Chicago Theatre Review
A Promise Kept
Reprise – Adventure Stage
Just as the title of this play suggests, this very short run (which also includes several school performances during th week) is a reprise, a return to the venue from which it began. It’s also about the venue where it originated. After a successful run earlier this year, the 60-minute play, about making promises and fulfilling them, toured to the Home Away Festival at the National Theatre of Scotland. There it offered a bit of the unique theatrical experience that’s so typically American, and especially Chicagoan. In doing so, the acting company and talented behind-the-scenes artists and technicians had an opportunity to share their story and their art with communities from around the world.
This play is based upon one of many true stories that began within the walls of Chicago’s 125-year-old Northwestern Settlement House, the Vittum. Opening its doors in 1891, Harriet Vittum’s goal was to provide nondenominational assistance to every person in the West Town neighborhood. She offered lessons in English, music, art, drama and nutrition and opened her heart to anyone in need. All walking through the doors of the Vittum House were given the opportunity for a new life and a better future.
In this sweet story the theatre company focused one such immigrant who found a caring community within his frightening new Chicago home. Local students, teaching artists and directors alike collaborated to research and create this story of a young Polish boy with a natural gift for music. He was given a violin, an instrument that held special significance, since his estranged father used to play one, back home in Poland. Harriet Vittum gave it to the boy, asking him to promise that he’d return it when “he was finished with it.” The violin becomes another character in this play, which is enacted by eight talented performers of various ages. We watch the boy’s talent blossom as he grows to be a young man, an adult and finally a senior citizen. Upon the death of his wife the man returns the instrument to the Vittum House, only to discover that his beloved Ms. Vittum has also passed. But, while sometimes funny and often touching, this is a story of love, respect and of many kinds of promises made and promises kept.
The talented acting ensemble includes Justine C. Turner as Harriet Vittum; Kalman Strauss, Jacob E. Kelly and Jose Nateras playing the Polish immigrant at various ages; LaShone Kelly as the young Pole’s first friend at Vittum House; and Sindy I. Castro, Mara Dale and Felipe Carrasco in a variety of roles. John Szymanski serves as music director, the composer of the songs, as well as one of several onstage musicians.
As always, this Adventure Stage performance opens with a conversation between one of the company members and the audience. During that time, the adult on stage sparks interest in the material that will follow and sets up appropriate possible audience expectations. Following each performance the conversation continues with audience members answering questions posed prior to the play, while contributing opinions and ideas about what they’ve just seen and heard. The cast is also introduced and questions are fielded by the actors about their own experiences.
Adventure Stage will continue presenting a full season of original dramas and plays adapted from noteworthy literature for young readers. They perform within the actual Northwestern Settlement House, so celebrated in this play, inside its renovated, state-of-the-art Vittum Theatre. The productions, like this one, are professional and always provoke discussion and new ideas. Adventure Stage should be included in every family’s entertainment and educational plans because, even with a reprise performance, a wealth of wonder lies within these walls.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented November 4-5 by Adventure Stage at the Vittum Theater, 1012 N. Noble St., Chicago.
Tickets are available at the door, by calling 773-342-4141 or by going to www.adventurestage.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.