Bottom 5 of 2019 (Or, Here’s How We Can Do Better in the New Year)

Every piece of theatre is perfect for a particular audience member, no matter what critics may say. This is one reason we at Theatre By Numbers usually hesitate to “punch down” when it comes to productions we may or may not have cared for. There’s a difference when you’ve found a piece of theater to be not to your liking, and when you’ve found a production to be a danger, or harmful to performers and audiences alike. Maggie has chosen to highlight productions she views to be harmful in nature, and one production she can still highly recommend … to the right audience member.  Sarah has chosen one production that caused harm, and one production that did not quite live up to its themes.

Maggie’s Picks:

Show: “Ruse of Medusa”

Company: Facility Theatre

Venue:  Chopin Theatre (1543 W Division St)

TEN WORD SUMMARY: Looking for sensical theater? You’ve come to the wrong place.

Do you like orchestras of men in jade monkey masks clanging on old rotary phones? Indistinct wailing poetry from barons in powdered wigs (sometimes directed only at you)? Or being taken into the tendrils of some monstrous jellyfish that is also a bandstand & unicycle circuit? Then my friend, strap on a mandatory bower hat, because “Ruse of Medusa” was the most rousingly successful nonsense I could possibly recommend. Director Dado trafficked in weird asymmetrical patterns and off-putting detachment, and inserted every tactic you could employ to annoy an audience; our unwilling participation, a distinct lack of rules and walls, and an ending so abrupt, it felt like a trick. It was perfectly absurd. 

Show: “Horse Girls”

Company: Exit 63 Theatre

Venue:  The Greenhouse Theatre (2257 N Lincoln Ave)

TEN WORD SUMMARY: A show so troubled, it was cancelled before it ran. 

In the days leading up to the opening of “Horse Girls” the all-female cast went public with the struggles they endured while rehearsing with director Connor Baty. The cast made the Chicago theatre community aware of their attempts to amicably work out their grievances with Baty in spite of his noted dismissal of their concerns, name calling, and incidences of racism and sexism. Instead of moving forward and making the behavioral changes his cast called for, Baty cancelled the production, shuttered Exit 63, and has not commented publicly on the incident to this date. It’s a testament on how hard it can be to be frank, honest and genuine in your commitment to making a safe theatre space and still go unheard for far too long. 

Show: “Proxy”

Company: Underscore Theatre

Venue:  The Understudy (4609 N Clark St)

TEN WORD SUMMARY: An ethical dilemma distracts from okay writing and stellar performers.   

There’s nothing illegal about taking inspiration from a topical real news story, scrubbing that story of all names, locations and other identifying information, and writing a musical on the subject. However, I’d argue that not every story should be artistic fodder without permission.“Proxy” is based on a real 2014 “Slenderman” stabbing incident, and posits what could have happened to fictional people who suffered a similar fate. While watching, it occurred to me that there may be real survivors of a similar horror, unaware that their experiences were being dramatized. People under the age of 18 who may value their privacy, not notable public figures. The thought of real people not having knowledge or a say in this musical left me feeling implicated. I am still regretful of any enjoyment I got from potentially unconsenting sources. 

Sarah’s Picks

Show: “Utility”

Company: Interrobang Theatre Project

Venue: Rivendell Theatre (5779 N Ridge Ave)

TEN WORD SUMMARY: The intense realism of poverty takes its time and toll.

“Utility” made great points about the grinding nature of poverty, how it invades even what should be joyful celebrations, such as a child’s birthday party. But playwright Emily Schwend does her theme a disservice in showcasing one woman boxed in without choices. Her protagonist does little onstage, and so an uneasy creep of condescension creeps into the drama, as if allowing the character to make even an unsuccessful choice would spoil the hammering message that poverty and bureaucracy do not allow one to accomplish anything.

Show: “Peter and the Starcatcher”

Company: Citadel Theatre

Venue: 300 S Waukegan Rd, Lake Forest

The cast of “Peter and the Starcatcher” left their production after physical safety and emotional well-being were sacrificed in the name of expediency and gaslighting. The group published a letter on Rescripted, which you should absolutely go and read if you have not had the chance yet. The cast created a set of guidelines to follow through on making the theatre community better moving forward, and this determination and collaboration is what we should most take forward with us into 2020.