Chicago Theatre Review
A Photograph Comes to Life
Chimerica – Timeline Theatre
A haunting image witnessed during the final moments of this stunning production will remain with audiences long after they’ve left the theatre. Jeff Award-winning director Nick Bowling beautifully brings to life that internationally famous photograph of the “Tank Man,” the brave Chinese individual facing down an army of artillery in Tiananmen Square. It’s only one of many stirring moments in this riveting drama by Olivier Award-winning playwright Lucy Kirkwood, presented with unflinching drive and passion by the excellent TimeLine Theatre Company.
As this production steadily progresses, a mystery, with its origin in 1989 Beijing, continues to unfold, both in China and America in 2012. Questions fly and their answers provoke even more questions. Who was the Tank Man? Why was he walking defiantly toward an army of military machines? What was inside the two bags he was carrying? And, more pressing, what became of him? Fictional photojournalist Joe Schofield spends the play trying to solve this mystery that torments him day and night and answer all the questions that burn in his brain. He enlists the help of his longtime friend, Zhang Lin, an English teacher living in Beijing, a man also haunted by his own past.
Bowling’s excellent cast demonstrates their talent and versatility as most of his actors ricochet seamlessly between different roles, each played with honesty and conviction. Making his TimeLine debut, skilled actor Coburn Goss makes Joe Schofield the central character and our guide throughout this story. He’s a man obsessed with solving this gnawing enigma from his past, harboring a premonition that its solution will have repercussions for the present. Eleni Pappageorge is excellent as a strong English businesswoman who falls in love with Joe and offers some spice and balance to his life. The terrific Norman Yap is heartbreaking as Zhang Lin, nicknamed Dogface as a young a man. He’s eternally tormented by his violent past. Haunted by the loss of his young wife, whose life was tragically taken while pregnant with his child, Zhang Lin finds her presence everywhere. The rest of the gifted ensemble includes Caron Buinis, Chris Rickett, H.B. Ward, Janelle Villas, Dan Lin, Tom Hickey, Wai Yim, Cheryl Hamada and Christine Bunuan, all skillfully playing multiple roles with clout and conviction.
Technical support is provided by John Culbert in his alley style playing space, with Zhang Lin’s tiny Beijing apartment, stuffed with years of possessions, anchoring one end of the stage and Joe’s more sparsely decorated New York flat at the other. His design is augmented by Mike Tutaj’s exquisite projections that help the audience journey between time and place. Brian Sidney Bembridge lights the production with mood and mystery, aided by Andre J. Pluess’ magnificent sound design. Sally Dolembo, also making her debut with TimeLine, has created a wardrobe for this ensemble cast that not only instantly speaks volumes about each character, but enables her actors’ necessary quick changes.
Nick Bowling’s incredible production is filled with moments of intense emotion as well as bittersweet romance and a pulsating air of mystery. The pacing, while somewhat slow at first, builds steadily as the drama unfolds before our eyes. Bowling’s brilliant cast work effortlessly to bring Lucy Kirkwood’s fascinating characters to life. Each scene is like a building block, stacking up more facts and creating additional tension that rises as questions mount; in the end, the answers make this voyage worthwhile.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented May 3-July 31 by TimeLine Theatre Company, 615 W. Wellington Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 773-281-8463 or by going to www.timelinetheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other fine area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com