‘The Mothers’ at The Gift Theatre is a Dystopian Sendup of Mommy Influencer Culture

The first act of The Mothers, now playing at The Gift Theatre, is a satirical knife, slipped between the ribs by playwright Anna Ouyang Moench. The second act unflinchingly twists that knife, resulting in an eviscerating theatrical experience adroitly directed by Halena Kays.

The Mothers begins as a dystopian sendup of mommy influencer culture. Set in a hyper-saturated magenta playroom (designed by Lauren Nichols), the caregivers coo at their unseen offspring, placed amongst the audience. At the center of the story is Meg (a propulsive Stephanie Shum), a former lawyer who left her high-powered career for suburban stay-at-home-mom bliss. Meg’s new BFF Ariana (Caren Blackmore, effervescent) exudes an aura of maternal expertise that’s immediately complicated by a casual anti-vaxxer quip. She clashes with Meg’s best friend from law school, Vick (an assured Krystel McNeil) who’s come to visit, leaving her own baby behind. Vick finds no solidarity in her attempts to juggle a demanding legal career and the early months of motherhood. McNeil’s grounded energy provides an effective countercurrent to the electric duo of Shum and Blackmore. Continue reading “‘The Mothers’ at The Gift Theatre is a Dystopian Sendup of Mommy Influencer Culture”

‘Dial M for Murder’ is an Old Fashioned with a Twist That Packs a Holiday Punch

Holiday festivities returned to a fever pitch of decked halls and wassailing from Thanksgiving to New Years, as we staved off the deep and pervasive loneliness the pandemic engendered in us all.  But after years of seeking out sugarplum-sweet holiday fare, this season I was craving something with a little more punch. So I swapped out Kris Kringle for Alfred Hitchcock.

On Christmas Eve, I watched Jimmy Stewart’s star turn in Hitchcock’s Rear Window instead of It’s a Wonderful Life. I persuaded my family to see Jeffrey Hatcher’s new adaptation of Dial M For Murder at Northlight Theatre, instead of more traditional wintry performances populated by Rat Kings or ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future.

Absent literal spirits, Dial M For Murder, is delightfully haunting. Running through January 7, it is adroitly directed by Georgette Verdin, straight off of her equally successful thriller Night Watch at Raven Theatre. Verdin is carving out a niche for herself for lovers of mystery plays – and they are having a moment!  Continue reading “‘Dial M for Murder’ is an Old Fashioned with a Twist That Packs a Holiday Punch”

‘Islander’ is a Sea of Innovative Sound From Across the Atlantic

Kinnan is an island divided. Metaphorically, folklorically, and, it turns out, literally. When Islander begins, its inhabitants are engaged in a fierce debate over their future. Should they stay on their island and protect their traditional lifestyle, or accept government funds to relocate to the Mainland? Conceived and originally directed by Amy Draper, Islander is a Scottish folk musical that debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2019, currently running at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre as part of its WorldStage Series.  Continue reading “‘Islander’ is a Sea of Innovative Sound From Across the Atlantic”

‘The Rise and Fall of Little Voice’ at The Gift Theatre is Larger than Life

Billie Holiday. Judy Garland. Amy Winehouse. The particulars change, but the contours are all too familiar: a talent is discovered, milked for all she’s worth, and then discarded. It’s a story that plays out again in Jim Cartwright’s 1992 The Rise and Fall of Little Voice, revived at the Gift Theatre. Thirty years later, a culture of disposability persists in the entertainment industry, as evidenced by this year’s historic WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, and that disposability undeniably compounds with gender, race, class, and other minoritized identities. Continue reading “‘The Rise and Fall of Little Voice’ at The Gift Theatre is Larger than Life”

Flip the Script: Dancing Toward the Apocalypse in Porto

In the sculpture garden at Porto’s Serralves Museu de Arte Contemporânea, there’s a work by Anish Kapoor, the creator of Cloud Gate. Sky Mirror, the sculpture at Serralves, is instantly identifiable to anyone who’s been to Millennium Park. It’s a large, concave mirror tilted toward the sky, reflecting a distortion of the sky that shifts as the viewer changes their perspective.

 Nebula, a solo dance choreographed and performed by Vania Vaneau, made its Portuguese premiere at Serralves in April’s Festival Dias Da Dança (DDD), an international dance festival. A similar concave tool was used by Vaneau, though it was a lens instead of a mirror. Early in the piece, she held it in front of her face in an otherwise pitch-dark theatre, reflecting stage lights back into the audience but illuminating nothing. Thus began Vaneau’s exploration of the space and its environment, which also included incense, charcoal, water, and crystals. Above the stage, the ambient glow of an eclipsed moon, comprised of an empty ring of LED lights, barely penetrated the darkness. Continue reading “Flip the Script: Dancing Toward the Apocalypse in Porto”

Flip The Script: Theatre Down Under

This is a new theatre series covering artistic experiences outside the city of Chicago. Kristin Idaszak writes about the various works they saw at the Sydney Festival. 

A few weeks after the bomb cyclone deep froze Chicago and floods battered the southeast coast of Australia in late December 2022, I arrived at the Sydney Festival, an international festival of performance and culture in Australia. These meteorological events, as well as Australia’s massive brush fires of 2019 and 2020, were on my mind. I was thinking about the weather because I hoped traveling eight thousand miles from home and exploring unfamiliar aesthetic and literal landscapes would reinvigorate my own creative practice, which focuses largely on the environment and the climate crisis. 

Emerging from my own pandemic-induced artistic hibernation, I was eager to experience work that offered new creative methodologies, and reconceived the look, feel, and sound of environmental performance. My first week at the festival consisted of a double-header of pieces inspired by climate change, Sun  & Sea and Polar Force, followed by a dance theatre performance grounded in First Nations dramaturgy.

Continue reading “Flip The Script: Theatre Down Under”