If/Then, written by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey and directed by Elyse Dolan, is a musical about a city planner named Elizabeth (Amanda Giles) who has just moved to New York after a difficult divorce. In the show’s first moments, she meets some friends in Central Park and is soon presented with a choice: does she go with her friend Lucas (Parker Guidry) to a protest, or does she go with her other friend Kate (Bridget Adams-King) to an outdoor concert in Brooklyn? The following scenes alternate between the two universes created by this seemingly insignificant choice. The Elizabeth who goes with Lucas acquires the nickname of Beth, and soon lands a dream job designing parks in the city. The Elizabeth who goes with Kate soon acquires glasses, and is nicknamed Liz. She does not get her dream job, but eventually pursues a relationship with ex-soldier Josh (Michael Peters), with all the ups and downs that entails.
The ensemble work is incredibly strong; choreographer Katie Capp has created a fast-moving New York City, with all its frantic terror and vibrance, using only the bodies onstage. Music direction (Rachel Hoovler) contributes to the worldbuilding by constructing complex harmonies sung by the ensemble that paint the noise of the city; the singing from the entire cast is excellent. The set, from designer Jeremy Hollis, is mostly brick walls and doorways at odd angles, flexibly portraying a wide variety of locations while also contributing to the general NYC funk. I adore this minimalist approach to musical storytelling; it was thoroughly effective in Brown Paper Box Co’s previous show Little Women last year, and is just as well done here. The small band and barebones design accentuate that this is a show with a very small scope; not about revolutions or worlds, but the inner lives of everyday people.
Continue reading “‘If/Then’ at Brown Paper Box Co. is a Timeline-Bending Musical About Personal Struggles”
Fresh out of Victory Garden’s 2019 IGNITION Festival, Meghan Brown’s The Tasters, has found an apt home in this World Premiere production at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble. Set in a dystopia where food shortages are the norm and the markers of democracy are quickly fading away, this play, directed by RTE member Devon de Mayo, focuses on the “tasters,” the people of this world tasked with tasting food for poison before it is eaten by government leaders. The production excels at displaying this dystopia on stage; however, the direction seems more attentive to the worldbuilding and design than these women’s relationships or struggles.
Continue reading “‘The Tasters’ at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble Builds a Dystopian World”
Grace and the Hanukkah Miracle is an immersive theatre piece in which an unnamed, protagonist in a cowboy hat (Anderson Lawfer) asks the audience to go on a wild time-traveling adventure so as to retrieve his wife Grace’s (Nicole Bloomsmith) family menorah and present it to her as a Hanukkah gift. The rest of the show unfolds almost like a video game, as you and your fellow audience members progress through different rooms in the basement of Grace Lutheran Church in Evanston — collecting clues, solving basic puzzles, and interacting with characters from various points in Jewish history. Continue reading “‘Grace and the Hanukkah Miracle’ at Chicago Immersive is a Kid-Friendly, Time-Traveling Romp Through Jewish History”
The Key: Young Critics Mentorship Program is back with our fifth set of reviews, and this set is all about Hoodoo Love at Raven Theatre! This year’s cohort: Ada Alozie, Alisa Boland, Anyah Royale Akanni, Hannah Antman, Mariah Schultz, and Yiwen Wu. Read selections from each critic below, and click through to their author profiles to read the full critique and learn more about them! The Key is co-facilitated by Regina Victor and Oliver Sava.
Alisa Boland: “Hoodoo Love, directed by Wardell Julius Clark at Raven Theatre, adds a bit of extra enchantment to Katori Hall’s debut script, a cocktail of blues singing, conjure, and inevitable tragedy. Set in Memphis, Katori Hall’s play follows Toulou an aspiring singer, played with spirit and tenderness by Martasia Jones. The young country girl turns to the supernatural help of her friendly, grandmotherly neighbor and hoodoo practitioner Candylady (played by the audience favourite, Shariba Rivers) to hold down her lover Ace (Matthew James Elam), a restless blues artist. The situation is further complicated by the arrival of Toulou’s older brother Jib (Christopher Wayland Jones), a preacher with a wolfish eye and an appetite for unholy, distilled spirits.” – Read Alisa Boland’s full critique and learn more about the author! Continue reading “Key Reviews: ‘Hoodoo Love’ at Raven Theatre”
Packing at About Face Theatre is a solo piece written and performed by Scott Bradley, and directed by Chay Yew. It is mostly autobiographical, as Scott tells his personal story of growing up in rural Iowa, discovering he was gay, dealing with bullying and abuse, living through the AIDS crisis of the 80’s, and continuing to struggle with depression, anxiety, and addiction, until present day. Despite the many dark moments, “Packing” is an empowering story: Scott writes with a deft and clever voice, and an eye towards themes of strength, persistence, and overcoming hardship.
Continue reading “‘Packing’ at About Face Theatre is an Enthralling Queer Autobiography”
The Key: Young Critics Mentorship Program is back for our third year, and with a new format! This year’s cohort: Ada Alozie, Alisa Boland, Anyah Royale Akanni, Hannah Antman, Mariah Schultz, and Yiwen Wu. The third show of our session was Hope: Part II of a Mexican Trilogy produced by Teatro Vista at The Den Theatre. Read selections from each critic below, and click through to their author profiles to read the full critique and learn more about them! The Key is co-facilitated by Regina Victor and Oliver Sava.
Hannah Antman: “Directors Bruce and Gutierrez landed some evocative and heartfelt moments. Hope is a true period piece, in the sense that it showcases the past in order to illuminate something about our world today. I found Betty’s deep fear of the atomic bomb to be especially prescient, reflecting many young people’s current fears about climate change – in 1961 or 2019, being a teenager comes with the threat of the world ending. As an extension of that fear, Betty (excellently portrayed by Caraballo), has a series of imagined phone calls between herself and JFK (and later, Fidel Castro). I found these fantasy phone calls to be particularly compelling, and I wish the rest of the play delved as deep in its theatrical risk-taking.” – Read Hannah Antman’s full critique and learn more about the author! Continue reading “Key Reviews: ‘Hope: Part II of a Mexican Trilogy’”
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 “
Sugar in our Wounds by Donja R. Love at First Floor Theater is nestled in the upstairs of the Den Theatre, a space designed by Joy Ahn to hold its audience tightly through the events of the play. Seemingly endless branches that source from an ancient tree glow from within, arching over the space as if to say come closer, I have a story in my roots. If you listen closely, Sam Clapp’s sound design will have you thinking you hear the ancestors murmuring to you as the wind whistles through the branches. Continue reading “‘Sugar in our Wounds,’ an Ode to Black Love in a Time of Great Pain”
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”
The Key: Young Critics Mentorship Program is back for our third year, and with a new format! This year’s cohort: Ada Alozie, Alisa Boland, Anyah Royale Akanni, Hannah Antman, Mariah Schultz, and Yiwen Wu. The first show of our session was The Brothers Size at Steppenwolf for Young Adults. Read selections from each young critic below, and click through to their author profiles to read the full critique and learn more about them! The Key is co-facilitated by Regina Victor and Oliver Sava.
Yiwen Wu: “Present, but invisible. For over 2.3 million imprisoned Americans, their life and struggle against the profound racial and social-class biases in our criminal justice system are often overlooked. At Steppenwolf for Young Adults, Tarell Alvin McCraney’s poetically thrilling The Brothers Size strives to confront the brutal legacy of incarceration, through a tender story of brotherhood and love–how the intimate ties that bind us together can free us in a world that fails to be free.” – Read Yiwen Wu’s full critique and learn more about the author! Continue reading “Key Reviews: The Brothers Size”