Top 10 Chicago shows we’re looking forward to this spring

Chicagoskylinefromnorth

 

Top 10 shows to see this spring!

 

A list of shows we’re looking forward to before summer

 

Written by Barry Eitel

March 20th marked the first day of spring, even if it feels like winter hasn’t loosened its grip at all. The theatre season is winding down, with most companies putting up the last shows of the 2010/2011. Over the summer, it would seem, Chicagoans choose outdoor activities over being stuffed in a hot theatre. But there is still plenty left to enjoy. The rising temperatures make leaving your home much more tempting, and Chicago theatre is ending the traditional season with a bang. Here, in no particular order, are Chicago Theatre Blog’s picks for Spring 2011.

 

   
Goat or Who Is Sylvia 001
The Goat or, Who Is Sylvia?

Remy Bumppo Theatre
March 30 – May 8
more info

Playwright Edward Albee has gotten a lot of love this year, with major productions at Victory Gardens and Steppenwolf (for the first time). The season has been a sort of greatest hits collection spanning his career, including modern classics like Zoo Story, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Three Tall Women. Remy Bumppo ends their season with some late-period Albee, but The Goat never skimps on Albee’s honest dysfunction. In the 1994 drama, Albee takes a shockingly earnest look at bestiality, and questions everything we thought about love.


      

Porgy and Bess - Court Theatre - banner


Porgy and Bess
 

Court Theatre 
May 12 – June 19
more info

Musical-lovers have a true aural feast to enjoy this spring. Following their mission to produce classics, Court produces the most well-known American opera, Porgy and Bess. George Gershwin’s ode to folk music is grandiose, inspirational, and not without controversy. But the show, telling tales about African-American life in the rural South, features brilliant music (like “Summertime,” which has been recorded by such vastly different performers as Billie Holiday and Sublime). Charles Newell, Ron OJ Parsons, and an all-black cast will definitely have an interesting take on one of the most influential pieces of American literature.


           
Front Page - Timeline Theatre Chicago - logo
The Front Page
 

Timeline Theatre  
April 16 – June 12
more info

For their season closer, TimeLine Theatre selected a 80-year-old play with deep Chicago connections. Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur were well known journalists, reporting on the madness that was the Jazz Age. They turned their life into a farcical romp, The Front Page, which in turn served as the inspiration for the Cary Grant vehicle “His Girl Friday”. The play centers around several hardened newsmen as they await an execution; of course, things don’t go as planned. Along with loads of laughs, TimeLine provides an authentic Chicago voice sounding off about a legendary time.


     
Peter Pan - Chicago Tribune Freedom Center
Peter Pan

Broadway In Chicago and threesixty° entertainment
at Chicago Tribune Freedom Center (675 W. Chicago)
Begins April 29
more info

Imported from London, this high-flying envisioning of the J.M. Barrie play should cause many jaws to drop. We’ve seen high school productions where the boy who never wants to grow up flies around on wires (leading to some disastrous videos on Youtube). Threesixtyº’s show has flying, but it also has three hundred and sixty degrees of screen projections. Already a smash across the pond, this will probably be one of the top spectacles of the decade. WATCH VIDEO


     
Woyzeck - Hypocrites Theatre - banner
Pony - About Face Theatre - banner

Woyzeck
and Pony  

at Chopin Theatre
The Hypocrites and About Face Theatre 
in repertory April 15 – May 22
more info

I’m not exactly sure if Georg Buchner’s unfinished 1830s play can support a whole city-wide theatrical festival, but I’m excited to see the results. The Oracle Theatre already kickstarted the Buchner love-fest with a well-received production of Woyzeck directed by Max Truax. Now Sean Graney and his Hypocrites and a revived About Face get their chance, along with numerous other performers riffing on the play. Pony offers a semi-sequel to Woyzeck, tossing together Buchner’s characters with others in a brand new tale. The Hypocrites offer a more straightforward adaptation to the play. Well, straightforward for the Hypocrites. I’m sure their white-trash-avant-garde tendencies will make an appearance, and I’m sure I’ll love it. (ticket special: only $48 for both shows


     
American Theatre Company - The Original Grease
The Original Grease

American Theatre Company 
April 21 – June 5
 more info

American Theatre Company ends their season with a major theatrical event—a remount of the original 1971, foul-mouthed version of Grease. Before Broadway producers, Hollywood, and John Travolta cleaned up the ‘50s set musical, “Summer Nights” was “Foster Beach.” The story of this production is probably as interesting as the actual show, with lost manuscripts and brand new dialogue and song.


       
Voodoo Chalk Circle - State Theatre
The Voodoo Chalk Circle

State Theatre 
April 9 – May 8
more info

This month, Theatre Mir already took a highly-acclaimed stab at this intriguing piece of Brecht, which tears at Western views of justice. In true Brechtian style, the State’s production is shaking the narrative up, transferring the story from an Eastern European kingdom to a post-Katrina New Orleans, where law and order have broken with the levee. We’ll see if Chelsea Marcantel’s adaptation holds water, but she has plenty to pull from, including the region’s rich folk traditions and the general lawlessness seen after the storm.   WATCH VIDEO


         
hickorydickory - chicago dramatists - banner Hickorydickory

Chicago Dramatists 
May 13 – June 12
more info

To welcome spring, Chicago Dramatists will revisit one of their own, the 2009 Wendy Wasserstein Prize-winning Marisa Wegrzyn. Directed by artistic director Russ Tutterow, the darkly whimsical piece imagines a world where everyone has a literal internal clock that ticks away towards our demise. What happens when someone breaks their clock? Through a very odd window, Wegrzyn looks at tough, relevant questions.


     
Next to Normal - Broadway in Chicago - banner
Next to Normal

Broadway in Chicago 
at Bank of America Theatre 
April 26 – May 8
more info

The newly-minted Purlitzer Prize winner, Next to Normal rolls into town on its first national tour, three Tony Awards in hand.  Alice Ripley, who received the 2009 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical, will reprise her acclaimed performance at the Bank of America Theatre on Monroe. Contemporary in sound and subject matter, the work explores the effects of a mother’s bi-polar disease exacerbated by her child’s earlier death, Next to Normal will no doubt be anything close to normal for Chicago audiences.    (watch video)


     
White Noise - Royal George
White Noise

Royal George Theatre 
April 1 – June 5
more info

Like Next to Normal, the new White Noise promises to take the usually vapid rock musical genre and stuff it with some tough issues. A show focusing on an attractive female pop duo with ties to white supremacy? It ain’t Rock of Ages, that’s for sure. Produced by Whoopi Goldberg, Chicago was chosen as the show’s incubator before a Broadway debut. Perhaps the premise may overwhelm the story; either way, White Noise is going to inspire conversations.     [ Listen to the Music ]

  
  

REVIEW: Float (About Face Theatre)

  
  

‘FLOAT’ rises to the top

  
  

float - About Face Theatre

   
About Face Theatre presents
   
FLOAT
   
Written by Patricia Kane
Directed by
Leslie B. Danzig
at Theater Wit, 1220 W. Belmont (map)
through December 12th  |  tickets: $15-$25  |  more info

Reviewed by Keith Ecker

In writing, archetypes are a gift and a burden. On one hand, they serve as shorthand characterization, eliminating the need for lengthy and clunky exposition. On the other hand, they are trite, predictable and rather one-dimensional. The trick as a writer is to toe this line. A good playwright will draft characters that rely on familiar characteristics while embodying personalities that are wholly original.

About Face’s world premier of Patricia Kane‘s FLOAT, a play about five Midwestern women forced to confront life’s big issues, could have become a cartoon. After all, it’s fun to mock small-town Midwestern mindsets and the cluckiness of female gossipmongers. And it’s also easy. Instead, Kane takes the high road and delivers a complex and compelling script that is edge-of-your-seat entertaining from beginning to end. Oh, don’t doubt that there’s a good dose of humor – but the laughs are underpinned by the many layers of conflict that bring these five women to life.

The play takes place in Doodee’s (Wendy Robie) barn. By her nature, she is a taskmaster and has taken it upon herself to spearhead the development of the women society’s annual Christmas float. Doodee is joined by her fellow society members, including the young Luce (Amy Matheny), real estate broker Char (Rengin Altay), the difficult Arletta (Peggy Roeder) and the new girl in town Marty (Adrienne Cury).

As the characters construct the holiday float in the first act, conversations turn to matters of religion and ethics. Old-timers Doodee and Arletta are stuck in their ways. In their opinion, there is a right and a wrong, and people deserve to be judged for their indiscretions. Luce, Marty and Char are more forgiving. In fact, Marty fondly quotes the Buddha, choosing to live by the code of live and let live.

By the end of the first act, the cheeriness that had filled the room earlier has faded as unpleasant secrets are revealed. Conflicts arise not just from exterior sources, but also from within as well. And Doodee is left decorating the float alone, listening to holiday songs while on the verge of tears. It’s a powerful act break that makes you resent intermission.

With Kane’s gift for writing and the cast’s gift for performance, this play is near perfection. Kane has molded three-dimensional characters with extraordinarily full lives and back stories. It is because of how thoroughly we know these characters that we can connect with them on such a deep level. In addition, I found no action or piece of dialogue to be out of character. Each woman was distinct and consistent in her nature.

Of course, these accolades can also be attributed to the actresses. Not one is a weak link. From Arletta’s manic episodes to Doodee’s brooding scowl to Marty’s love-struck smirk, the actresses’ genuineness, care and thought shine through. I can easily see the onstage chemistry congealing even more throughout the duration of the run.

Leslie B. Danzig‘s direction is nearly flawless. The whole play takes place in one cramped barn bustling with five scrambling women. Yet, through careful blocking, Danzig manages to give the actors some space, except of course when they are sharing an embrace under the mistletoe.

There was one small scene I’d like to see performed differently. In the second act, Marty conducts an exercise with the widowed Arletta to help her deal with her grief. The scene ends with an interesting revelation from Arletta, but the whole thing goes by too quickly. My recommendation is to slow this scene down, let it breath and it will feel more natural.

FLOAT is a wonderful holiday treat that pleases on a variety of levels. It’s funny, it’s sincere and it’s thought provoking. Plus, it’s got a dynamite cast. If you’re tired of all the holiday fluff that gets thrown on stage this time of year, check out FLOAT.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
   
   

Collaboraction announces 2010-2011 Season

Collaboraction announces their 15th-Anniversary Season

* including their 11th annual SKETCHBOOK Festival *

 

guinea pig solo 2006 From the critically-acclaimed 2005 production of Guinea Pig Solo


Anthony Moseley, Collaboraction’s executive and artistic director, has announced the line-up for the company’s 15th season to be staged in its entirety at the Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division Avenue:

 

September 13 – October 10, 2010

1001


World premiere by Jason Grote
Directed by Seth Bockley
The Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division Street

Seth Bockley takes the directing reins of the season’s first production, Jason Grote’s ambitious 1001, a wild time-bending re-imagining of The Arabian Nights. Interweaving Scheherazade’s tales with contemporary Manhattan, 1001 examines East and West in the post-9/11 world.

This Chicago premiere takes the audience on a surrealist politically charged, Monty Python-esque journey through the precarious world of the 21st Century.

 

March 21 – April 17, 2011

Guinea Pig Solo

By Brett C. Leonard
Directed by Anthony Moseley
The Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division

The season continues with Collaboraction’s revival of its 2005 critically acclaimed production of Guinea Pig Solo by Brett C. Leonard.  The play is loosely based on Buchner’s “Woyzeck” and follows the difficult return to society of Iraq War veteran Jose Solo. The remount will feature Dale Rivera and Sandra Delgado reprising their original roles as Jose and Marie.  (pics below are from the 2005 production)

Anthony Moseley directs the revival as part of the “The Woyzeck Project”, a collaborative exploration around Buchner’s seminal work anchored by full length productions by Collaboraction, About Face Theatre and The Hypocrites, as well as featuring short plays, visual art and film.

Guinea pig solo 2005-2  From the critically-acclaimed 2005 production of Guinea Pig Solo

 

Jun18 – July 3, 2011

11th Annual Sketchbook Festival

 

Collaboraction rounds out the season with the 11th-annual SKETCHBOOK Festival of short plays, visual art, video and music, also at the Chopin Theatre. Since 2000, this unique festival has provided an incredible platform for emerging and established playwrights, actors, directors, videographers, musicians, artists and more.

SKETCHBOOK is Collaboraction at its best: breaking down the walls that divide theater, music, visual art, video, and the internet. Selected from hundreds of submissions, SKETCHBOOK once again brings together the collective talents of more than 200 pioneering directors, designers, actors, musicians, and artists from Chicago and around the country for a jaw-dropping evening of creativity, experimentation, and celebration.

 

Flex Pass Tickets Now Available

Collaboraction’s season Flex Pass, which grants tickets to every performance of the 2010-2011 season, is now available. If subscribers miss a production, the tickets can be applied to any of the performances in the rest of the season. A four-pack of tickets is available for $75 and a 10-pack for $150. Reservations must be made in advance and tickets are subject to availability. To purchase a Flex Pass, call 312.226.9633 or go to collaboraction.org

 

Sketchbook 9a Sketchbook 9c Sketchbook 9d Sketchbook 9e

Pictures from Sketchbook 9

 

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REVIEW: Queertopia (About Face Youth Theatre)

No Fear in Queer

 

 About Face Youth Theatre - Queertopia 6

   
About Face Youth Theatre presents
   
Queertopia
  
Written by Paula Gilovich
Directed by
Sara Kerastas
at
Center on Halsted, 3656 N. Halsted (map)
through July 25  |  tickets: $12-$20  |  more info

reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

About Face Youth Theatre - Queertopia 1Only two performances remain for Queertopia, an ensemble show that belongs exactly where it plays—in darkest Lakeview. Violence against gays and lesbians is the sadly topical subject of this year’s offering from the young people of About Face Theatre. For 80 minutes the frenetic storytellers tear around a stage filled with party balloons and a rolling scaffolding as they create a kind of Queer Love Army who  manage to meet in an abandoned condo in a not so distant dystopia. Like the squatters in “Hair” and “Rent,” they’re the vanguard of a cultural tipping point, even as they testify to their diversity in a series of confessions about what they do whenever they get home. “Out of the mouths of babes” has never felt truer.

Alas, little has changed and issues of gender identity, bullying, homophobia (here the Bible actually becomes a weapon), self-hatred, and harassment of and by minorities crop up as we meet Flea, a boy (the strategically ambiguous Britney Fryer) who while changing his sex falls for a straight girl and cops a dry known as T for testosterone. His new girlfriend incurs the wrath of Teddy (the wonderful Cristian Gorostieta) who finds an improbable common cause with the newly bisexual Lexi (lovely Neomara Serges) who somehow manages to be both Serbian and Bosnian, a truly composite soul.

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Cavorting to simulations of 21st century music videos, using the audiences’ faces as mirrors for their own, or just sleeping in a communal pile, these dozen young actors are all carving out, individually and collectively, their fabulous queer space and standing up to the bashers who want to eliminate it altogether. At its best the play presents a kind of blueprint for a gay community beyond the bars of Boystown that’s as much within as without. The acting, better than in previous Youth Theatre offerings, ultimately carries the day.

   
  
Rating: ★★★
   
   

About Face Youth Theatre - Queertopia 2

      
        
       
        

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REVIEW: Sweet Tea (About Face Theatre)

Satisfyingly Refreshing

 

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About Face Theatre presents
   
Sweet Tea: Black Gay Men of the South
   
Written and performed by E. Patrick Johnson
Directed by
Daniel Alexander Jones
at
Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western Ave. (map)
through May 29th  |  tickets: $15-$25  |  more info

reviewed by Keith Ecker 

I love personal essays. It’s my favorite literary genre. In fact, I love them so much that in addition to writing for this site, I run a personal essay reading series (Essay Fiesta). So I like to think I have a pretty good eye and ear for the telling and retelling of individual’s stories.

Actor and writer E. Patrick Johnson seems to like personal essays as well. His new one-man performance piece, Sweet Tea, is a dramatic account of the lives of gay Southern black men. The tales are all true. About six years ago, Johnson assumed the role of journalist and interviewed a number of subjects for his book that bares the same name as the play. A staged reading of some of these MSB_7710tales followed, which then eventually developed into the material’s current incarnation.

The result of all this labor is a compelling documentary that gives voice to an oft-ignored community, a community that represents a double minority in an area of the country where not being a heterosexual white man can jeopardize your safety.

Johnson pieces together a patchwork of unique characters, all of whom are bonded by their similar heritages and sexualities, but whom possess a varied array of viewpoints. There’s the elderly Countess Vivian, born 1912, who speaks while holding a staff and carries himself as a humble matriarch of Southern black gay culture. There’s the soft-spoken Freddie, who tells about how he’d slash bullies with a razor when he was picked on in school. And then there’s Johnson himself, who adds an extra layer of intimacy and vulnerability to the play by divulging his own stories about his life.

The play is divided up by topic. For each topic, which includes coming out, sex, love/relationships and HIV/AIDS, a handful of characters chime in about their own experiences. Some of these monologues induce laughter and joy, celebrating the diversity of humankind. Others are deeply depressing, reflecting the self-hate that has been instilled within many gay black men of the South.

In particular, the portion of the show devoted to religion and church is keenly revealing. Many of Johnson’s subjects have a complex, and often paradoxical, relationship with the church. One even goes so far to say that there are more gay men at service than there are at the clubs. But despite the fact that gays are the backbone of the institutional part of the faith, they are also preached against and reviled. This upsets one character, who views his homosexuality as a sin. He reasons that the church should welcome such sinners, clumping together murderers and gays in the same sentence, while failing to realize the extent of his self-hatred.

Johnson effortlessly transitions from one character to the next, assuming more than a dozen affectations. Sometimes the character will erupt out of nowhere, while at other times Johnson himself will summon the subject. His tools are his voice and his physicality, which he manipulates throughout the show. A screen abutting the stage flashes the name of the speaker, which helps the audience identify which character Johnson has just morphed into.

   
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The only criticism I have for Johnson’s performance is his stumbling. Understandably there’s a lot of material to cover in this piece, so line flubs are forgivable to an extent. But there were several times where the words became jumbled, and for Johnson to recover, he had to briefly break character.

Daniel Alexander Jones’ direction is decent, though superfluous at times. Often Johnson will be fumbling with a jar or stringing a strand of beads onto a tree for no apparent reason. Perhaps it’s poetic, but it’s meaning is lost on me. It’s not so much of a distraction as it is a missed opportunity. I would have rather seen action that falls in line more directly with the stories, whether acting out anecdotes or assuming the posture each character possessed while being interviewed by Johnson.

The idea of doing a documentary as a play is an intriguing one, and, overall, it works. However, I wonder whether the staged reading of these same interviews would not have been just as, if not more, compelling. To the piece’s credit, Johnson’s performance does breath life into these words, which certainly makes for a vibrant performance and, as the personal essay genre necessitates, he successfully conveys the truth of his subject’s lives in a way that is honest, non-judgmental and entertaining.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Extra Credit:

SWEET-TEA-web

       
       

Designers get their due at 17th Annual Merritt Awards

Designers celebrate theatre accomplishments

 

2010 Merritt Awards 

By Katy Walsh

Scenery, lights, sounds, costumes; theatre design is devising storytelling beyond the dialogue. On Monday, May 3, 2010, Chicago gathered at the Goodman Theatre to celebrate the role that designers play in the theatre community. The festivities brought together veteran and rookies in the theatre design world for networking and fellowship. The focal point of the evening was the 17th Annual Merritt Award for Excellence in Design and Collaboration. The award honors the memory of Michael Merritt. Best known for collaborative work with David Mamet, Merritt was a Chicago theatre designer who died at the age of 47 in 1992. The Michael Merritt Endowment Fund preserves Merritt’s legacy with awards acknowledging established designers, nurturing emerging designers and encouraging design students.

The evening started with the 4th Annual Theatre Design Expo. Design students from across the country, along with a handful of Chicago designers, set up displays in the Goodman foyer to showcase their theatre portfolio and aspirations. After viewing the colorful and imaginative exhibits, guests trooped into the Owen Theatre for the Dialogue with the Designers panel discussion. Moderated by the Goodman’s Artistic Director Robert Falls, the group discussed the challenges and accomplishments of collaborative efforts in theatre. The panelists were Michael Bodeen (composer, sound design), 1997 Merritt Award winner John Boesche (projection designer), 2007 Maggio Award and 2004 Merritt Award winner Ana Kuzmanic (costume designer), The House’s Artistic Director Nathan Allen, and tonight’s Merritt honoree Collette Pollard (scenic designer). Following the panel discussion, the awards ceremony commenced.

First, the Michael Merritt Student Scholarships were bestowed on students from Chicago theatre programs:

Costume Design

Jeremy W. Floyd, Northwestern University

Lighting Design

Wade Holliday, Columbia College
The John Murbach Scholarship for Collaborative Design

Scenic Design

Williams G. Wever, The Theatre School at DePaul University 

 


2010 Merritt Awards

Next, the 2010 Michael Maggio Emerging Designer Award was awarded. The award honors the memory of Goodman’s Artistic Director Michael Maggio. This year’s recipient:

Scenic Designer

Collette Pollard, 2010 Michael Maggio Emerging Designer Award

Pollard’s recent design credits include The Illusion (review ★★★) at Court Theatre, Stoop Stories (review ★★★½) at Goodman Theatre and The House on Mango Street at Steppenwolf Theatre. Her next production opens next week at Writers’ Theatre, Streetcar Named Desire. Pollard has also worked with many Chicago companies, including; The House Theatre of Chicago, Timeline Theatre, Northlight Theatre, and About Face Theatre. Pollard earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts with honors in scenic design from The Theatre School at DePaul University and her Master’s Degree in Fine Arts from Northwestern University. Currently, she teaches at Columbia College Chicago.


The evening climaxed with the Merritt Award for Excellence in Design and Collaboration presented posthumously in honor of the lighting and scenic design work of Michael Philippi.

Lighting and Scenic Designer

Michael Philippi (1951-2009)

2010 Merritt Award for Excellence in Design and Collaboration

Philippi passed away suddenly on his way to a technical rehearsal for High Holidays at Goodman Theatre on October 27, 2009. His most recent work was enjoyed at Goodman Theatre in productions of Desire Under the Elms, King Lear, Finishing the Picture, A Life in Theatre, Moonlight and Magnolias, and The Goat or, Who is Sylvia? Philippe also worked with many Chicago, national and international companies including: Northlight Theatre, Court Theatre, Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, Guthrie Theatre, Berkley Repertory Theatre, Milwaukee Repertory Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club, and the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. He was a recipient of Jefferson Awards for Terra Nova and In the Belly of the Beast, both at Wisdom Bridge Theatre, and Hollywood Drama-Logue Awards for Kabuki Medea at Berkley Repertory Theatre and Changes of Heart at Mark Taper Forum.

The 2010 awards program and fundraising event was co-hosted by the Michael Merritt Endowment Fund Steering Committee at Columbia College Chicago and Goodman Theatre. Sponsors included Electronic Theatre Controls, Inc., J.R. Clancy Inc., Schuler Shook, Rent Com, Rose Brand and Steppenwolf Theatre.

2010 Merritt Awards

REVIEW: The Year of Magical Thinking (Court Theatre)

Fisher mesmerizes in Didion’s ethereal examination of grief

 MB Fisher H

Court Theatre presents:

The Year of Magical Thinking

 

by Joan Didion
directed by
Charles Newell
through February 14th (more info)

review by Oliver Sava

Life changes fast.
Life changes in the instant.
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.
The question of self pity.
       –
Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

Renowned novelist Joan Didion‘s heartwrenching memoir “The Year of Magical Thinking astonished critics with its unflinching portrayal of the author’s grief following the death her husband, John Gregory Dunne, in the midst of a medical crisis surrounding their daughter, Quintana, garnering Didion a National Book Award and becoming the foundation for the writer’s first stage play. Shortly before the novel’s publication, Didion lost Quintana to pancreatitis, and the stage adaptation of The Year of Magical Thinking expands the scope of the novel by including the playwright’s MB Fisher V IIstruggle to rationalize her daughter’s death while coming to terms with the loss of her husband. Directed by Charles Newell and starring Mary Beth Fisher in a career-defining performance, Court Theatre‘s production maneuvers the intense emotional shifts of Didion’s script with an artistic precision that bristles with elegance, overcoming the insular nature of the script to create a work of art with graceful resonance.

The first thing to greet the viewer’s eye is John Culbert‘s minimal, yet refined, set – an elevated rectangular platform floating in a dark void. A flesh-colored wood floor, desk, and chair are the only set pieces; a teacup, saucer, and flower atop the table the only props. Fisher appears on stage wearing cream slacks and a blue blouse that, aside from the occasional light cue, is the production’s sole use of color. The design elements of the production enhance the script beautifully, the set creating a physical representation of Didion’s isolation surrounded by the blackness of grief, the blue of her costume recalling the ocean and sky imagery of her memories with husband and daughter in Malibu and beyond. Jennifer Tipton‘s lighting design further reinforces the changes in the character’s psyche; inky projections during moments of "magical thinking" show the pervasive effects of grief by dirtying the pristine stage, and lights are turned to full power when she enters the "vortex" of memory that paralyzes her, blinding the audience as much as the character.

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Carrying the show on her shoulders, Mary Beth Fisher gives a technically astounding performance. Newell has blocked her in a way that gives her freedom to dramatize events, immensely helpful to a script that is completely centered around the inner workings of one woman’s mind. Fisher is particularly skilled at capturing the obsessively rational side of Didion, a woman that memorizes the names of every drug her daughter is given, who obtains hospital records and doorman’s logs so she can recreate the moments following her husband’s sudden death at the dinner table. As a person that operates from a primarily intellectual position, there are not many instances when Didion lets her heart override her brain. The moments in the "vortex" are fueled by the photographic recall of specific events rather than an emotional response to these memories, making Didion’s mind her greatest enemy. Unable to control the flood of memories attached to certain stimuli, "the question of self-pity" becomes impossible to ignore.

Towards the end of the show, Fisher recalls a vacation in Hawaii with her husband and daughter. Rather than attempting to escape as she has the past recollections, she sits at the downstage edge of the stage and dips her foot into the darkness. The small gesture is a huge step for the character, and by finally venturing into the unknown – the uncontrollable – Didion can finally live outside the shadow of death.

 

Rating: ★★★½

 

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