It seems most fitting that Goodman Theatre’s current encore streaming production of SMOKEFALL exists both in and out of time. Noah Haidle’s whimsical play, beloved by critics and audiences when it originally premiered at the Goodman in 2013 (and remounted in 2014), occupies an achronological space. While the play ostensibly lives in an undefined present in Grand Rapids, Michigan, it also pulls us into the past and propels us into the future. Thematically SMOKEFALL is a meditation on life —and how humanity may find purpose within it — told through the lens of various experimental storytelling methods.Continue reading “Review: Goodman Theatre’s Encore of SMOKEFALL (2013)”
Although I don’t often preface my reviews, I think this particular write-up deserves one. As I reflect on my viewing of Goodman Theatre’s current Encore showing of PEDRO PARÁMO, I find it important to note that I’m writing about a production that took place eight years ago. The Goodman presented Cuban theater company Teatro Buendía’s PEDRO PARÁMO in 2013, in association with the Museum of Contemporary Art. The immense theatricality and experimental nature of Teatro Buendía’s production make clear why this was a fitting co-production between the Goodman, the MCA, and Teatro Buendía. And the Goodman’s decision to allow audiences to revisit (or experience for the first time) an international theater collaboration feels poignant at this time. The chance to see this collaboratively produced piece feels like both a nostalgic exercise and one that reminds us of the hope for such kinds of artistic collaborations in the future.Continue reading “Review: Goodman Theatre’s Encore Streaming of PEDRO PARÁMO (2013)”
Porchlight’s streaming program BROADWAY BY THE DECADE provides some much needed musical theater cheer in this unprecedented and challenging year for Chicago theater. This streaming offering is an enjoyable virtual take on the Porchlight Revisits series, in which the company mounts limited engagements of rarely produced musicals—complete with a pre-show briefing from Artistic Director Michael Weber. Weber now takes on the role as musical theater historian and revue emcee as he traces the history of the American musical from the late 1800s to the present—all in the span of 45 minutes. BROADWAY BY THE DECADE provides viewers with an insightful overview of American musical theater, without bogging down the program with details.Continue reading “Review: Porchlight Music Theatre’s BROADWAY BY THE DECADE”
J. Nicole Brooks’s HER HONOR JANE BYRNE, now in a world premiere production at Lookingglass, is a play deeply rooted in Chicago’s not-too-distant history. Inspired by former Chicago Mayor Jane Byrne (the first woman to serve as mayor here) and her decision to move into Cabrini-Green as a display of her desire to revitalize the city’s housing projects, the play introduces a cast of characters representing different perspectives in the city. Brooks (who also directs) has assembled an intriguing array of characters in HER HONOR JANE BYRNE, and she makes the pivotal choice to prominently feature residents of Cabrini-Green as much as Byrne and some of her fellow Chicago politicians. Yet the play becomes too cluttered in its various storylines and ideas.
In WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME, playwright Heidi Schreck has pulled off one of the most challenging feats in theater: The seamless blending of the personal and the universal. And the result is remarkable. In the play, Schreck reconstructs the speech she gave at age fifteen about the U.S. Constitution in competitions across the country; she was able to win enough of these contests to pay for her entire college education. The play evolves into an examination of what the Constitution has meant to Schreck at various points in her life, from her initial awe in high school to her present-day questioning of whether this esteemed American document actually protects the rights of all citizens. It’s a blistering examination of our country’s frequent failure to protect the rights of women and minorities (and particularly Native Americans), partly as relayed by Schreck’s inclusion of some haunting stories about the history of the women in her family.
korde arrington tuttle’s graveyard shift, now making its world-premiere following an initial workshop production during Goodman Theatre’s 2018 New Stages Festival, is a haunting and beautiful reflection on police brutality against Black Americans. Inspired by the legacy of 28-year-old Sandra Bland, who was found hanging in her prison cell in 2015 after being arrested for failing to signal a lane change, graveyard shift is also remarkable in its capacity for empathy and its meditation on shared humanity. graveyard shift is an undeniably brutal play, as it should be given its subject matter, but tuttle also writes his dialogue in such a poetic way that I was equally stunned by the play’s beauty.
While Donna Summer may be “Hot Stuff” when it comes to iconic songwriting and singing, SUMMER: THE DONNA SUMMER MUSICAL is a lukewarm entry in the genre of biographical jukebox musicals. The musical features many of Donna Summer’s notable hits—and this national touring cast has the talent to take them all on—but the storyline gave me whiplash. With a book by Colman Domingo and Robert Cary and direction from Des McAnuff, SUMMER careens between the major events of Donna Summer’s life at an often breakneck pace.
Paul Gordon’s musical adaptation EMMA, now making its Chicago debut at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, is lovely, whimsical, and thoroughly grounded in the Victorian England period in which Austen’s original 1815 novel is set. Under the direction of Chicago Shakespeare’s Artistic Director Barbara Gaines, the whole production has an airiness to it. Gordon’s score and lyrics seem to float up from the performers. The score exudes a charm befitting Austen’s particular kind of sly social commentary and satire. Music director Roberta Duchak ensures that the band performs the music with this same lightness of being. Scott Davis’s set design, which is sparse and flanked by billowing curtains and chandeliers that dangle from the ceiling, and Mariann Verheyen’s pastel costume designs, further inform the overall loveliness of EMMA.
Steppenwolf’s production of ensemble member Tracy Letts’s BUG is positively skin crawling, with magnificent central performances from Carrie Coon and Namir Smallwood that make the play all the more unnerving. While Letts’s 1996 play may have seemed far-fetched and ahead of its time when it debuted in the nascent days of the internet, it reads eerily prescient now. BUG’s dual exploration of paranoid schizophrenia and government surveillance becomes even more unsettling in the current digital era.
Liliana Padilla’s HOW TO DEFEND YOURSELF offers a brilliant examination of collegiate life, and, more specifically, the ways in which rape culture and the entirely real possibility of sexual assault affect university students. But what makes Padilla’s play so powerful, fascinating, and entertaining is that their playwriting never becomes preachy or pointed. By capturing the parlance and cadence of the language that college students use with acute accuracy, Padilla allows the expertly fleshed out characters to reflect on these issues in a grounded and compelling manner.