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Adorned with shag carpeting and old-school Budeweiser cans; mentioning classic local haunts such as Cubby Bear and bands like Cheap Trick—The House Theatre of Chicago’s VERBÖTEN is the reimagined reverie of Chicago-music champions.
A two-hour whirlwind of nostalgia, and foot-tapping, head-banging music begins with the few chords of a solemn Jason (Kieran McCabe). After a few more chords, the entirety of the cast joins him on stage—violin, bass guitar, and rhythmic bodies all in unison.
The early life and times of the Chicago-based punk rock band Verböten—its members including Jason, Tracey (Krystal Ortiz), Chris (Matthew Lunt), and Zack (Jeff Kurysz)—isn’t necessarily a difficult story to tell, in this writer’s opinion, but it is one fully realized through similarities, contrasts, and the all important music that bonded them.
The House Theatre of Chicago production shines a light on the triumphs and pitfalls of following your young dreams
The complexity of this production doesn’t start and stop with the character’s moral and social strife. It extends into the way the story is physically brought to the stage. Scenes between Jason and his step-father (Jimmy Chung) bleed into dialogue and action between him and his real father (Ray Rehberg). In the midst of a jam session, Tracey’s dad (Paul Brian Fagen) and Zack’s dad (Marc A. Rogers) illuminate a disco ball in the middle of the stage.
The scenes work, in this writer’s view, largely because, ultimately, the characters are not afraid to make the show work for us by any means necessary. This includes breaking the fourth wall, bringing us in with a buddy-buddy handshake or giving us the peculiar stare, as if something just wasn’t sitting right with them, be it for comedic or dramatic effect. Or, and in the grandest of cases, cast members, nay musicians, use their versatility to switch between instruments—some playing between three to four throughout the course of the show, with a spotlight on Tracey’s mother (Jenni M. Hadley) who could even have her own one-woman-band.
“I wanna to write a new song … I wanna find out where I belong.”
Themes of human commonality, such as the growing pains we all experience—tiffs with parents, pining for our dreams, desiring to be what we are not, or may never be—are fluently expressed via song in this production. So much so, that this writer would find it hard to imagine that anyone, of any age, familiar with punk rock or estranged from it, would turn away from this production in all of its delight. This extends beyond the aptly timed jokes or the tough-to-swallow truths about the emergence into adulthood. Because what is entirely apparent to us— the laughing, sighing, smirking audience— is that this tale does not exist for those in the now, but for those who are looking to control their future narrative.
“Be people who matter”
And while we sit and soak in the youthful-punk-aura of those in front of us, we must be mindful of those who helped put them in their respective situations. We meet the rock’n’roll nostalgic father, the average Chicago parents, the homes of broken families where there is both nowhere and anywhere else to go. It’s these archetypes that pivot the storyline from local kids trying to make it big, to the rounded-out image of young artists defying odds in the city of Chicago.
With awareness, but never fear, of the corny or the stereotypical, VERBÖTEN knows when we need our funny bone to be struck and when our heart strings need to be played. Whether you purchase your ticket because you love punk music, or maybe because you love the nostalgia of ‘80s Chicago, it’s the universal themes of growing and learning that will enthrall. VERBÖTEN is an absolute must see.
Kieren McCabe (Jason), Krystal Ortiz (Tracey), Matthew Lunt (Chris), Jeff Kurysz (Zack), Jimmy Chung (Jason’s Stepdad), Ray Rehberg (Jason’s Dad), Paul Fagen (Tracy’s Dad), Jenni M. Hadley (Tracy’s Mom), Marika Mashburn (Chris’s Sister), Marc A. Rogers (Zack’s Dad), Cari Meixner (u/s Tracey and Chris’s Sister), Derek Fawcett (u/s Tracey’s Dad and Zack’s Dad), Steven Romero Schaeffer (u/s Jason, Chris and Zack), Nick Villalon (u/s Jason’s Dad and Jason’s Stepdad) and A. Nikki Greenlee (u/s Tracey’s Mom).
Lee Keenan (Set and Lights), Izumi Inaba (Costumes), Matthew Muñiz (Arrangements/Music Direction), Marika Mashburn (Casting), Grover Hollway (Sound), Kasey Foster (Choreography), Eleanor Kahn (Props), Amalie Vega (Stage management).
About the Author:
Margaret Smith is a writer, editor, and critic achieving her B.A. from Columbia College Chicago. Having migrated from small-town Illinois, she now dwells in Chicago with a curious eye for art and a penchant for commentary. When not putting pen to paper, you might catch her about the city sipping coffee and filling in crossword puzzles.