Chicago Theatre Review
‘Genius’ Technically Proficient, but Hollow
Genius – Profiles Theatre
“Genius,” which is receiving its world-premiere staging at the always capable Profiles Theatre, has many things going for it: a sharply written, intricately plotted text by Kate Walbert; exacting direction from the highly experienced Darrell W. Cox; and a wonderful cast that includes the brilliant Robert Breuler and Liz Zweifler, and the talented, up-and-coming Stephanie Chavara and Cale Haupert.
Yet, in even the most technically capable of productions, all those elements do not make a great play when one essential component – heart – is missing from the equation, and unfortunately, “Genius” is a play in dire need of some heart.
The storyline is a wonderfully simple one. Peter and Charlotte, a twentysomething married couple who are aspiring filmmakers and expectant parents, invite Joel and Sara, a middle-aged married couple, to their New York rail apartment for dinner. Joel, a painter-turned-museum director, is coming off a highly sensationalized sex scandal with a young intern, and Sara, a writer and journalist of fading significance, struggles with resentment and sadness as the evening drags on, and her and Joel’s interactions with Peter (a modest North Dakota transplant) and Charlotte (an overly privileged, overly educated trust baby) become increasingly testy.
There are wonderful moments in the play: Peter’s fears of not being smart enough for Charlotte and her upper-class, prudish family; Joel’s remembrance of his first meeting with Sara; Charlotte’s fears of approaching motherhood; Joe’s beautifully wrought story of when his daughter gave him a horrendously knitted scarf for his birthday.
Clearly, there is talent behind “Genius,” but again, it fails to amount to anything profound and lasting, Walbert’s characters are ultimately to blame for that shortcoming. “Genius” is a decidedly New York play, meaning a play that, despite taking place in the most populated and diverse city in America, features an entirely white cast of artists and writers, people who know who Dionysus was in Greek mythology, and who see their films premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, and who are asked by the MacArthur Foundation to nominate individuals for its “Genius” grant – in other words, people who represent a small sliver of the American population, and who could only be bred in the artistic ignorance that is wholly indicative of New York’s theater and art scene and thankfully absent in Chicago’s. In today’s day of racial and economic inequality, of police brutality and profit-minded policing, of Jim Crow-esque drug policies and corporate-driven education mandates, why should we care about these privileged, ignorant characters when there is so much humanity going on outside our windows every day? Why should we care?
It’s a question that, sadly, “Genius” fails to answer.
Reviewed by Peter Thomas Ricci
Presented through May 3 by Profiles Theatre, 4147 North Broadway, Chicago, IL 60613
Tickets are available by calling 773-549-1815 or by visiting www.profilestheatre.org
Additional information about this and other spectacular area productions is available at the one, the only, the indefatigable www.theatreinchicago.com.