It seems only fitting that Ike Holter would conclude his seven-play “Rightlynd Saga,” set in the fictional 51st Ward of Chicago, by literally sending it off with a party. And this is no ordinary celebration. A cast of characters from previous installments in the “Rightlynd Saga” gathers in Mallory’s backyard; she’s the neighborhood’s maternal figure, and she’s poised to give away a sizable sum of money to one lucky winner. The play itself mirrors the energy of Mallory’s boisterous gathering; the overall tone of the piece is cacophonous, with characters often shouting and talking over one another so that some lines of dialogue are intentionally indiscernible.
Category: Rachel’s Picks
Now in its Chicago debut at Theater Wit under the direction of Artistic Director Jeremy Wechsler, Joshua Harmon’s ADMISSIONS is entirely prescient. The play takes a critical look at both prep school and college admissions, and the lengths to which people will go to have their children admitted. The play also asks keen, complicated questions about white privilege, racism, and how we should now be deciding who gets a seat at the table. ADMISSIONS does not offer up any neat solutions to the questions its poses, but it causes the audience to take a hard and needed look at those questions and at how we might relate to the happenings onstage.
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.
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.