‘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.

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‘Sheepdog’ at Shattered Globe Theatre is a Love Story for Twisted Times

As Sheepdog opens, Amina, a black police officer, tells the story of her life-changing relationship with Ryan, a white officer on the Cleveland police force. Doubt wedges itself between the two when an officer in their department shoots and kills a young black man. The script, from playwright Kevin Artigue, is raw and romantic. Wardell Julius Clark directs this heartbreaking love story with an empathy that informs the entire performance. This tender, stylized production is directed with a care that is dangerously vulnerable. Shattered Globe Theatre’s production of Sheepdog places tragedy under the microscope to discover a kaleidoscopic blend of the beautiful and the ugly.

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‘Stop Kiss’ (Pride Films and Plays and Arc Theatre) Illustrates the Duality of Queer Life

Stop Kiss by Diana Son is the story of two young women, Sara (Kylie Anderson) and Callie (Flavia Pallozzi), living in New York in the late nineties. Each scene in the play alternates between two timelines; half of the scenes depict Sara and Callie as they meet for the first time, develop a friendship, and then slowly realize that their friendship might be something much deeper, lovelier, and more serious than they initially thought. Other scenes depict a near future where Sara is attacked by a violent man after her and Callie’s first kiss, in an act of homophobic violence. Callie must deal with the various reactions of friends, family, police, and the news media, while still struggling with her evolving feelings for Sara.

Stop Kiss is a play about the dichotomy of being queer; its very structure is a contrast between discovering the joy and freedom of stepping away from societal norms, and the pain caused by an unjust society which punishes that discovery at every turn. Director Kanomé Jones has put together an ensemble that understands this dichotomy on a visceral level, with the result that this collaboration between Pride Films and Plays and Arc Theatre touched something deep within my little queer heart in a way that no show in recent memory has.

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‘Dance Nation’ at Steppenwolf Theatre Captures the Whimsical Terror of Tween Angst

Dance Nation, written by Clare Barron and directed by Lee Sunday Evans, captures the sweet, strange and uncomfortable aspects of growing up in and surviving the world of competitive tween dance, as we follow the adventures of six young girls preparing for a national tournament. A finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize, the play received its world premiere at Playwrights Horizons in 2018 and ran at the Almeida Theatre in London before coming to Steppenwolf for its regional premiere.

Armed with a multi-generational cast and a healthy dose of whimsy, this production succeeds in telling this story in a way that required the magic of a theatre. It invokes imagination, is anything but expected, and in this way subverts the classic coming of age story into something as weird, messy, and wonderful as actual puberty. The dances are less literal and more figurative, capturing each character’s essence. One that stood out in particular perfectly captures the importance of ‘dance face’, and puts it up front and center with the assistance of some impeccable tech. Transformative lighting by Heather Gilbert moves us seamlessly through time and space, guiding the audience along a non-linear plot. Sound design by Mikhail Fiksel perfectly underscores each dance, monologue, and transition; movement and sound feel intertwined into a well choreographed dance piece.

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‘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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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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‘Packing’ at About Face Theatre is an Enthralling Queer Autobiography

Pictured: Scott Bradley. Photo by Cody Jolly.

Packing at About Face Theatre is a solo piece written and performed by Scott Bradley, and directed by Chay Yew. It is mostly autobiographical, as Scott tells his personal story of growing up in rural Iowa, discovering he was gay, dealing with bullying and abuse, living through the AIDS crisis of the 80’s, and continuing to struggle with depression, anxiety, and addiction, until present day. Despite the many dark moments, “Packing” is an empowering story: Scott writes with a deft and clever voice, and an eye towards themes of strength, persistence, and overcoming hardship.

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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’”

‘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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