How I Learned to Drive

Eliza Stoughton and Mark Ulrich in Raven Theatre’s ‘How I Learned to Drive.’
(Photo: Michael Brosilow)

“This week, Chicago’s Raven Theatre continued its 2018-2019 season with a revival of Vogel’s seminal work. A cross-functional discomfort with the painful, once socially taboo issues that the 21st Century #MeToo movement has dragged from the shadows appears to have undermined the laudable artistic effort.

Helmed by Raven Theatre’s Artistic Director Cody Estle, nearly every performer onstage during the production, except for actress Kathryn Acosta (Female Greek Chorus), looks like they’d rather be somewhere else. At all times. While this makes sense for the haunted, broken and threatening character of Uncle Peck (played with admirable complexity by Rivendell Theatre Ensemble member Mark Ulrich), the lack of emotional commitment doesn’t work for the rest of the cast. It’s hard to determine if Mr. Estle directed the artistic conflict or if it is the organic result of too much creative self-awareness. In either case, the ambivalence spills onto the audience in Raven’s 99-seat East Stage theatre.

I wasn’t expecting standup comedy from lead actress Eliza Stoughton, who inhabits the character of L’il Bit. She is asked to translate and communicate the 1960s rural experience of a girl born into a family with an absent father, and assigned a nickname that’s a euphemism for female genitalia. The compulsion to strip any hint of humor from that starkly depressing origin story must be strong. But it’s not what Ms. Vogel intended.”

Read the full post at The Broadway Blog.

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A Doll’s House, Part 2

Sandra Marquez and Yasen Peyankov in ‘A Doll’s House, Part 2.’ (Photo: Michael Brosilow)

“Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 play, A Doll’s House, was a prescient work ahead of its time. Nora’s abandonment of her husband Torvald and their family at the conclusion of Ibsen’s infamous script left a number of open questions that linger into 2019. Into this void steps playwright Lucas Hnath and the renowned Steppenwolf Theatre with the Chicago premiere of A Doll’s House, Part 2. (The 2017 Broadway production received raves by critics. Its leading lady and Steppenwolf member, Laurie Metcalf, won a Tony Award for her performance.)

So whatever became of the Helmer children? Did Torval learn anything from Nora’s departure or did he simply remarry and move on with his life? And most urgently, what did Nora do to sustain herself after she fled? Was she happy, fulfilled, or did she come to regret her choices? Ibsen’s vibrant, bold work is heavy on intrigue, light on closure.

A Doll’s House, Part 2 presents a vision of the Hellmer family’s fourth act that dares to imagine Nora as a Jackie Collins or Danielle Steele for the 19th century, successful, wealthy and most of all, unrepentant. She may be writing under a pseudonym but Nora is definitely not hiding. She is signing contracts, taking lovers and purchasing property like the empowered, now-single woman she believes herself to be.”

Read the full post at The Broadway Blog.

Ralph Northam’s Remarkable Two-Day Skid: From Abortion Voice of Reason to Racist, Lying Idiot

“Look, it was more than bad enough that Northam had to apologize for the existence of racist medical school yearbook photos. The Trump era is opening up a whole new world of fantastically ignorant possibility. Henceforth I feel compelled to add a new question to the list of those posed to doctors treating me for any serious condition. How long have you been in practice? What’s your success record? And also, have you ever donned a KKK robe?

Then the nation awoke this morning to find Northam attempting a death defying and foolhardy backpedal so ill-advised, reading stories about it in order to inform this column was a physically painful exercise. In short, the governor’s new defense amounts to this: it can’t be me in those racist yearbook photos. I was too busy practicing my Michael Jackson blackface. Rather than absolving Northam, this shaky on the best day alibi only raises more questions about Virginia’s Chief Executive and his judgment. From the governor’s own statement:

‘My belief that I did not wear that costume or attend that party stems in part from my clear memory of other mistakes that I made in the same period of my life…That same year, I did participate in a dance contest in San Antonio in which I darkened my face as part of a Michael Jackson costume.’

Then – and I swear, you can’t make this stuff up – Northam actually mentioned that he’d spoken to his black friend ‘Seth’ about his mistakes and learned why his actions were so hurtful. Seth, if you’re listening, this is not your emotional labor to bear. The guy has an M.D. attached to his name. He should be able to figure out that Michael Jackson cosplay is not for him. On his fall from the tree of respectability, humanity and common sense, Ralph Northam hit every single white stereotype branch.”

Read the full post at Contemptor.

MAGA Hat Wearing Teens Demonstrate Hatred and Cultural Arrogance in D.C. March

“What, you may fairly ask, set off the privileged white children in the feral unleashing of their hate upon Phillips? Would you believe me if I told you that Phillips was running interference between the MAGA teens and a small group of black Jews? Of course you would…

Naturally, being a human being of empathy, Phillips placed himself between the angry mob of white kids and the ‘old, black individuals.’ And because no act of decency goes unpunished as a symbol of weakness among the MAGA crowd, the ‘beasts’ (Phillips’ words) quickly turned their anger on the Good Samaritan.

The member of the Omaha Tribe was quick to draw historical parallels between what he witnessed in Washington D.C. and some of the even darker chapters of American history. He said:

‘the looks in these young men’s faces … I mean, if you go back and look at the lynchings that was done (in America) …and you’d see the faces on the people … The glee and the hatred in their faces, that’s what these faces looked like.’

Here’s the part of the whole sorry, degrading and humiliating spectacle that brought me to Soros however. Phillips went on to say that If [the students’] instructors, their own teachers, their own chaperones, would have handled the situation right from the beginning, it would never have happened.’

Really though, wasn’t this what the students and their adult sponsors were hoping to achieve? The right to life movement has always been accompanied by healthy doses of irony, insofar as a fervency to defend the rights of cell clusters supersedes respect for actual, living people. Especially when those humans are merely hosts (sorry, women) and/or brown folks.”

Read the full post at Contemptor.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Youth, Beauty and Strength Cause Predictable, Boring, Bi-Partisan Angst

‘Consider for a moment, the way mainstream media – on the right AND left – worked itself up into a frenzy over Hillary Clinton’s bout of pneumonia during the 2016 presidential election. Honestly, I still have unresolved anger toward MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow for devoting her entire show to Hillary’s 9/11 Memorial fainting spell the Monday after it occurred. Clinton set global flying records during her time as Secretary of State. This same badass endured hours of pointless Benghazi testimony WITH A CONCUSSION, yet was compared unfavorably on the vitality scale with a fat, orange septuagenarian who sniffs his way through televised remarks. Talk about a nothingburger of journalistic malpractice.

But I digress…

The preoccupation with Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez on the right is the same old toxic brew of fear and lust that any intelligent, tough young woman must unfortunately learn to brush off early in her career. It’s sad, pathetic and exhausting, but not unexpected. I wish I could say that the criticism of AOC from the left comes from a completely unique place, but alas, no. Arrogant patronizing is just another tactic birthed by male insecurity.”

Read the full post at Contemptor.

NFL Postseason Preview: The Bears, the AFC South and the Perennial Patriots

“If you’re like me, you look forward to the day, like cycling’s Lance Armstrong, and baseball’s A-Rod before him, when Brady is exposed as the creative doper and career cheater that he is. I wrote it. Come at me bros.

Floatation therapy, my rosy red behind. The story of Tom Brady’s disgraced body coach and business partner Alex Guerreo is far from over, and there’s more to the quarterback’s anger surrounding it than the indignation of a close friend. But for now, we’ve no choice but to swallow the absurd notion that a 41 year-old man can take that many hits and stay at the top of his game, naturally, for 19 years.

While non-Patriot fans await the inevitable post-career schadenfreude that will accompany Brady’s public defrocking, as 2018 closes, we must wonder if any team can stop New England from marching through the playoffs. The Kansas City Chiefs still have a shot at the AFC’s Number One seed, and could end the Patriots Super Bowl hopes, even after losing their last two games. The team is that good.

And should the San Diego Chargers have to settle for Fifth Seed, I wouldn’t count them out of the Super Bowl running either. It would be quite satisfying to watch fellow old man Philip Rivers (37 years old), who led his team to six out of seven road victories this year, put the Patriots away at home.”

Read the full post at Contemptor.

La Ruta

The cast of ‘La Ruta’ at Steppenwolf Theater Company. (Photo: Michael Brosilow)

“With the world premiere production of La Ruta, written by Chicago playwright Isaac Gomez, the theater company burnishes its progressive reputation with another bold, beautiful and timely piece of art. A late 2018 look at the recent, intersectional history of North American trade, gender dynamics, gang warfare, and their collective impact on personal freedoms, director and ensemble member Sandra Marquez leads a stunningly talented all-female cast to an unmitigated dramatic victory.

It’s the late 1990s and NAFTA has created new opportunities and threats for the women living in Mexican border towns. Many of them make arduous bus commutes to work long hours for little pay in U.S.-owned factories. La Ruta — inspired by real testimonies — allows audiences to drop in on the stressful demands that keep them fighting, laughing, singing and working, while unseen men administer a metastasizing culture of fear, corruption and violence that clings to the periphery of every word and action.

In this Steppenwolf production, most of the live music is offered by guitarist, singer and actress Laura Crotte (Desamaya) who leads her fellow cast members through poignant, piercing musical interludes interwoven through the play’s action. A trobairitz (the feminine troubadour) for the late 20th century, the combination of Ms. Crotte’s musical gifts and acting talents result in a stunning visual soundtrack that penetrates the eyes and ears. Audiences are initially drawn in, then bid goodnight by the performer’s siren calls for love, peace and justice. There were more than a few misty eyes in the audience after this week’s first press opening, a testament to La Ruta’s powerful combination of song and drama.”

Read the complete review on The Broadway Blog.