“Part of the fun in this Bohemia is that we know more than the silly and angry characters do. We think we can see the story’s ending, and can thus relax and enjoy the show. In this reimagining of Shakespeare’s work, the audience is treated to modern pop cultural breadcrumbs like a cool line dance sequence choreographed by Tommy Rapley, and a joke about the band Queen. Mr. Falls’ production and its 19-member cast invite us all the way in during the show’s second half, after holding us at paranoid arm’s length in Sicilia.
But in a bit of late-career paradigm busting, the Bard throws his audience a science fiction curveball. Or does he? A rushed, climactic ending may leave heads scratching, but after a night to sleep on it, I’ve decided that this is a good thing. Few of Shakespeare’s most famous plays end in mystery. Goodman Theatre’s production of The Winter’s Tale embraces ambiguity with gusto, offering a smartly realized and multi-dimensional realization of one of Shakespeare’s most cryptic works.”
“The global immediacy of man-made climate change, the consumptive guilt of the Baby Boomer generation and a renewed confrontation with an old, complicated love triangle. Any one of these themes is more than enough for a production that runs an hour and 45 minutes (no intermission). Steppenwolf Theatre’sThe Children is, therefore, too much in all the right ways.
Written by dynamic young playwright Lucy Kirkwood (a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature’s “40 Under 40” initiative) and directed by celebrated Chicago theater director Jonathan Berry, The Children is the important, funny, socially conscious gut punch I didn’t know I needed.
A 2018 Tony Award nominee for Best Play, The Children opens per press materials, “on a summer evening in an isolated sea cottage in the East of England.” Due to perfectly understated work from scenic designer Chelsea M. Warren, lighting designer Lee Fiskness and sound designer Andre Pluess, this looks and sounds idyllic.
Audiences learn rather quickly, however, that the enviable bohemian lifestyle of married former nuclear scientists Hazel (Janet Ulrich Brooks) and Robin (Yasen Peyankov) is not what it seems. What we witness instead is England’s answer to Chernobyl and two of its architects. Though long retired with four grandchildren and literally vapored dreams of operating an organic farm, the couple’s individual habits communicate a suppressed culpability. Hazel, pushing 70, goes all in on the cult of salads and yoga as the keys to eternal life, as Robin retreats to their abandoned farm to bury dead animals, absorb radiation and weep in peace. Intense stuff.”
“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.”
“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.”
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.”
“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.”
“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.”