Friday, April 27, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Review of Company at Venus Cabaret Theater at Mercury Theater Chicago

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

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

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

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

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

Photos: Brett A. Beiner

Friday, April 20, 2018

Review of Firebrand Theatre's 9 to 5

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called 9 to 5. The music was by Dolly Parton and the book was by Patricia Resnick, based on the movie. It was directed by Harmony France and the music director was Andra Velis Simon. The choreography was by Kasey Alfonso. It was about three women--Doralee (Sharriese Hamilton), Violet (Anne Sheridan Smith), and Judy (Sara Reinecke)--who all worked at Consolidated Industries for a very sexist boss, Mr. Hart (Scott Danielson). Mr. Hart would harass them and give them unfair pay and be altogether a huge jerk. One day the three women have had enough so they decide to stand up for themselves. It is about sexism in the workplace, payback, and female empowerment. I think this musical was really funny and empowering and had really good songs.

Doralee, Violet, and Judy each have a song that embodies what the show is about and what their character's goal is. Doralee wants to be treated like a person instead of an object; Judy wants to get over her ex-husband and start a new life for herself; and Violet wants to get the promotion she deserves. They are all very different types of songs. This musical doesn't really conform to one specific genre of music, which I think worked very well because it is three different women's stories and they are all different types of people. "Backwoods Barbie" is Doralee's song which is a country lament about how even though she grew up poor in the country and wears a lot of makeup and a push-up bra, it doesn't mean she shouldn't be treated like a human being. This performer shows a lot of vulnerability in this song but also it has a few moments for belting, so it really shows off her range. Violet had a song called "One of The Boys," which was a very classic sparkly broadway number. It is Violet's dream about being the first female CEO of her company. She has all of these backup dancers (Royen Kent, Ted Kitterman, Khaki Pixley, Tyler Symone, and Michael Turrentine) wearing hats and red vests (costumes by Virginia Varland). These kinds of songs are not usually about a job. They are usually about beauty or sexuality, but in this one the way that she wants to get ahead is people actually noticing the great work that she has been doing for years. Instead of saying "Diamonds are a Girl's Best Friend," she's saying equal pay and promotion are a girl's best friend. Instead of "Building a Stairway to Paradise," she's building a stairway through the glass ceiling. I really loved Judy's song "Get Out and Stay Out." I think the performer did an amazing job with this song. It is essentially an empower ballad where she takes back her life. You haven't seen this side of Judy until this moment, and she's talking about how her husband has never seen this side of her, but the audience hasn't either until she lets herself take control of her life. She's learned from these other women how power can be possible for women and they can become the boss of themselves.

I loved the character of Roz (Veronica Garza) and especially her song "Heart to Hart," which is Roz confessing her love for Mr. Hart. I think I want her saying "hot mama" like she did in the song as my ringtone. She was absolutely hilarious and she made such unbreaking eye contact with her audience while singing a very intimate song about her and Mr. Hart, her one true love. The contrast between how she is around her coworkers and how she is when she is alone thinking about Mr. Hart is absolutely hilarious. And you can still see glimpses of the awkward secretary coming through the vixen, when she is singing about her sexy time with Mr. Hart.

Joe (Turrentine) was the love interest of Violet and was maybe the only man who thought women should have equal pay and equal rights to men. He helps them find incriminating information about Mr. Hart, but he doesn't take over anything, and he doesn't take any credit that doesn't belong to him. He also doesn't approach beginning a relationship like the other men in the office by catcalling or grabbing. He decides to walk up to Violet and ask her out and that's it. That's all you really need to do! And when she rejects him, he doesn't get angry about it, he just tries to show her that they would get along. There's not always a lot of allyship in musicals, because the man is often the main character or just a love interest. But this character is a very good example of a feminist ally.

People who would like this show are people who like musical allyship, empower ballads, and awkward vixens. I think people should definitely go see this show. I think this is an important musical and I think they did a great job with it. I loved it.

Photos: Emily Schwartz

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Review of Ghostlight Ensemble's An Ideal Husband

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called An Ideal Husband. It was by Oscar Wilde and it was directed by Holly Robison. It was about a man, Robert Chiltern (Aaron Wertheim), and his wife, Lady Chiltern (Madeline Pell). They throw a dinner party and end up inviting a woman, Mrs. Cheveley (Sam Bianchini), who tries to blackmail Sir Robert into helping her promote a financial scheme in parliament. Robert tells his friend Lord Goring about this, and Lord Goring decides to help him. Sir Robert's sister, Mabel (Halie Merrill), is in love with Lord Goring but is going about it by being mean to him. It is about the "duties" of a wife, avoiding accountability, and the ultimate powerlessness of women. I think this was a very interesting take on a troubling and old-fashioned play. It is funny up until the end, when the play goes to another level of sexism, but I could see how the production was trying to show the problems with sexist ideas.

This play has a lot of very sexist ideas. By the end of the play every single woman has lost any power they had, and Wilde seems to think this makes a happy ending. He thinks that wives should be loyal to their husbands, no matter what the husband's flaws or mistakes. Mrs. Cheveley is somebody who abuses her power at the beginning of the play, so you kind of feel like she deserves to lose her power. But you also see that this seems like the only option for her to get what she wants. She is excluded from politics and most jobs. I'm not saying that what she did was right, but I do think she has some reasons for it. Lady Chiltern at the end of the play is basically convinced by Lord Goring to take back her husband and support him in his new job even though she thinks it would be better if he didn't take it. That was kind of infuriating to me, but it wasn't like they could change the ending of the play. They can just change how she reacts to it, and they did initially make it so she seemed offended by the entire prospect. I don't think that forgiveness is unreasonable, but I do feel like women should not be obligated to accept the lies that they are told. Lady Chiltern shouldn't have to do all the work because she is not the one who messed up. Even though Mabel gets what she says she wants at the end, I am worried about what he married life is going to be after Lord Goring's speech to Lady Chiltern. It seems like she might be expected to do the same things Lord Goring told Lady Chiltern to do, which doesn't seem like what she would want in the end because she is a very spunky and modern-minded woman. I do think the show did a good job of acknowledging that there was sexist dialogue without changing the dialogue.

This production made you feel like you were part of the world of the play. Mason and Phipps, the butlers, were played by the same person (Michael Wagman) and in this production, the butlers were sort of the narrators and spoke directly to the audience. At the beginning, Mason would say who was coming into the room and what their status was. His lines were taken from stage directions and that was very interesting. It was a nice introduction but also they are very funny stage directions, which you normally wouldn't hear. I think they ended up adding quite a bit of clarity because there are a lot of characters in the play, and they all have posh-sounding names, and a lot of the ladies don't have first names in the program--they are just "Lady." Also, the play was done in the Berger Park North Mansion, a real house built near the time the play premiered, which was very interesting because it immersed you in the entire party in the first act and made you a character in the play. It also makes the set (by Sam Gribben) look very realistic because it was real. The costumes (by Stefanie Johnsen) also contributed to the immersion. The points they were trying to make about the show were new, but they still tried to immerse you in the time it was set in.

This show has some really great classic farce moments in addition to witty banter. There's a classic but funny misunderstanding joke where Lord Goring is talking to Robert about how the woman in the other room loves him and only wants to help him, and he assumes Lady Chiltern is the one in the other room, but it turns out to be Mrs. Cheveley. The audience knows it is Mrs. Cheveley, and so does Robert, but Lord Goring thinks he knows who is in there, but doesn't. The look on Robert's face when Lord Goring says the woman is in love with him is absolutely priceless. Also, when Lord Goring's father, Lord Caversham (Richard Engling) shows up he asks his son immediately if there is going to be a draft in the room they are about to enter. And when his father finds out there really is a draft, he has a very violent reaction to it. He starts yelling at him about getting married, even though that doesn't have anything to do with the draft. I thought it was funny how all of his anger at his son built up throughout this one scene. There is also a lot of witty banter in this show. One of my favorite moments is when Lord Goring and Phipps were talking about the triviality of the flower in Lord Goring's buttonhole. Phipps tells him that the florist has recently suffered a loss in the family, which may explain the lack of triviality in his most recent buttonhole. Also, Lord Goring has a fabulous line where he says that what is unfashionable is what other people wear. It is funny because it is such a confident thing to say and Lord Goring has enough confidence for ten people.

People who would like this show are people who like new takes on classic plays, immersive theater, and trivial buttonholes. I think that people should go see this show. I think it is a funny show that has layers to it. It makes you mad at the characters at the end, but it is funny and keeps you on the edge of your seat. I really liked it.

Photos: Maria Burnham/Ghostlight Ensemble

Monday, April 16, 2018

Review of The Sound's Red Bowl at the Jeffs

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Red Bowl at the Jeffs. It was by Beth Hyland and it was directed by Rebecca Willingham. It was about a woman named Elena (Georgi McCauley) who had recently directed a version of Chekhov's Three Sisters that was nominated for a Jeff Award. And she has broken up with her boyfriend Gabe (Aaron Latterell), who had been in the show as Vershinin and is now dating Julie (Ella Pennington) who had played Irina. I think this show is really funny and relatable for people who are in the Chicago theater community because there are so many moments in this show where they will have had an experience almost exactly like that. That is very true for me. You have a lot of empathy for the characters, so it is hard to watch them go through such recognizable problems. The play is about friendship, betrayal, and the beauty and the struggles of making theater that is appreciated.

I really liked the very first part of the play where Elena, Caroline (Anne Thompson), and Alex (Faith Servant) were talking while they waited for the rest of the cast to show up. I loved their friendship and how their conversation was so casual. The rest of the show didn't have much casual conversation, everything had an underlying meaning and sometimes a backhanded tone. It was really nice at the beginning to see three women just talking about their lives and having genuine love for each other. It shows you how not everyone is in competition with each other. Alex had an audition that morning for the Goodman's Our Town, which ends up being a plot point later, but at this moment it just seems like a normal thing someone would talk about in their day, and Caroline does not seem jealous about Alex's opportunity. It seems like a lot of other times when people bring up opportunities in this show, people seem very jealous. I understand the feeling of jealousy, but I feel like a lot of the people in this play handle it in an immature way, which I think is why it is great to have this scene right at the beginning. It also makes the stakes in the play seem higher because there are friendships you care about right from the start.

This show had some really great Chicago theater inside jokes. If you know a lot of names of theater companies in Chicago, you will have probably noticed that a lot of names of theater companies have red in them. A Red Orchid, Redtwist, Red Tape, Red Theater, Redmoon. And of course this show is about a theater company called Red Bowl. Also Devin was on check avail for a Dick Wolf show throughout a good portion of the Jeffs. Being on check avail for Chicago ______, is one of the most nerve-wracking experiences and a lot of actors in Chicago have been through this experience. They also bring up that the play that wins everything is a really long show and no one really saw it. I'm kind of one to to talk about long shows, having been in a nine hour one, but I found it very funny all the jokes about how long the play was.

I thought it was interesting how they connected Three Sisters to this play. They didn't just try to make the show a new version of Three Sister, they just put some references and similarities in there. Hank (Carter Caldwell) was basically just Solyony--a little bit off and he sort of seems like he might need help. Sophie (Margaret Kellas) is really fake and loud, just like Natasha, and she is cheating on the play by sitting with her Hairspray cast just like Natasha cheated on Andre. Andy (Andrew Cutler) is told the person he loves doesn't love him just like Tuzenbach. Also everyone loves Devin (Pernell Myers) like the sisters love Andre. Caroline is the mother figure, like Olga. And Julie is young and kind of clueless just like Irina. Moscow is the Jeffs, everyone is trying to get there, but it is not certain if it is actually going to be good or not or even mean what they hope it means. I thought it was interesting that out of all the characters in this show, the one who seems most like a Chekhov character is Elena, the director, who didn't play a character in Three Sisters. She is depressed and reflecting on the past all the time and she is also the one who triggers a lot of the bad things happening. She is like a walking Chekhov play. Also her inability to be happy when everyone else is is very Chekhovian. Almost at the end of the play, there is a scene where she is alone on stage just staring forward and it was just very depressed Chekhov character of her to stare forward straight-faced and miserable and realizing she messed up.

People who would like this show are people who like inside Chicago theater jokes, supportive female friendships, and walking Chekhov plays. I think that people should go see this show. It is a lot of fun, and I think that even people outside of the Chicago theatre community will enjoy it too!

Photos: Montana Bruns

Friday, April 13, 2018

Review of Refuge Theatre Project's The Spitfire Grill

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Spitfire Grill. The music and book were by James Valcq and the lyrics and book were by Fred Alley. It was based on the film by Lee David Zlotoff. It was directed by Christopher Pazdernik and the music direction was by Jon Schneidman. It was about a woman named Percy (Lauren Paris) who had just recently gotten out of jail and was trying to start her life over. She has seen a picture in a magazine of what the leaves look like in the fall in Gilead, Wisconsin, so she decides to go and live there. She gets a job working at the Spitfire Grill for Hannah (Katherine Condit). The Sheriff, Joe (Alex Christ), is her parole officer. And Hannah is getting older and is having problems with her health so she decides she should sell the grill. Percy comes up with the idea to have a contest to raffle off the Spitfire Grill. Hannah's nephew Caleb's (Gerald Richardson) wife, Shelby (Emily Goldberg) who is an employee there is also really excited about the idea. But some people in town aren't too excited about Percy or the raffle, like Effy (Nicole Michelle Haskins), the local busybody. It is about home, letting go, and turning over a new leaf.

"Something's Cooking at the Spitfire Grill" was a great introduction to all the characters. The way everyone reacts to Percy arriving is the way their personality is going to be for the rest of the show. Effy was a really great comic character, a very classic small-town gossip. In this song, Effy is basically spreading all these rumors about Percy and the most scandalous thing to her was that Percy might have tattoos, which seems pretty funny, especially because about 5 seconds later, everybody finds out Percy has been to prison. You also get to see a friendship start between Shelby and Percy. I really like their friendship throughout the show. They are very opposite kinds of people, but they bond almost instantly. The song reminds me of a square dance. Everyone is passing these rumors in an orderly fashion, like "swing your rumors round and round. Kick that girl out of our town."

A thing that is really interesting about this production is that it is performed in a real restaurant, Windy City Cafe. This was really great for the grill scenes and it was great to see the actors use the space to its full extent. I think it would have felt more immersive if all the audience were at tables. The performers were in a diner, but it felt like the audience was watching them instead of also at a diner because so many of them were just in rows of chairs. Most of the play does take place in the Spitfire Grill, but there are some scenes I think would have benefited from being in a theater with a full lighting plot. For example, they could have done something really cool with the colors they talk about in "Shine" with lighting or a set change to indicate where Percy was and the impact on her of the beautiful colors of fall. It is supposed to be very poetic, and I think it could have benefited from having a more versatile space.

I really like the stylized movement in the song "Ice and Snow" where they used shovels and tire chains and were doing a sort of stomp thing. They were singing about the hardships of winter and the song takes you right into spring. Effy, Joe, and Caleb were all discovering the beautiful things about spring and being thankful that winter was over. Using everyday objects made it work in my brain with the rest of the show which was very realistic and not stylized in its movement. But because they were using everyday objects it was in keeping with the realism of the rest of the show.

People who would like this show are people who like site-specific theater, stylized shoveling, and square dance rumors. I think this show has some really cool elements and a lot of strong performances. It was a lot of fun.

Photos: Zeke Dolezalek

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Review of Emerald City Theatre's Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Musical. The script and lyrics were by Mo Willems and the music was by Michael Silversher. It was directed and choreographed by Aileen McGroddy. It was about a toddler named Trixie (Deanalís Resto) who went to the laundromat with her dad (Matt Miles) and her stuffed animal, Knuffle Bunny. In their excitement she accidentally leaves Knuffle Bunny at the laundromat. The caution in the cautionary tale is listen to your toddler and make sure you have everything before you leave. It is about parental anxiety, security, and the beauty of the everyday through a young person's eyes. I thought some of the songs were very charming and the performances were strong.

My favorite song was "AggleFlaggleKlabble" in which Trixie laments the loss of her one true love, Knuffle Bunny, with dream ballet included with large full body Knuffle Bunny puppet (designed by Angela McIlvain) played by Ayanna Bria Bakari, with backup dancers with candelabras (Jar'Davion Brown and Emilie Modaff). It was hilarious because the tune sounds like a love ballad off a Whitney Houston album, but when the words begin they are gibberish. Trixie was miming a lot and when the giant Knuffle Bunny comes out on stage it just took it to the next level of hilarity. I was dying. But it was also kind of sad because you can see Trixie overflowing with emotion over her loss. It is amazing how much meaning Resto could put into gibberish.

I do feel like the musical adds something that is not in the book that was strange to me. I think it is great that the musical makes the mom (Abby Murray Vachon) a more central figure, but it also makes the dad seem a lot more incompetent. He doesn't seem to know how babies work: how they get upset at loud noises a lot of the time and they cannot always keep track of their own things or express themselves clearly. The play seemed to be saying, "Oh, its fine. The mom can just take care of the real parenting." That is an unhelpful idea in my opinion. Some kids only have one parent, but if they are fortunate enough to have two, they should be able to count on both of their parents for help when they need it. I don't think it is a healthy thing in society that we let the dad off the hook for some of the work of parenting. I feel like, in the book, when he makes a mistake he learns faster from it. I realize they basically had to fill an entire play with his mistake, but I feel like they could have made it so that he seemed a little more knowledgeable about how to take care of Trixie in general. I think the actor did a really great job making him seem like as good of a father as he could with the script. I think it is really a problem with the translation from book to musical not with the performance.

I love how excited Trixie is about the world. It was so adorable when she found a pigeon (puppeted by Brown) who wanted to befriend her who was the pigeon from another Mo Willem's book, Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus. That was a fun reference for people who had read that book. And Trixie seems so mesmerized by the pigeon and it was so fun to watch. At the beginning of the song "Washy Washy" the laundromat sign glowed in the distance and the laundromat turned into a discotheque. I think that was a really good way of representing how a lot of children get excited about everyday things that adults sometimes don't notice the fun in or how they could make it fun. I don't see the beauty in all those things anymore, but it was really nice to see that feeling represented in a play. It was so cool to watch the kids in the audience discover the beauty of theater while they were watching Trixie discover the beauty of the world

People who would like this show are people who like the beauty of pigeons, disco laundromats, and Knuffle Bunny dream ballets. I think this show is really great for young children but can also be very nostalgic and fun for teens and adults.

Photos: Austin D. Oie

Review of Remy Bumppo Theatre Company's hang

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called hang. It was by debbie tucker green and it was directed by Keira Fromm. It was about a woman, listed in the program as 3 (Patrese D. McClain), who has come into an office to tell 1 (Eleni Pappageorge) and 2 (Annabel Armour), who work there, her big decision. And she was not having any of their happy-go-lucky demeanor. The first part of the play you are trying to figure out why 3 is there and what she is upset about. In the second half you are trying to figure out what she has made a decision about and why she has to make it. Even though your main character doesn't have a name, you want her to get justice, but you are not sure exactly what she is getting justice for or at the expense of whom. Some of the questions get answered clearly and some never do. I really like mystery in plays and seeing things unfold and letting your imagination take over for some moments, so I really liked this show. It is funny in moments, but in very dark ways, which made me love it even more because I love dark comedy. You are holding your breath a lot of the time because you are waiting to see what the heck is going on, and I found that super exciting and terrifying.

At the beginning it seemed like 3 was there for just a business meeting or maybe a therapy session. Or they might be interviewing her about a crime. But at no point did it cross my mind that she was there for what she was there for. They build this sense of dread in a really interesting way. The most genuinely hospitable things started to sound menacing because of the amount of times they ask and the way she turns them down. They kept wanting to hang up her coat, or get her some water, or inform her about the heat of the water. Also, they, 1 and 2, kept wanting to get 3 some kind of tea and listing all the types of tea they had on the premises. She kept turning them down angrily and they seemed sort of put off by the fact that she doesn't want tea and they won't let it go. They even take the time to report to 3 that the herbal tea has arrived halfway through the play. At that point the tea just seems absurd and there is no reason anymore to talk about the tea. It seems like they are really really trying to make her at home--almost threatening her to relax. And when she won't, they seem to get more determined to make her feel at home. The repetition of asking about the tea is what makes it so terrifying to me. It is such a simple thing they can let go but they want to avoid the real subject so much they'll keep talking about it for an hour. It almost made me worry that the tea was poisoned for a minute. It is also what makes it funny, to see them persisting and 3's reaction to their whole four-act play about herbal tea.

In the program it says that the time it takes place is "nearly now," but that could be taken a bunch of different ways. I personally think it must be the near future when certain laws have come back to the UK, because some of the things they mention don't seem completely legal nowadays in Great Britain. But this entire transaction could be illegal. There are so many ways to think about it. It sort of seems like it is in the future. The style and automation of the lights seemed futuristic. But they still have IKEA, which makes you think it might be days away. It makes it seem less futuristic. In the play, 1 and 2 are trying to normalize pretty horrible things, which might make it seem like it might be in the future. But they also bring up things that are very normal to us today, like IKEA furniture, which makes us think it might be very close at hand, that these characters' world might become our reality. It adds urgency to the end of the show and it made me think a lot about what I think might happen next in play and in the real world.

This paragraph is full of spoilers, so if you have seen the show already and want to read it, here's the link.

People who would like this show are people who like futuristic politics, the persistence of IKEA, and excessive herbal tea. I think that people should go and see this show. It is such an interesting concept and it is beautifully acted. I loved it.

Photos: Michael Courier Photography

Friday, April 6, 2018

Review of Pretty Woman: The Musical (Broadway in Chicago)

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Pretty Woman: The Musical. The book was by Garry Marshall and J.F. Lawton. The music and lyrics were by Bryan Adams and Jim Vallance. It was about a woman named Vivian Ward (Samantha Barks) who was a prostitute in Hollywood, and one day she meets a very rich businessman named Edward Lewis (Steve Kazee). He needs some directions to get back to his hotel, but then he ends up getting a bit more than directions. He hires her to come with him to multiple business functions that week as his date. Even though Vivian has a hard time fitting in, she seems to charm almost everyone that she meets. Even though it is supposed to be a business arrangement, Edward and Vivian find themselves developing feelings for each other. It is about classism, roots, and what money can and can't buy. I think this show had a talented cast and it was a lot of fun to watch.

I liked the opening song, "Welcome to Hollywood." It was very upbeat and it introduced you to all the characters very well. Vivian is running away from her landlord, which shows you that she is going to be living on the edge for the rest of the play. Edward is leaving a party early, which shows you that he doesn't seem to enjoy himself enough. It also shows you Vivian's closest relationship with Kit DeLuca (Orfeh), who is another prostitute, a best friend, and sort of a big sister figure who encourages her to look out for herself. She also has an amazing voice. The song is sung by The Happy Man (Eric Anderson), who is trying to hand out flyers. He dances through life, moonwalking and swiveling everywhere that he goes. He is like a narrator who introduces you to people. He is a hilarious and fun character to start the show off with.

My favorite song was "On a Night Like Tonight," which was sung by Mr. Thompson (Anderson), who is the hotel manager. Mr. Thompson is trying to teach Vivian to dance before her night out with Edward. It reminded me of "Kiss The Girl" from The Little Mermaid in a way, because it was like, "You want this person, go and get them. Here are your instructions. These bellboys (or fish if it's The Little Mermaid) may assist." There is this great tango section between Giulio (Tommy Bracco) and Mr. Thompson, where they are just working the dance floor. They have many dramatic pauses. It was beautiful and hilarious, and quite well tangoed.

My favorite scene was the one at the opera. I don't why, but that gliding opera box made me so happy. The opera selections by Alfredo (Brian Calì) and Violetta (Allison Blackwell) were sung amazingly. The high note from Violetta was jaw-droppingly gorgeous. In this scene you really get to see the reasons why Edward loves Vivian: her quirkiness and the way everything is new and beautiful to her. It shows how Vivian appreciates art and culture, even though she is new to opera and those kind of fancy exclusive spaces. She seems to fit in and is so absorbed in Violetta's performance, and Edward is singing "You and I" to her, and it is such a pretty image to see her so involved in something and him falling in love with the way she is being drawn in. So even though the song was pretty cheesy, it was staged very effectively.

People who would like this show are people who like gliding opera boxes that give me joy, Hollywood moonwalking, and tangoing bellboys. I think people should go see this show if they are really big fans of the movie. I had never seen it before, and I still enjoyed a lot of parts. I think the performers did a great job with what they were given.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Review of Eclectic Full Contact Theatre's As You Like It

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called As You Like It. It was by William Shakespeare and it was directed by Katherine Siegel. It was about two women, Rosalind (Chloe Baldwin) and Celia (Jessica L. Fisher) who lived in Duke Frederick's (Nick Dorado) court. Rosalind's mother, Duke Señor (Honey West), had been banished, and now Rosalind was also being banished for trying to protect Orlando (Aja Singletary), whose brother Oliver (David Gordon-Johnson) had set up a wrestling match with Charles (Kyle Burch) in the hopes that his sister Orlando would be killed. And Orlando and Rosalind have fallen in love with each other, and they both end up in the same woods as Rosalind's mother. But Rosalind has disguised herself as a boy named Ganymede, so no one recognizes her. She decides that she is going to give Orlando lessons to win the love of Rosalind. It is about love, deceit, and fidelity. I think this is a really great show. It shows you twists on these characters that I had never seen before and I really liked.

I thought that Orlando and Rosalind's relationship was just so adorable. They were a little bit terrified of messing up around each other but they still wanted to be around each other. So they were kind of confused about how to handle that, which was charming. When Rosalind first sees Orlando, she's immediately drawn to her and understands that she needs to help her even though the person Orlando is fighting is on Rosalind's family's side. It is such a beautiful moment to see them fall in love with each other at first sight and sort of nervously glance at each other throughout that entire scene. They had these moments whenever they would leave each other's sight, where they would literally have to be pulled away from each other. It was hilarious and relatable. Even when Rosalind is in disguise, Orlando adores Ganymede. Even when she doesn't understand that she's with Rosalind, Orlando loves the person that Rosalind is as Ganymede. I like how it shows a love that is not because of gender or the way that someone looks; their love is, no matter what. These characters aren't just the adorable lovers, they also provide a lot of comedy because of how their conversations develop. I think it is remarkable how Baldwin shifts between Rosalind and Ganymede and you never lose track of how that character really feels and what she wants. I think the two actors who played Orlando and Rosalind had great chemistry and worked really well on stage together.

I loved the choice of making Orlando a woman in this version. It reversed a literary stereotype which is homosexual panic, where a man thinks he is falling in love with another man. But then it turns out that that man is a woman and that is usually a moment of relief. I'm not sure that in Shakespeare's time they had the homosexual panic moment in these crossdressing comedies, but it is a tendency in some productions I've seen. What was nice in this version is that there was no panic about being gay; it was actually a straight or bisexual panic. Orlando thinks, "Holy crap, I might be straight or bisexual!" It is a break from the way society typically thinks about the relationships in these plays. I also thought it was really interesting how Duke Señor's banishment seemed to be because she was transgender. Everyone at Duke Frederick's court kept messing up her pronouns and saying father instead of mother. That is not a storyline I would have even thought of, but I think it was genius. It let them address all these social issues that are really relevant now. This play does make you think about gender fluidity, but I wouldn't have thought about it with this character. They didn't change anything about the play except the pronouns and mother/father, but it still worked beautifully for that character to be trans. With the character Jacques (Laura Carney), I could not remember what the character's pronouns were (the character is originally a man but the actor identifies as a woman in her bio) and then I noticed it didn't really matter in this case, even though I like to respect people's and character's pronouns. Sometimes it is interesting not to think about that. The most important thing about Jacques is the pessimism. And that bitterness certainly came through, no matter what the gender of the character was.

Two of the other sets of lovers in this play can be problematic characters, but I thought the actors did a good job of making them as unproblematic as they could be without altering the script. Silvius (Christopher Sylvie) is in love with Phebe (Alice Wu), but the feelings weren't reciprocated. Phebe is in love with Ganymede. And Ganymede makes a deal with her that if she still wants to marry him after she learns this one thing, which is that he is a woman, she can, but if she doesn't she has to marry Silvius. I understand that Rosalind wants to look out for Silvius because she is empathetic and he's madly in love with Phebe. But no one should be forcing women into marriage by tricking them. But the actors did a good job of showing Phebe seeing Silvius in a new way and not just begrudgingly marrying him. That makes it seems less like she is being forced into something she doesn't want to do. She doesn't get to say a lot more after she discovers who Ganymede really is, but she uses expression and movement to show that she is not angry about marrying Silvius. Audrey (Megan DeLay) is not the brightest or most mature person, so that is why the clown, Touchstone (Tim Lee), is so appealing to her. Because he is actually quite smart, you might think that he might be abusing her innocence and stupidity. But it was clear from his performance that he was actually in awe of how she sees the world as this magical, beautiful place that is not filled with the hurt he has seen.

People who would like this show are people who like adorable couples, un-begrudging forced marriages, and straight panic. I think people should go see this show. It has great new takes on a lot of the characters and some phenomenal performances.

Photos: Katherine Siegel

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Review of Jane Bond: Funny But Deadly at Laugh Out Loud Theater

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Jane Bond: Funny But Deadly. It was an improv comedy show based on James Bond movies with an all-female ensemble. At the beginning of the show they get a lot of suggestions on slips of paper for villain names, household objects, and places that they put in a huge martini glass. They create a theme song based on the movie title that someone who was picked from the audience made up. The night I saw it, it was When Paradise Dies, and it was about Jane Bond going to Iceland and trying to defeat a villain who I think was called Dr. Polka Disco, who wanted to kill her father Panic! at the Disco, but also is trying to turn everything into a discotheque. There's also a love interest, who was called Integrity when I saw it and had a cute little Icelandic giggle. So that gives you a general idea of how crazy this show can get. I think this show is a ton of fun. It has so many great nods to the wackiness of James Bond films and a hilarious cast. It was a really fun structure to see everyone play with and it was interesting and hilarious to see how the story would unfold.

There was a whole Panic! at the Disco joke train that I really enjoyed that was just basically them making references to songs that would make sense in the context of the conversation. That was really funny and everyone was bouncing off each other with another reference. It was just perfect. I loved both the villain's goons. They were really on top of it the night I saw it; they were taking cues really well and pushing the jokes in the right direction to get to the next plot point. There is this scene that I assume exists each week, where scientists are working on objects that turn into other objects for Jane Bond's next mission. The joke is that all these household objects turn into other not very useful household objects, instead of spy gear. I thought that was a really fun twist on the original films. Jane Bond's girlfriend in Iceland
is very meek and adorable and doesn't really seem to understand how not to get killed. And whenever the bad guys would grab her she would just say, "No no no no no no" and start putting her hands in front of her mouth. I was laughing my head off.

People who would like this show are people who like James Bond spoofs, martini glass suggestions, and useless spy gear. I think that people should go see this show. It was so hilarious and had some amazing performances and great character work. I really liked it.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Review of Organic Theater Company's Why Do You Always Wear Black?

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Why Do You Always Wear Black? It was based on the works of Anton Chekhov and it was devised by the ensemble and directed by Anna Gelman. It was a feminist exploration of female characters in Chekhov. Most of Chekhov's female characters conform to certain types, only some of them go crazy and some of them don't. Some of them are lovestruck throughout the entire play (Ariana Silvan-Grau), which reminded me of Sonya in Uncle Vanya. Some of them are trying to take care of everyone and are hard working (Taylor Wisham), like Varya in The Cherry Orchard or Olga in Three Sisters. There's the romantically depressed one (Kat Christensen), like Irina in Three Sisters or Masha in The Seagull. And the one who wants to escape and doesn't seem to care a lot anymore (Nyssa Lowenstein), who reminded me of Nina in The Seagull. I think going to the theater in Russia in the late 19th-century must have been like watching reality tv. People are depressed, want to get out of wherever they are, want to be in different relationships, have terrible mothers, and are always fighting. I think this is a funny but surprisingly moving show that used a lot of Chekhov's techniques to make me care about the characters even though the play is sort of making fun of them.

They had these crackers that they ate in multiple scenes during the show. They were very messy and provoked so many responses in the characters. Sometimes people were stress eating them, sometimes people would be bonding over them, sometimes it provokes a truce. But it is always messy, which I think was meant to show us the hardships of relationships, but that messy things can make people closer. My favorite cracker moment was probably when Silvan-Grau and Lowenstein were mad at each other, clearly, and they were seated next to each other on the floor. They just started having a silent competition of who was going to eat the most crackers, trying to get the ones the other was reaching for. Then eventually they both just started laughing and seem to have made up. It just seemed so real and so true, I guess: sitting down and fighting and then realizing how stupid you're being. It was such a beautiful moment for some reason, to see two people look at each other with a mouthful of crackers and realize what they are doing and how ridiculous it is. You care a lot about the relationships, even though they aren't always explicitly identified, because the actors are committed to the relationship in the moment. And when the relationships shift, they are committed to the new relationship.

I thought there was a very interesting use of movement. In the first scene they all ran in one at a time. The first person would look around. Then they would move on to the next motion as the next person came in and looked around. That went on with every single person. And as the movement continued, they started to get faster and more frantic. It was almost funny how angry everyone was getting at each other for sitting in the wrong place. In Chekhov there's not usually that much running around, but in the silence and the sitting around there is so much reckless emotion. The franticness of this scene showcased the reckless emotion that is in every Chekhov play. I think they chose the movement wisely; it wasn't like the movement in a Chekhov play, but it showed what Chekhov is trying to do with silence and language and makes it physical.

Men are hardly ever physically present in this show, but they have a lot of impact on the women's lives like they do in every Chekhov play. There's a monologue where Lowenstein was talking about how Russian women are given their father's name but with a feminine ending. And she wants to be her own person, and she knows she can be more of her own person if she doesn't have her father's name. But the only way to do that is to get married, but then she is still going to have a man's name with a feminized ending. It is sad that there is no way for her to escape a man owning her. And men are sort of looming over all women who have their husband's or their father's name. I think it was a really powerful speech that you would remember throughout the show whenever they would talk about men. Throughout the play there is a suit coat on the chair that Christensen keeps putting her arm in and wrapping it around her, so it looks like a man is holding her. She always seems to try and take comfort in it, but it never seems to actually help. I thought that was a cool visual metaphor they used.

People who would like this show are people who like meaningful movement, analyzing Chekhov, and cracker contests. I think that people should go see this show. It is powerful because it removes the female characters from the context of the plays to show how much their decision are governed by male actions. But it also showcases the relationships between women in a genuine-feeling way. I really really liked it.

Photos: Anna Gelman

Ada Grey Interviews for You: Deanalís Resto of Emerald City Theatre's Kn...

I had so much fun talking with Deanalís Resto about our favorite childhood books, her biggest inspiration, and her Selena doll. She's currently playing Trixie in Emerald City Theatre's Knuffle Bunny.