In the dimly lit chambers and passageways of the eighty-two-year-old Preston Bradley Center, director Ann Kreitman has a created a thrilling and thought-provoking new theatrical experience. Part musical, part haunted house, and part group therapy for ghosts, (re)discover theatre’s The Innocents takes your hand and leads you down into the deepest, darkest places.
Descent into the Catacombs
As the play begins, desperate composer Gui (Emilie Modaff), candle in hand, leads the audience through a zigzagging hallway illuminated only by a flickering streetlight and into a sort of antechamber at the mouth of the Catacombs of Paris, ‘the Empire of the Dead.’ Although it is a walk of only some fifty paces, a sense of foreboding steadily grows.
All throughout, Kate Hardiman’s lighting employs shadow to great effect, cementing the feeling that one is descending despite the entire play taking place on one floor. In this twilight between the lands of the living and the dead, Chas Mathieu’s paper walls patterned with skulls become cavernous tunnels of bone and stone. The appearance of Jacques (Amanda Forman), the Catacombs’ cartographer and Gui’s earnest if spasmodic guide, confirms that you are not in Kansas anymore.
A Motley Chorus of Bygone Souls
Performing a necromantic ritual to summon their departed lover and muse Mathilde, Gui accidentally awakens seven souls from centuries past. Beautifully outfitted by Erika Clauson and strikingly made up by Kelly Schmidt, the ghosts of The Innocents regale the composer with the triumphs and tragedies of their lives and deaths.
Stories unwind. Songs are sung and played. Dances (choreographed by Mary O’Rourke and Berit Godo) are performed—and with a fluidity impressive for the living, let alone the dead. Punctuating these vignettes, Veronique (Andrew Lund), who deliberately followed her own paramour Beatrice into death, confronts the other shades demanding the reason for their death: love or loneliness?
For Ignace (Alec Phan), a seminarian killed in the June Rebellion (immortalized in Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables) one week before he was to take his vows, it is love. For Adele (Maggie Miller), sent by her father on an errand in an unknown village, locked up to die by the townsfolk for fear she carried cholera, it is loneliness. And for Gui?
(re)discover theatre Mixes Dread and Desire
The Innocents uses the tales of the poor souls alongside the fear of things that go bump in the night to send shivers down audience members’ spines and right into their bones. At least for this author, the yearning to follow Gui into the darkness as they do whatever it takes to find Mathilde coexists simultaneously with an urge to bolt for the door and light and life.
The hungers that motivate Gui, the ghosts, and Mathilde herself (Vahishta Vafadari) are courageous and cowardly; queer and straight; wholesome and unsavory; otherworldly and painfully familiar. What will you find in the Catacombs? As (re)discover theatre tells it, joy, despair, and everything in between jumble around down there as much as they do up here. Just don’t let your light go out.
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.
Emilie Modaff [they/them] (Gui)
Amanda Forman [they/them] (Jacques)
Vahishta Vafadari [she/her] (Mathilde)
Matthew Lunt [he/him] (Valentin)
Erich Peltz [he/him] (Thibaut)
Levi Shrader [he/him] (Pascal)
Andrew Lund [he/him] (Veronique)
Alec Phan [he/him] (Ignace)
Deanalís Resto [she/her] (Helene)
Maggie Miller [she/her] (Adele)
Ann Kreitman [she/her] (Creator/Director)
Mary O'Rourke [she/her] (Choreographer)
Berit Godo [they/them] (Assistant Choreographer)
Daniella Wheelock [she/her] (Assistant Director)
Sarai Moore [she/her] (Production Manager)
Autumn McGarr [she/her] (Stage Manager)
Tristan Chiruvolu [he/him] (Assistant Stage Manager)
Chas Mathieu [he/him] (Scenic Designer)
Kate Hardiman [she/her] (Lighting Designer)
Erika Clauson [she/her] (Costume Design)
Matt Reich [he/him] (Sound Designer)
Kelly Schmidt [she/her] (u/s Adele, Helen; Makeup Designer)
Brice Baron [she/her] (u/s Gui, u/s Ignace)
Amelia Bethel [she/her] (u/s Veronique, Mathilde)
Caitlin McManus [she/her] (u/s Jaques, Thibaut, Pascal)
This show is recommended for ages 16 and up. Content warnings: death/afterlife, dim lighting, suicide, religious content, and strong language.
Parts of this performance will require patrons to stand for a few minutes. If you need accommodation or have any concerns, please contact email@example.com.
The author of this review is a personal friend of actor Alec Phan and has a keen professional interest in his work.
Preston Bradley Center
941 W. Lawrence Ave., 4th floor
Chicago, IL 60640
Now through Sunday, November 4
Thursday - Sunday @ 8:00 PM
ASL Interpreted Show Friday, October 19
About the Author:
Harold Jaffe is a poet, playwright, amateur trapeze artist, freelance greeting card designer, and now, unexpectedly, a theater critic. He earned a BS in Electrical and Computer Engineering at Olin College and since returning to Chicago has worked extensively with Cave Painting Theater Company and the late great Oracle Productions. His chapbook Perpetual Emotion Machine is now available at Women & Children First, and his reviews of shows around town are available right here.