A TISSUE OF SONGS
An ambitious and sporadically powerful entry in Steppenwolf Theatre Company’s fourth annual “Garage Rep,” this 2005 musical by John LaChiusa is a Rashomon-like puzzle whose song pieces can’t quite be put together. But ardently produced in the Steppenwolf Garage this becomes a healthy, rather than pointless, challenge to the listener, despite the confusedly criminalized first act. The second act’s more solid story better conveys the bedrock obsessions that fuel both the music and the characters.
In the first act of See What I Wanna See (a title that proves too true in this subjective stream), those obsessions are confessions in a police station. They come from or tell about a wife and her husband, a 1951 “film noir” thief (who will kill the latter to get the former), an anguished janitor (who serves as a reluctant witness), and a medium (who lets the dead confess at last).
Based on short stories by 20th century Ryunosuke Akutagawa, the first scene in each act is set in feudal Japan; these vignettes purvey a kind of collective shame that requires individual “face-saving” and ritual suicide a la hara kiri. This kind of honor-killing translates less well into Western characters, but La Chiusa’s urgent to operatic songs, perfectly enacted in Lili-Anne Brown’s staging and James Morehead’s musical direction, deliver the energy to distract from the maddening fluidity of shifting storylines.
Danni Smith fulminates splendidly as the wife with a laundry list of complaints against Harter Clingman’s milquetoast husband. Peter Oyloe’s opportunistic thief rhapsodizes over “Big Money” as he achieves next to nothing.
Oyloe has the biggest role in the more straightforward second act, playing a priest whose faith is shaken when his dying Aunt Monica denies God. To give the Lord a chance to manifest Himself, the priest arbitrarily declares that a miracle will happen at 1 p.m. next Tuesday in Central Park this A.D. 2002. Somewhat improbably, his scrawled note pinned to a tree excites a media circus and intense public interest. A former CPA (Clingman) hopes for vindication of his now homeless status. An actress (Sharriese Hamilton, singing up a storm) sees this as a second chance for a big comeback. A T.V. reporter (handsome Evan Tyrone Martin) wishes he could be a believer. The priest finds it a daunting task to “feed the lions” that he’s freed with a miracle that may transform no one but himself. Was Aunt Monica right that no superpower cares for our little lives? Or can the declaration of a “Glory Day” miracle ignite a self-fulfilling prophecy?
Musically as well as narratively, this act, free of differing accounts that undermine belief, is coherent to the point of compassion. If murder, whether self-killing or the culling of others, barely connects the first act, hope, taking even more forms to happen, lifts the second act to something like an epiphany.
photos by Michael Brosilow
See What I Wanna See
Bailiwick Chicago at Steppenwolf
part of Steppenwolf’s Garage Rep Season
scheduled to end on April 21. 2013
for tickets, visit http://www.steppenwolf.org/
for info on this and other Chicago Theater, visit http://www.TheatreinChicago.com