Monday, April 29, 2019

'The Little Foxes' This Isn't: Steep's 'First Love is the Revolution' Tells Quite a Tail -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

First Love is the Revolution 
a play by Rita Kalnejais
directed by Devon de Mayo
Steep Theatre, Chicago
Thru May 25

In First Love is the Revolution, a teenage boy named Besti (Jordan Arredondo) finds himself rather smitten with a neighborhood fox named Rdeca (Isa Arciniegas).

Other than my use of a somewhat archaic term for an attractive female, this might sound like relatively normal subject matter for a play.

Until I explain that in this case, fox isn't a euphemism for a pretty woman. 

Rdeca--pronounced Radecia--is a fox, although an anthropomorphic one, which undoubtedly made the part easier to cast. 

And the dialogue between her and Besti--as well as among her furry mom and siblings--easier to understand.

Steep often presents somewhat adventurous works, and I was intrigued to see this recent play by Rita Kalnejais, directed by Devin de Mayo.

While it might sound disingenuous and/or backhanded to say I enjoyed First Love is the Revolution on many levels other than acute narrative embrace, that isn't the only way theater can be estimable. 

Although I'd imagine it was lost on many attendees, I appreciated that--given the creatures in the play--within Arnel Sancianco's somewhat chaotic set design were concert flyers for such bestial acts as "Green Doe," "Boys II Hen," "Chance the Raptor" and "Linkin Pork."

The 90-minute one-act also features much impressively intense acting, including by Lucy as Rdaca's mother fox, Jin Park as her sister Gussie and particularly Curtis Edward Jackson as brother fox Thoreau and also as a particularly feral watchdog of a chicken coop. Other performers, such as Alex Gilmore (as a mole and a chicken) also play dual roles. 

For those who like their theater as action sport, this production really is delectable. 

And while I had trouble seeing past the allegory for a story I loved at face value, one could readily derive all the symbolism they might conceive. 

Basti is an unpopular kid under the sole care of a domineering father (Jose Nateras), who beds a much younger, pretty neighbor (Destini Huston) in what portends to be a short-lived, purely physical relationship. 

Remembering that, even today, homosexuality and miscegenation still aren't fully accepted by everyone everywhere, and were illegal not so long ago--and in some places remain so--a boy falling for a fox can represent all sorts of deemed improper or taboo relationships, including simply romance beyond one's own race, religion, etc. 

Conceivably, different viewers of First Love is the Revolution may find various meanings--at face value and between the lines--and differing reasons to enjoy it. 

I've seen several quite positive reviews. 

And this isn't a profusely negative one, as there really is much to appreciate. 

I've long admitted that plays that venture into surreal, supernatural, abstract and absurd territory often challenge my tastes a bit too much, but at the same time, I'm grateful for theater that dares to do something different. 

My review, as always, represents my experience and--as best as I can gauge--the qualitative extent of my embrace in seeing First Love is the Revolution

But while I didn't love it--and @@@1/2 (out of 5) still represents a take more positive than not--I genuinely do appreciate it. 

Hence, I would never aim to dissuade anyone who thinks the premise--supported by strong acting under the direction of Devon de Mayo--merits getting to Steep, one of my favorite storefront theaters in Chicago (and easily accessible via the Red Line to Berwyn). 

But in terms of my deriving great insight from this boy meets fox tale, it's seems possible that the aims of Kalnejais' inventive play are just too sly for me.

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