Monday, July 30, 2018

Review of Brown Paper Box Co.'s Everybody

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

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

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

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

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

Photos courtesy of Brown Paper Box Co.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Review of The Color Purple (Broadway in Chicago)

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

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

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

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

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

Photos: Matthew Murphy

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Review of The Roommate at Steppenwolf Theatre Company

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

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

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

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

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

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Friday, July 6, 2018

Review of Mercury Theater's Avenue Q

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

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

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

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

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

Photos: Brett A. Beiner

Thursday, July 5, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photos: Evan Hanover