“The play is an odd choice for Flying Elephant Productions’ inaugural theater season conclusion. The theatre describes itself as ‘a company dedicated to presenting the musicals and plays of marginalized communities and then helping them market for future productions.’
What then to say about a choice of source material that features an overly casual storyline about pedophilia? Are abused children not the most marginalized voices of all? Child sexual abuse featured prominently in the prurient headlines generated by the King of Pop in his later years. It’s impossible that anyone who followed Jackson’s career has forgotten the allegations.
Defacing Michael Jackson desires to keep the focus on the historical challenges of racial experience and disharmony, and Michael Jackson is undoubtedly an important cipher for that discussion. By attempting to normalize pedophilia in the play’s script and staging, however, a disturbing piece of Jackson’s legacy becomes inconsequential. It was so jarring to see such a nonchalant exploration of child abuse within the context of Squire’s play that this reviewer found it hard to think of anything else. The work’s intermittent and erratic approach becomes an unfortunate and morally aimless distraction.”
“I found but one aspect of Rae Colon’s source material supremely disappointing. And that is the work’s bi-polar relationship with female empowerment. For example, Dawn is a tough if imperfect advocate drowned by indecision and male subjugation. At the same time, Tilikum’s orca lady neighbors are presented as fearful survivors by turn, morphing into an aquatic iteration of Macbeth’s witches by play’s end. Tilikum is ultimately stripped of his agency, left understood as the tool of white male imprisonment and female bewitchment. The awkward ending undermines an otherwise powerful emerging female voice in contemporary theater.”
“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.”
“The simmering hate between the work’s characters is white hot as well. Press materials accurately describe the plot as structured around the mercurial (and possibly Oedipal) Violet (Mary K. Nigohosian). The dowager ‘has summoned a brain surgeon to her home. Her niece Catherine (Grayson Heyl) has been crazed and traumatized since witnessing the horrifyingly violent death of Violet’s son… unwilling to accept other facts about her son’s life, Mrs. Venable pursues extraordinary measures to keep Catherine silent.’
Of course, because this is a Tennessee Williams script, someone is in the closet and there’s also a plentiful portion of colonial racism. When people of color are not relegated to the periphery, as is the case with Miss Foxhill (played by understudy Song Marshall on opening night), they are forthrightly othered, evidenced in painful detail by Catherine’s story of her never-seen cousin Sebastian’s final days in Spain. At the apex of this moment of sociopolitical resistance, we’ve grown all-too-familiar with uncomfortable tensions between meaningful art, the artist and the cultural period in which he or she created.
So perhaps it’s appropriate that the interpersonal dynamics between Violet, Catherine, and the professionals and family members who spin in their orbit, induce another kind of queasiness. One thing we can say for Tennessee Williams, he liked to dive deeply into the caverns of human experience. It’s the spirit in which Suddenly Last Summer was intended and the talented cast turns in uniformly terrific work.”
“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.”