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

Haven Theatre Company announces We’re Gonna Die, the final production in its fourth season, written by Young Jean Lee and directed by Josh Sobel, at the company’s home, The Janet Bookspan Theatre at the Den Theatre,,1335 Milwaukee Ave., May 4 – June 4. Previews are Thursday, May 4 – Saturday, May 6 at 8 p.m. Opening night is Sunday, May 7 at 7 p.m. The regular performance schedule is Thursdays – Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m. Previews are Pay-What-You-Can, and regular run tickets are $18. You may purchase tickets and get more information at www.haventheatrechicago.com.

 

A singer takes the stage, backed by her rock-band compatriots, to share Young Jean Lee’s life-affirming show about the one thing we all have in common: “we're gonna die.” Drawing from true stories of people's experiences with tragedy, despair and loneliness, this personal and rejuvenating play with live music reminds us that in our darkest, most isolated moments, we are not alone.

 

Cast 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).

 

ABOUT PLAYWRIGHT YOUNG JEAN LEE

 

Young Jean Lee has been called “hands down, the most adventurous downtown playwright of her generation” by The New York Times and “one of the best experimental playwrights in America” by Time Out New York. She has written and directed nine shows in New York with Young Jean Lee's Theater Company and toured her work to over thirty cities around the world. Her plays have been published by TCG (Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven and Other Plays, The Shipment and Lear) and by Samuel French (Three Plays by Young Jean Lee). She is currently under commission from Plan B/Paramount Pictures, Lincoln Center Theater, Playwrights Horizons and Oregon Shakespeare Festival. She is a member of New Dramatists and 13P, and has an MFA from Mac Wellman's playwriting program at Brooklyn College. She has received grants from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, Creative Capital, NYFA, NEA, NYSCA, the Jerome Foundation, The Fox Samuels Foundation, the Greenwall Foundation, and the Rockefeller MAP Foundation. She is also the recipient of two OBIE Awards, the Festival Prize of the Zürcher Theater Spektakel, a 2010 Prize in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a 2011 Guggenheim Fellowship, and a 2012 Doris Duke Artist Award.

 

ABOUT DIRECTOR JOSH SOBEL

 

Josh Sobel is artistic director of Haven Theatre Company, as well as a former ensemble member and literary manager with Strawdog Theatre Company. Recent directing credits include Bobbie Clearly at Steep Theatre, The Long Christmas Ride Home along with the world premieres of The Hunting of the Snark (also Chicago's "Night Out In The Parks" and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in Scotland), Best Beloved: The Just So Stories and The Pied Piper at Strawdog Theatre, and Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead at Metropolis Performing Arts Centre. Additional credits include work at Chicago Dramatists, A Red Orchid Theatre, Victory Gardens, LiveWire, Collaboraction's Sketchbook, WildClaw, The Ruckus, Tympanic Theatre, Polarity Ensemble Theatre, The Fine Print Theatre Company, the side project, The Greenhouse Theater Center, Abbie-Fest and New Leaf Theatre. From 2010 - 2013 he served as associate director of the National Theater Institute summer "Theatermakers" program at the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center. Sobel is the recipient of a Stage Directors and Choreographers (SDC) Observership on Hamlet at Writers' Theatre and is an associate member of SDC.

 

ABOUT HAVEN THEATRE COMPANY

 

Haven Theatre Company is one of Chicago's fastest rising companies. In 2015, Haven's sold-out run of Arlene Hutton's Last Train to Nibroc received a coveted four-star review from Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune, who proclaimed the production "deserves to be the sleeper hit of the summer." Nibroc also received three Joseph Jefferson Award nominations (the company’s first Jeff-eligible production) and received the prize for Best Principal Actress in a Play. Also in 2015, Haven launched “The Director's Haven,” a unique initiative built to better support the career development and community visibility of directors at the very earliest stages of their professional journeys. Additionally, Haven has produced highly lauded productions of Idris Goodwin’s How We Got On, Deborah Bruce's The Distance (U.S. Premiere), Theresa Rebeck's Seminar (Chicago Premiere), Catherine Treischmann's Hot Georgia Sunday (Chicago Premiere), Stephen Belber's Don't Go Gentle (Chicago Premiere) and Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

 

Published in Upcoming Shows
Thursday, 16 February 2017 21:39

Review: Straight White Men at Steppenwolf

With a title like "Straight White Men" there's a lot to unpack. Asian American playwright Young Jean Lee directs her 2014 play at The Steppenwolf. "Straight White Men" ran Off-Broadway at the Public Theater to critical acclaim. It helped establish the career of up-and-comer Young Jean Lee. This production is a Midwestern debut. 

 

The Steppenwolf's production is well cast. "Straight White Men" tells the story of a family of three brothers assembling with their aging father for Christmas. Hence the title. Madison Dirks plays the oldest brother Jake with a commanding intensity that serves to propel Lee's script. So much of Lee's play relies on an almost impossible sense of chemistry between the brothers. Ryan Hallahan plays youngest brother Drew with a contrasting sincerity that puts Brian Slaten (Matt) in the center of the 90-minute play. Ensemble member Alan Wilder as the dad is maybe the only one whose performance is not in on Lee's comic pattern. 

 

"Straight White Men" does touch on many issues regarding race, gender and class in America. That said, perhaps not enough to warrant such a heavy title. There is a lot of humor and physical comedy between the brother characters, but so often the content of the dialogue doesn't reach further than the three walls of the set. The conclusion of the play is thought provoking and addresses the issue of socioeconomic privilege. 

 

The problem with titling a play "Straight White Men" is that it raises the stakes for the playwright to deliver a work that makes a bold statement. Lee certainly does make a bold statement, it just may not live up to the title. Lee's script takes a while getting to the center of the matter. It's really a play about depression. In that regard, Lee really says something about the way student loans and societal expectations are stunting an entire generation. "Straight White Men" is a play to see as it will warrant a thoughtful post show discussion. 

 

Through March 19 at Steppenwolf Theatre. 1650 N Halsted St. 312-335-1650 www.Steppenwolf.org

*Update - Extended through March 26th

 

Published in Theatre in Review

 

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