Old Is New Again

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porchlight-pacific-overtures.jpgeclipse-blue-surge.jpgIn 2001, three years after I moved to Chicago, I resolved to make theatergoing a semi-regular habit. It was a good time to do so, because the spanking new Goodman Theater on Dearborn St. just opened. One of the first productions to grace its stage was a world premiere by Rebecca Gilman, directed by Artistic Director Robert Falls, called Blue Surge, about a pair of cops and a pair of sex workers whose paths cross in the seamy underside of an unnamed Midwestern town. I remember feeling very underwhelmed by the play, and I wasn’t sure at that time if it was the flawed writing, or the fact that for such an emotionally coiled, small-scaled piece, the Goodman’s Albert Theater felt like a cavernous museum. It was notable for me though as one of the first plays I saw which demonstrated Chicago male actors’ infamous propensity to drop trou at the slightest provocation (in this case, it was the terrific Steve Key playing the more laidback police officer, who performed his entire first scene au naturel) which I always seem to be an inadvertent witness to. Later in 2001, I saw the Chicago Shakespeare’s production of a sublime, minimalist, thoroughly unforgettable Pacific Overtures, directed by a pre-Color Purple Gary Griffin, a mounting of Stephen Sondheim’s mid-1970s Broadway flop about the opening up of Japan to the West through Commodore Perry. It was so excellent, it blew away any of the productions I saw at the much-heralded Sondheim Festival at the Kennedy Center earlier in the year. Wow, how time flies; eight years later, these two plays are getting new productions: Pacific Overtures is being staged with an all-Asian American cast by our resident musical theater company, Porchlight Music Theatre, while Blue Surge, which to my knowledge hasn’t been revived since the original production, is being mounted at the compact Greenhouse Theater by the storefront Eclipse Theatre Company. This time around, my views of the two productions are the reverse of my response to the 2001 productions: I think Eclipse’s Blue Surge is a great example of what I’ve come to expect from our best storefronts, intense, committed, full of sweat and soul; while Porchlight’s Pacific Overtures is a huge disappointment from a company that in my eyes could do no wrong.

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