‘The Undeniable Sound of Right Now’ is a Nostalgia Trip That Doesn’t Reach its Destination

The Undeniable Sound of Right Now by Laura Eason is not about the present. “Now” in the play’s title refers to Chicago in 1992. Grunge is spreading across the country and House Music shakes nightclubs with its electric tune. Hank’s Bar was the place to be during the 70s wave of Rock n’ Roll, but in 1992 “Now” and “Then” clash within the walls of this cultural relic. BJ Jones directs the Chicago premiere at Raven Theatre and this project on paper promises something worthwhile. The final product, however, is unsatisfying. Continue reading “‘The Undeniable Sound of Right Now’ is a Nostalgia Trip That Doesn’t Reach its Destination”

Pontifications on Pregnancy in ‘The Crowd You’re In With’

The Crowd You’re In With at AstonRep takes place on an evocative set designed by Jeremiah Barr, the deck and backyard of a rundown suburban house that is set out for a 4th of July barbecue. Small accents, like deck chairs, fairy lights, and a tacky tablecloth, create a very lived-in feel. The lighting from Samantha Barr is atmospheric and welcoming; the yellow light from inside spills out through a screen door, and the fading blue ambience captures the feeling of a warm summer evening quite well.

We open at the barbecue of married couple Jasper (Martin Diaz-Valdes) and Melinda (Sara Pavlak McGuire) — consisting of another mid-thirties couple, the pregnant Windsong (Maggie Antonijevic) and the slightly obnoxious Dan (Nick Freed), the older married couple and landlords who live upstairs, Tom and Karen (Javier Carmona and Lynne Baker), and their single musician friend Darcy (Erin O’Brien). As it is slowly revealed that Jasper and Melinda are trying to get pregnant, the conversation turns to the subject of why some people choose to have kids, and why some don’t. Continue reading “Pontifications on Pregnancy in ‘The Crowd You’re In With’”

A Visceral, Intrusive, and Rip-Roaring Ninety Minutes at ‘First Love is the Revolution’

Are you turned on by foxes?

No? That’s probably good; that likely means you are a human with a (relatively) normal libido — and you are probably not, for instance, a roommate of mine who once professed to me his sincere attraction to the rabbit from Zootopia.

It is important to note, however, that furry communities do exist on this weird and wide world of ours, and as long as they are not acting unethically I am loathe to yuck their yum. People have all sorts of strange fetishes that will never make sense to me, but which also do not concern me in the slightest. First Love is the Revolution, though, wants you to be concerned — and not specifically about bestiality, which the play wields as a tool to make you take a hard look at uncomfortable truths. Rather, First Love examines the deluded notion that we civilized, upright humans are at our core any different from the myriad of species we torture, murder, and force into extinction every single day. And through this, of course, it also becomes a metaphor for how we treat each other. Continue reading “A Visceral, Intrusive, and Rip-Roaring Ninety Minutes at ‘First Love is the Revolution’”

Drury Lane’s Ambitious, Entertaining ‘Matilda’ Leans Toward the Chaotic

I love Matilda. Specifically the musical which I’ve seen twice on the West End, which is why I was so excited to review Drury Lane’s production directed by Mitch Sebastian. Part of my love comes from nostalgia as I grew up watching the 1996 movie and reading Roald Dahl’s classic novel. The other part of my admiration for Matilda comes from the fact that Roald Dahl wasn’t afraid to tackle tough issues in his books, and this musical doesn’t shy away from those issues either, unlike the 1996 movie. The show themes range from revenge, abuse, power hierarchies, loneliness, trauma, and the loss of adolescence. Continue reading “Drury Lane’s Ambitious, Entertaining ‘Matilda’ Leans Toward the Chaotic”

‘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”

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”

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?”

‘Girl in the Red Corner’ at Broken Nose Theatre

Broken Nose Theatre’s production of Girl in the Red Corner by Stephen Spotswood brings the long and complicated relationship women have with rage to the mat. Newly free from an abusive relationship yet trapped in her mother’s house, the now unemployed Halo (Elise Marie Davis) steps into a mixed martial arts gym for the first time. Under the expertise of her trainer, Halo discovers a new passion that allows her to break away from the family drama constantly at her heels. Elizabeth Laidlaw directs the Midwest premiere of Spotswood’s script, and the result is a ferocious heroine’s journey. Continue reading “‘Girl in the Red Corner’ at Broken Nose Theatre”

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is Rib-Cracking Fun

A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, by Robert L. Freedman and Steven Lutvak, takes place in London at the turn of the 20th century, and concerns the adventures of middle-class stockbroker Monty Navarro (Andrés Enriquez) — who, upon learning that his recently deceased mother was disinherited from the obscenely wealthy D’Ysquith family (all played by Matt Crowle), sets out to murder his relatives as revenge. And also so that he can, not uncoincidentally, become next in line to be the Earl of Highhurst. Continue reading “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder is Rib-Cracking Fun”