Friday, March 30, 2018

Review of The Cuckoo's Theater Project's She Kills Monsters

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called She Kills Monsters. It was by Qui Nguyen and it was directed by Angela Forshee. It was about a teacher named Agnes (Hilary Griffin) whose family had all died in a car crash. She was clearing out their house when she found her younger sister Tilly's (Jillian Leff) Dungeons and Dragons notebook. And Agnes felt like she hadn't been close enough to her sister in real life, so now she wanted to find out more about what Tilly had loved. And she asks this teenage boy, Chuck (Matthew Torres), to be her dungeon master and he agrees. They start to play in Tilly's world and Agnes starts to get to know more of Tilly's secrets. It is about sibling relationships, nerdery, and mourning. I thought this show was hilarious, surprisingly heartfelt, and it had a mix of badass and ridiculous fights (by fight director Kai Young), which I loved.

This show has a lot of great characters that make you feel like you are in a video game. Dungeons and Dragons is not a video game, but role playing games really influenced video games. Lilith (Erika Lebby) was the demon daughter of the devil and she was the girlfriend of Tillius (Tilly's character) in the game. Tilly has made her this sexy demon queen with not a lot of clothing on. And what clothing she has is mostly leather and fishnet. She had the best opening line I've ever heard which is, "Violence makes me hot." It is very common in video games to show as much cleavage and have the least sensible outfit to kill someone in as possible. Those characters are usually created by men. But in this case it is a young woman who has created it. It is weirdly empowering because women don't usually get to choose how their gender is sexualized. Tilly is doing it for her own pleasure, but it is still different because it is still breaking a gender and sexuality barrier. Kaliope (Ari Kraiman) is an elf and she is pretty badass. She doesn't feel emotions in the same way as humans do. A lot of the humor that comes from her character is watching her cluelessness about how human emotions and language work. Like when they give Agnes her D&D name, Agnes the Ass-hatted, Kaliope doesn't seem to notice the hilarity of the name because she just sits there straight-faced. I think it is a really cool contrast how clueless she is but how badass she is because she can literally whip out a bow and arrow and kill ten people but she can't understand why ass-hat is such a funny word. Orcus (Zach Tabor) was the Overlord of the Underworld who kind of didn't want to go on the adventure in the first place, but was forced to go along. He also had an obsession with TV shows, like Friends and Quantum Leap, which he is mad about missing. I think he is hilarious because he is overly specific about the reasons why Quantum Leap is so good. I loved the specificity of these characters. Even though at first they seem like stereotypical fantasy characters, they actually have a lot of fun quirks and recognizable problems.

This show had so many hilarious moments. One of the most surprising and funny characters in the entire show was Farrah (Elisabeth Del Toro), a tiny, cruel, badass fairy. When the group of adventurers wanted to pass through her territory, she was not too keen on that and she basically goes maniac on them and tries to slice them up with two swords. It is funny because it is very surprising to see this sweet little fairy go berserker and spout obscenities at them. Evil Gabbi (Liz Lengyel) and Evil Tina (Keyanna Khatiblou) were the homophobic mean girls at Tilly's school, but also demons in her D&D world. Basically they just manipulated and yelled at the adventurers, but they would occasionally use the Force too. They have this dance battle instead of actually fighting. And, surprisingly, the adventurers had already choreographed a dance and Agnes could suddenly do backflips. Gabbi and Tina did a dance that was mainly strutting and you could see that they could kind of tell they were losing at moments, which produced some of the best facial expressions. Steve (Michael Saubert Jr.) is a random guy who keeps showing up and getting defeated in the most pathetic ways possible by monsters even though he enters with as much gusto as a drag performer called Miss Gusto Wind. Each time he walked in, you knew something terrible was going to happen to him, and it was hilarious every time because each way he got killed was so original and sad.

I think this show has a really powerful message as well. It is all about mourning and figuring out how to deal with your decisions and regrets. Agnes gets to meet the versions of Tilly's characters as Tilly's actual friends and enemies in real life. And it is really interesting and sad because you see the people mourning Tilly, but you have just seen her alive in the game. It is really heartbreaking. You see how Agnes' obsession with the game is damaging parts of her real-life relationships, like with her boyfriend Miles (Graham Carlson) and her friend Vera (Lakecia Harris). But it also brings her closer to those people once they understand what she is actually doing. Grief is something that can separate people but also bring them closer together. And I think this play really shows that relationship well.

People who would like this show are people who like swearing fairies, nerding out, and unexpected backflips. I think this is a really moving, nerdy, and very funny show. I think that it has so many talented performers who worked well with the beautiful but ridiculous script.

Photos: Candice Lee Conner

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Review of Broken Nose Theatre's Kingdom.

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Kingdom. It was by Michael Allen Harris and it was directed by Kanomé Jones. It was about a family who lived near Disney World and their entire home was devoted to Disney. But their lives were not always full of magic and wonder. They struggle with homophobia, racism, complicated relationships, violence, illness, and alcoholism. But this show isn't sad all the way through. It is heartwarming, funny, and clever. It has a lot of back and forth banter in it which shows you the relationships between the people. It is about devotion, family, and how magic can be translated into real life. I think this show has some very sincere and powerful performances and I was really drawn into the story.

I thought the family relationships were really complex but based in affection. All they want is the best for each other, but they are not all good at accepting help when they need it. The heads of the family are the fathers, Henry (Watson Swift) and Arthur (Christopher McMorris). Henry has cancer, and Arthur wants to get married now that it is legal. But Henry isn't so keen on that. Alexander (Michael Mejia-Beal) is Arthur's biological son, but was raised by both his fathers. He dated Malik (Byron Coolie) since college, but then they broke up because Malik was afraid he'd lose his position on his NFL team if he came out. Phaedra (Regina Whitehead "RjW" Mays) was Alexander's cousin and they were very close and they helped each other out a lot. She is in a relationship with a woman whose husband is in jail. And she has been to jail herself and her daughter doesn't want her around her granddaughter because she doesn't trust her. Something that is really sad about this play is watching how these characters who love each other shut each other out. Like how Henry and Arthur don't agree on if they should get married or not and when Alexander starts drinking Phaedra is trying to help him but he refuses to take any help. They have some very emotional scenes together where it is clear that Phaedra is really concerned for Alexander's well-being, but he just won't listen and doesn't seem to care. These are some of the saddest scenes in the play. There are glimpses of things that might change, but a lot of times they are foiled.

Something I found very interesting was how all the family had names of kings or queens who had stories told about them that were larger than life. And Malik's name literally means king. I think it is using the power of naming hopefully, as if it were magic. It is looking at a child and saying, if I name him Alexander, maybe he'll be Great. But then you see all these people with namesakes who were powerful but they are powerless over many of the events in their lives. Henry has no power over cancer. Alexander seems to feel powerless over alcohol. Phaedra can't change her past. Malik can't change the way he feels. You compare all these people in your head to mythologized Kings and Queens and it makes you think about the differences between fairy tales and reality. They live so close to this world full of magic, but their proximity to Disney isn't going to save them from their real life. But even though their lives aren't perfect, it doesn't mean they can't have their happy ending.

Some houses have pictures of Jesus everywhere, but their house has shrines for Mickey Mouse everywhere you turn. It is a religious experience for them it seems, and Disney World is like their paradise. Henry and Arthur like how at Disney World the characters and employees treat everyone like worthwhile human beings and with respect. They feel happy there and can enjoy themselves without the pain of the real world. So even if the proximity doesn't change their lives, being there makes their lives more livable. Phaedra also has a religious Disney experience by talking to Mufasa from the Lion King while she is high. She just started talking to him about how great her weed was, like they were old friends. And she also realizes that she can take more control of her own life. So even though Disney is this magical unrealistic thing, it actually does help her get her act together.

I have a paragraph where I talk about my favorite scene between Malik and Alexander, but it is a little spoiler-y so you can check it out here.

People who would like this show are people who like complex family relationships, the contrast between fairy tales and reality, and talking to Mufasa about weed. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It is a beautiful story with compelling characters. You feel like you are in every scene with them and like you are part of their family.

Photos: Devon Green

Monday, March 26, 2018

Review of New American Folk Theatre's Hot Pink, or Ready to Blow

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Hot Pink, or Ready to Blow. It was by Johnny Drago and it was directed by Derek Van Barham. It was about a group of friends: Cadence (Charlie Irving), Brichelle (Janyce Caraballo), and Tatanya (Brittney Brown). They lived in New Pompeii and it was about that time of year that the virgin sacrifice would be chosen. And it turns out that their virgin sacrifice wasn't such a virgin. So the friends are trying to find a way that they won't be next in line to be sacrificed. I think this is a parody done right. It uses over-the-top comedy to further the story instead of just being exaggerated for the sake of it. It makes valid points about double standards, high-school relationships, and the pressures of the patriarchy and tradition on young people. I think this is a surprising and hilarious show with larger-than-life characters dealing with elevated versions of real problems.

One of the early scenes was also one of my favorite scenes. The three girls were getting up in the morning and talking to their families. They had very different family lives. Tatanya lived with her mother (Anthony Whitaker), who was drunk always and was still mad that she was denied the honor of being the virgin sacrifice when she was a teenager because she was pregnant with Tatanya. They are very different sorts of people. And they have very interesting conversations that may not be completely appropriate. It is not really a parenting situation because Tatanya is more reasonable that her own mother. I thought the timing and delivery in this scene were so perfect and hilarious. Brichelle didn't have parents that were at home. From the clues I got, I think they joined a cult. She was now living with Lenny (Tommy Bullington) her unmotivated, always-eating-cereal brother. He seemed to be like the classic 80s brother who is just there to give you a noogie from time to time. But they actually have kind of a sweet relationship, and he actually loves her and wants to protect her. It is the most sincere male-female relationship in the whole play. (Which isn't saying a lot, but there it is.) Cadence has a seemingly healthy relationship with her father, the Mayor (Josh Kemper), but as the show goes on, you see he is the patriarchal patriarchy man. His priorities are basically money and tradition over everything else. I think tradition can be a good thing, but not when every year you have to kill an 18 year old for it. These scenes let you get a glimpse into the lives of these three girls. I think it is really cool that this show that is basically a spoof gives you actual feelings about the character, even if it is just in very brief scenes.

In the world of New Pompeii women are considered pure if they are virgins, and "huge sluts" if they are not. There is no in-between for them. But you kind of have to be a "huge slut" to save your life. So the options are basically die or get laid once and be called a "huge slut." I feel like men's sexuality is a lot more normalized than women's in the world because having heterosexual sex is basically a rite of passage for men but makes women dishonorable. People don't seem to understand that it doesn't make any sense to shame a woman for doing the same thing as men get praise for. But the play shows you that there is also a lot of pressure on men to conform to these ideas. Chadwick (Kemper) is pretty much a overly sexual jock and obsessed with getting laid by any girl he lays eyes on. He tries to convince them in the dumbest ways possible. He basically harasses them until a teacher comes by to save the day. But the pressure is also on guys because society has told them they have to be overly sexual about everything to prove that they are a man. He is one of the villains of the story, but he also has social pressures to be the man that society thinks he should be.

I think that all the performers were really committed to their characters, no matter how ridiculous they were. This is a very important thing in parody and satire. It takes you out of the comedy and the context if somebody is making fun of their own performance, but that did not happen here. Some of my favorite characters that were not the three lead girls were Bangs (Caitlin Jackson), Bruce (Will Kazda), and the News Reporter (Elise Marie Davis). The reporter at the beginning of the show I thought was hilarious because she took everything she said so seriously and philosophically, like Neil DeGrasse Tyson narrating Cosmos. She would go into this classic newscaster thing, being really chipper and kind of fake, and then go back into philosophical Neil DeGrasse Tyson mode. Bruce was Cadence's boyfriend who didn't actually seem all that romantically interested in her. He was more interested in Chadwick. His sexuality was stereotypical enough to be pretty obvious to everyone who was not his girlfriend. He was dropping hints for Cadence the whole show: talking about his admiration for Chadwick and sashaying every time he left the room. It was fun at the end of the show to see his fabulous fouettés. They seem to be good together as friends, she just doesn't understand how in the friend zone she really is. Bangs I think is the most badass character in this show. She is not shy about anything. Cadence, Tatanya, and Brichelle hate her at first, but then they learn to love her because of the knowledge that she gives them about sexuality. She offers a new perspective about women and sexuality. She is like a sex-positive angel in disguise. The night I saw it, there was a woman in the front row of the audience who seemed to be intoxicated in some way and was talking to people on stage and making extraneous noise. She did this during one of Bangs' scenes, and Jackson handled it as badassedly as Bangs would. So I wanted to give her props for that.

People who would like this show are people who like committed performances, criticizing double standards, and sex-positive angels in disguise. I think people should go see this show. It is really funny and strangely thought-provoking, and I really had a lot of fun watching it.

Photos: Austin D. Oie

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Review of About Face Theatre's Time is on Our Side

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Time is on Our Side. It was by R. Eric Thomas and it was directed by Megan Carney. It was about two friends, Curtis (Rashaad Hall) and Annie (Maggie Scrantom), who have a history podcast together in Philadelphia. They have a monthly reenactment radio play where they hire their friends Rene (Esteban Andres Cruz) and Claudia (Riley Mondragon) to act in it. Claudia found this diary in a secret compartment in one of Annie's chests that used to belong to her grandmother. And Curtis wants to find out more about Annie's grandmother, but Annie doesn't want him to do that; she doesn't think he has the right. It is about inheritance, boundaries in friendship, and learning the truth about people that you love. This was a mystery, but not a murder mystery. It was about discovering and diving deeper into family secrets.

Mr. Blankenship (Cruz) and Mr. Ramondi (Mondragon) were two of the most memorable characters in the show. They are neighbors and they had been friends with Annie's grandparents Gisella (Mondragon) and Lawrence (Cruz) and are talking with her about them. Mr. Ramondi is very welcoming, shiny, and loud and just seems like a very fun person to hang out with. His neighbor across the way, Mr. Blankenship, is just about the opposite of that. He is begrudging, grumpy, and obsessed with Jeopardy! But you love him anyway. Mr. Ramondi embraces the past and the new times, and celebrates how much things have improved. Mr. Blankenship gets angry at people who want to know about the old times because they have it so much better now. It is hard for him to go through again because he has lost a lot of people that were close to him during that time. Cruz and Mondragon also both had really lovely portrayals of Annie's grandparents. They had a very sweet scene at the end of the play, which I won't give away, but it was really meaningful and bittersweet. I have a theory that maybe all of the scenes with the grandparents, and when Annie and Curtis were interviewing the older people, that might have been part of their podcast's monthly reenactment. So, Rene and Claudia were actually playing the roles of the grandparents and Mr. Blankenship and Mr. Ramondi. I think that would be really cool if that idea was planted purposefully in the show.

There were a lot of funny moments in this show. Claudia had a very welcoming personality and is friends with everyone. As Curtis said, she is a "celesbian," which I think is the best phrase ever. It comes up multiple times, and I think it is hilarious that everyone's heard this term that Annie has not. Curtis also had this wall of his house that he put all his theories about Annie's grandmother's secret life. It was insanely intricate and covered up the entire wall. It looked like a murder board on a crime show. He compared himself to Olivia Pope, and people keep shutting him down on that comparison. Rene even compares him to a totally obsessed serial killer--except that he forgot the yarn that would complete the look. I thought both those comparison were hilarious. Whenever Annie would not get a pop culture reference, Curtis would say that she would be terrible at Celebrity Jeopardy!. And she would say something along the lines of, "I don't think that's how that works." But people just kept bringing it up as if Celebrity Jeopardy! was trivia about celebrities instead of celebrities on Jeopardy! Even Mr. Blankenship makes this mistake even though his obsession is Jeopardy! I thought that was really funny.

I think the relationship between Annie and Curtis started out as a really beautiful, happy, and healthy friendship. But once they discovered the diary, they get drawn further apart because Curtis wants to find out more about Annie's grandmother, but Annie doesn't want him to because she feels like it isn't his story. But Curtis feels like it should be a story for the entire LGBTQ+ community. So he starts investigating without her consent, which I think is a very tough topic because I feel like consent is key even in friendships and you need to make sure you both are happy and getting what you need. But I also think that Annie's grandmother's story should be out there for people who are struggling to be themselves. It is hard because Annie doesn't feel like Curtis has the right to investigate the story, so it is not consent. But I'm not sure that Annie has the right approach to this topic or the ownership of the story. I feel like the playwright was trying to make you see the threat to their friendship but want to figure out a way that the story can get told where Annie doesn't feel betrayed. The play becomes mostly about how Curtis is trying to find a way to tell the story and get consent so he can save his friendship.

People who would like this show are people who like Jeopardy! obsessions, murder boards, and celesbians. I think that people should definitely go see this show. I thought the story was really intriguing and all the performances were great!

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos: Jean Lachat

Friday, March 16, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos: Evan Hanover

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Review of Mary Stuart at Chicago Shakespeare

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

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

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

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

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

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Review of Anna Karenina at Lifeline Theatre

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

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

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

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

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

Photos: Suzanne Plunkett

Monday, March 5, 2018

Review of The Wolves at Goodman Theatre

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

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

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

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

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

Photos: Liz Lauren

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Review of Saltbox Theatre Collective's 4.48 Psychosis

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

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

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

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

Photos: Corwyn Cullum

Friday, March 2, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos: Emily Schwartz

Thursday, March 1, 2018

Review of Steppenwolf for Young Adults' The Burn

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

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

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

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

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

Photos: Michael Brosilow