Chicago Theatre Review
Court tackles heady, intellectual topics with heart and empathy in ‘The Hard Problem’
The Hard Problem – Court Theatre
“The Hard Problem,” a Tom Stoppard play that is receiving its Chicago premiere at Court Theatre, is not the easiest of plays to summarize. Focusing on a group of scientists and mathematicians at an elite institute for brain science, the play tackles everything from adoption, to spirituality, to religion, to research ethics, to the 2008 financial crisis, to neuroscience, to the “hard problem” itself of consciousness.
In the hands of a lesser director and a lesser cast, “The Hard Problem” would easily fall apart under the weight of its ambitions, but this is Court Theatre that we’re talking about, and as usual, the company’s production walks a fine line between muscular intellectualism and deep-hearted sincerity.
The focal point for the play is Hilary (the remarkable Chaon Cross), a brilliant psychologist who has just started at the institute. Young, energetic, and unwilling to compromise her altruism (or her faith) for her career in science, Hilary confronts many obstacles throughout the show’s tight 100 minutes, including snooty boyfriends (a splendidly condescending Jürgen Hooper), skeptical colleagues (the always razor-sharp Kate Fry), and dangerously eager proteges (Court regular Enjoy Gavino) – to say nothing of the child she gave up for adoption after giving birth at 15.
What’s remarkable about “The Hard Problem” is how Stoppard and director Charles Newell manage to balance the play’s narrative, which is detailed and fluid, with its philosophical musings, which are unabashedly deep and even uncompromising in their detail. Theater is at its best when we see real people on the stage, when the aims of the playwright and director blend seamlessly with the flesh-and-blood humans interacting with one another. It’s a damn tricky thing to pull off, but the team Court has assembled pull it off with aplomb, and they are aided by the theater’s always exceptional production staff, namely Keith Parham’s virtuosic lighting and John Culbert’s astonishing scenic design.
Reviewed by Peter Thomas Ricci
Presented through April 9 by Court Theatre, 5535 S. Ellis Ave., Chicago, IL 60637
Tickets are available by calling 773-753-4472 or by visiting http://www.courttheatre.org/.
Additional information about this and other spectacular area productions is available at the one, the only, the indefatigable www.theatreinchicago.com.