Landmark Project a powerful showcase, delivers on every level
BY HEDY WEISS Theater Critic / firstname.lastname@example.org June 5, 2011 6:22PM
Joe Zarrow and Tracey Kaplan star in “State & Madison: The Chicago Grid,” by Marisa Wegrzyn. The short play is part of the Chicago Landmark Project series.
‘THE CHICAGO LANDMARK PROJECT’
◆ Through July 10
◆ Theatre Seven of Chicago Greenhouse Theater Center, 2257 N. Lincoln
◆ (773) 404-7336;
Updated: September 22, 2011 12:31AM
Maybe it’s our shortened attention spans, or maybe it’s just that playwrights crave a way to deal with engaging but limited ideas. Whatever the reason, programs of multiple short plays by a wide cross-section of writers have become a popular model for Chicago theater companies of every size and shape these days. And with its new Chicago Landmark Project, Theatre Seven of Chicago has aced the competition on its first time out with two programs of six plays each, all spinning around a single theme, yet utterly unique in both approach and subject matter.
Of course not all of the 12 playlets on display are of top quality, but an unusual percentage are instantly memorable. And the overall artistic level of this grandly ambitious project — from its easily morphable cityscape set by Brandon Wardell, to its expertly choreographed and imagined connective interludes, to its generally high level of acting and directing — is impressive. Co-coordinators Brian Golden and Cassy Sanders deserve immense praise for realizing an inspired concept. This is the evening out our new mayor should put on his summer calendar.
And now to the plays, each of which is set at a specific intersection of Chicago streets.
The fun begins with the beguiling “orientation” play that is the curtain-raiser for Program A — Marisa Wegrzyn’s “State & Madison: The Chicago Grid,” deftly directed by Jennifer Green. Set in the 19th century, when the Chicago map was a labyrinth, with a plethora of streets named “Lincoln,” it is the tale of an obsessive, city-loving accountant (Joe Zarrow), who wants to create order out of chaos, even as his enchanting wife (Tracey Kaplan), longs for life in the country.
Next comes the Red Orchid Youth Ensemble, a gaggle of very young girls who easily can hold their own against any competition. In “Lincoln & Webster: Oz Park,” they muse on heart, brains and courage as they take brooms and creativity in hand. Lawrence Grimm and Elise Lammers were clearly great coaches for the six girls here, with tiny Eden Strong offering a lesson in diction and vocal projection many professional actors should emulate.
In “Ohio & Lake: Navy Pier,” Robert Koon gives us a touching, easily recognizable heart-to-heart conversation between a divorced dad (Tim Curtis), and his edgy daughter (Baize Buzan) who is about to head off to college. And in “Logan & Milwaukee: Logan Square Farmers Market,” Laura Jacqmin, a writer with a wonderfully quirky sense of humor, homes in on buskers and vegetables, with a starry young comedian, Victoria Blade, on guitar, and Greg Williams on triangle. (Andy Lutz and Jacqmin wrote the goofy songs.)
Yolanda Nieves’ tale of a missing girl in a Latino neighborhood has the germ of an idea, but is not well developed. J. Nicole Brooks’ look at the decline of the Garfield and State neighborhood forces a shopaholic black yuppie to listen to a familiar rant from a street artist.
Program B is most memorable for Brett Neveu’s “Lincoln and Eastwood: Laurie’s Planet of Sound,” a perfect little encounter between two awkward twentysomething music nerds (Katy Albert and Jonathan Baude), looking through crates of LPs. Jamil Khoury’s “63rd & Kedzie: Arab American Community Center,” is the most intensely political work in the lineup, as Amira Sabbagh and Leslie Frame engage in an intense debate airing many sides of a hot-button issue. Also on the bill are pieces by Brian Golden, Lonnie Carter, Brooke Berman and Aaron Carter.
Not a single playwright chose to set a play in a Chicago storefront theater. Maybe next year, for this Landmark project should unquestionably become an annual event.