Tuesday, October 06, 2015

At 25, 'Marvin's Room' Contains Touching Testaments to Chicago's Rich Theatrical Legacy -- Chicago Theater Review

Theater Review

Marvin's Room
Shattered Globe Theatre
at Theater Wit, Chicago
Thru November 14

I'm constantly amazed--and considerably enriched--by just how great a theater town Chicago is.

Over a 5-day span, I saw a National Tour of the 2014 Best Musical Tony Winner (A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder), a resplendently-appointed Goodman Theatre staging of a Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway hit that was hatched in Chicago just 3 years ago (Disgraced), a first-rate world premiere play starring George Wendt and Tim Kazurinsky (Funnyman) and a fine off-Loop version of a drama that had premiered at Goodman 25 years ago and was subsequently adapted into a movie starring Meryl Streep, Diane Keaton, Robert De Niro and Leonardo DiCaprio (Marvin's Room).

Produced by the Shattered Globe Theatre, celebrating its own 25th anniversary, and presented at Theater Wit--a pleasant multi-stage venue but a step below the city's most lavish or esteemed--Marvin's Room features Deanna Dunagan, the actress responsible for the best dramatic performance I've ever seen on a Chicago stage.

In 2007, she was absolutely brilliant at Steppenwolf in August: Osage County, for which she would go on to win the Tony Award for Best Lead Actress in a Play.

And in Marvin's Room, Dunagan isn't even the star.

Nor despite being splendid in the role of Aunt Ruth, does she deliver the most impressive performance. 

Longtime Shattered Globe ensemble member Linda Reiter is especially terrific as Bessie, a single, middle-aged woman who has devoted the last 20+ years to caring for her infirm, bed-ridden father, Marvin (Larry Bundschu, only seen during the play via shadows on the walls of his room).

Aunt Ruth also shares their Florida home, rather hobbled and constantly hunched.

Early in the 2-act play, Bessie develops health issues of her own, which become rather serious. This brings from Ohio her estranged sister Lee (Rebecca Jordan, a founding ensemble member who is also quite good) and her two teenage sons, Hank (Nate Santana), who has been living in a mental institution after burning down their house, and his gawky younger brother Charlie (Kyle Klein II).

Written by Scott McPherson while his lover was dying from AIDS, which would also take his own life at just 33, Marvin's Room is ostensibly about the responsibilities and resentments that can accompany caring for a sick parent (or other loved ones) in far greater proportion than one's sibling(s).

But relatively little stage time is devoted to any animosity, envy, regret or even self-pity Bessie may feel, and I found Marvin's Room to be unexpectedly uplifting in the way she reconnects with Lee, enjoys getting to know her nephews for the first time and exudes pride in having dedicated her life to her father and aunt.

There is substantive beauty--and more than a smidgen of personal self-identification--in the way McPherson's play seems to champion making the best of the cards you've been dealt, with aplomb and a resultant sense of contentment, rather than getting lost in longing for a "better" life or being bogged down by bitterness and regret.

Marvin's Room, at least as seen 25 years past its inception--I've never seen the movie, nor the play previously--feels more poignant and subtly powerful than truly riveting, and perhaps because it never had me on the edge of my seat, I found it more an excellent (@@@@) play than an absolutely phenomenal (@@@@@) one.

Though the script is strong, the performances superb and the production by Sandy Shinner well worth your attention and attendance, it is quite feasible that theater of similarly impressive quality can be seen almost every day of the year in Chicago and its environs, at venues large and small.

And as appreciable as this particular 25th anniversary rendition of Marvin's Room--featuring a Tony winner fitting seamlessly into an ensemble cast on Belmont Avenue--that's what I find truly extraordinary.

1 comment:

Ken said...

Triumph in the midst of adverse circumstances. Sounds like something Hemingway would like.