‘True West’ at Steppenwolf Honors the Classic and Shows Shepard a New Frontier

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”

‘Something Clean’ Explores the Reverberations of Assault at Sideshow Theatre

Something Clean by Selina Fillinger, tells the story of a woman trying to cope after her son is convicted and sent to prison on sexual assault charges. Produced by Sideshow Theatre Company and Rivendell Theatre Company in collaboration, directed by Lauren Shouse, Something Clean asks audiences to consider the trauma and attempts toward healing for the families of rapists. Continue reading “‘Something Clean’ Explores the Reverberations of Assault at Sideshow Theatre”

‘King Lear’ at Redtwist Theatre Lacks Thematic Imagination

Why do we keep coming back to Shakespeare?

In the past, I’ve posited that, since we love these stories so much, we want to see what our modern artists think of it, how one’s favorite director or actor or designer interprets this line, or that plot twist. I still believe this, but it does presuppose that Shakespeare’s plays are inherently a good force in the world, and deserving of our love and attention. I have heard several critics of color bemoan the fact that so much of our pop culture and theatre draws so heavily from a white guy who died four hundred years ago – and that we should mindfully attempt to wean ourselves off our culture’s single-minded obsession with trusty old Will. Continue reading “‘King Lear’ at Redtwist Theatre Lacks Thematic Imagination”

‘Prophet$’ Relies Too Heavily on the Past at The Factory Theater

The Factory Theater is just that, a factory that churns out new plays. The most recent addition to their catalog is the play Prophet$ by company member Anthony Tournis. Set in 1988, Prophet$ is the story of three down on their luck conmen who score big as televangelists. Wm. Bullion directs the world premiere and the play dives headfirst into the era. Everything in this play screams “80s”, from the shoulder pads to the jokes. The self-proclaimed “Stripes-esque” production borrows so much from 1980s comedy that this new production already feels dated. Continue reading “‘Prophet$’ Relies Too Heavily on the Past at The Factory Theater”

TCG Conference Coverage 2019: What is a Review(er) Good For?

The Theatre Communications Group Conference took place on June 4-8th, and for the first time ever they included an arts journalism track. My conference journey began with co-facilitating a session with Brian Herrera of the Sol Project titled “What is a Theater Review(er) Good For? A Critical Look at the Role of Journalism in Theatre Today.” This session was a lab that took place before the official start of the conference, and was a three hour round table discussion. In addition to the obvious title question, we chose to investigate what our present relationship to reviewers was, and try to shape what it could be. This article is an attempt to summarize these rich and invigorating hours of conversation. Continue reading “TCG Conference Coverage 2019: What is a Review(er) Good For?”

Cheeky Arias Drive A Queer Love Revolution in ‘GRINDR THE OPERA’

Luxuriously outfitted with delightful costumes by Shawn Quinlan, GRINDR THE OPERA at Pride Films and Plays follows the trials and tribulations of four gay men looking for love and/or no strings attached sex on the web. Their search invokes the siren Grindr, who guides the men through their journey of lust. A regal Bruno Rivera plays the goddess Grindr, narrating the tale through countless costume changes and wondrously soaring arias, with the help of her dazzling sidekicks Occulto (Andrew Flynn) and Dilectus (Brandon Krisko). Continue reading “Cheeky Arias Drive A Queer Love Revolution in ‘GRINDR THE OPERA’”

Drury Lane Theatre Hangs Itself With Its Own Race Blindness

The theater community in Chicago has had many reckonings in terms of representation in criticism, casting, play selection, administrative staff, and boards, yet we don’t often discuss Marketing and PR. This week Drury Lane Theater put out advertising on social media and their website for their upcoming show And Then There Were None which was received with a firestorm of criticism. The primary marketing graphic featured a noose. Continue reading “Drury Lane Theatre Hangs Itself With Its Own Race Blindness”

A Whirlwind ‘Emma’ with Heart at Lifeline Theatre

Phil Timberlake’s adaptation of Emma at Lifeline Theatre is an engaging and dynamic piece of work, directed with a clear hand by Elise Kauzlaric. Based on the Jane Eyre novel of the same name, Emma follows the protagonist of the same name as she matchmakes through her fictional English countryside community of Highbury. As she interferes in all of her neighbor’s love lives, she creates a big mess and must recognize the desires of her own inner heart in order to put everyone back together. Continue reading “A Whirlwind ‘Emma’ with Heart at Lifeline Theatre”

Pride is the Prerogative in ‘Ms. Blakk For President’ at Steppenwolf Theatre

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”

‘Volta’ is Cirque Du Soleil’s Mysterious and Exciting Adventure at Soldier Field

Volta is Cirque Du Soleil’s newest touring show that is based on the theme of embracing differences, social media isolation, and finding sparks of childhood magic.

Circuses have a long and exploited history, especially in America. Yet, Cirque is all the fun of the circus made sophisticated and without the guilt. It probably why it’s still one of the few lasting circus-like traveling shows. I have nostalgia towards the circus and big top events. I crave the spectacle and audience engagement that the circus provides, but not the elephant and horse animal abuse from touring circus’ like Barnum and Bailey or The Ringling Brothers. Not to mention, the added danger of performers working with hungry and wild animals, which resulted in the closing of many circus’ in the 1990s and 2000s. I wasn’t disappointed with Volta, because it’s more than just a “circus”. Cirque Du Soleil’s marketing of being beyond a “circus” has become a rising trend in spectacle performances. Continue reading “‘Volta’ is Cirque Du Soleil’s Mysterious and Exciting Adventure at Soldier Field”