Fear and Loathing in “Language Rooms” at Broken Nose Theatre

* Read Lucas’ reflection on this review in ‘A Critical Response to Language Rooms’

“Don’t be a stranger.” Like much of Yussef El Guindi’s darkly comedic Language Rooms, presented by Broken Nose Theatre, this common phrase is suddenly unsettling. Within the blank foreboding walls of a CIA blacksite, the familiar is made unfamiliar, and the mundane, dangerous. Director Kaiser Zaki Ahmed and his team mine El Guindi’s interrogation of islamophobia in a post 9/11 United States. The result is a potent examination of the current dark night of the soul in which the U.S. and its people presently find themselves. Continue reading “Fear and Loathing in “Language Rooms” at Broken Nose Theatre”

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”

What Will ‘The Children’ Sacrifice for a Brighter Tomorrow?

The Children written by Lucy Kirkwood is making its Chicago premiere at Steppenwolf directed by ensemble member Jonathan Berry. The show is performed with a breathtaking set design (Chelsea M. Warren) that consists of a full scale house on the shore of an English cottage complete with sounds of seagulls and waves crashing on the shore (sound by Andre Pluess). This is where the entire show is set, and it juts out, making the audience feel small in comparison. This prominent house is where we meet three retired nuclear scientists who both share and keep secrets. Continue reading “What Will ‘The Children’ Sacrifice for a Brighter Tomorrow?”

‘Cambodian Rock Band’ Delivers Reality-Shattering Performances

Cambodian Rock Band written by Lauren Yee, is directed by Marti Lyons at Victory Gardens. The premise of the play is in the name, but the show encompasses so much more depth than the careers of a rock band. It’s about the trauma of genocide in Cambodia, family dynamics, and how one can repair themselves through music. Continue reading “‘Cambodian Rock Band’ Delivers Reality-Shattering Performances”

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”

‘Corona’ Shines Bright at Otherworld Theatre Company

Elizabeth Ann Michaela Keel’s Corona takes place on a beautiful set designed by Hannah Beaudry; squarish, obsidian walls, accented with vibrantly lit-up panels that shine with different garish colors throughout. A raised white dais, which looks equal parts marble and futuristic, rises from the stage’s middle and invokes our collective idea of what a starship bridge looks like without mimicking it outright. In addition, right away we are treated to brilliant projections and lighting design from Claire Sangster; the contrast of the black set with monochromatic floods of blue, or pink, or orange create a lovely, spooky, and (pardon the pun) otherworldly feel. In director Tiffany Keane Schaefer’s production, the back wall and side panels show projections of stars and nebulae as they slowly drift by. Continue reading “‘Corona’ Shines Bright at Otherworld Theatre Company”

The Audience Wins at the Goodman’s ‘Lottery Day’

“Everybody, anybody.” At first an unassuming call and response, the tonality morphs from raucous fun to crickets. We the audience are both the winners and the losers in Ike Holter’s new play Lottery Day at the Goodman Theatre. Under the exquisite direction of Lili-Anne Brown, the characters come to life and we want to join them. As the final chapter in his 7-play cycle, Holter doesn’t let us off easy—and rightly so when faced with our realities of gentrification, police brutality, political corruption, and trauma. Continue reading “The Audience Wins at the Goodman’s ‘Lottery Day’”

‘Small World’ Delivers a Sidesplitting End of Days at The New Colony

“No one dies at Disney,” Stephanie Shum screeches into the abyss during Small World at The New Colony, a show that may prove to be the funniest and simultaneously most disturbing theatrical event of 2019. When I say funny I do not mean elbow your friend and chuckle a few times in the first thirty minutes before things get serious. Jillian Leff and Joe Lino’s new play Small World made me and my guest guffaw for about 80 solid minutes. This is a refreshing structure, as there is still quite a lot of emotional depth provided by the text and Patriac Coakley, Stephanie Shum and Jackie Seijo, the cast of three that launches this production into the stratosphere of hold-on-to-your-stomach hilarity. Continue reading “‘Small World’ Delivers a Sidesplitting End of Days at The New Colony”

‘Detour Guide’ is A Sorely Needed Story That Stumbles in the Telling

Before the performance of Detour Guide that I saw began, a producer from Silk Road Rising came out to talk to the audience. Before the usual pre-show announcements, he began by acknowledging the terrorist attacks in New Zealand, the news of which had broken just that morning. The audience shared a moment of silence, and then Karim Nagi came onstage to tell us a story that sought, in all aspects, to humanize and demystify the Arab world. He delved into the music, culture, and history of Egypt, Syria, and many other Arabic-speaking nations. He analyzed portrayals of the Arab world in Hollywood movies and attempted to dismantle stereotypes. He told stories of his childhood, growing up in America as the son of Egyptian immigrants, and of his trips back there. Detour Guide is a screamingly necessary show in this political era, where racist and anti-Muslim stereotypes are being peddled by the most powerful people in the Western world to immediate and devastating effect, as the news that morning reminded us. This is a show that rightfully forced me to address and challenge my own biases. Nagi goes out of his way to make us uncomfortable, and make us examine why we like or dislike certain cultural narratives. Continue reading “‘Detour Guide’ is A Sorely Needed Story That Stumbles in the Telling”