***RECOMMENDED*** There was certainly quite a buzz in the air at the recent opening night performance of Liliana Padilla's play "How to Defend Yourself." As the audience members filled the lobby of the Victory Gardens Theater, the anticipation level was extremely high. Once inside and seated in their seats it definitely took on a party atmosphere. Padilla's latest script, developed as part of Victory Gardens 2018 IGNITION Festival of New Plays, was receiving its Co-World Premiere with Actors Theatre of Louisville. The very vocal audience instantly embraced this important and essential work and "How to Defend Yourself" marks the emergence of a major new voice in the American theatre. 3 AND 1/2 SPOTLIGHTS
***RECOMMENDED*** Two women. One boat. A rift between them that is wider than the Gulf of Mexico itself. As long-held little secrets eventually bubble to the surface during what is supposed to be a leisurely afternoon of fishing and sunbathing on the Alabama Delta, these two lovers of six years must face some pretty harsh realities in playwright Audrey Cefaly's insightful character study "The Gulf." 3 SPOTLIGHTS
***RECOMMENDED*** For the fifth time in the past 14 years the play "Stop Kiss" is being presented here in Chicago, and each production has been presented by vastly different companies. Ironically, four of the five (including this one) have opened in the month of January. Do we as Midwesterners crave dark and intellectually stimulating works the most to brood over during one of our darkest and traditionally brutally coldest months? Sure seems like it! That's not to say that "Stop Kiss" is a totally heavy piece of theatre that will send you into a deep depression. On the contrary, it is an oftentimes humorous and endearing glimpse at the emerging love that is generated between two very different people. With the alarming rate of anti-Semitic acts rising in the United States and Europe, as well as the increase in hate crimes committed against the LGBTQ community at large (particularly the appalling homicide rate for transgender women of color), now seems to be an opportune time to revisit playwright Diana Son's 1998 off-Broadway hit in a solidly staged co-production of Pride Films and Plays and The Arc Theatre. 3 SPOTLIGHTS
★★★★★ Recently I saw a play about Hitler’s tasters which may have been the start of Meghan Brown’s “The Tasters”, now in its World Premiere at Rivendell Theatre. Brown’s story is not about an actual leader but instead is about a Government that has four major leaders during what appears to be a people’s revolution. The fear of their food being laced with poison causes them to use tasters. The women that we meet are Bianca (Paula Ramirez), Corrine ( Daniellla Pereira) and Elyse (Shariba Rivers).
★★★★★ Marriott Theatre has brought back the true “Grease” with its book, music and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey. This is the Chicago version and is quite different that the “Hollywood”, John Travolta/Olivia Newton-John film. This play was written by Chicagoans about a Chicago high school ( Taft High School is Rydell) and this version if far meatier. At the helm of making this pleasurable theatrical experience take place is director Scott Weinstein who truly knows how to use the in-the-round stage at Marriott. He keeps the action moving and allows all four sides of the theater great views.
****HIGHLY RECOMMENDED**** The holidays seem to be a time when more and more theater companies are adding seasonal programming to attract new patrons and entertain large groups or families. The slate of Christmas-themed shows this year seems to be particularly brimming with tantalizing and appealing options. With the field so chock-full of copious goodies, packed tighter than Santa's sleigh on Christmas Eve, it can be difficult to choose just which show to see. Instead of going to see yet another version of "A Christmas Carol" or "The Nutcracker" why not take a chance and go to see a brand new family-friendly musical that is receiving its world premiere at The Greenhouse Theater Center? "The Land of Forgotten Toys," presented by CPA Theatricals, a Chicago-based non-profit organization, is a show that covers several different genres and is loaded with a ton of heart, robust good cheer and overflowing with genuine joy. 4 HOLIDAY SPOTLIGHTS
***RECOMMENDED*** Have you ever stopped and wondered whatever happened to all of those toys that Rudolph discovered on the Island of Misfit Toys? Clearly, Larry Todd Cousineau and Cindy O'Connor have. Both of these talented folks are the creators of "America's Best Outcast Toy," with O'Connor composing the music while the book and lyrics were written by Cousineau. As it turns out, all of these outcast toys are now living in the United States and appearing on a reality competition television program, vying for the title of -- you guessed it -- America's best. This fun holiday diversion is currently enjoying its world premiere at Pride Films and Plays. 3 Holiday SPOTLIGHTS
***RECOMMENDED*** There are not very many jukebox musicals that have an actual working jukebox on the stage. "Always...Patsy Cline," which was created by Ted Swindley in 1988, is an early example of what a jukebox musical can be, long before that term was even widely used and the concept of taking well-known songs by popular recording artists and forming a narrative to build around them seemed to dominate nearly every other musical that was opening on Broadway from early 2000 until the present day. Firebrand Theatre's current production of "Always...Patsy Cline" features a vintage Wurlitzer that fits perfectly into this very charming and intimate version of the true story of one of Patsy Cline's biggest fans which has 27 of her greatest hits interwoven throughout the course of the evening's entertainment. 3 AND 1/2 SPOTLIGHTS
****HIGHLY RECOMMENDED**** If you mention "The Nutcracker" to anyone they will more than likely have visions of sugar plum fairies dancing through their head or at least the iconic music of Tchaikovsky's famous "Suite" ringing in their ears. But for those of you who may want a slightly different interpretation than what the Joffrey Ballet is offering (or any other dance company, for that matter), you should head to the Chopin Theater -- and quickly. For the tenth consecutive year, the House Theatre of Chicago is offering their ballet-free version of this family-friendly holiday classic. If you've never seen it before, you will be surprised by how emotionally raw this work can be at times. If you have been fortunate to have seen it over the recent years that have turned this into an annual holiday gem for the House Theatre, a repeat visit is in order as this adaptation has been gently refined with some key changes in casting and technical execution. With a show that is this unique and special, here's hoping that it may run for at least another ten years or more. 4 Holiday SPOTLIGHTS