By Julian J. Frazin
Retired Cook County Circuit Court Judge • Entertainment Critic
May it please the court…
Whoever first observed, "good things often come in small packages" surely would have been a regular at some of Chicago's smaller theaters. You can't go wrong catching a show at the jewel box — or should I say shoe box — sized A Red Orchid Theatre on Wells Street or the Chopin Theatre on Division Street.
TimeLine Theatre Company has only 99 general admission seats and yet consistently produces hit after hit such as "The History Boys," "The Front Page" and "Frost/Nixon" in its tiny, flexible space at 615 W. Wellington Ave. And then there's Porchlight Music Theatre with seating for only 140. Again, despite the size, the troupe produces new and innovative musicals as well as creative takes on old favorites at the handsomely renovated Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave.
TimeLine, in keeping with its mission "to present stories inspired by history that connect with today's social and political issues," is presenting "Enron," the lurid tale of the biggest financial fiasco in modern memory.
Written by British playwright Lucy Prebble and directed by the ingenious Rachel Rockwell, "Enron" depicts the corporation's board of directors as three, blind mice dressed in suits. Its complicit accounting firm, Chicago-based Arthur Andersen, is envisioned as a ventriloquist and dummy. The company's attorneys show up as blindfolded Statues of Justice, swinging their swords wildly and aimlessly about. Lehman Brothers are portrayed as Siamese twins, talking in unison and wearing a single suit and, finally, representing the many phony corporations set to deceive the public are the menacing Raptors — giant reptiles straight out of "Jurassic Park."
But nothing in this imaginative production can possibly match the misleading and illusory smoke-and-mirror tactics actually perpetrated by the "smartest men in the room" — Kenneth Lay (Terry Hamilton), Jeffrey Skilling (Bret Tuomi) and Andrew Fastow (Sean Fortunato) — an unholy trio who brought disreputable meaning to such terms as "mark to market" and "hedge funds."
With its swiftly choreographed direction and barbed humor augmented by evening news footage, "Enron" attempts to entertain and, somehow, even helps us laugh at this modern-day tragedy. But the pornography of the marketplace has no redeeming features when you consider the devastating effect it had and continues to have on the economic structure of our country and the lives of ordinary folks. Once again, "those who ignore history are bound to repeat it."
"A Catered Affair"
"A Catered Affair," the 2008 Broadway musical making its Chicago premiere at Porchlight's Stage 773 space, has a distinguished pedigree with book by Harvey Fierstein and music and lyrics by John Bucchino. It is adapted from the 1955 television play by Paddy Chayefsky later made into the 1956 movie written by Gore Vidal, starring Bette Davis and Ernest Borgnine as the conflicted, financially strapped parents who, nonetheless, decide to toss a big wedding for their only daughter, played by a youthful Debbie Reynolds.
This is an earthbound, bittersweet musical which, under the direction of Nick Bowling and musical director Doug Peck, is not without its charms. I suspect that the ordinary, working-class story is better suited to the intimacy of Porchlight's small space than to the Broadway stage where it did not fare too well. The powerfully voiced Rebecca Finnegan is outstanding as Aggie Hurley, the guilt-ridden mother, who, having lost a son in the Korean War, feels obliged to throw a big wedding for her neglected daughter. Never mind the fact that Janey, here played by a fresh-faced and delightful Kelly Davis Wilson, wants only a simple ceremony at city hall.
Craig Spidle turns in a poignant performance as the husband Tom, giving his best Archie Bunker impression as he winces at every new expense incurred in providing a lavish dinner. Jerry O'Boyle brings sensitivity to the role of Uncle Winston, the family's gay bachelor, a part that was expanded by Fierstein, who created the role himself.
I was impressed by Bucchino's effort, whose score and lyrics are pleasantly reminiscent of Stephen Sondheim. Consider the mother's advice in "Married," as she cautions: "It's a big thing getting married. You gotta look before you leap. You gotta pick someone to keep. So when his hair is mostly gone. And your waist is not too slim. You still will be with him."
Bucchino's lyrics for "A Catered Affair" brings great realism to the husband who seeks credit for remaining with an unhappy wife as he forcefully sings: "I Stayed." This remains a timeless story of the dynamics of an ordinary family undergoing an everyday crisis.
I rest my case.
"A Catered Affair"