Weeks 50 & 51: Jolly Holiday, Winter Wonderland
Happy Holidays! This December, we dug into tales that were festive, but not necessarily focused solely on Christmas. Christmas took a back seat either celebrated briefly in a film or show whereas the art was more focused on painting a broader picture. Holiday based works also included going on holiday aka taking a vacation. The following week took us to new worlds, fictional and real, that made for an exciting wintry backdrop.
#TheatreCrushThursday went to UrbanTheater Company and The Neo-Futurists. #FollowFriday was given to The Body Political, Connections for Abused Women and Their Children, You Are Beautiful, and Chicago Tool Library.
Beaches is a classic that swept our hearts away. Bette Midler and Barbara Hershey make for an earnest pair of BFFs, and it's not just cause their first names are alliterative. With some moody music, heavy arguments, and soapy resolution, it checks off all the boxes of what makes a film we want to tune in to. It definitely works best when these two are on screen navigating the ups and downs of love and career. We all know how many twists and turns they can include, and it always helps to have someone as your rock to keep you grounded. If you're a fan of Steel Magnolias or First Wives Club, this one's for you.
Bette makes another appearance in Hell in a Handbag's latest production. Bette: Xmas at the Continental Baths recreates and takes some humorous liberties from one of her performances from the infamous bathhouse in the 1960s'. It was a hotbed for gay sex as well as hosting a plethora of performers. Bette was a regular entertainer and if you even just Google the phrase, "continental baths nyc", you'll see her name and picture turn up. Caitlin Jackson commits offering her charming rat a tat energy that's sharp and signature Bette. You have to keep up and engage otherwise she'll have no problem razzing you. It's a brief, untraditional holiday show that with its return makes for a nice new tradition.
Saving Mr. Banks is a heartbreaking, beautiful Disney film. Emma Thompson has nailed playing many tragic, leading women across her career. Here she puts on her armor in a Disney film, where as the author of Mary Poppins, her backstory isn't far off from that of other fictional heroines. It has its rags to riches element, but hits much harder as you see a young child who had to grow up quickly in order to quite literally, save her parents. While she had a Mary Poppins stand in from her aunt, it was far from practically perfect in every way. Watching both the process of Mary Poppins start to get adapted with flashbacks from Travers' childhood makes for a great story full of heart and devastation. And Tom Hanks as Walt Disney plays just enough of a role without taking the focus away from Thompson in her story.
You Are Happy questions its own title. Love while grand is often seen as a solution or answer, yet it's dangerous to assign it such a power. Read up on our review now to find out if love can in fact save us all.
On the twelfth(ish) day of Christmas, we saw Twelfth Night. Midsommer Flight made their Christmas tradition once again at Lincoln Park Conservatory. Twelfth Night is a Shakespeare play I've only been familiar with by reputation alone and hadn't gotten around to reading or watching. For a first time, it was quite spirited and implemented folk music to speed events along which was a nice touch. I'm always down for fucking up Shakespeare to make it more digestible and pull out things from the text that aren't apparent on the surface. Here it proves that the whole ensemble needs to be on board matching energy for energy otherwise it's quick for the show to fall flat. Thankfully, this was a swift, and surprisingly deep exploration of gender identity and romance with its aspects that would cause concern handled in a respectable manner.
P.Y.G., or The Mis-Edumacation of Dorian Belle gives comedy to cultural appropriation and head shaking worthy buffoonery. On title alone, it could send a lot of theatregoers out the door, but rest assured it's a play that's in on the joke. In fact, P.Y.G. is a play that's so in on the joke, it often reverses it on its audience making you feel guilty for laughing. It constantly keeps you on guard as you never know if a joke or well made observation will come out of the actor's mouth next. This show provided me a lot of joy with its use of incredible commercial breaks interspersed in this fictional reality TV show and a much needed reeducation about the history of hip-hop. I also personally would love to see more shows set on reality TV sets or about them. Truly an area of fascination I can't get enough of.
Mary Poppins Returns is a worthy sequel to its original. Emily Blunt, Lin Manuel Miranda, some older and now new, young Banks children have an adventure that's every bit as satisfying as the good old days. The music is well done, but it's hard to recapture the catchiness of the first. Music montages and scenes definitely try to replicate some of the same beats and introduce new characters that feel entirely for fluff. What makes it fun is when it discovers new lessons as this generational exchange occurs.
If Julie Andrews says so, it must be true. Catch up with our last recap. It will be your crowning glory.
Get Over It is an odd title for a film that's pretty swell. Following the behind the scenes and onstage drama of a high school musical production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, it really nails what this genre of film requires. The manner in which it does is also creative and not what the typical teen flick would do. The opening musical credits alone are confounding, yet fun. Kirsten Dunst's character in any other setting would seem like a know-it-all in trying to write one of the songs for the show yet here it's needed, and the song of course is good when in actuality it would have been of lesser quality. Of course, the couples who end up together in the end should, but then they had some new ones on top because everyone definitely found their soulmate in high school, right? It's a lot of silliness that's fruitful to watch.
Ben is Back is an emotionally wrenching film. Julia Roberts, similar to Emma Thompson yet in completely different ways, knows how to command a drama. She embodies the face and attitude of a mother you don't want to disappoint. Yet she is full of love, always acting from a place of love as she tries to look out for her son, Ben (Lucas Hedges), who surprisingly comes home for Christmas from rehab. It's at first an easy homecoming, deceptively so, and over time builds as unbearable. This film does a great job of providing some snapshots of what it's like living with addiction as the person suffering and the support system around them. It happens to a whole family, not just one person, and every action affects everyone else.
Good Grief indeed. Free Street Theater knocks it out of the park with this solo performance from Melissa DuPrey. The holidays while a time of comfort and joy can also be the opposite for more people than we care to think. DuPrey wrestles with her relationship with her deceased mother. Her journey is wrapped up in hers as she searches for answers of healing and forgiveness. Her performance proves that self-care is not a quick fix, but takes time and isn't always available through the resources we immediately think of. Medicine and therapy while helpful to some, is also only accessible to some. DuPrey and Free Street provide a helpful source of guidance and caring for those who experience issues with mental health and guidance.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker marks the conclusion of nine films. With so much expectation, it naturally caused equal division. What makes it frustrating is that there are always things that could have been explored that were chosen not to. This applies here more forcefully as getting to spend last minutes with this lovable gang of characters is more precious. So, choosing to go down a path or distribute time only among certain characters cuts more deeply. It doesn't truly feel like an ending, but more like a stopping point of where director J.J. Abrams wanted to go. There are some memorable moments that will make you satisfied yet the amount of questions to justify this film never truly go away.
The Dog, The Night, and The Knife pushes the envelope in experimental theatre. Silencio is a newer theatre company that shows great promise in their choice of unsettling text and strong actors to perform it. This intimate experience feels like being trapped in a video game with its protagonist, M, and you can feel his two choices presented at many points of how to navigate a bleak, bloody journey. Violence occurs so frequently it causes you to feel numb, and it does present questions of our tolerance to be able to watch it at this performance and in media in general. Its language can be jarring, but once you crack its code you can become much more attune with this world. There's always something to keep your eyes drawn to in this maze of guilt and vices.
His Dark Materials quickly entices you. The HBO series has an impressively well-paced first three episodes. It's fast enough to make you on edge of what will happen next. Lyra makes for an exciting, yet at times frustrating young protagonist. Ruth Wilson is a pseudo-mother figure that is dressed in the finest layers of furs and rich colors that compliment her villainy. Lin Manuel Miranda is a source of comedic relief to the show's intense events. And honestly, seeing so many young children try to mobilize and be agents of resistance is inspiring, and leaves you torn for their safety and livelihood.
Little Women's tagline might as well be big hearts, can't lose. Greta Gerwig offers a posh, luxurious adaptation that tears up its timeline of these four captivating sisters. Saoirse Ronan is an innate Jo, determined yet unbalanced as she goes into the unknown. Emma Watson shows an undeniable love that keeps us grounded even in times of despair. Eliza Scanlen as Beth offers sweetness and meekness, never taking for granted her tiny pleasures. Florence Pugh as Amy is truly transformative as she ages from teenage brat sister in Jo's shadow to a confident, wiser, no b.s. artist. Gerwig is commendable in making plot points of the beloved novel feel understandable rather than just saucy developments. Yet they aren't any less tragic, and with so much happiness to be found, it's equally matched by heartache.
We wanna thank you for joining on this journey! It wouldn't have been possible without the support and engagement of you. It definitely would have been a lot less fun, that's for sure. Enjoy our last upcoming week as we say goodbye to 2019 and this project!
Until we meet again!