‘Small Mouth Sounds,’ A Tender, Introspective Comedy

Bess Wohl’s Small Mouth Sounds, directed by Shade Murray at A Red Orchid Theatre, is set at a silent retreat. Four strangers and one couple, have gathered to learn from an unseen guru (Meighan Gerachis) heard only through the loudspeaker system at the retreat center. As these characters camp out on the shores of a wooded lake coping with bug bites and bears, they reflect, communicate and seek inner peace. Continue reading “‘Small Mouth Sounds,’ A Tender, Introspective Comedy”

‘In the Canyon’ of America’s Grim Future

Calamity West has written a play set in a near future so plausible it feels as though we’re already, inescapably, locked into it. Produced by the Jackalope Theatre Company, In the Canyon begins in 2007 with Hope (Liz Sharpe) and her dud of a boyfriend, Doug, (Andrew Burden Swanson) on the afternoon they’ve ended an unintentional pregnancy. It’s a rational decision made by an ordinary woman, but this choice sets off a lifelong chain of events that carries us all the way to 2067. As we leapfrog from decade to decade in each subsequent scene, we watch America dismantled by patriarchal nationalist fervor. Mother earth rebels.

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Guards at the Taj: A Tale of Tyranny, Trauma and Resistance

Rajiv Joseph’s GUARDS AT THE TAJ, currently in its Chicago premiere at Steppenwolf Theatre, and masterfully directed by Amy Morton, is as much a meditation on the soul’s need for beauty as it is a study of the mechanisms of tyranny. It’s 1648 in the city of Agra. Humayun and Babur are guarding the walled city-within-a-city where the Taj Mahal is being constructed. The all-powerful Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, in mourning for his wife Mumtaz Mahal, has commissioned the most beautiful building in the world. At dawn he will finally reveal it. Will these two young men turn and steal a glimpse? This begins a cascade of questions about the bodily costs of exercising free will versus the psychological costs of suppressing it. Continue reading “Guards at the Taj: A Tale of Tyranny, Trauma and Resistance”

Ike Holter’s ‘The Light Fantastic’ is Horror-Comedy at its Smartest

The Light Fantastic combines Ike Holter’s brilliantly funny writing with formidable production design that makes the play, directed by Gus Menary, work on several levels. It’s a deliciously spooky thriller with a reverse Faustian twist. It’s an endearing romantic comedy. It a clever send-up of horror genre tropes (I likely missed five references for every one that I caught). And it offers up a refreshingly empowering narrative that hinges on female agency as opposed to the female helplessness the genre has long relied upon. The play also has a strong moral point of view as it touches on subjects as wide ranging as bullying, homophobia, taking advantage of your friends and the grave error of ignoring your mother’s phone calls. On a more philosophical level this play is about characters asserting the right to face death on their own terms as they grapple with Kantian questions of moral duty. Continue reading “Ike Holter’s ‘The Light Fantastic’ is Horror-Comedy at its Smartest”

Brett Neveu’s ‘To Catch a Fish’ Dramatizes a Real Life Tale of Entrapment

Brett Neveu’s world premiere TO CATCH A FISH, developed at Timeline and directed by Ron OJ Parson, takes on the morally repugnant practice of police entrapment. Neveu takes us to the peaceful Milwaukee neighborhood of Riverwest where in 2012 officers from the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Bureau set-up a phony shop with an aim to lure the community into selling guns by offering to purchase them at triple their street value. This perverse incentive created a gun market where there wasn’t one. People started buying guns at local stores to turn around and sell them to the ATF, even going so far as to dredge up antiques and family heirlooms to cash in on the offer. Later, community members entrapped by this scheme were rounded up to face criminal charges. Continue reading “Brett Neveu’s ‘To Catch a Fish’ Dramatizes a Real Life Tale of Entrapment”

‘A Story Told in Seven Fights’ Investigates the Neo-Futurists Founding Myths

The energy at the Neo-Futurarium holds a lot of history for Chicago audiences and just being in a space where you’ve come to expect the unexpected generates anticipation. A Story Told in Seven Fights begins with a comic teaser fight in the lobby as the audience is waiting to be ushered into the theater. This cold open establishes the show’s major theme: the relationship between performer and performance. The show, a devised work created by Trevor Dawkins and directed by Tony Santiago, explores the explosive birth of Dadaism and its later clash with Surrealism. The throughline is an exploration of what founders contribute to a movement. The play asks: at what point does a movement become bigger than its founding vision and, perhaps also, at what point does a movement morph into something entirely different? Continue reading “‘A Story Told in Seven Fights’ Investigates the Neo-Futurists Founding Myths”

‘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”

‘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. Continue reading “‘Surely Goodness and Mercy’ Showcases A Young Boy’s Staggering Act of Love”

‘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”