In American Theatre Co.'s "T.," playwright Dan Aibel recounts and fictionalizes the events leading up to the infamous attack on Nancy Kerrigan which shook the world of professional figure skating, as well as the United States. Aibel refers to Tonya Harding, who, along with her husband Jeff Gilooly, figured greatly in the attack, as "T" in this version, although other characters, such as Jeff (Tyler Ravelson) keep their actual names. For audience members with a fascination for the rivalry between Kerrigan and Harding, "T." may prove interesting. However, it strikes this writer that as a production this intrigue alone may not be enough for some audiences to sustain the 90-minute running time, as Aibel's distractingly arrhythmic writing obfuscates the cast’s potential to fully bring the material to life.
Seamless Design Helps "T." Move Along
Andrew Boyce's simple, realistic scenic design and Rachel Levy's expressive lighting are highlights of "T." Boyce's set smoothly transitions from location to location with ease, suggesting living rooms, diners, and hotel rooms without cutting into the play's run time with overlong transitions. Levy's lighting remains mostly naturalistic in these settings, but colorfully fills seven opaque windows at the top of the set during transitions to invoke a variety of moods. Cued in tandem with the static of television channels changing (Miles Polaski’s sound design is another of the production’s strengths), an opening moment quickly draws you in to the cacophony of 24 hour news.
Leading Women Good Choice in American Theatre Co.'s Production
While director Margot Bordelon’s production does little to address the eccentricities of the text, two members of her cast, Leah Raidt and Kelli Simpkins, perform admirably throughout the production. In the role of “T,” Raidt offers a nuanced portrait of a woman driven to prove to the world that she has what it takes to be an Olympic athlete, while also proving to her husband/manager that she has what it takes to do it on her own merit. As her coach, Joanne, Simpkins also struggles to assert to Jeff that “T’s” talents will place her first, or, since two athletes will make their way to the Olympics, at least second.
Both Raidt and Simpkins do well in these roles, balancing their characters’ integrity with their desire to win. While they do not encourage Jeff’s taking matters into his own hands, they don’t dissuade him, either. As athlete and coach, each actor carefully layers their performance to ensure that we understand their motivations.
The Ends and the Means
At the heart of “T’s” narrative is a central question: do the ends justify the means? This question certainly has significance at a time when we are evaluating how bombastic rhetoric and the 24-hour news cycle can combine to wreak all kinds of unanticipated havoc. A final moment in the play features a costuming choice that, when paired with a line of advice earlier in the play, takes on greater significance as the lights dim. In a subtle way, this choice nods towards how the play may want us to answer that question. Presented at the end, we can only reflect on the events from the past 90 minutes, rather than consider that question as the play unfolds.
“T.” features some good work both behind the scenes and on stage; however, without a central question guiding the production, it doesn’t quite stick the landing.
Through June 25th, 2017
Fridays at 8:00pm
Saturdays at 2:00pm and 8:00pm
Sundays at 2:00pm
American Theater Company
1909 W. Byron Street,
Chicago, Illinois 60613
Tickets available at atcweb.org or by calling 773-409-4125
Note: An Except of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.