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

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Review of Thumbelina at Lifeline Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Thumbelina. It was adapted and directed by Amanda Delheimer Dimond based on the story by Hans Christian Andersen in collaboration with Mariana Green, Brandi Lee, and Liz Rice. It was about a very small girl named Thumbelina (Lee) and she really wanted to live a normal life and be able to explore outside, but her mother (Krystal Ortiz) didn't want her to because she was worried she would get hurt. But then she goes out in the middle of the night and gets lost and she starts to meet a bunch of different animals along the way. Then she discovers a new family of fairies, but eventually makes her way back to her mother. This productions had a lot of puppets (designed by Stephanie Diaz), movement (choreography by Dan Plehal), and poetic language. I thought it was very gorgeous and interesting to watch.

I really liked the Frog (Antoniao LaVance Boule Jr.); he is the first animal that Thumbelina meets. He brings her over to his lily pad and wants to get married to her. I thought it was hilarious how Thumbelina called it his "pad." He's going to go and tell his mom all about it because she has been getting on his case about getting married and settling down. But he isn't creepy or anything. He has a cute little raspy voice and he seems nervous. You still want Thumbelina to get away from him because you want the adventure to continue. She makes his pad into a raft with the help of a very friendly fish and then she gets an insect to pull her along, but of course an insect can not pull a small person for very long and then she goes down the waterfall and that is when she gets lost. This shows us she doesn't want to settle down yet! It also shows you that she is very capable of surviving on her own and she doesn't want anyone else's help.

The Mouse (Bryan Bosque) and the Mole (Nate Buursma) take in Thumbelina when she is half frozen out in the cold. I think they either are or would be a cute couple because they kind of reminded me of Frog and Toad from the Arnold Lobel books. Each of them has something the other person doesn't. The Mouse is artistic and the Mole is very interested in keeping everything real and things that fly. Thumbelina does like living with them, but they don't like going outside, which is one of the things she really wants to do and that is the reason she leaves. Also, part of their group is a Swallow (Dominique Watkins) that they find with one broken wing. The Swallow seems to have made the largest impact on Thumbelina; she even wants to go with him to wherever his flock is going. But he says she can't because she can't fly and she needs to stay where she belongs. He also helps her when she needs him the most by saving her when she is about to fall off a cliff.

This is not your average kids' show. It has some very intelligent aspects, and I think that it is very important to get young minds working. When you go and see a kids' show it shouldn't be boring for the parents. This show talks about surviving in the wild, and it also has the subject of friends going away and also feeling different from your family, which are some difficult things to talk about. The movement is very calm and relaxing and nice to watch. People might expect cute little songs or explaining things very slowly and simply, but they will get something that will actually intrigue kids of most ages and adults. It was clear when I saw it that very little kids might not have the attention span to stay intrigued, but probably 3 year olds and up would absolutely love this show.

People who would like this show are people who like capable heroines, cute mole and mouse couples, and frogs settling down. I think kids and their parents should definitely go see this show. There are so many kids who will love it, and I really enjoyed it as well even though I'm almost a teenager.

Photos: Suzanne Plunkett

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Review of Pirandellos' Henry IV at Remy Bumppo Theatre Company

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Pirandello's Henry IV. It was written by Luigi Pirandello and translated by Tom Stoppard. It was directed by Nick Sandys. It was about a man who had fallen off a horse and gone crazy and thought that he was Henry IV (Mark L. Montgomery). He's been living as Henry IV. On this day his ex-love interest Matilda (Patrice Egleston) has come for a visit to see how he is doing and they are trying to make him sane again with the help of a doctor (Noah Simon). It is about the concepts of reality and sanity. It is also about feeling justified for what you've done wrong. I thought this was a very interesting and complex show.

In the first scene it starts out as three men--Harold (Tyler Esselman when I saw it, usually Martel Manning), Ordulf (Micahel Turrentine), and Landolf (Jake Szczepaniak)--who are working for Henry talking to their new guy Bertold (Chris Vizurraga) about what they are doing and how their job works. It reminded me of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead because no one was talking like in Henry IV's time, just like how everyone talks not Shakespearean except when they are playing their character in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern. Bertold has read up on the French Henry IV, which is not the right one. They are talking about the Holy Roman Empire Henry. Everyone else there was very offended by the mix-up and I found that funny because nobody could tell if they didn't specify. I thought it was the English one from the Shakespeare plays. The employees are making this reality for this guy and are being paid for it, which makes them kind of like actors. The difference is that they are only performing for one person and they think that one person believes that everything they are saying is completely true. It was very interesting to see that these people's everyday lives were all centered around performing for one human being. This show is about people pretending to be characters. It is not like Six Characters in Search of an Author, which is also by Pirandello, which is all about the concept of being a character separate from the actor. Everyone thinks that Henry thinks he is actually the king. But he is acting; he is pretending to be crazy and pretending that he still thinks that he is Henry IV. In 6 characters the characters know they are not actually people and that they need an author. And Henry's life is now to be the character of Henry IV and not a person until he tells everyone that he has been faking and then he is back to being a person again. He doesn't think he is Henry IV anymore and he isn't pretending to be Henry IV, but that doesn't mean that he is sane.

I think the play is trying to show the different ways that somebody can be insane. Henry is insane because he falls off a horse and thinks he is Henry IV. Henry is insane because of the bursts of outrage that happen even when he doesn't think he's Henry IV. And he is also insane by taking joy by tricking everyone for years and making everyone tend to him for years; he is insane for pretending to be insane. Each of those ways of being insane is very complicated. Once everyone thought he was ok because he was talking to everyone normally and didn't think that he was Henry IV anymore, he goes on a rampage and tries to kidnap Matilda's daughter Frida (Clare Cooney) and kill Matilda's boyfriend Belcredi (James Houton). But he still feels justified for what he has done, which just shows how crazy he is. That ending was surprising and very effective because you thought his confession would be the solution of the play and everything would be back to normal. But...nope! I feel like that was an even better ending to the play and it got me very invested. Just because somebody is one kind of insane doesn't mean they can't be another. People can pretend to not be insane and to be insane too.

The Bechdel test was not around when Pirandello was alive, but I think this would have been an even better play if it had been. There are two named female characters, but they don't have a scene together where they talk about something other than a man. The story is about this guy who thinks he is Henry IV when he isn't, but it would be nice if it presented women as something more than just accessories or a plot points. Henry thinks women are objects, but that doesn't mean that women have to be objects in the play. It seemed that way to me, not because the actors weren't good, but because everything the women said would segue into talking about a man. Matilda would start talking about how she wished she looked younger but that would just turn into something about how Henry still recognized her. And Frida talks about Matilda of Tuscany but only because a man thinks that who she is. Henry was talking about things all the time without talking about women. And the other male characters get to talk about aging, the complexities of the mind, and history.

People who would like this show are people who like exploring concepts of reality, surprising twists, and untrustworthy horses. I thought this was an interesting and complicated show. It really got my brain working.

Photos: Johnny Knight

Monday, October 24, 2016

Review of The New Colony's Merge

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Merge. It was written by Spenser Davis and it was directed by Andrew Hobgood. It was about the people who made Atari, which started out as a very small business and turned into a very successful one. Then Warner Brothers bought Atari and started turning it into a very professional workplace which nobody there liked. It is about workplace culture, the power of video games, and dedication to creativity. I thought this was a great show. It kept me engaged the entire time. I had a lot of fun seeing it, but it also made me learn a lot and want to find out more.

Atari started out in the 70s founded by Nolan Bushnell (Wes Needham) and Ted Dabney (Jeffery Owen Freelon, Jr.)and became a huge deal. Atari made Pong, which was one of the very first popular video games. But before that they made Computer Space, but not as Atari. They made it as Syzygy, which was Atari before it became popular, but no one could pronounce it and they found out the name was already taken. Then Ted said, "Thank God!" because he hated the name. I thought that was hilarious. I hated the name too. Even though Syzygy is actually about space, Atari sounds more space-like. When they made Pong they were still just working in their house. They got Al Alcorn (Esteban Reyna) to make the game and put in sound effects. But the hilarious thing is that the only sound effects they could put in apparently were little short pings and long buzzes. Then they start playing it for the first time and they are mesmerized by it, which to us now is pretty funny because it's basically just a few pixels being slapped around on screen. And there is a girl named Dawn (Stephanie Shum) there who is a babysitter and acts like their secretary on the phone so that they sound like a bigger company and more professional. She is important because she basically starts out with company and does a lot for them, but is never really fully appreciated. She is also always there with Atari; even when the creators leave, she continues. And I think it is her story, because she is always around. The only game she misses is Computer Space. You also know about her before the show really gets started with the story of Atari, because the show skips to level 6 to start and that shows you that she will stick around for 6 levels at least. I did really like how that worked out because, when level 6 came back around, things started to make more sense. I think it is a great way to start a play with a bit of a sneak peak of what's to come, also known as starting in media res. I'm using that fancy term just to show how literate I am! ;-)

When Warner Brothers took over, everything changed. It used to be a bunch of high people making video games, but then everyone was forced by their new boss Stuart Nygard (Will Cavedo) to wear socks! They didn't think the takeover was going to be too serious because Manny (Omer Abbas Salem) was the person who got them into it. Manny basically seduced everyone in his sight. I really liked that scene. I found it hilarious because everyone had become so infatuated with him. Patti (Lindsey Pearlman) was the person who fell for him most. She would try to seduce him back with her bubblegum, which she seemed to always be chewing. It is very funny to see her so dumbstruck by this guy when she seems to be such a tough cookie all the time. I feel like Manny tricked them into going this route that they didn't want to go. I think it is better to have people who are making art using their creativity freely instead of being held back. I feel like that is one of the points of the show, that you shouldn't hold people back from their creativity with rules. Nolan didn't really have any rules. You could just think up ideas for video games, have fun making them, and then party and get drunk. But the problem with Nolan was that he could be a little too free and not get enough work done because everybody was too crazy. And also Nolan would steal ideas, and that is not okay because then they could get sued. And they do, but he just pays them. Nolan's life still turns out ok when he leaves because he founds a pizza place with a rat mascot, which is also better known as Chuck E. Cheese. They give you a little clue that he founded it by Nolan asking Dawn for her favorite food and an animal. And she says pizza and a rat, and then he says: "Yes, that would make a lot of money." And it seems as if Nolan's main goal is to get a lot of money. He didn't put a lot of creative thought into it. He was just like: pizza, rat, video games, go!

There is a court battle in the style of Street Fighter between Activision (which is another video game company that most of Atari has switched over to) and Warner Brothers/Atari. Thankfully Activision wins the court case. They did it in the style of Street Fighter because they didn't have access to the court documents, but also it was more exciting! They had repeating moves, like in Street Fighter, where they are always shifting back and forth. I found that hilarious. Ted, who has a huge afro now, has come to defend Activision and he leaps in very heroically, which I found very funny. Also, Dawn did this awesome move where she ran over everyone's backs and then attacked Stuart; that was hilarious and also very badass.

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.

Photos: Evan Hanover

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Review of The Happiest Place on Earth at Sidshow Theatre Company The Greenhouse Theater Center

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Happiest Place on Earth. It was written and performed by Philip Dawkins, and it was directed by Jonathan L. Green. It was about Philip Dawkins' family going to Disneyland. It is about the importance of family, how your entire life can be altered in one fell swoop, and how there is no such thing as being "happy." I thought this was a great show. I really really loved it. It was very moving and also funny at points. It gave the perfect amount of sadness: it didn't just throw it all in your face; it gave it to you in small doses.

This play is certainly not happy all the time. You would expect the trip to Disneyland to be a happy thing, but they take it because they don’t know what to do with Christmas because their dad has died suddenly. The story is about Philip’s mom Beth and her sisters Mary Lynn, Karen, and Nan (who is left behind for the trip) and Philip’s grandmother, Beth’s mom. And when they get to Disneyland, Beth sees Cinderella when she is lost and she starts saying all her problems to Cinderella. And it is very sad because she is just pouring her heart out to this costumed character. And Cinderella is just trying to calm her down so that everyone else in line can meet Cinderella. Cinderella did have a lot of sympathy for her, but she couldn’t really help her because none of these problems are things that can really be solved easily. And while that is going on, Karen is on an Alice in Wonderland ride and while she is on it all she can think about is the relationship with her mom. I thought it was really cool how they melded two different worlds together. They took lines from Alice in Wonderland and then turned them into lines that the mom had said. There aren’t a lot of lighting (designed by Ellie Rabinowitz) or sound (designed by Michael Huey) effects in the rest of the play, but here there is an entire lighting and sound sequence. It is really cool, but the effects also add a lot of depth to the scene because it immerses you in the ride even more. And it helps you to feel Karen’s pain even more.

There were also funny parts. I really enjoyed all of the various throwing up ordeals. My favorite was there was a lady standing in front of Beth and Karen in the bathroom line when Karen was feeling sick and she wouldn't let them go in front of her. And then Karen puked on the woman. I feel like she kind of deserved it since she wouldn't let the kids go past so Karen wouldn't get sick in front of everybody. Then Beth as a grown up, Philip's mom, says "And I don't know whatever happened to that lady." And Philip says that all we know about her is that Karen threw up on her and she's probably dead. I thought that was hilarious. It was so dark but in such a funny way. I do love some dark comedy. There was another funny story about reincarnation that was basically about how the sisters found a black cat and then Lynn and Karen wanted to keep the black cat, but they were worried that their sister would tell their mom. So they decided to say that the cat was a reincarnation of their dead father. Dark humor! Then they talked about if reincarnation was in the Bible and Karen is like "Yeah, of course it is in the Bible." Also, Philip tells us about how when Disneyland first opened up it had a gun store in it, which you kind of laugh nervously about that. It is not hilarious or anything, but it is so unbelievable and crazy that they would sell guns at an amusement park. Altogether even though the show was about sad families, it is not altogether an insanely sad play because of the dark humor.

There are also some very sweet moments that relieve the sadness. I thought it was really cool that Philip Dawkins’ grandma is still alive even though she is 90 now because the grandma seemed like a really good grandma and a hardworking person. One time Philip and his grandma were doing the dishes and they saw a black cat in the yard. And with the entire story leading up to that, like the black cat they had had before and they said was a reincarnation of their dad, it made for an adorable end to the story. Another sweet thing is when the grandma met the grandpa, they had gone dancing and she drops her underpants on the floor by accident and then he just picks them up and puts them in his pocket. I thought that was super sweet because he didn’t exclaim, which showed how much of a gentleman he was. It was also very funny.

People who would like this show are people who like black cats, dark humor, and asking Cinderella deep questions. I think people should definitely go see this show. It is beautiful and moving, and I would definitely see it again if I could. It only runs until October 30th, so go and get your tickets!

Photos: Jonathan L. Green

Friday, October 21, 2016

Review of Hamilton: An American Musical (Broadway in Chicago)

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Hamilton. The book, music, and lyrics were by Lin-Manuel Miranda, inspired by the book Hamilton by Ron Chernow. It was directed by Thomas Kail. The music supervisor and orchestrator was Alex Lacamoire and the choreographer was Andy Blankenbuehler. Hamilton is my favorite musical; it was even before I saw the show. But this made me love it even more. It is about the Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton (Miguel Cervantes) fighting in the American Revolution, falling in love with his wife Eliza (Ari Afsar), having kids, establishing a national bank, his name being ruined, and also his death in a duel with Aaron Burr (Joshua Henry)...sir. I am really glad I got to see the actual show instead of just listening to the Broadway cast recording on repeat!

I think Aaron Burr narrates the show because he has killed Hamilton but he has also known him the longest. Hamilton calls him "My first friend, my enemy." I think that is really poetic. It is not like they were amazing friends or anything, but I think Burr understands Hamilton even though he doesn't realize it until Hamilton is actually dead. They both want a free country, they both want to be around for their children, and they both want to be better than the other. But they go about it in different ways. Hamilton is not afraid to express himself and Burr is really worried about making the wrong move. I think the best example of these two personalities is in "My Shot" and "Wait for It." "Wait for It" is all about waiting for the right moment and "My Shot" is about trying to make a imprint on history by snatching what you want right when you want it. I've never cried during "Wait for It" before, and I listen to that song usually twice a day, but when I saw it live, I started to cry because Joshua Henry did such a great job that he made you feel that he was very sincere about wanting to be with Theodosia and how sad he was not having the love of his parents around. And I was like, "Oh no! 'Burn' is going to be a sobfest." And it was.

"Burn" was especially sad because of the way this Eliza sang the song. She sang it so quietly and she seemed like she was in so much pain. It was really hard to take, and I didn't really take it. I just sobbed and tried to make it quiet (and failed) because there are so many pauses in the song. You could feel the whole audience holding their breath. But she didn't just seem broken and sad, she also seemed angry. That showed that even though she was sad she was going to be able to get through it. I think the saddest line in "Burn" is her saying she hopes that he burns, because you know that she doesn't really mean it, but she does then. "Burn" is probably the saddest song in existence. It is so good, but it is torture. No one should wear mascara to this show--ever. I also noticed that there is such a good transition into this song from "The Reynolds Pamphlet." The background music at the end is like the beginning of "Burn" because it has this piano or something playing the same series of notes in different orders. And it just continues. The transitions are so perfect in this musical. And Jefferson and Madison say, "His poor wife." It shows you how bad Jefferson (Chris De'Sean Lee) and Madison (Wallace Smith) feel about it; they have a moment of realization of what they have done.

"The Room Where it Happens" is such a fun song and has so many amazing visual elements. There is one part where Burr jumps up on the table and an ensemble member pulls the tablecloth out from under him and it is just so amazing because you see how much they would have to practice to perfect that. And I noticed that there was a mirror on the table to reflect more light on to him. They also do this dancing which is like jazz hands to the side, kind of like they are playing guitars or something. And Burr at the end of the song strikes a pose that looks like Hamilton at the end of "My Shot." It reminds you that they are not too far off from each other. And after this song, Burr becomes more like Hamilton in that he doesn't stand to the side anymore.

Hamilton and Burr learn from each other; Hamilton learns to watch things and see how they will pan out, like with his wife Eliza during "It's Quiet Uptown" and Burr learns to chase his dreams by trying to become president in "The Election of 1800." They become more like each other right before they duel, which I think is a really cool plot point. I noticed that in "Dear Theodosia" they both had similar things to say about their kids. That song is two men literally sitting in chairs on stage singing about how much they love their kids. It is like they are writing the letters to their next of kin that they talk about in the "Ten Duel Commandments" even though they aren't actually having the duel together until years and years from then.

King George (Alex Gemignani) is basically the villain of the story and also the comic relief. He has three songs ("You'll Be Back," "What Comes Next?" and "I Know Him") and each of them go along the same melody. His performance was not just a copy of Jonathan Groff's performance, who was the original King George on Broadway. It probably wouldn't have been very exciting if there weren't any differences from the recording, so I'm glad he changed it up. He was more deadpan and less cutesy. I didn't prefer one over the other; I liked that they were different. One of the various moments I found hilarious was when King George stayed on stage for the beginning of "The Adams Administration." He yells out the song title very giddily and then scoots off stage. That was very funny.

"What Did I Miss?" was a really great song. It was all about Thomas Jefferson coming home from France. This is one of the funniest and most fun songs because of the way that Jefferson was portrayed basically as a guy who doesn't really understand a lot about your duties to your country, and yet he is Secretary of State. The way that he dances I think is pretty fabulous. He dances with a lot of looseness and footwork which shows you that he doesn't really take anything very seriously. I think Thomas Jefferson thinks he is the best person alive, and I loved Lee's portrayal of that. It was hilarious and amazing. Lee also plays Lafayette, which I love. My favorite song in Hamilton is "Guns and Ships" and it made me so happy to see it live. Lafayette convinces Washington to get Hamilton back by rapping very very very fast. I have memorized the whole rap, and I am very proud of that, but I cannot do it even close to as well as he can. I think the best line in the history of all rap is "I'm taking this horse by the reins, making redcoats redder with bloodstains."

"Yorktown" I think is the song everyone thinks is the end of the first act, but when you know that it isn't you feel very smart about that. It is one of my favorite songs. I think it was the first one that I memorized. I memorized Hercules Mulligan's (Smith) rap. It gets you really pumped and ready for anything, basically. I felt like I could conquer the world when I memorized it. I really like watching Yorktown because there is so much going on at the same time. It is like a real battle almost--except more fun looking. The movement I think throughout the entire show is really awesome and fun to look at. It is mostly modern dance and hip hop with a few other things scattered around. It really helps to tell the story.

People who would like this show are people who like flawless transitions, bawling your face off, and making red coats redder with bloodstains. I think people should definitely go see this show. It's hilarious, hearbreaking, and you learn a lot. You will have a great time. I know I did. Click boom!

Photos: Joan Marcus

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Review of The Burials at Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Burials. It was by Caitlin Parrish and it was directed by Erica Weiss. It was about this girl named Sophie (Olivia Cygan) whose father Ryan Martin (Coburn Goss) is a Republican politician. She and her brother Ben (Matt Farabee) and her sister Chloe (Becca Savoy) all went to the same high school, and one day her brother shot a bunch of people who were at her school. The play is about still loving your family even if they did something awful, grieving, guns, and being blamed for something that isn't completely your fault. High school is an extremely stressful time already, and to have all this extra stress to deal with makes it even more sad. I feel like it is good that Steppenwolf is doing such an adult play for young audiences because I feel like kids are already aware of school shootings, gun control, and death but those issues need more explaining and exploring and I'm glad Steppenwolf does that. I thought this show was very beautiful and it moved me a lot.

I thought that the projections (by Joseph A. Burke) really added a lot to the show. There were videos played throughout the play about Ben. I feel like somebody through a screen can be scarier because you don't know what the rest of their life is like, and that was very true about Ben. I kind of sensed right away there was something not right about him. But there was also a slight chance that he was just a regular teenage boy. There are also moments in the videos that are kind of sweet, but he just discards all of those sweet moments. There would also be projections of Sophie's Twitter feed whenever she sees something on Twitter. I think it was good to see those because her family is getting a lot of hate and seeing it on the screen makes us realize how much there is and how overwhelming it is. The sound (designed by Matt Chapman) also was very immersive. You didn't see the shooting; all you saw was the aftermath. But you could hear the whole shooting: that included the screams of everyone and I found it actually unsettling. I don't know how something can be unsettling in a good way, but this was because it had a lot of impact and that was really good. School shootings are an awful awful awful thing and the sound of it is very traumatizing and the sound design really captured that.

Sophie has a very loyal friend named Janette (Stephanie Andrea Barron) and even though she knows thousands of people are really mad at Sophie she will continue to be her friend. And if anyone tries to hurt Sophie, Janette will fight back. She would be the absolutely best friend possible if her boyfriend Jayden (Joel Boyd) didn't hate Sophie so much. I actually found Jayden pretty hilarious because he did have some pretty good one liners even though the circumstances around them were awful. But then he also had this really beautiful and sad speech about how he got hurt during the shooting. Sophie also makes two more friends--Greg (Ty Olwin) and Brianna (Aurora Adachi-Winter)--by the end of the show just because of the circumstances, which is kind of weird because both of them had reasons to hate her. Even though the circumstances are really awful, the playwright tried to get some kind of bright side. I think that it was good to show how strong people can be.

In this show they have a bunch of different news reports about Mr. Martin's campaign and the shooting. All the reporting was done by Zoe (Kristina Valada-Viars). You also got to see what Zoe would say off camera, and she was very different, which was interesting and kind of disturbing. She was not very biased when she was on camera, but when she got off she definitely had a very strong opinion. Sophie's sister Chloe was very sarcastic when she was on the news, and I think everybody could tell that. She would talk about praying a lot but in a very snarky way. It showed us that Chloe didn't give a dang what anyone thought of her family. She just didn't want to be a part of it. At first, Sophie is always there for her father and says that she wants to help him with everything. But over the course of the play she becomes her own person and she is not ruled by her father as much anymore. But she doesn't get snarky on t.v. She just says how she feels. The sisters do really love each other and they have the same goal, which is getting to be their own person, but they have different ways of going about it.

People who would like this show are people who like effective sound and projections, strong friendships, and being snarky on t.v. I think people should definitely go see this show. It really made me think and feel a lot. I think this is an absolutely beautiful show.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Movie Review of Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life

Once upon a time I went to a movie and it was called Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life. It was based on the books by James Patterson and Chris Tebbetts and the screenplay was by Chris Bowman, Hubbel Palmer, and Kara Holden. It was directed by Steve Carr. It was about this boy named Rafe (Griffin Gluck) who had just started at an insanely strict middle school run by Principal Dwight (Andy Daly). And there have been a lot of problems with his family as well. His mom, Jules (Lauren Graham), is dating a huge jerk, Carl (Rob Riggle), but doesn't really see him when he is a jerk. And his brother (Thomas Barbusca) has recently died and his father has recently left. Rafe decides to try to break every rule in the school's code of conduct to show the principal that the rules are too strict. It is about having to face reality, realizing that even though grown-ups have the power they don't always make the right decisions, and self-expression. I thought this was a fun and interesting movie.

I feel like the moment when the whole movie really gets started is when the principal confiscates Rafe's notebook which has this entire world and language in it. And he decides to throw it in a bucket of acid. One of my favorite lines in the entire movie was when Principal Dwight said something like, "I don't know why a school would have a bucket of acid just lying around." I liked it because it was very humorous; what he said calls attention to how unrealistic it is and doesn't try to pretend it is realistic. And when they put it into the acid, all of the different characters that have been in Rafe's notebook try and climb out of the bucket of acid. I thought that was a really good use of the animation. It is a live action movie with some animation. It made you realize how much of a world there was in that book. That gets the rest of the movie going because Rafe is trying to get revenge from there on out. He chooses to get revenge by taking away Principal Dwight's precious book, which is his rule book. He destroys it, not literally, but figuratively by breaking all the rules in the book in creative ways because he is an artist.

I really liked the post-it note prank that Rafe did first. That was breaking the no-loitering-in-the-hall rule. The school's rules were ridiculous and maybe even illegal. This prank shows that Rafe is not just in this for himself; he wants to start a whole rebellion in the school. He writes Rules Aren't For Everyone and makes murals with post-it notes stuck up on the wall. I thought it was the most elaborate prank and also the most unbelievable for him to have done with hardly any help. This is like his personal self-expression because he loves to make art. But he also makes art for the good of his classmates because he wants everyone to question the rules and have to take fewer standardized tests. Rules Aren't For Everyone spells out his name, which is like signing his name at the bottom of his painting.

I thought the brother-sister relationship between Rafe and Georgia (Alexa Nisenson) was very sweet, but it wasn't sappy. They still irritated each other at points, but there wasn't a whole sibling rivalry thing. They both love each other and hate Carl because they both love their mom and want the best for her. It is frustrating that their mom can't see how much of a dummy he is. I feel like there are a lot of different plot lines in this movie, so they had to make most of them very simple. The Carl plot line is pretty simple; it is just "This guy is a jerk and your mom is dating him and won't believe you." I feel like this story might have worked better as a T.V. show, so they could elaborate more on each plot line.

People who would like this movie are people who like post-it note murals, breaking rules creatively, and random buckets of acid. I think there are a lot of kids who would really enjoy this movie. I don't think it is really a movie for adults because the humor is mostly not very sophisticated. But it was a pretty fun movie!

Photos: Frank Masi

Friday, October 7, 2016

Review of Haven Theatre Company's How We Got On

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called How We Got On. It was by Idris Goodwin and it was directed by Jess McLeod. It was about three high schoolers--Hank (Tevion Lanier), Julian (Johnathan Nieves), and Luann (Ireon Roach) who really loved rap and they wanted to be famous rappers. They encounter some obstacles: cheap equipment, disinterested families, and how it is hard to become a really good and successful rapper. It is about loving what you do, the rap community, and how it is hard to learn to make the kind of music that you really want to make. I thought that this was a really great show and I really loved it. It was super fun, intriguing, and heartwarming. I felt like all the performers were really loving what they were doing.

Selector (Angela Alise) was basically the narrator of the story. She would select different songs that fitted the moment. And she also would praise the Akai MPC a lot, and also demonstrate it on the characters, by pressing a button which then they would replicate. I thought that was cool. The Akai MPC is basically a mixing tool; you could put samples from a bunch of different places together. In the play, the kids really want to win one so they can make more professional music. Selector would always be around and she played a bunch of different characters, like everyone's fathers and a pizza man. Basically the Selector keeps the story straight for you and gets in some very funny one-liners, and I really liked that. I feel like this entire show was really brought together by Selector; she is basically like a DJ and she makes all the moves for everyone. And I think she really adds a lot of warmth and humor to the show.

The water tower is basically a symbol of being able to express yourself. You feel safe when you are up there, but getting up there is very difficult and dangerous. The scene with Luann and Hank at the water tower was really sweet because it showed the level of their friendship that they could say so much to each other. I like that you can make mistakes up there and no one will ever know. I think that is why it is so beautiful even though you can't see an actual water tower. The later scene with Julian and Hank is not just about trying out rhymes; it is about getting out what you have always wanted to say. I think the water tower is a place where they feel safe to say things. And the way they feel safe saying things is rap.

I felt like all the performances were so great and sincere. They made you believe that they were really living in that world. I'm a big fan of Chance the Rapper, Nicki Minaj, Iggy Azalea, Doom Tree, Anderson Pak, and Lin-Manuel Miranda. And I think these characters really embodied aspects of a lot of my favorite rappers. Luann was really powerful, clever, and passionate. And I feel like Hank was a really nice guy who would rap about kind of sweet things but he could still go rogue, like Chance the Rapper and Lin-Manuel Miranda do. Julian doesn't write his own things, but he is really good at performing. At first he is better at performing Hank's words than Hank is. It is really cool when they all perform together; you can see them bonding. I would have enjoyed that part of the show just as much even if it was just a concert! I also thought the beatboxing was really cool and I liked how they had decided that they had basically discovered beatboxing.

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.

Photos: Austin Oie

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Review of Miss Holmes at Lifeline Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Miss Holmes. It was by Christopher M. Walsh and it was directed by Paul S. Holmquist. It was inspired by the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It was about the scenario where Sherlock Holmes (Katie McLean Hainsworth) and Dr. Watson (Mandy Wash) were women. I think that is a really cool idea. I've always wanted there to be more female lead characters in books, and I love Sherlock Holmes, so I really really loved this play. It is about Sherlock and Watson on an investigation about whether this detective inspector Thomas Chapman (John Henry Roberts) has been murdering all his wives and it is about Holmes and Watson trying to make a friendship at the same time. Everyone around them is skeptical because they are women, but of course they prove them wrong. I really enjoyed this show. It was a super fun show to watch and I'm really glad somebody made this play.

I found it sad and scary how women were treated in the Victorian period of the story. It was basically if you were married you were just an object to make you husband look good. And if you were single you existed to get a husband. Holmes and Watson are rebelling against that. They rebel by living with each other and by not trying to get married. And Watson was also a doctor before she even met Holmes, and that was really awesome because there were not many women doctors in the world at all at that time. Holmes is rebelling by being the badass that she is and showing that she is physically stronger and smarter than five men combined. You sympathize more with her than with a male Sherlock Holmes. Both the male version and female version act pretty crazy, but the female version is always in danger of being treated as crazy and locked in a mental institution even if she is just doing normal things. That seemed really unfair. I think it might be because there is an ideal for how women in that time period were supposed to act and if they don't act that way it is assumed they are crazy. If you liked the original characters, you'll still like them. The different genders mean they have different problems than the original Holmes and Watson, but they have the same personalities--they are just treated differently about their personalities. I liked how instead of the Baker Street Irregulars, who are a bunch of street urchins Sherlock uses to get information in the stories, this Sherlock has her Knitting Circle who are a bunch of women throughout London who spy and listen to gossip and give her the information.

Dr. Michael Stamford (Michael Reyes) was one of the funniest characters. He had a very uptight personality and he thought that he was more amazing at everything than he was. He wants to marry Watson and protect her from the world, but it seems like she protects him more. Lestrade (Christopher W. Jones) also learned the same lesson, that women can take care of themselves even if they are (sadly) thought to be the weaker sex. He learns to respect Sherlock's intelligence and not think of it as an embarrassment. Mrs Hudson (Abie Irabor) doesn't seem to understand what women are capable of either, even though she is a woman. I thought that was another good element to the story because some women are not feminists even though they are women. But the same actor also plays a doctor who does completely understand the power of women: they are as intelligent and important to society as men. I thought that was some really interesting double casting. Mycroft (Christopher Hainsworth) understands the power of his sister, but not of women in general. He feels as if he is superior to her because he is a man and in the government and that makes him feel powerful. I do think he does care about her, but they show it just by meeting up just once a week for tea.

Thomas Chapman did certainly know the power of women because his wife was very smart and meticulous; she is very good with details. I thought Chapman was very suspicious from the beginning but--and maybe this is just because he is played by my dad--I also felt sorry for him as well as his wife Lizzie (Kate Nawrocki). The patriarchy makes both of them very messed up people. They are messed up for different reasons; he has too much power and she has too little power being a woman to get noticed. Edwin Greener (LaQuin Groves) looks like a tough guy, but by the end you see more than that side of him and I really liked that about his character.

People who would like this show are people who like feminism, Sherlock Holmes stories, and knitting circles. I think that people should definitely go see this show. I think you definitely need to see it to understand all the awesomeness. There were a lot of spoilers so I couldn't really tell you the full awesomeness of the story.

Photos: Suzanne Plunkett