Nikki Lynnette describes herself as a “possibility model,” rather than a role model, in her autobiographical afrogoth punk-pop musical Get Out Alive. Lynette, an acclaimed hip-hop artist, shares her life story and recounts past suicide attempts, psychiatric institutionalization, her mom’s battle with cancer, and how she made it out alive. This musical is part memorial, part memoir, and part indie concert. The show features live performance mixed with engaging video testimonies and dynamic projections designed by Chris Owens.
Within the Bookspan lobby at the Den Theatre, Haven’s producers curate a punk rock memorial space for the loved ones we have lost and the parts of our own selves in need of healing. Statistics plaster one wall reading “Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide,” and “Nearly 50 million Americans have mental health issues.” Another wall has the prompt “I get out alive by…” Markers are laid out for audience response, and you can peruse a bountiful list of self-care tips already written by previous attendees. A table is stacked with resources for those suffering from depression and/or thoughts of suicide.
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American Side Efectos is a solo performance piece written and performed by Debbie Baños, which tells the story of Debbie’s mother, an immigrant to the United States from El Salvador, and her painful, years-long fight within the immigration system to become a US citizen. While the subject matter could easily set a dark tone, Debbie infuses the proceedings with enough humor, heart, and warmth that American Side Efectos serves as both a loving portrait of the Baños family and a scathing indictment of institutionalized racism.
The show’s set is deliberately straightforward, with only a few simple set pieces placed across the stage, all of which Debbie interacts with at some point. I have complained before about solo performance that is overproduced or extravagant, and this show understands the fundamental appeal of the form; that is, that solo performance is all about knocking down the fourth wall, stripping away the normal artifice of theatre, and speaking directly to the audience.
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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.
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When you purchase your ticket for Broken Bone Bathtub, the confirmation email you receive will contain directions not to any specific theater, but rather to a residential building somewhere in Chicago. The venue changes from night to night, ensuring that no show is exactly the same.
Upon arrival at the third-floor apartment in Rogers Park where the evening’s entertainment was to take place, we were ushered into a living room which served as a sort of theater lobby. When the performance was about to start, we were asked to arrange ourselves by height. Carefully, methodically, the producer and usher arranged us in the bathroom around the bathtub, where performer Siobhan O’Loughlin sat fully nude, her only costume some bubbly suds and a dash of glittery blue eyelid makeup. We sat on stools and boxes, packed in like Tetris pieces — one patron was seated on the closed toilet seat. When we were ready to start, Siobhan raised her head and began to speak quite suddenly, without preamble. She spoke with such an easy familiarity that it seemed less like the start of a show, and more like jumping into a fascinating conversation that is already clipping along at a good pace by the time you start to pay attention.
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