Script and Talent More Than Works!
How satisfying!— to see two outstanding plays on Chicagoland stages in short order that rely almost entirely on script and superb acting talent, juicing our imagination without much in the way of scenery or props. While Strawdog summons reliable William Shakespeare to thrill with their Cymbeline production, Berwyn’s 16th Street Theater does so with the contemporary and delightful pen of Jon Steinhagen.
50th anniversary of historic Chicago blizzard
Steinhagen’s BLIZZARD ’67 takes us back half a century to the real-world snowpocalypse of that year in Chicago. It feels like a reach back even further, culturally speaking.
Tale of traditional men
Four men who work together are carpooling to their office. These aren’t exactly the type of guys you can picture ever having a conversation to present themselves as cisgender or give you their preferred gender pronouns. Rough and tough, with ready aggression and in a constant one-up competition, they are as traditionally male as male can be.
So much so, in fact, that they feel more 50’s conformist than 1967. Then again, it’s only January‑ a time when innocence of The Monkeys and Petula Clark dominated the radio waves and the late 1967 lyrics admonishing all to “look at what’s going down” weren’t yet part of that year’s fast-changing conversation.
We ride with them to work. We get stuck in the snowstorm with them. Events unfold such that several of them have to grapple with the gap between who they are and the hero archetype they would prefer to be. They get stuck in this mortal place, and we feel their pain.
16th Street Theater has assembled top talent
It’s quite a ride!
Four chairs are the car—probably not unlike how many in the audience played car and driver as children. These four talented actors —Stephen Spencer, Mark Pracht, Noah Simon and Christian Stokes—evoke not only every curve and bump in the road, but also every nuance of the ever-present power struggles in the twists and turns of their conversations.
Stephen Spencer has the best part/s that allow him to flaunt his chameleon ability to work against his physical type and become a wide range of other roles, from small child to wise wife and more. He is simply wonderful.
The entire cast shines. And, with Ann Filmer’s direction and this bon mot rich script by Steinhagen, not a moment lags.
Tip #1: Certainly make time to arrive at the theater early so you can linger with the small museum exhibit they have assembled on the 1967 Blizzard in an anteroom to the performance space in the North Berwyn Park District Building where the 16th Street Theater is housed. This includes reminiscences from audience members of the big storm, newspaper clips and more.
Tip #2: If you too have never been to Berwyn’s 16th Street Theater, now in its 10th year, this is a very good play to make your virgin sampling. The commute from Bucktown/Wicker Park was only 20 minutes, and the parking lot nearby made it very easy.
Now through March 11.
Thursdays & Fridays @ 7:30 PM
Saturdays @ 4:00 & 8:00 PM
Run time: Two hours with intermission
16th Street Theater
6420 16th Street
Free parking one block west in lot at 16th & Gunderson across from Lincoln School
General Admission: $22, Berwyn Residents: $18 Group Ticket Discounts for 8+
Online – www.16thstreettheater.org
By Phone – (708) 795-6704
In Person – at North Berwyn Park District, 1619 Wesley Ave., Berwyn
Photos: Anthony Aicardi
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.