‘Kingdom’ is a Portrait of a Gay Happily Ever After

In his playwright’s note for Kingdom, Michael Allen Harris says, “Much of the popular queer media and scholarship focuses on queerness from a white, middle class, and urban context. And so, I took this play ‘home.’” The play, directed by Kanomé Jones, was developed in house as part of Broken Nose Theatre’s new play development program, The Paper Trail. Kingdom is romantic comedy with a touch of family drama. It centers around Henry (Watson Swift) and Arthur (Christopher McMorris), a gay black couple in their seventies, their lesbian niece Phaedra (RjW Mays) and their grown son, Alex (Michael Mejia-Beal). Continue reading “‘Kingdom’ is a Portrait of a Gay Happily Ever After”

‘Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea’ Is a Beautiful Invitation to Heal

Simply stepping into First Floor Theater’s Dontrell, Who Kissed The Sea is already a theatrical experience unto its own, to say nothing of the magnetic performance to follow. Director Chika Ike’s vision for the play is immediately palpable, and impresses upon audience members from the very first moment that they are entering what will become sacred ground. The inventive and highly successful scenic design of Eleanor Kahn and associate designer Samantha Myers immediately compels the audience to look up, down, and all around them. With Viking and Adinkra symbols adorning the walls of the theater, as well as the scattered pieces of shattered wood that encapsulate the audience, the space evokes a reverent spirituality. Each of the symbols has a meaning, and cast a net of wishes, intentions, and hopes around the playing space. As for the wood, one’s mind goes instantly to the memory of the ships that carried slaves from West Africa to North America. As the house lights drop, and we enter the poetic world of playwright Nathan Alan Davis, the promise of the space unfolds. Continue reading “‘Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea’ Is a Beautiful Invitation to Heal”

‘Surely Goodness and Mercy’ Showcases A Young Boy’s Staggering Act of Love

Chisa Hutchinson’s intimate four character drama Surely Goodness and Mercy at Redtwist Theatre takes on the difficult subject of child abuse and makes children its heroes. During a month when we are seeing young people in the news rising up to speak out against violence it’s inspiring to see the story of a young boy who is able to escape the violence in his own home while doing good for others.

The play, which is an NNPN rolling world premiere, is directed by Wardell Julius Clark who recently closed his hit production of Robert O’Hara’s epic comedy, Insurrection, at Stage Left. In contrast, Surely Goodness and Mercy is a quiet, more somber piece presented in Red Twist’s signature naturalistic style. The central question of the play is: how can we help one another?

The play is about Tino (Donovan Session) a young boy who has recently lost his mother who sacrificed herself to save his life. He is thrust into a dangerous situation with his cruel aunt (Katrina D. RiChard) but befriends his school lunch lady, Ms. Bernadette (Renee Lockett), who watches over him. Bernadette is suffering the early symptoms of MS, a fact she is trying to hide from Tino. But being an observant and caring child, he notices. Tino doesn’t fit in at school and is getting bullied by kids for being bookish and sounding “weird” as his classmate Deja (Charlita Williams) puts it. As the play progresses, Deja becomes Tino’s friend and ally. The play features several scenes where the two children are listening while the disembodied voices of unseen adults lecture them. This mirrors the power dynamic so often experienced by young people and gives us an opportunity to keep our eyes on the kids as they’re hearing the adults. When Tino dares to correct his English teacher over her grammar he finds himself on the wrong side of the school’s zero tolerance policy.

Luckily for Tino, he has a Bible and he knows how to use it. For inspiration, for moral guidance and to reaffirm the common sense truth that helping others is our duty and our privilege. This play is refreshing because so often when we see stories about religion on stage it is a less than flattering critique. But in this play Tino, who charmingly chooses a church community due to it’s good reviews on Yelp!, stumbles into an inspiring Baptist sermon about helping your neighbor and immediately turns word into deed with a staggering act of love.

To be reminded that children are capable of great things should put all of us adults to shame. Seeing a vulnerable child with everything to lose practice resilience without hardening or backing down is a fortifying message for anyone grappling with hopelessness. Watching Tino’s chosen community rally around two children on a mission is a powerful reminder of the potential for goodness within us all.

Surely Goodness and Mercy runs Thursday-Sundays through March 18th at Red Twist Theatre 1044 W. Bryn Mawr.

TRIGGER WARNING: This play contains graphic scenes of physical and psychological abuse.

BIAS ALERT: I was recently in a writers group at The New Colony with Katrina D. RiChard.

Photos by Jan Ellen Graves

Renee Lockett (Bernadette)
Katrina D. RiChard (Alneesa)
Donovan Session (Tino)
Charlita “Charli” Williams (Deja)
Voiceover: Brianna Buckley (Teacher)
Wardell Julius Clark (Minister)
Julia Skeggs (Principal)

Understudy Cast:
Nicholia Aguirre (Bernadette)
Nic Bell (Tino)
Sophie Hoyt (Deja)
Jessica Vann (Alneesa)

Wardell Julius Clark (Director), Brianna Buckley (Assistant Director), Brennan T. Jones (Stage Manager), Josy Gonzalo (Assistant Stage Manager), Buzz Leer (Tech Director), Lauren Nichols (Set Designer), Daniel Friedman (Lighting Designer), Grover Hollway (Sound Designer), Kotryna Hilko (Costume Designer), Dana Macel (Props Designer), Natalie Santoro (Scenic Charge), Almanya Narula (Fight Designer), Jan Ellen Graves (Graphic Designer/Marketing), Charlie Hano (Casting Director), Noelle Simone (Dramaturge), E. Malcolm Martinez (Box Office Manager), Charles Bonilla & Johnny Garcia (Box Office Associates), James Fleming & Michael Colucci (Producers)

‘Skeleton Crew’ Revisits the Financial Crisis on a Factory Floor

Skeleton Crew, the final play in Dominique Morisseau’s Detroit trilogy, just finished its run at Northlight Theatre, directed by Ron OJ Parson. The play is set during the economic crisis of 2008 in the breakroom of one of the last small autoparts plants standing. This is highly skilled work and the men and women who do it are proud, and proudly union. But their jobs and way of life are hanging by a thread. Faye (Jacqueline Williams) has had a thirty-nine year career doing every manner of job in the factory. She’s also union rep as well as unofficial matriarch. Faye mothers her two young coworkers, Dez (Bernard Gilbert) and Shanita (AnJi White) with a mix of deadpan humor and straight talk. Their unit manager, Reggie (Kelvin Roston Jr.) is torn between trying to save his worker’s jobs and trying to prepare them for the inevitable. When factories are closing unions have little leverage and Faye’s lifelong relationship with Reggie complicates her ability to be the best union rep she can as things get more and more desperate. Continue reading “‘Skeleton Crew’ Revisits the Financial Crisis on a Factory Floor”

‘Fear & Misery in the Third Reich’ Revives Brecht’s Urgent Call to Action

Bertolt Brecht’s Fear & Misery in the Third Reich is a deeply chilling series of short plays detailing life in Hitler’s Germany. Director Josh Sobel’s well-curated presentation of these vignets captures the immediacy of the fascist threat including: the dissemination of propaganda, attacks on free speech, the dismantling of the justice system and state sanctioned hate crimes. Continue reading “‘Fear & Misery in the Third Reich’ Revives Brecht’s Urgent Call to Action”

‘Lizzie’ Rocks Out at Firebrand: Key Reviews

The Key: Young Critics Mentorship Program brings students to various productions around Chicago, teaching them about arts criticism as they try their hand at writing reviews. The opinions of the students are their own; we workshop the pieces in seminar every other week, and then they edit their reviews before publication. These reviews from our Fall session are edited by Oliver Sava and Regina Victor. 

Danielle Chmielewski

I loved this show. To be absolutely honest I am not sure if I can provide a measured and calculated analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of Firebrand’s debut musical because the only thing that really comes to mind is that totally rocked. Continue reading “‘Lizzie’ Rocks Out at Firebrand: Key Reviews”

Calamity West’s ‘Hinter’ Combines Comedy and Suspense with a Dose of Social Commentary

Can you offer help to those who don’t ask for it? This is the central question of Calamity West’s Hinter, now in its world premiere at Steep Theatre. Directed by Brad DeFabo Akin, the play takes as its subject the unsolved murders of the Gruber family on the isolated Hinterkaifeck farm in 1922 Bavaria.  Continue reading “Calamity West’s ‘Hinter’ Combines Comedy and Suspense with a Dose of Social Commentary”

‘We’re Gonna Be Okay’ Makes Sense of Crisis

Note: The pronouns of the characters were used for this review, they do not necessarily reflect the pronouns of the artists.

We’re Gonna Be Okay at American Theater Company by Basil Kreimendahl directed by Will Davis perfectly captures what it feels like to be living in the midst of a crisis. In our current political climate, no matter which side of the debate you find yourself on, there is an undeniable sense of panic as we try to hold on to a life that feels like it’s trying to run away from us. America, a land of unlimited possibility, and paralyzing fear. In Will Davis’ production, that fear is palpable, but it is also accompanied by laughter, love, and hope. Continue reading “‘We’re Gonna Be Okay’ Makes Sense of Crisis”

Key Reviews: Multimedia Edition

The ability to write about different art forms is essential to making a living as an arts critic, so we wanted to encourage our students to write about whatever non-theatre art caught their interest. The following are reviews of Murder on the Orient Express, The Daily, and My Life As a Zucchini. The viewpoints of the authors are entirely their own. Edited by Oliver Sava and Regina Victor.  Continue reading “Key Reviews: Multimedia Edition”

‘Franklinland’ Reimagines A Founding Father’s Fatherhood

Playwright Lloyd Suh has a unique gift for explicating the beautiful and excruciating nuances of parent-child relationships. The world premiere of his new play, Franklinland, directed by Chika Ike at Jackalope, offers a witty and playful reimagining of the relationship between Benjamin Franklin and his son, William. The story centers on pivotal moments in the Franklins’ fraught relationship during the years leading up to and after the American revolution. As we race through time we see William grow from a young man eager for his father’s approval, to a wounded and alienated adult bent on opposing him, though maybe not wholeheartedly. It’s complicated.

Continue reading “‘Franklinland’ Reimagines A Founding Father’s Fatherhood”