Recommended*** I must preface this particular review of Steppenwolf’s, “The Wheel” by Zinnie Harris by saying this is NOT for everyone and that the story has some very loose connections. While the direction is splendid and the acting superb, it is the entire production on which I must base my review, so let me tell you at first- it is 1 hour and 50 minutes with NO intermission. That is a very long time to sit in a very dark theater viewing a very dark story, which caused many an audience member to squirm in their seat and others to look at their watches from time to time. Those who no longer wear watches, using their cell phones as timepieces, despite being told to “turn them off” were flicking them to see just how much time had elapsed and how much longer their kidney had to wait- this is , as I said above, NOT for everyone.
“The Wheel” takes place in the 19th Century on a farm in Spain- the set ( Blythe R.D. Quinlan) is as mysterious as the story- a number of sheets and furniture that begin as a farmhouse and goes through many changes along the way. Joan Allen ( welcome back Joan, always wonderful to see you work on the stage at Steppenwolf) plays our heroine, Beatriz who is preparing all for her sister’s wedding day ( Chaon Cross) when soldiers arrive seeking food and drink led by Sargento ( the esteemed Yasen Peyankov, who handles nasty better than most actors) and as we witness, he has banished a man who has done business with the French ( the enemy). His daughter , known as “the Girl” ( divinely played by Emma Gordon) needs to find her father an dso, amidst all the chaos of the supposed war, Beatriz takes on the challenge of seeking out this man.
Along the way, she also picks up another child, The Boy ( a strong performance by young Daniel Pass) and under the skillful direction of Tina Landau, we join these three characters ( and later a baby as well) as they journey across time and war zones meeting all type sof characters who will either harm them or open up secrets of survival. The Girl it appears has some magical powers performing feats that are unbelievable. There is some confusion in their travels as they seem to go one direction and end up in another and there is a point when we hear the chanting of “Avenu Malkenu”, a prayer in Hebrew that is chanted during the “Day Of Atonement” celebration ( although there is never a mention of the Holy Day in the dialog.
I found the lighting, very dark, which I am sure was designed ( Scott Zielinski) to set the mood. The costumes(Anna Kuzmanic) are less than exciting, but again help in making the characters close to real. The sound and incidental music ( Kevin O’Donnell was breathtaking and the projections( Stephan Mazurek) and Magic ( Dennis watkins) truly make this almost two hours an entertainment experience.
Ensemble members are key to a production such as this and Ms Landau has assembled some of Chicago’s finest talents to bring this story to life: Kareem Bandealy, La SShawn Banks, Robert Breuler, Tim Hopper, Ora Jones, Mark L. Montgomery, Erin Oechsel, Stephanie Park, Daniel Pass, Edgar Miguel Sanchez, Scott Stangland, Demetrios Troy and Matthew Yee ( in addition to those already mentioned). This is a strong play about hope and human nature, somewhat confusing and very clever and while there is a reference to the “Wheel” relative to some wine, it is the “wheel of life” and look at life in general- our morals and ethics and those of people around us. Here, a woman who has no children of her own takes on full responsibility with three youngsters seeking to get them to where they belong and to save them from possible loneliness ,or worse! There is some strong magic in the air and in the script and if we allow ourselves to concentrate on the characters, we can see that “The Wheel” celebrates the “circle of life”- Beatriz herself lost her father during a war and at the end, he reappears- so perhaps it is because of her childhood memories that she takes on the challenge of helping “The Girl” to find hers.
“The Wheel” will continue at Steppenwolf Theatre Downstairs, through November 10th . To see schedule or performances ( where you can also order tickets) view www.steppenwolf.org– Tickets range from $20*-$82) and can be purchased also at the box office located at 1650 N. Halsted Street, by phone at 312-335-1650 or www.steppenwolf.org
To see what others are saying visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “The Wheel”