A Surreal Thrill Ride in ‘Among the Dead’ at Jackalope Theatre

Among the Dead is the story of Ana (played with a grounded pathos by Malia Hu), a young Korean American woman in 1975 who arrives in a hotel room in Seoul with a box of her recently deceased father’s ashes, as well a multitude of questions about her own family history. Upon receiving a gift from the hotel’s mysterious handyman Jesus (yes, that Jesus, played with an easygoing charm by Colin Huerta), time and space begin to fracture around her in a gloriously surreal joyride. Catapulted back into the past as her white American father (a textured and tortured performance from Sam Boeck) and her Korean mother (the incredibly charismatic yet tragic Jin Park) first meet, both stranded in the jungle at the end of World War II, Ana must puzzle through the tumultuous sequence of political, social, and interpersonal factors that led to her own existence.

Hansol Jung’s script does excellent work combining unsettling surreality with hilariously relatable characterization, and Kaiser Ahmed’s direction ratchets up the tension and mystery with ease. The incredible set design from Paloma Locsin is on its face simple and straightforward, consisting of little more than a normal 1970’s hotel room. As the show unfolds, however, interactive elements across the set subvert their functions at key moments, shocking the audience and keeping us on our toes.

The lighting design from Samuel Stephen deserves particular praise for so effectively creating the show’s surreal atmosphere. The contrast between the everyday yellowish-white wash of the hotel room and the vibrant colors, wild moods, and otherworldly emotions of Ana’s time-bending journey couldn’t be more stark.

For all its time-and-space-bending mind-fuckery, however, at the end of the day Among the Dead is telling a deceptively simple story; that of Ana attempting to heal from a trauma that she didn’t even know her father had unjustly passed down to her. At its core, the show is about the catastrophic decisions of one deeply damaged man, their far-reaching consequences, and how to heal from them. The fact that we are shown this story through the lens of a gripping and spooky thrill ride, sprinkled with mind-blowing twists and heartwarming humor, is not just a nice added bonus but a thematic necessity. Uncovering these types of secrets in this cruel and chaotic world, Among the Dead seems to say, is always going to be unnerving, uncomfortable, even horrifying. But the deep satisfaction of the resulting catharsis cannot be argued with – making this show an absolute must-see.

Among the Dead runs at Jackalope Theatre until December 11th.

Rescripted is a community-funded publication, and we are grateful for your support. If you’d like to support arts journalism like this, consider subscribing to our Patreon by clicking this link. 

CAST
San Boeck (Luke)
Malia Hu (Ana)
Colin Huerta (Jesus)
Jin Park (Number Four)

CREATIVE
Hansol Jung (playwright)
Kaiser Ahmed (director)
Monét Felton (associate director)
Paloma Locsin (scenic designer)
Isaac Pineda (costume designer)
Samuel Stephen (lighting designer)
Quinn Chisenhall (master electrician)
Michael Huey (sound designer)
Sheryl Williams (intimacy/fight choreographer)
Catherine Miller (casting director)
Isabelle Cheng (dramaturg)
Anna Brockway (stage manager)
Josh Derby (asst. stage manager)

Photo credit: Joel Maisonet

‘Our Dear Dead Drug Lord’ at Steep Theatre casts a bloody spell of empowerment for young women

Rich with blood sacrifices, teenage angst, and unfiltered punches to the gut, Alexis Scheer’s intimate and formidable Our Dead Dead Drug Lord is the play every 90’s kid lesbian must see this fall. Squeeze (the tenacious Elena Victoria Feliz), Zoom (the eager Lauren Smith), and Pipe (the imposing Isabella Maria Valdes) of The Dead Leader’s club assemble to welcome their newest member, Kit (the daring Isabel Rivera), who may or may not be the secret daughter of their latest subject of study, Pablo Escobar. At first, it seems like the girls’ biggest concern is convincing their private school to reinstate their official club status for their college applications and a disturbing yet familiar teenage lust for toxic men – but under the surface, they are wading through much murkier water.

Sophiyaa Nayar’s moving and tactfully directed production makes excellent use of Steep’s new home. Sydney Lynne’s crafty set design puts the audience inside the club’s scrappy treehouse. Produced in an old church with no lighting grid or rigging yet installed, lighting designer, Eric Watkins aptly illuminates the fort with a combination of string lights, lanterns, and a spooky swinging lightbulb.

As someone who used to have to frequently explain having a dead dad to other kids, most of whom wouldn’t experience a loss of the sort for many more years, I quickly learned that humor was the best way to prevent cloying attempts at empathy. The deep laughter throughout this play, and especially following the line “because my dad died,” was a dynamic display of artistic excellence with credit to both Scheer and Nayar’s comedic timing, which rang exceptionally poignant for me.

While my own admittedly anachronistic high school resume credit of Grief Support Group Co-Facilitator never involved seances or cocaine, the guilt, the shame, and suffering felt by Scheer’s willfully ferocious characters remain profoundly familiar and heartbreaking. I felt a visceral solidarity with the older women in the audience who clutched their friends’ hands for dear life (see here for a detailed content warning and list of mental health resources). And yet, with the most powerful piece of brujéria saved for the very end of the play, I left Steep Theatre more hopeful and empowered than ever.

Our Dear Dead Drug Lord runs at Steep Theatre’s new location, 1044 W Berwyn Ave, until December 10. Masks and proof of vaccination are required for this production.

Rescripted is a community-funded publication, and we are grateful for your support. If you’d like to support arts journalism like this, consider subscribing to our Patreon by clicking this link. 

CAST
Kit – Isabel Rivera
Squeeze – Elena Victoria Feliz
Zoom – Lauren Smith
Pipe – Isabella Maria Valdes
Additional Roles – Liliana Renteria
Additional Roles – Adriel Irizarry

CREATIVE
Director – Sophiyaa Nayar
Stage Manager – Lauren Lassus
Scenic Designer – Sydney Lynne
Lighting Designer – Eric Watkins
Associate Lighting Designer – Liz Gomez
Costume Designer – Serena Sandoval
Scenic Collaborator – Shannon Evans
Sound Designer – Matthew Chapman
Props Designer – Lonnae Hickman
Intimacy & Fight Choreographer – Gaby Lobotka
Choreographer – Jenn Freeman
Assistant Costume Designer – Jessica Gowens
Assistant Director & Brujéria Consultant – Daniela Martinez
Dramaturg – Kristin Leahey^
Dialect Coach– Sándor Menéndez
Production Manager – Jennifer Aparicio
Technical Director – Darren Brown
Co-Casting Directors – Lucy Carapetyan & Lisa Troi Thomas                                         Assistant Stage Manager – Lili Bjorklund
Graphic Designer – Stu Kiesow
Photographer – Jeremy Hall
Costume Embroidery – Uncommon Closet

‘Enough To Let The Light In’ Creates Terror Out of Love’s Shadows

Paloma Nozicka’s two-hander script, Enough to Let The Light In, grips you from the very beginning and doesn’t let go. Director Georgette Verdin builds a deliberate pulse underneath the work, aided by Stefanie M. Senior’s spooky’ sound design and Sotirios Livaditis’ set, full of delightful tricks that drive the action forward. 

Enough to Let The Light In  is one of the tightest and most satisfying new plays I’ve seen in a long time. The economy of language and onstage movement means every action matters, even where a guest hangs their coat becomes a point of dramatic tension. It’s very hard for a story to get ahead of me, and I noticed pretty much every suspicious thing or could-be suspicious line of dialogue. Georgette Verdin directs the piece with a swift and intentional hand, with incredible attention to the details. The actors are so compelling, I forgot what I’d seen, and was shocked all over again by the discovery that my suspicions were correct! Continue reading “‘Enough To Let The Light In’ Creates Terror Out of Love’s Shadows”

‘Botticelli in the Fire’ at First Floor Theatre Paints a Raw, Toxic, and Familiar Portrait of the Italian Renaissance

CONTENT WARNING: This review and the production it covers contain discussions of sexual violence, including childhood sexual abuse.

Today, in a small beach town outside Barcelona, I feel a thrill of excitement as I stumble upon an almost-familiar work of art by Sandro Botticelli. A prudent maiden moves to cover the nude and iconic figure from his most recognizable painting, The Birth of Venus. This is not the colossal oil on canvas housed in Italy’s Uffizi Gallery, but a smaller portrait-shaped rendition with only two of the many figures shown. An adaptation by Botticelli himself, and just the week before I had seen another adaptation of this same painting at The Den, produced by First Floor Theatre.

I am obsessed with literature inspired by great paintings. Girl with a Pearl Earring, The Improbability of Love, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. These stories, inspired fictions about the artistic process, are all uniquely moving, evocative, and tragic. First Floor Theatre’s production of Botticelli in the Fire has all these same ingredients for success and more — an up-and-coming new director in Bo Frazier, spectacular design and production elements, a rockstar cast  — and yet, Jordan Tannahill’s script falls short of its potential.

Continue reading “‘Botticelli in the Fire’ at First Floor Theatre Paints a Raw, Toxic, and Familiar Portrait of the Italian Renaissance”

Ritual as Reclamation in ‘What To Send Up When It Goes Down’

When audience members enter What To Send Up When It Goes Down by Aleshea Harris, produced by Congo Square Theatre, we shuffle quietly into the lofted warehouse-style space. As we find our seats on either side of Lookingglass’ playing space, it feels a bit like the beginning of a wake, and in a way it is. A few cast members mill about the space, and one (Joey Stone at our performance) hands out black ribbons to wear in solidarity with Black people that have been victims to, or killed by police violence. 

At this performance, Chanel Bell announces we will be performing this ritual for Botham Jean. The performers invite the audience into a circle to begin the ritual to commemorate one of those felled by racist violence. A participant may choose not to take part in the ritual, but they just ask that you center Black voices in the space, and don’t disturb those who do choose to participate. Continue reading “Ritual as Reclamation in ‘What To Send Up When It Goes Down’”

‘Alma’ at American Blues Theatre Interrogates the American Dream

Alma has dreamed about her daughter getting a perfect SAT score since first coming to the United States. On the evening before the big test, Angel reveals that she has other plans. With college around the corner and the 2016 election results looming overhead, Alma and Angel wrestle with an unknown future and the threat of deportation. Playwright Benjamin Benne captures the quotidian tension, dread, and overwhelming concerns that grip households with mixed citizenship status across the country. With heartfelt direction by Ana Velazquez, Alma finds power in the bond between mother and daughter.

Continue reading “‘Alma’ at American Blues Theatre Interrogates the American Dream”

‘Fiddler on the Roof’ at Lyric Opera Dazzles and Baffles in Equal Measure

I fully knew what I was getting myself into when I sought out a press ticket for Fiddler on the Roof at the Lyric Opera. As a lifelong devotee of the show, with a deep spiritual connection to the material, I suppose it was inevitable that my biases (unavoidable for any critic) would eventually spiral into full-fledged opinions about how I believe Fiddler should be done. And indeed, in a dismaying and ironic twist, it turns out that I am a bit of a “traditionalist” when it comes to Fiddler. When somebody tries to get even a little bit artsy or figurative with it, my inner old fogey inevitably rises to the surface (although to be fair, he’s never that far below), and so this is an important grain of salt to keep in mind as you read.

This is not to say that I did not enjoy this production; far from it. But for every element onstage that left me cackling with glee, there was another that I found utterly and completely baffling. Many of the directorial choices seem utterly disconnected from Fiddler’s themes. The musical is almost 60 years old at this point — and yes, a new production that’s basically just a remount, with no new choices and nothing new to say, isn’t going to cut it these days. However, it feels like the director’s choices to change certain aspects were made without a full comprehension or appreciation of the work’s themes. Fiddler is an incredibly intelligent show, with many crucial little details that all fold together in a complex clockwork of joy and heartbreak. Messing with that clockwork, then, is not a task that should be entered into lightly, and one which can easily be derailed.

Continue reading “‘Fiddler on the Roof’ at Lyric Opera Dazzles and Baffles in Equal Measure”

‘Miss Holmes Returns’ at Lifeline Theatre, and How to Enjoy the Fall of Empire

Miss Holmes Returns at Lifeline Theatre is one of those rare shows where the storytelling craft of it — the technical design, the direction, the performances, and the admirable effort and talent of everyone involved — is phenomenally executed with passion and panache, but is also somehow the least interesting thing about it. What really jumped out at me about Miss Holmes Returns were the themes: the things it has to say about fighting for what you believe in, finding the strength in admitting weakness, and how to enjoy the collapse of an empire. This is the rare historical piece that feels blisteringly relevant to the modern day; rarely have I had so much fun at the theater while also feeling so refreshingly validated by a show’s politics and message.

Continue reading “‘Miss Holmes Returns’ at Lifeline Theatre, and How to Enjoy the Fall of Empire”

Shattered Globe Serves Up a Satisfying Regional Premiere of ‘Stew’

All the Tucker women are under the same roof again and Mama is making her legendary recipe. Known simply as “The Stew,” this traditional dish is prepared for only the most special occasions. Director Malkia Stampley turns up the heat on this gripping kitchen-sink drama and brings simmering tensions to a rolling boil. Stew by Zora Howard is a 2021 Pulitzer Prize Finalist for Drama that depicts the seemingly unbreakable patterns that connect three generations of women.

Continue reading “Shattered Globe Serves Up a Satisfying Regional Premiere of ‘Stew’”

Babes with Blades’ Richard III Casts Disabled Actors to Tell Their Own Story

Kristen Alesia and Aszkara Gilchrist in RICHARD III from Babes With Blades Theatre Company now playing at The Edge Theatre through October 15.

With a cast entirely of women and gender non-conforming actors, Babes With Blades Theatre Company’s Richard III is meaty, violent, and reflective. A decimating opening battle sets the tone for this production of Shakespeare’s iconic history play, and thanks to Becca Venable’s lighting design, pools of blood-red light spill across the stage. But this story is not all about blood and death. Characters sing joyful music to celebrate victory, and even while mothers wail to grieve the dead, hope for a brighter and more just future is not far beyond the horizon.

In his famous opening speech, “Now is the winter of our discontent…,” Richard, Earl of Gloucester (Azskara Gilchrist, she/her), describes himself as “rudely stamped and want of love’s majesty,” and “Cheated of feature by dissembling nature, // Deformed, unfinished.” Setting the stage for the play, he explains that because he cannot be a lover, his “deformity” drives him to be the opposite — a villain. Shakespeare critics and disability activists have long argued that it is necessary to have Gloucester’s role cast with a disabled actor, and with this production presented in partnership with the University of Illinois Chicago’s Disability Cultural Center, Babes with Blades has done just that. Gilchrist, in a gripping performance, uses her mobility device as a percussion tool, smartly accenting Shakespeare’s already rhythmic pentameter as she plots to crown herself king in penance for the world’s scorn.

Continue reading “Babes with Blades’ Richard III Casts Disabled Actors to Tell Their Own Story”