Windy City Playhouse Presents THE RECOMMENDATION Review – There But For Fortune, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED Best play pick, through Sept. 22
We first meet Izzie (Iskinder Iodouku played by Michael Aaron Pogue), the son of an Ethiopian immigrant who has bestowed him with the wisdom of his forbears, in the theater lobby as he recounts the change of tone he hears when someone refers to Affirmative Action vs. legacy admissions. And then the character who could be nicknamed The Prince of Brentwood struts in—toweled – and with a stride that tells you he is a proto-Master of the Universe. This is Fellie (Aaron Feldman played by Julian Hester). We quickly realize Fellie is one heckuva brand ambassador for the entitled--- amazing us right from the gitgo about how clueless he is to his own privilege. This writer couldn’t suppress a first belly laugh when Fellie retreats to the side to ponder that (to paraphrase) “..my problem I think is that I’m too self-involved…”. Later, when the story turns and this same clueless Fellie screams about how hard he worked to get to where he is, it’s difficult not to wince.
Backtracking, life is a party when you are Fellie or friend/college roommate of Fellie, as Izzie discovers – and in true Windy City Playhouse style we get to go to this party, replete with jello shots with or without alcohol as you wish. And part of the territory of being best buddies with Fellie is finding out as Izzie does that getting a recommendation letter to get into law school from Fellie’s hot shot attorney dad with clout is part of the I-scratch-your-back-you-scratch-mine world.
Windy City Playhouse Massages Script to an Immersive Theater Experience
From an Ivy League College dorm room, to poolside in a Hollywood producer’s mansion, to jail, to sushi bar, to prison, to an athletic club’s sauna we then follow the Windy City Playhouse ushers and playwright Jonathan Caren’s pen as he engraves a detailed map of privilege on our souls. For this writer, it is like learning anew- if not for the first time—what words like “privilege”, “white skin privilege” and “entitled” really mean.
In this story, life happens—or more precisely, adult life happens--- in five year increments as we watch Izzie and Fellie make somewhere between the most and least of what the privileges that comes with being part of the elite class- either mansion-born or earned entry (albeit with the help of the title’s referenced recommendation letter).
Without venturing into spoiler terrain, do know that the script’s oxygen of comedy vanishes in a snap not long after Fellie meets his doppelganger, Dwight Barnes (played by Brian Keys), who has been born and raised in anything but privilege. They both love movies, for example, but Dwight got to see most from dumpster diving treasures of discarded VHS, while Fellie knows in his bones he’ll eventually make it as a mogul in tinseltown, as is his birthright. Fellie might have been a BMOC (Big Man on Campus) but Dwight has worked to become a similar everybody-knows-him man—except his familiars are not Ivy League students, but prisoners. Fellie might have had to explain to young Izzie why traffic lanes are just suggestions, and if you want to get ahead you have to switch lanes, to paraphrase, but Dwight would get that in a snap. Similarly, it’s Fellie, more than Izzie actually, who would be able to get Dwight’s take that the judges and attorneys that put him in prison just have a job to do—Izzie not being able to get over the injustice of it all. In many ways this is Izzie’s story, or perhaps the story of his father, whose wisdom looms like a giant god driving this update to the classic Prince and the Pauper tale.
Fellow fans of the British TV Movie Seven Up! will likely similarly be smitten by how poignant and deft Caren’s script is in revisiting how class and race define our there-but-for-fortune outcomes. In this writer’s view, it’s the passions of these three actors informing their flawless performances that simply take your breath away. The elaborate set designs (Scenic designer: Lauren Nigri), direction (Director: Jonathan Wilson, Associate Director Mikael Burke) and the concept by Windy City Playhouse founder and powerhouse, Amy Rubenstein, to stage this script in their trademark immersive manner are brilliant all around.
See this play and get the reminder you think you don’t need of why theater matters so much to our lives and times.
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.
Julian Hester (Aaron Feldman)
Brian Keys (Dwight Barnes)
Michael Aaron Pogue (Iskinder Iodouku)
Jonathan Caren, Playwright
Jonathan Wilson, Director
Mikael Burke, Associate Director
Amy Rubenstein, Concept
Lauren Nigri, Scenic Designer
Casey Wood, Costume Designer
Jason Lynch, Lighting Designer
Tony Bruno, Sound Designer
Caitlin McCarthy, Properties Design & Set Dressing
Wesley Daniel, Fight Choreographer
Logan B. Jones, Production Stage Manager
Audrey Kleine, Assistant Stage Manager
Aliza Feder, Assistant Director