Courtesy of Steppenwolf, we get a smile-inducing trio from their famed ensemble member playwright, Tracy Letts, winner of both Pulitzer and Tony Awards.
Mottled and pocked, with eyes receding into bags and all features folded into too soft flesh—each of the two puppet stars in The Old Country are marvels of papier-mâché’s ability to convey the ravages of age. One has muted Parkinson-like tremors, mumbling commentary that seems to be following a narrative thread on a planet quite distant from his loquacious companion. The latter’s patter is filled with nostalgia for the diner back in the day, a world as changed as his body and person.
Steppenwolf Tracy Letts Trio is a Tasty Sandwich
In this sandwich of trio shorts, The Old Country (a play on words) is the more visual cheese, in between two one-man monologues—Night Safari and The Stretch — where Letts especially flexes his ability to quickly immerse us in quirky characters whose lives bubble out from the scripts in geyser spurts.
A man on the other side of 40-years-old is the docent and minder on a Night Safari, with job duties ranging from admonishing the tourists not to feed their churros to the critters, to delivering a canned patter for the umpteenth time describing these wildlife exotica. He is an everyman with a studied manner meant to engage. We are meeting him at a moment when we can see he feels like the paradoxical frog who is smaller than his tadpole self. Thanks, in no small way, to actor Rainn Wilson bringing him to life, in this writer’s view, he keeps us smiling. OMG, we realize afterwards, how well we know this man after less than 14 minutes!
Many will likely agree that the pièce de resistance in this trio is the fifteen-minute finale, The Stretch, not only written by Letts, but performed by him as well. He is a racetrack announcer, with voice cadence following the noses ahead, lagging behinds, to photo finish penultimate finales-plural. These racehorses refuse to quit, and no finish line is ever the finish, it seems. SPOILER ALERT: the comical conceit of the story, is in the crack-you-up racehorse names, at once similar to the real-world typical and yet able to tell a story in their interplay. Among others, one horse is named A Horse Called Man, another is Canadian Navy (which predictably isn’t going anywhere), and then there is My Enormous Ego, which gets destroyed on the side of the track and trampled upon, with nobody quite noticing as the race continues. BRILLIANT!
Quickie streamed theater shorts peopled by quirky characters don’t get better than this, in this writer’s view. If you are a diehard Letts fan, all the better.
A monologue filmed in a studio location
Written by ensemble member Tracy Letts Directed by Patrick Zakem
Featuring Rainn Wilson
Run time: 13:40 minutes
The Old Country
A filmed vignette, inhabited by puppets
Written by ensemble member Tracy Letts
Directed by Patrick Zakem
Puppet and production design by Grace Needlman
Featuring ensemble members William Petersen and Karen Rodriguez with Mike Nussbaum Run time: 9:21 minutes
A monologue filmed in a studio location
Written by ensemble member Tracy Letts Directed by ensemble member Anna D. Shapiro
Featuring ensemble member Tracy Letts
Run time: 15:55 minutes
Note: Picture this Post reviews are excerpted by Theatre in Chicago.
Thru October 24, 2021
*Must purchase ticket before end of day October 15, 2021
About the Author: Amy Munice
Amy Munice is Editor-in-Chief and Co-Publisher of Picture This Post. She covers books, dance, film, theater, music, museums and travel. Prior to founding Picture This Post, Amy was a freelance writer and global PR specialist for decades—writing and ghostwriting thousands of articles and promotional communications on a wide range of technical and not-so-technical topics.
Amy hopes the magazine’s click-a-picture-to-read-a-vivid-account format will nourish those ever hunting for under-discovered cultural treasures. She especially loves writing articles about travel finds, showcasing works by cultural warriors of a progressive bent, and shining a light on bold, creative strokes by fledgling artists in all genres.