I am not the most well versed person on this story, and I can’t say I’m much better off after seeing this play. I get that there were lots of suspicious inconsistencies in the case as it moved along, including the choice of German “Bruno” Hauptmann, a poor and meek man set against the blond Aryan wet dream Charles Lindbergh. The eagerness of police to solve big cases. There’s the whole thing with the gold certificates, the wood and handwriting experts and so on.
Yep, I get why it’s a compelling narrative, or could be.
Unfortunately, this is a courtroom drama low on drama but long on cliché. It’s one long plea, from the moment Bruno begins his story from death row.
He’s surrounded by the ensemble, a prison staff. The players are draped on the bars of Bruno’s cell in a black-and-white tableau. The actors are mostly silent at first, miming the actions used like flashbacks in old movies as Hauptmann narrates the scenes of his arrest, interrogation, and trial.
The production is spare and stylized, with lone spotlights targeting the action. The playwright’s choice to put the play in its 30s milieu (it was written in 1986) creates a beautiful but placid setting, with dialogue so generalized that there’s little actual drama.
Being stuck with this one narrative voice is tough. The character is weary, permanently surprised by the ridiculousness of his case, then desperate as he makes his case.
His introduction is a too-long lead-in to the points of interest in the case. These are presented vaguely, perhaps to create a sense of doubt in the audience, but create only confusion. And with so much exposition and a slim story, the show moves along intermittently.
Finally, City Lit Theater should invest in some new seats. These were not only collapsing and uncomfortable, but noisy as people shifted around. Also with traffic sounds in the background, this less than taut drama had some obstacles to overcome.
Runs through July 10
City Lit Theater
1020 W. Bryn Mawr Ave.
Thursday June 30 and July 7 7:30
Buy online at www.citylit.org or call 773-293-3682
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at Hauptmann.
Parking can be tough so I suggest the Red Line (Bryn Mawr stop is just a block away). Meters are free on Sundays.