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.