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”

‘Volta’ is Cirque Du Soleil’s Mysterious and Exciting Adventure at Soldier Field

Volta is Cirque Du Soleil’s newest touring show that is based on the theme of embracing differences, social media isolation, and finding sparks of childhood magic.

Circuses have a long and exploited history, especially in America. Yet, Cirque is all the fun of the circus made sophisticated and without the guilt. It probably why it’s still one of the few lasting circus-like traveling shows. I have nostalgia towards the circus and big top events. I crave the spectacle and audience engagement that the circus provides, but not the elephant and horse animal abuse from touring circus’ like Barnum and Bailey or The Ringling Brothers. Not to mention, the added danger of performers working with hungry and wild animals, which resulted in the closing of many circus’ in the 1990s and 2000s. I wasn’t disappointed with Volta, because it’s more than just a “circus”. Cirque Du Soleil’s marketing of being beyond a “circus” has become a rising trend in spectacle performances. Continue reading “‘Volta’ is Cirque Du Soleil’s Mysterious and Exciting Adventure at Soldier Field”

Red Tape Theatre Delivers a Raucous History with ‘We Are Pussy Riot (or) Everything is P.R.’

Who gets to write the story when our present becomes the past? Does that privilege fall to the global leaders, historians, celebrities, or the revolutionaries? We Are Pussy Riot (or) Everything is P.R. by Barbara Hammond documents this struggle for historical authorship by looking at a recent moment in time. Not too long ago, Pussy Riot went to trial for their public protest of the 2012 Russian election. Everyone seemed to have something to say, and the truth of the matter is still up for debate. Director Kate Hendrickson uses Red Tape Theatre’s intimate space as a communal square where the public record is laid bare in ferocious fashion. We Are Pussy Riot (or) Everything is P.R. is just as raucous, satirical, and tragic as the group itself. Continue reading “Red Tape Theatre Delivers a Raucous History with ‘We Are Pussy Riot (or) Everything is P.R.’”

‘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”

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”

Porchlight Music Theatre’s ‘A Chorus Line’ Has Some Big Dance Shoes to Fill

In 1975, A Chorus Line introduced a show-biz musical with a new perspective to the Broadway theatre canon. Since then it has been a staple in theatre songbooks across the country. Inspired by true stories, A Chorus Line is the day in the life of a Broadway audition where 16 dancers leave it all on the stage for one of eight coveted positions. Public schools, community theaters, and the largest performance halls have all had boxes of golden tuxedos sent through their doors for that one final show-stopping number. Director Brenda Didier is no stranger to the phenomenon. In Porchlight Theatre’s program for their production of A Chorus Line, Didier wrote that “once A Chorus Line has become a part of your life, it stays with you.” I have to agree. Wholeheartedly. Every production of A Chorus Line is both building off and working against that relationship the audience already has with this musical. Porchlight Theatre’s production gets lost somewhere in the middle and is a shadow of that one singular sensation. Continue reading “Porchlight Music Theatre’s ‘A Chorus Line’ Has Some Big Dance Shoes to Fill”