Chicago Theatre Review
A Long Day’s Journey Into Late Night
2666 – Goodman Theatre
At what point is too much too much? Roberto Bolano’s epic, almost 900 page novel, published posthumously in 2004, has been adapted for the stage by the Goodman’s Tony Award-winning Artistic Director, Robert Falls and Playwright-in-Residence, Seth Bockley. Literary critics and bibliophiles alike have called this massive novel about violence and death a poetic masterpiece. Told in five separate sections, it’s Bolano’s personal vision of our world, featuring several different stories that are eventually linked to a mysterious author. All roads of this story, however, pass through the unsolved cases of rape and murder of over 300 young women and girls in the Mexican town of Ciudad Juarez (fictionalized as Santa Teresa). But as a novel, readers have the luxury of choosing the amount of time they choose to devote at one time, able to pore over this hefty tome at their leisure. However, as a theatrical work, particularly a play that attempts to dramatize the entire book in one sitting, it becomes a long day’s journey into late night; there’s simply too much at one time.
It’s not just the sheer amount of material that’s included in this drama. Certainly we’ve been treated to other long plays;“Nicolas Nickleby” and “Angels in America” immediately come to mind. But there were longer breaks in between, the dramas actually written as two distinct plays, during which the audience could enjoy a meal, engage in conversation and recharge their batteries. They could even choose to see the two installments on different evenings. Even The Hypocrites’ lengthy “All Our Tragic,” a 12-hour retelling of most of the major Greek dramas, offered several breaks during which refreshments and meals were provided. Theatergoers also had the choice of seeing the entire show at one visit or breaking it up between two evenings. But trying to cram so many characters, storylines and motifs into one single five-and-a-half hour production feels excessive, overly ambitious and even a bit pompous. At some point the typical audience member experiences sensory overload and simply isn’t able to digest any more. Never mind that some of the material, such as the endless litany of crime statistics, are portions of the novel that could be skimmed over by a reader. But while the cumulative effect of hearing this information cannot be denied, in a play there might’ve been better methods in which to convey the horror of these events. Falls and Bockley’s adaptation, while admirable in many ways, needs some editing for it to appeal to a theatergoing public.
That said, Bolano’s story is fascinating in the way it plays out, telling several seemingly different stories, yet ultimately circling back to the characters and events introduced at the beginning. Part One, “The Part About the Academics,” acquaints us with four literary critics whose lives are devoted to appreciating the works of, and discovering more about, fictional German author Benno von Archimboldi. Their odyssey eventually takes them to the Mexican border town of Santa Teresa where, in Part Two, “The Part About Amalfitano,” we meet a South American professor who’s come to this Mexican town, with his daughter Rosa. Due to the violent crimes occurring in the area, Oscar Amalfitano does everything he can to protect his young daughter from harm. “The Part About Fate” plays almost as a second scene to this act. It concerns Oscar Fate, an American journalist sent to Santa Teresa to cover a boxing match, although he’s far more interested in probing the details of the unexplained killings. Fate serendipitously meets and falls for Rosa Amalfitano. Upon taking her home, Rosa’s father pays Fate to deliver his daughter to the safety of the United States. On their way, the journalist and the young girl stop off at the prison to interview Klaus Haas, a German immigrant who’s been arrested for the brutal crimes.
In Part Four, “The Part About the Crimes,” the statistics and details of over a hundred femicides are endlessly presented to the audience between scenes in which a crass, apathetic police force does little to solve these horrific murders. We’re introduced to Elvira Campos, the head of the local mental institution, who shares information about the criminally insane while carrying on a love affair with officer Juan Martinez, the most professional of this police force. We also learn more about the eccentric German prisoner, Klaus Haas. In Part Five, “The Part About Archimboldi,” the story comes full circle. In the most delightfully entertaining portion of this epic tale, we meet the young Prussian, Hans Reiter and his devoted sister, Lotte. Hans’ saga takes him to Hitler’s Third Reich and beyond. It ties together all the major characters of this long play in a series of surprising discoveries that, somehow, make the playgoer’s journey worthwhile.
Accolades must go to Robert Falls and Seth Bockley for undertaking such a daunting project and for their dynamic co-direction. They share this praise with a raft of other theatre artists. This includes Walt Spangler, for his magnificent, ever-changing scenic design; Aaron Spivey, for the way he’s illuminated this spectacular production; Shawn Sagady, for his imaginative projections; and costumer Ana Kuzmanic for designing and creating a vast multitude of costumes that span time and locale.
There are not enough words to praise the combined talent and sheer stamina found in this definition of an ensemble cast. Falls’ and Bockley’s hardworking company of fifteen are each incredible in their mastery of this script. Every one of these thespians effortlessly undertake and skillfully portray at least three or more diverse roles and they each shine while doing so. This epic tale is brought to life by gifted Chicago actors Janet Ulrich Brooks, Charin Alverez, Yadira Correa, Sandra Delgado, Alejandra Escalante, Sean Fortunato, Henry Godinez, Lawrence Grimm, Eric Lynch, Mark L. Montgomery, Adam Poss, Demetrios Troy, Juan Francisco Villa, Jonathan Weir and Nicole Wiesner.
Despite the magnificence to be found in this production, it really must be appreciated as a work in progress. It’s ambitious and daunting, but it’s also gut-wrenching, unexpectedly funny at times and as informational as it is inspirational. This play, adapted from one of the most celebrated novels of the 21st century, certainly cries out to be told on stage. There’s no question as to the intrinsic theatricality of the novel that inspired this production. However, for this play to work it simply needs to either be reduced to a digestible size or broken up into two or three separate installments, like “Angels in America.” And like Tony Kushner’s Gay Fantasia on National Themes, this important play could become another international hit and prize-winner.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented February 6-March 13 by the Goodman Theatre in their Owen Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn, Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 312-443-3800 or visiting the box office in person or by going www.GoodmanTheatre.org.
Additional information about this and other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com