Sunday, April 24, 2011

Already Asked and Answered, but a Worthwhile 'Night' Nonetheless -- Theater Review; Night and Her Stars

Theater Review

Night and Her Stars
a play by Richard Greenberg
The Gift Theatre, Chicago
Thru May 1, 2011

The 1994 movie Quiz Show, directed by Robert Redford, was one of my favorite films of the '90s. Based on true events, if not entirely historically accurate, it starred Ralph Fiennes as Charles Van Doren, a college professor and member of a prominent literary family, who enjoyed a highly successful and popular run in 1956-57 on the TV game show Twenty-One.

With the aid of another, less telegenic contestant name Herb Stempel, an investigation was launched as to whether Van Doren had been supplied with the questions he would be asked, and a hoax perpetuated.

It's been awhile since I last watched Quiz Show, but I have a copy on DVD and thus can view it anytime. It is also available through Netflix and presumably many libraries, and I highly recommend it to anyone.

Considerably more so, in fact, that Night and Her Stars, a play written by Richard Greenberg in 1995 that covers largely the same ground. I saw the play last night in a fine production at Chicago's consistently good Gift Theatre, and while there were enough strong elements to merit your time if you can catch it in its final week, a free rental might suit you better.

Certainly, there's no crime in the same subject matter being covered in multiple creative forms--or even repeatedly within the same one. And in full disclosure, not only do I not remember Quiz Show in great detail, I had some difficulty keeping my eyes open--for reasons beyond the material--during parts of Night and Her Stars. But I believe I saw--and remember--enough to say that it didn't introduce me to much more than the movie already had and didn't feel sharp enough in dissecting the motivations of Van Doren or Stempel, nor the ramifications of their actions (and those of the show's producers & sponsors).

Many of the performances were quite good--particularly Danny Ahlfeld as show producer Dan Enright, Jay Worthington as Van Doren and Raymond Shoemaker as Stempel--and The Gift has created a stellar staging in its small space.

But without wanting to be overly dismissive based on anything I might have missed, this is the third play I've seen by the highly acclaimed Greenberg--after Take Me Out and The Violet Hour--and none of them have left me convinced.

In its own right, Night and Her Stars is a decent night of theater, but for me, with Quiz Show, the answer to any questions about this topic were already adequately supplied.

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