Thursday, December 29, 2016

Review of The Christmas Schooner at Mercury Theater

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Christmas Schooner. The book was by John Reeger and the music and lyrics were by Julie Shannon. It was directed by L. Walter Stearns and the musical direction was by Eugene Dizon. The choreography was by Brenda Didier. It was about a family of German heritage in Michigan who had gotten a letter from their cousin Martha (Cory Goodrich) in Chicago about how they couldn't get Christmas trees in the city. So the father Peter (Stef Tovar) decides that he is going to go to Chicago on a boat with all of his crew to deliver Christmas trees. This is all fine and dandy for a few years and then something terrible happens and everyone has to get through it and deliver the Christmas trees anyway. It is about family, the importance of tradition, and the dangers of seafaring.

I loved the conversation between Peter's son Karl (Peyton Owen) and Alma (Brianna Borger), Karl's mother, about the Christmas pageant at school. There was a hilarious joke that went something along the lines of "These kids at school were arguing about whether the Angel or Mary was the more important part. And one of them said 'It's harder to be a virgin than an angel.'" I couldn't stop laughing. Another charming moment is where Peter and Alma were dancing with some strudel when he had gotten back from delivering Christmas trees the first time. It was clear that he had really missed Alma and wanted some alone time. But it was funny how important the strudel was to the whole endeavor. One thing I really loved was how committed the actors who played this couple were to each and every one of their songs and scenes.

"The Blessing of the Branch" shows a German tradition in an American home and how much it means to them to have this tradition in their house. All of their friends--Rudy (Daniel Smeriglio), Oskar (Brian Elliott), and Steve (James Rank)-- and the grandpa Gus (Don Forston) pass it around the table with care. I think this is very sweet. At the end of the show they pass the branch throughout the audience, and I think that was a appropriate way to end the show. It reminds you how important tradition is to the family in the show.

In order to talk about a problem I have with the show, I have to give you a bit of a spoiler. Peter dies in this show because he is trying to deliver the trees in hazardous conditions. He falls overboard and dies. Everybody is very sad about this for a short time. But then the crew and his son Karl (Christian Libonati) decide it is really important to get those trees to Chicago this year, right now. So they decide to leave the hospital and get the trees that magically washed up on shore and put them on a different boat. Then they go to Chicago with the Christmas trees because they decide that the Christmas spirit is more gosh darn important than a man's life. I would feel like crap if I knew that I got my Christmas tree only because a guy died and he had a kid and a wife who had risked their own lives to bring me the Christmas tree because the Christmas spirit was so important. I don't feel like that is the best moral for a story, as you might have guessed from how I am phrasing these sentences. And it really made me mad that no one acknowledged how right Alma was about how dangerous it was to bring out the Christmas trees. Everyone was like, "No. It is totally fine. We'll bring your son with us too! It will be a blast!" And then everyone convinces her to take over her husband's part on the boat. They don't seem to value women's opinions, but the play still tries to make it seem feminist by making her the "captain."

People who would like this show are people who like family traditions, the importance of Christmas, and sexy strudel. I could tell the actors were really committed to this show and the audience really seemed to enjoy it. This is not fully my type of Christmas play, but I think many people will like it.

Photos: Brett A. Beiner

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Ada Grey's Top 10 Plays and Top 5 Musicals of 2016

I think this has been a great year for theater.  There were so many great shows that I couldn't even fit on this list.  Like I loved Hamilton, but I don't think they needed my honorable mention for people to know it was a good show to see. I only reviewed 79 plays this year because I was out of town for two months acting in The Hammer Trinity with The House Theatre in Miami and did runs of The Awake at First Floor Theater, Scarcity at Redtwist Theatre, and The Haven Place at A Red Orchid Theatre (which closes this Friday). I am very grateful to be able to see so many amazing shows every year and learn so much from them. Chicago theater means so much to me.  Whenever I go to the theater, I feel like I am seeing friends.

Top Ten Plays (in alphabetical order by title)

Mary-Arrchie Theatre's American Buffalo: "People who would like this show are people who like buffalo coins, burnt bacon, and paper hats. I feel like it is a great and moving story about trying to get something back. They are actually trying to get a lot of things back, not just the coin. They are trying to get their relationships with each other back and trying not to be categorized as losers--so to get their self-respect back. I think that people should definitely, definitely go see this show."

Waltzing Mechanics' Cosmic Events are Upon Us: "People who would like this show are people who like little pairs and big pairs, assassinating ladies' priests, and sock-y Stalin. People should definitely go see this show. It is awesome to watch and I really enjoyed it."

Strawdog Theatre Company's Distance: "People who would like this show are people who like sad but sweet family stories, getting a full taste of life, and pie. I think that people should definitely, definitely go see this show. It was a beautiful story with great actors, and it really makes you think a lot."

Haven Theatre's How We Got On: "People who would like this show are people who like water towers, expressing yourself through rap, and the Akai MPC! I think that people should definitely definitely go see this show. It was super super fun and I really loved every single character."

About Face Theatre's I Am My Own Wife: "People who would like this show are people who like inspiring stories, record hoarders, and illegal clocks. I think people should definitely go see this show. It was a really great and beautiful show, and I really loved it."

About Face Theatre's Le Switch: "People who would like this show are people who like adorable stories, flower shops, and insanely enthusiastic best friends. I think that people should definitely definitely go see this show. I thought it was an amazing and absolutely lovely heartwarming story. I absolutely loved it."

Eclipse Theatre Company's The Little Flower of East Orange: "People who would like this show are people who like stories with impact, sassy hospital workers, and gin slurpees. I think people should definitely go see this show. It was a very beautiful show and I really loved it."

The New Colony's Merge: "People who would like this show are people who like short pings and long buzzes, Street Fighter court cases, and high people making video games. I thought this was an amazing show. I really liked it. I felt like this was a great way to learn a lot about the history of video games and to laugh a lot at the same time."

Route 66 Theatre Comany's No Wake: "People who would like this show are people who like touching stories about parents, funny failed wrestling, and diving frogs. I think that people should definitely go see this show. I thought it was amazing and everything you could want in a play. I loved it!"

The Hypocrites' You on the Moors Now: "People who would like this show are people who like space, collapsing on pillows, and boss Marmee. I think that people should definitely, definitely, definitely go see this show. It was hilarious, amazing, and all of my favorite things put into one show: feminism, 19th-century books, and s'!"

Top 5 Musicals (in alphabetical order by title)

Paramount Theatre's Hairspray: "People who would like this show are people who like optimism, dancing, and Baltimore. I think people should definitely go see this show. I had a blast and I loved it!"

Underscore Theatre Company's Haymarket: "People who would like this show are people who like awesome women of the noose, circus trials, and dynamite. I think people should definitely go see this show. It was a super fascinating story and I hope everyone will go see it. "

Kokandy Productions' Heathers: "People who would like this show are people who like slow-motion fights, brain-freezing slushees, and popularity scrunchies. I think people should definitely definitely go see this show. I loved it! I had fun the entire time and I felt just really happy afterwards!"

Porchlight Music Theatre's In the Heights: "People who would like this show are people who like gossiping hairdressers, lottery tickets, and piragua. I think people should go see this show. It was so much fun to watch. It always kept me super involved and excited to see what would happen next. "

American Theater Company's Xanadu: "People who would like this show are people who like E-evil women, screaming Hermes, and high Zeus. I thought this was a really fun and great show. I liked it a lot and definitely think people should go see it. It was weird, silly, and just altogether really awesome."

Photos: Michael Brosilow, Michael Brosilow, Evan Hanover, and Emily Schwartz

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Review of Underscore Theatre Company's Tonya and Nancy: A Rock Opera

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Tonya and Nancy: The Rock Opera. The book and lyrics were by Elizabeth Searle and the music was by Michael Teoli. It was directed and choreographed by Jon Martinez and the music director was Aaron Benham. It was about Tonya Harding (Amanda Horvath) and Nancy Kerrigan (Courtney Mack) who were two skaters in the 1994 Olympics. And Tonya was accused of setting up a plan with her husband Jeff Gillooly (Justin Adair) to break Nancy's legs. I think this case is very interesting and I think it is cool they put it into song form. There is no real hero. Nancy is the victim and Tonya is the villain, but she is a villain that you understand her emotions. They are kind of like Betty and Veronica in Archie comics. Betty never does anything to hurt Veronica, but you can understand why Veronica gets angry at Betty: because she is taking something that she wants (Archie) that isn't legitimately one or the other's. The gold medal is Archie. I thought this was a fun show. Even though I wasn't born at the time of the scandal, I still found it interesting.

I thought that the moms of Tonya and Nancy, both played by Veronica Garza, were my favorite characters. I got that they both wanted success for their daughters, but they went about it in different ways. Tonya's mom wanted success for Tonya because it would make them both money and make her seem like an amazing mom, which she was not. She talks to Tonya like she is a dog and like she doesn't actually deserve anything. But that makes Tonya want to succeed even more so she can earn her mother's love. Tonya's mom is such an over-the-top bad mother, like she went to bars while Tonya was iceskating and says horrible things to her, but they are so insane and such awful insults, that it is funny. Nancy's mom is very supportive of her daughter no matter what medal she gets, but Nancy still wants to get her mother's approval for everything. She is worried that everyone will think that she is spoiled just because her mother loves her, unlike Tonya's mother seems to. The funniest song and maybe most heartbreaking was a song sung by both of the moms, miraculously, about what they want for their daughters. She would have these costume changes while she was singing and she had completely different voices for each character. It was so fun to see her transform in a second. In another scene Tonya and Nancy were trapped in a dressing room together and their moms were trying to get them to come out, and I thought it was super cool how the moms would cut each other off because they were played by the same person and it was such perfect comedic timing.

"When You Wake Up Sleeping In Your Car In Estacada" was basically like Jeff Gillooly's justification, but not really because what he did was not justifiable. It was funny because you know he is trying to sing this really sappy song and trying to cover up what he did and trying to act all sad like he did nothing wrong. But the whole audience is laughing because he is a sad sack. I thought the melody was actually quite nice, so it was still very catchy. It contrasted very well because Jeff Gillooly doesn't seem like a very sappy guy. I also loved the song where you first meet the bodyguard Shawn Eckhardt (Vasily Deris). It was not the most kid-friendly of songs, but I thought it was hilarious. He was basically seducing the audience with innuendos.

The contrast between Nancy and Tonya is a component of how they introduce the characters. Nancy was a good girl and Tonya was a butt-kicker. Nancy came from a nice home in Massachusetts, and Tonya came from a trailer park in Oregon. They were polar opposites. But you find out that they have a lot more in common than you were led to think. They both really want the gold medal but they don't always get what they want. They want their parents to love them and be proud of them. (And their mothers look very similar!) They both have a bunch of paparazzi following their every move, which is nice at first and they feel very famous, but then they start to hate them and become annoyed and scared of them. When they actually see each other and have a conversation they actually like each other because they have both suffered and both lost, but they both want to do what they love, which is skating. The narrator (Caleb Baze) asks us at the end, "Whose story was it?" and they have this little song-ument about whose story it was and they don't have an answer. That is for you to decide. I think it was Tonya's story because even though she was basically the villain, you got to see deeper into her life, her family, and her marriage. I like Nancy as a person better, but Tonya was definitely the main character.

People who would like this show are people who like skate moms, scandals, and sleeping in your car in Estacada. I thought that this was a fun show. It was enjoyable and it made me interested in this entire scandal.

Photos: Evan Hanover

Friday, December 9, 2016

Review of Griffin Theatre Company's Winterset

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Winterset. It was by Maxwell Anderson and directed by Jonathan Berry. It was about a young man name Mio (Maurice Demus) who is looking for a way to redeem his father's name because he feels like his father had an unfair trial. Then he falls in love with a girl named Miriamne (Kiayla Ryann) but her brother Garth (Christopher Acevedo) is in trouble with this guy named Trock (Josh Odor) who killed the paymaster that everyone thought Mio's father killed, but Trock got out unscathed. Garth knows that Trock is the murderer, so Trock wants to make sure Garth doesn't tell anyone. The judge in the trial, Judge Gaunt (Larry Baldacci), is wandering around aimlessly acting crazy by the river where Miriamne lives and he is questioning his decisions about the trial. The show was about love, determination, and justice. I thought this was an interesting show and it made me curious about the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti that it was based on.

The two main characters, Mio and Miriamne, have a very rushed but adorable relationship. You question a lot of their decisions, like immediately saying that they are in love with each other, but they do seem to really love each other. These are tough roles to play without making them sappy, but I think the actors did a great job showing them as real people. If things had gone better, I think Mio and Mariamne would have stayed together for a very long time, possibly forever. Their romance reminded me a lot of Romeo and Juliet, but it wasn't a copy of any sort. They would do anything for each other and their families are the people who don't want them to be together. Miriamne's brother Garth really doesn't like Mio. Mio's father is the thing that is keeping Mio away from Miriamne, even though he is dead, because Mio is kept away from her because he is worried that his mission to clear his father's name will hurt her. It is kind of ironic that him trying to keep her away from him made her angry and then got her hurt. Garth is an overly protective brother which shows how much he loves his sister and doesn't want her to get hurt, but it is her decision. Garth's behavior doesn't give her very much freedom, which she really wants, and that shows that his kind of love is not very respectful of his sister's choices. Her father Esdras (Norm Woodel) seems to have a more laid-back sense of things for most occasions, which just shows the different ways that people express love in this play.

Mio was very determined to expose whoever had actually killed the paymaster that his father was blamed for killing. Having a goal set is very good, but it can be dangerous and Mio does face the consequences of his and of Trock's determination. Trock is determined that nobody finds out that he is more than just a creepy guy--he is a gangster and murderer. You know he is determined because of the lack of limits that he has for keeping a good name. He will kill anyone who gets in his way, he'll threaten an entire family, and he'll even try to kill his partner Shadow (Bradford Stevens). And he does all this while dealing with a chronic illness. Which kind of makes him amazing, but not a good person. It shows what happens when two determined people's determinations collide. I was definitely on Mio's side. Trock just kind of seemed like a jerk.

Justice is a very big theme in this show, but it doesn't seem like anyone ever gets it. There is only one instance where there might have been justice: when the corrupt Judge Gaunt may have gotten a taste of his own medicine, like if the policeman (Johnny Moran) didn't actually put him on a train home like they said but took him to an insane asylum. I thought that might have been what happened because of the way the cop said that they were going to take him on a train home in a kind of hinting way to the rest of the people. I think the playwright thinks that justice is a good thing but it is hard to get and things don't always work out the way you want them to.

People who would like this show are people who like determined enemies, intriguing love stories, and hopefully-fake trains home. People should definitely go see this show because it is not just your classic love story; it brings up a lot of topics that the world is dealing with right now like injustice, poverty, and loneliness. I found this show very interesting and I am still thinking about it.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Friday, December 2, 2016

Review of The Hypocrites' Cinderella at the Theater of Potatoes

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Cinderella at the Theater of Potatoes. It was based on Cendrillon by Pauline Viardot-García and it was adapted by Andra Velis Simon. It was directed by Sean Graney. It was about Cinderella (Amanda Martinez) who was an orphan and was found in the cinders when the orphanage burnt down. And that is why she is called Cinderella. In this version, there was no prince, no magic, and Cinderella is rewarded because she is good at singing not just because she is pretty and has suffered. I liked all those changes. It's about feeling unwanted, loving your art, and helping those in need. I thought this was a really fun and funny show. I enjoyed it and I thought it had fun audience participation moments and great music.

The beginning of the show seems like there's a party going on. There are a bunch of writers and composers: George Sand (Gay Glenn), Fanny Mendelssohn (Dana Omar), Louise Viardot (Aja Wiltshire), Ivan Turgenev (Joel Rodriquez), and Pauline (Leslie Ann Sheppard) who organized the entire event and wrote Cendrillon. This is where the theater of potatoes comes in. People are probably wondering, "Why the heck is it called Cinderella at the Theater of Potatoes?" This should clear it up for you. Pauline makes a theater where you have to pay with potatoes and then you get to do or watch a show. Then they made soup out of the potatoes! I liked that it was not just a Cinderella story; it was the story of people getting together and expressing their love for music and theater. I thought it was cool how they got cast in the show as different characters. Sometimes they would be pleased with their role and sometimes they would not. Louise does not want to be a stepsister; she wants to be Cinderella. Fanny is excited to play the Composer because she has never actually been acknowledged as a composer before because she published under her brother Felix's name.

I think that it was cool that there was no prince. They showed a lot of girl power by trying to avoid the topic of romance altogether. I think that is a good idea. Romance can be exciting to have in a show, but it is a problem when it goes so far as to make it seem like the woman can't do anything for herself because she is overwhelmed by how much she loves a man. Cinderella is trying to get a role in an opera (written by the Composer) because of her talent, which she has a lot of. She has one of the most angelic voices I've ever heard. I got chills. I thought the stepsisters (Wiltshire and Elle Walker) seemed like jerks to poor people, but other than that they weren't that bad. They weren't the wicked stepsisters; they were more the inconsiderate, not-reading-the-room stepsisters. I liked that they were not pure evil because most people have something good about them. They were really kind to each other and they were not untalented, which I thought was another good change. At the end, Cinderella doesn't go away and never talk to the stepsisters or the Baron (Rodriquez) because, as she says in a song, they are her family and even though they are mean to her sometimes, she still loves them.

I really loved the set (designed by Regina Garcia), costumes (designed by Alison Siple), and the audience participation. There was a mouse section that I sat in thanks to my crazy mom, in which you got to squeak whenever they said "mouse" and wear mouse ears. You feel closer, like you are actually in the show. The set also makes you feel closer to the show because the set has playing spaces all around you. The set is very patterned--there are a bunch of flower patterns on the wall in very bright, circus-like colors. I also loved the costumes. The costumes complimented the set very nicely. They were big and pouffy and had very elaborate patterns, and you could not go without noticing them. All of this makes you feel very welcome and ready to have a party.

People who would like this show are people who like party patterns, not-reading-the-room stepsisters, and potato currency. I thought this was a very fun show. It is a great holiday show to see with your kids or your out-of-town relatives, but you will still enjoy it. It is funny, interesting, and you see a lot of really great talent!

Photos: Joe Mazza

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Review of Turtle at Redtwist Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Turtle. It was by Jake Jeppson and it was directed Damon Kiely. It was about a woman named Molly (Emily Tate) who was a mother of two young children and her daughter (voiced by Miranda Garrabrandt through the baby monitor) was obsessed with turtles and they loved watching turtle documentaries together. Then Molly became obsessed with turtles but she never knew how much turtles could shape her relationship with her husband Sloan (Drew Johnson) and his brother Pete (Michael Sherwin) and sister-in-law Grace (Carolyn Kruse). This play is about how a small thing can change your life, the struggles of being a parent, and feeling disconnected from the people you love. I thought this was a really intriguing and exciting show.

I really loved the opening monologue. What I especially liked about it was how light it was, so that the big things that happened later in the play were more surprising. The monologue was Molly trying to get both of her kids to calm down. You learn about how she is a stressed mom and all she wants to do is have a bit of peace and quiet, but still be a good parent. I think it is a great introduction for Molly's character; it shows you the classic suburban mom and how protective she is, but then as the play continues you get to see not just the parenting part of her life but also her relationship with her husband and his family. There was one moment that I found very funny where Molly accidentally burns the grilled cheese for her kids and then she acts like it is totally fine when she is clearly very pissed off, and says "Just let mommy scrape off the burnt parts real quick."

I think the turtle is in the play to show how much Molly cares about her children and how much she wants the best for her entire family, but still wants to be happy. The play takes something important away from the turtle to show how Molly is when something important is taken away from her. When the turtle loses its babies, it loses its purpose; a turtle's occupation is basically to make more turtles. That shows how Molly kind of realizes that once her children are gone she will have a completely new life like the turtle when it goes to the aquarium. The turtle shows us Molly's dedication to the people that she loves and has to love, but it still isn't a happy ending for anyone because even if you feel like you are doing the right thing, it doesn't mean that everything will turn out in the end.

In this play, politics are sometimes a distraction from what is going on right in front of you. Pete, who is Sloan's brother, his marriage is not going great, but instead of talking about his marriage and trying to fix things he decides to talk about politics instead. He has also just been fired from his job, but then he won't even talk to anyone about it. But Molly doesn't use politics as a distraction she uses it as connection by having knowledge of the election so she can talk more with her brother-in-law, who she might like as more than a brother-in-law. Even though he uses politics as a distraction he also finds a connection with her.

People who would like this show are people who like connections through politics, intriguing stories about motherhood, and symbolic turtles. I think people should see this show. I felt like it was an interesting show and I had never seen anything like it before.

Photos: Jan Ellen Graves

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Ada Grey's Past Holiday Show Reviews

I'm in rehearsals for a show at A Red Orchid Theatre called The Haven Place (read more about that here), so I won't be seeing many more shows before the end of the year. Below I've put links to some of the holiday shows I reviewed in the past that are playing again this year.

The Ruffians' Burning Bluebeard

People who would like this show are people who like 1903 humor, reasonable/not-very-reasonable snack-eating fairies, and halves of cotton balls. I think that people should definitely definitely go see this show. I had so much fun and so much fear and afterwards you are very sad about it but you are also remembering all the wonderfully horrible jokes, and "Rehab," and clowns coming out on camel carts, and flowers being thrown to the audience.

Read the full review here!

The House Theatre of Chicago's The Nutcracker

People who would like this show are people who like heartwarming family stories, sugar plum cookies, and toys that understand innuendo. I have seen it since I was five or six and I am absolutely in love with it. And I notice new things every year. You should all make it a tradition.

Read the full review here!

Goodman Theatre's A Christmas Carol

People who would like this show are people who like creepy Christmas stories, scarf comedy, and family. I think that people should definitely go see this show. I thought it was beautiful, funny, and amazing!

Read the full review here!

Emerald City Theatre's A Charlie Brown Christmas

People who would like this show are people who like Charlie Brown, dancing dogs, and Christmas. I think that people will enjoy this show. It is perfect for little kids and it is fun for families to go to together.

Read the full review here!

American Blues Theater's It's a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago

People who would like this show are people who like angels, phone romance, and hilarious drunks. People should go see this show because it is funny and anybody who likes the movie would love this show. It makes you feel like you are a fancy person in the 1940s.

Read the full review here!

Photos: Michael Brosilow, Liz Lauren, Austin D. Oie Photography, and Johnny Knight

Monday, November 21, 2016

Review of About Face Theatre's I Am My Own Wife

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called I Am My Own Wife. It was by Doug Wright, and it was directed by Andrew Volkoff. It was about a woman named Charlotte (Delia Kropp), who was transgender starting in the 1930s, and she was trying to live life as a woman in Nazi Germany and then in Soviet East Germany, neither of which supported LGBT rights at all. It is also about the people--all played by Ninos Baba and Matt Holzfeind--that she meets on her way to and after creating her famous Mahlsdorf museum. This entire play was created because Doug Wright (played in the show by Scott Duff) heard about her and her museum and wanted to interview her. And you find out many interesting stories, but everyone starts questioning their truth. I thought this was an inspiring and great show because this woman has lived through so much oppression but never stepped down from who she wanted to be.

My favorite character is often not the main character, but in this show it definitely is. Charlotte had a very big personality and even if the rumors they were saying were true, I still loved her. She seemed like such a fabulous and brave person and she had such an exciting life. I wish I could have been friends with her. I loved the way that Charlotte would rave about her friends, like each of them was her idol. I also liked how brave she was and how she wouldn't take any crap from anyone. She also told some stories that everyone thought could easily be tall tales. Like she said that she killed her father because he was a Nazi and said he would hurt her mother. It shows that she wanted to protect her mother more than anything, even if it wasn't true that she actually killed her dad. It was so sweet; I really wanted to believe her at all times.

Charlotte was always talking about her aunt and how amazing she was because she was lesbian and liked to dress like man and she understood where Charlotte was coming from. In the scene where she introduces you to her aunt, I instantly found out she had the coolest aunt in the history of the world because her aunt gave her a book that was supposed to help her understand who she really was. The aunt also found Charlotte, when she was a boy, dressed in dresses. Charlotte expects her to go on a rampage, but she doesn't. She helps her. I thought that was a really beautiful moment. And if this character of the aunt is made up, it just shows that Charlotte needed a character like that in her head so that she could continue with her life.

Alfred Kirschner (Holzfeind) was a very interesting man. He was a very good friend of Charlotte and he was also obsessed with gramophones. When Charlotte went over to his house, she found that he had a bunch of gramophones and a bunch of records. And he said something along the lines of, "I have eight thousand records" and she said something like, "Oh, I only have seven...thousand records." I thought that was hilarious and adorable and it was the start of a beautiful friendship. They were both part of the LGBT community in East Berlin. He had a lot of men hanging around his house (all played by Baba) and they would all have very different personalities, but they were all kind of snotty to Charlotte because she was transgender. I was hoping the people in the LGBT community would have been nicer to the T. Alfred goes to jail because he sold illegal clocks with Charlotte. I thought that was kind of ridiculous but also kind of sad. It shows you how much it sucked to live in East Germany at that time. I don't want to think Charlotte sold him out; I do think Alfred would have helped her be safe by taking the fall for them both selling illegal clocks.

People who would like this show are people who like inspiring stories, record hoarders, and illegal clocks. I think people should definitely go see this show. It was a really great and beautiful show, and I really loved it.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Review of Theater Unspeakable's Moon Shot: A Race to Space at Chicago Children's Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Moon Shot: A Race to Space. It was devised by Theater Unspeakable and directed by Marc Frost. It was about the United States and the Soviet Union's battle to get to space first. I generally love Theater Unspeakable. They do a lot of great and intriguing work. They do most of their performances on a tiny platform and there are no props and they use their bodies and mime for props. I thought this was a really exciting idea for a show, but I think they tried to pack a lot of plot points into a short time, so at times it was hard to understand. I still enjoyed the movement of the piece and thought it was a fun show.

Theater Unspeakable uses a platform for everything that happens. In this show, actors did step off the platform for some of it. I really like the movement in all of their shows. I think the reason why it has so much impact is because of how treacherous it is and also how much fun the actors (David Gordezky, Quenna Lené, Sarah Liken, Aaron Rustebakke, Rejinal Simon, Orion Lay-Sleeper, and Vanessa Valliere) are having making the play and doing the movements and portraying so many characters. It is fun to do something that is really challenging and they all seem to have a figuratively and literally close relationship because they are literally and figuratively standing on each others' shoulders. The performance style is not just fun to look at; it has meaning. It shows you that teamwork is really important; if someone literally or figuratively falls, your colleagues will pick you up again.

I really liked how people were not just characters or objects, but they also played space. They would lift up somebody who was supposed to be in space and carry them around the stage. They seemed to be floating, like they were actually in space. I thought that was really cool. I also really liked the character of Wernher Von Braun (Lay-Sleeper). He was the rocket scientist from Germany who worked for the Americans and he went on t.v. with Walt Disney and they put that in the show and I thought that was really cool. At first I thought that was made up, but it isn't. It is all true; you can watch it on YouTube. In the show, he seemed to be really uncomfortable on t.v. which I thought was very funny.

One of my favorite celebrity animals is Laika the dog and I am really glad that they put her in the story, even if it was just a brief cameo. I liked how they just presented her as a normal dog, and then you realize she is in a rocket ship. And then you get worried that the dog is going to die, and you should be. If you know the story of Laika, you know it doesn't go well. But she is still one of the first astronauts. I saw a show about Laika when I was six that I really enjoyed. I feel like the moment about Laika the dog might be obscure for people who didn't already know about sending dogs into space. I felt like the show didn't get to give you enough context or detail about what you were seeing in this scene and some others. But it was it was really fun if you did already know a lot about the race to space.

People who would like this show are people who like space dogs, tiny platforms, and awkward German rocket scientists. This is a fun show and I feel like it is an experience that no other theater will give to you. I'm sorry this review didn't come out sooner. I saw it halfway through the run and there weren't many performances, but I hope that you'll have another chance to see it when it is remounted.

Photos: Ben Gonzales

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Review of First Floor Theater's Deer and the Lovers

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Deer and the Lovers. It was by Emily Zemba and it was directed by Jesse Roth. It was about a boyfriend, Peter (Alex Stage), and a girlfriend, Qiana (Shadee Vossoughi), who were going to her parents' retreat and they find a dead deer inside the house and the deer had crashed the window and caused a mess. Then Peter's sister Marnie (Kay Kron) came with her husband Felix (Tony Santiago) because they thought they were invited. They call animal control and Lenny (Matt Nikkila) arrives and says they can't do anything with the deer, so they are stuck with a giant dead deer in their house. Everyone has their secrets, which all get revealed. It is about betrayal, misinterpreting signs, and the challenges of love. I really liked this show. I thought it was very funny, but it also had some great messages.

One of my favorite misinterpreted signs was when Marnie was in the forest and she found a squirrel, or the squirrel found her, as it hurled itself out of the tree toward her, which she thought was a big sign. She thought it was a sign that her life was useless, and she announced this to the world that her life was useless because of the squirrel. I thought it was hilarious but also kind of sad at the same time, because it was clearly not what the squirrel was trying to do. Felix also misunderstands Qiana; he thinks that they are more serious than they actually are. Peter also misinterprets how into him Qiana is. This is kind of sad, because you like both the characters and want them to be happy. The entire play seems to be wanting you to root for Peter, but then your views kind of change throughout the play, which is think is very interesting. The audience also might be misinterpreting things. And Lenny is a very good example of that, but you have to see the show to find out what I mean.

Betrayal can be funny if it is in a play, which sounds like a cruel thing to say, but it is true. I really liked the scene where Qiana and Felix found each other all covered in blood, and for some reason that was really attractive to them. And they proceed to make out. They try to lay out a couch so it is more like a bed, but then both their romantic partners walk in, and they are trying to get everything straightened up again. They are acting very suspicious but no one seems to notice, and the seat that I was talking about wouldn't stay up, so then throughout the entire scene they were trying to get the couch back up again, but that didn't work, so they keep trying while smiling awkwardly. I thought that that was very funny. There was another betrayal where Marnie went to a sperm bank instead of having a child with her husband because she thought he was having an affair, which she would be correct about. And there was one moment where Marnie was talking to everybody and shouted at the top of her lungs, "I AM WITH CHILD!" And when she said that it was all in slow motion, which was very funny. And there is a really funny fight (violence design by Amanda Fink) that ensues after that. And I do really like slapstick comedy and funny fights.

Qiana is alarmed by the deer and she thinks she is a deer and needs antlers, which is when the audience starts to think she is crazy. She's gone a little overboard with the whole deer metaphor. It actually kind of reminded me of Nina in The Seagull because she goes crazy over a dead animal (that her boyfriend kills) and then identifies with that animal, just like Qiana. Qiana wants antlers so she can feel more powerful, and Nina thinks of herself as a seagull because she feels like she is dead inside but she wants to be able to fly. I don't know if the deer really means anything, but everyone is trying to make it mean something. Peter is trying to make it mean that this is the perfect time to propose. Qiana is trying to make it mean that everything is a disaster and she has to do something about it. They have very different ideas of how the deer died at first. Qiana thinks the deer died from trying to get out of the house. Peter thinks the deer died trying to get in. I think that might actually be a metaphor because Qiana is trying to get out of the relationship and Peter is trying to get Qiana more into the relationship.

People who would like this show are people who like squirrel signs, uncooperative couches, and funny but deep stories. I think people should definitely go see this show. It was very funny and I loved it.

Photos: Ian McLaren

Monday, November 14, 2016

Review of Eclipse Theatre Company's The Little Flower of East Orange

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Little Flower of East Orange. It was by Stephen Adly Guirgis and it was directed by Steve Scott. It was about a man named Danny (John Henry Roberts, who is my dad) who was an alcoholic and a drug addict who was taking care of his mother Therese Marie (Jeannie Affelder). And he had to go away to rehab so his sister Justina (Jess Maynard) had to take care of his mom. And then Therese goes out and about on her own and falls down the stairs (maybe on purpose) and ends up in the hospital and nobody knew who she was. Her entire family was scared for her because they had no idea where she had gone. It's about devotion, mortality, and loving someone but not knowing how to show it. This was a really beautiful and amazing show. It brought me to tears four separate times.

Therese’s name is not found out in a nice way. She is bribed with guilt, scotch, and people telling her she is going to die. Dr. Shankar (Omer Abbas Salem)--like a shank and then a car, as he said--is the one who does this. Nobody in the play seemed to like him very much, and he didn’t seem to be a great doctor, but I thought he was funny because of how feisty he was even when everyone hated him. The detective (Marc Rogers) was a little bit nicer about getting information out of Therese. He goes and gets her scotch and he just talks with her about her life before this accident happened.

The people who worked at the hospital had a good amount of the funny lines. Espinosa (Donovan Diaz) was very sassy but also could give you a good bit of advice. He was very into New York sports. And if somebody didn't know a certain player or a certain team, they were immediately inferior to the rest of the world. He calls David (John Arthur Lewis) puto affectionately and tells him it means good friend and that he should call his doorman puto next time. That entire time he has a very sly grin on his face because puto does not mean good friend. Magnolia (Ebony Joy) wouldn't take any crap from anyone but she was very nice as well. She is very nice to Therese. Therese thought Magnolia was Jackie Robinson, but she was clearly not him. Therese just thought it because she was hallucinating. But Magnolia just goes along with it and doesn’t get all mad.

Nadine (Ashley Hicks) was Danny’s girlfriend and she had a lot of problems just like Danny, but she was also really nice to Therese and tried to understand where she was coming from. She was always high. Something unique about her is that she can see Therese’s dead dad Francis James (Michael Stark). I think the play might have done that because it wanted to show that these people were similar, even though Therese doesn’t really like that Nadine is with Danny. They both take drugs to make them feel better, but Nadine takes illegal drugs. They both want to take care of Danny, but neither of them are good at doing that without damaging him further. For example, Nadine gives him a slurpee...with gin in it, but that probably wasn't the best idea. They are also both damaged themselves. The play doesn’t specify why Nadine is being rough on herself, but you find out Therese had an abusive father.

A big theme in this show is the different ways characters are incapacitated. Danny can't help his mom, and he can't stop taking drugs and drinking. Justina feels helpless that she can't stop her mom from feeling bad. David thinks about killing himself because his mom is dying. Therese can't help her children or feeling like a burden. Francis James is incapacitated by his temper and alcohol. Basically Danny is not completely incapacitated because he is still trying to take care of his mom and his life, but he wants to do it himself. That is not a very good idea. I think you need to get through what you are struggling with and then get back to helping others, but his plans all get mucked up because they are going to send Therese to an old folks home and he feels obligated to save her. He is kind of angry all the time at her for scaring him by running away and for not being a very good mom, and he is also mad that she doesn’t blame her father more for messing her up. He feels like she is being too nice. Danny has a very complicated relationship with his mom where he loves her but is kind of mean to her too. You see how complicated it is in the last scene; it shows how angry they can get at each other and still love each other. That made me cry, because the thought of loving your mother and wanting the best for her but not agreeing with her is very sad. It was even harder to see my dad in this situation, but I think it will still have impact on other people when they see it.

People who would like this show are people who like stories with impact, sassy hospital workers, and gin slurpees. I think people should definitely go see this show. It was a very beautiful show and I really loved it.

Photos: Scott Dray

Friday, November 11, 2016

Review of Waltzing Mechanics' Cosmic Events Are Upon Us.

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Cosmic Events Are Upon Us. It was written and directed by Keely Leonard. The play centered itself on the Romanovs who were the family of the last Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II (Lew Wallace), and the stress they were under and how loving they were with each other. It shows you that just because they're rich and powerful it doesn’t mean they are not real people. It is about how revolution can be a great thing, but it can also be corrupt, and how somebody can be the head of a corrupt royal government without really understanding that it is corrupt. I think they used the space really well by setting each act in a different place in the room. It has a great story and it moved me to tears, but it wasn’t all the way a sad play; it was also really beautiful and funny. I really really loved this show.

There were many very sweet scenes with the family. The Romanov family didn't seem like haughty rich people, but they did do some awful things to the people of Russia. The family had nicknames for each other, which I thought was very cute, and I'm reading a book about the Romanovs right now, so I know that it was all true. Alix (Adrienne Matzen), the mom, her nickname was Sunny. Olga (Julia MacMillan) and Tatiana (Gloria Petrelli) were the big pair, and Maria (Elena Feliz) and Anastasia (Chloe Dzielak) were the little pair. At the Beginning of the second act Alexei (Tanner Walters), their only boy and the youngest, is running around trying to get away from his caretakers Derevenko (Bob Pantalone) and Nagorny (Zack Florent). They are so loving to this kid that they are constantly trying to keep from dying from his internal bleeding caused by his hemophilia. It is so sweet because they really just have to protect him but they start to become friends with him. And the sisters are running around with the brother and playing games even if they feel like it is babyish. Doctor Botkin (Maximillian LaPine) also became friends with the family and he would talk about his kids and the nice thing was that even when everything started to go wrong, they still kept the sense of family, even with people who weren't actually family. I felt like having this scene made the last scene even more devastating because you got to see how good of people they could be and how dedicated to them the people who served them were.

Rasputin (Martin Monahan) was a very “interesting” man. He had a lot of girls; you might say he was a ladies' priest. (Thank you. I’m here all week). But he was a “man of God” and could heal the Romanovs’ child Alexei. So he could be useful if he tried! He was also suspected of having an affair with Alix, the Tsar’s wife. It may have been a coincidence that he could always heal the Romanovs’ heir, but we will never know for sure whether it was a miracle and I thought that was a cool mystery. When the actor playing Rasputin was not in character he was just acting drunk all the time. And when he was in character he was the perfect Rasputin because he was drunk! I thought the purposeful breaking character was a great element to the play because it added more humanity because it shows how human Rasputin actually was because he was just like a modern day douche. When Rasputin was not the drunk priest but the drunk actor he interacted with The Messenger (Tim Lueke) all the time. The Messenger was basically a narrator/actor who played a bunch of roles and would go in and out of character with them. I thought that was a great way to get parts of the story you may not know across. I also really liked how everyone in the show still acted like he was a character when he was a character and how it wasn't confusing when all the people in the show, except the family, played different characters because they were so well defined.

Just because this is a play about the Romanovs, it doesn't have to be sad all the time, just like the Romanovs' lives weren't always sad. There was one scene where some Russian people were all gathered around to hear the canons that would go off whenever any of the Tsar's children were born. There were a lot of canons so you had to be counting to figure out the sex of the baby. It depended on the number of cannon shots. They were all listening and whenever it was a girl everyone would get very disappointed a be like, "Aw. Another girl. Dang it." And once they got to the third girl, they were like "Seriously?!" and using modern language to express their anger. I thought the way they did that was hilarious. Also, the way the Tsar announced the sex was sort of tedious and ridiculous. They could have just done 50 canons for a boy and 40 for a girl and that would have been not deafening to all of the villagers. I found the killing of Rasputin quite comedic actually. I was not expecting to, but they all had these cult caps to show that they were going to kill Rasputin. Two of them (Lueke and Lapine) were absolutely infatuated with each other. I thought that was a very funny plot point and also something cool about history. The group had plans to poison him but then they got tired of poisoning him, so they just shot him, which was an easier and funnier alternative. There was also a Stalin puppet (Zach Bundy) and he attracted the ladies despite his socki-ness. You know that Stalin turns into a pretty awful person and he kills a lot people who helped him, including, indirectly, his wife (Emily Demko). The funniness was kind of undercut because you know how awful this person becomes. The lighthearted mixed with the tragic was great for this show because you don't want everybody to be sad the entire time even if they know what is coming.

People who would like this show are people who like little pairs and big pairs, assassinating ladies' priests, and sock-y Stalin. People should definitely go see this show. It is awesome to watch and I really enjoyed it.

Photos: Tyler Core

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Review of Fun Home (Broadway in Chicago)

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Fun Home. The book and lyrics were by Lisa Kron and the music was by Jeanine Tesori. It is based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel. It was directed by Sam Gold. The choreography was by Danny Mefford. The music supervisor was Chris Fenwick. It is about a family in the 70s and 80s and the father Bruce (Robert Petkoff) of the family is gay but is not married to a man, so he has to keep it a secret. Alison (Kate Shindle) is looking back on Medium Alison (Abby Corrigan), who is in the process of figuring out her sexuality, and looking back on Small Alison (Alessandra Baldacchino), who just kind of realized that she is attracted to women. She's remembering things from her childhood to put in the graphic novel she's writing. I really loved this story. It really spoke to me and it was really beautiful.

There is a song called "Come to the Fun Home" that is sung by Small Alison and her brothers Christian (Pierson Salvador) and John (Lennon Nate Hammond), which is all about the funeral home that their dad works at. I thought this was a really cute song, but it is about a funeral parlor, so when you actually think about it, it is kind of weird, but it is still adorable. Their dance was cute--that might have been the funniest part. The dance seemed very disco-inspired and they would be dancing on top of a coffin and that kind of stuff, but none of them were alarmed by that. The name Fun Home may be sarcastic, because this home is not very fun. Everyone is kind of sad. But it is still fitting, because the funeral home isn't a scary place for them. It is where they go to have a good time.

"Changing my Major" is such an adorable and hilarious song. It is about Medium Alison having her first sexual experience with Joan (Karen Eilbacher) who will become her girlfriend. By the way, the way Alison kissed was just the cutest. It was really cute and funny how after this one time she was like, "That was awesome and amazing and I am doing this forever with Joan. I'm changing my major to Joan!" You knew this was coming because after just a kiss she totally threw herself into it. That was hilarious. I thought Joan was amazing and hilarious and such a good person for a first girlfriend. And Alison was so lovably dorky in this scene. Words can't even explain how cute they were together.

My favorite song musically was "Ring of Keys." It is so catchy. I really want to learn how to sing it. It is about Small Alison realizing that there are people who feel the same way she does and don't try to hide it. I think that "Your swagger, and your bearing, and the just-right clothes you're wearing" is such a sweet line because you realize how, just looking at this person, everything she is wearing and doing is just right to Alison. I think she is attracted to her and she wants to be her, which is very complicated, especially when being lesbian wasn't even something that was on her radar. I think the ring of keys is what draws Alison's attention most because they are just out there for everyone to see and the woman seems so proud about herself and that is out there for everyone to see too.

"Telephone Wire" and "Days and Days" were the two saddest songs for me. "Days and Days" was a really beautiful song sung by Helen (Susan Moniz). It was about feeling like your entire life has been for someone and that person doesn't appreciate you. And I really felt for her because she just seemed like somebody who deserved better but didn't know that she did. But she wanted for her daughter to have better than she did and to do better than her dad had. "Telephone Wire" was a touching song about the awkwardness that happens in the car when she and her dad are trying to take a drive. The telephone wire is what they are passing as they drive along, and she is focusing on it so she can think of something to say. I was frustrated that they didn't even speak to each other about anything important and that made me feel bad for them.

People who would like this show are people who like sad songs about awkward car rides, rings of keys, and disco dancing on coffins. I thought this was a really moving and funny show. I really liked it!

Photos: Joan Marcus

Monday, November 7, 2016

Review of Polarity Ensemble Theatre's Leavings

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Leavings. It was by Gail Parrish and it was directed by Ashley Honore Roberson. It was about a one-hundred-and-eleven-year-old woman named Beatrice (RJW Mays) who was being interviewed by a reporter (Emily Radke) because she was the oldest person in the state. Beatrice is trying to prove that the governor of Mississippi's (Richard Engling) ancestor, who was a slave owner, was related to her as well because he had children with his slaves. She wants to lift a curse from her family so that they can live better lives. They were neglected and abused by their ancestor who gave the governor's family money and even people. And Beatrice's family has not been treated well by society because of their race. I think this is a really sad and moving show. It kept me engaged the whole time and I am so glad I saw it.

Beatrice's grandmother Tempe and her mother Sally were both played by the same person (Brianna Buckley). I thought that was very effective because it showed how strong their bond was with each other and how awful it would be for them to be torn apart. Their lives are also similar. When they are grown ups, one of them was a slave and the other was free, but they still had sadly very similar lives. Both of them did maid's work and both them were treated badly and raped by a white man. These characters made me very emotional because their past was so harrowing and I really wish I could have done something. I wanted to jump up on stage and hug whoever was sad at the time. Sally, even though so many terrible things happened to her, she really loved her children and her husband and she seemed to have part of her life be much better than her ancestors'. Tempe seemed to try to take control of her life when she starts doing her ritual, and that shows you that with the box she buries she seems to take some comfort. I think Tempe wants for the people that will come after her to be happier and live a more prosperous life. Tempe seems to think a lot about the future because she does so much for future generations and she is still in contact with the generations after her by being a ghost.

There are three terrible events in the show that involve people judging black men unfairly and then hurting or killing them. All of them are based on real stories. One of them I know actually happened in 1919 just like they said; and that was a man getting stoned and then drowning from his injuries at a beach for crossing the blacks and whites line. That happened in Chicago; I think if there is not a memorial on that beach, there should be. They tell this story not through actually showing it but by hearing Little Bea's (Asia Jackson) brother Rafe (Geno Walker) talk about it through a letter. This was effective because of the way he told it--he seemed so scared. Oseola (Evan Bruce) is another of her brothers who could pass as white. You can see why he might want to do that just to live an easier life. Their dad, Bea's dad, seemed to be a very nice guy, but the problem was that he would have fits of anger. He would try to help his family but he would feel powerless, like he couldn't. His anger propelled him a lot, but his anger was not at all unjustified. When he finds out his wife is raped, he doesn't go to the cops because he knows they won't do anything. So he takes matters into his own hands and awful things start to happen to him. I think this and the scene leading to it were the saddest scenes. I was crying. Later, there were cops (Bruce and Mutar Thomas) in 2016 who thought that Bea's grandson Benny (Walker) was going to break into cars because he was sitting near a parking lot. And then one of them punches him because Benny says he'll be praying for him because it seems like the cops were only aggressive with him before because he was black. This shows how everything isn't fixed. It might be better, but it isn't fixed.

You might think that this just a depressing sad play, but it has moments of hope. It is appropriate for things that are depressing and sad to be depressing and sad, but I think it does not undercut it to have some shimmer of hope at the end; it just makes the play a little more enjoyable. The hope is that racists can change their opinion. In the ending scene, Benny is at his grandmother's house with his Aunt Theresa (Monette McLin) and the governor of Mississippi calls and they start a conversation that you don't get to hear the rest of, but while they are talking, they seem to be talking to each other as equals, which I think is a beautiful ending. The governor believes that black men are neglecting their children and they have to do something about that. But he is not going to do anything; he just is going to tell people they need to do something. But by the end he realizes how unfair it is to African-American people to underestimate the damage that white men have done to their own black children in the past.

People who would like this show are people who like strong mother-daughter bonds, moving stories, and hope. I really liked this show. It made me think about a lot of sad but important things. I think people should go see this show. I thought it was beautiful and heartbreaking.

Photos: Jackie Jasperson

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Review of Runaways Lab Theater's Mary Shelley Sees the Future

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Mary Shelley Sees the Future. It was written and directed by Olivia Lilley. It was about Mary Shelley (Sarah Patin then Lindsey Tindall) swapping lives with Mya (Lindsey Tindall then Sarah Patin), a girl from 2016, and both are very excited to be in the other person and learn new things. It tackles a lot of great topics: feminism, sexuality, and art. It's about finding yourself, how far and how little we've come, and what it means to truly connect with someone. I really liked the show. It was so much fun to be at even though it was not at a normal theater space. I really enjoyed it.

Once Mary Shelley as Mya has started to settle in with her girlfriend Angelica (Natalie Joyce Smith), they were hanging out and Mary had an idea for a book all about monsters that were cars. And Juan (Nico Fernandez) says that that is just Cars the movie. And she gets very upset at Pixar, which I thought was very hilarious. She thinks Pixar is a single person who has a bunch of life-changing ideas. Then she feels like her work doesn't belong in this time because everyone has already had all the ideas. That is a really sad idea: that everything has been thought already. But people can elaborate on old ideas, and that is where things like fan fiction or this play come into the picture. People will continue to give us new stories. Old ideas can be new; as long as there is a new way of telling them.

I think one of the most moving scenes was on the beach in 2016. There was this guy who was Angelica's friend named Pete (Peter Wilde). And he is listening to Rhianna's "Work" and singing along very passionately while he is running, and he stops running to talk to Mary as Mya. And they get into this in-depth conversation about identity and feeling like you are not in your own body. Pete is transgender and Mya is Mary Shelley, so they get into this very sweet conversation and they discover they are more alike than they think. Everything slowed down for a second and they really connected.

Mya as Mary Shelley seemed very proud of herself and especially that her mom Mary Wollstonecraft was the first feminist. And whenever anyone would talk about her, she would say under her breath, "First feminist," and I thought that was really funny. She is very proud of the accomplishments that "she" (as Mary Shelley) has done. But Mya discovers how awful it used to be for women back in Mary Shelley's time and how scary it used to be for them. Women could have their children taken away from them because their husband had died. They weren't allowed to explore their sexuality without being considered wicked or speak their minds without being thought of as weird.

People who would like this show are people who like first feminists, new twists on old ideas, and "work work work work work." This was a fun show and I feel like they did a lot of brave and awesome things. I'm glad I saw it.

Photo: Matthew Gregory Hollis

Monday, October 31, 2016

Review of The Neo-Futurists' Saturn Returns

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Saturn Returns. It was created by Tif Harrison, and it was directed by Jen Ellison. It was written and performed by Harrison, Kurt Chiang, Lily Mooney, Kirsten Riiber, and Andrew Tham. It was about a group of friends talking about their lives and contemplating the idea of a Saturn Return, which is basically when you are about 29 and Saturn is going to be in the same place it was when you were born. It is supposed to be that a bunch of bad things happen to you and a bunch of really big changes will happen. I though this was a really great show and it really made me think a lot about memory and change. The show isn't really about astrology, it is more about friendship and about everybody's 29th year.

When I walked in, I thought it was going to be a play about Saturn. But Tif tells you, like in the first five minutes, that if you were expecting science, well then she's sorry. The play was funny, sad, and weird in a good way. One funny part was when Lily was talking to Tif, and Tif asked her if she saw any bugs during her twenty-ninth year of life. And Lily said that she had; she saw a moth at the end of her Saturn year and it meant a lot to her. And at first you thought that she was just goofing around, but later you see how much it actually meant to her. I think the funniest thing was the penny-throwing, music-box-winding, yelling extravaganza that Kurt did. He was asked questions by an audience member and during his thought process he wound up a music box, threw pennies from a fishbowl against the wall, and yelled into a megaphone. I have no clue why he did that, but it is kind of like my own thought process. If someone asks me something that is kind of awkward, my brain goes into panic mode. It has a moment of being kind of calm, then getting kind of angry because you are wondering why anyone would ask a question like that, and then the panic.

It wasn't all hilarious, though. There were some sad and moving parts. There was this one part where Tif was having a flashback to the day after her father's funeral and she was at a store that had animals, candy, and toys--kind of a weird selection, but that was the store. It was where her father bought all her birthday presents. She saw this red tractor, and her father had bought her a red tractor, that exact tractor when she was a kid, several times. She reflected on when she was a little kid and she got the red tractor and she got really mad at him because she thought he didn't know what she liked. And she realizes that he was just trying to be a good dad without knowing how. You could see how she wanted to get to know her dad better than she did. And that is sad because she isn't going to get to because he's dead. Kirsten had a really tragic story as well. She talked about her brother who had killed himself. She kept his backpack and she said that it was the most valuable thing that she had. I thought that was very sweet because a backpack wouldn't usually be very valuable to anyone, but this was very special to her because it was her brother's. It was completely filled with new notebooks and pencils, which showed how sudden it had seemed to her because he was ready for school and then he decided he couldn't do anything anymore. I think maybe he felt useless, like an unsharpened pencil. Like he couldn't do anything with the way he was. That makes me feel very sad and depressed that somebody feels that way.

Neo-Futurist plays are often very weird, but in the best way possible. A bunch of people dressed up as different bugs, like moths with tape over their mouths and bedbugs with sunglasses. There was a lot of movement in the show and I found the hand movement piece that Andrew led weird but beautiful. It was a lot of repeating movements and they all had different names. Like there were goggles. And there was another motion that was like twisting your hands halfway and bringing it out to push a button kind of. It kind of reminded me of sign language because every move seemed like a form of communication. There was also a game where they asked Tif questions and wanted her to answer as her mom or as herself. And if she took too long to answer, she got splashed in the face with water. I found that to be a very weird punishment, but also hilarious.

People who would like this show are people who like red tractors, getting splashed in the face with water, and panic pennies. I thought this was a beautiful show. I was captivated the entire time, and I loved it. People should definitely definitely go see this show.

Photos: Joe Mazza at Brave Lux

Friday, October 28, 2016

Review of Collaboraction's The Mars Assignment

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Mars Assignment. It was written and directed by Ronan Marra and co-created with Elsa Hiltner. It was about a family and the people around them and the ways mental illness affects their lives. The Mars assignment is a presentation that the daughter of the family, Alison (McKenzie Franklin), is doing for her school. And she is having a hard time because she is depressed but nobody is sure yet and her parents don't have the tools to help her. All the characters, except maybe the teacher (Joseph Galizia) are struggling to be happy. The mom, Amy (Kristin E. Ellis) has anxiety and she deals with that through smoking. The dad, Eric (Joe McCauley) has depression. Diane (Georgann Charuhas) is trying to help herself through her depression with comedy, and she is the person who Amy is managing at the moment. Jeff (Justin Wade Wilson) is a coworker of Eric and is having a hard time at work because he is depressed. This play was trying to make mental illnesses not just be something to make the plot more interesting, but more realistic. I think it is useful because it is a more realistic depiction of what depression is. I think I might have been more intrigued by the play if there had been higher stakes, but I do understand what they were trying to get across.

I really liked the depression comedy routine that Diane puts on. She is going on tour and running it past Amy. It is not just funny, it also shares a part of her life from when she was little and she first realized she didn't feel right. But she didn't realize she was depressed until she was 35. Why would someone do a comedy routine about feeling sad? Because it helps them to feel better and it helps them to feel like they've been seen and heard. And also the audience feels okay to laugh because the person felt like they could talk about it. I think there is a very strong connection between her performance and her depression, because it seems like the comedy is healing her and helping her to get through it. Feeling like you are trapped inside of a box and can't get out when you are only 8 isn't funny; it is actually very sad. That part of her story really moved me. The fact that she is turning it into comedy makes me think that she is learning to manage her sadness.

I thought the mother-daughter relationship was adorable. They had their own little secret handshake which was very cute. They seemed to also be best friends, but then the mom was really bossy sometimes because I think she really loved her daughter and wanted the best for her. The mom had a speech where she was listing all the things she had done wrong as a parent and saying that Diane thought that. That speech was funny but also kind of sad at the same time because you could see that she felt like she did not help her daughter enough so she would be ready for life.

I thought the set (by Ashley Ann Woods) was really cool. I liked that it had all these different levels. I think the reason I liked the set so much is that it seemed futuristic because everything was monotone and the walls were see-through, but it still seemed like the play could be happening today.

They would repeat this one scene multiple times and each one would be focused on a different person. The first one was with Amy and she was putting a lot of papers together and putting stuff in her daughter's backpack. And then she gets on her phone and starts talking with Diane. She talks about how it is okay that Diane completely rewrote her script because she is the one who has to perform it. And then she starts talking about how Allison has to do her presentation well. And she is also talking about how Allison and Eric are taking such a long time to get ready. And then Allison shows up. The next time we hear these lines again, Allison is sitting and reading a book and overhears all that her mom is saying. And the next portrayal of the scene is when the dad is getting ready to go and he seems sad. That is the very last scene of the show and I think he was depressed. I think they repeated this scene so many times because they wanted to show different sides of the story. They could have put all the characters on stage for the first scene, and that might have been more interesting to me. I wanted all the sides to the story, but I would have liked it to be less repetitive.

People who would like this show are people who like comedy routines, realistic depictions of depression, and cute secret handshakes. I feel like this show really got its message across, and I hope it will help a lot of people.

Photos: Joel Maisonet