green light recs: how we reveal recommendations

At ChicagoOnStage.com, we are theatre people, which means we take lighting seriously. 

OK, clearly we don't always do so since we're being a bit silly right now, but the fact is that traffic lights seem to us to be the perfect metaphor for recommending plays. They are simple; they are universally understood, and they come in just three varieties: green for GO to this show, red for STOP and think before going, and yellow for, well, exactly what we do with them in real life. May well be a decent show too, but you need to read the review: there is a reason we don't simply recommend it outright. We all get this so quickly: why has no one done this before?

We're going to use this simple three-color method of alerting you to our opinions. With each review, a graphic of a streetlight will appear. And even if you don't read it, you'll get the message.

because this...

is our recommendation shorthand!

For a complete list of current and upcoming Chicago productions, we invite you go to chicagoplays.com, which has kindly allowed us to link their pages. 

 

To see reviews, click on titles below.

Recommended (Green Light)

Recommended (Yellow Light)

Remember: These shows may be perfectly good, but I had some issue with them that necessitated their being in this category. See the review.

 


Just a word about why we have so many more green light shows than others:

I do most of the reviewing myself, and there are tons of possible shows I could see, so many that I could not possibly see them all. Why would I choose to see a show I'm unlikely to enjoy? Occasionally I'm wrong: thus yellow and red light reviews. But logic dictates that if I choose to see a show thinking I'll probably like it, I probably will.


Red Light Reviews

I found shows in this category too weak in some way(s) to recommend at all, but once again YMMV. I'm only one person; no reviewer is The Final Word. For me, a red light means "Stop: research this play before spending time and money on it." But read more reviews than just mine.

 

 

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Our Mission and Promise (revised 2/20)

I am here for one reason and one reason only: I love theatre. To my core. I have been immersed in it as a teacher and high school theatre director for decades. And while I freely admit that my specific knowledge of the history of Chicago theatre (and theatre in general) is probably less than many of the other critics you might choose to read, I believe there is an advantage in that. With some exceptions, I'm not coming to plays as someone who has seen every version of them that has ever been done; I'm seeing them most often as any theatregoer would: as new, unique, and ephemeral experiences. Most of the time, then, you won't find me comparing performer X with performer Y who played the role in the year Z; I'll just be responding to what is there on the stage in this specific production...just like you.

Although I will always strive for objectivity in everything I write, I also freely acknowledge my perspective biases. Like everyone else, I see things through the filter of my own experiences. As a longtime director and English teacher, it is second nature to me to analyze what is going on beneath the structures of a play or to comment on character development or plot inconsistencies or, yes, even symbolic matters. (I'm not saying I will always do this, nor even that I can, but you may find some approaches and angles here that you won't see elsewhere.) As a lifelong believer in liberal values, I will not be reluctant to explore connections between the play and the national political zeitgeist, though I can promise never to allow such things to affect my opinion of the play's objective worth. And as a transgender woman, I am keenly aware of issues connected to feminism and the marginalization of vulnerable people and will call attention to them whenever I see them if they impact the viewing or understanding of the play. 

No one, no matter how well-intentioned, can review every show, but I will do my best to get to as many as I can. As I began this blog, the League of Chicago Theatres reported that there were currently 79 shows playing and there were 108 more "coming soon." I think I'd be dead if I tried to see them all. But I can commit to trying to see as diverse a spectrum of shows as possible. I'll review the big visiting Broadway productions, the offerings of Chicago's established companies like Goodman, Steppenwolf, and Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, the work of smaller companies like Raven or Strawdog or Trap Door, and the plays presented by new or itinerant companies as well. When I have the option, I will strive to review Latinx shows, Black shows, LGBTQ-based shows, and female-focused shows, and when I do commit to reviewing a show, that review will be on this site within two days barring unforeseen circumstances.

I walk into every play hoping it will be superb and that I will have the time of my life. Of course, this cannot always happen. No one likes poor notices, but I promise to be honest and open with both praise and criticism and to deliver both with sincerity and, if possible, a sense of humor. (I mean, not if I'm reviewing Hamlet, but...you understand.) My promise to you is that, if I love a show, I will be leading the standing ovation; if I find faults, I'll write about them as clearly and gently as my four decades of teaching writing allows. You can't ask for better than that. (I offer as evidence the first time I needed to write something negative about my son, an actor in the city, or his plays, but I have been and am perfectly willing to do so. And he's perfectly willing to listen. After the inevitable irritation wears off, anyway.)

Another promise: I meant every word I wrote on this site. It is my fervent desire to accomplish all of it. If I'm not following through, tell me. (Gently and clearly, please: this is a two-way street.) And feel free to make suggestions. I promise to consider everything carefully. I don't promise to act on them; I may not agree. But I will give them honest consideration.  And if you are involved with any of the myriad tiny or new troupes that make up the beating heart of this city's vibrant theatre scene, feel free to contact me to ask me to check out a show. I'll do it if I can fit it into my schedule. 

I fervently hope that you will find this blog enjoyable and useful as you explore the excitement of Chicago theatre.

Karen Topham

                                                                   

 

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