Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Time Turning in on Itself and Turning on You, A Parallelogram, Steppenwolf, 08/09/10

Saw the premier run of Bruce Norris’s (Clybourne Park) new play in Chicago with Tom Irwin (a little ashamed I still remember him most from My So-Called Life), Marylouise Burke, Tim Bickel, and Kate Arrington, directed by Anna D. Shapiro.  This’ll be shorter than usual because I don’t want to give anything away, but t0 start with, Jesus, it’s good.  Go see it.  Believe the hype.

It starts with an argument about a football game and perceptions, “If you saw this in a television show, a man like me, a white-collar white man, yelling at a woman, where would your sympathies be?” except there’s a time traveller in  the room that only one of them – and the audience – can see.  For the next two hours, there are several sudden shifts in the timeframe, relationships between those four characters change and deepen, and gaps between expectation and understanding widen but yu never quite fall into them.

What’s great about this play is that the central two or three questions set up in the first few minutes do get resolved but not by bashing the audience over the head, and not without humor.  Everything that comes up gets used, like Chekov’s gun, but it’s not nearly as slick as it could be.  And the direction  is impeccable.  Just like with her work on August: Osage County, Shapiro uses the set – one of the biggest wow moments in the play – as a conscious special effect and a break in the pacing but also to reinforce one of the themes, that we’re all trapped in our life, we have the will to change but things basically happen anyway, and only the trappings and the supporting characters change around us, stuck in space.

The acting is impeccable.  Tom Irwin manages to slowly win us over while not glossing over the unlikable-at-best qualities of his character, Arrington’s both luminous and completely grounded, Bickel’s more of a cipher but perfectly fine, and Burke hits every note the play asks of her.  Playing through August 29.  http://www.steppenwolf.org/boxoffice/productions/index.aspx?id=478