The Challenges and Surprises of Making Theatre on Zoom

In early March, Emma Durbin was midway through writing her capstone project for her playwriting BFA at DePaul University. The workshop of Durbin’s landscape was to be the first time she had worked with a team of professionals on a script of her own. The self-titled “playwright, dramaturg, and amateur sports climber” had been developing landscape for over six-months: drafting proposals, consulting with mentors, researching rock climbing in early-1900’s Scotland — and, of course, writing, rereading, and revising. She was halfway through a full draft when DePaul announced that the university would be switching to remote learning in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the announcement, Durbin’s workshop was promptly canceled. Canceled and moved to Zoom.

Durbin’s landscape was one of many rehearsals, workshops, and performances that met their untimely end on account of the pandemic. Artists around the country, from community theatre hobbyists to BFA students to Tony-award-winning veterans, have been forced to find new ways to create live theater. More often than not, this has meant producing work over online platforms such as Zoom.

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‘Labyrinth’ at Broken Nose Theatre is a Space-Bending Journey About Power and Finance

Labyrinth, Beth Steel’s blistering critique of corporate greed and American international relations, finds a fitting home for its U.S. Premiere with Broken Nose Theatre, a pay-what-you-can theatre company founded on the principle of economic accessibility. It is hard to say exactly what Labyrinth is—and not in a pejorative way. Loosely following events surrounding the Latin American debt crisis, the script, which begins conventionally enough, accelerates, growing in absurdity and darkness until it devolves into what resembles the fever dream of an over-exhausted worker. This production asks audiences to consider the human cost of economic tinkering, the hegemonic power of the American financial system, the difference between a scam and a hedged investment, and the divide between the so called first and third worlds. Under the skillful and energetic direction of Spencer Davis, Broken Nose Theatre successfully brings this sweeping-yet-psychological, brooding-yet-punchy, absurdly-funny-yet-tragic story to life.

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‘A Doll’s House’ at Raven Theatre Reinvigorates a Timeless Classic

It’s a new decade in Chicago and Ibsen is in the air.

Raven Theatre’s A Doll’s House is the first of three Ibsen plays opening within the next month. Strawdog’s stormy Hedda Gabler will follow shortly on Raven’s heels, and Court’s The Lady From the Sea will bring up the rear with the most ethereal of the Norwegian playwright’s femme-centric family dramas. It must be something in the water.

A long century and a half has passed since A Doll’s House first scandalized European audiences with the “door slam heard around the world.” However, Raven Theatre’s production still manages to feel relevant and timely. Although director Lauren Shouse retains the 19th century setting of Nora’s tale, Shouse re-envisions the meaning of Ibsen’s revolutionary, feminist masterwork for the audience of today. Although her reinterpretation does sacrifice some nuances of Ibsen’s play for the sake of its concept, it remains a promising example of how a classic can be reimagined for contemporary audiences.

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‘Do You Feel Anger’ at A Red Orchid Theatre Uses Workplace Comedy to Ask Important Questions

Do You Feel Anger marries high absurdist comedy with a nuanced discussion of empathy and gender politics. The seemingly mind boggling combination enchants, making for an enjoyable yet haunting evening of comedy.

Shortly after her parents unexpectedly separate, Sofia (Emjoy Gavino) begins her assignment  as an empathy coach at a debt collection agency. The office is headed by Jon (Lawrence Grimm), a smooth-talking exec who tries to sell Sofia on his nice guy facade. As she ignores calls from her mother (Jennifer Jelsema), Sofia attempts to wrap her head around the branch’s kooky culture and break the impenetrable wall of its three low-level employees: Jordan (Bernard Gilbert), a suave, self-proclaimed poet, Howie, who devolves into infantile antics when emotionally provoked, and Eva (Sadieh Rifai), a self-effacing chatterbox who is mugged daily in the kitchen—a fact that phases none of her coworkers. All three are haunted by the absence of Jenny, a worker who attempted to burn down the office in the throes of a nervous breakdown. Jenny’s cardigan still hangs on the back of one of the conference chairs. As Sofia comes to understand their workplace environment, the sweater grows in eerie prominence. Fearing for her safety, Sofia begins to assimilate.

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