‘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”

‘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”

A Kingdom Held in the Jaws of ‘The Lion in Winter’ at Court Theatre

The Lion In Winter is the latest offering from Court Theatre, directed by one of Chicago’s most established maestros – Ron OJ Parson. Though James Goldman’s script was penned in 1966, its subject matter takes us almost a millenia prior, to Christmas Day, 1183 in King Henry II’s Castle in France. King Henry II, played with robust fervor and soft tenderness in equal measure by John Hookenager, finds himself surrounded by jackals who thirst for his throne on all sides. The jackals in this case, just so happen to be his immediate family. Continue reading “A Kingdom Held in the Jaws of ‘The Lion in Winter’ at Court Theatre”

‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’ is Dynamic Family Fun

Sultry sounds, smooth moves, and sumptuous outfits are all hallmarks of Beautiful: The Carole King Musical directed by Jessica Fisch at Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire Illinois. This family-friendly musical is presented just in time for the holiday season. The musical is the life story of popular singer/songwriter Carole King, played with heartfelt sincerity by Kaitlyn Davis. We follow King’s whirlwind romance with her husband, lyricist Gerry Goffin (Andrew Mueller) and their chart-topping rivalry with frenemies Cynthia Weil (Erica Stephan) and Barry Mann (Justin Albinder).  Continue reading “‘Beautiful: The Carole King Musical’ is Dynamic Family Fun”

Steppenwolf Theatre’s “POTUS” Or, Behind Every Successful Regional Theater is an Artistic Team Trying to Keep It Alive

“I hope audiences are reminded how awesome it feels to laugh with strangers.” – Director Audrey Francis on POTUS

POTUS is for lovers of Scandal or West Wing. Except the president is unsexy, unintuitive, and puppeteered by seven women on the verge of a panic attack. As the days get darker and colder than our politics, if you’re looking to laugh out loud, run to see Steppenwolf’s POTUS: Or, Behind Every Great Dumbass are Seven Women Trying to Keep Him Alive by Selina Fillinger.

In POTUS, time moves how I’d imagine it does in the White House; fires burning everywhere, everyone busting their asses to put the fires out as quickly and quietly as possible. But after a while of watching the White House staff running around, the audience is able to see the treadmill under their feet; they are going fast, but they’re also going nowhere. Regina Garcia’s set design renders this concept literal. The “women in charge of the man in charge” are tasked with traversing over a rotating, circular floor in the middle of the stage. They’re running in place– in heels– trying their best to do their job well. In this world, a job well-executed means being invisible as one of the marionettists running the country via the president. Continue reading “Steppenwolf Theatre’s “POTUS” Or, Behind Every Successful Regional Theater is an Artistic Team Trying to Keep It Alive”

Decomposition Instead of Collapse: A Response from Jacob Padrón

Editor’s note: This essay series is by and for the theater community, and hopes to offer regenerative, communal thinking in the face of industry changes. We are providing a brave space for artists and administrators to focus on creating present and future solutions out of, or beyond our past [perceived] failures. This series builds upon Annalisa Dias’ essay Decomposition Instead of Collapse: Dear Theater Leaders Be Like Soil, originally curated and published by Rescripted and Nothing for the Group. To mirror the mycelial intent of this series, we decided to expand our collaboration and partner with 3Views, amplifying this content on multiple platforms. All editing for this series is done on a voluntary basis, and we offer a small honorarium to our writers for their perspectives. We encourage you to support/donate to our platforms so we can continue this important work. Thank you to Stephanie Ybarra, Lauren Halvorsen, and Annalisa Dias for being originating thought partners in this work. [This series is published in a commons with 3Views on Theater, Rescripted and Nothing for the Group, and you can read this content on any of our platforms for maximum amplification.] 

A Response to Annalisa Dias from Jacob Padrón, Artistic Director of Long Wharf Theatre:

I’m writing to share my deepest gratitude for your recent article in response to the  challenges we’re facing as a theatre community. I’m grateful for your invitation to adopt new “lenses” that allow us to think about this time in our history as one of new  beginnings, new discoveries, and new sunrises. To let go of fear, is to make room for  imagination. I wish more of us could illuminate this collective journey – the transformation of the culture of our organizations – with more questions than answers. When we lead with courage, we create a theatre of possibility, and we make better art. We must keep centering the thing we do best: building worlds, bringing people together, and telling essential stories.  Continue reading “Decomposition Instead of Collapse: A Response from Jacob Padrón”

In Teatro Vista’s ‘¡Bernarda!’ Blood is Thicker Than Truth

Snap. Crackle. Pop. If you listen close enough, you can almost hear the bones crunching in the walls of the house of Bernarda Alba; echoes of the sacrifices and secrets on which the house’s foundation was built. The women who reside there are barely holding themselves together under the immense pressure that threatens to break them. In the wake of the death of Bernarda’s second husband, the doors are closed, the windows shut, and mourners left to boil outside the home in the oppressive heat. In spite of the weather, Bernarda insists that all her daughters wear “rigorous black” to honor their father’s memory. 

Traditionally, adaptations of Federico García Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba, originally published in 1936 two months before Lorca’s assassination, take their design inspiration from the macabre attire of the bereaved. By contrast, this adaptation titled ¡Bernarda!, authored by Emilio Williams and directed by Wendy Mateo, boldly uses light, color, and comedy to showcase the darker parts of humanity.  Continue reading “In Teatro Vista’s ‘¡Bernarda!’ Blood is Thicker Than Truth”

Steppenwolf Theatre’s ‘Sanctuary City’ Asks – Who Among Us Has a Right to Safety?

What is a sanctuary? Is it geographically bound? Or made in connection between people? Is it familiar or foreign? Does it require travel or follow you where you go? And does everyone get to have sanctuary? Is it a right? A rite of passage?

Sanctuary City explores the bounds of what sanctuary means to two New Jersey teens in the early aughts. From 2001-2007, we follow G and B through major life events– college applications, prom, familial separations, and their escape from abuse. Pulitzer Prize winning playwright Martyna Majok asserts her talent through snappy dialogue and a collision of intersecting identities. She paints both a painfully specific and yet broad picture of American immigration. Continue reading “Steppenwolf Theatre’s ‘Sanctuary City’ Asks – Who Among Us Has a Right to Safety?”