BCS Spotlight

Wednesday, 01 November 2017 17:37

Yasmina's Necklace touches the heart

Playwright Rohina Malik and director Ann Filmer have reunited and have collaborated on something special. Goodman Theatre’s current run of Yasmina's Necklace is one of my favorite plays of 2017. Here's why. 

In Yasmina’s Necklace, we are treated to a uniquely told love story that is as moving as it is thoughtful. It is funny, and it is beautifully staged. A story this wonderfully crafted and so well acted that delivers such a poignant message only comes around so often.

Yasmina and her father, Musa, are refugees from Iraq and they meet an upper middle-class family in Chicago who are looking for a wife for their divorced son Sam. We are reminded that it is very common in the Muslim faith to have an arranged marriage, prompting one of my favorite lines from the play, "real love comes after marriage, not before." 

Sam, played to perfection by Michael Perez, had moved away from the Islamic faith and married a non-Muslim American. He talks a bit about the challenges he had after the marriage and the many medications he had to be on due to his infidelity. Yet he strives for all things you would see in someone who is first generation like acclimating to the Western culture by changing his name, as well as pushing himself in his career. 

The true magic happens in the connection Sam makes with Yasmina, who is wonderfully played by Susaan Jamshidi, but the two didn't start off so smoothly. Yasmina is a thirty-four-year-old woman who is empowered, self-aware, an artist. This is not a common perspective you see of Muslim woman and I loved how Yasmina pushed back on what she wanted and strived to help others not only in Baghdad but also in Chicago. 

What drew me to the play immediately was the simplicity and peace shown around the Islamic faith. In today's society, I believe this is the most misunderstood religion even with close to two billion followers globally. The journey Yasmina and her father made to the United States from war torn Baghdad was something no human should ever experience. War is ugly, cruel, and unjust. The play is able to highlight the challenges of being a refugee and painted a vividly raw picture of what they went through. 

You have a bit of everything in this play that I could go on and on about but want you to experience for yourself. All the ingredients are in place for a thoroughly engaging production that will touch your heart, make you laugh and is sure to enlighten. I highly recommend Yasmina's Necklace.

Yasmina’s Necklace is being performed at the Goodman's Theatre through November 19th. Tickets range from $10-40. Yasmina’s Necklace has an approximate running time of two hours including one intermission. Oh, there is a special surprise at the closing for all the Bruce Springsteen fans out there. 

For more show information visit www.goodmantheatre.org.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Celebrating nearly 35 years in their factory space around the North Center neighborhood, American Theater Company has a knack for taking risks on new works. “Welcome to Jesus” is prefaced with a recorded curtain speech by artistic director Will Davis, “It’s our responsibility to take risks.” And that is absolutely true. At no other company in town are you more likely to see a smash hit first production right before it becomes a Pulitzer finalist.

“Welcome to Jesus” is not one of those gems. This new play by Janine Nabers is likely to land among the annals of forgotten plays, but good for ATC for taking a chance. Under the direction of Will Davis, this world premiere is certainly provocative but begs the question, is this the best way to make the playwright’s point?

“Welcome to Jesus” is about a small Texan town obsessed with high school football and wholesome, Christian values. When two bumbling, and related, cops come across the zombie-fied head football coach with a dead body in the woods, the play takes on a racist-flavored B-horror movie feel.

The point that Nabors spends two short acts exploring is what it’s like for people of color in Christian, white dominated places. It’s also a commentary on how the professional sports industry uses up athletes while skirting the issue of racism. In that regard, Nabors’ script is very topical. The problem is that her thesis is obscured by supernatural plot points which ultimately have no resolution or bearing on the conclusion.

Will Davis’ direction is a little strange, but the performances are strong. A little too often the audience is subjected to blinding light and expected to participate. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with that, but if an audience can’t connect with the work, this gimmick is bound to be awkward.

“Welcome to Jesus” has something to say, but whatever it is, isn’t quite there yet. The important thing is that a successful theater company saw a play with a contentious message and gave it a chance. Nabors would be best to revise her well-meaning script so that it’s more like a play and less like a Netflix pilot.

Through December 3rd at American Theater Company. 1909 W Byron St. 773-409-4125

Published in Theatre in Review

Hordes of swarming, diving birds are attacking a cabin in Somewhere, America -- and, we later assume due to dead radio noise and a major power blackout, the entire country -- while two strangers seek shelter and safety within its walls. They don't know why the birds are attacking but they've seen enough carnage to know stepping outdoors during the beak- and talon-filled ambushes every six hours at high tide means undoubtedly walking into their own deaths. They pass the hours by talking, learning about each other, reading, writing, and most pressingly, discussing their survival. Food is scarce, they have no working transportation, and there's no electricity.

When a third party enters the scene seeking refuge, the two unhesitatingly take her in. The group dynamic now changed, suspicion and mistrust seep into the threesome's thoughts and behavior like an intravenous disease. The silence and long, drawn-out hours don't give the characters the opportunity to ruminate over their regrets, worries, and doubts so much as shove them into a dark, smothering heap of them.

While most of us are familiar with Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 cinematic horror masterpiece, and maybe less of us with the novellette by Daphne du Maurier, I had never heard of this story being put to the stage. Adapted by acclaimed Irish playwright Conor McPherson, Griffin Theater Company's The Birds is an entirely original story set in the apocalyptic universe created by du Maurier and later expanded upon by Hitchcock. The play is less about the literal horrors caused by insane, vicious birds attacking as much as the metaphorical: What would we do to survive? In what ways would we change if society collapses? Would our values regress if nobody is there to enforce rules and keep score? What are we capable of? As The Birds will show, the monsters outside are no match for the ones lurking inside.

The Birds is playing at Theater Wit Thursdays through Sundays until July 19th. Visit theaterwit.org for tickets.

 

Published in Theatre Reviews
Sunday, 23 November 2014 18:00

We're All Mad Here – Alice at Lookingglass

"But how does one know if they've gone mad?" asks Alice of the elusive Cheshire Cat as he swings on a rail, hanging twenty feet off the ground. "You see, a dog growls when it's angry, and wags its tail when it's pleased," he answers. "Now, I growl when I'm pleased, and wag my tail when I'm angry." He grins and disappears, leaving a baffled Alice to contemplate the difference between madness and sanity, the similarities they share, and whether or not they might just be one in the same.

Set in the alternate world that exists beyond – or through – the parlor mirror, Lookingglass Alice is based on Lewis Carroll's sequel to the ever-familiar Alice's Adventures in Wonderland: Through the Looking-Glass. So instead of going down the rabbit hole, we literally step through the looking-glass into a dreamy (and sometimes nightmarish) world of opposites, nonsense, and whimsy, as if we too have dozed off after a game of chess and awake to find a new dimension waiting for us above the fireplace mantle.

With or without its befitting name, the Lookingglass Theatre couldn't be a more apt setting in which to tell this tale, with its open, industrial structure taking the viewer out of the space of traditional theatre and promising something more immediate and exciting.

Part children's entertainment, part Cirque du Soleil, part vicarious drug trip, Alice takes the audience on a journey simultaneously magical and dark, funny and frightening, alarming and calming, and above all, surreal. Characters have different proportions through the looking-glass, some excessively tall, some uncharacteristically small; one can run fast for hours and wind up in the very same spot from which they started; Red Queens float on umbrellas in the ocean; cats play with oversized balls of yarn (or is it you who are under-sized?); Alice spins so fast on a suspended hoop you don't know which end is her head and which are her legs – the visual equivalent of how both the audience and the heroine feel after their disorienting passage into the world within the mirror.

A very physical show, Alice is the sort of spectacle meant to be enjoyed by all types of audiences. Young children might be best left at home – the loud noises, confusion, and surreality of it all can be a little overwhelming – but it's undoubtable that physical feats like continuous two-person backflips, the lifting and balancing of actors as though they were weightless, and an anxious finale where Alice wraps herself in ropes mid-air and falls without hitting the ground will impress adults, teens, and kids alike.

Remarkably executed by a vastly talented five-person cast, Alice is less a play than it is an experience. It's colorful and unpredictable. What it lacks in plot, it makes up for in intrigue. Where it forgets logic, it remembers absurdity. You may run in place for ninety minutes and end up in the self-same spot, but you'll have gained a gleeful acceptance of your own madness and the insight that our world is not always as it looks.

Lookingglass Alice, directed by David Catlin, is playing at the Water Tower Water Works space at 821 N Michigan Ave through February 15th, 2015.

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

 

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