‘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.

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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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‘At the Wake of a Dead Drag Queen’ is an End-of-Summer Queer Celebration of Life

“When you know your name, you should hang on to it, for unless it is noted down and remembered, it will die when you die.”
–Toni Morrison, Song of Solomon

Courtney Berringers was a drag queen who lived and died in Albany, Georgia, and Terry Guest is here to tell her tale. Far from being a somber affair, At The Wake of a Dead Drag Queen is the end-of-summer celebration of life and femme power you didn’t know you needed. Continue reading “‘At the Wake of a Dead Drag Queen’ is an End-of-Summer Queer Celebration of Life”

‘Casa Valentina’ is a Fascinating and Heart-Wrenching look into LGBTQ History

Casa Valentina takes place in a small resort hotel in the Catskills, a location based off a real historical place called Casa Susanna — which, in the 50’s and 60’s, became a sort of haven for both trans women and cross-dressing men. The hotel’s clientele consisted largely of middle-class white-collar workers who lived as married, heterosexual men for most of the week, but came to Casa Susanna on the weekends to put on women’s clothing, wigs, and makeup, and simply live as women for a short time before returning to their daily lives. Casa Valentina, which was written by Harvey Fierstein and debuted on Broadway in 2014, serves as an only slightly fictionalized glimpse of an oft-forgotten pocket of LGBT history — and this production in particular tackles the play’s issues with confidence and resolve that make the already relevant themes entrancingly urgent. Continue reading “‘Casa Valentina’ is a Fascinating and Heart-Wrenching look into LGBTQ History”

The Human Experience Rings True in Passionate Fairytale ‘Head Over Heels’

Head Over Heels, infused with the classic pop hits of The Go-Go’s as well as original music, has instantly become a musical theater standard. Based on the pastoral prose-poem The Arcadia by Sir Philip Sidney, this jubilant and thoroughly modern piece of theater delights and entertains on a grand scale. Replete with powerhouse songs, dance numbers, and an engaging story, Kokandy Productions’ Head Over Heels is a must-see summer musical. Continue reading “The Human Experience Rings True in Passionate Fairytale ‘Head Over Heels’”

Pride is the Prerogative in ‘Ms. Blakk For President’ at Steppenwolf Theatre

Ms. Blakk For President is a world premiere play performed at Steppenwolf Theatre, co-written and directed by Tina Landau and written by Tarell Alvin McCraney. The show is about Chicago’s very own LGBTQ activist Terence Alan Smith,  better known as the drag queen Joan Jett Blakk, who decided to run a political campaign with Act Up and Queer Nation to bring visibility to the Gay community in crisis during the 90s. It’s a pretty unknown story to someone, like me, who was born in the very late 1990s without context on figures who are often censored in our pop culture. Steppenwolf’s lobby dramaturgy does a great job with filling the atmosphere and historical context about the show. The dramaturgy display (Polly Hubbard) is filled with an engaging Chicago timeline that traces Joan Jett Blakk and the AIDS crisis from the 1970s to present today. There are also a few art installations and a memorial to Marsha P. Johnson. Continue reading “Pride is the Prerogative in ‘Ms. Blakk For President’ at Steppenwolf Theatre”

‘Pillowtalk’ Examines Love Under Oppression

Pillowtalk presented at Victory Gardens Theatre was a highly moving, visceral depiction of two complex and vibrant individuals striving to lead successful lives and love one another within the constraints of white supremacist, heteropatriarchal, capitalism. Buck (AJ Moraga) is a print journalist who wants to do “good work” and change the world. Sam (Basit Shittu) is grateful to be employed by the Republicans after losing his shot at being an Olympic swimmer after a public drug scandal. The couple lives in a pricey, one-bedroom apartment in Brooklyn, NY, represented on stage by a minimalist set built to focus on an untidy, upright bed downstage center. The white apartment walls that flank the bed are creatively represented by two long vertical neon lights connected by a long, horizontal “ceiling” light. Continue reading “‘Pillowtalk’ Examines Love Under Oppression”