Wednesday May 24th 2017

“The Great Fire”

Recommended It is not very often that one gets to sit in a theater that is one of the survivors of the story being told on its stage, but Lookingglass Theatre Company, located in the original Water Tower on Michigan Avenue and Pearson Streets is indeed that home, now housing “The Great Fire” a ninety minute original play written by John Musial who also takes on the role of the director of this fast paced production. They say that this disaster, The Chicago Fire, was in fact the definition of a city that comes out of the ruins to become a world leader.. Did this fire really change the course of history?  Will viewers see Chicago in a different light? Did Musial do research on all the characters he opted to use or is this all based on stories and myths? These are strong questions and while many remain unanswered, what we have at Lookingglass is a striking production that will awaken your mind and have you wanting to know more.

For those not familiar with Lookingglass, it is located at the Chicago Water Works ( one of the few survivors of “The Great Fire” and its stage is designed so that the theater can be one sided, two sided, three sided or arena-style. In this production, audience members are seated on three sides and the other wall is used for a marvellous set designed by  John Dalton. The cast of seven actors, who take on many roles are a credit to their professions. They take on role after role, changing costumes along the way and never miss a beat. We, the audience are never confused as to who they are in any given scene. The costumes ( Alison Siple) and lighting ( Mike Durst) along with the sound  touches by Ray Nardelli and the marvelous props by Joel Lambie make it an enjoyable 90 minutes for theater and at the same time, we are treated to some historical information that we may have passed over in our educational experiences.

The play takes place in 1871, October 8th to be exact ( just around the corner). Chicago has experienced a very hot summer with very little moisture. On October 7th, there was a fire in one of the area zones, but the fire people were not prepared for a second, and even larger one the next day. This play takes a look at how the politicians used the fire to get votes and contributions as well as take advantage of the “graft” that was in place by our “founding fathers”. We see families split, people losing jobs and of greater importance, how a city can survive anything if the inhabitants band together to get the job done. Over the years, Lookingglass, in its productions has brought us local stories , stories that deal with people and the choices they make in life- and how those choices affect others as well as themselves.

Lookingglass evidently felt the need to do this play, not only because they felt the story strong, comedic and heartwarming, but also because it examines people and the choices they make. If you are a true Chicagoan, you will find yourself wanting to know more about the people mentioned in the play as well as the real events of the days during the fire itself. If you are just visiting and want to explore something different, you will find this play to be more than a theatrical experience, but in fact, a history lesson, involving a tragic time in the life  of our city and how the community known as Chicago made sure that the story could be told for years to come. These were special times with special people. What these people did through this fire was survive and become stronger. We can all take a lesson from these early Americans- the choices we make, ones that may seem clear at the time of a crisis, may indeed not be best in the long run. Opening one’s heart and soul to those in need, however, will give others a reason to survive and rebuild their lives and community- that is the ‘GIST” of this superior production.

The cats of players in this true ensemble piece are; the always reliable Cheryl Lynn Bruce, Thomas J. Cox ( always an energetic performer), Stephanie Diaz ( a delightful newcomer to Lookingglass, but one I hope to see a lot more of),Kevin Douglas, Troy West, Gary Wingert and the deliciously comical Lindsey Noel Whiting who lives up to Lookingglass’s , no boundaries-  ( she is hysterical and very flexible). A solid cats that take son many other voices/roles to bring this story to life. While we might never know how much is truth and how much myth, the facts are the facts- this building, Lookingglass Theatre in a survivor and watching Musial’s story be told, makes one wish they could have been privy to what really took place during these stormy days in Chicago.

This is a 90 minute production that will educate and entertain you. You may want to continue learning about the events during this period, but the play is designed only to let you know what began to take place “after” the Cicil War. Musial’s direction is skillful and the choreography ( I prefer stage movement)  by Julia Rhoads with some very special music composed by Eric Huffman add some true magic to this frantic piece of history set on a stage, located on the very site of the event that caused our city to review itself and its people in order to :start all over again”!

This is by no means a MUST SEE play, but it is one that can enlighten your historical knowledge and give you a better sense of the history of our wobderfull city, Chicago- and the ordinary people who make the right choices and begin the process of rebirth after a catastrophe This defines who we are as a people and how our love of country is stronger than many other emotions. One day, this may all change again, but I am of the opinion that we, as a country can survive and grow. And I promise you, we will!

:The Great Fire” will continue at Lookingglass Theater locaqted at 821 N.Michigan Avenue  thru November 20th with performances as follows:

Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Friday at 7:30 p.m. andSaturdays and Sundays at 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Tickets range from $20 -$28 ( a real bargain) and can be purchased by visiting the box office, calling  312-337-0665 or online at www,lookingglasstheatre.org

Saturday is Target matiness- stop by any Walmart store and get to enjoy the experience- it is a defining moment in the life and death of Chicago. Also, buy one/get one free promotions

 While Ms Diaz was splendid  in her building of her character, and Troy West on handling of several characters, it is the ensemble and the subject matter that will “light yup your life, as the fire lit up the skies of Chiocsgo)

As always, I look forward to the magic that Lookingglass puts on its stage, and once again, they have not let me down  and thankl you for finding Ms. Whiting! she is one of akind, so hold on to her!

 

 

 

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