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I was a "psychonaut librarian” as a child without even knowing it. My grandparents’ house was only two blocks from the beautifully built, stunning Coral Gables Library in South Miami, Florida.

 

I spent all my spare time there, drinking in the smell of library books and wisdom. Each new book I read seemed to open a new world for me. First, they were fantasy worlds, like The Phantom Tollbooth, later I began to read more and more about psychology and self-help, each time hoping that the book in my hands would offer an insight into having the happy, successful dreamy life I imagined lay ahead.  Yes, I was a shy, gentle book nerd, and I felt often that reading was the answer to all my problems. 

 

Sean Kelly's "Psychonaut Librarians", now in a world premiere with The New Colony is a funny, delightful poetically phrased tale about a mother and daughter and their fellow book worm friends discovering magical worlds at the library. 

 

Librarian Hester, played with both warmth and biting wit by David Cerda (Artistic Director of the hugely popular campy Hell in a Handbag Productions), is trying to save her daughter Jane (Christine Mayland Perkins) from giving up on her dreams and into society's constant fear creating machine. Hester a single mother to Jane, greets her with the single revealing question about her ex, "How is Daddy? Still suffocatingly small-minded?".

 

Hester has developed a potion that allows her to go all the way into the fantasy world of reading into a place she calls "Anyverse" where anything can happen and dreams do not die without a fight. 

 

Hester shares the potion with her grown daughter one night and while in the Anyverse Jane meets a lover named Dewey, played with much joy by Matt Farabee, a handsome Christ-like figure of love and innocence.  

 

In each other's arms Jane finds true love. They dance and fly through the Anyverse on a beautifully lit, ever changing, yet intimate, stage. Dewey tells Jane the ultimate romantic verse, "{In Jane) I found what I did not even know I was looking for and in finding her, I found myself," Jane stares into his loving, smiling face and states that this meeting is one of the "perfect moments” that she will add to her sadly short list of perfect moments. 

 

But of course, as in "real" life, the enjoyment of freedom of life and love in the Anyverse is threatened by an evil force called The Sandman played with the proper amount of military, know it all, fear inducing power by Jack McCabe.

 

The Sandman has the ability to literally suck the soul out of each human by drawing out their worst fears and causing them to act on them instead of holding fast to positive thinking. 

 

Despite their obviously great and perfect matching Dewey flip flops helplessly from loving adoration to murderous hatred for Jane in an instant and begins to strangle Jane each time The Sandman makes him insecure about her love by sending him negative subconscious suggestions. 

 

Jane's mother Hester sees this pattern of abuse and danger to her daughter and makes the ultimate sacrifice by chasing the Sandman away with the promise that she will not ALLOW her daughter to awaken from the dreary, fear filled thought patterns of everyday earth "reality" into the Anyverse ...ever again. 

 

When Jane is awakened from the Anyverse by her mother and is forced to part with Dewey, Jane becomes bitter about life and retreats from taking chances, creativity, or really falling in love and trying new things to follow the strict societal mores dictated by The Sandman about choosing work and security above joyous spontaneity.

 

Sadly, this division leads Jane to become estranged from her own loving, creative mother and the library itself, a symbol of the power of imagination - for 20 years.

 

Jane is inexplicably drawn to the library on the eve of her mother's retirement, where Hester’s fellow Psychonaut Librarians have arranged a "potion" party to enter the Anyverse all together. 

 

Hester's fellow librarians, the stiff-necked Emmerick (Michael Peters) and hopeful, brainy free spirit, Rosemary (Morgan McNaught) and the library's "security guy" (Carlos Olmedo), who also ends up drinking the spiked punch, are all played with excellent comic timing, and their scenes are some of the funniest and most clever dialogue in the show. 

 

This hopeful, desperate for magic crew of psychonauts enter the Anyverse together and immediately each is tested by the dreams, or rather nightmares, of their own worst fears of failure.

 

There are puppets used to represent the fearful dreams and perfected in a clever bit where the puppets are used to represent the characters’ abilities to walk through walls or make themselves small enough to escape a demon dream through a crack in a solid wall. Hester makes a great sacrifice to help rescue them all. 

 

The great thing is that each character, no matter how weak their "punches or kicks' may be, are forced to physically take a stand and fight! Each character must really wrestle and fight to defeat their bad dreams and thought patterns. 

 

In the end, Jane returns to the library without her lover Dewey - but with a newfound belief in the power of magic, and the existence of magic itself. Magic that is ALIVE right there alongside her in the library of life - and the reality of alternate positive realms, exciting realities beyond her own. 

 

Director Krissy Vanderwarker does the best she can on a limited budget to create a romantic pacing and lovely, magical choreography for Jane and Dewey that transitions well into the more comical present day or fantasy scenes. 

 

Kelly's script has gone thru many cuts over the years but is approaching a more perfect balance between what is both a supernatural love story and an "Universal" love story that boldly, yet sensitively, declares the existence of an alternate reality based entirely on love. 

 

The line, "I found what I did not even know I was looking for!  And in finding her, I found myself" kept haunting me after the show ended, as did several of the poetic speeches delivered by Jane to Dewey while sharing flowing descriptions of the deliciousness of their loving, soaring, literally "flying" in each other's arms new love... in words. These scenes were very well written and sometimes seemed like they belonged in an entirely different show. 

 

The character of Dewey, with his shoulder length dirty blonde hair, casual hoody, sandals and all-encompassing smile is best interpreted as a Christ figure, a non-sexual person, a teacher and guru of unconditional love living forever in the Anyverse. Dewey was not supposed to become a human man whose sexual partnership in the "real" world or like a Prince in a fairy tale whose marriage to Jane would effortlessly make her life into an adventure or positivity and magic. 

 

The playwright makes it clear to the end that the daily decision to hold tightly to and fight for her own dreams is up to Jane herself, which is as it should be.

 

Before the show began, the artistic director came out and mentioned how MANY scripts they have been receiving as of late, eluding to the election of Trump (The Sandman himself?), from new writers and how EAGER artists now are to have their words HEARD.

 

I highly recommend this funny, romantic, hopeful show for audiences of any age. “Psychonaut Librarians” would also make a valuable children's theater piece.

 

"Your soul is not living inside your body; your body is living inside your soul.” 

 

For heart weary adult Democrats like myself who are literally praying for a magical happy ending to what appears to be a complete takeover of millions of American minds by the evil Sandman, “Psychonaut Librarians” offered me a wonderful evening of hope, encouragement and rainbow lit entertainment. 

 

New Colony’s “Psychonaut Librarians” is playing at Den Theatre through February 12th. For more show information of to purchase tickets, click here

 

Published in Theatre in Review

True gamers, especially nostalgic ones, will appreciate The New Colony’s world premiere of Merge. Closing out its 2016 season, this 90-minute, fast-paced, and often funny, performance at the Den Theatre’s Upstairs Main Stage spotlights the roller-coaster history of Atari, a pioneer manufacturer of video arcade games.

 

Written by Spenser Davis and directed by Andrew Hobgood, Merge provides an inside look at the tumultuous ups and downs of the video game company from its start in the early 1970's.

 

The script is Davis’ first original full-length play. Submitted through The New Colony’s writers program, it made quite an impression on company members. “Merge was the rare instance of a story flying off the page with such ferocity that Andrew and I needed to get our ensemble in the room immediately,” said Co-Artistic Director Evan Linder. “Spenser Davis’ hilarious and insightful script will welcome onstage the largest cast The New Colony has assembled since our first season.”

 

Despite the size, Hobgood’s staging of the huge 16-member cast in such a small space was mostly effective. However, at times, when the full cast was onstage, the fast-talking and screaming could be a bit overwhelming.

 

The set design was one of the biggest stars of this production with a video arcade cabinet as the backdrop along with a bright neon color scheme.

 

The opening action starts in the late 70's around the time Atari, hugely successful with its arcade and home console video games but cash-strapped, merged with Warner Bros. Atari employees are frazzled by the corporate takeover and the impact ricochets throughout the company as key players leave. Pot smoking, Jacuzzi parties and eccentric behaviors had fueled Atari’s workplace during its rise. When they have to sell to Warner Bros. to stay afloat, along with the influx of corporate cash comes corporate structure and new requirements, including wearing socks.

 

The use of the flashback technique and flexible, moving set pieces allow the action to flow seamlessly back through time as the audience is quickly introduced to Atari co-founders Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney. Like a video game version of the odd couple, these two opposite personalities are behind one of the fastest growing companies in America.

 

Their different styles, business philosophy, especially on how to handle lawsuits from competition, and Bushnell’s hard-driving ambition, eventually force Dabney out of the company. Ironically Bushnell himself is ousted as CEO after the Warner Bros. merger, paving the way for a more straight-laced chief in Stuart Nygard.  It was this move that prompted many of the remaining programmers who had been with Atari from the beginning to jump ship and align with a competing company.

 

In one of the more fascinating, yet somewhat out-of-place scenes, a courtroom battle that feels more like an episode of “Wild ‘N Out” ensues between Warner Bros. and that rival. Dabney returns at a pivotal moment providing information that will not only have long-lasting repercussions for Warner Bros. but the video game industry as a whole.

 

Merge is creative and fun and packs a lot of history in 90 minutes. A huge and high-energy cast and creative staging keep the story moving in a compelling fashion.

 

Recommended

 

Merge is now playing at The Den Theatre’s Upstairs Main Stage through November 13, 2016. Tickets are available at www.thenewcolony.org.

Published in Theatre Reviews

The New Colony is pleased to announce its full 2017 Season, featuring four world premiere productions by four Chicago playwrights. The season kicks off this winter with ensemble member Sean Kelly’s fantasy adventure PSYCHONAUT LIBRARIANS, directed by Krissy Vanderwarker. In the spring, TNC presents Connor McNamara’s political thriller SCAPEGOAT; OR (WHY THE DEVIL ALWAYS LOVED US), directed by Kristina Valada-Viars followed by a summer production of Beth Kander’s Kentucky-lore saga THE BLUE, directed by Tony Horne. The season concludes next fall with Michael Allen Harris’ prison drama PUNK, directed by Diana Raiselis. The full 2017 season will be presented at The New Colony’s resident home The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood. Tickets will go on sale at a later date. For additional information, visit www.thenewcolony.org. 

 

Comments The New Colony Co-Artistic Director Evan Linder, “We are thrilled that this season kicks off with the newest creation by ensemble member Sean Kelly. We are equally excited that our other three 2017 playwrights and all four of our directors will be making their New Colony debuts this year. These extraordinary creative teams are filling our ninth season with four world premieres that remind us why The New Colony exists in the first place: New Art, New Artists, New Audiences.”

 

The New Colony’s 2017 Season includes:

 

January 11 – February 11, 2017

PSYCHONAUT LIBRARIANS – World Premiere!

Written by Sean Kelly

Directed by Krissy Vanderwarker

 

The library is closed. The curtains are drawn. A Bunsen burner flicks on in the dark. The librarians sip their glowing elixir and the room spins with color and light. One more time. One last fight at the barrier between realiy... and the anyverse.

 

April 5 – May 7, 2017

SCAPEGOAT; OR (WHY THE DEVIL ALWAYS LOVED US) – World Premiere!

Written by Connor McNamara

Directed by Kristina Valada-Viars

 

When a story leaks revealing he is secretly a Satanist, an idealistic Senator perched for a Judicial Appointment grapples with his family, The Christian Right, and his daughter-in-law (supposedly) returned from the dead, in order to save his life and his legacy.

 

July 12 – August 13, 2017

THE BLUE – World Premiere!

Written by Beth Kander

Directed by Tony Horne

 

The Alexander sisters of Worried Creek, Kentucky, have it rough. The eldest, April, a pregnant prize-fighter, refuses to reveal the identity of her unborn baby's father; the youngest, May, is dead (though a very talkative ghost); and the brilliant middle sister June was born with the family curse: bright blue skin. But June hasn't abandoned hope. She writes daily to a plastic surgeon in Los Angeles, a man she believes can cure her... but when he shows up at their doorstep, each of the sisters’ lives (and deaths) take unexpected turns.

 

October 4 – November 5, 2017

PUNK – World Premiere!

Written by Michael Allen Harris

Directed by Diana Raiselis

 

Set in a maximum-security prison in present day America, Punk is the story of a group of inmates who are protected and housed in a special unit for gay, bisexual and transgender inmates. Tensions rise when Travis, a young man sentenced to life in prison for the murder of a gay man, requests to transfer into the unit. Fear and suspicion hover over the inmates who call this unit home.  Currently in development in The New Colony's Associate Company Intensive Program, Punk will receive a two-week workshop production in December of 2016 before its world premiere in the fall of 2017.

 

About The Playwrights & Directors

 

Sean Kelly (Playwright, Psychonaut Librarians) is a Chicago-born writer and director. He is currently leading a collaboration of nearly 50 artists in the creation 100 new stories – deep stories told in silly ways. He has written and directed at Porchlight Music Theatre, Victory Gardens, Collaboraction, The Old Town School of Folk Music and his home, The New Colony.

 

Krissy Vanderwarker (Director, Psychonaut Librarians) is a freelance director most recently of Thaddeus & Slocum: A Vaudeville Adventure at Lookingglass. She is also the Co-Artistic Director of Dog & Pony Theatre Co. D&P directing credits include: Breach, Counterfeiters, The Dinner Party Project, God’s Ear, As Told by the Vivian Girls, Mr. Marmalade, Ape, Osama the Hero, Crumble (Lay Me Down, Justin Timberlake) and As Much As You Can. Other professional directing credits include: Harry & The Thief (Pavement Group), The Grown-Up (Shattered Globe), CLEAR (About Face Theatre), What Once We Felt (About Face Theatre) and As Much As You Can (Hendel Productions West). She graduated with her MFA in Directing from The Theatre School at DePaul University and is on faculty there now. krissyvanderwarker.com 

 

Connor McNamara (Playwright, Scapegoat; or (Why The Devil Always Loved Us) Originally from Youngstown, Ohio, Connor has lived and worked in Chicago for the past five years. His stage work was most-recently seen during the Chicago Home Theatre Festival; his prose published in ink&coda Magazine, as well as shortlisted for The Aeon Award. As an actor, Connor has worked with The Griffin Theatre, Marry-Arrchie Theatre Co., Step Up Productions, among others. He is a graduate of Kent State University and The School at Steppenwolf. 

 

Kristina Valada-Viars  (Director, Scapegoat; or (Why The Devil Always Loved Us) appeared in a benefit reading of The Warriors with The New Colony. Scapegoat will be her Chicago directing debut. She has worked on new play development projects with New Dramatists in New York and workshop productions with American Theatre Company, About Face, Goodman Theater and others.  Chicago acting credits include The (Curious Case of the) Watson Intelligence (Theater Wit), The Diary of Anne Frank (Writers Theatre); The Great God Pan (Next Theatre); Completeness (Theater Wit) and Pony (About Face Theatre). She also served as Assistant Director on The Matchmaker (Goodman Theatre) and Seven Homeless Mammoths Wander New England (Theater Wit). Ms. Valada-Viars’ other New York credits include original productions of Monstrosity (13P); Love Drunk (Abingdon Theatre Company); The Music Teacher (New Group) and 516 (New York International Fringe Festival). Her film and television credits include Molly's Girl (Best Actress in a Feature, Iris Prize Film Festival), Written Off (Amazon Prime) The Door in the Floor, BlackBox, Shameless, Law & Order: CI and Animal Husbandry. Upcoming: The Burials at Steppenwolf. She is also currently working in the field of Audience Design and Artist/Audience Engagement with Theater Wit.

 

Beth Kander (Playwright, The Blue) is a Chicago-based writer with Southern and Midwestern roots. Recent playwriting awards and activities include Ashland New Plays Festival (2016 & 2015), The Ruckus’ 2016 summer festival, BechdelFest 2016, The Kilroys List (Honorable Mentions 2016 & 2015), The Writers Room at The New Colony, Leapfest 2015, Downstage Left Residency, Charles M. Getchell New Play Award and three Eudora Welty New Play Awards. She has scripts represented by Stage Rights in Los Angeles and Chicago Dramaworks. In addition to playwriting, Kander writes novels, screenplays and children's literature. She is finishing her MFA in Creative Writing at Mississippi University for Women, and has degrees from Brandeis University and the University of Michigan www.facebook.com/bybethkander

 

Tony Horne (Director, The Blue) A proud native of Memphis, Tony is currently freelance stage director and an Associate Professor/Head of Musical Theatre at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee.  His work encompasses theatre education, arts management, performance, direction and choreography. Tony’s directing credits include both plays and musicals. Career highlights include directing Once on This Island (the inaugural production for the new Hattiloo Theatre building in Memphis), the world premiere of the Theatre for Young Audiences version of The Wiz (First Stage, Milwaukee, WI), winning Ostrander Awards (Memphis Theatre Award) for Direction of a Musical for The Color Purple (Playhouse on the Square, Memphis, TN) and The Wiz (Hattiloo Theatre, Memphis, TN), and directing the Mid-South regional premieres of August Wilson’s Gem of the Ocean (Playhouse on the Square, Memphis, TN), Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop (Hattiloo Theatre/Circuit Playhouse, Memphis, TN) and Lee Breuer & Bob Telson’s The Gospel at Colonus (Playhouse on the Square, Memphis, TN). Tony holds a BFA in Musical Theatre Dance from the United States International University (now Alliant International), an MBA in Arts Management from UCLA and an MFA in Directing from the University of Memphis.

 

Michael Allen Harris (Playwright, Punk) As a playwright, Michael has collaborated with Chicago theatre companies such as Broken Nose Theatre, Jackalope Theatre, Arc Theatre, Stage 773, Fine Print Theatre, Chicago Home Theater Festival and The New Colony. His play, Rocky Road, received its world premiere at the New Studio Theatre of Columbia College Chicago in March of 2013. It was the first production featured in the Main Stage season that was authored by an alumnus. His play, The Velvet Tabernacle, was featured in a development series on behalf of Fine Print Theatre. His most recent play, Kingdom, is currently involved in a season-long development on behalf of Broken Nose Theatre and received its first stage reading at Victory Gardens Richard Christiansen Theater. In February 2016, he was part of The New Colony’s Writer’s Room and completed the first draft of his full-length play Ascension. His short plays include: House of Samurai, They Let Him Bleed, Project Agatha and The Woman Who Stared into the Eyes of The Red Horseman. As an actor, Michael worked with Adventure Stage, Eclipse Theatre, Gift Theatre, Teatro Vista, The-Massive, Stone Soup Theatre Project, Infusion Theatre, Broken Nose Theatre and Cold Basement Dramatics. He was nominated for a BTAA for his performance as Fortune in Eclipse Theatre’s Jeff-nominated production of Ruined. He is a proud ensemble member of Eclipse Theatre Company and proudly represented by Lily’s Talent. 

 

Diana Raiselis (Director, Punk) is a Chicago-based director and community event producer.  Recent directing projects include Resolution (Pride Films & Plays), Punk (workshop production, The New Colony), THIRST: a climate change theater action (Jackalope) and festival premieres with Collaboraction, Jackalope, Prologue and Buzz22 Chicago. As a producer, she co-curates Slaymaker Loft's occasional new-work series party/theater/party, and has served on producing teams for events at Pritzker Pavilion, the Steppenwolf Garage and site-specific locations around Chicago. Proud alumna of Northwestern University and the Steppenwolf Professional Leadership Program. www.dianaraiselis.com

 

About The New Colony

 

The New Colony develops New Art and New Artists in order to educate and build New Audiences.

 

Founded in 2008, The New Colony has already established itself as “one of Chicago’s essential off-Loop companies” (Chicago Tribune). Through the premiere of over twenty-five world premiere plays and musicals, The New Colony has cultivated a diverse audience of theatergoers eager to have a voice in the storytelling. Conversation, collaboration and innovation remain at the heart of everything they produce. The New Colony’s work has been honored with four Non-Equity Jeff Awards, Broadway in Chicago’s 2011 Emerging Theatre Award and Best Overall Production at the 2012 New York International Fringe Festival. The New Colony’s 2017 Season marks their third year as a resident company in the Upstairs Mainstage of The Den Theatre in Wicker Park.

 

Published in Theatre Reviews
Wednesday, 27 July 2016 11:42

Review: Byhalia, Mississippi at Steppenwolf

Earlier this year, The New Colony in collaboration with Definition Theatre, produced a smash hit called 'Byhalia, Mississippi.' The New Colony has done a great deal to insert themselves into the Chicago theater landscape over the past few years. Some of their work has even appeared off-Broadway, as was the case with their acclaimed show 'Five Lesbians Eating a Quiche.' What the New Colony is perhaps best known for is their commitment to taking chances on quirky new work from emerging playwrights. 

 

'Byhalia, Mississippi' is about one of the most 'Jerry Springer' scenarios you can imagine. A married white woman, Laurel (Liz Sharpe), gives birth to a black baby in the rural deep south. What could easily descend into a hillbilly soap opera is heightened by a strong theme on the way seemingly decent people handle race. Performances run strong in 'Byhalia, Mississippi' in particular Celeste Wingate as Laurel's mother and Kiki Layne as her childhood best friend. It has a sharp sense of humor when it needs to, but also enough structure in place to carry its complex ideas. 

 

This new play by New Colony artistic director Evan Linder has some serious legs. After a sold-out run at The Den, 'Byhalia, Mississippi' is now being put up at one of Chicago's most esteemed and visible houses. It will certainly be noticed. While a certain degree of cheekiness runs throughout, the playwright is careful not to make his characters cartoonish. There are a few juvenile moments that tend to stick out like a sore thumb, but in time, some of that roughness will surely be smoothed out. This is not a play about infidelity. This is a play about the way people in some parts of America handle race and gender. To that end, this play couldn’t be more relevant. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see 'Byhalia, Mississippi' mounted in New York some time soon. 

 

Through August 21st at Steppenwolf Theater, 1650 N Halsted St. 312-335-1650

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

Who’s to say how we each should be identified? Whether labeled as a man, woman or even a dragon, those are in fact just that – labels. So why should others tell us how we ought to perceive ourselves? That premise is the foundation in New Colony’s latest production “Kin Folk”, currently being performed at The Den Theatre in Wicker Park. “Kin Folk” is a well-taught lesson on becoming comfortable in our own skin without being influenced towards self-doubt by those who are quick to tell us what we should be.

After losing their parents, three sisters, Lucy, Eleanor and Mary, gather at their suburban family home while waiting for it to sell. Sitting around a dining room table, each mulls about the future. Eleanor discuss her new life as a newly transitioned woman while Lucy and her husband Toby talk of plans to move to Chicago. Toby wants to move near his church where he can become more involved, often inviting Eleanor to his progressive place of worship that doesn’t care who uses what washroom. The talk is light, the banter pleasant and nothing that is really out of the ordinary.

However, the story takes a big turn when, unknown to the rest of the group, it is discovered that Lucy belongs to a community called Otherkin. Otherkin is a group that encourages people to live as their “true self”, identifying as magical creatures such as a dragon, which Lucy declares herself to be. Lucy, now known as Kreeka, befriends Atherin who leads her to meet Blubberwort, a giant gnome who helps guide her even further down her path of self-actualization. She eventually meets a werewolf named Dusk via a community chat room with whom she instantly clicks and quickly confides.

It’s not long before her family discovers her secret, leaving Lucy to make the tough decision of choosing them or her life with Otherkin. Or can she have both?

I really enjoyed the production’s overall theme and its flavor of humor. The journey is a fun one to watch, as the play is laced with the perfect measure of silliness while not going so far over the top that its message becomes diluted. In fact, it is an effective eye opener as to what people may feel inside but are afraid to state publicly. While Eleanor’s story is already compelling as she begins her new life as the woman she knows she has always been, the parallel story line of Kreeka, though a world recognizing themselves as non-human beings, only adds conviction to the fact that we are who we feel we are.  

“Kin Folk” offers a lively cast that provides plenty of strong acting performances. Annie Prichard is just wonderful as Lucy/Kreeka and really gets to show off her comedic talent while Chris Fowler also delivers as Toby, displaying a well-rounded performance altogether. Vital components to the success of the show’s humor, Andrew Hobgood (Blubberwort) and Steve Love (Arethin) both get a lot of well-earned laughs in their roles as Otherkin Folk. 

Evan Linder does a delightful job directing this play written by William Glick, nicely capturing the essence of each character while delivering Glick’s message with just the right mix of wit and sentiment, making this a summer event to add to your “must do” list. This is a play that is sure to bring out the genie, vampire, fairy or whatever it may be that surfaces within yourself.

“Kin Folk” is being performed at The Den Theatre through August 14th. For tickets and/or more show information visit www.thenewcolony.org. 

 

Published in Theatre Reviews
Wednesday, 13 January 2016 10:56

Review: Byhalia, Mississippi at Den Theatre

The New Colony and Definition Theatre Company’s collaboration “Byhalia, Mississippi” opens up with a young white trash couple from the play’s titled town who are about to have their first child. The dialogue between the family is witty and sharp and you immediately feel like you are in the South. Overdue by two weeks, their baby is being stubborn as hell. Finally, he arrives – and he is black. With Byhalia’s racial narrow past, you can imagine that this is when the mood in the story drastically changes. 

 

"Byhalia Mississppi" highlights many issues in racial relations especially found in the underlying comments many of the characters made. The couple, played by Liz Sharpe and Evan Linder, are very powerful and work well together. Linder also wrote the play - and it is very well written. There were times in which I felt uncomfortable as an audience member not only because of the topics being discussed but also by the overly dramatic acting of Mr. Linder, which, in retrospect, may have been called for to make his character “Jim” more believable. Remember, it is the South so I imagine they were using his excessive animation as an angle. Regardless, it was still distracting at times. 

 

Besides bringing important racial and class issues to light, what I love about this play is that the theatre will be hosting a world premiere conversation on Monday, January 18th which is MLK day. The play will be premiering in seven cities across North America and the audiences will connect afterward to have a discussion. I have never heard of this before and I think it is well worth the two-hours of time to try and attend. 

 

When reflecting on this play, I can't help but realize how far we have to go in regards to racism in this country. As an aunt of biracial nieces, I wonder what their world will be like. Will they struggle with their identity in having to choose one race over another? Will it even matter? My hope is no, but what I do know is that we have the power to make a difference now. 

 

Catch the “Byhalia, Mississippi” at The Den Theatre now through February 14th. It is sure to strike up conversation about racism in America and, at the same time, leave you wanting to say "y'all." For tickets and/or more information visit www.thenewcolony.org.

Published in Theatre Reviews
Wednesday, 21 January 2015 18:00

New Colony’s Plastic Revolution Is Air Tight

Plastic Revolution is a funny and campy musical comedy that takes place in 1950s Kissimmee, Florida about a recently widowed suburbanite, Delores Clarke, who meets an enthusiastic and pioneering Tupperware saleswoman named Brownie Wise. Together these two gals revolutionize the sales process by introducing the concept of “Tupperware parties” as a hugely successful sales tool for the Tupperware Corporation that captured the imagination and excitement of freedom from time consuming everyday chores and sold it to the average housewife.

The other ‘Stepford Wives” in the neighborhood fear Clarke at first thinking that because she is single she is out to steal their husbands!  But after realizing that Tupperware really does free those from the slavery of cooking dinner for their families every night of the week (leftovers!) and also could provide a source of income they hold up Delores and Brownie as their heroines and start on a new way of life.

I really loved that the lead “Stepford Wife” named Lilah who warns the other women that this revolution is going to ruin their family lives and undermine their role as housewives was cast with a man in drag. Danny Taylor turned an absolutely hysterical, yet “straight” comedic performance in this role and has a beautiful, expressive singing voice to boot!

Sasha Smith in the lead role of Delores Clarke has a wonderful rich singing voice as well and a sweet quality that really endears the audience to her from the very first scene. Cassie Thompson as Brownie Wise has a great frenetic sense of physical comedy that reminds you that women of that time period began using diet pills and speed in order to get all their mind numbingly boring chores and lonely housework done!

I thought the music and comedy were each very enjoyable and that the production comes with a nice blend of parody/camp and feminist musical comedy.

In their seventh season, this is The New Colony’s Theater Company’s first production in The Den Theatre as their new permanent performance space, alongside The Hypocrites and the Irish Theater of Chicago. Plastic Revolution is being performed at Den Theatre through February 22nd. For more information and/or tickets, visit thedentheatre.com or call 773-413-0862.   

 

*Photo - (front, left to right) Cassie Thompson and Sasha Smith with (back, left to right) Elise MayfieldLizzie SchwarzrockDaeshawna Cook and Danny Taylor in The New Colony’s world premiere musical PLASTIC REVOLUTION. Photo by Ryan Bourque.

Published in Theatre Reviews

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Yasmina's Necklace touches the heart

01 November 2017 in Theatre in Review

Playwright Rohina Malik and director Ann Filmer have reunited and have collaborated on something special. Goodman Theatre’s current run of…

Review: Welcome to Jesus at American Theatre Company

01 November 2017 in Theatre in Review

Celebrating nearly 35 years in their factory space around the North Center neighborhood, American Theater Company has a knack for…

Other Theatre's Holiday Hit "Barney the Elf" - November 17 - December 30 at Greenhouse Theater Center

28 October 2017 in Upcoming Theatre

Other Theatre is pleased to continue its 4th season with the third revival of its holiday hit BARNEY THE ELF,…

NRBQ Makes Big Splash at Fitzgerald's

28 October 2017 in In Concert

NRBQ is a fun band. “New Rhythm and Blues Quartet”. I find the name slightly misleading. When I think of…

Review: In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play at Timeline Theatre

27 October 2017 in Theatre in Review

Sarah Ruhl’s ‘In the Next Room, or the Vibrator Play’ returns to Chicago at Timeline Theatre. Directed by Mechelle Moe,…

Carrie 2: The Rage (An Unauthorized Musical) A Funny Halloween Treat That Urges People "Not to Suck So Much"

22 October 2017 in Theatre in Review

Most people are aware of the movie Carrie, starring the haunting Sissy Spacek as the picked on teenaged outsider who…

 

 

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