Category Archives: Theatre Reviews

Best Non-Musical Theatre in Chicago! Familiar at Steppenwolf Theatre (Through January 13, 2019)

A family all comes home to Minnesota for the marriage of one of the daughters. The parents immigrated from Zimbabwe. As a surprise, the bride invited her mother’s sister to fly in from Africa for the wedding. Her sister insists on performing the traditional ceremony, a Roora, where the families negotiate a payment for taking their daughter in marriage. The mother strongly opposes this tradition which leads to a lot of tension. The drama continues to build as some major family secrets are revealed.

This play tackles some very heavy issues for immigrants. A very strong one is how to balance keeping their culture alive while also becoming American. The decision whether or not to teach their children their native language is a difficult one. There is also the question of when to tell children about their history involving issues they wouldn’t understand when they are young.

This play is extremely well written by Danai Gurira. She was born in the US to Zimbabwean parents and raised in Zimbabwe. Thus, this is clearly a very personally relevant story for her. She is also a rising actor. She plays “General Okoye” in Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War and Michonne on AMC’s The Walking Dead.

Familiar_4

The cast is absolutely fantastic. Celeste M. Cooper (BLKS, The Doppelganger) is excellent as the sister of the bride, the feng shui teacher. She has great chemistry with Luigi Sottile as the groom’s brother. Cheryl Lynn Bruce is so strong as Aunt Anne, the mother’s sister. It’s clear she isn’t going to let the Zim traditions be forgotten without a fight. Ora Jones (The Roommate) is equally strong as the mother which makes for quite a matchup.

Familiar_17

The set is quite impressive. They basically built a two story house on the stage and completely furnished it as if a family had been living there for years. Steppenwolf clearly puts a high value on their set design and it pays off.

At the very end of the play, Celeste M. Cooper plays a beautiful song called “Familiar” that brought the audience to tears. Sometimes shows at the Steppenwolf end strangely, but this was a fantastic close to the show! Once again, Steppenwolf proves they are the home for the best non-musical theatre in Chicago!

Get tickets now for Familiar through January 13, 2019!

Quinn Delaney

Advertisements

Lost Opportunity: Red Theatre Presents An Oak Tree at Athenaeum Theatre (Through December 9, 2018)

One actor, Gage Wallace, has rehearsed the play and his role is as a hypnotist. The second actor has never even seen the script. Tonight, this actor is Mike Tepeli. He plays a father of two girls. One of the girls was struck by a car that the hypnotist was driving. The father volunteers at one of the hypnotist’s shows seeking closure.

AN OAK TREE press photo 2

Mike Tepeli played the part very seriously. He became this father, stricken with grief over the loss of his daughter. He is so distraught that at one point he drops to his knees. The program describes the play as absurdly comic, but with Tepeli’s performance, it definitely wasn’t.

Another production in Chicago just featured an actor who had never read the play before, White Rabbit Red Rabbit.  In this play, the stakes are high and the actor is given a choice. However, in An Oak Tree, the stakes are low and the actor is carefully guided the entire time. He never makes any choices which limits the variability caused by the second actor. It seems like a lost opportunity.

Get tickets now for An Oak Tree through December 9th.

Cost of a ticket: $25

PlaylistHQ Economic Rating: Half Price

Rating Scale: Exceptional Value > Worth It > Half Price > Go for Free > Don’t Bother

Quinn Delaney

Classic! A Christmas Carol at Goodman Theatre (Through December 30, 2018)

In 1843, Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol.  The following year, eight theatre companies had put on productions. In 1978, The Goodman Theatre first produced the play. In 1988, Bill Murray starred in Scrooged. And now, the Goodman begins its 41st run!

The Goodman Theatre has continually updated the play to feel fresh. This current production is much more funny, light-hearted, and kid friendly than it was originally. It is quite less darkly Dickensian. The actors singing and playing instruments liven it up as well.

ACC19_19

The set is very impressive. There are two double story sets that slide in and off the stage along with the permanent large structures on the sides. Also impressive is the flying around the stage with the ghosts. Add to that the great costumes, excellent use of fog, the cast giving it their all, and it’s clear this production has been perfected over the years.

ACC19_18

In the end, the audience is full of smiles and full of Christmas spirit. It remains a fantastic tale of redemption and a great Chicago tradition.

ACC19_23

Get tickets now for A Christmas Carol through December 30th!

 

Quinn Delaney

Review: Teatro Visto Presents American Journalero at UrbanTheatre (Through November 18, 2018)

Six men wait on a corner in Queens. Four of them are journaleros (laborers) looking for work for the day. Each time a truck pulls up, they stand up in anticipation. The other two men are just there to harass the other guys. They are white Americans who fear that the immigrants are stealing their jobs and driving wages down. However, after talking with the guys for a while, one of the white guys befriends them and learns they aren’t even competing for the same jobs and he has nothing to fear.

TeatroVista_American Jornalero_1251_credit Joel Maisonet

Dillon Kelleher (right) plays America First vigilante Mark, who confronts (left, from left) a trio of immigrant day laborers – Victor Marana as Luis, Ramón Camín as Michigan and Mike Cherry as Montezuma – in Teatro Vista’s American Jornalero by Ed Cardona Jr. American Jornalero had its Chicago premiere at Victory Gardens as part of DESTINOS, the 2nd Chicago International Latino Theater Festival. It transfers to UrbanTheater, 2620 W. Division St., in Humboldt Park, for an additional four weeks, October 25 through November 18. For tickets and information, visit teatrovista.org or call (773) 599-9280. Credit: Joel Maisonet

Just like the title, this play is bilingual. It’s mostly in English, but the journaleros often speak to each other in Spanish. It’s often words not taught in high school, aka, profanity. A quick refresher on these terms on this website is helpful. Use of both languages make the play much more authentic than it would be in all English.

TeatroVista_American Jornalero_512_credit Joel Maisonet

(from left) Ramón Camín is Michigan, Victor Marana is Luis and Jordan Arredondo is Marcelo, day laborers waiting to be picked up for a day’s work, in Teatro Vista’s American Jornalero by Ed Cardona Jr. American Jornalero had its Chicago premiere at Victory Gardens as part of DESTINOS, the 2nd Chicago International Latino Theater Festival. It transfers to UrbanTheater, 2620 W. Division St., in Humboldt Park, for an additional four weeks, October 25 through November 18. For tickets and information, visit teatrovista.org or call (773) 599-9280. Credit: Joel Maisonet

Ultimately, this is a light-hearted tale about a segment of the population that doesn’t often get much attention. It’s a quick (75 minutes) glance into their lives and struggles portrayed by a great cast. Mike Cherry’s performance as Montezuma is especially fantastic.

 

Cost of a ticket: $25

PlaylistHQ Economic Rating: Worth It!

Rating Scale: Exceptional Value > Worth It > Half Price > Go for Free > Don’t Bother

 

Next up from Teatro Visto: The Abuelas starting on February 9, 2019.

 

Quinn Delaney

Powerful! Broadway in Chicago Presents Miss Saigon at the Cadillac Palace (Through December 8, 2018)

In September of 1989, Miss Saigon first opened in London on the West End. In April of 1991, it opened on Broadway in New York City. The first US tour started in Chicago in October of 1992. And now, 26 years later, the revival comes to Chicago’s Cadillac Palace.

An American soldier fighting in the Vietnam War meets a local woman and falls in love. He meets her at a brothel and he makes it his mission to get her away from that life. However, the fall of Saigon marking the end of the Vietnam War tears them apart. This leaves the woman to struggle to find her lost love. It’s a very dramatic and emotional ride.

This show is a grand spectacle. The set is quite grand as well with the Dream Land bar and the amazing helicopter scene that had the audience gasping. The cast is 42 people strong plus a full live band. They sing and dance to fantastic choreography. Anthony Festa, who plays the main American solider, has an especially impressive voice. Also, Red Concepcion is so fun and energetic as The Engineer.

06.MISS_SAIGON_TOUR_9_21_18_5953 r photo by Matthew Murphy

Emily Bautista as the local woman puts on an excellent acting performance. The purpose of acting is to deliver a performance where you can connect with your audience by delivering a performance so strong that they feel the emotions you are intending to convey. And she does just that. She’ll make you cry.

Every interaction she has with her son was so powerful. It showed the strength of a mother to protect her kid even up to literally sacrificing her entire life. This is especially the case where she was forced/expected to surrender, but she didn’t give a damn.  She held her own and stood for her own beliefs.

01.MISS_SAIGON_TOUR_9_20_18_2126 r photo by Matthew Murphy

Get tickets now for Miss Saigon through December 8th!

Cost of a ticket: $92

PlaylistHQ Economic Rating: Worth It!

Rating Scale: Exceptional Value > Worth It > Half Price > Go for Free > Don’t Bother

Quinn Delaney

Hilarious and Smart! First Floor Theatre Presents Hooded, or Being Black for Dummies at The Den Theatre (Through November 17, 2018)

Marquis was adopted very young and was raised by a white family in the suburbs of Baltimore. Tru was raised in the inner city. Upon meeting in a holding cell, Tru decides he needs to teach Marquis how to act black and he writes “Being Black for Dummies”. Marquis’s journey is both comical and full of insights on the black experience.

 

The story makes numerous references to the Wizard of Oz. Tru is very proud of his red sneakers, which he calls his Dorothy’s. Later on, Marquis taps his heels while wearing the shoes as “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” plays. There is also a comparison of the lyrics of 2Pac verse the writings of Nietzsche. There is also a possible connection to Fight Club. This play is worthy of all these connections as it weaves all these cultural references into such a smart and rich tale.

Hooded-2

The cast is fantastic. Jalen Gilbert is so smooth as Tru. He’s a great teacher of how to be black. Jayson Lee is excellent as Marquis, playing him as the reluctant student trying to figure out who he is. Casey Morris is hilarious as Hunter. The part when he finds the book and tries to be black is the best part of the night! Maggie Scrantom is so funny as Meadow, the selfie-loving girl with a huge crush on Hunter. Also, Caroline Hendricks is great as Clementine, swooning over Marquis.

Just like Peerless, First Floor Theatre knows how to do a high school comedy right! Get tickets now for Hooded, or Being Black for Dummies through November 17th!

Cost of a ticket: $25
PlaylistHQ Economic Rating: Exceptional Value!

Rating Scale: Exceptional Value > Worth It > Half Price > Go for Free > Don’t Bother

Quinn Delaney

Powerful Voices! Firebrand Theatre Presents Caroline, or Change at the Den Theatre (Through October 28, 2018)

It’s 1963 and Caroline is working as a maid for a Jewish family. As the father says bluntly to Noah, his only son, “There is no God” and “Your mother is dead”. The father remarries and the mother-in-law struggles to develop a relationship with Noah. Instead, Noah feels more connected to Caroline, the maid. He keeps leaving change in his pockets. The mother-in-law insists that Caroline keep the change when she finds the coins while doing the laundry, but she says she can’t take money from a baby. But when he leaves a $20 bill in his pocket, the matter escalates.

The singing in this production is excellent. The musical genres include Motown, blues, gospel, folk, and Jewish klezmer. Rashada Dawan is especially impressive as Caroline. She has such a powerful voice and it stays strong through so many songs. Micheal Lovette is also fantastic as the Bus/Dryer. He has such a deep voice. All the children in the show are great too. Their singing and ability to memorize lines at that young age is impressive. Also, there were enough of them that a position listed in the program is Child Wrangler!

CarolineorChange-6

Get tickets now for Caroline, or Change through October 28.

CarolineorChange-10

Quinn Delaney