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THEATER REVIEW Brave Like Them
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times
2017-08-02

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Playwright: The About Face Youth Theatre Ensemble. At: Pride Arts Center 4147 N. Broadway. Tickets: 773-784-8565; AboutFaceTheatre.com; $20 or pay what you can. Runs through: Aug. 6

The riot-grrrl movement is explored with About Face Youth Theatre Ensemble's latest production Brave Like Them. To truly understand this show one must do their homework or have lived through the underground feminist movement itself in the early '90s.

It began in the punk-music scene with bands like Bikini Kill, Bratmobile and Sleater-Kinney, and then later turned into a whole subculture dealing with art, politics and female empowerment.

About Face Youth Theatre Ensemble attempts to cover this ( along with many other topics ) in two hours. The story centers around the relationship of main character Danni, played by Kyla Norton, and best friend Jamie, played by Sandy Nguyen. Mia Vivens ( who plays Danni's mother, Lydia Foster ) has some really nice moments, but is a whole other complex storyline. There are scenes at a record store, where the shopkeeper ( played by Sharon Pasia ) is comical but still needs to turn up the volume on the zany character. Then along comes the genderfluid band Space Sex Vacuum to really shake things up at The Crocodile club and push everyone into controversy. Did you follow all of that?

There are so many storylines going on that the youthful energy becomes exhausting. They only have time to scratch the surface of what the '90s were before moving into current topics. The idea of the riot-grrrl movement not being inclusive is important to explore, but we are hit over the head with the concept of it being the reason the movement ended.

In the '90s there were not terms used today, like "cisgender," being privileged and chosen pronouns, but we hear them used by the band. When the characters use them, it takes the viewer right out of the story. What would have worked is to still debate the idea—but as concepts, and not using an actual 2017 words and terminology. I feel like a gay grandpa noticing that the RuPaul's Drag Race generation is throwing out lines onstage like "byeee" and "yaaas," which is not appropriate for the time period. Also, several plot lines need to be cut to keep things moving.

The cast seems to have fun with the material, but the audience is not always included— ironic to a story about being inclusive. There is a difference between playing the time period and really living in the moment. This group just needs more rehearsal and some guidance from its elders.

Unfortunately, it is a short run of a show that has some important things to say about gender, human rights and equality. Hopefully, there can be a revamp of the ideas expressed by fans of a genre of music that deserves to be celebrated. With only a few performances left, this run ends before you can say, "Girls to the front!"


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