“Red Theater Chicago’s production of An Oak Treehas a lot of good ideas. Written as it were by Tim Crouch, the semi-improvisational script tackles themes of loss, guilt and the ways one might manipulate reality to manage overwhelming experiences. It also leverages a handy and creative metaphor for that exploration.
Featuring Gage Wallace as First Actor, or Hypnotist, the play’s action occurs a year after a tragedy for which the Hypnotist is partly responsible. The family-friendly practitioner of the occult has lost his mojo, a development he reveals honestly and exhaustedly to his latest audience. When the Hypnotist seeks volunteers to participate in his ‘act’ (word very carefully chosen), his eyes fall upon a man he does not recognize, but should. Without giving away spoilers, the actor who takes a seat upon the Hypnotist’s stage is intimately involved in last year’s tragedy, and the two characters begin a cerebral, transcendental verbal dance that slowly exposes their respective suffering.
Here’s the script’s creative rub. Second Actor, or the individual who raises his or her hand to be hypnotized, is played each night by a different performer. Per An Oak Tree’s press packet, ‘the second actor will discover the play and their role at the same time as you [audience members] do.’ Actors and actresses who’ve agreed to take on the role are announced the Tuesday before the production’s weekend performances.”
“The work begins promisingly, casting Shriner as a small-town, high school show choir nerd who loses her virginity to an elusive, emotionally unavailable boyfriend. While the man-child proves disposable, Shriner’s love for the sexual chase and experience becomes one of the “10,000 pieces” that compromise her character. Branded by her peers in Indiana, and into her undergraduate college years at Millikin University in Central Illinois as a “bad” girl of dubious morals, Shriner makes the (seemingly) conscious decision to let her freak flag fly.
But then a #MeToo reckoning is squeezed into a momentum-slowing fashion between its riotous setup and compromising denouement. While painfully authentic and emotional, the sudden pivot to a plotline involving a past sexual assault undercuts what is previously served up as a narrative of female agency. As a feminist writer who urgently believes that more complicated, messy stories for and by women are needed across the entertainment spectrum, it pains me to see the production’s structure as an inadvertent capitulation to the very patriarchy it critiques. The subsequent upshift to a final 10 minutes of sex comedy ends with Shriner’s proscripted, heteronormative conclusion. It’s not what we’re lead to expect and it feels like a cheat.”
“While it’s gratifying to see the authors call-out the ‘nativist fear’ mongering of Trump’s campaign swing in support of Republican candidates across the country, it’s hard not to flinch at the part about ‘the glowing report on the nation’s economy.’ As if that is any credit to the current POTUS or his policies. It’s particularly troubling to read this during the same week that President Obama, who in hard fact pulled the American economy out of a deep ditch in 2008 and placed it on a sustainable path Trump has not had enough time to fully destroy, is out there laboring.
44 is leveraging his earned leadership capital and personal charisma to articulate remarkable, abundant policy and humanitarian differences which divide 2018’s Democratic and Republican candidates. The Trump administration and his conservative sycophants have done all they can to erase the forward cultural and economic movement, the calls to basic decency, championed by President Obama. It’s galling when supposedly credible media sources assist that effort.
Deeper into their Times article, Herdon and Ember demonstrate an awareness that Republican ownership claims to a relatively stable economy are on a shaky foundation.”
“In 2018 America, utter disregard for women, their stories and their bodies starts at the top. This week, we learned that one of our country’s most powerful and influential global companies has taken steps to eradicate workplace harassment, with a clear if unspoken demand that we pat leadership on the back for its forward thinking.
On Thursday, reports emerged that Google fired 48 employees over a two-year period for sexual misconduct. Great news, right? The company sure seems to think so. Note the overt self-congratulation in an internal email sent to global staff:
‘In recent years, we’ve made a number of changes, including taking an increasingly hard line on inappropriate conduct by people in positions of authority.’
As a woman, a corporate worker and a thinking person, I’m not sure how I’m supposed to feel about this news, though Google would clearly appreciate my gender giving thanks for its wokeness.”
“The script from two-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Lynn Nottage (2009’s Ruined and 2017’s Sweat) also leaves open the distinct and tantalizing possibility that his wife’s ghost isn’t the only spirit Godfrey is fleeing. Lily, sister of the deceased, makes a reappearance on the relocated Crump doorstep that leaves everyone breathless. Loud, unabashed and full-on woke, in an era when Jim Crow laws and separate-but-equal instructed African-Americans to “know their place,” Lily is unafraid to take up space and speak her mind. For the damaged Crump family, this is both enticing and threatening.
The unvoiced dialogue between Godfrey and Lily is suggestive of a more complicated and intertwined past between the two. Their immediate and still-palpable chemistry sends Godfrey fleeing in yet another direction — right into the chaste arms of Gerte (Emily Tate), a recent white, German immigrant that Godfrey meets on the subway. Charmed by her submissiveness and willingness to follow the teachings of the never-seen Father Devine, Godfrey impulsively marries Gerte and installs her in his crowded and emotionally charged Brooklyn basement flat.
Within the cramped rooms of the Crump apartment, religious, racial and sexual tensions flare as Ernestine prepares to graduate high school and transition to adulthood. While all of the cast members acquit themselves well and present the audience with a complicated and authentic slice of Eisenhower-era Americana, it is Ms. Buckley who completely commands our rapt attention.”
“Steppenwolf’s production, helmed by Director Jonathan Barry, keeps what is great about the original staging mostly intact. For example, the work is no musical, but it definitely has rhythm. Movement Consultant Dan Plehal turns ensemble cast members into fulcrums and pulleys, deployed effectively to lift Christopher into the air in concert with manic descriptions of his dreams and wishes. For example, in Act I, Mr. Bell is balanced on an actor’s feet as Christopher describes the weightlessness and pleasant solitude he might enjoy as an astronaut. In these scenes, the audience is reminded that Christopher is a complex genius, but also still very much a child. Even the most literal of young minds still has a capacity for fancy.
By the end of the play, Christopher has physically and emotionally stretched himself in new directions that none in his circle could have rightly anticipated. He enacts change within his family circle, community, and his own formerly very rigid and linear worldview. To be spoiler-free in this review, it’s enough to say that his fractious parents Ed (Cedric Mays) and Judy (Rebecca Spence) find themselves outwitted by Christopher, leading them toward better versions of themselves and allowing them to serve as more persuasive behavioral models for their son.”
“This is the second time that Baby Boomer and Generation X women have watched an articulate, brave and credible professional humiliated and dismissed by the men in the Senate Chamber. Anita Hill has been a rallying cry for feminists in search of equality and fair representation since 1991. Now Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s is another name we shall never forget.
But you know what hurts the most, as a voting American woman acutely repulsed by the Senate’s codification of a man’s right to take what he wants (and can get) on his uninterrupted march to the top? Though much of this scenario has felt similar to the events of 27 years ago, it is in fact the first time that a woman, a particular Senator, Maine’s Susan Collins, handed the judgement of another over to her male colleagues. And in so doing, she has reaffirmed the sneering dismissal of sexual violence allegations and the real pain behind the “#MeToo movement. She has communicated that the violation of a woman’s body is a normalized act of juvenile sport, rather than a disqualifying leadership behavior. And with her vote, Collins has also left settled law and precedent regarding a woman’s right to choose open for re-litigation.”