Chicago Stage Standard

Review: "Venus in Fur" @ Circle Theatre by Jerald Pierce

Circle Theatre’s production of Venus in Fur came at a difficult time. The implosion of Dead Writers Theatre Collective had reached its apex and I had finished reading the disturbing stories covered by PerfromInk mere hours before arriving to Heartland Studio. All of these unsettling tales of actresses being mistreated by a director followed by a play where the interactions between the on stage director and the on stage actress were unsavory (to say the least) was a bit of a sensory overload. It was uncomfortable. It was abrasive. It was exactly what this production wanted to be. 

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Review: "The Fantasticks" @ Quest Theatre Ensemble by Jerald Pierce

To call Quest Theatre Ensemble’s production of The Fantasticks “fantastic” is both an understatement for the quality of the show and a gross misuse of the word for the sake of being cheesy. But here we are. This isn’t just “well it’s free, so expectations are low” good, it’s “hand them money on the way out because how dare they not charge for this” good. This could be an oversell, but I really don’t think it is. Director Kent Joseph took a script that is intentional in its simplicity and elegantly layered in showmanship to highlight every peak and valley of this hilarious and romantic script.

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Review: "Straight White Men" @ Steppenwolf by Jerald Pierce

In an ideal world, the final image of a play should tell you something. It should leave the audience with a sense of what meaning should be derived from the play they just watched. In the case of writer/director Young Jean Lee’s Straight White Men at Steppenwolf, that image is of Matt (Brian Slaten), the eldest of three adult Straight White Male brothers, sitting on his father’s couch and looking directly at the audience. From that, I was left with a surprising feeling of identity. As a non-white man who spent most of the play feeling like I was definitely not the target audience, that caught me off guard. But, perhaps that is Lee’s intention.

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Review: "The Scottsboro Boys" @ Porchlight Musical Theatre by Jerald Pierce

There are some stories that are so powerful they transcend the storyteller. John Kander (music) and Fred Ebb (lyrics)—in their final collaboration before Ebb’s death in 2004—along with David Thompson’s book present that story in their retelling of the events surrounding the Scottsboro Boys. It’s because of this that I sit here conflicted as I write. This story, especially today, especially in this country, needs to be told and has to be seen. The importance of the idea of standing up for what is right in the face of injustice, and drawing inspiration from those who stood before us while also becoming an inspiration for those who will stand after us cannot be oversold. The problem with Porchlight’s production of The Scottsboro Boys is just that: the production.

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Review: "The Baltimore Waltz" @ Brown Paper Box Co. by Jerald Pierce

I never really thought about the difference between understanding a play’s style and being able to execute that style. In theory, if you understand the style, you should understand the steps necessary to accomplish that style. Brown Paper Box Co.’s production of Paula Vogel’s The Baltimore Waltzaccomplished something unique. They understood the style so well that it actually began to backfire on them. Not to the complete detriment of the production, mind you, but they stuck so true to the style of the play as written that it short changed them on the things they were doing well.

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Review: "The Library" @ Level 11 Theater by Jerald Pierce

The topic of school shootings is a tough one to write a play about. It affects everyone either directly or indirectly on some level and should be treated with tact and care. That being said, it is possible to be too cautious when approaching the subject. It’s possible to work so hard to tiptoe around the difficult meat of the topic that the topic itself becomes an afterthought. That’s what happens here with The Library. The play works so hard to focus on one aspect of the fallout of one particular school shooting that the fact that the play revolved around that subject at all becomes almost inconsequential. That is a disservice to the topic.

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