“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”
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?”
Steppenwolf has had internal complaints about equity from their staff of color for years, which began to accelerate after The Great Leap when Deanna Myers’ complaints of harassment on the job went viral on social media. In the past year they have struggled to retain their staff of color for a variety of reasons, many having to do with inhospitable job environments, under-resourced shows, and pay inequity. Recently, two artists affiliated with the theatre have spoken to their journeys of navigating and negotiating with this institution. This article includes all three statements from these artists including the essay published by Isaac Gomez just today.
It is only fair to present these separate and yet deeply related arguments alongside each other, in order to ask ourselves what our path of engagement or divestment may look like. It is not a short read, but diligence is required of those seeking justice. Lowell Thomas served as Video Content Producer and resigned from the company earlier this month. Here, Thomas states his reasoning in his own words, posted on Instagram April 15th:
Steppenwolf Theatre Company has committed itself to inequity. Time has revealed that the leadership of Anna Shapiro, Brooke Flanagan, and Leelai Demoz betrays the very people who have helped it maintain its renowned status. It smugly ignores the urgency of the We See You White American Theatre Demands and offers only tepid reflection as a response. It buries claims of harassment, racism, and sexism to avoid accountability and real change. There is no redemption for this kind of leadership. It will continue to exploit its artists and staff under the guise of “grit” while clutching its pearls whenever presented with the harm it has inflicted on others. Continue reading “Divestment and Dissent – Artists Speak Out on Steppenwolf Theatre”
Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s new play development initiative, SCOUT will present A Virtual Reading of Mosque4Mosque by Omer Abbas Salem on Sunday, March 28th at 2pm CST. This free reading is the culmination of a 30-hour workshop process directed by Arti Ishak.
Mosque4Mosque follows Ibrahim, the average 30-something Queer Arab American Muslim. Normal job, quiet life, easy men. Between dodging reminders of how unmarried he is from his relentlessly caring immigrant mother and helping raise his smart, popular, hijabi cheerleading sister, Ibrahim has always found comfort sinking into the background. But when his mother sees a glimpse of what could be his first real relationship, she feels compelled to take Ibrahim’s future into her own hands by seeking out the perfect man for him to marry. Mosque4Mosque is a comedy about a normal Muslim American family that asks us to wrestle with what we believe normal to be.
“I wrote Mosque4Mosque to reimagine my experience with family, religion, and being queer. I also wanted to create a world in which Arab artists felt proud to exist, because I can’t tell you how often I’ve felt ashamed by what passes for our representation. I can’t thank Steppenwolf enough for the support and opportunity to uplift our voices and begin correcting a wrong in American theater.” – Playwright, Omer Abbas Salem. Continue reading “Mosque4Mosque SCOUT Presentation Sets a New Standard at Steppenwolf”
Wally World, written by Issac Gómez and co-directed by Lili-Anne Brown, is a two act radio play produced by Steppenwolf Theatre. The show revolves around employees at the fictional superstore Wally World (akin to another actual large corporation with a similar name), who face the complicated tension and stress of having to work on Christmas Eve. While the store continues to be in complete chaos on the front end, things behind the scenes are just as bad if not worse as the store manager’s position of power is threatened and challenged throughout the hard workdays.
Wally World tries to give the realistic perspective of what it’s like for employees of a large company to be working over the holidays… least to say, it’s not ideal. If you’ve ever been forced to work retail during the holidays, this show is certain to bring memories flooding back. Beyond a reach for authenticity in what it’s like to work retail for a large corporation, this play seeks to ask poignant questions about capitalism, activism, harassment, white supremacy, and labor exhaustion. Wally World’s ideals are similar to other plays like Lynn Nottage’s Sweat or any similar “kitchen sink drama” that involves a variety of diverse characters who get chances to shine in beautifully written monologues about their internal struggles.
Continue reading “REVIEW: ‘Wally World’ at Steppenwolf Meditates on Capitalism at Christmastime”
What is Left, Burns is the story of a video call between two men — college professor Keith (K. Todd Freeman) and his former student and lover Ronnie (Jon Michael Hill), who are holding their first conversation in fifteen years, with all the complicated emotions that entails. At only twenty minutes long, What is Left, Burns is a short, sweet, poetic, and heartfelt meditation on the thorny business of negotiating intimacy at a distance. Despite seemingly not being set during a pandemic, its setting echoes the situation we currently find ourselves in — when nearly all close communication must be digitally mediated, all profound emotions filtered through a screen.
Continue reading “REVIEW: A Fascinating, Intimate Video Chat in ‘What is Left, Burns’ at Steppenwolf Theatre”
Rescripted is thrilled to announce the third session of The Key: Young Critics Mentorship Program, September 25 – December 4 and hosted for the second year at Steppenwolf Theater, 1650 N. Halsted. Regina Victor, founder of the online arts journalism platform Rescripted, and entertainment critic Oliver Sava created the 10-week training program for Chicago youth in arts criticism. In league with The Chicago Inclusion Project, The Key has successfully held two sessions, educating young writers on the skills and industry knowledge needed to pursue careers in arts criticism. Alumni of The Key have written for outlets like Chicago Reader, Howlround, The Windy City Times, and Rescripted.
Continue reading “Rescripted Announces Third Session of The Key: Young Critics Mentorship Program”
Ms. Blakk For President is a world premiere play performed at Steppenwolf Theatre, co-written and directed by Tina Landau and written by Tarell Alvin McCraney. The show is about Chicago’s very own LGBTQ activist Terence Alan Smith, better known as the drag queen Joan Jett Blakk, who decided to run a political campaign with Act Up and Queer Nation to bring visibility to the Gay community in crisis during the 90s. It’s a pretty unknown story to someone, like me, who was born in the very late 1990s without context on figures who are often censored in our pop culture. Steppenwolf’s lobby dramaturgy does a great job with filling the atmosphere and historical context about the show. The dramaturgy display (Polly Hubbard) is filled with an engaging Chicago timeline that traces Joan Jett Blakk and the AIDS crisis from the 1970s to present today. There are also a few art installations and a memorial to Marsha P. Johnson. Continue reading “Pride is the Prerogative in ‘Ms. Blakk For President’ at Steppenwolf Theatre”
The Children written by Lucy Kirkwood is making its Chicago premiere at Steppenwolf directed by ensemble member Jonathan Berry. The show is performed with a breathtaking set design (Chelsea M. Warren) that consists of a full scale house on the shore of an English cottage complete with sounds of seagulls and waves crashing on the shore (sound by Andre Pluess). This is where the entire show is set, and it juts out, making the audience feel small in comparison. This prominent house is where we meet three retired nuclear scientists who both share and keep secrets. Continue reading “What Will ‘The Children’ Sacrifice for a Brighter Tomorrow?”
Picking up 15 years after Ibsen’s play ends, A Doll’s House Part 2 now playing at Steppenwolf and directed by Robin Witt opens with Nora, a wife and mother returning home to visit her family after abandoning them. Bucking the constraints of society, Nora (played with joyful gusto by Sandra Marquez) has less regrets than society would expect a deadbeat mother to have. The script by playwright Lucas Hnath is smartly written and the jokes zing as it muses on the nature of a woman’s lot in the world. When Marquez brassily rails: “Marriage is cruel and destroys women’s lives,” her words still have more than a whiff of taboo; a sentiment that has many notable exceptions, but can often be fact. Marriage in the strict traditional sense is quite simply a bad deal for women. Her unapologetic and firm assurance in her decision to leave creates a new and interesting lens for the stage. Continue reading “It’s a Woman’s World in ‘A Doll’s House Part 2’”