Chicago Theater Review: THE HAMMER TRINITY (House Theatre of Chicago)

by Barnaby Hughes on March 9, 2015

in Uncategorized

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GRASP THIS HAMMER WHILE THE IRON IS HOT!

Considering the popularity of fantasy epics The Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, it is a wonder that more theaters aren’t performing them. While demand is certainly there, perhaps the problem lies in lack of resources. Most companies simply don’t have the talent or the money to mount a fantasy epic, not least because of the special effects that audiences have come to expect. With its larger-than-life Hammer Trinity, The House Theatre of Chicago proves that it is one of the few that can deliver. Co-written by artistic director Nathan Allen and company member Chris Mathews, The Hammer Trinity appears to have reached completion with the world premiere of Part Three: The Excelsior King.

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While it’s easy to simply delight in the story and the special effects, The Hammer Trinity gets to the root of what theater—and to some extent culture, society, and religion—is all about: storytelling. Who is telling our story? Do we have control over the story or does it control us? It’s a variant perspective on the perennial problem of free will and determinism/predestination.

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Each part of The Hammer Trinity focuses on one story and one storyteller. In Part One: The Iron Stag King, Hap the Golden (William Dick) spins the tale of Casper Kent (Kevin Strangler) and his claim to the iron hammer, symbol of royal authority. In Part Two: The Crownless King, Casper Kent relinquishes his crown under the competing influence of the dragon Irek Obsidian (voiced by Tracy Letts). In Part Three: The Excelsior King, Irek’s daughter July of the Seven Foxes (Kay Kron) tells a new story that aims to bring peace and concord to the divided kingdom. Viewed as a whole, The Hammer Trinity is perfectly dialectical in structure: thesis, antithesis, synthesis.

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Among the eighteen cast members who perform more than fifty roles between them, a number deserve to be singled out. First, co-writer Chris Mathews gave an incredible performance as Wilke Forsbrand on opening day. Taking over last minute from J. J. Phillips, who dropped out at the end of Part One: The Iron Stag King, Mathews would occasionally jump into his fight scenes reading the stage directions. The strategy worked surprising well, simplifying the action and adding an unexpectedly humorous touch. Kevin Strangler brings welcome sincerity and nobility of heart to his role as Casper Kent, as we see the simple farm boy gradually develop into a confident and capable king. Returning cast members Joey Steakley and Ben Hertel both wring plenty of laughs out of their respective roles. Tracy Letts, William Dick, and Isabel Liss contribute deliciously rich and mature voices.

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Beyond the excellent storytelling and talented ensemble cast, what truly makes The Hammer Trinity a wonder to behold is the strong production team. Director Nathan Allen brings prolific vision, imagination, and expertise to the realization of his and Mathew’s fantasy epic on stage. He is ably assisted by more than a dozen production staff who have designed and coordinated all the many pieces that make The Hammer Trinity a dazzling and complex whole.

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Scenic designer Collette Pollard has created a long hall-like space between tiered rows of facing seats through which the action ebbs and flows. Properties manager Eleanor Kahn describes battles scenes using scale models that progress from land (Part 1) to sea (Part 2) to air (Part 3). Animals are brought to life through Jesse Mooney-Bullock’s puppets, vividly realized with moving parts and all, which are deftly animated by various actors. These include July’s foxes, Hap’s iron stag and birds, a snake, an eagle, and two enormous dragons. Costume designer Melissa Torchia has created unique personas for the many characters and peoples. Of particular note are Henley Hawthorne’s flamboyant, lace ruffle-trimmed, silk damask suit and Rienne Boileau’s elaborate braids and elegantly simple wedding dress.

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Even if you’ve already seen the first two installments of The Hammer Trinity, go and see the whole thing in one marathon performance on Saturdays and Sundays. It’s a truly epic experience not to be missed! Otherwise, you can catch single shows (Part 3) and the odd double feature (Parts 1 and 2) on Friday nights.

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photos by Michael Brosilow

TheHammerTrinity_P2_House2015_007The Hammer Trinity
Part One: The Iron Stag King
Part Two: The Crownless King
Part Three: The Excelsior King (world premiere)
The House Theatre of Chicago
Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division
single and double shows on Fridays;
marathon (all 3 plays) on Sat and Sun
ends on May 3, 2015
for tickets, call 773.769.3832
or visit www.thehousetheatre.com

for info on Chicago Theater, visit www.TheatreinChicago.com

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