Recommended *** A new theater opened tonight! Yes, a brand new venue on the north side of town, called Windy City Playhouse. It is not a typical storefront theater, but is a “black box” theater, meaning that it has open walls and a high ceiling, allowing the actual stage area to be changed from production to production. It has 149 seats and they are very comfortable with loads of leg room (at least for their “premiere” production). These are the “top Shelf” seats. The “house” seats are plush traditional movie theater seats complete with cup-holders and a drink ledge in front of each row. There is a cocktail lounge in the lobby with a greet and meet area and of course, the drinks can be taken into the theater. There are some bar-bites available as well.
The initial production, “End days” is a comedy/drama is the story of the Steins, a very typical family that has had their lives affected by the trauma of the events of 9/11. Sylvia (an amazing portrayal by Tina Gluschenko) thinks that the world is about to come to an end and that 9/11 was just the wake-up call. Her husband, Arthur ( the always reliable Keith Kupferer) was there that day, losing all his employees as he escaped the tragedy. His life since then has been mostly nonexistent. Their daughter, teen-ager Rachel (deftly handled by the adorable Sari Sanchez, although she wears white-face, making it difficult to see) has become a renegade.
Mom, has become a follower of Christ, although we never truly find out if it is Jews for Jesus, as it seems that the Stein family was indeed of the Jewish faith. We do see Jesus with Sylvia, but it appears that she alone is the witness he has chosen. Rachel also has a visionary friend, one Stephen Hawking to guide her on her new journey through life. Both of these characters are portrayed by one actor, Steven Stafford, who does a remarkable Hawking and, well, what can one say about anyone’s portrayal of Jesus without facing disaster. He is good!
The other character in the story is a new kid in the development and in Rachel’s school, one Nelson Steinberg, who appears to be the true nerd that every high school has. Nelson ( played to perfection by Stephen Cefalu Jr.) dresses like Elvis and thus is laughed at and beaten up by other students. The story, which is intense and yet funny, written by Debra Zoe Laufer, has some flaws that are a bit hard to follow. If Rachel is fifteen, why is she in classes with Nelson, who is preparing for his Bar Mitzvah. making him less than 13? This is a flaw that was never explained. Did the events of 9/11 alter his plans to study for this special day? Are we years past the towers tumbling? Needless to say, being of the Jewish faith, I found this disturbing and would like to have known the answers.
Yet, overlooking these questions was not difficult. Skillfully Directed by Henry Godinez, who used the open stage area ( people were seated on two sides) on a clever set designed by Brian Sidney Bembridge, with great lighting (Heather Gilbert) and a wonderful assortment of props (Cassy Schillo ) and sound(Kevin O’Donnell) this is a solid production that is just the start for a theater that will become a true destination for Chicago audiences. The characters in this play are what one might call “lost souls” in search of answers. Each has taken their own path, finding nothing out there to make sense, but as the story is told, they all find that together, they can find something that they all have lacked “family” and love for one another. This is what life is all about, isn’t it?
Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m.
Sundays at either 3 or 5 (alternating, check website for actual times)
Tickets range from $20-$45 and are available by calling 312-374-3196 or visiting www.windycityplayhouse.com
There are discounts for students and seniors
running time- 2 hours 10 minutes with an intermission.
There is easy access by public transportation and street parking in the neighborhood is available (some metered, some not). They had valet parking for the opening, but I would check on this at the website.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “End Days”