Wednesday, April 13, 2011
The Three Faces of Doctor Crippen (Strange Tree Group)
I'm sure by now you have the term "First World Problems". It is a phrase used to describe issues we may come across in our lives that in the grand scheme of things, aren't terribly bad. Problems like, bad tasting tap water and chlamydia. Problems like parking meter buyouts and lines at the Six Flags.
These are all valid problems for us to have, because they happen to all of us in developed countries. In the scope of our fairly comfortable lives, things that cause us stress can kill us the same way a ruthless dictator or vicious lion can kill a dude in a smaller 3rd world country.
Now there is another term that we are going to be discussing today. That term is "White Man's Problems" and is totally different from "First World Problems".
What is a "White Man Problem"? It certainly isn't a problem that only white men deal with, but it IS a problem that if you ever imagined it happening in your head, the lead would definitely be a white fella. Maybe Ray Romano or Tim Allen. Problems that are sort of ridiculous in that they shouldn't be problems for ANYone EVER.
Problems created by arrogance and ignorance for yourself. For example, faulty Scuba diving equipment. Molesting Choir boys at your Church. Being trapped in an avalanche while you are snowboarding. Hoarding cats. Murdering your Vaudeville star wife in London and fleeing to America with your secretary who is disguised as your son. Choking to death at a Van Halen concert. Slipping on watermelon at a Gallagher show. Sleeping with your therapist. Turning into a mutant with super powers.
WAIT!! WAIT!! WAIT!!
Let's go back a couple there... Murdering your Vaudeville star wife in London and fleeing to America with your secretary who is disguised as your son? "That seems pretty specific" you say.
Well it is specific because that's what the play I saw was about! "The Three Faces of Doctor Crippen" is about a white man's problem.
Strange Tree Group, admittedly one of my favorite theatre companies, has set up house at the luxurious Steppenwolf Garage space. This space has a lot to offer a new company searching for it's audience because #1, it says Steppenwolf right in the name there, and #2, it says Garage right in the name too and parking is expensive these days, so a garage is a welcome change of pace.
Emily Schwartz, the Artistic Director and house playwright for the company is interested in a sort of "Lemony Snicket with a side of dick jokes" aesthetic that I really like. Her ability to jump back and forth between humor and authentic emotional realism is unrivaled as a Chicago playwright and maybe in the world. You don't see plays like this anywhere else.
Do you ever get sick of young playwrights who only wanna talk about the dangers of life and genocide and shit like that? Me too.
A common theme I find in her work is loss or escape which are certainly prevalent themes in a lot of work around town, but she doesn't treat it like a bad thing. Loss can be celebrated and escape can be dangerous in the way it is in novels without winking at the audience or somehow bargaining with them to take the trip with you. She doesn't spend a lot of time on the why and spends more time on the hope and confusion that comes along with it.
Sort of like Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car". Which by the way is the jam escape and loss song.
Schwartz's material would be useless though, without her trusty cast of goofballs from Indiana University. These dudes...
Let me tell you something. We all SAY we are in ensembles or whatever, and we all SAY we play off each other the way we should but I encourage all of you and your fruity ensembles to go see these dudes. They control the stage with swagger and ease. They believe in what they are doing and have developed timing together to create a new thing. Confidence is their secret weapon, y'all.
"Doctor Crippen" is about this guy who has three distinct personalities. Private (the workhorse Scott Cupper), Fantasy (the curly headed dreamboat Matt Holzfeind), and Public (the best fucking speaking voice in town Stuart Ritter). These three personalities navigate this doctor's decision to murder his terribly horrible and disgustingly crude wife (the magnanimous and flourishy Kate Nawrocki). I mean, this bitch had it coming. She has been blowing dudes from all over England in her husband's house. PLUS she is an American that has moved to England, so you know all these guys are bragging about getting head from an American broad. So Crippen falls in love with his secretary (the prudish harlot Delia Baseman), they hop on a boat to America and are being pursued by the legendary Inspector Dew (the completely mystifying in every way Bob Kruse).
So Crippen dresses his secretary up as his son to fool the other guys on the boat, and get to America to safety. Well this plan is just super ignorant in a lot of ways, but the main reason is because Mexico is right next to America. In Mexico they welcome people like him. Mainly because he is a Doctor.
They don't welcome murderers in Mexico.
Anyway, back in England, there are 3 women with 1 personality called the Guild or something and they are just perfect as well. Everybody in this play is wearing white face (like it isn't white enough) but in turn, it makes it harder to emote with your face. So the ability these women have at communicating expressions is great. They are for the record, the always wonderful Carol Enoch, the Carol Burnett-y Jennifer Marschand and the glorious Jennifer Henry.
The 3 different personalities of the Doctor don't start off as distinct as they need to for the transition that happens. Ya see, as the Doctor becomes increasingly paranoid the personalities start to become one, but it is unclear which is which at the top. And of course, this play is not about anything that will make you think or start a revolution over, but sometimes that is ok, too.
If you can get past that, then you are gonna have a great time!
Go see this Goddammed play or ELSE!!
-Anderson Lawfer, Eric Roach