Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Review of Guards at the Taj at Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Guards at the Taj. It was by Rajiv Joseph, and it was directed by Amy Morton. It was about two friends Humayun (Omar Metwally) and Babur (Arian Moayed) who were both guards at the Taj Mahal before it was the Taj Mahal, when it just being built. They have known each other for a very long time, and they are faced with a difficult task. It is about brotherhood, duty, and what makes the world beautiful. I thought this was a really funny and moving show that made you think about what people see as morally correct and what people actually do.

I thought the first scene of the show was a super great scene because you got to know the characters so well. They are like a smarter Pinky and the Brain. They are very good friends, but they are polar opposites. The first person you see is Humayun who is onstage while the audience is taking their seats. He is very stoic, but he also has a sweet side: he really likes birds, so when he sees them chirping in the tree, even though he is supposed to be stoic and immovable, he smiles. When he realizes he is smiling, he immediately goes back to being stoic. It seems like he feels like he can't express emotion because that makes him seem week, but when he is around Babur he really can't help himself. Babur is very cheerful and bad at time management and in awe of everything. He also feels like he should be stoic, but he is less successful at being stoic than Humayun. It is adorable to watch them interact and then have Humayun realize he has to shut it down and be professional. This scene is very humorous because of the realizations they make that you have made just seconds before. There is a terrible job they don't want to do, and then they realize they are going to be the ones to do it. And it is not harem duty, which is the job they want.

The characters said a lot of sexist things, but the audience sort of glazed over it because it was set a long time ago. It was kind of tough for me to ignore the sexist comments. I think it was probably realistic for the time and I still loved the characters and didn't want anything bad to happen to them. I don't think it was a bad choice to make them say sexist things because that was true to the time period. But it reminded me that it is easy to gloss over sexism if you feel for a character or a person because sexism is such an inherent part of our culture. There are no female characters in this show, but women get talked about quite a bit. Mumtaz Mahal was the favorite wife of Shah Jahan and she died and was beautiful and Shah Jahan wanted to make something as beautiful as her. (Why does the world favor beautiful women over smart women? Maybe because no one wants to look at a smart building?) The other women who get mentioned are the women in the harem. Women in the harem are wives, concubines, and employees of Shah Jahan and they are basically there for his pleasure, to demonstrate his power over other people, and to protect the harem. They don't mention these women protectors in the play, but they seem so cool. They were called urdubegis. It would be cool to have a play about being one of the women in the harem that takes place at the same time. They could also be struggling with when it is moral to do your duty and when to refuse, just like Babur and Humayun do. You could call it Urdubegis at the Harem.

There is a very big plot point in this show that I want to talk about, but it is a really big spoiler, so if you've already seen or read the show, you can read the spoiler paragraph at Ada Grey Spoils It for You.

People who would like this show are people who like moral questions, brotherhood, and harem duty. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It is such an interesting, beautiful, and sometimes disturbing show. It has amazing performances. I loved it.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Friday, June 15, 2018

Review of Hamlet at The Gift Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Hamlet. It was written by William Shakespeare, and it was directed by Monty Cole. It was about Hamlet (Daniel Kyri), a prince of Denmark, whose father (Robert Cornelius) had died and whose mother, Gertrude (Shanesia Davis), had married his uncle Claudius (John Kelly Connolly) soon after. His friend Horatio (Casey Morris) sees the ghost of Hamlet's father and tells Hamlet about it. When Hamlet encounters the ghost, his father tells him about his brutal murder, so Hamlet decides to try to get revenge against Claudius. I think this is a really great version of Hamlet. It has amazing actors, a fabulous set, and a director with a new and awesome vision.

I have never seen a set (designed by William Boles) like this one before. There was a plexiglass wall between the audience and the stage. It gives you the feeling of looking in on all these scenes, seeing something that you're not supposed to, that was meant to be private. It can give the feeling that you are very separate from them, but also that they are just like you, that you and the characters are looking in mirrors, and you are just like them. Behind the plexiglass was a White-Housesque hallway with a filthy carpet strewn with trash, and there were smears on the lower part of the wall. It looks rotten, but it seems like they are still living in it. The characters would take things that they used throughout the show and just throw them on the floor, so you get to see all these different sections of the show on the floor, and it keep getting more uninhabitable. The something that is rotten in the state of Denmark is not just the monarchy; it's also the decor.

I really liked the emphasis on the father-son relationship in this show. In a lot of Hamlets, they use Hamlet's dad's ghost as a jump scare and motivation for Hamlet to avenge his father's death. But father-child relationships are so much more than that, and it is good to see why Hamlet is avenging him, how close their relationship was, and how much Hamlet depended on his dad. I think Kyri's performance did a great job of really showing the in-depth thoughts of Hamlet and how hard it was for him to let go of his dad. The ghost cannot usually touch people, but he can in this show. And Hamlet hugs him, which draws you in more to their relationship. Also the ghost was wearing a hospital gown. It shows that he didn't die right away, which makes it a lot more powerful. He is not in full fighting gear, which makes him seem more vulnerable. Also, when they are doing the play within the play, Hamlet doesn't let the play alone show Claudius that Hamlet knows what he had done. He started playing a mix of a video of baby Hamlet with his dad and The Lion King, which I think was even more powerful. They let it play all through the intermission so you could marinate in it. It is like the play never really stops.

Usually when I see Hamlet, I know that there are going to be a lot of deaths, but I don't care about all of them. But in this one, I most certainly did. Polonius (Cornelius) is usually self-important and foolish, but in this production he seemed like a really good dad to Ophelia (Netta Walker) and Laertes (Gregory Fenner). So it makes more sense when Ophelia goes crazy when he dies. Ophelia seemed very reasonable. So much more reasonable than I've ever seen Ophelia be. In other productions, sometimes she seems like a jerk to Hamlet and sometimes she seems like a victim, but she was neither in this one. She seems less influenced by the people around her in this production, but she is still not disobedient to her father. In some productions she is a wilting flower, but in this production she is very grounded and a fully-alive flower, which is why it is so powerful to see her go from 100 to 0, from fine to completely not fine. Also, Laertes has a heartbreaking death, and it is not just because of the awesome fight choreography (by Gaby Labotka). It is also because of all the times you see him interacting with Ophelia in really normal ways, like eating Cheetos and playing video games. They are just siblings who love each other, and he is so heartbroken by Ophelia's death and his father's. They are such a tight-knit family that when they fall apart you really feel it.

People who would like this show are people who like rotten decor, baby Hamlets, and Ophelia and Laertes playing video games. I think this is an amazing show. It basically did everything right, and I absolutely loved it.

Photos: Claire Demos

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Review of About Face Theatre's Bull in a China Shop

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Bull in a China Shop. It was by Bryna Turner and it was directed by Keira Fromm. It was about Mary Woolley (Kelli Simpkins) and Jeannette Marks (Emjoy Gavino), who both were working at Mount Holyoke, a women's college, in the early 1900s and were in love. The show looks at their relationship over a long period of time. It is about love, relationships, and different kinds of feminism. I thought this show was intriguing and beautiful to watch.

The language was very modernized, but all of the visual aspects were very period. The costumes (Mieka van der Ploeg) and hairstyles seemed very early 20th century. Everyone uses modern phrases, especially Pearl (Aurora Adachi-Winter), who was one of Marks' students. She uses the term "ship" to mean wanting two people to be together, which was, I am pretty sure, not what it meant in the early 20th century. It just meant things that set sail. They also use the f-word a lot, which is not impossible, but wasn't super common for women back then. The way the dialogue is phrased reminds us that oppression of gay people and women is still going on today. It doesn't make you think of it as all prejudice that happened in the past. Some things are better now, but not everything. It also lets you relate to them on a more intimate level because they talk in a way that you yourself do.

There is a really interesting love triangle between Woolley, Marks, and Pearl. Both Pearl and Woolley are in love with Marks. But Pearl also "ships" Woolley and Marks, which makes it very complicated. Jeannette sees her relationship with Pearl as a teaching experience, but Pearl doesn't fully understand that, which makes for some very heartbreaking scenes. And Woolley also used to be Jeannette's teacher, so it seems like Jeannette is trying to have the same story, but she gets to be the Woolley in the situation with Pearl. But Woolley stuck with her, which is not something Marks is planning on doing with Pearl. Woolley doesn't seem to want an equal relationship with Marks, even though she says she wants equal rights. Marks also wants to be the person in charge, though, which she can only be with Pearl. Even though Woolley and Marks are trying to get away from social norms, they end up putting them on. The problem is neither of them really want to be what is considered "being the wife" in that time period. They should both be able to be powerful, but they seem to be becoming the thing they are trying to get away from. There is a line in another About Face show, looking out//looking in, that was something along the lines of "relationship issues aren't just for straight people," and I think that line perfectly applies to the relationships in this show.

There are a lot of different types of feminism, which I don't think everyone understands, but that is showcased in this play. Pearl is very young and is idealistic and is really going for everything being perfect and completely equal, which is not realistic for her lifetime. But I think it can be a good way to look at things, to go for the best and just keep trying. Marks would get arrested for protesting and not care if she gets out. She is very "ride or die" about the vote. She is less optimistic than Pearl, but they essentially want the same things. Woolley has a pretty different perspective than these two. At first she seems to think that only individual women should have power, not all women. She doesn't think the vote matters enough for all this fighting. She goes through the biggest change of her perspective. It is very interesting to watch someone who thinks of herself as an influencer get influenced by people around her.

People who would like this show are people who like analyzing feminism, heartbreaking love triangles, and early 20th-century shipping. I think that people should go see this show. It is a heartwarming and heartbreaking story about love and feminism. I liked it.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Review of Damascus at Strawdog Theatre Company

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Damascus. It was by Bennett Fisher and it was directed by Cody Estle. It was about a man named Hassan (Terence Sims) who drives a shuttle at the Minneapolis airport. He is in a really bad financial situation so when this kid named Lloyd (Sam Hubbard) asks Hassan to drive him to get a flight from Chicago, he agrees. Lloyd says he has missed his flight to visit his mom who is sick so he doesn;t want to wait. Shortly into the trip, they hear that there has been an incident at the airport, which changes the way they interact with each other. This is a really thought-provoking and visually beautiful show.

I thought the set (by Jeffrey Kmiec) was really beautiful and mysterious because of how the lamp posts seemed to be overtaking the car. They were curved down more than normal lamp posts. I also liked the simplicity of the van. It wasn't a full vehicle, but it also wasn't a few chairs. It took a lot of aspects of the vehicle and just outlined them, but then the inside was fully upholstered. It was like when the actors are in the van they are in a realistic world, but from the outside the audience sees the suggestive structural elements. The inside is like seeing and accepting the world how it is, and the outside is like seeing what can be taken away. The lights (by John Kelly) were very noir and moody. The car was lit from the inside, so it could be pitch black outside of the car and perfectly lit inside the car. I also liked how the light would pulse through each lamp to suggest movement and the passage of time.

Hassan was a very compelling and sympathetic character. He is a victim of another character, but the play doesn't focus on how much of a victim he is. He doesn't just sit back and take it; he is fighting back. I think a lot of times when some writers portray people of color, they make being a victim the character's personality. Especially in theater and film every character should have a compelling motive and a reason to be there and not only be there to reflect how terrible the other people are. I think we should have stories about how people have been victims, but that should not be all we know about those people. I thought Sims' performance was really amazing. You could tell what he was thinking the entire time. When I sat down to write this paragraph, I originally thought that it was going to be about Hassan's monologue, but then I realized he didn't have one. I just felt that I knew everything that he was thinking because his performance has so much depth even though he never talked directly to the audience.

There is a lot of exciting and interesting suspense building throughout the show. They approach it in a way where the silence is threatening. When they are talking, even if they are saying threatening things, it is not as frightening as the silence. I thought it was very compelling. They also built suspense through awkward conversations. They get to know each other before certain things are revealed about the characters, so then when they have regular conversations after the revelations, the conversations are ominous in addition being awkward.

People who would like this show are people who like ominous awkward conversations, compelling characters, and suggestive structures. I think that people should definitely go see this show. I think it is well-performed and beautiful to watch.

Photos: Clark Bender

Monday, June 4, 2018

Review of Death & Pretzels' The Book of Maggie

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Book of Maggie. It was by Brendan Bourque-Sheil and it was directed by Madison Smith. It was about a young woman named Maggie (Tia Pinson) who was having a hard time and felt suicidal. So Simon Peter (Collin Quinn Rice) tells Judas (Jake Baker), who is in hell, to go and help her so he might be able to get into heaven. Meanwhile Pontius Pilate (Nick Strauss) has his own project to work on in the form of Joan (Taylor Toms) who has had a near-death experience and is not super interested in the whole getting into heaven thing. It is about religion, endings, and forgiveness. I think this is a very interesting and well done show.

The concepts of heaven and hell are very present in this show. It is very interesting to see Maggie's views on Christian belief and see how she believes in it but wants to get away from it. She has a monologue about God and how she wants to die and go to hell just to get away from him. It is really sad to think of someone being haunted by something that is supposed to motivate people to be better. Joan has some of the same ideas as Maggie--she also feels like God won't leave her alone, that she is constantly being watched by him--but she deals with them in a different way. It is like everything is a Toys-R-Us commercial with her. She is very peppy and doesn't seem to take a lot of things seriously, not even death or damnation. She thinks that hell isn't actually that bad. And it doesn't seem to be--until you hear more from Judas and Pilate about how the boringness and solitude is what makes it hell. I think that is an interesting idea of hell, not to make it lava and the devil and demons tormenting you, but to make it just pure dullness.

There was a fascinating scene with Pilate, Joan, Maggie, and Judas all sitting around a bonfire on the beach talking like old friends. I really liked this scene because of the genuineness of it. When you think of the Bible and the characters of Pilate and Judas, you don't really think of straightforward speech. You expect to hear words like thou and believeth and begat. But they are just sitting around having chips and drinks like college friends not bread and wine like at the last supper. And they speak like people now. It is also a really cool contrast with the beginning where there is a clear line between heaven, hell, and earth. Judas and Pontius Pilate are watering plants at the beginning of the show, which seems like a much more biblical activity. But as the play goes on and the lines between heaven, hell, and earth start to blur, the characters are starting to see their similarities and forgetting which world they belong to.

There was a really interesting plot twist in the show that I want to talk about. So if you are ok with spoilers or already saw the show, you can read about it at Ada Grey Spoils It for You.

People who would like this show are people who like genuine conversations with biblical figures, interesting views on belief, and peppy near-dead girls. I think this is a really thought-provoking and funny show. It had really good performances and a good script. I really liked it.

Photos: Steve Bryant

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Review of Suddenly Last Summer at Raven Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Suddenly Last Summer. It was written by Tennessee Williams, and it was directed by Jason Gerace. It was about a woman named Catherine Holly (Grayson Heyl) who is taken from a mental asylum to visit her aunt Mrs. Venable (Mary K. Nigohosian) to explain the death of her aunt's son, which Catherine witnessed. She has been telling the same insane story about what happened, which her aunt doesn't believe. So Mrs. Venable hires a doctor, Dr. Cukrowicz (Wardell Julius Clark), also known as Dr. Sugar, to practice his untraditional procedures on her in order to make her tell the truth. It is about the definitions of insanity, desire, and truth. I think this is a very interesting show with an intriguing storyline.

Sebastian does not ever appear in the show, but he does seem to be the main character. His choices affect the play and his actions have consequences even though he is dead. It is not explicitly said, but it seems like he is gay. It is rare to have a main character who is gay at the time this was written, but it is not a positive portrayal, which kind of burst my bubble. I think I expected a more positive portrayal of a gay man from a gay man, but it seems like even though Williams had relationships with men, he didn't always think being gay was acceptable. It makes me sad to think that somebody wouldn't accept themselves and whenever they decided to go with their instincts they felt dirty for it.

We learn about Sebastian through his mother and his cousin. They both have very different ideas of who he was. Mrs. Venable thinks that he was a perfect mama's boy who charmed everyone and was a virgin. Catherine sees a darker side, which is that he takes advantage of young boys, drinks a lot, and is terrified of poor people. Everyone (except Dr. Sugar, who keeps an open mind) thinks Catherine is crazy, but it also seems like Mrs. Venable is not completely right in the head because she refuses to consider anyone else's opinion and if she doesn't like what somebody says she has violent reactions. She thinks her son is a poet, but he has only written one poem a year. She doesn't understand why no one has discovered him yet, even though he hasn't published his work, which seems delusional. I think it is eerie to consider how the person accusing someone of being crazy might be crazy herself.

Mrs. Venable has many people working for her, directly and indirectly. Miss Foxhill (Jayce Caraballo), Mrs. Venable's secretary, was very quiet throughout the show. She didn't express her opinion, but the entire time she seemed to be thinking. She also seemed to be scared a lot of the time; it made me suspicious about what was going on in the house and what her role in the family was. I think that it is really hard to play a character who is on stage a lot but doesn't say much because you need to still convey the emotions through a quiet character. I think Caraballo did a great job with that; she was very interesting to watch. Sister Felicity (Ayanna Bria Bakari)is not directly employed by Mrs. Venable, but Mrs. Venable pays the asylum she works for. The sister seems to have a mind of her own and will not always obey orders from some woman with more money than her. I think that is a nice contrast between Sister Felicity and Miss Foxhill. Dr. Sugar is someone who has a lot of tolerance for Mrs. Venable's whims because he is hoping she will make a donation to his hospital. But in the end he wants to stand up for what he believes is true. Something that is interesting about the character is that even though he accepts a bribe at the beginning of the show, he seems to be one of the most reasonable and moral characters in the play.

People who would like this show are people who like one-poem-a-year poets, complex characters, and naked baby cannibals (trust me). I think this is a really crazy and interesting show. There are some good performances, and it really makes you think a lot about the meaning behind what you just watched.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Review of Interrobang Theatre Project's Grace

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Grace. It was by Craig Wright and it was directed by Georgette Verdin. It was about a couple, Sara (Laura Berner Taylor) and Steve (Joe Lino), who moved to Florida so they could start their new chain of Christian hotels. Sara is feeling lonely because her husband is away all the time, so she decides to befriend her next-door neighbor Sam (Evan Linder) who is recovering from a car accident where he lost his fiancée. It is about belief, love, and time and space. This show makes you think about faith and science, what is justifiable behavior, and looking past appearances.

Time and space are very prominent concepts in this show, which they express through dialogue and movement. In the show, they start out in the last moment the play chronologically and move backwards. The first thing you see is also the last thing you see in the play, but when you first see it you have no idea how they got there or if it can be prevented over the course of the play. They didn't say the words or sentences backwards in the first scene, but the lines seem to be in backwards order. They would crawl backwards and walk backwards. It was interesting to think about and try to piece together how they got here. Then they begin with the first chronological scene and go forward. The flow of the play gets disrupted another time in the show when a big event has happened and they go back and show it to you reversed, letting you reconsider the things they are doing. They not only mess with time in some scenes, they also play with our perception of where they are in space. The set is one room, but the play takes place in two rooms. But they use the same set at the same time for two scenes in different rooms. It is very interesting to see these two households living their lives not paying attention to each other even when they are sitting on the same couch because they are not really supposed to be in the same space. In the second scene, I kept thinking Steve and Sara were ignoring Sam until I figured out that they were not in the same place. Also, Sam talks about time and space quite a lot and very philosophically. Being a scientist, he does not believe that time and events are determined by God. I think he questions why God would be in charge of time and space if God exists outside of it.

Every character in the show struggles with their belief system and what other people think they should believe in. Steve is very outspoken about his belief in God and the Christian faith. He thinks his faith will save him from anything bad happening to him and he thinks that because he is Christian that if he has faith everything will fall into place and he will become successful and rich. But he puts too much faith in his projects and doesn't take into account the realities of the world: that he might be getting scammed or that his wife might not be happy with the circumstances or their relationship. As his business falls apart he keeps saying he just has to have faith, but it seems like part of him realizes that is not working out anymore. Sam, from the very beginning is very skeptical about the Christian faith and doesn't believe in it. But because he becomes close to Sara, who is Christian, he starts to understand where she is coming from. The show seems to be saying that it is important to have reasonable faith in humanity, whether you believe in God or not. Sara seems to be following her husband in her own beliefs for the beginning of the show. But then she meets someone who doesn't share her same beliefs but believes in something she never thought of before, that not everything has to be controlled by God. She shows us that faith doesn't have to be convincing someone they have to believe in God to be "saved." She can show her faith by being a person to talk to and being a friend. She brings over food and coffee and makes sure Sam feels supported and not judged by his appearance.

The monologue by the exterminator, Karl (Walter Brody) was saying some really emotional things but not in an emotional way. I think that was really effective. (The rest of this paragraph has some spoilers, which you can read here.)

People who would like this show are people who like plays that make you think, couch deception, and supportive coffee. I think that people should go see this show. It brings up a lot of interesting ideas and was well-acted. I really liked it.

Photos: Evan Hanover

Friday, May 18, 2018

Review of The Yard's Columbinus at Steppenwolf's 1700 Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Columbinus. It was a play by the United States Theatre Project, written by Stephen Karam and PJ Paparelli, and directed by Mechelle Moe. It is about Columbine High School and two students, Eric (Ervin Tobar) and Dylan (Brian Baren), who felt misunderstood by their peers, teachers, and parents and decide to get revenge by planning and carrying out a school shooting. It is about teen anxiety and depression, violence, and the need for change. I thought this was a really moving, terrifying, and enlightening show. It had a huge emotional impact on me; I sobbed, I was stunned, and I related to a lot of the experiences that characters had in the show.

I think the movement (directed by Dana Murphy) in this show was very important. It added a lot to the story by showing you the troubles and suffering all the characters go through at some level. There was a scene where the stage was filled with everyone hurting themselves in different ways. They seemed desensitized, like they were doing it without thinking. One student (Danielle Chmielewski) was throwing up and another (Iza Rodriguez) was cutting herself. It was really powerful to see all of these topics tackled through movement. The ensemble interacted with the set (by John Wilson) in a very compelling way. In the scenes in the library in act two, they would take the chairs of the people who were murdered in that scene and place them in the middle of the room, laying them down carefully like they were bodies. Eventually they had a pile of chairs that looked like they had been thrown there randomly (even though they had been put down deliberately) to try to stop something. I've never been so moved by people piling up chairs.

In the first act, the show is mostly about the life of everyone at the school leading up to the big event in the second act. The second act is when you find out Eric and Dylan's names and figure out what they are planning to do. It is really hard to see these characters who were nameless in the first act and mostly seemed unthreatening turn into people who we know made monstrous choices in real life, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. There were these interesting side-by-side scenes of Eric and Dylan each talking with their parents (Joel Ewing and Jyreika Guest). The scenes have identical dialogue, but the parents switch roles. The disciplinary role and the one the kid is more comfortable talking to changes from one household to the other. I think it is really interesting to see both those characters' relationships with their families, how normal they seem and how innocent the parents are about what their kids are going to do. The show also played a video of Dylan and Eric talking to the camera about their plans for the school. They were threatening what they were going to do, but they are drinking sodas and acting like what they are saying is no big deal. They are acting like kids just goofing off and making a YouTube video, and it is absolutely horrifying to see the contrast between what they are going to do and how they act. They seem like kids because they are, but they do something that is absolutely horrible. I think these actors did a great job of making your feelings about these characters really confusing. It really impacted me to see their home lives and school lives and how they are just kids but they are capable of doing awful things.

This play is not just about the people who committed the crime, but also about the people who experienced it and the people around them. I really saw that particularly in three scenes. There was a really beautiful scene where the Eric and a fellow student (Rodriguez) are rehearsing the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet. They would break out of the scene to talk to the audience about the potential for a relationship between their scene partner and themselves. This is a moment that shows Eric as a person with real feelings and not always the disconnected and angry person we see in the second act, which is really hard because you see this person has real feelings but they are going to do something completely insane and horrible and stupid. When Rodriguez was speaking her lines, she was making the words Shakespeare had written about Juliet and Romeo also about this specific high school character's real experiences without changing the words, which is really amazing to watch. There was another scene, with a monologue performed by Chmielewski where she was talking about how her boyfriend knocked on her window and she felt obliged to have sex with him. And she was talking about how she wished her mother had saved her. It was really heartbreaking and well performed. It reminds you that this play isn't just about this specific school shooting, it also talks a lot about problems people in high school have that are more universal. There was another scene with a nerd, a jock, and a prep (Meitav Aaron, Victor Musoni, and Colin Huerta) and they are all playing basketball together, but the nerd is scared about not making the shot. It seems like time slows and the nerd starts talking about how he used to know these people so well when they were young and now they are looking like him like they don't know him because he is not good at basketball. And even though his dad has told him that none of this is going to matter in a few years, he realizes it still hurts even if you know that. I thought that that was a really emotional and well-done monologue about a thing a lot of teenagers know but still can't wrap their brains around.

People who would like this show are people who like turning tragedy into art, realistic teen stories, and sobbing your face off. I think this is a really hard and beautiful and relevant show. The show addresses a lot of topics I'm very passionate about, and it handles those topics carefully and well. At the end they give you information about taking action. I think everyone should go and see this. The day that I am writing this review there has been another school shooting, so it has been hard to write. I think it is very important that people go see this show but also that they take action to help prevent any more mass shootings.

Photos: Evan Hanover

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Review of To Catch a Fish at TimeLine Theatre Company

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called To Catch a Fish. It was by Brett Neveu and it was directed by Ron OJ Parson. It was about a man named Terry (Geno Walker) who was living with his grandma Brenda (Linda Bright Clay), and he had just started a new job giving out flyers for a "store," run by Dex (Stephen Walker) and his partners Ike (Jay Worthington) and Regina (AnJi White). Terry's cousin Dontre (Al'Jaleel McGhee) and his girlfriend Rochelle (Tiffany Addison) are suspicious about what is really going on at this "store." It is about trying to take charge of your life, injustice, and love in its different forms. I think this is a really beautifully written and really well-acted show.

I thought the sound (David Kelepha Samba), lighting (Mike Durst), and set (Regina García) were all fantastic for this show. I don't always pay attention to those things, but those elements were used for very meaningful moments and helped you pay attention to the characters as well as giving you a sense of the surroundings. At the very beginning of the play there is a blue spotlight on Terry at the center of the stage while there is a sound of water whooshing past. He is looking around in awe, and you learn throughout the play about how much he loves fishing and how that is one of the things that relaxes him and makes him feel at home. You never actually get to see him go fishing, but at this moment you get to see how he feels about fishing and the reflection of the water and it is just a really powerful contrast with the next scene in the play where Ike is talking aggressively to Terry about how he need to date more girls rather than sticking with the one that he has. They are clearly in a crappy lot by the warehouse and Terry seems uncomfortable. The set had so many different components and different locations, but they made it specific enough that you felt like you were there but it wasn't hyperrealistic, which I think is good for this play because it deals with real issues but has poetic elements.

There are several different types of love showcased in this play. The relationship between Terry and his Grandma is very sweet. You can see she is very protective of him and just wants him to be safe because she made a mistake when he was younger and she doesn't want anything like that to happen ever again. But she also comes to understand that he is a grown man even if he has brain damage and he can make decisions for himself. She has to let go the same way as she had to with Dontre, her other grandson. She is a very stern grandma, but everything she does is clearly out of love, which makes her an interesting and lovable character. Dontre and Terry's relationship is hard to explain. They clearly love each other, but Dontre is also infuriated by Terry. They have many scenes together where Dontre asks Terry questions he doesn't understand and Dontre will get angry at Terry as a result, but then he will apologize and try to explain better. It seems like he has good intentions but doesn't handle frustration well. He clearly does want a good relationship with Terry; he just doesn't understand how he can do that. And there is also romantic love between Terry and Rochelle. Rochelle seems to admire him and think that he is beautiful and different. I think a lot of other people don't see past his disability, but this character does and she doesn't try to limit him. And Terry just seems to be truly happy around her, and he just wants to make her happy even when he doesn't fully know how. There is a very big event at the end of act one that I want to talk about because it shows how complicated the relationship is, so if you want to hear my opinion about it, you can read it at Ada Grey Spoils It for You.

I think it is cool how it feels like there are two different worlds in this play. One is the community of people who live there and the other is these outsiders (Dex, Ike, and Regina) who have set up the store. The scenes at the warehouse all sounded different from the rest of the play, and I think it is really interesting to think of those as a different type of writing. It reminded me of American Buffalo because all the talking is aggressive and high stakes even though what they are talking about might be ridiculous. And also the relationships are similar. There is a boss and a hothead and a kid they are taking advantage of. The difference is there is an additional character, Regina, who is trying to keep things together and feels like an outsider--kind of a Bobby-Donny combo. It is really interesting to see Regina show up later in the other world of the community and also to see Dontre and Rochelle come into the warehouse world.

People who would like this show are people who like peaceful fishing, stern and lovable grandmas, and suspicious stores. I think that this is such an intriguing, well-performed, and visually, aurally, and emotionally stunning show. I really enjoyed it.

Photos: Lara Goetsch

Monday, May 14, 2018

Review of Macbeth at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Macbeth. It was by William Shakespeare and it was adapted and directed by Aaron Posner and Teller. It was about a man named Macbeth (Ian Merrill Peakes) who was fighting in a war and he and his friend Banquo (Andrew White) meet three witches (McKinley Carter, Theo Germaine, and Emily Ann Nichelson) who tell Macbeth that he will be king. His wife (Chaon Cross) decides to help him become king by plotting to kill the current one, Duncan (Christopher Donahue). And even once he is king, Macbeth is afraid of getting overthrown and so he decides to try and kill anyone who might take his throne from him. It is about wanting power, unhealthy relationships, and persuasion.

I thought that what they did with the witches'look with costumes (Mara Blumenfeld) and makeup (Richard Jarvie) was really cool. They had blood on their mouths and buzzcuts and were very pale with smudges on their cheekbones and black under their eyes dripping down. They wore chainmail and bandages and giant black cloaks. It seems like they are collectively a representation of war and suffering and greed. I liked how the witches were kind of always around; it was creepier to have them go into a scene from watching it from above. I did think the production could have done more with the cauldron scene, since the cauldron is supposed to be full of magic. I was expecting that they would have made it so they used more magic in the scene, since this scene is one of the most supernatural. The witches are doing magic and summoning spirits, and it was kind of predictable because the heads all just appear out of the covering on top of the cauldron. This might have been less obvious from the main floor, but from the balcony I felt like I could see exactly what was happening.

I think that Macbeth, the play, is very largely about emotions and how the world genders them. Macbeth wants to be the man his wife thinks he should be, and that involves being ruthless, power hungry, and violent. Lady Macbeth has a speech near the beginning of the play about unsexing her and taking away her femininity. She wants to be able to be ruthless and feared and heartless and she doesn't see that as being feminine. She doesn't want to be feminine because she thinks that makes her weak. At the beginning of the show, she runs downstairs and takes a baby from a coffin, then puts the baby back in the coffin and slams the lid. I think that is supposed to show us that Lady Macbeth is tired of being a woman. After the thing that she loves and feels soft feelings for is taken away she feels like she wants to tear people to shreds. That is a emotion women have too, but in this play it seems like people don't think it is an emotion a woman should have. At the beginning of the play it seems like Shakespeare thinks there are feminine emotions and masculine emotions and the two don't cross over. But by the end of the play, once you get to MacDuff (Timothy D. Stickney), you see that men should be able to be heartbroken when everything is taken away from them. My favorite exchange is when Malcom (Adam Wesley Brown) says, "Dispute it like a man" and Macduff responds "I shall do so, but I must also feel it as a man." That shows you that Shakespeare is ultimately saying that men should be able to feel loss and express sadness and vulnerable emotions. For MacDuff, the gendering of emotion is stupid, which I agree with. He can feel pain (which Malcom sees as an unmanly thing to do) and still be a man. I thought Stickney did a great job with this scene and it was really moving.

This production made a few choices that I had never seen in Macbeth. The dagger from Macbeth's dagger speech appeared in the mirror, so that means that the audience sees the vision that Macbeth sees before he goes to kill Duncan. I think it is interesting because it makes us as the audience ask "what is reality in this world? Is this is a world in which magic is real?" If so, the witches could be manipulating him to kill Duncan and they could also be manipulating what we see, which would be a really interesting concept. Another interesting moment was in the "Out damn spot" scene. The Gentlewoman (Jennifer Latimore) and the Doctor (Donahue) couldn't see what you could see, that Lady Macbeth actually had blood on her hands and her dress. This is really cool because you couldn't see any blood on her dress when she came on, but then she put her hand on her dress and there was suddenly blood. This is another moment where you are not completely sure what is real and what isn't. This one actually makes you feel insane, though, because there are other people on stage who don't see what you are seeing. Until this point, we are seeing what Macbeth has been seeing, like the dagger and Duncan and the ghost of Banquo. But in this moment you see that you might not just be being manipulated by the witches but that it might have driven you crazy. I thought that was really interesting.

People who would like this show are people who like mirror daggers, manipulative witches, and feeling it like a man. I think this is an aesthetically cool show that made some interesting choices.

Photos: Liz Lauren

Friday, May 11, 2018

Review of Birds of a Feather at Greenhouse Theater Center

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Birds of a Feather. It was by Marc Acito and it was directed by Jacob Harvey. The movement was by Nick Thornton. It was about two penguins, Silo (Aaron Kirby) and Roy (Paul Michael Thomson), at the Central Park Zoo, and they were a same-sex couple and received an egg to hatch and raise. There was quite a bit of controversy around them. It is also about the story of two other local birds, Pale Male (Thomson) and Lola (Kirby), who were red-tailed hawks who nest in the building where Paula Zahn (Marika Mashburn) and Richard Cohen (Abu Ansari) live. They are seen as celebrities by some and a nuisance by others. It is about love, acceptance, and identity. I think this is a really funny, heartwarming, and surprisingly heartbreaking show.

The relationship between the penguins Silo and Roy was so adorable. I loved how they played off each other. At the beginning of the play you were just thinking about how much they were penguins because of their stylized movement and because of all the bird puns. I did really enjoy the puns, and the movement was really funny. The ways they would interact with each other were very penguinesque. At the very beginning of the show, Silo flaps onstage and starts shaking his feathers, which was sort of the first sign that, "oh, these are penguins." They also had a mating call, which they bonded over, but instead of being a squawk, for them it is "Defying Gravity" from Wicked, which is perfect for penguins, especially ones that see themselves as rebels. By the end of the show, you see them more like people with relationship troubles, identity crises, and emotions. They are still penguins, but just humanized penguins.

I thought the hawks, Lola and Pale Male, were sometimes infuriating because of Pale Male's unabashed homophobia, but most of the time they were hilarious. Lola had a very strong New York accent, and Pale Male thinks everyone who takes a picture of him is a fan. He thinks he is a superstar basically, and it seems like he is jealous of Roy and Silo because they are also getting a lot of attention. He is toxic masculinity in a hawk. Lola and Pale Male have a sex-based relationship and it is very funny to see two hawks having a torrid love affair. I was really impressed by how quickly and seamlessly the actors switched between characters. Silo is so brooding and Lola is so peppy. Roy is into musical theater and is very expressive and empathetic and Pale Male is hyper-masculine and is not very considerate of other people's feeling. It is really fun to see the actors do both sets of roles.

I really loved the Birder (Ansari) and the Zookeeper (Mashburn) who both had several monologues throughout the show. They both loved watching Pale Male and Lola and Roy and Silo. I loved how the play reveals their similarities throughout the show. I really liked how open they were with the audience and how much we got to know about their personal lives not related to the birds. It helps show you how the birds and the people in this play aren't so different because they both deal with some of the same feelings: loneliness, uncertainty, and fascination with things unlike them.

The ending was really powerful for me, and if you have already seen the show you can read what I thought about it at Ada Grey Spoils It for You.

People who would like this show are people who like toxic masculinity hawks, humanized penguins, and show tune mating calls. I think people should definitely see this show. It is so well-acted, hilarious, and moving. I really loved it.

Photos: Liz Lauren

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Review of Porchlight Music Theatre's Memphis

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Memphis. The book and lyrics were by Joe DiPietro and the music and lyrics were by David Bryan. It was directed by Daryl Brooks. The choreography was by Christopher Carter, and the music director was Jermaine Hill. It was about a white man named Huey Calhoun (Liam Quealy) who heard a woman named Felicia Farrell (Aeriel Williams) singing at a club and decided he needed to find a way to produce her music and get her heard. But because of racism at the time it was really hard to get a black woman on the air of white radio stations, no matter how much talent she had. Huey and Felicia fall in love and encounter racism because of their relationship. The show follows both of their careers as Huey becomes a rising radio host and Felicia puts out her first record. It is about love, music, and injustice. I think this is a fun musical and has amazing performances, but I do feel like there are some things that trouble me in the script.

I feel like this musical didn't have to be a white man's story. I think Quealy did a really great job in the role; my problem was just with the script. I was really interested in Felicia's story and I wanted to learn even more about her. I wanted to know more about life at the club and her relationship with her brother and the people in her church choir. I wanted to see her not just as a talent or with Huey, but navigating the world on her own. I bet she had to do that for a long time before Huey showed up. I was more interested in finding out how a black female singer would try and get on the radio than how a white guy helped a black woman get her songs on the radio. It is an interesting story to see the hate that they get because of their relationship, but I just didn't want it to be more his story. There is a moment where Huey decides that he wants to overthrow many people's racist ideas by kissing Felicia on his TV show. This would have been a great move if he had asked for consent and talked to her about it first because it could end up hurting her career and her life. Combatting racism is important, but doing it in this way--where it involves an act that needs to be consented to and has not been talked through with people who will probably be affected by it the most--is problematic.

Two songs where you get to focus mainly on Felicia's story are "She's My Sister," which is sung by her brother Delray (Lorenzo Rush, Jr.), and "Colored Woman," which she sings about her experiences with prejudice and what her mother warned her about what kinds of choices she has in the world. Both of the songs were so well-acted and amazingly sung. "She's My Sister" is a fight Delray has with Huey about his devotion to his sister and how he realized her talent after their parents died so he decided to open his club. Delray is telling Huey the reasons why Huey should not be able to take this music as his own. He is trying to tell him that he is appropriating, and Huey says, "That's not for you to say," except that it very much is because it is music that was made to express people's feelings that weren't being listened to. And for a white man, even a poor one, to take that and say this is mine because I love it isn't right. It makes sense that he would love and identify with the music. But he shouldn't take it, like Delray says he is. The song "Colored Woman" was so beautifully done and emotionally resonant. I think that actor did an amazing job throughout the show but this song showed all her talent beautifully. It is one of the moments in the show where you get to see her perspective fully. You get to hear about her family life not through her brother and her experiences with being black in the south in the sixties. It shows you that she is capable of telling her own story and despite the prejudice she is talking about she wants to take charge of her own life.

I think this show had an amazing supporting cast and ensemble. They were phenomenal dancers and singers. Bobby (James Earl Jones II) had a song, "Big Love," where he came out of his shell for the first time and sang on live television. It was a really fun and catchy song and was really awesome to see the switch he had between being the janitor at the radio station and this rock star that just came out and was having fun and knew he was killing it. There was a really funny moment I think around the song "Crazy Little Huey" where the dancers on the tv show were told to do the alligator dance. Gator (Gilbert Domally) has this alligator head that he is carrying and chomping on people. LAnd he tried to bite one of the dancers (Jared David Michael Grant) and the dancer made this hilarious overdramatic terrified face and it was absolutely hilarious. They were clearly having so much fun and joking around. Ensemble in musicals are often just in the background, but in this show each of the members had so much personality and were super memorable.

People who would like this show are people who like resonant blues, protective brothers, and overdramatic alligator dances. I think that people should go see this show. It has a great cast and amazing music. I liked it.

Photos: Michael Courier

Monday, May 7, 2018

Review of Teatro Vista's The Madres

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Madres. It was written by Stephanie A. Walker and directed by Ricardo Gutiérrez. It was about Josefina (Ivonne Coll) and her daughter Carolina (Lorena Diaz), whose daughter Belén (Ilse Zacharias) had been disappeared during the Dirty War in Argentina. Carolina has started protesting with The Madres, who are the mothers of the disappeared. They decide to have a baby shower for Belén, who is pregnant, in hopes that she will be released to them. It is about mother-daughter relationships, injustice, and hope. I think this is a really powerful and beautiful show.

The main conflict in this show seems to be about how to react to the actions of the government. Carolina was an activist and would go out on marches with The Madres because she hopes if she works to resist hard enough maybe the government will pay attention. But Josefina is hesitant about that life. She thinks good behavior is the way to avoid being hurt, which can be true, but I believe that when times are this desperate you should go out and help the people who need it. The government keeps saying that they are stronger as one unified country, which is why they fight against the resisters in their own country. The Madres are really trying to unify the country too, but against the disappearing of their children. Padre Juan (Ramón Camín) is sort of in the middle. He wants the people in his life to get justice, but he also knows from the inside what the government is capable of and wants the people in his life to be safe from that. Josefina and Carolina keep telling themselves that Belén is actually just in Paris and she'll be back. They don't think it is really true, but they are trying to trick themselves into believing it. Josefina needs to believe this because she wants the world not to be like it is and for her faith and her devotion to be rewarded. She also doesn't have to protest anything if she doesn't believe it is true. But even if you are, like Carolina, protesting and trying to make things better, it is still hard to accept what your life is like in the moment. So, just because Carolina is protesting doesn't mean that she can completely accept what is happening to her daughter.

I really loved Josefina and Carolina. This play drops you into this family's life and you feel like you get to know these people right away. I liked how you got to see Josefina cleaning and singing along to her music at the beginning. She was so loving to the people she was close to and you see that through her food and the way she comforts people and the way she protects people. She wants everyone to feel comfortable in her house, even Diego (Felipe Carrasco) who she hasn't seen since he was a kid. It is really adorable how at the beginning of the play Padre Juan is so excited about the medialuna that Josefina made. And when she gets mad at him, she decides to hold back the food until she gets what she wants. You see that she is not just a sweet and caring person, but will stand up for the things she loves and believes in. You get to see two sides of Carolina. One that is fearless and angry and one that is scared and depressed. She is usually on her guard, and when she lets down her guard, you can tell that something is really wrong. She is worried that the woman who is knitting outside their house is a spy. She comes into the room from a protest and she is pumped and angry and excited, but then she realizes she might be being watched and we see her fear.

The last scene was so powerful and beautiful that I didn't want to spoil it. But if you have already seen the show you can read what I thought about it at Ada Grey Spoils It for You.

People who would like this show are people who like heartbreaking family stories, political plays, and medialuna bribery. I think that people should definitely definitely definitely see this show. It is beautifully acted and an amazing story. I cried a lot and I loved it.

Photos: Joel Maisonet

Friday, May 4, 2018

Review of The Right Brain Project's Raised in Captivity

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Raised in Captivity. It was by Nicky Silver and it was directed by Kathi Kaity. It was about a man named Sebastian (Joel Collins) and his sister Bernadette (Hannah Williams). They hadn't spoken to each other for many years and their mother had just died unexpectedly. Their lives are both going through major changes around that time and they have to learn to deal with each other and the twists and turns of life. It is about sibling rivalry, coping with loss, and what makes a family.

Bernadette's husband Kip (Tyler Esselman) had recently given up his career as a dentist to become a painter. He would paint only using white because he didn't want to mess up. I was wondering what they were trying to get across with that because it seemed too important to just be comedic. One of my theories is that it meant that if you don't take chances in life (like painting in color) then you won't ever do anything important in society. Your life will be a blank slate. Another theory I had was that when you make art a lot of people won't understand, but there will always be someone who can see what you are getting at. In this case, Hillary (Liz Goodson), who is Sebastian's ex-therapist, understands what Kip is trying to do with his art because of their similar ideas about what makes life beautiful.

This play had a really interesting take on freedom. Sometimes I felt like this show was trying to say that no matter what you do it will never matter and you will always feel like hurting yourself and everything you do is futile. All of the characters are depressed and don't really want to be there, but seem to feel like they are trapped. Ironically, the one character that seems to be kind of happy from the beginning, but in a creepy way, is Dylan Sinclair (Vic Kuligoski), who is in jail, so he can't leave. Kip wants freedom in multiple ways: he wants to go to a country that is more open and free and he wants to be free from the shackles of his marriage. And he wants to be free of the constraints of his job and his baby. He ends up getting all of it. I'm not sure if that is supposed to be a "good for him!" or a "he's a jerk!" I'm just not sure how the play thought I should feel about him. Sebastian and Bernadette both end up wanting to be free of the romantic relationships they thought they wanted and free of normal family constructs. They both discover happiness being responsible for something they can shape; the baby is a blank slate. Everyone wants to start their life over in this play, and if they have this being they can shape, it is like starting over.

I think this play uses a lot of heightened events to get big reactions. One character with extreme behavior takes their eyes out with a screwdriver. Another one stabs someone. Another one sees a ghost. I'm not sure what I think about this technique. I really like watching slices of people's lives. I like dark comedy and farce. But for some reason this play just didn't click with me. I think it might be because the playwright wants to show us that people cannot really make human connections and cannot listen to and understand each other. That is why all their behavior is so extreme. It can be true for people in real life, but I like to see people connecting with each other on stage. There is one relationship where Sebastian feels like he has a connection with someone. But it ends up that that person is not feeling the same way he is. And it seems like the reason they can connect is because they never have to see each other face to face.

People who would like this show are people who like white paintings, extreme plot points, and blank slate babies. I think it is an interesting show, and I think there are a lot of people who enjoy dark theater like this. I'm glad I saw it.

Photos: Lindsay Williams Photography

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Review of Kokandy Productions' Grand Hotel

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Grand Hotel. The book was by Luther Davis and the music and lyrics were by Robert Wright and George Forrest based on Vicki Baum's Grand Hotel. Additional music and lyrics were by Maury Yeston. It was directed by John D. Glover. Music direction was by Aaron Benham, and choreography was by Brenda Didier. It was about a hotel in Berlin in 1928. It is a very expensive hotel with an array of guests. Baron Felix Von Gaigern (Erik Dohner) was deep in debt and turning to crime to get money. A ballet dancer, Elizaveta Grushinskaya (Michelle Jasso) is on one of her various farewell tours. Hermann Preysing (Jeremy Trager) is on a business trip trying to settle the merger between his company and another. Otto Kringelein (Jonathan Schwart) has been told that he doesn't have long to live and he has come to the hotel to embrace life. The play also focuses on people who are not staying at the hotel, like the typist Flaemmchen (Leryn Turlington) who is working for Mr. Preysing but wants to be an actress in Hollywood. And Erik (Parker Guidry), who works at the hotel, is waiting for news of his baby being born. It is about humanity, passion, and searching for meaning.

I found myself really caring about the romances in this show. At first, the relationship between Elizaveta and the Baron seemed a little bit out of nowhere, just as it is in the movie, so I wasn't sure I would care about it as much as some of the other relationships. But I did. I thought they had great chemistry on stage. The way that they meet is problematic, but very dramatic. It is based on a movie from the thirties, which tend to be very melodramatic, so it kind of makes sense that they meet in such a strange way. He has broken into her room to steal something and tries to distract her by pretending he is a fan who is obsessed with her. If someone broke into my room and said, "I'm your biggest fan," I would tell them to get out. And at first I was like that with this relationship. It is kind of creepy. But when you see how they relate to each other and how they actually seem to love each other, your fears go out the window because it is a musical. Also, you see what a more predatory person looks like in Preysing, and the Baron decides to protect the person in danger in that case. Also the Baron is such a sweetheart to Otto and seems to be a caring person. You end up sympathizing with him because he is out of money, comes clean about his crimes, is trying to help a friend, and puts other people's safety before his own. It is weird that the play wants you to sympathize with someone who does something so creepy, and it made me think about how society has changed in such minor ways since the thirties. We feel like we've come a long way, but we still struggle with how much people should be held accountable.

The relationship between Flaemmchen and Kringelein was adorable. It was a good friendship that the play hinted could become something else. They had this very cute song where Otto and Flaemmchen are dancing called "Who Couldn't Dance with You?" Otto at first is really scared but Flaemmchen helps him along and he gains confidence. It was a really cute way to introduce their friendship. They also help each other through grief and hard times. It is a very different relationship than the Baron and Elizaveta have. It is less passion and more genuine connection. But I think that both of the relationships seem to work even though they are very different.

This show gave us several characters that we do not get to see in the original film, but it didn't give them very many characteristics or much of a backstory. I do understand that they didn't want an insanely long show, but I do feel as if it is unsatisfying that they give us a glimpse of what the workers' lives are like at the Grand Hotel without really giving a complex view of their stories. They acknowledge them at the beginning and the end (especially the character of Erik), and they are in the background most of the time, but I really wanted to know more about them. There is a song called "Some Have, Some Have Not," sung by the workers near the beginning of the show about how the people who stay at the hotel are rich and powerful and how the people serving them want that life too. It is a very angry song, which I completely understand, and the tone is threatening. But it presents them as a mass instead of each as individual people, which made me think the show did not care as much about the workers' stories as they tried to present. I think the employees being worked into the story was a good idea, but they just didn't follow through in the script enough.

The new characters that work at the hotel that we get the most information about are the Jimmys (Darren Patin and Travis Austin Wright). I still would have liked to know more about them, but they had my favorite song "Maybe My Baby Loves Me," which was a tap dance number. They danced with Flaemmchen, and we learn they are from America and where they grew up their streets weren't paved. Flaemmchen thinks America will be great. The Jimmys encourage her in her dream to become a movie star, but they warn her that America may not be as great as she thinks it is. I love a good tap dance number, and this one was especially good. They had good technique and were perfectly in sync. Flaemmchen being added into the number was a cool surprise. It was really cool to hear the rhythm of the scat go along with the rhythm of the tap.

People who would like this show are people who like surprisingly sympathetic thieves, unlikely adorable pairings, and scat tap. I think this show has some really great performances,lovely dancing, and some good songs. I liked it.

Photos: Evan Hanover

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Review of Eclipse Theatre's Natural Affection

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Natural Affection. It was by William Inge, and it was directed by Rachel Lambert. It is about a woman, Sue (Diana Coates), who was living with her boyfriend, Bernie (Luke Daigle), in Chicago in the 1960s. Her son, Donnie (Terry Bell), has just come back from a work farm where he had been sent for beating up a woman and stealing a car, and he has never met his mother's boyfriend before. She is trying to make up for having sent him to an orphanage as a baby and trying to make up for lost time. Then the neighbors arrive with festively-wrapped plot twists and lots of booze. This play is about parenthood, the difficulty of new beginnings, and not being able to escape your mistakes.

The relationship between Sue and Bernie was pretty distressing because Sue seems to be scared into loving him. She is so scared that he is going to leave her, that she takes more crap from him than she should. She seems to be fine--she could provide for herself--but she feels like she is not supposed to because of the traditional gender roles at the time. And Bernie even seems to get mad that she makes more money than he does and he doesn't seem to want her to be successful. He also says some very sexist things about women and refers to them as dames, which is one of my least favorite ways to refer to women. It was written in the 60s, so maybe the dame stuff was not as shocking or rude and we are only supposed to start disliking him when he starts being physically abusive. I think this is a very difficult relationship to decide how you feel about because in most shows you are rooting for the romance. Even when you realize that these people shouldn't be together, it is hard not to hope that he changes his ways. The relationship is what she wants, but it is not healthy. So you are torn between the characters having what they think they want and not being hurt.

One of the most interesting but distressing characters was Vince (Joe McCauley) who was an alcoholic who was gay but in the closet and took most of his anger out on his wife Claire (Cassidy Slaughter-Mason). I feel like he was the most troubling character because I wanted him to acknowledge a part of himself that might make him not turn to a substance for happiness. I think he did know he was gay, but he didn’t want to accept it because of the intolerance that was so present at that time. I felt sorry for his wife even though she didn't make the best decision about coping with her husband's substance abuse and his neglect of her needs if they didn't come in a package. Like he understands if she wants a new dress but not if she wants him to understand and love to her. The Christmas scene was especially heartbreaking and convincing. You could see the terror that Claire has. She doesn't really understand her husband's behavior and how "No" doesn't seem to mean "Stop" to him. And the way that alcohol incapacitates him to hear reason is really heartbreaking.

There is an underlying tone of sadness in the entire play. Even when things seem to be going well, something immediately comes along and shuts it down. Like when Donnie comes home from getting new clothes and has gotten a new rock and roll record and starts twisting with his mom, Bernie comes in and tells them it is too loud. Every bit of happiness seems to get degraded slightly so there is never a moment of true hope. It is especially true for Donnie because he was not the product of a planned pregnancy and later on in his life he was left by his mother in an orphanage and was no longer a daily part of her life. Even what feels like a happy reunion has dark undertones because of Donnie's relationship with his mother in the past. It seems like the reason why he hurts other people is because of his mother. He doesn't want to hurt her but he is angry at her, so he takes it out on random strangers. The love that he feels for his mother turns into violence against other people. The mother does this too in another way. She takes out her anger on her son because she feels a duty to her boyfriend that she doesn't feel to her son because he wasn't planned. But she also feels guilt for sending him to the home in the first place, which is really complicated. She takes out stuff on the person she doesn't feel should exist in her life, which is a really sad thing to think about. This was my first Inge play. It was very interesting and it had amazing performances, but it seemed like all the characters had a lot of problems and not a lot of hope. You feel like it is going to end badly from the beginning.

People who would like this show are people who like dark undertones, rock and roll records, and realistic drunks. I think that this is a really well-performed, powerful, and heartbreaking show. I really liked it.

Photos: Scott Dray

Friday, April 27, 2018

Review of The Doppelgänger (an international farce) at Steppenwolf Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Doppelgänger (an international farce). It was by Matthew-Lee Erlbach, and it was directed by Tina Landau. It was about a man named Thomas (Rainn Wilson), a wealthy British copper mine owner living in Bangui, Central African Republic. His doppelgänger Jimmy (also played by Wilson) was basically his polar opposite; he was from the Midwest in the United States, a kindergarten teacher, and searching for himself by traveling across Africa. And Thomas accidentally takes zebra tranquilizer on the day he is supposed to make a secret deal with representatives of many different nations. And Rosie (Celeste Cooper), his maid and an activist, decides to cover up his incapacitation and have his doppelgänger take his place and convince the people at the meeting to adopt Rosie's plan for giving the mine workers better pay and circumstances. Hilarity ensues. It is about global activism, wealth, and power. I think this is a funny, important, and occasionally troubling show. I think it had some excellent performances.

I think it is really interesting that they put a farce and real issues in the world together in this play. I think it worked in a lot of ways, but also the way that farce tends to portray people as stereotypes seems more uncomfortable in the context of the real issues in the play. The play does address some very prominent and pressing issues that need to be addressed in theater and media more often. But then when you use farce to get the point across, it can be confusing to hear people laughing at genuinely disturbing images and issues. I think it is a good method to draw people in using comedy and then smack them in the face with some real issues when they are vulnerable and can accept it better. I think one of the reasons why this play affected me in a way that most other plays do not is this specific method that Ehrlbach uses. It did take me awhile to figure out how I felt about it, because it was a very different way of addressing things. I had to think and talk about it for a few days before I really got a grip on what I think the play is trying to do. I think it is trying to give people something they were not expecting but wrapped in a comedic packaging. At first I was distressed by the way the audience laughed at the stereotyping; there were many laughs I wasn't comfortable joining in with. But when I thought about it, I feel like we are all eventually supposed to feel uncomfortable with the stereotypes, even those who laughed at them at first. It is supposed to show a new way of thinking instead of simply condemning the way some people first responded to the caricatures.

There were some really funny characters in the show. I loved Marina (Karen Rodriguez) who was a money launderer and Prince Amir's (Andy Nagraj) girlfriend. She was very comfortable with her sexuality, had some lovely lingerie, and liked to use analogies about her personality. When she was dominating she would say she could be a ferocious cat and when she was sweet and innocent she would be a little kitten. She would make little tiny meowing sounds. I thought the analogies were hilarious and her facial expressions were just brilliant. Wen (Whit K. Lee) was a tech creator and the kind of a guy who wears Gucci pajamas, but he also was one of the only people who would call people out on their racism. Everyone else seemed to just be taking it. For some reason people kept saying he was representing China, but he was actually from the United States. It felt like his natural state of being was like a Kickstarter video. He had a lot of really funny moments where he would be super energized about something that no one else could understand.

This play mostly follows the story of Rosie and Jimmy. A lot of the comedy is generated from their relationship, because Rosie is about one hundred times smarter than Jimmy (and also than her real boss, Thomas). They start to develop this sort of messed-up friendship because of the lies they are fabricating together. Actually, by a certain point in the show they develop a real friendship when they both start to learn how to deal with and respect each other. There are some really great comedic moments they have together. One of my favorites was when Thomas's wife, Theresa (Sandra Marquez), comes back early and Rosie wants Jimmy to pretend to be Thomas around her, but Jimmy has no idea who Theresa is and he starts talking to Rosie about how he might really have a wife he forgot about. I felt as if that was the moment that captured his obliviousness and how much Rosie is struggling to try to keep everything together. And when Jimmy finally realizes who Theresa is, he says, "Oh, that wife!" That was especially hilarious because it was such a long time later that you had almost forgotten about it, and then he abruptly reminds you of his cluelessness. Rosie and Jimmy also handle things in very different ways. When Rosie is scared she uses the safe word she's established with Jimmy and asks if anyone would like some tea so she can take her partner in deception aside. Jimmy decides that the most rational way to handle fear was to treat everyone like five year olds or adopt an insanely over-the-top British accent to remind everyone how British he is, which was absolutely ridiculous and hilarious. Also, for a lot of the negotiating scenes between the representatives of the nations, Rosie would be in the background lugging Thomas's body and trying to find a place to hide it, which is absolutely hilarious to see someone hauling around a limp body in the background of important scenes. Her physical comedy was absolutely flawless and hilarious. Even though she is frequently in the background, I feel it is mostly her story, even though at the beginning of the show she is literally told by Thomas to just "be the maid." I feel like that is her inciting moment because it spurs her to help the country that she loves even in the face of people who have more power than she does. She also has big tactical changes throughout the show, which are really surprising and interesting.

People who would like this show are people who like limp body physical comedy, addressing issues through farce, and ferocious kitties in lingerie. I think people should go see this show and then talk to me about it. I really would love to see what other people thought about this show, because I think it can be taken in so many different ways. It is something you have to talk about to start to understand it. It had some amazing comedic performances. I enjoyed it.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Review of Company at Venus Cabaret Theater at Mercury Theater Chicago

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Company. The music and lyrics were by Stephen Sondheim and the book was by George Furth. Orchestrations were by Jonathan Tunick. It was directed by L. Walter Stearns. The music director was Eugene Dizon and the choreographer was Aubrey Adams. It was about a man named Robert (David Sajewich) and it was his birthday and all of his married friends showed up. Robert is perpetually single and all his friends are trying to set him up with different people. The show is basically jumping through different moments in his life with his married friends and his various girlfriends. It is about being single in your thirties, marriage, and the different types of love that are in a person's life. I think this is a really well performed show and I loved the music and the character relationships.

One of my favorite comedic moments was April (Allison Sill), Marta (Kyrie Courter), and Kathy (Kiersten Frumkin), who are Robert's three girlfriends throughout the show, singing "You Could Drive a Person Crazy," which is basically about how Robert is a terrible boyfriend and wasn't present during their relationships. Robert is sitting there the entire time saying how he has dated plenty of women and how he is ready for marriage, but he doesn't seem very good at dating them, so how can he be ready to spend a lifetime this any one of them? That is what this whole musical is trying to figure out for Robert. The song is a very Andrews Sisters-esque love song, but then it turns out to be a song of dismissal. I really loved the choreography in this song; it was reenacting every kind of trouble they had had with him and making each reenactment slightly more brutal. This song reminds me of something that might be on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. It is so funny and it is of a style that isn't necessarily in keeping with everything else in the show. It is not something you would immediately hear and say, "Oh! That's Sondheim!" They had this scale where Marta and Kathy would do a very normal scale note and then April would take it up and make this very high-pitched tweet. Everything in the song was like, "You are driving me crazy," and the scale was like the evolution of getting more and more crazy throughout the relationship.

I loved the song "Getting Married Today." It was sung by Amy (Jenna Coker-Jones), who was freaking out about her wedding to Paul (Greg Foster) that day. One of my favorite physical comedy moments was when she decided it was a completely rational idea to get away from her wedding by crawling along the bar. She was just trying to find any way to get out of the situation and the room. I loved the fast-paced rhythm of Amy's part of the song; it works really well with her natural state of being: high energy. It shows how this character's emotions are all taken to the next level. It is understandable that she is freaking out because no one is taking her seriously and she is "not well." If another character had had this song, it would have been harder to laugh at because you might have been worried about them. But Amy shows a hilarious contrast between acknowledging herself as acting insane but not seeing that her fears about her understanding husband are crazy. Also, the contrast of Susan's (Nicole Armold) angelic opera in the background was absolutely hilarious while also being beautiful.

Throughout the play you go through scenes, jumping throughout time it seems, looking at different memorable visits that Robert has had with his married friends. Harry (Frederick Harris) and Sarah (Nicole Cready) had some problems that they were trying to hide behind each other's backs. Harry had a drinking problem and Sarah was trying to diet, but they didn't want the other to see that they were doing what they said they wouldn't do. But they kind of saw the other person and didn't say anything because they didn't want the other person to see what they were doing. Robert catches on to all this and is worried for his friends. But that didn't mean this scene was free of humor. Harry and Sarah were having a karate fight. They were very into it and determined to win. Robert on the sidelines watching this thing unfold was quite funny. Peter (Derek Self) and Susan had a very strange relationship where they had to get divorced to be able to rekindle their relationship. A very sad scene in the play was when Peter, who clearly wanted to be with Robert, was sort of confessing his feelings to Robert very vaguely, but Robert doesn't take it seriously. I think it is particularly sad because you get to see Peter for a few seconds after it happens because Robert just walks away. You are mostly following Robert everywhere, so it is interesting that he leaves his audience behind for a second for the audience to see Peter's emotions after being rejected by Robert. In another scene, Robert hangs out with David (Ryan Stajmiger) and Jenny (Hannah Dawe) and they start smoking weed. And Jenny is not realizing how high she is and is talking really fast and can't stop. It was pretty hilarious how she reacted to the drug and then once she realized that she was high, she just seemed to get higher. She is such a sweet genuine person and seeing her lose her filter is hilarious. This scene does have some dark undertones of controlling marriage, which are heartbreaking but interesting.

People who would like this show are people who like marriage karate, the evolution of relationship craziness, and crawling away from your problems. I really loved this musical. It has great lyrics, great music, and it was performed very well in a new and interesting space. I look forward to seeing what they will do in the Venus Cabaret next.

Photos: Brett A. Beiner