Southern Spells – Chicago Reader

A good piece, suggests Tony Kushner in his 1995 anthology Thinking of virtue’s longstanding problems, “should be overloaded.” Memorably likening well-constructed theater to lasagna, he writes that a work of theater “should scarcely have been saved from the mess it might as well have been” and, at its best, “has a dazzling omnipotence up his sleeve, or rather, under his noodles. That’s an apt description for this tender, searing, funny and deeply moving new play from Terry Guest, which packs more humanity into its 95 minutes than many multi-act projects. .

The ballet of magnolias
Until 6/11: Thu-Sat 7.30pm, Sun 3pm; Den Theater, 1331 N. Milwaukee, 773-697-3830,, $5-$35.

For queer black teen Z (guest), it doesn’t take many begetting cycles to connect with his enslaved Georgia ancestors – a bloodline in which gentleness and vulnerability were, and in many ways still are. contrary to survival. Much of Guest’s story centers on its protagonist’s relationship with black masculinity and the challenges of navigating the emotional rigidity of his father Ezekiel (Wardell Julius Clark), but The ballet of magnolias himself is ostensibly do not rigid. On the contrary, it bends gracefully. It bends in its narrative structure, in its gravity, in its timeline, and in its misty décor draped in macrame fishnets by designer Steven Abbott and lighting designer Eric Watkins. Fuzzy soliloquies, interludes of music and movement, fantastical sequences and realism, Guest creates a layered and fully realized pastiche of a queer child’s journey to find their place in American society, their family and their own body.

In many new plays, an ethereal, collage-like approach to storytelling can often feel scattered or indulgent, but in director Mikael Burke’s production for About Face Theater, each seemingly incongruous piece fits right in with all the contradictions. . I guess part of that is due to the production’s superb use of music (eclectic sound design by Brian Grimm) and movement (choreography by Jenn Freeman), which viscerally convey elements of the Z experience more directly than words alone could not. In a compelling abstract movement sequence, for example, we see a musical pantomime of Ezekiel giving his son a haircut. It is a gentle, warm physical affection from father to son, from man to man, which has never been spoken about or alluded to openly, which conveys all that the public needs to know about inner understanding and the desire for gentleness. of the father, however inaccessible they may be. be.

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