Thursday, January 31, 2019

Review of Cardboard Piano at TimeLine Theatre Company

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Cardboard Piano. It was by Hansol Jung and it was directed by Mechelle Moe. It was about a girl named Chris (Kearstyn Keller) whose parents were missionaries in Uganda. She falls in love with a girl from the township, Adiel(Adia Alli) and we meet them on the day of their marriage, but it is not legal or considered acceptable by their parents or the community. After they have secretly exchanged vows, they accidentally alert rebel soldiers of their whereabouts. One of the soldiers, Pika (Freedom Martin), is trying to escape the rebel army, which he was forced to join, and he takes refuge in the church. But he is followed by a soldier (Kai A. Ealy) who wants to take him back by any means possible. The second act takes place in the same church, but about fifteen years later. It is about love, forgiveness, and the prospect of change. I thought this was very moving and beautifully suspenseful. I had so much love for the characters and really cared about how the story would turn out.

I really liked the relationship between Adiel and Chris. I think the main reason why I grew to love them so quickly was because of how pure their relationship is. They had so much hope invested in each other and everything seemed new and beautiful to them. They love each other so much that they would leave everything behind for each other. And even though they get into arguments, they still find a way to agree. I think that it is interesting that the tape recorder is used to record their wedding vows as well as the judgment and forgiveness Chris gives to Pika later in the act. This one tape contains Pika's confessions of the murders he has committed as a soldier and Adiel and Chris's confessions of their love for each other.

This play sheds light on a relevant problem in the Christian community, which is homophobia. It is true that the Bible condemns homosexuality as a sin. But there are a lot of sins that people trying to defend their homophobia may also commit that are actually in the ten commandments (unlike homosexuality). Both Pika and Paul (Ealy), the new pastor of of Chris's family's former church, believe that homosexuality is a sin, but both of them have done far worse things to people than loving who they want to love. Forgiveness is very important to both Pika and Paul when it comes to getting forgiveness for themselves, but it doesn't seem like they show any mercy or give anyone else a chance before going to extremes. I understand why they are like this because their entire community has told them that feeling attraction to the same sex is utterly wrong. And they had very traumatic childhoods. But I hoped that by them seeing that gay people can help strangers and show devotion to people and give second chances, they would realize that how they were taught was wrong.

The story of the cardboard piano is told twice in this show in two different contexts by two different people. The first time it is a desperate attempt by Chris to show Pika that he can trust her because she knows what it is like to have done something wrong. The story is about how Chris's dad made her a piano out of cardboard when she was little because she wanted a real one so badly. She is so disappointed that it isn't a real piano that she tears it up. But then her father goes into his office with the ruined piano and Chris starts to think he may never love her again. Her father finally opens the door and he has completely rebuilt the piano and gives it back to her, saying "Every time we break something, it’s okay, so long as we fix it." It is basically saying we make mistakes but as long as we don't cover them up and act as if they never happened, it's okay. The story is retold by Paul's wife Ruth (Alli) when she tells the story of how they got engaged. In that version of the story it is not a father and daughter, it is a husband and wife, which changes the dynamic. This version of the story is less about taking responsibility and working together to fix things and more about the husband's hard work being ruined and him striking a bargain to get what he wants--his wife to stay with him. I think that says a lot about each of the characters and what they value.

People who would like this show are people who like analyzing religion in a creative way, adorable secret lesbians, and dueling cardboard pianos. I think this show is really beautiful, heartbreaking, and amazingly acted. All the elements in this play were beautifully done. I think that people should definitely go see this show. It moved me a lot and I think it has important insights.

Photos: Lara Goetsch

Monday, January 21, 2019

Review of Brown Paper Box Co.'s Little Women

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Little Women. The music was by Jason Howland, the lyrics were by Mindi Dickstein, and the book was by Allan Knee based on the novel by Louisa May Alcott. It was directed by Stephanie Rohr and M. William Panek. It was about the March sisters--Jo (Tessa Dettman), Meg (Andi Sharavsky), Amy (Kim Green), and Beth (Sarah Ford)--who lived in Massachusetts during the Civil War. It is about family, growing up, and ambition. I thought this was a fun show. I think it is an adaptation of a great story that is mostly true to the book. The music at points wasn't very interesting to me, but it was well performed.

I think the romantic relationships in this production were very specific and effective despite the relationships being underwritten. I think that is a sign of really great actors when they can take a relationship that is given little to no attention by the script and make it seem vital. Meg and John Brooke (Dwayne Everett) had an adorable and effective relationship, even though we didn't get to see their courtship develop very much on stage. They only have one song, "More Than I Am," together but it means a lot and it shows us how devoted John Brooke is going to be to Meg. Even though you only get to see them talk together for a short time, you see how vulnerable they can be with each other. That is very important and they have a very prosperous marriage. The relationship between Jo and Professor Bhaer (Matthew Fayfer) is very sweet and unexpected, but they seem to work very well together. They have this adorable flirtatious scene right before Jo goes back to tend to Beth, which leaves you on a cliffhanger about what is going to happen with them. They are ok with disagreeing, in fact it gives them purpose. In the song "A "Small Umbrella in the Rain" they talk about how they disagree a lot and they may not be super similar but they work well together and love each other and that should be enough. I was rooting for this relationship the most because they both are sort of odd ducks and it is nice to see people who are outsiders find each other. Bhaer doesn't want to change Jo; he wants someone who has strong opinions and ambition.

The relationship between Beth and Jo seems quite underdeveloped in the script, as well, but the actors seemed to create that context for themselves. Because they developed this relationship, it makes Beth's death even more heartbreaking. I really dislike the song that they sing during Beth's goodbye, "Some Things Are Meant to Be," but their acting made up for it throughout this scene because Jo was so scared for Beth and they both love each other a lot. You haven't really seen their love that much before, but you believe it has been there the whole time. I feel like everything in the performance of the song seemed genuine despite the lyrics that were simplistic and unnecessary. I feel like the performers did a phenomenal jobs because I was almost moved to tears despite my dislike of the lyrics.

Jo has a song called "Astonishing" which is about how Jo thinks that she could be known and loved for writing and doing what she loves as long as she puts enough work into it and keeps going even though she keeps being denied. It is sung beautifully and has some really well sung high notes. I feel it is the most memorable song in the show. We also see a lot of Jo's ambition in her storytelling which is very dramatic and over-the-top. The actors who play her sisters, Marmie (Denise Tamburino), Brooke, Mr. Laurence (Ken Rubenstein), and Laurie reenact her words around her in a very melodramatic way. Jo eventually learns that being authentic is more interesting than creating a new universe. If everything is over-the-top and there is no clear reason why anything is happening, you have fewer points of connection to the story. The melodramatic stories are very stage appropriate and funny. Jo feels immersed in them and her family and friends perform them with gusto, which shows that she shouldn't be writing about Clarissa, Rodrigo, and a Troll, but instead about the people who support her and take joy and her stories. And that is what she does with Little Women.

People who would like this show are people who like healthy argumentative relationships, great actors filling in gaps, and ambitious little women. I think people should go see this show. It has a lot of really good performances and the cast works really well together. I liked it.

Photos: Zach Dries

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Review of La Ruta at Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called La Ruta. It was by Isaac Gomez and it was directed by Sandra Marquez. It is about the community of Ciudad Juárez in Mexico on the border with the United States. They are a poor community and many of the women work in factories, and those are the women the play focuses on. Women are going missing and being abused and murdered throughout the community and people in authority are not taking it seriously. The play and the people's stories are based off of interviews with some of the women the characters are based on. It is about love and loss, denial and injustice. I think this is a heartbreaking and powerful story. It brought my attention to an issue that is not talked about very much. It is disgusting that the rape, murder, and abduction of so many women is covered up and ignored by authorities.

The first scene really sets a menacing tone. We learn that Marisela's daughter has gone missing. Marisela (Charín Alvarez) is waiting with her friend Yoli (Sandra Delgado) at the bus stop for Yoli's daughter Brenda (Cher Álvarez) and handing out flyers about Marisela's daughter. But as the buses keep coming, the tension starts to build because Brenda is not on the bus she was supposed to be on or the one after that. There is also, surprisingly, quite a bit of humor and you see a love between the friends. It diffuses the menace, but only for a short amount of time. And it makes you care about the characters even more deeply. Throughout the show they return to moments of humor and beautiful relationship building, which makes your connection to the characters even deeper.

Ivonne (Karen Rodriguez) is a very beautifully complicated character. She has many conflicted loyalties throughout the show which results in her having to make very difficult choices. She loves both her sister and her coworker Brenda, who also becomes a sisterly figure to her. She is forced to choose between them, but that doesn't necessarily mean she can get what she wants. She doesn't have as much control as she wishes she had because she doesn't have a gun or a penis. Other characters sometimes see her as the beacon of trouble and think that she has something to do with the disappearances. But they don't understand how complicated her situation is.

There are no men in this play which I think is a very interesting idea. I think it adds a lot to the story because instead of seeing men doing horrible things, we get to imagine them which shows them in vivid detail in our heads. We don't think of them as human, we think of them as mythical monsters. We get to see the men through the eyes of women who have lost people that they loved and nothing else matters. All they see is an evil entity who is trying to take away people they love. It is important to remember that it is terrible humans who do these things. There is someone to blame and they are blamable. Not representing them as humans in this play lets us put their actions first which is fair because they did not think of their victims as human beings. They thought of them as objects they could manipulate to their will. Because media and culture and government encourage the ownership of women, rape and murder become a way of telling women they shouldn't exists as humans. Because we don't see individual men in this show, we are able to understand the perspective of the women and how it is a bigger problem than just a few evil men.

People who would like this show are people who like stories about terrifying realities, complicated characters, and blended humor and menace. I think this is a very thought-provoking and powerful show. I really liked it.

Photos: Michael Brosilow