Thursday, November 30, 2017

Ada Grey's Past Holiday Show Reviews

Here are links to some of the holiday shows I reviewed in the past that are playing again this year. I'm sorry I won't have time to see them again! Next week I'll have reviews of two more holiday shows: Elf at Paramount Theatre and The Q Brothers Christmas Carol at Chicago Shakespeare!

The Ruffians' Burning Bluebeard

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

Read the full review here! Tickets available here.

The House Theatre of Chicago's The Nutcracker

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

Read the full review here! Tickets available here.

Goodman Theatre's A Christmas Carol

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

Read the full review here! Tickets available here.

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

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

Read the full review here! Tickets available here.

The Mercury Theater's The Christmas Schooner

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.

Read the full review here. Tickets available here.

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

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Review of Wild Boar at Silk Road Rising

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Wild Boar. It was written by Candace Chong, and the Chinese to English translation was by Joanna C. Lee and Ken Smith. The adaptation was by David Henry Hwang. It was directed by Helen Young. It was about a man named Johnny (Scott Shimizu) and he worked for a paper with his old professor Ruan (F. Karmann Bajuyo) and Ruan's wife Tricia (Christine Bunuan). They are investigating the disappearance of a famous journalist, Mu Ne (Fin Coe). Johnny has had an affair with Tricia, and is now interested in an old girlfriend, Karrie (Emily Marso). It is about bad decisions, freedom of speech, and deception. I found this show confusing and because of that I wasn't able to invest completely in the plot and many of the characters, but I enjoyed some of the performances.

One of the biggest problems with the show was the metaphor that gives the show its title. It seems like they were trying to make a metaphor out of the wild boar, which Johnny hunts with his friends. But the problem is that I can't figure out what it means. And if it isn't a metaphor, then the scene of the boar hunt is sort of useless. I was thinking the boar was maybe Ruan and how his life has been threatened before, but I don't see how that relates to Johnny or his setting the boar free or how Ruan is wild. Maybe the boar was supposed to be Mu Ne because some people didn't think he existed, like they thought they couldn't find wild boar anymore, but we never find out what happened to Mu Ne or if he even existed. So that still isn't a satisfying metaphor. It could be a metaphor for things suppressed by the government, but then they never really succeed it setting those things free. In this play they explain everything at great length, which wasn't always interesting and it didn't always make stuff clearer. It felt like they were trying to cram as many things as possible into the play, so the ending doesn't address the questions asked at the beginning because they've moved on to other ideas.

Tricia, I think, is a very complicated character, and I think Bunuan did a great job making me have sympathy with the character while seeing all of the character's flaws. She has cheated on her husband many times, but you see that she wasn't getting enough attention from her husband, so she felt lonely. It still wasn't the right choice, but you could see how she felt abandoned. I do like how she said what she wanted instead of waiting for some man to sweep her off her feet. And it seems that when she was younger she said what she wanted instead of cowering. Even though her husband was older, he was what she wanted and she didn't care what anyone thought. I do wish her character in the play had been defined by more than her relationship with men, but the actor is very clear about her character and her characteristics, so you can guess what she would probably be like in other situations that didn't involve men.

Your understanding of Karrie changes twice in the play, and I thought that was very cool and that made it so you were eagerly awaiting what she would say next and what new opinion of hers would be revealed. She has this really heartbreaking monologue, where she was talking about her child and the struggles of being a mother. It was delivered just beautifully. The actor really pulled you into her character's life and I'm sad we didn't get to see more of this character's story. Her character seems to change a lot right before the act break, and I really believed her transition, but it was still very surprising. She was talking about how she was so poor and she liked the government's plan for putting poor people in a city underground because it was better than where she was living right now and they might be able to afford things down there that they couldn't now. I can see why she might be tricked by a plan like that because her life is so terrible now, and she thinks, maybe this is a way I can make it better.

People who would like this show are people who like puzzling metaphors, underground cities, and women saying what they want. This show has some great performances, and I am looking forward to what Silk Road does next.

Photos: Airan Wright

Monday, November 27, 2017

Review of Firebrand Theatre's Lizzie

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Lizzie. It was directed by Victoria Bussert and the music direction was by Andra Velis Simon. The movement director was Jon Martinez. The music was by Steven Cheslik-deMeyer and Alan Stevens Hewitt. Lyrics were by Cheslik-deMeyer and Tim Maner. The book was by Maner. It was about Lizzie Borden (Liz Chidester) who was accused of murdering her father and stepmother and about the reason why she did it and the relationships she had--with her girlfriend, Alice (Jacquelyne Jones), her sister, Emma (Camille Robinson), and their maid, Bridget (Leah Davis)--and how they were affected by her trial. It is about justice, love, and standing up for yourself. I thought this was a super fun show and I loved the performances and the songs. It is dark and reminded me of a female, real Sweeney Todd. It was altogether a really great show.

This is a rock musical. There were a lot of different types--ballads, metal, punk--and each song worked with the story and the song's genre. There are a lot of catchy songs with great lyrics in the show. My favorite song was "The House of Borden" because the melody was really catchy and it got stuck in your head, but not in an annoying way. It was sort of like an explanation song; it was telling you all the stuff you need to know, but in an interesting way. I love this song very much. Everyone was super into it. They were singing their hearts out and it sounded amazing. The song was led very well by Bridget, who did a really good job at being both funny and menacing. This song is very driving, really fast-paced. Everything happens very quickly and they get a lot done very quickly. I think doing exposition this way is really useful. If all the background was just spoken, it wouldn't have been as intriguing. I wouldn't have been smiling all through the exposition! "What the F--k Now, Lizzie?" was another great, catchy song. It is about when Emma comes home and finds out their stepmother and their father are dead. She is mad at first, but she realizes she shouldn't be mad because now she is going to get a lot of money from her father's death and he won't be hurting them anymore. The vocals on it were really great. The song is sort of like their pact that they are going to help each other, even though Lizzie killed their father.

"This Is Not Love" leads into "Gotta Get Out of Here," and there is such a drastic difference between the two songs. One of them is very meek and sad and helpless and the other one is very angry and determined. The are both reactions to Lizzie's father raping her. They are really great songs because they are showing the emotional rollercoaster of the same events. The first song is really heartbreaking, and the second is really heartbreaking, but in a different way because she is really lashing out at people and she doesn't know what to do except to get out of there as soon as possible, and she can't get out of there at the moment. I think the actor does a great job showing where Lizzie snaps between the songs.

Alice sang a song about how she had been watching Lizzie for a very long time and was in love with her called "If You Knew." She is asking Lizzie to share her secrets with her, but she can't tell her her own. I thought that was a really good song because it was sung beautifully and it really showed how much Alice loved Lizzie and would do anything for her at the beginning of the show. It is sad to see how Lizzie breaks that trust between them later because she has done something terrible and Alice doesn't want to be a part of that. Once they start the relationship, they have this really sweet song together "Will You Stay." Alice is being so kind to Lizzie and trying to help her. And it is really sad how what Alice thinks she wants, Lizzie, ends up betraying her even though Alice has been so good to her. Lizzie lies to her and makes Alice help her even though she doesn't know what is really going on. The song shows the betrayal starting, so even though it sounds like a sweet song, once you know that Lizzie is lying, it is not so sweet anymore. Alice's devotion is performed very well; she is the least messed-up character in the show and I think seeing her become more messed up during the show is just a really cool thing to watch, and the actor shows you how much she's changed effectively.

The last song of the first act, "Somebody Will Do Something," is where Lizzie kills her stepmother and her father in watermelon form. It is a very scream-y punk song where she grabs her axe and starts hacking up these watermelons, spraying the front row with watermelon blood. It smelled like watermelon in there then, which was also a plus. To have no one playing the parents, it makes it so you can make it more crazy. She just seems like a maniac to see her hacking at a watermelon when, if it was a person, it would be long dead. It makes it so you don't have to have sympathy for the parents. I think for this play that is good because the point of the play is Lizzie's empowerment and how much murder is her only way out. In a real-life situation you would definitely want to have sympathy for people who are getting murdered, but in this situation you are supposed to be rooting for Lizzie even though she is a murderer. It is about Lizzie taking control of her life and saying that she is going to get out of there and is tired of being pushed around.

People who would like this show are people who like feminist rock musicals, heart-wrenching songs, and watermelon blood. I think people should definitely definitely definitely go see this show. It has a great score and it is performed beautifully. I loved it!

Photos: Marisa KM

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Review of About Face Theatre and Theater Wit's Significant Other

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Significant Other. It was by Joshua Harmon and it was directed by Keira Fromm. It was about a man named Jordan (Alex Weisman) and all his friends--Kiki (Cassidy Slaughter-Mason), Vanessa (Tiffany Oglesby), and Laura (Amanda Drinkall)--were getting married and he was really desperate for a relationship. So when a cute new guy, Will (Benjamin Sprunger), shows up at work, he falls for him. It is about feeling abandoned, wanting love, and accepting the way your life is. I think this is an amazing show. It is such a compelling, funny, and heartbreaking script that a lot of people can identify with. I loved it.

Jordan's best friend was Laura and they joked that if they weren't married by a certain age, they would marry each other, and they talked about what their wedding would be like. They seemed like they would be pretty good together, even though they weren't physically attracted to each other. They had so much fun together and they seemed to help each other and think the other person was important and deserved love. Laura becomes less of a friend once she meets a guy, and she isn't as attentive even when Jordan needs it most. It is very heartbreaking to see that relationship dissolve because they have been such close friends for so long. He wants her to be happy, but he doesn't want to lose her. And she wants him to be happy, but she also wants to find a romantic partner. I think it is really hard to have your best friend have someone else in their life that is really important to them. I think both Jordan and Laura deserve to be happy and have good romantic relationships. But Laura gives more time to Tony (Sprunger), who I agree should be getting a lot of attention too if she wants to make the relationship work, but I feel like she should not be blowing off her best friend as much as she was. I understand Laura can't give Jordan attention at the exact moment he needs it because Tony's aunt is in the hospital, but I do feel like she could have helped him later instead of just blowing him off.

There are a lot of funny moments in this play. I was laughing a lot. There was a really funny scene where Jordan meets Will for the first time and he's retelling the story and can pause the action anytime he wants. And one of the moments he pauses it, Will is sort of posing like a male model and Jordan is pointing out parts of him. It is really funny because Will is just standing there nonchalantly while Jordan is praising him for all these things you wouldn't think people would notice about people the first time they met them. It was hilarious how Jordan specified that Will was looking for a towel and he acted like it was the most magnificent thing in the world, looking for a towel. And after he told the story to Kiki, Laura, and Vanessa, their faces were all really weirded out, and it was just the perfect moment because you had been focused on Will and Jordan until that moment.

This play blends humor and sadness together. There is a sort of sad but funny moment when Jordan is talking about how he would rather be anything but a human: a rock, dental floss, a salamander, or rain. It is sad because he does really want to not be a person. I understand that. Sometimes it is hard being a human being and you'd rather be an inanimate object...or an amphibian. He is trying to make light of a terrible situation. It is funny how he doesn't want to have a boyfriend or lots of money or be royalty or anything like that. He just wants to be a salamander. I also really loved the moment when Jordan was trying to talk himself out of sending an email, but almost sending it every few seconds. I've had that moment about a thousand times. There are so many relatable moments in this show. And this one was exactly right. It is hilarious but also sad because he ends up regretting the decision he makes.

Because you identify so much with Jordan, it is like a punch to the gut when something bad happens to him. When he goes to visit his grandma Helene (Ann Whitney), she always says the same things, which means she might have Alzheimer's or dementia. You see that Jordan notices that but he wants to continue on as if she's said something new to make her happy because he cares so much about her. It is scary when you see a loved one getting sick and you are worried that you don't have much time with them, so you do everything to make them happy even though what you are doing may not always be truthful. Jordan goes out with a guy named Zach (Ninos Baba) and they have a really good date and Jordan feels a connection, but Zach isn't over his ex, so he calls it off. And you can see Jordan was really happy there was someone distracting him from all the marriage going on around him, so he could think about someone else instead of just moping. This play is basically a melting pot of crappy moments that have happened to most people, but seeing Jordan's experience, all of those crappy things all pushed together, and Alex Weisman's fantastic performance make it just really relatable and heartbreaking.

People who would like this show are people who like relatable moments, wanting to be a salamander, and looking for towels. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It was such a good story, had great performers, and I loved it.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Friday, November 24, 2017

Review of A Swell in the Ground at The Gift Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called A Swell in the Ground. It was by Janine Nabers and it was directed by Chika Ike. It was about a couple, Nate (Keith Neagle) and Olivia (Sydney Charles), who lived in New York. You get to see their entire relationship from when they got together in college to their roughest times. And they have two college friends--Charles (Andrew Muwonge) and Abigail (Darci Nalepa)--who complicate their relationship and sort of act as confidantes even though the couple should just be talking to each other. It's about young love, thoughtless decisions, and finding your way. I think this is a beautiful show that really shows the ups and downs of a relationship in a really clear and compelling way.

I think it is really cool how this play jumped back and forth in time. It shows you the roots of why people did things, but in a way that makes you think about why they did things before it is actually revealed. Once there were two scenes going on in the same place but at different times. I thought that was a really cool way of showing what had happened a few years ago and why what was about to happen was especially terrible but makes sense. I think it is a really well-written scene, because the second you ask yourself a question, like "what does this mean," the scene answers it, but not in the way you thought that it would. Jumping back and forth in time means the actors have to know their character arc in even more detail than if it were just in chronological order because it isn't building in the play in the same way it would be building in real life. It is jumping all around and the development of the character is going back and forth. I think the actors all did a good job showing the transformation of their characters from when they were like 18 to when they were like in their late 30s even though they didn't do it in order.

Olivia I think is a very interesting character because she is a good person who is going through a very hard time and the person she is with is not helping her with that. I can see why she is demanding a lot of effort from Nate--because she has just lost someone important to her and doesn't know if she will have someone like that again. And when the one person she thinks she can count on is put off by her pain, she feels like she needs to go to someone else because she isn't getting what she needs from Nate. I think she does it in an appropriate way. What she does is talk to someone she's been friends with for years to get his advice and doesn't keep it from Nate. But the second his feelings get hurt, Nate goes off to someone he has already had an intimate relationship with recently and has an intimate relationship with them and doesn't tell Olivia until she says she wants to continue to work on their relationship. What they should have done is just talked to each other about their problems and helped each other. But Olivia can't do that by herself and I can't really tell if Nate wants to or not. I think Nate thinks he understands himself, but he really doesn't. Once Olivia says she wants to step back from the relationship but not get a divorce, he immediately acts on his impulse and tries to replace a relationship that hasn't even ended yet.

The relationship that you start out rooting for isn't there at the end of the play. That is different from a lot of plays because in a lot of plays you see a relationship grow and have its trials and tribulations, but it all works out in the end. This play is more realistic because sometimes things just don't work out. Maybe one person is more to blame than the other, but I think the person who is less to blame gets the better outcome because they did the right thing and now they know what to avoid in a partner. It's not like every relationship that has a bumpy road figures it out and comes back together. But I still think this play has a happy ending in a more realistic way because people are happy in different ways. I think the way it ends is all for the best, but it is not the way you thought it would end.

People who would like this show are people who like surprising endings, learning from your mistakes, and complicated characters. I think people should definitely go see this show. I think it is a beautiful and well-written script and it was performed in a powerful way. I loved it.

Photos: Claire Demos

Friday, November 17, 2017

Review of Welcome to Jesus at American Theater Company

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Welcome to Jesus. It was by Janine Nabers and it was directed by Will Davis. It was about a all-white town in the middle of nowhere and their football coach, Arthur Henderson (Josh Odor), has started acting strangely right after their star player has died. They need a new star player, so when a young black man called Him (Rashaad Hall) shows up in the town, they ask him to be on the team. At first it doesn't seem like they care about his race, but as the play goes on, the town's racism starts to show. It is about prejudice, community, and what it really means to be a good person. This show really makes you think and feel all the emotions. It is eerie, horrifying, and I liked it.

The character Him was sort of a critique of the character in a lot of books, movies, and plays who is a person of color that is sort of magical and tells the white guy what to do and is a teaching figure. The focus in those type of stories is on the white people, and you aren't really supposed to pay attention to the ideas, opinions, and feelings of the person of color apart from how they are using them to help white people. They are only around in the plot when the white people need them. This play calls attention to what the white people are doing and how what they are doing is terrible and wrong. They are clearly taking advantage of Him, not just getting help from Him. It made me think about how many books and movies have this problem.

There were so many twists in this show, and I think the writer did a great job of hinting at each twist, but not giving it away. And each of the big reveals were very satisfying...or horrifying. I don't want to give anything away, but what you find out about Ma Danver (Stacy Stoltz)and Sheriff Danver (John Henry Roberts) and Coach Henderson is just insane and really well-written. It is a great twist and I wasn't expecting it at all. Everyone in this town is not what they seem. Dixie (Taylor Blim), especially. She seems like the girl next door, but she ends up being the girl next door that you want to move a few doors down from.

Even though this play is pretty dark, there are also some humorous moments. When the Sheriff had just been cutting up a body they found in the woods so it will fit in a bag, he walks out to talk to Bud Henderson (Theo Germaine). He hasn't realized that he is covered in blood, and he is very nonchalant about it. I found that very funny. There was a scene where they had just discovered some new information about the Coach's condition and he was trying to get away. And every time the lights would go down and they would come back up again, he would be in a new place in the same position. It would scare everybody, because he was just staring forward and he had just teleported, but he didn't seem to register that he was scaring anyone, and it was very very funny. Officer Mike Danver (Casey Morris) messes up a lot at his job; he literally loses dead bodies. That is how bad he is at his job.

People who would like this show are people who like great twists, critiquing stereotypes, and teleporting coaches. I think people should go see this show. It has a really crazy story, and I have never seen anything like it before.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Review of Cirque du Soleil's Crystal

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Crystal. It was about a girl named Crystal (Nobahar Dadui) who went skating one day, trying to escape from her life, and the ice cracked and she fell down into an alternate universe. Then she is led through her life by her reflection (Madeline Stammen). It is about finding yourself, growing up, and escaping. They tell the story with circus, ice skating, projections, voice over, and music. I think this is a very visually stunning show and there are really beautiful skating and acrobatic acts.

I really loved the aerial straps act. It was really beautiful. It was performed by Dadui and Jerome Sordillon. It was a courtship between Crystal and a man and they were performing to Beyoncé's "Halo." I love that song and it was very wistful. You noticed every movement of the act and paid attention to it because it was so emotional and mesmerizing. You are rooting for the character of Crystal, and it's really sweet to see her fall in love. I loved the way they put the iceskating (by Dadui) into the same act with the suitor who was doing the aerial straps, and then they would join together and it was absolutely gorgeous. Sordillon also did this thing where he was walking up air really really slowly and it was crazy. He must have amazing core strength!

The hand to trapeze act was awesome looking. Crystal was played by Emily McCarthy for this part. She got to the trapeze by walking on other people's hands, and it was just an amazing feat of balance. And then when she actually got up there, she leapt up into the arms of the man on the trapeze. It was so insane. You felt so scared for her, but she was just calm and collected the whole time. They are telling the story about how Crystal wants to get back up to the surface, to her real life. And the man on the trapeze is trying to keep her down. It was very lyrical and there was a lot of reaching. The struggle was beautiful to watch.

I always really love tap numbers, and I had never seen anything like this before. It was tap dancing on skates. It was absolutely crazy to listen to all the sounds that could come out of just skates. Then they (Zabato Bebe, Julien Duliere, Liza Mochizuki, and Shawn Sawyer) started having this competition. They tried to one-up each other. One person did a backflip that was just insane. One person ripped his shirt off. And everyone at the end did this huge tap number together that was really cool. They were all so in sync. It was just amazing. I loved it.

People who would like this show are people who like skate tap dancing, walking on hands, and Beyoncé being the soundtrack to your romance. I think people should definitely go see this show. It only has three more days in Chicago, so go see it soon! It is so much fun, has some beautiful art in it, and I really liked it.

Photos: Matt Beard

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Review of The Comrades' Bob: A Life in Five Acts

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Bob: A Life in Five Acts. It was by Peter Sinn Nachtrieb. It was co-directed by Will Quam and Derek Bertelsen. It was about a man named Bob (Raymond Jacquet) on his life journey from being born in a White Castle to having to strike out on his own to becoming a man and opening up a flea circus. It was about growing up, discovering who you are, and how you are influenced by the people around you. I think this is a really fun show. I think it was funny and heartwarming in a weird way that I liked.

I think it is really effective to have such a huge story in such a small space. It makes it intimate; you feel like you are on the journey with Bob. A person's entire life is a huge story, especially Bob who travels all over the place. You can tell when they are in a new place, even though they don't have a lot of set, because the chorus (Angela Horn, Bryan Renaud, Brittany Stock, and Sarah Jane Patin) tells you. This play is a big story about a man who became a legend, but it took him awhile to get there. Bob becomes a legend by telling his story in a small way. Who knows? Maybe we were watching a performance by his fleas! It was like normal things that will happen in everyone's life, like being born, doing a road trip with your mom, and buying Girl Scout cookies. But there is always a twist. Like when he is being born it is in a White Castle. When he is on a road trip with his mom, there is a significant conflagration. And when the Girl Scout shows up, it makes him see a new side of his life and what he is doing wrong. I think it is effective that there are so many interactions between Bob and other characters in this show because you see his journey when every small thing is jolted into an extreme.

I think extremity and humor is a really good pairing because if you make something super extreme and unexpected, that makes it more humorous. It was really funny how all of the waitresses (played the chorus) were all very into Bob. It was very funny to try to see them get his attention. The reason why he doesn't want to be with the waitresses was because their cheese omelettes were bad. And if that were the case, he wanted nothing to do with them. That was something that was extreme and funny. I also really liked the recurring joke where Bob always ended up in the same person's trunk, but they had a different name each time even though it was the same character (Stock). Something that was also very extreme and unexpected was when the wolves showed up and Bob's father (Patin) decides that he has to sacrifice himself to save Bob. It was so over-the-top and unexpected and I absolutely loved that.

There are also some heartwarming moments in this show. Like when Bob meets his first love (Stock). They seemed like they were really good for each other and really happy. When they first meet each other they each have these lists, and they start reading them to each other and saying all the things they want to do. They are sharing aspirations with each other of things they want to accomplish either before they get married (her) or in their entire life (him). I thought it was really sweet how they both made these lists, and they seemed like they were perfect for each other, and their entire relationship, which was shown in this montage, was just adorable. Bob's relationship with his adoptive mother (Horn) is so sweet. She just wants to teach him everything and it so sad that they don't get as much time as they wanted together. When Bob is first getting his bearings as he is striking out on his own, he talks to a police officer (Renaud) who used to be in love with his adoptive mother. It was sad but it was heartwarming because the police officer ended up having a pretty good life and still ended up being part of Bob's family--because that is the way Bob's life works!

People who would like this show are people who like coincidences, lists, and White Castle births. I think that people should go see this show. It is such a fun and ridiculous and touching show. I really liked it.

Photos: Cody Jolly

Monday, November 13, 2017

Review of BoHo Theatre's Marie Christine.

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Marie Christine. The words and music were by Michael John LaChiusa. It was directed by Lili-Anne Brown. The musical direction was by Aaron Benham and it was choreographed by Breon Arzell. It was about a woman named Marie Christine (Kyrie Courter) who lived in New Orleans in the 1890s. Her mother (Nicole Michelle Haskins) had magical powers to do things for people, and they would come to her for help. Marie Christine also has those powers that her mother passed down to her. But her brothers Paris (Averis Anderson) and Jean (Curtis Bannister) don't want her to use her powers; they want her to get married to someone who was respectable in their class. Their money came from their white father, who never married their mother, who was black. Marie Christine fell in love with a man named Dante (Ken Singleton) who was white and was a ship's captain and it seemed like he'd had been with a lot of women over his travels. The musical is about how their relationship falls apart and how she gets revenge. It is about blind devotion, the limits of revenge, and guilt. I think this is a really good show. It is beautifully done and intriguing to watch.

Marie Christine and her mother really had a close bond, and it is sad to see Marie Christine on her own, but she does really well for herself--I mean, until she meets Dante. I wish we had gotten to see more of the mother-daughter relationship and the mother passing her knowledge down to her. But when Dante arrives he messes up Marie Christine's life because she doesn't think of herself anymore. It is really sad to see her taken over by something that doesn't stay. She spends the whole rest of her life devoted to this one person and gets no devotion in return. When her mother sings to her about how her grandfather is the sun, she is basically saying you came from something better than this and you deserve something better than this. This story is based off of Medea, and her grandfather was Helios, the sun god. I liked how they made the meaning more figurative in this story. Marie Christine and her mother had both gone through similar things with their partners, so when they both sing "Your Grandfather is the Sun" to their children in different circumstances but with the same intention, it is just heartbreaking. Especially when you find out how Marie Christine's relationship with her children ends. Also Nicole and Kyrie's voices are so great; during the songs where they were singing to their children, their voices were very sweet and they were singing a beautiful lullaby. But then they could also belt when they are angry or trying to really get their point across.

I thought "A Month Ago He Comes Here" was a really good song and it got across an outside point of view on the relationship between Marie Christine and Dante. The maids (Katherine Bourné and Neala Barron) are singing so it gave you an insider outside point of view. It was a valid point of view but not from within the actual relationship. When you are seeing the inside of the relationship it seems like they just love each other, but from the outside it seems crazy. The show also has other perspectives, like when Marie Christine and Dante go to a party and everyone is gossiping about their affair, but it is great to see the roots of the gossip in the song with the maids. It helps you understand the relationship not just from the blind world these two people are in.

I think this show also has some great visual aspects. The movement really pulled me more into the story. When all the prisoners sang and danced using a series of repeated movements that all represented what they would do for the person they loved, it was just mesmerizing. The set was also really amazing. I loved how it was using the story's Greek roots because it had columns and arches, but with more of a modern twist that you could see in the shutters and the bed. I really loved that.

There are not a lot of funny songs in the show. Most of the songs are very emotional and are usually saying all the things that are going to go wrong because of a specific action. The song "A Lovely Wedding" is sung by Magdalena (Barron), who is a singer and proprietor of a saloon who wanted to have children and she thought Marie Christine could give her something to help her do that. I really like how the song was funny but still dark. It was basically saying that it was a great wedding, but there were things that were off. It seemed like it was a huge mistake, and they ran out of cake, which seems like the biggest crime of all! There wasn't anything that really seemed like there was anything that made it a great wedding, which brought the comedy out. It was effective because even though it was humorous, the song was also slightly eerie. I think Neala Barron's voice really emphasized each part of the song and made you picture each part of the wedding. And her voice is just great.

People who would like this show are people who like maids' perspectives, exploring the downfall of magical women, and not-so-lovely weddings. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It has beautiful songs, great performances, and stunning choreography. I really liked it!

Photos: Katie Stanley

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Review of Remy Bumppo Theatre Company's The Skin of Our Teeth

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Skin of Our Teeth. It was by Thornton Wilder and it was directed by Krissy Vanderwarker. And it was about the Antrobus family--the father, George (Kareem Bandealy), the mother, Maggie (Linda Gillum), and their two children Gladys (Kayla Raelle Holder when I saw it, usually Leea Ayers) and Henry (Matt Farabee)--and their lives throughout history...or the 1940s; it is kind of hard to tell with this play. You know all those things you remember about the Forties: the Andrews Sisters, Rosie the Riveter...and Dinosaurs? The thing is, in this play, they talk about the Depression, but there is a dinosaur (Kristen Magee) and a Mammoth (Annie Prichard) who live like pets inside the Antrobus house. There is Noah's Ark, but also an election. The Antrobuses are a classic American family, but also probably Adam and Eve and Cain and...Gladys. You remember that famous Bible story about Gladys. Their housemaid Sabina (Kelly O'Sullivan) is the narrator and she is like part of the family, even though she was abducted (like the Sabine women in Roman mythology) and she keeps trying to make Mr. Antrobus fall in love with her. It is about family, corruption, and resilience. I think this is a really weird but fun show. It is so crazy that it was written so long ago and before feminism was as prominent as is is now. It was not at all what I was expecting, but I loved it.

I just finished performing in Our Town, also by Thornton Wilder, and it is a very different kind of show. Both shows have a similar message, but they go about showing the message in different ways. Our Town is about a small town and how two people fall in love, and about three stages of their relationship. Wilder is trying to talk about life and death, but he is using a small thing to do it. In The Skin of Our Teeth, everything that happens is a statement about humanity and how we relate to each other, but he is using the entire world, the apocalypse, and a World War to say it. There is a family, but it is part of a broader scape of things and a lot of things that they do don't just affect them, they can affect the entire world. The portrayals of men and women and their relationships are very different from each other in these shows. In Our Town everything is a lot more wholesome and the drama in the relationships comes from natural things like death and misunderstandings and mild "faults in character." In Our Town he seems to be on the women's side because he has a speech about how hard it is for the mothers and how they cook all the time and they never get enough thanks for it and they never have a nervous breakdown--which is one of my favorite lines in the show. In Our Town all the men are well-meaning, but in The Skin of Our Teeth they are most of the time violent and lustful. The men are good at what they do: George is good at inventing and Henry is good at killing people with his slingshot. But that doesn't make them good people. The women are portrayed as people who are really hardworking, but no one takes them seriously or appreciates them. There is a bottle that Maggie throws into the water right after Mr. Antrobus has said that he is leaving her for Sabina. And she says that in the bottle is everything a woman knows and that women aren't what you see in advertisements or in the movies. And I think those are very powerful lines because it is true and it is great they were written so long ago, but also sad that they haven't fixed those problems yet. In The Skin of Our Teeth, instead of having everyday terrible occurrences be the thing that is wrong, it is larger things like infidelity or war or the Ice Age or the apocalypse. The characters show you how much humanity has worked to get to where we are right now, but also how humans take advantage of people, betray, kill, and rape people. It shows you how the people who make humanity successful are not always the best people. Like Our Town, it is saying a true message about life that makes you really think about bigger problems that aren't just centered around you. Both plays show you how life is unfair, but you have to keep going and you might find good things again if you continue.

I really liked the scripted moments where the actors would break character. The actors were playing actors playing roles, which really engaged me even more in the story because you got to see the relationships between the actor-characters. One time Henry was beating up his dad, George, and Sabina runs in and says to stop the show because he is actually hurting him. It was surprising because they have interrupted the show before but not in the same way when someone in the show was being hurt. It shows you how wrapped up in performance some actors can get and actually believe they are in the role. So the person that Matt Farabee was playing who was playing Henry thought that he was in danger because his character was. Sabina would break character a lot to stop the show for anything from anyone getting hurt to her friend being there tonight and she didn't want the scene to offend her. She also likes to trash talk the play. It is so funny to see her be such a terrible person to be on stage with because she is making the whole play about herself and not taking her scene partner's actions and feelings into account. The actor-character who plays Sabina didn't really serve the play very well because all she could think about is herself, which is a lot like her character. That made me see why the actor-character got the part. And Kelly O'Sullivan did a really good job differentiating the actor-character from Sabina but still showing the similarities. Another funny interruption is when most of the actors get food poisoning and have other people go on for them, but it isn't understudies it is a stagehand (Magee), a dresser (Diego Colón), an assistant (Alice Wu), and the house manager (Art Fox). I thought it was funny how each replacement performer was played by an ensemble member (who supposedly had food poisoning). You weren't expecting any of them to be very good, but it was a nice surprise and pretty funny when they revealed that they were. These kind of moments where the play is interrupted are effective because even though you don't think it is actually happening--you know they are still on script--it makes you think about what is real and what is fake. This show really plays with your mind that way. When you go to the theater everything that is happening you are pretty sure is just acting, but you still decide to tell yourself to be invested in certain characters because they are replicating people.

People who would like this show are people who like wacky but philosophical shows, breaking character, and indoor dinosaurs. I think that people should definitely definitely go see this show. I think it is such an intriguing, beautiful, and funny show. It is all about the circle of life and how new worlds keep getting created out of disasters. And I think it is really fun to watch.

Photos: Nomee Photography

Monday, November 6, 2017

Review of School of Rock (Broadway in Chicago)

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called School of Rock. It was based on the Paramount movie written by Mike White. The book was by Julian Fellowes. The lyrics were by Glenn Slater. The new music was by Andrew Lloyd Webber. It was choreographed by JoAnn M. Hunter and directed by Laurence Connor. It was about a man named Dewey (Rob Colletti) and he had been kicked out of his band and he didn't have a job and he needed to pay rent because his roommate and best friend Ned's (Matt Bittner) girlfriend Patty (Emily Borromeo) didn't like him and wanted him out of the house. So when gets a phone call for Ned from Rosalie (Lexie Dorsett-Sharp), the principal of Horace Green School, saying that Ned has gotten a substitute teaching job and has to go in the next day, Dewey decided to take the position for himself by pretending to be Ned. He decides that at this really preppy school they don't have enough fun and they don't even know what rock music is. So he teaches them how to play rock music and live a rock lifestyle (with no drugs). He decides to form a band with the kids and perform in the Battle of the Bands against his old group. This is a really heartwarming and fun story. There are a lot of really talented performers in this show and I think it is an adorable family musical.

I really liked the song "You're in the Band." It really showed off all the kids' talents. Something that was really effective to show their amazingness is that they'd play things wrong at first and then the second time they played it perfectly. Like when the guitarist Zach (Phoenix Schuman) first picked up the guitar and started plucking out notes, he was really stiff. Bt then the second time that he did it, he loosened up and was a total rock star. He was super into it, which was super fun to watch. Also, the bass player, Katie (Theodora Silverman), starts out really stone-faced. And then she discovers her signature look, which was like a sassy pouty face while she plays. Lawrence (Theo Mitchell-Penner) doesn't think that he's cool but then he learns his love for playing the keyboard makes him feel a lot less insecure. He starts by playing a classical piece and it transforms halfway through the piece into rock and roll. Freddy (Gilberto Moretti-Hamilton) hadn't gotten to play the way he wanted to in the school orchestra. He played cymbals and just had to keep a very simple beat. The first time he played the drums in Dewey's band, he started out and Dewey said, "Yeah. That's good. For my grandma...who's dead!" But then Freddy finds his rhythm and starts doing this amazing drum solo. I'm still in awe of it.

Tomika (Gianna Harris) is the shy one at the school. She's new and she wants to be in the band, but she can't vocalize it. But eventually she says she wants to be in the band, and Dewey asks if she wants to join the backup singers (Chloe Ann Garcia and Olivia Bucknor). She says she's not a backup singer, she's a singer. Which is like the best line in this whole show because it is so unexpected, especially from her. It shows us that she isn't just a shy girl who doesn't want to talk to anyone; she actually has some charisma and spunk. Then she also has an amazing voice, as you get to see when she sings "Amazing Grace." Rosalie had a very similar transformation. She also starts out not liking the idea of the band, but then she warms up to it when she actually gets to know Dewey. I think that is a really cool relationship between Tomika and Rosalie. They don't talk to each other much in the play, but they have similar stories. It is cool to see two people of different ages going through a similar process.

"Time to Play" sung by the band manager, Summer (Ava Briglia), was a fun song and it gave you a little sneak peek into what the final performance at the Battle of the Bands would be like. Summer was showing her bossy side and yelling at everyone. At first in the play she is yelling at everyone for doing rock and roll instead of schoolwork. But in this song, she is yelling at everyone because they are not doing band practice the way that she wants. She's also been changed by Dewey, no matter how little she wants to admit it. She is using her uptightness for the good of rock and roll and not just to annoy people.

People who would like this show are people who like hidden talents, influential teachers, and rock and roll bossiness. I think people should go see this show. It is super fun, has catchy songs, and has really talented performers.

Photos: Matthew Murphy

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Review of First Floor Theater's Two Mile Hollow

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Two Mile Hollow. It was by Leah Nanako Winkler and it was directed by Hutch Pimentel. It was about a family reunited at their vacation home where the parents had planned to retire. But the father had died and the house is being sold and they came there to collect the father's stuff. When the movie star son, Christopher (Kai Ealy), comes home with his personal assistant Charlotte (Aurora Adachi-Winter), his mother Blythe (Jazmín Corona) and his sister Mary (Deanna Myers) aren't so sure about her presence. But his brother Joshua (Jose Natera) seems pretty happy about it. It is about rich white families and how they abuse their power and how their stories have become so normal to us even though we should be seeing a lot more diversity on the stage and on the screen. It is a parody of dramatic plays like The Seagull, which they mention several times, about how much it sucks to be depressed in a family of successful rich people. I think this show is very funny but it also says a lot of sadly true things.

There were a lot of really funny moments in this show. Sometimes I was crying, I was laughing so hard. There is some really great physical humor in this. When Christopher and Joshua were fighting over who was going to get the motorcycle (it's a metaphor), they do it all in slow motion. They are having a slow motion fight (fight choreography by Amanda Fink) and the facial expressions that they had were so hilarious. They were running past us in the aisle and seeing the expression up close was even funnier. There was flailing on the ground, more flailing on the ground, then getting up and running away. I thought it was hilarious. There was also this impromptu interpretive dance (choreography by Kasey Alfonso) with Mary and Charlotte where they were talking about how it feels to be a woman. It was funny because just out of nowhere--there have not been any interpretive dances to this point--they just start making shapes with their bodies. Mary started the dance by pushing her scarf around while looking very disappointed and depressed. It was so random and they talked while they were dancing in a pretentious way, like they were high schoolers putting on a show they thought would change the world but was actually people just talking about problems that everybody already knew were problems. I thought it was hilarious. It was saying some true things, but, again, we already knew being a woman can be crappy.

There was also a lot of verbal comedy. All the things that happen in this plot are basically a combination of things that happen in really white plays: a depressed family, a boy searching for his identity, summer homes, a girl who can't find love, forbidden love, incestuous love, bitchy moms, and dead spouses. And to top it all off, a love triangle. And birds. White people love birds. The characters talk in very unforgettable ways. Mary loves talking about how whenever she is sad, she pretends to be a bird. I've never ever seen a play that has anything like that before. (Just kidding.) She's also like a Tennessee Williams character times eight. She continues to say "no" but each no is said with a different purpose and in a different way until, about halfway through, the way she is saying them completely changes to more of a consoling "no." It sounds like she is talking to a baby and then it is going all over the place. And it is just hilarious. Joshua has this speech impediment for only certain words because of his medication. It makes everything he says sound not serious and like he is slowly getting drunk over the course of the word. It makes his character even more hilarious and diffuses the situation, no matter how serious it is, which is really funny.

This family in the show, no matter how hilarious, are also jerks. And they are racist too. Every single time the mother tells a story, she starts out with, "so there is this [insert ethnicity here] who did this thing that really annoyed me." The play draws attention to how racist this is by having people, especially Charlotte (the character you are rooting for), get angry about it. Also the white characters who are saying all this stuff are not actually played by white people, which makes it so that you see the play is not telling you to feel that way. Charlotte has these "strange interludes" where she turns out to the audience and tells them how she is feeling about something. (It reminded me of Groucho Marx making fun of Eugene O'Neill.) I think they have them because even though the audience will know that the things the white characters are saying are bad, to have an actual character in the play talk about it is more powerful and shows you how important it is to listen to a perspective that isn't white.

People who would like this show are people who like hilarious parodies, metaphoric motorcycles, and birds. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It closes this weekend, so everyone should go see it before it closes. It is such a fun play, but it also has a lot of really good points to make. I loved it!

Photos: Juli Del Prete