“The play’s denouement still has the power to produce audible gasps in the 21st century. The audience, privy only to the superficial thoughts and actions of both Nora and Torval, becomes trained to take both spouses at face value. Director Lauren Shouse and her talented cast prove that a well-known conclusion can still offer genuine surprise, dropping subtle breadcrumbs throughout the play that suggest Nora’s ‘Aha!’ moment is subconscious work years in the making.
Torval — shallow, unimaginative and condescending — is a man who enjoys telling anyone who will listen about his hard work and moral rectitude. He is at his most interesting when interacting with longtime family friend and secret Nora acolyte, Dr. Rank (Terry Gallagher). Rank, physically aggrieved and cynical, is all-too-aware that life’s pleasures are ephemeral and meant to be enjoyed. While his bond with the hedonist-lite and beautiful Nora makes perfect sense, it’s hard to understand the character’s amusement with kill-joy Torval.
Yet Wallace allows his character to display endearing flashes of heroine worship toward his wife that hint at greater, if repressed, emotional depth. His clear, superficially besotted yearning must have weakened the knees of a young Nora, as undoubtedly as it does the audience. It is easy to love someone who routinely espouses one’s perfection.
But thanks to Danan’s commanding performance, we sense that Nora never fully trusted her husband’s placement of her on that pedestal. It’s evident that she sees herself as window dressing, albeit fluent in niceties. Danan infuses Nora’s Act I trifling dialogue with a sort of omniscient dread that makes a familiar journey feel novel. This character sees it all coming – even if she doesn’t know it until the moment she picks up her small bag and walks out the front door.”
“Middleton creates a fully realized portrait of Norma as sexually and ideologically conflicted, the product of a broken home, and an uneducated addict with a shifting moral code. The multi-dimensional portrayal is engaging. The real Norma was no saint. Neither was she a villain. Instead, like so many impoverished women trapped by society’s legal control of female reproduction, she needed options, support and validation. Middleton’s interpretation of these dramatic tensions gives the audience a Norma McCorvey who is desperate for acceptance, aware of her limitations, and always in search of her personal truth.
That said, some of the play’s other characters are difficult to endure, and in the quest of fair and balanced dogma, the playwright performs too many narrative contortions to make them work. For example, there’s Flip (Ryan Kitley), the “minister of the Free Methodist Church and future head of Operation Rescue.” Norma meets Flip and his family while volunteering, post-Roe v. Wade decision, at an abortion clinic. Audiences can see Flip for the manipulative, flim-flam spiritual practitioner that he is, just as easily as we understand why Norma is seduced by the ideas of forgiveness, salvation and community.
So why for God’s sake (pun intended), does Loomer bother with Flip’s reformed, dissipated youth backstory? It’s frustrating, inauthentic, and seems to imply, however unintentionally, that Flip now walks the right moral path and is a fit judge of Norma’s spiritual journey. Egads. Hasn’t she endured enough without the extra heavy helping of mansplaining?”
“Should we care about the story of the police shooter in the aftermath of his or her life-claiming error, however well-intentioned? I’m not sure I would have otherwise considered the question, but SHEEPDOG dares audience members to get invested in Drew, even if we can’t fully understand or forgive.
In a display of dramatic brass, Artigue, a white male writer, successfully creates Amina, an independent, intelligent, tough, self-made African-American woman. She is the vehicle for our collective investigation of the complicated socio-economic and racial dynamics that so frequently end in the death of young black men. But she is also a fully-realized human being — in love, ready to start a family with her trusted “person,” a fellow servant of justice and the public.
The choice for a white male author to put this much burden on a black, female character could be interpreted as an act of unearned creative privilege. And in the hands of a less deft production company, the deployment of a black woman to take us through an “All Lives Matter” story might irritate. But in this production, it absolutely works for a few important reasons, including the narrative voice which belongs completely to Amina, forcefully articulated by Sheppard’s performance.”
“As the play opens, the audience meets two very different New York City women. Callie (Flavia Pallozzi) is a sophisticated on-air traffic reporter who stayed in the Big Apple after graduating college. Callie knows all the good restaurants and maintains a somewhat messy friends-with-benefits arrangement with her longtime friend George (Shane Novoa Rhoades). She lacks real passion for any of it, assuming that existential boredom is a tradeoff for the sensory stimulation of urban life.
Bright, excited and freshly relocated from St. Louis, Sara (Kylie Anderson) is a sheltered free spirit ready to leave her mark on New York. A committed public school teacher who has already tried and rejected heteronormative suburban life with her ex-fiancé Peter (Joe Faifer, in a dual role), Sara is looking for something more. After a rather pedantic establishment of their friendship rooted in cat-sitting, it’s clear that Sara and Callie have simmering chemistry.
The structure of the play’s narrative fully supports the organic, but complicated development of the women’s relationship. Their mutual attraction becomes apparent, then the action and timeline flip to a violent incident months later, which explicitly calls upon the integrity, resilience and heretofore undefined commitment of both characters. As the production moves back and forth between the nascent days of Sara and Callie’s attraction, and the “after,” which must necessarily change everything, we can follow the halting emotional and spiritual investment the characters make in one another, finding it as relatedly imperfect as our own unpredictable experiences.”
“For all its touching human empathy, Bette: Xmas at the Continental Baths is anything but maudlin. For this iteration of Hell in a Handbag’s celebrated cabaret production, Jackson’s Bette Midler is supported by an energetic cast that includes Terry McCarthy as Continental Baths proprietor and king of one-liners, Mr. Gerard. Sydney Genco and Allison Petrillo supply abundant adorableness and powerful vocals as Bette’s ditzy backup singers, Trixie and Laverne. And Tommy Ross is back as The Man Who Writes the songs, Midler’s one-time musical director Barry Manilow.
This team collaboration results in an 80-minute bowl of chicken soup for the humorless, weary holiday soul. The combination of historical context, production precedence and 2019 invention allows for an experience that is both familiar and fresh. We know Bette Midler and her songbook. Older audience members can still remember when being gay meant forced basement retreats to ensure safety and self-expression. LGBTQ Americans are still fighting for equality in the workplace and other public spaces every day. But it’s not all joyless slog – and it never was.
The needle has moved since Better Midler first shimmied her way through the Continental Baths, and certain freedoms have become enshrined in public law. But the holidays and strained family relationships are unmoored from time, and the deliciously dangerous experience of loudly and proudly finding communion in the arts is evergreen. Caitlin Jackson and her collaborators understand this and have gifted Chicago theatergoers with another winning Bathhouse Betty production.”
“Alright Anonymous, supposing there is any truth at all to the assertion that democracy’s white knights were embedded in 2018, undetected, in a White House rife with paranoia and reactionary ignorance, what measurable good has your incognito resistance produced? May I remind you that nationally televised House of Representatives impeachment hearings begin this coming Wednesday evening? If a patriotic duty to remain in your post was required to prevent international violations of the Constitution like Trump’s Ukrainian quid pro quo, nice work Monkey Boy (or Girl).
Now comes late 2019 word that, just in time for the holiday season, Anonymous has published him or herself an entire book. Since this person’s only real concern is for the American people, I’m sure all proceeds are being donated to the Immigrant Defense Project, or another worthy non-profit that has extra full hands fighting injustice in the Trump era. We may never know this person’s name, but we shan’t doubt they toil on the right side of history. Why? Because they say so!”
“Equal parts musical, mystical and pedantic, Hoodoo Love, as directed by Wardell Julius Clark, is a Depression-era, Tennessee prism through which an audience member can grow mesmerized by any refraction. The play ends as it begins, with Toulou (Martasia Jones) staring out toward the railroad tracks, guitar strapped to her back, ready to ‘catch that train’ in search of her soul-singing destiny. In between these identical scenes, there is labor, love, loss, friendship, hypocrisy and hope, all sprinkled with a little of the Hoodoo magic Toulou borrows from her neighbor, a widowed former slave and shawoman known as Candylady (Shariba Rivers).
The play’s second, lengthy, and impossibly sexy scene is a bedroom tussle between Toulou and her lover, a complex rolling stone of a music man named Ace of Spades (Matthew James Elam). To the sweaty credit of intimacy and violence designer Rachel Flesher, audiences may find themselves jonesing for a cigarette after the couple’s lovemaking is through. Set against the backdrop of a Deep South thunderstorm, these few minutes are excitingly erotic, without bawdiness, and establish an authentic foundation for understanding Toulou’s addiction.
While Toulou prides herself on resourceful independence, Ace’s artistic gifts behind the microphone (and between the sheets) spring the young woman into the sultry Memphis stratosphere. With the passionate impatience of the smitten, Toulou engages the “good” magical services of Candylady to make her Ace of Spades think about staying a while. The women’s best intentions inadvertently touch off a sequence of disastrous events beyond antidote, reinforcing the play’s central ideological argument. Circumstances may be manipulated, but love and human nature are inherently immutable, answerable only to their own animal instincts.”