‘Grace and the Hanukkah Miracle’ at Chicago Immersive is a Kid-Friendly, Time-Traveling Romp Through Jewish History

Grace and the Hanukkah Miracle is an immersive theatre piece in which an unnamed, protagonist in a cowboy hat (Anderson Lawfer) asks the audience to go on a wild time-traveling  adventure so as to retrieve his wife Grace’s (Nicole Bloomsmith) family menorah and present it to her as a Hanukkah gift. The rest of the show unfolds almost like a video game, as you and your fellow audience members progress through different rooms in the basement of Grace Lutheran Church in Evanston — collecting clues, solving basic puzzles, and interacting with characters from various points in Jewish history. Continue reading “‘Grace and the Hanukkah Miracle’ at Chicago Immersive is a Kid-Friendly, Time-Traveling Romp Through Jewish History”

‘Cold Town/ Hotline: A Chicago Holiday Story’ at Raven Theatre

(left to right) Jeanne T. Arrigo, Sam Linda, Dennis Garcia and Caroline Chu. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

The bitter cold and the holiday season are both barreling into Chicago, and no one is immune from the overwhelming combination. In an effort to combat this special brand of wintry blues, Raven Theatre’s Cold Town/ Hotline: A Chicago Holiday Story takes it back to 1983, where a ragtag group of Chicagoans volunteer their time at a holiday hotline called the Yule Connection. Folks are invited to call in and chat about their seasonal stressors, but when one young caller makes an in-person visit, the team bands together to find a little connection of their own. Like a lot of holiday memories, this world premiere, written and directed by Eli Newell, has bursts of heartwarming holiday sentiment that break through a series of meandering moments.

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Key Reviews: ‘Hoodoo Love’ at Raven Theatre

The Key: Young Critics Mentorship Program is back with our fifth set of reviews, and this set is all about  Hoodoo Love at Raven Theatre! This year’s cohort: Ada Alozie, Alisa Boland, Anyah Royale Akanni,  Hannah Antman, Mariah Schultz, and Yiwen Wu. Read selections from each critic below, and click through to their author profiles to read the full critique and learn more about them! The Key is co-facilitated by Regina Victor and Oliver Sava. 

Alisa Boland: “Hoodoo Love, directed by Wardell Julius Clark at Raven Theatre, adds a bit of extra enchantment to Katori Hall’s debut script, a cocktail of blues singing, conjure, and inevitable tragedy. Set in Memphis, Katori Hall’s play follows Toulou an aspiring singer, played with spirit and tenderness by Martasia Jones. The young country girl turns to the supernatural help of her friendly, grandmotherly neighbor and hoodoo practitioner Candylady (played by the audience favourite, Shariba Rivers) to hold down her lover Ace (Matthew James Elam), a restless blues artist. The situation is further complicated by the arrival of Toulou’s older brother Jib (Christopher Wayland Jones), a preacher with a wolfish eye and an appetite for unholy, distilled spirits.” –  Read Alisa Boland’s full critique and learn more about the author!  Continue reading “Key Reviews: ‘Hoodoo Love’ at Raven Theatre”

Prop Thtr’s ‘I Am Going To Die Alone, and I Am Not Afraid’ Shares Stories of Love, Loss, and Resistance

L to R: Sarah Gionvannetti, Ariana Silvan-Grau, Zoe Savransky, Sonia Goldberg, Isabel Thompson and Lyle Sauer. Photo by Anna Gelman.

I Am Going To Die Alone, and I Am Not Afraid: A Furious History of the Holocaust, Prop Thtr’s newest devised play, crafts tales of the Holocaust with scenes, songs, and lectures. The Ensemble, directed by Anna Gelman, weaves these stories in and out of each other toward an inevitable collision. Some sections of this vignette-style performance are stronger than others, but the overarching consistency is found in the community on stage. The Ensemble reminds us that there is power in togetherness. When misused, that power is distorted and destructive. When cared, for that power is revolutionary.

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Firebrand Theatre Pays Tribute with Always… Patsy Cline

(left to right) Harmony France and Christina Hall. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Patsy Cline is comfort, love, and heartbreak. Her music charms you, wraps you in a blanket and slips you a little whiskey. In Firebrand Theatre’s production of Always… Patsy Cline, Houstonite Loiuse Seger knows this experience all too well. Louise is drawn to Patsy Cline, and on one fateful night, the two meet and forge a friendship that lasts the rest of Patsy Cline’s life. This is the story of a single incredible night when two women found a bit of themselves in each other and director Brigitte Ditmars invites the audience to find themselves in a country song.

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‘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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‘Broken Bone Bathtub’ is a Spare, Straightforward, and Entrancing Piece of Immersive Theatre

When you purchase your ticket for Broken Bone Bathtub, the confirmation email you receive will contain directions not to any specific theater, but rather to a residential building somewhere in Chicago. The venue changes from night to night, ensuring that no show is exactly the same.

Upon arrival at the third-floor apartment in Rogers Park where the evening’s entertainment was to take place, we were ushered into a living room which served as a sort of theater lobby. When the performance was about to start, we were asked to arrange ourselves by height. Carefully, methodically, the producer and usher arranged us in the bathroom around the bathtub, where performer Siobhan O’Loughlin sat fully nude, her only costume some bubbly suds and a dash of glittery blue eyelid makeup. We sat on stools and boxes, packed in like Tetris pieces — one patron was seated on the closed toilet seat. When we were ready to start, Siobhan raised her head and began to speak quite suddenly, without preamble. She spoke with such an easy familiarity that it seemed less like the start of a show, and more like jumping into a fascinating conversation that is already clipping along at a good pace by the time you start to pay attention.

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Porchlight Music Theatre’s Sunset Boulevard Remembers Golden Age Glamor but Forgets the Horror 

Hollis Resnick as Norma Desmond. Photo by Michael Courier.

Sunset Boulevard, the famous film turned musical sensation, places the Golden Age of cinema on the stage. This Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, with lyrics and book by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, adapts the film by Billy Wilder into a stirring operetta. This production in particular left me humming the dramatic themes on my way back to the train. Directed by Artistic Director Michael Weber, Porchlight Music Theatre’s Sunset Boulevard features stunning design, an incredibly skilled cast, and a muddled narrative that loses the most memorable line from the film during the final moments of the musical.

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‘Invisible’ at Her Story Theater Examines the Personal and Political Impacts of Racism

L to R: Lisa McConnell, Maddy Flemming. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Invisible by Mary Bonnett, produced by Her Story Theater, seeks to complicate our contemporary understandings of the KKK, and their lasting impact on the relationship between racism and political power in the US. Directed by Cecille Keenan, the play focuses on a white couple, Mabel (Morgan Laurel Cohen) and Tom (Brad Harbaugh), who are well established in their small town of Mounds.

As a well respected man in town, Tom is naturally part of Mounds’ Ku Klux Klan chapter. Mabel, meanwhile has taken the role of an officer in Mounds’ newly formed branch of the Women’s KKK. Mabel, however, is something of a misfit and struggles to get along with the other two WKKK officers, despite her commitment to the KKK’s values of Christianity and domesticity. Across town, Jubal (Lisa McConnell), a Black artist and activist, lives with Ghost Girl (Maddy Fleming), an albino girl she found abandoned as a baby. When Mr. Stein (Richard Covotsky), a Jewish reporter from Chicago, travels through Mounds, tension builds and leads to death and destruction.

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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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