‘Joe Turner’s Come and Gone…’ and He Took The Magic With Him

Revelation. The impact of finally understanding the unseen forces that conspire to create our world. A reveal, made in a surprising fashion, usually leading to ecstasy or a heightened dramatic state. 

Revelation is the engine of Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, the second play in August Wilson’s Century Cycle. Yet, it is noticeably absent from this production. Continue reading “‘Joe Turner’s Come and Gone…’ and He Took The Magic With Him”

‘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”

a nod to Shaw, ‘brother sister cyborg space’ explores moral responsibility and societal ills

What if Adam and Eve started life in outer space? What if The Holy Spirit was artificial intelligence? What if billionaires were forced to listen to the working class? What if some prominent activists are able to take social risks due to class privilege? What if you had the opportunity to change the lives of those most at risk? These are just a few of the world bending questions that playwright Paul Michael Thomson is posing in his new play, brother sister cyborg space

At the top of the show, the world is cracked open. We are struck with one extraterrestrial image after another (projections Michael Commendatore), with a silhouetted astronaut waving at us from far, far away upstage. Set pieces (designed by Steven Abbott) move in and out of view revealing new worlds, accompanied by a tectonic, booming aural landscape (sound, Jeffrey Levin). This visual world building by director Terry Guest defines the play’s scope – the use of magical realism signals to us that this will not simply be a living room play. Thomson’s play, brother sister cyborg space creates room for the emotional, the visual, and the visceral. Movement utilized inside the play is essential, whether it comes from the set or the actors, as the intellectual text would be impenetrable without it.  Continue reading “a nod to Shaw, ‘brother sister cyborg space’ explores moral responsibility and societal ills”

‘Antigone’ at Court Theatre is a Feast for Theatre Lovers

Antigone, the final installment of Sophocles’ Oedipus cycle translated by Nicholas Rudall, running at Court Theatre reminds us that the Greeks did not know the meaning of “a living room play.” I have spent the early part of the year in rehearsals for my own show, and not seeing many plays. But, if you read my review of The Gospel At Colonus, you know there’s nothing like a Black Greek Tragedy to get me into the streets and back to my other craft of criticism. I love them so much because Greek Tragedies were meant to hold multidisciplinary storytelling approaches such as music, movement, spectacle and text all at once. 

This Greek polymathic, multilayered approach to storytelling is picked up by director Gabrielle Randle-Bent in the present day, as visual art, fashion, poetry, vocal arrangements and body percussion work together to give us the emotional experience of Antigone. There is so much to eat in this production. Antigone is a whole meal, and I commend Randle-Bent for serving it up. There are places where it can feel like I’m trying to swallow too much, at times I was frustrated – yet Antigone’s world is frustrating. To me, great art isn’t perfect, but it does make me think, and enjoy the process of wrestling with it and making meaning. I appreciate the risks taken in this production. Without them, I’d have nothing to write about. Continue reading “‘Antigone’ at Court Theatre is a Feast for Theatre Lovers”

‘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”

The Death of Oedipus and The Departure of Charlie Newell: ‘The Gospel at Colonus’ Heralds The Court Theatre Into a New Age

Watching The Gospel at Colonus at The Getty Villa is like watching a live resurrection. A theatre piece becomes a fossil on closing day, an antiquity to be dusted off and given new life. Mark J.P. Hood and Charlie Newell have rolled their stone all the way from Chicago, IL to the mountains of Los Angeles, California. It’s a muscular act that requires the utmost attention, and like a resurrection, no one knows quite what to expect. The performers glide gently down the stone steps of the aisles, greeting us individually as the congregation gathers to testify to Theseus’ (Mark Spates Smith) tale of Oedipus. As an audience we feel a sense of comfort and home as we’re encouraged to talk back to the production. We’re a part of the story.  Continue reading “The Death of Oedipus and The Departure of Charlie Newell: ‘The Gospel at Colonus’ Heralds The Court Theatre Into a New Age”

Lifeline Theatre’s Revival of ‘Cat’s Cradle’ Invokes the Atomic Age in Technicolor

In the fallout of Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, Lifeline Theatre brings the end of the world to the stage with an adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut’s timeless cautionary tale, Cat’s Cradle. This 1963 satire follows a freelance writer and his research into the enigmatic life of Dr. Felix Hoenikker. This fictional Nobel Prize-winning scientist, loosely inspired by J. Robert Oppenheimer and Irving Langmuir, is renowned for his pivotal role in the creation of the atomic bomb. As the narrative unfolds, the writer becomes increasingly ensnared in the surreal and apocalyptic consequences stemming from Hoenikker’s final creation. Lifeline Theatre ensemble member John Hildreth’s adaptation of Vonnegut’s classic novel is a relevant retelling amplified by director Heather Currie’s explosive production.

Continue reading “Lifeline Theatre’s Revival of ‘Cat’s Cradle’ Invokes the Atomic Age in Technicolor”

The Devil’s in the Walls – No Man’s Land at Steppenwolf Theatre

Suspended in front of a blank white slate is a proscenium inside a proscenium (scenic, Andrew Boyce). Two men sit inside, each uniquely unpleasant, each reaching desperately to the other for an emotional connection. Hirst (Jeff Perry), the rich “man of letters” and owner of the decadent home, and Spooner (Mark Ulrich), a random man he met in a bar, proceed to engage in a battle of words. As the scene goes on, I become keenly aware Spooner is taking more than his fair share of the conversation. I seriously thought Spooner was going to grow horns at some point, he’s so whimsical it is hardly trustworthy, but it is fantastic to watch. As Spooner gets more animated, seemingly feeding on Hirst’s apathy, Hirst gets quieter, and harder to understand. I suddenly realize what is happening – he is extremely drunk and slowly shutting down. 

Continue reading “The Devil’s in the Walls – No Man’s Land at Steppenwolf Theatre”