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Thursday, December 14

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Theater Thu Mar 14 2013

Bailiwick Chicago's See What I Wanna See Disorients with Delightful Intensity

SWI.jpg

(left to right) Harter Clingman and Danni Smith in Bailiwick Chicago's production of See What I Wanna See with words and music by Michael John LaChiusa, directed by Lili-Anne Brown and music direction by James Morehead, presented as part of Steppenwolf Theatre Company's Garage Rep 2013. Performance through April 21, 2013. Photo by Michael Brosilow

If I had done any research at all, I wouldn't have gone to See What I Wanna See. I jumped at the opportunity to review it because it's part of Steppenwolf's Garage Rep series, which I am a big fan of, but I am not a big fan of musicals, so if I'd actually read the press release before RSVPing, I wouldn't have gone. That said, I'm glad I went. Theater has come a long way since Oklahoma, thank God.

See What I Wanna See is Bailiwich Chicago's three-part chamber musical, written by Michael John LaChiusa and based on three short stories by Ryƫnosuke Akutagawa. The stories explore greed, lust, murder & redemption through two distinctly different main stories: a 1950's murder noir and a priest's crisis of faith. Both stories feature the same five actors in distinctly different roles, which they slay. Each story opens with prologues featuring Harter Clingman and Sharriese Hamilton as Morito and Kesa, belting out a powerful number about adultery and murder while they dry hump. In each of the two prologues one is about to murder the other in a dramatic climax right before a blackout. The music in these haunting scenes is particularly beautiful and stuck with me for days. The unseen live orchestra is staggeringly good, and such a smart move, amplifying the intensity of the production. After one song we are quickly swept into the murder noir, which disorients and delights with equal vigor, leaving us never knowing who did what, or why.

During an intermission, the actors change clothes and mindsets to portray contemporary New Yorkers who are each in many ways the opposite of their murder noir roles. A priest (Peter Oyloe) begins to question his faith at the urging of his ailing Aunt Monica (Danni Smith) and stages a simple but powerful hoax in Central Park out of existential desperation that spawns drastically unintended consequences.

See What I Wanna See is drenched in intensity and centers around the concept of perspective -- reality, after all, is mostly in the eye of the beholder. This relatively new musical (performed for the first time by a different company in 2004) feels like a classic, and is recommended for musical lovers and musical skeptics alike. In other words, if you're only going to check out one musical this year, skip Wicked and head over to Steppenwolf.

See What I Wanna See is being performed through April 21 at Steppenwolf's Garage Stage. Single tickets ($20) and three-play passes ($45) to Garage Rep 2013 are currently on sale through Audience Services (1650 N Halsted St), 312-335-1650 and steppenwolf.org.

 
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