‘True West’ at Steppenwolf Honors the Classic and Shows Shepard a New Frontier

Sibling rivalry and resentment is the golden thread that runs through Sam Shepard’s classic play, True West. What begins as a standard tale of bickering between the Golden Child and the Black Sheep quickly takes a hard left turn when we realize that this Black Sheep may be mentally disturbed and harboring violent tendencies. Namir Smallwood plays an arrestingly intense Lee, toggling with ease between a playful and jovial energy and a cold, detached dominance without a moment’s notice. His presence as an aloof angry drunk drives this play, bringing a kinetic element of fear and excitement to an otherwise pedestrian moment. Breaking away from the tenor of Malkovich’s intense performance in the 1984 film, Smallwood’s portrayal of the grifter is still creepy but also somewhat charming and endearing, which helps contextualize why his brother simply wouldn’t call the police on sight. Continue reading “‘True West’ at Steppenwolf Honors the Classic and Shows Shepard a New Frontier”

Cheeky Arias Drive A Queer Love Revolution in ‘GRINDR THE OPERA’

Luxuriously outfitted with delightful costumes by Shawn Quinlan, GRINDR THE OPERA at Pride Films and Plays follows the trials and tribulations of four gay men looking for love and/or no strings attached sex on the web. Their search invokes the siren Grindr, who guides the men through their journey of lust. A regal Bruno Rivera plays the goddess Grindr, narrating the tale through countless costume changes and wondrously soaring arias, with the help of her dazzling sidekicks Occulto (Andrew Flynn) and Dilectus (Brandon Krisko). Continue reading “Cheeky Arias Drive A Queer Love Revolution in ‘GRINDR THE OPERA’”

Drury Lane Theatre Hangs Itself With Its Own Race Blindness

The theater community in Chicago has had many reckonings in terms of representation in criticism, casting, play selection, administrative staff, and boards, yet we don’t often discuss Marketing and PR. This week Drury Lane Theater put out advertising on social media and their website for their upcoming show And Then There Were None which was received with a firestorm of criticism. The primary marketing graphic featured a noose. Continue reading “Drury Lane Theatre Hangs Itself With Its Own Race Blindness”

‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ Vibrates with Joy and Simmering Rage

Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom at Writer’s Theatre vibrates violently with joy and simmering rage. Inspired by the life of the real-life black, queer, mother of the blues Ma Rainey (born Gertrude Pridgett,) August Wilson’s play tells the intimate story of a legend whose star is fading, and along with it, her ability to be seen by the larger world. Continue reading “‘Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom’ Vibrates with Joy and Simmering Rage”

It’s a Woman’s World in ‘A Doll’s House Part 2’

Picking up 15 years after Ibsen’s play ends, A Doll’s House Part 2 now playing at Steppenwolf and directed by Robin Witt opens with Nora, a wife and mother returning home to visit her family after abandoning them. Bucking the constraints of society, Nora (played with joyful gusto by Sandra Marquez) has less regrets than society would expect a deadbeat mother to have. The script by playwright Lucas Hnath is smartly written and the jokes zing as it muses on the nature of a woman’s lot in the world. When Marquez brassily rails: “Marriage is cruel and destroys women’s lives,” her words still have more than a whiff of taboo; a sentiment that has many notable exceptions, but can often be fact. Marriage in the strict traditional sense is quite simply a bad deal for women. Her unapologetic and firm assurance in her decision to leave creates a new and interesting lens for the stage. Continue reading “It’s a Woman’s World in ‘A Doll’s House Part 2’”

E. Faye Butler Shines in a Megawatt ‘Gypsy’

The production of Gypsy by Porchlight at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, represents the very best of musical theatre. Most older musicals rarely stand the test of time in terms of content, their stories often saddled with the most cringeworthy stereotypes and one-dimensional female characters. In contrast, Gypsy, originally written in 1957, may have been is  ahead-of-its time. Inspired by a true story about an ex-stripper turned stage-mom, it still pushes boundaries even in 2018. Pair that with a sophisticated book and lyrics by powerhouse duo Sondheim and Laurents, and a megawatt star like E. Faye Butler, and you’ve got yourself one hell of a show. Continue reading “E. Faye Butler Shines in a Megawatt ‘Gypsy’”

Black Women Forgotten By History Soar in “Flyin’ West”

Opening with the calming sound of wind sweeping across the plains, Flyin’ West is pure Americana, evoking the broad grandeur of big skies and big hearts full of freedom. It is 1898, and a chosen family of black women have settled in the all-black town of Nicodemus, Kansas. American history in most classroom settings rarely acknowledges the existence of African-Americans outside of slavery and the Civil Rights Movement, yet the Backstage Guide provided by American Blues Theatre in conjunction with the production, does a wonderful job of correcting this history of erasure. Continue reading “Black Women Forgotten By History Soar in “Flyin’ West””