This is one of those confusing productions to refuse. The actors had the script been stronger would have brought this to a five as they were wonderful to watch. The story, however, written by Regina Taylor, si a bit over the top. I understood that she was attempting to mix technology and art as we are taken “outside the box” into a wintry, snowy night in the world of a book publisher who may just be at the end of his time. The idea for the play came to Ms Taylor when her favorite bookstore closed. As we all know, the book stores seem to be doing that on a regular basis due to our high-tech world where we no longer need the printed page, or at least many young people feel that is the case. In fact, the play looks at many items that have been a part of our lives for many years that are now obsolete or have vanished.
This play reminds me of an instance when a grandchild seeing a typewriter in my office asked me about the strange looking keyboard with no screen. I explained that this was pre-computer and showed him how it worked by placing a sheet of paper in the machine and he proceeded to use the “keyboard” to type a letter to his other grandfather. He had a typo and I showed him the marvel of “white-out”. When the letter was done, he asked how to send. I showed him the process of taking the paper out of the machine, placing it in an envelope, addressing it, putting a stamp on and then proceeded to take it to the post office. There he asked ,”how long will it take?”. “about a week,” I replied.He was in shock!
This play is very close to that feeling as this amazing Chicago business, a book publisher, an African American book publisher is being told by his new “partners” that he must cut expenses. His valuable employees, a rare mixture of characters, are all afraid that it could be one of them to go and each will do what they can to survive this ordeal.
The employees :Tim (Tim Decker) who has been around for many years and despite being the White guy in the office, truly feels that he is safe, because he thinks “Black”, Deb (a solid performance by Lisa Tejero) is the Asian-American employee who has given her personal life to make sure the company thrived, Jan ( Jacqueline Williams, as always builds a fine character) is the oldest employee, both in years and age and fears that is she is the one to go, she will lose it all, and Chris (deftly handled by Eric Lynch) is the young, sharp African-American who feels that since his father was an old friend of the boss, is safe and secure. These are the players who are all playing to keep their jobs, whatever the cost.
The owner, Alexander Ames is ably played by Eugene Lee who is as solid an actor as one will see grace any stage and in this role where he is the older, richer man, we watch him transform into the young man that is deep within him trying to get out and keep his legacy alive for generations to come, despite having no one to care about this memory he has built.
And then there is J ( a tour de force for Edgar Miguel Sanchez) playing a janitor who may in fact be Taylor’s “Christ” in this futuristic look at what could possibly happen due to the constant advancement in technology. Taylor has also directed this 95 minutes (no intermission) of fantasy that many might just see as containing real things that have affected them, either on a personal or business level. I know that after years of selling yellow pages, I recall what happened as the computer slowly caused this to change. Where are the payphones of yesterday? And when J opens up the box in the office of Mr. Ames, the items he finds contained therein are amazingly ones of familiarity to me, but not to those sitting around me. A “slinky”, a washboard, phonograph and record, just to name a few. Yes, there is magic in the story-telling, but perhaps there is also a lot of “Mumbo Jumbo”, but there is also a lot of truth in what is brought out relative to the Black/White issue, women’s rights, civil rights and in general a look at the Black history of Chicago.
The stage of The Owen is one huge office, very modern, with a raised section for the office of Mr. Ames, with a full wall of books, his books, “Black Books” including the one that got him started in reading, “The Tar Baby”, an Uncle Remus tale about one Brer Rabbit and how he out foxed the evil Brer Fox. Around the perimeter of the stage are lots of giant tv screens where we see photos and slides and from time to time, all action STOPS- and then is RESET!
Riccardo Hernandez has even added what appears to be an elevator so that the employees can leave this 11th floor office, and boy does it seem real. The other tech elements, Lighting (Keith Parham), sound (Richard Woodbury), Projections (Shawn Sagady), original music (Daniel Bernard Roumain) and costumes (Karen Perry, who even had Ames vest resemble books on shelves) were all wonderful. I was very surprised that the properties person was not given program credit as this was one busy props show and they were wonderful to say the least. Lots of questions in this one- not sure if Ms Taylor gave us all the answers.
“Stop.Reset.” will continue at The Goodman through June 21st with performances as follows:
Fridays at 8 p.m.
Saturdays at 2 and 8 p.m.
Sundays at 2 p.m. *
*6/14 also 7:30 p.m.
6/9 and 6/16, Tuesdays there will be a 7:30 p.m. show
Tickets range from $10- $40 and there are some special events that are designed to open your eyes and make you think. To order your opportunity to experience this production call 312-443-3800 or visit www.GoodmanTheatre.or/StopReset, or visit the box office located at 170 N. Dearborn Street
The show has its own website www.StopReset.org where you can get involved as well
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “Stop.Reset.”