Upcoming Theatre

Casting is complete for the three “developmental productions” featured in Goodman Theatre’s 14thannual New Stages festival—a free celebration of new works by some of the country’s finest established and emerging playwrights. These three plays, which are staged in repertory following two weeks of rehearsal, include Lottery Day by Ike Holter, directed by Lili-Anne Brown; Continuity by Bess Wohl, directed by Annie Tippe; and Twilight Bowl by Rebecca Gilman, directed by Erica Weiss. Developmental productions are designed by Kevin Depinet (Set), Noël Huntzinger (Costumes for Lottery Day and Twilight Bowl), Birgit Rattenborg Wise (Costumes for Continuity), Jesse Klug (Lights) and Richard Woodbury (Sound). Full cast lists are included below. New Stages runs September 20 – October 8 in the 350-seat flexible Owen Theatre; to reserve FREE tickets, call 312.443.3800, visit GoodmanTheatre.org/NewStagesFestival or the box office (170 N. Dearborn). For more information about “Industry Professionals Weekend,” visit GoodmanTheatre.org/Professionals.

In addition, four one-time-only staged readings and a first look at an immersive work-in-progress appear during the final weekend of the festival (“Professionals Weekend”), including How to Catch Creation by Christina Anderson, directed by Jess McLeod (October 6 at 10:30am); Eden Prairie, 1971 by Mat Smart, directed by Henry Wishcamper (October 6 at 2pm); a preview presentation of POSTNATION by Mikhael Tara Garver(October 6 at 4:30pm); The Untranslatable Secrets of Nikki Corona written and directed by José Rivera(October 7 at 10am); and We’re Only Alive for A Short Amount of Time by David Cale, music by Matthew Dean Marsh and directed by Tony Speciale (October 7 at 2pm).

Since New Stages’ 2004 inception, more than 70 plays have been produced as a developmental production or staged reading. Nearly half of these plays were authored by playwrights of color and/or authored by female playwrights. More than one-third of all plays developed in New Stages have received a world premiere production at the Goodman or another leading U.S. theater. The Goodman’s 2017/2018 Season features the world premiere of Ellen Fairey’s Support Group for Men, which originated in New Stages in 2016. The Goodman’s immediate past season featured acclaimed works that began at the festival: The Magic Play by Andrew Hinderaker, King of the Yeesby Lauren Yee and Objects in the Mirror by Charles Smith.

The Goodman is grateful for the generosity of its New Work sponsors, including: the Time Warner Foundation, Lead Support of New Play Development; The Pritzker-Pucker Foundation, Major Support of New Play Development; The Glasser and Rosenthal Family and the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust, Support of New Work Development; and The Joyce Foundation, Principal Support for Diverse Artistic and Professional Development.

Casting for 2017 New Stages Festival Developmental Productions

Lottery Day
By Ike Holter, directed by Lili-Anne Brown
Appears in repertory, September 20 – October 7
In his latest play, acclaimed Chicago playwright Ike Holter integrates characters from his past works into a new story about the cost of belonging and the gift of community.
When an act of violence robs Mallory of her family, she creates a new one by opening her home to a wild array of neighbors, activists and artists. Tonight, she’s throwing them a party of her own invention—“Lottery Day”—where anyone could win, but everyone has something to lose.

CAST:
Aurora Adachi-Winter…………...Tori
Bear Bellinger…………………….Nunley
J. Nicole Brooks………………….Mallory
McKenzie Chinn……………….....Cassandra
Sydney Charles…………………..Zora
Robert Cornelius………………....Robinson
Anthony Irons……………………..Avery
Monica Orozco……………………Vivien
Tommy Rivera-Vega……………..Ezekiel
Pat Whalen………………………..Ricky

Continuity
By Bess Wohl, directed by Annie Tippe
Appears in repertory, September 22 – October 8
Bess Wohl’s startlingly funny new play examines what is worth saving and what isn’t—especially when facing the end of the world.
As her big budget thriller about climate change and eco-terrorism falls behind schedule, film director Maria attempts to salvage the production from the behind-the-scenes drama of its cast and screenwriter.

CAST:
Rammel Chan…………………....The PA
Amanda Drinkall………………...Nicole (Eve)
Marc Grapey……………………..David Claxton
Ryan McBride……………………Jake (George)
Bill McGough…………………….Larry
Rebecca Spence………………...Maria
Netta Walker……………………..Lily (Anna)
*This production also features voice-over roles portrayed by McKenzie Chinn (Second AD), Robert Cornelius(Sound Guy), Anthony Irons (Camera OP), Pat Whalen (First AD) and Aurora Adachi-Winter (2nd PA).

Twilight Bowl
By Rebecca Gilman, directed by Erica Weiss
Appears in repertory, September 24 – October 8

In her latest play, Goodman Artistic Associate Rebecca Gilman depicts six young women about to embark on their adult lives. But how do they—or we—define success?
Cousins Sam and Jaycee grew up together in a small Wisconsin town. Sam, who sharpened her bowling skills at the local alley, is now heading to college on scholarship. But Jaycee’s future isn’t looking so bright. As the young women and their friends face adulthood, the alley becomes a place to celebrate, mourn, and forge new identities. But can their bonds survive as their paths diverge? And is success always earned, or is it sometimes a matter of luck?

CAST:
Hayley Burgess………………...Clarice
Heather Chrisler………………..Jaycee
Angela Morris…………………...Maddy
Becca Savoy…………………….Sam
Mary Taylor………………………Brielle
Anne E. Thompson…………….Sharlene

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

Sideshow Theatre Company is pleased to announce its 2017-18 Season, launching next spring with the Chicago premiere of Mia Chung’s absurdly inventive smash-hit YOU FOR ME FOR YOU, directed by artistic associate Elly Green. The season concludes next summer with the world premiere of Kristiana Rae Colón’s spectacular and fearless indictment TILIKUM, directed by Lili-Anne Brown.
 
Sideshow Theatre’s Company’s 2017-18 Season will be presented at its resident home, Victory Gardens Richard Christiansen Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. in Chicago. Tickets will go on sale at a later date. For additional information, visit sideshowtheatre.org.
 
Comments Sideshow Artistic Director Jonathan L. Green, "We are living in an unprecedented time in the United States and in Chicago – every day feels like a state of emergency. In our eleventh season, Sideshow is focusing on the issues over which we are most divided and amplifying the stories that might allow us to see each other more fully. In You for Me for You and Tilikum, we are telling stories of enemies of the state, displacement, violence, exile and rebellion."
 
Sideshow’s 2017-18 Season will also include “The Freshness Initiative,” the company’s commissioning and new play development program, now in its fourth year (dates to be announced) and the wildly-popular semi-annual event CLLAW (Chicago League of Lady Arms Wrestlers). The next CLLAW match will be held Saturday, July 29 at Logan Square Auditorium.  For more information, visit cllaw.org.
 
Sideshow Theatre Company’s 2017-18 Season:

March 4 - April 8, 2018
YOU FOR ME FOR YOU – Chicago Premiere!
By Mia Chung 
Directed by artistic associate Elly Green 
Press opening: Thursday, March 8, 2018 
 
Two North Korean sisters plan an elaborate escape from the “Best Nation in the World,” only to be separated at the border. Now in two strange and separate worlds filled with outrageous characters, they must navigate barriers of language and bureaucracy, reckon with the ways that culture and country can shape us, and discover that survival requires sacrifice. Playwright Mia Chung weaves myth and striking imagery into a deeply affecting and surprisingly funny adventure, portraying the endless lengths to which two sisters will go to find one another again.
 
June 22 - July 29, 2018
TILIKUM – World Premiere!
By Kristiana Rae Colón 
Directed by Lili-Anne Brown 
Press opening: Thursday, June 28, 2018
 
Tilikum was a king, and the oceans of the world were his. Now, he is a captive in a marine amusement park, doomed to live as an opportunity for profit. Alone behind bars he forgets the feel of freedom, but when fellow prisoners ignite the fires of his memory, he starts down a path that threatens to consume everything. Ripped from the headlines, Kristiana Rae Colón’s Tilikum explores captivity, savagery and rebellion in a vital and visceral blend of theatre, drumming and dance. Poetic and lyrical, Tilikum calls out the power structures – both corporate and human – that ensure continued oppression, and the complicity of those willing to stand by and do nothing. 
 
About the Playwrights:
 
Mia Chung’s (You For Me For You) plays include You For Me For You, Catch as Catch Can and This Exquisite Corpse. She recently received the Stavis Playwright Award, the Frederick Loewe Award in Music-Theatre, and a Playwrights’ Center Jerome Fellowship. You For Me For You had a UK premiere at The Royal Court Theatre, a U.S. premiere at Woolly Mammoth Theatre, and multiple productions around the U.S., including Company One (Boston), Crowded Fire Theater (San Francisco), InterAct (Philadelphia), Mu Performing Arts/Guthrie Theater (Minneapolis), Portland Playhouse (Oregon); the play is published by Bloomsbury Methuen Drama. In 2018, the play will run in Chicago, Michigan, and upstate NY. Mia’s work has been supported by awards, commissions, fellowships, residencies and workshops, including BAPF, Berkeley Rep Ground Floor, Blue Mountain Center, Civilians’ R&D Group, Hedgebrook, Huntington Theatre, Icicle Creek, Inkwell, JAW, LAByrinth, Ma-Yi Writers Lab, NEA, Playwrights Realm, RISCA, South Coast Rep, Southern Rep, Stella Adler Studio, and TCG. During the coming year, she will develop work with the support of the Orchard Project, P73, NYTW and the Playwrights’ Center. She is a New Dramatist.
 
Kristiana Rae Colón (Tilikum) is a poet, playwright, actor, educator, Cave Canem Fellow and executive director of the #LetUsBreathe Collective. Her play Octagon, winner of Arizona Theater Company's 2014 National Latino Playwriting Award and Polarity Ensemble Theater's Dionysos Festival of New Work, had its world premiere at the Arcola Theater in London in September 2015. Her work was featured in Victory Gardens' 2014 Ignition Festival. In 2013, she toured the UK with her collection of poems promised instruments published by Northwestern University Press. In autumn 2012, she opened her one-woman show Cry Wolf at Teatro Luna in Chicago while her play but i cd only whisper had its world premiere at the Arcola Theater in London and American premiere in 2016 at The Flea in New York. Kristiana is a part of the Goodman Theatre's Playwrights Unit, a resident playwright at Chicago Dramatists and one half of the brother/sister hip-hop duo April Fools. She appeared on the fifth season of HBO's “Def Poetry Jam.”
 
About the Directors:
 
Elly Green (You for Me for You) is a freelance director, whose previous work with Sideshow includes the co-world premiere of Hansol Jung’s No More Sad Things and a Freshness Initiative workshop series of Janet Burroway’s Boomerang. She recently directed The Distance by Deborah Bruce for Haven Theatre and After Miss Julie by Patrick Marber for Strawdog Theatre. Other Chicago credits include: The Woman Before (Trap Door), Rabbit (Stage Left – Jeff nominated), Happy (Redtwist), Unwilling and Hostile Instruments (Theatre Seven) and The Tomkat Project (Playground Theatre & NY Fringe). Elly was assistant director on Henry V (Chicago Shakespeare Theater) and Proof (Court Theatre). She is an artistic associate with Stage Left theatre and a reader for Steppenwolf theatre. Elly originally trained in London on the MFA in Theatre Directing from Birkbeck College. Her UK directing credits include: Our Country’s Good, My Balloon Beats Your Astronaut, Beyond Therapy, About Tommy, Copenhagen, Skylight, The Beach and The Zoo Story. ellygreendirector.com.
 
Lili-Anne Brown (Tilikum) is a native Chicagoan who works as a director, actor and educator, and has performed in, directed and produced many award-winning shows, both local and regional. She received the Joseph Jefferson Award in 2014 for her direction of Ahrens & Flaherty’s Dessa Rose, and a BTA Award in 2011 for her direction of Passing Strange. She is the former Artistic Director of Bailiwick Chicago, an Artistic Associate of Timber Lake Playhouse and a graduate of Northwestern University and St. Ignatius College Prep. She is a member of Actors’ Equity, SAG-AFTRA, and an Associate of Stage Directors and Choreographers (SDC).
 
About Sideshow Theatre Company:
It is the mission of Sideshow Theatre Company to mine the collective unconscious of the world we live in with limitless curiosity, drawing inspiration from the familiar stories, memories and images we all share to spark new conversation and bring our audiences together as adventurers in a communal experience of exploration.
 
From its first production, 2008’s Dante Dies!! (and then things get weird) to its Jeff Award-winning productions of Roland Schimmelpfennig’s Idomeneus (named one of the best plays of 2012 by Time Out Chicago and the Chicago Sun-Times) and Elizabeth Meriwether's runaway robotic hit Heddatron at Steppenwolf Theatre, to the recent re-mount of its smash hit Stupid F##king Bird, Sideshow has consistently produced engaging, transcendent works across Chicago. Sideshow continues its multi-year residency at Victory Gardens in the historic Biograph Theater in the 2017/18 season.
 
Sideshow also produces the Chicago League of Lady Arm Wrestlers (CLLAW), a wildly popular interactive fundraising event that benefits Sideshow Theatre Company and other local charities. CLLAW has been featured in local and national press, including The Washington Post, Reuters, Penthouse Magazine and the Chicago Sun-Times and on WGN Morning News, ABC 7’s Windy City Live and CBS 2. The next CLLAW will be held Saturday, July 29 at Logan Square Auditorium. For more information about CLLAW, visit cllaw.org.
 
For additional information on Sideshow Theatre Company, visit sideshowtheatre.org.
 

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre
Monday, 13 March 2017 12:34

Review: Kokandy Productions' "The Wiz"

"The Wiz" is a perfect collision of disco and show tunes. Appearing on Broadway in 1975, "The Wiz" went on to win the Tony for Best Musical. Though it was not the first all-black production on Broadway, the cross-over appeal of its music made it a sensation. A few years later it was adapted for film starring Michael Jackson, Diana Ross and Lena Horn. The film is considerably different than the stage version, for the worse. 

 

Kokandy Productions' "The Wiz" accentuates all the enduring qualities of the show while adding some modern flare of its own. This has to be the hardest working cast in Chicago right now. For two and a half solid hours director Lili-Anne Brown's cast of talented singers and dancers fill the space with an infectious energy. Sydney Charles as Dorothy is cute and brings a sense of humor to the character, her soaring vocals come to an inspiring crest during "Home." Though, it may well be Frederick Harris in the titular role (in fabulous drag no less) who walks away with the evening's biggest laughs. There's not a sour note in this production and each song is either a powerhouse ballad or a funky dance number. 

 

One of the show's many pleasant surprises is the costuming and overall aesthetic. This is highly conceptualized version that suits the intimate space at Theatre Wit. Borrowing from 90s-era TLC and blending it with today's street fashion, costume designer Virginia Varland creates a very stylish motif in an otherwise minimal set. The ensemble looks as great as they sound. 

 

Lili-Anne Brown doesn't complete her update of "The Wiz" with costumes alone. There's some fairly edgy humor written into this production, including a nod to the prevalence of police brutality cellphone videos. This version of "The Wiz" is how it was originally intended to be–for adults. What the movie and the NBC live version miss is a lot of the grown-up humor in the script. After all, this is an urban contemporary version of the Wizard of Oz, it should be cheeky. Miss Brown's vision for Kokandy Productions' "The Wiz" is a lot of fun and keeps its source material relevant. 

 

Through April 16th at Theater Wit. 1229 W Belmont Ave. 773-975-8150

*Extended through April 23rd

 

Published in Theatre in Review

American Blues Theater, under the continued leadership of Producing Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside, announces the lineup for its 2017 – 2018 Season, “The Beat Goes On.” American Blues’ 32nd Season will include the World Premiere of Six Corners by Keith Huff, directed by Gary Griffin; the Chicago Premiere of Beauty’s Daughter by Dael Orlandersmith, directed by Ron OJ Parson; the 16th annual production of It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago! from Frank Capra’s film, directed by Gwendolyn Whiteside; and Buddy – the Buddy Holly Story by Alan Janes, directed by Lili-Anne Brown with musical direction by Ensemble member Michael Mahler. All performances in the 2017-2018 Season will take place at Stage 773, located at 1225 W Belmont Ave, Chicago.

 

“From the lyric beats of a poet, the heartbeat of a family man, the patrol beat of a Chicago cop, to the inimitable beat of Buddy Holly & the Crickets, we’re thrilled with the rich and varied stories offered for our audiences,” notes Producing Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside. “We’re honored to have such extraordinary talent on the American Blues stage.”

 

The 2017-18 American Blues Theater Season up close:

 

The Chicago Premiere of

Beauty’s Daughter

by Dael Orlandersmith

directed by Ron OJ Parson

July 7 – August 5, 2017

Press Opening: July 13, 2017 at 7:30 p.m.

This Obie Award-winning play by Dael Orlandersmith depicts one woman’s journey through life’s obstacles in an East Harlem neighborhood. Artistic Affiliate Wandachristine takes on 6 different characters during the course of this solo play—some broken, some on the way down, but all memorable.

 

16th Anniversary Production of

It’s a Wonderful Life: Live in Chicago!

from Frank Capra’s film

directed by Producing Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside

November 17 – December 30, 2017

Press Opening: November 19, 2017 at 2:30 p.m.

For 16 years, the American Blues Ensemble has treated Chicago audiences to a live 1940s radio broadcast of holiday favorite It’s a Wonderful Life. The incredible cast recreates the entire town of Bedford Falls with Foley sound effects, an original score and holiday carols. The Bedford Falls “residents” extend their hospitality after every performance when audiences are treated to milk and cookies served by the cast.

 

The World Premiere of

Six Corners

by Keith Huff

directed by Gary Griffin

February 16 – March 25, 2018

Press Opening: February 22, 2018 at 7:30 p.m.

Late one night, two burnt-out violent crimes unit detectives try their damnedest to close the puzzling murder of a CTA employee.  What should be a simple open-and-shut case, however, evolves into a horrifying mystery and unearths a legacy of violence stretching back years.

 

The Chicago Revival of

Buddy – the Buddy Holly Story

by Alan Janes

directed by Lili-Anne Brown

musical direction by Ensemble member Michael Mahler

April 27 – May 26, 2018

Press Opening: May 3, 2018 at 7:30 p.m.

Before the Beatles or the Rolling Stones ever played a note, rock & roll was forever changed by the bespectacled kid from Texas. BUDDY tells the true story of Buddy Holly through his short yet spectacular career and features the classic songs "That’ll be the Day", "Peggy Sue",  The Big Bopper’s  "Chantilly Lace", Ritchie Valens' "La Bamba" plus many more.

 

Additional 2017-2018 Programming

Ripped Festival: Edition 16

Spring 2018

Written and direction by various Chicago artists

 

Since 2009, American Blues Theater has produced 135 short plays in the RIPPED: the Living Newspaper series. Based on the 1930’s WPA era program that brought Orson Welles, Arthur Miller, Richard Wright and Clifford Odets into public attention, playwrights use inspiration ripped from today’s headlines to create stories performed live on stage.

 

Arts Education in Chicago Public Schools

The Lincoln Project

Conceived and Adapted by Producing Artistic Director Gwendolyn Whiteside from Artistic Affiliate James Still’s Pulitzer-nominated The Heavens Are Hung in Black

 

American Blues Theater’s innovative and adaptive program aligns with Illinois Learning Standards to engage 5th-10th graders about the life of Abraham Lincoln, specifically the events surrounding the Emancipation Proclamation.  Students watch scenes performed by professional actors, participate in discussions, and most importantly, write their own plays. Since the program’s launch in 2013, over 5,500 students have participated in the program.

 

Subscriptions

All main stage performances take place at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. The Blue Card – the most affording ticketing offer  the 2017-2018 season are available now at www.AmericanBluesTheater.com or by calling 773.654.3103.

 

About American Blues Theater

Winner of the American Theatre Wing’s prestigious 2016 National Theatre Company Award, American Blues Theater is a premier arts organization with an intimate environment that patrons, artists, and all Chicagoans call home.  American Blues Theater explores the American identity through the plays it produces and communities it serves.

 

The diverse and multi-generational artists have established the second-oldest professional Equity Ensemble theater in Chicago.  The 37-member Ensemble has 530+ combined years of collaboration on stage. As of 2016, the theater and artists received 186 Joseph Jefferson Awards and nominations that celebrate excellence in Chicago theater and over 31 Black Theatre Alliance Awards. The artists are honored with Pulitzer Prize nominations, Academy Awards, Golden Globe Awards, Emmy Awards and numerous other accolades.  

 

The American Blues Theater Ensemble includes all four Founders Ed Blatchford, Rick Cleveland, James Leaming, and William Payne with Dawn Bach, Matthew Brumlow, Manny Buckley, Kate Buddeke, Sarah Burnham, Dara Cameron, Casey Campbell, Darren Canady, Brian Claggett, Dennis Cockrum, Austin Cook, Laura Coover, Ian Paul Custer, Lauri Dahl, Joe Foust, Cheryl Graeff, Marty Higginbotham, Jaclyn Holsey, Lindsay Jones, Nambi E. Kelley, Kevin R. Kelly, Steve Key, Ed Kross, Warren Levon, Michael Mahler, Heather Meyers, John Mohrlein, Christopher J. Neville, Suzanne Petri, Carmen Roman, Editha Rosario, Sarah E. Ross, and Gwendolyn Whiteside.

 

American Blues Theater programs and activities are made possible, in part by funding by The MacArthur Funds for Arts & Culture at Prince, the Shubert Foundation, The Chicago Community Trust, SMART Growth Grant, Gaylord & Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, the Illinois Arts Council Agency, Anixter Foundation, Actors’ Equity Foundation, and the Chip Pringle Fund. ComEd is the Season Lighting Sponsor.

 

Published in Buzz Extra
Wednesday, 08 June 2016 14:09

Review: Xanadu at American Theater Company

Last year the Chicago theatre community lost a major piece of its landscape. Longtime American Theater Company artistic director PJ Paparelli died abruptly before solidifying the company's thirty-first season. It's almost ironic that a man responsible for bringing so many uncomfortably topical dramas to the Chicago stage had such a soft spot for "Xanadu." As a tribute to the late Paparelli, ATC concludes their thirty-first season with this campy roller disco musical. 

 

For most, "Xanadu" is among the worst movies ever made. In 1980, still riding high on her "Grease" fame, Olivia Newton John was cast as Zeus' favorite muse sent to Venice Beach, California to help struggling street artist Sonny Malone achieve his destiny of opening a roller disco. The film also featured an aged Gene Kelly. Though the movie was an overwhelming flop, the soundtrack by Electric Light Orchestra and John Fahrer was a huge hit. 

 

In 2008, Broadway producers decided to satirize the now cult classic as a stage musical. Initial reviews were favorable and it even had a short engagement in Chicago. Unfortunately, due to the recession, "Xanadu" didn't last long, but is now enjoying great popularity in regional theaters. 

 

Somehow American Theater Company and director Lili-Anne Brown are able to make their "Xanadu" more significant than what's at the surface. There's no shortage of comedic gold in this cast of young faces, but what lingers are the incredible group numbers that fill the intimate garage space. This "Xanadu" has so much life that you can almost forget the source material. In the lead role of Clio, or Kira, is Landree Fleming who takes this role in a sketch comedy direction that turns out to be ripe with goofy humor. Jim DeSelm co-stars as Sonny Malone and is not only nice to look at, but he can really belt. 

 

Lili-Anne Brown's ensemble of sister muses fills out this energetic cast and each provide stand-out performances, even if their character names and motives are somewhat arbitrary. The cast looks like they're having a lot of fun together and it's contagious throughout the 90-minute run-time. Even the band, which in some musicals can seem disconnected, are joining in the fun. "Xanadu" at American Theater Company is a high-octane good time and a really fitting tribute to one of Chicago's most groundbreaking theatre artists. 

 

Through July 17th at American Theater Company. 1909 W Byron Street. 773-409-4125.

 

 

Published in Theatre Reviews

I decided to review this wonderful new play by Aaron Holland partly because I loved the title and in spite of the mention in the PR materials saying that Holland’s inspiration were in part from Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

I’m so glad I did because this play about one young “everyman” or “everywoman” as the case may be,  Amari Bolkonski, (played wonderfully by Armand Fields) has so much to say to all of us about the necessity of self love and friendship in overcoming life’s sometimes crippling blows to our sense of identity.

In Bailiwick Chicago’s Princess Mary Demands Your Attention, Amari is suffering from agoraphobia and OCD in part because his mother, Countess Bolkonski, (Pam Mack) openly disparages her youngest son by comparing him unfavorably to his distant older brother who is in her eyes, “the real man” in the family.

Luckily Amari runs into a few young gay club kids who become his “new family” and his closest friends and confidantes as he struggles to get out from under his mother’s controlling, domineering, apron and on with his own life.

Nathaniel (TJ Crawford), Bastian (Omer Abbas Salem) and Christian (David Kaplinsky) do a fantastic job of bringing these funny and sympathetic characters to life. Their scenes together are really fun to watch and seem to come from a very real, natural place.

Pam Mack does a wonderful job with the role of Countess and redeems her character’s seemingly abusive treatment of her youngest son in a truly heart wrenching scene telling Amari that she is truly sorry and that he must start to love himself as he is, after she has suffered a debilitating stroke.

The character of Stacy (Rus Rainear) is Amari’s fairy godfather of sorts, a flamer who has watched over Amari since his father’s death as a child and given him a place to work in his food stop since Amari is afraid to leave his house and deal with people in general. Rus Rainear is adorable in this role and gets many laughs with just a “look” or gesture.  Stacy’s undying support along with Amari’s loyal buddies who help him dress up and get him out of his basement  Amari realizes over time and with the hallucinated appearance of his own personal “Queen Mary”  inspire him to break out and realize that his hiding and self pity are ruining his life.

I thought director Lili-Anne Brown did a fabulous job integrating music from the period and strobe lights and smoke and into the piece in a way that maximized the laughs, glamour and fantasy world of Amari and his friends while keeping Amari’s transformation grounded in a very touching way that anyone gay or straight, male or female, can identify with.

In the lobby before the show the audience was encouraged to write on an index card the thing they feel is holding them back in life.  Also there was  a “wig room” with costumes and accessories for audience members to try on “Princess Mary’s glam clothes and wigs and take a “selfie”, which really appealed to me because it made me think about applying the play’s ideas to my own life before I even entered the theater.

I highly recommend this funny yet poignant piece by Holland not because it is perfect and needs no further editing but because in its current incarnation it is so joyous and uplifting one cannot help but feel moved and entertained by it. 

Princess Mary Demands Your Attention is being performed at Victory Gardens Richard Christiansen Theater through February 21st. For tickets and/or more information call 773-871-3000 or visit www.victorygardens.org.

 

*Photo - (left to right) TJ Crawford, Omer Abbas Salem, Armand Fields and David Kaplinskyin Bailiwick Chicago’s world premiere of PRINCESS MARY DEMANDS YOUR ATTENTION by Aaron Holland, directed by Artistic Director Lili-Anne Brown.  Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

 

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