Category: Review

Review: THE CHINESE LADY at TimeLine Theatre Company

Review: THE CHINESE LADY at TimeLine Theatre Company

Directed by Helen Young, TimeLine Theatre Company’s Chicago premiere of Lloyd Suh’s THE CHINESE LADY is a poignant and well-crafted play centered on Afong Moy, who was supposedly the first Chinese woman to come to America. Although historical record does not have much definitive information about Afong Moy (we even know that was not her real name), Suh uses the play’s well-structured 90 minutes to imagine what she might have said to audiences had she been given the chance. For at least 15 years from 1834 to 1850, Afong Moy was treated like an exhibit in a museum; Nathaniel and Francis Carnes brought her to the United States to showcase her in front of American audiences. Thus, Afong Moy was taken away from her family and stripped of agency. While Suh’s script cleverly allows Afong Moy to take back some of that agency, the play also demonstrates that in reality this young woman didn’t have much of a voice or control over her situation at all. 

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Review: LOOKINGGLASS ALICE at Lookingglass Theatre Company

Review: LOOKINGGLASS ALICE at Lookingglass Theatre Company

Lookingglass Theatre Company’s signature LOOKINGGLASS ALICE has returned to Water Tower Water Works—and it’s just as whimsical and delightful as I remember it when I first saw the production back in high school. Director David Catlin’s charming and inventive adaptation combines storytelling elements from Lewis Carroll’s ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND and THROUGH THE LOOKING-GLASS. The production’s partnership with The Actors Gymnasium has also cemented Lookingglass Theatre Company’s unique combination of literary adaptation and impressive aerial artistry. LOOKINGGLASS ALICE not only calls for a talented company of actors but also places considerable physical demands upon its ensemble. 

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Review: SEAGULL at Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Review: SEAGULL at Steppenwolf Theatre Company

Yasen Peyankov’s adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s SEAGULL proves a wry vehicle to showcase the talents of many of his fellow Steppenwolf ensemble members who haven’t graced the stage since before the COVID-19 pandemic. Peyankov’s adaptation is direct, self-aware, and rife with dry (extremely dry) humor. The ennui that pierces SEAGULL is deeply and obviously felt throughout this adaptation of the text. References to Chekhov’s native Russia abound in Peyankov’s script, but the language feels modern and direct. 

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Review: ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

Review: ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL at Chicago Shakespeare Theater

In the Shakespearean canon, ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL defies categorization; it doesn’t neatly fit alongside Shakespeare’s comedies, tragedies, or history plays. Instead, it’s historically been referred to as a “problem” play. Director Shana Cooper’s current production at Chicago Shakespeare Theater mirrors the liminal nature of the material. Cooper’s direction lacks cohesion, incorporating a variety of different elements into the production. The time period for Cooper’s ALL’S WELL isn’t even specifically defined— a note in the program says it’s “Bohemian-Edwardian.” It might well be that Cooper’s intent was to mirror the transitional identity of the play and its characters in the staging, but the pieces don’t all add up. 

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Review: SPRING AWAKENING at Porchlight Music Theatre

Review: SPRING AWAKENING at Porchlight Music Theatre

SPRING AWAKENING, Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s 2007 Tony Award-winning musical based upon the 1891 play by German playwright Frank Wedekind, brims with teen angst in its rock pop score and its lyrics that relay all the challenges of adolescence. The book and songs take an “everything but the kitchen sink” approach to the messiness of adolescence and the issues it raises: In just over two hours, the musical depicts first sexual experiences, masturbation, suicide, physical and sexual abuse, and illicit abortion. SPRING AWAKENING has always struck me as a heavy musical, but the Brechtian elements of the show also mean that the characters are not specifically developed. As with the original Broadway production, Brenda Didier’s direction for Porchlight carries over the general spareness of the show. Christopher Rhoton’s set design is a plain space: The actors pass over a floor composed of wood planks, and while there are no set pieces, they do use props. Bill Morey’s costume designs root us in the repressed, buttoned up culture of late 1890s Germany, but that’s contrasted with the anachronistic use of handheld mics that the actors pull out at charged moments. The orchestra is also visible on stage, contributing to the stripped down effect of the production design. 

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Review: MOULIN ROUGE! THE MUSICAL National Tour Presented by Broadway In Chicago

Review: MOULIN ROUGE! THE MUSICAL National Tour Presented by Broadway In Chicago

MOULIN ROUGE! THE MUSICAL is one dazzling and decadent concoction of a jukebox musical. Based upon Baz Luhrmann’s 2001 film, John Logan’s book and director Alex Timbers’s production keeps the fun — and the pop hits — coming. While the musical’s light on storyline (as was the original film, frankly), it’s big on spectacle. MOULIN ROUGE! THE MUSICAL is an opulent and beautiful show, from Catherine Zuber’s stunning and shiny costumes that have so many sequins you can practically see your own reflection to Sonya Tayeh’s gorgeous choreography that presents marvelous tableaus through dance. This is the kind of show where audience members will see their money on stage in the best way possible. MOULIN ROUGE! THE MUSICAL inhabits the “go big or go home” philosophy in the way it delivers entertainment to audiences. 

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Review: THE PROM National Tour Presented by Broadway In Chicago

Review: THE PROM National Tour Presented by Broadway In Chicago

THE PROM delivers heartfelt musical theater comedy for musical theater lovers. With plenty of theater in-jokes, hijinks, big ensemble dance numbers, and a mix of funny and saccharine, composer Matthew Sklar, lyricist Chad Beguelin, and co-book writers Beguelin and Bob Martin understand the formula for an entertaining modern musical. While THE PROM hard-core wears its heart on its sleeve, it’s also so fun. THE PROM isn’t afraid to embrace its identity as a “feel-good” musical, but there’s enough originality and winks at the audience in the story to counteract the moments that veer towards maudlin. It’s the kind of big, jazzy musical theater joy that I’ve so missed, and thus, this tour has landed in Chicago at just the right time. 

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TimeLine Theatre Company’s RELENTLESS at Goodman Theatre

TimeLine Theatre Company’s RELENTLESS at Goodman Theatre

Although the play takes place in 1919, Tyla Abercrumbie’s RELENTLESS probes prescient themes of family secrets, inherited trauma, and the enduring legacy of racism for two affluent Black sisters living in the northern part of the United States. Director Ron OJ Parson remounts TimeLine Theatre Company’s production at the Goodman’s Owen Theatre after a sold-out initial run. 

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Review: IN EVERY GENERATION at Victory Gardens Theater

Review: IN EVERY GENERATION at Victory Gardens Theater

IN EVERY GENERATION explores the duality of the cyclical nature of humanity — specifically, in this play, the Jewish experience. As playwright Ali Viterbi’s text reveals, sometimes cycles can be sources of comfort and tradition — as is the case with the Levi-Katz’s family annual Passover Seder and many other Jewish holidays. In this case, the cycle of ritual is a powerful moment of family gathering and remembrance. But in other ways, the cycles that humans perpetuate can be damaging — for grandparents Paola and Davide, the trauma from their experiences as Holocaust survivors lives on many years later as the family gathers for Passover 2019 in the play’s first scene. The play asks if not just the Jewish people, but American society on the whole will uphold the phrase “Never Again” — are we now truly moving towards a world in which hatred — and specifically anti-Semitism — might someday be eliminated? Or are we doomed to repeat this cycle of trauma and xenophobia because human memory is simultaneously long and short? 

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Review: GOOD NIGHT, OSCAR at Goodman Theatre 

Review: GOOD NIGHT, OSCAR at Goodman Theatre 

Doug Wright’s GOOD NIGHT, OSCAR, now in its world premiere production at Goodman Theatre, is an engaging play that brings the story of one infamous night in the life of Oscar Levant to the stage. As the drug-addicted and depressed Oscar, Sean Hayes (perhaps best known for his role on WILL AND GRACE) gives a magnetic performance that reflects the man’s immense capacity for humor and his musical genius but also his deep insecurities. While Wright’s script doesn’t necessarily wade into new waters in terms of set up and the unfolding of the play’s events, Hayes’s central performance is a magnificent character study. Hayes is every bit as compelling a stage performer as one might expect, and GOOD NIGHT, OSCAR affords him the opportunity to showcase his formidable talents in some familiar and surprising ways. 

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