Launching BoHo Theatre’s fifteenth season, Steve Martin and Edie Brickell’s BRIGHT STAR is an earnest and charming show that wears its heart proudly on its musical sleeve. Martin and Brickell have composed a rousing and heartfelt bluegrass-tinged score, which BoHo’s band beautifully and spiritedly delivers. This North Carolina-set musical centers on Alice Murphy and her unusual life story, toggling back-and-forth between 1923 and 1946 as it relays this narrative. While Alice’s backstory and her star-crossed love with Jimmy Ray form the heart of BRIGHT STAR, the show weaves this together with a secondary story of the young, idealistic writer, Billy and his childhood friend and love interest, Margo. Alice and Billy’s stories intersect in a surprising way.
Category: Rachel’s Picks
AN INSPECTOR CALLS is a gripping theatrical experience from start-to-finish. Director Stephen Daldry’s breathtaking revival of J.B. Priestley’s 1946 thriller had its origins in 1992 and comes to Chicago Shakespeare Theater now as part of an international tour from the National Theatre of Great Britain. Though Daldry originally conceived of this staging decades ago and Priestly has set his play in 1912, this production possesses both a timeliness and a timelessness that make it deeply impactful now. AN INSPECTOR CALLS is a legitimate thriller that will keep audiences on the edge of their seats with its sustained suspense, but the play is also a resonant commentary on humankind’s obligations to one another—and the dire consequences that result from those who forget that basic tenant of kindness. The beauty of Daldry’s production is that neither the mystery nor the messaging feel overwrought; every moment of AN INSPECTOR CALLS maintains integrity and interest.
A DOLL’S HOUSE, PART 2, now in its world premiere at Steppenwolf under the direction of Robin Witt, explores the gap between society’s expectations for the central character Nora and how she perceives herself. Lucas Hnath’s sequel to Ibsen’s classic, proto-feminist work A DOLL’S HOUSE sees Nora returning through the very door she slammed fifteen years prior. She now must literally face the consequences of her desire to reclaim her identity and her quest to achieve equal rights to the men of 19th century society. In so doing, Hnath reveals that the chasm between Nora’s societal/familial obligations and her obligations to herself may never be resolved.
A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER, in its local debut now at Porchlight Music Theatre, is a devilish musical theater delight. Porchlight’s staging is all the more delectable with veteran musical theater actor Matt Crowle leading the way—in eight distinct roles.
Ike Holter’s RED REX, now in its world premiere at Steep Theatre, is a delightfully meta-theatrical experience. The play is the sixth in local playwright Holter’s ambitious seven-play cycle about Rightlynd, the fictional 51st ward of Chicago. It is one of the most intriguing, brilliant, and solidly constructed plays in the “Rightlynd Saga.” RED REX is Chicago theater that is quite literally about Chicago theater. Yet Holter never panders to his theater-loving audience in his writing. Watching RED REX is a simultaneously gratifying and challenging experience, and that’s precisely what makes this play so powerful.
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.
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.