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.
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Nikki Lynnette describes herself as a “possibility model,” rather than a role model, in her autobiographical afrogoth punk-pop musical Get Out Alive. Lynette, an acclaimed hip-hop artist, shares her life story and recounts past suicide attempts, psychiatric institutionalization, her mom’s battle with cancer, and how she made it out alive. This musical is part memorial, part memoir, and part indie concert. The show features live performance mixed with engaging video testimonies and dynamic projections designed by Chris Owens.
Within the Bookspan lobby at the Den Theatre, Haven’s producers curate a punk rock memorial space for the loved ones we have lost and the parts of our own selves in need of healing. Statistics plaster one wall reading “Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide,” and “Nearly 50 million Americans have mental health issues.” Another wall has the prompt “I get out alive by…” Markers are laid out for audience response, and you can peruse a bountiful list of self-care tips already written by previous attendees. A table is stacked with resources for those suffering from depression and/or thoughts of suicide.
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Written by Chicago playwright and actor Omer Abbas Salem, The Secretaries is a funny and subversive farce set in a parallel universe’s Nazi Germany. Salem (he/they) is a well known Chicago actor and one of our city’s most exciting emerging playwrights. While The Secretaires is their first true in-person production, Salem’s work has been developed at the Goodman, Jackalope, Steppenwolf, National Queer Theater, and The New Coordinates.
The theatre canon is filled with stories about the Holocaust and, from Cabaret to Sound of Music, big musical numbers about mass genocide. Salem’s script, with its creative alterations to history, offers audiences something new and provocative. This play’s four dynamic characters, outfitted in Aryan Drag, struggle through their time employed as Secretaries at “Hiller’s Office of Mysteries.” Yes, Hiller, not Hitler.
Continue reading “‘The Secretaries’ at First Floor Theater is a Subversive Farce about “Hiller”‘s Nazi Germany”