Monday, March 22, 2010

"What are we gonna do now?"

Theatre Review

Harper Regan
A play by Simon Stephens
Steep Theatre, Chicago

My headline to this post comes from the song "Clampdown" by The Clash. I posted a video of it below as perhaps you'd like to listen to it as you read my review of Harper Regan. For while the play isn't directly about punk rock, the music of the title character's youth imbues her quiet spirit as she faces a series of mid-life challenges (though likewise being 41, it's hard to accept that Harper is truly "middle-aged").

Music by The Jam, Elvis Costello and other Brit punks of the late '70s is heard before the play begins and during scene changes, although in the program's Director's Notes, Robin Witt cites Springsteen's "The Ties That Bind" as the song that permeated her mind throughout rehearsals. But while that song certainly fits the show's themes, in my mind, the rhetorical opening of Clampdown, "What are we gonna do now?" really echoes the essence of this excellent play by Simon Stephens, getting its American premiere at Steep Theatre, a storefront under the Berwyn L station.

I'll purposely avoid many specifics about the play, which takes place in London and elsewhere in England, because although my attendance was entirely spurred by the 4-Star review (out of 4 on his scale, my 4 Stars are out of 5) given by the Chicago Tribune's Chris Jones, very little that happened in the play was what I expected. So on the recommendation that you check out Harper Regan yourself--after multiple extensions, it runs through April 25--I'll keep things rather vague so you can be similarly surprised.

As I mentioned, Harper is a 41-year-old woman with a love of punk rock in her past. During the course of three days, she deals briefly but substantively with all of the following: her boss, husband, daughter, father, mother, a younger man, an older man, another younger man and a few more minor characters. Keep in mind that 11 actors work through 11 scenes taking place in 9 different indoor & outdoor settings, all on a stage that never changes. Great theater doesn't require elaborate staging.

While Harper faces considerable strife and struggles, the subtle beauty of the play is in what doesn't happen. I kept waiting for Harper to stage her own "punk rock rebellion" but where playwright Stevens, director Witt and the excellent Kendra Thulin as Harper take the story is a probably a whole lot richer and true to life than Letts-like hysterics, if less viscerally exciting.

Keep in mind that British accents abound, although I never had difficulty understanding the dialogue. And while I won't rave quite as highly as Chris Jones did, this is a play well worth your time and, especially for just $22, your money. Tickets can be purchased here.

No comments: