What is Left, Burns is the story of a video call between two men — college professor Keith (K. Todd Freeman) and his former student and lover Ronnie (Jon Michael Hill), who are holding their first conversation in fifteen years, with all the complicated emotions that entails. At only twenty minutes long, What is Left, Burns is a short, sweet, poetic, and heartfelt meditation on the thorny business of negotiating intimacy at a distance. Despite seemingly not being set during a pandemic, its setting echoes the situation we currently find ourselves in — when nearly all close communication must be digitally mediated, all profound emotions filtered through a screen.
The Spin is the story of an hour-long Zoom meeting between four publicists at the same firm, as they scramble to prepare for a TV interview involving one of their clients, the assistant to a local Mayor who had dealings with a recently scandalized – and promptly canceled – politician. Their mission? To spin the media narrative in the Mayor’s favor, to discredit the journalists with evidence against him, and to hide the fact that not only was the disgraced politician in question a former client of theirs, but a close personal friend to Deirdre — the head of the firm, and our protagonist.
Zoom theatre (as we’ve covered at length) is enormously difficult to do effectively, and The Spin is the best execution of it I have seen so far this year. Zoom’s most perilous flaws as a medium for storytelling are the same flaws that make it so frustrating in real life: the lags, the glitches, and the feeling of isolation. In my opinion, the best Zoom theatre takes these flaws and thrusts them into the spotlight, using them as fuel for the story’s conflict rather than ignoring them. The Spin does this in spades, and in doing so it manages to tell a searingly relevant, disturbingly hilarious, and incredibly tense story that manages to transcend both its medium and its subject matter.
Long, long ago, in the before-times of March 2020, I went to see a show at Lookingglass Theatre called Her Honor Jane Byrne. I wrote a review of it, but then the entire world shut down, the production’s run was cancelled, and the review never saw the light of day. In light of the Black Lives Matter protests and displays of police brutality that have been in the public eye this past month, the subject matter of Her Honor Jane Byrne has never been more relevant, timely, and worthy of analysis. We reached out to Lookingglass, and they gave us the go-ahead to publish this review of their cancelled show.
Mercury Theater became the latest Chicago-area theater to announce devastating news last week, as they announced they would be closing permanently. Unlike Steep Theatre, this closure was directly caused by the economic impacts of the pandemic; in an interview with the Sun-Times, executive director L. Walter Stearns cited extreme loss of revenue as the reason for closure.
In a statement on their website, Mercury Theater said: “We sought to bring a little joy to the world and have made many friends along the way. Thank you to the artists who have been a part of our legacy. And thank you to the audiences who have supported our neighborhood theater.”
Steep Theatre announced yesterday that they will be forced to move out of their current space at 1115 W Berwyn Avenue this fall.
According to Executive Director Kate Piatt-Eckert, “Steep intends to stay in the Edgewater neighborhood and continue to deepen its relationships with long-supportive neighbors as it moves forward with a focus on inclusivity, accessibility, and flexibility. Steep Theatre is not a building – it is a league of fearless artists, bold leaders, and passionate supporters equipped with nineteen years of experience producing storefront theatre and almost two years presenting music and performance at The Boxcar.”
Theatre isn’t dead! And it never will be, as long as I have anything to say about it! It is safe to say, however, that theatre is taking a nap right now, as a result of a little worldwide pandemic you might have heard of. I won’t lie, I miss going to the theatre a great deal — in many ways it’s the last distraction-free form of entertainment there is. The thrill of being in a dark room, forced to turn off your phone and focus completely on a gripping story which unfolds right before your eyes. . . well, there’s nothing quite like it. Continue reading “Aaron’s Top 10 Nostalgic Recorded Performances of All Time”
We are living in anxious times.
I don’t have anything particularly helpful to say about the larger issue of coronavirus. By all means, please stay home, wash your hands, and practice as much social distancing as possible. Here’s an excellent article about how social distancing will help and the best ways to practice it, as well as some cool, informative visualizations that show the scope of the problem.
I do, however, have something to say regarding mental well-being in these anxious times. I, for one, am doing everything my therapist has taught me in order to keep my anxiety under control; indoor exercise, yoga, meditations, and long walks outside (staying six feet away from anybody I see) have all worked wonders. But I won’t lie; I have found social distancing to be surprisingly difficult so far, and as of this writing it’s only been about three days. I’m not a social creature at the best of times, but strangely, I have within me at all times an unquenchable desire to be a social being. As an introvert, the closing of bars and restaurants hasn’t affected me much; I prefer hanging out one-on-one with people, especially people I haven’t talked to in a while.
Lipstick Lobotomy, written by Krista Knight and directed by Kate Hendrickson, takes place in a women’s sanitarium in the early 1940’s, conveyed here by a delightfully unsettling green-and-white color palette across the production that evokes the eerie sanitized atmosphere of a hospital. We meet our main character, Ginny (Ann Sonnevile), as she arrives at the hospital straight off the heels of separating from her husband. Ginny immediately meets and befriends fellow patient Rosemary Kennedy (played with a lovable charm by Abby Blankenship, and who is, yes, of those Kennedys). Rosemary struggles with her own mental disability, and against her family’s desire to make her undergo a lobotomy, while Ginny undergoes the opposite struggle. She wants to get a lobotomy in order to stave off her lifelong depression, but her family is understandably horrified at the prospect.
If/Then, written by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey and directed by Elyse Dolan, is a musical about a city planner named Elizabeth (Amanda Giles) who has just moved to New York after a difficult divorce. In the show’s first moments, she meets some friends in Central Park and is soon presented with a choice: does she go with her friend Lucas (Parker Guidry) to a protest, or does she go with her other friend Kate (Bridget Adams-King) to an outdoor concert in Brooklyn? The following scenes alternate between the two universes created by this seemingly insignificant choice. The Elizabeth who goes with Lucas acquires the nickname of Beth, and soon lands a dream job designing parks in the city. The Elizabeth who goes with Kate soon acquires glasses, and is nicknamed Liz. She does not get her dream job, but eventually pursues a relationship with ex-soldier Josh (Michael Peters), with all the ups and downs that entails.
The ensemble work is incredibly strong; choreographer Katie Capp has created a fast-moving New York City, with all its frantic terror and vibrance, using only the bodies onstage. Music direction (Rachel Hoovler) contributes to the worldbuilding by constructing complex harmonies sung by the ensemble that paint the noise of the city; the singing from the entire cast is excellent. The set, from designer Jeremy Hollis, is mostly brick walls and doorways at odd angles, flexibly portraying a wide variety of locations while also contributing to the general NYC funk. I adore this minimalist approach to musical storytelling; it was thoroughly effective in Brown Paper Box Co’s previous show Little Women last year, and is just as well done here. The small band and barebones design accentuate that this is a show with a very small scope; not about revolutions or worlds, but the inner lives of everyday people.
Stop Kiss by Diana Son is the story of two young women, Sara (Kylie Anderson) and Callie (Flavia Pallozzi), living in New York in the late nineties. Each scene in the play alternates between two timelines; half of the scenes depict Sara and Callie as they meet for the first time, develop a friendship, and then slowly realize that their friendship might be something much deeper, lovelier, and more serious than they initially thought. Other scenes depict a near future where Sara is attacked by a violent man after her and Callie’s first kiss, in an act of homophobic violence. Callie must deal with the various reactions of friends, family, police, and the news media, while still struggling with her evolving feelings for Sara.
Stop Kiss is a play about the dichotomy of being queer; its very structure is a contrast between discovering the joy and freedom of stepping away from societal norms, and the pain caused by an unjust society which punishes that discovery at every turn. Director Kanomé Jones has put together an ensemble that understands this dichotomy on a visceral level, with the result that this collaboration between Pride Films and Plays and Arc Theatre touched something deep within my little queer heart in a way that no show in recent memory has.