Posts Tagged ‘Steppenwolf Theatre Company’

American playwright Bruce Norris is no stranger to controversy. His Olivier, Tony & Pulitzer winning Clybourne Park was a brilliant and funny look at race and class in his home country. Here he puts sex offenders under the microscope and produces his best play since Clybourne, a remarkably objective 360 degree look at attitudes of and to sex offenders, and society’s reaction and response, something has has been a major preoccupation in this country for some time now.

Four men are effectively under house arrest, tagged and supervised in a group home in downstate Illinois. There are geographic limits for their movement, within which they can work, if they can get it, drive, bus, walk, shop. Their crimes and their address are published, so the fear of attack is never far away. They have no access to the internet or smart phones.

When we first meet them, wheelchair-bound Fred, now an old man, is visited and confronted by Andy, a man he assaulted as a boy, still seeking closure. Andy returns later without his wife for a more angry confrontation. In the second pivotal scene, the police officer in charge of their cases holds court. Her most important task is to present Felix with evidence of his rule breaches.

There are so many issues and angles, all deftly and sensitively handled. Remorse and forgiveness, and lack of, and revenge. The need for punishment but the value of it on its own. Though you’re an an emotional roller-coaster throughout, moving from anger to disgust to sympathy to hopelessness, it’s never played for these emotions and reactions, so objectivity is preserved.

It’s great to welcome Steppenwolf, America’s pre-eminent repertory company, to these shores again and the five fine actors who have made these characters so real – Glenn Davies, Francis Guinan, K Todd Freeman, Eddie Torres and Tim Hopper as Fred’s victim. Our own Cecilia Noble is on blistering form again as Ivy the cop.

If you like your theatre challenging, unsettling and illuminating, head to the NT’s Dorfman post haste.

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I suppose going to see a stage adaptation in Japanese of a book you haven’t read is a questionable decision. Reading up in advance I discovered that it contained a number of riddles and the novelist, Haruki Murakami, suggested that reading it several times was the key to understanding it. Others have suggested reading earlier works to aid understanding. There are surtitles, but they were badly positioned, requiring you to miss much visually, and I’m not sure if you read every word you’d be much wiser anyway. By the interval I was exhausted and befuddled; my brain was hurting trying to work it all out. Somehow in the second half though it cast a spell and I was surprised to find myself enchanted and moved, even though I hadn’t completed the jigsaw.

The two parallel stories involve Kafka, a teenage boy who’s mother and sister left home when he was very young and he too has now run away, and Nakata, an old man who was struck by a strange affliction when he was the same age as the teenage boy towards the end of the second world war as a result of which he can communicate with cats. Kafka is befriended by a trans-gender librarian and Nakata by a truck driver. Kafka has an alter ego who appears to him as a crow. The senior librarian, where Kafka is now a trainee, may be his mother and Nakata may have killed his father, a sculptor who appears as the man on the Johnnie Walker bottle. Oh, and there’s Colonel Sanders as a pimp, a pair of angry feminists and a prostitute who spouts philosophy whilst on the job – and the cats are wonderful. It plays with concepts of time space and memory and at times feels like a detective story.

It’s striking staging, with every scene taking place in a large glass case, much like a museum, whatever it’s location – office, home, shrine, truck, woods, library etc. These include a bank of vending machines and a row of urinals! These cases are manually moved around the stage and lit by neon lights within and spots from above. I found myself enthralled by the scene changes as well as the scenes. The lighting is crucial and it’s terrific. The performances are uniformly excellent, with Nino Furuhata a charming Kafka and Katsumi Kiba captivating and funny as Nakata.

This stage adaptation by Frank Galati started out in English at Steppenwolf in Chicago and has now gone full circle and been translated into Japanese and brought to the UK. Murakami says he doesn’t want to see stage or film adaptations of his what is in his head, and I do wonder if this is the sort of story that’s better left to your own visual imagination, but for me it was lovely to see the Ninagawa Company do a modern piece, inventively staged, alongside the more traditional Hamlet; between them they illustrate Ninagawa’s genius perfectly. A lovely 80th celebration for us, even though he sadly couldn’t make his own party.

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110 minutes without an interval is a long time to spend in the uncomfortable Cottesloe seats, so it is a tribute to Lisa D’Amour’s play that I did so gripped by it, without too much figiting.

Detroit is set in a mid-sized American city superb in the present day (not necessarily Detroit, despite its title). Ben is a casualty of the credit crunch, now in the process of setting up his own business; his nervous wife Mary is very worried. Soon after Kenny & Sharon move in next door, they are invited to a BBQ in the back yard where Ben & Mary learn that they met in rehab, which they’ve just left after three months, have rented the house from a relative and have next to no furniture or belongings. Despite the revelation, the friendship develops and each subsequent scene takes place in the adjoining back yards, most over a meal.

As the play unfolds, things are not at all as they seem. Kenny and Sharon’s story starts to unravel, as does Mary! To say more would be to spoil something that does twist and turn satisfyingly, with a terrific climax that includes a great coup  de theatre. The play does have flaws, notably a party scene which is pushed just a bit too far, but it is sharply written, funny and full of surprises. The performances are outstanding. Will Adamsdale is a brilliant bundle of nervous energy as Kenny, finely matched by Clare Dunn’s manic Sharon. Justine Mitchell is superb as Mary, moving from an ordinary suburban wife to a woman in crisis, whilst Stuart McQuarrie has to make Ben a slow burn and does so very convincingly.

I thought the set was a bit tacky – until the coup! – and found the occasional invasion of the stage hands before scenes had fully finished quite bizarre, but it is a fascinating and captivating ride nonetheless and a new play worth seeing – something that you don’t get to say that often in relation to the NT!

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