Monday, September 30, 2019

Review of Remy Bumppo Theatre Company's Howards End

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Howards End. It was adapted by Douglas Post from the novel by E.M. Forster, and it was directed by Nick Sandys. It was about a woman named Margaret Schlegel (Eliza Stoughton), who was very close to a woman, Ruth Wilcox, whose dying wish was to have Margaret inherit Howards End from her. However, Ruth's family decides to ignore her wishes about the property. Margaret and her sister Helen (Heather Chrisler), end up being very close to the Wilcox family after this betrayal, of which they are unaware. The sisters meet a man named Leonard (Terry Bell) after a concert, and they want to help him better his financial situation so he can be as artistic as he can be. This show is about money, intelligence, and the inequality of straight romantic relationships. I think this show is empowering and captivating, and I liked it.

I thought the women's relationships were very interesting to look at in this show. Dolly Wilcox (Emily Tate) sees other women as a threat and Jacky Bast (Jodi Kingsley) sees them as competition. We feel the relationship between Margaret and Ruth, even though we never see it, because it very clearly influenced Margaret. Her opening monologue describes her relationship with Ruth and the time they spent together. Ruth was a comforting presence in Margaret's life. I don't think Margaret thought she was as important to Ruth as she really was because Ruth wasn't a very expressive person, and Margaret didn't know about the gift of Howards End, which would represent independence from male figures, freedom from marriage, and a place for her and her sister to feel safe. The sisters's relationship reflects Margaret's with Ruth, but Margaret takes on the role of Ruth, by becoming Helen's sanctuary. In fact Howards End is a place where women can feel safe, but also independent. I think the key thing is that they don't feel like they are hiding at Howards End, they feel safe, and independently so. Howards End is a system of female inheritance that has been thrown off by toxic masculine systems and by the women who feel safer within those masculine systems.

The production elements were visually striking. During Margaret's opening monologue, there were all these people standing around with umbrellas. When the scene ended, they bustled along like nothing had happened, which shows how everyone is moving on after Ruth's death, but Margaret is stuck because she doesn't have the property from Ruth that would give her independence. It also shows that Margaret is more of a "noticer" than other people. I liked how every setting used many similar elements (furniture, floor, and walls). At first it seemed like it was just because they understandably didn't have time in transitions to change the whole set. But later I understood the effect it has to unsettle the audience and make us feel like Margaret, Helen, and Leonard, who are all searching for home. Margaret, Helen, and Leonard discover that a place can feel like home, but it has more to do with the people in the place. Helen feels like home to Leonard. Her sister is home to Helen, and Howards End is only really a home for Margaret when her sister is there. Even when they sleep outside, they feel like they are at home together.

Leonard Bast is a victim of society and circumstance. Even when the Schlegel sisters try to help him, they don't really understand his situation. They sit around being intellectuals all the time, and they want him to be able to do what they do because they see he is a very smart person. But the problem with that is that they are not giving him the one thing that they have that he doesn't--an independent income. If they had stayed out of his life, the tragic events that follow probably wouldn't have happened. The play seems to be saying that you should help unfortunate people but with the thing they need not with unrealistic expectations without support.

People who would like this show are people who like feminist sanctuaries, indirect but specific narratives about society, and symbolic umbrellas. I think this is a really intriguing show. It had so many interesting connections that I loved dissecting. I really liked it.

Photos: Michael Courier

Monday, September 9, 2019

Review of Teatro ZinZanni's Love, Chaos & Dinner

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called Love, Chaos & Dinner. It is a cabaret with circus acts, comedy and food, and it was directed by Norm Langill. It was a farcical, witty, suggestive night of exuberant spectacle. It was a really fun group experience; it felt like the whole audience was at one big dinner party hosted by slightly insane people.

Rizo (Amelia Zirin-Brown) is the songstress of Teatro ZinZanni. She has an insanely powerful voice, and she absolutely rocked one of my favorite songs, Lizzo's "Cuz I Love You." She was so extravagant as she sang the song. But then this song transitioned into a comedy act of her trying to find her soul mate, who was apparently in the audience that night. And it was absolutely hilarious. She sultrily strutted through the audience looking for her new mate and then proceeded to aggressively flirt and to transform everything an audience member said into a double entendre. She was an amazing improviser and was so hilarious I was cry-laughing in my seat. When she identifies her true love, she has him write his name on her so that she won't forget him. She is absolutely going all out and it is hilarious to see her take everything so far. She is super confident but she is also a complete weirdo. It's amazing.

I absolutely loved the aerial act, Duo Rose. They were both so strong, the movements seemed effortless and graceful. There was so much emotion in each movement and every move connected. They seemed like one person. Each move was in perfect time with their partner. The lyra act by Elena Gatilova was absolutely amazing. There was a lovely twist because the character she was playing seemed very far from the person who did the lyra. She was so graceful, in her arm movement especially. She also seemed to trust herself a lot. There was a certain fluidity that made every single move even more breathtaking. You can see even more how amazing both these acts are because of how close you are to them in the intimate Spiegeltent ZaZou. The Anastasini Brothers had an Icarian act, which is a balancing act with a juggling act (where you juggle a person with your feet), and lots of acrobatics and landing on each other's feet. It was absolutely stunning and crazy to watch. You have to be super in-tune with the other person and have the rhythm. Everything is very precise. But they also seemed to be having a lot of fun with the other person.

Chef Caesar (Frank Ferrante) was the "chef." (The delicious food was actually designed by Debbie Sharpe, which is good because Caesar did not seem like he was in his right mind.) His character is chaotic and lusty. He decided to hold a competition to see who was "man enough" to take over for him. He selected three men from the audience. One of my favorite jobs that one of them had was a pharmacist/drag queen, which I absolutely loved. Caesar also had some amazing improv skills that were showcased in this bit. There is also the brilliantly weird comedy duo of Joe De Paul and Tim Tyler. They were hilarious together, but also had great featured moments. Tyler had a moment where he started to choke on ping pong balls that seemed to materialize in his mouth. He would spit them out and catch them in his mouth, often storing several in his mouth at the same time. It is very strange but absolutely hilarious and strangely impressive. There is another hilarious bit of comedy that had a pretty amazing build up. De Paul started unloading a trashcan that had boxes, a chess piece, a barbie doll, and celery. And he got into the trashcan, stripped to his underwear, and pretended to be King Kong, eating the celery tree and capturing the half-chess-piece-half-barbie-doll. It was absolutely brilliant.

People who would like this show are people who like powerful voices paired with powerful pickup lines, intimate and gorgeous circus, and King Kong creations. This show is funny, insane, and beautiful. I think this was an amazing show. It was a really fun time, and I definitely recommend seeing it.

Photos: Alan Alabastro

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Review of The Band's Visit (Broadway in Chicago)

Once upon a time I went to a show and it was called The Band's Visit. The music and lyrics were by David Yazbek, and the book was by Itamar Moses, based on the screenplay by Eran Kolirin. It was directed by David Cromer. It was about a band from Egypt, the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra, who have been asked to perform at the cultural center in Petah Tikvah, Israel but they end up in the similarly named but small and uneventful town of Bet Hatikvah. When asking for directions, they meet Dina (Chilina Kennedy), Papi (Adam Gabay), and Itzik (Pomme Koch) at Dina's cafe. She decides the town will take them in until they can catch a bus in the morning, but the night is more eventful than anyone had expected. This show is about life-changing experiences, perceptions of importance, and unexpected connections. I think this is a gorgeous show. It has amazing actors and beautiful songs. This is one of my new favorite musicals.

Band members Simon (James Rana) and Camal (Ronnie Malley) stay in Itzik's house with his wife, Iris (Kendal Hartse), father-in-law, Avrum (David Studwell), and baby son. At first, the family seems abrasive, but in sharing stories, they all begin to bond. The first time you see them starting to connect is in the song "The Beat of Your Heart," in which Avrum talks about how he first met his wife and how they fell in love through music. It made them all realize that they are much less different than they had thought at first, even though Itzik's family is Jewish and the Egyptians are Arabs. They rejoice in music and their love of love: "In love and music all is fair." Eventually Simon's concerto will bring the family back together; that seems to be the development of the idea of how music provokes love and builds stronger bonds. Camal's path also leads him to the Telephone Guy (Mike Cefalo), a local who had been waiting for his girlfriend to call him for a very long time and has been standing in front of the payphone waiting. He is there to show how important feeling important to someone is. This story is impactful because it shows how people change each other through their connections with one another, and the Telephone Guy is the symbol of that desire to connect.

There was also a scene at a disco roller rink where Haled (Joe Joseph) from the band tags along on a double date--with Papi and Julia (Sara Kapner) and Zelger (Or Schraiber) and Anna (Jennifer Apple)--but ends up being a wingman for Papi. He sings a song, "Haled's Song about Love," about love to convince Papi that it is not so hard a thing to talk to girls, even though Papi has just expressed, in "Papi Hears the Ocean," that he feels that it is impossible to talk to women without having major panic attacks. It was a very funny scene. I loved how they took something like a disco roller rink, which is not considered very romantic, and turned it into a place of intense romance. Haled is a ladies' man. He knows how to seduce straight women with his voice and presence. He seems to walk around in a romanticized world and he doesn't seem to think about the future. He thinks about right now and what he wants now. The play seems to value fleeting connections because they can destroy prejudice even if it is a connection that can't last for a long time.

Tewfiq (Sasson Gabay) and Haled have gone home with Dina. Dina is interested in Tewfiq and so she invites him to go with her on a night out. She's interested in him because he is very stoic and is exotic to her. She sings a song called "Omar Sharif" about all the old Egyptian movies she used to watch. She was transported by these movies that played on Friday nights to an intoxicating world of honey, spice, and jasmine. This is such a beautiful song and was done impeccably--the singing, acting, and movement. It showed how much these characters agreed on and how much they could trust each other, even though they hadn't known each other very long. Another moment where you really got to see the specialness of their relationship was when they were sitting on a park bench and Dina wanted to know more about conducting and why he loved it so much. Tewfiq started conducting and she started to follow along. For a little bit there was no sound, just them moving together. Throughout the play the movement is all very purposeful. It makes every moment feel significant because everything has clear purpose and meaning. The play actually begins with the projected statement "Not long ago a group of musicians came to Israel from Egypt. You probably didn't hear about it. It wasn't very important." But the way the play is made completely contradicts that by making every connection memorable.

People who would like this show are people who like gorgeous performances, memorable movement, and romantic roller rinks. I think people should definitely, definitely go see this show. I think it is a very important show because it shows how people with a history of conflict are more similar than they may think and are capable of true connection. I loved it!