Below is a lightly edited transcript of Playtime’s Chicago Theater Report for October 11, 2020:
You can hear this episode at the following archives (links go live as available):
WCGORadio.com (segment begins at 55:21)
This week I have reports on two streaming shows that premiered this past week, along with a reasonably priced wine recommendation from a Lincoln Square shop:
Run the Beast Down by Strawdog Theatre
There is nothing new about the new normal under which we all now live. Humanity has long sought to manage, and adapt, to contagious disease.
We’ve also long learned to manage, and adapt, to predatory economic systems, even when our strategies act to destroy our relationships with ourselves and each other.
We’ve even learned how to adapt to those cruel economies that make it difficult, if not impossible, to manage contagious disease. Even when those diseases threaten the lives of the most vulnerable among us.
Cruel economies don’t spring from viruses, though viruses may trigger primal fears in those who have power. That fear can lead these individuals to consolidate their power ever the more, usually in the form of capital, leaving the rest of us to fight, like starving vermin, for the scraps left in garbage cans, along curbs, and even in the homes of others.
In Run the Beast Down, Strawdog Theatre Company takes on a beast and a ravenous one at that: Coronavirus has decimated economies, killed over a million people and, perhaps most insidiously, gnawed at the threads of civilization. The arts have taken a massive hit, of course, forcing companies like Strawdog to scramble, scavenge, and eventually reinvent their own craft at risk of perishing entirely.
My use of the word “perishing” isn’t accidental: One of the essential tools of an actor’s craft, voice, can suddenly be deadly to others as virus, lodged in throat, lungs, and sinuses, can be sprayed toward fellow actors, audience members, and tech crew during performances.
Some companies have, therefore, canceled their seasons. Others, like Strawdog, have taken a leap of faith and adapted their work to streaming video, allowing those who consume the arts the ability to feast while safe, and protected, in their own homes.
Run the Beast Down is a one-man play written by Titas Halder and the Strawdog production stars Gage Wallace who is directed by Elly Green. The story focuses on Charlie, a young man employed in The City, which in UK parlance means that he works in the financial district of London, an area that some might call the belly of the beast that is capitalism.
The story begins at a low spot for Charlie: He has lost his job, his girlfriend, and his ability to sleep. What he has acquired, however, is a stalker, a fox. In the United States, foxes are largely considered to be wild animals, but in UK cities, urban foxes are pests on par with squirrels, pigeons, and rats.
Throughout Run the Beast Down, we see that Charlie’s fox has long been on his tail, but his recent encroachments have become particularly onerous to the unemployed, sleep-deprived, and heartsick young man. Initially, he seems to have all under control, even as he rests on his laurels and relies on the reserves of trust that he has stocked up with those who he claims to care about and love. Eventually, however, those reserves run dry, and he finds himself becoming more desperate until all is lost.
Had Charlie taken advantage of the NHS’s mental health services, we might learn that Charlie’s ID, Shadow, or alter (depending on the age and modality of therapist) had reared its furry head due to Charlie’s current adjustment disorder and that a regimen of trazodone or Zoloft would put the stalker back safely into its den.
But Charlie doesn’t perceive the fox this way and sees no reason to seek out counseling. He intends to face down this fox even as he struggles with his losses. Indeed, at the end of Run the Beast Down we, the audience, are faced with a dilemma: Is Charlie’s fox an aspect of Charlie, or is it an invasive economy and social order that is hectoring him to pieces?
And then again, does it matter? Close to eighty years ago the socialist George Orwell asked the same question about a group of barnyard animals. In the end, pigs and humans became indistinguishable. In Run the Beast Down, we are left wondering if scavenging, urban vermin also begins to resemble its human hosts.
Or is it the other way around? Unbridled and unchecked by human dignity, social and economic systems have a tendency to mutate and transform those that partake in them, ravaging minds, souls, and bodies alike.
45 Plays for America’s First Ladies by The Neo-Futurists
The Neo-Futurists have launched their latest production, 45 Plays for America’s First Ladies. The Neo-Futurists are, of course, Chicago’s premier company for ultra short-form plays, and this production allows the company to show off its craft. Admittedly, this latest offering tips the SJW scales to the Nth degree, but there is enough history here to make careful viewers head over to Wikipedia for a bit of background information on those women who fulfilled the roles of “first ladies” over the centuries. Tickets to the streaming performances are available at neofuturists.org and the show itself runs through November 2nd.
Wine Recommendation: BIN 5757 Chardonnay
This week’s wine is a little beauty that I discovered at Lincoln Square’s Vom Fass, a shop dedicated to the sale of delicious culinary oils, spices, whiskies, and wines. Samples are available of many of the shop’s offerings, which makes it a fine place for home cooks and foodies to visit. I opted to purchase a bottle of BIN 5757 Chardonnay by Bennett Family Cellars during a recent visit, and am so glad I did.
I’m not terribly fond of most domestic chardonnay, even if it is unoaked. Bin 5757 has changed my mind on the subject: Green apple notes predominate on this crisp white wine, making it an incredibly accessible sipper, even as it might go well with a range of dishes. I paired it with spinach pizza even as a dinner guest suggested that it reminded him of riesling that might go well with Asian food. The price at Vom Fass was around $16, making this an uber-affordable option as well. Visit Vom Fass at 4755 N Lincoln Ave in Chicago.