstress of Teatro ZinZanni. She has an insanely powerful voice, and she absolutely rocked one of my favorite songs, Lizzo's "Cuz I Love You." She was so extravagant as she sang the song. But then this song transitioned into a comedy act of her trying to find her soul mate, who was apparently in the audience that night. And it was absolutely hilarious. She sultrily strutted through the audience looking for her new mate and then proceeded to aggressively flirt and to transform everything an audience member said into a double entendre. She was an amazing improviser and was so hilarious I was cry-laughing in my seat. When she identifies her true love, she has him write his name on her so that she won't forget him. She is absolutely going all out and it is hilarious to see her take everything so far. She is super confident but she is also a complete weirdo. It's amazing.

I absolutely loved the aerial act, Duo Rose. They were both so strong, the movements seemed effortless and graceful. There was so much emotion in each movement and every move connected. They seemed like one person. Each move was in perfect time with their partner. The lyra act by Elena Gatilova was absolutely amazing. There was a lovely twist because the character she was playing seemed very far from the person who did the lyra. She was so graceful, in her arm movement especially. She also seemed to trust herself a lot. There was a certain fluidity that made every single move even more breathtaking. You can see even more how amazing both these acts are because of how close you are to them in the intimate Spiegeltent ZaZou. The Anastasini Brothers had an Icarian act, which is a balancing act with a juggling act (where you juggle a person with your feet), and lots of acrobatics and landing on each other's feet. It was absolutely stunning and crazy to watch. You have to be super in-tune with the other person and have the rhythm. Everything is very precise. But they also seemed to be having a lot of fun with the other person.

Chef Caesar (Frank Ferrante) was the "chef." (The delicious food was actually designed by Debbie Sharpe, which is good because Caesar did not seem like he was in his right mind.) His character is chaotic and lusty. He decided to hold a competition to see who was "man enough" to take over for him. He selected three men from the audience. One of my favorite jobs that one of them had was a pharmacist/drag queen, which I absolutely loved. Caesar also had some amazing improv skills that were showcased in this bit. There is also the brilliantly weird comedy duo of Joe De Paul and Tim Tyler. They were hilarious together, but also had great featured moments. Tyler had a moment where he started to choke on ping pong balls that seemed to materialize in his mouth. He would spit them out and catch them in his mouth, often storing several in his mouth at the same time. It is very strange but absolutely hilarious and strangely impressive. There is another hilarious bit of comedy that had a pretty amazing build up. De Paul started unloading a trashcan that had boxes, a chess piece, a barbie doll, and celery. And he got into the trashcan, stripped to his underwear, and pretended to be King Kong, eating the celery tree and capturing the half-chess-piece-half-barbie-doll. It was absolutely brilliant.

People who would like this show are people who like powerful voices paired with powerful pickup lines, intimate and gorgeous circus, and King Kong creations. This show is funny, insane, and beautiful. I think this was an amazing show. It was a really fun time, and I definitely recommend seeing it.


Photos: Alan Alabastro

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Review of The Band's Visit (Broadway in Chicago)

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Band's Visit. The music and lyrics were by David Yazbek, and the book was by Itamar Moses, based on the screenplay by Eran Kolirin. It was directed by David Cromer. It was about a band from Egypt, the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra, who have been asked to perform at the cultural center in Petah Tikvah, Israel but they end up in the similarly named but small and uneventful town of Bet Hatikvah. When asking for directions, they meet Dina (Chilina Kennedy), Papi (Adam Gabay), and Itzik (Pomme Koch) at Dina's cafe. She decides the town will take them in until they can catch a bus in the morning, but the night is more eventful than anyone had expected. This show is about life-changing experiences, perceptions of importance, and unexpected connections. I think this is a gorgeous show. It has amazing actors and beautiful songs. This is one of my new favorite musicals.

Band members Simon (James Rana) and Camal (Ronnie Malley) stay in Itzik's house with his wife, Iris (Kendal Hartse), father-in-law, Avrum (David Studwell), and baby son. At first, the family seems abrasive, but in sharing stories, they all begin to bond. The first time you see them starting to connect is in the song "The Beat of Your Heart," in which Avrum talks about how he first met his wife and how they fell in love through music. It made them all realize that they are much less different than they had thought at first, even though Itzik's family is Jewish and the Egyptians are Arabs. They rejoice in music and their love of love: "In love and music all is fair." Eventually Simon's concerto will bring the family back together; that seems to be the development of the idea of how music provokes love and builds stronger bonds. Camal's path also leads him to the Telephone Guy (Mike Cefalo), a local who had been waiting for his girlfriend to call him for a very long time and has been standing in front of the payphone waiting. He is there to show how important feeling important to someone is. This story is impactful because it shows how people change each other through their connections with one another, and the Telephone Guy is the symbol of that desire to connect.

There was also a scene at a disco roller rink where Haled (Joe Joseph) from the band tags along on a double date--with Papi and Julia (Sara Kapner) and Zelger (Or Schraiber) and Anna (Jennifer Apple)--but ends up being a wingman for Papi. He sings a song, "Haled's Song about Love," about love to convince Papi that it is not so hard a thing to talk to girls, even though Papi has just expressed, in "Papi Hears the Ocean," that he feels that it is impossible to talk to women without having major panic attacks. It was a very funny scene. I loved how they took something like a disco roller rink, which is not considered very romantic, and turned it into a place of intense romance. Haled is a ladies' man. He knows how to seduce straight women with his voice and presence. He seems to walk around in a romanticized world and he doesn't seem to think about the future. He thinks about right now and what he wants now. The play seems to value fleeting connections because they can destroy prejudice even if it is a connection that can't last for a long time.

Tewfiq (Sasson Gabay) and Haled have gone home with Dina. Dina is interested in Tewfiq and so she invites him to go with her on a night out. She's interested in him because he is very stoic and is exotic to her. She sings a song called "Omar Sharif" about all the old Egyptian movies she used to watch. She was transported by these movies that played on Friday nights to an intoxicating world of honey, spice, and jasmine. This is such a beautiful song and was done impeccably--the singing, acting, and movement. It showed how much these characters agreed on and how much they could trust each other, even though they hadn't known each other very long. Another moment where you really got to see the specialness of their relationship was when they were sitting on a park bench and Dina wanted to know more about conducting and why he loved it so much. Tewfiq started conducting and she started to follow along. For a little bit there was no sound, just them moving together. Throughout the play the movement is all very purposeful. It makes every moment feel significant because everything has clear purpose and meaning. The play actually begins with the projected statement "Not long ago a group of musicians came to Israel from Egypt. You probably didn't hear about it. It wasn't very important." But the way the play is made completely contradicts that by making every connection memorable.

People who would like this show are people who like gorgeous performances, memorable movement, and romantic roller rinks. I think people should definitely, definitely go see this show. I think it is a very important show because it shows how people with a history of conflict are more similar than they may think and are capable of true connection. I loved it!



Saturday, August 31, 2019

Review of Trump in Space at Laugh Out Loud Theater

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Trump in Space. The book and lyrics were by Landon Kirksey and Gillian Bellinger. The music was by Sam Johnides and Tony Gonzalez. It was directed by John Hildreth, music directed by Phil Caldwell, and choreographed by Emily Brantz. It was about two spaceships in the year 2417, the liberal Spaceship California and the Trumpian USC Arizona. The Trump ship is captained by Natasha Trump (Alaina Hoffman). The Starship California's president of the day is Obama Sanders (Scott Cupper). When the California is overtaken by the Trump ship, a romance between Natasha and Obama is rekindled, forcing Natasha to rethink her current ways and prove to the Executive (Caroline Nash and Rudy Voit) that she is more than her name and that she can make her own decisions and love whomever she wants. It is about love, stupidity, and blowing stuff up...with love. I thought that this was a really hilarious show with lots of smart political comedy and catchy songs.

I really liked the witty comedy in this show. I thought the dynamics between the characters--Trump, the Executive, Lieutenant Commander Graham (Jay Gish), Commander Haley (Niki Aquino), and Lieutenant Kushner (Ross Compton)--on the Trump ship were hilarious. There was a scene in the elevator where they kept disagreeing how many lights there were in the elevator and if there needed to be one replaced. That seems to be the answer to how many politicians it takes to change a light bulb--no one knows because they just argue about it incessantly. What I like about this show is that neither side is without flaws, which I think is why the political system is so confusing. They try to separate into two different sides, even though everyone is sometimes an idiot. There are real differences, but nobody is perfect. So any idealist will be disappointed. I think this show is so smart because everything they are saying has a purpose and a meaning behind it. That's what makes the jokes so funny; they are well-rounded and relatable.

There was a gag where Natasha and Obama were trying to resist each other, but one or the other of them kept bursting into song and the other, who was doing a better job of resisting, would stop them. It happened so many times, eventually the accompanist (Caldwell) had to remind them of the rule of threes. I think this happened because Natasha and Obama finally agreed, so someone had to come in and disagree. This show is basically people disagreeing in hilarious ways. Politicians get a lot of comedy made about them. It lets politicians see the truth of a situation is less threatening ways. It is good to take political issues seriously, but sometimes we need a break from yelling at each other.

My favorite song was "Opportunity at All Costs" which was a very robotic song with some very funny choreography to go along with it. They danced around the stage singing about how they were mindless robots just doing what they were told because they didn't know what else to do. The choreography was very 80s-backup-dancer. It seemed very out of place for how those characters usually were for them to be doing a techno-robot dance, so that was very funny.

People who would like this show are people who like witty political comedy, annoying your accompanist, and Republican robot dances. I think that people should go see this show. It is a funny, musical, political romp. It lets people take a break to laugh at some of the ridiculousness of political life.

Photos: Tyler Core

Friday, August 16, 2019

Review of True West at Steppenwolf Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called True West. It was written by Sam Shepard and directed by Randall Arney. It was about two brothers who were staying at their mother's house while she was away. The brothers had taken two very different paths in life, The oldest, Lee (Namir Smallwood), had gone on a soul searching trip to the dessert, while Austin (Jon Michael Hill), the youngest, had made a family and started a career in screenwriting, but when Austin has a meeting with a producer named Saul (Francis Guinan) at the house, Lee sees this as a good time to prove that he can be as successful in Austin’s profession as his brother. This show is about family, masculinity, and damage. This show is overpowering and beautiful and twisted, right up my alley.

This show has a lot of humor that is very messed up. This adds a lot to the dynamic of the brothers. One of the most memorable moments for me was when Lee had taken up Austin’s profession, so Austin thought he would do what Lee had been doing, stealing. So Austin went to a large number of houses and stole an abundance of toasters. He then decided to make toast in each of the toasters on 0 hours of sleep and slowly started to act crazed and more crazed as he made this toast. I should also mention that his brother was screaming at him to not make toast this whole time. This is so brilliant because it puts together two very vital parts of a play, advancing the relationship and humor. It makes the audience feel more uncomfortable over time because when the lights first come up on a room filled with toasters it is immediately humorous, but as the scenario continues you realize how unhealthy these people are and you realize how many houses he had to break into and how crazy he must be to break into all these houses. Austin also is brushing off all of his brothers cruel comments which had almost broken him before. This bit of prop comedy comes with so much beautiful baggage that adds so many layers to the situation.

The dynamic between the brothers had some beautiful parallels with the coyotes that are referenced multiple times in the play. At first I was confused as to why the coyotes were so largely referenced and why it added to the story, but by the end it all rounded itself out with out being tied up in a neat bow. The final motif showed how the brothers were like the coyotes; they fought and howled for power for no reason other then the need for dominance. Another layer of the siblings' relationship is that they are very similar. The brothers are always saying that they are so different, but they both want the same thing; they want power over the other. But what they want they both cannot have at the same time. This is where the bulk of the conflict comes in; they both want the same thing and go about getting it by both going through this elaborate game of copycat and trying to prove to the other that they can be just as successful as they are.

Obviously, by the way the brothers act, they must have not have had a healthy childhood, and in this play we get a taste of why the brothers are the way they are. When Austin and Lee’s mother comes home, she comes back to a complete disaster. There are dead plants (and the only reason she asked Austin to housesit was to water the plants). Tons of toasters and paper are tossed about the room and their mother does not freak out. She walks around the room telling her kids that it was for the better that they failed at their ONE JOB and that now she doesn’t have responsibilities, which she says she likes. She does not assert herself in any situation; even when her sons might kill each other, she brushes it off and tells them to take it outside. I think that this shows where a lot of deep-seated trauma comes from. It seems like the mother thinks that her letting them do what they want is showing her trust of them and therefore her love, but I think that this showed neglect. And given that their father is unreliable and can't even care for himself, which we learn in a heartbreaking story Austin tells, Austin and Lee may have felt that she also did not care about them. When two siblings don’t feel love/equal love from their parents, they turn against each other in a fight for superiority in their parents' eyes.

People who would like this show are people who like intriguing backstories, partly hidden comparisons, and an abundance of toasters. I think this is an amazingly done piece of work and I loved it. I'm still thinking of it weeks later.


Photos: Michael Brosilow

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Review of The Wizard of Oz at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Wizard of Oz. It was by L. Frank Baum, adapted by John Kane for the Royal Shakespeare Company. Music and lyrics were by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg. It was directed by Brian Hill, with music direction by Kory Danielson and choreography by Kenny Ingram. It was about a young girl named Dorothy (Leryn Turlington) who lived in Kansas with her aunt and Uncle (Emily Rohm and Jared D. M. Grant) but wanted to do more with her life than just stay in the real town that she grew up in. Focused on the struggle of keeping her dog safe from her evil neighbor (Hollis Resnik) who wants to take him away, she missed her chance to get into the cellar, and is transported by tornado to Oz, a colorful world that needs her help. So with the help of some friends she meets on the way--the Scarecrow (Marya Grandy), the Tin Man (Joseph Anthony Byrd), and the Cowardly Lion (Jose Antonio Garcia)--she goes on a mission to defeat the evil witch who has been oppressing the citizens of Oz. In the end, she realizes that her home meant more to her than she may have once thought. It is about family, love, and bravery. This is a classic story that I think a lot of families will enjoy.

My favorite numbers were the ones with the highest dance intensity, which were "Jitterbug," which is a song cut from the original movie, and "Merry Old Land of Oz." I feel like the ensemble of this show was very strong. They brought energy to those songs and seemed fueled by each other. These were the moments you could see they were all totally committed and you could see them all having fun. I liked how the choreographer kept the feel of the original movie's choreography but also made it unique. I really loved the Emerald City Guard (Grant) and I thought his part was humorous, but not at all forced, which can be hard with a role that's been done so many times.

Even though there were some memorable production numbers, this production felt pared down to me. I feel like most productions of The Wizard of Oz and The Wiz have made me feel like I was being transported to this new, glorious, technicolor place. But the spectacle in this production didn't achieve the shift in tone I was expecting. The tornado effect in this show had the actors attach a dollhouse in Dorothy's room to a harness which then twirled around the stage. It felt very detached from the magic that is usually so present. The tornado is usually the bridge between ordinary Kansas and the limitlessness of Oz, and so in my opinion it has to be spectacular to watch. Here it was interesting; it just wasn't exciting. Also Glinda (Rohm) seemed to just walk in without much fanfare. It made her seem less powerful to not have much grandeur accompanying her entrance. She could have been just in Kansas in a fancy dress, especially since the dress is still from that time period. The dress was beautiful, but since the entrance is the cue that we are in a magical place, it seems very underwhelming if the first thing we see is grounded in reality and treads on the ground.

I thought the costumes were beautiful. I especially loved the tree costumes. They were so memorable and sleek. It added to the dynamic of them being the backup singers for the Tin Man because they were reminiscent of the elegant gowns worn by Motown girl groups like in Dreamgirls. I liked how the Lion's costume looked like a toy in someone's room. It looked homemade, like someone's grandma made it. I liked how the costumes for the Jitterbugs looked both like bugs and like the dance move embodied--very free and young.

People who would like this show are people who like family-friendly classics, strong ensembles, and homemade lions. I think this is good show for young children to introduce them to theater and this story because it is not very scary or intense. The little girl I took with me to see the show enjoyed it--especially the real live dog, Derby, who played Toto.

Photos: Liz Lauren

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Review of Come From Away (Broadway in Chicago)

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Come From Away. The book, music, and lyrics were by Irene Sankoff and David Hein and it was directed by Christopher Ashley. Musical staging was by Kelly Devine and music supervision was by Ian Eisendrath. It was about a town called Gander in Newfoundland, who hosted 7,000 people stranded during the air space shutdown after 9/11. It is about their kindness and acceptance of people in need even though they may be different. It shows many different stories of the Newfoundlanders and the passengers and plane crews and how they fit together. I thought this was a very beautiful, moving, and surprisingly funny show. It restored my faith in humanity by showing that, if people try, they can help each other and show that even in dark times our vulnerability can connect us rather than divide us.

I really loved how the movement and music blended so well together. I feel like it heightened the sense of community and cohabitation. They used a lot of body percussion which added to the music. The very last movement in the show was a stomp featuring the whole cast simultaneously, which also emphasized the sense of community. They incorporated the band into the show by having them be the band at the pub and also present on stage throughout the show. The dance is very modern because it showcases real movements that people might do, but making them more fluid and emphasized. Like on the plane and the bus, whenever they were sitting in rows, they would do a lot of ripples of relaxation or stressed movement. It is a lot more effective than having dance numbers because they are talking about real people's experiences and the staging makes the movement seem almost everyday, and in that way it honors the stories of regular people.

Even though this is such a short play, I feel like I knew a lot about all the characters by the end because everything was so beautifully arranged that you got a well-rounded taste of every person's story. Three of my favorite characters were Bob (James Earl Jones II), Beverly (Becky Gulsvig), and Ali (Nick Duckart). They were all characters who had had experiences with discrimination. They were very interesting stories especially because each person was in a different place in their struggles with prejudice. Beverly had overcome prejudice to become the first female pilot for American Airlines. She had a song called "Me and the Sky" that talked about how she got to where she was today and how her world was shattered by the 9/11 tragedy because of something that had made her feel free and alive had killed so many people and had made others afraid of flying, the thing she loved most. I think it is a beautiful song and I love how all the women in the cast joined in the song with her, again emphasizing togetherness. Bob was another character who faced prejudice, but he noticed that the bulk of the discrimination and stereotyping he experienced as a black man in the U.S. was lifted when he got to Newfoundland. There is a moment in the show where the mayor asks him to stay in his house and he is surprised that everyone is so welcoming and inviting to him. The actor keeps those undertones of how he's lived in fear while still letting the audience find the moments of comedy in his shock at how nice these people are. Like when he was shocked when the mayor was asking him to borrow grills for a cookout and he expects people to at least yell at him and tell him to get out of their yards, but instead they invite him in for a cup of tea. It just shows how much of a genius actor he is that he can still be hilarious while maintaining dark and relevant undertones. In contrast to Bob, Ali was feeling more discrimination that ever because of the connection between Muslim extremism and the attacks. Because he was Muslim, many treated him like a threat even though he just wanted to help and get home. Before he can board a plane to get home, he has to go through a full-body search, which is against his religious beliefs, and an interview because they think he might be a terrorist simply because he is Muslim. At first I was worried that Beverly was adding to the discrimination against him, but after the search she apologizes. I don't think that fully makes it better or okay, but it shows that she is trying to make the experience less painful for him.

I also liked how there were two different stages of romantic relationships in this show. Kevin J (Duckart) and Kevin T (Andrew Samonsky) are struggling in an older relationship because they have different attitudes toward the situation they have been put in. Kevin J. feels frustrated and angry, while Kevin T wants to embrace the place they are in. Diane (Christine Toy Johnson) and Nick (Chamblee Ferguson) have just discovered a new relationship and are trying to figure out how to make it work when they live in different countries. I liked how open they were with each other and also how we got to hear their internal monologues about each other. It shows how relationships can come out of difficult situations and how terrible times can cause beautiful moments.

People who would like this show are people who like communities born out of catastrophe, everyday kindness made historical, and unexpected cups of tea. I think that this is an amazing and gorgeous show. I think it is important for people to see this show and consider how we can learn from the Newfoundlanders to become a better, more inclusive, and community-driven country.

Photos: Matthew Murphy

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Review of Cloudgate Theatre's Strange Heart Beating

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Strange Heart Beating. It was by Kristin Idaszak and it was directed by Addie Gorlin. It was about a small rural town where a woman named Lena (Leah Raidt) and her childhood friend Teeny (Jyreika Guest), who is now Sheriff, are looking for Lena's missing daughter. But as they uncover her daughter's story, more strange things about the town start to come to light. It was about friendship, loss, and suspicion. This story and its world didn't always make sense to me, and the dialogue didn't help develop the relationships for me, but it had some compelling performances.

I think the people who were making this play had some very strong ideas for a show. I like that they are telling the stories of women and have characters with diverse backgrounds. They are putting important topics into the light, like how sexism and racism can derail justice. It is a murder mystery where women are not just victims, and that is appealing. The set (Angela McIlvain) worked very well with the story and provided lots of locations. Along with the sound (Averi Paulsen) and lighting (Kaili Story), it created a distinct noir atmosphere for the play.

This play seemed like a good idea, but I don’t feel like the script was ready. The dialogue was very heightened which made all of the situations seem less serious because it didn't make the speakers seem like they were in a real situation. I liked this same kind of dialogue in Idaszak's play Fugue for Particle Accelerator, but there it seemed more in keeping with the rest of the play. The dialogue was not the only aspect that made the play feel less than believable to me; the justice system put in place in this town let a person directly affected by the crime administer punishment, but the reasons this was allowed to happen were glossed over. The disappearance is also connected to a larger conspiracy, but it feels like a conspiracy without a theory because it is not explained or even really investigated in the play. Storytelling where it is up to audience to make up how the play ends is usually very compelling to me, but I didn't feel like I had enough material to create fully-realized theories in this case.

I think the actors in this show did an amazing job with the script they were given. I have loved a lot of the actors' other work, and I think that even with the unnatural world and dialogue, the actors brought a sense of groundedness to the play, and their relationships, especially apart from what was shown in dialogue, were very genuine and interesting to watch. I felt like the Lake's (Stephanie Shum) relationships with the other characters was very strong. Looking at Shum's reactions to each scene as it was going on showed you exactly how she felt about each character. She did a great job of giving us a more rounded sense of the world and her character. The heightened language did seem to make more sense with her character because it is already a strange premise to have a lake talking. And I could see Guest working to ground her scenes in reality and tie the ups and downs in the relationship to specific reasons.

People who would like this show are people who like woman-centric mysteries, examinations of justice, and talking lakes. I think this show has some really strong performances, an intriguing premise, and therefore a lot of potential. I'm excited to see what Cloudgate does next.

Photos: Austin D Oie

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Review of The Music Man at Goodman Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Music Man. It was by Meredith Willson based on a story by Willson and Franklin Lacey, and it was directed by Mary Zimmerman. Music direction was by Jermaine Hill and choreography was by Denis Jones. It was about a man named Harold Hill (Geoff Packard) who was a traveling salesman and went to a small town in Iowa called River City. He has been traveling America conning people into buying things. Here he is pretending to start a band that will never actually come to be. But he knows that he has to get the town music teacher/librarian, Marian Paroo (Monica West), on his side to make the con successful. In the process of trying to get her on his side, he ends up actually falling for her. Most of the town is on Harold's side, but the Mayor (Ron E. Rains) is still skeptical, which causes tension between Mr. Hill and the most powerful family in town. It is about finding love in strange places, truthfulness and the lack thereof, and community.

The play opens on a train car full of traveling salespeople and passengers (Matt Casey, Matt Crowle, Jeremy Peter Johnson, Jonathan Schwart, Bri Sudia, George Andrew Wolff) gossiping about Harold Hill who had become something of a legend among the salespeople because he makes a lot of money from selling musical instruments, which they didn't think could be profitable. The entire scene is set to the beat of the wheels on the train tracks. It is very rhythmic, almost like a rap. When the train slows down or speeds up, so do the speakers. Charlie Cowell (Crowle) seems to really have it out for Hill because Hill "doesn't know the territory." He kept screaming about the territory and repeating the same point as he climbs over seats and seems to be losing his mind. It was an entertaining way to set up the conflict between Cowell and Hill. Cowell does have a point, because Hill has to spend the rest of the play learning how to understand the territory of River City. Eventually he understands it so well he falls in love with part of it!

The choreography and ensemble were really strong in this show. The choreography was reminiscent of choreography from this era of musicals without being stuck in the past. There were new modern twists to the movement. I particularly liked how they incorporated rolling chairs and books in the choreography for "Marian the Librarian." That song in particular made better use of the ensemble than in the film and other productions I've seen. The ensemble was also very strong in "Iowa Stubborn." It was one of the big ensemble numbers, and I think it is great when the whole group seems like a moving, breathing force. I feel like when they walked on stage they just became the town. Actors would have individual interesting moments, but everyone was working so well together. You could feel they trusted each other. When their heads all seemed to be tracking Harold Hill as he walked across the stage, you got the impression of the whole town as a force that he had to win over. And we see him start to do this in "Ya Got Trouble." I really liked how the town started to accumulate around him. At first it was just about three people, but as he continued singing and talking about what happens in a pool hall, everyone gathered around him and started grabbing their children so they would not be tainted by pool. I feel like this Harold Hill was a lot more likable than I expected. He seemed genuine and you could see early on that he had reservations about fooling the town. This made him a lot more lovable and made Marian seem a lot more intelligent.

This show is very gendered in that most of the women characters behave in a certain manner and most of the men characters in another. Good examples of this are the women's club [Alma (Nicole Michelle Haskins), Ethel (Lillian Castillo), Eulalie (Heidi Kettenring), Maud (Bri Sudia), and Mrs. Squires (Danielle Davis)] and the school board quartet (Christoper Kale Jones, Johnson, James Konicek, Schwart). Both the women and the men get very distracted from Harold Hill's true intentions. The men get distracted by listening to themselves sing and the women get distracted by listening to each other. "Pick-a-Little, Talk-a-Little" shows how the women gossip about the town. It shows how they connect to each other and their interest in the town, even though the gossip itself can be toxic. The show portrays both how gossip can be toxic but also how it can create community. The quartet gets distracted by themselves and their own voices. It does keep them from fighting, but it also keeps them from seeing what the world around them is like. The two groups' songs could also signify how their importance is ranked in the community. The men have all these songs that are performances. The women's talk may be diminished by being called little, but their song is also very memorable and eventually incorporates Marian in the reprise when she begins to want to rejoin the community instead of isolate herself. Marian and Harold's relationship seems like it could be unhealthy because she accepts his lies even though she knows they are lies. But in the context of the town, where women are interested in others and men listen to themselves talk, their relationship doesn't seem as far-fetched.

People who would like this show are people who like stunning ensembles, distracted quartets, and rolling-chair choreography. This is an enjoyable show. It overcame many of the reservations I have about the musical itself and was a lot of fun. It is a funny, well-performed, and new take on a classic.

Photos: Liz Lauren

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Review of Kokandy Productions' Head Over Heels

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Head Over Heels. The book was by Jeff Whitty based on The Arcadia by Sir Philip Sidney, and it was adapted by James Magruder. The songs were by The Go-Go's. It was directed by Elizabeth Swanson and Derek Van Barham, music directed by Kyra Leigh, and choreographed by Breon Arzell. It was about the kingdom of Arcadia which had a “beat” that kept the rhythm of the land steady and communal, but one day a prophecy was foretold by the local Oracle, Pythio (Parker Guidry), that the beat would be demolished if all four parts of the prophecy came true! So they notified King Basilius (Frankie Leo Bennett) and told him the tactics he must use to prevent this catastrophe, but this plan was not suitable for the king who thought that if he simply moved the kingdom it would no longer lose its beat. In his mind it is a bonus that the journey will also move his daughters Pamela (Bridget Adams-King) and Philoclea (Caitlyn Cerza) away from the “unladylike” behavior that the prophecy foretold. However, his daughters continue to find themselves and who they love, no matter what their father says. This show is about love, identity, and overthrowing toxic power dynamics. This show is so important and beautiful because it recognizes different people's attractions and identities. It showed the intolerance that people can face, but it also showed the glee and fun of lots of different relationships. The focus wasn't on the tragedy, but on the joy. It has amazing performances and well thought-out song choices.

This is a great example of a good jukebox musical because the story is actually cohesive. Sometimes jukebox musicals can seem like a plot being thrown together around popular songs, but in this show each song seems grounded in the world and added to the plot instead of being “a break” from the plot. One of my favorite examples of this was “Beautiful.” The song explains the dynamic between the sisters and how Pamela feels superior to Philoclea. It also introduces Mopsa’s (DeanalĂ­s Resto) relationship with Pamela and how she seems to want to be more than friends but her current relationship was less than romantic. Having all of this information come through easily in one song is great storytelling and makes room for the central conflict while still giving enough exposition for that conflict to be fully understood. I feel like a lot of people who write jukebox musicals forget that many audience members don’t want to see a concert but want to see a story that intertwines the realm of musical theater with the realm of their favorite bands. I think that this is an example of someone giving us the best of both worlds: giving us the songs from The Go-Go's we love with a story that is new (despite being based on something very old) and interesting and makes sense together.

I really love this show's humor! It was clever and ridiculous--right up my alley. One moment that really cracked me up was the sheep. They seemed so clueless and adorable and the ensemble (Emily Barnash, Caitlin Dobbins, Britain Gebhardt, Connor Giles, Kaimana Neil, Roy Samra, Tiffany T. Taylor, and Marco Tzunux) really sold it, which made it 10 times better. I loved when one sheep (Gebhardt) was getting stuck in all of these places and running into walls repeatedly while all the rest of the sheep were doing a dance routine, which just added to the underdog humor element. There were a lot of blatant, and therefore hilarious, references and innuendos. One of my favorites was the prelude to the song "Vacation," sung by Mopsa, about her vacation to the isle of Lesbos, and it was funny how no one seemed to catch on that she was a lesbian, despite her choice of vacation destination. One of the funniest scenes for me was when Pamela is composing a poem about her ideal suitor and each rhyme that she can't think of has a rhyme that implies that she is attracted to girls. It was very funny and clever and I laughed a lot at it.

The characters in this show were witty and original takes on characters from The Arcadia. The shepherd Musidorus (Jeremiah Alsop) was my favorite character. He was so intricate and hilarious, and the actor's voice was gorgeous. Everything about this character and this actor was just right in my opinion. He mixed adorable and awkward with being self-confident and committed. Whenever he was interacting with the oracle he was starstruck and didn't know how to behave, but I always trusted that he would be faithful to Philoclea. I liked how the relationship between Philoclea and Musidorus wasn't just a straight love story, but it showed how gender fluidities can play a role in relationships without being the most important part of them. I think gender is overrated anyway. I also really love the character of Pythio. I feel like some plays portray people who don’t conform to a certain gender as these carefree, responsibility-less people, but in this show Pythio is seen as not just "fabulous," fearless, and motivating but as a person with a family and a job and a real life. They are also not just a tragic story of someone who is discriminated against. Sure, they are an oracle, but they have a more complicated backstory than just a token. The role was performed beautifully with great personality and technique. I think this show does a great job of taking characters that have been flattened and re-humanizing them. In this play we see people who are completely comfortable with their sexuality, people who are figuring out their sexuality, and people returning to an old love with a new sexuality and identity. Having such a range of queer characters helps avoid stigmas and stereotypes about the LGBTQ+ community.

People who would like this show are people who like queer representation in the foreground, joyful communal musicals, and fabulous dancing sheep. I think this is a very cohesive, funny, and electric show. I really loved it.

Photos: Michael Brosilow