In Concert

Michaelle Bradford

Michaelle Bradford

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago delivered a powerful evening of dance, on the opening night of its Season 39 Springs Series at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance.

 

The evening began with Lucas Crandall’s Imprint, a stark and physically compelling piece featuring the full company: Jacqueline Burnett, Alicia Delgadillo, Alice Klock, Emilie Leriche, Adrienne Lipson, Ana Lopez, and Jessica Tong as well as Jesse Bechard, Michael Gross, Elliot Hammans, Jason Hortin, Florian Lochner, David Schultz, and Kevin J. Shannon.

 

The amazing choreography was inspired in part by stampedes, according to Crandall. The dance was accompanied by live, improvised percussion from Hubbard Street Dancer David Schultz, whose pounding beat gave a rhythm to the chaotic scenes as dancers convulsed in groups, then separated, ran, fell, paused and then stepped over the fallen. The first half of the work evoked an almost futuristic and robotic feel, while the second half was more simple and bare, primitive and untamed, also exposing how crowds build, move and panic.

 

Choreographed by Nacho Duato, the second piece, Violoncello, from his evening length work, Multiplicity. Forms of Silence and Emptiness, is a two-act tribute to composer Johann Sebastian Bach, performed to Bach’s Suite No. 1 in G major. Captivatingly executed by Ana Lopez and Florian Lochner, Violoncello was a vision of exquisite movement showing the interplay – push and pull - between instrument and composer.

 

Earthy, muted yet evoking the passion of struggle, the next dance Jardí Tancat (Catalonian for “Closed Garden), also created by Duato, is based on a collection of ancient Spanish folk songs recorded by vocalist María del Mar Bonet. Hauntingly, three couples: Jacqueline Burnett, Michael Gross, Alicia Delgadillo, Kevin J. Shannon, Jessica Tong, and Jesse Bechard, show the movements of sowing, planting, and threshing, of the barren Catalonian land. Laced throughout the very moving piece is a spirit of perseverance and hope despite the hardships.

 

Completing the evening’s lineup was Solo Echo by Crystal Pite. It is stunning from its opening moments as glimmering lights filter down on a solo figure who is eventually joined by other dancers in very familial and interconnected movements. Dancers for Solo Echo included: Jesse Bechard, Jacqueline Burnett, Alicia Delgadillo, Michael Gross, Jason Hortin, Emilie Leriche, and Florian Lochner.

 

It “presents a man reckoning with himself at the end of his life,” explains Pite. “The character is echoed — copied, reiterated, by seven different dancers. He is portrayed through both male and female bodies, and through various physiques and strengths. Each performer is a distinct and nuanced version of the character, and the connections between them evoke a man coming to terms with himself.”

 

Hubbard Street Dance’s Season 39 is off to a very commanding start with an impressive body of work in its Spring Series. Part of a three-part program, additional series performances include: DANC(E)VOLVE: New Works Festival May 11–14, 2017 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and Summer Series, June 8–11, 2017 at the Harris Theater.

Season 39 three-series subscriptions are available online at hubbardstreetdance.com/subscribe.

 

Tuesday, 07 March 2017 01:22

On the Run with Marriott's Madagascar

Charming, colorful and inventive, the Marriot Theater’s Madagascar – A Musical Adventure, for young audiences, is a fun-filled ride with themes that will surely resonate with both kids and adults.

 

Based on the popular 2005 film by DreamWorks Animation, Madagascar centers around four main characters from the Central Park Zoo: Alex the Lion (Russell Mernagh), Marty the Zebra (James Earl Jones II), Melman the Giraffe (Stephen Schellhardt), and Gloria the Hippo (Rashada Dawan).

 

At first glance this fun-loving group seems happy enough to perform for park visitors, especially the king of the jungle, Alex the Lion, who is in his element prancing around the stage, showing off his perfected “roar”. But when presented with the idea of freedom by a cadre of hilarious and enterprising penguins who say “it’s not natural to be in a zoo,” Marty the Zebra, to the surprise of his friends, makes a run for it.

 

Having lived their entire lives in captivity, Alex, Melman and Gloria are shocked that Marty would even consider leaving the comfortable life of the Central Park Zoo. But in the spirit of true friendship, they push their misgivings aside and embark on a rip-roaring adventure that eventually lands them in the exotic wilds of Madagascar.

 

The quirky and pompous lemur King Julien (wonderfully played by Jonathan Butler-Duplessis) is a joy to watch as he tries to incorporate Alex, Marty, Melman and Gloria, in his masterplan to rid the island of the fossa who hunt and attack his fellow lemurs. However, this plan goes awry as Alex, who now has to fend for himself in the wild, can’t contain his animal instincts and attacks Marty.

 

Directed and choreographed by Matt Raftery, Madagascar – A Musical Adventure, hits all the right notes in “crack-a-lackin’” style as Mernagh and Jones also shine in their roles with both chemistry and good-natured fun, as they show that in the end true friendship can overcome even the “laws of nature”.

 

Perhaps of the best moment of the production is the high-energy rendition of “Move It, Move It!” which gets the crowd clapping and kids, as well as adults, up on their feet.

 

Colorful costume and props really enhance the performance, bringing this animated favorite vividly to life. “Madagascar is already an established idea,” said Jesus Perez, costume designer and assistant director, “but since this is a live production and not a movie, it has opened up a world of creativity for us. This is the perfect vehicle for me as a designer to bring this fantastical world to life.”

 

The talented cast, which also includes: Leah Morrow as “Skipper,” Liam Quealy as “Kowalski,” Laura Savage as “Mort and Private,” Elena Romanowski as “Rico,” Samantha Pauly as “Maurice,” and Jed Feder as “Mason,” won’t disappoint as they sing and dance to some of your favorite tunes from the movie.

 

Recommended

 

All performances are followed by a question and answer session with the cast.

 

Madagascar – A Musical Adventure, playing at the Marriott Theater located in the Lincolnshire Marriott Resort, runs through April 15 Tuesdays through Sundays at 10 a.m. with certain performances at 12:30 p.m. For more information and tickets, visit www.marriotttheatre.com.

 

Never has a play about journalism, the presidency and Cold War with Russia seemed more relevant than now. And The Columnist, performed by The American Blues Theater at Stage 773, is all of that and more. In a story that could have easily been set during today’s heated political environment, The Columnist is a scintillating tale of family, power, betrayal and personal struggle.

 

Written by the Pulitzer and Tony award-winning author David Auburn and directed by Keira Fromm, The Columnist is based on real-life journalists Joe Alsop (Philip Earl Johnson) and his brother Stewart Alsop (Coburn Goss). Once a power writing duo, the play begins with Joe, now one of America’s most influential columnists - both feared and beloved, caught in a revealing and compromising position in a Moscow hotel.

 

That affair and its consequences runs like an undercurrent throughout the entire play as we see Joe battle for power, his ideas on what American exceptionalism entails and how the president (both John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson) should achieve it no matter the costs. We also see his struggle to keep his private life separate from the illusion he creates for the public.

 

Johnson is exquisite and brilliant in the role of Joe Alsop and very capably humanizes such a towering political figure of the time.

 

Joe is a man who loves his country and family with equal and blinding passion but in the rapidly changing world of the 1960’s, against the backdrop of the Vietnam war, his inability to see beyond his own beliefs pushes away those closest to him. He manages to alienate even some of his most ardent admirers and colleagues.

 

However, despite the growing distance between Joe and his family – his perfectly cast, dutiful and charming wife Susan (played by the equally charming Kymberly Mellen), his precocious stepdaughter Abigail (Tyler Meredith) and his sincere and loyal brother Stewart, what is conveyed even at some of his lowest points is how much they still love him despite his many flaws.

 

Stewart and Abigail are perhaps two of Joe’s most pivotal relationships. Several key moments come when they both show not only how much they understand him, as well as what drives him, but also their acceptance of the contradiction of his public figure and private life. This understanding and acceptance comes even though they often disagree with his passionate defense of the war as well as his methods of squashing the dissenting views of fellow journalists. Both Goss and Meredith play their roles with such depth and nuance that it’s easy to feel their characters’ compassion for such a complex man.

 

The ability of Auburn to delve so deeply into these relationships and to keep the plot moving at the fast pace of an intriguing spy novel is impressive. Also, very impressive and effective is the staging and the way several of the more dramatic moments are highlighted, especially during transitions. After several poignant and emotional scenes, having Joe stand in a single spotlight as the darkened set changes behind him is a powerful effect, and whether intended or not, is a reflection of the often-tumultuous changes happening in his life.

 

The creative team for The Columnist: Joe Schermoly (scenic design), Christopher J. Neville (costume design), Jared Gooding (lighting design), Christopher Kriz (original music and sound design), Alec Long (props design), Sarah E. Ross (production manager), Eva Breneman (dialect coach), Sara Illiatovitch-Goldman (dramaturg), and Dana M. Nestrick (stage manager), does an amazing job of enhancing an already powerful script and showcasing as Joe says: “human intercourse at its sublimely ridiculous.”

 

Highly recommended

 

American Blues Theater’s The Columnist runs through April 1, 2017, at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont. Tickets are available in online at americanbluestheater.com.

 

Monday, 13 February 2017 22:02

Carmen: Love in the Time of Rebellion

The heart wants what the heart wants and the fiery, rebellious Carmen, in the self-titled opera now playing at Lyric Opera of Chicago, follows that truism all the way to a tragic end. Set against the backdrop of Seville, Spain, during the Spanish Civil War of the 1900's, we see obsession, passion, freedom and love all come together in this story of a deadly love triangle.

 

Don José (Joseph Calleja), a soldier in the army, is sent to break up a fight at a cigarette factory. There he meets the seductive gypsy Carmen (Ekaterina Gubanova). He becomes so enthralled and bewitched by her that he abandons his childhood sweetheart Micaëla (Eleanor Buratto) and deserts his post just to follow her. But the tighter he tries to hold on their love the more Carmen longs to be free. José eventually loses her to the toreador (bull fighter) Escamillo (Christian Van Horn), resulting in a heartrending ending.

 

It is difficult to root for the love of Don José and Carmen, especially as the opera unfolds and we see how brutal and abusive José can be. Nothing is more discordant than seeing José sing about the depth of his love for Carmen after he just threw her across a table. There is no doubt that he believes he loves her and loves her deeply – he gave up everything to follow her. But perhaps the real question is does he know her or is he just enraptured by a seductive illusion that he couldn’t resist?

 

Don José consistently tries to get Carmen to bend to his will and be framed by his restrictive love. But Carmen’s will is just too strong, her lust for life too vivid and her need for freedom too all-encompassing to be captured in his stranglehold of love.

 

Carmen later meets Escamillo, the celebrated bull fighter and hero, who dares to love her for who she is – a rebellious bird. After all her wanderings she has finally found a home and true love but it comes at a very high price.

 

This thrilling story of Carmen is revealed through soaring, passionate arias; spoken dialogue; a beautiful score of Georges Bizet’s popular and very recognizable music; and ballet.

 

The addition of the ballet dancers adds so much more to the telling of the story. In particular, the bull which is used as a visual symbol throughout the production depicting both a disastrous love affair and a man caught in a flaming tailspin. We see the bull at key points during the opera from the opening moments all the way to the tragic end where Escamillo’s bull fight occurs simultaneously with Don José and Carmen’s final fight.

 

Ekaterina Gubanova is brilliant as Carmen while Joseph Calleja is equal to the task as Don Jose. 

 

Recommended.

 

Carmen is performed in French with projected English translations and the running time is approximately 3 hours and 5 minutes, including 1 intermission.

 

The opera runs through March 25 at Lyric’s Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker Drive, Chicago. Performance dates are Feb. 11, 22, 28, Mar. 3, 6, 22, 25 at 7:30pm; Feb. 15, 19, Mar. 16, 19 at 2:00pm. For tickets and information, call (312) 827-5600 or click here.

 

 

American Theater Company's  (ATC) regional premiere of Men on Boats, written by Jaclyn Backhaus and directed by artistic director Will Davis, took on the story of the one-arm captain, William Wesley Powell, who was commissioned by the U.S. government in 1869 to map the Green and Colorado rivers of the Grand Canyon.

 

Davis was recently appointed as ATC artistic director and Men on Boats is his first production for the company. He was also responsible for staging the Off Broadway version of the play in 2015.

 

The expedition, the first sanctioned in the American West, consisted of 10 grizzled explorers who set out on four boats, courageously riding through the rivers of the Grand Canyon. However, their varied personalities were almost as difficult to navigate as the terrain.

 

Backhaus' Men on Boats, performed by a genderfluid cast of women and folks otherwise defined, provides an entertaining look this historic journey as well as perhaps providing a statement on just how much American society and the role of women have changed since the 1800's. 

 

The ATC cast includes ATC ensemble member Kelly O'Sullivan (William Dunn) and ATC youth ensemble alumna Lawren Carter (Hall), with Erin Barlow (Frank Goodman), Arti Ishak (John Colton Sumner), Brittney Love Smith (Bradley), Sarai Rodriguez (Seneca Howland), Avi Roque (O.G. Howland), Stephanie Shum (Hawkins), Kelli Simpkins (John Wesley Powell) and Lauren Sivak (Old Shady).

 

A simple yet effective set and props, as well as carefully choreographed movements, provide a heightened sense of action, especially when the explorers tackle the imagined vertical drops in the rivers.

 

Although the cast is really good at selling the quirkiness and reticence of some of the explorers and how those differences lead to small skirmishes among the crews, at times it is not enough to sustain it through the 100-minute performance.

 

Overall Backhaus provides is an interesting and sobering look at how a group of people can risk everything in the name of adventure and discovery. It speaks to the heroism we often bestow on our early American West explorers, their faith and commitment in their own visions yet it also highlights the vulnerabilities, conflicts and contradictions of blind loyalty. For it is only one person, John Wesley Powell, who reaps the actual benefits of their bravery as a team.

 

Recommended

 

Men on Boats is playing at ATC now through February 12, 2017. Tickets are available at the ATC box office or by visiting atcweb.org.

 

Mozart’s The Magic Flute, now playing at the Lyric Opera of Chicago is an enchanting and charming performance - a perfect family outing especially for the holiday season.

 

Based on Mozart’s final and majestic opera, The Magic Flute is a timeless tale of good versus evil, perseverance, and love conquering all.

 

The basic storyline revolves around Princess Pamina, daughter of the Queen of the Night who has been captured by the high priest Sarastro. Prince Tamino falls in love with a portrait of Pamina he receives from the queen’s three ladies. The queen tells Tamino that if he finds Pamina, she will be his. Papageno, the queen's birdcatcher, joins him on the quest. Aided by Tamino’s magic flute and Papageno’s magic bells, they face numerous challenges separately and together, including an encounter with the comically savage Monostatos, who lusts after Pamina. Three genies are their guides. Eventually, the Queen of the Night is vanquished, Tamino and Pamina are united, and Papageno finds love with Papagena as the queen's forces of evil yield to the forces of good. 

 

Directed by Neil Armfield, the staging of the Lyrics’ version of the Magic Flute is not only inventive with the use of the “play within a play” technique but it also is accessible with a warm familial glow, making it an enjoyable experience for opera lovers and newcomers alike.

 

With the theme of a backyard party, the show opens with a lovely 1950's Midwestern-style colonial home, designed by Dale Ferguson, filling the stage and slowly rotating as bright stars glitter in the backdrop like spotlights shining down on the performance that is taking place.

 

The house buzzes with activity as a diverse group of people arrive carrying packages and other items as they prepare for a bit of “backyard community theater” in a production put on by the neighborhood kids.

 

Perfectly designed rooms from the upstairs bedroom to the dining room and kitchen below are glimpsed through the windows revealing small vignettes of preparation for the evening performance. One neighbor hangs lights along the backyard deck and others set up chairs for the audience and operate the spotlights.

 

Then finally, after every piece is in place, the neighbors are seated. The kids' show begins and the real audience is transported into a land of fantasy with soaring arias. In particular, soprano Kathryn Lewek in her Lyric debut as Queen of the Night and bass-baritone Adam Plachetka, as Papageno (the queen's birdcatcher) were vocal standouts but the entire cast was sublime.

 

Highly recommended.

 

The Magic Flute runs until January 27 at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. There is a free 30-minute pre-performance talk in the theater starting an hour before each performance. For tickets and information call (312) 827-5600 or go to www.lyricopera.org/Flute.

 

Saturday, 12 November 2016 05:15

Lovers and the Dearly Departed

With all the earmarks of a romantic comedy, First Floor Theater’s “Deer and the Lovers,” now playing at The Den Theatre, offers up of a barrel of laughs along with serious reflections threaded throughout.

 

Written by Emily Zemba and directed by Jesse Roth, the 100-minute play dives deep into the relationships of the four main characters that come face-to-face with death and betrayal while on a weekend retreat at a cottage house in the woods of New Hampshire.

 

Deer and the Lovers opens with Peter (Alex Stage) and Qiana (Shadee Vossoughi) arriving for a romantic get-away at her parents’ home. However, those plans were spoiled not only by the discovery of a dead deer that crashed through the front window but also the unexpected arrival of Peter’s sister Marnie (Kay Kron) and brother-in-law Felix (Tony Santiago).

 

With plenty of jokes and puns on the dearly departed animal, it becomes clear that Zemba intends for the deer to serve as a metaphor for Qiana and her path in life. For instance, while Peter is able to madly declare his love, Qiana seems less sure of her affections in comparison. And the later arrival of Marnie and Felix at the cottage shines a bright light on just why that is the case as we watch both couples deal with issues of love, commitment, secrecy and betrayal.

 

Qiana, in particular, seems obsessed with how to dispose of the deer and how it met its current fate: How did it get in the house and why? Where was it going and what was it running from? These are all questions that she can pose about her own path as well and the answers are equally elusive.

 

Later conversations with the mysterious local animal control agent Lenny (Matt Nikkila) in the second half of the play further illustrate Qiana’s connections with the deer.

 

After a dramatic reveal, we see her frantically taking matters in her own hands as she drags the deer into the woods in an attempt to bury it herself. It is almost as if she feels that finding a final resting place for the animal will bring it peace and free her from the soulless, emptiness she feels inside. And it is at that point that the symbolism of the setting in New Hampshire with its motto – Live Free or Die – becomes even more relevant.

 

Fascinating and quirky, Deer and the Lovers is time well spent. The talented cast meshes well and is effective in hitting all of the comedic points in rhythm while also delivering the soul-searching undercurrents.

 

Recommended

 

Deer and the Lovers is currently playing at The Den Theatre until December 3. Tickets are available at www.firstfloortheater.com. 

 

Monday, 24 October 2016 22:13

The Modern Tragedy of Macbeth

"Out damned spot out..." This line tragically uttered by Lady Macbeth is probably one of the more memorable lines in Shakespeare's Macbeth and it also was one of the more memorable moments in Theatre Y's production now playing at the Chopin Theatre.
 
The role of Lady Macbeth, played by Katie Stimpson, really comes to life as she deftly portrays the deceptive, ambitious and manipulative wife who urges her husband Macbeth (played by the equally talented Brendan Mulhern) to commit the treasonous act of murdering the King of Scotland in order to fulfill a prophecy, told to them by a trio of witches, that one day Macbeth would be king.
 
But the weight of her duplicity plagues her with misery as she has bouts of sleepwalking and envisions blood stains on her own hands: "Out damned spot out..." Stimpson plays the role with such an ethereal quality that the vacillation between the blood thirst of Lady Macbeth's ambitions from the play's opening to the tortured consequences of those actions has a lot of resonance.
 
Also, Mulhern's physical approach and embodiment of the role shows the depth of Macbeth's paranoia and guilt over his own actions and weakness. The scene where Macbeth imagines seeing the bloody dagger hanging in the air, though invisible to the audience, is a perfect example of the type of energy he brings the role. Even without the use of a prop, it is quite visual in its depth and impact.
 
This production of Macbeth, part of the year-long Chicago Shakespeare 400 International Arts Festival, was directed by French actor Georges Bigot. He has performed a number of classic roles from Greek tragedies to Shakespearean plays including Twelfth Night and Henry IV as well as directed about a half dozen plays including Chekhov's "The Seagull"  and a Khmer adaptation of Norodom Sihanouk.
 
Bigot provides a very interesting interpretation of the classic starting with a dark and foreboding set. Props are sparse and much of the action and energy are purveyed through the physicality of the actors. An improvised "orchestra pit" sits over to the side providing musical interludes both live and recorded.
 
The costume design by Branimira Ivanova is an interesting mix from the camouflage military uniforms worn by the soldiers in the opening scenes to the modern dress clothes at the party at Macbeth's castle as well as the somewhat Hippies style of the three witches.
 
A fascinating tidbit about this play is that it was rehearsed for nearly a year and the brand new Theatre Y Ensemble was birthed out of the process.
 
"This production of Macbeth is the fruit of a laboratory that began a year ago and which is still ongoing," Bigot says in his director's note. "I wanted to impart the spirit of an ensemble that would 'do theatre in the Public Service,' a spirit I first encountered at the Theatre du Soleil in Paris, but which I recognized instantly in the artists I was able to gather at Theatre Y."
 
The chemistry of the cast was certainly a plus in pulling off some of the most complex scenes including the ending fight scene between Macbeth and Macduff.
 
 
Recommended
 
Macbeth runs through Dec. 4 at the Chopin Theatre. Tickets are available at www.chopintheatre.com.

True gamers, especially nostalgic ones, will appreciate The New Colony’s world premiere of Merge. Closing out its 2016 season, this 90-minute, fast-paced, and often funny, performance at the Den Theatre’s Upstairs Main Stage spotlights the roller-coaster history of Atari, a pioneer manufacturer of video arcade games.

 

Written by Spenser Davis and directed by Andrew Hobgood, Merge provides an inside look at the tumultuous ups and downs of the video game company from its start in the early 1970's.

 

The script is Davis’ first original full-length play. Submitted through The New Colony’s writers program, it made quite an impression on company members. “Merge was the rare instance of a story flying off the page with such ferocity that Andrew and I needed to get our ensemble in the room immediately,” said Co-Artistic Director Evan Linder. “Spenser Davis’ hilarious and insightful script will welcome onstage the largest cast The New Colony has assembled since our first season.”

 

Despite the size, Hobgood’s staging of the huge 16-member cast in such a small space was mostly effective. However, at times, when the full cast was onstage, the fast-talking and screaming could be a bit overwhelming.

 

The set design was one of the biggest stars of this production with a video arcade cabinet as the backdrop along with a bright neon color scheme.

 

The opening action starts in the late 70's around the time Atari, hugely successful with its arcade and home console video games but cash-strapped, merged with Warner Bros. Atari employees are frazzled by the corporate takeover and the impact ricochets throughout the company as key players leave. Pot smoking, Jacuzzi parties and eccentric behaviors had fueled Atari’s workplace during its rise. When they have to sell to Warner Bros. to stay afloat, along with the influx of corporate cash comes corporate structure and new requirements, including wearing socks.

 

The use of the flashback technique and flexible, moving set pieces allow the action to flow seamlessly back through time as the audience is quickly introduced to Atari co-founders Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney. Like a video game version of the odd couple, these two opposite personalities are behind one of the fastest growing companies in America.

 

Their different styles, business philosophy, especially on how to handle lawsuits from competition, and Bushnell’s hard-driving ambition, eventually force Dabney out of the company. Ironically Bushnell himself is ousted as CEO after the Warner Bros. merger, paving the way for a more straight-laced chief in Stuart Nygard.  It was this move that prompted many of the remaining programmers who had been with Atari from the beginning to jump ship and align with a competing company.

 

In one of the more fascinating, yet somewhat out-of-place scenes, a courtroom battle that feels more like an episode of “Wild ‘N Out” ensues between Warner Bros. and that rival. Dabney returns at a pivotal moment providing information that will not only have long-lasting repercussions for Warner Bros. but the video game industry as a whole.

 

Merge is creative and fun and packs a lot of history in 90 minutes. A huge and high-energy cast and creative staging keep the story moving in a compelling fashion.

 

Recommended

 

Merge is now playing at The Den Theatre’s Upstairs Main Stage through November 13, 2016. Tickets are available at www.thenewcolony.org.

In the current political climate, where the political left and right are more divided than ever in their world view, Northlight Theatre’s The City of Conversation provides a glimpse at an elite class of Washington, DC, power players and how they charted the course of this country from behind the scenes for many decades.

 

The play, which opens Northlight’s 42nd season, centers on the relationships of a liberal socialite and her powerful but understated influence. The show’s title is a nod to British author Henry James’ famous view of Washington, DC, and the impact of its parlor games, and women in particular, on politics.

 

Written by Anthony Giardina and directed by Marti Lyons, The City of Conversation takes place in an exclusive Georgetown enclave and spans more than 30 years (from President Carter to the inauguration of President Obama) of socialite Hester Ferris’ (played by Lia D. Mortensen) political maneuverings over cocktails and posh dinners.

 

The play kicks off in 1979 during the twilight, and what Hester calls the malaise, of Carter’s term. She is hosting a very important party for her longtime, married partner Senator Chandler Harris (played by Tim Decker). Through the power of gentle persuasion, filtered through a catered meal and cocktails, Hester hopes to wrangle the vote of Republican Senator George Mallonee (played by Tim Morrison) for an important piece of legislation that will buoy Senator Teddy Kennedy’s chances in a primary bid against Carter.

 

Things take an unexpected turn when Hester’s son, Colin Ferris (played by Greg Matthew Anderson), shows up a day early from London with his fiancé Anna Fitzgerald (played by Mattie Hawkinson) who is not only an outsider from a small Minnesota town but also extremely ambitious, which Hester is quick to notice, and is a supporter of Governor Ronald Reagan.

 

The events of that evening set a course resulting in family division as both Hester and Anna wrestle with the rising tide of Reaganism and the resulting power shifts from liberal elites to the “Barbarians at the Gate,” as Anna calls the new crop of conservative outsiders, like herself, taking power.

 

Things come to a head for the family during the second term of Ronald Reagan’s presidency as Hester, Anna and Colin, now a staunch republican, spar over the controversial Supreme Court nomination of Judge Robert Bork.

 

Though Hester’s influence has declined over the years she is still working behind the scenes to stop the momentum of Bork’s nomination. Colin, who works for Republican Senator Gordon Humphrey, begs his mother not to embarrass him by intruding in the process. However, Anna, who is now in a powerful position within the Justice Department overseeing Bork's nomination, discovers Hester’s attempts to derail him and sparks fly as the two women, who are similar in their ambition and that they were once both outsiders who fought their way into the centers of power, engage in a heated argument culminating in an ultimatum and an irreconcilable break.

 

This scene is the strongest of the entire play and certainly generates the most excitement as Hester and Anna throw sharp barbs at each other. Perhaps the one drawback is that there is so much dialogue that both actors feel a little rushed in their delivery so the lines don’t always land as powerfully as intended.

 

A theme running throughout The City of Conversation is that Northeastern elites forgot the plight of the common man whose eventual political rise, however, lead to the decline of their Georgetown class along with the toney parties, described by Hester as an arm of the government. And gone with that brand of cocktail diplomacy are the civility and the mutual respect across the partisan divide that made political battles more of a chess match than the blood sport they are today.

 

The City of Conversation is being performed at the Northlight Theatre through October 23. Tickets are available at northlight.org.

 

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