Playwright: Friedrich Dürenmatt
At: Halcyon Theatre at the Steep Theater, 3902 N. Sheridan
Runs through: Aug. 16
BY MARY SHEN BARNIDGE
Despite Plato's argument for separation of body and mind, anyone doubting the connection between material comfort and spiritual values need only note the preponderance of deaths by violence and infant mortality in communities where unemployment is also widespread. Without the security that comes from a stable economy, there can be little hope for tolerance and humanity.
Swiss playwright Friedrich Dürrenmatt illustrates this connection in his 1956 play titled, in English, The Visit. Our story begins with the citizens of an impoverished village awaiting the arrival of megamillionaire philanthropist Claire Zachanassian. Decades earlier, they had banished her from their community after Anton Schill, now a respectable shopkeeper, refused legal responsibility for their illegitimate child—with the assistance of bribed witnesses. The townspeople have conveniently forgotten all that, but Madame Zachanassian now demands reparation in exchange for her benevolence. And the power that comes of wealth buys a lot of justice.
So, SHOULD the man who did her wrong be made to pay for his crime? Is this avenging angel inciting a lynching or calling for a long-delayed execution? Does money, indeed, make the world go round, and how acceptable do YOU find that idea? Dürrenmatt isn't playing any favorites, and in a capitalist country like ours, many theater companies prefer to mask the ambiguity of his conundrum in spectacle—lavish decor, quirky choreography and reliable blame-the-Nazis references—rather than risk making their audiences uncomfortable.
However, that is not the case with Halcyon Theatre, making its debut with this starkly minimalist production. Under the direction of Jennifer Leavitt Adams, a closely-drilled cast led by Hilary Sanzel and Peter Esposito as the reunited lovers retain a firm control of its larger-than-life characters despite Steep Theatre's cozy confines, never allowing the text's Brechtian elements to eclipse the intimately personal dimensions of its parable. And if that's too much brainwork for a summer evening on the storefront circuit, you can always admire the rhinestone-encrusted fashions assembled by Sasha Hildebrand for her swaggering dowager as well as the score of incidental music, featuring Wagner at his most menacing, sensitively selected by Tony Adams.