Sunday, February 24, 2019

Dinner with a Deity: At Lookingglass, 'Act(s) of God' Works Best Beyond the Spiritual -- Chicago Theater Review

Chicago Theater Review

Act(s) of God
a new play by Kareem Bandealy
directed by Heidi Stillman
Lookingglass Theatre, Chicago
Thru April 7

Over the past few days I have seen two plays I didn't love--including the one I'm reviewing here--and a concert I did love but not quite as much as the pals I attended with.

I also happened to have conversations--somewhat coincidentally, someone not--about how I approach writing reviews, particularly when I was less than enthralled with what I saw.

Especially as I am posting my reviews on a personal blog, my goal is to honestly convey what I experienced and felt. I don't believe there are absolute determinants of good and bad, or "OK" and "Oh Wow!," but rather how one's emotional embrace--along with more mental assessments--gauges a work along the spectrum.

Which, in the case here, runs from @ to @@@@@, with 1/2@ increments.

Two of the people I was talking to are among my most theater literate friends, and in being complimentary, each agreed that I am almost always deferential, even about shows I candidly didn't like.

Photo credit on all: Liz Lauren
I hope that comes across here because although I can't say I am much enjoyed nor felt considerably enriched by Act(s) of God, there is still much to be admired.

Though I haven't attended Lookingglass Theatre as much as I have Goodman, Steppenwolf, Northlight or some others, I have found it to be among Chicagoland's--and therefore the country's--best self-producing, non-musical theater ensembles.

The last show I saw there, Mary Zimmerman's The Steadfast Tin Soldier, was one of the greatest things I have ever seen on stage.

I think it's cool that Act(s) of God was written by Kareem Bandealy--to this point more known as an actor--and regardless of what I thought, its staging bespeaks an estimable effort, including by director Heidi Stillman, the Lookingglass crew and a terrific cast.

I have enjoyed Shannon Cochran in a few shows in recent years, and as "Mother" she is stellar here, including in belting out something of an operatic aria. (This isn't a musical.)

Rom Barkhordar does a nice job as a quirky, nap-loving Father, and as their three grown children, Kristina Valada-Viars (Eldest), Anthony Adams (Middle) and Walter Briggs (Youngest) are all really good.

So too is Emjoy Gavino as Middle's fiance.

Though I am not myself religious, I didn't inherently mind that Act(s) of God presents some spiritual themes, especially as part of the point is delineating how different members of the family have differing views on religion.

Without needing to spell out much, the three-act play of 2-1/2 hours, takes place in 2029, a time when certain things have changed--nobody drives anymore--but heavy volumes of physical junk mail still exist.

A piece of such that Mother sifts through is hard to open, harder to discern and open to interpretation, but she determines that it says that God will be joining the family for dinner.

I'm not going to reveal if He (or She) ever actually does, and while this is the subject of considerable dialogue, I found that the overtly religious and seemingly absurdist aspects of Act(s) of God were the weakest.

Arguments among various pairings of kinfolk, especially Eldest, a lesbian artist, and her successful businessman Middle brother contain some really biting dialogue.

Certainly, even with its supernatural elements, Act(s) of God can be considered a family drama, but I thought this was far more engaging at face value that any of its weirder parts.

I won't brazenly dismiss whatever Bandealy is trying to say, but not only didn't I get it--and absurdist theater is something with which I admittedly struggle--I can't say I much cared.

The actors do fine work, and scenic designer Brian Sidney Bembridge demonstrably does as well.

As I tried to allude above, this isn't me telling you that piece is bad nor that you shouldn't see it.

Just that if your perspectives and tastes are somewhat similar to mine, be forewarned that I wasn't all that smitten by Act(s) of God.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

You are kind. The acting and directing were terrific and what you would expect from Lookingglass but the script was not. I didn't feel like was seeing living, breathing people on stage, but rather a series of labels: "atheist" argues with "religious mother". Also, I found it hard to like anyone on stage. All of the characters struck me as shallow and narcissistic.

I went with a group of friends, and the general reaction, was "I have no idea what that was about" -- for me, it was as if the writer needed to share everything they learned about existential philosophy in their junior year of college.