When I stepped into How To Defend Yourself, Lilliana Padilla’s brilliant new play making its Chicago premier at Victory Gardens Theater, I thought I knew where this story would end before it had even begun. In the wake of their friend’s sexual assault, a few college students, all from different social groups, gather to hold a self-defense workshop. Naturally, I assumed, the girls would learn to respect each other for their differences and become friends, the workshop would help them to feel empowered in their bodies, and we would walk away feeling that the unifying force of our girl power is enough to take on the dark underbelly of the patriarchy. Of course, that’s never how it feels in real life. And this play, directed with care and consciousness by Marti Lyons, honors a truth far more painful and real. How To Defend Yourself is a dismantling of the stories that women tell to each other and to ourselves about how to safely walk through the world.
How can a play feel both dated and relevant? Stereotypical yet viscerally authentic? Generic yet highly specific?
Coming off the heels of its 50th year anniversary revival run on Broadway, Boys in the Band, directed by Carl Menninger, is currently playing at Windy City Playhouse in an immersive theatre style. It is considered one of the first mainstream plays to depict gay men in earnest, without resorting to tokenization or jokes. The plot centers around five gay friends who throw a birthday party for their acerbic friend, Harold (Sam Bell Gurwitz), at Michael’s (Jackson Evans) apartment. Coupling Harold’s late arrival is an unsuspected visit by Michael’s college friend, Alan (Christian Edwin Cook), who does not know Michael is gay. As the night unravels, the friends gradually get more drunk and let their insecurities loose. Though the language is notably dated — like the use of “homosexual” instead of “gay” and several racialized comments — the feelings of ostracization and self-loathing from not being validated is a timeless sentiment. The play is timeless; the production feels dated, getting trapped in the time period and inhibiting the story’s ability to radiate its more universal themes.
Roe at The Goodman Theatre, written by Lisa Loomer and directed by Vanessa Stalling, begins in the past, from the first court case of Roe v. Wade in 1970, and continues well on into the 2000s. The story itself brings in lots of quotes, monologues, facts, and information to give the audience, along with telling a segmented narrative from Norma, the woman behind Roe. This is a lot of information for any audience to take in under two hours, especially given that the show jumps in time. While there is a lot of talking to the audience in the show, we never really learn anything new about the case or who Norma really is. The show isn’t so much about Roe as it is about glimpses of ideas without a solid foundation.
Stop Kiss by Diana Son is the story of two young women, Sara (Kylie Anderson) and Callie (Flavia Pallozzi), living in New York in the late nineties. Each scene in the play alternates between two timelines; half of the scenes depict Sara and Callie as they meet for the first time, develop a friendship, and then slowly realize that their friendship might be something much deeper, lovelier, and more serious than they initially thought. Other scenes depict a near future where Sara is attacked by a violent man after her and Callie’s first kiss, in an act of homophobic violence. Callie must deal with the various reactions of friends, family, police, and the news media, while still struggling with her evolving feelings for Sara.
Stop Kiss is a play about the dichotomy of being queer; its very structure is a contrast between discovering the joy and freedom of stepping away from societal norms, and the pain caused by an unjust society which punishes that discovery at every turn. Director Kanomé Jones has put together an ensemble that understands this dichotomy on a visceral level, with the result that this collaboration between Pride Films and Plays and Arc Theatre touched something deep within my little queer heart in a way that no show in recent memory has.
Editor’s Note: Three members of the Chicago dance community, Alyssa Gregory, Erin Kilmurray, and Nora Sharp approached Rescripted with a community-minded approach to celebrating the quality of Chicago’s dance world in 2019. The survey and its results were compiled in an effort by these folks to ensure all of the pieces lifted up by their community could be mentioned. We have so enjoyed embarking on this journey with them and learning more about the dance community by celebrating them. We hope you will too.
Alyssa, Erin, and Nora: As Best-Of 2019 lists rolled out, we found ourselves reflecting on what kind of work receives recognition, whose voice has a say in selecting such highlights, what those chosen works signify, and through the lens of what platforms. How do these lists impact the broad and varied dance communities that call Chicago home? Honestly, what even is Chicago live dance performance? Continue reading “Celebrating 2019 Chicago Dance: A Community Sourced List”
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.
2019 was by no means an easy year, and yet so much progress was made in our artistic community both on and offstage. The Rightlynd Saga reached completion in the same year Lori Lightfoot was elected. Abuse was unearthed and community solutions provided, systemic changes are underway on many levels, as the energy of organizations like Not in Our House and ChiTac drive our individual work. As Editor for Rescripted, I laid out my Visions for 2020. This article is about looking back, and celebrating where we came from one last time. Below you will find the 10 Rescripted Recognized shows selected by our critics, and a new addition for this year – Rescripted Raves. There is too much great work in the city to limit it to ten shows, and there you will find the other projects that brought us joy or moved the conversation forward. Happy 2020!
Red Rex at Steep Theatre. Directed by Jonathan Berry, written by Ike Holter. “Ike Holter’s Red Rex takes a deep dive into the underbelly of making theatre in Chicago, and a brave ensemble of people at Steep Theatre rose to the challenge. The sixth play in the Rightlynd Saga directed by Jonathan Berry gets its name from the fictional theatre company at the center of the narrative, Red Rex Theatre Company. After almost a decade of relatively mediocre production, Red Rex has recently taken up residence in the abandoned former home of the Three Lord Gang – one of many easter eggs from the rest of the Rightlynd Universe (the RU, you know, like MCU).” – Regina Victor, Editor In Chief Continue reading “Rescripted Recognized – 2019 Edition”
We are at the precipice. Everything in our society could change tomorrow, simply because it cannot sustain its way of being any longer. How are we envisioning that future, in the arts and beyond? Here at Rescripted we are envisioning an empathetic future, driven by advocacy and dialogue, rather than this present cycle of trauma and fear. My vision for Rescripted was simple: train and uplift voices that will make the industry a hospitable place for everyone to work. The impact of that vision, that intention, has been unbelievable. We have now trained critics in the double digits who are writing professionally, we are creating transparency and accountability in our work that established publications are beginning to echo. We highlighted communities and theatres that were habitually overlooked, causing other publications to pick up their stories as well. Ever so slightly, I see the viewpoints and the values of other critical institutions changing in response to the energy this group of artists has brought to the city through our writing. Therefore, I want to end 2019 by offering visions for our artistic future. Continue reading “Letter From the Editor: Artistic Visions for 2020”
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.