WINDY CITY TIMES
||Steppenwolf Garage Rep
by Jonathan Abarbanel, Windy City Times
This article shared 2312 times since Wed Mar 13, 2013
Playwrights: Christina Anderson, Qui Nguyen, Michael John LaChiusa. At: Steppenwolf Garage, 1624 N. Halsted. Tickets: 1-312-335-1650; www.steppenwolf.org; $20 (three-show pass $45). Runs through: April 21
For the fourth year, Steppenwolf Theatre Company has invited three much smaller, younger off-Loop companies to perform at the Steppenwolf Garage in 10 weeks of rotating repertory. The Garage Rep, as it's called, frequently has offered science-fiction, multimedia, magic-realism and fantasy productions in sharp contrast to Steppenwolf's signature realism. One show featured seven robots. Such is not the case this year, and I admit I'm disappointed that all three productions are mainstream. They are well executed to be sure, with rewards and surprises to be found, but I'm unimpressed with the vehicles themselves.
Theatre Seven of Chicago has staged BlackTop Sky (sic), by Christina Anderson, set in the projects of an unnamed city. Ida, soon to graduate high school, has a boyfriend who is steady, reliable and possessivea guy who thinks being a good provider is being a man. By chance, Ida meets Klass, a young street person with a poetic soul and unmistakable puppy-dog allure. In effect, Ida must choose between Apollonian and Dionysian impulses. Over this, Anderson layers a social justice story as well, but in a play of less than 90 minutes she cannot fully develop either plot line. The play's language is good but the stories remain basic, even sketchy. The strength here is in the performances of Kristin E. Ellis (Ida), Eric Lynch (the underwritten boyfriend) and especially Julian Parker (Klass), whose skill and charisma clearly extend beyond the fact that Klass is the showiest role. Mr. Parker is gonna' go places.
Next, Buzz22 Chicago offers She Kills Monsters by Qui Nguyen, in which a young woman uses Dungeons and Dragons to learn about her nerdy kid sister, recently killed in an auto accident (along with their parents, which doesn't seem to matter), and something about herself, too. I enjoy a sci-fi show in which the audience totally buys into the fantasy world (think House Theatre of Chicago or the original Organic Theater Company), but this play doesn't do that. The elaborate D&D saga is told in segments within an otherwise-normal reality. In other words, it's not an alternate world but only a game used as psychodrama. A little bit goes a very long way and I found my interest waning well before the play was over. There's bravura energy on display and amusing puppetry and projection effects, but the whole seems less than the sum of its parts.
The third show is See What I Wanna See, a sung-through musical by Michael John LaChiusa presented by Bailiwick Chicago. It's inspired by Rashomon, the iconic Akira Kurosawa film in which a samurai, his wife and a thief offer different versions of their meeting which results in rape and death. LaChiusa makes it his Act I, updated to 1950 New York. In the film, a priest hearing the narratives undergoes a crisis of faith. LaChiusa makes the priest the central focus of Act II, set in New York in 2002.
The connection isn't obvious unless you know Rashomon. LaChiusa begins both acts with brief songs by adulterous lovers in feudal Japan, for reasons he alone knows. The cast is excellent, with fine singing actors, and James Morehead's musical direction is first-rate (as is his orchestra of flute, bass clarinet, sax, percussion, vibes and piano). LaChiusa's words are sharp and his not-easy music is lush, especially the jazzy, noir-ish Act I. He's a gifted composer who adamantly refuses to write a score that's easily accessible or offers standard audience appeal. See What I Wanna See is an exercise in style that is artistically satisfying but aloof.
This article shared 2312 times since Wed Mar 13, 2013
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