Chicago Theatre Review
Oracle’s ‘The Jungle’ a First-Rate Adaptation
Oracle Theatre – “The Jungle”
Literary adaptations are a tricky business, and that’s why they so rarely succeed. The adapter must simultaneously honor the central tenets of the source material while respecting whatever medium they are adapting to – hence, we so often end up with films and plays that are nothing more than abbreviated renditions of the novels in which they’re based.
Suffice to say, though, that’s hardly a problem with Oracle Theatre’s “The Jungle,” a passionate adaptation of the 1906 Upton Sinclair novel that not only intensifies Sinclair’s themes of social justice, but also brings them front and center to modern Chicago.
The central storyline to “The Jungle” is well-known – immigrants from Lithuania travel to Chicago, and shortly after settling on the city’s South Side, they begin working in the city’s infamous Stockyards. Numerous setbacks and tragedies befall the budding Chicagoans, though, and their American Dream slowly distorts into a despairing, blood-soaked nightmare.
“The Jungle” received considerable attention when it was published for its frank depiction of Chicago’s Stockyards, and the appalling conditions under which the nation’s meat supply was created. Numerous federal reforms followed, which clamped down on the seedy processes and greatly improved the quality of the Stockyards’ product – yet, as the adapter/director of Oracle’s production, Matt Foss, notes in the play’s program, the novel inspired none of the social reforms that Sinclair so desperately desired.
And that is where Foss’ adaptation succeeds so wildly. By avoiding the obvious temptation of focusing on the meatpacking industry (by leaving the blood aside, in other words), Foss is able to focus squarely on Sinclair’s principle themes: social justice, economic inequality, and the cruel guise of opportunity – aka, topics that still resonate intensely among Chicagoans more than 100 years after the publication of “The Jungle.”
Foss’ fine adaptation, though, would go nowhere without such an outstanding cast and crew, and “The Jungle” sustains Oracle’s high standards. I’m always impressed by how Oracle does so much with so little, and with “The Jungle,” stage manager Amy Hopkins and lighting designer Jason Fassl craft world that is as savage as it is cruelly beautiful, a neo-noir nightmare with mood to spare. As he did with “The Mother” (Oracle’s Jeff-winning production from last year), Nicholas Tonozzi crafts original songs that perfectly reinforce and further develop the play’s themes. And Foss coaxes terrific performances from his cast, with Dylan Stuckey and Colin Morgan bringing considerable aplomb to their multiple roles and Travis Delgado, the show’s lead and a newcomer to Chicago theater, deftly balancing fury, weariness, and humanity to a very affecting degree.
Reviewed by Peter Thomas RicciPresented July 19 – Sept. 6 at Oracle Theatre, 3809 N. Broadway, Chicago IL 60613
Tickets are available by calling (252) 220-0269 or by visiting https://oracle.tixato.com/buy.
Additional information about this and other spectacular area productions is available at the one, the only, the indefatigable www.theatreinchicago.com.