Another Crazy Family

The Herd-150430We enjoyed a pleasant evening yesterday with friends at Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago. The play was one of the best ones we have seen. The Herd by playwright Rory Kinnear depicts a family broken and frustrated by a child born with a challenge. As the Mother put it he has the body of a twenty-one year old, but the mind of a one year old.The action takes place in the mother’s home. She lives with an adult daughter.  It is the twenty-first birthday of the handicapped son, and the family convenes for a party. Grand mother,  grand father,  sister, sister’s live in boy friend, and a surprise visit from the father who left the mother when the boy was five.

The boy himself lives with a caretaker independently. Throughout the story the mother gets progress reports by telephone from the sons weird caretaker as they make their way to the party by public transportation. The story unfolds and the microcosm of the family appears. It is a wildly funny, sad, and pathetic bunch of people who love each other, but who do little to show each other.

Before the sortie ends, the daughter reveals she is pregnant by her poet boyfriend, the father feels regret for his actions to leave, and the grand father dispenses cold hard realistic advice to everyone. The audience gave this play a standing ovation, and our group of six gave it five stars.

A Short Story Made Long

This is a short story which I will make long. Peggy and I have been theater goers ever since we married. For three years we subscribed to Chicago Shakespeare Theater. We looked forward to going, but always came home wondering what-the-heck is was all about. I was lucky if I understood fifty percent of what the actors said. Peg felt the same. In a cock-eyed way we enjoyed Shakespeare, maybe because it was a night out in the big town. Then, I learned that my friend Sherman and his wife Harriet were avid Steppenwolf Theater fans. My only association with Steppenwolf  came when I recognized the theater while driving by. I had heard the name many times, and my ears stood up when I drove past the building.

We subscribed to Steppenwolf in 2007 for the same nights as Harriet and Sherman. We have been members ever since. One of the first plays we attended is “Superior Donuts.” Sherman could not laud playwright Tracy Letts enough for his writing ability, and raved about a play they saw during the last season called “August: Osage County” also by Tracy Letts.

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All along, I kept telling myself that I have to see this play. From Steppenwolf the play went to Broadway lasting two years and receiving rave reviews. Then, Tracy Letts won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama for “Osage.”  All the while, Peg and I have watched five plays a year since then, and many of them featured Tracy Letts as actor. He is a fine performer. Our record of coming home not understanding what went on has improved and we now understand all the dialog.

This week, I accomplished the goal to see “August: Osage County.” Peg and I opened our winter movie season by seeing this film. The story has strong characters played by fine actors, two of which you will recognize immediately, Meryl Streep, and Julia Roberts.

I don’t know what it is about playwrights they always seem to write their best stories about dysfunctional families. I admit, Osage is about one really screwed up family. The story is riveting, as screwed up as the people are. This was one film that went by fast, and My old man bladder held out for the distance. There was no way I would  interrupt seeing one minute of this performance.

There is one thing left for this story, an Oscar. The film did not receive a nomination, but Meryl Streep and Julia Roberts have both been nominated, I agree that both should win.

WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF

Chicago River @ night

Image via Wikipedia

Last night was make up night for our theater subscription. Normally, we go to Steppenwolf with  friends, but when Grandma Peggy and I got the flu we had to reschedule. So, it was solo date night for the old folks.  We bundled up and drove the thirty-five miles to North Halstead Street in Chicago to the Steppenwolf theater. We left early because sometimes we get into a traffic jam that takes thirty to forty minutes to get through. This evening we sailed without any jams and made it from our door to the theater in forty-eight minutes flat.

I pulled up in front of Trattoria Gianni’s and valet parked the Death Star. Gianni’s is across the street and four houses down from the theater. We enjoyed a four-star meal. I would have given it five stars except for the ambiance. The place was cold, and a bus load of women came in for dinner. They made the place so noisy that I had to shut my “state of the art” electronic ears off.

The play was “Who is Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” I had never seen it before, but Peggy  saw the movie with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. This production of Edward Albee’s work starred Steppenwolf’s ensemble members. Directed by Amy Morton who also starred as Martha. Her husband, Tracy Letts played the part of George.

The story is a riot at times, but also filled with dialogue reminiscent of a marital fencing match. It is obvious that this wife is totally disappointed in her husband’s ambition, and he in turn feels she is a nag. They drink copiously to numb their brains from the ho-hum of their lives.

The characters became real, and I couldn’t picture the actors as anybody but George and Martha. They left me wondering if they were as screwed up in real life as they portrayed on stage. This is a very long play and we almost left when the second intermission arrived. I thought the last scene was rather a strange ending. It turned out that there was another act.

I took the opportunity to run out and retrieve my car from the valet. The valet service ends at eleven, and I had visions of my car being towed by some aggressive towing company for being in a place it didn’t belong with me wondering where the hell it was and how was I going to get home. The valet was right there. My car was parked on the street immediately across from the theater doors. I paid him, got my keys, and made it back to my seat before anyone knew I was gone.

The final act started out being just as conflicted as the first two. The plot had us believing that George and Martha had a son. At the very end George plays one of his games and reveals to Martha that the son is dead. She keeps screaming “why did you have to make it end this way?” That got me to wondering if the son was real or did they just create him to make their lives more fulfilled, or was he a character in one of George’s novels. I left wondering if the couple was nuts, or were they in deep grief over the loss of their only son. Now, I have to do some reading to determine if the son was real. Maybe someone will tell me.

Grandma Peggy and I gave the performance five stars, but next time we will wear long underwear so we can give Gianni’s the fifth star.

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