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-GarcĂ­a 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