Dance Nation, written by Clare Barron and directed by Lee Sunday Evans, captures the sweet, strange and uncomfortable aspects of growing up in and surviving the world of competitive tween dance, as we follow the adventures of six young girls preparing for a national tournament. A finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize, the play received its world premiere at Playwrights Horizons in 2018 and ran at the Almeida Theatre in London before coming to Steppenwolf for its regional premiere.
Armed with a multi-generational cast and a healthy dose of whimsy, this production succeeds in telling this story in a way that required the magic of a theatre. It invokes imagination, is anything but expected, and in this way subverts the classic coming of age story into something as weird, messy, and wonderful as actual puberty. The dances are less literal and more figurative, capturing each character’s essence. One that stood out in particular perfectly captures the importance of ‘dance face’, and puts it up front and center with the assistance of some impeccable tech. Transformative lighting by Heather Gilbert moves us seamlessly through time and space, guiding the audience along a non-linear plot. Sound design by Mikhail Fiksel perfectly underscores each dance, monologue, and transition; movement and sound feel intertwined into a well choreographed dance piece.
Continue reading “‘Dance Nation’ at Steppenwolf Theatre Captures the Whimsical Terror of Tween Angst”
Grace and the Hanukkah Miracle is an immersive theatre piece in which an unnamed, protagonist in a cowboy hat (Anderson Lawfer) asks the audience to go on a wild time-traveling adventure so as to retrieve his wife Grace’s (Nicole Bloomsmith) family menorah and present it to her as a Hanukkah gift. The rest of the show unfolds almost like a video game, as you and your fellow audience members progress through different rooms in the basement of Grace Lutheran Church in Evanston — collecting clues, solving basic puzzles, and interacting with characters from various points in Jewish history. Continue reading “‘Grace and the Hanukkah Miracle’ at Chicago Immersive is a Kid-Friendly, Time-Traveling Romp Through Jewish History”
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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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.
Continue reading “Prop Thtr’s ‘I Am Going To Die Alone, and I Am Not Afraid’ Shares Stories of Love, Loss, and Resistance”
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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Packing at About Face Theatre is a solo piece written and performed by Scott Bradley, and directed by Chay Yew. It is mostly autobiographical, as Scott tells his personal story of growing up in rural Iowa, discovering he was gay, dealing with bullying and abuse, living through the AIDS crisis of the 80’s, and continuing to struggle with depression, anxiety, and addiction, until present day. Despite the many dark moments, “Packing” is an empowering story: Scott writes with a deft and clever voice, and an eye towards themes of strength, persistence, and overcoming hardship.
Continue reading “‘Packing’ at About Face Theatre is an Enthralling Queer Autobiography”
Kentucky begins with Hiro (Emjoy Gavino), a young New York professional, as she plans her first trip home to her small Kentucky town in years. Hiro’s abusive father (Paul D’Addario) has kept her away, but she is making an exception to travel home for her sister’s wedding. Or rather, as she reveals to her therapist (Ana Silva) in the opening scene, to sabotage her sister’s wedding; she believes that 22-year-old Sophie (Hannah Toriumi) is far too young to make such a decision. Throughout her journey, Hiro is serenaded by a Greek chorus of sorts, played by Ana Silva and Maryam Abdi, who alternate between singing about the events and playing background characters.
The tone here hews heightened and comedic despite the serious issues explored in the script; director Chika Ike has managed to weave together the two extremes quite well. Kentucky at The Gift Theatre is a delightful comic romp wrapped around a heart-rending family drama, that asks pressing questions about the long game of self-identity, and breaking cycles of abuse.
Continue reading “‘Kentucky’ at the Gift Theatre Takes You on a Hilarious and Devastating Journey Back Home Again”
When you purchase your ticket for Broken Bone Bathtub, the confirmation email you receive will contain directions not to any specific theater, but rather to a residential building somewhere in Chicago. The venue changes from night to night, ensuring that no show is exactly the same.
Upon arrival at the third-floor apartment in Rogers Park where the evening’s entertainment was to take place, we were ushered into a living room which served as a sort of theater lobby. When the performance was about to start, we were asked to arrange ourselves by height. Carefully, methodically, the producer and usher arranged us in the bathroom around the bathtub, where performer Siobhan O’Loughlin sat fully nude, her only costume some bubbly suds and a dash of glittery blue eyelid makeup. We sat on stools and boxes, packed in like Tetris pieces — one patron was seated on the closed toilet seat. When we were ready to start, Siobhan raised her head and began to speak quite suddenly, without preamble. She spoke with such an easy familiarity that it seemed less like the start of a show, and more like jumping into a fascinating conversation that is already clipping along at a good pace by the time you start to pay attention.
Continue reading “‘Broken Bone Bathtub’ is a Spare, Straightforward, and Entrancing Piece of Immersive Theatre”
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.
Continue reading “Porchlight Music Theatre’s Sunset Boulevard Remembers Golden Age Glamor but Forgets the Horror “
Invisible by Mary Bonnett, produced by Her Story Theater, seeks to complicate our contemporary understandings of the KKK, and their lasting impact on the relationship between racism and political power in the US. Directed by Cecille Keenan, the play focuses on a white couple, Mabel (Morgan Laurel Cohen) and Tom (Brad Harbaugh), who are well established in their small town of Mounds.
As a well respected man in town, Tom is naturally part of Mounds’ Ku Klux Klan chapter. Mabel, meanwhile has taken the role of an officer in Mounds’ newly formed branch of the Women’s KKK. Mabel, however, is something of a misfit and struggles to get along with the other two WKKK officers, despite her commitment to the KKK’s values of Christianity and domesticity. Across town, Jubal (Lisa McConnell), a Black artist and activist, lives with Ghost Girl (Maddy Fleming), an albino girl she found abandoned as a baby. When Mr. Stein (Richard Covotsky), a Jewish reporter from Chicago, travels through Mounds, tension builds and leads to death and destruction.
Continue reading “‘Invisible’ at Her Story Theater Examines the Personal and Political Impacts of Racism”