Broken Nose Theatre’s A Phase Captures 20-Something Exploration and Transformation

Sam (Elise Spoerlein) and her mom (Shariba Rivers). Photo credit Austin Oie. (from right) Sam (Elise Spoerlein) and her mom (Shariba Rivers). Photo by Austin Oie.

A Phase is an original play written by Broken Nose Theatre Associate Artistic Director Elise Spoerlein which tells the story of Sam, played by Spoerlein, who moves to a new (and crappy) apartment in Chicago after the break-up of a long-term relationship. Directed by Director of Programming Spenser Davis, A Phase takes the traditional trope of “woman finds fulfillment in a man,” and tells it to take a hike. Sam explores her relationship with sex and men, ultimately finding fulfillment and comfort in being her own imperfect self.

“This story of a young woman investigating and owning her own sexuality is incredibly relevant, and our hope is that it will encourage some much-needed dialogue around this topic,” says Artistic Director Benjamin Brownson. “With this play, Elise has done a wonderful job not only of showing a woman in control of her own sexual destiny, but of tackling this complex and thorny subject with warmth, relevance, humor, and authenticity.”

Broken Nose Theatre is one of Chicago’s first Pay-What-You-Can storefront theatre companies, seeking to cultivate empathy and conversation by engaging the community through Chicago premieres and new works that challenge the status quo and open doors for underrepresented voices and a diverse array of artists. The company chose a Pay-What-You-Can model in order to create accessible work in content and price tag.

Photo credit Austin Oie Sam and Jeff (Dennis Bisto) banter. Photo by Austin Oie.

Spoerlein’s writing brings to life a collection of multi-faceted characters who feel real with the use of natural and overlapping dialogue. The conversations in the play are familiar as conversations my friends and I have had as we navigate our post-college years. I felt like these are people I know or could bump into out on the streets of Chicago. The play was so well cast that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to single out a character as my favorite. Each man who comes through Sam’s life serves to teach her something about herself, and Sam’s mom, played by Shariba Rivers, provided a perfect balance of concerned parental guidance and kooky humor. I honestly can’t find anything to complain about except a single line in the final scene that seemed too saccharine a recap. And that’s one measly little line.

In a play set in the present time, there’s always a question of how technology will be handled. Will it be a matter of course or will someone call attention to the new generation of iPhone that a certain character uses? In A Phase, technology plays a crucial role as it does in real life. On the back wall of the apartment, a projector displays text conversations, Google searches, and video montage to further illustrate Sam’s method of exploring and engaging with the city. This fantastic effect lets the audience read over Sam’s shoulder while she’s texting and helps us understand her better than even the other characters on the stage.

For the generation of 20-somethings who “Netflix and chill” and their parents who are trying to understand them, A Phase is an approachable, insightful, and charming production. I enjoyed every minute of Broken Nose Theatre’s production and would highly recommend it.

A Phase runs from February 29 to March 26 at The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave. Tickets can be purchased online.

Photo credit Austin Oie Photo by Austin Oie
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Brianna Kratz

Brianna Kratz has a B.A. in English Writing from Illinois Wesleyan University where she learned the importance of "the poetic turn," the difference between thee and you, and how to read Middle English. She lives on the Internet where you can find her on Twitter and Lens & Ink.