Chicago Onstage Reviews…

All reviews are by Karen Topham unless otherwise noted.


Our Mission and Promise (revised 2/20)

I am here for one reason and one reason only: I love theatre. To my core. I have been immersed in it as a teacher and high school theatre director for decades. And while I freely admit that my specific knowledge of the history of Chicago theatre (and theatre in general) is probably less than many of the other critics you might choose to read, I believe there is an advantage in that. With some exceptions, I'm not coming to plays as someone who has seen every version of them that has ever been done; I'm seeing them most often as any theatregoer would: as new, unique, and ephemeral experiences. Most of the time, then, you won't find me comparing performer X with performer Y who played the role in the year Z; I'll just be responding to what is there on the stage in this specific production...just like you.

Although I will always strive for objectivity in everything I write, I also freely acknowledge my perspective biases. Like everyone else, I see things through the filter of my own experiences. As a longtime director and English teacher, it is second nature to me to analyze what is going on beneath the structures of a play or to comment on character development or plot inconsistencies or, yes, even symbolic matters. (I'm not saying I will always do this, nor even that I can, but you may find some approaches and angles here that you won't see elsewhere.) As a lifelong believer in liberal values, I will not be reluctant to explore connections between the play and the national political zeitgeist, though I can promise never to allow such things to affect my opinion of the play's objective worth. And as a transgender woman, I am keenly aware of issues connected to feminism and the marginalization of vulnerable people and will call attention to them whenever I see them if they impact the viewing or understanding of the play. 

No one, no matter how well-intentioned, can review every show, but I will do my best to get to as many as I can. As I began this blog, the League of Chicago Theatres reported that there were currently 79 shows playing and there were 108 more "coming soon." I think I'd be dead if I tried to see them all. But I can commit to trying to see as diverse a spectrum of shows as possible. I'll review the big visiting Broadway productions, the offerings of Chicago's established companies like Goodman, Steppenwolf, and Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, the work of smaller companies like Raven or Strawdog or Trap Door, and the plays presented by new or itinerant companies as well. When I have the option, I will strive to review Latinx shows, Black shows, LGBTQ-based shows, and female-focused shows, and when I do commit to reviewing a show, that review will be on this site within two days barring unforeseen circumstances.

I walk into every play hoping it will be superb and that I will have the time of my life. Of course, this cannot always happen. No one likes poor notices, but I promise to be honest and open with both praise and criticism and to deliver both with sincerity and, if possible, a sense of humor. (I mean, not if I'm reviewing Hamlet, understand.) My promise to you is that, if I love a show, I will be leading the standing ovation; if I find faults, I'll write about them as clearly and gently as my four decades of teaching writing allows. You can't ask for better than that. (I offer as evidence the first time I needed to write something negative about my son, an actor in the city, or his plays, but I have been and am perfectly willing to do so. And he's perfectly willing to listen. After the inevitable irritation wears off, anyway.)

Another promise: I meant every word I wrote on this site. It is my fervent desire to accomplish all of it. If I'm not following through, tell me. (Gently and clearly, please: this is a two-way street.) And feel free to make suggestions. I promise to consider everything carefully. I don't promise to act on them; I may not agree. But I will give them honest consideration.  And if you are involved with any of the myriad tiny or new troupes that make up the beating heart of this city's vibrant theatre scene, feel free to contact me to ask me to check out a show. I'll do it if I can fit it into my schedule. 

I fervently hope that you will find this blog enjoyable and useful as you explore the excitement of Chicago theatre.

Karen Topham



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