Wednesday, May 24, 2017

"Valkyries: Badasses on Bikes" Is One Sweet Ride

Last week, on consecutive nights, I went to two theatrical events in Chicago. On Thursday, I had the pleasure of seeing "Aladdin" at the Cadillac Palace, a lavish musical derived from the Disney film, one that won me over from its opening number and kept building from there in sheer entertainment force. But the previous night's more low-key experience, played in a black box theatre to a house of perhaps fifteen souls on a cold, rainy evening, possessed every bit of the charm, the joy, and the emotional heart of the far more expansive Broadway in Chicago production. In a tiny theatre, Gorilla Tango Theatre's one-hour long homage to a real-life NYC lesbian biker club, "The Valkyries: Badasses on Bikes," reminds those who seek it out that theatre need not be expensive spectacle to be worth the trip.

The play, a new one written by Camille Smith, concerns a group of lesbian friends (and the trans lover of the group's leader), who have decided to start a biker gang in order to accomplish some altruistic purpose they have not yet decided upon. In a series of short scenes, we learn about these people, the joy they find in their togetherness, their shared and individual histories, and some of the pain in their lives. We also discover that, most of the time, first impressions are only skin deep (though, yes, there are always exceptions), and family is, or anyway ought to be, family, whether you're born into it or you've chosen it as your own.

Katy Johnson holds the story together with a bittersweet performance as Deena, the leader of the group, who is trying both to establish this new biker gang and to navigate the deepening chasm growing between her and her pregnant sister Kelly, a dour Kate Souza, pouring unspoken—and spoken—pain into their relationship over Deena's love for her transgender boyfriend, Quinn (North Rory Homeward) and the loss of their parents. The struggle between the sisters, as well as its effects on the relationship between Deena and Quinn, form the ongoing pathos of the piece, and all three central players here shine. Homeward, a transgender actor in his first onstage transgender role, easily captures the frustration of someone caught between two impossible choices: Quinn cannot make a strong stand either way despite Kelly's apparently transphobic attitude for fear of driving a stake between the sisters and having his lover come to blame him later. There are many small, subtle acting choices all three make that add much to the unfolding drama.

But the play is a true ensemble play, and its other players are every bit as important. The bar at which the bikers meet is run by Marie, (a dynamic, feisty Marie Treadway). Marie is basically a "take no crap" lesbian, and her huge character, to which Treadway gives her heart, her soul, and at one point pretty much all of her breath, often dominates the stage, and creates a large amount of the comedy of the piece. Another comic focal point is the character of Bella (Cat McKay), a free spirit, devil-may-care young woman whose attitude might best be summarized as "life is meant for me to have fun." And right now her fun involves a woman she has her eyes on, Evie (Elodie Sinetra), whom she is sure must at least be bisexual and who is in a completely self-destructive relationship with prototypical frat-boy, self-involved goon Jake (played to the hilt by Nate Curlott, having a great time being a total jerk). The secondary plot of the story is Evie's coming out, and one scene in particular between her and Jake somehow manages to be hilarious, frightening, and full of pathos all at the same time.

By the time the gang discovers its raison d'etre and the light and sound crew have tons of fun with a motorcycle ride through Chicago, the play has done more than its share to inspire and entertain. This may not be a play with a huge name, but it deserves to be seen. It plays on Wednesdays at 8 PM at Gorilla Tango Theatre, 1919 N. Milwaukee Ave, Chicago 60647 until June 28. Do yourself a favor: instead of seeing a movie some night, see this play. You won't be disappointed.


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2 comments:

Neil said...

Thank you, Karen, for this thoughtful review!

(I think the playwright went to Columbia, though. The director and several others involved in the production--including cast members Marie Tredway and Elodie Senetra--went to Carthage.)

Karen Topham said...

Thanks for that, Neil. I got the info from one of the cast members (North Homeward) but he may have been incorrect. I'm double-checking right now and, if you prove correct, I will absolutely revise the review. :-)

sunsparks

it's your hair that i notice first
streaked with morning
it frames your face
you lying there eyes closed
soft breath not quite there
unmoving
i follow its path as it bends the sheet
and i can touch you there
touch what i feel is you
in the spark of daylight
you'll rise
pull on the wrinkled shirt from last night
say something you think is beautiful
drink some coffee
from behind my paper
and drive away,
leaving a kiss on my lips
and a hole in my heart
where a fire ought to be


Favorite Films

  • The Wizard Of Oz
  • Amelie
  • The Princess Bride
  • Casablanca
  • Annie Hall
  • The Lord of the Rings
  • All That Jazz
  • Citizen Kane
  • Love Actually
  • Moulin Rouge
  • Big Fish
  • When Harry Met Sally
  • Almost Famous
  • Bull Durham
  • Notting Hill
  • Apocalypse Now (Redux)
  • Magnolia

All-Time Favorite TV Shows

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Gilmore Girls
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  • The West Wing
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  • The Larry Sanders Show
  • Monk
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  • St. Elsewhere

Current TV Shows I Enjoy (in no particular order)

  • Perception
  • Major Crimes
  • American Horror Story
  • Louie
  • Suits
  • The Newsroom
  • Falling Skies
  • Franklin and Bash
  • Veep
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  • Don't Trust the B---
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  • Portlandia
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  • Real Time with Bill Maher
  • Nikita
  • Raising Hope
  • Castle
  • Drop Dead Diva
  • Covert Affairs
  • Elementary
  • Rizzoli and Isles
  • Revolution
  • The Last Resort
  • Alphas
  • SNL
  • Revenge
  • Community
  • Suburgatory
  • New Girl
  • Once Upon a Time
  • Grimm
  • Nashville
  • Downton Abbey
  • Smash
  • Homeland
  • Fringe
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  • Community
  • Warehouse 13
  • Modern Family
  • Vampire Diaries
  • The Daily Show
  • How I Met Your Mother
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  • Parks and Recreation
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  • Rachel Maddow Show

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