‘Cold Town/ Hotline: A Chicago Holiday Story’ at Raven Theatre

(left to right) Jeanne T. Arrigo, Sam Linda, Dennis Garcia and Caroline Chu. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

The bitter cold and the holiday season are both barreling into Chicago, and no one is immune from the overwhelming combination. In an effort to combat this special brand of wintry blues, Raven Theatre’s Cold Town/ Hotline: A Chicago Holiday Story takes it back to 1983, where a ragtag group of Chicagoans volunteer their time at a holiday hotline called the Yule Connection. Folks are invited to call in and chat about their seasonal stressors, but when one young caller makes an in-person visit, the team bands together to find a little connection of their own. Like a lot of holiday memories, this world premiere, written and directed by Eli Newell, has bursts of heartwarming holiday sentiment that break through a series of meandering moments.

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Prop Thtr’s ‘I Am Going To Die Alone, and I Am Not Afraid’ Shares Stories of Love, Loss, and Resistance

L to R: Sarah Gionvannetti, Ariana Silvan-Grau, Zoe Savransky, Sonia Goldberg, Isabel Thompson and Lyle Sauer. Photo by Anna Gelman.

I Am Going To Die Alone, and I Am Not Afraid: A Furious History of the Holocaust, Prop Thtr’s newest devised play, crafts tales of the Holocaust with scenes, songs, and lectures. The Ensemble, directed by Anna Gelman, weaves these stories in and out of each other toward an inevitable collision. Some sections of this vignette-style performance are stronger than others, but the overarching consistency is found in the community on stage. The Ensemble reminds us that there is power in togetherness. When misused, that power is distorted and destructive. When cared, for that power is revolutionary.

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Firebrand Theatre Pays Tribute with Always… Patsy Cline

(left to right) Harmony France and Christina Hall. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Patsy Cline is comfort, love, and heartbreak. Her music charms you, wraps you in a blanket and slips you a little whiskey. In Firebrand Theatre’s production of Always… Patsy Cline, Houstonite Loiuse Seger knows this experience all too well. Louise is drawn to Patsy Cline, and on one fateful night, the two meet and forge a friendship that lasts the rest of Patsy Cline’s life. This is the story of a single incredible night when two women found a bit of themselves in each other and director Brigitte Ditmars invites the audience to find themselves in a country song.

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Porchlight Music Theatre’s Sunset Boulevard Remembers Golden Age Glamor but Forgets the Horror 

Hollis Resnick as Norma Desmond. Photo by Michael Courier.

Sunset Boulevard, the famous film turned musical sensation, places the Golden Age of cinema on the stage. This Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, with lyrics and book by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, adapts the film by Billy Wilder into a stirring operetta. This production in particular left me humming the dramatic themes on my way back to the train. Directed by Artistic Director Michael Weber, Porchlight Music Theatre’s Sunset Boulevard features stunning design, an incredibly skilled cast, and a muddled narrative that loses the most memorable line from the film during the final moments of the musical.

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‘The Great Leap’ at Steppenwolf Theatre is a Collision of Passion, Sports, and Protest

Many Americans sitting in the audience for The Great Leap may have a basic knowledge of what happened at Tiananmen Square. Some of them watched the coverage on their televisions. Younger generations have read about the events in their textbooks. Some caught stories about that historic event during its 30th anniversary earlier this year. Almost all Americans have some working understanding, all with the privilege of distance. Lauren Yee closes that distance with her play The Great Leap, where an American college basketball team travels to Beijing for a “friendship” game when relations between the two nations are anything but friendly. The game is scheduled for June 3, 1989, one day before the Tiananmen Square protests come to a violent end. Director Jesca Prudencio taps into the inherent tension of time and place with the kind of dramatic spectacle typically reserved for the stadium. At its heart, The Great Leap is a play about collision: sports and theatre, US and China, protesters and government. The court in Steppenwolf’s Upstairs Theatre is the battlefield and the end of this collision course. Continue reading “‘The Great Leap’ at Steppenwolf Theatre is a Collision of Passion, Sports, and Protest”

Eclipse Theatre’s ‘Beyond Therapy’ Reminds Me Why I LOVE Farce

I love a good farce. It’s a style of comedy specific to theatre that we don’t get to see a lot of anymore. In my opinion a classic farce contains three key elements: exaggerated characters, stylized performances, and sex. Eclipse Theatre dives into this genre with Christopher Durang’s Beyond Therapy, the second production of their all-Durang season. Director Rachel Lambert choreographs chaos with a hilarious cast, combining all these elements that I’ve come to know and love. The production’s sporadic tempo, however, slows down the momentum necessary to push these outrageous situations to their breaking point.  Continue reading “Eclipse Theatre’s ‘Beyond Therapy’ Reminds Me Why I LOVE Farce”

Midsommer Flight Is Bringing the Magic of Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ to a Park Near You

Midsommer Flight features the best combination of elements one can find in the theatre: Free, and Quality. William Shakespeare’s The Tempest marks the company’s eighth summer of free Shakespeare performances as an Arts Partner in Chicago. Many productions of this revenge tale/ comedy can get bogged down in all the alternative readings and academia. Under the clever direction of Beth Wolf, however, Midsommer Flight revels in theatricality and proves that The Tempest has a role in our daily lives. Continue reading “Midsommer Flight Is Bringing the Magic of Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’ to a Park Near You”

‘Prophet$’ Relies Too Heavily on the Past at The Factory Theater

The Factory Theater is just that, a factory that churns out new plays. The most recent addition to their catalog is the play Prophet$ by company member Anthony Tournis. Set in 1988, Prophet$ is the story of three down on their luck conmen who score big as televangelists. Wm. Bullion directs the world premiere and the play dives headfirst into the era. Everything in this play screams “80s”, from the shoulder pads to the jokes. The self-proclaimed “Stripes-esque” production borrows so much from 1980s comedy that this new production already feels dated. Continue reading “‘Prophet$’ Relies Too Heavily on the Past at The Factory Theater”

Red Tape Theatre Delivers a Raucous History with ‘We Are Pussy Riot (or) Everything is P.R.’

Who gets to write the story when our present becomes the past? Does that privilege fall to the global leaders, historians, celebrities, or the revolutionaries? We Are Pussy Riot (or) Everything is P.R. by Barbara Hammond documents this struggle for historical authorship by looking at a recent moment in time. Not too long ago, Pussy Riot went to trial for their public protest of the 2012 Russian election. Everyone seemed to have something to say, and the truth of the matter is still up for debate. Director Kate Hendrickson uses Red Tape Theatre’s intimate space as a communal square where the public record is laid bare in ferocious fashion. We Are Pussy Riot (or) Everything is P.R. is just as raucous, satirical, and tragic as the group itself. Continue reading “Red Tape Theatre Delivers a Raucous History with ‘We Are Pussy Riot (or) Everything is P.R.’”

‘The Undeniable Sound of Right Now’ is a Nostalgia Trip That Doesn’t Reach its Destination

The Undeniable Sound of Right Now by Laura Eason is not about the present. “Now” in the play’s title refers to Chicago in 1992. Grunge is spreading across the country and House Music shakes nightclubs with its electric tune. Hank’s Bar was the place to be during the 70s wave of Rock n’ Roll, but in 1992 “Now” and “Then” clash within the walls of this cultural relic. BJ Jones directs the Chicago premiere at Raven Theatre and this project on paper promises something worthwhile. The final product, however, is unsatisfying. Continue reading “‘The Undeniable Sound of Right Now’ is a Nostalgia Trip That Doesn’t Reach its Destination”