Recommended *** Steppenwolf has a new venue- it is called 1700 (because it is located at 1700 N. Halsted) and is an intimate space that allows the entire audience to see every actor’s face. This space is one that they can rent to other companies as well as produce their own smaller shows, and while it is an ideal space, they need to be careful as to who brings their plays there. The current production “Byhalia Mississippi”, a “rental” produced by The New Colony and Definition Theatre Company is a return engagement. The winner of three 2016 Jeff Awards. they have re-assembled the original cast to bring this back to the Chicago theater world.
The 1700 Theatre of Steppenwolf is small and intimate, but the director of this production, Tyrone Phillips, needs to re-work his cast to let them know that they “must” project to the back row ( about four rows back) so that the words written by Evan Linder can be heard and the story stay intact. There were many of us, in the third row having difficulty with the accents and projection combination. It seems that young actors forget the” talk to the back row” lessons that we were taught “back in the day”. Conversations are nice, but when an audience pays to see a play, they are deserving of hearing what the playwright has written.
I have another complaint that I will take a moment to discuss. This production offers NO program. They claim it is for environmental purposes, which is very understandable. But people who are paying for a ticket should be able to know more about the experience they are having (or had) and the people in the play or those who made it all happen, feel that they should have something that will remind them of their experience. It doesn’t have to be a fancy glossy program, but perhaps a sheet of paper, printed on both sides with the cast, production crew etc. How costly would that be? They offer postcards (high gloss) with an ad for the show, why not a true remembrance of the show to take home and share with others. Might sell a few tickets!
Now, on to the show itself: Byhalia ,Mississippi” is the story of a young couple, Jim (Evan Linder, who is the author) and his wife, Laurel( well-played by Liz Sharpe). They are having their first baby and Laurel’s mother, Celeste (deftly handled by Cecelia Wingate) is visiting to ease the pressure ( or to create new ones). They are a couple with very low paying jobs, living in what appears to be as close to a trailer park home as one can get (an extraordinary set by John Wilson). They are at each other from morning til night, but in spite of what they appear to be, very much in love.
When Laurel finally gives birth to their son, their lives change dramatically. There are some very huge surprises during this period of the play, and I feel it would not be beneficial to tell you of these events and where they lead. I will say that the experiences that come from the events are ones that can either cause a break-up or a break-out . First of all, let me remind you where they are and who they are; an under-educated couple living in a town that is very “blue-collar” where things are not as ordinary as one would like it to be. Again, I won’t say anymore. As the story moves along, we meet two other characters, Jim’s best friend Karl (well-played by Jeffrey Owen Freelon, Jr) and Ayesha (the charming Kiki Layne) who may be the smartest character in Linder’s saga. Just a note: the music/original sound by Gary Tiedemann is wonderful and Kira Lyon has done a great job on assembling the various props.
I am pretty sure that this story is one that has been taking place for over a hundred years in small southern communities. In particular communities that are “White Trash” areas as well as others where circumstance brings about affairs of the heart and other affairs. Pay close attention to what the characters are saying, at least as close as you can ( luckily I can read lips) and you will see just how powerful true love can be. After all, to forgive is something that we are all capable of, and to forget becomes the key! I would love to hear your feedback.
“Byhalia , Mississippi” will continue at Steppenwolf’s 1700 thru August 21st with performances as follows:
Fridays 8 p.m.
Saturdays 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Sundays 2:30 p.m.
Running time 2 hours and ten minutes with a ten minute intermission.
Tickets are $30-$35 Open Seating and can be purchased at the box office, by calling 312-335-1650 or online at www.steppenwolf.org
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “Byhalia, Mississippi”