Ghosts, restless secrets, and lust are in the air: Summer Sizzle Reel
Updated: Apr 1
Summer breezes in, lingers, and leaves just as quickly as it came. As we wrap up this momentary respite of cool weather and less worries, we felt it due diligence to provide an overview of what we saw this summer. The work never rests with this being a prime time to dust off some old works, make some premieres, and stake a claim into works that are boiling with hot topics and demand to be heard.
Peruse our overview of what we did with our summer. It's free, quick, and you didn't have to bare the heat and risk sitting in a possibly AC less theatre. We all win!
Set in the aftermath of a college sexual assault scandal, Sideshow Theatre Company and Rivendell Theatre's Something Clean (at Victory Gardens) focuses on this pressing issue through a different lens: the parents of the perpetrator. Wrestling with a spectrum of emotions from anger to guilt, Charlotte (Mary Cross) volunteers to work at a sexual assault, prevention, and intervention center under a different name and eventually personality. Cross has immediate chemistry with Joey (Patrick Agada) depicting the lovely blossoming of a new friendship; gentle at first before pushing through layers to bring out the best in one another. At the center, Charlotte finds herself thriving in an escapism where she can forget the crimes of her son and icy marriage to Doug (Guy Massey)—at least for a little while. Set design by Arnel Sancianc stresses the need for normalcy and more pointedly the whiteness of it all.
Selina Fillinger's Something Clean succeeds in offering language and concepts for audiences to be reminded of and some introduced to for the first time over the course of eighty minutes. In his background as a facilitator, Joey touches on topics of pronouns, consent, and the importance of finding sexual pleasure alone and with romantic partners after having experienced sexual trauma. He plainly, defiantly corrects Charlotte in calling those who’ve undergone these experiences survivors, not victims. At home, Doug continually tries to romance Charlotte and reignite their sex life not connecting—or ignorantly so---how their son’s actions could have her reexamining their own romantic behaviors. Doug at first laughs off, as does some of the audience, her request to not sleep with him, but for her to simply kiss her knee. The thought of sexual assault being prevalent within a committed relationship or marriage is a reality we still wish to consider an exception when it’s far more common than we care to believe.
In terms of its characterizations and the themes it explores, Fillinger’s work, with direction by Lauren Shouse, makes this Midwest premiere successful. The question looms however if because of this chosen narrative if we get the whole story. Does not hearing from the perpetrator or survivor involved take some responsibility away from its audience? Or does it allow for conversation to spark on how we don’t give consideration to the ones whose live in relation to them are altered by these events? Do we need to? Fillinger deals with an important subject at hand, but doesn’t fully explore the circumstances she’s weaved. At times it’s on the tip of the character’s tongues, but much like our nation it fears the magnitude of saying such truths aloud. Some poignant moments, phenomenal moments of connection, but predictable plot moves and a general hesitance cause it to lose steam.
In his time, Shakespeare was performed by troupes of all men. I think it’s safe to say it’s time to leave this tradition in the past and any incarnation of the Bard should be performed with most, if not all, women, queer, gender non-binary, and transgender actors. If we must do classics, we need to see them through means previously unexplored or from voices who were forbade to speak such prolific text.
Saltbox Theatre Collective’s Macbeth, shines in fact from its limited, but magnificent female presence. When the play opens, Stephanie Stroud is donned in chic, industrial armor with a driven precision and cold stare. It isn’t until a couple minutes later when Jason Narvy arrives that you realize she’s not in fact Macbeth, but his wife. This isn’t to say that Narvy and Stroud's roles aren’t well played. It’s simply hard to ignore a wonderful missed opportunity when Lady Macbeth, who does carry a great deal of responsibility in the play’s events, eventually disappears into her doomed demise instead of manning the king's crown or battlefield herself. If we’re going to do Shakespeare, let’s fuck it up a little bit. Classics and adaptations thrive best when we know the course of events going in, but still are thrilled and even dare to be surprised in how we get to that tragic, triumphant end.
Despite this unmet desire, the ninety-minute adaptation gets to the meat and bones in terms of plot swiftly and succinctly. There’s no sag or lagging behind of who needs to die next for Macbeth to secure his throne and later maintain his rule. Brian Bengtson plays a fiercely loyal Banquo, who sadly saddled himself to the wrong horse. The Weird Sisters (Catherine Bustos, Wendy Venlos-Becker, Anne Ogden) delight in debauchery and divinity, and you can feel the synergy of their amusement in delivering premonitions. This production meets the minimum in pulling off these bloody, violent ends. But a limited Lady Macbeth, inconsistent use of modern and medieval weaponry, and no sense of time period whatsoever leaves more room for error than excellence.
There are some musicals so remarkable and rare they can only fully be appreciated in person. A hidden gem from Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812’s composer/the original Pierre himself Dave Malloy, Ghost Quartet feels like a forgotten fairy tale, or perhaps one we know all too well. Combining sheer vocals, live, playful instrumentals, and exceedingly captivating physical talents, this quartet at Stage 773 interlace tales of false heroism, familial betrayal, and distant lovers and liars. Like any good story, its ninety-minute journey is only understood once you arrive at its championed end—and even then it might leave you staggering that you think you got it. If you fall into this storybook, you might not get out.
This dark masterpiece produces goosebumps, nervous laughter, chilling bits of catharsis, and above all, love which could not feel more anew and needed than now. Their stage for plotting such entrapments (designed by Jeremy Hollis) awakens sensations of your grandmother’s attic with a plethora of keepsakes and clues on display with everything in its rightful place. Each item has a distinct story that’s brought to life by one or all of these enchanting, ghoulish voices. With its teeth chattering skeleton furnishings, a looming massive bear head, and fading, scattered headlines as wallpaper, spooky is an understatement to describe this carved out graveyard.
Part of what makes this show thrive and Malloy’s talent shine is his capability to produce an exuberant amount of character songs each more zany and popish than the next. Amanda Raquel Martinez awakens a vaudevillian, Halloween nightmare in “Usher, Part 1”, and her vocals on “Soldier and Rose” would knock you over if you weren’t seated. “Any Kind of Dead Person” proves a catchy romp for Rachel Guth and “The Astronomer” allows piano man T.J. Anderson to doo-wop it up delivering slick, greaser vibes. "Fathers & Sons" is a battle of vocal and drumming endurance between Anderson and Alexander Ellsworth stirring Mr. Sandman vibrations into a nightmarish lullaby. And when the four harmonize or loop on lines like, "I will try to forgive myself", it's a welcome punch to the gut.
While the four glow in their individual talents and have moments to lead the group, this production is heavily fortified by Martinez and Guth with Anderson and Ellsworth respectively underscoring. The way these two duet is hearing the transformation and power of music in real time. Their mastery is intoxicating to watch as their voices fill up the space in various hues. Martinez brings terrifying, dismal grey shrieks, unsettling, wavering certainties of yellow, and lonely, unsatisfied pangs of royal purples and indigo. Guth brings ticklish, naive pinks, flirty, fiery reds, and envious, destructible fits of green. Together, they weave and dismantle a magically musical, rainbow tapestry forever connected that illuminates this world and beyond.
Haven Theatre’s Kiss is teasingly deceptive flirting between the boundaries of melodrama and metaphysical. The ninety minute, intensely packed drama is all the rage, but the twists of Kiss manage to trip up even the most experienced theatre veteran. Monty Cole’s production (who also pulls double duty as Ahmed) brings you as close into the action as possible without sitting onstage. Required entry into the space is through the set feeling haunting in its simplicity, designed by William Boles. Two couples, one cherished Syrian soap opera, and the cascading flourishes of love and hate make this evening a recipe for disaster equating to a successful performance.
From its first beats, the air feels false where every line and action is taken so seriously that it incites comedic brilliance. Sound design by Jeffrey Levin pushes the cheese factor until it sings as luxuriously as a charcuterie board. Hadeel (Arti Ishak) is dating and living with boyfriend, Ahmed (Cole), but actually is in love with womanizing, fine leather jacket sporting Youssif (Salar Ardebili) or is she? Youssif is of course taken, dating Hadeel's best friend, Bana (Cassidy Slaughter-Mason) causing this love square to be inverted, reshaped, and ultimately scribbled over into a looming, shapeless mess. It escalates as you’d expect: multiple proposals, revealed betrayal of loved ones, and awkward shifting around on the couch as the soap starts. If taken seriously, it would be tragic yet we’ve seen this setup so often it’s become common.
After the play’s false ending an hour in, Kiss metamorphoses into its true state of being. No longer a fluffy play of light stakes and loose lips, but an out of body experience that causes such severe second hand embarrassment it’s hive inducing. Essentially, if you’ve ever attended a post-show discussion at any point in your life it’s that moment where someone makes a completely unrelated statement that sucks all the air out of the room times a thousand. The twist is so juicy it’s worth reading as a consolation prize for seeing it in person. The play breaks open betraying itself. It makes everything that came before seem like fanciful foreplay exposing a gaping underbelly of what happens when ego and creative vision take priority over dramaturgy and ethics.
Repetition and reprises produce this consumable chaos. Guillermo Calderón's play will have you popping corn and passing it around; a need that Haven slyly anticipates.
*Bonus reads* 3 Sisters at The Neighborhood, We Are Pussy Riot (or) Everything is P.R. at Red Tape Theatre, First Read at The Syndicate (by guest contributor Rachel Perzynski) and Too Heavy for Your Pocket at TimeLine Theatre
Stay tuned for part two!