We are back and we've been busy. February came and went, but while we there there were festivals abound. Chicago Theatre Week took place February 7-17. Chicago Musical Theatre Festival took over this month from February 4-24. And last, but not least Rhinofest came to an end starting January 12 till February 25. We would have loved to see it all, but time whips by and we had to make some tough choices.
Our #TheatreCrushThursday for these past two weeks was first Congo Square Theatre Company. Our second, but not second best was MPAACT. Our #FollowFriday as always were full of love and black leadership with Enrich Chicago, Chicago Survivors, Black Lives, Black Words, and Black Girls Break Bread.
Now let's see how we managed to see so many shows in such a little amount of time. Time to get up close and personal ;)
Show me a haunted mansion musical, and this show will do you one better. Some turn their nose up at the idea that musicals can be dark, but I wholeheartedly disagree. The Bone Harp goes to many dark places, so far as to make you question who exactly is this show far? It also made me reconcile with how although we can have a feminist retelling in shows in terms of new work development, issues of the past can remain. How do we deal with a creative team being keen on expressing the many layers of a father despite him being an abuser and murderer? How do we reconcile with the character of Jessa being blind despite being played by an actress who is not? With talks of disability in theatre coming to the forefront, are there ways we still feel some disabilities are okay to be played by those who do not possess them, but some should not?
The Total Bent? More like the total package. Why I didn't know about the musical genius of Stew sooner is beyond me. Passing Strange did pass me by one might say, but The Total Bent came completely out of left field and what a game changer. To have a musical similar to Passing Strange which feels like it could encompass every genre of music, that also calls out racism, homophobia, religion, and politics, your job as a composer isn't simply done, but has surpassed all expectations. I hope to see this show done more not only for all of this, but to be able to have a show that has a predominantly black cast and musicians is a dream. Every part and note count to create a cascade of exuberance and heartbreak.
Still catching up? No problem. Check back on weeks five and six now.
Words are hard to justify the magnitude of the worlds that Stephanie Walker creates. In her follow-up to the truly groundbreaking, earth shattering, world reckoning that was The Madres, The Abuelas takes all of that spunk and picks it up several years later. If you don't know Stephanie Walker now, you will. Mark our words. Her writing is infectious, full of earnest humor, honest portrayals of families, and full of secret connections that will make your heart burst. If you haven't seen both, definitely give them a read. They are still a welcome addition in hearing Walker's words in your head, if not aloud.
Ibsen, move over. There's a new playwright in town and his name is Lucas Hnath. And he don't come to play. Picking up much after Nora closed that infamous door shut in A Doll's House, Nora's back and better than ever. At least she is dressed that way (seriously if I could have Sandra Marquez's garb tomorrow I could die happy, hat and all). But, Nora's return is almost eclipsed or at least her spotlight shines unintentionally on who she's left behind. This includes the brilliant Celeste Cooper as the daughter she abandoned, and her maid whom she entrusted to raise her in the gruff, but determined Barbara Robertson. 90 minutes. No easy second chances or quick schemes. Can you ever truly escape the past?
If you had any doubt this would be as hot and steamy as Mike Pence is a steaming pile of garbage, shame on you. My preconceptions of Chicago theatre were always new works that were polarizing. Plays you had never seen before in any shape replicated anywhere else. Mike Pence Sex Dream, aside from being a genius title, is a true game changer when it comes to form. Dan Giles unabashedly revokes the idea of structure, although the play has a clear premise, rising action, climax, and such. His humor is wickedly good, characters both lovable and despicable, and an ending so harsh, but also realistic. It's a true journey that seems straightforward, but is anything but. While I was anticipating a show to feel glum about being set post-election (you know which one), if more were like this I would never tire of such works again.
Have you ever seen a show start out small and you hope continues to grow into a sensation that everyone talks about? The Incredible Six-Thousand Foot Ladder to Heaven might be mine. The repeating themes and focus on youth angst reminded me of tides of Fun Home, and also because it is an intermissionless musical. It also approaches the ideas of grief and realizing your parents can only be so strong from a place of light rather than darkness. There's an overall positive spirit embedded even when it veers into gray, a mixture of both happy and sad. With an impressively mature score and a book that probably just needs some fine tweaking, I sincerely hope to see this show continue to find audiences that love it as much as I do.
Un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq, six, sept, huit, neuf. You know what that means. Breaks are important, especially if you saw a show everyday for a week. I always love the theatre thing, but sometimes it's so nice to not do the theatre thing. Because you get to come back to it after appreciating that time apart. Whether it's a piece of that Kit Kat Bar, from writing, or blasting that good old Hamilton jam, take a break y'all.
Rhinofest made me long for more Churchill, and Red Tape Theatre made me long for more Suzan Lori-Parks. I was familiar with In the Blood and her America plays, but I long to not only know more, but see more of her work produced. For such a legendary and form bending playwright, I feel her work is not seen nearly enough. In the Blood is one of her more linear plays, and it's certainly still a feast for actors to find refuge in. I appreciated feeling the intensity of her words in this intimate, almost immersive setting of an abandoned church with pews, garbage, and graffiti all around the space of The Ready. It truly transported you into a world whether you wanted to enter or not. A visionary in Chika Ike's direction and a cast that brings Parks' words to justice, and new intentions I wasn't anticipating. While I knew the beats, I loved seeing how this score played out.
Definitely keeping this zine for safe keeping. I feel like in its last week, Rhinofest kicked my ass in the best way possible. I never felt so loved and taken in, but also fired up to demand better of our theatres, and ultimately the world. Theatre of the Beyond's The Ear and The Hart showed a genuine depiction of female friendship. When you've known someone longer, you know even better how to hurt them. It doesn't even have to be pointing out their wounds, but deliberately creating them. It's painful, personal, and I felt perfectly given time to fester, and on the mend to healing. In Tanuja Jagernauth's How to Pick a Lock, it felt like a homecoming you didn't know you needed to come home to. It felt so refreshing to be surrounded by an audience who loves a work not just because they are supporting the people putting on the work, but because the work itself inspires such a powerful reaction. If this is only one of a couple drafts from Jagernauth, the world better watch out. How to Pick a Lock will definitely find a home if Chicago theatre has any sense left in it.
Here she is, Hades. Here she is, Persephone. Here's Eurydice (and Orpheus I guess). While Underworld Anthem dealt with Eurydice's journey to the underworld from Orpheus' perspective, I couldn't help, but still be pulling for Eurydice. Whether intended or not, I understood where she was coming from of seeing that path untraveled, for better or worse. When you marry an aimless, cute, musician, slacker like O, a road trip to hell seems far more alluring. Hades has definitely got it going on, but Perspehone as stunning as she is vicious, is a role model (at least to me). She has a Cleopatra charged energy that makes you feel like you have no choice but to stay in the underworld. Singing, dancing, and storytime among your sisters? C'mon. Sign me up. With a sense of play and commitment to exploration of sounds and senses, hell's not looking too shabby right about now.
Get out your best Britney Spears tunes, settle in for the latest gossip, and get ready to relive some of the best worst years of your life! Lucky is so cute you can't help but love it. If Crazy Ex-Girlfriend had a step sibling, this would be it. Not quite close enough to be siblings, but there is some sort of familial connection. Lucky brings nostalgia, feminism, the importance of embracing your sexuality (and consent), and female friendship instead of forced college romance. While some of the plot is predictable and moments may even be cheesy, a lot of it is lovable. In a world where we criticize so much, I can't help, but long for some cheese. And I would rather see an attempt to be taking down patriarchal systems in a well-aimed manner than the opposite with less funny jokes. Lucky definitely brings the humor, especially when it comes to taking "nice" guys and frat bros.
Setting the stage and standards high for her exhibit, Big Camera/Little Camera, Laurie Simmons had a free lecture at the MCA of Chicago. I was glad I attended as while I love art exhibits, there's nothing quite like hearing an artist speak about their work to provide a perfect preface to what you'll encounter. I believe Simmons will be returning to the MCA, so don't miss a chance to see her if you can. Simmons articulates that her curiosity with traditional masculine and feminine roles started at a young age, and in fact with musical theatre. She was cast as the womanizing Frank E. Butler to the sharp pistol wheeling, Annie Oakley. She reflected on this experience of a young woman being an object for other young women and bragging of how he has been outlawed in many states for his relationships with underage girls. So much of media masks these misconceptions that upon first listen or glance, especially as a young girl, you can miss. In hearing how Simmons fixates in on this moment, she paves a way of how her interests of when she chose the films she became drawn to were her choice. But she doesn't lose this critical framework despite her guilty pleasures. She still resists, even when recreating some of these cinematic moments for laughs. I'm curious to see how this balance is achieved or played with in her exhibit next week.
All good things must come to an end, even Rhinofest. We managed to get in a couple more shows, so check out what we were able to see this year now!
Until we meet again!