Weeks 36 & 37: Chicago History, Blown Youth
Oh, to be young and in Chicago. These two weeks we dug a little deeper into some Chicago centric classics with poignant drama and tense family arguments. Following that, we explored how the feeling of youth shapes narratives whether you skew younger or older. With age comes wisdom, but not always maturity. Whatever age you are, growth is always around the corner.
Now let's get on with it!
Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun is a beloved classic play that's spurned many iterations. The black and white original, the Broadway revival starring Denzel Washington and this 2008 version. It's a testament to the strength of this piece that makes it
a feast for actors to devour. Its display of race relations in the 1950s in Chicago shows how far
we've come today and how much further we need to go. Especially in living in Chicago, there's so much diversity to be found yet populations living within such segregated neighborhoods that all are facing the effects of gentrification. Watching it now it really puts into perspective the coated racism or tip toeing around issues of race in the room that still happen today.
My Best Friend's Wedding was as glorious as I imagined it would be. It was refreshing because it's a romantic comedy that has consequences. Julia Roberts is not so much America's sweetheart, but a self-involved, cruel foil to sweet Cameron Diaz in competing for Dermot Mulraney. There's of course always that element of what if teased throughout the film, but it's more about the chase of how far will Roberts go to stop this wedding? So common in rom coms is the stereotype of the two characters you want to get together are being torn apart by a wicked fiancee. Here everyone in the film is very much grounded and gets a happy ending, minus a significant other or not. A great film, and a true classic set against the backdrop of Chicago.
The Setting the Stage: Objects of Chicago Theatre exhibit at the Design Museum of Chicago is a great glimpse of performance history in our city. Since 2019 has been 'billed' as the Year of Chicago Theatre, this is one of the temporary events that have sprung up in celebration of the work we do every year. It was awesome to learn about companies that don't always get the spotlight like Chicago Children's Theatre, Idle Muse and Lifeline Theatre. Storefront and commercial theatres hold a lot of power and prestige, but we can't let the history of other companies which have been around for just as long (or even longer) that make up our industry. Fighting for the underdog and who isn't always heard is what the work is about.
If you think you haven't heard of Proof, think again. From its University of Chicago ties to its classic sister pairing to a band of math geeks who rock out, there's bound to be a point or two that constitutes as familiar territory. The famed play gets glamorized in autumnal, 2000s glory. Love or hate her, Gwyneth Paltrow brings a performance that I'm more fond than resentful of. In modern settings, she seems to bring similar performances, but here her stoic and unwavering stance proves useful here. Jake Gyllenhaal as always proves the charmer and no matter how many sweaters or glasses you throw on him, it's impossible to believe he's an expert mathematician. Hope Davis proves a great foil in the overstepping, all knowing authority figure and Anthony Hopkins makes for a brilliant, but ailing man. A timely film that cements how easy it is to preserve a man's legacy as a genius, but a young woman's notoriety is immediately brought under scrutiny.
The Great Leap is another slam dunk for playwright Lauren Yee. Having rocked out to Cambodian Rock Band earlier this year, she brings another tale this time off the stage and on the court. While in a vastly different setting, her themes remain. Parents who feel they know what's best for their children, but have a hard time showing affection. Children who feel they know their parents, but upon a revealed secret are proved
wrong. And dialogue that pokes fun at American sensibilities, Asian American representation, and how theatre regresses with both. This of Yee's plays feels the most compact and sharp, plot and text wise. There's no fat here or anything that needs to be trimmed. Every moment adds up to that final countdown and your eyes are glued the entire time.
Self-motivation can come from the most expected of places. Post-it notes of encouragement, breaks, or snacks are all acceptable ways to give that little boost when you need it most. In times of feeling overwhelmed or scattered, those little victories go a long way to get you to stay motivated. Sometimes the most obvious way to kick back or incite some relief is the one right in front of you.
Atlanta is one of the most creative shows on television right now. How does Donald Glover do it all? Comedy, film, television, music, he must have a time turner on him I swear. To cover all these modes of entertainment and well is impressive. With Atlanta, there's a constant element of not knowing what you'll see next. Some episodes focus on its central characters while others for the sake of the show being entertaining focus on the side players. It's both exciting and mesmerizing of when Glover doesn't even show up and it really allows the talents of his cast to take center stage. When you can trust your collaborators to show up and bring it to the table, it speaks volumes to the strength of this ensemble. I literally can't wait to see how this show evolves in future seasons.
Monsters aren't born, but made. Find out how in this interview with director/deviser Denise Yvette Serna. Serna discusses how the story of Medusa is a modern example of examining the grotesque, femininity and the godlike blow of the damn patriarchy.
What Makes U Sing? is a burst of positivity delivered in quintessential musical form. This podcast, hosted by the glowing Larry Owens, feels like part Sirius chat show and part show tunes radio station. You don't have to change that dial because you get just the right amount of conversation as well as tunes. With a live accompanist, Owens brings out his friends to discuss what makes them sing and why they resonate with the musicians they do. While I could just hear Owens sing alone, it's always nice to hear who will share in his heavenliness when gracing the microphone.
Theatre of the Beyond's Circles at Playground Theater captures the essence of living in your 20s-early 30s. It was akin to a Vanderpump Rules setting where you're working and drinking while doing it in the midst of auditioning and reaching for stardom. This play grounds it in terms of showing the actual grind and where cameras aren't following you around every day to show the problems that come with working in the service and performing arts industries simultaneously. Being fresh out of school and finding those gigs to lead you to financial stability, it's hard to not find yourself in denial, taking to the drink or becoming self-absorbed. As much as it can be easy to point out the shortcomings or pitfalls of this friend group, we've all been guilty of the same and it's all essential to growing up.
Younger is a show that shouldn't be so addictive, yet there's no denying its appeal. Sutton Foster, Hilary Duff, Miriam Shor, and so many more provide a hilariously fun set of adventures in the high stakes world of publishing. It's enough drama for me to be able to sit back and truly unwind focusing on frivolity and some fiery romances. Now, do the jokes always land? No. Is there times when the show forgets what it is in its shits and giggles aesthetic and not Grey's Anatomy or How to Get Away with Murder? God, yes. And does this show seem like a soft place to land for Broadway actors when they're not currently in a show? Absolutely. But I'm not mad about it. I am mad on how it takes awhile for some plots to develop and secrets to be revealed. Yet I will continue to tune in knowing I get what I deserve with this decision.
Go Fish deals some strong hands, and weaker ones. This black and white, 1990s film is far from perfect, but it provides an intriguing glimpse into lesbian culture and representation of its time. There's also understandable props due in taking bold, creative visionary risks in how it deals with these topics. It's amazing to see interracial couples, female friendship and lesbian romance be celebrated and explored without holds barred. It's intentionally gray, messy and at times hazy, but I think for the most part in a way that wraps up nicely. There's no tragedy to be found here and while there's moments of tension as well as difficult to stomach moments of shaming within the community, the focus is on heart and authenticity in order to be truly happy.
Performance comes from process in Prop Thtr and the MCA's The Storefront Project. Check out why the genesis for such a kaleidoscopic creation occurred and why reclaiming Chicago as a hotbed for experimental theatre was long overdue.
Remember to ask those real questions.