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Parachute Men, You on the Moors Now, and eight more new theater reviews

This week's stage highlights include three losers who (hopefully) make good and four 19th-century fictional heroines battling their would-be betrotheds.


[Recommended] Agnes of God Played with depth, nuance, and a whole lot of heart by Lisa McConnell, Dr. Martha Livingstone, the central storyteller in this brilliantly acted two-hour drama from Aleatoric Theatre Company, says, "I believe in the existence of an alternate last reel." But a happy ending never materializes. The same holds true of her encounters with Sister Agnes (Courtney Stennett) and the Mother Superior (Joette Waters). Agnes is accused of killing her newborn child, whose father remains the ultimate mystery, and Dr. Livingstone is appointed by the court to determine her sanity. Mother Superior calls Agnes an innocent, but she's not an enigma, and unraveling her psyche raises more questions about God, faith, and miracles than the doctor could have imagined. —Marissa Oberlander

Carroll Gardens, at 16th Street Theater - ANTHONY AICARDI
  • Anthony Aicardi
  • Carroll Gardens, at 16th Street Theater

Carroll Gardens Set in the gentrifying Brooklyn neighborhood of the title, A. Zell Williams's play concerns Davis, a rising young African-American screenwriter who specializes in gritty urban dramas. The irony: his current life with a white GF who's a foodie and Pilates instructor couldn't be less like the world he writes about. Enter his childhood BFF Robby, a white, loudly self-righteous pot dealer come to either save Davis's artistic soul or harsh his mellow. The play raises interesting, important questions about integrity and cultural authenticity, but ultimately dodges them in favor of easier lessons about relationships (be nice, listen) and business (it doesn't mix well with friendship). Director Ann Filmer's fine ensemble is stronger than the script; Gregory Geffrard shows considerable range as the play's conflicted protagonist, as does Minita Gandhi as the sharp-eyed wife of a film professor/wannabe producer. —Jack Helbig

Red Theater's The Feast - MATTHEW FREER
  • Matthew Freer
  • Red Theater's The Feast

The Feast Celine Song's drama, presented by Red Theater, imagines an uncomfortable dinner party set during the "postmeat apocalypse." Somehow every cow, chicken, and pig in the world is dead; a butler (Pavi Proczco, magnificent clown) pours wine for the hostess and her guests as if nothing had happened, but tomorrow and possibly every day thereafter will be baconless. As the meal devolves into mayhem, the play begins to pluck some queasy questions from the air. In a moment of world-historical turmoil, with omnipresent dread smothering everything one might still have held on to of privileged middle-class happiness under an atmosphere of death, what if, suddenly, there were no meat? Might this be enough to induce serious thoughts of cannibalism? The last 15 minutes of this piece are wasted on a long monologue about how we're really all just flesh and bone, but while we remain inside the question, Feast is delicious. —Max Maller

Grizzly Mama, at Rivendell Theatre - MICHAEL BROSILOW
  • Michael Brosilow
  • Grizzly Mama, at Rivendell Theatre

Grizzly Mama The middle-aged daughter of a famous feminist, Deb has decided to prove herself worthy of mom's legacy by assassinating Patti Turnbeck, an Alaska politician exactly like Sarah Palin. She therefore rents a house right next to Turnbeck's and makes it her war room. As staged by Megan Carney, the first act of George Brant's script is played for sitcom-style laughs. Tara Mallen's Deb is a dim-bulb sad sack who wrecks smartphones when she isn't screwing up a murder attempt. Her teen daughter, Hannah (Taylor Blim), texts so obsessively that she doesn't notice when Deb slips a gas mask over her face. The second act turns tragic, though, requiring Hannah in particular to exhibit characteristics that were never even hinted at earlier on. It doesn't work. The climax comes off as an absurd non sequitur. —Tony Adler

Akvavit Theatre's Hand in Hand - EVAN HANOVER
  • Evan Hanover
  • Akvavit Theatre's Hand in Hand

[Recommended] Hand in Hand Akvavit Theatre bills prolific Swedish playwright Sofia Fredén's overcrowded comedy—five young, aimless Stockholm residents and one middle-aged rich guy become ensnared in increasingly dire romantic, familiar, and domestic entanglements until they're all unlikely roommates in a one-room apartment—as madcap. But Fredén's philosophical musings on the nature of desire, ambition, and autonomy, as well as her beguilingly porous logic, make the two-plus hours semihypnotically droll. Director Breahan Eve Pautsch cagily exploits the humor and dread inherent in the play's elusive tone, aided by her cast's sophisticated performances (as the ultimately self-absorbed burnout Alan, Jae K. Renfrow delivers the evening's funniest and most harrowing moments). Akvavit artistic director Chad Eric Bergman provides the fleet English translation as well as the crafty scenic design. —Justin Hayford

Writers Theatre's Julius Caesar - MICHAEL BROSILOW
  • Michael Brosilow
  • Writers Theatre's Julius Caesar

Julius Caesar Cell phones are already the bane of theater house managers' existence, but they're increasingly causing headaches for directors and adapters, too. Take the self-inflicted ones in this one-act Julius Caesar at Writers Theatre. Interspersed with the eulogy for Caesar given by Marc Antony (Thomas Vincent Kelly, projecting some humanity in an otherwise scowling/stoic universe), Romans incite action via their thumbs: "#Revenge" "#OccupyRome" "#MakeRomeGreatAgain!" Michael Halberstam and Scott Parkinson's production takes such broad swings at technological and political salience that it becomes a choose-your-own-allegory affair. Operatic blocking and brutalist scenic design inspire at least one truly stunning Fritz Lang-style image; the rest of the time, the charcoal costumes and set of massive gray slabs of concrete serve as unfortunate visual reminders of the action, which is lumbering even at just 100 minutes. —Dan Jakes

ShawChicago's Misalliance - DYLAN STUCKEY
  • Dylan Stuckey
  • ShawChicago's Misalliance

[Recommended] Misalliance George Bernard Shaw's 1909 play—a quirky combination of intellectual debate and screwball romantic comedy—is presented in a readers' theater format by ShawChicago, with top-notch actors delivering the vibrant dialogue from music stands. The "misalliance" of the title is the anticipated marriage of Hypatia Tarleton, rebellious daughter of a nouveau riche underwear manufacturer, to the spoiled son of a nobleman. Dissatisfied with conventional courtship, Hypatia longs for adventure to drop out of the sky—which it does, when a small "aeroplane" crash-lands onto the Tarletons' country estate. Hypatia takes an immediate liking to the handsome young pilot, while her (married) father falls for the plane's passenger, a dashing female daredevil who embodies Shaw's vision of the independent "New Woman" of the future. Misalliance is rarely given a full production these days; this well-spoken concert reading is an excellent opportunity to savor the script's bristling wit. —Albert Williams

Lifeline Theatre's Miss Holmes - SUZANNE PLUNKETT
  • Suzanne Plunkett
  • Lifeline Theatre's Miss Holmes

Miss Holmes Twee Victorian humbug, shot through with ressentiment: such is Miss Holmes, playwright Christopher M. Walsh's take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famed detective stories. Miss Sherlock Holmes (Katie McLean Hainsworth) and Dr. Dorothy Watson (Mandy Walsh) are perfectly and unambiguously good women, but they receive no recognition for their unimpeachable talent and resolve because of the draconian male-dominated society in which they live. We'd like to believe such people exist—it's one of our collective fantasies—so we imagine them into the past in plays. Whether beaten, drugged, bullied, or proposed to, Miss Holmes and Dr. Dorothy emerge as testaments to the battle against oppression faced by every capable woman since Eve. Despite the sentimental premise, the acting in this Lifeline Theatre production is on the whole very fine, and the scenic design (by Ashley Ann Woods) is glorious. —Max Maller

J. Salomé Martínez, Tommy Rivera Vega, and Eddie Martínez - MAISONET PHOTOGRAPHY
  • Maisonet Photography
  • J. Salomé Martínez, Tommy Rivera Vega, and Eddie Martínez

[Recommended] Parachute Men The men at the center of Mando Alvarado's dark domestic comedy make Eugene O'Neill's family look like the Cleavers. Five years after losing his mother to depression, an antisocial slob and compulsive masturbator moves in with his authoritarian brother and his stepfather, a former heroin addict. Together the three men work both with and against each other in an attempt to care for their autistic 21-year-old sibling and stepson (Tommy Rivera Vega). Dramaturgically, Alvarado's story is a bit of a mess, but it's venturesome and truthful enough to be a good, if peculiar, kind of mess. Directed by Ricardo Gutiérrez, this Teatro Vista production features some fascinating and heartfelt scene work that goes beyond the usual antihero conventions, even if its parts are greater than its sum. —Dan Jakes

The Hypocrites' You on the Moors Now, at the Den - EVAN HANOVER
  • Evan Hanover
  • The Hypocrites' You on the Moors Now, at the Den

[Recommended] You on the Moors Now The tranquil moorland, home to the Brontë sisters, serves as backdrop for this battle royale between prominent heroines of 19th-century lit and their equally famous gentleman callers. Charlotte's Jane Eyre, Emily's Cathy Earnshaw (Wuthering Heights), Lizzy Bennet (Pride and Prejudice), and from across the pond, Louisa May Alcott's Jo March (Little Women) set conventionalism ablaze when they—what else?—turn down marriage proposals. That leaves their heartbroken suitors Mr. Rochester, Heathcliff, Mr. Darcy, and Theodore "Laurie" Laurence with just one choice: fight. Playwright Jaclyn Backhaus's Chicago debut is irrepressibly charming through most of its two-hour length, though some aspects, like the climactic battle, verge on overkill. Director Devon de Mayo's tender touch is also evident here, which helps make the Hypocrites' season opener a winner. —Matt de la Peña

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