Aptly named STORIES OF THE BODY, Theatre Y presents four stories—Eva (about a Hungarian sex worker), Artemisia (about the first woman painter in the western world and her experiences of being raped by her tutor), Lina (about an immobile and mutiliated dancer ) and Theresa (about now sainted Mother Theresa). All of these are from the pen of Hungarian-based playwright András Visky and two are directed by by his Yale Drama School graduate son, Andrej Visky and the balance by Theater Y Artistic Director Melissa Lorraine.
This is free theater—meaning, it of course is worth the price of admission for anyone curious about Eastern European theater aesthetics, or the specific subjects in this lineup.
But DO know what you are in for….
This is NOT your typical Chicago theater outing…
In an elaborate bathroom set replete with toilet, tub, shower and sink that we see through a slight mist in a barely lit stage, actors clad in loose white draped robes slowly rotate in the silence from positions of holding a covered cadaver’s feet and sitting and standing in still pose. We don’t know what we are seeing, but we FEEL it immediately as ritual.
In a shower of words that barely stops for a breather and often becomes a torrent, and mainly from the title character portrayed by Theatre Y ensemble regular Katie Stimpson, we come to realize that we are immersed in the dead bodies laying in wait for the Ganges. We follow her from childhood to her last days. From Visky’s pen we imagine that Mother Theresa’s march to beatitude started with no small penchant for necrophiliac fantasies. This Antigone marching to the gallows is less an exemplar of integrity-no-matter-the-cost than one sick cookie.
It’s as though Visky has queued up with the late Christopher Hitchens to petition the Vatican to spare Catholics the embarrassment of having Theresa sainted. While Hitchens shouts “Hypocrite!”, Visky implores to take into account that she is just one variation of the infinite ways of being mad--- and in a fascinated-with-morbidity borderline repulsive kinda way.
Truth to tell, knowing what Visky exactly wants to say to us is way above the pay grade of this reviewer, who often experienced this script as being akin to listening to a brilliant but LSD-infused college friend hold forth on the meaning of life. And in the spirit of full disclosure, this writer’s confusion on the text exists even with having a shared life experience with this imagined Theresa of similarly having walked over fly-infested near-dead bodies on Mumbai’s back alleys. and watching the poorest of the poor homeless mothers in the pre-dawn Mumbai train station platforms be shooed out by railway attendants splashing lye cleaning solutions near their sleeping bodies holding infants. Yeah!—anyone could see how a young girl would crack with these type moments lurking around many urban Indian corners not touched by the global economy.
But then again, Visky might be saying something quite different in the word density pile-on. It is one big – HUH???
Even if you too can’t get below the top millimeter of the script’s intent, you will likely be mesmerized by Stimpson’s performance. Every word is conveyed and often punctuated by her morphing facial expressions. She locks eyes with everyone in the small audience in turn—seeming to dare you to look away. More though, it is her dancer’s way that tells the tale so aptly. Early in the story we see her fold her body into her father’s in a way that only a small child’s body could- though hers is actually taller seeming than that of the actor playing her father (Matt Fleming). For a moment it seemed less like acting and more like animation. This continues throughout, and perhaps climaxes (in all senses) during a scene with on/off lighting (Lighting Designer : Taylor Ovca) akin to a strobe in quicksand where Stimpson is ritualistically moving her arms, hands and body in frenzied rapid poses that convey a spiritual heat gone sexual.
Theatre Y Spares No Expense on Set
The fancy bathroom set used in all four of these plays (Set Design: Péter Szabó) is explained to aim to help concretize Visky’s abstract texts. (SPOILER ALERT)- In Theresa, the comic moment when St. Peter emerges from the shower is an absurd fun scene that quickly sears in memory banks as a hoot.
You don’t need classics acumen to enjoy this. You do need to manufacture a suspension of expectations of theater reaching to you. This is a production that doesn’t come to you, but rather expects YOU to reach for it.
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.
CAST: All four plays-- includes: Cody Beyer (Ensemble), Adrian Garcia (Ensemble), Melissa Lorraine (Eva), Eric Roberts (Ensemble), Laurie Roberts (Lina), Katie Sherman (Artemisia Gentileschi), Katie Stimpson (Theresa ), Kris Tori (Ensemble).
Theresa cast also includes: Matt Fleming, Nicholas Barelli, Adrian Garcia, Laura Jones Macknin, Erik K. Robers, Nadia Pillay, and Zarah PIllay.
Directors: Artemisia and Eva directed by Visky; Lina and Theresa are directed by Lorraine.
Production team: Péter Szabó (sound/set), Rebecca Hinsdale (costumes) and Taylor Ovca (lights) and Julian Serna (stage management).
Thru July 15
Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. – different pairings of two shows each night.
Sunday at 2 p.m. – all four shows
4546 N. Western
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago
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.