I thought I would never say this at the risk of shaving points off from my classy broad image, but I boarded a tour bus at Navy Pier on Sunday afternoon. But this was not just any tour bus, this was the beginning of the audience experience for Roadkill, a Chicago Shakespeare Theater World’s Stage production from Scotland, conceived and directed by the immensely talented multi-hyphenate Cora Bissett. Somewhere around West Town the bus stopped to pick up a gregarious teenage girl and a twenty-something woman she called “Auntie”. As the bus trip continued on for ten more minutes, I started thinking about dinner later that night after the show (sushi or pasta?) as the familiar building facades and monotonously hip denizens of Wicker Park whizzed by, amused by the non-stop inquisitiveness of the girl, who told us, her bus mates, that she just arrived from Nigeria that day “to become an American”. And then we reached our destination, a nondescript apartment building very close to the Western blue line train station, where we were all ushered into one apartment’s living room and listened in horror as the girl screamed while being raped in the bedroom next door, her initiation into her new life as a sex slave. And as the horrifying, gut-wrenching immersion into the Roadkill theatrical experience unfolded, plunging me and the other 15 or so audience members into the heinous world of human trafficking, suddenly any of our concerns, whether my dinner plans that night or someone else’s Cubs tickets or another person’s job deadlines, became so inconsequential.
Back in 2010, I caught the Tricycle Theater’s ambitious, staggering, and nearly eight hour production of The Great Game: Afghanistan in Washington DC during its US tour. Comprised of 12 mini-plays from a wide range of playwrights tackling the history of Afghanistan from its colonial British roots to its recent fraught history, it contained a contribution from American playwright Lee Blessing about the relationship between the CIA and the Afghan warlords in the early 1980s which ironically contributed to laying the groundwork for the Taliban’s rise to power in that county. I later learned that Blessing’s contribution replaced the original piece that another American playwright wrote – J.T. Rogers had expanded his original vignette to a full-length play which premiered ahead of The Great Game. And I’m sure, despite Rogers’ exceptional playwriting powers, the complex, conflicting perspectives in that unsettling episode of both US and Afghan history could not have been given its due in eight minutes, so I’m glad he wrote a real two and a half hour play about the topic instead. And I am so glad that Timeline Theatre Company, clearly becoming one of the most essential arts companies in Chicago, has given that play Blood and Gifts an exciting, suspenseful, magnificently acted and directed Chicago premiere. It is the most vital theatrical experience I’ve had this year so far– rich, provocative, intellectually and emotionally fascinating, it will leave you gobsmacked in the middle of Lakeview, wishing the play continued on for another two and a half hours .
Tags: TimeLine Theatre Company
It has been quite the exciting, eclectic grab bag of theater openings this Chicago spring (or non-spring, after the cruel tease of two days of 80 degree weather this week, it’s now back to the usual cold, damp, grey of early May that we Chicagoans know only so well). There have been brilliant gems like The Whale, world premieres, revivals, an impeccable Broadway in Chicago production of Anything Goes which gives dignity back to the words “touring production”, even a bunch of New York City female theater artists cavorting in all their full-frontal natural glory on the MCA Stage, thanks to the brazen Young Jean Lee. Similar to past years, I’ve been having difficulty catching up, despite seeing 2-3 shows a week. I’ve been able to go, though, to Mary-Arrchie Theatre Co.’s intensely atmospheric production of the little-revived 60s experimental theater watershed, Kenneth H. Brown’s The Brig; as well as the graceful, if somewhat disjointed, world premiere at the Goodman Theater of Quiara Alegria Hudes’ The Happiest Song Plays Last, the follow-up to her Pulitzer prize-winning Water by the Spoonful (which will receive its Chicago premiere at the Court Theater next season). Both plays feature soldiers as leading characters; both are worth seeing, intriguing despite their flaws.