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.
I am not a journalist nor should you settle for me.
On April 15th, Lowell Thomas released a statement citing his reasons for his resignation under duress at Steppenwolf and the theatre community shared it across all social media platforms. No major media outlets paid attention. Two weeks later, on Tuesday April 27th, I compiled an article that included large excerpts of artist statements that had been made individually by Lowell Thomas and Isaac Gomez. The only person who amplified it was Chris Jones, who said Rescripted, aka I, was calling for divestment and dissent, a mischaracterization of the piece as a whole. The hot take is that I am apparently, inciting a riot (I am not). We will unpack how dangerous this is to say about a group of people of color another time.
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.
It is no secret that Steppenwolf Theater Company is one of my artistic homes in Chicago. When the news came out about Brooke Flanagan’s appointment for Executive Director, and David Schmitz’s departure to OSF, I was excited and disappointed all at once. David deserves an excellent opportunity such as this, and Brooke seemed highly qualified for the job, but there had been no job search for the Executive Leadership position.
Once during my fellowship at Steppenwolf, Anna told me she saw my value to the institution, and to our field, in my ability ask the hard questions. With that in mind, I made a phone call, at first asking for a conversation, which became an interview.
Rarely do our leaders seize an opportunity to tell the truth. When controversial decisions are made, I often ask arts leaders if they will sit down and speak to me about their decision-making process. They will always speak to me off the record, for my own education as an aspiring artistic leader. When it comes to going on the record? To date, every single leader has said no. Until now.
On May 27th, we spoke at length about not only Brooke’s transition, but her own transition into the position of Artistic Director, board relationships, racial inequity, the mysterious career “pipeline,” and police violence against Black people. The world has already changed so much since then. I encourage you to read this in its totality. This is a rare offering of truth, and I hope it invites other leaders to be more transparent in their processes. My questions are in bold, all other responses are Anna’s unedited thoughts. Continue reading “Behind The Curtain: Anna D. Shapiro Speaks About Steppenwolf’s Executive Leadership Transition, Board Relationships, the Pandemic, and the Epidemic of Racism”
Dance Nation, written by Clare Barron and directed by Lee Sunday Evans, captures the sweet, strange and uncomfortable aspects of growing up in and surviving the world of competitive tween dance, as we follow the adventures of six young girls preparing for a national tournament. A finalist for the 2019 Pulitzer Prize, the play received its world premiere at Playwrights Horizons in 2018 and ran at the Almeida Theatre in London before coming to Steppenwolf for its regional premiere.
Armed with a multi-generational cast and a healthy dose of whimsy, this production succeeds in telling this story in a way that required the magic of a theatre. It invokes imagination, is anything but expected, and in this way subverts the classic coming of age story into something as weird, messy, and wonderful as actual puberty. The dances are less literal and more figurative, capturing each character’s essence. One that stood out in particular perfectly captures the importance of ‘dance face’, and puts it up front and center with the assistance of some impeccable tech. Transformative lighting by Heather Gilbert moves us seamlessly through time and space, guiding the audience along a non-linear plot. Sound design by Mikhail Fiksel perfectly underscores each dance, monologue, and transition; movement and sound feel intertwined into a well choreographed dance piece.
Sibling rivalry and resentment is the golden thread that runs through Sam Shepard’s classic play, True West. What begins as a standard tale of bickering between the Golden Child and the Black Sheep quickly takes a hard left turn when we realize that this Black Sheep may be mentally disturbed and harboring violent tendencies. Namir Smallwood plays an arrestingly intense Lee, toggling with ease between a playful and jovial energy and a cold, detached dominance without a moment’s notice. His presence as an aloof angry drunk drives this play, bringing a kinetic element of fear and excitement to an otherwise pedestrian moment. Breaking away from the tenor of Malkovich’s intense performance in the 1984 film, Smallwood’s portrayal of the grifter is still creepy but also somewhat charming and endearing, which helps contextualize why his brother simply wouldn’t call the police on sight. Continue reading “‘True West’ at Steppenwolf Honors the Classic and Shows Shepard a New Frontier”
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”
Ni una mas. Ni una mas. Ni una mas.
La Ruta- written by Isaac Gomez and directed by Steppenwolf Ensemble member, Sandra Marquez- takes place 20 years ago, yet this story is full of similarities to the world in which we now live. Here in the United States, we have the Me Too Movement. Latin America has the Ni Una Mas Movement.
Isaac Gomez’s La Ruta follows femicide (the deliberate killing of women because they are women) in Cuidad Juárez. It is important to note that femicide is a global reality that isn’t unique to Mexico. Since the early 1990’s, thousands of women have disappeared without a trace in Juárez. Continue reading “La Ruta – Ni Una Mas (Not One More)”
These are the second 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 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time at Firebrand Theatre in collaboration with Timeline Theatre below! Continue reading “Key Reviews: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”