Highly Recommended **** “The Compass” absolutely blew me away! It is unique and one of the most creative plays I’ve ever seen. It’s just too bad there are so few public performances – and limited seating at those. If I had any influence with Steppenwolf at all, I’d recommend they extend “The Compass” which I give 4 BIG Spotlights.
For “The Compass”, every ticket holder was given a card with a number and a color – mine was number five and purple. We told in advance that the audience would be seated in groups of 25 and there were no assigned seats within each group. In the lobby I was given a card with a purple border and the number 5. Inside, I noticed that Steppenwolf had reconfigured the Downstairs Theatre into groups scattered all over the space with the seatbacks in each group draped in a different color. When the doors were closed, a young woman informed us that we should pay close attention to fact in the case because we were Juror #5.
The cast at hand was a difficult one. A 16 year-old high school student, Marjan (Ariana Burks) was on trial. The story was divided into three parts: flashbacks to a Steve Jobs-like presentation of a revolutionary new app, Compass; flashbacks to Marjan’s time leading up to her act; and the actual trial. Every so often, the stage presentation paused, a timer was projected on stage, and each facilitator would ask his/her group to discuss the trial. When time ran out, individual jurors/facilitators would do on-camera interviews about the trial using out words.
I can’t say enough about how hard those facilitators – Lindsey Barlag Thornton, Bryan Bosque, Cruz Gonzalez-Cadel, Jasmin Cardenas, Melissa Duprey, Krystel McNeil, Sean Parris, Abby Pajakowski, Emilio G. Robles and Alejandro Tey – worked.
Compass designer, Ada (Cruz Gonzalez-Cruz), figured out an algorithm which would incorporate all the social media sites – Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, etc. – an individual used and filter them through Compass. Instead of agonizing over the decisions you must make every day, you would just ask Compass what would you do, and Compass will tell you what you would do. The pitch – Compass is you and you are Compass! The entrepreneur (Tim Hopper) provided development and launch money. He even mentioned that they’re considering adding celebrity filters to Compass.
Since Marjan and her friend Chaz (Johnathan Nieves) downloaded Compass to their phones, they live by Compass. At school, Marjan has written an article for the school newspaper which is a step-by-step manual which gives instructions on how to bring a gun to school. She wrote it because her friend saw a gun in a backpack and spent the next several days terrified. Marjan is a little worried about her article so she seeks guidance from the School Counselor (Cheryl Lynn Bruce) who is too busy to listen to her. When the newspaper advisor, Mr. Ferguson (Hopper), refuses to print the article, Marjan attempts to put it on social media. He confiscates her phone and she ends up suspended from school.
When Chaz finds out Marjan’s been suspended, he posts the article everywhere over her protests. Within minutes, it’s had hundreds of views and suddenly, there’s a protest movement – bring a gun to school tomorrow. Marjan is so worried about that she asks Compass how to get school cancelled. Of the three options Compass mentions, only a bomb threat seems doable to Marjan. She asked Compass about the penalty, which is a mandatory two year prison sentence, but she did it anyway – making a very bad decision for a good reason.
The Prosecutor (Burke) makes the case that since Marjan freely admitted calling in a bomb threat, which ended up cost thousands of dollars and disrupting way too many lives, she should be found guilty. The Defense (Parris) maintains that she didn’t have a choice because Compass told her she would do it. Chas testified that she did it to prevent students from bringing guns to school.
Once the testimony concluded, the facilitators returned to us for discussion and a vote – guilty or innocent. Every performance could potentially end up with a different conclusion.
“The Compass” runs through March 12th in the Downstairs Theatre at Steppenwolf Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted, Chicago. Running time is 90 minutes, no intermission. Public performances are Fridays, March 4th and 11th at 7:30 pm; Saturday, March 5th at 1:30 and 3:00 pm; and Saturday, March 12th at 3:00 pm. Tickets are $20; $15 with a student I.D. Paid parking is available in the adjacent Steppenwolf Garage. FYI (312) 335-1650 or www.steppenwolf.org.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click on “The Compass”.