Mary Poppins at the Mercury Theatre Chicago

The magic and mystery of Mary Poppins (is she myth or an angel from heaven?) is effectively played by Nicole Arnold while Matthew Crowle’s Bert guides us through the journey of the Banks family’s awakening with panache and a warm smile. We are totally engrossed and richly rewarded having spent a few hours in Poppins’ world where anything can happen if you take a spoonful of sugar. Matthew Crowle anchors this production.

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The Elephant Girls

The material from which this first one-woman show on the subject is drawn is vast, and actor/playwright, Margo MacDonald has done a skillful job of conflating various of the protagonists into a role for herself, embodying Alice Diamond, ‘top bitch’, to the gang’s ‘enforcer’, packing enough weaponry to supply a minor gang war. In addition, she most convincingly portrays other characters along the way in her story.

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In To America

One of the most telling traits of this show is the treatment of common men and women, the real immigrants, not the upper-class privileged immigrants who came here with land grants and armies. This presentation is about common folks in their own words. We hear their plights and their desires – and – their problems one they arrived. We realize that discrimination was always a fabric of the American Experience. That fear of new arrivals, especially those who looked different and had different cultures, was hard to assimilate yet somehow they did become “Americans.”

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Fatelessness

I would call Theatre Y’s production of Fatelessness daring, not least because it challenges its audience’s casual investment of attention and intellect, but especially because it offers no extraneous, aesthetic pretentions to disguise the challenge: it is sincerely—that is on principle, for a purpose—unsentimental. Personally, I found the casual and welcoming discussion after the performance more cultivating than the performance itself, but for admirers of avant-garde productions that imagine outside the (black)box, Fatelessness is a singular and fascinating theatrical experience.

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Play Ground

The production this reviewer saw was her try-out show at Wilton’s Music Hall, an extraordinary venue in London’s East End (and well worth a visit in itself). In the transfer to Brighton’s burgeoning Festival fringe in May, it is to be hoped that the next incarnation of the show will see its huge potential fully realised.

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Born Yesterday

Featuring an impressive set (designed by Grant Dabin), Garson Kanin’s 1946 dark comedy Born Yesterday is a timely cautionary tale about internal threats to our democracy from corrupt businessmen. (sounds familiar?) Kanin’s clever structured story involves a boorish, crude and loudmouthed millionaire junk dealer who descends on Washington, DC just after World War II to bribe a US Senator in a scheme to salvage all the junk metal (from tanks, trucks, and cannons) in Europe scattered around France Belgium and Germany.

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By the Water

By the Water uses the diaster to trigger deep-seated personal problems and how to move forward from them. Times change, people change, loyalties shift but family core values survive as life moves on. With clever dialogue, surprising humor and realistic characters, By the Water is a smart different family drama. Director Cody Estle has his actors nicely rendering their characters blending their angst with humor and passion. This is a wonderful play that needs to be seen.

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Charlie Parker’s Yardbird

The jazz infused music (conducted by Kelly Kuo) was varied, brassy and nicely conveyed the mood of the piece. Brownlee effectively presented the contradictory side of the troubled genius. We see how heroin destroyed Bird that led to his death at age 35. Much of the best arias in the piece came as the women led a long and heartfelt tribute to the fallen composer. This 90 minute chamber opera is a rare treat about a forgotten jazz giant whom youngsters probably don’t know.

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For the Love of (or, The Roller Derby Play)

Playwright Gina Femia’s For the Love of (or, The Roller Derby Play) focuses on the Brooklyn Scallywags, an amateur roller derby team peopled by a diverse cast of dedicated players whose passion for the game is immense. We meet the players who consist of a married player to a law student to a tattoo artist and other athletic women. This play features a fresh look at contemporary queer woman who are attracted to roller derby. Set in the locker room, For the Love of (or, The Roller Derby Play) shows the manic energy and personal dynamics that forms a strange bond that creates a team.

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Destiny of Desire

The production is quite theatrically interesting garnering loads of satire and raw humor. Even the set changes feature ballet-styled jumps and twirls by cast members including the older men. At key plot twists, acters breakout in song and sometimes the entire cast sings and dances a ‘show-stopper in Spanish. the plot twists are familiar from well-known musicals and films. This melodramatic structure has a Brechtian feel but with a humorous edge including actors stepping up to a microphone to make social/political factual comments and statistics.

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