ESSAY: What I Did For Love, And How I Plan To Do Less

A strange ritual would often take place in the halls of my university’s theatre center. College students would convene before classes or rehearsals to present the hours of sleep they had claimed the night before. The student who shared the lowest number would wear this insomnia as a badge of honor. Bonus points were awarded if the time spent awake was done at the library, or in the theatre after hours. I perceived this bizarre ritual as a product of the college experience. Little did I know, the professional theatre would not be that different.

Grind/hustle culture exists in every industry and is designed to incentivize overwork. The archaic 40-hour work week is pushed aside as the bare minimum and anything short of 110% is not enough. This workplace environment leverages guilt to maximize productivity. For an industry that thrives off freelance and contracted work, however, the hustle is more than just a point of pride. It is a necessity. The theatre has an age old habit of underpaying (if at all). Artists are forced to take on overlapping projects and survival jobs just to make ends meet.

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‘Roan @ the Gates’ at American Blues Theatre Tells a Scarily Relevant Love Story

Roan @ the Gates is a patriotic love story of two righteous women who are torn between their relationship and their principles. Roan (Brenda Barrie), an NSA analyst, puts everything on the line when she leaks government documents to an international reporter. Roan flees to Russia, and her wife Nat (Jasmine Bracey) is left blindsided and an ocean away. The Chicago premiere of Christina Telesca Gormans’ cyberfiction is much closer to reality than one might hope. In 75 minutes, director Lexi Saunders documents a deteriorating marriage with stunning design and intimate performances. As the conflict builds and communication breaks away, however, the narrative falls into a loop where the same argument is played out again and again.

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Past and Present Collide in ‘Leopard Play, or sad songs for lost boys’ at Steep Theatre

Often nostalgia and trauma share the same home. For Isaac Gomez, that place is El Paso, Texas. His new script, Leopard Play, or sad songs for lost boys, features a character who is only billed as “Son.” After ten years, Son returns to El Paso for a memorial in honor of his uncle who died of a heart attack — or at least that’s what the autopsy says. In a search for answers surrounding his uncle’s mysterious death, Son must confront painful family dynamics and his own romantic relationships. In Steep Theatre’s world premiere production, directed by Laura Alcalá Baker, the past squares off against the present for an electrifying and emotive piece of theatre. The Leopard Play will have you wanting to call your parents and go out dancing.

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‘Sheepdog’ at Shattered Globe Theatre is a Love Story for Twisted Times

As Sheepdog opens, Amina, a black police officer, tells the story of her life-changing relationship with Ryan, a white officer on the Cleveland police force. Doubt wedges itself between the two when an officer in their department shoots and kills a young black man. The script, from playwright Kevin Artigue, is raw and romantic. Wardell Julius Clark directs this heartbreaking love story with an empathy that informs the entire performance. This tender, stylized production is directed with a care that is dangerously vulnerable. Shattered Globe Theatre’s production of Sheepdog places tragedy under the microscope to discover a kaleidoscopic blend of the beautiful and the ugly.

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‘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”