Monday, September 27, 2010
Thieves Like Us (The House Theatre of Chicago)
Being a critic is hard.
Sometimes you are expected to hide your love for a theatre company the same way you tried to hide the boner you got in 5th grade when you found out you were going on a field trip to the Native American Museum and were stopping to eat at Arby's.
Well I'm just going to come right out and say it.
I have an Arby's Boner for the House.
Nathan Allen and his gang of Methodist Misfits have created a new style of Theatre that is accessible and creative and fun and almost always coherent.
I went to the luxurious Chopin Theater, the new home of the House, with a few friends to see "Thieves Like Us" on Friday.
It was cool, we had a couple cigarettes outside and then went inside, so...
"Thieves Like Us" was adapted from a movie called "Thieves Like Us" which was adapted from a book called "Corresponding Thieves".
It is about this dude in jail in the 30's named Bowie Bowers who is kind of the pussy of the chain gang he is a part of. All day long they pick up rocks and put them in buckets and then move those buckets to another place and then move those buckets again back to whence they once came.
The House doesn't use any backdrops, so at first it can be hard to tell where they are, but the actors are wearing striped shirts and pants so at first I thought they were zebras, but zebras don't move rocks from one place to another or have mustaches, so I knew I was wrong. They were jailbirds.
The next thing you find out, is that they are in the South somewhere because they all talk like this:
"Zoopy doopy doo! Ring-a ding ding, y'all! Yeeee HAW!!!!"
Next you find out that they want to escape, because one of them said this:
"Lookeee here, y'all. We's gonna bust out this here peeee-rison and make a run fer it through this here holler till we is clean and make a run fer it in this crick and excape!"
And sirs, that is just what they did.
Bowie Bowers and his inmate friends T-Dub and Chicamaw Johnson excape and take off! They first stay at some old guy's house who has a gun glued to his shoulder. He has this sweet young thing daughter that likes Bowie even though he is sort of balding and a horribly dangerous criminal.
Well, the three guys talk to the old man for a really long time about something, I'm not really sure what, but it sounds important. Not important to you and me, but important like, the way some Southern person is asking for forgiveness on Springer or begging for more Meth from a dude named Randy.
Anyway, the decide that the only way to stay out of trouble and disappear is to rob a bank. This logic has a few flaws in my opinion, but then again, I didn't live back then, so I couldn't tell you.
Well, they rob one bank and it goes good, then another, then they all buy sweet clothes and hats and shoes and all the brown liquor they could get their hands on. They LOVE whiskey!! They drink it everywhere they go! I think maybe they keep drinking it because they are really nice guys and they are scared about all the jerky things they are doing.
I don't blame them. Almost every time I have done something I regret, whiskey has been involved also.
Anyway, some more stuff happens and then they decide to split up and T-Dub and Chicamaw go to stay at T-Dub's sister-in-laws house with some other lady and Bowie and the girl from before go to stay somewhere else because he is done with being a criminal and wants to start a new life for him and the girl from before, because now she is pregnant.
You never really find out where they are, except there is a bed and they do it a lot.
Some dudes are into bangin' pregnant chicks. Just google "Pregnant lady sex". You will see what I mean.
You will never guess what happens next!
Bowie gets sucked into doing one more job with the gang!
I won't tell you how it ends, but if you have ever seen any movie or play, or have ever read any fiction or nonfiction or magazine or heard any song ever in your whole life, I'm sure you have a pretty good idea.
Also, there is a ghost torch singer. Only Bowie can see her though, I think. Maybe she is in his imagination or maybe the other people just don't want to talk to her so they just ignore her because she always asks them for change or something.
A Quick Note: Any time there is a lady ghost onstage, the directors always put them in heels. This is a bad idea because when the ghost inevitably has to walk off stage, they sound like Clydesdales on a carriage ride. "Oh my God, I just saw a ghost! Can you hear it?! It's the ghost that sounds like the Budweiser Horse Farm." Also, ghosts wouldn't wear heels because it's uncomfortable.
The cast of this show is just incredible. It's got all your House favorites, plus some new great talent.
John Byrnes leads the charge as Bowie Bowers, a criminal with a heart of gold. John is always super good and a great choice. If you ever have a play where you need a roughneck kinda dude to wear a suit, John is your boy. He looks fucking awesome in a suit.
Tom Hickey play T-Dub, the Kentucky bandit with a quick brain and glasses to make sure you know. He makes all the plans and likes blonde girls and loves to eat dinner. Tom Hickey is one of those actors that will never be bad in any play. He is also in every play that Kimberly Senior has ever directed, so if you have ever seen one, you know who Tom is.
Shawn Pfautsch plays Chicamaw and does a great job. He is a bandit ON THE EDGE! He wants to shoot up everyone and sounds like Gabby Hayes! I've seen Shawn play all kinds of roles and he is a really nice guy too.
Have you ever heard of Paige Hoffman? I hadn't either but boy, was she good. She has that great mix of honesty and emotional connection and believability in the weird worlds that you need to be successful at the House. She plays the girl that loves Bowie.
Beth Sagal is beautiful as the Torch Singer with all the right moves. She's always singing and walking around and has an awesome voice and hair. You can't miss her!
The real heroes in the cast of this show are Tim Curtis, Mike Smith, Chris Matthews, Chelsea Keenan, and Bridget Haight. They play all the other characters with head turning lithesomeness. They make random bank managers and guards and women seem like real interesting people. They are all known and lauded around our city, and they are reason enough to experience this trip back in time into the 30's!!
Damon Kiely adapted this play. I don't know Damon too well, except that he is an artistic director someplace and he always wears red pants. His script sometimes feels a little more expository than I would like, because the House is inherently expository, you can go a little deeper with character stuff and leave the whos, whats and wheres to the director, but maybe he didn't know that already, so for a first House script, it was pretty sweeeeeeet.
Kimberly Senior directs for the fist time at the House, and I feel like she has probably seen a lot of plays there, so she knew the usual way they handle things. The thing with the House is, you can always try new stuff! New ways to tell stories is the thing! So don't fall back on old tricks! Not everyone needs to sing a song together, and a little more starkness never hurted nobody, but Kimberly Senior directs scenes better than anyone in town and she has done it again and again! The love scenes, and the people scenes where everyone is a-drankin' and a-fightin' are great and add a different element that you wouldn't usually see in a play here.
Look, America. You won't find a perfect play in town. If you wanna see everyone do it the same way, go to the Athenaeum or to the Improv Shack. But if you want to see something that can make you excited about theater again, you gotta go to the House. They do things that you would've never thought of!
The Artistic Director at the House is named Nathan Allen, and he has held on to the values of this company as they have grown and changed personnel. They are just as exciting now as they were when they first started. Also, they are very nice, so if you are an old person, you won't feel out of touch because they will help you to your seat and bring you coffee I bet, if you asked.
Go and see this show and make the theater feel like a magic place again and not like a place that ruined your life!!
-Anderson Lawfer, Eric Roach