I left the world premiere of Isaac Gomez’s LA RUTA at Steppenwolf Theatre Company with a heavy heart, yet one that was also full as I admired the immense work of the all-female Latinx ensemble. Gomez’s necessarily tragic play focuses on Mexican women who live in Ciudad Juárez and have been disappearing along the bus route home from their factory jobs. LA RUTA handles its devastating subject matter with compelling gravitas (Gomez conducted several interviews to bring the play to life). Through his strong and deeply human characters, Gomez gives voice to this tragedy without ever sliding into a didactic tone.
Category: Rachel’s Picks
For this one-man dark side of the holidays show, Goodman Theatre could not ask for a better actor than Matt Crowle. He brings all of David Sedaris’s droll humor to life in THE SANTALAND DIARIES (Joe Mantello adapted Sedaris’s original short story into the play). In the role of Crumpet the Elf, the show’s stand-in for Sedaris, Crowle maximizes every ounce of cynicism and crass humor in the material, while also instantly winning audiences over. Crowle’s malleable facial expressions and ever-changing mannerisms allow him to easily slide into each of the characters in the story. Crowle’s improvisational skills also make the material fresh and allow him to mine the play for even more outrageous jokes (THE SANTALAND DIARIES has been around since 1996).
Danai Gurira’s FAMILIAR, now in its Chicago premiere at Steppenwolf, offers up a lighthearted and laugh-out-loud funny family comedy, even as the play probes questions of identity and assimilation into American culture. Director Danya Taymor’s dynamite ensemble builds on the richness of the characters inherent in Gurira’s script.
Ike Holter’s RIGHTLYND sets into motion the central theme of the tension between political idealism and the realities that come with power in a complicated, often stagnant political machine. The first in Holter’s seven play cycle all focusing on Rightlynd, the fictional 51st ward of Chicago, this world premiere focuses on Nina Esposito. Nina is a resident of Rightlynd, who still mourns the closing of her mother’s corner store, Esposito Express, as the neighborhood faces gentrification. No longer content with the shifting changes in her neighborhood, Nina runs for alderman of the 51st ward with the hopes of protecting her home. But when she wins the office, will Nina be able to turn her idealistic plans into reality, or will she become another cog in the Chicago political machine? In RIGHTLYND, Holter sets up this tension not just in Nina’s trajectory, but seems to set up this theme of power and change for the cycle as a whole.
The behemoth national tour of the 2017 Tony nominated revival of MISS SAIGON has made its helicopter landing at Broadway in Chicago’s Cadillac Palace Theatre, and every single production element is larger-than-life. Nothing about the staging nor the material of MISS SAIGON is subtle. Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boubil’s gargantuan pop opera (with lyrics by Boubil and Richard Maltby, Jr.) paints all of the plot points and characters in broad strokes, but the emotional tensions run big and true. Laurence Connor’s production aims to rectify some of the elements of the musical, which has a reputation as something of a “problem child” in the theater world. The original staging in 1989 was notorious for its use of “yellowface” (white actors playing Asian roles), particularly for the central role of the Engineer.
The touring production of the 2017 Tony Award-winning revival HELLO, DOLLY! has arrived in Chicago with a jubilant, tuneful, and visually pleasing staging. Jerry Zaks’s fast-paced production finds every moment of joy and adventure in Jerry Herman and Michael Stewart’s classic musical. This bright and bold HELLO, DOLLY! offers unapologetic escapist entertainment, but that’s precisely what makes the production such a success. At its core, HELLO, DOLLY! was created to supply fun and farce, and that’s precisely what’s served up.
Here she is, boys. Here she is, world. Here’s E. Faye Butler as Mama Rose in GYPSY. Butler commands the Porchlight stage with a presence that’s both larger-than-life and also at the same time a deeply revealing character study. To say that Butler’s portrayal of Mama Rose is a star turn is almost not enough. Butler seems to live and breathe this role; she does not appear to be acting but rather fully inhabiting this iconic character.
Under Jonathan Berry’s direction, Simon Stephens’s THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME has found its emotional center at Steppenwolf. Based upon the novel by Mark Haddon, CURIOUS INCIDENT marks the first Steppenwolf for Young Adults production of this season, and this staging brings the show’s theme of human connection to the forefront. I saw this play both on Broadway and on tour when it passed through Chicago in 2016, and the more poignant parts of the narrative felt swallowed up by the cavernous venues. In Steppenwolf’s comparably smaller Downstairs Theatre, CURIOUS INCIDENT has considerably more emotional heft while also offering up a unique visual and aural landscape.
With Santino Fontana leading the way in the dual roles of Michael Dorsey/Dorothy Michaels, the Broadway-bound new musical TOOTSIE sings its way to success. Based on the 1982 film of the same name, book writer Robert Horn and composer/lyricist David Yazbek have translated TOOTSIE’S setting to modern-day New York City. It’s a smart move because it enables Yazbek to give the show a lush, contemporary Broadway sound; it also makes sure that TOOTSIE’s farcical tone lends itself to ample laughs while remaining respectful. The show’s design also firmly grounds us in the glitz and glam of NYC showbiz, with David Rockwell’s opulent and modern set showcasing many flashy, stunning elements.
Victory Gardens Theater’s Chicago premiere of Paula Vogel’s Tony nominated INDECENT weaves a beautiful narrative about the transcendence of art and human resilience. Director Gary Griffin’s staging feels both grandiose and intimate at the same time; the play’s action spans a time period from 1906-1950 and travels across continents, but the vignettes contained in Vogel’s story are rife with genuine, powerful human emotion. INDECENT was inspired by the true story of the 1923 Broadway debut of Jewish playwright Sholem Asch’s God of Vengeance, which had an illicit lesbian romance as one of its main plot points. Vogel’s story charts God of Vengeance’s journey from the moment Asch first presents the script to his wife through to its first reading and multiple staged productions.