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The price of exposure

In Viola Spolin’s seminal work Improvisation for the Theater, the very first exercise listed is named “exposure.” During this exercise, a group of actors are divided into halves and instructed to simply look at others and allow others to look at them. This deceptively difficult task often challenges new performers greatly; not only do they […]

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Take shelter

In the Chicago premiere of Sarah Treem’s When We Were Young and Unafraid with AstonRep, a group of multitudinous women navigate domesticity, violence, and identity in a cultural landscape that both oppresses and empowers. Set in 1972, just before the Roe v. Wade decision and 22 years before the passage of the Violence Against Women […]

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Dictator dictation

The energy in the Den Theater last Thursday was electric, as The Secretaries, written by Omer Abbas Salem and directed by Laura Alcalá Baker, made its highly anticipated debut with First Floor Theater. The dark comedic play was first developed through Goodman Theatre’s Future Labs and marks Salem’s first full production as a playwright in […]

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This bird has flown

Aaron Sorkin’s gonna Sorkin, even when he’s working off someone else’s material. In his new adaptation of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, now in a short touring stop with Broadway in Chicago, the creator of A Few Good Men, The American President, and The West Wing goes back to the courtyard drama/political grandstanding that […]

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Babes with blades

Whether by design or happenstance, Writers Theatre has focused on the theme of women in competition and collaboration this season. In Eleanor Burgess’s Wife of a Salesman, two actors portraying Linda Loman and the “woman from Boston” in a contemporary riff on Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman wonder why their characters in the play-within-the-play […]

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Immigrant song

If you’re a fan of Henry Louis Gates’s Finding Your Roots on PBS, then you can probably relate to Annabelle Lee Revak’s impulse to create a musical out of the World War I-era letters of her great-great-grandfather, Joe Loula. As in Gates’s program, the most interesting details in Revak’s Notes & Letters with Underscore Theatre […]

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The play about the baby

Reproductive rights cuts both ways: the government deciding that you may not have a child comes from the same authoritarianism that tells you that you must continue an unwanted pregnancy. Given current grim news about the impending SCOTUS decision overturning Roe v. Wade, that thought is unavoidable when viewing Zoe Kazan’s dystopian After the Blast.  […]

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Living room absurdism

It may be difficult to comprehend today just how shocking Edward Albee’s drama Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was when it premiered in October 1962, the same week that the Cuban missile crisis began. While the atomic fireworks the world feared never happened, Albee’s three-act, three-hour-plus masterpiece detonated an explosion that rocked American culture to […]

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Reunion and regret

Like several post-pandemic shows in Chicago, the Artistic Home’s production of The Pavilion, written by Craig Wright and directed by Julian Hester, is about an intimate relationship between two people over time. It is also about the creation of the universe, being tethered to the past, and literally burning down sentimentality. High school sweethearts Peter […]

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People who need people

When everyone on the stage is excellent, it shows a director fully in command of the material. That’s the case with Cody Estle’s production of The Luckiest by Melissa Ross, receiving its Chicago premiere at the Raven Theatre. Plays about a young woman’s disability and impending death always risk straying into Love Story-style bathos, while […]

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War cries

A wooden rowboat and plastic sheets lining two back walls are the only decorations for Sarah Tolan-Mee’s English-language adaptation of Heiner Müller’s 1982 cry-of-anguish riff on war, betrayal, and the messiness of identity. Using the Greek legends of Medea and Jason as a jumping-off point, this is a raging, poetic rant against tyranny and fate […]

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The bones of grief

Laura Schellhardt’s Digging Up Dessa was commissioned by the John F. Kennedy Center as part of its Theater for Young Audiences program in 2018. But this play, now in its Chicago premiere with Theatre Above the Law, is like a lot of great YA fiction—relevant to many audiences.  Digging Up Dessa Through 5/22: Fri-Sat 8 […]

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Steppenwolf’s Seagull opens a lovely new space

“Here is a theater. No curtain, no wings, no scenery. Just an empty space.” Konstantin Treplev, the young and hungry artist manqué in Anton Chekhov’s Seagull, intones these words before the disastrous and abortive premiere of his play-within-the-play for his family. But at the Saturday opening of ensemble member Yasen Peyankov’s production at Steppenwolf, it […]

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Reflecting pools

I saw a lot of old friends and acquaintances I hadn’t seen in quite some time last weekend. And as sometimes happens for people of a certain age, shades of sorrow and remembrance for those no longer here crept into the conversation. No matter how much we try to play whack-a-mole with the Reaper, he’s […]