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.
The first part of the ritual was the coat. Black, regal, with safety pins up and down the lapels that made me feel like I was one of Shakespeare’s youths bursting at the seams with ambition. My outfit was freshly plucked off of the costume rack next to the Bookspan, like my fellow audience members. Leathers, vests, and even a sequined battle helmet complete with a blonde braid peppered the crowd. It was costume designer Uriel Gomez’s way of inviting the audience into the world of lush fabrics and textures that make up much of the world of Gender Play, or what you Will.
The second part of the ritual was the tarot card. From the twenty-two cards that comprise the Major Arcana spread across the table in the dark hall, I first selected Strength, feeling the edges of the sturdy paper in my hand. I then eyed The Hanged Woman, suspended before a state of transformation – Death. I had drawn both cards just hours before. I took them both into the theatre. Continue reading “A Triumph of Will in ‘Gender Play’ at About Face Theatre”
With a cast entirely of women and gender non-conforming actors, Babes With Blades Theatre Company’s Richard III is meaty, violent, and reflective. A decimating opening battle sets the tone for this production of Shakespeare’s iconic history play, and thanks to Becca Venable’s lighting design, pools of blood-red light spill across the stage. But this story is not all about blood and death. Characters sing joyful music to celebrate victory, and even while mothers wail to grieve the dead, hope for a brighter and more just future is not far beyond the horizon.
In his famous opening speech, “Now is the winter of our discontent…,” Richard, Earl of Gloucester (Azskara Gilchrist, she/her), describes himself as “rudely stamped and want of love’s majesty,” and “Cheated of feature by dissembling nature, // Deformed, unfinished.” Setting the stage for the play, he explains that because he cannot be a lover, his “deformity” drives him to be the opposite — a villain. Shakespeare critics and disability activists have long argued that it is necessary to have Gloucester’s role cast with a disabled actor, and with this production presented in partnership with the University of Illinois Chicago’s Disability Cultural Center, Babes with Blades has done just that. Gilchrist, in a gripping performance, uses her mobility device as a percussion tool, smartly accenting Shakespeare’s already rhythmic pentameter as she plots to crown herself king in penance for the world’s scorn.
Helmed by Director Kristina McCloskey and Associate Director Stephanie Mattos, Midsommer Flight’s Twelfth Night transforms the four lush showrooms of the Lincoln Park Conservatory into the land of Illyria, a world populated by guitar-strumming jesters, sword fighting pirates, foiled lovers, and capering drunks. This queer-af adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s most beloved comedies invites the audience to sing along to sea shanties, share asides with actors, and walk from room to room to explore as many as three simultaneously occurring plots.
A typical summary of Twelfth Night might go something like this: Viola, shipwrecked noblewoman, disguises herself as a man after being stranded in Illyria and separated from her identical twin Sebastian. However, the plot each audience member experiences will vary wildly depending on which of the simultaneously occurring scenes they end up watching. As director McCloskey says, “Audiences can enjoy the wide range of experiences as the characters would live them, meaning they will only have the perspectives of the characters they are following. Plots, secrets, and surprises will run amok — until the final scene when all is revealed and resolved.” I, for one, spent most of my time following the booze-soaked revels of side-character Sir Toby Belch (Grant Brown) and his clueless sidekick Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Lexy Hope Weixel).
What if King George had commissioned Shakespeare to write a play about the Gunpowder Plot?
It’s a fascinating question, and Equivocation at Idle Muse has the answer. After all, the famed Catholic plot to assassinate King James I happened in 1605, right around the time when William’s plays were at the height of popularity — as a mashup, it’s an entertaining and slightly scandalous idea that immediately grabs your attention. Playwright Bill Cain does a marvelous job of grounding the dialogue in the speech and politics of the era, such that the slowly unfolding conspiracy is both heightened and believable. The structure here is complex, interfolding, and lovely. Director Evan Jackson keeps things moving nicely; characters speak quickly and cleverly, taking us through emotional beats with efficiency and flair. There are lots of long scenes that could easily have dragged, but each one has a distinctive shape and feels like a journey through a big, empty house with lots of fascinating rooms. Continue reading “‘Equivocation’ at Idle Muse Theatre Company, and the Purpose of Art in Times of Tyranny”
Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s production of Hamlet introduces the Prince of Denmark (Maurice Jones) as a man standing at the foot of his father’s grave. The rain pours down and this macabre image resembles a superhero origin story. Only Hamlet is no hero. This revenge story has casualties. Barbara Gaines directs a massively skilled cast of players with nuance, intimacy, and the occasional dramatic flare. Continue reading “Minimal, Striking ‘Hamlet’ Gives Method to the Madness at Chicago Shakespeare Theater”
Monty Cole’s Hamlet is a technicolor reinvigoration of Shakespeare’s tragedy and a powerful call to action. Continue reading “A Vibrant, Technicolor ‘Hamlet’ Helmed by Monty Cole”
The following is a response and public statement from Artistic Director of Northlight Theatre, BJ Jones. There have been concerns shared from the artistic community on the composition of the cast, see local casting director Lavina Jadhwani’s editorial here. Rescripted encourages artists to respond to discussion generated by our website, in the hopes of facilitating a more open dialogue between institutions and artists. As noted below, the conversation will continue with a panel in late January co-hosted by Jessica Thebus and Aaron Todd Douglas. Continue reading “Northlight Theatre’s Artistic Director Statement on ‘Book of Will’”