‘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.

Continue reading “‘Stick Fly’ at Writers Theatre Asks Poignant Questions About Blackness in America”

‘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.

Continue reading “‘Lipstick Lobotomy’ at Trap Door Theatre Explores Gender in Mental Health”

‘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.

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

‘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.

Continue reading “‘A Doll’s House’ at Raven Theatre Reinvigorates a Timeless Classic”

‘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.

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

Defending Against the Indefensible: ‘How to Defend Yourself’ at Victory Gardens Theater

When I stepped into How To Defend Yourself, Lilliana Padilla’s brilliant new play making its Chicago premier at Victory Gardens Theater, I thought I knew where this story would end before it had even begun. In the wake of their friend’s sexual assault, a few college students, all from different social groups, gather to hold a self-defense workshop. Naturally, I assumed, the girls would learn to respect each other for their differences and become friends, the workshop would help them to feel empowered in their bodies, and we would walk away feeling that the unifying force of our girl power is enough to take on the dark underbelly of the patriarchy. Of course, that’s never how it feels in real life. And this play, directed with care and consciousness by Marti Lyons, honors a truth far more painful and real. How To Defend Yourself is a dismantling of the stories that women tell to each other and to ourselves about how to safely walk through the world.

Continue reading “Defending Against the Indefensible: ‘How to Defend Yourself’ at Victory Gardens Theater”

‘Boys in the Band’ at Windy City Playhouse Feels Both Dated and Timeless

How can a play feel both dated and relevant? Stereotypical yet viscerally authentic? Generic yet highly specific?

Coming off the heels of its 50th year anniversary revival run on Broadway, Boys in the Band, directed by Carl Menninger, is currently playing at Windy City Playhouse in an immersive theatre style. It is considered one of the first mainstream plays to depict gay men in earnest, without resorting to tokenization or jokes. The plot centers around five gay friends who throw a birthday party for their acerbic friend, Harold (Sam Bell Gurwitz), at Michael’s (Jackson Evans) apartment. Coupling Harold’s late arrival is an unsuspected visit by Michael’s college friend, Alan (Christian Edwin Cook), who does not know Michael is gay. As the night unravels, the friends gradually get more drunk and let their insecurities loose. Though the language is notably dated — like the use of “homosexual” instead of “gay” and several racialized comments — the feelings of ostracization and self-loathing from not being validated is a timeless sentiment. The play is timeless; the production feels dated, getting trapped in the time period and inhibiting the story’s ability to radiate its more universal themes.

Continue reading “‘Boys in the Band’ at Windy City Playhouse Feels Both Dated and Timeless”

‘Roe’ at the Goodman Theatre Gives Us Glimpses of a Famous Court Case

Roe at The Goodman Theatre, written by Lisa Loomer and directed by Vanessa Stalling, begins in the past, from the first court case of Roe v. Wade in 1970, and continues well on into the 2000s. The story itself brings in lots of quotes, monologues, facts, and information to give the audience, along with telling a segmented narrative from Norma, the woman behind Roe. This is a lot of information for any audience to take in under two hours, especially given that the show jumps in time. While there is a lot of talking to the audience in the show, we never really learn anything new about the case or who Norma really is. The show isn’t so much about Roe as it is about glimpses of ideas without a solid foundation.

Continue reading “‘Roe’ at the Goodman Theatre Gives Us Glimpses of a Famous Court Case”

‘Do You Feel Anger’ at A Red Orchid Theatre Uses Workplace Comedy to Ask Important Questions

Do You Feel Anger marries high absurdist comedy with a nuanced discussion of empathy and gender politics. The seemingly mind boggling combination enchants, making for an enjoyable yet haunting evening of comedy.

Shortly after her parents unexpectedly separate, Sofia (Emjoy Gavino) begins her assignment  as an empathy coach at a debt collection agency. The office is headed by Jon (Lawrence Grimm), a smooth-talking exec who tries to sell Sofia on his nice guy facade. As she ignores calls from her mother (Jennifer Jelsema), Sofia attempts to wrap her head around the branch’s kooky culture and break the impenetrable wall of its three low-level employees: Jordan (Bernard Gilbert), a suave, self-proclaimed poet, Howie, who devolves into infantile antics when emotionally provoked, and Eva (Sadieh Rifai), a self-effacing chatterbox who is mugged daily in the kitchen—a fact that phases none of her coworkers. All three are haunted by the absence of Jenny, a worker who attempted to burn down the office in the throes of a nervous breakdown. Jenny’s cardigan still hangs on the back of one of the conference chairs. As Sofia comes to understand their workplace environment, the sweater grows in eerie prominence. Fearing for her safety, Sofia begins to assimilate.

Continue reading “‘Do You Feel Anger’ at A Red Orchid Theatre Uses Workplace Comedy to Ask Important Questions”

‘If/Then’ at Brown Paper Box Co. is a Timeline-Bending Musical About Personal Struggles

If/Then, written by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey and directed by Elyse Dolan, is a musical about a city planner named Elizabeth (Amanda Giles) who has just moved to New York after a difficult divorce. In the show’s first moments, she meets some friends in Central Park and is soon presented with a choice: does she go with her friend Lucas (Parker Guidry) to a protest, or does she go with her other friend Kate (Bridget Adams-King) to an outdoor concert in Brooklyn? The following scenes alternate between the two universes created by this seemingly insignificant choice. The Elizabeth who goes with Lucas acquires the nickname of Beth, and soon lands a dream job designing parks in the city. The Elizabeth who goes with Kate soon acquires glasses, and is nicknamed Liz. She does not get her dream job, but eventually pursues a relationship with ex-soldier Josh (Michael Peters), with all the ups and downs that entails.

The ensemble work is incredibly strong; choreographer Katie Capp has created a fast-moving New York City, with all its frantic terror and vibrance, using only the bodies onstage. Music direction (Rachel Hoovler) contributes to the worldbuilding by constructing complex harmonies sung by the ensemble that paint the noise of the city; the singing from the entire cast is excellent. The set, from designer Jeremy Hollis, is mostly brick walls and doorways at odd angles, flexibly portraying a wide variety of locations while also contributing to the general NYC funk. I adore this minimalist approach to musical storytelling; it was thoroughly effective in Brown Paper Box Co’s previous show Little Women last year, and is just as well done here. The small band and barebones design accentuate that this is a show with a very small scope; not about revolutions or worlds, but the inner lives of everyday people.

Continue reading “‘If/Then’ at Brown Paper Box Co. is a Timeline-Bending Musical About Personal Struggles”