Sean Hayes brought in sell-out audiences for his portrayal of Oscar Levant – a man that manages to earn a laugh with every sardonic, controversial, self-deprecating statement that escapes his mouth. Doug Wright’s script, which focuses on a night when Levant took temporary leave from a mental asylum to appear on Jack Paar’s The Tonight Show, climaxes with Hayes’ jaw-dropping performance of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue.” Hayes won the Jeff Award for his performance, and I suspect he will be a frontrunner for the Tony Award when Good Night, Oscar premiers on Broadway in April.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.