“Caroline, or Change, a 2004 Tony Award-nominated Best Musical (with music by FunHome‘s Jeanine Tesori), is an amalgamation in all of the best American theatrical ways. Part blues rock opera with its finger on the pulse of the Civil Rights movement, part celebration of post-World War II Jewish survival and culture, with book and lyrics by Tony Kushner of Angels in America fame, the work absolutely demands that audience members sit up and pay attention. It has a lot to say, much of it with a Southern Gothic aesthetic evocative of Tennessee Williams at his best.
Much of the Western world’s mid-20th Century social tensions are channeled through Caroline Thibodeaux (Rashada Dawn), a divorced mother of four and domestic worker serving in the employ of the Gellman family. The Thibodeauxs and the Gellmans are galaxies apart on the relative privilege spectrum, but both clans know loss, grief and of course, the experience of being culturally ‘othered.’ As the curtain lifts, audiences are exposed to the strange, but special relationship between 39-year-old Caroline, who confines her moments of spiritual peace to one cigarette per day, and eight-year-old Noah Gellman, who enthusiastically lights Caroline’s smokes and idealizes her as ‘stronger than a man.’
This characterization is both more and less true than the young, motherless Noah can fathom. Caroline’s internal struggles are expressed via song and short, terse verbal communications devoid of warmth. A domestic violence survivor with broken dreams who supports her family by taking her weary seat on the segregated bus to ‘wash white people’s clothes,’ the only kind of ‘change’ Caroline has known is the kind that asks her to do more with less.”
“Playing with traditional, linear, and narrative conventions, Homos leaps back and forth between past, present and everything between to take a look at two young, bookish, Big Apple men falling (and trying to remain) in love as massive cultural shifts swirl around them. Scenes boast Sorkinesque rapid-fire dialogue, impacted by events such as 9/11, President Obama’s 2011 repudiation of the Defense of Marriage Act and rising public consciousness of insidious hate crimes.
The play also shines a light on the heterogeneity of the LGBTQ ‘community,’ despite American culture’s seeming preference for pouring all members into one rainbow-hued bucket. The Academic is presented as the traditionalist: a monogamist conscientious about moving through orderly stages (love, cohabitation, and then marriage) with a desire to live in the ‘right’ neighborhood. Conversely, The Writer abhors convention. Uncertain about committing beyond the moment, eager to smash cisgender norms and vocabulary, besotted with the chaos, noise and mood swings of New York’s creative circle, The Writer exhibits a self-pitying and destructive streak that stands apart from The Academic’s more earnest approach to intimacy.”
“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.”