Another in our series of recap reviews for plays that have just opened in some of Chicago’s storefront theaters. Here we have two very different plays but each focuses on a father/child relationship. Plus we preview eavesdropping on the El.
Review: Language Rooms by Broken Nose Theatre
What does loyalty mean? Is it different for a naturalized citizen who chose to be an American than for those who happen to be born here? Broken Nose Theatre addresses these questions in Language Rooms, a tense four-actor play, set in a claustrophobic space (where you are always being watched by cameras), somewhere in a U.S. facility in 2005. Playwright Yussef El Guindi’s play, Language Rooms, is directed by Kaiser Zaki Ahmed in a Midwest premiere, now on stage at the Den Theatre. It’s a tense two hours (with one intermission) that culminates in a difficult interrogation scene.
Ahmed (Salar Ardebili) is a dedicated translator and interrogator and proud of his job. But he’s beginning to worry about his status when his colleague Nasser (Bassam Abdelfattah) suggests there was a problem with how a recent interrogation was perceived. Ahmed objects to “having your best work dismissed, and getting no credit for what you do.” In a meeting with Kevin (Bradford Stevens), his supervisor, Ahmed tries to learn what his status really is, but Kevin is evasive. Ahmed is not reassured, even though Kevin says, “Brotherhood is my motivator. And yes, even love. I say the word without apology. Secrets? Ill will between co-workers? Not good.” Asked how he’s feeling, Ahmed says, “You’re my boss. I’ve been called in. I worry I’m about to be chewed out for something.”
Ahmed’s father Samir (Bilal Dardai) left his engineering career in Egypt to bring his family to the U.S., where he now is a grocer. Because of his personal connections compounded by an unfortunate personal betrayal, he’s under suspicion. Dardai and Ardebili portray prisoner and interrogator, father and son, in an intense final scene.
Language Rooms is smoothly directed by Kaiser Zaki Ahmed and the performances by Ardebili and Dardai are solid. The scenic design, featuring three doorways and a wall that moves from stage front to back helps make the small Den stage work effectively.
The play by Broken Nose Theatre continues at the Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave., through May 18. Tickets are pay what you can; reserve them here.
Review: I’m Gonna Pray for You So Hard by First Floor Theater
It’s a father-daughter story, but don’t get the idea it’s a sweet family journey. David (roaringly played by Tim Kidwell) spends the first hour of this 90-minute play bloviating about his career as an award-winning playwright and berating his actor-daughter about her failures. There are a lot of funny jibes at theater critics (which we probably enjoyed more than most audience members) and a particular aversion to our practice of noting an actor’s presence with nothing more than a parenthetical mention. As in—his daughter Ella (Amanda Caryl Fink) was also on stage. Copious amounts of wine and a little weed and cocaine fuel the dialogue. Ella mostly responds, “Yes, Daddy” or “I know, Daddy.”
Ella has just appeared as Masha in Chekhov’s The Seagull, rather than in the more important role of Nina. Ella and David are sitting in his apartment, late at night, waiting for the reviews to come in. The play gets a rave from the Times (because no other review counts). Ella gets parentheses.
Halley Feiffer’s play, I’m Gonna Pray for You So Hard, directed by Cole Von Glahn, can be seen in a new production by First Floor Theater at the Den Theatre. In the second act (no intermission), Ella is in control of the action. She wrote and stars in her own play (as her father insisted she must do) and she’s home (imbibing heavily) before going to the after-opening party. And waiting for the reviews.
Feiffer shows the sure hand of a dramedy writer. (She wrote and stars in the new play, The Pain of My Belligerence, which just opened at Playwrights Horizon—the reviews are raves!) I saw I’m Gonna Pray for You So Hard in an early version at the O’Neill Theater Center in 2014.
I’m Gonna Pray for You So Hard by First Floor Theater continues through May 18 at the Den Theatre, 1331 N. Milwaukee Ave. Tickets are $25; $20 for students.
Preview: Barrie Cole’s Reverse Gossip
Barrie Cole’s newest play Reverse Gossip, directed by Jen Moniz, invites the audience to eavesdrop on phone conversations of CTA riders. Seated as if on the train, audience members hear one side of conversations that range from entertaining and funny to poignant and touching. The monologues were performed live on the CTA in 2014.
Cole, a master of word play, is author of Reality Is an Activity, performed a year ago by Theater Oobleck. Reverse Gossip got its start in 2014 when Cole wrote a series of monologues meant to be one side of a phone conversation. She and director Moniz enlisted dozens of actors, photographers and videographers to participate in public performances of these monologues on the CTA. They took to the trains and conducted a live performance experiment several times over the course of two years. In 2017, the first staged version of this monologue project premiered at Prop Thtr as part of Rhinoceros Theater Festival.
“Riding public transit, it’s impossible to not overhear phone conversations,” Cole said. “But usually those conversations are about mundane things. I wanted to hear conversations that were funny or strange, conversations about looking, feeling, and being human, conversations about making sense of the world. So I decided to write some and I thought they might make an interesting performance. I thought what if phones, which usually distance people on the train from each other, could be used to bring people together instead?”
For this production, the audience is seated as if on a train to authenticate the eavesdroppng experience. Performers are Brook Celeste, KellyAnn Corcoran, Cat Jarboe, T-Roy Martin, Ira Murfin, Briavael O’Reilly, Robert Puccinelli, Miles Oliver Sennett and Vicki Walden.
Reverse Gossip opens Friday, April 26; it’s the inaugural production for the newly created Walnut Spaceship Studio at the Bridgeport Arts Center, 1200 W. 35th St. Performances will be Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm through May 11. Tickets are $20. For tickets and information visit ReverseGossip.BrownPaperTickets.com.
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