Review: WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME

Review: WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME

Heidi Schreck’s must-see play makes its local Chicago debut at TimeLine Theatre Company through July 2, 2023

Back in March 2020, WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME was one of the last plays I saw before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down all live theater for almost two years. I thought Heidi Schreck’s play was a knockout at that time; it seamlessly interweaves the personal and the political, and she had a cathartic and devastating thesis about the Constitution’s shortcomings when it comes to protecting the rights of women (and especially women of color) in this country. 

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Review: THE WHISTLEBLOWER at Theater Wit

Review: THE WHISTLEBLOWER at Theater Wit

What if you only told the truth and nothing but the truth? Would it actually make a difference or be purely self-serving and futile? Itamar Moses explores this idea at the heart of THE WHISTLEBLOWER. The play also has some fairly dramatic tonal shifts: It starts out as a lighthearted character study of protagonist Eli, an L.A. writer who pitches a T.V. show about a man who decides to confront the people in his life with hard truths— and then decides to try that out in his own life. 

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Review: ERNEST SHACKLETON LOVES ME at Porchlight Music Theatre

Review: ERNEST SHACKLETON LOVES ME at Porchlight Music Theatre

I didn’t think I’d ever see a singing Antarctic explorer in a musical, but that’s exactly what ERNEST SHACKLETON LOVES ME delivers. This quirky but conventionally structured two-hander introduces audiences to Kat, a struggling experimental musician with a newborn baby and a deadbeat, absent boyfriend who’s on tour with a Journey cover band, and the eponymous Ernest Shackleton. 

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Review: ANTONIO’S SONG/I WAS DREAMING OF A SON at Goodman Theatre

Review: ANTONIO’S SONG/I WAS DREAMING OF A SON at Goodman Theatre

“Stop trying to be what everyone else wants you to be, man. Just be you.” Antonio Edwards Suarez recounts that his childhood best friend, Curtis, said to him growing up. This sentiment becomes in many ways the mantra for ANTONIO’S SONG: It’s a deeply human exploration of identity — and specifically Suarez’s identity — and all the elements that make us who we are. In ANTONIO’S SONG, Suarez and co-playwright Dael Orlandersmith share vignettes from Suarez’s upbringing that reflect the complexities of his identity. This is a touching, if not groundbreaking, solo show. Ultimately, theater reflects our humanity, and ANTONIO’S SONG reinforces that we turn to art to better understand ourselves. Structurally and thematically, this is well-trod territory. 

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Review: INTO THE WOODS National Tour Presented by Broadway In Chicago

Review: INTO THE WOODS National Tour Presented by Broadway In Chicago

It’s hard not to wax poetic about Stephen Sondheim’s INTO THE WOODS, and the national tour of director Lear deBessonet’s City Center Encores production-turned-Broadway-revival fortunately does this master work of musical theater justice. Watching INTO THE WOODS on Friday night, I was reminded of how this show beautifully expresses the responsibilities that we have to our fellow humans. As with the Grimm’s Fairy Tales from which it draws inspiration, INTO THE WOODS is a cautionary tale: A reminder that our actions have consequences. As the ensemble sings in the show’s finale “Children Will Listen, “Wishes come true/not free.” 

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Review: BIG RIVER at Mercury Theater Chicago

Review: BIG RIVER at Mercury Theater Chicago

I was intrigued when Mercury Theater Chicago announced that Artistic Director Christopher Chase Carter would be staging BIG RIVER, a 1984 musical adapted from Mark Twain’s ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN. It seemed like an odd and bold choice given that it’s rarely produced and also given that it’s questionable if that novel ever needed to become a musical (but so it is, with book by William Hauptman and music and lyrics by Roger Miller). Watching BIG RIVER, I was struck by how oddball of a show it is. While Mark Twain’s novel was considered ahead of its time for depicting the adventures of plucky young Huck Finn and the runaway slave Jim, it’s still undoubtedly fraught. It’s hard not to watch the show and think that Huck has a strong case of “white savior” syndrome, and obviously for 2023 audiences, watching Huck’s moral dilemma about running away with a slave and worrying about Jim as “stolen property” is uncomfortable. In keeping with Twain’s novel, the musical also has frequent use of the “n-word.” That’s true to the source material, but it’s tough to hear nonetheless (Mercury’s lobby display helps explain the context of the show’s language and setting, but that underscores why BIG RIVER is a strange choice to stage). 

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Review: LAST NIGHT AND THE NIGHT BEFORE at Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Review: LAST NIGHT AND THE NIGHT BEFORE at Steppenwolf Theatre Company

LAST NIGHT AND THE NIGHT BEFORE explores the in-between, the murkiness of transitioning life stages and fraught family relationships. Donnetta Lavinia Grays drew inspiration for the play’s title from a playground hand game. Hand games are smartly a thematic thread in the play. Protagonist ten-year-old Sam Mcloud revels in them as a way to amuse herself or by teaching her father Reggie the tricks of the trade. While there’s a childlike innocence to Sam’s play, she’s also on the verge of entering puberty and has had some experiences that are tragically beyond her years. This contrast between childhood play and the darker, all too complicated realities of adulthood becomes the dual strands of the play. Grays’s writing has a distinct rhythm to it, and the unique syncopations of the hand games become additional poetry unto themselves.

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Review: JAGGED LITTLE PILL National Tour Presented by Broadway In Chicago

Review: JAGGED LITTLE PILL National Tour Presented by Broadway In Chicago

Alanis Morisette’s iconic music and lyrics come to theatrical life in JAGGED LITTLE PILL. This jukebox musical is a well-structured and entertaining example of the art form. Book writer Diablo Cody’s storyline nicely weaves Morisette’s narrative-driven songs into the plot. Diane Paulus’s direction keeps that story moving—though the choreography and movement from Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui aren’t a natural fit—particularly in disconnected stretches of interpretative dance). 

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Review: THE CHERRY ORCHARD at Goodman Theatre

Review: THE CHERRY ORCHARD at Goodman Theatre

It’s only fitting that for his swan song at Goodman Theatre Artistic Director Robert Falls has adapted and directed Anton Chekhov’s THE CHERRY ORCHARD, a play that’s also very much a swan song. With this staging, Falls has completed the cycle of directing all four of Chekov’s full-length plays for the Goodman stage. Fall’s take on THE CHERRY ORCHARD is surprisingly comedic and strips the play of the more obscure Russian references (though it’s still a period piece), which also demonstrates an artful understanding of the text and how 2023 audiences are best primed to receive it. THE CHERRY ORCHARD’s central character, estate owner Lyubov Ranevskaya, desperately clings to her glamorized version of the past even as the world around her moves inexorably forward. It’s a farewell, indeed, and a lesson in learning when to hold on and when to let go. 

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Review: A SOLDIER’S PLAY National Tour Presented by Broadway In Chicago

Review: A SOLDIER’S PLAY National Tour Presented by Broadway In Chicago

A SOLDIER’S PLAY is a solid and well-structured play by Charles Fuller that explores the deep-seated roots of American racism. Centered on a Black regiment in 1944 Fort Neal, Louisiana, the play takes the form of a murder investigation when Captain Richard Davenport arrives on the scene following the death of Sergeant Vernon C. Waters. While Fuller’s 1981 play is no doubt an indictment of the racist systems embedded in the American military—and the country as a whole—the piece now feels prescient, rather than revelatory. I imagine that it must have been quite radical when it debuted over forty years ago, but now it reads like a reinforcement of the truth. It’s an effective one, and audiences who enjoy the procedural format will appreciate the play’s series of interviews and flashbacks. Director Kenny Leon’s production keeps it moving at a brisk pace, but neither material nor staging are groundbreaking.

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