a nod to Shaw, ‘brother sister cyborg space’ explores moral responsibility and societal ills

What if Adam and Eve started life in outer space? What if The Holy Spirit was artificial intelligence? What if billionaires were forced to listen to the working class? What if some prominent activists are able to take social risks due to class privilege? What if you had the opportunity to change the lives of those most at risk? These are just a few of the world bending questions that playwright Paul Michael Thomson is posing in his new play, brother sister cyborg space

At the top of the show, the world is cracked open. We are struck with one extraterrestrial image after another (projections Michael Commendatore), with a silhouetted astronaut waving at us from far, far away upstage. Set pieces (designed by Steven Abbott) move in and out of view revealing new worlds, accompanied by a tectonic, booming aural landscape (sound, Jeffrey Levin). This visual world building by director Terry Guest defines the play’s scope – the use of magical realism signals to us that this will not simply be a living room play. Thomson’s play, brother sister cyborg space creates room for the emotional, the visual, and the visceral. Movement utilized inside the play is essential, whether it comes from the set or the actors, as the intellectual text would be impenetrable without it.  Continue reading “a nod to Shaw, ‘brother sister cyborg space’ explores moral responsibility and societal ills”

Steppenwolf Theatre’s “POTUS” Or, Behind Every Successful Regional Theater is an Artistic Team Trying to Keep It Alive

“I hope audiences are reminded how awesome it feels to laugh with strangers.” – Director Audrey Francis on POTUS

POTUS is for lovers of Scandal or West Wing. Except the president is unsexy, unintuitive, and puppeteered by seven women on the verge of a panic attack. As the days get darker and colder than our politics, if you’re looking to laugh out loud, run to see Steppenwolf’s POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive by Selina Fillinger.

In POTUS, time moves how I’d imagine it does in the White House; fires burning everywhere, everyone busting their asses to put the fires out as quickly and quietly as possible. But after a while of watching the White House staff running around, the audience is able to see the treadmill under their feet; they are going fast, but they’re also going nowhere. Regina Garcia’s set design renders this concept literal. The “women in charge of the man in charge” are tasked with traversing over a rotating, circular floor in the middle of the stage. They’re running in place– in heels– trying their best to do their job well. In this world, a job well-executed means being invisible as one of the marionettists running the country via the president. Continue reading “Steppenwolf Theatre’s “POTUS” Or, Behind Every Successful Regional Theater is an Artistic Team Trying to Keep It Alive”

Steep Theatre’s ‘The Writer’ is a Surprising Escapist Meta Adventure

I entered The Edge Theater already wary. I was going into The Writer knowing nothing of the play except what the title tells me. That it’s about, well, a writer. A playwright.

Plays about plays tend to be didactic and masturbatory. Artists are so close to the subject that it renders the play incapable of complex analysis. As it turns out, masturbatory didacticism is intentionally the driving force of The Writer, and playwright Ella Hickson weaponizes these themes in such a way that complicates it further than other plays of the genre.

The Writer is about escapism. Continue reading “Steep Theatre’s ‘The Writer’ is a Surprising Escapist Meta Adventure”

‘The Great Khan’ Muddles the Past, Present and Plot

The Great Khan by Michael Gene Sullivan is positioned to be a dynamic ensemble play that examines our troubled global history through the eyes of contemporary high schoolers. The theater immediately establishes a youthful setting with vibrant lighting and Chance the Rapper playing over the speakers. In the first scene, we meet a guarded Jayden who is shaken awake by an armed intruder, a young girl named Ant. Redtwist Theatre’s summary of this play promises that these are our two main characters. This premise is lost well within the first act, and Ant quickly becomes a background character on Jayden’s journey. Continue reading “‘The Great Khan’ Muddles the Past, Present and Plot”

Drive-In To The End of The World: Preston Choi, Marti Lyons, and Regina Victor in Conversation

Preston Choi’s Drive-In To the End of the World will have a public showing presented by Sideshow Theatre Company in residence at Victory Gardens on March 25th. Directed by Sideshow Theatre Artistic Associate and Remy Bumppo Artistic Director Marti Lyons, the play is the culmination of a Sideshow Freshness Initiative that evolved into a customized residency for Choi. Dramaturg and Artistic Director of Sideshow Regina Victor interviews them on the process thus far, and the myths from history, and about ourselves, that drive the play.

Regina Victor: A digital residency is a new experience for all playwrights right now. A truly meta part of this residency is that actors, director and dramaturg will be realizing your play, but you will be in rehearsal digitally. A main theme in Drive-in is the impact on connectivity over great distances, whether they’re mental, spiritual or physical. What do you hope to learn from digitally engaging in the physical space with your collaborators? 

Preston Choi: I think it’s an interesting test of the play, what does your script offer up without your physical presence, where does the language inherently help guide the room into how it might want to be played without you whispering into the director’s or dramaturg’s ear to steer on your behalf. Obviously there are different kinds of development where one can be in active conversation throughout the process, which have been very productive and enjoyable, but I am also interested in forcing myself to tinker with the text exclusively, almost like configuring a rube goldberg machine and setting it off, and not being able to stop it even if it goes off course, but seeing it through to the end to see just how off the rails it gets, or if it makes its way back on course, or if it goes into a unexpected but exciting direction. Being a digital presence makes that a far more achievable and practical method of testing, or rather observing, at least for how my life is functioning at the moment.

RV: Marti, can you tell us what it was like to evolve from a facilitator for the play into its director? What it was like to build this play with Preston through this digital process, inside of this non-traditional structure?  

Marti Lyons: It was super exciting to be part of a playwright-led exploration and to get to work with Regina as dramaturg, and Preston as playwright. Regina and Sideshow, y’alls way of finding out how to support the project and the process in a way that doesn’t necessarily fit a formula. So figuring out what does this play, this playwright really need, and letting that dictate the steps instead of some predictable metric. I was also super excited to be asked to direct because I think Preston’s play is amazing and I really dig Preston’s voice as a writer. So to move from one role to another I felt really informed about the initial work on the process, and also excited to be engaged in a more direct way. The digital process affords us a lot of opportunity for continued development over a longer period of time, and I really appreciate that. Certainly there are also challenges within that structure but I think it’s really helpful for long term collaborations, and that is something that is not always possible otherwise so I’m grateful for that.

RV: And Preston, how has the play grown during this residency? Or, What is a discovery about the piece that really excited you?

PC: I think the play has grown, and in a large way my understanding of it and how much I still have yet to understand with every new bit we gain, the breadth of what it’s touching on is never fully in grasp, but in a fun way. From icon/brand commercialism, late stage capitalism, social media personalities, and expanding the list of cryptids and mythologies, so much has come into the mix since it’s initial inception. The play itself feels like a tip of an iceberg above the water, and everything that informs it, all of the conversations over google meet and zoom, and verbatim notes written in notebooks, have just grown, in a way that is wholly invisible to anyone outside the process, and I hope to get more and more of it above water over time. It’s definitely gotten more grounded, to support some of the fantastical leaps, and playing more with genre, and when genre falls apart or decays into another genre.

RV: Marti, what excites you the most about the play, and Preston’s work? 

ML: I think Preston’s work has an element of danger but is also very funny, and lives in that sweet spot where comedy and horror overlap, which is in tension building into moments that are funny or gasp-worthy, or scream-worthy. That is really thrilling to be a part of, and also really joyful and invigorating to develop.

RV: So Preston, If you had advice for artistic directors trying to create Playwright centered development what would you tell them?

PC: I think there’s a balance between flexibility and rigidity, finding the blend of both that works for the playwright and the team/organization. The adaptability to adjust with whoever is being collaborated with. Having it be not so formless where things feel intangible and nothing nailed down but also not so controlled where things feel like one is being processed on a factory line. I also think reaching out to check on the play and the playwright when things are going great and when things feel like pulling teeth, that consistency of taking a moment to catch up and connect can be really reassuring, especially when it’s over an extended amount of time.

RV: From my perspective, one of the play’s engines is mythology and the ways we contextualize and create our fears. So I have to ask: what is your favorite scary legend or story, in any medium?

PC: I think one urban legend that I find fascinating, that originates from Korea, is “fan death”. If you sleep in an enclosed room, windows shut, doors closed, having an electric fan on could kill you in your sleep, suffocating you. Very human versus technology, but in such a mundane way, not falling from the ceiling and slicing your head off, or one close to your face blowing a fuse, catching fire and burning you, it’s just sitting there slowly depriving you of breath. I’m a big fan of fans, especially when trying to fall asleep, so I’m very grateful to not yet be a victim to this myth.

ML: Certainly one of my favorite scary stories is the girl with the ribbon around her neck, where when the ribbon is removed her head falls off.. Ugh such a good one.

RV: Finally Marti, why should folks come see this reading?

ML: Folks should come see this reading because Sideshow is on the cutting edge of whatever is next for this industry. I think Sideshow is a company of innovation, and vision. Preston’s work is exhilarating, playful, captivating and off-kilter, and requires heightened tone and style, and all the juicy things that as an artist you want to sink your teeth into, and as an audience member you get to lean in and enjoy. I just think Sideshow makes the kind of storefront that you can’t wait to see what y’all are gonna do next. Preston’s work certainly fits that M.O. You will be on the edge of your seat with laughter, it thrills. 

 

“I Hate It Here” Heralds a Fresh New Wave of Theater Innovation

“How do we capture something that is fundamentally, profoundly, a live experience?” – Lili-Anne Brown asks the audience in her pre-show interview at one minute to curtain. I Hate it Here by Ike Holter is Brown’s savvy answer to theatre’s existential dilemma.

A title slide appears: ‘Going live in a few moments,’ which marks the beginning of the incredible adventure you’re about to see. Shot in the style of a 90s sitcom, a reality TV show, or the live medium of Saturday Night Live. Release your need for linear storytelling and let Ike Holter and the cast and crew of I Hate It Here take you on a grief, rage, and pandemic fueled fever dream that will have you laughing and crying for 80 minutes straight.

Did I mention it’s all live? Continue reading ““I Hate It Here” Heralds a Fresh New Wave of Theater Innovation”

‘Out of Love’ At Interrobang and the Friendships That Define Us

“Out of Love” is the story of Grace and Lorna, two young women living in the north of England, and of their lifelong, decades-spanning friendship. Scenes from their intertwining lives are presented out of chronological order, but in a perfectly correct emotional order. Details are teased slowly; exposition is planted carefully through tiny clues in the utterly realistic dialogue, which keeps the audience playing the detective, trying to figure out timelines and life details. The script from Elinor Cook is masterfully written; the decision to present scenes out of sequence is inspired. That’s what memories from such an intense, defining friendship feel like — and it keeps us on our toes, making us pay close attention to what’s going on. Continue reading “‘Out of Love’ At Interrobang and the Friendships That Define Us”

‘Bury Me’ A World Premiere at Dandelion Theatre

Bury Me, written by Brynne Frauenhoffer and receiving its world premiere with Dandelion Theatre, tells the story of a family making hard decisions about marriage, children, and death. By drawing its audience into the complicated lives of one family, Bury Me explores these hotly debated topics through moments of personal exploration.  Continue reading “‘Bury Me’ A World Premiere at Dandelion Theatre”

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”