Slice of Americana takes Theatre Seven by ‘Storm’
By Hedy Weiss Theater Criticfirstname.lastname@example.org November 24, 2012 1:48AM
Destin Teamer (from left), Johnny Meyer, Anthony DiNicola, Hilary Williams and Lucy Carapetyan star in Theatre Seven of Chicago’s production of “American Storm.” | Photo by Nicole Gazzano
When: Through Dec. 16
Where: Theater Seven Chicago at Geenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln
Tickets: $20 (advance); $25 (door)
Updated: December 25, 2012 6:04AM
To bolt straight out of the starting gate: Theatre Seven of Chicago’s production of “American Storm” — a play by Carter W. Lewis, set in a small town in Ohio in the early 1960s — is a hugely ambitious undertaking.
It embraces everything from the fascinating subculture of thoroughbred horse racing and the Cuban missile crisis to matters of race, class and criminality. Under director Brian Golden’s fleet direction, a cast of 12 razor-sharp actors does the play full justice aided by a striking set design by Joe Schermoly that is so realistic you can almost hear the whinny of horses coming from behind the stable doors.
To be sure, Lewis (playwright-in-residence at Washington University in St. Louis) gives us a slew of strongly etched characters and relationships as well as intriguing historical confluences. But he also tries to stuff far too many story lines into the play. That weakness acknowledged, “American Storm” is never boring.
At the center of Lewis’ story is Weldon Downs, the Ohio racetrack owned by Robert Duffet (Scott Anderson, aptly dry), the wealthy middle-aged son of a self-made businessman, and his Southern socialite wife, Eudora (a perfectly snappish Susie Griffith). Their track is not on the level of Churchill Downs, , but racing has become a hot enterprise. So they sign on to a deal with a big cosmetics company and the culture of the family business quickly changes. And life becomes even more difficult for those who do the essential work of training, caring for and racing the horses that make their owners so much money.
The Duffets’ employees include Jakey Hanks (Lucy Carapetyan in a taut yet fiercely emotional turn), the intense, gifted working-class trainer who has a stake in American Storm, a young horse with immense potential. She also has a personal stake in Robert Duffet that complicates matters.
Managing the operation is Harley Granville (Sean Sinitski), whose self-interest and super-nationalism kicks in with a vengeance as the Cuban missile crisis escalates. Recently kicked out of his home by his straight-speaking wife (Donna McGough, an actress whose trademark is effortless authenticity), he undermines his own daughter, Bonnie (the high-spirited Hilary Williams), who has, much to his distress, married a Cuban emigre and jockey, Miguel (Anthony DiNicola, whose exuberant stage presence is paired with playfully delivered bilingual lines). Harley fans the flames of anti-communism and “patriotism” in a high-profile race.
There is much more — far too much more — including a sleazy executive (played by Jim Poole); a black power broker (deftly portrayed by Andre Teamer), who works with the powers that be in Washington, D.C.; an all-seeing veterinarian (the expert Marc J. Shallow); the young, smart-as-a-whip black stable hand (Destin Teamer is a charmer) who dreams of being president one day; and Stuck (the impressive Johnny Meyer), the boy with something of an idiot savant’s knowledge of racing statistics who serves as the play’s prophetic narrator.
Just call this play “American Frankenstorm.” It’s quite a good workout.