Key Reviews: ‘Hope: Part II of a Mexican Trilogy’

The Key: Young Critics Mentorship Program is back for our third year, and with a new format! This year’s cohort: Ada Alozie, Alisa Boland, Anyah Royale Akanni,  Hannah Antman, Mariah Schultz, and Yiwen Wu. The third show of our session was Hope: Part II of a Mexican Trilogy produced by Teatro Vista at The Den Theatre. 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. 

Hannah Antman: “Directors Bruce and Gutierrez landed some evocative and heartfelt moments. Hope is a true period piece, in the sense that it showcases the past in order to illuminate something about our world today. I found Betty’s deep fear of the atomic bomb to be especially prescient, reflecting many young people’s current fears about climate change – in 1961 or 2019, being a teenager comes with the threat of the world ending. As an extension of that fear, Betty (excellently portrayed by Caraballo), has a series of imagined phone calls between herself and JFK (and later, Fidel Castro). I found these fantasy phone calls to be particularly compelling, and I wish the rest of the play delved as deep in its theatrical risk-taking.” –  Read Hannah Antman’s full critique and learn more about the author!  Continue reading “Key Reviews: ‘Hope: Part II of a Mexican Trilogy’”

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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‘Sugar in our Wounds,’ an Ode to Black Love in a Time of Great Pain

Sugar in our Wounds by Donja R. Love at First Floor Theater is nestled in the upstairs of the Den Theatre, a space designed by Joy Ahn to hold its audience tightly through the events of the play. Seemingly endless branches that source from an ancient tree glow from within, arching over the space as if to say come closer, I have a story in my roots. If you listen closely, Sam Clapp’s sound design will have you thinking you hear the ancestors murmuring to you as the wind whistles through the branches. Continue reading “‘Sugar in our Wounds,’ an Ode to Black Love in a Time of Great Pain”

‘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.

Continue reading “‘Invisible’ at Her Story Theater Examines the Personal and Political Impacts of Racism”

Key Reviews: The Brothers Size

The Key: Young Critics Mentorship Program is back for our third year, and with a new format! This year’s cohort: Ada Alozie, Alisa Boland, Anyah Royale Akanni,  Hannah Antman, Mariah Schultz, and Yiwen Wu. The first show of our session was The Brothers Size at Steppenwolf for Young Adults. Read selections from each young 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. 

Yiwen Wu:Present, but invisible. For over 2.3 million imprisoned Americans, their life and struggle against the profound racial and social-class biases in our criminal justice system are often overlooked. At Steppenwolf for Young Adults, Tarell Alvin McCraney’s poetically thrilling The Brothers Size strives to confront the brutal legacy of incarceration, through a tender story of brotherhood and love–how the intimate ties that bind us together can free us in a world that fails to be free.” – Read Yiwen Wu’s full critique and learn more about the author! Continue reading “Key Reviews: The Brothers Size”

Rescripted Announces Third Session of The Key: Young Critics Mentorship Program

Rescripted is thrilled to announce the third session of The Key: Young Critics Mentorship Program, September 25 – December 4 and hosted for the second year at Steppenwolf Theater, 1650 N. Halsted. Regina Victor, founder of the online arts journalism platform Rescripted, and entertainment critic Oliver Sava created the 10-week training program for Chicago youth in arts criticism. In league with The Chicago Inclusion Project, The Key has successfully held two sessions, educating young writers on the skills and industry knowledge needed to pursue careers in arts criticism. Alumni of The Key have written for outlets like Chicago Reader, Howlround, The Windy City Times, and Rescripted.

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Ownership vs. Authorship: The Responsibility of the Storyteller in ‘Kiss’

Damascus 2014. 

What images come to mind? This city and year may feel distant to an American audience, especially one quietly observing the opening moments of Haven’s production of Kiss at The Den. Whatever your mind conjured about Damascus, you’ll soon forget this context or question it. Written by Guillermo Calderón, the play follows two couples attempting to hang out with their weekend soaps. But their lives quickly descend into a soap opera of their own. And we watch, amused by the apparent drama and familiar music underscoring moments of cliché passion and momentary rejection (sound design and original music Jeffrey Levin).  Continue reading “Ownership vs. Authorship: The Responsibility of the Storyteller in ‘Kiss’”

Nature Reckons with Power, History, and Violence in ‘Strange Heart Beating’

Weaving together hints of noir, small town angst, and overwhelming structures of power, Cloudgate Theatre’s production of Strange Heart Beating is a powerful play with a magical feel to it. Written by Kristin Idaszak, Strange Heart Beating tells the story of two best friends. One, Leeny (Leah Raidt) is a local single mother whose daughter disappears and is murdered one summer. The other, Teeny ( Jyreika Guest) , is the sheriff of the town and one of the few Black people in town. Narrated by the town lake ( Stephanie Shum ) who is intimately familiar with the town’s histories of violence. Strange Heart Beating makes thoughtful connections between individual and systemic violence, without feeling narrow or didactic. Continue reading “Nature Reckons with Power, History, and Violence in ‘Strange Heart Beating’”

‘Wolf Play’ Raises the Complexities of Adoption

The Gift Theatre’s world premiere of Wolf Play by Hansol Jung is a close up look at the politics of adoption and their personal impact on the children and families involved. Wolf Play follows a short period of time in the life of an adopted boy (Dan Lin), billed as “Wolf”, but variably called “Peter” and “Jeenu”. When the boy is re-homed with a biracial lesbian couple after being adopted from Korea by a white straight couple, he leans into his identity as an abandoned wolf for guidance and comfort. The present day wolf narrates his story, and embodies the child wolf through a Bunraku-style puppet (Stephanie Diaz). As new family tensions and power dynamics unfurl around the wolf in his new environment we watch him adjust and calculate. Continue reading “‘Wolf Play’ Raises the Complexities of Adoption”

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”