Theatre in Review

Tuesday, 09 May 2017 13:40

"We're Gonna Die" But We're Not Alone

There was so much energy when I went into The Den Theatre, which I will rightfully chalk up to Haven Theatre Company’s infectious vibe. Upon entering, patrons were greeted with ear plugs before being thrust into a cloud of fog, as though attending a rock show. Curious, yet anxious, the crowd seemed spunky and exhibited a healthy amount of excitement in simply just being present. Unique and bold, “We’re Gonna Die” is the latest Haven Theatre Company production, and it’s engaging from the word “Go”.  

 

“We’re Gonna Die” features a live band, riveting storytelling and even some stand up comedy as the cast share true to life experiences in order to connect with the audience on a subject that not many choose to talk about – death. Its message is direct. Despite our darkest hours and personal tragedies, we are not alone.

 

When the show begins, Spencer Meeks who plays the guitar, gives us a brief history of the play and how it is part of a 12-part series. With his eyeliner meticulously applied, Meeks promptly kicks off the evening with a loud beat. 

 

Soon after, the main singer played by Isa Arciniegas emerges. She talks about her Uncle John and the experiences she shared with him when she was younger. The band breaks out into a song and it is quickly apparent that Isa is a natural entertainer. Arciniegas’ energy is contagious as she runs back and forth on the stage. She proceeds to tell the audience a couple more stories and concludes with a moving song about the death of her father. 

 

Soon, everything comes together. Many people are uncomfortable with death, and to be fair, death is sad. We miss the people we lost and are swiftly enveloped with so many different emotions, first asking ourselves how something so tragic could happen to questioning the fairness in death. As Arciniegas continues to sing, she profoundly exclaims, "We're all going to die!" 

 

In Young Jean Lee's “We’re Gonna Die” it is somehow made okay to be comfortable with death, a point made while jamming along with the show’s kick ass drummer played by Sarah Giovannetti. "We're all going to die!" is repeated over and over as confetti pours out from the ceiling along with balloons everywhere. Simply put, the play is a true celebration of life and a reminder that we all should live each day to the fullest since - we are all going to die. 

 

The talented cast and team for "We’re Gonna Die" includes: Isa Arciniegas (singers), Sarah Giovannetti (band), Jordan Harris (band), Elle Walker (band), Spencer Meeks (band) and Kamille Dawkins (singer u/s). The production team for We’re Gonna Die includes: Josh Sobel (director), Abhi Shrestha (assistant director), Julie Leghorn (stage manager), Krista Mickelson (production manager), Spencer Meeks (music director), Claire Chrzan (light designer), Izumi Inaba (costume designer), Mike Mroch (scenic designer), and Jon Martinez (choreographer).

 

Well-directed by Josh Shobel, “We’re Gonna Die” is an interesting play that sheds light on a scary subject. It is a play that really gave me a chance to reflect, as I am sure would be true with the rest of its audience. All in all, I left smiling and excited that I went to the newly renovated Den Theatre (1335 North Milwaukee) to see this very original and thought-provoking play. I recommend checking it out while you can as it will be performed through June 4th. Tickets are priced at $18 and can be purchased at www.haventheatrechicago.com

 

Published in Theatre in Review

For those of you who are not aware, there is a great youth program taking place where a group of educators have created an alternative education source for CPS students. Enter Barrel of Monkeys. Barrel of Monkeys (BOM) is a combined group of actors, teachers and musicians that have developed a new, and fun, way for students to enhance their creative writing skills while building their self-esteem and open doors for them to express themselves. Mainly working with third through fifth graders, BOM focuses on working with underserved schools on Chicago’s South and West sides and the result has been a huge success.

 

Taking stories from students, this talented ensemble translates, then performs these ideas (often word for word, which can be amazingly hilarious) on stage, currently at the Neo-Futurist Theater in Andersonville. In what always turns into series of absurdly funny sketches, BOM’s performers act out each story, promptly giving credit to the student author before they begin.

 

Barrel of Monkeys now continues into the summer with their That’s Weird, Grandma series, a run that changes its overall theme throughout the year, the latest being That’s Weird, Grandma: The Summer Strikes Back. Again, with all material written by Chicago Public School students, you can just imagine how it translates when acted out by a professional theatre ensemble. Needless to say, the laughs are plentiful from beginning to end.

 

In Summer Strikes Back directed by Artistic Director Joseph Schupbach BOM performs seventeen sketches in their hour-plus performance, some converted into songs while others acted out just as they were written. Stories range in creativity and are each amusing in their own way. Though some stories may be as simple as a conversation between a bunny and an EXIT sign or “Taylor the Rose” where a rose reads off a list on what not to do to her – like pick her because she will die, BOM is able to find the humor in each while at the same time brilliantly promoting the imagination and expression of its young student writers.  With titles such as “The Day A Monkey Slapped My Cousin”, “Jake’s Very Bad Day”, “Walking Meatball and Mozzarella Cheese” and “Lady Spy”, you can only imagine the fun that awaits.

 

While getting the chance to enjoy a very humorous evening of one hilarious sketch after another, one is also supporting a fantastic program – a program that has helped students to write over 5,500 stories within the school year. An amazing outfit, Barrel of Monkeys has been pivotal in reaching out to students, 77% of teachers reporting a positive change in enthusiasm for language arts among their lowest performing students over the course of their residency.

 

That's Weird, Grandma: The Summer Strikes Back is a fun show that, though is mostly a laugh factory, can also reveal moving moments and profound insights of the student writers. With talented cast and musical members (I’ll just name them all since they all made terrific contributions) Nancy Casas, Kassi Bleifuss, Nick Hart, Krista Mickelson, Elizabeth Levy, Laura McKenzie, Spencer Meeks, Deanna Myers, Gwen Tulin, Dixie Belinda Uffelman, Rawson Vint and Joseph Schupbach himself, we get a uniquely well-rounded show that moves quickly and grabs you in from the moment the audience is directed into the seating area by an air traffic controller. This is also a show that can be seen more than once as audience members vote on their favorite sketches afterwards via secret ballot and new sketches are introduced into the following performance as others are removed.

 

A show for all ages (bring the kids!), Barrel of Monkeys: The Summer Strikes Back is being performed each Monday at 8 pm at Neo-Futurist Theater through August 15th. Tickets are beyond reasonable at just $12 for adults and $6 for children under twelve.   

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

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