Saturday February 24th 2018

“Traitor”

A Red Orchid Theatre is known for bringing  us powerful stories in their very intimate space in “Old Town”. They are currently featuring the World Premiere of Brett Neveu’s adaptation of Heinrich Ibsen’s “An Enemy Of The People” entitled “Traitor”.  We are now in a small northern suburb of Chicago which has had its ups and downs for many years.  Dr. Tom Stock grew up in this town. He moved away and began his family and his life, but his sister Patty ( powerfully played by Kirsten Fitgerald) remained. During the topsy-turvy years, she became very involved and eventually, the mayor.

Tom ( played to perfection by Guy Van Swearingen) also had his own ups and downs, and despite being a very smart individual, could not find a happy place in his life. His school became a “Charter” school and he saw the light. He convinced his sister that if they were to build a school in their community, it might be the answer to all of their problems. Patty finds support from the business community and investors and they build a school, where Dr.  Stock is head of the science department and one of the administrators. His family moves back and all is perfect.

As the play opens, we are in the home of the Stock family and many of the locals are gathering to enjoy Taco Tuesday night as prepared by Karla ( Dado is amazing in this role) Stock who is the daughter of one of the town’s oldest business people , Howard Kihi ( Frank Nall). There is newspaper owner-publisher  Walter Hove ( played beautifully by  Steven Winterstein, who took over the role for ensemble member Larry Grimm and did so splendidly) who gets involved with Tom as a friend and also because he has a crush on Tom’s  daughter Molly ( Missi Davis). She is also a teacher at the Charter School and her brother, Randal (Nation Henrikson) is a student at the school. This character will become one of great importance later in the story.

The basic story ( both by Ibsen and in this adaptation) is about an alarmist and how the townspeople react to the fear that is being placed in their lives. In  Neveu’s adaptation we have Tom getting a report back that shows that there are problems of contamination in the ground where the school is located. The school has brought the town back to what they were, but closing the school could hurt the entire community. The community ,is of course, afraid of ruination. Jenn Sheffer ( the always reliable Natalie West) is one of the business people and on the Board. The fights between brother and sister ( Tom and Patty) lead us to a town Council Meeting, which we get to attend after intermission.

We walk up Wells Street, two doors, to an empty store where a number of people are milling about. Many of these people are members of Red Orchid but mix in well with the audience members. The town leaders, Fran Wysocki ( Mary Jo Bolduc is amazing in this role) greet and meet us all as if we were long-time friends and Eric Ryde ( Jacob Alexander) is the matter-of-fact guy who questions everything. The locals are played by Fiona Garretson, Neil O’Callaghan, Kelly Opalko, Joshua Seeger, Toma Smith and John Wehrman. Bill Strand, who must be the town engineer is well-played by Stephen Walker, who proves the old theater statement, “there are no small parts” as in this one scene gets a great deal of attention. The Council Meeting gets wild as people are screaming and yelling about the school. In fact, even some of the actual audience members began to chime in ( this was pretty impressive) and then the words turn to actions and Tom and his family are asked to leave- “meeting adjourned”.

We are ushered back to the theater and the home of the Stock family as we watch the family lose everything they have in the community and find out that Karla’s father may have been the one responsible for the contamination and that he has been buying the shares of the school that have been going for a fraction of their worth. I do not want to give away any more at this point, but will say that the ending is one that shows the power of family and that despite what something appears to be, the truth will prevail. Is Tom a rebel-rouser and alarmist? Or did he find the truth?

The other actor in this beautifully told story is Kristin Ellis as Madison Bliss. She is an employee of Walter Hove and as it turns out becomes very close to the Stock family. The creative team has done a remarkable job in this very tiny space on Wells Street. John Musial has designed a kitchen/den area with running water and electricity, a coffee shop that feels as if you might want to get a cup while you are in the area and an empty store set-up that could be real. Great work. Lydia Hanchett’s props are amazing and the lighting ( Mike Durst) and sound/music (Brando Triantafillou) perfect. Hats off to Chrisina Goman, the fight choreographer for some great action.

A special note to my readers. What happened today, with an understudy going on, and doing a noteworthy job, shows just how special Chicago is when it comes to theater. What I witnessed today was a seamless, flawless production of a play that will win some Jeff Awards ( for sure) with one of the major players being replaced. Our talent pool is great and our theater companies understand that value that its audiences expect ( and deserve), and they give it to us. So, when a theater announces that a role will be played by someone other than the person you thought was doing it, do not worry. You will get the high quality that you expected.

“Traitor” will continue through March 4th (extended) at A Red Orchid Theater located at 1531 N. Wells Street with performances as follows:

Thursdays  8 p.m.

Friday  8 p.m.

Saturdays  3 and 8 p.m.

Sundays  3 p.m.

Tickets range from $30- $35 ( a bargain for theater of this quality) and can be purchased by calling 312-943-8722 or online at www.aredorchidtheatre.org

Parking is always a bit of a problem but there are meters and lots in the area. Some of the restaurants offer valet, so you might want to check with them. The running time is 2 1/2 hours including the intermission.

To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-Up and click “Traitor”

 

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