‘Packing’ at About Face Theatre is an Enthralling Queer Autobiography

Pictured: Scott Bradley. Photo by Cody Jolly.

Packing at About Face Theatre is a solo piece written and performed by Scott Bradley, and directed by Chay Yew. It is mostly autobiographical, as Scott tells his personal story of growing up in rural Iowa, discovering he was gay, dealing with bullying and abuse, living through the AIDS crisis of the 80’s, and continuing to struggle with depression, anxiety, and addiction, until present day. Despite the many dark moments, “Packing” is an empowering story: Scott writes with a deft and clever voice, and an eye towards themes of strength, persistence, and overcoming hardship.

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‘Kentucky’ at the Gift Theatre Takes You on a Hilarious and Devastating Journey Back Home Again

(left to right) Ana Silva, Emjoy Gavino and Maryam Abdi. Photo by Claire Demos.

Kentucky begins with Hiro (Emjoy Gavino), a young New York professional, as she plans her first trip home to her small Kentucky town in years. Hiro’s abusive father (Paul D’Addario) has kept her away, but she is making an exception to travel home for her sister’s wedding. Or rather, as she reveals to her therapist (Ana Silva) in the opening scene, to sabotage her sister’s wedding; she believes that 22-year-old Sophie (Hannah Toriumi) is far too young to make such a decision. Throughout her journey, Hiro is serenaded by a Greek chorus of sorts, played by Ana Silva and Maryam Abdi, who alternate between singing about the events and playing background characters.

The tone here hews heightened and comedic despite the serious issues explored in the script; director Chika Ike has managed to weave together the two extremes quite well. Kentucky at The Gift Theatre is a delightful comic romp wrapped around a heart-rending family drama, that asks pressing questions about the long game of self-identity, and breaking cycles of abuse.

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‘Broken Bone Bathtub’ is a Spare, Straightforward, and Entrancing Piece of Immersive Theatre

When you purchase your ticket for Broken Bone Bathtub, the confirmation email you receive will contain directions not to any specific theater, but rather to a residential building somewhere in Chicago. The venue changes from night to night, ensuring that no show is exactly the same.

Upon arrival at the third-floor apartment in Rogers Park where the evening’s entertainment was to take place, we were ushered into a living room which served as a sort of theater lobby. When the performance was about to start, we were asked to arrange ourselves by height. Carefully, methodically, the producer and usher arranged us in the bathroom around the bathtub, where performer Siobhan O’Loughlin sat fully nude, her only costume some bubbly suds and a dash of glittery blue eyelid makeup. We sat on stools and boxes, packed in like Tetris pieces — one patron was seated on the closed toilet seat. When we were ready to start, Siobhan raised her head and began to speak quite suddenly, without preamble. She spoke with such an easy familiarity that it seemed less like the start of a show, and more like jumping into a fascinating conversation that is already clipping along at a good pace by the time you start to pay attention.

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Why the Variety Show ‘Resilient’ Is a Monthly Must-See

We live in an extremely complicated world, more complicated than any individual is really capable of comprehending. We are also in an age where we are forced to stare straight into the face of the many broken machinations of that world. And this, simply put, is exhausting. So in order to wake up and feel alive, to march down the hill and start pushing the boulder back up again, we need good art to motivate us. Continue reading “Why the Variety Show ‘Resilient’ Is a Monthly Must-See”

‘Sundown, Yellow Moon’ at Raven Theatre Exudes a Warm, Comforting Glow

As Sundown, Yellow Moon opens, two sisters in their twenties, Ray (Liz Chidester) and Joey (Diana Coates), have returned to their small hometown in Tennessee to support their father, Tom (Will Casey), as his life seems to be falling apart following his divorce. Ray is undergoing a bit of a reckoning herself after quitting her job — and Joey, petrified at the thought of leaving the country for a foreign study, takes comfort in long runs in the woods late at night.

The script from Rachel Bonds is extremely character-driven; there is not much plot to be found. I have heard some criticism calling this show a bit meandering and slow — which I can’t refute, exactly, except to say that slowness can soar to great heights when done with intention, and I found it absolutely sublime here. Director Cody Estle has managed to craft an evening of enthralling, intimate moments with attention and care, such that Sundown, Yellow Moon feels engrossing and urgent despite its quietness, and stillness.

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‘Equivocation’ at Idle Muse Theatre Company, and the Purpose of Art in Times of Tyranny

What if King George had commissioned Shakespeare to write a play about the Gunpowder Plot?

It’s a fascinating question, and Equivocation at Idle Muse has the answer. After all, the famed Catholic plot to assassinate King James I happened in 1605, right around the time when William’s plays were at the height of popularity — as a mashup, it’s an entertaining and slightly scandalous idea that immediately grabs your attention. Playwright Bill Cain does a marvelous job of grounding the dialogue in the speech and politics of the era, such that the slowly unfolding conspiracy is both heightened and believable. The structure here is complex, interfolding, and lovely. Director Evan Jackson keeps things moving nicely; characters speak quickly and cleverly, taking us through emotional beats with efficiency and flair. There are lots of long scenes that could easily have dragged, but each one has a distinctive shape and feels like a journey through a big, empty house with lots of fascinating rooms. Continue reading “‘Equivocation’ at Idle Muse Theatre Company, and the Purpose of Art in Times of Tyranny”

‘Casa Valentina’ is a Fascinating and Heart-Wrenching look into LGBTQ History

Casa Valentina takes place in a small resort hotel in the Catskills, a location based off a real historical place called Casa Susanna — which, in the 50’s and 60’s, became a sort of haven for both trans women and cross-dressing men. The hotel’s clientele consisted largely of middle-class white-collar workers who lived as married, heterosexual men for most of the week, but came to Casa Susanna on the weekends to put on women’s clothing, wigs, and makeup, and simply live as women for a short time before returning to their daily lives. Casa Valentina, which was written by Harvey Fierstein and debuted on Broadway in 2014, serves as an only slightly fictionalized glimpse of an oft-forgotten pocket of LGBT history — and this production in particular tackles the play’s issues with confidence and resolve that make the already relevant themes entrancingly urgent. Continue reading “‘Casa Valentina’ is a Fascinating and Heart-Wrenching look into LGBTQ History”

‘Out of Love’ At Interrobang and the Friendships That Define Us

“Out of Love” is the story of Grace and Lorna, two young women living in the north of England, and of their lifelong, decades-spanning friendship. Scenes from their intertwining lives are presented out of chronological order, but in a perfectly correct emotional order. Details are teased slowly; exposition is planted carefully through tiny clues in the utterly realistic dialogue, which keeps the audience playing the detective, trying to figure out timelines and life details. The script from Elinor Cook is masterfully written; the decision to present scenes out of sequence is inspired. That’s what memories from such an intense, defining friendship feel like — and it keeps us on our toes, making us pay close attention to what’s going on. Continue reading “‘Out of Love’ At Interrobang and the Friendships That Define Us”

‘Now and Then,’ Paints A Queer Love Story

Now and Then is a musical gay love story that tells the tale of one relationship between two men, Greg and Daniel, over forty years. Three different pairs of actors play the two men at different points in their lives: Will Fulgintini and Benjamin Walton play the young Dan and Greg when they’re first meeting in college; Alex Smith and Carl Herzog play the couple in their thirties, as the relationship has grown stale and must be saved; and Skip Sams and Dennis Manning play the couple in their sixties, having reached a steady equilibrium in the relationship, which is challenged by Greg’s battle with cancer. Continue reading “‘Now and Then,’ Paints A Queer Love Story”

‘King Lear’ at Redtwist Theatre Lacks Thematic Imagination

Why do we keep coming back to Shakespeare?

In the past, I’ve posited that, since we love these stories so much, we want to see what our modern artists think of it, how one’s favorite director or actor or designer interprets this line, or that plot twist. I still believe this, but it does presuppose that Shakespeare’s plays are inherently a good force in the world, and deserving of our love and attention. I have heard several critics of color bemoan the fact that so much of our pop culture and theatre draws so heavily from a white guy who died four hundred years ago – and that we should mindfully attempt to wean ourselves off our culture’s single-minded obsession with trusty old Will. Continue reading “‘King Lear’ at Redtwist Theatre Lacks Thematic Imagination”