Chicago Theatre Review
‘Anger’ Well Performed, Albeit Dated, at Redtwist
Look Back in Anger – Redtwist Theatre
“Look Back in Anger” by John Osborne was the original “kitchen sink drama,” a work of startling urgency and uncompromising realism that turned the British theatrical establishment on its head when it premiered in 1956. With the eloquent, raging Jimmy Porter at its center, the play spoke to working class anger and anxiety in a way that had never been attempted before, and its message of the “angry young man” continues to resonate with creative types today – hence, the play’s current staging at the ever-inventive Redtwist Theatre.
With the ever-inventive Jonathan Berry directing and the surging Joseph Wiens playing Jimmy, Redtwist’s production cackles with energy and, yes, anger, as the cast navigates a wonderfully designed stage by Joe Schermoly and managed by Allison Queen. Cramped, mangy, and appropriately aged, the minuscule apartment in which the entire play’s action takes place continues Redtwist’s winning streak when it comes to production efforts; indeed, for anyone who saw the theater’s exemplary production of “Clybourne Park” last fall, one would be hard pressed to think that the same stage that re-created a classic Chicago bungalow could work so well as a dank British flat.
Even with the considerable skill behind Redtwist’s production of “Look Back in Anger,” though, there is one problem that’s a consistent thorn in its side – the original source material. Yes, “Anger” was a revolutionary work when it premiered in 1956, but many things have changed in theater in the ensuing 58 years, chief among them a more natural relationship between character and dialogue. Simply put, “Look Back in Anger” is an exceedingly talky play, one in which the characters don’t necessarily converse, but give speeches to one another – soaring, meticulously composed speeches that may sound pretty, but grow tiresome after the third, or fourth, or fifth time of hearing them. Indeed, even with the ferocious Wiens at the center of it, “Anger” just gets bogged down by its second act, and it’s hardly surprising that the classic 1959 film, starring Richard Burton, trimmed more than 30 minutes from its running time – while also adding characters, scenes, and a more fully rounded portrait of its themes. Watching “Anger” play out, I couldn’t help but wonder if it could possibly work in today’s theater climate.
As is also the case with Raven Theatre’s current staging of “Vieux Carré,” a great staging can only go so far when the source material is lacking, and Redtwist’s “Look Back in Anger” suffers from that same impediment.
Reviewed by Peter Thomas Ricci
Presented May 17 – June 15 by Redtwist Theatre, 1044 W. Bryn Mawr, Chicago IL 60660
Tickets are available by calling 773-549-1815 or by visiting http://www.redtwist.org/CurrentProduction.html.
Additional information about this and other spectacular area productions is available at the one, the only, the indefatigable www.theatreinchicago.com.