“To explore these questions, Kaufman and the Tectonic Theater Project made a series of visits to Laramie to conduct an extensive series of interviews with residents of the shaken town. It is to the writers’ collective credit that a tapestry of perspectives is recorded and shared. There are those who empathize with Matthew and his grieving family but dodge behind scripture and small-town convention to victim shame Shepard, avoiding an actual reckoning with the unspeakable crime. The murderers, Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson, are held up by this crowd as aberrations, deviants—like Shepard himself.
But there are other stories, stories of revelation and personal growth. The white, middle-aged male homicide detective who sees Matthew’s broken body, consoles his devastated parents and decides that homophobia is as dangerous and out of place as a loaded canon. The Catholic priest who concludes that he doesn’t need a Bishop’s blessing or the Bible’s permission to organize a candlelight vigil or publicly condemn the student’s killers. The cautious lesbian academic who becomes more doggedly determined to live her truth, even at the potential risk of her personal safety.
The voices, vignettes and names onstage rotate frequently, embodied by a chameleon-like cast of 12 talented performers.”
“Almost 10 years into a theater criticism career on the Windy City beat, I experienced a first after the proverbial curtain dropped on Guards at the Taj, the haunting new production from Steppenwolf Theatre Company. Before I could find the way to Halsted Street to catch a ride home with my husband, I needed a few minutes to regroup in the restroom. I’m not talking a couple solitary tears. It was a full-on ugly cry. It’s not often that one encounters a work that makes such an immediate, visceral and I suspect, long-lasting impression on the psyche.
The play by 2010 Pulitzer Prize finalist Rajiv Joseph is so many things at once: a wry comedy, a beautiful story of friendship, a timeless examination of cultural stigmas, the burdens of duty and the limited choices that confront the poor and powerless each day. The work is a brilliant, linguistic joy, as well as incredibly difficult to watch. Neither Joseph nor director (and Steppenwolf ensemble member) Amy Morton allow the audience to retreat from the conflicting tensions baked into this amazing, one-act piece.”
“Bull in a China Shop illuminates the history of real-life academics and lovers Mary Woolley (Kelli Simpkins) and Jeanette Marks (Emjoy Gavino) at an accelerated, yet thoroughly engaging pace. At the turn of the 20th Century and beyond, Woolley the professor and Marks the student go through a series of career and geographical changes, while passionately endeavoring to create a freer and more representative place for women in global society. Tactics and ideology morph in response to current events and individual circumstances, but Wooley and Marks never sacrifice their devotion to one another. The play is a touching, 40-year love story featuring two brilliant academic, feminist minds. A true tonic for the wounds inflicted by toxic male masculinity narratives.
Yet Wooley and Marks are not one-dimensional saints of suffrage. They are complicated and ambitious. They make compromises that are called into public and private question. They are fully and richly human. The tall, stately Simpkins and the diminutive, but powerful Gavino have a gorgeous onstage rapport that communicates the surprising steadfastness of a relationship that began when Marks was but an idolizing teenager.”
“In theory and practice, the production’s goals are laudable. American women in the 1950s were asked to (pleasantly) accept fairly schizophrenic gender roles and norms. After serving their country during the 1940s in the military, factories and other labor and commercial enterprises, the very same ladies were asked to make do with a return to home and hearth management. For many, a “taste” of economic contribution and participation made reverting to more limited ambitions a disquieting experience. These stories are not told often enough.
At the same time, there are still far too few women at the helm of major theatrical endeavors. During the 2016–2017 Broadway season for example, of more than 30 announced productions, only four musicals and two plays are were directed by women. This iteration of A Taste of Things to Come is directed and choreographed by Lorin Latarro, who worked on the Broadway and National Tours of Waitress, among other projects.
The performers who comprise the cast, in particular, Marissa Rosen who plays doting domestic and frequent breeder Dottie O’Farrell, deserve to be household names. In addition to Rosen’s commanding vocals and sharp comedic skills, Cortney Wolfson (Joan Smith), Libby Servais (Connie Olsen) and Linedy Genao (Agnes), take the material they’re given and try to make it crackle. All are proven musical theater veterans that are fun to watch.
Yet I wanted so much more from A Taste of Things to Come. I came away from Sunday’s opening night feeling disappointed by the production’s fluffy overall experience. And it’s clear that the fault lies with the source material, rather than the work of the fine musical, technical and performance talent.”
“Somehow in my theatrical wanderings, I’ve never read the script, nor attended a production of Tennessee Williams’ ubiquitous A Streetcar Named Desire. So after seeing Through the Elevated Line, the latest offering from Silk Road Rising, I took to Google to familiarize myself with the material’s themes and plot summary. The world premiere by playwright Novid Parsi bills itself as containing “echoes” of Williams’ work and indeed, Parsi nails the fundamental disagreeability of the three lead characters. I’m not sure what’s in the water cooler within the Chicago theater community, but antiheroes are having a somewhat dominant moment.
In Elevated, the dishonest and self-awareless Blanche DuBois becomes Razi (Salar Ardebili), a slight, openly gay man fleeing unknown hardships and haunted memories to join his sister and her husband in Chicago. The Stella to his Blanche is Soraya (Catherine Dildilian), a budding dermatologist Americanized by her Western education and complicated marriage to Wrigleyville Bro archetype, Chuck (Joshua J. Volkers). Chuck is an odd hybrid of 21st Century social liberalism and toxic maleness that is sort of perfect for the current cultural debate around gender dynamics. Volkers does good work portraying the big, bullying man with repellent hints of sexiness.”
“Goodman Theatre Artistic Director Robert Falls has chosen well in selecting Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People for a new adaptation, currently onstage in the Albert Theatre. One hundred and fifty years after its debut, the play’s themes feel ripped from today’s headlines. Press materials succinctly describe Ibsen’s complex masterpiece as follows, “When a water contamination crisis puts their community in peril, two brothers—Dr. Stockmann and Mayor Stockmann—face off in a battle of political ambitions and moral integrity.”
If this synopsis evokes visions of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, which dumped millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, or if it reminds one of the Flint water crisis, which is approaching its fourth lead-fueled anniversary, this is no accident. Falls’ staging of An Enemy of the People tweaks the timeless source material just enough to leave absolutely no doubt that we’re looking at today’s sociopolitical climate. Ibsen was ahead of his time but he didn’t coin the term ‘fake news.’ Audiences will see terrific actors in comely period costumes rather than MAGA hats, but Falls and his production team won’t let us leave Trump’s America.”
“It also must be said that Annie and Curtis are pretty terrible people. Whether this is intentional or not, Thomas can’t resist writing the friends into broad generational stereotype. Annie is not quite the independent and woke lesbian to which her twentysomething self-aspires. An aversion to information and the truth about her idealized grandparents (a mystery that propels the script) smacks of petulant, subjective privilege. Annie lives rent-free in the family homestead and repays the boon with hypocrisy. At least initially, she pretends to historical contribution by neutering the stories of loved ones – as an act of warped self-preservation. It is unappealing.
Curtis pursues career ambition through dishonest, obsessive and mercenary behavior that makes his network of friends uncomfortable. And the character can afford this “problematic” (one of Curtis’ favorite words) approach, without a steady income, because of another type of privilege he’s young enough to take for granted—marriage equality. Curtis’ never-seen husband underwrites his amateur, and ultimately fruitless quest to mine Annie’s past for personal gain.
It’s a good thing then that, in a neat trick of narrative creativity, Annie and Curtis’ stories are not the point. They are mere cyphers for taking a fresh look at the complicated and colorful tapestry of living Baby Boomer gay in post-World War II America. And though Scrantom and Hall turn in serviceable performances, they and their characters ultimately take a backseat to the fine work done by Esteban Andres Cruz and Riley Mondragon in multiple, poignant roles.”