Review: All in Love Is Fair (Black Ensemble Theater)

  
  

All is fair in Love, Illinois

  
  

All In Love Is Fair - Jenny Lamb and Dwight Neal - Black Ensemble Theatre

  
Black Ensemble Theater presents
  
All in Love Is Fair
  
Written and Directed by Jackie Taylor
at Beacon Street Theater, 4520 N. Beacon (map)
through May 8  |  tickets: $40-$48  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Somewhere near the southern tip of the state, the fictitious Illinois town of Love is crammed with couples in and out of love, straight and (closeted) gay, mixed race and size, seasoned and raw. One is celebrating a 50thanniversary, another is breaking up just after the honeymoon, and another reconnects after a three-month separation. What sets such familiar folks apart in Jackie Taylor’s diverting new 150-minute musical All in Love Is Fair is the score by Luther Vandross: In moments of crisis or ardor they burst out in ballads that amount to emotional meltdowns as naturally as they fight, romance, and reconcile.

All In Love Is Fair - Katrina Miller and Lyle Miller - Black Ensemble TheatreTaylor’s song-setting script contrasts these generic couples. But the selections, by far the best excuse for the generic plot lines, connects them, wonderfully. As always, Taylor can find talent and, despite the overmiking that disguises the great chops, lungs, and pizzazz of this 13-member ensemble, this is a showcase to make them stars. Robert Reddrick’s musical direction and arrangements are chartbusting right.

Playing the coy hostess as she narrates the soapy stories, Katrina V. Miller also digs deep into “The Way We Were.” Rhonda Preston, as a 68-year-old marriage survivor, puts a lifetime of devotion into “You Make Me Feel Like A Natural Woman,” while, as her adoring husband, Zachary Boyd testifies to heaven on the “Power of Love” and in “So Many Ways.” Donald Barnes teaches us to “Wait For Love,” Lawrence Williams is a ladykiller with his sultry “For the Good Times,” and Daryl Brooks pleads, with contagious fervor, that he “Don’t Want To Be A Fool.”

Carrie (her full name) knocks the soul in and out of “When You Tell Me That You Love Me,” her love offering echoed by the searing lamentation of Dawn Bless Comer’s “Fools Fall In Love.” Aerial Williams reinvents all the crushing infatuation of “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face.” Jenny Lamb takes on “All The Man I Need,” as if introducing it to the world fully fresh.

Bringing down the house is belting phenom Vasily Deris whose “Never Too Much” and “Dance With My Father” had the audience forming a fan club on the spot. As they celebrate their good times at the town’s well-named Diversity Club, the troupe come together triumphantly in the raucous “Bad Boy Having a Party” and Taylor’s own signature creation “Love, Illinois.”

If that sounds like a command as well as place, this is the musical to mean it.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  
All In Love Is Fair - Dawn Mitchell - Black Ensemble Theatre All In Love Is Fair - Katrina Miller and Lyle Miller All In Love Is Fair - Vasily Deris
All In Love Is Fair - Lawrence Williams All In Love Is Fair - Caririe and Vasily Deris All In Love Is Fair - Aeriel Williams and Lawrence Williams

Performances for All In Love Is Fair are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m.  Tickets are $45 on Fridays and $47.50 on Saturdays and Sundays. Discounts are available for students, seniors, and groups. Tickets, including group tickets, are available by calling the Black Ensemble Theater Box Office at773-769-4451, or visiting www.ticketmaster.com.  All performances take place at the Black Ensemble Theater, 4520 N. Beacon Street.

     
     

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Review: Made in Puerto Rico (Mike Oquendo Events)

      
     

A hilarious night of discovering the Puerto Rican in us all

  
  

'Made in Puerto Rico'--Elizardi Castro (audience in background)

  
Mike Oquendo Events presents
   
Made in Puerto Rico
  
Written and Directed by Elizardi Castro
at Chicago Center for the Performing Arts
777 N. Green Street, Chicago (map)
thru May 1  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by S.E. Antrim

You don’t have to be “Made in Puerto Rico” to appreciate Elizardi Castro’s super high-energy one man show brought to Chicago audiences by Mike Oquendo Events at the Chicago Center for the Performing Arts. It might help to know a little Spanish or Spanglish, but if you don’t, the laugh-out-loud 10 word “User’s Guide to Made in Puerto Rico” will quickly get you up to speed with most of what you’ll want to know before the show. After the little tutorial for those of us from Allá ‘fuera (any part of the world that is not Puerto Rico) we’re totally psyched to learn more about what it means to be Puerto Rican and American. It’s a whole lot funnier than I would have imagined—at least when viewed through Castro’s lens. The portion of the sold-out crowd that was clearly relating to the experience of growing up Puerto Rican and American confirmed loudly and proudly that this comedian was speaking both to and for them.

Elizardi Castro, in his self-written one-man show: 'Made in Puerto Rico'.Through masterful storytelling and a brilliant gift for becoming the characters Castro takes the audience with him to meet the entire family. Early in the performance Castro introduces us to Grandpa Santos, stern but loving, well-intentioned and clearly paranoid. Abuelito Santos lectures the petulant teenage Elizardi on the hidden dangers of going downtown, going to the beach and even just sitting quietly on the porch. As I, perhaps a bit self-consciously, laughed along with the rest of the audience, I had a nagging feeling that I might actually be Grandpa Santos. And that’s exactly why Castro’s Puerto Rican-influenced comedy is such a hit, regardless of ethnicity or background. We all recognize ourselves and people we know. Sure, maybe you weren’t dodging chancletas as a kid, but if you didn’t get the occasional well-placed whack with a sandal or house slipper, you have probably met the business end of a hairbrush or a spatula at least once when you misbehaved. You’ve no doubt experienced the cool deception of a loving mother who told you, “We’ll only stay at old aunt so-and-so’s house for a few minutes.” We watch poor little Elizardi writhe in the agony that only a child trapped among boring old adults can experience. His pain is our pain as we remember, but still we laugh. We’ve all been there.

If Castro’s comedy is such a hit because we can all relate to certain elements it’s also appealing because as he tells the audience repeatedly “we’re different”. His quirky characters show us how Puerto Ricans are different. The boisterous holiday festivities of the Boricua as compared to the “uptight and white” more sedate observation of the Christmas season has everyone laughing and nodding their heads in agreement. The audience also finds itself transported to dance clubs where the “show-off” dances to salsa, merengue, bomba and reggaeton. Mr. Castro’s dance moves are as impressive as they are comical and he may have a great career ahead of him as a boy band member. He did grow up listening to Menudo, after all. Puerto Rican flag worship was an activity that I was vaguely aware of thanks to a gentleman whom I can identify only as Super Rico. He wore a red mask and the flag like a cape. It seemed a rather unique ensemble to me at the time. Apparently that’s not particularly unusual attire. You learn something new every day.

Elizardi Castro, born in Puerto Rico and raised in New York, had a pretty good gig as a criminal defense attorney before he turned to comedy, but anyone who sees Made in Puerto Rico will understand quickly why he gave up law for the stage—you can’t merengue in a courtroom! Well, maybe you can in Puerto Rico. Castro makes a commitment to keeping it clean, so go ahead grab Abuelita and Bobo and head on over to the Chicago Center for the Performing Arts. You’ll be glad you did!

  
  
Rating: ★★★
    
  

Elizardi Castro, in his self-written one-man show: 'Made in Puerto Rico'.

Made in Puerto Rico continues at the Chicago Center for the Performing Arts through May 1st, with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 5pm.  Tickets are $20, and can be purchased online or by calling (312) 733-6000.

  
  

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