These are all topics pertinent to four very different theater performances that I experienced over the weekend. Friday night started with Swandive Theatre’s mONSTER, a show that takes place a few months after the introduction of the World Wide Web. Sam Graber has written a thought-provoking piece on the dangers of the internet, something with which most of us have a love-hate relationship. I enjoyed intense and unnerving performances from Jamie Fields, Kelsey McMahon, and Avi Aharoni, and set and lighting by Sean McArdle and Jesse Cogswell were beyond cool and set the perfect tone for the piece. I struggled with the language a bit, but I like that The Internet is left as a vague entity (because it is) and that the show leaves you with questions. mONSTER runs through October 7 at the Southern, and you can purchase tickets online.
Most of us are familiar with Disney’s Aladdin and Robin Williams’ amazing voice work in the original movie. Broadway has brought it to life, and it’s as colorful and entertaining as I remember. While some of it has been updated (I continually enjoy it when well known shows sprinkle in subtle progressive messaging), the show still leaves a lot to be desired. I get that the title character is the star, and don’t get me wrong that Adam Jacobs is spot on as Aladdin, but most of the story that revolves around Jasmine involves her problems with the patriarchy. Isabelle McCalla plays a wonderful Jasmine, but it’s all about the fact that she needs to find a husband to rule with her because she can’t rule solo. Also, McCalla is the only female in the top twelve cast members whose characters have names in the program. Anthony Murphy steals the show as Genie, but as my friend pointed out, he’s a black man who spends most of the show as slave wanting to be set free. Also, is Jonathan Weir as Jafar wearing some kind of yellow face? I’m not entirely sure. The show runs through October 8 at the Orpheum, and while it’s entertaining, it’s tough to look beneath the surface.
If you’ve never attended a show at Pillsbury House + Theatre, I honestly cannot recommend them enough. Their shows continue to challenge me, and I always appreciate the diversity in casting. Jonas Hassen Khemiri offers us some thoughtful yet entertaining commentary on the current state of capitalism with Almost Equal To, and it’ll leave you taking a good hard look at your relationship with money. All five performers shine as they take on various roles throughout: Sun Mee Chomet, Paul de Cordova, Jay Owen Eisenberg, Tracey Maloney, and Randy Reyes. Director Noël Raymond keeps the action moving, and Katharine Horowitz’ sound design is flawless and adds an immense amount of depth. I was highly impressed by both. Christopher Heilman’s set (literally) holds much more than meets the eye, and as I watched the show, I wondered what other surprises it would present. Almost Equal To runs through October 22 and you can purchase tickets online.
After Almost Equal To, I headed to the Ivy Arts Building where Rachel Petrie had invited people to a reading of a piece she’ll present next month through Raw Sugar Theater, titled Fadeaway Girl. Through story, song, and dance, Rachel will share some of her experiences with mental health, specifically with her bipolar diagnosis. I love that she is stepping forward to lead an important discussion on mental health since there is still so much stigma around it. I won’t say much about the show because it was a stripped down reading that involved a lot of discussion afterwards, but I will say that much of it hit home for me, and I laughed quite a few times (I think people have a fear that personal stories like this will be sad and focus on struggle, so I want to assure you that it contains levity). Rachel’s professional persona offers charm, grace, and wit and I suggest you put Fadeaway Girl on your calendar; it runs November 16-19 at the Southern.
I continue to support our theater community because I’m introduced to conversations I may not otherwise consider, it challenges my opinions on so many topics, and I find others to connect to on various levels, either through experiences with race, gender, mental health, etc. And sometimes, it’s fun entertainment, pure and simple. What does theater do for you?
Check out other shows I’m seeing this month: