Chicago Theatre Review
A JOB WELL DONE
J.B. – City Lit Theatre
Please allow me to step back in time for just a moment. We are heading back to the 5th century B.C. The main playwrights of the day include Euripides and Sophocles on the Greek Tragedy side. Aristophanes headed the Comedy side. These three men wrote over 240 plays. Each and every role was played by a man. The parts of women were played by younger men or boys.
Please fast forward to the sixteenth century and one Mr. William Shakespeare. He cranked out approximately 38 plays. All parts were played by men. Boys played the parts of women, just like they did in ancient Greece. As a matter of fact, female actors did not appear on stage until the mid 1600’s. This was because acting was not considered a credible profession.
Now I arrive at the present day. I am watching a play called J.B. And I realize we have come full circle…and then some. Oh, the dichotomy of it all. The entire performance of J.B. is skillfully and brilliantly played by an entire female cast all age 55 and older.
J.B. was written by playwright and poet Archibald MacLeish It premiered on December 11, 1958 at the ANTA Playhouse in New York City. The play won a Tony Award for Best Play in 1959. It won MacLeish a Pulitzer Prize(he won 3 Pulitzers in total) for best drama in 1959.
The women did a remarkable job of holding the audience emotionally spellbound. There were 23 charcaters in the production capably covered by 9 talented actors.
The venue for this production is the City Lit Theater which is neatly nestled on the second floor of the Edgewater Presbyterian Church at 1020 W. Bryn Mawr. One cannot ask for a more appropriate setting for this particular play.
J.B. is basically a retelling of the Book of Job. It is done as a play-within-a-play. The action takes place in a corner of a huge circus tent. Two vendors named Zuss and Nickles(aptly named) assume the roles of God and Satan. They overhear J.B.(Job), a wealthy banker, describing his success as a reward for his loyalty to God. Nickles bets Zuss that J.B. will curse God if his life is somehow ruined. Soon, J.B.’s children are killed, his wealth is gone, and his life is in ruins. He is visited by three Comforters(representing History, Science, and Religion) each having a different explanation for his plight. J.B. ignores them and asks God himself to explain. Instead he encounters Nickles, who urges him to commit suicide to spite God. Then Zuss offers him his old life back if he promises to obey God. J.B. rejects them both, instead finding comfort with Sarah, his wife. The play concludes with the two starting a new life together.
The play is smartly directed by Brian Pastor. It is done with a minimalist set that remains unchanged throughout the performance. The theater is small, comfortable, and cozy. And a few minutes into the production, one can feel the energy of the cast taking control of one’s senses. Fifty-five and older must be the new thirty. All in all, a delightful and amazing performance.
Reviewed by Scott Kirshenbaum
For information of this and other shows please go to www.theatreinchicago.com