Rescripted Reveal: Zev Valancy on Dramaturgy and Literary Management

Editor’s Note: Rescripted Reveal is a new essay series asking theatre professionals to give an inside look into their careers and create further transparency between audience and artist. Stage Left’s former Literary Manager Zev Valancy discusses his time with the company, new play development, advice on submitting plays, and what it takes to be a literary manager in today’s world.

It was the fall of 2012, and I was at the Broadway Armory, seeing Chicago Shakespeare’s imported production of the National Theatre of Scotland’s Black Watch for the second time. In the audience was my friend Joe Zarrow. I congratulated him on the workshop his play Principal Principle had received in Providence a few months before. Stage Left, where I was Literary Manager, had done a reading of his play The Pigeons a few years earlier, and he’d submitted Principal Principle for development in our Residency. It hadn’t been chosen, but I remembered the script, and held Joe’s writing in high regard. It was only a month after the resolution of the Chicago Teachers Union strike, so a play about the struggles of teachers in Chicago seemed like it might connect with audiences. I asked him to send me a draft. Continue reading “Rescripted Reveal: Zev Valancy on Dramaturgy and Literary Management”

Ike Holter’s ‘The Light Fantastic’ is Horror-Comedy at its Smartest

The Light Fantastic combines Ike Holter’s brilliantly funny writing with formidable production design that makes the play, directed by Gus Menary, work on several levels. It’s a deliciously spooky thriller with a reverse Faustian twist. It’s an endearing romantic comedy. It a clever send-up of horror genre tropes (I likely missed five references for every one that I caught). And it offers up a refreshingly empowering narrative that hinges on female agency as opposed to the female helplessness the genre has long relied upon. The play also has a strong moral point of view as it touches on subjects as wide ranging as bullying, homophobia, taking advantage of your friends and the grave error of ignoring your mother’s phone calls. On a more philosophical level this play is about characters asserting the right to face death on their own terms as they grapple with Kantian questions of moral duty. Continue reading “Ike Holter’s ‘The Light Fantastic’ is Horror-Comedy at its Smartest”

Reinvention and Catastrophe Thrill in ‘Girl Found’

This review is penned by Logan McCullom, alumni of The Key: Young Critics Mentorship Program. 

The lights had not been up for more than five minutes and already I knew this play was something else, something that was not being advertised, of course. Something dark. I find it hard to produce an effective horror play, and while Girl Found at Idle Muse is not one, it certainly had the potential to be because of its tendency to chill and thrill. Girl Found kept me on the edge of my seat as I tried to decipher what was not said but meant, and what was not felt but forgotten.  Continue reading “Reinvention and Catastrophe Thrill in ‘Girl Found’”

Nostalgia Consumes in a Fiery ‘Buried Child’

“I thought I was dying but I  just lost my voice.” – Tilden, Sam Shepard’s Buried Child.

This line perfectly describes the devastating loneliness that reverberates throughout Sam Shephard’s Buried Child, currently playing at Writers Theatre. The large house is empty at top of show except for the elderly Dodge (Larry Yando) who is coughing and watching TV all alone as rain falls outside. Dodge looks up at the roof to listen to the rain, which is wonderful because there is no roof in the living room of Jack Magaw’s set. In fact, the entire front of the home is excavated like an ancient archaeological site, preserved so we can see the relics inside. Adding to this jagged, exposed feeling is a massive crack that runs through the middle of the floor. Largely ignored by the family that resides in the house, I could not help but notice that the two outsiders in the play either noticed or tripped over the crack. Continue reading “Nostalgia Consumes in a Fiery ‘Buried Child’”

‘Suddenly Last Summer’ and the Myth of the Man

Editor’s Note: This is a guest contribution by local performer Julian Terrell Otis.  Originally these comments were posted on social media, then further expanded with our editors to become a review posted on our site. We are interested in the viewpoint of the artist, and what they have to say about the work coming out of their community. If you are a Chicago artist interested in contributing to Rescripted, please e-mail us at rescriptedreviews@gmail.com, we want to hear from you!

Catherine: “Is that what love is? Using people? And maybe that’s what hate is – not being able to use people.”

It was incredible to watch Suddenly Last Summer at Raven Theatre. I would highly recommend it. To be honest, my experience with Tennessee Williams is limited. I often feel the narrative to be out of touch because of the lofty language, the whiteness, the exposition about class issues that are distanced from current audiences by time, and in a way, it’s petty. But hey that’s the drama of life! Raven’s production is thoughtful and the audience is invited to be a fly on the wall in a very personal family matter regarding mental illness, sex, control, and money. The stakes ride high as the characters navigate their own desires. The setting transforms from a Louisiana estate to some sort of metaphorical jungle where the most vicious creatures that inhabit it are the (white) humans.

The casting reflects that interesting power dynamic. On opening night, the audience was invited into the world of the play through the eyes of the black gaze. In this performance Miss Foxhill was played by Song Marshall, though the role is usually played by Janyce Caraballo. The caretakers Miss Foxhill and Sister Felicity (played by Ayanna Bria Bakari) provide regularity to the upended lives of this ultra wealthy family in crisis. Marshall’s and Bakari’s performances elevate quotidien tasks to epic proportions.The women of color hear the foul words and see the ambition, and I feel their unending struggle to keep these white people in check.  One gets the feeling that Miss Foxhill’s job might be on the line if the daiquiri isn’t made just right and Sis. Felicity may actually fear that bodily harm may come to her from her charge, Catherine (played by Grayson Heyl). One cigarette burn would be too many for me. Yet these women endure because circumstances necessitate it.  Continue reading “‘Suddenly Last Summer’ and the Myth of the Man”

Brett Neveu’s ‘To Catch a Fish’ Dramatizes a Real Life Tale of Entrapment

Brett Neveu’s world premiere TO CATCH A FISH, developed at Timeline and directed by Ron OJ Parson, takes on the morally repugnant practice of police entrapment. Neveu takes us to the peaceful Milwaukee neighborhood of Riverwest where in 2012 officers from the Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms Bureau set-up a phony shop with an aim to lure the community into selling guns by offering to purchase them at triple their street value. This perverse incentive created a gun market where there wasn’t one. People started buying guns at local stores to turn around and sell them to the ATF, even going so far as to dredge up antiques and family heirlooms to cash in on the offer. Later, community members entrapped by this scheme were rounded up to face criminal charges. Continue reading “Brett Neveu’s ‘To Catch a Fish’ Dramatizes a Real Life Tale of Entrapment”

The Spectacle of Suffering in ‘Through the Elevated Line’

 

Set in Chicago, the play centers on the arrival of Razi Gol (Salar Ardebili)  to his sister’s apartment in Uptown, right off of the Lawrence CTA Red Line. Soraya (Catherine Dildilian), Razi’s sister, has been in the United States for more than a decade after leaving her family in Shiraz, Iran to attend school and lives with her white Irish-American husband Chuck (Joshua K. Volkers).   Continue reading “The Spectacle of Suffering in ‘Through the Elevated Line’”

‘A Story Told in Seven Fights’ Investigates the Neo-Futurists Founding Myths

The energy at the Neo-Futurarium holds a lot of history for Chicago audiences and just being in a space where you’ve come to expect the unexpected generates anticipation. A Story Told in Seven Fights begins with a comic teaser fight in the lobby as the audience is waiting to be ushered into the theater. This cold open establishes the show’s major theme: the relationship between performer and performance. The show, a devised work created by Trevor Dawkins and directed by Tony Santiago, explores the explosive birth of Dadaism and its later clash with Surrealism. The throughline is an exploration of what founders contribute to a movement. The play asks: at what point does a movement become bigger than its founding vision and, perhaps also, at what point does a movement morph into something entirely different? Continue reading “‘A Story Told in Seven Fights’ Investigates the Neo-Futurists Founding Myths”

‘Kingdom’ is a Portrait of a Gay Happily Ever After

In his playwright’s note for Kingdom, Michael Allen Harris says, “Much of the popular queer media and scholarship focuses on queerness from a white, middle class, and urban context. And so, I took this play ‘home.’” The play, directed by Kanomé Jones, was developed in house as part of Broken Nose Theatre’s new play development program, The Paper Trail. Kingdom is romantic comedy with a touch of family drama. It centers around Henry (Watson Swift) and Arthur (Christopher McMorris), a gay black couple in their seventies, their lesbian niece Phaedra (RjW Mays) and their grown son, Alex (Michael Mejia-Beal). Continue reading “‘Kingdom’ is a Portrait of a Gay Happily Ever After”

‘Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea’ Is a Beautiful Invitation to Heal

Simply stepping into First Floor Theater’s Dontrell, Who Kissed The Sea is already a theatrical experience unto its own, to say nothing of the magnetic performance to follow. Director Chika Ike’s vision for the play is immediately palpable, and impresses upon audience members from the very first moment that they are entering what will become sacred ground. The inventive and highly successful scenic design of Eleanor Kahn and associate designer Samantha Myers immediately compels the audience to look up, down, and all around them. With Viking and Adinkra symbols adorning the walls of the theater, as well as the scattered pieces of shattered wood that encapsulate the audience, the space evokes a reverent spirituality. Each of the symbols has a meaning, and cast a net of wishes, intentions, and hopes around the playing space. As for the wood, one’s mind goes instantly to the memory of the ships that carried slaves from West Africa to North America. As the house lights drop, and we enter the poetic world of playwright Nathan Alan Davis, the promise of the space unfolds. Continue reading “‘Dontrell, Who Kissed the Sea’ Is a Beautiful Invitation to Heal”