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Review Thu Jun 28 2012

Review: The Gacy Play at Theater Wit

Gacy Play Poster Image.jpgJohn Wayne Gacy Jr. The name conjures images of a horrific clown-faced murderer. His legacy is a dark stain on Chicago's history. Gacy sexually assaulted and murdered 33 young men in the 1970's and was put to death for his crimes in 1994. Rarely does "Gacy" bring up the thought of a father, husband, businessman and politician with a congenial chuckle.

The Gacy Play is a re-imagined look at who John Wayne Gacy was. Director Jonathan L. Green said, "What is brave about this script is that there is no real violence in it, no blood, no murder: The Gacy Play is not directly about and does not try to depict the murders committed by John Wayne Gacy, Jr." It still doesn't discount or discredit the atrocities Gacy was responsible for, but takes a fresh perspective on his personal relationships, his view of himself, and the universal propensity for keeping secrets.

Creating a play that depicts the human side of such a monstrous character is no easy task. In researching her subject, playwright Calamity West said she found myriad reasons to be appalled by the man. However, as she delved into his pathology, she found aspects of his person that could be sympathized with.

"It's hard to move past his murders," she said, "But once you're on the other side you bear witness to a very troubled man; a depressant, a go-getter, a closeted homosexual who dealt with years of family abuse, both physical and mental."

This is the man who takes the stage in The Gacy Play. It's December in 1975. Gacy is married to his second wife, Carol, and he's just been appointed director of Chicago's Annual Polish Constitution Day Parade. The Christmas tree is up, the lights are hung, and there is a terrible smell coming from the basement. At this point, Gacy has committed his first three murders, all of which have been buried under his house.

The play transitions from Gacy's every day life and interactions to his personal warfare. He spends his evenings arguing with his imagination, which takes the shape of the hard-as-nails, southern drawling, sharp shooter with whom he shares his name. The spirits that are imprisoned beneath his floorboards haunt him with his own echoing thoughts. He is, as West describes him, "riddled with self-hate and pickled in self pity."

The script is cleverly written to go deeper than the sensationalized character that was plastered across the front page of the Tribune. The show is directed with a keen eye for the audience experience, creating dynamic perspectives in a single setting. Even the stage is designed for intrigue, showing the audience there's always another side to the story.

The show opens tonight, June 28, at Theater Wit. Regular run tickets are $20-$25 and $15 student and industry tickets are available for select Thursday and Sunday performances. Group tickets are available for $15 for groups of 10 or more and can be reserved by emailing For more information, visit the Sideshow Theatre website.

Following each show, except opening and closing nights, there will be a talkback series, which allows audience members to discuss what they just saw on stage and the larger implications of the play.

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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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