“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.”
“The storytelling parallels, the dramatic tension involved in understanding “right” while secretly lusting after “wrong,” are what brought my thoughts to Black Panther as I exited the theatre after last week’s premiere. Unfortunately, the corollary does not pull through to the pacing and denouement of the respective works. At two hours and 45 minutes with one intermission, Mary Stuart is unreasonably long considering stretches of tedious dialogue that fail to move the action forward. I’ve no objection to sitting for almost three hours when fully engaged, but Thompson would have been wise to exhibit more editorial leadership.
And since audiences, ultimately, endure no real suspense about the ending, as Mary entertains with her colorful flaws, the final scene feels incredibly ham-fisted, if technically impressive. I don’t believe in spoilers, so will say no more. However Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s Mary Stuart, like its namesake, is an imperfect experience.”
“Sometimes a fantastic piece of art is offered at the perfect cultural moment for receiving its honesty, and it amplifies a work that would still be effective in a vacuum. Such is the case with Goodman Theatre’s Chicago premiere of The Wolvesfrom playwright Sarah DeLappe.
#MeToo meets the empowered social consciousness of Generation Z in this 2017 Pulitzer Prize finalist. DeLappe’s work introduces a number of twists to bring freshness to the teen girl coming-of-age comedy-drama. For one, all of the onstage action occurs on a truncated soccer field. Scenic design veteran Collette Pollard, a regular Goodman contributor, should clear space on her mantel come awards season. By the end of the performance, I was ready to fold my program into a Jeff Award and hand it to her. It’s hard to overstate how well the creative team as a whole executes DeLappe’s vision.
The dynamic and diverse cast of 10 young women who make up the players and supporters of a fictional soccer club do so much more than provide an audience with real, accessible and imperfect characters. The Wolves is a literal exercise in personal growth. For 90 minutes, these girls grapple with issues as complex and relevant as racism, eating disorders, death, sexual discovery, menstruation, gender dynamics and more – all while doing calisthenics. It’s like watching old Michael Jackson concert footage – how could he continue singing full-throated AND dance that way?”
“The show, as it were, belongs to Guinan, as it frequently does when one finds him in the Playbill. Francis Guinan joined the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in 1979, the same year as his friend and collaborator John Mahoney. The two also shared screen time during Mahoney’s long run on Frasier.
There is a scene toward the end of the second act where an increasingly frail Dad sheds a few subtle tears while discussing the trajectory of his life with Mae. There is no doubt that Guinan’s prodigious talent and emotional range includes the ability to weep on demand. But Wednesday’s night’s performance had something else that the actor was willing to share with his audience. The vulnerability of a man grieving the loss of a friend, dead of the very same disease that afflicts Dad. Guinan did not weep alone. The muffled sobs of hardened theatergoers were audible in the scene’s moments of quiet.
The latest Steppenwolf production of You Got Older would be a terrific success without the ghost of John Mahoney floating around the edges. It’s stripped down, raw human experience across the psychological spectrum. And the material is in the hands of a wildly capable cast and crew. But Mahoney is there, and his creative presence adds an additional layer of urgency. This is one to see.”