Dance in Review

In Native Gardens, an ambitious young couple moves into a fixer-upper in an affluent DC neighborhood. Husband Pablo (Gabriel Ruiz) is a lawyer, his pregnant wife Tania (Paloma Nozicka) is working on her doctorate dissertation. Their nice and lively, albeit politically incorrect, neighbors are a defense contractor Virginia (Janet Ulrich Brooks) and her retired gardening-loving husband Frank (Patrick Clear). Shortly after moving in, Pablo has a bright idea to invite his entire law firm (all sixty people) to a barbeque in their embarrassingly unfinished yard, so the young couple gets to work. The old wire fence separating the neighbors’ properties (very nice design set by William Boles) has to go, but it soon becomes evident that Frank has been gardening on extra 23 inches of land that actually belongs to the new couple, according to the property plans.


Upon further calculations Pablo realizes that those 23 inches along the old fence translate into extra 80 sq feet of land which goes for “about $15,000 at a current market price”. Well, it’s a war then! Frank refuses to let go of his lovingly raised flowers right up against the ill-placed fence, while the young couple is on a mission to re-claim what’s rightfully theirs.


Who knew that an incorrectly placed fence would cause so much commotion? We all did, we saw it coming before the play even started. But despite its predictability, this comedy is still entertaining and somewhat thought provoking. Written by Karen Zacarias and directed by Marti Lyons, Native Gardens is more about generation clash, stereotypes, ageism and racism rather than the property lines. The older couple is from the pre-self-censorship era, and in their ignorance, they don’t always choose words carefully; they say what’s on their minds rather than hide behind politically correct words and ideas. But those words are often offensive to the delicate ears of Tania, whose proper opinions, frankly, make for sterile conversation, enough to put one to sleep. All in all, the two couples can’t effectively communicate, so they threaten each other instead. Will their peace be restored?


Native Gardens runs through July 2nd at Victory Gardens Theater. To find out more about this show visit www.VictoryGardens.org.

Published in Theatre in Review

Victory Gardens Theater announces the lineup for the Up Close & Personal Series, running April 27 – June 4, 2017. The Up Close and Personal Series includes A Little Bit Not Normal, written and performed by Arlene Malinowski; St. Jude, written and performed by Ensemble Playwright Luis Alfaro; and Where Did We Sit on the Bus?, written and performed by Brian Quijada. Shows in the Up Close & Personal Series will run in rotating repertory in the Richard Christiansen Theater at Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue.  

 

Individual tickets to each production are $20, or a three show package, including a ticket to each production, is $40. Both are available through the box office at 773.871.3000 or online. With every ticket purchased, Victory Gardens Theater will provide one free ticket to a Chicago Public School student. For a complete performance schedule or to purchase tickets, visit www.victorygardens.org.

 

"We're thrilled to welcome Luis, Arlene and Brian back to Victory Gardens for our Up Close & Personal series this spring. Each of these remarkably personal stories are written and performed with humor, poetry and courage,” comments Artistic Director Chay Yew. “Now, for six weeks only, these national and Chicago artists will share their most intimate struggles and triumphs of family, hidden disabilities and immigration through performance."

 

About the Up Close & Personal Series

All performances take place upstairs at Victory Gardens in the Richard Christiansen Theatre. A calendar of the performance schedule can be viewed online at www.victorygardens.org.

 

A Little Bit Not Normal

Written and Performed by Arlene Malinowski

Directed by Lisa Portes

3:00 pm: April 29; 13, 14, 27(ASL Interpreted)

7:30 pm: April 30; May 3, 5, 6, 10, 12, 20 (ASL Interpreted), 21

 

 

With her trademark humor, Arlene confronts her own state of mind when Depression walks into her kitchen, lights a cigarette, and makes himself at home. A Little Bit Not Normal is a serious comedy about depression and naming it, claiming it, and standing to be counted. It’s the journey of a love story tested and the secrets we keep about crazy.

 

St. Jude

Written and Performed by Ensemble Playwright Luis Alfaro

3:00 pm: May 21, 28, June 4

7:30 pm: May 17, 18, 25, 27; June 1, 2, 3

 

 

Award-winning Victory Gardens Theater Playwrights Ensemble member Luis Alfaro (Mojada, Oedipus el Rey) returns to Chicago to perform a new version of his emotionally charged solo work. St. Jude takes us on a personal and powerful journey with Luis as he learns of his father’s stroke and is summoned home to the California Central Valley of his childhood. As his family gathers, Alfaro conjures memories of his youth; from picking grapes, to gospel-infused big tent revivals, from family celebrations, to running away from home. In Alfaro’s words, St. Jude takes us from “who I am” to “who I was.”

 

Where Did We Sit on the Bus?

Written and performed by Brian Quijada

Directed by Chay Yew

10:00 am: May 3, 5, 10, 12, 19

3:00 pm: April 30; May 6, 20; June 2, 3

7:30 pm: April 27, 28 29; May 4, 11, 13, 24, 26, 28, 31, June 4

 

 

The multi-2016 Jeff Award winner Where Did We Sit on the Bus? is an electric one-man show pulsing with Latin rhythms, rap, hip-hop, spoken word, and live looping. During a third grade lesson on the Civil Rights movement and Rosa Parks, a Latino boy raises his hand to ask, “Where did we sit on the bus?” and his teacher can’t answer the question. This thrilling autobiographical production examines what it means to be an artist and a son of Latino immigrants through the eyes of a teenager.

 

Production Sponsor: The Wallace Foundation

 

About Victory Gardens Theater

Under the leadership of Artistic Director Chay Yew and Managing Director Erica Daniels, Victory Gardens is dedicated to artistic excellence while creating a vital, contemporary American Theater that is accessible and relevant to all people through productions of challenging new plays and musicals.  Victory Gardens Theater is committed to the development, production and support of new plays that has been the mission of the theater since its founding, set forth by Dennis Začek, Marcelle McVay, and the original founders of Victory Gardens Theater.

 

Victory Gardens Theater is a leader in developing and producing new theater work and cultivating an inclusive Chicago theater community. Victory Gardens’ core strengths are nurturing and producing dynamic and inspiring new plays, reflecting the diversity of our city’s and nation’s culture through engaging diverse communities, and in partnership with Chicago Public Schools, bringing art and culture to our city’s active student population.  

 

Since its founding in 1974, the company has produced more world premieres than any other Chicago theater, a commitment recognized nationally when Victory Gardens received the 2001 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theatre. Located in the Lincoln Park neighborhood, Victory Gardens Biograph Theater includes the Začek-McVay Theater, a state-of-the-art 259-seat mainstage and the 109-seat studio theater on the second floor, named the Richard Christiansen Theater.

 

Victory Gardens Ensemble Playwrights include Luis Alfaro, Philip Dawkins, Marcus Gardley, Ike Holter, Samuel D. Hunter, Naomi Iizuka, Tanya Saracho and Laura Schellhardt. Each playwright has a seven-year residency at Victory Gardens Theater.

 

For more information about Victory Gardens, visit www.victorygardens.org.  Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/victorygardens, Twitter @VictoryGardens and Instagram at instagram.com/victorygardenstheater/

 

Victory Gardens Theater receives major funding from The Wallace Foundation, Alphawood Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, The Shubert Foundation, The REAM Foundation, The Joyce Foundation, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, Allstate Insurance, Polk Bros. Foundation, Crown Family Philanthropies, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, The William and Orli Staley Foundation, and The National Endowment for the Arts. Additional funding is provided by: Abbot Downing & Wells Fargo, Alliance Bernstein, The Charles H. and Bertha L. Boothroyd Foundation, Exelon, The Lloyd A. Fry Foundation, John R. Halligan Charitable Fund, Illinois Arts Council, Illinois Tool Works, Italian Village Restaurants, Mayer Brown LLP, The McVay Foundation, LLP, The Prince Charitable Trusts, The Saints, Charles & M.R. Shapiro Foundation, Southwest Airlines, The Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust, Whole Foods Market, and Wrightwood Neighbors Conservation Association.

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

Let's cut to the chase on this review: Queen is the best show in town. 

Having its world premiere at Victory Gardens Theater, in Queen, Madhuri Shekar has delivered a knockout script, deftly directed by Joanie Schultz, and brought to life by a strong cast. 

Two PhD students - Sanam Shah (Priya Mohanty) and Ariel Spiegel (Darci Nalepa) - have spent six years examining a true-life dilemma: why honey bees are dying – a real-world environmental crisis.

Ariel does the field research, and Sanam – a highly regarded math wonder - crunches numbers for the data, which point to a farm chemical from Monsanto as the culprit. Or so five years of data have shown. But something is amiss.

Queen is a gripping account of academic intrigue laced with ethical challenges, along the lines of David Auburn’s provocative Proof, but with a much livelier pace.

The two are working under Dr. Philip Hayes (Stephen Spencer) who is to deliver within a few days a presentation on their work to an influential scientific group. The paper based on their research has been accepted for the journal Science. Dr. Hayes is gleeful about the prospects for his program, and promising access to big funding for the University.

A crisis looms as the latest research data does not support the earlier findings. Believing it stems from a glitch in the programming, Sanam searches desperately through the code. The pressure is on to bring the numbers in line with expectations.

If this sounds drab, it is anything but. Shekar lays out the science, and describes the culture of academia, in digestible bites. The human side of the drama comes to the fore in the relationship between the two women researchers, Sanam and Ariel, as the pressure mounts to get the results required by their academic overseer. BFFs, the two struggle through this growing professional chasm.

But it is the side-story about Sanam and a potential mate, Arvind Patel (Adam Poss) that leads to some exceptionally well-played scenes that steal the show – at least for me. Sanam’s diffidence about a date with Arvind (set up by her parents back in India) eventually leads to an unexpected romance.

Patel plays Arvind with a smooth, purring, throwaway manliness of that on-the-make single guy everyone knows. Sanam, who parries Arvind’s advances with vigor as he helps her puzzle out the math (he’s a math guy too, an investment manager who works in quant theory), and debate the ethical issues. To see the chemistry between Mohanty and Poss is worth a trip to the converted Biograph Theater.

Queen has been portrayed as an Earth Day oriented story, and a story of friendship among women. But it's also a showcase of great writing and acting.  Don’t miss Queen. It runs through May 14th and it's very highly recommended. 

For more show information click here

Published in Theatre in Review

 

Victory Gardens Theater continues its 42nd season with the World Premiere of Queen, written by Madhuri Shekar and directed by Joanie Schultz. Queen runs April 14 – May 14, 2017, with the press performance on Friday, April 21, 2017, at 7:30 pm at Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue.

 

PhD candidates Sanam and Ariel have spent the better part of the last decade exhaustively researching vanishing bee populations across the globe. Just as these close friends are about to publish a career-defining paper, Sanam stumbles upon a miscalculation. What appears to be a small error could cause catastrophic damage to their reputations, careers, and friendship. Now, Sanam is confronted with an impossible choice: look the other way or stand by her principles and accept the consequences. 

 

The cast of Queen includes Priya Mohanty (Sanam Shah), Darci Nalepa (Ariel Spiegel), Adam Poss (Arvind Patel) and Stephen Spencer (Dr. Philip Hayes).

 

The creative team includes Chelsea Warren (scenic design), Janice Pytel (costume design), Heather Gilbert (lighting design) and Thomas Dixon (sound design). Lynne Harris is the production stage manager. 

 

Queen by Madhuri Shekar and directed by Joanie Schultz (Cocked, The Whale) returns to Victory Gardens Theater after enthralling audiences at the 2015 IGNITION Festival of New Plays.

 

​”The current conversation around climate change, the disappearance of bees, and our nation’s response to environmental protection continues to be challenging on a daily basis," comments Artistic Director Chay Yew. ​”However, it excites me that playwright Madhuri Shekar has kept this dialogue alive and urgent in the world premiere of Queen. With Madhuri's signature wit and her uncanny ability to weave a complex yet remarkably insightful story, this play is framed by two female PhD science students from different races who want nothing more than to protect our planet and the bees that inhabit it – even at the cost of their own friendship."​

 

About the Artists

Madhuri Shekar (Playwright) is based in New York. Her plays include In Love and Warcraft, A Nice Indian Boy, Queen and Antigone, presented by the girls of St. Catherine’s. Her work has been produced, commissioned or developed at the Alliance Theatre, the Old Globe, Center Theatre Group, Victory Gardens, the Kennedy Center, Hedgebrook Playwrights Festival and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. She is currently a playwriting fellow at the Juilliard School and a member of the Ma-Yi Writers Lab. She co-created the Shakespearean web series Titus and Dronicus (titusanddronicus.com).

 

Joanie Schultz (Director) Victory Gardens Theater: Cocked, The Whale, Rest, Cocked. Regional: Sex with Strangers (Cleveland Play House); Lot's Wife (Kansas City Repertory Theatre); Hand to God (Studio Theatre). Chicago: Venus in Fur (Goodman Theatre); A Small Fire, The Cheats, Martyr, Luther (Steep Theatre); The Kid Thing (About Face Theatre/Chicago Dramatists); The Girl in the Yellow Dress (Next Theatre); Northanger Abbey (Remy Bumppo Theatre); Bruise Easy (American Theater Company); Spinning (Irish Theatre Chicago); Yankee Tavern (American Blues Theatre); Neighborhood 3 (Strawdog); The Hundred Flowers Project (Silk Road Rising), fml: How Carson McCullers Saved My Life (Steppenwolf for Young Adults); 2013 Co-Artistic Curator for Theater on the Lake. Opera: Bluebeard’s Castle, Der Kaiser von Atlantis, Acis and Galatea, Carmen. Artistic Director: WaterTower Theatre (Addison, TX); former Associate Artistic Producer at Victory Gardens Theater. Fellowships: Leadership U One-on-One Fellowship funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and administered by TCG, Drama League Fellowship, The Goodman Theatre’s Michael Maggio Directing Fellowship, SDCF Denham Fellowship, Lincoln Center Theater Directors Lab. Ensemble Member at Steep Theatre. Theater Faculty Member at Columbia College and the University of Chicago. MFA in Directing (Northwestern University).

 

PRIYA MOHANTY (Sanam Shah) Collaboraction: Gender Breakdown. Rasaka Theatre: A Widow of No Importance, A Nice Indian Boy, Vanya (That’s Life). Rasaka Theatre & Vitalist Theatre: Multitudes. Cuckoo’s Theatre Project: Anon(ymous)

 

DARCI NALEPA (Ariel Spiegel) Victory Gardens Debut. Chicago Theater: A Life Extra Ordinary, Good for Otto, Othello, Thinner Than Water, Dirty (The Gift Theatre); Kill Floor (American Theater Company); Yankee Tavern (American Blues Theater); Northanger Abbey (Remy Bumppo); The Drunken City (Steppenwolf Theatre – Next Up); Flare Path, Company (Griffin Theatre); Love and Money (Steep Theatre). Film/TV: Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party, Chicago Fire, Shameless, Patriot.

 

ADAM POSS (Arvind Patel) Victory Gardens: Oedipus El Rey. Chicago credits: 2666, Teddy Ferrara, The Solid Sands Below, The Magic Play, A Christmas Carol (Goodman Theatre), 1984, Animals Out of Paper (Steppenwolf Theatre), The Lake Effect, Scorched (Silk Road Rising), The Beats (16th St. Theatre). Regional: The North Pool, The Lake Effect (Theatreworks Palo Alto), Macbeth (Actor’s Theatre of Louisville), Lot’s Wife (Kansas City Rep), The History Boys (Studio Theatre DC). Film /TV: The Middle Distance, The Drunk, King of URLS, Speed Dating, Shameless, Chicago Med, Chicago Fire, Chicago PD, Crisis, The Mob Doctor, The Chicago Code.

 

STEPHEN SPENCER (Dr. Philip Hayes). Chicago: Blizzard ’67 (16th Street); The Life of Galileo, Our Class, Night and Day (Remy Bumppo); Body+Blood (Gift Theatre); The Quality of Life (The Den & TOTL); Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Wait Until Dark (Court); Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (Congo Square/Goodman); The Liquid Moon (Chicago Dramatists/Associate Artist); Comedy of Errors, Love’s Labour’s Lost (OPFT). Regional: Blackbird (Riverside Theatre); Romeo & Juliet, The Winter's Tale (Illinois Shakespeare Festival); A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Shakespeare Rep); Heroes (Nebraska Rep). Also: Utah Shakespeare, The Asolo. Overseas: Medeamaterial (Moscow's Leninsky Komsomol Theatre); Battery (Edinburgh Festival Fringe). Film/TV: Empire, Public Enemies, Mr. Lonely, Greg’s Leg, Morning Due (Cannes).

 

Full Performance Schedule

Previews for Queen are April 14-20, 2017. Previews are $15-$40. Regular performances run April 22 – May14, 2017: Tuesday — Friday at 7:30pm; Saturday at 3pm and 7:30pm; Sunday at 3:00pm.  Regular performances are $15-$60.

 

Victory Gardens has partnered with mobile theater ticketing app TodayTix to offer free tickets for the first preview of Queen. Free Tickets will be available via TodayTix mobile lottery, launching one week before the first preview on Friday, April 8, 2017. Winners will be notified by email and push notification between 12:00pm and 3:00pm on the day of the first preview, Friday, April 14, 2017. 

 

Performances are at the Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue, in the heart of Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood. For tickets and information, call the Victory Gardens Box Office, 773.871.3000, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or visit www.victorygardens.org. Ask the Box Office about student tickets ($15), senior, and Access. For group discounts, call 872.817.9087.

 

Public Programs

Public Programs is an event series designed to enhance your experience by exploring themes and issues within Victory Gardens Theater’s productions. Connecting our theater to the world beyond the stage and rehearsal room, Public Programs bridge ideas, provoke dialogue, and deepen the relationship between our audiences and our productions

 

A full and updated schedule of special events, post-show discussions and presentations centered on performances of Queen is available at www.victorygardens.org . All events are free unless otherwise noted. For more information, call 773.871.3000 or visit the Victory Gardens website.

 

AFTERWORDS

After every performance of QUEEN (unless otherwise noted)

Join us for one of our intimate post-show conversations. Led by members from the Victory Gardens community—artistic affiliates, subscribers, Artistic staff, Teen Arts Council members, The Council of Community Leaders, and community partners— reflect on what you’ve seen and share your response.

 

HONEY, HONEY

Pre-show celebration | Post-show conversation

April 18, 2017

Reception begins at 6:30pm in the Victory Gardens lobby

Post-Show conversation to follow the evening performance of Queen

Avocados, coffee, cilantro, strawberries, and, yes, honey. All foods that we enjoy because of bees. What do we lose when we lose bees? Join us for a pre-show honey tasting and beekeeping demonstrations, featuring urban beekeepers in Chicago. After the performance of QUEEN, join local beekeepers to talk about the loss of bees from a more personal perspective.

 

YAAAS QUEEN

Pre-show celebration | Post-show conversation

April 19, 2017

Reception begins at 6:30pm in the Victory Gardens lobby

Post-Show conversation to follow the evening performance of Queen

STEM: Science, technology, engineering, mathematics. Just 25% of the workforce in these fields is comprised of women. Join us for a pre-show celebration to recognize the women like Sanam and Ariel who have pushed ahead in a field that continually tries to shut them out. After this performance of QUEEN, join us for a discussion with local scholars, researchers, and scientists about their work and experiences in the field.

 

ARTIST TALK WITH MADHURI SHEKAR

Post-show conversation

April 20, 2017 | Following the evening performance of Queen

Have you ever wondered what goes into writing a play like QUEEN? Join playwright Madhuri Shekar and our Director of New Play Development Isaac Gomez as they delve into the process of developing a new play from the ground up.

 

EARTH DAY

Pre-show celebration

April 22, 2017 | 6:30pm in the Victory Gardens Lobby

Every day should be Earth Day! How can we make daily changes to care for our planet? Join us for an evening of interactive events including a food waste composting demo, Zero Waste Challenge performances from local artists and activists whose work centers around the environment. Then, join us for an evening performance of QUEEN. Each ticket includes a gift bag with seeds to help you start your bee-friendly garden and other fun favors! 

 

FROM STEM TO STEAM

April 29, 2017 | Following the evening performance of Queen

Art and science are often seen from the opposite ends of the education spectrum. But they are more connected than we may think. Science and art are both methods to understand our place in the world and why things happen the way they do. Join us after tonight’s performance of QUEEN for a post-show full of science-related poetry; applying math and science to the arts, applying art to math and science.

 

COLLEGE NIGHT

Pre-show celebration | Post-show conversation

May 12, 2017

Reception begins at 6:30pm in the Victory Gardens lobby with Post-Show conversation to follow the evening performance of Queen

Gender parity is just one issue that the scientists in QUEEN, Sanam and Ariel, face throughout their careers. Even among the struggle, there is joy and pride to be found in the work that they did and will continue to do. Their fight is not just fictional: women comprise only 25% of the workforce in STEM fields.

Join us for a night of short plays written and performed by Chicago college students from Northwestern,

DePaul, University of Chicago, and Columbia, reflecting on the challenges that women face in their professional lives.

 

BEE IN THE KNOW

May 13, 2017 | Following the evening performance of Queen

In our current political climate, the issue of climate change is an often contentious one. A clear partisan issue, what does this mean in the years to come? How is climate change affecting our day to day lives and how can we get involved? Join us after tonight’s performance of QUEEN as we talk with local scientists, activists, and scholars and dive into climate change and its effect on the bee population, as well as on our futures.

 

 

FACT SHEET/Queen

 

Title: Queen

Written by: Madhuri Shekar

Directed by: Joanie Schultz

 

Previews: April 14 – 20, 2017

Regular run: April 22 – May 14, 2017

 

Schedule:     Tuesdays - Fridays: 7:30pm 

Saturdays: 3:00pm; 7:30pm

Sundays:         3:00pm

 

Accessible

Performances: Word for Word (open captioning) performances Friday, April 28 at 7:30pm, Saturday, April 29 at 3:00pm, and Wednesday, May 3 at 2:00pm

 

ASL Interpreted performance on Friday, April 28 at 7:30pm

 

Audio Description/Touch Tour performances Friday, April 28 at 7:30pm (Touch tour at 6:00pm), Sunday, May 7 at 3:00pm (Touch tour at 1:30pm)

 

Location: Victory Gardens Theater is located at 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue, in the heart of Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood

 

TICKETS

Previews: $15 - $40 

Regular run: $15 - $60

Box Office: The Box Office is located at 2433 N. Lincoln Avenue, Chicago.

773.871.3000; www.victorygardens.org.

 

Lead Production Sponsor: The William and Orli Staley Foundation

 

Production Sponsors Edgerton Foundation; Author Anupy Singla, Co-founder Indian As Apple Pie; Metropolitan Capital Bank, NEA Art Works, REAM Foundation, Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust Student Matinee and Youth Engagement 

Sponsors: Exelon and AllState

 

Season Sponsors: Allstate, Alphawood Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Doris Duke Charitable Trust, Exelon, Harold & Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust, The Joyce Foundation, The Mellon Foundation, The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The Prince Charitable Trust, The REAM Foundation, The Shubert Foundation, and The Wallace Foundation

 

Travel Sponsor: Southwest Airlines 

 

Queen is the recipient of an Edgerton Foundation New Play Award.

 

For more information about Victory Gardens, visit www.victorygardens.org.  Follow us on Facebook at Facebook.com/victorygardens, Twitter @VictoryGardens and Instagram at instagram.com/victorygardenstheater/

 

 

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

Two girlfriends grow up in Mississippi, one wants to be a hairdresser to the stars and the other a singing star in her own right. An opportunity to run their own beauty shop binds the two friends together for life, and helps a South Side Chicago neighborhood maintain a sense of community and safety, even a little glamour, that is until Starbucks and other corporations start moving into the neighborhood. Beautifully directed, A Wonder in My Soul is the heartfelt journey of two best friends who have shared a beauty salon for over three decades.

 

Aberdeen "Birdie" Calumet (Greta Oglesby) and Bell Grand Lake (Jacqueline Williams) play the two close friends and both do an amazing job with long speeches that could be coming out of the mouths of preachers. The audience even lets out a few, “go girls”, and “praise Gods” as if we are sitting in a church. In a way, their beauty shop, which once served some celebrity visitors, has stood for forty years as a type of church to the women of the neighborhood. A place where they can talk and be themselves where their best customer, a rich woman who prefers to be called “First Lady” (a fantastic Linda Bright Clay), who spends at least three afternoons a week just trying new hairdos to hang out at the salon to have company and help each other with daily troubles. 

 

Marcus Gardley's script creates very familiar and real characters, and utilizes the beautiful singing voices of young Birdie (Camille Robinson) and young Bell (Donica Lynn) in a way that vitalizes and makes real the talents and determination underneath the tough facade of these hard working, loving women. 

 

This play is about change and gentrification, and growth and strength. Change isn't always but a bad thing but A Wonder in My Soul pulls back the curtain on how gentrification affects this "family" of women and their whole neighborhood that tries to save the salon. Is it fair that the neighborhood rallies to save the community staple only for a Starbucks to ultimately knock them down as easily as a cannon ball would a bowling pin? No. But the way each woman chooses to go on with her life and keep the bitterness from affecting the wonder in their souls is truly inspiring. 

 

Highly recommended for satisfying, humorous and heartwarming performances, especially by Jacqueline Williams as the down, but not out, captain of her sinking ship.

 

Williams speeches about life and the value of struggling to keep some history and classiness intact in the neighborhood, which is being brought down by violence and greed, ripple through the audience with a deep resonance and truthfulness that the talented actor brings to all her stage work.

 

A Wonder in My Soul is being performed at Victory Gardens Theater through March 12th. Go to www.VictoryGardens.org for more show information.

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Watching teens in a Cypress, Texas, Bible class plan a sock puppet revue, we have a setting ripe with dramatic possibilities.

In Hand to God, playing now at Victory Gardens Theater, one of those puppet claims a mind of his own, hurling sacrilegious epithets and encouraging mayhem with his devil-may-care insults.

Jason is the repressed teen (Alex Weissman is hilarious) whose arm is stuck inside Tyrone – the Satanic stocking that reveals everything Jason dare not say. Adding to the angst: Jason’s mother Margery (Janelle Snow) is the puppet class teacher, and the erotic vision for classroom nemesis, Timothy (Curtis Edward Jackson nails it).

In short order, the puppet’s revealing zingers upset the tightly wound congregation. The world of Cypress has only one way to explain all this: this puppet is possessed by Satan. Why else would he sharpen his teeth and bite the ear of the class bully? How else would he know Pastor Greg lurks outside the windows of teenagers? 

With a nudge from Tyrone (Weissman plays this flip-side personality very well) the stage abounds with licentious behavior (playfully enough, since puppets are involved), but particularly tawdry considering most of the action is in a church basement, or in the study of Pastor Greg (Eric Slater).

No one should fault director Gary Griffin for playing for shtick with this foul-mouthed puppet calling the shots on stage. But the play also holds a serious subtext, on the tendency for religious social settings to repress at least one fundamental human requirement: the need for irreverence. The play offers a full hand of irreverence, and that is a laugh a minute.

The Biograph main stage has been fully updated, housing a nicely designed set (Joe Schermoly) that rotates beautifully from scene to scene. An Exorcist-style makeover of the classroom is campy and droll at the same time. Daniel Dempsey built and directed the evil Tyrone in his various manifestations, along with his buxom fabric love interest, a puppet girl worn by teen classmate Jessica (Nina Ganet).  

This production of a script by Robert Askins (it earned 5 Tony nominations) is so wonderfully put together that it’s been selling out (a Wednesday night was packed), and the run was extended twice. You still have until October 30 to watch it at Victory Gardens Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln. Don’t miss it. 

Published in Theatre in Review

Pinterest fails are an internet sensation, with recognizable side by side pictures illustrating the difference between expectations and reality for the everyday crafter, baker, photographer, etc. It seems that no matter how many of these memes we see, it is still commonplace to set high expectations which risk being let down.

 

“WOZ: A Rock Cabaret” was unfortunately a case of missed expectations. The concept is a cabaret show which tells the familiar story of The Wizard of Oz through the iconic music of the 80’s and 90’s, including hits from Whitesnake, Blondie, Foreigner, Queen and Michael Jackson. Sounds awesome, right!? While the show had its moments and some strong singers, the reality was a production that felt flat, with big moments that lost their steam and performances that lacked the luster and pizzazz expected from a cabaret.

 

One of the main issues with the show was the venue. Performed on stage at Victory Gardens Theater, this cabaret style show felt out of place. The performers attempted to interact with the audience but it required them to come down off the stage where they easily got lost in this stadium style seating. Had this been set in a truer cabaret setting, where the audience could sit at tables enjoying their cocktails, it could have allowed the performance to work the space both on the stage and on the floor and perhaps made the show more engaging.

 

The creativity behind the song selection was awesome and very often the start of a new song brought smiles, laughs and a palpable energy to the audience. As the performers sang the full songs however, it often felt like things started to drag and there was not enough happening to hold attention through to the end of the song.

 

The performers themselves were mostly strong overall. The standouts of the show were the journeying buddies of the Scarecrow (Kevin Webb), the Tinman (James Nedrud) and the Cowardly Lion (Edward Fraim). All three brought different unique but powerful voices to their songs and added some great humor to the show. Heather Currie was a powerhouse and had an odd but quite funny style in how she played the Wicked Witch. The performances of Clara D’Onofrio and Kimberly Lawson, as Glinda and Dorothy respectively, left something to be desired. Both have strong voices but tend more toward the musical theater style which did not always vibe with the other performers. Andre De Shields was the special guest star of the show, bringing star power to the role of the Wizard and he certainly stole the show with his numbers.

 

While there are some high moments and tons of creativity that clearly went into this show, the performance lacks the excitement that could have turned this somewhat lackluster show into an all-out engaging and exciting cabaret performance.

 

With only 5 performances, the run of this show is already nearing completion but this was its second run in Chicago, so if you really wish you could have seen it, try clicking your heels three times and say to yourself “there’s no place like WOZ” – maybe it will be back someday, bigger and better.

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

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