Resolution, The Trump Card, and nine more new theater reviews | Performing Arts Feature | Chicago Reader

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Resolution, The Trump Card, and nine more new theater reviews

A drama from Pride Films and Plays and Mike Daisey's election monologue are among this week's best bets.

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Chagrin Falls The premise of Mia McCullough's tragicomedy would fit snuggly in the Coen brothers universe: the residents of a depressed Oklahoma town where the only employers are a prison and a cattle slaughterhouse—have their lives uprooted by a visiting Boston journalist on the eve of a death-row execution. Alcoholics experience war flashbacks, young dreamers fantasize Chekhov style about escape, and everyone engages in the futile task of trying to keep secrets under wraps in a rural community. Sommer Austin's production for the Agency Theatre Collective creates an engaging chosen-family dynamic in a motel and public house run by a compassionate but iron-strong matriarch of a manager (Denise Hoeflich). As the visitor, though, Jennifer Cheung delivers a curiously straight, nonreactive performance at total odds with the emotionally volatile circumstances around her. —Dan Jakes

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

Killadelphia This autobiographical solo show, written and performed by Sean Christopher Lewis, recounts his experiences conducting writing workshops with inmates at Graterford Prison, near Philadelphia, in the late aughts. As often happens, it's the teacher who was changed along with the students; a collage of portraits structured like a somewhat chaotic but fascinating mixtape, the piece speaks volumes about the depth of Lewis's obsession with his material. He provides no easy answers to issues, whether personal or sociological. Instead, as in his other solo show, Dogs of Rwanda, with which it's running in rep, Lewis raises lots of great questions meant to wake us up, and leaves us wanting to learn—and do—more. —Jack Helbig

Collaboraction's The Mars Assignment - JOEL MAISONET
  • Joel Maisonet
  • Collaboraction's The Mars Assignment

The Mars Assignment Collaboraction puts mission first in this PSA about the hidden-in-plain-sight nature of clinical depression. After each performance, a representative from various nonprofit organizations with expertise in helping people who live with mental illness moderates a discussion. On opening night, a speaker from the National Alliance on Mental Illness Chicago told a personal story about a dangerously unprofessional encounter between law enforcement and a family member of hers who needed aid. Moments later, a police officer in the audience apologized for her experience and promised better—it was a compelling exchange in line with writer and director Ronan Marra and cocreator Elsa Hiltner's vision. I wish anything in the didactic one-act that preceded it were as engaging or touched similarly challenging territory; instead, it's a flat, scowling, surface-level depiction of mental illness. —Dan Jakes

Theatre Above the Law's Matt and Ben - MICHAEL BULLARD
  • Michael Bullard
  • Theatre Above the Law's Matt and Ben

Matt and Ben Matt Damon and Ben Affleck's real-life bromance prior to the making of Good Will Hunting is the inspiration for this 2002 comedy by Mindy Kaling and Brenda Withers. Taking for granted that these guys were too dumb to have actually written an Oscar-winning screenplay without some form of divine help, Matt and Ben depicts a mysterious binder falling from the ceiling of Ben's apartment with the completed script already in it, catapulting the friendship into chaos. In this Theatre Above the Law production (like the original as well as Collaboraction's version a few years back), women play the duo, but it's the classic bro-movie formula: dudes eating chips on their way to glory experience unequal levels of good fortune. In this case, bro A soars to impossible heights, leaving bro B to wallow in betrayal; when bro A's dreams come crashing down, back he comes on hands and knees moaning, "I love you, man"—but will bro B ever forgive him? —Max Maller

Jackalope Theatre's Octagon - JOEL MAISONET
  • Joel Maisonet
  • Jackalope Theatre's Octagon

Octagon Chicago poet, playwright, and activist Kristiana Rae Colón's fantastical epic, in which a team of unceasingly lyrical spoken-word artists vie for a national slam poetry title as though it were Olympic gold, features several thrilling passages—namely, anytime the slammers perform Colon's intricate, incendiary poems. (A crafty bundling of Miley Cyrus and Malala Yousafzai, recited by the troupe's lone Muslim member, is particularly arresting.) Everything else in the two-and-a-half-hour escapade from Jackalope Theatre pales in comparison: its plot borrows excessively from Hollywood underdog films, and its main subplot, about sexually free-spirited Prism's doomed devotion to taboo sex, reinforces the misogynist notion that too much sexual liberation inevitably leads to a woman's downfall. Director Tara Branham's cast is universally compelling and persuasive, however, despite occasional stretches of forced, unvaried exuberance. —Justin Hayford

Conspirators' The Resistible Rise of Herr Helmut Drumpf
  • Conspirators' The Resistible Rise of Herr Helmut Drumpf

The Resistible Rise of Herr Helmut Drumpf With a nod to The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Bertolt Brecht's scathing 1941 satire of Hitler's ascent to power, new troupe the Conspirators lampoon the terrifying national circus that loosed Donald Trump upon American democracy. Director Wm. Bullion and his ferocious cast refract Trump's authoritarian fantasies—and the Republican establishment's indifferent efforts to neutralize them—through a vicious, demented commedia dell'arte style reminiscent of Chicago's New Criminals from two decades ago. While it makes for some sobering fun and a few virtuoso turns (Ryan Hake's rendition of Lindsey Graham as a swooning southern belle is a marvel), the show spends two long hours aiming at an easy target already peppered with bull's-eyes. Little is revelatory, but the troupe's incendiary panache is nearly irresistible. —Justin Hayford

Resolution - LYNN SORRENTINO
  • Lynn Sorrentino
  • Resolution

[Recommended] Resolution This Pride Films and Plays production, at Edgewater's cozy Rivendell Theatre, is a tender and gratifying theatrical experience. A traditional drawing-room play set in Gay 90s New York, Nancy Nyman and Heather McNama's new work tells the story of a successful, civic-minded African-American couple, Jack (Tiffany Mitchenor) and Hannah (Aneisa Hicks), who offered one another, in Hannah's words, "a love that was true, and a lie behind which to hide it." When their Irish-Catholic scullery maid (an astonishing Amber Snyder) finds out their secret one New Year's Eve, snooping around the delicately furnished apartment after hours, the ensuing clash between unconditional love and orthodox prudence is, in terms of theater history, deeply conventional—and I mean that in the best possible way. Diana Raiselis directs. —Max Maller

MPAACT's Starting Over - REGINALD LAWRENCE
  • Reginald Lawrence
  • MPAACT's Starting Over

Starting Over This well-acted MPAACT world premiere has an interesting premise. Small-town teenagers Jarrod (Kejuan Darby) and Rayna (Sierra Buffum), a black boy and white girl, riskily defy prejudice as an interracial couple, until Rayna goes away to college and severs ties with Jerrod. Fifteen years later, the two reconnect when Rayna—now a transgender male named Ryan (Jerico Bleu)—comes to work at a high-end Chicago ad agency where grown-up Jarrod (Keith Surney) is an executive. As the former lovers try to negotiate their new relationship, Shepsu Aakhu's well-meaning but jumbled drama tackles a host of issues—racism, gender identity, sexual orientation, workplace protocol—but ends up leaving a tangle of loose plot threads dangling at the play's inconclusive and unconvincing ending. —Albert Williams

Tympanic Theatre's Sweet Analytics - SERGIO SOLTERO
  • Sergio Soltero
  • Tympanic Theatre's Sweet Analytics

Sweet Analytics Given a recent report from the American Association of University Women claiming that, under current conditions, the gender pay gap won't close until 2152, the premise of Hayes Borkowski's play isn't all that farfetched. Assigned to find data proving that equality is a mere 50 years down the road, frustrated young researcher Ona makes a Faustian bargain: she'll sell the devil her soul in exchange for the chance to "move the needle" on women's rights. Borkowski's dialogue is often witty, her characters' vices include such interesting oddities as aspirin smoking, and her satiric vision can be sharp—Ona's satanic handlers advance her agenda by turning her into a cultural influencer, dropped into all the right rooms. But too much is lost in Joshua Ellison's staging for Tympanic Theatre. The space itself is acoustically challenged, swallowing not only lines but focus. Worse, Ellison never makes sufficient sense of Ona's odyssey. What should be a clean, clear, Swiftian narrative comes across as just a bunch of things happening. —Tony Adler

Tony n' Tina's Wedding - PETE CURREN
  • Pete Curren
  • Tony n' Tina's Wedding

[Recommended] Tony n' Tina's Wedding Back in Chicago for the first time since its 16-year run at Piper's Alley closed in 2009, Tony n' Tina's Wedding is fresher and funnier than ever. In partnership with Chicago Theater Works, the show's original New York producers have reinvigorated the classic with an all-star cast of Chicago improvisers and two perfect venues—Resurrection Lutheran Church for the ceremony, followed by a short walk to a celebratory reception at Chicago Theater Works' home on Belmont, reimagined as Vinnie Black's Coliseum. From Micah Spayer as singing sensation Donny Dulce to Billy Minshall as a sauced Father Mark, the cast fires on all cylinders throughout the evening, playing out larger-than-life Italian family drama with as much audience participation as guests can handle. For a guaranteed good time, bring your dancing shoes and 80s nostalgia. —Marissa Oberlander

[Recommended] The Trump Card This American Life listeners may remember Mike Daisey as the Brooklyn-based monologuist whose 2012 episode "Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory" was retracted after fact-checkers discovered that much of the material was fabricated. It was a stunning act of hubris on Daisey's part, and his bitter, self-rationalizing performance on a follow-up episode of TAL was equally brazen. One might think that, as a fabulist himself, Daisey would have an inside perspective into the mind of a man who lies almost constantly; don't get your hopes up. His inquiry into Trump's rise sticks largely to ideas well established in the progressive public domain. There is, however, no denying Daisey's piercing turns of phrase and brilliance as a sit-down stand-up comedian. Most valuable here is his roast of his own liberal audience and his thought-provoking prodding into the left's responsibility in the coming years. Astutely, the piece avoids catharsis altogether—there's just too much at stake to feign relief. —Dan Jakes

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