REVIEW: Her Honor Jane Byrne at Lookingglass Theatre, and the Paradox of Civil Violence

Long, long ago, in the before-times of March 2020, I went to see a show at Lookingglass Theatre called Her Honor Jane Byrne. I wrote a review of it, but then the entire world shut down, the production’s run was cancelled, and the review never saw the light of day. In light of the Black Lives Matter protests and displays of police brutality that have been in the public eye this past month, the subject matter of Her Honor Jane Byrne has never been more relevant, timely, and worthy of analysis. We reached out to Lookingglass, and they gave us the go-ahead to publish this review of their cancelled show.

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Mercury Theater Shuts its Doors

Mercury Theater became the latest Chicago-area theater to announce devastating news last week, as they announced they would be closing permanently. Unlike Steep Theatre, this closure was directly caused by the economic impacts of the pandemic; in an interview with the Sun-Times, executive director L. Walter Stearns cited extreme loss of revenue as the reason for closure.

In a statement on their website, Mercury Theater said: “We sought to bring a little joy to the world and have made many friends along the way. Thank you to the artists who have been a part of our legacy. And thank you to the audiences who have supported our neighborhood theater.”

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Steep Theatre Loses Edgewater Space

Steep Theatre announced yesterday that they will be forced to move out of their current space at 1115 W Berwyn Avenue this fall.

According to Executive Director Kate Piatt-Eckert, “Steep intends to stay in the Edgewater neighborhood and continue to deepen its relationships with long-supportive neighbors as it moves forward with a focus on inclusivity, accessibility, and flexibility. Steep Theatre is not a building – it is a league of fearless artists, bold leaders, and passionate supporters equipped with nineteen years of experience producing storefront theatre and almost two years presenting music and performance at The Boxcar.”

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Victory Gardens Theater Playwrights Withdraw From Ignition Festival of New Plays

All four playwrights have pulled their plays from the 2020 Ignition Festival at Victory Gardens’ Theatre. Read the full letter below, originally published on Medium.

As the 2020 Ignition Festival of New Plays at Victory Gardens approaches, we four emerging playwrights have decided to pull our respective plays from this development opportunity. We demand that leadership in Chicago theaters dispense with hollow gestures of solidarity, hold themselves accountable for past mistakes, and listen to the needs of their community and artists. Continue reading “Victory Gardens Theater Playwrights Withdraw From Ignition Festival of New Plays”

Chicago Financial Aid Resources for Artists During COVID-19

“Mutual aid projects are a form of political participation in which people take responsibility for caring for one another and changing political conditions, not just through symbolic acts or putting pressure on their representatives in government, but by actually building new social relations that are more survivable.” 

This quote comes from the Big Door Brigade, a multi-regional collective inspired by scholar/lawyer/organizer Dean Spade’s uplifting of mutual aid “as a strategy for survival and mobilization.” 

In the wake of CDC recommendation to halt public gatherings of 50 people or more, theatre has been especially affected. Broadway has closed down, as have many theatres in Chicago. Google docs and GoFundMe’s are ripping across our social media feeds as part of an endeavor to lift up and provide support to those who need it. (Local Chicago journalist Kris Vire is keeping us up to date on arts cancellations, and it is staggering.) Writing from the perspective of an artist and graduate student, I’ve seen and felt the economic and emotional impact of the collapse of jobs and social support systems. We are witnessing how the intersection of human rights and our government interests continue to butt against each other — when they don’t have to.  Continue reading “Chicago Financial Aid Resources for Artists During COVID-19”

‘Stick Fly’ at Writers Theatre Asks Poignant Questions About Blackness in America

Stick Fly at Writers Theatre, directed by Ron OJ Parson and written by Lydia R. Diamond, is set around two affluent Black siblings who bring their partners, one black and one white, to their family cottage on Martha’s Vineyard. It is at Vineyard where they are forced to confront their realities, family secrets, and class prejudices.

The trek to Glencoe in the cold might seem daunting, but the show itself is too thoughtful and poignant to miss. It doesn’t beg to be included in the theatre landscape; it carves its own way.

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‘Lipstick Lobotomy’ at Trap Door Theatre Explores Gender in Mental Health

Lipstick Lobotomy, written by Krista Knight and directed by Kate Hendrickson, takes place in a women’s sanitarium in the early 1940’s, conveyed here by a delightfully unsettling green-and-white color palette across the production that evokes the eerie sanitized atmosphere of a hospital. We meet our main character, Ginny (Ann Sonnevile), as she arrives at the hospital straight off the heels of separating from her husband. Ginny immediately meets and befriends fellow patient Rosemary Kennedy (played with a lovable charm by Abby Blankenship, and who is, yes, of those Kennedys). Rosemary struggles with her own mental disability, and against her family’s desire to make her undergo a lobotomy, while Ginny undergoes the opposite struggle. She wants to get a lobotomy in order to stave off her lifelong depression, but her family is understandably horrified at the prospect.

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‘Labyrinth’ at Broken Nose Theatre is a Space-Bending Journey About Power and Finance

Labyrinth, Beth Steel’s blistering critique of corporate greed and American international relations, finds a fitting home for its U.S. Premiere with Broken Nose Theatre, a pay-what-you-can theatre company founded on the principle of economic accessibility. It is hard to say exactly what Labyrinth is—and not in a pejorative way. Loosely following events surrounding the Latin American debt crisis, the script, which begins conventionally enough, accelerates, growing in absurdity and darkness until it devolves into what resembles the fever dream of an over-exhausted worker. This production asks audiences to consider the human cost of economic tinkering, the hegemonic power of the American financial system, the difference between a scam and a hedged investment, and the divide between the so called first and third worlds. Under the skillful and energetic direction of Spencer Davis, Broken Nose Theatre successfully brings this sweeping-yet-psychological, brooding-yet-punchy, absurdly-funny-yet-tragic story to life.

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‘A Doll’s House’ at Raven Theatre Reinvigorates a Timeless Classic

It’s a new decade in Chicago and Ibsen is in the air.

Raven Theatre’s A Doll’s House is the first of three Ibsen plays opening within the next month. Strawdog’s stormy Hedda Gabler will follow shortly on Raven’s heels, and Court’s The Lady From the Sea will bring up the rear with the most ethereal of the Norwegian playwright’s femme-centric family dramas. It must be something in the water.

A long century and a half has passed since A Doll’s House first scandalized European audiences with the “door slam heard around the world.” However, Raven Theatre’s production still manages to feel relevant and timely. Although director Lauren Shouse retains the 19th century setting of Nora’s tale, Shouse re-envisions the meaning of Ibsen’s revolutionary, feminist masterwork for the audience of today. Although her reinterpretation does sacrifice some nuances of Ibsen’s play for the sake of its concept, it remains a promising example of how a classic can be reimagined for contemporary audiences.

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‘Roan @ the Gates’ at American Blues Theatre Tells a Scarily Relevant Love Story

Roan @ the Gates is a patriotic love story of two righteous women who are torn between their relationship and their principles. Roan (Brenda Barrie), an NSA analyst, puts everything on the line when she leaks government documents to an international reporter. Roan flees to Russia, and her wife Nat (Jasmine Bracey) is left blindsided and an ocean away. The Chicago premiere of Christina Telesca Gormans’ cyberfiction is much closer to reality than one might hope. In 75 minutes, director Lexi Saunders documents a deteriorating marriage with stunning design and intimate performances. As the conflict builds and communication breaks away, however, the narrative falls into a loop where the same argument is played out again and again.

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