‘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”

Porchlight Music Theatre’s ‘A Chorus Line’ Has Some Big Dance Shoes to Fill

In 1975, A Chorus Line introduced a show-biz musical with a new perspective to the Broadway theatre canon. Since then it has been a staple in theatre songbooks across the country. Inspired by true stories, A Chorus Line is the day in the life of a Broadway audition where 16 dancers leave it all on the stage for one of eight coveted positions. Public schools, community theaters, and the largest performance halls have all had boxes of golden tuxedos sent through their doors for that one final show-stopping number. Director Brenda Didier is no stranger to the phenomenon. In Porchlight Theatre’s program for their production of A Chorus Line, Didier wrote that “once A Chorus Line has become a part of your life, it stays with you.” I have to agree. Wholeheartedly. Every production of A Chorus Line is both building off and working against that relationship the audience already has with this musical. Porchlight Theatre’s production gets lost somewhere in the middle and is a shadow of that one singular sensation. Continue reading “Porchlight Music Theatre’s ‘A Chorus Line’ Has Some Big Dance Shoes to Fill”

Shattered Globe Theatre’s ‘Hannah and Martin’ is a Winner-Take-All Battle of Wits

Debate plays are danger zones where the ploy to frame the “very fine people on both sides” can quickly fall flat and leave the audience with nothing else but the same arguments they are already bombarded with daily. Shattered Globe Theatre’s production of Hannah and Martin successfully presents a debate focused script without turning into trench warfare. The remarkable text by playwright Kate Fodor stands on its own two pillars of cerebral philosophizing and visceral desire. In his 24th collaboration with Shattered Globe Theatre, director Louis Contey leans on these two pillars to guide a willing audience into the gray area of a life or death debate. Continue reading “Shattered Globe Theatre’s ‘Hannah and Martin’ is a Winner-Take-All Battle of Wits”

Minimal, Striking ‘Hamlet’ Gives Method to the Madness at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of Hamlet introduces the Prince of Denmark (Maurice Jones) as a man standing at the foot of his father’s grave. The rain pours down and this macabre image resembles a superhero origin story. Only Hamlet is no hero. This revenge story has casualties. Barbara Gaines directs a massively skilled cast of players with nuance, intimacy, and the occasional dramatic flare. Continue reading “Minimal, Striking ‘Hamlet’ Gives Method to the Madness at Chicago Shakespeare Theater”

‘2 Unfortunate 2 Travel’ Does Not Make The Journey

2 Unfortunate 2 Travel is a show by and for bleeding heart B.A. liberals raised on pop-culture. This devised work by director and adaptor Zach Weinberg takes Thomas Nashe’s novella The Unfortunate Traveler and brings the tale of a young man exploring the world into the post-Trump era. In this adaptation, protagonist Jack Wilton wants to relive his exploits across the globe through a variety show featuring a skilled group of women. Prop Thtr’s production of 2 Unfortunate 2 Travel caps off a 2-year workshop period and clearly wants to start a conversation. Despite several stand-out moments, the play leaves me more confused than conversive. Continue reading “‘2 Unfortunate 2 Travel’ Does Not Make The Journey”