Highly Recommended **** What is consciousness? What is thought? What is it that defines us and separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom? This is the question that Tom Stoppard confronts in his play “The Hard Problem” presented by the Court Theatre and like so many of his fine works this one gives the audience lots of debate, entertaining moments, and much to contemplate.
Hilary, played by Chaon Cross, is a young psychology student who is being tutored by Spike, deftly played by Jurgen Hooper, as she prepares for her interview for a position at the prestigious Krohl Brain Institute. The institute is a wing of an avaricious investment fund that favors materialism and evolution, with little regard to morality. Hilary is altruistic and believes in God and prayer; Spike knows the institute’s preferences and doesn’t want to see Hilary rejected. He is a follower of Darwinism, everything we think, do, or say helps us pass our genes to the next generation and it is in this scene’s wonderful exchange of ideas, that we get our first glimpse of “The Hard Problem”!
Hilary is nervous as she waits for her interview and yes, everything is running late. As she waits, in walks Amal, a very energetic Owais Ahmed, who is also interviewing for the same position. He is a high level mathematician who believes that computer statistics and advanced algorithms can explain all human actions and emotions. The hiring manager, Leo, played by Brian McCaskil, shares Hilary’s sense of being and she ultimately wins the position. As Amal is about to leave, he meets the domineering and egotistical Jerry Krohl, menacingly portrayed by Nathan Hosner, who immediately offers him an opportunity in his organization. It is here that we begin to feel the yin and yang of “The Hard Problem” as Stoppard cleverly sets the stage for more questions, more ideas, and much more debate.
The story continues to unfold as we follow Hilary on her career path at the Krohl Institute among materialistic hedge fund investors, science geeks, and those that seek only to please. This plays out in a flawed paper that Hilary submits with co-author Bo, played by Emjoy Gavino, an idealistic mathematician who gave up money to do what’s right! In this process, Hilary rides the waves of joy, sadness, and hope as she ultimately discovers her true feelings and we learn of her painful secret. Chaon Cross portrays Hilary with passion and understanding and the expert cast does a fine job of developing the many sides of this very complex and complicated issue.
Charles Newell skillfully directs this 1 hour and 40 minute single act play, pacing each scene to ensure that the audience gains the necessary perspective. The set and lighting by John Culbert are simple and clear allowing the emphasis to be on the actors and the story. It was obvious that the completely filled house appreciated the effort of the director and the cast as they provided a thunderous applause at the end of the play.
The “Hard Problem” is about us; whether we have “heart”, ethics, or are we just materialistic? Stoppard gives us an array of intellectual characters who interact and discuss the matter without digging so deeply as to lose us and in the process takes us on a delightful ride. Excellent performances, solid direction, and a thought provoking topic make this play a worthwhile and enjoyable experience.
The Hard Problem will run through April 9, with performances as follows:
Wed & Thurs.: 7:30PM
Saturdays: 3:00PM & 8:00PM
Sundays: 2:30PM & 7:30PM
Location: Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Avenue, Chicago, IL
Tickets: $48-$68 Box Office: (773) 753-4472 or www.Courttheatre.org
FREE Parking is available in the garage next to the theater.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click at “The Hard Problem”