‘EthiopianAmerica’ Offers A New Perspective on the American Drama

Walking into EthiopianAmerica, the audience is greeted by the almost ceaseless dancing of the main character Johnny (Simon Gebremedhin). It’s a durational pre-performance which gives the audience a hint of what’s to come. Sam Kebede’s world premiere play directed by Sophiyaa Nayar shows us a slice in the life of an Ethiopian-American family living in southern California, Two brothers, Johnny and Danny (Freedom Martin), are apparent opposites Johnny is a nerd at school and a frenetic ball of energy at home who impulsively watches the same movies again and again. Danny, the younger brother, is a jock at school, but at home he’s distant and lethargic, biting his tongue often and choosing to sketch in his journal instead. As we watch the family move through a day in sped up time, we begin to realize that the children’s behaviors are indicative of a larger imbalance in the family’s power dynamics. Continue reading “‘EthiopianAmerica’ Offers A New Perspective on the American Drama”

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”

A Critical Response of ‘Language Rooms’ at Broken Nose Theatre

While preparing my review of Language Rooms for publication, I saw a post on Facebook from fellow Rescripted critic, dramaturg and writer Yasmin Zacaria Mikhael. Mikhael’s post led me to a second post from actor Arti Ishak, who has previously contributed to an article on Rescripted by Emma Couling. Both of these posts expressed the pain and frustration caused by this production of Language Rooms, and became catalysts for community discussion about the show, its implications and impact, as well as the response of the largely white group of critics that wrote about the show. In reading those discussions, and after reaching out to Mikhael and Ishak, it was clear that my initial response to the show was missing something. Continue reading “A Critical Response of ‘Language Rooms’ at Broken Nose Theatre”

Fear and Loathing in “Language Rooms” at Broken Nose Theatre

* Read Lucas’ reflection on this review in ‘A Critical Response to Language Rooms’

“Don’t be a stranger.” Like much of Yussef El Guindi’s darkly comedic Language Rooms, presented by Broken Nose Theatre, this common phrase is suddenly unsettling. Within the blank foreboding walls of a CIA blacksite, the familiar is made unfamiliar, and the mundane, dangerous. Director Kaiser Zaki Ahmed and his team mine El Guindi’s interrogation of islamophobia in a post 9/11 United States. The result is a potent examination of the current dark night of the soul in which the U.S. and its people presently find themselves. Continue reading “Fear and Loathing in “Language Rooms” at Broken Nose Theatre”

Porchlight Music Theatre’s ‘A Chorus Line’ Has Some Big Dance Shoes to Fill

In 1975, A Chorus Line introduced a show-biz musical with a new perspective to the Broadway theatre canon. Since then it has been a staple in theatre songbooks across the country. Inspired by true stories, A Chorus Line is the day in the life of a Broadway audition where 16 dancers leave it all on the stage for one of eight coveted positions. Public schools, community theaters, and the largest performance halls have all had boxes of golden tuxedos sent through their doors for that one final show-stopping number. Director Brenda Didier is no stranger to the phenomenon. In Porchlight Theatre’s program for their production of A Chorus Line, Didier wrote that “once A Chorus Line has become a part of your life, it stays with you.” I have to agree. Wholeheartedly. Every production of A Chorus Line is both building off and working against that relationship the audience already has with this musical. Porchlight Theatre’s production gets lost somewhere in the middle and is a shadow of that one singular sensation. Continue reading “Porchlight Music Theatre’s ‘A Chorus Line’ Has Some Big Dance Shoes to Fill”

Shattered Globe Theatre’s ‘Hannah and Martin’ is a Winner-Take-All Battle of Wits

Debate plays are danger zones where the ploy to frame the “very fine people on both sides” can quickly fall flat and leave the audience with nothing else but the same arguments they are already bombarded with daily. Shattered Globe Theatre’s production of Hannah and Martin successfully presents a debate focused script without turning into trench warfare. The remarkable text by playwright Kate Fodor stands on its own two pillars of cerebral philosophizing and visceral desire. In his 24th collaboration with Shattered Globe Theatre, director Louis Contey leans on these two pillars to guide a willing audience into the gray area of a life or death debate. Continue reading “Shattered Globe Theatre’s ‘Hannah and Martin’ is a Winner-Take-All Battle of Wits”

What Will ‘The Children’ Sacrifice for a Brighter Tomorrow?

The Children written by Lucy Kirkwood is making its Chicago premiere at Steppenwolf directed by ensemble member Jonathan Berry. The show is performed with a breathtaking set design (Chelsea M. Warren) that consists of a full scale house on the shore of an English cottage complete with sounds of seagulls and waves crashing on the shore (sound by Andre Pluess). This is where the entire show is set, and it juts out, making the audience feel small in comparison. This prominent house is where we meet three retired nuclear scientists who both share and keep secrets. Continue reading “What Will ‘The Children’ Sacrifice for a Brighter Tomorrow?”

‘Cambodian Rock Band’ Delivers Reality-Shattering Performances

Cambodian Rock Band written by Lauren Yee, is directed by Marti Lyons at Victory Gardens. The premise of the play is in the name, but the show encompasses so much more depth than the careers of a rock band. It’s about the trauma of genocide in Cambodia, family dynamics, and how one can repair themselves through music. Continue reading “‘Cambodian Rock Band’ Delivers Reality-Shattering Performances”

Minimal, Striking ‘Hamlet’ Gives Method to the Madness at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of Hamlet introduces the Prince of Denmark (Maurice Jones) as a man standing at the foot of his father’s grave. The rain pours down and this macabre image resembles a superhero origin story. Only Hamlet is no hero. This revenge story has casualties. Barbara Gaines directs a massively skilled cast of players with nuance, intimacy, and the occasional dramatic flare. Continue reading “Minimal, Striking ‘Hamlet’ Gives Method to the Madness at Chicago Shakespeare Theater”

‘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”