‘Kentucky’ at the Gift Theatre Takes You on a Hilarious and Devastating Journey Back Home Again

(left to right) Ana Silva, Emjoy Gavino and Maryam Abdi. Photo by Claire Demos.

Kentucky begins with Hiro (Emjoy Gavino), a young New York professional, as she plans her first trip home to her small Kentucky town in years. Hiro’s abusive father (Paul D’Addario) has kept her away, but she is making an exception to travel home for her sister’s wedding. Or rather, as she reveals to her therapist (Ana Silva) in the opening scene, to sabotage her sister’s wedding; she believes that 22-year-old Sophie (Hannah Toriumi) is far too young to make such a decision. Throughout her journey, Hiro is serenaded by a Greek chorus of sorts, played by Ana Silva and Maryam Abdi, who alternate between singing about the events and playing background characters.

The tone here hews heightened and comedic despite the serious issues explored in the script; director Chika Ike has managed to weave together the two extremes quite well. Kentucky at The Gift Theatre is a delightful comic romp wrapped around a heart-rending family drama, that asks pressing questions about the long game of self-identity, and breaking cycles of abuse.

Continue reading “‘Kentucky’ at the Gift Theatre Takes You on a Hilarious and Devastating Journey Back Home Again”

‘Broken Bone Bathtub’ is a Spare, Straightforward, and Entrancing Piece of Immersive Theatre

When you purchase your ticket for Broken Bone Bathtub, the confirmation email you receive will contain directions not to any specific theater, but rather to a residential building somewhere in Chicago. The venue changes from night to night, ensuring that no show is exactly the same.

Upon arrival at the third-floor apartment in Rogers Park where the evening’s entertainment was to take place, we were ushered into a living room which served as a sort of theater lobby. When the performance was about to start, we were asked to arrange ourselves by height. Carefully, methodically, the producer and usher arranged us in the bathroom around the bathtub, where performer Siobhan O’Loughlin sat fully nude, her only costume some bubbly suds and a dash of glittery blue eyelid makeup. We sat on stools and boxes, packed in like Tetris pieces — one patron was seated on the closed toilet seat. When we were ready to start, Siobhan raised her head and began to speak quite suddenly, without preamble. She spoke with such an easy familiarity that it seemed less like the start of a show, and more like jumping into a fascinating conversation that is already clipping along at a good pace by the time you start to pay attention.

Continue reading “‘Broken Bone Bathtub’ is a Spare, Straightforward, and Entrancing Piece of Immersive Theatre”

Porchlight Music Theatre’s Sunset Boulevard Remembers Golden Age Glamor but Forgets the Horror 

Hollis Resnick as Norma Desmond. Photo by Michael Courier.

Sunset Boulevard, the famous film turned musical sensation, places the Golden Age of cinema on the stage. This Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, with lyrics and book by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, adapts the film by Billy Wilder into a stirring operetta. This production in particular left me humming the dramatic themes on my way back to the train. Directed by Artistic Director Michael Weber, Porchlight Music Theatre’s Sunset Boulevard features stunning design, an incredibly skilled cast, and a muddled narrative that loses the most memorable line from the film during the final moments of the musical.

Continue reading “Porchlight Music Theatre’s Sunset Boulevard Remembers Golden Age Glamor but Forgets the Horror “

‘Invisible’ at Her Story Theater Examines the Personal and Political Impacts of Racism

L to R: Lisa McConnell, Maddy Flemming. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Invisible by Mary Bonnett, produced by Her Story Theater, seeks to complicate our contemporary understandings of the KKK, and their lasting impact on the relationship between racism and political power in the US. Directed by Cecille Keenan, the play focuses on a white couple, Mabel (Morgan Laurel Cohen) and Tom (Brad Harbaugh), who are well established in their small town of Mounds.

As a well respected man in town, Tom is naturally part of Mounds’ Ku Klux Klan chapter. Mabel, meanwhile has taken the role of an officer in Mounds’ newly formed branch of the Women’s KKK. Mabel, however, is something of a misfit and struggles to get along with the other two WKKK officers, despite her commitment to the KKK’s values of Christianity and domesticity. Across town, Jubal (Lisa McConnell), a Black artist and activist, lives with Ghost Girl (Maddy Fleming), an albino girl she found abandoned as a baby. When Mr. Stein (Richard Covotsky), a Jewish reporter from Chicago, travels through Mounds, tension builds and leads to death and destruction.

Continue reading “‘Invisible’ at Her Story Theater Examines the Personal and Political Impacts of Racism”

‘Sundown, Yellow Moon’ at Raven Theatre Exudes a Warm, Comforting Glow

As Sundown, Yellow Moon opens, two sisters in their twenties, Ray (Liz Chidester) and Joey (Diana Coates), have returned to their small hometown in Tennessee to support their father, Tom (Will Casey), as his life seems to be falling apart following his divorce. Ray is undergoing a bit of a reckoning herself after quitting her job — and Joey, petrified at the thought of leaving the country for a foreign study, takes comfort in long runs in the woods late at night.

The script from Rachel Bonds is extremely character-driven; there is not much plot to be found. I have heard some criticism calling this show a bit meandering and slow — which I can’t refute, exactly, except to say that slowness can soar to great heights when done with intention, and I found it absolutely sublime here. Director Cody Estle has managed to craft an evening of enthralling, intimate moments with attention and care, such that Sundown, Yellow Moon feels engrossing and urgent despite its quietness, and stillness.

Continue reading “‘Sundown, Yellow Moon’ at Raven Theatre Exudes a Warm, Comforting Glow”

‘Oslo’ at Timeline Theatre Muddles the Message of Peacemaking

Tony Award winning play Oslo is a partially fictional account of the events between the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israeli officials leading up to the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, dramatized for the stage by J.T. Rogers. Currently receiving its Chicago premiere, it initially premiered Off-Broadway in June 2016 directed by Bartlett Sher at the Lincoln Center. The original cast then moved to Broadway to reprise their roles in April 2017 receiving awards and acclaim from New York Critics, Outer Critics, Drama Desk, Drama League, Lucille Lortel, Obie awards and other nominations along the way.

Timeline’s highly anticipated co-production of Oslo with Broadway in Chicago seems to fit perfectly with its mission to present stories inspired by history that connect with today’s social and political issues. As a production, it aimed to explore sociologist Terje Rod-Larsen’s theory that trusting in each others’ inherent humanity and building interpersonal human connection is the only basis for healthy debate, and potentially peacemaking. The lobby display as well as a program insert provided a historical guide to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, while a huge column scribbled with sharpie responses asked audience members to participate in the conversation Timeline chose to center: “How do you resolve conflict?” Continue reading “‘Oslo’ at Timeline Theatre Muddles the Message of Peacemaking”

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’”

Rescripted Reveal: Zev Valancy on Dramaturgy and Literary Management

Editor’s Note: Rescripted Reveal is a new essay series asking theatre professionals to give an inside look into their careers and create further transparency between audience and artist. Stage Left’s former Literary Manager Zev Valancy discusses his time with the company, new play development, advice on submitting plays, and what it takes to be a literary manager in today’s world.

It was the fall of 2012, and I was at the Broadway Armory, seeing Chicago Shakespeare’s imported production of the National Theatre of Scotland’s Black Watch for the second time. In the audience was my friend Joe Zarrow. I congratulated him on the workshop his play Principal Principle had received in Providence a few months before. Stage Left, where I was Literary Manager, had done a reading of his play The Pigeons a few years earlier, and he’d submitted Principal Principle for development in our Residency. It hadn’t been chosen, but I remembered the script, and held Joe’s writing in high regard. It was only a month after the resolution of the Chicago Teachers Union strike, so a play about the struggles of teachers in Chicago seemed like it might connect with audiences. I asked him to send me a draft. Continue reading “Rescripted Reveal: Zev Valancy on Dramaturgy and Literary Management”