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

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Review of Neverland at The Prop Thtr

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Neverland. It was devised by the ensemble and directed by Olivia Lilley. It was about a boy named Peter Pan (Gaby Labotka) who rescues children from earth at the worst moments in their lives and takes them to live in Neverland where they will never grow up. Everything seems to be going smoothly until Peter finds a girl, Wendy (Valeria Rosero), with whom he has become infatuated because of her stories, which he thinks she has written but are actually the TV show Jane the Virgin. When Wendy comes to Neverland, people start to turn on Peter and question if Peter's old-friend-turned-arch-nemesis Hook (Kate Black-Spence) is actually as bad as Peter makes her out to be. It is about irresponsibility, growing up, and the glorification of war. I think this is a really great idea for a show. It had a lot of great performances and it was a really thought-provoking experience.

I think it was really interesting how Peter Pan is not the hero of the play. At the beginning of the show it just seems like he is rescuing kids from terrible things happening to them. He's joyful, playful, and seems to care a lot about his friends. But later you see he is actually very controlling and irresponsible. He starts to only like playing dangerous and unforgiving games, in other words: war. He has a very interesting origin story: that he was one of the boys who played female parts in Shakespeare's plays. I thought it was a very nice reference to how Peter Pan is usually played by a woman. He was in this case too, but it is interesting to think about how the character of Peter Pan in this play grew up playing women. I like how it seems to come full circle.

I think it was very interesting to have Wendy be a "bad" girl instead of the mother-like, responsible girl she usually is. In this play, she's a drug dealer, sneaks out at night, and isn't traditionally nurturing. I did think that how bad she was might have been a little overkill because anything less than sweetness and perfection would seem unlike what we expect from Wendy. She ends up being the leader of "the rebellion" and liberating the lost children by showing them what Peter is really doing. I think Wendy is a interesting character because of how she is the opposite of what you expect her to be, but she still ends up being an unexpectedly nurturing character. Nurture doesn't always look the same, and I think the way she shows it is a very unfiltered way of caring for other people, which gives her even more layers.

The character of Hook was so interesting and very well performed. Usually Hook is just the evil guy and doesn't really have another purpose, but here Hook seems to genuinely want to help the lost children (Rory Jobst, Mateo Hernandez, Bernadette Carter, Electra Tremulis, Tyler Brockington, Carolyn Waldee, Sissy Anne Quaranta, and Dylan Fahoome). In this show, the war has two sides, those who want to grow up and those who don't. Peter and a portion of the lost children don't ever want to grow up, but Hook and some of the other lost children accept that they are going to get older and grow up. They want to mature and do new things. Growing up is not seen as horrible but as natural. But Peter doesn't want to accept that and seems scared of the idea. There seem to be good things about being childlike--happiness, freedom, and playfulness--but Hook wants to temper that so that there is responsibility and some thought put into things. I think it is telling that Peter grabs the lost children from the most traumatic points in their lives. But because they are kept children they are not allowed to process the trauma or grow. So even though it seems like a rescue it will actually add a lot of issues to their later life. And Hook tries to help them with those issues.

People who would like this show are people who like layered characters, heartfelt Hooks, and Shakespearean Pans. I think this is a great concept and I had a lot of fun. I liked it.


Photos: Beth Rooney

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Review of Porchlight Music Theatre's Gypsy

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Gypsy. The book was by Arthur Laurents, the music was by Jule Styne, and the lyrics were by Stephen Sondheim. It was directed by Michael Weber, the music direction was by David Fiorello, and the choreography was by Chris Carter. It is about a woman named Rose (E. Faye Butler) who has two daughters, June (Izzie Rose as the child, Aalon Smith as the young woman) and Louise (Jillian-Giselle as the child, Daryn Whitney Harrell as the young woman). Rose is a stage mother who is trying to make her daughter Baby June famous. But when things don't go her way she decides to shift her attention to Louise. It is about motherhood, fame, and delusions. I really love this show and this is a great production of it. It has amazing actors and a great live band.

I though the opening sequence was unique and really pulled you into the story. Usually during the overture you are sitting there thinking, "When is the show going to start?" But in this production, the story had already started. Young Louise was walking around the stage investigating all the instruments, and conducting the musicians. It showed you how curious and interested Louise is beneath the shyness she shows as Young Louise in the rest of the play. She is usually pushed to the background in the first part of Act 1, but with this opening sequence you feel like you get to know her better. Adult Louise is still very shy and doesn't want to be in the spotlight. She thinks that is June's job, But she has a drastic shift of her perception of herself on stage in front of the audience during "Let Me Entertain You." You see that same look in her eyes as she had as a child in the opening sequence when she truly felt in control and appreciated by the people around her. I think it is really powerful to see the childlike wonder in her eyes both when she is a child and when she strips for the first time. It shows that she does love what she is doing even though it is not a "respectable" job. It is what she loves because she feels curious and in control, which seems to be the same feeling she had with the band as a child.

The song "Rose's Turn" was performed absolutely phenomenally by E. Faye Butler. To me it seemed like she was born for that role. It is a very powerful and vocally demanding song and she made it flow so naturally and effortlessly. I could listen to it all day. In the scene preceding the song, there was a poster of Gypsy Rose Lee which fell off during the transition. I believe it wasn't purposeful, but of course the audience and the actors notice there is a large poster on the ground. So, E Faye Butler directed her opening lines of the song to the poster and it was just amazing. It was crazy to me that it wasn't planned because she made it work so perfectly. It seemed like whatever curveball got thrown at her, she could make it seem like it was part of the story. She is just everyone's performance goals. I was in awe of her for the entire show.

I like how the set (by Jeffrey D. Kmiec) seemed to show the two different sides of Louise's story. There is one side that is fame and fortune and a glorified Hollywood idea of vaudeville with its fancy classic red curtains and gold painted decoration. The other side seems to be more the reality of vaudeville, which is that it is sometimes grimy and the conditions are unfavorable, but they still put on a big act. I also really liked how you could see people in the cast watching the show from "the wings." I was worried that it might distract from the story, but it made you connect with the performers because you were all sharing the same experience at the same time. It makes the scenes of the musical seem more theatrical. You are still immersed in the story, but you understand that theater is the main drive of Rose's and her daughters' lives and that they are always performing even if they aren't on stage.

People who would like this show are people who like metaphorical sets, engaging overtures, and flawlessly performed stage mothers. I think this is an amazing show. I would definitely recommend it. It made me see new things about Gypsy I hadn't thought of before. I loved it.

Photos: Michael Courier

Monday, November 12, 2018

Review of Remy Bumppo Theatre Company's Frankenstein

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Frankenstein. It was by Nick Dear, based on the novel by Mary Shelley. It was directed by Ian Frank. It was about a young ambitious scientist named Victor Frankenstein (Nick Sandys) who creates this reconstructed human, referred to as the Creature (Greg Matthew Anderson). Victor comes back to his house and discovers that the Creature has learned how to walk, so Victor flees to Geneva. The Creature then learns about the ways that humans live and sets out to find where he came from. It is about the humanity of monsters and the monstrosity of humans. I think this is a visually stunning and beautifully acted show. It really makes you think about humanity and its combination of brutality and intelligence.

I feel like the set (by Joe Schermoly), movement (by Kristina Fluty), sound (by Christopher Kriz), and lights (by Mike Durst) in the show immerse you more fully in the story. The set worked for many different locations and scenes because it was just white walls that were movable and grey poles that would swing from side to side when pushed. There was also a background piece that opened slowly throughout the show. At first it seemed like just a white wall, but as the play progressed the wall would crack open and you could see light behind it. It made me think of the Creature's horizons, his view of the world expanding. It was like mountains that were beautiful and jagged and it reminded me of the two ways that he thinks of the world, as wonderful and dangerous. The movement from the very beginning shows the Creature being born. It is a very visceral way to start the show, with his screams of agony and confusion as he contorts and strains his body in a desperate attempt to gain control over himself. There was very loud and oppressive opera playing through the first few scenes; it really intrigued me and the music made the audience feel almost like the Creature did because of how confusing-in-the-moment and overwhelming the surroundings were.

Anderson and Sandys switch roles throughout the run. This is a very interesting choice. It made me want to see the show again because I thought about how different it would be with different actors playing the parts of Frankenstein and the Creature. It shows how similar these two creatures really are. Even though they are pitted against each other, they are both capable of feeling love and feeling heartbreak and committing irrational and cruel acts. And because Elizabeth and the female creature are both played by the same actor (Elizabeth Stoughton) it really shows how similar Frankenstein's and the Creature's crimes are against these women. Even though the Creature is made out by Frankenstein to be irrational and savage, Frankenstein himself commits the same act as the monster does and he commits the crime first.

The play is interested in the layers of discrimination in society. Frankenstein seems to push people away no matter their intelligence or good intentions as if no one who is not him could have any contribution to his life or his work. He rejects the Creature's offers to help reconstruct a woman creature. And Elizabeth wants to help him with his work, but he rejects her because she is a woman and he believes that women could not possibly know anything that he doesn't. I think that Mary Shelley and the playwright could be equating the experience of being an intelligent woman to being seen as a monster.

People who would like this show are people who like visual metaphors, similar creatures, and intelligent monsters. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It is a unique and amazing experience with great actors and an immersive atmosphere. I really liked it.

Photos: Joe Mazza/Brave Lux

Friday, November 2, 2018

Review of St. Sebastian Players' The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The book, music, and lyrics were by Rupert Holmes, inspired by the Dickens novel. It was directed by Robert-Eric West. It was about a group of actors in the Victorian era putting on an adaptation of Charles Dickens' unfinished book, The Mystery of Edwin Drood. The play they are putting on is about a young man named Edwin Drood (Sarah Myers) whose uncle John Jasper (Sean Michael Barrett) is in love with Edwin's fiancee Rosa Bud (Shayla Rogers). The uncle is also addicted to opium, provided by Princess Puffer (Lauren Miller), so he cannot remember his actions. There are also some new people in town who have come from Ceylon, Neville Landless (Peter Kattner III) and his sister Helena (Anna Gallucci), and Neville follows the trend and falls in love with Rosa. The entire production is overseen by Mr. William Cartwright (Darryl Maximilian Robinson), the chairman of the music hall. When Edwin Drood goes missing, everyone is a suspect. But the musical doesn't have an ending, so the audience has to decide. I thought this was a fun show. It had some good performances and an interesting concept.

I really loved the character of Mr. Phillip Bax (Adam Hoak) who played Bazzard in the play within a play. He had a song called "Never the Luck" which was an original song by Bax about how unlucky he was when it came to getting roles at the Music Hall Royale. He was always the understudy, never the star. He was absolutely adorable. He was very genuine and kind of scared, and he ended up having a lovely voice even though he was very nervous and scared in the performance up until that point. Bazzard seemed to be the fan favorite throughout the show. So when it was asked who should play Dick Datchery, the detective investigating the disappearance, the crowd immediately decided that it should be Bazzard.

Something that distressed me was the use of brownface for two Indian characters, the Landless siblings. I realize this is a convention of the production. They are supposed to be white British actors playing these roles with terrible accents. I think it is a convention that could be abandoned. I would much rather have seen people of Indian descent playing these roles. The roles of Helena and Neville are very stereotyped, but the roles of the music hall actors playing those roles don't have to be. It would have been interesting to see non-stereotyped characters of Indian descent playing roles of stereotyped Indians. I think this layering could have landed a message about the challenges actors of color can face in playing their own race in scripts written by white people.

I really liked how they let you choose who the murderer was. It was very interesting to see what everyone else in the audience was thinking and how it was all put together at the last moment. I wonder what it must have been like for the actors to be so on edge and not have any idea who would play the detective, the murderer, or sing the final love song any given night. I would love to see all the different versions. The night that I was at the show, the detective was Bazzard and the murderer was Helena. The love song was sung by Princess Puffer and Durdles (Eric S. Prahl), who is a hilarious drunk gravedigger. Honestly, they seem pretty perfect for each other because they are both messed up enough for the other.

People who would like this show are people who like pageantry, melodrama, and adorable understudies. I think this show has some talented actors and I really liked the audience participation.


Photos: Eryn Walanka

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Review of The New Colony's Fun Harmless Warmachine

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Fun Harmless Warmachine. It was by Fin Coe and directed by James Fleming. It was about a man named Tom (Daniel Chenard) who was working at a boring insurance agency and was very deep into the online gaming community. He asks out a woman from his office named Melissa (Emily Marso) but she turns him down. Then he gets asked by Niko (Victor Musoni) to be a part of a online gaming clan called the Order of the Sword, lead by Hunter (Robert Koon). The clan promises to help him punish Melissa for disrespecting him. He quits his job after the clan gets him work with an online gaming company, Octopunk, and his life seems to be getting better until he tries to leave the Order when he wakes up to the fact that they post anti-feminist tweets and ruin people's lives by leaking private information via his accounts. It is about sexism, male power, and what makes an act unforgivable.

Tom has a very different personality when he is online than when he is off. He is like the Jekyll and Hyde of gamers. He actually seems like a genuinely good person when he is not playing video games. In his actual relationships with people, like DC (Londen Shannon) and Ekaterina (Ayanna Bria Bakari) and his little brother Jack (Musoni), he clearly cares a lot about them. But when he plays video games he feels like that is the most important thing in his life and nothing should get in the way of that. It makes him feel more competent and confident about himself, but he is less likable because of how cocky and selfish he is. He doesn't think of people as real people when everything around them is virtual, even though there may be a real person behind them. It enables him to treat people badly without any thought or restraint. Half of the time you are like, this guy is great he deserves a good life and half the time you are like, this guy is a terrible person and doesn't deserve the things that he has. Even though he is our protagonist, he is not a hero. Part of me really hoped that he would get redeemed, but I think it was better for him to actually get cut out of people's lives and not be immediately (or maybe ever) forgiven. I think it was good that they don't give the audience the immediate gratification of him being forgiven.

The last scene of the play was very moving and I thought it had an interesting message. But since it is the last scene of the play, it had some spoilers in it, so you can read it here if you don't care about spoilers or have already seen the play.

I really like the movement (choreographed by the director and cast) in this show. I love how people would face each other when they were talking to each other most of the time even when characters were talking online or on the phone. I feel like sometimes in shows they lose the intimacy in the scene because they are online, but because of the movement in this show they did not lose the relationships. The movement was also used to simulate things in the video game. They would crouch on chairs and say classic gamer lines and shoot at each other in what seemed like real life. It was a lot more visceral to see them yelling childish things with a body in front of them. Much more than just watching people play video games and yell at a screen. Notifications would also come in during the game and the actor playing the character sending the text would stand in front of Tom and he would swipe them out of the way, which was sad to see how he could swipe away real people like they were notifications and how much the game had taken over his perception of the world.

People who would like this show are people who like coffee shop confrontations, visceral movement, and Jekyll and Hyde gamers. I think that people should go see this show. It is a fascinating concept. It is really well written, directed, performed, and choreographed. It made me think more about how people online are actual people, even if they are not the people they are pretending to be.


Photos: Emily Schwartz