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Steppenwolf Theatre’s “First Look” in review

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Lara Phillips and Brenda Barrie star in "Okay. Bye.", written by Joshua Conkel and directed by Margot Bordelon. (Joel Moormen)

Lara Phillips and Brenda Barrie star in “Okay. Bye.”, written by Joshua Conkel and directed by Margot Bordelon. (Joel Moormen)

Steppenwolf Theatre Company is no stranger to talent in every capacity. Its shows lay somewhere between unassuming and incredible; they are always wonderful and always full of impeccable craftsmanship in every capacity. This summer, the venue is hosting a plethora of new plays. Fresh shows from three very different, yet very dynamic writers are taking “The Garage” by storm.  Each of them is entertaining, intimate, and deeply moving all at once. They are not to be missed if you are looking for a theater experience that is both innovative and touching.

“Ironbound”, written by Martyna Majok and directed by Daniella Topol presents the moving tale of a woman named Darja (Lusia Strus) as she wrestles with the confines of abuse, poverty, and loneliness. This story confronts its audience with the bleakness of poverty head on; by honing in on one woman’s tale, the show places a face on the pain and desolation that homelessness afflicts.  In a world in which poverty is often stigmatized, this look into its realm is an important one. “Ironbound” dwells somewhere in between poetry and narrative; its jumps in time and place are haunting, organic, and fascinating. It’s stark message, coupled with magnetic acting, provides its audience with an experience that lingers far after the show has ended.

“Hushabye”, written by Tanya Saracho and directed by ensemble member Yasen Peyankov tells the intimate tale of one family’s attempt to cope with devastating loss. Erika (McKenzie Chinn) has just moved into a new apartment and as she navigates a strained relationship with her sister, Cynthia (Tamberla Perry), copes with the death of her parents, and grapples with the consequences that ensue when you betray those you love, her world is both shattered and mended all at once. “Hushabye” is absolutely engrossing from start to finish. It is as if you have stepped into a family’s living room to watch their deepest secrets and darkest moments. The dynamic story is unimaginably poignant.

“Okay, Bye.”, written by Joshua Conkel and directed by Margot Bordelon explores a theoretical future world in which individuals have the option to purchase “helium hoods” with which they can easily and painlessly take their own lives. Jenny (Brenda Barrie) and Meg (Lara Phillips) are two very different women that attended high school with one another long ago. When they meet once more while attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, though, they bond in a way that neither of them could have ever anticipated. The show is deeply haunting and while it explores futuristic possibilities, it is real, grounded, and absolutely authentic. “Okay, Bye.” challenges its audience in every sense of the world. It implores us to dwell in the realm of “what if”. As we watch Jenny and Meg wrestle with their demons, we cannot help but be reminded of our own. Their realness is heartbreakingly affecting; the journey that it takes us on is short in length but large in significance.

Labeling the new body of work at Steppenwolf this summer as “impressive” does not seem to do it justice. “Ironbound”, “Hushabye”, and “Okay, Bye.” are something even greater than this word entails. They are each completely distinct and are each true, hilarious, and heartbreaking in their own way. Their newness is exhilarating and their craftsmanship is incredible.

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Steppenwolf Theatre’s “First Look” in review