Review: Steppenwolf Theatre’s ‘Up’

To dream or to be responsible…

Up-1Ensemble member Ian Barford and Tony Hernandez in Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s production of Up by Bridget Carpenter, directed by ensemble member Anna D. Shapiro.  Photo by Michael Brosilow.

Up

By Bridget Carpenter
Directed by Anne D. Shapiro
Runs through August 23rd
Steppenwolf Theatre

Review by Timothy McGuire

We all struggle between our desire to chase after our dreams and personal aspirations, and the responsibilities we have to take care of our finances and personal relationships. Bridget Carpenter’s “Up” now playing at Steppenwolf Theatre follows the balancing act of a middle aged man with no specific conventional goals as he tries to turn his dreams into reality and support his family in the middle of a tough economic climate. Along with the “dream chaser,” Up follows an average middle-class family proudly in love with the unconventional passions of their husband/father, but questioning the practicality of such a lifestyle as they mature and their financial security is at stake.

Ensemble member Ian Barford and Lauren Katz in Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s production of Up by Bridget Carpenter, directed by ensemble member Anna D. Shapiro.  Photo by Michael Brosilow. Walter Griffin is thoughtfully played by Ian Barford. In Walter’s youth he once achieved “stardom” when he attached 45 helium balloons to a lawn chair and took flight solo, 16,000 feet in the air. Years later Walter is still chasing after those dreams of greatness and that sense of freedom. Now married and with a teenage son, Walter spends his time brainstorming and trying to think of his next big idea while his wife provides for the family by working as a mail carrier.

IanBarford-JakecohenIn their youth Walter’s Wife Helen (Lauren Katz) fell in love with Walter due to his adventurist heart and his relentless pursuit for greatness. Their son Mikey (Jake Cohen) idolizes his father’s passion for the joys in life and his courage to pursue an unconventional lifestyle. They have always understood and respected their husband/father but when Helen’s hours get cut at the post office and Mikey meets a new friend that opens his eyes to the necessity of being able to financially provide, their patience with Walter wears thin.

With the daily stresses of bills and constantly having to be the rational mind in the family Helen asks Walter to get a job. Once smitten with the dream chaser inside her husband she now finds herself desiring the stability of a conventional man and pleads for just one day to relax and not have to worry. Helen speaks about her imaginary husband, which represents the change in her feelings towards the man that Walter is. In a flashback you hear Helen refer to her imaginary boyfriend as boring, being someone that is not as stimulating as the actual man she is with. Now married, she refers to her imaginary husband as a provider and a man that supports and takes care of his wife’s needs. Her imaginary husband represents the characteristics that Walter does not posses, but now she wishes he did.

Rachel-Brosnahan-Jake-Cohan Starting his sophomore year of high school Mikey meets a talkative pregnant classmate Maria (Rachel Brosnahan) who thoroughly makes an effort to get to know him through direct questions and honest interest. Rachel Brosnahan gives a wonderful performance of a non-stop curious teenage girl, to the point of driving you crazy as a teenage girl can do. As his relationship with Maria grows, Mikey recognizes the responsibilities that he would have to take on if he was to love her. Loosing faith in his father’s ethos of finding happiness outside of the “establishment,” Mikey wants to make plans to earn money and the stability that a 9-5 job can provide. Secret from his family, he takes on employment from Maria’s fiercely independent Aunt (Martha Lavey) and he finds a means to be a provider with his successful sales skills.

Lauren-Katz-Rachel-Brosnahan Eventually, to appease his wife and take care of his responsibilities as a father, Water accepts conventionality with a new job, and you can see his spirit breaking as he appears somber dressed in a suit and tie. Months later Walter appears up-beat and content with his new employment when he is on stage with Helen, but he demonstrates the overwhelming sense of defeat and depression when alone. His actions are peculiar for a hard working man, he still privately holds to his personal values and spits in the face of conventionality by burning and tearing-up his own money.

MarthaLavey-JakeCohen How does this family move forward as one when they all desire to walk in different paths? Can their love for one another overcome their differences in values?

Bridget Carpenter has written a creative story that captures the details of an average American family and brings to stage the struggles that occur as the demands of family life take precedent over one’s individual dreams and what to do when your life partner does not choose the same path as yourself as you mature. Each character’s situation in the play and their personality are used to explore the different viewpoints, and the direction that they desire to go.

tony-hernandez-tightropewalker The director, Anna D. Shapiro, does a fantastic job as usual taking the time to develop each character and constructing a performance that uses the details in the dialogue and the ability of the actors to capture the emotional states of their characters to build the turmoil this family is going through.

The end of the play might leave you a little lost as to what just happened to Walter, although the symbolism of the French tight-rope walker Philippe Petit (Tony Hernandez) being incorporated in the final scene points the audience in the direction of what is taking place on stage.

Rating: «««

Where: Steppenwolf Theatre
1650 N. Halsted, 312-335-1650
Through: August 23rd
Ticket Prices: $20-$70
For tickets and info: http://www.steppenwolf.org

A scene from Up featuring ensemble member Ian Barford with Lauren Katz

A select scene from Up featuring ensemble member Ian Barford with Tony Hernandez.

 

After the fold: Info regarding Steppenwolf’s Up, including all creators and personnel involved with the production, can be found after the jump (click on “read more”). Also an informative video featuring playwright Bridget Carpenter, explaining her inspirations for Up.


Playwright Bridget Carpenter discusses her inspiration for Up.

 

Steppenwolf Theatre Company concludes its 2008-2009 season, an exploration of the imagination, with Up by Bridget Carpenter, directed by ensemble member Anna D. Shapiro and featuring ensemble members Ian Barford and Martha Lavey with Rachel Brosnahan, Jake Cohen, Tony Hernandez and Lauren Katz. Up plays June 18 – August 23, 2009 in Steppenwolf’s Downstairs Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted.  The press performance is Saturday, June 27 at 3:00 p.m.

Bridget Carpenter is an award-winning playwright whose works have been produced at theaters across the country including Arena Stage, Lincoln Center and the Humana Festival at Actors Theatre of Louisville.  Anna D. Shapiro won a 2008 Tony® Award for her direction of Steppenwolf’s critically-acclaimed play August: Osage County, which transferred to Broadway and London after a sold-out run in Chicago .

The design team for Up includes: Dan Ostling (sets), Mara Blumenfeld (costumes), Ann G. Wrightson (lights) Richard Woodbury (sound) and David Singer (composition). Edward Sobel is the Dramaturg, Laura D. Glenn is the Stage Manager and Deb Styer is the Assistant Stage Manager.

Featuring:  ensemble members Ian Barford (Walter) and Martha Lavey (Aunt Chris) with Rachel Brosnahan (Maria), Jake Cohen (Mikey Griffin), Tony Hernandez (Philippe Petit) and Lauren Katz (Helen Griffin).

 

Location:   Steppenwolf Downstairs Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted St .
Regular Run:  June 30 – August 23, 2009
Curtain Times:  Tuesdays through Sundays at 7:30 p.m.
(Sunday evening performances through July 26 only)
Saturday and Sunday matinees at 3:00 p.m.
Wednesday matinees on July 29, August 5, 12 & 19 at 2:00 p.m.

Note: there is not a 7:30 p.m. performance on Tuesday, June 23; there are no performances on Saturday, July 4. Ticket prices: $20-$70

Twenty $20 tickets are available at Audience Services beginning at 11:00 a.m. on the day of each performance (1:00 p.m. for Sunday performances).  Half-price rush tickets are available one hour before each show.  Student discounts available.

The Up Wine Tasting Night:  Enjoy wine and food pairings from Vinci Restaurant while our DJ spins tunes in our newly-renovated lobby:  Wednesday, July 8 at 6:00 p.m.  Tasting and performance cost $60 per person.  For tickets and additional information, contact Audience Services.

The Up MaTEENée performance for high school students will be held on Saturday, June 20 at 3:00 p.m.  Tickets cost $15 and include: a ticket to the performance, lunch and a post-show discussion with actors featured in the production – hosted by Steppenwolf’s Young Adults Council.

Free post-show discussions, sponsored by AT&T, are offered after every performance.

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