Behind the Curtain: In Conversation with Playwright-Director Monty Cole

On June 4th, as we reported, the four playwrights slotted for this year’s Ignition Festival at Victory Gardens published an open letter withdrawing their plays. On the evening of June 5th, as the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Chicago drew thousands of marchers to the streets, I sat down (virtually) with Monty Cole for a wide ranging discussion of his project-in-progress, BLACK LIKE ME, that had been slated to headline Ignition. We spoke about the play, his progression from director to playwright, and how Radical Empathy is at the core of his work.

The following is a distilled transcription of our wide ranging conversation (minus many minutes of me fan-girling about his recent projects including his flawless BROTHERS SIZE at Steppenwolf for Young Adults, his triumphant INCENDIARY at Goodman New Stages, and the deceptively soapy ‘til it wasn’t KISS at Haven.) 

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Victory Gardens Theater Playwrights Withdraw From Ignition Festival of New Plays

All four playwrights have pulled their plays from the 2020 Ignition Festival at Victory Gardens’ Theatre. Read the full letter below, originally published on Medium.

As the 2020 Ignition Festival of New Plays at Victory Gardens approaches, we four emerging playwrights have decided to pull our respective plays from this development opportunity. We demand that leadership in Chicago theaters dispense with hollow gestures of solidarity, hold themselves accountable for past mistakes, and listen to the needs of their community and artists. Continue reading “Victory Gardens Theater Playwrights Withdraw From Ignition Festival of New Plays”

Columbia College Student Questions A Professor’s Potentially Offensive Language, Columbia Professors Villify Student in the Press

There are two types of education for the undergraduate theatre professional of color in America.

Option 1: An invigorating education where teachers can help you place your lived experiences in an academic canon and define your place in the world. This empowering approach allows you to fully step into yourself as an artist.

Option 2: An oppressive education that requires you to become an EDI expert before the age of 22, sharpen your ability to articulate yourself, and learn to facilitate your own safety and growth. This creates a very fierce, visionary, albeit traumatized artist. 

A student at Columbia College recently got a steaming portion of number two when her white professor Paul Amandes decided to use the phrase “magical negro” to explain a character death in his student’s work. Look left, look right. You guessed it, not a Black person in sight. The only person who could even challenge the professor was the student of color whose work he was also critiquing: Estefania Unzueta. When she brought up that the language was inappropriate in class on May 4th, Unzeuta describes his response:. Continue reading “Columbia College Student Questions A Professor’s Potentially Offensive Language, Columbia Professors Villify Student in the Press”

‘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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A Hard-Earned Hope in ‘How I Learned to Drive’

How I Learned to Drive by Paula Vogel is a series of recollections and rememberings from the perspective of a grown woman who was sexually abused by her uncle throughout her childhood. Presented by Raven Theatre Company, the character known as “L’il Bit” – a name she hates to be called – narrates her journey along with a chorus of three people. Together they chronicle L’il Bit coming to terms with her trauma and her complex feelings about her uncle and family. Throughout the performance, the narrator grapples with forgiveness, desire, fear, dependence, trust and love. There is never a question that her uncle is a pedophile with a pattern of abusive behavior who groomed and manipulated her (and perhaps her cousin) for his own erotic and emotional satisfaction. Continue reading “A Hard-Earned Hope in ‘How I Learned to Drive’”

‘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 Vital and Gritty ‘In The Blood’ at Red Tape Theatre

Red Tape Theatre performs In the Blood by Suzan-Lori Parks at The Ready in Ravenswood. The theatre is a narrow strip covered in graffiti. It’s fresh, and I can tell because the scent of paint is unmistakable. Among this jumble of tags, the word “SLUT” screams in a bright pink that adds to the cruelty of the word. Hester (Jyreika Guest) is a downtrodden mother of five who has made the space under an overpass her home, a home now defaced with this vile word she has no way of reading. It is under this bridge where Hester cares for her children and is cared for by no one. Continue reading “A Vital and Gritty ‘In The Blood’ at Red Tape Theatre”

La Ruta – Ni Una Mas (Not One More)

Ni una mas. Ni una mas. Ni una mas.

La Ruta- written by Isaac Gomez and directed by Steppenwolf Ensemble member, Sandra Marquez- takes place 20 years ago, yet this story is full of similarities to the world in which we now live. Here in the United States, we have the Me Too Movement. Latin America has the Ni Una Mas Movement.

Isaac Gomez’s La Ruta follows femicide (the deliberate killing of women because they are women) in Cuidad Juárez. It is important to note that femicide is a global reality that isn’t unique to Mexico. Since the early 1990’s, thousands of women have disappeared without a trace in Juárez. Continue reading “La Ruta – Ni Una Mas (Not One More)”

The Spectacle of Suffering in ‘Through the Elevated Line’

 

Set in Chicago, the play centers on the arrival of Razi Gol (Salar Ardebili)  to his sister’s apartment in Uptown, right off of the Lawrence CTA Red Line. Soraya (Catherine Dildilian), Razi’s sister, has been in the United States for more than a decade after leaving her family in Shiraz, Iran to attend school and lives with her white Irish-American husband Chuck (Joshua K. Volkers).   Continue reading “The Spectacle of Suffering in ‘Through the Elevated Line’”

‘Skeleton Crew’ Revisits the Financial Crisis on a Factory Floor

Skeleton Crew, the final play in Dominique Morisseau’s Detroit trilogy, just finished its run at Northlight Theatre, directed by Ron OJ Parson. The play is set during the economic crisis of 2008 in the breakroom of one of the last small autoparts plants standing. This is highly skilled work and the men and women who do it are proud, and proudly union. But their jobs and way of life are hanging by a thread. Faye (Jacqueline Williams) has had a thirty-nine year career doing every manner of job in the factory. She’s also union rep as well as unofficial matriarch. Faye mothers her two young coworkers, Dez (Bernard Gilbert) and Shanita (AnJi White) with a mix of deadpan humor and straight talk. Their unit manager, Reggie (Kelvin Roston Jr.) is torn between trying to save his worker’s jobs and trying to prepare them for the inevitable. When factories are closing unions have little leverage and Faye’s lifelong relationship with Reggie complicates her ability to be the best union rep she can as things get more and more desperate. Continue reading “‘Skeleton Crew’ Revisits the Financial Crisis on a Factory Floor”