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THEATER REVIEW All That He Was
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times
2019-08-30

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Playwright: Larry Todd ( Johnson ) Cousineau

At: The Buena, Pride Arts Center, 4147 N. Broadway. Tickets: PrideFilmsandPlays.com; $25-$40. Runs through: Sept. 8

The 1993 AIDS-themed musical All That He Was can be a tough go, but will eventually settle before it's done.

The story begins with the audience immersed in an outdoor funeral set in a small park. The deceased main character functions as an invisible narrator in a story in which each cast member has a moment to shine.

Instead of retreating backstage, the actors are seated around the room, moving in and out of the various scenes during the hour and forty minutes running time of the show. The exposition lasts six minutes and 32 seconds, as described by The Man, played by Matthew Huston. In a flashback sequence, we see all the family dynamics and are quickly brought up to speed on the storyline.

The playwright doesn't use names for the characters, but instead possibly wants them to represent archetypes during that time period. We can recognize many of these people within our own lives and that's when All That He Was works. It's vital to this production that The Man, during his journey in life and death, is relatable and likable.

For those that have suffered from post religious family stress or have had loved ones die from HIV/AIDS, this family drama will contain some triggers, so be prepared.

Many of us have pictured of our own funeral or have had thoughts of revenge when someone does us wrong in life and how they might possibly suffer after our time comes. In one segment, a lesbian and a Bible-thumping family member battle it out through song. It's the same holy war we have been fighting for ages with no resolution in sight and makes the show relevant to current times.

Services are a time for reflection and this theater troupe succeeds in creating that atmosphere in a small confined space. The playbill is even cleverly enveloped around a funeral pamphlet.

Song lyrics in this musical are used to push the plot forward and they often finish with a long sustained note to signal an end. It's a little awkward at times and there's a bit of shaky singing, but its heart is in the right place, overall. Things certainly improve by the end, with some powerful moments that will cause many to shed a tear or two.

Joe Giovannetti ( The Lover ) and Brittney Brown ( The Girlfriend ) are standouts in the cast. They both make the script seem effortless and natural. Nothing against the talent of the singer playing The Doctor, but was a solo song really necessary?

This particular production by Pride Films and Plays contains new music and a revised script, while still keeping the setting in the '90s. All That He Was has enough high points to demand a return visit to the stage; just be sure and bring a tissue along for the ride.


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