‘Pump Boys and Dinettes’ at Porchlight Music Theatre radiantly outshines its script

Porchlight Music Theatre kicks off its 27th season with what it calls a “a country fried phenomenon,” and I can assure you it is precisely that. Set in a North Carolina diner/filling station somewhere off the highway, Pump Boys and Dinettes provides a scintillating peek into the lives and relationships of the guys and gals of the Double Cupp Diner.

Featuring a creative team that consists of core members of Chicago’s Black Ensemble Theatre, this production is a love letter to hometown hospitality and nostalgia. Daryl D. Brooks’ direction is straightforward and concert driven, and works in smooth cohesion with the distinctive and stellar music direction by Robert Reddrick. The choreography by Rueben D Echoles gives the musical numbers an easygoing feel, and never distracts from the vocal prowess of the ensemble. The production stays devotedly true to its backroad roots, shying away from the modern audience’s expectations at every turn. While the book does very little to build the world of the play or illuminate its characters, the score distracts from the musical’s more shallow notes and eventually builds to a very heartfelt goodbye.

Continue reading “‘Pump Boys and Dinettes’ at Porchlight Music Theatre radiantly outshines its script”

‘Fannie (The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer)’ returns to the Goodman Theatre, bigger and better than ever

I first saw Fannie during its tour of Chicago city parks in the fall of 2020. Since that abridged version, the play has gone on to be enjoyed by audiences in Seattle, Washington D.C, Sarasota, Florida and Ashland, Oregon. Written by Cheryl L West, this one-woman play with music exalts the life and workings of civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer.

Hamer was central to the founding of both the National Women’s Political Caucus and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which fought for the political advancement of both women and people of color respectively. She then later launched the Freedom Farm Cooperative, which sought to buy land for black people to collectively farm and sustain black life in Mississippi. A survivor of police brutality, misogyny, voter suppression, and a forced hysterectomy, Hamer is a symbol of perseverance and non-violent resistance.

Continue reading “‘Fannie (The Music and Life of Fannie Lou Hamer)’ returns to the Goodman Theatre, bigger and better than ever”

The Artistic Home’s production of Ruhl’s Eurydice embraces the poetic stasis of limbo, for better and for worse

Directed by Kathy Scambiatterra, the Artistic Home’s production of Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice marks the end of the actor-centered company’s pandemic hiatus. Ruhl’s script breaks from most tellings of the classic Greek myth of Orpheus by adopting the perspective of Eurydice as it explores themes of grief, memory, and eternity. While the Artistic Home’s production captures the visual wonder and lyricism of Ruhl’s script, some elements of the production rob Euryidce’s choices of their stakes, making the show feel more like a string of impressionistic vignettes than a climactic narrative driven by an empowered heroine.

On the night of her wedding, Eurydice falls to her untimely death. As her husband Orpheus desperately searches for a way to resurrect his bride, in the Underworld, Eurydice reunites with her late father and struggles to piece together the details of her life. Karla Corona plays Eurydice with an exuberance that could read as childlike were it not tempered by her frankness, and the probing, inquisitive gaze of an old-soul. Corona’s Eurydice finds her perfect match in Javier Carmona’s Father, a tender and slow-spoken man full of understated humor. The two have remarkable stage chemistry: Corona’s Eurydice always full of questions or candid observations and Carmona’s Father ready to listen attentively and weigh in with a thoughtful opinion. Enhanced by Scambiatterra’s directorial choice to emphasize moments of humor and joy, the tenderness and delight in the scenes between the father and the daughter make for some of the most moving moments of the play.

Continue reading “The Artistic Home’s production of Ruhl’s Eurydice embraces the poetic stasis of limbo, for better and for worse”

‘My Name is Inanna’ at Red Tape Theatre restores faith in the future of SWANA representation

My Name Is Inanna bends time and space, following a young woman’s journey as an artist and activist through the Iranian revolution, and exploring myths of the goddess she was named after. Red Tape Theatre’s exciting new production speaks to our new hybrid reality with both in person and virtual performances.

A mix of history, song, and personal narrative, Ezzat Ghoushegir’s poetic script flows effortlessly between genres, and moves at an excitingly unpredictable pace. Ghoushegir portrays a brutal honesty around the human cost of a political uprising, without at all pandering to orientalist “trauma porn” tropes that have historically dominated stories of the SWANA (Southwest Asian, North African) region. We don’t only watch Inanna struggle: we see her find joy, love and heartbreak, we see her feel sexy, empowered, goofy, enraged, we see her win and lose, be frivolous and wise — and in that messy complexity, we see her expand what people believe a Persian woman is capable of. The deep and profound cultural competency is evident on all fronts, from the writing to the direction to the casting, a refreshing change in a theatre scene that’s historically quick to produce SWANA stories without SWANA bodies in the room.

Continue reading “‘My Name is Inanna’ at Red Tape Theatre restores faith in the future of SWANA representation”

Shattered Globe and Interrobang Come Together for the Chicago Premiere of ‘This Wide Night’

After 15 years behind bars, Lorraine (Linda Reiter) is a free woman, and she immediately sets out to reunite with her former cellmate Marie (Aila Ayilam Peck). It’s just like old times, which comes as both a relief and a concern for the two formerly incarcerated women struggling to rejoin society after imprisonment. This Wide Night by Chloë Moss is the story of a female friendship that was forged by unavoidable intimacy. Locked safely within the dingy walls of Marie’s studio apartment, Interrobang’s Managing Artistic Director Georgette Verdin joins Shattered Globe Theatre and taps into the lifesaving bonds that make it possible to survive life’s hardships.

Aila Ayilam Peck and Linda Reiter carry the weight of this two-woman play with remarkable skill and instinctive teamwork. Peck’s heartbreaking performance as an abandoned woman with a history of substance abuse has the power to pull the audience’s attention – until Reiter comes barreling onstage to break the tension with a hilariously jolting exclamation. Over the course of the play, the distance that has grown between the two after Marie’s release steadily closes. What at first seems like an almost comical inconvenience transforms into a codependent and deeply intimate relationship. Peck and Reiter establish a tragically beautiful connection that transcends their generational divide. Whenever one of them is missing from the stage, the world feels a little wrong.

Continue reading “Shattered Globe and Interrobang Come Together for the Chicago Premiere of ‘This Wide Night’”

East West Players’ ‘The Sitayana’ views the world through the eyes of a deserving heroine

Originally postponed from May 2020, Lavina Jadhwani’s The Sitayana (Or, How to Make an Exit) is a captivating retelling of the Ramayana which breaks from the original Sanskrit epic by centering Princess Sita rather than her husband Prince Ram. Directed by Reena Dutt and Produced by the East West Players, EnActe Arts, and Hypokrit Productions, this one-woman show dares to be as joyful as it is probing, and to explore the question: can a loving partnership survive the demands and expectations of idealized womanhood?

At the beginning of the play, the teenage Princess Sita (played on alternate nights Nikita Chaudhry, Sheetal Gandhi, and Minita Gandhi) eagerly awaits the man who can string Shiva’s bow, the man whom the gods have deemed worthy to wed her. Her prayers are answered in the form of young Prince Ram, who whisks her away to his kingdom of Ayodhya, where he vows to Sita that he will forever stay by her side—not just as her husband, but as her friend. Sita’s idyllic life in Ayodhya is short lived. When Prince Ram is ousted from his kingdom, she remains true to her dharma and follows him into exile, where her loyalty and fortitude is put to test after test.

Continue reading “East West Players’ ‘The Sitayana’ views the world through the eyes of a deserving heroine”

Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre’s ‘Songs For A New World’ is a Refreshing and Revivifying Comeback for In-Person Theatre

I arrived at Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre about an hour before curtain for Songs For A New World.. I expected to grab my playbill and head to a local shop for a bite to eat before the play. Instead, I was seated at a round table and given a menu. The last time I had been to a live theatre show was February 2020. I let the nostalgia take hold and let myself bask in the quaintness of storefront theatre. I found myself content and satisfied that Songs for a New World, directed by Fred Anzevino, was my first show back.

Featuring a stripped back set (James Kolditz) with only a huge moon to background the performances, Anzevino’s production is an unembellished and sincere approach to a musical that could easily veer into the overwrought.  By focusing on the actors’ chemistry and performances, Anzevino allows for the lyrics and music to take the foreground. The musical lacks a singular plot and neat-and-tidy character development. Instead, each number works as a stand-alone vignette. What ties the numbers together are that each character sings about moments in their lives that have shaped or affected them in significant ways. Whether on the cusp of a happy moment, or on the brink of a devastating tragedy, each number feels like an invitation. “The River Won’t Flow,” by Man 1 (Eustace J. Williams) and Man 2 (Matthew Hunter), reminded me of the moments in my life where I felt like nothing I did would change my bad outcomes, and  “I’d Give It All For You,” sung by Man 2 & Woman 1 (Nora Navarro) reminded me of the loves in my life I could never turn my back on. In the last few months, I’ve only been able to think of all that I’ve lost. This production was an aesthetic prompting of all the life that has been lived and that will be lived in all the futures. Life has been more than this pandemic, and will be more than this pandemic.

Continue reading “Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre’s ‘Songs For A New World’ is a Refreshing and Revivifying Comeback for In-Person Theatre”

‘Mr. Burns, a post-electric play’ at Theater Wit Finds Power in Escapism

An audience that has been stuck inside our homes for the past year is no stranger to the rewatch. There’s something comforting about revisiting a favorite show, especially when you’ve exhausted anything new that Netflix has to offer. After Disney+ fixed their terrible aspect ratio problem, that show for me was The Simpsons. There are some episodes that I know by heart, and others that I was thrilled to rediscover. There is something about a global collapse that just makes you want to curl up on the couch with your favorite four-fingered family. Theatre Wit takes this desire out of your living room and onto the stage with a colorful revival of Mr. Burns, a post-electric play by Anne Washburn.

Something seismic has happened and the power is gone. Without electricity, modern society crumbles. Survivors who have lost everything work together to salvage the only pieces of their world that remain, the episodes of The Simpsons that they kinda remember. Playwright Anne Washburn, with music by Michael Friedman, explores how stories and pop culture may evolve when society starts over. Washburn roots the script in what is arguably one of the greatest Simpsons episodes of all time: “Cape Fear.” What begins as a few strangers around a fire exchanging punchlines becomes a traveling theatre troupe, which in turn becomes an epic operetta.

Continue reading “‘Mr. Burns, a post-electric play’ at Theater Wit Finds Power in Escapism”

Theatre Y’s ‘YOU ARE HERE: The Emerald Camino Project’ is a Radical Reimagination of What Live Theatre Can Be

For Chicago’s theatre community, the past year and a half has been marked by reckoning. As companies postponed shows and shuttered their doors, artists and theatre-goers alike were forced to mourn some of the most fundamental elements of live theatre: shared space, spontaneity, gathering. Now that live arts are beginning to return to Chicago, the question looms: how will theatre companies grow to incorporate the perspective gained over the past year?

Theatre Y’s YOU ARE HERE: The Emerald Camino Project has an ingenious answer: by making the lost experience of gathering the performance itself.

YOU ARE HERE: The Emerald Camino Project is a month-long series of ambulatory performances held across twelve neighborhoods connected by Chicago’s Emerald Necklace in the South and West Sides. The performance itself feels like a delightful cross between a walking tour, a chaperoned blind date, and an immersive art piece. Before setting out, each participant is paired with a stranger and a Theatre Y actor. The actor guides the two through the walk and facilitates conversation between the two. Led by actor Haman Cross III, the groups walk through the neighborhood, visiting landmarks, listening to presentations by community leaders, and enjoying performances by local artists (in North Lawndale, the performers were high-school-aged rapper Marcus Quinn Jackson and Willie Round, a.k.a. Prince Roc, a rapper and poet gifted with a resonant bass voice). Continue reading “Theatre Y’s ‘YOU ARE HERE: The Emerald Camino Project’ is a Radical Reimagination of What Live Theatre Can Be”

‘School Girls’ Naturally Shines as In-Person Theatre Returns at The Goodman

After opening on March 7, 2020 and enjoying five exciting previews, School Girls; Or, The African Mean Girls Play closed due to national and global strictures regarding the Covid-19 pandemic. The production was set to be a warm return to the Goodman stage for Ghanaian-American playwright Jocelyn Bioh and seasoned Chicago director Lili-Anne Brown, whose most recent triumph of I Hate It Here has us all wondering where Brown keeps her magic wand.

Throughout the pandemic, so many communities experienced a multitude of loss, and the Chicago theatre community is no exception. We saw not only show cancellations and postponements but many theater closures – with many companies still presently struggling to come back. We also experienced a swarm of social unrest in Chicago and throughout the country that called for the unequivocal support of all black and trans lives. The Goodman reopens their doors with a production not only written and directed by black women, but with an entire cast and team made up of mostly black women. I can’t help but wonder if this production’s 506-day sabbatical was a fated occurrence meant to center our return to the theatre around the gifts and powers of black women.

Continue reading “‘School Girls’ Naturally Shines as In-Person Theatre Returns at The Goodman”