There you are sitting in a town hall meeting, in a first-time Red Orchid Theatre staging in an auxiliary space, waiting for the official curtain and having fun trying to figure out who in the audience is an actor vs. a spectator like you. Conversations bubble up in surround sound. Because playwright Brett Neveu’s masterful update of Ibsen’s Enemy of the People includes liberal sprinkling with movie dialogue, you too may be reminded of Mike Nussbaum presiding over a similar meeting in Field of Dreams. It’s not Nussbaum but rather a high-strung Fran Wysocki Council President (Mary Jo Balduc) making the welcome rounds and readying to wield her gavel.
Even if you don’t come knowing Ibsen’s work, you absolutely know that you are in for drama, because you really are IN it. This is an especially electrifying scene in a play that rivets your attention from beginning to its jolting conclusion. This is the classic Enemy of the People story in which Ibsen gave us THE portrait of a whistleblower that has powered formulaic 60 Minutes stories since that show began.
Trademark Red Orchid Theatre Top Shelf Acting Talent
The superb acting in no small way makes Traitor come alive. Mary Jo Balduc as Wysocki is but one of an absolutely stellar cast. Dado as the wife of the town whistleblower, Dr. Tom Stock (Guy Van Swearingen), IS that rock in the room who serves as foil to every one of the excessive characters in the story. You too might look back at Van Swearingen’s performance and marvel at how he makes a unique blend of goofy and gravitas in his character seem more than plausible.
Natalie West (to many, of Roseanne Crystal fame) delivers her lines as the quirky Councilwoman Jenn Sheffer with such deadpan finesse that she just about steals the show. Especially in her first scenes, you too may feel an urge to stop laughing long enough to jump up and shout “Say it again!”. Larry Grimm gives us a toned down variant of the creep we saw him play in 3C. Understudy Mandy Walsh as Madame Mayor seemed to this writer to have a rocky start but soon hit her pitch perfect stride in keeping with all the other talents on the stage. Nation Henrikson IS just about every laconic teenager you’ve known who is ever waiting for permission to escape to his room. (Spoiler Alert!)- Expect his one-two punch performance at the play’s conclusion to cling to you for the rest of your days. These and all others- -there is not a weak link in the cast.
It’s the fun that one imagines playwright Neveu had in updating this story that is the Traitor glue. From the aforementioned cinephile dialogue spicing, to medical marijuana truly smelling up the theater, to insertion of LGBTQ and racism themes, and more, Neveu’s pen gives this a contemporary context that often suggests he might also be moonlighting as a scriptwriter for The Simpsons.
Of course, the headlines of our day are what makes this Ibsen classic so darn relevant. At the time of this review the words of a US Senator describing Trump’s penchant for the phrase Enemy of the People were in the air, as were the adrenaline soaked reports of the government shutdown. The way things are happening these days, it’s likely these aforementioned events might seem like ancient history by the time you get to see this show.
And do go! This is one of those productions that merits juggling your schedule to see.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO, where it will remain until the end of the run. Click here to read – Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Thru February 25
Thursdays 8:00 PM
Fridays 8:00 PM
Saturdays 3:00 PM and 8:00 PM
Sundays 3:00 PM
A Red Orchid Theatre
1531 North Wells
About the Author: Amy Munice
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