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”

‘A Doll’s House’ at Raven Theatre Reinvigorates a Timeless Classic

It’s a new decade in Chicago and Ibsen is in the air.

Raven Theatre’s A Doll’s House is the first of three Ibsen plays opening within the next month. Strawdog’s stormy Hedda Gabler will follow shortly on Raven’s heels, and Court’s The Lady From the Sea will bring up the rear with the most ethereal of the Norwegian playwright’s femme-centric family dramas. It must be something in the water.

A long century and a half has passed since A Doll’s House first scandalized European audiences with the “door slam heard around the world.” However, Raven Theatre’s production still manages to feel relevant and timely. Although director Lauren Shouse retains the 19th century setting of Nora’s tale, Shouse re-envisions the meaning of Ibsen’s revolutionary, feminist masterwork for the audience of today. Although her reinterpretation does sacrifice some nuances of Ibsen’s play for the sake of its concept, it remains a promising example of how a classic can be reimagined for contemporary audiences.

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‘Cold Town/ Hotline: A Chicago Holiday Story’ at Raven Theatre

(left to right) Jeanne T. Arrigo, Sam Linda, Dennis Garcia and Caroline Chu. Photo by Michael Brosilow.

The bitter cold and the holiday season are both barreling into Chicago, and no one is immune from the overwhelming combination. In an effort to combat this special brand of wintry blues, Raven Theatre’s Cold Town/ Hotline: A Chicago Holiday Story takes it back to 1983, where a ragtag group of Chicagoans volunteer their time at a holiday hotline called the Yule Connection. Folks are invited to call in and chat about their seasonal stressors, but when one young caller makes an in-person visit, the team bands together to find a little connection of their own. Like a lot of holiday memories, this world premiere, written and directed by Eli Newell, has bursts of heartwarming holiday sentiment that break through a series of meandering moments.

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‘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.

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‘The Undeniable Sound of Right Now’ is a Nostalgia Trip That Doesn’t Reach its Destination

The Undeniable Sound of Right Now by Laura Eason is not about the present. “Now” in the play’s title refers to Chicago in 1992. Grunge is spreading across the country and House Music shakes nightclubs with its electric tune. Hank’s Bar was the place to be during the 70s wave of Rock n’ Roll, but in 1992 “Now” and “Then” clash within the walls of this cultural relic. BJ Jones directs the Chicago premiere at Raven Theatre and this project on paper promises something worthwhile. The final product, however, is unsatisfying. Continue reading “‘The Undeniable Sound of Right Now’ is a Nostalgia Trip That Doesn’t Reach its Destination”

Pontifications on Pregnancy in ‘The Crowd You’re In With’

The Crowd You’re In With at AstonRep takes place on an evocative set designed by Jeremiah Barr, the deck and backyard of a rundown suburban house that is set out for a 4th of July barbecue. Small accents, like deck chairs, fairy lights, and a tacky tablecloth, create a very lived-in feel. The lighting from Samantha Barr is atmospheric and welcoming; the yellow light from inside spills out through a screen door, and the fading blue ambience captures the feeling of a warm summer evening quite well.

We open at the barbecue of married couple Jasper (Martin Diaz-Valdes) and Melinda (Sara Pavlak McGuire) — consisting of another mid-thirties couple, the pregnant Windsong (Maggie Antonijevic) and the slightly obnoxious Dan (Nick Freed), the older married couple and landlords who live upstairs, Tom and Karen (Javier Carmona and Lynne Baker), and their single musician friend Darcy (Erin O’Brien). As it is slowly revealed that Jasper and Melinda are trying to get pregnant, the conversation turns to the subject of why some people choose to have kids, and why some don’t. Continue reading “Pontifications on Pregnancy in ‘The Crowd You’re In With’”

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’”

Key Reviews: Revolution in ‘Crumbs From the Table of Joy’

These are the third set of reviews from this year’s The Key: Young Critics Mentorship Program. Members of this cohort are: Sierra Carlson, Yasmin Mikhaiel, Aaron Lockman, Elon Sloan, and Lonnae Hickman. All reviews are workshopped and edited by co-facilitators Oliver Sava and Regina Victor. Check out their reviews of Crumbs from the Table of Joy at Raven Theatre below!  Continue reading “Key Reviews: Revolution in ‘Crumbs From the Table of Joy’”

‘Suddenly Last Summer’ and the Myth of the Man

Editor’s Note: This is a guest contribution by local performer Julian Terrell Otis.  Originally these comments were posted on social media, then further expanded with our editors to become a review posted on our site. We are interested in the viewpoint of the artist, and what they have to say about the work coming out of their community. If you are a Chicago artist interested in contributing to Rescripted, please e-mail us at rescriptedreviews@gmail.com, we want to hear from you!

Catherine: “Is that what love is? Using people? And maybe that’s what hate is – not being able to use people.”

It was incredible to watch Suddenly Last Summer at Raven Theatre. I would highly recommend it. To be honest, my experience with Tennessee Williams is limited. I often feel the narrative to be out of touch because of the lofty language, the whiteness, the exposition about class issues that are distanced from current audiences by time, and in a way, it’s petty. But hey that’s the drama of life! Raven’s production is thoughtful and the audience is invited to be a fly on the wall in a very personal family matter regarding mental illness, sex, control, and money. The stakes ride high as the characters navigate their own desires. The setting transforms from a Louisiana estate to some sort of metaphorical jungle where the most vicious creatures that inhabit it are the (white) humans.

The casting reflects that interesting power dynamic. On opening night, the audience was invited into the world of the play through the eyes of the black gaze. In this performance Miss Foxhill was played by Song Marshall, though the role is usually played by Janyce Caraballo. The caretakers Miss Foxhill and Sister Felicity (played by Ayanna Bria Bakari) provide regularity to the upended lives of this ultra wealthy family in crisis. Marshall’s and Bakari’s performances elevate quotidien tasks to epic proportions.The women of color hear the foul words and see the ambition, and I feel their unending struggle to keep these white people in check.  One gets the feeling that Miss Foxhill’s job might be on the line if the daiquiri isn’t made just right and Sis. Felicity may actually fear that bodily harm may come to her from her charge, Catherine (played by Grayson Heyl). One cigarette burn would be too many for me. Yet these women endure because circumstances necessitate it.  Continue reading “‘Suddenly Last Summer’ and the Myth of the Man”