Guards at the Taj: A Tale of Tyranny, Trauma and Resistance

Rajiv Joseph’s GUARDS AT THE TAJ, currently in its Chicago premiere at Steppenwolf Theatre, and masterfully directed by Amy Morton, is as much a meditation on the soul’s need for beauty as it is a study of the mechanisms of tyranny. It’s 1648 in the city of Agra. Humayun and Babur are guarding the walled city-within-a-city where the Taj Mahal is being constructed. The all-powerful Mughal emperor Shah Jahan, in mourning for his wife Mumtaz Mahal, has commissioned the most beautiful building in the world. At dawn he will finally reveal it. Will these two young men turn and steal a glimpse? This begins a cascade of questions about the bodily costs of exercising free will versus the psychological costs of suppressing it. Continue reading “Guards at the Taj: A Tale of Tyranny, Trauma and Resistance”

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”

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’”

Dear White Critics: Please Stop Using the N-Word

What is wrong with white critics? I really want to know. Have you all lost your mind?? When critic Katy Walsh took a loss and set a dignified example for why the n-word is hurtful, apologized, and extricated herself from criticism to learn, were you listening?

In the space of a singular calendar year, we have had two white Chicago critics use the n-word in a review. Yesterday Justin Hayford put this sentence in a review of Court Theatre’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and legitimately thought it was a good idea: “At worst, it will leave him with a cracked skull, tormented children, and a wife who’ll come to believe he’s nothing but a n*gger.” (This is censored, the uncensored photo is below.) Now, I don’t know if Hayford wanted to get into a fight when he published this review, but I am a non-violent person and when I first read this sentence I was ready to throw hands. I immediately talked to some artists working on the play to get their thoughts. Continue reading “Dear White Critics: Please Stop Using the N-Word”

‘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”

‘Surely Goodness and Mercy’ Showcases A Young Boy’s Staggering Act of Love

Chisa Hutchinson’s intimate four character drama Surely Goodness and Mercy at Redtwist Theatre takes on the difficult subject of child abuse and makes children its heroes. During a month when we are seeing young people in the news rising up to speak out against violence it’s inspiring to see the story of a young boy who is able to escape the violence in his own home while doing good for others. Continue reading “‘Surely Goodness and Mercy’ Showcases A Young Boy’s Staggering Act of Love”

‘Skeleton Crew’ Revisits the Financial Crisis on a Factory Floor

Skeleton Crew, the final play in Dominique Morisseau’s Detroit trilogy, just finished its run at Northlight Theatre, directed by Ron OJ Parson. The play is set during the economic crisis of 2008 in the breakroom of one of the last small autoparts plants standing. This is highly skilled work and the men and women who do it are proud, and proudly union. But their jobs and way of life are hanging by a thread. Faye (Jacqueline Williams) has had a thirty-nine year career doing every manner of job in the factory. She’s also union rep as well as unofficial matriarch. Faye mothers her two young coworkers, Dez (Bernard Gilbert) and Shanita (AnJi White) with a mix of deadpan humor and straight talk. Their unit manager, Reggie (Kelvin Roston Jr.) is torn between trying to save his worker’s jobs and trying to prepare them for the inevitable. When factories are closing unions have little leverage and Faye’s lifelong relationship with Reggie complicates her ability to be the best union rep she can as things get more and more desperate. Continue reading “‘Skeleton Crew’ Revisits the Financial Crisis on a Factory Floor”

‘Fear & Misery in the Third Reich’ Revives Brecht’s Urgent Call to Action

Bertolt Brecht’s Fear & Misery in the Third Reich is a deeply chilling series of short plays detailing life in Hitler’s Germany. Director Josh Sobel’s well-curated presentation of these vignets captures the immediacy of the fascist threat including: the dissemination of propaganda, attacks on free speech, the dismantling of the justice system and state sanctioned hate crimes. Continue reading “‘Fear & Misery in the Third Reich’ Revives Brecht’s Urgent Call to Action”