A Case for the Existence of God–Signature Theater, NYC (6/1/22)

A Case for the Existence of God is something a little different for playwright Samuel D. Hunter, whose other plays have titles that either convey broader thematic ideas (The Whale, Rest) or allude to their Idaho settings (Pocatello, Great Clements). This more provocative title is fitting because A Case for the Existence of God includes a very personal fingerprint for Hunter, who continues in this latest work to do what he does best: masterfully explore the value, complexity, and necessity of human connections.

Will Brill (Ryan) & Kyle Beltran (Keith)

Hunter and his husband adopted a baby girl, who is now preschool aged, and the emotional ties of fatherhood are central to the two characters he brings to life. Keith (Kyle Beltran) and Ryan (Will Brill) meet through their daughters’ day care, and at the play’s beginning that small connection has progressed to a professional relationship. Keith, a mortgage broker, is trying to help Ryan secure a loan for a property that holds sentimental value for him. The plot is parsed out through a series of conversations that occur as Keith and Ryan form a lasting friendship.

Keith is a single foster parent working through the adoption process for his daughter Willa, and he suffers from deep anxieties that he might lose Willa due to the very flawed American adoption system. Ryan is proceeding through a divorce in which his wife has much greater financial security to bring to the custody negotiations for their daughter Krista. These situations drive a relationship that is rarely explored in art mediums – two men providing emotional support for each other during difficult moments in their lives.

A Case for the Existence of God is never cynical as it articulates the wonders of early fatherhood. Consider two representative scenes. In one, Keith mentions to Ryan that their daughters are likely to live to see the year 2100. One cannot contemplate this without trying to picture the year 2100, but our rationality almost immediately reminds us that we have no idea what the world will look like in 80 years. In another scene, Keith and Ryan watch their children playing together at a playground. Their conversation is constantly paused for quick instructions to their daughters – “Don’t climb too high”, “That’s far enough”, “Share.” Putting these two scenes together, we see how fathering a toddler requires constant control and responsibility that is almost irreconcilable with knowledge that a parent has no ability to protect their children far into the future.

Brill and Beltran within the cubicle-sized set.

Also central to a discussion of A Case for the Existence of God is the very original staging. Almost the entire play occurs in the confines of a cubicle with Keith and Ryan sitting on rolling office chairs. Initially, the characters are within Keith’s impersonal workspace as he explains to Ryan exactly what a mortgage broker does. However, as the play progresses, the conversations shift to different locations including Keith’s house, the playground, and even the expanse of Ryan’s desired property. This provides many challenges for the actors and director David Cromer, who must develop the characters with limited movement. Late in the play, changes to this fixed scenery elevate moments of unforgettable emotional impact.

I have been a dedicated fan of Samuel D. Hunter’s work since seeing The Whale at Victory Gardens in 2013. A Case of the Existence of God continues his streak of excellence. Two announced future showings of Hunter’s work include a remounting of his 2011 play A Bright New Boise at New York’s Signature Theater and a movie version of The Whale, which is in post-production.

A Case for the Existence of God–Signature Theater, NYC (6/1/22)

Relentless—Goodman Theater (4/12/22)

Relentless was the first hot ticket of 2022 for Chicago theaters. The Timeline production sold out in its January-February run and even offered streaming options in its later weeks. The show has since transferred to the Goodman Theater, where it is playing next to Good Night, Oscar—a production combo of this quality arrives maybe two or three times in a decade. Tyla Abercrumbie’s script is particularly praiseworthy for developing intricate connections between its six main characters with the predominant action taking place in 1919 at the dawn of “Red Summer,” a period marked by nationwide racial violence against African Americans.

Ayanna Bria Bakari (Annelle) & Jaye Ladymore (Janet)
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Relentless—Goodman Theater (4/12/22)

Sweat—Copley Theater (4/9/22)

The Paramount Theater made a fitting choice for the inaugural play of their new Bold series at the Copley*, which is a small venue across the street from their much larger playhouse in downtown Aurora. Sweat won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for its insightful examination of factors that have contributed to the polarization of America. Its characters and themes were very relevant during its Chicago premier at the Goodman in 2019, and (sadly) they feel even more relevant today.

Shariba Rivers (Cynthia), Randy Steinmeyer (Stan) & Tiffany Bedwell (Jessie)
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Sweat—Copley Theater (4/9/22)

Hadestown—Broadway (10/10/21)

Anthony Doerr’s novel All the Light We Cannot See includes the best representation of love that I have ever read in a novel. The two main characters—a 16-year-old blind French girl and an 18-year-old German soldier—meet In Saint-Malo, France, after traversing each other’s paths for the entirety of World War 2. Marie-Laure and Werner are together for only a few hours after being trapped for days in near-death experiences. With each rereading, I always hope the conclusion of the scene will be different—the words in the book will change, and my memory of the actual ending will somehow be wrong. That is how much Doerr has made me care about these fictional characters and their bond.

Published by AmFrederick on DeviantArt.

I experienced this same emotion in the Walter Kerr Theater while watching Hadestown. One decision I have made as a theater-goer is to learn as little as possible about a play before seeing it. I do not listen to the albums or watch clips online or read summaries of the plot because nothing can recreate the lasting impact of something unexpected on the stage. In the case of Hadestown, the moment I will always remember is the dramatic shift from a beautiful song to complete silence.

Continue reading “Hadestown—Broadway (10/10/21)”
Hadestown—Broadway (10/10/21)

Tony Awards Tournament: Best Musical 2010 to 2019 (Part 2)

In this post I am going to declare the winners for the remaining four first-round pairings. My previous post explains the methodology I used to choose these 16 musicals as candidates for the best Tony-nominated musical of the 2010-2019 decade. If you would like to hear me explain my choices for each pairing, check out this video.

Continue reading “Tony Awards Tournament: Best Musical 2010 to 2019 (Part 2)”
Tony Awards Tournament: Best Musical 2010 to 2019 (Part 2)

A Tribute to the Less-than-Enjoyable Theater Experience

The way I remember it, I am eight years old and playing Nintendo one Saturday morning when my father walks down the basement stairs to tell me about the play he and my mother saw the previous evening. He refers to the title as Say Yes, Pablo and notes that the play was supposed to be about Pablo Picasso but it was not really about anything, and in the place of normal dialogue there was a lot of chanting. He also said that 25 minutes into the show the first audience members exited out the back door, and the steady flow of unhappy patrons kept that back door open until the end.

Say Yes, Pablo holds a special meaing in our family. When we see a play that we really dislike, we say, “Well, at least it was better than Say Yes, Pablo.”

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A Tribute to the Less-than-Enjoyable Theater Experience

Year in Review—2019’s Best Non-musicals

#1. All Quiet on the Western Front (Red Tape)

All Quiet on the Western Front_2
The gender-blind cast of All Quiet on the Western Front

The script by Matt Foss is a tribute to Erich Maria Remargue’s novel—a no-holds-barred criticism of war as seen through the eyes of WW1 soldiers, who have accepted that their survival means nothing to the unseen figures calling the shots. Elena Victoria Feliz as Paul moves through the most inventive staging of the year—war is played out on top of old pianos, and colored powders communicate the impact of bombs and bullets.

Continue reading “Year in Review—2019’s Best Non-musicals”

Year in Review—2019’s Best Non-musicals

NEW YORK SHOWS — 12/21/19 & 12/22/19

Greater Clements

Haley Sakamoto (Kel) and Edmund Donovan (Joe)

Samuel Hunter sits among my favorite playwrights based on the strength of The Whale and Pocatello. One can make a sure bet that a Hunter play will build to a mesmerizing, semi-tragic climax as characters push themselves beyond their own limitations.

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NEW YORK SHOWS — 12/21/19 & 12/22/19

The Niceties—Writer’s Theater (11/27/19 & 12/1/19)

The Niceties is a dramatic tennis match of ideas with two characters scoring points in their increasingly intense back-and-forth exchanges.

Janine (Mary Beth Fisher)—a respected history professor teaching an upper-level course on revolutions—begins by offering criticisms to Zoe (Ayanna Bria Bakari) regarding her 20-page thesis essay.  The ensuing discussion is fraught with conflicts framed by both race and the generation gap between Baby Boomers and Millennials.  Before the play’s start, a Writer’s Theater Associate encouraged the audience to consider both points of view—particularly when we felt a strong allegiance to one character’s perspective.  In that spirit, I am going to present my reactions to The Niceties by referencing the more convincing points scores by both Janine and Zoe.

Ayanna Bria Bakari & Mary Beth Fisher

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The Niceties—Writer’s Theater (11/27/19 & 12/1/19)

The Recommendation—Windy City Playhouse (7/28/19)

With The Recommendation, Windy City Playhouse solidifies itself as a theater company at the forefront of immersive theater.

Julian Hester and Michael Aaron Pogue

I admit that I was more dismissive than intrigued in early 2018 when the Playhouse started promoting Southern Gothic.  The experience promised to take theatergoers into the heart of a Southern dinner party in the 1960’s.  Immersive theater?  I kept picturing moments from Cats when actors walk into the aisles and start rubbing their heads against patrons’ bodies.*

Continue reading “The Recommendation—Windy City Playhouse (7/28/19)”
The Recommendation—Windy City Playhouse (7/28/19)