“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.”
“Déraspe owes a tremendous ideological debt to the Existentialist school of thought, a philosophy to which she contributes her own perspective. The script develops Jean Paul-Sartre’s famous conclusion that ‘Hell is other people,’ extending the paradigm to include the self. After all, ‘I’ am still a person capable of rendering my world a psychological hellscape. The script asks audiences to consider the satisfying and painful aspects of both solitude and partnership, without offering a definitive value judgment of either state.
You Are Happy presents theatergoers with the small, quirky story of career woman and committed singleton, Bridget (Emily Turner – ASL, Elana Weiner-Kaplow – Voice). Bridget is the vigilant caretaker of her brother, Jeremy (Brendan Connelly – ASL, Bowie Foote – Voice), a suicidally depressed young man yearning for the stabilizing forces of domestic partnership. Bridget, who seems more evolved in terms of understanding the often-arbitrary nature of human happiness, plucks a potential girlfriend for her sibling from the aisles of a local grocery store.
Chloe (Michelle Mary Schaefer – ASL, Sarah JK Shoemaker – Voice) has been dateless for some time, confiding that work, the occasional outing with friends, and the confines of her apartment don’t offer much opportunity to meet available men, emotionally or otherwise. When Bridget accosts Chloe at the market with a “crazy” plan to move her brother into the single woman’s place, creating an instant relationship, Chloe’s not as terrified as logic might suggest she ought to be.”
“The powerful script, which premiered Off-Broadway at Manhattan Theatre Club in 2018, drops the audience in on James (Michael Turrentine), a gentle young slave and part of a makeshift family toiling on a plantation in the Deep South (exact state undefined). The Civil War is nearing its bitter end, although James and his “people,” Aunt Mama (Renee Lockett) and Mattie (Ashley Crowe), have no way of knowing this. What they do know, via a literate James who reads old newspapers during his infrequent leisure time, is that President Lincoln may soon sign a law freeing slaves from their formal subjugation. A glimmer of hope, and a prayer to the mystical old tree that seems tied to James’ destiny fortify the trio that divine justice is imminent.
Into this overworked, physically and emotionally abused, but tight-knit family walks Henry (Londen Shannon), a handsome and mysterious stranger with sexy qualities that command the attention of Mattie and James in similar ways. Mattie is keenly aware of the emotional and physical desire she feels in Henry’s presence. James, giving off more than a touch of pure, Christ-like goodness in the style of Melville’s Billy Budd, is slower to understand the nature of his attraction. In any case, after Henry’s arrival, a potentially dangerous sexual tension is introduced between the two men.”
“Since we know the Donald gives less than half a shit about the experiences of everyday Americans, we can assume he’d like to avoid the fate of Chris Christie. At a Chicago Cubs vs. Milwaukee Brewers game in July 2017, the former Governor of New Jersey and onetime Trump acolyte got all he wanted from fans who jeered him as a “hypocrite” (this still gives me the LOLs).
Given the endless, howling torrents of controversy blowing through the Trump administration, including an active impeachment investigation unfolding in the House of Representatives, one might wonder why 45 finds it necessary to insert himself into the World Series at all. This report from the Associated Press makes the laudably straight-faced claim that the orange one’s appearance at Nationals Park ‘will continue a rich tradition of intertwining the American presidency with America’s pastime.’ The article also mentions that George W. Bush wore a bulletproof vest to a game at Yankee Stadium in 2001, but Trump is concerned that the protective device might make him ‘look too heavy.’ The jokes…they write themselves.
Fans with tickets to Sunday night’s game will undergo extra security measures, and face superlative demands upon their patience and attention. If the Nationals prevail tonight, the team will be just one win away from its first World Series championship. The presence of a megalomaniacal, tangerine-colored buffoon desperate for good press threatens to overrun a potentially bi-partisan celebration for a Washington D.C. that has suffered extensive brand damage since January 2017.”
“As the musical begins, Alfie’s internal life finds expression in his commitment to community theater. Leading a merry band of invested misfits in a production of Oscar Wilde’s Salome, Alfie courts controversy — and a reckoning with his own soul — as he prepares his team for “Going Up” in the basement of St. Imelda’s church. The arrangements of the songs in each scene, such this one about the flurry of preparing for opening night, categorically respond to Alfie’s own internal, if invisible, mood swings. With music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics from Lynn Ahrens, A Man of No Importance’s score supports a small story, compelling for its ability to give voice to the people we fail to notice each day.
If the work is intentionally understated, that doesn’t prevent a dynamic and capable cast from pulling off big emotional drama, matched only by show-stopping song and dance. Staged inside the relatively small, 85-seat Broadway Theatre of the Pride Arts Center, the production feels large, owing to onstage and creative talent adept at realizing big visions in tight spaces.”