Highly Recommended **** In these crazy political times, leave it to Northlight Theatre to bring us the Midwest premiere of Anthony Giardina’s “The City of Conversation” that takes us through a family and their relationship through six presidential administrations. As we return to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when it seemed that elections were far simpler than that which is about to possibly change our country (forever), we meet the Ferris family in their lovely Georgetown home. I must say that the set designed by Tom Burch looks good enough to move into, if you don’t mind stairs.
The family matriarch, Hester is played to sheer perfection by Lia D. Mortensen. As we watch her age during the two hours (two acts/three scenes, with one intermission), and her demeanor change we see how the political scene changed relative to women during these years as well. Hester’s parties are famous and attended by the upper crust of politics. She is based on many different socialite women of the era, according to Giardina, as no matter what the occasion, politics becomes a major item in the conversation. Her husband, Chandler Harris is solidly played by Tim Decker and her son, Colin, a rebel of sorts, by Greg Matthew Anderson. Colin changes from the first to the second act, becoming more political, but what takes place is a difference in ideals and ideas that becomes a wall between mother and son.
Colin has brought home, during the first act, his love, Annie ( well -developed character by Mattie Hawkinson) who appears to butt heads with Hester from the very onset. Hester’s lifelong friend who is almost a sister to her, is delightfully played by Natalie West (who many will recall from her days on “Roseanne”, but is also well -known for her stage acting here in Chicago at A Red Orchid Theatre Company on Wells Street). She is ,as always, quite the character! During this two hours of magical “conversations”, we learn a great deal about politics and what makes people tick. We also learn about family and change. Much of what we watch and observe is like a game between players who strive to be the one and only winner. When it comes to politics, as many of us are learning, winning is not always what it seems to have been.
I certainly do not want to give anything away, but I will tell you that there is something special about Hester and her grandson (Ethan, played, first as a six -year -old ,by Tyler Kaplan, and later as an adult who has been estranged by Anderson) who in the final scene explains a lot of what we saw and how politics can change the make-up of a family. This is a strong look at politics from an angle that most of us would never think of. The ensemble of Brian Keys, Tim Monsion and Elaine Rivkin fill in the other roles. There is a great deal of talk in this story and yet, it never feels “talky”. In fact, even all the political jargon did not bother me. I found myself leaning in and paying close attention to some of the terminology that Giardini uses to produce a sort of chess game where we are not sure if Hester is our “Queen” or in fact, the “king”.
Democrat or Republican? You will find yourself caught in the web during these two hours of “The City of Conversations”. Marti Lyons has produced a wonderful production of Giardini’s play and you can see it for yourself at Northlight Theatre located at 9501 Skokie Blvd. in Skokie, thru October 23rd with performances as follows:
Thursdays 7:30 p.m.
Fridays 8 p.m.
Saturdays 2:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Sundays 2:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. (on October 9th)
Tickets range from $30- $81 and can be purchased at the box office, by calling 847-673-6300 or online at www.northlight.org
Plenty of free parking at the theater
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “The City of Conversation”
NOTE: there is talk about this becoming a mini-series for F/X