An early conceit of Bruce Norris’s Downstate is that the convicted sex offenders—to varying degrees—view themselves as victims. Their parole officer Ivy (Cecilia Noble) says as much when she is questioning Felix (Eddie Torres) about his using the internet at the local library. Felix at first denies it, and then he decries the society that has placed this limitation on him. Felix looks like he is going to cry, Ivy looks exhausted, and far to stage right a window is ominously covered in cardboard—a hint that the larger community is the most unhappy character of all regarding this living situation.
Several years back, I had a few encounters with a local politician who was aligning himself with schools. I missed the scandal that followed and did not discover until years later (via a newspaper article) that he had been arrested for crimes related to child pornography – the evidence included thousands of photos on his work computer. He had been diagnosed with cancer prior to the scandal, and he died under house arrest not long after. This incident shook me in the way that was maybe similar to how America reacted to the disgrace of Jared Fogel, the former Subway pitchman.
No Home for Bees, which was performed in workshop by 20% Theater Company, features an extraordinary script by Emily Dendinger. This five-actor character study asks poignant questions regarding a topic that is so disturbing that we do not yet have the right vocabulary to discuss it.
Chicago Shakespeare’s previous full staging of Macbeth back in January of 2009 was set in a warzone. The characters donned combat fatigues and crew cuts (I never could quite distinguish one character from another), and in one scene music blared as Mike Nusbuum c-sectioned a baby boy from a woman’s body. It was memorable and ambitious, but not particularly fun.
In comparison, the company’s newest Macbeth is set in a virtual magic forest, where the whims of men and women are controlled as much by their surroundings as by free will. Directed by Aaron Posner and Teller, this production does not contain the sheer number of illusions that were seen in The Tempest (their 2015 collaboration), but they still manage to make this tragedy more magical than horrific—a fitting interpretation for Shakespeare’s bloodiest play.
Before diving headfirst into the many reasons that Love Never Dies is ridiculous (and it is very, very ridiculous), let’s take a moment to remember how The Phantom of the Opera ends. The Phantom forces Christine to choose: allow her lover Raoul to die and she can go free, or save Raoul but spend her life underground with the Phantom. Christine kisses the Phantom delicately on the deformed side of his face. The Phantom screams for them both to go and collapses in agony as Christine and Raoul reprise “All I Ask of You” while rowing away. The Phantom disappears behind a sheet, which is pulled away by the adorable Meg to reveal that the Phantom has disappeared.
The Phantom of the Opera might not be one of my favorite musicals, but one must admit—that’s quite a way to end a show.
I remember the first time I saw Shrek: the Musical back in 2010. My expectations were low, having tired of the concept of putting cartoons on stage. Then the music started, and within a week I had taken another trip to the Cadillac Palace to see Shrek again. The songs (“I Know It’s Today,” “Who I’d Be,” “The Ballad Farquaad,” to name a few) were just that good.
Yet, I never made an important connection between many of my all-time favorite musicals: composer Jeanine Tesori. Paging through the program of Griffin Theater’s production of Violet, I discovered that the composer for this small musical, which I had never heard of despite a 2014 revival on Broadway starring Sutton Foster, had also written the music for Caroline, or Change, Thoroughly Modern Millie, Shrek, and Fun Home. In fact, Tesori is one of a small number of women to earn a Tony for Best Original Score (along with Lisa Kron for Fun Home).
Chicago provides such extensive theater offerings that I try to choose shows from as many theaters as possible when creating my end-of-the-year lists. In 2017, however, Writer’s Theater and the Paramount (along with Hamilton) stole the spotlight for their edgy musical productions.
Every song in this production (directed by Ron Kellum) brought to life the struggle of a man exhausted by the expectation that he should be everything for everyone. The 26-member, astonishing cast was led by Mykal Kilgore (Judas), Felicia Boswell (Mary Magdelene), and Evan Tyrone Martin (Jesus)—each supplying an emotionally draining performance along with superlative vocals.
With just six actors (each playing multiple roles), Gloria creates a panoramic of the modern workplace complete with winners, losers, and those stuck in between. Branden Jacob-Jenkins’s script ends the first act with the only scene of the year that literally left me shaking in my seat—so much so that I found myself purchasing the last ticket in the house for Gloria‘s last performance so I could take it all in a second time.