Windy City Media Group Frontpage News
Celebrating 30 Years of Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Trans News
home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2019-12-11
DOWNLOAD ISSUE
About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage

Sponsor
Sponsor

  WINDY CITY TIMES

THEATER FEATURE New York theater gets political
by Jonathan Abarbanel, Windy City Times
2019-11-13

facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email


For the first time in two years, I was in New York City recently to see some theater. I chose three highly political hot-button shows: Slave Play on Broadway, and Soft Power and Heroes of the Fourth Turning Off-Broadway. All three are wonderfully staged and provocative, with two likely to receive future local Chicago productions ( vs. commercial tours ). One, however, may not have showbiz "legs."

Slave Play ( on Broadway, at the John Golden Theatre ) is by self-described Afro-Queer author Jeremy O. Harris, directed by Afro-Queer artist, Robert O'Hara ( whose plays Barbeque and Booty Candy were seen at Straw Dog Theatre and Windy City Playhouse respectively ). Harris briefly attended The Theatre School at DePaul University and appeared at Steppenwolf once before hitting the Yale School of Drama. Slave Play opens with three explicit scenes of sexual domination on an Ante-Bellum plantation: white male/black female slave, white mistress/black male slave and white indentured servant/black slave, both male. These titillating scenes have moments both comic and violent, but folks who've watched porn—gay or straight—won't find them shocking.

They soon yield to the play's main situation, a sex therapy program for contemporary mixed race couples, for whom Ante-Bellum antics were the Day Four exercise. Slave Play devotes the bulk of its two hours ( without intermission ) to a lively, extremely thoughtful, emotional and surprisingly frank discussion of the psycho-sexual nature of mixed race relationships, which Harris correctly maintains cannot be separated from America's history of slavery and race dominance ( by extension, all slave-based or colonial societies as indicated by one white character being British ). The subject is complex, fraught and layered and seeing Slave Play once is insufficient to extract full value from it.

Nonetheless, one would have to be in denial not to respond to specific, well made points. I reacted particularly when the black gay lover observed how one individual in a relationship often is regarded as "the prize." This resonated based on my own relationship histories, although it was unconscious and never verbalized. I found it a universal beyond gay or straight and even beyond sexual aspects. Consider the "Golden Child" of Chinese culture or the "My son, the doctor" stereotype of Jewish mothers.

For me, this confirmed the universality of Harris' play, even though his specifics are drawn from race-based situations. However, another theater critic attending Slave Play with me could not separate the concept of "the prize" from her own experiences as a black woman. I thought the play was broad, she found it specific. The play also resonated with me because I've been in an Asian/white relationship for 24 years, which is easier ( I think ) than a black/white mix. Still, Slave Play focuses only on the black/white mix, so in that respect the play is entirely specific where I might have wished it universal. Slave Play, quite obviously, offers a lot to chew over.

Heroes of the Fourth Turning ( off Broadway, at Playwrights Horizons through Nov. 17 ) is a controversial breakthrough for author Will Arbery, who intelligently presents conservative political views. Scarier than Slave Play, it reveals a community few of us know exists; one of conservative Catholics in semi-rural Wyoming, organized around a parochial college teaching survival skills along with academics and theology. Arbery grew up in such an environment before rejecting its views. His five characters represent views ranging from true Christian conservatism to extreme ideology which blends religiosity ( vs. true faith ), right wing paranoia and fringe socio-historical theories ( the "Fourth Turning" of the title; look it up ) predicting imminent chaos.

Late in the play we meet the newly inaugurated, middle aged college president who is the voice of reasonable conservatism. Earlier, we meet three former students, now 28, who've returned for the ceremony. One is the prexy's daughter, painfully ailing from an unspecified illness. Another is a lost soul—literally—binge drinking to dull his raging horniness and emotional isolation. The third student is the extremist, whom Arbery makes the most impassioned, prodigious orator of the bunch, and a looker. The final character, 38, is the post-inaugural party host; a former military assassin who teaches riding and survival at the college. Never without a gun or knife, he speaks least and threatens most.

Arbery presents the various shades of political black and white without comment. He does not discredit his characters' positions ( any more than they may discredit themselves ), which is why the play is difficult for some observers to accept. His characters exhibit various degrees of confidence, self-awareness, dissolution, questioning of faith and longing in realistic and believable ways, especially as performed by a powerful Playwrights Horizons' cast under director Danya Taymor.

The production boasts an oddly strong physical setting: the host's backyard, 11 p.m.-1 a.m., illuminated only by light spilling from the backdoor and window. We never see faces clearly in bright light. The characters comment on the brilliant stars, but the skyscape is black. Are these characters points of light surrounded by misguided American darkness? Or have their benighted views isolated them in a black universe? See Heroes of the Fourth Turning and decide.

I'm quite sure that Slave Play and Heroes of the Fourth Turning will receive Chicago productions some time, but probably not Soft Power ( off Broadway, at Public Theatre through Nov. 17 ). This musical has book and lyrics by David Henry Hwang ( M. Butterfly, Chinglish, Yellow Face ) and music and lyrics by Jeanine Tesori ( Fun Home, Caroline or Change ). It's a funny, clever, liberal, dynamic Off-Broadway hit; but it's also 80% political satire, which tends to have a short shelf life.

As in Yellow Face ( seen locally at Silk Road Rising ), Hwang himself is a character in Soft Power, puzzling out his Chinese identity vs. his American identity via an elaborate structure. Shortly before the 2016 election, a Shanghai entrepreneur commissions Hwang to write a Broadway musical for the Chinse market. When Hwang says the producer's storyline isn't suitable for Broadway treatment, the producer observes that America should be more Chinese, not the other way around. When Hillary loses in the Electoral College, Hwang calls it "The day that democracy broke my heart." Soon after, recovering from a street attack ( Hwang really was attacked in 2015 ), Hwang fantasizes the entire musical.

In Hwang's fantasy, the Shanghai producer becomes the hero and meets Hillary, who campaigns at McDonalds with servers on roller skates. When Hillary loses—the Act I finale is "Why Do I Cry for America?"—the USA is subsumed by China and becomes more Chinese with disastrous consequences for politics and musicals. The Hwang character finally declares in favor of his American identity, and Soft Power ends with a theatrical but genuine plea, "I Believe in Democracy."

Tesori's wonderful pastiche score is a respectful but playful homage to American popular music: R&B, hip-hop, big band ( the McDonalds number ), ballads, even Aaron Copeland's "Hoedown," with Sam Pinkleton's choreography following suit. The large orchestra ( 22 pieces ) delightfully features a full string section. As Hwang, the truly wonderful Francis Jue dazzles with his ever-alert energy, just as he did at the Goodman Theatre in King of the Yees two years ago. Leigh Silverman directed Soft Power, using an all-Asian cast who don blond wigs to play American characters and chorus.


facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email





Windy City Media Group does not approve or necessarily agree with the views posted below.
Please do not post letters to the editor here. Please also be civil in your dialogue.
If you need to be mean, just know that the longer you stay on this page, the more you help us.


  ARTICLES YOU MIGHT LIKE

Gay News

Joffrey Presents 'The Times Are Racing,' a mixed rep program 2019-12-13 - Dec. 13, 2019 ( Chicago ) — For its winter engagement, The Joffrey Ballet presents The Times Are Racing, a mixed repertory program ...


Gay News

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater includes Midwest premieres, Ailey classics 2019-12-12 - ( CHICAGO, IL ) — The Auditorium Theatre announces programming for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater's March 4-8, 2020 performances in Chicago, featuring ...


Gay News

Renee Fleming in rehearsal with Lyric Opera for The Light in the Piazza 2019-12-11 - CHICAGO ( December 11, 2019 )—Rehearsals are underway for Scenario Two's presentation of the beloved Tony Award-winning musical The Light in the Piazza ...


Gay News

THEATER REVIEW A Xmas Cuento Remix­­ 2019-12-11 - By: Maya Malan-Gonzalez At: 16th Street Theater, 6420 16th St., Berwyn Tickets: 708-795-6704 or 16thStreetTheater.org; $22-$32. Runs through: Dec. 29 You've ...


Gay News

Critics' Picks 2019-12-11 - The Tall Boy, Stage 773, through Dec. 15—The celebrated talent behind this touring show ( Tandy Cronyn, Kay Boyle, Simon Bent ) create ...


Gay News

Five Worth Finding: Gay spy movie, Santa Suite and more 2019-12-11 - —London Spy: In this British-American series that originally aired in 2015, devil-may-care Danny ( played by a fantastic Ben Whishaw ) meets the ...


Gay News

'Nat King Cole' holiday show Dec. 16-17 2019-12-10 - Writers Theatre, in partnership with Artists Lounge Live, will present a limited engagement of An Unforgettable Nat King Cole Christmas, starring Evan Tyrone ...


Gay News

10th anniversary of 'The Nutcracker' features gay dads 2019-12-10 - The House Theatre of Chicago will celebrate the 10th anniversary of the annual hit production The Nutcracker—an all-original, ballet-free and family-friendly production playing ...


Gay News

THEATER REVIEW The Land of Forgotten Toys 2019-12-10 - Authors: Music by Dylan MarcAurele; book and lyrics by Jaclyn Enchin and Jennifer Enchin, based on a story by Larry Little At: The ...


Gay News

THEATER REVIEW The Tall Boy 2019-12-07 - Playwright: Simon Bent At: Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave. Tickets: Stage773.com and 773-327-5252; $35-$39. Runs through: Dec. 15 The absence ...


 



Copyright © 2019 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.

 

 

 

TRENDINGBREAKINGPHOTOS

Sponsor
Sponsor
Sponsor
Sponsor


 



About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage


About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Subscriptions      Distribution      Windy City Queercast     
Queercast Archives      Advertising  Rates      Deadlines      Advanced Search     
Press  Releases      Event Photos      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Post an Event      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Blogs      Spotlight  Video     
Classifieds      Real Estate      Place a  Classified     

Windy City Media Group publishes Windy City Times,
The Bi-Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.