Chicago Theatre Review
The Occupy Movement
The New Sincerity – Theatre Wit
Inside the stylish Manhattan loft apartment (beautifully detailed and designed by Adam Veness) that also doubles as apublication office, Rose, a talented young journalist devoted to writing about social upheaval in America, becomes involved in one more unfolding drama. Suddenly finding herself torn in several directions, Rose learns she’s being elevated to a permanent position of staff writer for the literary journal, Asymptote. The publication takes its curious name from a term that means “a line that tries to be a curve but never quite gets there.” That might also describe Rose’s romantic relationships.
Rose has mixed feelings about her editor, both professionally and romantically. As the play opens an office party, thrown to celebrate the publication of their latest September issue, has just wound down. Ben is very drunk and his attempt to seduce Rose is gently thwarted, while his offer to become a perennial contributor to the magazine is welcome. It’s not that Rose isn’t sexually attracted to her handsome editor; it’s just that he happens to be engaged to another writer who’s out of the country for while. Rose accepts the position but wisely declines the romance.
The following day Rose tries to pitch an idea to write about the Occupy Wall Street movement, a protest that’s brought thousands of people to nearby Zuccotti Park, just across the street from the apartment. Because Ben’s fiancee is about to publish her own book about the apathy of her generation and the death of the left, the editor adamantly vetoes Rose’s suggestion. However Rose can’t stay away from the movement and she finds herself attracted to Django, one of the protesters, a freewheeling, freethinking young drifter who oils his way into her heart. However, after Ben reluctantly joins Rose in the park to observe the movement firsthand, he turns into a passionate convert. Ben wants to create a newsletter about the campaign, even wanting to take the credit for the entire drive. Rose begins to seriously look at Ben’s motives and she suddenly sees her editor for what he’s become.
The comedy in this production, so slick and contemporary feeling (although it takes place five years ago), is the result of both Jeremy Wechsler’s dynamic direction and a cast of young actors who are very comfortable with playwright Alena Smith’s wise-cracking dialogue. Wechsler keeps his production and his actors moving, with their conversation smooth, fast-paced and unexpected.
Maura Kidwell is totally likable as Rose. This lovely, accomplished actress, with a welcoming smile that blooms across her face, could win over even the most stubborn supervisor. She’s absolutely convincing as this smart, literate and compassionate young journalist who sometimes gives in to her emotions, but is wise enough not to get involved with the wrong Romeo. Drew Shirley understands the kind of man living inside of Ben. He portrays a stubborn, opinionated millennial who feels entirely in control of everyone and everything around him. He’s a self-entitled young man who will do and say whatever he likes. Ben, as played by Mr. Shirley, is used to having his own way and is somewhat surprised when everything doesn’t turn out as he’s planned.
Alex Stein plays Django with a relaxed easiness and absolute confidence that isn’t really all that different from Ben. He’s a charming young guy who slyly manipulates his way into everything. Mr. Stein’s Django doesn’t react with Ben’s abrasive intensity, but he’s also a 20-something used to having his own way. When he loses out, however, Stein’s Django simply packs up his few possessions and moves on to the next cause.
But the real star of this production is lovely, buoyant Erin Long as Natasha. Playing this indomitable young magazine intern who enters each scene with all guns firing, Ms. Long is simply captivating. She raises the stakes every time she enters the stage, bringing an exhilarating energy that’s infectious. As Rose’s comedic sidekick, Natasha is hard to beat. The playwright has provided some fascinating dialogue for all four of her characters, but in Natasha she’s penned a quirky, very funny and charismatic young lady who’s absolutely unforgettable.
Alena Smith’s new play, now enjoying its Midwest premiere in Chicago, is interesting, often funny and occasionally thought-provoking. However, it’s mostly the playwright’s skill at creating exciting characters and their fast-paced dialogue, filled with snide, contemporary references and unexpected humor, that bewitch us.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented February 25-April 17 by Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 773-975-8150 or by going to www.TheaterWit.org.
Additional information about this and other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com