I didn’t hate I HATE IT HERE. In fact, Chicago playwright Ike Holter’s “concept album” play was both an uproariously funny and thought-provoking conclusion to Goodman Theatre’s LIVE series. Holter and director Lili-Anne Brown reimagined what was originally an audio play for this final installment, which artfully blends live theater and highly cinematic qualities (Christiana Tye returns as video director and Gabe Hatfield is director of photography).
I HATE IT HERE is a mixtape of vignettes, many of which are set during the height of the coronavirus pandemic but others of which take place at various other unpleasant or unsettling moments in the characters’ lives. Patrick Agada, Jayson Brooks, Sydney Charles, Behzad Dabu, Kirsten Fitzgerald, and Gabriel Ruiz lend their talents to a number of different roles. The production kicks off with the titular theme song, which has major (and majorly welcome) pop punk vibes. If you’re looking for catharsis, I HATE IT HERE delivers some from the beginning with this absolute banger of a theme song.
I HATE IT HERE also delivers catharsis in that it allows us to look back at moments from the pandemic and 2020, even as we are still all finding our way into whatever the world will look like in the wake of all that has happened.
While the production has the energy of live theater — and the actors radiate that raw, electrifying energy that comes from being onstage — I HATE IT HERE also has a deeply cinematic quality to it. Many vignettes make use of a green screen (projection design by Paul Deziel) to transport the actors to different locations. This interweaving of traditional live theater elements and cinematic special effects and settings keeps I HATE IT HERE enthralling, and Brown’s direction makes balanced use of all the elements at her disposal.
Some vignettes are uproariously funny. In one scene, Ruiz plays a fired up manager at a generic fast food chain known as The Chicken Place as he prepares to train Charles and Dabu at their new jobs. His utter conviction and dedication to his role is delightfully funny — and then Ruiz’s performance takes a sharp emotional turn. Dabu is particularly hilarious as a disgruntled cater waiter in a vignette entitled “F**k That Place.” He talks a mile a minute as he regales the unfortunate story of his time working on the catering staff at a generically corporate building, and his comedic timing is impeccable. Charles shines as a cynical and candid teacher having a smoke on the playground during her lunch break and wondering just what has become of the current generation.
While much of I HATE IT HERE is unabashedly fun and infused with welcome humor, some of the other vignettes take a much more serious and profound turn. In “Bystander,” Fitzgerald and Agada play wedding guests who have a surprising (and surprisingly tragic) connection. The vignette provides pivotal food for thought on the state of race relations and racial inequality in this country right now, without feeling heavy-handed.
I HATE IT HERE concludes with a profoundly moving monologue from the character Charlotte, played by a special guest who seems to have a deeply personal connection to the material. It’s a haunting conclusion that’s thought-provoking and will surely resonate with viewers.
I HATE IT HERE is electrifying and entertaining. It showcases Holter’s talents and his ability to experiment with different presentational styles, and the ensemble does not miss a beat as they execute on Brown’s directorial vision.
I HATE IT HERE streams live through Sunday, 7/18. Performances are Friday, 7/16 at 7:30pm, Saturday, 7/17 at 2pm and 8pm, and Sunday, 7/18 at 2pm. All performance times are listed in CDT. Tickets are $25. Visit GoodmanTheatre.org/Here.
Photo Credit: Flint Chaney
Originally published on BroadwayWorld.com