Wednesday August 23rd 2017

“Hank Williams, Lost Highway”

It is always a pleasure to witness a young theater company spread its wings into new material and new styles. Filament Theatre has been around a few years and have a strong membership- full of talented actors, directors, designers and of most importance, people who care about what they do in order to give the audiences who attend their productions, the best bang for their buck! There is present production, “Hank Williams, Lost Highway” written by Randal Myler and Mark Harelik, is a stunningly directed (Julie Ritchey and Omen Sade) portrayal of this “Country Western” legend’s  life and the imprint that his music has left on those who love the C&W sounds.

Since , Filament, in their “mission statement” says they are dedicated to creating theatre in a folk tradition”, they couldn’t have picked a better play or man to bring to their stage. This production is on the stage at  the Athenaeum Theatre’s third floor studion, which is fairly comfortable and holds roughly 80 people, so there is a certain amount of intimacy. This will be the last traveling production for this company as they have found a home that they can call their own in Portage Park, Six Corners, and as they get ready to possibly remount this show in their own home, I will give you more information- meanwhile, back to this marvelous evening of storytelling.

Many Chicago audience members have been lucky enough to see Peter  Oyloe ( winner of TWO Jeff Awards /nominated for three) and I must tell you that this young man takes on the persona of hnk Williams, yet doesn’t try to imitate him in any way. So strong is his interpretation of the man, you forget that he is an actor playing a role, but rather feel that you are in a “time machine” that has taken you back to where you can watch the events of his growth in the industry an dhow he destroyed himself every chance he had. As a young man , he was inspired by Tee-Tot ( deftly handled by Gerald Richardson) who’s spirit stays with him for the duration of the 2 1/2 hours of great music to go with the storytelling.

Mama Lilly , who got him on his way to the stardom he would achieve is played by Danon Dastugue, Mary Spearen portrays his wife Audrey ( who could not sing but inspired his words of song), the adorable Bryce Gangel plays the waitress who adores and worships Williams with every waking breath and Bill O’Neill plays Fred Rose, the man who took him from “country” radio and halls to “The Grand Ole Opry”. They are all solid in their performances, but the key to telling this story is the music and to add to the power that Oyloe brings to the stage, four dynamic musicians who can act; Tim McNulty ,Eric Labanauskas, Jesse Woelfel and the very funny Sam Quinn- these are top notch musicians and vocalist who understand the country flavor that Williams created; songs like, “Thank God”, “Your Cheatin’ Heart”, “I’M So Lonesome I Could Cry”, “Move It On Over”, “Lost Highway””I Saw The Light” and many more- some written by him, others for him, but all with his story, heart and soul in mind! There is a chilling moment near the end of the production ( where I thought it was ending) as Hank sees behind him a bright light and with Tee-Tot, walks to the light and through the portal to it. A tear just may come to your eye at this point, but relax a bit as there is more to come.

For those of you unfamiliar with Hank Williams, as a young man he had some back problems ( spina bifida) which would not allow him to do what rural lads do, so he turned to music. He grew in popularity quickly, but his pain continued, so he turned to drink. As the years went on, and emotions were high and low, alcohol allowed him to escape to another place, but over the years, it would lead to his early death. While he died well before his time, his music still lives on and will do so for generations to come. This production tells the story very simply, with no glitzy set-Henry Behel did however design doors that change where we are, basic costuming (Noel Huntzinger),Melissa Schlessinger handling the sound and Nicholas J. Carroll on the lights ( a few dark spots on opening night, but no one could ever take away the brightest of lights on a stage- this solid cast!).

“Hank Williams” will continue at The Athenaeum Theatre located at 2936 N. Southport ( at Lincoln) through July 8th ( I hope they can extend or remount elsewhere as this si a show that deserves to be seen) with performances as follows:

Thursdays,Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 3 p.m.

Tickets are a MERE $22 ( yes, that is right, for a bit more than a movie ticket, albeit 3D, you get LIVE entertainment), only $19 for students and can be purchased by calling  773-935-6875 or online at www.filamenttheatre.org

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