Theatre

About Face Theatre is pleased to announce its 2017-18 Season, featuring three Midwest premieres! The season kicks off this fall/winter with the romantic comedy SIGNIFICANT OTHER by Joshua Harmon, playwright of the hit comedy Bad Jews. Co-produced with Theater Wit, the Midwest premiere is directed by AFT Artistic Associate Keira Fromm and features AFT Artistic Associate Alex Weisman. 
 
The 22nd season continues next winter with the Midwest premiere of R. Eric Thomas’ gleeful mystery TIME IS ON OUR SIDE. Megan Carney directs this hilarious and heartfelt story of two podcasters and LGBTQ history buffs who may have uncovered more than they bargained for. 
 
Next spring, About Face presents the Midwest premiere of Bryna Turner’s comedy BULL IN A CHINA SHOP, based on the true story of revolutionary academics and lovers Mary Woolley and Jeanette Marks. Directed by Keira Fromm, the all-female cast includes AFT Artistic Associate Kelli Simpkins. 
 
About Face Theatre’s 2017-18 Season concludes next summer with a yet-to-be-titled production by the About Face Youth Theatre Ensemble. 
 
About Face Theatre is in residence at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave. in Chicago. AFT’s On Demand Memberships – a flexible, year-round membership ticket are currently available at aboutfacetheatre.com. Single tickets for additional programming will go on sale at a later date.
 
About Face Theatre’s 2017-18 Season:
 
November 2 – December 10, 2017
SIGNIFICANT OTHER – Midwest Premiere!
By Joshua Harmon
Directed by AFT Artistic Associate Keira Fromm
Featuring AFT Artistic Associate Alex Weisman. Additional casting to be announced.
 
Jordan Berman is a single gay man in New York City. Mr. Right is nowhere on his horizons. As he's nearing his 30s, his close group of girlfriends begin getting married en masse. What happens when you feel like life is leaving you behind but you're still expected to be at the forefront cheering on your friends on their perfect wedding day? Significant Other is a bittersweet comedy about friendship, single-hood and hoping you're not the one choking on car exhaust as the "Just Married" sign disappears from view. 
 
In 2015, Joshua Harmon's play Bad Jews hit Theater Wit and performed to capacity crowds for over five months. A breakaway playwright of his generation, Harmon's work offered a unique and searingly funny look at a new generation of American Jews. Now, with Significant Other he turns his compassion and considerable wit to marriage.
 
"I am very excited to join About Face Theatre in presenting the Midwest premiere of Joshua Harmon’s newest work,” comments Theater Wit Artistic Director Jeremy Wechsler. “I think Josh is a remarkably original writer with a gift for showing us the utterly real and utterly unexpected. His plays are always about deeply human characters with a writerly perspective we've not seen previously dramatized, and Significant Other is no exception. Bad Jews was a legitimate theatrical event of 2015 – and Signicant Other promises, in its writing and casting, to be another for 2017."
 
March 1 – April 8, 2018
TIME IS ON OUR SIDE – Midwest Premiere!
By R. Eric Thomas
Directed by Megan Carney
 
Annie loves the past. Curtis lives for the future. Together they host a wildly unpopular podcast from Annie's living room in which they "queer” history, reinterpreting Philadelphia’s lore through a modern, intersectional lens. When Annie finds a family heirloom that reveals a buried connection to the early LGBT rights movement, the political suddenly gets explosively personal. Time is on Our Side’s shape-shifting plot bounds gleefully from the Underground Railroad to pop culture futurity, as Annie and Curtis search for answers to the questions “How do we let go of the past? And when will it let go of us?”
 
“R. Eric Thomas has written this magnificent play that absolutely fizzles with life – I fell in love with it on first read,” comments director Megan Carney. “Time Is On Our Side introduces rich characters – meeting across generations and identities – and forging ahead together. The play is intimate and grand – diving deep to offer a clearer understanding of our shared past and courage for the challenges of the moment – all whipped together with big doses of queer magic. Eric has such a fresh voice and I can't wait to share this play with Chicago audiences.”
 
May 24 – July 1, 2018
BULL IN A CHINA SHOP – Midwest Premiere!
By Bryna Turner
Directed by AFT Artistic Associate Keira Fromm
Featuring AFT Artistic Associate Kelli Simpkins. Additional casting to be announced.
 
Bull in a China Shop is a play about Mary Woolley and her partner, Jeanette Marks, two brilliant women who reimagined and revolutionized women's education at the turn of the twentieth century. This fast-moving feminist comedy chronicles the growth of the women's suffrage movement, as well as Mary and Jeanette's romantic relationship. It examines the strength it takes to find your voice, be brave and feel less at odds with the world. 
 
“As a queer female director, I'm always excited by plays that represent gay narratives,” comments Keira Fromm. “Plays that deal specifically with gay female stories aren't terribly common, so when I came across Bryna Turner's radical play, I was immediately taken with it. Bryna is an incredibly smart and savvy playwright. She has a way of writing words and characters who live in both the past and the present concurrently. Mary and Jeanette's struggle to reform women's education and advocate for the suffrage movement echoes of the fights that women still wage today – whether that fight be for equal pay, fair representation or women's health initiatives. Ultimately the play is a unique meditation on bravery.”

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

"The Temperamentals" by Jon Marans makes its Chicago premiere at About Face Theatre. Artistic director Andrew Volkoff revisits this 2009 Off-Broadway play in a critical time for LGBT rights in America. This play was selected for their season long before the election, but serves to remind that the struggle for equality is not over. 

 

"The Temperamentals" refers to a slang term for homosexuals in the 1950s. It tells the true story of the Mattachine Society, the first LGBT rights group in America. Kyle Hatley plays Harry Hay, a closeted college professor working on behalf of gay rights. The Mattachine Society is formed when he meets Rudi Gernreich (Lane Anthony Flores). Gernreich is an up-and-coming designer who escaped the Nazis in Austria. His observations about life under the Third Reich inspires Harry Hay to action. 

 

Maran's script shines in the way it intertwines the historic plotline with authentic relationship dramas between characters. Alex Weisman plays Bob, the promiscuous one, with such sincerity even while cycling through several bit parts. Lane Anthony Flores gives a brave and dynamic peformance as chic European designer Gernreich. Also featuring Rob Lindley and Paul Fagan, About Face has assembled an all-star cast for this vital piece. 

 

Many think that gay activism started at Stonewall, but what "The Temperamentals" documents is the West Coast movement that began in the 1950s. The Mattachine Society was pitched to influential closested homosexuals in Hollywood, like Vincent Minnelli, but failed to garner mainstream interest for fear of blacklisting. Its intention was to decriminalize homosexuality. 

 

Jon Maran's play is sexy and stylish. It echos of Larry Kramer and that's what theater needs right now. It's a nearly three hour wake up call to a generation who takes advantage of the privileges fought for by activism. 

 

Through February 18 at About Face Theatre. Theatre Wit 1229 W Belmont Ave. 

 

Published in Theatre in Review

Boys love their rockets. We find this out rather quickly in Marriott Theatre’s world premiere of October Sky, a new musical based on the 1999 film featuring Jake Gyllenhaal and Chris Cooper. Written by Aaron Thielen with the music and lyric by Michael Mahler, the play opens with a heavy duty musical number “Marching into Hell” where a handful of coal miners head deep into the dangerous coal mines.

Taking place in 1957 Coalwood, West Virginia, most boys are destined to become coal miners. Opportunity to take another career path are far and few between. The city depends on the mine, which has become even more dangerous with newer technology that powders the coal, leaving a hazardous dust to be inhaled and cause lung disease rather than the older days where the mineral was gather by using picks. Occasional gas explosions also take place as we find out in the first scene as news of such a tragedy leaves thirty dead in a nearby mine.

Homer’s father, John Hickam, heads a large mining crew and fully expects his son to follow suit. However, when the Soviet Union launches Sputnik for all the town to see in the October Sky, Homer and his friends are driven to make a rocket of their own. Naturally, Homer’s father sees this as a distraction, while the town supports the boys as their rockets slowly become more and more advanced, despite their moments of failure. With the help of Miss Riley, Homer’s teacher who recognizes their interest in such a science as a way to avoid the destined mining life, the boys eventually take their work to a series of science fairs. While Homer’s mother is supportive and pleased with Homer’s ingenuity, his father still struggles with the idea. 

October Sky is not just a story about boys making rockets, it is also a story about support from friends, changing hearts and perseverance. It is a feel good story that encourages one to follow their dreams.

Superbly cast, I really enjoyed Nate Lewellyn in the role of Homer Hickham. He is a bit reminiscent of a young and boyish Tom Hanks. Lewellyn displays his solid vocal range in many challenging numbers, perhaps most notably in Act II’s “Stars Shine Down”. Ben Barker, Patrick Rooney and Alex Weisman perfectly round out the quartet of rocket builders while Susan Moniz really shines as Homer’s wise and loving mother, Elsie Hickam. One of my favorite performances is that of David Hess as John Hickam. I really find it a pleasure to observe Hess’ vocal prowess and his ability to execute such a wide variety of emotions. 

The songs are lyrically clever – and often funny, while the set has a few fun surprises such as the effect used as the miners take an elevator down into the mine. Theresa Ham does a fantastic job as costume designer, really pulling off the 1950s era and Dance Captain Jameson Cooper utilizes some very unique and original ideas in the big dance numbers. The show is finally brought together tightly with a strong ensemble and a wonderful band that knows how to get their southern twang on when needed. 

One of the show’s big crowd pleasers was the knee-slappin’ number “Moonshine”, a lively number that takes place in the backwoods and has the actors playing instruments as “Bathtub Amos & The Drunk as a Skink Jug Band”.  

October Sky runs around two-and-a-half hours long but is quite enjoyable throughout thanks to a fetching story, fun effects and enjoyable musical numbers. October Sky is being performed at The Marriott Theatre through October 11th. You can find out more about the show or order tickets at www.MarriottTheatre.com. 

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

It's not often you see the words erotic and Dachau in the same sentence. Bent by Martin Sherman is one of the few literary works to address homosexuality and the Nazis. Under the direction of Keira Fromm, The Other Theatre Company presents this Pulitzer Prize nominated play as part of their freshman season.

Bent calls to mind many of the same themes and issues raised by Christopher Isherwood in his novel The Berlin Stories, later to inspire the musical Cabaret. What makes these stories so fascinating is the alternative narrative to the well-known story of Hitler's persecution of Jews. What many don't know is that the Nazi regime persecuted gays, gypsies, the handicapped or anyone who was different. Also, that non-Jewish Germans simply went along with the darkening tide, terrified or unaware of its ultimate goal: ethnic cleansing.

Sherman set out to write a play that mirrored his own time, a closeted late 1970s on the cusp of the AIDS epidemic. While there are some glaring historical inaccuracies in this play - he makes his point. Philandering Max (Nik Kourtis) lives both and in and out of the closet as it suits him, until he finds himself imprisoned at Dachau for "perversion." While en route, he befriends fellow "queer" Horst (Alex Weisman) who helps him stay alive. Over the course of their internment at Dachau the two become lovers in uniquely staged sexual encounters.

While the play is quite faithful to its source material, the direction could have been stronger. Weisman is quite sure of himself and turns in a top notch performance as tragic Horst. Kourtis on the other hand stumbles through the emotional peaks and valleys of his anti-heroic character. By now, there are countless literary interpretations of the Holocaust and what this particular production misses is the bewilderment victims of concentration camps must have felt. These characters never seem to step back and address the atrocity and disbelief of the exaggerated instances of cruelty in the script. They're prematurely numb to the horrors of camp life and in the end, the inherent sense fear doesn't translate to the audience in the way many other Holocaust dramas have succeeded. The underlying themes get a little mixed up and you're never sure exactly what The Other Theatre Company would like you to take away.

Through July 26th at The Other Theatre Company. 3829 North Broadway. (773)528-9696

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

 

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