Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Review of 20% Theatre Chicago's Spark

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Spark. It was by Caridad Svich and directed by Denise Yvette Serna. It was about three sisters, Evelyn (Isaly Viana), Ali (Jenn Geiger), and Lexie (Gaby Moldovan) Glimord who are struggling to adjust to living together again when Lexie comes back from military service. Evelyn is in a relationship with a car salesman, Hector (Magdiel Carmona), and Ali, the youngest, wants to be a boxer. Lexie is angry at Evelyn when she comes back because she blames Evelyn for some of her trauma. It is about sisterhood, recovering from trauma, and origins. This play had intriguing themes, but I wanted to see more complexity in the character relationships and more clarity in the plot.

I think the strongest scene for showing the relationship between the sisters was when they were all out on the porch tending to Ali's wounds after a boxing match. I thought it was lovely how they were helping Ali deal with her hurt. It was also really sweet how Evelyn wanted to take care of Ali and was like a mother figure to her. I think why it was hard for Evelyn to have Lexie back was that Ali also really looked up to her and the older sisters have very different ideas about life. Evelyn is very spiritual and works hard, while Lexie thinks more that you have to fight to get what you want. Ali is inspired by Lexie's return to be more like her and enter the military. But also to box, literally fighting. She comes back from the fight and she is pretty beat up. But she still won, which means that even if you have gotten what you wanted, you can still be damaged in the process. I think that is a very true sentiment.

I have a theory that they were implying that when Lexie goes out into the woods to get drunk and meets this guy (Vito Vittore) that the guy was a apparition or a figment of her imagination. The lights turned purple. I think they might have been implying that that character was Lexie's dad. He sang at the end about children, sons and daughters. And he had been in the military, just like her dad. It would have been nice to actually resolve that and figure out what was happening instead of not addressing it again. That is a pretty significant encounter for Lexie, but she never really dives into it. She does come back home after, so you see that she has changed, but you don't really know by whom she has been changed or for what reason. She embraces her family and wants to be closer to them, which is another reason I think it might have been the apparition of her father in the woods. There is a possibility that I missed something, but I think the play could have been clearer.

I feel like the show's relationships weren't completely believable all the time. I also felt like the characters didn't have very many levels. These things are related, because if a character only has a few notes, then they can't have multiple levels in their relationships. The dialogue was often first level; people just say what they mean. And sometimes the conversations seemed to build up to nothing. There was a scene where Evelyn was laying out sticks on a blanket to help her sister find her way home. I thought that was going be some kind of metaphor, but it turned out she actually believed the sticks would create a magical a path to help her sister get home. It could be it was a metaphor for their family's heritage giving them direction, but that didn't really seem to happen in the play. This show often seems like it is going to give some meaning to what you see, but sometimes it doesn't come through.

People who would like this show are people who like boxing, possible paternal apparitions, and magical sticks on blankets. This is a show that makes you think a lot and has a lot of interesting themes like sisterhood, war, and abandonment.

Photos: kClare McKellaston

Monday, January 29, 2018

Review of Boy at TimeLine Theatre Company

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Boy. It was by Anna Ziegler and it was directed by Damon Kiely. It was about a boy named Adam (Theo Germaine), who was born a boy named Samuel, but when his parents (Mechelle Moe and Stef Tovar) went to have him circumcised, the doctor made a mistake and cut off more than he was supposed to. So then the parents decide to raise Adam as a girl named Samantha. They have Samantha meet with Dr. Wendell Barnes (David Parkes) to make sure Samantha is acting in a traditionally feminine way and adjusting to the new identity. After high school, Samantha becomes a "he" and changes his name to Adam. Adam goes to a party and meets this young woman, Jenny (Emily Marso), whom he immediately has a connection with. But he has some secrets that he is keeping from her that make the relationship more difficult. This play is about being who you really want to be, how helping isn't always truly helping, an how acceptance and love are connected. I thought that this play was really amazing. It was so moving and a beautiful love story. But it wasn't just about the romance; it was also about loving yourself.

Jenny and Adam's relationship was really sweet. Adam seems so invested in Jenny's child and they have this adorable witty banter. I loved how Adam was always trying to out-nerd her about everything. Like when they met for the first time and he was dressed like the monster from Frankenstein, she said "That is a great Frankenstein costume." And he says, "I'm not Frankenstein. I'm the monster. Frankenstein is the person who made the monster." She seemed to find it kind of weird but also adorable. He brings Jenny's child books from the library he works at and it is sweet to hear them talk about the books they read as kids. But Jenny feels like Adam is paying more attention to her child than to her, and she worries that maybe he isn't attracted to her at all. They are both worried that the other person isn't attracted to them: Jenny because Adam doesn't try to do anything physical with her and Adam because he is worried that Jenny will be freaked out by what he looks like after his surgery. They try to work through it together though; they don't just say "the other person is acting weird, so this relationship is over." I think they end up being a good example of people who love other people without focusing on the gender identity or insisting that people be like they used to be.

Adam has a complicated relationship with his parents. They both want him to be happy, but they also both had a plan for his life--for him to be Samantha---that he rejected, which might have hurt his parents. But they are dealing with it pretty well. There is a really heartwarming scene where Adam's dad comes over to have a beer. He says something to Adam that he really needed to hear, and I started bawling. It is so great he has a dad whose top priority is for his children to be happy. Adam's relationship with his mom is more difficult. She really likes his new girlfriend, but it is hard for her to accept who he is now because she still misses Samantha. That is really sad, but she needs to realize that this is what makes her son happy; not being Samantha is the way for him to be happy.

Dr. Barnes is actually doing something pretty revolutionary for the late 60s by saying that someone born a boy can become a girl. He's interested in this for medical reasons, like if someone lost their parts or was born with both parts and thought they had to choose. He is interested in helping people, if they have a condition, but he isn't interested in helping people for their happiness if they are born a different sex than their gender identity. It is disappointing because he is doing so much, but he could do so much more if he just opened his mind a little more. What he wants for Samantha is for her to become a feminine woman. He's not sexist because he respects Samantha as a woman and thinks she is capable of doing a lot of things. They start a book club together because at first Samantha doesn't like reading. It is a really sweet thing that he does for her. And they seem like they have a really beautiful connection. Except that when Samantha decides she wants to become Adam, he doesn't accept that. It is hard to decide how you feel about a character like Dr. Barnes because you want to like him and have him be a good person to the people that he loves. It is really hard to see him be disappointed but also to see him disappoint people.

People who would like this show are people who like respectful dads, book clubs, and Frankenstein's Monster costumes. I think people should definitely go see this show. It has a beautiful and moving story and amazing actors. I really loved it.

Photos: Lara Goetsch

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Review of Shattered Globe Theatre's Five Mile Lake

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Five Mile Lake. It was by Rachel Bonds and it was directed by Cody Estle. It was about a man named Jamie (Steve Peebles) who lived in a small town in Pennsylvania. He worked at a coffee shop with a woman who he was in love with, Mary (Daniela Colucci). She wanted to get out of town as soon as she could, but she wanted to stay and take care of her brother Danny (Drew Schad) who had just come back from the war in Afghanistan. Jamie's brother Rufus (Joseph Wiens) and Rufus' girlfriend Peta (Aila Peck) come for an unexpected visit from New York, and the brothers don't really get along because they are very different people. Jamie is thoughtful and wholesome and Rufus cares most about himself and loves the big city. Drama ensues. It is about sibling rivalry, being right for someone, and how the events in your early life affect you later. This was a really intriguing show and it had some really talented actors and some thoughtful direction in it. I enjoyed it.

One thing I noticed about the direction is that the director seems to think that people doing everyday things is interesting, and I agree with that. I worked with this director, on Scarcity at Redtwist Theatre, and there was a scene where my character made coffee and didn't say anything--just made the coffee, sat down, and waited. I think it really works because it makes the audience more engaged with the character because they seem like a real person who does things that they do and they connect with that. It is very humanizing. In this production, Mary and Jamie both arrange a lot of muffins. (It would be cool to think of this show from the displayed muffins' perspective. They get to see a lot of stuff happen!) While Jamie and Mary are arranging, you get to see how these characters go about their everyday life and how they really feel--and sometimes how they express their emotions when no one else is around. They are two characters doing the same general action, but they are doing it differently and that shows you different quirks about the two characters.

A really interesting relationship that I liked was between Jamie and Peta. Even though they have just met, they have this real connection. They seem to get along very well and they seem to want the same kind of things. They both like quiet and being away from the city. They both like the lake. She admires him for the work he’s done on the house. And they both find each other very interesting. I love the scene when she is in the bathtub and she and Jamie connect over very deep and meaningful things like her depression and her wish for a home and a child, which is also what Jamie wants. I think it is a fascinating and beautiful scene. I think they would be very good for each other. But, sadly, she is still with Rufus who doesn’t seem to be good enough for her. Rufus is a very complicated character. I don’t know what to think about him. I feel sorry for him, but I really think he should be better to his girlfriend if he really loves her. Rufus and Mary also have a bonding scene, but they relate to each other about very different things, like gummy worms and wanting to escape, and their love for baked goods. I don’t think that’s a great basis for a relationship. They have also known each other for longer, but they still don’t have the same beautiful and true bond that Jamie and Peta have, which is interesting to think about. I’m worried that maybe what Rufus and Mary want should have happened a while ago, when they were teenagers, but shouldn’t happen now.

I do wish that we had gotten to see the women interact for more than a few seconds. It feels like the men get all this back story and talk to each other--and sometimes to the women--about their feelings. The women have back stories but they don't talk to each other about them and they are sort of rivals at the end. This play seems to focus on the sibling relationships and between boyfriend and girlfriend. It is not at all interested in a relationship between two women, even though the play was written by a woman. Women don't always have to write about women, but I do think all playwrights should try to pass the Bechdel test.

People who would like this show are people who like exploring sibling relationships, bathtub connections, and arranging muffins. I think this is a good show with really intriguing relationships. I’ve thought about it a lot since I saw it, and I really liked it.

Photos: Evan Hanover

Friday, January 19, 2018

Review of Babes With Blades Theatre Company's The Good Fight

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Good Fight. It was by Anne Bertram and it was directed by Elizabeth Lovelady. It was about the suffragettes in Great Britain in the early 1900s, trying to find new ways to protest so women can get the vote. They are experimenting with bombs and jiu jitsu, as well as spreading the word through print and protests. Their first in command, Christabel Pankhurst (Alison Dornheggen) has fled to Paris because the police are after her. So they put Grace Roe (Arielle Leverett) in command in place of her and she is trying to get a handle on things when she has been a follower her whole life. Things are especially hard because one of their women, Emily Wilding Davison (Taylor Raye,) has some very dangerous ideas and the face of the movement, Emmeline Pankhurst (Jean Marie Koon), is deathly ill because she is on a hunger strike and is being force fed in prison. It's about feminism, how far is too far, and the right way to use violence. I think this was a fun way to learn about the suffragette movement, which I have been interested in for a long time. Of course they can't tell the entire story of feminism, but they showed a lot of interesting and true things about it.

I think that Emily is a very interesting character. I love her determination but she is a very sad person and I feel a lot for her. I wish I could see a prequel that was all about her. Her relationship with her mother is heartbreaking and when she talked about her experience with force feeding, it hurt me to hear it. The performer did a great job with the character. The way she dies is very tragic and elaborate. She is pushing the limits of what the suffragettes should do in protest. I think that violent protest is acceptable if the violence is set on you first. But you have to be careful that you aren't blowing up property just because it is property. It should be a place that is actually affecting the cause.

I found the jiu jitsu (fight choreography by Gaby Labotka) very interesting, and I hadn't realized that they had used it in protests. Edith Garrud (Dornheggen) taught them all jiu jitsu, at the suggestion of Hilda (C. Jaye Miller). And it was super cool to watch these women fight in long skirts and huge hats, and doing it like rockstars. The suffragettes are trying to figure out when it is right to use the jiu jitsu and that brings up a lot of interesting points. Their protests are not supposed to hurt anyone because, if they do, they are afraid that people won't support them. But they decide that jiu jitsu is valid if the police attack them for just protesting. It turns the violence against the police, so that the women aren't just being mercilessly beaten and there is nothing they can do about it. Early in the play you see this happen to Gertrude Harding (Scottie Caldwell) while she is trying to sell some papers. That scene is placed there so that you understand what is at stake here.

I think it is very interesting how everyone in this play, once the war starts, switches all of their energy to doing stuff for the war. The government tells them that they should help with the war otherwise they are going to look like jerks, to distract the women from trying to get the vote. Even though World War I didn't start so that suffragettes could be distracted, the government took advantage of that. Sometimes you do have to focus on what is threatening you right outside the door, but you have to be careful not to abandon the cause that you have been fighting for.

People who would like this show are people who like jiu jitsu, votes for women, and big hats. I think this show asks a lot of interesting questions. I thought it had really good fights and some very talented actors. I liked it.

Photos: Joe Mazza

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Review of The New Colony's The Light

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Light. It was by Loy Webb and it was directed by Toma Langston. It was about a couple, Genesis (Tiffany Oglesby) and Rashad (Jeffery Owen Freelon, Jr.), who were celebrating their anniversary of dating. Rashad had planned a great gift for her, to go and see a concert with one of her favorite singers in it. But she wasn't so thrilled because she didn't like another of the performers who she'd gone to college with. That leads to a lot of secrets being put out in the open. And she can't see if they can continue the relationship after the things he has said. It is about the challenges of love, misunderstandings, and learning to really change. I think this was an absolutely beautiful, moving, and fantastic show. I think that every person that is in a relationship or ever wants to be, should see this show. It provokes so many emotions in you, it is beautifully acted, and the writing felt very real--like real life and real conversations.

The first 10 or 15 minutes of this play are just pure joy. They love each other so much. They are bantering. They are talking about an adorable child, Rashad's daughter, whose picture is on the refrigerator. Genesis is eating from an enormous bowl of chocolate. You feel close to them in the first few minutes. You see how adorable they are and you want them to be together forever. At the beginning you see him getting ready for her to come home, and how excited he is. He's trying to find the right position to sit in so he seems perfectly normal. Then when she comes home you see how well they know each other, and how they know how to make each other laugh. They know how to push each other's buttons, but in a sweet and adorable way. This makes every moment that they disagree so much more painful. It is terrible to see when their differences become so difficult that they can't make light of them.

Both of these characters are very complex. Neither of them is fully right all the time. There isn't a villain; it is just two people having an argument. Each of them has a point. Rashad thinks they should go to the concert because he pulled a lot of strings and got them VIP passes. It was a really nice idea because he knew how much she loved this one performer, but also he knew that she didn't like another performer there and didn't ever ask the reason why she didn't like him. I don't think Genesis should have to go to the concert, because the reason she has is very valid, but she could have told him the reason earlier so he could understand. I do think she isn't required to share this certain terrible part of her life if she wants to forget it and not let it define her. But, if she wants him to believe the truth of her story, she needs to give him the whole truth. If she had, he probably would have conceded about not going to the concert and chosen a different plan.

Men are taught in very different ways than women, so a lot of ideas about masculinity and relationships are different for men and women. But a lot of times, men say that it is too much work to learn about the woman's side of the story and they continue with their sexist ways. And even a lot of the time when they do want to learn they make the woman teach them, instead of trying to find it out by themselves. But in this play, Rashad wants to learn and he wants to teach himself. He loves Genesis and he wants to understand what he couldn't understand before. It is very important for the people in the relationship to take responsibility for their own learning rather than getting the other person to take you on as a project. Usually in stories, the man runs back and says "I've made a huge mistake. I love you" and the woman forgives him. Or sometimes she says, "no, you made a mistake. I'm not taking you back." But stories don't usually show you the healthy ending for both people involved, where forgiveness is asked for and waited for patiently and the person who has been wrong takes responsibility for changing themselves. This play shows that that is an option. You don't just have to just forgive each other and go back to the way that things were; you can work through it and make changes.

People who would like this show are people who like healthy relationship options, bantering couples, and enormous bowls of chocolate. I think that people should definitely definitely definitely go see this show. It makes you think about the characters in so many different ways. I laughed, I cried, I felt angry, I had all the feelings in this show, and I loved it.

Photos: Evan Hanover

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Review of Black Button Eyes Productions' Nevermore

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Nevermore. It was written and composed by Jonathan Christenson. It was directed by Ed Rutherford. The musical director was Nick Sula and the choreographer was Derek Van Barham. It was about Edgar Allan Poe's (Kevin Webb) life, but dramatized so it sounded more like his poems and stories. It is about tragedy, poor choices, and what it means to have talent. I have never seen a musical about Edgar Allan Poe before, but I studied him for a while and know a lot about his life. This show made me think differently about his life and how different things in his stories could have related to exaggerations of his actual life.

I found it interesting how they combined "The Tell-Tale Heart" and Jock Allan (Matt McNabb), Poe's foster father. "The Tell-Tale Heart" is my favorite Poe story, and it was cool how they connected Poe's terror of his foster father with the story of a man who was repulsed and compelled by an old man's eye. The terror that he felt about his foster father wasn't just about how he behaved, but in the show it was about how he looked. He had a glowing swirl eyepatch that looked sort of hypnotic. He wanted to Poe to be a strong businessman, but this wasn't what Poe wanted. And he had a song about that, "Jock Allan's Advice," which was visually stunning. In addition to the glowing eyepatch, there were people playing automatons (Jessica Lauren Fisher and Ryan Lanning), who were sort of like his minions. He told them what to do, and they were wearing business suits. The man was wearing a top hat that had gears in it, that seemed to be his brain, that Jock Allan tightened occasionally. It had a little door in it and there was a light in the hat so you could see each gear; it was all very eerie. The costumes and masks (Beth Laske-Miller) and the props and puppets (Rachelle "Rocky" Kolecke) were absolutely beautiful and creepy.

Elmira (Megan DeLay) and Sissy (a mannequin moved and spoken for by Maiko Terazawa) were both like Annabel Lee because they were part of love stories that went wrong. They are each half of the character in the poem. Elmira was taken away from Poe by her "highborn kinsmen" because they thought he wasn't good enough for her. There's a line in the poem where he says "chilling and killing my Annabel Lee," and his wife, Sissy, died of tuberculosis, and because tuberculosis gives you a fever it would be chilling and killing her. Also the poem says, "I was a child and she was a child," but really it should be "She was a child and I was twice her age" because he was 26 and Sissy was 13 when they got married. Elmira and Poe had been like two baby goths in love because they liked to hang out in graveyards and talk about death. And it is really interesting how the poem "Annabel Lee" romanticizes all the women Poe is with, because the reality is darker than a kingdom by the sea.

At the end the first act, when Poe is thinking about how he wants to be a poet and is full of hope, they take down these white cloths and attach them to his back so he looks like the angel Israfel. He just wants to be as good of a poet as this angel. But it is not really possible because angels are thought of as the height of glory and the height of goodness, so it is pretty hard if you want to be as good as an angel. At the end of the show when Poe has died they take down these black wings and attach them, so he is more like the Raven. The Raven represents darkness and the truth and the darkness of the truth. The truth is that life is not as beautiful and innocent as you might want it to be. Being a poet for Poe is not as romantic as he thought; it doesn't bring fame and it doesn't bring happiness. You only get to escape your real life for a little bit. It is sort of like theater.

People who would like this show are people who like ravens, the darkness of poetry, and child mannequin brides. I think this is a very intriguing and original story. It was really fun to watch and I enjoyed it.

Photos: Cole Simon