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Theatre Wed Feb 24 2010

Review: The Ring Cycle @ The Building Stage

The first thing you'll probably hear about The Building Stage's re-imagining of Wagner's epic opera cycle is its length. I've witnessed several light up or laugh off the play's six-hour running time (which includes two intermissions and a dinner break), but The Neo-Futurists' loopy production of Strange Interlude for Goodman's O'Neill Festival last year ran seven and, just like The Ring Cycle, didn't feel nearly that long. But where Strange Interlude's length felt gimmicky (as did many parts of the mostly solid production), The Ring Cycle's is not. Blake Montgomery and Joanie Schultz's production for The Building Stage takes its source material seriously, and it's a scenic, if somewhat rocky, ride.

The epic story, originally inspired by German and Norse mythology, follows a cursed ring as it travels from dwarfs to gods to dragons to humans and back again. The twists and turns of the plot may feel familiar at times, but each character is drawn with such nuance that they feel like authentic creations, authentic representatives of the many tribes that make up this expansive world. And what a world it is; Montgomery and Schultz draw an amazing amount of atmosphere through simple washes of light and fabric, the latter of which is manipulated gorgeously by the ephemeral Rhinemaidens, coquettishly (and acrobatically) played by Sarah Scanlon, Lindsey Dorcus, and Lucy Carapetyan.

If only one could say the same for the entire cast. While supporting cast members Pat King, Wm. Bullion, and Nick Vidal put in some excellent performances, many scenes during the early half of the play lose weight and coherence through one-note shouting matches, made all the more clunky by a shaky grasp of the thick, twisty dialogue. There were also moments, such as an early conversation between the gods and giants, where performance styles seemed mismatched; some feeling a little too heightened, others feeling a bit too grounded. Material like this certainly doesn't call for naturalism, but there were times I found myself desiring a shared sense of tone amongst the cast.

But when The Ring Cycle is working (which it consistently is during its latter half), it's a sight to behold, unlike anything else you're likely to see in Chicago this year. The music helps, too. Wagner's opera score has been traded for the rock stylings of musician Kevin O'Donnell, whose tunes, driven by electric guitars and percussion, mainly serve to underscore the action. It's a delight to hear snippets of Wagner's original score snake in and out of the music, but it's never given a fair chance to shine. For "a play that rocks," as The Building Stage touts, The Ring Cycle could stand to rock a little harder. But that's a small criticism for a play this big.

 
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Architecture Tue Nov 03 2015

Paul Goldberger Describes the "Pragmatism and Poetry" of Frank Gehry's Architecture in His New Book

By Nancy Bishop

Architecture critic Paul Goldberger talks about Frank Gehry's life and work in a new book.
Read this feature »

Steve at the Movies Fri Jan 01 2016

Best Feature Films & Documentaries of 2015

By Steve Prokopy

Read this column »

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