Chicago Theatre Review
Red Tape Theatre
The Walk Across America for Mother Earth – Red Tape Theatre
In Taylor Mac’s audacious and often overwhelming theatrical piece, now being performed by Red Tape Theatre as part of Steppenwolf’s three-production Garage Rep, confusing motivations seem to flow like glitter. Bringing to mind a hybrid of a commedia dell’arte troupe and the cast of “Hair,” this band of gender-bending characters/actors set off on an odyssey across the United States. They’ve gathered on the East Coast to protest the government’s decision to take back land they originally gave to the Shoshone Indians’ Western Nation. In the early 1860’s the tribe was forced onto a reservation in Nevada, but in 1992 America decided she wanted the land back for a nuclear testing site. And so this group of radicals, feminists, hippies and gay militants, inspired by the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ genocide, unite to travel together westward to demonstrate and challenge the establishment, on behalf of all Native Americans.
The production, as directed by Bonnie Metzgar, is colorful, cuckoo and sometimes comical, but it’s also very often brash, vulgar and seems to lose its intended mission within an overwhelming desire to shock. It’s a crazy quilt of styles and cross-gender casting that’s very difficult to follow. The main character, although that’s sometimes debatable, is Kelly, a somewhat innocent, gay young man who becomes increasingly disillusioned by the words and deeds of his fellow protesters. Kelly, addresses the audience directly, as do most of the other characters, constantly justifying his purpose in joining this march. And, although the play attempts to celebrate the people who search for life’s meaning by fighting for social change, Kelly’s journey from idealistic innocence to mature wisdom becomes garbled with so much going on. The play often gets bogged down in repetition and failure and success begin to look very much alike.
The always interesting, lithe and good-looking Alex Grelle plays Kelly with a sweetness and naivete that slowly erodes and becomes harder and more realistic. Kelly’s practicality eventually shines through, but there’s often so much distracting the audience it’s difficult to fully appreciate his gradual transformation. Still, Mr. Grelle stands out as perhaps the one character with whom audiences can identify. Ruth Margraff is strangely captivating and often funny as an ambiguous bimbo named Flower. As she nears her destination, however, her libido begins to grow dangerously out of control. Sadie Rogers is a loud, bawdy King Arthur, a would-be leader whose sex drive defeats any of his higher purposes. Sean Ewert’s humorous Marsha is a humorous cancer patient but, as her body becomes ravaged by the disease, she falls victim to her illness along with the hypocrisy of her fellow travelers. Morgan McNaught (Angie), Johnard Washington (Greeter), Angelica Roque (Rainbow Carl) and Nick Combs (Nick) also add their own funky and bizarre touches to this rag-tag troupe of dissenters.
A production that overpowers and oversells the play it’s presenting is a difficult piece to enjoy. The admirable energy and enthusiasm of this cast, the work put into their eccentric, often grotesque costumes and makeups and the drive that keeps this troupe going and going cannot be denied. Feeling about 30 minutes too long this play, while it attempts to deliver a worthy message, truly makes its success and failure seem like the same thing.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Present March 7-April 25 by Red Tape Theatre at the Steppenwolf Garage Theatre, 1650 N. Halsted, Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 312-335-1650 or by going to www.steppenwolf.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.