Playwright: Evan Linder; conceived by Mary Hollis Inboden . At: The New Colony at The Second Stage Theater. Phone: 773-413-0862; $15-$25. Runs through: April 17
Playwright: Joshua Conkel. At: Pavement Group at Chicago Dramatists, 1105 W. Chicago. Phone: 773-789-8093; $20. Runs through: April 17
The Warriors and MilkMilkLemonade are two Chicago-developed plays that couldn't be more different in style. However, both plays touch upon adolescents who are or have had to cope with extremely trying issues or events.
Mary Hollis Inboden, a member of The New Colony, is a survivor of the 1998 Westside Middle School shooting in Jonesboro, Ark. One of Inboden's best friends was among the five students and a teacher who were killed when two of their classmates opened fire on the school.
Inboden spearheaded The Warriors, a world-premiere drama by Evan Linder that takes its name from Westside mascot, to examine how she and her classmate are dealing with the shooting as twentysomething adults. Based upon interviews, The Warriors creates a composite of five characters (including Inboden playing a very personable version of herself) to richly explore the feelings and views of the former adolescents who are living their lives years after that traumatic event.
Director Benno Nelson stages a straightforward production that allows the acting company including Sarah Gitenstein, Wes Needham, Whit Nelson, Nicole Pellegrino and Michael Peters to shine. The only confusion comes in the flashback within flashback scenes.
Linder's dialogue allows for the survivors to touch upon feelings of forgiveness (or lack thereof), survivors guilt and even anger at being exploited as "victim art." What largely works in The Warriors is so good that you want the play to go on longer with more featured voices.
When compared to multi-character dramas drawn from real-life events like The Laramie Project and The People's Temple, The Warriors could stand to expand and grow into a larger-scale work.
Pavement Group was the first company to give Joshua Conkel's comedy MilkMilkLemonade a reading, so it's appropriate they're presenting its Chicago premiere. Director Cassy Sanders brings the play to life in a colorfully cartoon-style staging with an acting company who are expertly adept at exaggerating all their characters' gender-bending or anthropomorphic quirks.
The play concerns Emory (Matt Farabee), a very artsy fifth-grader who wants to ribbon-dance his way to stardom to get away from his rural chicken-farm home and his cancer-stricken Nanna (John Zinn). Emory's best friend is a chicken named Linda (Cyd Blakewell) who has dreams of doing comedy standup, but he's taunted by neighboring bully Elliot (Jessica London-Shields), who is actually a closet case. Narrating and punctuating everything with sound effects is Sarah Rose Graber as the Lady in a Leotard.
MilkMilkLemonade is a lot of fun with very amusing performances. However, ultimately the drama of adolescent boys coming to terms with their homosexuality is ultimately undercut by too much wryness and meandering whimsy.
While both these plays have room for improvement, the pluses ultimately outweigh any negatives.