Things to Ruin: The Songs of Joe Iconis

Wikipedia would have us believe Things to Ruin is “A rock concert about young people hell bent on destruction and creation,” but it’s unlikely Wikipedia saw the production I did. For me, at its worst Things to Ruin is about a group of former high school theatre nerds (I use the term affectionately), now grown into struggling actors and wayward young adults, who hang around a bar exorcising the ghosts of their Emo years while bemoaning the failures of their present. At its best, the show sometimes manages to transcend the hallmark sound of musical theatre, relay a sentiment not entirely infantile, and actually land in genre (though typically it does not stray far from the roots of Rock). At its best, Things to Ruin is very good; at its worst, it’s mawkishly sentimental. The good news: it’s more often at its best.

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Into the Empty Sky

The stand-out performances, I noted, were experienced Trap-Dôrsists Halie Ecker, Marzena Bukowska, and Kelsey Rhiann Shipley: their presence had that sine qua non quality—in their physical movements; the credulity in their eyes; and, most especially, the expressive skill of their voices that transcended the “poetry” of the poetry to communicate its meaning clearly (cf. a coherent Shakespearian actress).

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We’re Gonna Die

In 60 minutes we hear about a peculiar older man lulling himself to sleep with the phrase, “I’m a piece of shit” (the most intriguing story of the night); we hear how childhood friendships can sadly end spontaneously without any reason; we hear the advice of a grandmother who talks about growing old, losing one’s mind, and seeing everyone you know die; and we hear even more advice from a 30-something divorcée (whose ex was scum) who consoles our Singer with the knowledge that someday we will die, the pain will end, and someone will cry for us. Surely some weighty stuff.

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Tight End

In small town, Midwest, USA, football is based on tradition, on which then legend itself is built: just ask Ash’s late father, whose name became legend and his story myth after he beat the town’s rival football team during Homecoming so many years ago. Ash Miller (Bryce Saxon) wishes to live that legend—or, rather, she only wishes to play the sport she loves with the same hustle and success as her father—but as herself, regarded as her own person.

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Forty-Two Stories: A High-Rise Condo Comedy

Forty-Two Stories’ first two performances were as radio plays. Given how many meaningless, tangential stories are told by the characters—from how one woman is faking a leak in her apartment, to how this guy stabbed this woman and some other woman jumped off the roof because of it—I can imagine how listening to this while sitting in a car on LSD in the middle of rush-hour traffic might be entertaining. Unfortunately, it is not so while sitting in a theatre for two hours. In a theatre, it is boring—not unlike sitting in a car on LSD in the middle of rush-hour traffic with the radio turned off.

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The Liar

I myself am not a fan of stiltedly “period,” ribald farces—but this one won me over rather quickly. Some of this may be due to Ives’ adaptation, but I’m more inclined to give credit to Director Rutherford’s direction and the cast’s performances that kept the acting grounded even in the midst of the patently ridiculous. Josh Hambrock’s Dorante is remarkable: he gets into his role body and soul with the sweat and agility of a boxer, blotting his brow between rounds of his full-contact performance. Other notables include Michael Hagedorn, the father, whose eyes and face are a book on acting credulity; and Megan Delay, who plays two twins of polar personalities with comedic gusto—and quick costume changes.

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The Perfect American

Glass, however, ultimately offers us a sympathetic perspective on Disney—and one not difficult to accept. Disney struggles with accepting his own death and preserving his legacy—a legacy we see (and to this day experience) grow larger than the man who inspired it. While he envisions his name growing as renown as Jesus and Muhammad, Disney laments how “Disney,” as the name of his brand, has usurped his individual identity. His remedy for death and obscurity is to be cryogenically frozen, so that he may yet survive and come back as a figure of hope to proclaim that even death is not an end to the dream.

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Circle Mirror Transformation

Circle Mirror Transformation is a quiet and subtle study of broken lives—not unlike a condensed time-lapse of the imperceptible migration of landmasses across the oceans. It is not the raucous dramas of the 20th century with defined and high-stakes conflicts. The stakes and conflicts here are personal and hidden, like an iceberg below an ocean surface (if I may stretch the geographical analogy just once more).

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The Great & Terrible Wizard of Oz – 2017 production

First produced in their 3rd season, The House Theatre of Chicago’s The Great & Terrible Wizard of Oz—their own adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s book with a “modern twist”—returned this past week to close their 15th season. An elaborate set design (by Collette Pollard) complete with life-size puppets (designed by Jesse Mooney-Bullock) and actual flying monkeys (choreographed by Ryan Bourque) give this staging an uncommonly high production value. However, for a classic tale that was epitomized in its Broadway and film productions and has since gone on to saturate our American culture this charmingly cute production with a “modern twist” brings nothing remarkably new to experience: the Broadway hits are absent, replaced by a few lame indi-folk ballads; and the story itself is strangely circuitous, plodding, and lacking in dramatic excitement. My lasting impression: Why was this made?

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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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