Chicago Theatre Review
A Portrait of an Oppressive Future
Tyrant – Sideshow Theatre Company
In this premier of Kathleen Akerley’s stark and challenging visionary drama, stylishly co-directed by Megan A. Smith and the playwright herself, the future looks frightening for both the haves and have-nots in America. Akerley looks down the road 35 years from now, imagining how this country will finally solve its homeless problem. Humanity’s discarded will be salvaged by providing them with practical skills and conditional employment.
On paper the solution sounds perfect. A government-generated Rectification Act offers displaced citizens a new lease on life in a two-step program. First the homeless are housed at training centers where they are taught how to perform one specific domestic task (cook, chauffeur, nurse). They’re then farmed out to the wealthiest households where they’ll reside and become trusted support staff. While the will and creativity of the homeless are totally erased, their subservience is rewarded with basic room and board, appropriate uniforms and a modicum of respect. Beyond that, these outcasts will enjoy a productive, somewhat secure existence; however, at the whim of their employer, these reprocessed workers can be “recycled” back to the Center at any moment if they’re found to be unsatisfactory.
Ms. Akerley’s harsh, fascinating look at the future addresses so many ideas, and they seem to fly at the audience with breakneck speed. In so doing, many thoughts simply wash over the playgoers’ heads. However, the one concept that permeates this play is that through the government’s attempt to solve this major national problem other serious dilemmas result. Most blatant is the parallel between slavery and this futuristic way of life. The affluent either own or lease other less-fortunate people to keep their own lives running smoothly. The master has complete control, and his employees have no opportunity to advance their position. Certain lines, of course, cannot be crossed and there are government mentors who continually observe and evaluate each “Rectified’s” work and treatment by their “padre.” But what exists is a staff of servile human beings who exist and function purely at the whim of another, more powerful individual.
Matt Fletcher handles the role of Martin with ease and eloquence. Given such an abundance of dialogue, filled with technical jargon, psychological suppositions and governmental rhetoric, Mr. Fletcher’s work is particularly admirable. Considering, too, that he spends much of the play stark naked on a massage table, the actor’s comfort level never indicates the audience’s presence.
Andy Lutz and Clare O’Connor, as Rectified workers Leon and Regina, are both impressive as Martin’s innocent, almost childlike massage therapists. Never having been taught to write, Regina has developed her own method of shorthand with which she records Martin’s subconscious babbling during his rub-downs. While Regina has accepted her present lot in life, Leon seeks to recall his past. Both characters, as portrayed by Lutz and O’Connor, develop a sibling relationship offering support and protection for each other. Both actors, while saying little, display an entire spectrum of emotions through just their eyes and body language.
Karie Miller’s Nicole is played with the efficiency and non-judgmental professionalism a trained counselor would be within this scenario. When she offers Martin alternative methods for his psychological exploration her efforts are thwarted and she’s swiftly discharged for not meeting his expectations. Paige Smith is competent in his role as Martin’s mentor, Matthew. Friends as well as co-workers, Matthew eventually becomes frustrated with Martin as, in the play’s shocking final moments, he sees the man become the tyrant.
Much praise must be heaped upon scenic designer Cait Chou’s beautiful, futuristic set, particularly working in tandem with Jordan Kardasz and Christopher M. LaPorte’s expressive lighting and sound artistry. Their united creativity adds a great deal to this production. Co-directors Akerley and Smith keep the play moving at a tightly brisk pace. They’ve also wisely choreographed its many scene changes such that they flow like a well-executed dance.
While this play is overflowing with many philosophies and ideas, and could benefit from a little trimming, the premise is fascinating and involving. The final scene, played with intensity and raw emotion by Fletcher, Lutz and O’Connor, leaves the audience reeling from shock and discomfort and little uncertain about these characters’ future. It’s certain, however, that Sideshow’s premier will spark many long, post-production discussions and probably a few nightmares.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented May 31-June 29 by Sideshow Theatre Company at TheaterWit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by at the Theater Wit box office, by calling 773-975-8150 or by going to www.theaterwit.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.