Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Review of Black Girls (Can) Fly! at the Logan Center for the Arts

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Black Girls (Can) Fly! It was written and directed by Sydney Chatman. I was about a young girl named Bessie Mae (Nana Gyang-Akoto) who is staying with her grandmother (Kona N. Burks) for the summer and is dealing with her anxiety about violence. Her grandma has started this club called the Fly Girls, which is a group of young girls (Christina Ames, Grace Ames, Dana Blanchard, Briohna Booker, and Samaya Sigle) who are inspired by black women aviators and scientists, such as Bessie Coleman and Mae Jemison. They are going to put on a show about the women they are inspired by. Bessie Mae was skeptical at first and thought it might be lame for her to join, but then she sees the importance of all these women in her dreams. I think this is a really educational, talent-filled, and fun show.

I loved everyone's energy in the opening. All the Fly Girls seemed to be having a great time. That is what you want to see in a show with kids, that everybody is enjoying themselves. They had these light up shoes and glow-in-the-dark bracelets, and they had a dance routine in the dark that made use of those elements. They shared these poetic speeches about the situation Bessie Mae was in, anxious about the Fourth of July fireworks and actual gunshots in her grandmother's neighborhood. They are introducing you to the ideas and the characters in the show, but they are not just exposition. You get to see their personalities and their bond with each other.

The relationship between the grandma and Bessie Mae felt very real. They seem to be sort of estranged at the beginning, but you see Bessie Mae being won over by her grandma's ideas about how everyone should know about these women who were underappreciated because of their race and sex. The grandma also wants her granddaughter to hang out with other girls rather than just moping around. I think that, after her grandmother convinces her, they have a more functional relationship, and I would have liked to have seen more of it. The grandma believes in participating in her community and Bessie Mae learns that it can actually be rewarding. There is a scene where the grandma is showing Bessie Mae the Fly Girls' show. They have all these picture frames with pictures of their idols who defied the laws of gravity and defied the laws of the patriarchy. And they give you a little of a backstory on them, which I think was really interesting. It made it so you could have the knowledge that the grandma wanted the world to have. It made you feel like you were participating in the Fly Girls' community.

I saw this show at the Logan Center with several school groups. The school groups really seemed to enjoy it, and so did I. It was a one-day run. They have done it at a festival, so hopefully you will get another chance to see it. I think it could be expanded and have a full run and go far. I think a lot of people would want to come see it. I had some ideas for expanding it. I would have liked to see actors playing the Fly Girls' idols. It would have been cool to see someone like Bessie Coleman talking to Bessie Mae during her dream. It would be good to have more than the dates and facts, although those were useful. I wanted to meet her and see her as an actual character. I think it would have been interesting to have all the characters of the historical women have dialogue and scenes. It would make them even more memorable.

People who would like this show are people who like learning about underappreciated heroines, organizing to kick the patriarchy's butt, and awesome light-up shoes. I think people should definitely go see this show if they get a chance. It has an important and powerful message about black female empowerment, which could make the world a better place.

Photos: Jean Lachat

Friday, March 16, 2018

Review of First Floor Theater's Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea. It was by Nathan Alan Davis and it was directed by Chika Ike. It was about a young man named Dontrell (Jalen Gilbert), who was about to go to college, and he had had a dream about his ancestor on a slave ship and he wanted to go and make contact with his spirit. This has become a pattern in his family; his grandfather had been put in an asylum for trying to steal a fisherman's boat to go and try and connect with his ancestor's spirit in the water. Dontrell's family is not very supportive about his dream because they are worried that what happened with his grandpa will happen with him. So he tries to learn to swim, but almost drowns and gets rescued by a lifeguard, Erika (Kayla Raelle Holder), who agrees to help him learn how to swim. They form a very deep connection. It is about being connected with your ancestry, family, and hope for the future. I think this is a really poetic and beautiful show. It had really beautiful visual aspects and great acting.

I really liked the concept of the show. I think it is a really cool melding of poetry and realism. When you walk in, there are symbols all over the wall (scenic design by Eleanor Kahn), different levels, a doorway, and they put up sails halfway through the show. And the light (design by Rachel Levy) was blue and everything seemed fluid. So you have a feeling that the show will be a hero's journey at sea, and at first it is really stylized. There is a lot of movement (choreographed by Breon Arzell) and it is really beautiful. But then it is not a ship in the middle of nowhere or a island or any of the things you think the story you are expecting would entail. It is somebody waking up from a dream and recording their thoughts on a tape recorder, then his sister coming in and telling him to come down for breakfast. It is just a very normal thing. There is also a lot of poetry and realism in the romantic relationship between Dontrell and Erika. They have this poetic relationship where they immediately trust each other and say a lot of really big things in the first day, but they also seem like real people falling in love. They are feeling things that make sense for people falling in love, but it seems to be sped up. I think the writer is using poetry to show real things, real problems, and real stages in life. Instead of searching for his ancestry online or with a DNA test, Dontrell has to actually get a girlfriend, get a boat, and go on a journey to find where he comes from.

There is a scene where Dontrell's Mom (Shariba Rivers) is trying to throw a fake party for Dontrell so he will come home and she can confront him about the scuba gear that she found. Then everything gets out of hand, but in the midst of the craziness, you get to learn a lot about the characters. A lot of really true things are said. Dontrell's mom yells at him because she is scared he is going to get hurt if he goes scuba diving, but more she is afraid that he will not be able to fulfill his potential. For the party Danielle (Destinty Strothers), Dontrell's sister, has made a mermaid cake. And I was trying to think about what that meant. I think that it might be that Dontrell can't just be where he is at the moment. He is half going to college and half going to sea. He is half and half, like a mermaid. Everyone wants a piece of the cake, even before Dontrell arrives. The Dad (Brian Nelson, Jr.) just walks in and despite Danielle's best efforts, takes a piece of cake. It shows that he is in his own little world a lot of the time. He doesn't seem to always pay attention to the things around him. He doesn't seem to look people in the eye; he even argues with his wife from the other room instead of talking to her face to face. The only time he really seems to engage with someone is when he talks to Dontrell about how they call women "bitches," but they are just strong women and men are too scared to admit it. I think that was a really true speech and it was really cool to see how the Dad altered between when he really didn't care about something to when he was talking about something he believed in.

I loved the humor in this play. I loved the moment when Dontrell goes to visit his cousin Shea (Brianna Buckley) where she works at the aquarium and he has this little monologue to the clown fish and calls him Nemo and talks about how cool Nemo's dad is and about how he is going to be found real soon because there are a lot of people out there looking for them. It is really sweet, but sort of weirds out his cousin when she sees him talking to a fish. She had the best facial expressions. I also really loved the handshake between Dontrell and his friend Robby (Jerome Beck). It was long, complicated, and ridiculous, and they seemed to be having a great time together. The audience literally applauded when it was finished. It shows you how long they've known each other, how close they are, and how much time they've spent together. There is also a really sweet but humorous moment where Erika and Dontrell's mother are praying together and Erika doesn't really know what to do. She doesn't know if she is supposed to pray out loud, so it takes her a long time to get started. And then the mother says that she herself is already praying silently, and it is so awkward that it is funny, but they end up having a really great connection.

People who would like this show are people who like poetic solutions to real problems, mermaid cake, and awkward prayers. I think that people should definitely, definitely go see this show. It is a really fascinating and beautiful story. I loved it.

Photos: Evan Hanover

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Review of Mary Stuart at Chicago Shakespeare

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Mary Stuart. It was a new version of Friedrich Schiller's play by Peter Oswald. It was directed by Jenn Thompson. It was about Mary (K. K. Moggie), Queen of Scots, and she had been imprisoned by Queen Elizabeth (Kellie Overbey) for wanting to take the crown. Mary is trying to convince Elizabeth to set her free. But Queen Elizabeth seems to like having power and uses it to manipulate the people around her. It is about power, freedom, and loyalty. I think this is a really compelling and intriguing show. I think they use a lot of powerful visual metaphors and it has incredibly strong leads.

The set, by Andromache Chalfant, looked a lot like a prison. It looked like stone panels held together with metal bolts. The panels would move back and forth for scene changes. I talked to my friend Courtney afterwards, and she said that the set reminded her of the work of the architect Louis Kahn. I looked him up, and the pictures of the Salk Institute look a lot like the set. It has the stone walls and a strip of water down the middle. It is very simple, but simply beautiful. The set could also be interpreted as a castle, since Mary Stuart is imprisoned in a castle. And the set also functions as the inside of Elizabeth's castle, which can be a metaphor for having responsibility for the entire country on your shoulders being a kind of prison. It's really interesting how much meaning you can get from a set that seems so simple. The lighting (by Greg Hofmann and Philip Rosenberg) at the end of the play worked with the set and it made me really emotional when the light shone through a cross made by the set. It made me think about how at the end, Mary was even more free than she had been before she was imprisoned because she doesn't have to deal with the troubles of being a queen. It reminded you that Elizabeth and Mary's religious beliefs weren't so different because they are both on stage with that cross made by light shining through the castle/prison. I think it was a really breathtaking visual metaphor.

The performances of both Mary and Elizabeth were phenomenal. They had this chemistry on stage, not a romantic chemistry but a hatred chemistry, that was so realistic and perfect. You could see that both characters had sympathy for each other, but not much; you would see these little glimmers of understanding. There was a speech that Mary Stewart had in a patch of water that she directed at Elizabeth and she was just going off on her and she just had all this passion in every word that she would say. Elizabeth just stood there, as if she were not fazed at all; she was so cold. And Mary realized she needed to make herself more of a physical threat and she just let out all of the anger she had built up when she was imprisoned. She starts splashing around and yelling; she is showing her emotions that are internal externally to intimidate Elizabeth. It is heroic in a way because she is fighting for her freedom and the freedom of her closest companions Melvil (Patrick Clear) and Hanna (Barbara Robertson). Elizabeth had some very great deceptive scenes. She is deceiving the people around her, but when they leave the room, you see her alone for just a moment with what she has done. You get to see the subtle moment of her pushing away the thought that what she has done isn't right. You have some sympathy with her, even though she does some terrible things and makes some bad mistakes, because you see that moment.

Loyalty is a very prominent concept in this show. Everyone is being loyal and disloyal to someone at all times basically. Some of the characters are romantically two-timing the queens, like Robert Dudley (Tim Decker) and Mortimer (Andrew Chown). Mortimer is tricking Elizabeth into thinking he can be trusted, but his real goal is to free Mary and get her to love him. But his desire for that gets perverted and nonconsensual. He essentially tries to rape her in one scene, and it was disturbing because the audience was laughing at it. I can understand if people were uncomfortable. And I see that the disconnect between him exclaiming how much he loved her and was going to try to save her and her trying to get away might be funny if he wasn't actually trying to rape her. Dudley is looking out for his own safety and trying to figure out if his own safety is worth more than his love for Mary. I'm not completely sure if he loves Elizabeth in the same way he loves Mary, but he is more loyal to Elizabeth--which might just be because he is scared of her. But he loves himself more than either of them.

People who would like this show are people who like loyalty triangles, glowing crosses, and splashing and yelling to get your point across. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It is very politically intriguing and shows you a lot of different perspectives. I really liked it.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Review of Anna Karenina at Lifeline Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Anna Karenina. It was adapted by Jessica Wright Buha from the novel by Leo Tolstoy, and it was directed by Amanda Link. It was about a woman named Anna (Ilse Zacharias) who was married to a boring man, Karenin (Michael Reyes). She wanted more excitement in her life, which now revolves around her child, Seryohza (Michelle Stine). She goes on a trip to help her sister-in law Dolly (Aneisa Hicks) and brother Stiva (Dan Cobbler) reconcile. She meets Count Vronsky (Eric Gerard), who is exactly what she wants: exciting and infatuated with her. Vronsky has a previous arrangement though, with Kitty (Brandi Lee), and she thinks he is going to ask her to marry him. So she's turned down the proposal of Levin (Dan Granata), who is crushed. It is about difficult decisions, trying to find happiness, and regret. I thought this show had an intriguing story that was told in a fascinating way.

They used movement (designed by Kasey Foster) and sound to indicate that something significant was happening in Anna's life. In the early stages, someone is hit by a train, and Anna witnesses it. This is a very significant thing in her life because she has never experienced anything like it before. The ensemble would make swishing movements with their bodies and exhale to recreate the sound of what a train makes when it stops. It makes you feel like time is slowing. This also happens when she meets Vronsky. There the sounds could be people noticing them falling in love, in like gasps, or her own breaths. She thinks a relationship with him would be romantic and breathtaking, but when they first met I thought it would be more dangerous because they were making the same sort of movements they had when the man was hit by a train. I thought that it was interesting how they used the movement and sounds as a sort of foreshadowing. There are other stylized elements in the show. The set (designed by Joanna Iwanicka) had colorful silhouettes of women's profiles that were in the background. They also used different elements of the set to be something different than what they appeared. Like the stairs were used as a buggy and a bed. I think all these stylistic moments were effective for drawing your attention to the moments and making you think about their significance.

Levin and Kitty were my favorite characters because they seemed to be the most logical characters. The reason they loved each other wasn't only because of passion or duty; it was because they saw they could be good together. Since this is based on a novel, of course the relationship had its rocky points, but you could tell they both wanted to work it out. They were a very responsible couple for a novel! Levin went a little crazy, but they tried to get through it. A lot of the time in plays the side couple is not very interesting, but in this play you do get to follow their story apart from that of the main characters. You get to see their troubles, and you are rooting for them the whole way through their relationship. They are pretty adorable. There is one line that Kitty has where she says, "I might be a little bit pregnant." And they are both so happy. Kitty is so charming and adorable that it hurts. And Levin is just so philosophical and lovable. They are kind of a mismatched couple, but it works. I thought the performances were really great; they made me understand why these people should be together even if they were both kind of insane.

I feel like Anna Karenina is sort of an antiheroine. In fact, she goes a little beyond that. There are not many redeemable qualities for her. She abandons her child, is pretty rude to her husband who only wants to do well, and she ends up dismissing Vronsky's worries about them getting married and her getting a divorce. I understand that she is a victim of a sexist society because when she leaves her husband it is considered unacceptable. (Her brother has cheated on his wife, but it doesn't really seem to affect his life outside of his relationship with his wife.) One way she goes beyond being an antiheroine is that she is abandoning her child. She keeps talking about how much she loves him, but it doesn't seem to influence her decision that much. It is hard to like her when she talks about how much she loves people but then doesn't really show it. I do think that she should be able to follow her desires, but I think she should think more about the people around her before immediately indulging in what she wants.

People who would like this show are people who like stylized movement, antiheroines, and adorably mismatched couples who are a little bit pregnant. I think this show sees the story of Anna Karenina in a new and fascinating way. I liked it.

Photos: Suzanne Plunkett

Monday, March 5, 2018

Review of The Wolves at Goodman Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Wolves. It was by Sarah DeLappe and it was directed by Vanessa Stalling. It was about a all-girls teen soccer team and there was a new girl on the team, #46 (Erin O'Shea), who is trying to fit in. All of these girls have been in the exact same dynamic with the exact same girls for a really long time and it seems like that is getting overthrown, but maybe #46 has something the team needs. The new girl isn't the team's only problem. They are also trying to get through their own personal problems with gossip, anxiety, grief, depression, eating disorders, sexuality, identity, and the consequences of teen drama. I think this is a really compelling show that had very realistic character dynamics; the relationships were clear and they talked about things that actual girls talk about. It was amazingly acted and immersed you in the story.

This show has a lot of really close bonds between characters. Players #7(Natalie Joyce) and #14 (Aurora Real De Asua) had been very close for a very long time. They did everything together, but they didn't really think about other people in the group as people who had feelings. It literally takes a physical injury for #7 to start acknowledging other people. They would talk back to the captain, #25 (Isa Arciniegas). They had a coach, but he wasn't very interested and was always hungover, so #25 seems to really be in charge. They also pick on #46 for even existing and talking. There were definitely problems in their relationship; whenever they hung out with #7's boyfriend, #7 would try to get #14 to hook up with some rando so they could get her out of the way. Player #25 is one of the only people who fully accepts #46 and takes her aside and helps her to be able to play the position that she wants and deal with the people on the team. Player #25 is the voice of reason in this field full of gossip and hormones; she just wants to make them all a team. There were three girls #8 (Cydney Moody), #11 (Sarah Price), and #13 (Mary Tilden), and they were all sort of nerds. They would acknowledge the references to Middle Earth, which was the most adorable thing in the world. And they would talk about articles they read, even if they didn't fully understand them. Like #13 pronounced Khmer Rouge incorrectly. They were potential outsiders who were insiders with each other.

Not everyone had their friend group. Player #25 was too mature to be in any group; she was the leader and couldn't get distracted. But we find out that she has found someone not on the team who understands her and helps her and I ship them. Player #2 (Taylor Blim) is a good girl. She doesn't want to hurt anyone's feelings, but she ends up doing it more than she realizes. She tries to fit in to all these different groups, but none of them fully accept her. Her mother is overprotective and makes her wear protective headgear because she keeps hurting herself, but I have theories of other reasons that might be happening. The goalie, #00 (Angela Alise), always got nauseous before games and is anxious and anti-social and doesn't talk to anyone much. But she is actually one of the most talented ones on the team. Even though not everyone is always hanging out together, they are still a team. They take this picture with orange slices in their mouths and they are waiting for #46 to get in the picture. And when she turns around, she just seems so distraught to have seen them with orange peels in their mouth. I thought that was adorable. Them taking this picture is a very nice moment, where you get to see all of them as a team and getting along even though they might not share the same opinions.

I thought this play did a great job of recreating how a lot of teen relationships actually are. It is a very true teen thing that people can love each other and still say dumb things to each other and talk behind each others' backs. This can ruin a friendship even if people didn't realize what they were doing when they actually were doing it. There are a lot of moments of social tension felt by the characters in this play. Like how #2 is talking about how #46 lives in a yogurt, when she doesn't know #46 is listening. But #46 actually lived in a yurt, and #2 is so embarrassed about being overheard and getting the name of where #46 lives wrong. Player #46 is embarrassed because she lives in a yurt, but she also owns it because she basically schools #2 about what a yurt is. Another moment of tension was when the girls were stretching and talking about how their favorite coach was so much better than their coach right now, but he had to go take care of his mom because she had cancer. And they are all yelling at #8 about how she seems to want his mother to die, which is not true...and they forgot that her mother had cancer. She says nothing is wrong, while she does everything, like drinking water, very angrily. This is something I've noticed my friends do when they are angry or think they've been accused unfairly. I thought it was interesting in the final scene how they made the audience feel the same tension that the characters would feel. Basically what happened was that you knew someone was dead, but you did not know who. And each living character would come on stage, one by one, between bits of dialogue. And as each person came in, you would be relieved that that person wasn't dead. Once the last person came in, you were crushed. This is how actual teenager social situations can feel. It feels like everything is riding on this, no matter how small the thing is. It feels like life or death, even when it isn't. But this actually is.

People who would like this show are people who like orange peel pictures, yogurt yurts, and angry water drinking. I think that people should definitely definitely go see this show. It is powerful and empowering and reminds you of how things felt when you were a teenager.

Photos: Liz Lauren

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Review of Saltbox Theatre Collective's 4.48 Psychosis

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called 4.48 Psychosis. It was by Sarah Kane and it was directed by Brian Fruits. It was about depressed people talking about their insecurities and their thoughts of suicide. The script of this play has no stage directions or assigned dialogue or specified characters, so every production is different. The first production only had three people, and this has an ensemble of 12 people (Alli Braun, Dane Van Brocklin, Carly Crawford, Lauren Demerath, Gavin Farrow, Kevin Garrett, Brian Bengston, Alison Call, Anne Ogden, Lauren Partch, Bryce Saxon, and Ryan Smetana). It reminded me a lot of performance art because of the artificial way that they moved, the way they would often be in their own universe and then start to notice each other, and they also often spoke directly to the audience. I feel like this is a valid way to do this show, but I would have been more interested in seeing them try to create 3 or 4 consistent characters throughout the play, rather than many actors being assigned speeches almost at what felt like random.

I feel like this piece had a lot of interesting images. At the beginning, each person was entering one by one. And they were doing a repetitive movement at different tempos. And then the last person walked in, and everyone started turning towards her. And she went to the wall and started doing the same repetitive movement that most of them had been doing before, but on the wall. And then they all started making a motion like they were using a paintbrush. One of my favorites images was when, at the end of the play, they actually painted on the wall. They all dipped in their paint brushes, and at first it seemed like they were just making random shapes. But then it started to turn into letters that read "Please open the curtains." It was really moving to see all these people working together to make one big thing at the beginning and end of the play. For a lot of the rest of the play, they were not working together. They might help lift someone, or engage with someone, but these were the times they were all doing an equal thing together, which was really cool visually and emotionally. There had been these tiny little curtains at the bottom of the wall, which I though was there for no reason, but it turned out they had a purpose to make a statement at the end.

I think that more consistent and defined characters would have helped make everything a little bit more understandable. It is different when you have complex characters that you get to know and understand how and why they are depressed. If you don't know someone and they just come up and start yelling about their depression and how much they hate their genitals, it is harder to feel compassion for them. I'm not saying that depression has to have a cause. A lot of depressed people feel depressed because they just are. They don't have a reason for it; they just are. But it still helps to know the context of their lives and not have their depression reduced to just statements. I know that suicide and depression are very serious topics, and the ensemble treated these statements respectfully. The only way it feels right to feel about this is to feel bad. I wasn't expecting it to be uplifting, but I was expecting more levels in the way I responded. I expected it to be heartbreaking, but not relentlessly depressing. That might be what the playwright was going for, but that isn't what I look for in theater.

People who would like this show are people who like performance art, ensemble pieces, and painted messages. I think there were some really beautiful moments in the show and it was performed with a lot of passion.

Photos: Corwyn Cullum

Friday, March 2, 2018

Review of Haven Theatre's Fear and Misery in the Third Reich

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Fear and Misery in the Third Reich. It was by Bertolt Brecht, translated by Eric Bentley, and directed by Josh Sobel. It was stories about people in Germany right before World War II, showing snippets of their lives. It was not called Happiness and Sunshine in the Third Reich, so it was depressing and heartbreaking, but it was beautifully acted and told some important stories in a compelling way. It is about fear, humanity, and resistance. I think it is really educational in an engaging way. All the stories are based in truth, and it shows you how important it is not to let fear take over because people use fear to get the destructive power that they want.

A really haunting and compelling scene was one where a husband (Niko Kourtis) and wife (Alexis Randolph) begin to fear that their son (Joe Bianco), who was a part of the Hitler Youth, was going to tell the group what his parents were saying. It was really eerie and depressing how scared they were of their own son. They had all these precautions, like a picture of Hitler, in their house to show that they were loyal. It is so heartbreaking how they are running around frantically imagining how their son could rat them out. There is a little bit of dark humor in this scene because of how many places they try before they find the perfect place for the Hitler picture. Then, after they have been running around like chickens with their heads cut off, their son shows up with some chocolate because he has just been to the candy store, not to the Hitler Youth. But you don't actually know if he is telling the truth or not, which keeps the tension in the air. I think that this scene captures the fear and paranoia of many people living in the Third Reich.

One of my favorite scenes was when the Jewish wife (Alys Dickerson) of a German doctor (Bianco) was packing up and calling people on the phone to say she was leaving town. And she had these moments when she would pick up the phone and become a whole new person. She was so falsely cheery and high-pitched when she was talking to some of the people; but there was one person, who she was asking to take care of her husband, who she sounded more genuine with. The difference between these two types of phone calls was so drastic, it showed you how she wasn't this comfortable with everyone. And the contrast was so eerie because it really shows how in this time of the demonization of Jewish people in Germany, she had to be so careful about what she said and how she acted in front of people. There is a lot of silence in this scene, which I think is very effective; it shows her thought process. I think the actor in this scene did a great job of keeping the silence interesting by showing the way she felt throughout the scene. She buried her head in the suitcase, and it was such a moving moment because she was taking comfort in a reminder of her problems because she had nothing else to give her comfort. Before her husband comes home, she rehearses what she is going to say to him and also imagines his responses. When he comes home, he does a lot of the things she was scared he would do, like giving her her fur coat because he knows she is not coming back for a very long time, even though he is saying he'll see her soon. That is insanely heartbreaking to me.

The interviews of the factory workers seemed so manufactured, like everyone was struggling to give the right answers. They all seem to be afraid of the consequences of saying the wrong thing, which could be anything from losing their jobs to being sent to a camp. One worker (Elizabeth Dowling) was stuttering and clearly terrified and was checking to see if everyone thought she was saying the right thing. But this play shows you how that fear can happen anywhere, not just when you are being interviewed on the radio. There is a scene near the beginning of the play where a German officer (Siddhartha Rajan) is having a beer with his sweetheart (Dickerson) and explaining to another person (Jessica Dean Turner)--who has come to visit her sibling, the cook (Kyla Norton)--how he marks people with white chalk if he thinks they are "troublemakers." The sweetheart and the cook are trying to play it off like it is normal, but it is disturbing because the officer is being so aggressive and weird with the cook's sister. And at the end he has managed to mark the sibling without anyone noticing, which is a terrifying ending. And the cook and sweetheart tell the sibling she needs to go because she might actually be marked. They can't tell if the officer is serious or not. Another scene shows that this fear of saying the wrong thing can even happen to you if you are judge (Amanda de la Guardia). When the judge is asked to preside at a trial for a man who runs a store and was beaten up by SS officers, he keeps trying to find out from his wife (Randolph), his secretary (Dickerson), a lawyer (Rajan), and the investigator of the case (Simon Hedger), who is his closest ally, what is the safest thing to do. But there isn't a way to make everyone happy. He doesn't know what route to go to guarantee his survival.

People who would like this show are people who like uncertain judges, heartbreaking fur coats, and paranoia chocolate. I think that people should definitely go see this show. This is a brutal and fascinating show with some amazing performances. I really liked it.

Photos: Emily Schwartz

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Review of Steppenwolf for Young Adults' The Burn

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Burn. It was by Philip Dawkins and it was directed by Devon de Mayo. It was about a girl in high school named Mercedes (Phoebe González) who had just transferred schools and is being bullied by three girls Tara (Birgundi Baker), Andi (Nina Ganet), and Shauna (Dyllan Rodrigues-Miller). Mercedes is very religious and she has just lost her brother. They are putting on the play of The Crucible at their school, and Mercedes and Shauna both audition of their own accord. The other two bullies don't want to do the play, but they are forced to by their teacher (Erik Hellman). The dynamics in their relationships are already a lot like the ones in The Crucible, but you see more layers and you get closer to the characters of the accusers in this play. It is about bullying, power, and vulnerability. I think this is a fascinating and smart teen drama. I really liked it.

I think that the relationship Mercedes and her teacher Erik have is really sweet and kind of confusing. A lot of people may think that their relationship is based on the John Proctor-Abigail relationship in The Crucible because they read that scene and she is playing Abigail in the play. But their relationship isn't inappropriate. He seems to want to help her and finds her to be a very interesting person. She interacts with people in a very different way than anyone else does. I think he is trying to show her something new--the world of theater--that she hasn't experienced before. And she is trying to show him the way to heaven. They have ways of identifying with each other, but they have different things they want to teach other people. He wants to protect her because she has had such a hard time, but he also relates to her. We don't know a lot of his story, but we know that his family was very religious and now he isn't as religious anymore. Their relationship is not romantic, like the John Proctor-Abigail relationship, but it is still meaningful. It goes beyond what you expect from this relationship, but not in an inappropriate way.

There is not a single person in this play who hasn't made a bad decision, but you still have sympathy for them. Even the people who are bullying Mercedes have redeeming qualities. A lot of people think that Tara is an idiot because she doesn't try at school, but she actually understands a lot more things than they think. People think they can slip past her radar more than they actually can. She also has a pretty crappy family life and is living with her father and stepmother and her mother is neglectful and depressed it seems. Her mother might be literally insane, but Tara uses literally incorrectly a lot of times, so I'm not exactly sure. She is very clever and she is strong, but she just uses her strength for the wrong things and overreacts. Andi is in love with Tara and she wants to be the person that people think she should be. She likes basketball and sports, but she is acting like she comes from a disadvantaged background when she actually doesn't. But she is also just lovestruck and doesn't know what to do to make this person like her, so that makes me feel sorry for her. Shauna, even though she makes fun of Mercedes at first, when she actually has an interaction with Mercedes, she becomes friends with her. She is hiding a lot of parts of her personality from Tara and Andi; she actually likes to act and play video games. Once she figures out that when you are bullying someone online and think they don't even know about it, they are still an actual person with feelings and don't deserve to be treated otherwise, she stops bullying her and tells Tara and Andi that Mercedes is actually a really nice person.

The people who seem like the heroes also make bad decisions. Erik is a recovering addict and he doesn't always handle his emotions in a completely healthy way. When he is provoked, a switch goes off and he becomes an angrier person, even if just for a second. But he also wants to help his students and make them love theater and for reading plays not to seem like a chore. He wants it to be fun. He just wants the kids that he teaches to love what he loves. He wants to get better; he had problems and he is trying to fix them. It is just hard. Mercedes is a very religious person and she wants to be worthy of things. She has a very high standard for herself, but when people push her, she turns into to the people who are bullying her. I understand why she does it. She sees these people who have power because they are mean to other people, and she says, "Oh, I know how to get them back by doing the same thing, only doubling it." That just makes it so she is the bully and they are the victims; it makes her the villain of her own story, even if they did the bad thing first. There is no one on this planet who isn't a little messed up by their circumstances. But just because something bad has happened to you, doesn't mean that you should take it out on other people. Everyone has an excuse for what they do, but that doesn't make what they do valid.

People who would like this show are people who like meaningful teacher-student relationships, sympathetic mean girls, and using literally not in a literal way. I think that people should go see this show. I think it is a really compelling story with complicated characters. It uses The Crucible in a relatable way and modernizes it and shows you things about it you might not have thought of before. I loved it.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Monday, February 26, 2018

Review of Bunny Bunny: Gilda Radner, A Sort of Love Story at Mercury Theater

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Bunny Bunny: Gilda Radner, A Sort of Love Story. It was by Alan Zweibel and it was directed by Warner Crocker. It was about a man named Alan Zweibel (Jackson Evans) who is starting a job as a writer on Saturday Night Live and he meets Gilda Radner (Dana Tretta), who is also new to SNL. They are both kind of terrified so they hide behind a potted tree and they start talking and become lifelong friends. They go through some really hard times, and the relationship changes a lot, but they remain friends and partners in life until the end. It is about fame, complicated relationships, and fulfillment. I think this is a really bittersweet story that was wonderfully acted.

Gilda had a song called "Let's Talk Dirty to the Animals," which was basically swearing at a bunch of animals. It was hilarious. It was an actual song that Gilda sang, and it was a spot-on impression from the performer. It is one of the times you get to see the contrast between what she is like as a performer and what she is like with someone she trusts, like Zweibel. You see that she seems more confident than she actually feels. I think people assume that if someone is funny, they must be confident, but a lot of times people use humor to cover up their insecurities. This play shows her strengths and her insecurities and doesn't just portray her as an amazing hilarious person, even though that is what she is. But she is more that just that; she a real person with real problems and feelings. You get to see her right before she goes on stage a few times, and that is interesting because you see how much of a switch there is. She could be dreading and terrified to go on stage, but when she gets out there, she just lights up.

There is a scene where Gilda and Zweibel go to a basketball game together and he goes to get popcorn and when he come back, she has gone to sit on the bench with the players. These were some of Zweibel's idols, that he could have gotten to meet, but because Gilda didn't consult him about going down to the bench, he didn't get to meet them. She could have been more considerate, but it was also unfair to ask her to give up an opportunity. There is another scene where Zweibel goes to one of Gilda's fancy famous people parties, and the bouncer (Jason Grimm, who plays Everyone Else) stops him and says that he is not on the list. He had to pretend to be Hervé Villechaize, which is kind of ridiculous because Zweibel was very tall. Gilda has all of these famous people there and you can see that Zweibel feels out of place. Even though Zweibel the writer of play, doesn't portray Gilda negatively, you can see he still seems to resent a little the way he thought she was neglecting him for her fame.

This play showcases a relationship that at one point was a romantic relationship that turns into a friendship and stays like that for the better. Near the end of the play they are talking about why they didn't get married and they said that they "just forgot." That is a really cute and bittersweet line, but I think there are a lot of real reasons. They have very different ways of living their lives. What Gilda really wants is the love of the public and Zweibel wants the love of one particular person. And it is hard to share the person you love with the rest of the world, and he shows in the basketball and party scenes that he wouldn't be very good at that. He calls Gilda "Gilbert" because she doesn't want him to call her what everyone else calls her. She wants to be different and special to him, because the general public knows her as Gilda and doesn't really treat her like a person. She wants to be treated like a person by the people she trusts and loves. I think that it is good that even after they aren't in a romantic relationship anymore he continues to call her Gilbert because he still is a very important part of her life. That is one of the most beautiful things about their relationship: how they continue to be vital parts of each others lives. This entire story is like a reverse romantic comedy. Instead of finding out that the person you should have been with was right there all along, they find out that the person they start out with, they were meant to be just friends with all along. They both find "Mr. and Ms. Right" while still having an important relationship with each other, which is what makes this play so beautiful to me.

People who would like this show are people who like reverse romantic comedies, fancy famous people parties, and swearing at animals. I think that people should go see this show. It is a heartwarming and heartbreaking story, and I think it is acted very well.

Photos: Brett A. Beiner

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Review of You Got Older at Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called You Got Older. It was by Clare Barron and it was directed by Jonathan Berry. It was about a woman named Mae (Caroline Neff) who had moved back home with her Dad (Francis Guinan), who has cancer, after she lost her job and broke up with her boyfriend. It is about family, attempts at human connection, and happiness through hurt. I thought that this was really moving, truthfully awkward, and strangely hilarious. I think that is a perfect combination for a show.

One of my favorite scenes was at the hospital with the family. Everyone is at the hospital and they are waiting for their dad to wake up. Each sibling plays a very specific role in the family. Hannah (Audrey Francis) is pretty put-together and is trying to take care of everyone there. Jenny (Emjoy Gavino) is very positive. She is trying to make the best out of everything and offering little ways to cope with their fear of losing their dad. Matthew (David Lind) seems uncomfortable but he uses comedy that makes everyone else uncomfortable to make them feel better. The family is all very open with each other--even when they are talking about inappropriate or kind of gross things. It's not like they are trying to not be themselves when they are together. They are so open with each other to the point that it is hilarious. They talked about this curse that when you knit a sweater for someone you haven't been with very long, something terrible will happen. Then Hannah started talking about her ex-boyfriend and how he evidently had died, but Hannah didn't tell anyone about it. It was funny in a dark and weird way that you feel bad about laughing. They are also merciless about making fun of each other. Like Hannah brings avocados to the hospital and no one hesitates to call her out on how ridiculous that is. It is not mean or cruel, they are all just laughing together. It seems like a family you would want to be a part of, even though they don't have everything figured out.

Mae has two "love interests." One of them is a Cowboy (Gabriel Ruiz). He is not real; he is her sexual fantasy of the most exciting guy she could be with. And there is Mac (Glenn Davis) who lives in her hometown and knew her sister from when they were little. He is the more realistic version of what she wants in a man: he is sweet and kind and they share this strangeness. They don't get uncomfortable when they are talking about the unusual things they find attractive and like to do. Mac cares about people but sometimes makes mistakes; he is just human. The cowboy doesn't have any emotion, but sometimes that is what she seems to want: someone who doesn't have any baggage and is just there to be her fantasy. Her real life interrupts her fantasies (with Mac and the Cowboy) and she has to snap back into the real world. I think Mac actually exists, but he is trying to become her fantasy by sneaking into her room, like she told him she used to fantasize about. But it doesn't work out the way he had planned or she imagined because he is an actual person. There is a huge difference between real people and fantasies because real people have feelings and baggage and they want stuff too.

One of the things you notice about the characters is that they are trying to be happy through a lot of pain. They each of them have moments of happiness but you can see how much they are actually hurt. There is a scene where Mae was sitting down at the table with her father. They are talking and getting ready to leave for his treatment. And he plays her a song that he thinks represents his experience with having cancer, and seems proud that he has found this song. They are just listening together and they seem to be happy but you can see how much Mae is hurting. Even though the song is more upbeat and saying everything could be okay, you can see how Mae is thinking how everything might not be okay. And her dad sees how Mae is feeling, but Mae is oblivious that he understand her at all. It is so sad that near the end of his life is the time she actually realizes that somebody actually understands her.

People who would like this show are people who like moving father-daughter relationships, fantasy cowboys, and killer sweaters. I think people should definitely definitely go see this show. It is such an important story that needs to be told about a woman's desires, family, and the awkwardness of being a person. It has beautiful performances and heartbreaking and hilarious dialogue. I loved it.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Review of Otherworld Theatre's Moon, Prism, Power! A Sailor Moon Musical

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Moon, Prism, Power! A Sailor Moon Musical. It was adapted and directed by Tiffany Keane Schaefer and the music was by Whirlwynd. It was a parody of the tv show Sailor Moon, which is about a high schooler named Serena, who is pretty clumsy and boy-obsessed, who one day meets a cat, Luna (Carrie Campana), who reveals to her that she has superpowers that turn her into Sailor Moon (Dani Mohrbach). And she has to fight evil from the Negaverse so they don't take energy from everyone. To defeat the Negaverse and its ruler, Queen Beryl (Grace DeSant), Sailor Moon has to find all the other Sailor Scouts: Sailor Venus (Mary-Kate Arnold), Sailor Mars (Cecily Campbell), Sailor Mercury (Katy Jenkins), and Sailor Jupiter (Magdalen Kay). She goes on a mission with her cat to find them. She meets a handsome stranger, Tuxedo Mask (Gaby Fernandez), who adopts many disguises. This show is for a very specific type of person: a person who could watch hours and hours of Sailor Moon and be content to see a live action version of the story-arc episodes of the show with some songs and jokes added.

I think Tuxedo Mask is absolutely hilarious. He throws roses at people and knocks them out. He does this thing in disguise as Darien where whenever he walks into the room he takes off his sunglasses and they play this screaming rock star sound effect. Everyone in the audience was cracking up because Darien is practically winking at them and saying "I'm Tuxedo Mask," but no one on stage sees it even though it is obvious. There is a love triangle where Darien and Sailor Mars bond over how they make fun of Sailor Moon, but Darien is actually Tuxedo Mask who is in love with Sailor Moon. It is kind of a weird way to show the bond between Sailor Moon and Sailor Mars by having them have the same boyfriend just in different disguises. One of them has to give him up eventually, which shows us that even though they seem like sworn enemies, they actually do care about each other.

I feel like the villains--Queen Beryl, Zoicite (Arnold), Kunzite (Jacob Bates), and Nephrite (James Martineau)--in this show are the most interesting characters because they have the most interesting backstories and motivations for everything. The actors did a good job showing that the character was serious about what they were saying even if the actor might be making fun of what the character is doing. Queen Beryl was the most badass character, even though she mostly just sends people out to do her dirty work, because she has a motivation: to collect all the energy from everyone. And also when she doesn't like what someone does, she will kill them. She is pretty over the top, but she knows what she wants and is going to get it. Sailor Moon frequently complains about how hard it is being a Sailor Scout and how she doesn't want to do it anymore, and then Luna will tell her she has to do it. But with Queen Beryl, she wants that energy; she is her own self-motivator. I think it is more fun to watch because it is someone taking control. There is also a villainous couple, Zoicite and Kunzite, who are very over exaggerated from the original show but in a hilarious way that draws attention to every little hint they drop in the tv show about their relationship. And they make each hint very blatant, and there are innuendos galore. Every time both of them walk into a room together, they are very supportive in a strange and sexual way that is very hilarious.

I did have some problems with this show. I feel like since this was a parody, it didn't have to be three hours long. I think everyone who would be interested in coming to see this show already knows basically what is going to happen. So you don't have to explain every episode where a Sailor Scout is introduced. You could condense that so that each character didn't have a dedicated episode, and things could get started more quickly. Of course in the tv show they didn't condense these episodes, but they didn't expect you to be watching it all in one sitting. In the tv show, all the Sailor Scouts say "Whatever Celestial Object They Are, Power!" and transform. But of course they can't just twirl around and magically have a different outfit on onstage. So what they do instead is they go backstage and change while music is playing. That takes a little while, so sometimes you felt like you were looking at a blank stage for a really long time. I feel like if they had found a way to wear the sailor costume under another costume that was easy to slip off while onstage, it would have seemed more like a transformation. If they had to change offstage, it would have been cool if they had projected a shadow of the spinning Scout on the curtain so it seemed like they were doing the amazing transformation that they do in the tv show. I think shows can be very long but still enjoyable. But when it comes to something that has a pretty limited plot and a lot of repetition, getting it more fast-paced is vital.

People who would like this show are people who like taking energy for the Negaverse, sailor love triangles, and surprisingly painful roses. This show had a very short run, so you'll have to catch a remount if you want to see it. I think this show has some funny moments and performances and seems like a lot of fun for very dedicated Sailor Moon fans.

Photos: Otherworld Theatre

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Review of The Antelope Party at Theater Wit

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Antelope Party. It was by Eric John Meyer and it was directed by Jeremy Wechsler. It was about a group of friends who were all big fans of My Little Pony and would make up stories and role play and cosplay as their favorite characters. There is a neighborhood watch who are trying to "clean up" the town and make it more "normal," so that basically only people in the Antelope party are safe. When the Bronies dress up, if they go outside, what they are doing is seen as criminal by the neighborhood watch, even though they aren't doing anything wrong. It is about being who you are no matter what other people say you should be, using a false front, and the dangers of the patriarchy. I thought this show was intriguing, kind of terrifying, and I had never seen anything like it before.

The show starts out with a bunch of friends, Shawn (Will Allan), Ben (Edward Mawere), and Rachel (Annie Munch), doing what they love with basically no problems. They are talking about their feelings and why they are happy to be together. They are admiring each other's cosplays (costumes by Karen Krolak). Shawn is Pinkie Pie, with terrifying anime eyeglasses. Ben is Fluttershy and has rainbow suspenders with wings and is altogether absolutely adorable. Rachel is Twilight Sparkle who had a unicorn horn and sparkly leggings. All they want to do is get on with the game, when Doug (Evan Linder) shows up in his Rainbow Dash sweatshirt and says Maggie (Anu Bhatt) has been kidnapped by the watch. This haven for all of them has been disrupted by this watch, which wants to control their behavior even though it isn't hurting anyone. They have a visitor named Jean (Mary Winn Heider) who thinks the Brony group is a front for a 9/11 conspiracy theorist group. But when she gets there, it is not. But the group is so excited to welcome a new Pegasister that they kind of forget to ask why she's there. Even though it seems like the groups are like the opposite of each other, they actually have lot more in common than you may think. They both make up scenarios and they both are hated by the Antelope party because they are not sticking with what the Antelope party thinks the truth is. Bronies are basically saying everyone should be friends and if everyone is nice, things will be fine. The 9/11 conspiracy theorists are saying, if we find out the truth, everything will be fine. But the Antelope party says if you follow us, everything will be fine. But their attraction is based on people's fear and love of power, whereas the Bronies are trying to be there for one another because basically their motto is "Friendship is Magic," which is the name of the tv show.

When Maggie comes back to the group, she talks about the Antelope party and how she found out that her dad is a leader. She tells Shawn what really happened in the van, and he becomes her confidante and they get together. Maggie and Shawn have a toxic relationship because she is responsible for getting him to join the Antelope party. But it ends up being that he gets more into it (and out of it). Because the group is sexist he starts treating Maggie even worse and he gets all this credit for things that Maggie should be getting credit for. At the beginning it seems like Maggie is manipulating him, but he ends up manipulating her. I think it is really interesting to watch the person who was victimized become the victimizer. The Antelope party changes over the course of the play. When the young people join it, everything becomes heightened. It was never a good idea, but it became like this organization to take over the world with white supremacy and sexism. The same situation happens with Shawn as with the Antelope party. He is telling all these stories about how he is the victim and he is doing the right thing, but he is actually the powerful predator instead of the meek prey.

Something that I was confused by but have a theory about is why they used Bronies as a vehicle to tell this story. This is a play that is not just about Bronies; it is about white male supremacy and fascism. At first, I was confused as to why they used Bronies as the oppressed group instead of a minority who is famously and more severely oppressed. I have never seen a play about Bronies, though I have seen a lot of episodes of the My Little Pony tv show in my youth, and I think it is interesting to use Bronies because they are not a minority you think of immediately. There is no reason to oppress anyone, but people still do it, even though people know it is terrible. And using Bronies in this play as the minority heightens the craziness of the fascism that Antelope party is trying to implement. How can you hate My Little Pony or people who just want to watch and talk about it? They aren't doing anything wrong. It is not weird or sexual or creepy. They just want to be enthusiastic about a tv show. And it reminds you that there is never any reason for anyone to be oppressed.

People who would like this show are people who like not-always-magical friendships, plays about fascist Antelopes, and terrifying anime sunglasses. I think that everypony should go see this show. It is such an absorbing story. Everything--from the fabulous acting, to the set packed full of paraphernalia and references (by Joe Schermoly), to the sparkly costumes, to the strange sense of menace that you feel throughout the play--draws you in. I loved it.

Photos: Charles Osgood

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Review of Short Shakespeare! A Midsummer Night's Dream at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called A Midsummer Night's Dream. It was by William Shakespeare and it was adapted and directed by Jess McLeod. It is about Hermia (Faith Servant) and Lysander (Christoper Sheard) who are forbidden from being together because Hermia is engaged by her father Egeus (Jarrett King) to Demetrius (Andrew L. Saenz). And Helena (Ally Carey), who has been friends with Hermia since they were very young, is in love with Demetrius, but Demetrius wants to be with Hermia. The four lovers go off into the woods where they encounter some mischievous fairies, Puck (Travis Turner) and Oberon (Sean Fortunato), who are trying to get a changeling boy from Titania (Christiana Clark), who is Oberon's queen. Also in the woods, the Mechanicals--Peter Quince (King), Bottom (Adam Wesley Brown), Snout (Richard Costes), Snug (Hannah Starr), Starveling (Drew Shirley), and Flute (Lane Anthony Flores)--are rehearsing to put on a play for Theseus (Fortunato) and Hippolyta (Clark) on their wedding day. This is a play about love, magic, and worlds coexisting and occasionally coming together. I think that this is a really good introduction to Shakespeare for kids and everyone in the audience seemed to be really into it.

I think the set (by Lauren Nigri) was really beautiful. It looked like a Romantic period painting. It had this colorful background and there were ruins and big rocks. The lover's costumes (by Izumi Inaba) looked like something out of a Jane Austen novel. I think they set it in the Romantic period because they were trying to showcase, especially with the fairies being trees, the artificial naturalistic beauty of the Romantic view. The fairies are not really trees, they are pretending to be. They are tricking everyone around them into thinking something is nature that is not. Like someone building an arch and then ruining it so that it looks like nature has taken over even though it hasn't. The lovers are Romantic romantics because they are all obsessed with love and matching up but also with finding beauty in the hardest situations. Like when Lysander and Hermia have to sleep on a bank and they are so enthusiastic about everything that is happening, even though they have to sleep on the "dank and dirty ground."

The scenes with the Mechanicals weren't as wacky in this production as they usually are. Usually they take themselves so seriously, especially Bottom, which is where a lot the humor comes from. But this version of Bottom didn't seem super stoked for the show and he seemed sort of confused about Titania, which I think is a interesting approach to the character. It is more realistic for him not to just go along with a random woman seducing him in the woods and be totally fine with it. But when you make Bottom less ridiculous it means those scenes are a lot less crazy. In "The Most Lamentable Comedy and Most Cruel Death of Pyramus and Thisbe," two of the performers broke out of their shell or hit their stride during the performance. I though that was interesting because you got these characters not just as vessels for comedy. The Lion, played by Snug, started out very mousy and scared but then everyone was encouraging her and Snug got back up on stage and roared her little heart out. It was so adorable and she was just so motivated and transformed. A similar thing happened to Thisbe, played by Flute. Thisbe starts out ridiculous with a very monotone and high-pitched voice but, then Flute turns the scene where Thisbe discovers the dead Pyramus into a moving scene and actually starts acting and doing well with it. Everyone in the theater started applauding like crazy. Even though there were these moments of Snug and Flute discovering their talents and actually showcasing them, that doesn't mean there wasn't any comedy in Pyramus and Thisbe. If there wasn't, it wouldn't have felt right. Snout, who played the Wall, just seemed really excited. It was hilarious how excited he was to play the Wall. Then once he got to the show, he took it so seriously, and was making sure everyone understood he was the Wall, and he was so proud of it. It was adorable and hilarious. The moon, played by Starveling, was also hilarious. He started getting very angry when people would talk over him. And he ripped the dog out of the thorn bush and started speeding through his lines because he was so angry that people were talking over his moment.

There was a choice they made near the end of the play, when the lovers finally get together: that Helena and Demetrius share a moment together alone on stage. I've never seen that happen. I thought it was really nice because this is the relationship that has changed the most, and it shows the difference between real human connection and the purposeful artificialness of some of the rest of the play. They kiss and then they talk about how they are going to talk about their "dream." That line is usually said to the group, but giving it to a scene between just Helena and Demetrius is sweet and effective. Puck has changed the way Demetrius feels about Helena by using a magical natural object (a flower) to unnaturally affect his feelings. It usually doesn't work out well to force someone into a relationship. But I had some hope for this relationship because they show you this moment of actual connection with just one line that shows you that they are actually going to talk to each other. Maybe they aren't just together because a random fairy told them to be.

People who would like this show are people who like Romantic sets, enthusiastic walls, and random fairies hooking you up. I think that people should go see this show. It is a great way for kids to learn about Shakespeare's plays, and it has some great performances in a beautiful space. I liked it.

Photos: Liz Lauren

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Review of Porchlight Music Theatre's Merrily We Roll Along

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Merrily We Roll Along. The book and music were by Stephen Sondheim and the book was by George Furth, based on the original play by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart. It was directed by Michael Weber. Music direction was by Aaron Benham and the musical staging was by Christopher Pazdernik. It is about three old friends Frank (Jim DeSelm), Mary (Neala Barron), and Charley (Matt Crowle), who were all writers who met each other in the '50s. It is about their friendship and how they grow apart (or in this case grow together because the story is told backwards). It is about Frank looking back on his life and realizing all the mistakes that he's made. It is about remorse, unrequited love, and making it in the artistic world. I thought this was a really fun show about not-so-fun topics. I loved the score, and the performances were great.

My favorite song in this show is "Opening Doors." It is basically about all the ups and downs of an artist's life: getting jobs, losing jobs, auditioning, disappointment, and excitement. This is a thing about the artist's life that doesn't get written about a lot in musicals--the experience of the people writing the musicals. You can be passionate about it and still be annoyed with it a lot of the time. I liked how they used typewriters and other unconventional objects, like pencils, as musical instruments. It is also showing how art is work and they are turning this object that is thought of as being used for work into something to make art. Inside this song there is another song called "Who Wants to Live in New York," which Charley and Frank take to a producer, Joe (David Fiorello). He says that it is not catchy enough. It makes you wonder how Sondheim ever got produced, since I think it might be one of his catchiest songs! That is not to say I don't love Sondheim. He is my favorite musical writer, but you can't always tap your feet to the beat. Earlier in the show, but later in their lives, the friends--along with Joe and Beth (Aja Wiltshire), Frank's wife--sing a song called "It's a Hit" after Charley and Frank have just opened their musical, which is the backwards payoff of opening doors. It is basically talking about all the people they had proved wrong. For some reason, in this play, even though you know everything is going to be terrible soon for almost everyone, you still feel happy for everyone when something good happens to them. I think there is a very cool contrast between the songs, but they both make you happy. Even in "Opening Doors" there is a sense of happiness with what they are doing, even if they aren't yet as successful as they want to be.

Mary and Charley sort of get left in the dust once Frank has a hit. Mary has been in love with Frank for a really long time, but has always hid her feelings. In the first scene of the play, everyone sings a song called "That Frank," at a party which is after his movie premiere. You get to see how she feels from the beginning of the show; she loves him but she feels like he is being a jerk all the time. She is so mad at him at the party, and she misses the old Frank. That sets us up to pay attention to how she looks at him or says different little lines in the scenes later on in play. You want to know where who Frank is today came from. And you get to know that because of how Mary keeps singing and talking about how things used to be. I wish the writers had given her a bigger part other than just being in love with Frank. But I think she actually rocks the reprise of "Not a Day Goes By," which she sings during Frank and Beth's vows. It is so heartbreaking and she sings it beautifully. It is not like I think the unrequited love part was unimportant of not effective, or didn't add to the story. I just think they should have given Mary more to do than just be in love with someone. I wanted to know about her backstory and her career. Charley sings a song called "Franklin Shepard, Inc." that is basically Charley's side of the story, talking about how Frank is just a corporation instead of being an actual person who writes music with him. The song is super fast and there are a lot of sounds mixed in with the talking. And everything is so rapid fire that your brain doesn't fully hear that somebody went "brringgg" instead of saying an actual word. I think Crowle did a great job with this with making the repetition in this song still interesting and funny each time.

Both of Frank's wives, Gussie (Keely Vasquez) and Beth, had their hearts broken by him. Something that I liked about that is that they didn't just go off crying. They actually had complex feelings about it. Beth sings a song, the first "Not a Day Goes By," which is the second chronologically, where they are in divorce court and Frank asks if she still loves him. And she says, "Of course I do. There is not a single day that I don't love you, but you have hurt me so many times that this is not going to work out." She seems to be singing it angrily and fiercely, which is a great contrast to the reprise, where she is saying her vows to Frank. It shows you love is hard and complicated. You continue to love the person you love even though it is not the healthy option. And Beth eventually realizes that even though she loves Frank, she shouldn't be with him if it isn't good for them anymore. The contrast between the songs shows you that love can be very scary but it can also be beautiful. And then there is Gussie. She is not sad and confused. She was very direct and asked Frank "Are you in love with this person?" And he said yes, and she was like, "Ok. Goodbye. You're a jerk." It might just be because she has been through so many divorces before and she is used to the feeling of it. This is her most sympathetic moment because at that point you don't know that she was the other woman in Beth's case. I think it is interesting how the sympathy you have have for Gussie decreases as the play goes on. Your sympathy for a lot of the other characters either stays the same or increases. Except for Frank who wobbles around. He could seem like a good person in one scene and in the next scene he could be acting insanely selfishly. Frank is a kind of an anti-hero. He has so many flaws, but you still want the best for him because that will be the best outcome for the people around him who you think are better people.

People who would like this show are people who like heartbreaking unrequited love ballads, corporation people, and typewriter songs. I think people will have a lot of fun at this show. I enjoyed the great performances and the amazing score. I liked it.

Photos: Michael Courier

Friday, February 9, 2018

Review of Nice Girl at Raven Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Nice Girl. It was by Melissa Ross and it was directed by Lauren Shouse. It was about a woman named Josephine (Lucy Carapetyan) who was in her late thirties living with her mom, Francine (Lynne Baker), in a suburb of Boston in the 80s. And she was feeling pretty crappy about her life because she felt like she had wasted it. She feels like she needs to find someone to be with and find some friends. She becomes friends with a girl from work named Sherry (Stella Martin) who is a lot more free spirited and takes on Josephine as a project to teach her how to have more fun and attract men. Josephine reunites with a friend from high school, Donny (Benjamin Sprunger), who is going through a separation with his wife and works at the butcher shop. But her mom isn't too happy about it and is still treating her like a teenager. It's about getting older, mother-daughter relationships, and self image. I was really pulled into the story and it had talented actors. I really liked it.

I think the friendship between Josephine and Sherry is very sweet because they both have something they can give each other. Josephine can give Sherry a listening ear, and Sherry can help Josephine on her quest to be a more exciting person. I really loved the scene where Sherry was helping Josephine get ready for her date. It was the first time Sherry met Francine, who was not very pleased to see her, especially in such a revealing top. Sherry was doing Josephine's hair, and she wins over Francine by talking about Frank Sinatra. I thought Sherry was a hilarious character; she had all these insane stories that she didn't seem to know were crazy. But she is also a really sad person. She's been betrayed so many times and she doesn't get to spend much time with her kid. She is disappointed in herself and she wants another chance with another guy, but it is very hard for her. I think she is a really interesting character who should have her own spinoff series. I don't think she is a bad influence. It is weird because she doesn't make a lot of smart decisions, but she knows how to have a good time and is learning to be confident in herself and Josephine really needs that. She is also a very caring person. She ends up being a really good friend who is willing to give up something she wants for her friend.

Francine and Josephine had a very difficult relationship. Francine thought that Josephine was "the nice girl" and wanted to keep her that way. It is a very teenage drama about a 30 year old. That was a very new concept, and I really liked that. Francine doesn't want her daughter to have any fun or go out to any clubs even though she is a grownup. Francine is also claiming to be very sick, but her daughter doesn't believe her anymore. Josephine is still trying to help her, but her mom doesn't realize that this wasn't really Josephine's plan for her own life. The sad thing is that they seem to really love each other; they just have a difficult relationship because they aren't the same kind of person. Or at least Josephine doesn't want to be like her mother, even though she might kind of be like her. She's mad at her mom because she feels like her mom is taking advantage of her. Francine wishes that her daughter would spend more time with her and confide in her, but she doesn't know how to express that to her now. She keeps talking about ice cream, and that's not something that appeals to Josephine every night now because she is a grownup. So Francine ends up nagging her almost, and then Josephine ends up resenting her. And when Sherry has a problem, Francine is able to do for her what she should be doing for Josephine, which is comforting her and helping her when she needs it. Francine can be the mom Josephine wants her to be, but just not for Josephine because their relationship is too damaged.

Donny and Josephine have this really adorably awkward relationship. They both bond over feeling like failures, which might not be the best premise for a relationship. They are both pretty desperate for attention and for love. He starts to win you over when he talks about making dinner for her sometime. But he has a lot of secrets. He also seems scared to be alone because he was married for a really long time. And now that he is dating again, he is kind of terrified to make anything official in case his wife wants to get back together, which is really sad. But he keeps leading Josephine on and telling her things that mean a lot to her, but don't mean the same thing to him. I think he is a really complicated and strange character. You don't get to know a lot about him until near the end of the play. He is an interesting character because at first he just seems like the "prize" the lead character is going to get, and in a lot of movies and plays that role is a woman. The trope is usually somebody seeing the "prize" and being like, "I'll never be able to be with them" but then at the end they get together and you usually don't learn anything about the "prize." In this play, you actually get to learn the dark things about the "prize," and not just view this person as an object.

People who would like this show are people who like complicated "prizes," obliviously insane stories, and ice cream with your mom. I think people should go see this show. I liked how it played with the high school drama idea and turned it into something new. I really liked it.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Review of Hinter at Steep Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Hinter. It was by Calamity West and it was directed by Brad DeFabo Akin. It was about the Gruber family--Andres (Jim Poole), Cazillia (Melissa Riemer), and their daughter Viktoria Gabriel (Eunice Woods) and granddaughter Elsa--who lived on a farm in Bavaria. They were murdered one night and their neighbors Frieda (Lauren Sivak) and Klara (Sigrid Sutter) came over to see what had happened to them and discovered them. They call in Inspector Herzog (Peter Moore) from Berlin and people start to seem more suspicious and the audience discovers secrets about the family and their relationships with each other and their neighbors. I thought this play was absolutely fascinating. I love murder mysteries, and I loved watching this one unfold on stage. It was suspenseful, eerie, and occasionally humorous.

I think it is interesting how this show works backwards. You see everyone finding the bodies first before looking at the actuality of the time leading up to their deaths. I think that is really cool because it lets you theorize before you get more information. I also really liked how you get to see all of these meaningful relationships between women: some are friendships, some are romantic, and some are parent-child. But you really got to see into each one. They all had meaning to them, and they all had a backstory with each other. This play is focused on the female relationships. The relationship between Elizabeth (Sasha Smith) and Klara is very complicated. There isn't a single word to describe it. They are romantic with each other and they want to protect each other, but Elizabeth did something that really hurt Klara which they don't talk about for a long time, which exposes the flaw in their relationship. Viktoria's relationship with her mother is also very complicated because she loves her mother, but her mother has stood by her father's side even when she found out about the terrible ways he has behaved. Maria (Aurora Adachi-Winter) and Frieda are the beacons of light for Viktoria because they are offering her a way out. But there is an itching suspicion that I have that they might have ulterior motives. Just because this play talks a lot about female relationships, that doesn't mean they idealize them. I think it is really awesome how many layers they showed in each of these relationships, even though this play isn't super long. The writer and director don't cram the play with facts and action, they find a way to make everything make sense but also keep a bit of the mystery in the relationships. They don't tell you everything, but you have enough to understand the characters.

It is not that the men don't have significant parts, it is just that the play is more focused on the women's relationships and builds them up to something instead of them just being there, like happens in some plays. The men all seem like outsiders, even though some of them live in the area. The inspector, however, is a complete outsider. He is from Berlin, doesn't know anyone, didn't know any of the people who died, and is therefore not very respectful of the bodies. The postman, George Siegl, (Alex Gillmor) just sees them a few days a week. Lorenz (Nate Whelden), Viktoria's admirer, didn't use to be an outsider, but he has come back from the war a changed man, and not in the healthiest way. Andres lives in the house with the family, but he is sort of an outsider because he has done terrible things. He is blatantly disobeying the rules of how a family should behave toward each other. In this play, men are the outsiders, and women have this ring of connections.

I like how this play takes normal everyday occurrences and puts more meaning to them. In both acts of this play, people eat Viktoria's bread. In the first act, Frieda, Elizabeth, and Klara are hungry so they decide to eat some of it. And they start talking about how terrible the bread always was. In the second act, which happens earlier in time, Klara eats the bread and acts like it is good. She covers up her true feelings about it. Viktoria seems to be challenging everyone who eats her bread to tell her it is terrible. I think that the bread that Viktoria makes seems like it could be a metaphor for secrecy then. All these women are trying pretend that nothing is the matter even though something definitely is. Even when someone is challenging them to tell the truth, it feels impossible to because they feel like not admitting that anything is wrong is probably what Viktoria wants. It is sad because she is not specifically asking for help, but she still wants it. There's a really great moment in the play where Frieda is talking to Maria about Viktoria's escape plan. And she says that you can't help people if they don't ask for it. And Maria says, "Yes you can. You absolutely can." I think that is a beautiful moment that shows how Viktoria might want to be helped and be able to be helped even though she feels like she can't ask for it. It is really sad that when she decides to pull the trigger on a big decision she doesn't get to make it. That's what makes this play so compelling and depressing is they way that you already know the ending of her story but you are still hoping that maybe something will work out.

I have a lot of theories about who might have killed everyone, but I don't want to spoil anything. So you can click here if you want to see my theories.

People who would like this show are people who like Bavarian murder mysteries, complex relationships among women, and secrecy bread. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It is a really great story with compelling characters. I'm still theorizing about this play and it was a lot of fun in a creepy way. I loved it.

Photos: Gregg Gilman