Chicago Week! Very excited that on my first visit to Chicago I was able to see plays at both Steppenwolf and Lookingglass Theatre!
3/23/23: Describe the Night
What: Steppenwolf presents Raijv Joseph's play, a ninety-year span that revolves around the lost notebook of Isaac Babel. An examination of corruption and suppression and the importance of noticing: noticing difference, noticing beauty. Noticing life, and how one chooses to put that noticing into words.
And? I loved it. It's a continually surprising play, subverting expectations of where the story is going or what is next for each character in each time. It's a heartbreaking trading of scene partners, moment to moment, each character in search of meeting someone in the same moment they're in. That sounds more abstract than the play itself is, but it's what I kept thinking about. About how each conversation is an interrogation of sorts, how each interrogation feels too uncomfortably like a simple conversation with fatal consequences. It's a story of spies and psychics, of missed chances and unspoken needs.
Readers of this blog know what a champion I am of unconventional stages, of stepping away from the confines of the proscenium. They also know how frustrated I get when directors don't know how to activate those sorts of spaces. I am delighted (though not surprised) to report that director Austin Pendleton is well at ease on the arena stage at Steppenwolf. It's a small rectangle of squares, a gameboard perhaps, but who is king and who is pawn are not easily guessed. I keep thinking of one moment in particular, when Vova is questioning journalist Mariya. She had her back to me, seated in a chair, but in a moment of realization, she stopped speaking and turned away in grief and understanding. That turn, a 270 degree rotation, allowed every audience member to see that private moment. It wasn't a self-conscious spin, it wasn't wandering the stage (like some misuses of Circle in the Square have done). It was organic, it was honest, it was heartbreaking, and it was the move of someone who knows their stagecraft.
A fantastic ensemble (particularly Sally Murphy as the bewildered yet insightful Yevgenia), a great director, and a stunning play. What more could a Zelda ask from her first play in Chicago?
3/24/23: Improvised Shakespeare:
What: The Chicago-based troupe improvises a ninety-minute Shakespeare play.
And? I love this troupe. I've seen them a few times when they've come to NY, and they're always a delight. While "The Plight of the Tugboat" may have lost the thread of the actual tugboat's plight, it was still a delight of shipwrecks, fanfic cartographers, and magically hurled rocks.