Cor Theater and Stage Left Theater collaboration
Cuban-American playwright Maria Irene Fornes is one of the most mysterious and ineffable playwrights of the past century. Her best plays are to theater what a Mark Rothko painting is to the world of the visual arts: something intense in its abstraction, demanding, simultaneously sharp and tender, epic and intimate, splintered and whole, with an ever shifting glow that emanates from trauma and yet reaches for the colors of beauty. She's not so much interested in traditional notions of plot or character, as she is in the relationships those characters establish, the things they do to each other, and the power of words to shape reality.
Vintage Fornes, but devolving to mush
Stage Left Theater and Cor Theater are now presenting What of the Night? at The Wit Theater. This is Fornes's exploration of the moral and financial bankruptcy that befalls those who are trapped in poverty or seek unmitigated economic success. It takes the form of a sprawling, multigenerational family saga in four acts stretching from the Depression era to a dystopian future but it's told in intimate vignettes that often hit you like bursts of fire in vintage Fornes fashion. Unfortunately, the ambitious scale of the play, and the increasingly abstract nature of what unfolds onstage turn the last third of Stage Left Theater's 2 hour and 45 minute production into unintelligible, tedious, solipsistic mush.
Strong acting, and often lyrical
Which is a shame. Because Carlos Murillo's lyrical production is full of beautiful images, disturbing moments, ingenious staging and courage. Courage to talk about issues of power, desire (homosexual and otherwise), class and poverty, and courage to tackle this demanding and imperfect text that, despite all its flaws, remains timely in its warning about the destructive nature of greed, and the human cost of institutionalized deprivation. The production's meditative pace and the quasi-realism with which much of the text is handled don't always help, but the strong performances of Kathryn Acosta (Rainbow), Kate Black-Spence (Helena), Nelson Rodriguez (Ray) and Miguel Nuñez (Pete) in particular inject the storytelling with urgency.
Outstanding production design
The production design scores high points. Eleanor Kahn's set is a massive wooden structure with two levels that resembles a Depression-era shack or the skeleton of a collapsing structure in the middle of an urban Apocalypse. It is filled with stage pieces such as mattresses, tables, a toilet bowl... which help give physical substance to the many vignettes that make up the play. Eric Vigo's evocative lights help bring intimacy to the set, and he uses backlighting and shadows to smouldering effect. But the most impressive design element is Jeffrey Levin's soundscape: encyclopedic in its reach, textured and constantly surprising, it brings unity to the splintered worlds of the text and the story.
Recommended for hardcore avant-garde theater goers or lovers of Maria Irene Fornes
Not recommended for those seeking escapism.
January 12 - February 12
Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 pm
Sundays at 3:00 pm
1229 W Belmont, Chicago
Photos: Ian McLaren
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago.
About the Author:
Hector F. Pascual is a writer, actor and director from Spain based in Chicago. He has studied non-Western theater traditions in China, Japan and Indonesia, and in 2008 received a Watson Fellowship to research community-based performance in Latin America. He has a BA in Theater from Macalester College and an MA in Modern English Literature form University College London. He has been an ensemble member of Theatre Y since 2015.