Culture Magazine

Review: Borealis (The House Theatre)

By Chicagotheaterbeat @chitheaterbeat

Review: Borealis (The House Theatre)Review: Borealis (The House Theatre)

Intelligent, exciting sci-fi world premiere

Review: Borealis (The House Theatre)
Review: Borealis (The House Theatre)

Review by Lauren Emily Whalen

It's hard not to love a play that makes liberal use of the word "asshat." Bennett Fisher's Borealis makes as liberal use of words like "festooned" as it does profanity, through dialogue that rings of free verse without the pretension. Borealis has the type of premise - sci-fi adventure that's also a takedown of corporate culture - that will be either an epic success or an epic failure. Thankfully, the House Theatre's world premiere fits squarely in

Review: Borealis (The House Theatre)
Review: Borealis (The House Theatre)
the former category, emphasizing truth and specifics as much as it does weirdness. Borealis is equal parts Return to Oz, Black Mirror and The Office, a coming-of-age story with a young girl of color at its center that satirizes buzzwords and HR in the midst of an incredible journey.

has made a name for herself in the Chicago theater world over the past few years, and here she positively shines. As Cozbi, a young teen whose beloved brother disappears after taking off for his demanding but well-paid job on an Alaskan oil rig, she's tough and scrappy, wielding an ax and trading packs of cigarettes for information. She's also armed with a book on corporate communication, which saves her more than once as she investigates the ins and outs of her brother's workplace. Thanks to Fisher's strong yet sensitive portrait of a girl on a quest, and Pinson's nuanced portrayal, Cozbi comes alive, and the audience is with her every minute of two-hour running time. Whether she's battling a multi-tentacled human resources director (Ben Hertel) with a lethal coffee-blend preference, or facing off with a confident but dangerous supervisor (a gorgeous, vibrant McKenzie Chinn), Cozbi is an ideal young adult fantasy heroine, finding her way in a world that is determined to suck her soul.

Review: Borealis (The House Theatre)
Review: Borealis (The House Theatre)
Review: Borealis (The House Theatre)
Review: Borealis (The House Theatre)
Review: Borealis (The House Theatre)
Review: Borealis (The House Theatre)
Review: Borealis (The House Theatre)
Review: Borealis (The House Theatre)
Review: Borealis (The House Theatre)
Review: Borealis (The House Theatre)
Review: Borealis (The House Theatre)
Review: Borealis (The House Theatre)

I have a recurring issue with the many contemporary sci-fi, fantasies and comic book pop culture: no one learns anything. I don't need a pat lesson, but I do want to see the protagonist succeed, fail, grow and change, rather than blow up buildings while wisecracking. (Sorry, "Iron Man.") In , Cozbi isn't always right. Some of her opposers are truly evil, set on destroying her while espousing corporate-speak, but others are just trying to get by, wistfully remembering their lost children or finding a real purpose in being useful to the higher-ups. As quirky commissary worker Abbot (Karissa Murrell Myers) explains: s he has a paycheck, benefits and a place to call her own - maybe she's not happy all the time, but who is? As much as he sends up ridiculous office culture, Fisher gives respect to those who find comfort and meaning in it, humanizing rather than villainizing these characters.

Eleanor Kahn's scenic design invokes a 1980s-style vision of the future: the audience sits in a green and purple cube with sliding doors, watching the action play out in very close, almost claustrophobic, quarters. Director Monty Colespends part of the year in Los Angeles, and it shows: has more of a Hollywood touch than most House Theatre productions, a retro Disney Channel movie feel that works incredibly well for the story. Aided by Breon Arzell's intricate movement design and Gaby Labotka's stellar-as-always fight choreography, is the whole package. It's funny, scary, inspiring and a reminder of the harsh life lessons we all endure in adolescence: that the ones we love and idolize are very different than what we thought, and in order to live how we want, we have to figure out our own way. Here's to specifics and truth.

continues through October 21st at Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays 8pm, Sundays 3pm or 7pm. Tickets are $30-$50 (students & industry same-day $20) and are available by phone (773-278-1500) or online through their website (check for availability of ). More information at TheHouseTheatre.com. (Running time: 2 hours, includes an intermission)

Review: Borealis (The House Theatre)
Review: Borealis (The House Theatre)

Photos by Michael Brosilow

behind the scenes

(director), Eleanor Kahn (scenic design), (lighting design), Izumi Inaba (costume design), Breon Arzell (movement director), Matthew Muñiz (composer), Gaby Labotka (fight director), Ellie Terrell (props design), Joseph Burke (projection design), Marika Mashburn (director of casting), Amalie Vega (stage manager), Abhi Shrestha (asst. director), Samantha Rausch (technical director), Erin Pleake (asst. projection design), Veronica Bustoz (asst. stage manager), Jerica Hucke (costume manager), David Trudeau (master electrician), Michael Brosilow (photos)

Review: Borealis (The House Theatre)
Review: Borealis (The House Theatre)
Review: Borealis (The House Theatre)
Review: Borealis (The House Theatre)
Review: Borealis (The House Theatre)
Review: Borealis (The House Theatre)

Tags: 18-0912, Abhi Shrestha, Amalie Vega, Ben Hertel, Bennett Fisher, Breon Arzell, Chicago Theater, Chopin Theatre, David Trudeau, Desmond Gray, Eleanor Kahn, Ellie Terrell, Erin Pleake, Gaby Labotka, House Theatre, House Theatre of Chicago, Izumi Inaba, Jerica Hucke, Johnny Arena, Joseph Burke, Juan Munoz, Karissa Murrell-Myers, Lauren Emily Whalen, Lee Keenan, Madhura Jugade, Marika Mashburn, Matthew Muniz, McKenzie Chinn, Michael Brosilow, Monty Cole, Oly Oxinfry, Paige Hoffman, post, Samantha Rausch, Tia Pinson, Veronica Bustoz

Category: 2018 Reviews, Chopin Theatre, House Theatre, Lauren Emily Whalen, New Work, Sci-fi, World Premier


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