Tag: Emily Tarleton

Review: First Look 2014 – “Hushabye” “Ironbound” “Okay, Bye” (Steppenwolf Theatre)

Billy Fenderson and Lusia Strus star in "Ironbound" by Martyna Majok, directed by Daniella Topol, part of Steppenwolf Theatre's "First Look Repertory 2014". (photo credit: Emily Schwartz)        
First Look 2014

Written by Tanya Saracho, Martyna Majok,
    and Joshua Conkel
Directed by Yasen Peyankov, Daniella Topol,
     and Margot Bordelon
at Steppenwolf Garage, 1624 N. Halsted (map)
thru Aug 24  |  tickets: $20   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
                   Read review 

August 15, 2014 | 0 Comments More

Review: strangers, babies (Steep Theatre)

Sasha Gioppo stars in Steep Theatre's "strangers, babies" by Linda McLean, directed by Brad Akin. (photo credit: Lee Miller)        
strangers, babies

Written by Linda McLean
Directed by Brad Akin
at Steep Theatre, 1115 W. Berwyn (map)
thru March 1  |  tickets: $20-$22   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
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January 29, 2014 | 1 Comment More

Review: Failure: A Love Story (Victory Gardens Theater)

Baize Buzan and Matt Fletcher star in Victory Garden's "Failure: A Love Story" by Philip Dawkins, directed by Seth Bockley. (photo credit: Michael Brosilow)        
Failure: A Love Story 

Written by Philip Dawkins
Directed by Seth Bockley
at VG Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln (map)
thru Dec 30  |  tickets: $35-$50   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
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December 1, 2012 | 0 Comments More

Review: Kin (Griffin Theatre)

Shane Kenyon and Rani Waterman, in a scene from Griffin Theatre's "Kin" by Bathsheba Doran, directed by Jess McLeod.       

Written by Bathsheba Doran  
Directed by Jess McLeod
at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont (map)
thru June 10  |  tickets: $35   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
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May 19, 2012 | 0 Comments More

Review: L-VIS Live! (Victory Gardens Theater)

Kevin Coval writes and performs "L-VIS LIVE!", directed by Jess McLeod and based on his book “L-vis Lives! Racemusic Poems".       

Written and Performed by Kevin Coval   
Directed by Jess McLeod
VG Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln (map)
thru April 15  |  tickets: $20  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets 
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March 31, 2012 | 0 Comments More

Review: We Have Always Lived in the Castle (City Lit Theatre)

We Have Always Lived in this Castle - City Lit Theatre       
We Have Always Lived
    in the Castle

Adapted and Directed by Paul Edwards
From the novel by Shirley Jackson 
at City Lit Theatre, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr (map)
thru April 1  |  tickets: $18-$25   |  more info
Check for half-price tickets  
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March 8, 2012 | 3 Comments More

Review: Animals Out of Paper (Steppenwolf Theatre)


Praise for what unfolds


(left to right) Adam Poss and Amy J. Carle in Animals Out of Paper by Rajiv Joseph, directed by Jaclynn Jutting, part of Steppenwolf’s NEXT UP 2011 Repertory.  Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Steppenwolf Theatre presents
Animals Out of Paper
Written by Rajiv Joseph
Directed by Jaclynn Jutting
Steppenwolf Garage Theatre, 1624 N. Halsted (map)
through June 19  |  tickets: $20  |  more info 

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

It sounds cliché to say that a play is both funny and bittersweet. The thing is, rarely have I found a play to fulfill that description. Animals Out of Paper by Rajiv Joseph presents a truly human story and plays out the truth that big revelations come in small ways.

In the opening scene we have Ilana who is living in a rat’s nest apartment. As Ilana, Amy J. Carle is luminescent in her grief and anger. The shadows of depression are all around her in dirty Chinese takeout boxes and half eaten pizza on paper plates. Ilana is a world famous Origami artist and her life is consumed by paper. There are hanging mobiles of cranes and most prominently a gorgeous hawk over the sofa.

Ilana is sitting at rock bottom eating out of a dog dish with chopsticks. Ms. Carle plays the character as frightened and mistrustful verging on the paranoid.   Her door buzzes and she looks at the buzzer intently. It’s a nice touch that she has taken the buzzer off of the wall and it sits on top of a stack of paper. She finally tentatively answers the intercom and there begins a very funny exchange between Ilana and Andy (Derek Hasenstab). Andy is from am origami association and wants to deliver an award to Ilana. It’s pouring rain outside and Andy persists until Ilana relents and buzzes him up. Their first face-to-face exchange is reminiscent of the Nichols and May work "Not Enough Rope" where a suicidal woman asks her neighbor for enough rope to hang herself.

Andy is a calculus teacher and origami enthusiast who is thunderstruck to be in Ilana’s presence. Hasenstab is heartbreakingly brilliant in this performance. His character’s energy bounces off of him like sparks in Ilana’s presence. In fact, those sparks are dangerous in Ilana’s world built of paper and combustible grief. Andy keeps at her, determined to stay in her presence, and events are slowly revealed that point to the reasons Ilana has made her retreat from the world and her art.

Amy J. Carle in Animals Out of Paper by Rajiv Joseph, directed by Jaclynn Jutting, part of Steppenwolf’s NEXT UP 2011 Repertory.  Photo by Michael Brosilow.

She and her husband divorced because somehow he let the three-legged and toothless dog run away. The dog had rescued them from a fire in the cottage they shared by literally gnawing at the door until is teeth came out and his gums were filled with splinters. It sounds over the top, but in Amy Carles’ skilled hands it makes you want to cry. Andy reveals that he literally counts his blessings and keeps them in a tattered notebook in his back pocket (another moment for tears welling up in one’s eyes). Andy’s account brings the realization that we are trained to look for huge revelations, all the while missing the beautiful little miracles that make up a life well lived.

Andy convinces Ilana to mentor one of his most brilliant calculus students who also has a gift for origami. Ilana relents and we are introduced to Suresh, a teenager hiding his true self behind a cool hip hop veneer.  He drops the act when dealing with his family who depend on him for everything (his family literally cannot seem to thaw out a meal unless they call Suresh on the phone). As Suresh, Adam Poss is a brilliant chameleon of emotions and unexpected tenderness as he seeks an escape from his grief and approval from Ilana.

Their first exchange is both tense and hilarious. Ilana doesn’t speak hip hop nor does she understand the rebellion and anger that Suresh feels because she has been wrapped up in a cocoon of her own disastrous choices. Suresh tears away at that cocoon. He challenges, frightens, teaches, and of course falls for Ilana because she doesn’t leave him.

The love story that develops between Ilana and Andy could easily have been a predictable “they all lived happily with Suresh as their adopted protégé/son”. Instead, Rajiv Joseph‘s writing is really extraordinary, as he digs under the surface of each character and develops complicated layers and internal conflicts. It’s refreshingly different from the American-styled melodramas of love triangles gone awry. Ilana and Andy really do feel love and trust for one another and Ms. Carle does a wonderful job of transforming her emotional character. The shadows literally lift because she embodies the whole character.

When Ilana invites Suresh instead of Andy to an origami conference in Nagasaki the energy shifts a bit. Andy is disappointed but encouraging of his student Suresh. Once again Derek Hasenstab projects such an open heart and love for both of them. Andy has an innocent quality that remains unsullied, even counting his breakup with his only other girlfriend as a blessing. It’s not a pollyanna stance. It is trust and believing that he is witnessing a miracle in his life for him, Ilana, and Suresh.

Ilana comes to depend on Suresh more and he calls her out on her inability to fold. She has been granted a project to create a model sleeve for a human heart by a cardiology association. Suresh mocks her origami heart and then brings her a perfect model. The dynamic between Carle and Poss is tense and it feels appropriately wrong as they grow closer. Ilana is falling for his genius and ability. Suresh is falling for her. When they arrive in Nagasaki, a change comes over Suresh. He is spellbound by the death and destruction that occurred in WWII but unaffected by an old man weeping at the beauty and skill of his origami.

The climax of the play is quietly explosive. That is an oxymoron, but a lot of the conflicts become internalized in Animals Out of Paper. They seethe below the surface, the characters become as if they were made out of paper. They are delicate yet complex, folding in unexpected ways, and quite combustible.

This is one of the best shows that I have seen this year. Next Up shows sometimes go on to become mainstage shows at Steppenwolf. This is definitely one that is deserving. The actors are brilliant. The direction by Jaclynn Jutting is smooth and brilliantly paced.

Rating: ★★★★

(left to right) Derek Hasenstab and Amy J. Carle in Animals Out of Paper by Rajiv Joseph, directed by Jaclynn Jutting, part of Steppenwolf’s NEXT UP 2011 Repertory.  Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Animals Out of Paper is part of Steppenwolf’s Next Up series – three plays done in repertory in the Garage next door to the main theater, highlighting students from Northwestern University’s MFA Program.  The shows run through June 19th and include Why We’re Born by Lucy Thurber and Venus by Suzan-Lori Parks. For additional information visit www.steppenwolf.org.

June 17, 2011 | 0 Comments More

Review: Venus (Steppenwolf Theatre)


Heightened theatrics, linguistic acrobatics detract from heightened tale


(left to right) Ann Sonneville and John Stokvis in Venus by Suzan-Lori Parks, directed by Jess McLeod, part of Steppenwolf’s NEXT UP 2011 Repertory.  Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Steppenwolf Theatre presents
Written by Suzan-Lori Parks
Directed by Jess McLeod
at Steppenwolf Garage Theatre, 1624 N. Halsted (map)
through June 19  |  tickets: $20 (all 3 for $45)  |  more info

Reviewed by Catey Sullivan 

Look at the set of Suzan-Lori ParksVenus and you can see the all-but unthinkable humiliation of its titular heroine embodied in designers Scott Davis and Emily Tarleton’s creepy vision of a 19th century doctor’s laboratory. The room is filled with jars of pickled organs, the results of post-mortem dissections and “macerations” – the process of letting flesh putrefy so that the bones beneath it can be measured accurately.

The preserved specimens include the organs of Saartjie Baartman, a young woman taken from South Africa in 1810 and put on display throughout Europe as a sideshow attraction. Throngs of Anglos paid to see the “Venus Hottentot,” billed as a “wild female jungle creature” of the “Dark Continent.” Saartjie was displayed in an iron cage, and marketed with breathless, sensationalism as a monstrous display of Mildred Marie Langford in Venus by Suzan-Lori Parks, directed by Jess McLeod, part of Steppenwolf’s NEXT UP 2011 Repertory.  Photo by Michael Brosilow.grotesque femininity (an early example of the hypersexualization of dark-skinned women that continues to the present day). People were urged to queue up for a chance to fondle the Hottentot’s “great heathen buttocks” , said to be so freakishly large they rated comparison with a hot air balloon. Throughout Europe, men and women alike bought tickets to gape at Baartman’s labia minora, which were said to dangle like monstrous turkey wattles.

After Baartman died, her body was dissected, her organs measured and displayed in a French museum. Even in death there was no dignity for Baartman: Post-mortem, the most private of her private parts were still on display. In the Steppenwolf Garage Theatre staging, Baartman shares a stage with the remnants of her own body, creating a portrait of a woman who suffered the ultimate objectification. If much of today’s pornography dehumanizes women by reducing them to airbrushed images of body parts (and much pornography does exactly that), the reduction of Saartjie Baartman went far further by depriving her even of a face. She became, ultimately, a collection of parts in jars.

History has somewhat restored Baartman’s personhood. Her life is the subject of at least three plays, Parks’ being one of the earliest. Unfortunately – and despite that marvelous set and several fine performances – Parks’ play obscures the vivid, enraging heart of Baartman’s story. Baartman’s is an amazing, inherently dramatic and historically important tale that needs no heightened theatrics or linguistic acrobatics. Yet Parks weighs it down with plenty of both. In doing so, the playwright detracts from her subject’s humanity.

Directed by Jess McLeod, Venus begins with a confusing kaleidoscope of words and movement which does little to establish any kind of meaningful foundation for what’s to come. A “Negro Resurrectionist” (Michael Pogue) in contemporary dress shines a flashlight through the dusky, 1810 doctor’s laboratory, eventually discovering (or perhaps awaking? It isn’t clear.) an alabaster-white chorus of two (Ann Sonneville and John Stokvis), The Baron Docteur (Jeff Parker) and Venus herself (Mildred Marie Langford). During this hallucinogenic Night at the Museum pastiche, the audience also meets a sixth character, (Carolyn Hoerdemann), an androgynous, ominous person whose role isn’t immediately apparent. As preludes go, the percussive, stylized movements and poetry-slam style verbiage may well leave you wishing that Parks would just get to the point.

And so she does, sort of. When Parks sticks with a straight-forward dialogue and simply shows what happened to Baartman, Venus is strong stuff. Langford continues a stellar season (she did deeply moving work with in TimeLine’s In Darfur earlier this year), instilling Miss Saartjie Baartman with a sweetness and a humanity that makes her plight all the more heartbreaking. In an early scene when Baartman is lured to London, Langford displays the starry-eyed hope of a young woman promised riches – Baartman was a slave, which made the promise of financial freedom all the more tantalizing – for merely working as a “dancer” for two years overseas.

If anything, Parks downplays what happened next. On exhibit, Baartman was forced to squat naked in her cage, and display her genitals for endless crowds of people. The “dancing” involved stripping and shaking her buttocks while onlookers spat, or worse, at her. And although Britain outlawed slave trade in 1807, Baartman was kept as a slave. After London grew bored with her, she was purchased by a French animal trainer. When the French grew tired of her, she became a prostitute. Within five years of her arrival in London, she was dead, reportedly of syphilis. Parks glosses over much of this, instead spending much of the play showing a dysfunctional but not joy-free love story between Baartman and The Baron Docteur, who claimed to love her even as he planned to dissect her.

It’s always clear that the relationship is horribly unequal, but in Parks’ telling Baartman actually seems relatively happy in it. Instead of addressing the almost unthinkable sexual humiliation Baartman was subjected to, Parks presents a rather meaningless (meaningless because it’s never really explained) scene where the Docteur masturbates with his back to Baartman while urging her to do likewise. Thus does the Docteur seem kinky, unkind and entitled, and the relationship woefully unbalanced in terms of power. Such relationships are unpleasant, but they’re not the stuff of sexual slavery or soul-annihilating humiliation.

The largest problem here is that Parks’ Venus presents Baartman’s story from a safe distance. The ghostly chorus of two, the choreographed blocking, the rhythmic sing-song dialogue – all these things work to present a slightly abstract and somewhat prettified narrative. That ‘s an ill fit for the story of Saartjie Baartman.

Rating: ★★½

(left to right) John Stokvis and Mildred Marie Langford in Venus by Suzan-Lori Parks, directed by Jess McLeod, part of Steppenwolf’s NEXT UP 2011 Repertory.  Photo by Michael Brosilow.

All photos by Michael Brosilow 

June 12, 2011 | 0 Comments More