Recommended *** It has been awhile since I have read or watched anything written by Mark Twain. In my college days, in particular in Literature class, much time was spent on one of our great American treasures. City Lit Theater, which is known for its “literate Theater” is now presenting a charming satirical look at American Politics as seen through the eyes of Mark Twain. This charming two hours of theater (with a ten minute intermission) is called “The Gilded Age: A Tale Of Today”.
This is a panoramic romp through Twain’s America, which in reality is of course, OUR America! Smoothly directed by Adam Goldstein on a stage designed by Sarah JHP Watkins, this is a unique and poetic entertainment as adapted by Paul Edwards. City Lit is located at 1020 West Bryn Mawr (just west of Sheridan Road) in the Edgewater Presbyterian Church, on the second floor. It is not a luxurious venue, but this company manages to bring quality theater to its stage with comfortable seating, and in Chicago we are used to “black box” theaters and storefronts in addition to our fancy playhouses. As long as one can sit in comfort and be able to view the action on the stage, we have theater!
The original story of “The Gilded Age” was written back in 1873 by Twain and his buddy Charles Dudley. They did not write the story together, Twain writing the chapters that detail the story about our main character Ms Laura Hawkins ( a solid performance by Jacquelene Jones) and Dudley writing the stories of the others who touch each other along the way. The play opens up with Ms Hawkins playing to an empty theater as a speaker. No one shows up and most that are there are unhappy with her. She was a woman who killed a lover and was sent to a mental institution instead of being hanged. People want to know her story! While our main character is names after Twain’s childhood sweetheart, the character in this play, is nothing like the woman he adored his entire life!
This story takes us from a steamboat race along the Mississippi River to the Hawkins family adopting young Laura and we watch as she and her brother, who are left some land wheel and deal their way into the world of politics and a life in high society and matching her wits with Congress and other politicos. With the exception of Ms Jones and her brother Washington (deftly handled by Erik Burke) the entire cast handles a multitude of roles along the way. In some cases, they only change a costume or a partial change, but they do a solid job of changing their character through demeanor. I guess the only major exception to this is Drew Johnson, who I found playing Col George Selby to perfection, but others he played left me confused as he did not make enough change for the audience to know right away that he was a different man. When he played the District Attorney, trying Ms Hawkins for the murder of another character he played, the couple behind me found themselves in a quandary- who was he and who did she kill?
The rest of the cast, Mike Speller, Wesley Scott, Philena Gilmer (her role as Mrs. Hawkins was powerful and real), Scott Olson, Kevin Gladish, Nora Lise Ulrey and Abbey Smith, all handles multiple roles with great skill and ease. I was also impressed by the lighting (Becca Jeffords), costumes (Caitlin McLeod) and sound (Paul Edwards) that added to the charm of the entire production. As always, this organization takes their Mission Statement to heart and brings literature to the stage for many to see and witness. While they may not be for everyone, the work they do is solid and worthwhile.
“The Gilded Age” will continue through February 21st with performances as follows:
Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.
Sundays at 3 p.m.
SPECIAL Thursday performances on February 11th and 18th at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are $29 (discount for seniors and students) and can be ordered by calling 773-293-3682 or online at BoxOffice@citylit.org
The theater is located at 1020 West Bryn Mawr (very near the RED Line station -Bryn Mawr) and by bus. Street parking is available, although not plentiful, some metered, some not. FYI- on Sundays, the meters do NOT work! Hip, Hip Hooray!
Valet parking is available at Francesca’s Bryn Mawr Restaurant and also at Edgewater Beach Café in the apartment building one block east at Sheridan (with validation). Also, if you dine at Little Mexican Café (one block west of the theater, parking is free).
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “The Gilded Age”