Sunday, September 16, 2018

Review of The Shipment at Red Tape Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Shipment. It was by Young Jean Lee, and it was directed by Wardell Julius Clark. It was a compilation of different short monologues, dances, and scenes about race and representations of black experiences. The show tries to make the audience feel uncomfortable to make the point of the play more effective, and it flips the script to say how wrong people are to pretend that we live in a post-racial society. I think this is a really powerful show. It takes a while to process, which I think adds to the experience. It was a really great show. It is a lot to handle, and I think the playwright wants it to be that way. But the discomfort is important for everyone to feel. And once you've thought about it for a while, you can move past the discomfort and nonproductive guilt and think about all the true and thought-provoking things in the show and how you can notice more effectively the crap that is happening around you and respond to it in a way that helps the situation but without taking over.

There was this dance (choreographed by Breon Arzell) at the beginning of the show with Sheldon Brown and Hunter Bryant. They started doing this dance that seemed almost like marionettes and like they didn't want to do what they were doing. That was sad because what they were doing seemed enjoyable except that they seemed very forced. Then when the scene ended, they took off their cheesy grins and just became very serious and walked off very businesslike, like what they had just done was humiliating to them. I think they were trying to show a modern minstrel act where the enthusiasm is all a ruse and the audience is silently convicted for laughing at it at first. This is kind of an introduction into how the show is going to try to get across its points. Young Jean Lee also used discomfort to get across her points in Straight White Men, and it was really effective there too.

There was also a stand up comedian (Marcus D. Moore) and I thought I had a general idea what it was going to be like. But he proceeded to use stereotypes about every person in the theater in some way, even himself. It was very explicitly sexual and graphic. It was hard to hear, especially sitting with a bunch of people when he is saying terrible things about everyone. I couldn't decide if Lee wanted us to feel alone or not alone in this mockery. I thought I would feel alone and alienated, but since the comedian was stereotyping everyone, I ended up feeling less alone. And then the end of his speech he ended up talking about his wife and kids, and it made you feel bad about dismissing him as an jerk. I think it is supposed to make you confused about how to think about this character.

They also had a scene that sort of reminded me of an old video game because of the robotic tone in their voice and their back and forth movements. They seemed to have only about two movements for each character. The plot is the plot of a stereotypical cautionary-tale movie about a black kid (Eric Gerard) who wants to be a famous rap star, so his friend (Brown) convinces him to sell drugs. He ends up in jail, joins a radical group, and then he becomes famous. And then he feels awful and he confesses to God and his grandma (Kiayla Ryann) comes down from heaven and tells him a story about cranes. It is showing how all these stereotypes get replayed and replayed. And sometimes it seems like that is the primary story people tell about black people. This scene leads into three of the actors (Brown, Gerard, and Ryann) staring at you for a minute and then breaking into song (music direction by Sydney Charles). I thought it was a really powerful switch from them playing these really clunky stereotypes to just being real people looking at us.

The last scene of the show feels a lot like a short play. It is about five friends who are having a party and find out it is their friend Desmond's (Brown) birthday. And at first it just seems like a normal party, but as it goes on, you find out not everyone is as emotionally stable as you thought. It is really distressing to see all of these people fall apart, but it was also interesting to watch because the actors were so amazing. There is also a big reveal at the end that I'm not going to give away. It was hard to wrap my head around, but it made me think back on the scene and how it changed it. The fact that all these things would be changed with the new information made me really think that just by changing one thing about a character it can completely change the way we see the morality and behavior of that character.

People who would like this show are people who like flipping the script, chilling transitions, and productive discomfort. I think that people should definitely go see this show. I think it is a really important and thought-provoking show, and I want a lot of people to have this experience.

Photos: Austin Oie

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Review of New American Folk Theatre's Scraps

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Scraps. It was written by Anthony Whitaker and directed by Jamal Howard. It is an imaginative sequel to The Patchwork Girl of Oz by L. Frank Baum. It is about a living rag doll named Scraps (Brittney Brown) who lived in Oz and did the same thing every day until she got swept away by a kite when she was hanging out with her friend the Tin Man (Vic Kuligoski). And when she dropped down she fell into the house of her creators, Dr. Pipt (Jeffrey Hoge) and his wife Margolotte (Kelsey Shipley), only to find that Dr. Pipt was gone and Margolotte decided that she wanted to turn into a statue again. So Scraps seeks the help of Queen Ozma (JD Caudill), Dorothy (Charlie Irving), and Jack Pumpkinhead (Kelly Combs), and while she is there she meets a Prince (Kuligoski) who is amused by her and wants to take her back to his land. On her visit she meets the Prince's sister, Princess Langwidere (Combs), who lets her try on some of her spare heads, and Scraps feels so beautiful she decides to take it and go on an adventure as this new beautiful person. It is about self-discovery, what it means to be beautiful, and adventure. I think this is an intriguing show with a good moral and it was fun to see the connections to the other Oz stories.

Scraps is a very complex character, which I was not necessarily expecting. At the beginning of the show, it seems like she has one level. But as the show progresses and you see what she struggling with inside; you see that she has been pretending to be content with the way she looks and the way people treat her for a very long time. It was really moving to see her struggle with something I struggle with a lot and many other people do as well. A story that is familiar from childhood but is turned into a piece for adults is a really good format to get such an important point about standing up for yourself across. I feel like it is easier to learn in contexts that are familiar.

I really loved Dorothy and Ozma's relationship. They were so adorable together and I loved how open and loving they were with each other and how they didn't need a label for their relationship. That is weird for Oz, because Oz is a land of labels. Literally everyone's name is exactly what they seem to be: the Wicked Witch, the Cowardly Lion, the Emerald City. But the labels are not always right: the Cowardly Lion isn't really Cowardly and the Emerald City (in the book) is not really emerald. (But the Wicked Witch is pretty wicked.) All that matters is Dorothy and Ozma's connection with each other, and that is not really anyone else's business. Dorothy doesn't like the spotlight and is a very private person. Ozma says about themselves that they are neither a boy or a girl and live in between, which is again not putting a label on yourself. In the original story Ozma being a boy was just magic and done to hide Princess Ozma, but here it is exploring the ideas of being gender non-binary and how this character that most of us know from the stories was dealing with issues people deal with in the real world.

I thought this show had some cool production elements. I really like the costume (by Zachary Ryan Allen) for Scraps. It looked like a character costume you might see at an amusement park, but you could still see the actors's face, which I think was really important for this role because she is a very expressive character. It was made out of a bunch of patches and she had string for hair. The Tin Man was an interesting meld between a costume and a puppet. Each of the limbs of the Tin Man were strapped to limbs of the actor, so when the actor walked, the Tin Man would walk. I also think they did an amazing job for a show with a small budget. They had a set (designed by Whitaker) that was really good at conveying where they were for each scene but wasn't super extravagant. I think this show benefitted from the simplicity of the set because there are so many different story lines and characters, so those need to be the focus.

People who would like this show are people who like charismatic rag dolls, an effective moral, and unlabeled Oz. I think people should go see this show. It is an interesting and fun experience. I liked it!

Photos: Paul Clark

Friday, August 31, 2018

Ada Grey Interviews for You: The Cast of Tootsie (Broadway in Chicago)

I had so much fun interviewing the cast of Tootsie. It begins performances September 11th at the Cadillac Palace Theatre. I can't wait to see the show!

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Broadway in Chicago's Summer Concert at Millennium Park

I had so much fun going to see the Broadway in Chicago Summer Concert at Millennium Park. It was such a good time and had so many talented performers. It made me really excited for the season to come. It featured songs from revivals like Hello Dolly, Fiddler on the Roof, and Cats. It also showcased songs from new musicals like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Anastasia, A Bronx Tale, and Come From Away. And there was a song from the new jukebox musical featuring songs sung by Elvis Presley, Heartbreak Hotel. Four performances really stood out for me, from Falsettos, Book of Mormon, Dear Evan Hansen, and Miss Saigon.

I really loved the performance of "What Would I Do" from Falsettos by Whizzer (Nick Adams) and Marvin (Tally Sessions). That song always makes me very emotional because of how important these two characters are to each other even though their relationship has not been perfect all the time. I've only listened to the soundtrack, so I am really excited to get to see one of my favorite shows this season.

I'm really interested in Miss Saigon after seeing Emily Bautista's breathtaking performance. She sang "I'd Give My Life for You" with such passion and amazing vocals. It seems like a very dramatic and tragic story, and I'm excited to cry in a theater with a bunch of other people!

"You and Me (But Mostly Me)" from Book of Mormon, sung by Elder Price (Kevin Clay) and Elder Cunningham (Conner Peirson) was really hilarious. I didn't see Book of Mormon the last two times it was in town because it probably wasn't appropriate for an 8 or a 12 year old. Elder Price and Elder Cunningham's relationship was really funny and I'm really excited to see the entire story of this musical I've waited so long to see.

I'm so thrilled Dear Evan Hansen is coming to Chicago. I'm a fan of the soundtrack, and I'm really looking forward to seeing the story that goes with it. I thought that Ben Ross did an amazing job with "Waving Through A Window." His vocal range is amazing and I'm interested to see what he does with the character. It was really moving to see all the nominees from the Illinois High School Musical Theatre Awards join him to sing "You Will Be Found." It was just awesome to see the star of a touring company singing with all these people who want to make musical theatre their career.

Photo: Broadway in Chicago

Monday, August 13, 2018

Review of The Story Theatre's Leave Me Alone!

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Leave Me Alone! It was written by Paul Michael Thomson and directed by Matt Bowdren. It was about a guy named Ivanov (Sean Gallagher) and he was a politician. His wife Anna (Brenna Welsh) was dying but she didn't know it. He didn't want to pay attention to her because she made him feel guilty, so he hired a doctor to stay with her called Dr. Love (Ayanna Bria Bakari), who ended up falling in love with her. Ivanov owes a bunch of money to the Lebedevs, Paul (Randolph Johnson) and Aida (Nicole Laurenzi), and he ends up having feelings for their son Sam (Jordan Dell Harris), starting when his wife is sick. This play is about morality, depression, and political decision making. I have never seen the Chekhov play Ivanov, which this was based on, but I thought this play was very interesting.

I really like Chekhov's writing, but there is not a great representation of people who are not white, straight, and depressed in his plays. So I really liked that this play represented people of color and the LGBTQ+ community in the writing and casting. Everyone still seemed pretty depressed. I also really liked that two of the primary relationships (between Dr. Love and Anna and Ivanov and Sam) were gay relationships. I thought the actors in both of those relationships were really spot-on and their performances made me emotional. But I found it strange that their sexuality is very accepted by everyone in the play. I really wish that was the case in the world, but we aren't there yet. I was expecting to see a representation of how people get treated in the world because of their sexuality, even by their own families. But it is also nice to see a play that isn't primarily about the struggle. The attacks on Ivanov and Sam's relationship are about age, not about them both being men, which I think is good to focus on, but in the playwright's note it says this play is about how we haven't come so far since Ivanov's first production. But I think it is very different from how many gay people would have been treated back when the first production of Ivanov was happening. Also everyone seemed to hate Dr. Love, but not because of her sexuality. They hated her because she was too perceptive and noticed all their crap.

It is really hard to like a lot of characters in Chekhov because a lot of them are interesting because of how messed-up and melodramatic they are about their lives. A lot of their lives are pretty crappy, but they throw it out of proportion. They overreact about little things and then when really terrible things happen they are just tired and they kill themselves or give up spectacularly. Is there any character at the end of a Chekhov play who isn't dead or wishes they were? It's like they live in the So-over-it Union. In Leave Me Alone! I feel like there are more characters that are sympathetic. I felt like they were more relatable to people today because it was set in modern times and the way you can live vicariously through them. I felt like Dr. Love, Anna, and Sam keep getting targeted by those in power, but they don't give up. I liked the direct address in this play and felt like it made it more personal. That also might be a reason why I related to these characters and found them more sympathetic. Overall, I found the play less depressing than a lot of Chekhov.

People who would like this show are people who like gayer Chekhov, perceptive characters, and a little vacation from the So-over-it Union. I think this is a really powerful show and I think this was a really good Chekhov adaptation. This show only had a two-week run, and I'm so sorry I couldn't get the review out before it closed. I'm looking forward to what this company does next!

Photos: David Hagan

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Review of Eclipse Theatre Company's Bus Stop

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Bus Stop. It was by William Inge and it was directed by Steve Scott. It was about a young woman named Elma (Jillian Warden) who works at Grace's (Sarah Bright) diner, and there is a snowstorm happening outside, so a whole busload of people have to spend the night there. Cherie (Daniella Pereira) is a singer in a club and she is trying to get away from her boyfriend Bo (Anthony Conway) who is forcing her to marry him. Bo is traveling along with Virgil (Zach Bloomfield) who is like a father figure to him. Dr. Lyman (Ted Hoerl) is a professor who has quit his job and is traveling the world to feel free. He develops a close relationship with Elma. The bus driver, Carl (Matt Thinnes), seems to have a very intimate relationship with Grace. The Sheriff stops in for coffee and to help out Cherie so she doesn't get taken away by Bo again. There are all these people getting to know each other and bonding, but also sometimes the people that already know each other are growing apart. It is about how people relate to each other, old-fashioned ideas of what women want, and redemption. I thought this was a very well acted show but that the script, because it is pretty old, had some disturbing implications.

The general problem with the script is how Bo can physically and verbally abuse someone and she will forgive him and say, "Aw, never mind. He's really cute though isn't he?" Which is problematic for so many reasons. One of the reasons it is so troubling is because it seems to be saying that he was just so in love with her, he had to kidnap her, which isn't a good excuse. I also feel that the way that Bo is supposed to learn his lesson is disturbing: by getting beaten up by the Sheriff. In this production it was particularly distressing to watch because of the current violence against black people by law enforcement in America. I'm not sure if we were not supposed to think about race, but it is hard not to when a white sheriff is beating up a black man and no one is standing up for the victim and we are supposed to think everyone just gets along okay afterwards. It is not like Bo hadn't done anything wrong, but there were better ways to prevent him from bothering Cherie. I also found the answer to the question that Grace asked Carl after they had had a night together--if he was married--was a little late to ask that. And also he did not ever give her a yes or no answer, which is what you call a red flag. I don't think relationships have to be perfect examples in plays; bad relationships can be interesting to watch on stage. But if they aren't examples of good relationships, I don't like to see them placed in front of you as fine.

Near the end of the play they decide to put on a talent show, where everyone can show off their amazing talents. Cherie sings, of course, and Virgil plays the guitar. And Bo whines about his rope tricks. Dr. Lyman and Elma perform a scene from Romeo and Juliet, with casting out of an Opera, also known as casting a very young woman opposite an older man. It actually sums up very well what each of the characters is passionate about and their personalities. Dr. Lyman is a romantic just like Romeo and sort of foolish. Juliet is upstanding like Elma; they both want to do what is right and want to be loved. Cherie is very sultry and vulnerable but self-assured. Virgil is very sweet and gentle, and you can hear that in his guitar solo. And Bo, again, mopes, but then does still cheer on his girl, but he ends up overwhelming her performance, so it doesn't end up being that supportive.

I do really love the mentorships in the show. They really bring some lovely non-romantic relationships into the storyline, which is so full of romance. I really love the relationship between Elma and Grace. They seem to really help each other out, and Grace treats Elma as a sister and tries to teach her and help her to become a self-aware person. They also had really cute jokes they had together, like how Grace didn't like cheese so she never restocked it. I also really love the relationship between Bo and Virgil because you never really get to see Bo be vulnerable or not try and be the strong, manly cowboy that he usually is around anybody else except Virgil.

People who would like this show are people who like significant mentorships, nonexistent rope tricks, and a lack of cheese. I think this is a really interesting show to watch. It has really great actors and a compelling storyline. It just has some old-fashioned and misogynistic ideas that I'm not a huge fan of.

Photos: Scott Dray

Monday, July 30, 2018

Review of Brown Paper Box Co.'s Everybody

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Everybody. It was by Branden Jacobs-Jenkins and it was directed by Erin Shea Brady. It is a reassessment and adaptation of Everyman, a 15th-century morality play. The cast changes roles by random draw every night amongst 5 people. One person plays the character Everybody (the night I saw it, it was Alys Dickerson), who has been summoned from the audience by Death (Kenny the Bearded) to go to the afterlife. Everybody can take one person with her: her Cousin (Hal Cosentino when I saw it), Kinship (Francesca Sobrer when I saw it), Friendship (Donovan Session when I saw it), Stuff (Alex Madda when I saw it), or Love (Tyler Anthony Smith). While Death and God (Chelsea Dàvid) follow along, Everybody learns about who really cares about her. I think this is a really interesting and beautiful show. It brought up so many powerful points and it really made me evaluate life, which might not seem very fun but it was very eye-opening and surprisingly funny.

Everyman was a Christian, gendered morality play, and Everybody is a non-gender-specific, not-religion-based morality play. I think Everyman really needed an update, and this is exactly what it needed to be to show a story that everyone could relate to. The play shows the inclusiveness of it by the audience not knowing who will play who at the start of the show. You don't even know at first who is the audience and who are the actors. I found that interesting and exhilarating. I had no idea what was going to happen, but I was excited to find out. I think allegory is a good way to tell this specific type of story, where there are a lot of moral questions. Allegories make things that are not people into characters to make the ideas more understandable. The moral of the story, in my opinion, is accepting your life, accepting your body, accepting that terrible things will happen to you, accepting that you are going to die, accepting that people who you love might not love you back. That is not the most depressing thing it the world because you are accepting it, and it is just part of what is going to happen. The rest of your life could have some really amazing parts to it, but there are going to parts of it that we aren't going to like. There are going to be things and consequences we aren't going to like. Acceptance is important because without acceptance you are lying to yourself and as with any lying it will make you sadder in the long run.

There was a very interesting scene where Love was first introduced and made Everybody completely humiliate herself by taking her clothes off and running around saying how much she has disappointed herself. You don't expect Love to completely humiliate someone, especially when it is anthropomorphized, but it is probably realistic. Usually the kind of love that might lead you to humiliate yourself is romantic love, but I feel like the character of Love in this play is not just romantic love. It is showing all the kinds of love in one. He comforts her afterwards and stays with her until he can't anymore, until the very end. That shows how devoted love can be even though some kinds of love can humiliate us.

There are a lot of really funny moments in this show, despite it being philosophical. One of my favorite funny moments was when a dream ballet happened and Time (Nora Fox) and God and Death were all dancing in skull masks across the stage. It was so ridiculous and just kind of popped up half way through the show. It was nice in this play full of so many sad realizations to have this really humorous but vaguely ominous moment. It had a reason for being there--it foreshadows Everybody's impending death--but it was still a nice break and made me think about death in a more lighthearted way. I also really loved the character of Stuff. She was appropriately stuffy and sort of stuck up, and unlike other characters who Everybody asked to go with her, Stuff was honest with her that she wasn't going to come and that Everybody was just being used by Stuff, who would just move on when Everybody died. It was very humorous to see the one thing you think will be compliant--your stuff--be so unnecessarily cruel and self-absorbed. I found Friendship's monologue very funny in how general it was. He would say something like, "Did you know that that one guy that we know got married/divorced/married again/divorced again." It was hilarious and interesting to see the no-no of theater--being general instead of specific--working so well for a play. Which brings us back to how effective it can be to make a show like this that everybody can find a way to relate to.

People who would like this show are people who like relatable plays, evaluating humiliating love, and hilariously ominous dream ballets. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It is an amazing experience, and I really loved it.

Photos courtesy of Brown Paper Box Co.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Review of The Color Purple (Broadway in Chicago)

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Color Purple. The book was by Marsha Norman based on the novel by Alice Walker. The lyrics and music were by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis, and Stephen Bray. The direction and musical staging was by John Doyle. The music director was Darryl Archibald. It was about a young woman named Celie (Adrianna Hicks) who lived in Georgia with her father (J.D. Webster) and sister Nettie (N'Jameh Camara). She had had two of Pa's children who had been taken away from her. And then she is married off to Mister (Gavin Gregory), who doesn't really want to marry her and is very cruel to her. She raises his son Harpo (J. Daughtry) and his other children. Eventually Harpo marries Sofia (Carrie Compere) who is one of the people who befriends Celie and helps her understand that a woman doesn't always have to comply and can be a powerful person. Celie also has an unexpected friend in Shug Avery (Carla R. Stewart) who is a singer who comes into town and Mister is in love with. This show is about sisterhood, the horrors of abuse, and what it means to be black and a woman.

There were two moments in this show that I think were really inspiring and powerful, the song "Hell No!" and the scene where Celie curses Mister. "Hell No!" was a song sung by Sofia about Harpo raising his hand to her. It is about how she has had to fight for herself her whole life, but didn't know she'd have to fight in her own home. It is about the experiences she had with the male members of her family, and her response is "Hell No!" She has over time realized what Celie hasn't yet, that she doesn't deserve to just take it. I really liked this song because Sofia was stomping across the stage and was so powerful. The singing was really amazing; she had this really great belt and a crazy range. It is really strange to me how Celie can remain so calm when people are furious and yelling at her; I think that shows that she feels that she is getting what she deserves even if she doesn't know or understand why, which is really sad. Celie does eventually figure out that she doesn't deserve to be treated the way she is and that she deserves better. And on the day that she is leaving she decides to tell Mister what has been on her mind for the years of their "marriage," which was a legal but not emotional relationship. She ends up cursing him and saying that everything he touches will crumble until he does right by her. It is justice in the package of a curse. Sofia had the best reaction to when Celie first stood up to Mister; it sounded like she was crying at first and then it eventually started sounding like laughing, and then it was full-on howling. It was great to see how Celie breaking out of her shell inspired every woman at that table to say she didn't need to take any crap.

This show is mostly powerful and heartbreaking, but it also had a lot of great comedic moments. There is a song called "Any Little Thing" sung by Sofia and Harpo about how when all their various children were out of the house and they had done all of their chores, which they would sing about to each other in a very suggestive way, they get a little private time. One of the reasons it is so funny is that it is such a quick turnaround from talking about chores to making it seem like you aren't talking about chores anymore. Also their extreme enthusiasm about no one being in the house is absolutely hilarious to watch. This song is also extremely adorable and shows you how healthy the sexual element is in their relationship. It is healthy because they are both trying to do something for the other person instead of trying to get something themselves.

There is a song near the end of the show called "Miss Celie's Pants," which takes place after she has left Mister and opened a business selling pants. It might have one of my favorite lines in the show, "Look who's wearing the pants now," which perfectly captures what everyone was thinking when they saw they movie. But they put it in a song with an amazing high note, which is even better. The dancing was delightful, especially when Sofia started twerking, which was really iconic. "Miss Celie's Pants" is not just a clever song; it also shows you how far Celie has come. Even though the show isn't over, and something bad could still happen, this song lifts you up and gives you a boost. This is the first time we have seen any of the characters except Shug in bright colors. So that shows you that Celie's pants seem to make all the women in the show who weren't that happy before feel different and powerful in the pants. It is just a super fun number to watch.

People who would like this show are people who like inspiring stories, power pants, and suggestive chores. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It is a powerful, surprisingly funny, heartbreaking, and heartwarming show. I loved it!

Photos: Matthew Murphy

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Review of The Roommate at Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Roommate. It was by Jen Silverman and it was directed by Phylicia Rashad. It was about two middle-aged women, Sharon (Sandra Marquez) and Robyn (Ora Jones), who moved in together and become friends despite their different backgrounds. They end up introducing new concepts into each other's lives. It is about secrets, friendship, and uncertainty. I think this is a really interesting, funny, and surprisingly bittersweet play.

The relationship in this play is very complicated because it is not just a friendship, or a romantic relationship. It is not just a business partnership, or a two-way mentorship. It is all of those things. The play made me uncertain about what person in the relationship was responsible for making it eventually toxic. It seemed like the relationship made each of them more happy, even though they were doing some stupid and hurtful things. So you end up rooting for it. There are not a lot of plays that I have seen that are about middle-aged women building a relationship with each other. I liked how complicated their relationship was and how it showcased how women relate to each other outside of family relationships or relationships centered on a man. At the beginning of the show, Sharon was very scared about letting a new person into her life and into her home that was not from her community, and at first it is really beautiful to see Sharon embracing herself and the things Robyn has introduced to her. And even though it becomes disturbing, it is a very valuable relationship to both of them. I think the playwright is trying to show that it is good to go out of your comfort zone and that the relationship that Robyn and Sharon have is important, even though it might not be the most functional. I liked how it didn't have to be all sappy, like two middle-aged women help each other realize that their lives aren't over. It is empowering--not through sap--but through dark humor and heightened realism.

I really liked the humor in this show. I think it really showed how new both women were to the lifestyles they were entering into. Sharon called her son and told him she smoked her first weed and then immediately realized she didn't mean to do that. I thought that was really funny. She is so used to telling her son every mundane activity she has been doing, that she accidentally told him the one thing she didn't want to tell him. There is a lot of that kind of situational humor in the show, where they are in new situation for them and they don't know how to adapt. Robyn can't adapt to the small-town lifestyle of not feeling like you have to lock your doors at night and she thinks everything Sharon does is old-ladylike. I think they put a twist on the fish-out-of-water humor by making it darker and have larger consequences, and I thought that was really interesting to watch.

I think what is so great about heightened realism is that it keeps you thinking that almost anything could happen, but it still seems to take place in the real world. Robyn and Sharon are both women with children who live in Iowa and got divorced. That seems very normal. But then you discover that they are more complicated than you think. It is fascinating to watch people who seem like they have average lives discover their dark underbellies. You are still in the realm of reality, so you think this is something that can happen in my own life. You understand where the people are coming from because they are in a world you recognize and some of the circumstances are recognizable, but it is exciting to see extreme situations that you probably haven't been in yourself.

People who would like this show are people who like twists on tropes, unexpected friendships, and telling your son you smoked weed. I think this is a surprisingly moving, funny, and inventive melding of genres.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Friday, July 6, 2018

Review of Mercury Theater's Avenue Q

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Avenue Q. The book was by Jeff Whitty and the music and lyrics were by Jeff Marx and Robert Lopez. It was directed by L. Walter Stearns, the music director was Eugene Dizon, and the choreographer was Kevin Bellie. It is a musical that uses puppets as a lot of the characters, but also has humans like Sesame Street. Just think of Sesame Street, but without all of the boundaries. It is about a young puppet named Princeton (Jackson Evans) who has just gotten an English Degree and is now trying to find what he should do with the rest of his life. He decides to move to Avenue Q and he meets a young woman named Kate Monster (Leah Morrow) who was a kindergarten teacher who wanted to open up a school for monsters. He also gets to know his neighbors, aspiring comedian Brian (Matthew Miles), recent immigrant from Japan and therapist Christmas Eve (Audrey Billings), roommates Nicky (Dan Smeriglio) and Rod (Christian Siebert), and friendly neighborhood pervert, Trekkie Monster (Jonah D. Winston), who has a very strong opinion about what the internet should be used for. And overseeing it all is Gary Coleman (David S. Robbins), yes, that Gary Coleman, who is the super in Princeton's building. I thought this was a really fun show. It was an absolute blast to watch.

I thought the characters Rod and Nicky had some really funny songs together and they surely went through a journey. They were a lot like what anyone over the age of 13 suspects Ernie and Bert's relationship might be like. They had a song called "If You Were Gay," which was Nicky repeatedly telling Rod that if Rod were gay that would be ok. He'd been suspecting it for a very long time. And Rod just hides behind his book of Broadway Musicals of the 1940s and denies that he's gay. It is super humorous to see this conflict between two people where Nicky knows Rod better than Rod knows himself. "Fantasies Come True" is the song where Rod realizes he may actually have feelings for Nicky. You notice this side of Rod you haven't seen before because he's always been this cranky kind of guy. You notice him being a lot more open and clear-minded, but not for long because you realize it is a dream. When he's awake, he thinks that being gay is terrible, but when he gets to live in his fantasy world, he realizes that the way he is going to be happy is if he really embraces who he is. He gets up and realizes all the things he thought Nicky was saying in the dream weren't real, which kind of defeats him again. It seems like a very realistic emotional thing. You don't think of a show with puppets being an emotional experience, but it really was.

I was also surprised how compelling the romantic relationships were between Kate Monster and Princeton and also Christmas Eve and Brian. They seemed to actually have a lot of big problems, but a song that I think really showcased in a humorous way how people really feel about their significant others is "The More You Ruv Someone," sung by Christmas Eve and Kate, which is about how the more you love someone, the more you want to kill them. You spend a lot of time with them and you get to know them super well, so you love a lot of things about them but you also find things that you hate. It is also really cool to see Kate Monster and Christmas Eve helping each other out with relationship issues. It is compelling to see puppets have relationship problems because usually puppets and cartoons and other things like that take you out of reality, but this pulls you back in and makes you think about things you might not have thought about before. Kate Monster and Princeton had a cute relationship, but they didn't start the romantic part of the relationship in the best way. It becomes a very sexual relationship very quickly because of the influence of alcohol. There are actual problems that come out of it, just like real relationships based on alcohol. (Ed. Note--Ada wanted echoes and sparkles for the word alcohol and is saying it breathily: "like a unicorn would say equality," she says. I wish I had the typography for that.)

Even though there are a lot of touching and realistic moments in this play, it is 95% a comedy. And it was absolutely hilarious. One of my favorite character duos was the Bad Idea Bears (Stephanie Herman and Smeriglio). They showed up several times in the show basically just to give Princeton bad ideas and then scream whenever he would do what they wanted and sob profusely whenever he wouldn't. This show was showing you that bad ideas can be fun--until they are over and then the consequences are not so fun. The Bad Idea Bears are basically the embodiment of that. "The Money Song," when I saw it, went a little bit awry in a very funny way. They were passing a hat in the audience to collect money for Kate Monster's school. Somebody put a glow-in-the-dark condom in the hat and the cast could barely keep it together. The show already had a lot of audience participation, but this was great because you felt like you were sharing a hilarious experience with them that was unexpected for everybody. Even if it was a plant, it was still hilarious and added quite a bit to the show because they seemed so genuinely surprised.

People who would like this show are people who like surprisingly moving puppet musicals, dark humor, and excitable bears. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It was so much fun to watch and had a lot of fun surprises.

Photos: Brett A. Beiner

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Review of Lost and Found Productions' Burnham's Dream: The White City

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Burnham's Dream: The White City. The book and lyrics were by June Finfer and the music and lyrics were by Elizabeth Doyle. It was directed by Erik Wagner. The music direction was by Paul W. Thompson and the choreography was by Jessica Texidor. It was about Daniel Burnham (Pavi Proczko) and his partner John Root (Sam Massey) who were both architects who won the contract to build the World's Fair in Chicago in the 1890s. It is about all the challenges they face and how it affects their personal lives. It is also about the people connected to the fair who were less well known and had less power but contributed a lot to the fair. It is about obsession, true freedom, and tearing down relationships while putting up buildings.

I think this is a really interesting idea for a musical and it did acknowledge problems of racism and sexism in the fair, but I would have liked it if they did more than just acknowledge that and explored the problems more and focused more on the people who had gotten less credit for their work than Burnham. I feel like Burnham is a difficult character to root for because he behaves in racist and sexist ways, so it would have been more satisfying to have Ida B. Wells (Arielle Leverett), Margaret Burnham (Laura Degrenia), Michael O'Malley (Chase Wheaton-Werle), and Bertha Palmer (Genevieve Thiers) as the central characters. I think I would have enjoyed a whole musical about building the women's building or Ida B. Wells' protests or the conditions of workers at the fair. I feel like the musical ends in a way that makes it seem like all the problems have been solved even though they haven't created a resolution or actually improved things. So at the end they try to act like everyone has accepted that people should be equal and the world is all in harmony, even though there's not much evidence of that having happened in the show.

I think the most powerful song in the show is "Sweet Land of Liberty." It is one of the songs that isn't the opinion of white men. It is sung by Ida B. Wells when she wants to have a building dedicated to the work of black people. It is all about how she doesn't see America as a land of freedom if people who look like her aren't given basic human rights or a platform to express themselves and be listened to. This is a song that really showcases how Burnham doesn't really care about anyone but himself. The entire time Ida is singing to him, he is going about his daily tasks, showing an exact example of what she's talking about. That is infuriating in multiple ways. A very similar thing happens in the song "Never Marry an Architect," where Margaret is talking about how her husband never pays attention to her because he is always thinking about buildings. And then he comes home and starts seducing her through building puns. But then he announces that he is going away to build the fair and not coming back for months or years. He doesn't even finish his cake. Basically, he again proves the exact point the woman singing has just made.

I did like John Root a lot better as a character because he would actually listen to people and not just interrupt and mansplain for the rest of their song. He also had a really sweet song called "Celestial City," which was about his vision for the fair. He wanted it to be a collage of all of these different cultures where everyone could get along and learn from each other. I think his dream is a lot more clear and well thought through and progressive than Burnham's dream. I would have liked to have more time with Root in the show before he dies. It would have been a lot sadder to know a lot about this character and then have him die. We never meet his wife and I feel like if we did and got to know more about her and other people more impacted by his death, that would have been a lot more heartbreaking.

People who would like this show are people who like celestial cities, brave activists, and architecture puns. I think this is a really interesting idea for a show. I'd love to see a version of this show not so focused on Burnham or one that cast him as the antagonist. I'm sorry I couldn't review this show before it closed.

Photos: Evan Hanover

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Review of Broken Nose Theatre's The Opportunities of Extinction

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Opportunities of Extinction. It was written by Sam Chanse, and it was directed by Jen Poulin. It was about a couple, Mel (Echaka Agba) and Arjun (Richard Costes), who have decided to go camping in the desert to cut the tension in their relationship. Also Arjun, a professor, has said something on Twitter that makes a large portion of the community turn against him, and the school is investigating. Mel is trying to write a book about these passengers on a plane that is about to crash and all their last moments and stories. And also she has just recently found out some news that she needs to tell Arjun. When they get to Joshua Tree National Park, they meet Georgia (Aria Szalai-Raymond), who works at the park and who is very devoted to the Joshua trees who are about to go extinct because climate change makes it hard for more baby trees to grow. The play is about love, death, and the beauty of evolution. I think that this play is intriguing, heartbreaking, and has unique characters.

Georgia had these really great monologues throughout the show. They were very often disconnected from the scene; she would step out of the scene or just walk out and just start talking to the audience about nature. I feel like you learn lot about Georgia in these monologues even though she isn't specifically talking about herself. She seems to compare her family situation to the extinction of the trees. It makes her comforted because she realizes that that is just the way nature works. It is like if you watched a documentary and the narrator was talking about anteaters but secretly comparing them to her own life. The thing that makes it so heartbreaking is that Georgia is not explicit about the connection between her family and the trees. But when you hear her actual story you realize how like the situation of the trees her own situation is.

The couple in this show seems to have a lot of problems for a lot of reasons. I thought it was really interesting how they talked about relationship problems that aren't usually talked about in plays because people in relationships try not to think it's a big deal. Like how Arjun is always on his phone all the time, and Mel keeps telling him not to, and to pay more attention to her, but he seems like he can't stop doing it. People think that it is minor because everyone does it, but it could actually completely disconnect you from the people that you love. There are even bigger problems like Arjun losing his job and Mel disappearing for two days, but the minor issues were also major because they reveal major problems. Arjun says he doesn't like Mel's book and that is fine because it is always better to be honest when you think something won't do well. You don't want someone to waste their time. But it seems like Arjun doesn't like the book because it hits too close to home and he relates too much to a lot of the characters, and that is not ok to say that something is poorly written just because it makes you feel guilty.

I think this play is about how natural evolution is so similar to human life and how we should embrace the beauty and accept that we are all kind of a mess. It is weird to think of how similar we are to all these plants and animals and how superior we think we are. Everyone thinks it is really sad to think about death, and that makes total sense. But I think there is a lot of beauty in the world starting over. I think it is a beautiful idea to think that someone's work can be done and they just get to rest. Extinction is not always sad because it can make room for more beautiful things. The end of a relationship can make room for better opportunities and happier people. Even though I am not for the extinction of Joshua trees, and I feel like we should try to prevent it, it is the way evolution works. Evolution is really painful, but this show does a really good job of showing how extinction doesn't just have to be depressing.

People who would like this show are people who like thought-provoking monologues, major minor relationship issues, and baby trees. I think this is a really interesting show that brings up a lot of issues I am still thinking about. I liked it.

Photos: Austin D. Oie

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Review of The Displaced at Haven Theatre

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Displaced. It was by Isaac Gomez, and it was directed by Jo Cattell. It is about a woman named Marisa (Karen Rodriguez) and her boyfriend Lev (Rashaad Hall) and they were moving in together for the first time. They didn't feel completely alone when they were in their new place. Paintings kept falling, faucets kept turning on at random moments, books kept flying. But the problems in the apartment uncover problems in their relationship and reveal the differences in privilege between the previous tenants and the new ones. I think it is really interesting how they put together romantic comedy, horror, and relationship drama. It was a very suspenseful, thought-provoking, heartwarming and heartbreaking show. I think this was a really awesome show. It was cool to watch and had a good and enveloping story.

This production was very good at building suspense. They had a really unpredictable lighting system in their house (lighting design by Erik S. Barry) that kept flickering and going out, so it was really suspenseful whenever they were in the dark. I think the visual effects (rigging by Nosewind Productions, designed by Rachel Flesher with assistant Zack Payne, and carried out by assistant stage managers Mitchell J. Ward, Rukaya Ilah, and Justine B. Palmisano) in this show were really good at keeping you on your toes. There were a lot of moments where Marisa and Lev would just be having a conversation and something supernatural would happen and they would try to find an explanation for it that didn't involve dead peoples' spirits haunting them. Also the Alexa kept playing the music the previous tenants had listened to and made it kind of distorted (sound design by Sarah D. Espinoza), and that was really creepy because an Alexa is something you feel like you have control over. It's a robot that does your bidding, so it is especially scary when it doesn't do something you've asked it to do or won't turn off or turns on at random moments.

I think it was interesting how throughout the show Marisa and Lev changed how they would protect each other. Their relationship would go on upswings and downswings, which made it more suspenseful to see who would be mad at who and who wouldn't want to help the other in the next moment of panic in response to something strange happening. The visual effects end up provoking a lot of the emotional effects on the audience and the couple. Like when the couple is kissing and a book flies out from the bookshelf and hits Marisa, the romance is immediately deactivated. It seems at points that this invisible power is so in charge of their actions and their happiness. It seems like it could be a metaphor for the outside influences that affect relationships, which is really interesting to watch and learn about. There was one section of the show where somebody knocked on the door and you could see Marisa and Lev were terrified. Also, when the knocking got louder, Marisa put on her scary big man voice. It is funny, but it is also sad that she thinks she has to put on this big man voice to make people go away.

I really liked the way the dialogue was phrased and the genuineness of the couple's relationship. A lot of times in horror movies or plays the dialogue is elevated to fit the mood of the play or movie. But I think it is a lot more scary and suspenseful when everyone is a lot more chill than they should be given the circumstances. Like when the paintings fall down, they laugh about it, and the first time the light burns out they don't freak out about it. But that just makes you more nervous for them because they are clearly not as worried as you think they should be. The dialogue was also very witty and they seem to enjoy spending time together and making each other laugh, which makes the audience even more invested in the relationship. Also because you are in their home and they don't think anyone else is around, you get to see them act like themselves and act like goofballs, like when they played tickle monster with a bubble wrap cape. It made me love their characters more and it made me want their relationship to really work out.

People who would like this show are people who like horror romcoms, suspense, and bubble wrap tickle monsters. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It closes this weekend, so go and get your tickets while you still can. I loved it!

Photos: Austin D. Oie

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