Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Review of The House Theatre of Chicago's Diamond Dogs

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Diamond Dogs. It was by Althos Low and it was based on Alastair Reynolds' Diamond Dogs. It was directed by Nathan Allen. It's about a man named Swift (my dad, John Henry Roberts) and his childhood friend Roland Childe (Chris Hainsworth). They were not normal childhood friends. They kind of tortured each other with different mazes and quests to go on. And now that they are grown up they are still doing all of the same things, just on a larger scale. Childe has found a new place on a different planet that he has named The Blood Spire and he is going to pay a lot of money to the people who go on the expedition to find out what is in The Blood Spire. The people who are going on the expedition include a crazy doctor named Trintignant (Joey Steakley) who has apparently performed surgery on himself because he was curious. The captain, Forqueray (Abu Ansari), owns the spaceship they are on. Hirz (Elana Elyce) is a badass, tech-savvy, hacker woman, and Celestine (Katherine Keberlein) is a mathematician, who is also Swift's ex-wife--not really the best planning there. And of course a cute little robot (operated by Lindsey Dorcus). It is about loyalty/disloyalty, the dangers of adventure, and memory. It was an awesome nerdfest, with lots of cool special effects, and it was a ton of fun.

The look and feel of the show was awesome. You became immersed in this scifi universe the moment that you walked in. The set (by Lee Keenan) was a giant floating pillar in the sky. (Someone should make the song "Blood Spi-ire in the Sky-y with Di-a-monds.") And the lights (also by Keenan) that they used were terrifyingly good but also terrifying. They added great sound (Sarah Espinoza) to make it even more terrifying. They had these lasers that could very possibly chop any of the characters in half, and it seemed like it could chop you too. And the costumes (Azumi Inaba) were really cool too. They had these really awesome space suits that had these different colored lights in their helmets that would tell you which function they were using. I liked the prosthetic limbs. They were very shiny and sparkly, which I found awesome. I expected them to look a little bit more like real limbs, but this was a good surprise.

One of my favorite scenes was when Childe put a computer chip in everyone's arm without their consent, which was a terrible thing to do. He thinks it is for the good of the whole team and he doesn't really think of the people as people. They are more test subjects or guinea pigs. Hirz was not very happy about this, as makes sense because someone has just snuck into her room at night and put a computer chip in her arm so that she can't go to sleep. Then she puts a syringe up to Childe and starts threatening him, which is pretty awesome and warranted. Childe offers her more money and asks how much she wants. Then she has my favorite line in the entire show: "How much you got, b*tch?" The audience just erupted with happiness. It shows how empowered and awesome she is and it shows that Childe doesn't win this battle even though he is rich and privileged. I kind of wish there was a whole show just about Hirz. I loved her and she also seemed to have a really interesting backstory that I wanted to know more about. I thought that Childe was an effective and great villain, but not completely a villain which was a kind of a confusing but awesome tactic.

Joey was even creepier than I have ever seen him, and I was in a show with him where he played a privileged, white politician! He wears a mask throughout the entire show that makes him look like a metallic lion or a bear, which shows how much surgery Trintignant has done on himself. His voice is very polished which is actually really creepy. I don't mean to be biased or anything, but I thought my dad did a great job in the show as Swift. I thought he really made his character brooding but not unlovable. I felt like at the end you could see how his journey progressed from not trying to let anyone help him at the beginning to accepting care at the end. I thought that Celestine was a great female character because she was really smart and talented but she wasn't snotty about it, which I think female characters written by men sometimes are. She seemed to really understand each of the math problems she was solving, but I sure didn't. Forqueray was a really great captain and I wish he could have stuck around longer. He seemed to be the least flawed person of the characters. He was great with teamwork and he seemed to be a real people person.

People who would like this show are people who like creepy surgeons, badass hackers, and Blood Spires in the Sky with Diamonds! I thought this was an awesome show. It was so much fun, and I think anyone who is truly a nerd will adore it.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Friday, January 27, 2017

Review of The New Colony's Psychonaut Librarians

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Psychonaut Librarians. It was by Sean Kelly and it was directed by Krissy Vanderwarker. It was about a group of librarians: Hester (David Cerda), Rosemary (Morgan McNaught), Emmerick (Michael Peters), and their security guard PJ (Carlos Olmedo). One of them, Hester, had a daughter Jane (Christine Mayland Perkins). And they all went on a drug-fueled adventure through the anyverse where there were moon bears, anthropomorphic balls of fire, and anything was possible. Jane falls in love with her childhood imaginary friend Dewey (Matt Farabee) in the anyverse. There is a guy named Sandman (Jack McCabe) who sucks the life and the belief and probably the drugs out of anyone who crosses his path. I thought this was a really fun show. It was funny and very trippy, or at least what a kid thinks is trippy!

The entire play looked very modern. There were not a lot of details to the set (by Yeaji Kim). It was basically white and smooth. It suggested a library because it had bookshelves everywhere and a single reading lamp. I liked it. The psychonaut costumes were hilarious because they looked like they were made of things that had been lying around the library, like stools from the children's section on top of their heads, which I thought was pretty funny. I really loved the moon bear costume; it was just hilarious. I though that the puppets (by Breanne Ward and Evan Troost) were really awesome, sometimes funny and sometimes scary but all-around cool. They had this scene where the psychonaut librarians had to get through a very small space and they only had to believe to get to the other side. They would turn very small like in Antman, and they used very tiny finger puppets of themselves and made their voices very small to go through. There were also these scary fireball guys that would float around and were basically like the sandman's minions.

I thought this was a very funny show. Rosemary had a strange obsession with bears. Not just any bears, but moon bears. She wanted to be a moon bear and she would always to attack like one. And at the end when the moon bear tried to rescue them, everyone was so happy to see moon bear. It was so hilarious because they had talked about moon bears so much throughout the course of the show. A sign of great writing is when you take something you addressed earlier and address it again for dramatic or comedic purposes, and moon bear was an example of that. PJ was hilarious because he was such a lovable and adorable character. He always wanted to help and then, even though he wasn't the best at his job, he was so confident about it. That was so hilarious and I loved it. He kept saying something along the lines of, "There's something fishy going on around here," like he was trying to make a catch phrase for himself, which was so funny. Emmerick was the pessimist of the group. He always seemed to have to have some kind of problem with somebody else in the group, but at the same time he was also kind of a mentor. He's funny because of the level of nerd that he is at. He is past everyone on the level of nerd.

I feel like this was altogether a very fun and interesting show. However, there were a few things I wish were more developed, like the relationships. I thought the mother and daughter relationship could have been very heartbreaking, but it didn't end up being that way because there wasn't a lot of actual emotion in the relationship. The love relationship was shown between Jane and Dewey through a lot of modern dance and repeating language. I thought that it was kind of lovey-dovey and not as interesting as it could have been. That way of portraying a love sequence did not work very well for me. I wish there had been actual real conversations between them because I really like both those actors. I also really wish we had gotten to know the villain better, so that he wasn't just a guy who took souls. I wanted to understand what his motives were.

People who would like this show are people who like anthropomorphic fireballs, hilarious psychedelic librarians, and moon bears. I thought this was a really fun and funny show. I really liked it and I don't think I'll ever see another show like it! But if you are writing a show about a moon bear, e-mail me!

Photos: Evan Hanover

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Review of Chicago Children's Theatre's The Hundred Dresses

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Hundred Dresses. It was adapted by Ralph Covert and G. Riley Mills from the book by Eleanor Estes. It was directed by Sean Graney. It was about a girl named Wanda Petronski (Emily Berman) who moved to the States from Poland with her father (Matt Kahler). Her classmates, led by the queen bee Peggy (Erin O'Shea), taunt her and make fun of her accent, her name, and her hundred dresses that she says she has, even though she only seems to have one. Maddie (Christine Bunuan) thinks making fun of her is wrong, but she doesn't want to become a loser, so she makes fun of her too. It is about bullying, the value of kindness, and second chances.

I really liked how they had a live band and beautiful costumes (by Samantha C. Jones). Different characters would go into the band section and they would play the songs that they weren't in, and then they would run back and continue the play. But they would also sometimes play in the scenes. I found it very Hypocritical--like The Mikado or Pirates of Penzance--that is Hypocritical in the best way possible. That might be because it has the same director! I think how much you can be immersed in it by being able to sit on the stage and see the live band is an experience that is great for to kids to have. The costumes are also beautifully designed, and each of the dresses was unique. I kind of wanted to wear all of them. It shows you that the bullies value beauty a lot more than kindness. I don't value beauty more than kindness, but they sure were nice dresses. In the end, Wanda connects with them the only way she knows how and that is through dresses.

My favorite song was one that Peggy sang and it was about the drawing contest at her school. She hoped she was going to win and she knew she was going to win. But if you have ever read the story, she should have knocked on wood. I thought that it was super catchy and even though it wasn't a good message, Peggy can sure belt out a tune and so can Maddie. It is important to the show because it shows how winning is so important to Peggy. And eventually, when she doesn't get everything she wants, you understand better how she is crushed. And in this song you also see Maddie try to confess that she thinks what Peggy is doing is wrong, but then of course she gets scared and it shows you how hard it is for her. This is actually a pretty deep kids' play.

One of my favorite characters, Ms. Mason (Danielle Davis), reminded me of me if I were a teacher: a pretty good teacher until somebody really gets on her nerves. Ms. Mason had one moment where Peggy was being snotty and she kind of snapped, but still with a smile on her face, which was really funny. I really liked Maddie. I thought she was a really well-developed character. Even though she had her flaws, I still loved her. I also really liked Wanda. She was the victim here, which is not always an insanely interesting character, but she still made a really good decision at the end: to be generous even though people had been mean to her. That gives her more power. Being mean will just make bullies want to be meaner, so that will never stop. It could just not work to be nice, but it is good to try to be nice first because you could convince them to stop being mean to you. She was not just nice though. She gave them the thing that she was being bullied about, which is a pretty great comeback. It helps the bullies see their errors and helps her move on.

People who would like this show are people who like live bands, drawing contests, and agitated teachers. I thought this was a really fun show. I think kids and parents should go see it. It is a very powerful kids' show and I really liked it.

Photos: Charles Osgood

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Review of Shattered Globe Theatre's The Tall Girls

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Tall Girls. It was by Meg Miroshnik and it was directed by Louis Contey. It was about a bunch of girls during the Depression who played basketball and started a team at their midwestern high school even though their circumstances were not ideal. It is about community, making the best of a troubling situation, and expectations that people have of girls. I thought this was a fascinating show. It was really cool to see how young women's lives were in the 1930s and how much they have changed; it was very truthful about the cruelty of the Depression. It made me appreciate basketball because basketball was a place where they didn't have to think about any of the stupid stuff that was going on in their lives.

There is a very small spectrum of opportunity for all women in such a small town in the 30s. Basically, you could be a caretaker, a wife, a child, a sexual object, or an outcast. Jean (Angie Shriner) has come to take care of Almeda (Tracey Green), her younger cousin. Almeda was an outcast; she is a loner and she wants things that weren't acceptable for that time, which is very sad. When a woman decides to be an outcast, she can put herself in danger. Inez (Tina Muñoz Pandya) was also a caretaker; she takes care of her siblings, but it still doesn't seem to be enough to save their family from debt. Puppy (Abbey Smith) was very much a mother's girl. I think her name was very appropriate because she didn't "want to disappoint." Lurlene (Christina Gorman) wants to be a sexual object because she thinks that might be the only way to have a good life. She is pretty boy-crazy too; she even hits on a ten-year-old, so you can see that she is kind of desperate. I found Lurlene very funny though, even though she wasn't a great role model. You also kind of feel sorry for her. Men seem to control women's lives. Even someone like Haunt Johnny (Joseph Wiens), who seems like a good egg, controls them on the court because he is the coach. So even the best of the men we hear about in the play control women in some fashion.

Puppy seemed like the sweet girl whose parents were rich and had a lot of power. But she turned out to have sort of a dark side. One of my favorite scenes was when Puppy decided she had had enough because her parents didn't want her to be on the basketball team. So she decided to take it out on the team instead of on her parents. I thought that this was a really well-written scene. It was basically Puppy discovering all the flaws she hadn't fully noticed in her friends until that moment. And a lot of times she is actually right. However, she was doing a lot of assuming, and you knew that not all of what she was saying was true, so it was infuriating. She would assume that people had a say in things that they didn't because she herself is very privileged. You are angry at her for being cruel, but you still have some sympathy for her because, even though she did make the decision to be on the team, she was pushed into it more than she wanted. The scene was insanely exciting. It made me very angry but sad at the same time. That was the moment I was most pulled into the play.

I thought it was really cool how they didn't have rigged or fake basketball on stage. Even though there wasn't a real opposing team, it still was very exciting. Like, whenever anyone scored the audience would erupt just like at a real basketball game. But in this basketball game, everybody got to know the players a half-hour in advance. When Puppy scored her first basket, she was so excited and it was so adorable because everyone was insanely happy. That it why it made it even more devastating to see her lash out at her teammates later. Also the mini-games were used to show how talented Jean was at basketball and how her relationship with Almeda changes. I loved the shootout that happened between them. It was Almeda vs. the Jean team. They were making the point that working as a team is better than trying to be the star. I liked the basketball because these often powerless women had lots of power on the court.

People who would like this show are people who like basketball power, well-written outbursts, and funny bad role models. I thought that this was a good show; it made me think a lot about what it must have been like to be a woman in the 30s and the trials and tribulations of it. I hope that women now and in the future will have a much more empowered existence.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Monday, January 23, 2017

Review of Level 11 Theatre's The Library

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Library. It was by Scott Z. Burns, and it was directed by Logan Hulick. It is about a school shooting and all the people who were affected by it. It was about a kid named Caitlin (Lindsey Markham) who was blamed for something she says she didn't do. It is about belief, memory, and legacies. I think this is a very heartbreaking show and I found it very intriguing.

Nolan (Scott Olson) and Elizabeth (Tricia Rogers) were the parents of Caitlin. They were very protective of her, but they still didn't believe everything she said because not all of it was true and they had had bad experiences before. But Dawn Sheridan (Maria Margaglione) seemed to need to believe that her daughter Joy ended her life by praying and being perfect. And she thinks that Caitlin is a liar about Joy. When she thinks that Caitlin helped the shooter it makes Dawn feel better about her own daughter. Dawn's Christianity is not depicted as something terrible. It is depicted as something that helps her through everything, but it makes Caitlin and her parents' already difficult lives a lot harder. She is not being mean or anything, but she should investigate her case more before refusing to see any other person's opinion. Dawn starts out being a person who gives forgiveness, even when it is not wanted, and ends up being forgiven. I thought that was a really great character arc.

Caitlin was a very immature teen girl, but even though she was kind of annoying at times, you still had sympathy for her because of her situation. I think everyone has been blamed for something they shouldn't have been blamed for. She wasn't judged like she was without reason. Even though they didn't have proof, they thought Caitlin might be a person who would lie, because she lied about other things connected to the shooting. I think that most of the decisions that she makes at the beginning are not very mature. But you see her develop over time and become a more thoughtful person. She has gone through probably one of the hardest things in her life and now she comes out the other side as a adult. I thought that was really moving.

I thought the way they used the set (designed by Alex Connor) was very cool, how they uncovered bookshelves as the plot progressed. And also they would make the library tables into a hospital bed, surgical tables, desks, and the tables in homes, and finally the tables in the library where the shooting took place. Then they basically recap what the 911 call was and the terror of the entire experience. I though the final scene was very moving and sad but it needed to happen. I thought it wrapped up the story well and it made me cry.

People who would like this show are people who like angsty teen heroines, cool character arcs, and moving tables and endings. I thought this was an insightful play about being a teenager in such a terrible situation. I think this was good show and people will learn a lot from it.

Photos: Kyle Hintz

Friday, January 20, 2017

Review of The Cuckoo's Theater Project's Women

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Women. It was by Chiara Atik and it was directed by Melissa Golden. It was about the women from Louisa May Alcott's Little Women but addressing all of the issues that you kept thinking about during the entire book, like why Jo marries a guy that is not cool enough for her, why Amy is such a jerk to Beth when Beth is dying, and why the characters have such a hard time communicating with each other. I'm a big fan of Little Women and I was really excited to see this. Jo was one of my role models. I don't think Little Women is a flawless book, but it is a good book, and it is a very feminist book for the time it was written in because it looked at real women's lives. A few years ago I saw a show called Lil' Women: A Rap Musical and it was a hip hop version of the novel. Of course it was not one hundred percent accurate to the book, but it wasn't making fun of it all the time. It was able to point out some of the flaws in the book but in an affectionate way. That was a perfect rendition of Little Women for me. Women also has some legitimate and funny criticisms, but sometimes it was a little bit harsher than I would like. It didn't always balance criticism with making you care about the characters.

Everyone seemed to be insanely mean to Beth (Jillian Leff) in this version. Amy (Francesca Atian) wouldn't even go in the same room with Beth, which doesn't happen in the book. Everyone makes Amy stay out because they don't want her to be sick. If Amy makes the choice it makes her seem like a jerk. Something that was kind of funny but also kind of sad was how Beth kept coughing the whole time. And Amy was like, "You have to keep the coughing to a minimum. It's at a six right now, and we need it to be at a three." I can see why that is funny, but you can also see why it is kind of sad. It makes you feel like Amy doesn't like her family. Sometimes you think that about Amy in the book, but this exaggeration makes her seem like a pretty awful person, not just someone who has little hiccups in their good behavior. The sisters seem a lot like mean girls, like Regina George. I think that is a funny idea to have all these well-meaning characters do such non-well-meaning things. But it does make you care about the characters less.

Meg (Emily Lindberg) seemed like a very angry person. She never really gets what she wants, even though she thinks all she needs to be happy in life is to get a husband. In this play Meg is kind of there to represent how weird it is that in the original book she is happy with a dull husband and a bunch of kids, which doesn't seem a lot like Meg. In the play, it seems like she gets a lot angrier as she is writing a letter to Jo (Aziza Macklin) because she knows how much fun Jo is having in New York and she wishes she was there instead of taking the first opportunity that she gets to be married. In Little Women she is a sweet and perfect second mother to everyone. Then to see her in such a state of anger and overreaction in the play is funny. But then you do feel sorry for her husband Mr. Brooks (Nick Glatter) who has to take all of it.

I really liked the last scene. I thought that it was very funny because it brought up the problem that the end of the book has; it seems like Alcott just wraps up the book really quickly by basically saying: Jo's getting married, everybody will be married, the end. There was one line in the play where Jo says to Professor Bhaer (Rocco Renda) "We will have a sexless--but not loveless--marriage." And then he said "To wrap this up quickly and efficiently: Yes!" It is so great because that is the first time where they bring up a problem with the book that I didn't feel was over exaggerated, and I found it hilarious. It shows you that Jo is a very independent person and doesn't need a man to be happy. She still gets to be who she wants to be even though the book says she has to get married to a man. Jo, in the book, is not a flawless character, but she is still a lovable character because she is relatable. In the play, the actress did such a great job portraying Jo in a way that made her seem like an actual person that you can care about. In the book, I feel like they try to mend her. They don't do that in the play. Everyone seems to keep their flaws, and Jo still gets to be who she wants to be, which I wish they had actually done in the book. I think that it is great to have flawed characters, even at the end, because no one becomes perfect over time.

People who would like this show are people who like angry Megs, nineteenth-century mean girls, and sexless--but not loveless--marriages. I really loved the idea of this show and I thought it had some great moments.

Photos: Candice Lee Connor

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Review of Men on Boats at American Theater Company

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Men on Boats. It was by Jaclyn Backhaus. It was directed by Will Davis. It was about a group of men led by John Wesley Powell (Kelli Simpkins) who were trying to travel through the Grand Canyon on the Colorado River. They were trying to get their entire crew to survive and come with them, but over time they broke into separate groups. It is about problems of patriotism, where the men go emotionally and literally, and challenging friendships. In this production, and I think all the other productions, the men were played by women or non-binary people. This play sends a strong feminist message even though it is not about feminism or women. I thought this was a great show. I found it hilarious but also very touching and exciting.

I don't think I've ever laughed as much as I did during this show. One of my favorite moments was when Sumner (Arti Ishak) finds a snake. Of course, if you find a snake crawling on you, you aren't going to be happy, but the way that she reacted was so over the top that it was hilarious. The other explorers see it and they try to get away from it as soon as possible but then the cook Hawkins (Stephanie Shum) starts smacking it repeatedly with a pan. I don't think I've ever laughed so hard in my life. The Howland brothers, O.G. (Avi Roque) and Seneca (Saraí Rodriguez), were hilarious but still terrifying. They were very funny, but they didn't really seem to care about the other members of the group, which is a problem on a expedition that is ninety-nine percent teamwork. O.G. would keep saying he had to go to the bathroom, but he was really going and stealing tobacco. It was hilarious that no one seemed to notice except Hawkins. Frank Goodman (Erin Barlow) was more like baggage on the expedition than a real explorer, but he was hilarious baggage for the audience. I don't know if he belonged on the American expedition, since he was British, and he was just out there because he wanted to do some exploring because he was rich. There was a moment where he was politely freaking out about the Howland brothers smoking while they were portaging and that was hilarious. The Howland brothers were also hilarious because they were so laid-back and cool. One of the boats they had, The Maid of the Canyon, only had two people, Hawkins and Hall (Lawren Carter), but it was the party boat. And whenever someone would say party boat, they would break into a song and dance which was hilarious. There were so many modern references. There was also a time when they had lost the whiskey but when they found it again they were so happy that the lights (by Brandon Wardell) all went rogue and they started doing this strange slow-motion mosh pit of dancing and holding up a giant jug of whiskey.

There was a hilarious and touching moment where Bradley (BrittneyLove Smith), who was the youngest crew member, he was going up a mountain with Powell, and Powell almost fell and then Bradley took off his pants and threw them over to him to use as a rope. He was using the slightest amount of effort he could possibly do and trying to look heroic. It was hilarious and touching because Bradley would do anything for their commander, but even though he was trying to seem manly he still seemed very young and adorable. The entire time I just wanted to get up and give Bradley a hug. It is also really funny how excited he was about everything. Like when they were going to the waterfalls he just screamed out at the top of his lungs "I'm nineteen!" even though that had nothing to do with the situation that was happening at the time. He starts out being in the same boat with Old Shady (Lauren Sivak). They are pretty much polar opposites; Old Shady is probably the least enthusiastic person you'll ever meet...except when he sings his ballads. By the way, what were those ballads? I think he sang one about the snake that he murdered, but it is hard to tell. And every single time everyone would pay as close attention as they could, but really not care. Except for his brother Powell, who is really into all that for some strange reason.

Everyone was very obsessed with naming things after themselves, especially William Dunn (Kelly O'Sullivan). I think they should have found out more about the place and not just taken everything for their own because those things might have already had names given to them by Native Americans. He seemed to think that he was the most experienced person on this expedition. But even though he was flawed, I still thought the character was lovable. He and Powell were frenemies because they had different opinions but they still worked together most of the time. The play does not just make fun of these flawed, privileged, white male characters. It shows you the good things about them too. Like William Dunn wanting to name the places shows that he is actually invested in the mapping project, not just wanting an adventure. Powell, even though he kind of left all his friends in the dust and took all the credit for himself, on the way through the Grand Canyon he was a successful and inspirational leader to most of them. I don't think the play thinks wanting to explore is stupid. I think the play thinks the characters could do the same things in a way that hurts less people.

I really liked the action sequences; I thought they were really cool. I thought it brought a lot of excitement to the show. They would get in the boats, which were like hinged signs that had the names of the boats on them. They would swerve and do all the things the actual boats would do, but just using people. It made each of those scenes even more exciting and gave them a lot more tension. Whenever the actual boat would break, the sign would break apart. I thought that that was really cool.

People who would like this show are people who like naming things after yourself, whiskey mosh pits, and rescue pants. I thought this was a really fun show. I think that literally everyone should see it. I would see it thousands of times if I could. I absolutely loved it. It was hilarious and amazing.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Review of Rasaka Theatre Company's Vanya (or "That's Life!")

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Vanya (or "That's Life!"). It was adapted from Anton Chekhov's Uncle Vanya by Lavina Jadhwani. It was directed by Kaiser Ahmed. This is an adaptation of Uncle Vanya, not the original Uncle Vanya because it went from the final act to the first act. It was about Vanya (Rom Barkhordar) and his niece Sonya (Puja Mohindra), and they live together with a friend of the family, Waffles (Raj Bond), and a nanny, Marina (Allison Cain). But then Vanya's brother-in-law Alexander (Bill Chamberlain) comes with his new, young wife Yelena (Tiffany Renee Johnson) because they want to take a break from the city. Vanya's problem is that he is angry with Alexander because he has done everything for Alexander, but Alexander is not as successful or brilliant as Vanya thought he would be. There is a doctor named Astrov (Richard Costes) who came to help with Alexander's health and Sonya has fallen in love with him, but so has her stepmother Yelena, but Astrov doesn't like Sonya back. I thought this was an interesting show; it made me think about how important stakes and structure are to Chekhov and theater in general.

It is definitely a challenge for actors to go backwards through a story, especially if it is a very high stakes show and the climax is very big. The stakes are high for the characters in Vanya. There is a marriage that could be ruined; there is a family that could be disconnected; there are people that could die, and there are people whose hearts could break. Knowing what is going to happen to all the characters at the end of the story at the beginning of the play kind of deflates the stakes. I do think it is important to have an element of mystery to a show in order for it not to be boring. In this version of the play, the mystery of the play ends up being how will the show work if we already know the ending. That is a very interesting question to ask and I think it must have been fun for the people making the play to figure out because you don't usually get to ask a question like that when you are doing such a well-known show. It can be difficult to have an ending that wasn't specifically written to be an ending. The end of act one of Uncle Vanya does not not seem like the end of a play at all. So, in this adaptation, they use direct address to the audience to make it seem more like an ending. Everyone talks to the audience about how they can maybe do this part now because they are stronger and they have gone through it so many times.

There was a lot of breaking the fourth wall in this show, and a lot of it made you feel a part of the show. Like some characters had physical contact with the audience. The nanny brought tea to one of the audience members. I thought it was great how the characters used pop tunes and performed them in a less poppy way than they are usually played. That was a really fun way to show the difference this show had from other Uncle Vanyas. It made it feel more modern. I think I felt most connected to Waffles and the nanny because they seemed to have genuine relationship with each other and with the audience. They seemed to trust us with their deepest darkest secrets, like the person who they've loved for as long as they can remember or why their marriage ended. I felt like they were really addressing us instead of just talking to themselves. Sometimes other times the direct address didn't work for me, like when some of the actors seemed to be talking out toward the audience but not talking to us.

People who would like this show are people who like reworked Chekhov, pop songs, and tea. I thought this was an interesting experiment and it had a lot of intriguing elements. Even though this isn't my favorite version of this play, I thought it was worth my time because of how different it was.

Photos: Scott Dray

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Review of Irish Theatre of Chicago's The Weir

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Weir. It was by Conor McPherson and it was directed by Siiri Scott. It was about a bunch of Irish men--Jack (Brad Armacost), Brendan (Bradley Grant Smith), Jim (Jeff Christian), and Finbar (Dan Waller) who lived out in the middle of nowhere and one day a woman named Valerie (Sarah Wellington) moves to town from Dublin and they decide that they want her to come over to the bar and hang out with them. And they end up telling each other things they never thought they would tell anyone. It is about friendship, trust, and finding comfort in others. I really loved this show. It was funny and moving.

I loved all the spooky tales. Each one moved the plot along so well. It wasn't a long monologue to get a small point across. Each story showed a stage in how the trust grew throughout the entire play, which I thought was cool. At the beginning Jack tells a story about a fairy road and a woman knocking on the door, but by the end they are talking about deeper things like the loss of loved ones. There is also a story that Jim told about being in a graveyard and meeting a pervert. It shows you how comfortable they are getting with each other because it is about something real. Perverts have been confirmed, but fairy roads have not. Valerie story has more baggage--something that sticks with you for your whole life. It is about a completely real thing followed by something that is slightly less believable but is no less emotionally draining. Like when you read a book and you know it is not real, you still feel for the characters. It is real for her. The last story, told by Jack, is really real. There is no supernatural part to it; it is just a normal sad life. I'm still thinking about that monologue because it seems so true. There are people who are very lonely and they didn't mean to be.

Even though there were a lot of sad moments, there were also some really hilarious moments. Valerie was seen to be a classy lady and she didn't really want a beer, so she asked for wine. It made everybody laugh hysterically; they were like "Do we really seem like people who would have wine around?" They try to seem like they do anyway. Brendan goes and gets wine from the house, which was hilarious because I think she would have been fine with a beer. And then the wine isn't good anymore, so she pretends to drink, which is funny. She's just trying not to be a jerk. There was this running gag where every time someone would have a drink, Brendan would start pouring the drinks, and his friends would say, "Will you have a drink?" and he would say, "Just a small one" and then pour himself a giant amount, which I thought was very funny. And it was also kind of hilarious the amount that they drank. I think one of them had at least 10 drinks in like an hour and a half. You would think they would make worse decisions, but I think they made better ones, like to be nicer to each other and help out Valerie.

Before Jack and Brendan and Jim meet Valerie, she is like an object of desire. They think she might have an affair with Finbar, which they don't want because he's married and they want Valerie to be with Brendan because he seems pretty lonely, being the owner of a bar and all. But I think it is great the way the author went with her, making her an actual feasible character and not just an object of desire. It is really interesting to see the difference between how they talk about her and how they treat her when she is in the room. I was worried at first that she was going to get harassed, which gave a great amount of tension to the room. But then it makes you feel better about the male characters when they treat her with civility and then as a friend.

People who would like this show are people who like spooky stories, deep friendships, and drinking a lot. I thought this was a really great show. I found it really intriguing. Even though it was a show that was all talking, it wasn't at all boring. There wasn't a moment I wasn't engaged.

Photos: Emily Schwartz