‘Kentucky’ at the Gift Theatre Takes You on a Hilarious and Devastating Journey Back Home Again

(left to right) Ana Silva, Emjoy Gavino and Maryam Abdi. Photo by Claire Demos.

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.

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‘Sundown, Yellow Moon’ at Raven Theatre Exudes a Warm, Comforting Glow

As Sundown, Yellow Moon opens, two sisters in their twenties, Ray (Liz Chidester) and Joey (Diana Coates), have returned to their small hometown in Tennessee to support their father, Tom (Will Casey), as his life seems to be falling apart following his divorce. Ray is undergoing a bit of a reckoning herself after quitting her job — and Joey, petrified at the thought of leaving the country for a foreign study, takes comfort in long runs in the woods late at night.

The script from Rachel Bonds is extremely character-driven; there is not much plot to be found. I have heard some criticism calling this show a bit meandering and slow — which I can’t refute, exactly, except to say that slowness can soar to great heights when done with intention, and I found it absolutely sublime here. Director Cody Estle has managed to craft an evening of enthralling, intimate moments with attention and care, such that Sundown, Yellow Moon feels engrossing and urgent despite its quietness, and stillness.

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‘Equivocation’ at Idle Muse Theatre Company, and the Purpose of Art in Times of Tyranny

What if King George had commissioned Shakespeare to write a play about the Gunpowder Plot?

It’s a fascinating question, and Equivocation at Idle Muse has the answer. After all, the famed Catholic plot to assassinate King James I happened in 1605, right around the time when William’s plays were at the height of popularity — as a mashup, it’s an entertaining and slightly scandalous idea that immediately grabs your attention. Playwright Bill Cain does a marvelous job of grounding the dialogue in the speech and politics of the era, such that the slowly unfolding conspiracy is both heightened and believable. The structure here is complex, interfolding, and lovely. Director Evan Jackson keeps things moving nicely; characters speak quickly and cleverly, taking us through emotional beats with efficiency and flair. There are lots of long scenes that could easily have dragged, but each one has a distinctive shape and feels like a journey through a big, empty house with lots of fascinating rooms. Continue reading “‘Equivocation’ at Idle Muse Theatre Company, and the Purpose of Art in Times of Tyranny”

‘Casa Valentina’ is a Fascinating and Heart-Wrenching look into LGBTQ History

Casa Valentina takes place in a small resort hotel in the Catskills, a location based off a real historical place called Casa Susanna — which, in the 50’s and 60’s, became a sort of haven for both trans women and cross-dressing men. The hotel’s clientele consisted largely of middle-class white-collar workers who lived as married, heterosexual men for most of the week, but came to Casa Susanna on the weekends to put on women’s clothing, wigs, and makeup, and simply live as women for a short time before returning to their daily lives. Casa Valentina, which was written by Harvey Fierstein and debuted on Broadway in 2014, serves as an only slightly fictionalized glimpse of an oft-forgotten pocket of LGBT history — and this production in particular tackles the play’s issues with confidence and resolve that make the already relevant themes entrancingly urgent. Continue reading “‘Casa Valentina’ is a Fascinating and Heart-Wrenching look into LGBTQ History”

‘Now and Then,’ Paints A Queer Love Story

Now and Then is a musical gay love story that tells the tale of one relationship between two men, Greg and Daniel, over forty years. Three different pairs of actors play the two men at different points in their lives: Will Fulgintini and Benjamin Walton play the young Dan and Greg when they’re first meeting in college; Alex Smith and Carl Herzog play the couple in their thirties, as the relationship has grown stale and must be saved; and Skip Sams and Dennis Manning play the couple in their sixties, having reached a steady equilibrium in the relationship, which is challenged by Greg’s battle with cancer. Continue reading “‘Now and Then,’ Paints A Queer Love Story”

Pontifications on Pregnancy in ‘The Crowd You’re In With’

The Crowd You’re In With at AstonRep takes place on an evocative set designed by Jeremiah Barr, the deck and backyard of a rundown suburban house that is set out for a 4th of July barbecue. Small accents, like deck chairs, fairy lights, and a tacky tablecloth, create a very lived-in feel. The lighting from Samantha Barr is atmospheric and welcoming; the yellow light from inside spills out through a screen door, and the fading blue ambience captures the feeling of a warm summer evening quite well.

We open at the barbecue of married couple Jasper (Martin Diaz-Valdes) and Melinda (Sara Pavlak McGuire) — consisting of another mid-thirties couple, the pregnant Windsong (Maggie Antonijevic) and the slightly obnoxious Dan (Nick Freed), the older married couple and landlords who live upstairs, Tom and Karen (Javier Carmona and Lynne Baker), and their single musician friend Darcy (Erin O’Brien). As it is slowly revealed that Jasper and Melinda are trying to get pregnant, the conversation turns to the subject of why some people choose to have kids, and why some don’t. Continue reading “Pontifications on Pregnancy in ‘The Crowd You’re In With’”

A Visceral, Intrusive, and Rip-Roaring Ninety Minutes at ‘First Love is the Revolution’

Are you turned on by foxes?

No? That’s probably good; that likely means you are a human with a (relatively) normal libido — and you are probably not, for instance, a roommate of mine who once professed to me his sincere attraction to the rabbit from Zootopia.

It is important to note, however, that furry communities do exist on this weird and wide world of ours, and as long as they are not acting unethically I am loathe to yuck their yum. People have all sorts of strange fetishes that will never make sense to me, but which also do not concern me in the slightest. First Love is the Revolution, though, wants you to be concerned — and not specifically about bestiality, which the play wields as a tool to make you take a hard look at uncomfortable truths. Rather, First Love examines the deluded notion that we civilized, upright humans are at our core any different from the myriad of species we torture, murder, and force into extinction every single day. And through this, of course, it also becomes a metaphor for how we treat each other. Continue reading “A Visceral, Intrusive, and Rip-Roaring Ninety Minutes at ‘First Love is the Revolution’”

I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying!: The Edifice of Self in Next to Normal at Writers Theatre

I don’t need to tell you how good of a musical Next to Normal is; it won a Pulitzer. Nor is it a surprise that Tony-winning director David Cromer has created a masterful evening of small and terrifyingly intimate moments with a deft, spare, and nuanced hand. Instead, I’d like to focus on why this show had me weeping uncontrollably for most of its second act, and how I think it got there.

For those unfamiliar, Next to Normal is the story of the suburban, middle-class, normal-seeming Goodman family. Our central character, Diana (Keely Vasquez), struggles to live her adult life while dealing with severe and often crippling bipolar disorder. Her husband Dan (David Schlumpf) and teenage kids Natalie and Gabe (Kyrie Courter and Liam Oh), meanwhile, must deal with the side effects of Diana’s dysfunction. Continue reading “I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying!: The Edifice of Self in Next to Normal at Writers Theatre”

‘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”

‘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”