Stages

Review: Goodman Theatre’s I Hate It Here Lets You Rage Against Your Own 2020 Machine

Gabriel Ruiz. Photo by Flint Chaney.

I Hate It Here: Stories From the End of the Old World is a play performed live and written as a concept album by Chicago’s Ike Holter with snappy direction by Lili-Anne Brown. It’s loud, rowdy and satisfying. Even though it was written in parts across several years, you could view it as your own rage against the awful year 2020. You’ll realize why at several points throughout the production and when the final scenario ends with the actor standing up and shouting loudly:

I HATE IT HERE!

Holter’s play began as an audio play, commissioned and produced earlier this year by Washington DC’s Studio Theatre. Guest reviewer Brooks Whitlock said the play elevates 2020’s “veneer of depression and woe with a rousing more active, aggressive voice: as the ensemble sings early on, anyone who wasn’t driven to hate 2020 on this planet deserves to choke. “

The play is performed live at Goodman Theatre and streamed live to ticket-buyers at home. Goodman’s Owen Theatre, with no audience, is turned into a sound stage with multiple cameras and sophisticated sound equipment. This is the third and last of Goodman’s Live series, which featured The Sound Inside and Ohio State Murders in May and June.

Director Lili-Anne Brown with Sydney Charles. Photo by Flint Chaney.

Holter’s treatment of I Hate It Here is a series of 12 stories or album tracks with seven actors performing multiple roles. The play begins with Gabriel Ruiz and Sydney Charles leading the cast performing a rousing version of the rock anthem, “I Hate It Here,” backed by guitar, drums and bass.

Some of the tracks are critiques of work and unsavory labor practices, such as “The Chicken Place,” a restaurant training program with Ruiz as the trainer. In “Fuck That Place,” Manny (Behzad Dabu) tells us why he feels that way about a place where he worked a minute. “But the building? Fuck the building. Buildings aren’t people, buildings are buildings, made by people, and the people who made that building are evil as fuck…..”

Special graphic created for the production by Mary Williamson.

A three-part “I’m an Activist” track is set in three different locations with a different actor in each and ends with April (Kirsten Fitzgerald), a veteran protestor, in an El car, loaded with gear and ready to roll.

One of the most moving scenarios, “Bystander,” takes place as two people take a break from a wedding. Lisa (Fitzgerald) is wedding host and mother of the bride and Thomas (Patrick Agada), is a friend on the groom’s side. “And I’m the only Black person here, so ….,” he says. It turns out, in this long scenario, that Lisa was the bystander in an event that ruined a life.

Sydney Charles plays multiple roles, including Ashawna, a teenager in a high school hallway, in “He’s Alright,” and Tanya in “Victory,” set on a back porch with Wash (Jayson Brooks) and Frank (Ruiz). The victory, which they’re not celebrating with equal enthusiasm, is the installation of a STOP sign on their street corner. Tanya and Wash have a different attitude about what victory would actually look like.

Also performing in I Hate It Here is a Special Guest, who plays Charlotte in the final scene. Set design is by Arnel Sancianco, lighting by Jason Lynch, and costumes by Mieka van der Ploeg. Sound design is by Mikhail Fiksel. Christiana Tye is video director and Gabe Hatfield is director of photography.

I Hate It Here continues through Sunday, July 18, with performances at 2pm Saturday and Sunday and 7:30pm Saturday. Tickets are $25. All performances are open-captioned and very legible. Running time is 70 minutes with no intermission.

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