“Love it or (more likely) loathe it: the Trump administration has gifted America with comedy gold. POTUS 45’s more hateful policies (such as a xenophobic immigration strategy infused with class warfare or fossil-fuel tilted deregulation) are no laughing matter. Though many are feeling the country less morally tolerable by the second, we’re often surprised by genuine if unintentional humor. It’s hard not to laugh at former Trump press secretary-turned-dance-competition-contestant Sean Spicer, or the linguistic presents we’ve received from our Commander-in-Chief’s illiterate tongue and keyboard – “covfefe,” “infantroopen” and so much more. So why is Trump in Space not funny?
Many, including myself, had high expectations for the limited run at Chicago’s Laugh Out Loud Theater. Lampooning this White House should be as easy as shooting fish in the proverbial barrel. The show is a product of the esteemed Second City Hollywood Studio Theater, where it has enjoyed a 23-month stint with rave reviews. In the hands of the original, founding Windy City chapter of the comedy powerhouse, I figured what has already been found quality can only improve.
As it turns out, that’s not true. It’s impossible to say with certainty, having not seen the California edition, what liberties the Chicago troupe took with the source material. As with any improv comedy piece, Trump in Space appears to have broadly drawn plot elements with plenty of room left for individual craftsmanship. What I can say with conviction is that with this group of performers, in this city and on this stage, the work is disappointingly bland and uninspired.”
“Red Tape Theatre’s artistic leadership has a knack for creating relevant works that offer important critiques on the sociopolitical issues of today. This latest production continues that pattern by dusting off source material about human suffering that accompanied the world’s first tango with industrialized trench warfare — just as we’re grappling with new concepts of violence at the hands of weaponized trade, immigration and environmental policy.
With a terrific, diverse ensemble cast led by the electric Elena Victoria Feliz in the role of Paul, this rendering of Mr. Remarque’s novel leverages music, rhythm and special effects to humanize a band of German soldiers on the wrong side of history. Familiar pop tunes with themes of war, movement and strategically placed smoke dissolve nationality and “siderism” into a universal parable of fear, longing and inevitability. Agnostic of time or place, the troops dance the haka to communicate wild male aggression, and it works. We understand that when so much is unknown, it’s psychologically safest to keep moving, to stay muted and guarded.
So much of this understanding is communicated through Ms. Feliz’s eyes. It could be easy to dismiss her mostly silent role, but the performance and her character are the production’s moral, emotional and physical center. Paul is the omniscient narrator who knows how the story of the 2nd Company ends, even as he’s living it, stoically following through every chapter with empathy and tremendous sadness. This earns Paul the respect of his platoon and solidifies for the audience that Paul’s is the balanced perspective through which we should collectively process the experiences we see onstage. Ms. Feliz achieves this narrative feat using very little more than eye contact with her fellow actors, the folks in the cheap seats, even with the sound engineer. This young actress is going to do big things.”
“Just Chilling contains several original ideas, including subtle but clear allegorical allusions to the chaos engulfing our current national politics via an illiterate, ill-informed Washington zombie of the living variety. Are there more substantial community dangers in pretending everything is business as usual, even as people’s metaphorical and literal faces are being eaten? Do we owe each other unvarnished truth? These are weighty questions, and academic nuance one might not expect from a comedy staged in a theatre space best known for improv. The laudable effort from Mr. Radke to actually say something renders Just Chilling far more interesting than sci-fi trifle.
In the grand tradition of the best psychological horror, a zombie is never seen, nor do bloody figures dragging their decaying carcasses in pursuit of the living appear. Instead, the potential end of days unravels through the conversations and dynamics of its six characters thrown together by crisis as they drink, worry and tear each other apart inside a Gold Coast apartment building.
Thirty-something yuppie couple Rod (Dave Satterwhite) and Lani (Liz Greenwood) reside in the flat where the disparate personalities converge. An entirely separate Pinter-esque play could be made from their toxic relationship, which crackles with resentment, breeched intimacy and smugness. The zombie apocalypse trope does not typically demand this much in the way of character depth, but the audience is better engaged for it.”
“Though the production’s four core performers delivered much of the laboring confusion, it seems unfair to lay blame at their feet. There were several moments during which the cast seemed to be going through the directed motions, as desperate for connection as frustrated audience members. And whether their delivery was vocal, instrumental or both, the team acquits itself well of lyric and song.
I can’t say much about the disjointed snatches of narrative I was able to grasp – a fairytale, an astronomer, some type of omniscient bear possessed of Freddie Krueger-like dream manipulation skill, a subway murder and Edgar Allen Poe. I will admit, however, that I’m still nodding my head to “Any Kind of Dead Person,” and performer Rachel Guth’s energetic, passionate rendering of the song.
However, like so many devotees of occult phenomena, I feel like one or two glimpses of soul aren’t enough. A mind of this world needs more to sustain its interest than solid jams punctuated by illogical, inconsistent and unforgivably dull plotting.
Ghost Quartet runs a mere 90 minutes (no intermission) but it feels so much longer — a theatrical apparition you may hope will soon disappear.”
“Whenever a high-profile theater undertakes the revival of a beloved, oft-staged musical classic, it assumes many risks. Among them is the possibility of the source material failing to connect with a modern audience, or that the given production will fail to say or add anything new. But if there’s one thing Chicago’s artistic community knows about the partnership between Goodman Theatre (Sweat, The Winter’s Tale, The Wolves) and Tony Award-winning director Mary Zimmerman, it’s this: neither party shirks a challenge.
Helming her 16th Goodman production, Ms. Zimmerman offers her visionary take on The Music Man, the timeless tale of a con artist who collectively romances a small town in Iowa – and gets the girl. The musical, with book, music and lyrics by Meredith Willson, won five Tony Awards during its original Broadway run in the late 1950s and continues to leave a significant imprint on American pop and musical culture. Broadway will be welcoming its own star-studded version with Hugh Jackman and Sutton Fuster in 2020).
Yet Goodman Theatre’s take on The Music Man is not the fusty fodder of 20th Century summer stock. Ms. Zimmerman, her cast and creative team make this abundantly clear in the production’s utterly magical first few minutes. The experience gave me goosebumps, and that’s no small feat considering the scene’s otherwise routine ubiquity in thousands of local productions.”
“By 2012, an institutionally empowered Putin (played here by Red Tape’s Marketing Director, Casey Chapman) was no stranger to taking political prisoners. The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, an independent commission of the U.S. Federal Government, publishes a short list of people believed to be jailed for political reasons in Russia today. However, most of these incidents failed to garner the international attention that Pussy Riot captured, turning the ‘band’ into a political lightning rod as well as a mass-consumed piece of performance art.
Why, exactly? The play offers a few surface hypotheses (the camera-ready nature of Pussy Riot’s female rebels, renewed distrust between East and West), but isn’t here to soberly judge history. Its mission is to loudly capture the unifying, energizing spirit of mutiny.
We Are Pussy Riot (or) Everything is P.R. does a commendable job of evoking and corralling the chaos. Director Kate Hendrickson untethers her skilled, diverse cast to utilize every inch of space, as well as every body movement and vocal sound to tell a universal story of civilian pushback against Putin’s bizarre interpretation of the nanny/police state. The work offers high-decibel music, mass digital and traditional media, sketch comedy and more than anything, a love letter to the power of the proletariat.”
“The well-cast ensemble executes its broadly stereotypical roles with panache. Trevor Strahan nails his character Matt’s encroaching, The Wolf of Wall Street, seemingly coke-fueled madness. Mr. Strahan is all bug eyes and bulging veins in his expression of the dominant but threatened white male corporate psyche: all panicked, overt misogyny and latent racism. Shanna Sweeney’s Alice, the office’s saintly workhorse, injects her performance with just enough frayed anger to indict the character in the team’s moral and physical collapse.
Most interesting is Jonathan Allsop’s sales newbie Dylan, who devolves from “aw shucks” nice guy to a boorish, patronizing shark in record time. Is this transformation inevitable nature or Trudy-induced nurture? Neither the script nor Mr. Allsop’s performance gives it away.
In an intermissionless 90 minutes, Human Resource(s) morphs from light office comedy to dark absurdity when one of the team members is literally stabbed in the back. There is a whodunit that turns out to be nothing but human self-destruction in the face of real or imagined loss. It takes The Drew Carey Show to Fight Club.
Why so many pop cultural references in this review? Because they all occurred to me as I watched Human Resource(s). There is a fine line between inspiration and derivative, and while the production’s overall experience is successful, it’s a good synthesis of what has come before. Ms. Means’ writing suggests that she has more to say, and it promises to be engagingly original.”