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Thursday, 25 May 2017 16:15

Review: "T" at American Theater Company

The 90s really must be back because this is the second show about Tonya Harding and Nancy Karigan to debut in Chicago in the past year. American Theater Company's telling is a new play called "T" by Dan Aibel. "T" is a ninety-minute retelling of the infamous 1994 incident from the perspective of Tonya Harding's family. Margot Bordelon returned to Chicago to direct the conclusion of Will Davis' first as artistic director of American Theater Company.

"T" steers clear of camp and tabloid. What this play is essentially about is how much T, or Tonya Harding was worth to the people around her. In quick-moving scenes, Dan Aibel calculates all the ways in which Tonya Harding's husband Jeff Gillooly could profit from endorsements. In other scenes, we see her only female companion is her coach who's desperate for a win.

There is something a little strange about "T"­--a slightly lyrical tempo to the dialogue. Sentences read like work emails, missing regular parts of speech. It's an interesting choice, but it often puts uncharacteristically poetic words into otherwise simple people's mouths. It takes for granted that most of us are probably too familiar with the particulars of this crime, and therefore breezes through events without much context. There's a lot to cover in this story and while it's brief, it sufficiently wraps up in a single act.

Leah Raidt plays Tonya Harding with fierce intensity. The look is perfect. There's a duality in her interpretation that strongly resembles the real Tonya Harding without resorting to impression. She's endearingly naive but also bullish and brash. Her coach, Joanne is played by Kelli Simpkins. Her performance is like a cross of Tilda Swinton and Jodi Foster. Her scenes are the most captivating. Her character, however flawed, proves to be the moral backbone of the play.

It makes you wonder what the relevance of the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan feud is to today. Aibel tries to connect it to the beginning of the digital age, and maybe he's right. It was the last time in history that shlock news didn't go "viral." This story held a nation's attention at the speed of nightly news. Like the OJ Simpson trial, this time will always hold a special place in a certain generation's heart.

At American Theater Company through June 25th. 1909 W Byron St. 60613

Published in Theatre in Review

Underscore Theatre and Harborside Films hearkens back to a simpler time, when the biggest national tragedy was a young Olympic figure skater getting clubbed in the knees. The year was 1994 and the world couldn't get enough of Tonya Harding versus Nancy Kerrigan. Some twenty-two years later, this scandal is ripe fodder for a campy rock opera. 

 

Written by Elizabeth Searle and Michael Teoli, "Tonya and Nancy" is exactly what it sounds like. A sharp, 90 minute campfest akin to "Mommie Dearest." There's no dressing this up as anything other than satire. It almost feels like an extended SNL sketch, but that's not to say it's not interesting. It's questionable how much of this skate tale is true, but it certainly serves to humanize both Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. 

 

Since this is billed as a rock opera, the soaring vocals make good sense. In the role of wrong-side-of-the-tracks Tonya Harding is Amanda Horvath, and she lands it well. Despite everything, Horvath's performance gives Harding some extra layers. She's also hilarious. Courtney Mack co-stars as Nancy Kerrigan. Mack also has a tremendously strong voice and it comes across in such campy songs as "Why Me?" While the show may be about two figure skaters, Veronica Garza actually steals the show playing dual-characters, Tonya and Nancy's moms. She seems to relish in playing Tonya Harding's down-on-her-luck mom, and the audience eats her spot-on accents right up. Garza also has an impressive voice. 

 

Director Jon Martinez's choreography stands out as a high point in a show about ice skating that doesn't actually feature any ice skating. It's almost a surprise to see so many group dance numbers in a small space. In fact, the show features ensemble members in a perpetual state of motion which adds a nice visual element. It pairs well with all the lyrcra costuming, which reminisces of a thankfully bygone era. 

 

For those entering this fray with some skepticism, approach this work with confidence. "Tonya and Nancy" is highly polished and well-staged. There's some real potential here. The show may be a little crowded with solos, but otherwise this is a solid script. It's always fun to see a new musical in its debut production. 

 

Through December 30th at Theatre Wit 1229 W Belmont Ave. 773-975-8150.

 

 

 

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