In brief: Strawdog’s In A Word and Steppenwolf’s The Flick

K. sez:

If women playwrights are neglected nationally (and I have no doubt they are), they’re nonetheless making a strong showing on Chicago stages.

In A Word at Strawdog

Lauren Yee’s 85-minute world premiere throws us into the miserable world of Fiona and Guy (Mary Winn Heider and John Ferrick), a married couple whose child was kidnapped two years before.  Fiona is still preoccupied—whether excessively or appropriately, depending on who you ask—with the details of the abduction and presumed death, while Guy is trying to move on.  The son appears in flashback, portrayed by Gabe Franken, who also performs every other role including the kidnapper, the detective, the school principal and Guy’s best friend.  To convey the stuck condition of the couple, especially Fiona, Yee uses staccato and repetition of words and  phrases—“get what’s coming to them,” “difficult” as a euphemism for the most profound problems.  The incantatory nature of the dialogue also illustrates the universal point that guilt and secrecy keep people stuck whereas the truth will—or at least, may—set them free.  Jess McLeod’s clever staging turns the single set into the half-dozen locations the characters occupy.  More important, her direction of the actors assures that we feel every incident as if it were happening to us.  A slightly hopeful ending doesn’t keep the situation from being, well, difficult, but it’s also genuine and thoughtful and moving.  Heider in particular is so good it’s hard to remember that she’s acting.  In A Word closes March 19; don’t let it pass you by.

The Flick at Steppenwolf

Annie Baker won the Pulitzer, the Obie and the Susan Smith Blackburn Playwriting Prize for this slice of life set in a movie theater which has seen better days.  It, too, has three main characters and it, too, explores the errors and betrayals which make intimacy so difficult.  But there the resemblance ends, as Baker and director Dexter Bullard use 3 hours and 10 minutes to make their points.  Bullard secures stunning performances from all concerned–Travis Turner as the college-age movie-lover turned theater janitor, Danny McCarthy as the old hand who trains him and Caroline Neff sometimes allied with one and sometimes with the other.  Three is an inherently unstable number in relationships, and Baker captures this in scene after scene—after scene, after scene.  The dialogue is wonderfully heard, and resonates as natural speech; but the fact that mopping up a movie theater is a Sisyphean task is clear long before Baker stops reminding us of it.  Moreover, it appears she couldn’t think of an ending—or rather, she thought of one and then added several more just in case.  The first act is completely absorbing and Jack Magaw’s scenic design is a thing of beauty: you sit down in your theater seat only to find yourself facing rows of theater seats.  And the actors are impeccable–Neff’s wild hip-hop dance alone is worth the price of admission.  At Steppenwolf through May 8.

2 thoughts on “In brief: Strawdog’s In A Word and Steppenwolf’s The Flick

  1. Angela Tallis

    KK, you’re bring polite. This production is torture. When the opening credits from THE WILD BUNCH and the song from JULES AND JIM were heard, I wished to flee – watch those great films again – but was trapped in the middle of a row. Afterwards I blamed the director and actors. But later found Annie Baker was the culprit from the very similar NYC critiques of John Simon and Terry Teachout. TT speaks for both:

    “Ms. Baker dramatizes the discontents of three young-to-youngish losers (exquisitely well played by Louisa Krause, Matthew Maher, Aaron Clifton Moten) who can’t figure out how to make their way in a success-oriented world and fear, with good reason, that “it’s never gonna get better.” So far, so good, but Ms. Baker has taken what should have been a delicate little play and blown it up to three hours and 15 minutes by inserting portentous pauses (their exact timing is painstakingly specified in the script) that illustrate her characters’ mutual alienation, and Sam Gold, the director, has aided and abetted her by throttling the tempo down to a glacial crawl….”

    Beckett and Pinter, I believe, also indicate pauses but they know how and when to do it – most of the time. Baker doesn’t. Perhaps this is one more reason on why the Tony means so much, the Pulitzer so little. Oh, I did catch up with my flicks:


    1. Kelly Kleiman Post author

      Rarely am I accused of being polite! But I’m glad to know I wasn’t the only one who thought it was too slow–and I’m really glad to know that the fault wasn’t with Dexter Bullard, one of our best directors.

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