Lookningglass Theatre Company is one of my favorite spots to view plays. They are a true “black box” where they can convert the entire theater to fit what they are producing. Their current production, “The North China Lover’ is done in a normal theater setting with a stage area and the seating all facing the stage. Very conventional, but the story, a stage adaptation of the book ( a seemingly autobiography) by Marguerite Duras ( translated by Leigh Hafrey) is a story of “first Love”. The time is the 1930’s and we are in the French Quarter of Indochina. Our heroine, The Child ( skillfully played by Rae Gray, who many of us have watched grow up on our Chicago area stages). The Child is in fact the younger Ms Duras. The elder version, called M, is deftly handled by Chicago favorite Deanna Dunagan, who narrates the story as she is creating the book, which from the very start is mentioned by The Child”.
The Child attends Boarding School and while only a teen, is mature in her dreams. She encounters a wealth Chinese man, who is called The Lover ( a strong performance by Tim Chiou) and we witness the two of them not only exploring their emotions but fall in love, although they know that they can never have this love on the “outside” because they are “different”. The Child is from a poorer family, having had to sell all of their belongings to survive and the Child’s brothers, Paulo ( who she adores, played by JJ Phillips) and Pierre ( Walter Owen Briggs) who is trouble with a capital T, play a big part in her curiosity about sex and relationships, as does her best friend at school, Helene ( Allison Torem). The Mother ( Amy J. Carle), The Woman In Red (Tracy Walsh) and the musician (Betti Xiang) round out the cast that has been assembled by director , Heidi Stillman who also did the stage adaptation- the players are moved about like chess pieces, skillfully an deven in the love scenes ( where there is some nudity), with the dim lighting and just the right movements, we are captured by the emotion that the characters are feeling and almost do not see that there is nudity- very well done.
Speaking of DIM, the lighting (Daniel Ostling who also did the set) is designed to be mood setting and very successful. The music is enchanting ( Rick Sims handles the sound) and the costumes (Ana Kuzmanic) and props(Maria DeFabo) are sheer perfection. This is a 90 minute story with no intermission and it works. I guess what I found in not offering more stars in my rating is the appeal to mass audiences. Yes, this is a love story that has some mystery to it. But it also has some deceptions as the lovers do lie to each other and the child to her family. There is also the bigotry involved in that The Lover would lose all his wealth if he were to marry the Child ( whom he loves) and cannot do this.
This is a love story that will appeal to older woman who can think back to their youth and some of the things they did, in either exploration, or finding forbidden love, or just doing things to “get even” with their parents. The emotional part of the story is strong and the story well told and often, theater “critics” for get that their job is to “review’ and advise the readers if the story is worth the time to travel to the theater and is it worth the price of the ticket. In this case, I would have to say, yes!
“The North China Lover” will continue at Lookingglass Theatre located at 821 N. Michigan Avenue ( the old Water Tower Water Works building) through November 10th with performances as follows:
Thursdays 7:30 p.m.
Fridays 7:30 p.m.
Saturdays 3 and 7:30 p.m.
Sundays 3 and 7:30 p.m.
Thursday matinees at 3 pm 10/17,10/31 and 11/7
Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m. ONLY on 10/22 and 11/5
Tickets range from $36-$70 and are available at the box office, by phone at 312-337-0665 or online at www.lookingglasstheatre.org
There are studient tickets ( day of show at $20) Saturday matinees are buy one get one free ( thanks to Target)
To see what others are saying, vist www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review-Round-Up and click at “The North China Lover”