Kelsey is a Chicago based producer, actor, writer, critic, and mixologist. An alum of Black Box Acting’s ACADEMY Program, Kelsey curates “The Newness,” a monthly salon of new work. They also work closely with Trans Voices Cabaret Chicago as well as Chicago Theatre Access Auditions. Follow them on Insta! @playsandpours, @kelseylooks
Pictured: Ellenor Riley-Condit. Photo by Tom McGrath.
By Kelsey McGrath
Cloudgate Theatre’s ANOTHER JUNGLE is a daring mash-up of documentary theater, presentation and conventional theatrical storytelling. Worlds away from the rainforest, our “jungle” is the kill floor of a meat packing plant in Back of the Yards Chicago. Our playwright and narrator finds herself in a desperate situation as her leading man is nowhere to be found and her show opens in a few hours. Further, there’s a rape scene that hasn’t been choreographed and she doesn’t know what to do with her climactic “stampede” scene. Written by Kristin Idaszak, and sharply directed by Tara Branham, we’re guided between the world of the play and the play itself as the writer is adamant that the show must go on.
Idaszak’s ability to escort the audience through the weaving safari of events that is ANOTHER JUNGLE is admirable. We’re carried on by the common thread of the writer’s experience, thoughts, and stories both in the world of the play and the writer’s play. The space in front of us becomes a playing space, a soapbox, a platform where the rules of the worlds stay consistent. And all are used to ask complex questions of social justice issues that are necessary to today’s conversation; they are unpacked in both the writer’s play and in her life.
The smoothness of the ideological swerves serve the story, but finding a singular landing place was a challenge for ANOTHER JUNGLE, as so many ideas were on the table. I found myself leaving the theatre in need of space to process and with more questions about the play’s approach to the ideas rather than the ideas themselves.
Luckily, Cloudgate anticipated the audience’s need for decompression. Following each performance is a facilitated talkback that unpacks ANOTHER JUNGLE. These discussions demand care, mindfulness, and understanding. All of which Cloudgate provides through the talkback and a space out in the lobby to process. This was an aspect of the entire show-going experience that I deeply appreciated. Cloudgate recognized the potential for harm in their work and made space for those who needed to take care of themselves. This kind of judgment allows for more opportunities for confrontation and difficult discussion and as a result, actively making space for change and empathy.
However, I couldn’t help but think, “who is this play for?” The circumstances are MADE for theater people and might be of a certain pressure that only artists can relate to. Its humor lies in the awkwardness of presenting and the stage manager’s uncanny ability to do his job. I thought of my Dad, a former blue-collar laborer, and if this show was for him. I’m not sure he would be able to relate to or understand these stakes or the humor. He wouldn’t know where to begin in unpacking complex societal issues with his environment as a platform for pontification. A principal issue addressed was that of consent and the facilitation of staged intimacy and choreography. Here, my Dad wouldn’t know where to start. So this made ANOTHER JUNGLE feel overwhelmingly like an echo chamber for like-minded artists to talk about our craft and to expound on our own progressive opinions.
The design was gorgeous. It had a theatrical grittiness that embodied the grotesqueness of the kill floor, but it was also free enough to be artful. They used the WHOLE space, as the stage manager was tucked away to one side and the fourth wall was broken. Sound design by Sarah D. Espinoza was particularly noteworthy. In such a small space, Espinoza built a thrashing soundscape with both live sounds and recordings. The combined design aesthetic served apocalyptic vibes and packed the punch we didn’t know we were getting.
ANOTHER JUNGLE uses exciting, suspenseful, theatrical storytelling to unpack the difficult questions of 2018. While it leans on the willingness of the audience to accompany them on this journey, we know we are taken care of and ready for more.
ANOTHER JUNGLE runs through April 29th. For more information visit cloudgatetheatre.com.