Thursday, February 21, 2019

Review of Red Tape Theatre's In the Blood

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called In the Blood. It was written by Suzan-Lori Parks and it was directed by Chika Ike. It was about a woman named Hester (Jyreika Guest) who had five children who she called her treasures: Jabber (Max Thomas), Trouble (Casey Chapman), Bully (Kiayla Ryann), Beauty (Emilie Modaff), and Baby (Richard Costes). They lived together under a bridge because they could not afford a real house. Each of her children has a different father and as the play progresses we learn the true unromanticized version of how these children came to be. We meet each of the fathers, or women connected to the fathers, who are each played by the same actor as their children. I think this is a really impactful, gorgeously acted play with tons of metaphors to interpret and break down. I loved it.

Hester tells her five children a story about how all of them came to be. It was about how she was a beautiful princess and she had so many people who wanted to marry her that she decided to marry them all. And each of them gave her a child with a different strength and that is how she got the names for each of the children. Each of the actors did a phenomenal job distinguishing the child characters from their adult characters. They also didn't overemphasize the youth of the children. They had behaviors we see in children without making them clichés. I loved all the children, and at some points I would forget that they were played by the same people who played the adult roles because I was so immersed in the performances of the child characters. It exemplifies why Hester loves her children so much because they are so pure compared to the corrupt society around them. It feels like she has to protect them from becoming like her, and it is heartbreaking when we think that she can't.

This show is saying that in our society people are cruel to the poor even though they act like they care. The welfare woman's (Ryann) entire job was to care, but in reality she didn't. She just pretended to care because she was paid for it. She even takes advantage of Hester for her own gain. She gains pleasure, fulfillment for her husband, a relaxed back, and cheap labor on a dress. The show seems to be saying that rich and middle class people like to keep the poor at a distance so they can feel more powerful, important, and successful than others. The Reverend talks about how the world romanticizes the poor, but only the distant poor, because we want to think that the poor near us are poor because they have made wrong decisions. Hester has a lot of children, all by different fathers, and falls for people too quickly, is illiterate, and easily fooled. The point of the play is to shed light on issues like how race, sexuality, and gender relates to poverty. It is not just personal decisions that lead to poverty.

The people who are "helping" Hester manipulate Hester because they know she loves her children more than she loves herself, so they can take sexual advantage of her. Consent is especially complicated in these situations where someone is being willingly manipulated; Hester thinks that she will get what she needs for her and her family if she just does what the "nice" rich man says and doesn't question him. She is literally being f-ed over by society. It is the most visceral way to get across the notion that Hester is being taken advantage of. And a lot is added to visceral reaction by the gorgeous performance of Jyreika Guest. It beautifully combines desperation with power and generosity with pain.

People who would like this show are people who like dark metaphors, compelling child characters, and revealing hard truths. I think this show takes a really beautiful and poetic approach to a very ugly subject. It has a versatile cast, a compelling script, and focused and effective direction. I loved it.

Photos: Austin D. Oie

Monday, February 18, 2019

Review of About Face Theatre's Dada Woof Papa Hot

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Dada Woof Papa Hot. It was by Peter Parnell and it was directed by Keira Fromm. It is about a gay couple in New York, Alan (Bruch Reed) and Rob (Benjamin Sprunger), who were raising their first child. Rob feels very comfortable being a parent, but Alan doesn't feel very connected to his daughter. He says he wants to find a way to make their connection stronger, but instead he mostly seems to try to find a way that it is not his fault and he doesn't have to work at it. They become friends with another couple who have just had a second child, Jason (Shane Kenyon) and Scott (Jos N. Banks). They seem to be very happy and young and put together, but end up having some darker secrets. Alan and Rob's longtime friends Michael (Keith Kupferer) and Serena (Lily Mojekwu) also are having some issues in their marriage. It's about parenthood, the meaning of unconditional love, and the complexity of relationships. I think this is a really moving show that makes you think a lot about parenting and what it means to be a good parent.

The relationships in this show are very complicated because of infidelity, differences in the preferred upbringing of children, and misconceptions about the other partner's intentions. There are infidelities in each couple with some interlocking storylines. I noticed the theme of the more committed parent staying committed to the family and not cheating, whereas the more disconnected parent seems to want to forget about responsibility, cheat, and forget they had a child in the first place. The people who are having affairs seem to be looking for people who have the same issues as them. It seems like they are looking for another parent to have an affair with, because they think they understand the issues, but that just ends up ruining more families. Not all the affairs have the same outcome. Scott has dealt with Jason's crap too much and is done with cleaning up his messes and letting him fulfill his needs elsewhere. His mistake was agreeing to have a family with this guy who didn't seem to want to have a family. Jason was very good with the kids, but after he had done what the kids needed him to do he didn't want to deal his husband's needs. He wanted to find someone who would just meet his needs, someone he can be selfish with. I feel like Scott saw a family and Jason just saw kids, which led to the end of the family. Alan and Rob also had a difficult relationship, but their contract was stricter so the affair was more of a betrayal. Because they feel their child will suffer if they split up, they decide to do what is best for the kid and in that way they end up restoring their relationship, loving each other, and finding their spark again. It is also because Alan finally realizes he needs to connect with his kid and not just make excuses. I felt less hopeful for Michael and Serena because they still don't seem to agree about parenting, babysitting, or the way their relationship should be, which is basically the core of every parenting partnership.

Society seems to think of every parenting couple as a mother and a father. Even if technically by gender both are fathers in these gay couples, I found myself thinking about the more nurturing parents as motherly, and the parents who were having a more difficult time connecting with their children as the fathers. That was definitely true about the straight couple, but I also applied it to the gay couples. Society has influenced us to think that women raise children and men provide financial support. But this play breaks those molds and shows that the most nurturing gay parent sometimes has to do both because they are the people who understand how life works and what their kids need to succeed. It is not because a parent is working outside the home that they are disconnected from their kids. In this case it is because both of the less connected parents thought they would like to have children because they were an artist and writer who like making things, but then they discover it is more than just creating and you don't have as as much creative freedom as you hoped. Both of the gay couples show two nearly opposite sides on the spectrum of adulthood. One is the nurturing breadwinner who thinks they know what they need to teach another person and make a functioning person in society. The other is a person who is focused on making a name for themselves, spontaneity, and themselves. This play made me think about the reasons people classify certain behaviors as motherly or fatherly. Nurturing and commitment should be universal parenting tools, and both parents should take responsibility to know what they are doing, no matter what their gender.

People who would like this show are people who like explorations of parenting, complicated pursuits of happiness, and beautifully acted relationships. I really liked this show. It was well-written and made me think a lot about my own unconscious prejudices and assumptions about gender, relationships, and parenthood.

Photos: Michael Brosilow

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Review of Porchlight Music Theatre's A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder. The book and lyrics were by Robert L. Freedman and the music and lyrics were by Steven Lutvak. It was based on a novel by Roy Horniman. Direction was by Stephen Schellhardt, music direction was by Andra Velis Simon, and choreography was by Schellhardt and Aubrey Adams. It was about a man from a poor family named Monty (Andrés Enriquez) whose mother had recently passed away. He finds out from his mother's old friend, Miss Shingle (Caron Buinis), that he is part of the famous and wealthy D'Ysquith family. But even despite this life-changing discovery, Sibella (Emily Goldberg) would rather marry for money than love, even if Monty has a slight prospect of wealth on the horizon. So he decides to make his way to the earldom even quicker than Sibella could have killing all of his relatives in line for the title (all played by Matt Crowle). I think this play is outrageously funny, well-acted, and well written. I have a real love for this show and I was excited to see another production with a different take.

I really liked how the Monty was more sympathetic in this production than in the Broadway touring production. "Poison in My Pocket" shows his fear and guilt about killing these people, even though he might brush it away. I noticed more in this production how he was fighting for love which is the reason why he kills all these people--for the love of Phoebe (Ann Delaney) and Sibella. I feel that story was more prominent in this show rather than his own personal gain. I also noticed that Phoebe and Sibella both seem smarter than they did in the other production I saw, especially in the song "That Horrible Woman" where you get to see them manipulate, confuse, and prod people for answers, all for love, which is very similar to what Monty has done for them. It shows that they have some of the same evil genius qualities that Monty has. I thought that added an interesting extra layer to what could have been very basic traditional female characters.

Matt Crowle was very funny and portrayed each of the characters very differently but still kept the quirks that showed you they were part of the same family. One of my favorite characters in the D'Ysquith family was Henry. The song that he sings, "Better With a Man," has so many innuendos and the way that the character plays them off as the straightest encounter of all time, is simply hilarious. There was also this very grand number called "Lady Hyacinth Abroad" that was all about Monty's desperate attempts to kill this philanthropist by sending her to various dangerous countries in hopes of getting rid of her once and for all. But, sadly for Monty, she is very resilient--maybe a bit more resilient than her staff who seem to crumble under a lot of the pressure of living abroad. There is a song that perfectly encompasses the D'Ysquiths called "I Don't Understand the Poor." It is the first introduction we have to the D'Ysquiths and in talking about how inconsiderate the poor are--for being curious about what it is like to live large, being needy all the time, and suffering--he reveals himself to be a pompous ass. He also sings the entire song with a dead animal in his hands, which I think says a lot about him. Matt Crowle excelled in showing us a range of parts and personas, shifting quickly and effortlessly between them.

I usually really like large musicals in small spaces like Theo Ubique's Sweeney Todd or Kokandy's Heathers, or Porchlight's Gypsy. I really enjoyed this production, but I feel like the grand and farcical elements of the play were not as effective in this space because of the smaller scale it had to be on. This show is very funny and has a lot of great moments of physical humor, and many of them still work, like Adalbert D'Ysquith (Crowle) casually trying to put his leg up on a chair that was nowhere near his body multiple times. But the more farcical moments did not register for me, like in "I've Decided to Marry You," because of the lack of a door in that scene. A door captures the panic and indecision that Monty is going through, having one woman on one side of Monty and one on the other. That is more effective to me than one woman being down the hall from the other, especially because Monty had to walk away from each person in the middle of the conversation instead of bouncing back and forth through the door. That diffused the farcical tension of the scene for me. I also questioned the choice to have Reverend D'Ysquith (Crowle) walk off stage after his death. I understand that everything is comedic and not realistic in this show, but it is a lot more funny when the realism isn't completely broken.

People who would like this show are people who like resilient philanthropists, blatant innuendo, and heroic chair mishaps. I think people should see this show. I think this is a really funny show. It has lovely performances and a very clever script. It is a lot of fun and I enjoyed it.

Photos: Michael Courier