Buyer & Cellar

Scott Gryder in ‘Buyer & Cellar.’ (Photo: Heather Mall)

“Directed by Jeff Award-winning actor Donterrio Johnson (Judas Iscariot in Theo Ubique Cabaret Theatre’s Jesus Christ Superstar)Buyer & Cellar taps into our culture’s self-hating obsession with the one percent, creating a preposterous setup that still somehow rings plausibly true.

Set in a basement curio shop, it’s here we find Alex More, (Mr. Gryder), an underemployed L.A. actor who’s taken an unusual job. He’s been hired to manage the pre-fabricated mall in the nether regions of Barbra Streisand’s Malibu estate, running the frozen yogurt machine and dusting the dolls, among other mundane tasks. The mall’s only customer is Babs herself, in need of periodic “normalcy.” And the single employee in Ms. Streisand’s land of make-believe is Alex.

The work’s title muses on the multiple meanings of ‘buyer/buying’ and ‘cellar/selling.’ For in two senses, Alex and Barbra are engaging in transactions with one another. By creditably creating a pedestrian experience for the lonely rich woman who has everything, Alex is selling Barbra more than her own goods, even as he willfully purchases the fantasy of theirs as a sustainable friendship of equals. In the cellar, Barbra Streisand walks through the souvenirs of her storied career with Alex and indulges safe opportunity to be vulnerable. The dynamic is complex and intriguing.”

Read the full review on The Broadway Blog.

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Afterglow

(l to r) Jacob Barnes, Jesse Montoya and Rich Holton in ‘Afterglow.’ ( Photo: Heather Mall)

“Mr. Gelman’s 2017 Off-Broadway hit delivers a rather common romantic cautionary tale, arising from a sexually titillating setup. Polyamory (having intimate relationships with more than one partner) underpins a plot revolving around appetites, emotional maturity and the complexities of modern fidelity. The playwright, however, inverts the typical trajectory of a three-way, love-gone-wrong story, starting with what might normally be the end game.

As the curtain lifts, married lovers and expectant parents Alex (Jacob Barnes) and Josh (Rich Holton) are comfortable with their open relationship. Weekend trick Darius (Jesse James Montoya) is just another fling… until he isn’t. The three characters enjoy mutual pleasure and an unspoken understanding that the intimacy ends when the evening does. But the rapacious Josh decides he wants more.

It’s easy to view Josh, a successful stage actor and primary source of financial support for all three men, as an entitled child deferring adulthood. Yet I suspect that in the hands of a more nuanced performer, he’d be more complex than flopping hair and whiny pleading for unearned empathy. The character’s crisis of commitment and responsibility is 10 years ahead of schedule, yet Mr. Holton’s interpretation looks backward. I found myself hoping that Alex and Darius would fall in love and leave Josh behind. Mr. Holton’s rendering of the lead — chiseled glutes aside — is simply too grating to yield any level of devotion and forgiveness.”

Read the full review on the Broadway Blog.

My Name is Rachel Corrie

Halie Robinson in Jacaranda Collective’s ‘My Name is Rachel Corrie.’ (Photo: Zeke Dolezalek)

“Jacaranda Collective leaves a good first impression on the Chicago theater community with the company’s debut production of My Name is Rachel Corrie, currently onstage at The Den Theatre.

Directed by Sam Bianchini, who also serves as Jacaranda’s Artistic Director, it’s immediately apparent that the company and its work are devoted to intimacy, passion and truth. Ms. Bianchini herself seated audience members in The Den Theatre’s third-floor studio space during last weekend’s press opening and graciously thanked all for coming.

It was not, however, Ms. Bianchini’s excellent manners and hospitality that left an indelible impression on this critic and her companion. Rather it was the material and the one-woman tour de force that is Hailie Robinson, playing the titular Rachel. With minimalist staging and few props except scattered books, journals and articles of clothing, Ms. Robinson tells the true, transcontinental story of a creative young woman from the West Coast who sacrifices herself in service of broader social justice and human dignity.”

Read the full post on The Broadway Blog.

Sweat

(l to r) Kirsten Fitzgerald, Keith Kupferer and Tyla Abercrumbie in ‘Sweat.’ (Photo: Liz Lauren)

“In 2000, the United States had not felt the full pain of NAFTA and its crippling of the blue collar workforce. We had yet to experience the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the dot com bust, a housing market implosion and an ensuing, not coincidental spike in opioid addiction that followed these events.

By 2008, we had waved goodbye to Clinton’s budget surpluses, years of relative international peace and the promise of economic stability for those willing to work hard and pay their union dues. The methodical union busting that swept through American industries following NAFTA’s passage drives much of the action in Ms. Nottage’s electric script.

Veteran Ron OJ Parsons returns to direct Goodman Theatre’s rendering of Sweat. The story examines the lives of two generations of friends in a Pennsylvanian Rust Belt town just before, during and after everything about the community’s economic rubric changes. Where generations of residents once moved from high school graduation to factory floor, guaranteeing good wages, a pension and ability to provide for their families, NATFA demanded the acceptance of a new paradigm. Relocated production and the undercutting of worker bargaining which had driven the expansion of the middle class since the end of World War II became the new normal. Opportunities and bank accounts shrank while the temptation to scapegoat “others” (typically immigrants and Americans with brown skin) proved irresistible.”

Click here to the read the full review on The Broadway Blog.

Little Shop Of Horrors

Mercury Theater Chicago’s ‘Little Shop of Horrors.’ (Photo: Brett Beiner)

“Ever since its 1982 Off-Off Broadway premiere, the sci-fi musical Little Shop of Horrors has been a playhouse staple. From high school and summer stock stages to major productions like the 1986 Hollywood film starring Rick Moranis and the short-lived 2003 Broadway production, the script’s sharp comedic dialogue, eye-popping puppetry and engaging score have proven irresistible to local, regional and international companies alike. Just last fall Drury Lane Theatre presented its own take on the plant with a human-size appetite.

Mercury Theater’s rendition is an excellent burnishing of the legendary teamwork between writer Howard Ashman and composer/lyricist Alan Menken. Helmed by Mercury’s Executive Director Walter Stearns with musical direction and choreography from Eugene Dizon and Christopher Carter respectively, the production boasts a uniformly talented and charismatic cast that brings new energy and excitement to a beloved favorite.

Based on a shoestring-budgeted 1960 black comedy of the same name, Little Shop of Horrors gives audiences the story of Seymour Krelborn, a sweet, intelligent if shy and impoverished young man who often finds himself at the mercy of stronger personalities. As played by Christopher Kale Jones, a musical theater veteran who performed in the first national tour of Jersey Boys, this Seymour is hapless with enough self-aware sexiness to render the character’s tragic flaw painful and appealing. Mr. Jones’ Skid Row botanist knows how his story ends as soon as it starts – so close to love and acceptance he can literally smell it.”

Read the full post at The Broadway Blog.

The Total Bent

(l to r) Michael Turrentine, Gilbert Domally and Breon Arzell in the Chicago premiere of ‘The Total Bent.’ (Photo: Austin D. Oie)

“Some of these themes are timeless, such as the tensions between father and son, and the experience of growing up black and gay in a red state, as Marty does. That said, the action takes place in 1960s Alabama, and so the Civil Rights Movement is a de facto character, shaping the musical present and futures of Marty and his gospel star father, Joe. At varying intervals, both characters are slapped with “Uncle Tom” labels by their community, in direct correlation with the growth of their financial prospects. Then as now, racial tensions and economics are interconnected.

Although the story is ostensibly Marty’s (and other idealistic, disillusioned, queer black men of the era for whom Marty speaks), it is Joe Roy’s voice we hear first. Given life by actor and Poi Dog Pondering band member Robert Cornelius, what a voice is it. The show opens with Joe’s barn burning, blues gospel number “That’s Why…” which is an instant classic.

In case you’re wondering what comes after the ellipses, the full chorus of the song is “That’s Why…He’s Jesus and You’re Not, Whitey.” The amazing soundtrack bursts with rich tunes that break the mold of traditional spirituals. They are infused with anger, pain, irreverence, passion, truth and hope. Irrespective of one’s relationship with the Holy Ghost, audience members will be summoned from their chairs and moved to their feet.”

Read the full post at The Broadway Blog.

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.