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Theater Wed Jun 04 2014

Sideshow Theatre's Tyrant Shows Us One Version of a Dystopian Future

Photo by Jonathan L. Green.

Here's a solution for the problem of homelessness. Gather up the homeless and give them the choice of joining the military, leaving the country, or moving to a center for special training. The latter group is assigned to wealthy people to perform household and personal chores. In Sideshow Theatre Company's Tyrant, Congress does that one year from now with the US Rectification Act, which allows "rectifees" to be "actualized" by the presumably well-intentioned 1 percent (or perhaps 10 percent).

Kathleen Akerley's world premiere play shows us the result 20 years later. Martin (Matt Fletcher) is one of those well-intentioned philanthropists, who has been recognized for having actualized the most rectifees to date. "Actualization" means buying the rectifee and providing food and shelter. Buy? Yes, that does sound like what we thought was outlawed in 1863 and certainly in 1868 with the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. But the homeless problem became very serious and Congress found a workaround to the 14th. (The play makes no mention of denial of civil liberties. The future arrives as predicted and somehow we learn to live with it.)

Martin is a dilettante who's interested in psychiatric research, dreams and imagination. He enjoys the creativity he experiences during his daily massages by Regina (Clare O'Connor) and Leon (Andy Lutz). Both Regina and Leon were separated from their parents decades ago and now barely remember having a home, family or personal possessions. They are both rather childlike and accepting of the rules, as they were trained to be at the "center." If they don't behave properly and work effectively, they could be "recycled," sent back to the center for actualization by a new rectifier or "padre," as rectifees are trained to call their actualizers.

Martin's sponsor, Matthew (Paige Smith) visits to "inspect" the rectifees' situation and review their treatment by Martin. Matthew comments, "it's horrifying how readily people fell into the program."

Martin picks up an old book bought at a "dead house" (an estate sale) and quotes from Thomas Wolfe's novel, Look Homeward Angel. Rectifees love living in a house, Martin says, where they are "anchored to the earth." Matthew scoffs at Martin's pretensions and comments that "no one reads books any more; they just buy them to put on the shelf."

Leon finds someone's old possessions in the trash (an illegal act) and retrieves a copper teapot that he gives to Regina. She likes tea, but has never seen a teapot and doesn't know how to use it. She has an accident and her hands are badly burned and bandaged. Regina and Leon are interrogated by Martin and chastised for their misdeeds.

Regina now can't perform the daily massages or write down Martin's thoughts as he daydreams through them. Martin, who sees himself as a kind and lenient padre, decides that Regina can become a counselor as well as a massage therapist. He actualizes Nicole, a rectifee and an experienced counselor, to train Regina.

Karie Miller, who starred in a one-woman show last summer (also a dystopian story), plays Nicole, who is recycled at the end of each project assignment. She doesn't agree with Martin's expectations for counseling. He seems to be "looking for a conversation that is more like Joseph Campbell than Sigmund Freud." She's outspoken in her opposition to Martin's ideas. Leon and Regina are shocked at her demeanor. No surprise that Martin sends Nicole off for recycling.

Regina's hands heal and the massages and note-taking resume. Martin is reinvigorated about recording his visions. Fletcher spends most of the show switching between being clothed and naked, as he leaps from behind a drape or robe to lie under a sheet on the massage table. He is on stage most of the time and this alternation in costume must be a strain on his concentration.

The ending is shocking, abrupt and unsatisfying. An ambiguous ending can be intriguing, leading to heated discussions about its real meaning (as in Tony Soprano looking up as the diner door opens, then fade to black). Tyrant, however, just sort of stops, leaving us to consider the meaning of a world where no one is free. (The oddly chosen title does not refer to an authoritarian leader, however, but to Martin's "tyrant in my lower back.")

Megan A. Smith and playwright Akerley share the directing role. The 145-minute play (with intermission) runs at least 15-20 minutes too long. The dialogue is jargon-filled with references to the Rectification Act; some of this could be eliminated without any loss to the thread of the play.

The action proceeds in a series of scenes of varying length, defined by Jordan Kardasz's lighting changes. (The opening scene, as Regina and Leon sit with their backs to us, is beautifully lighted.) Cait Chou's cleverly designed set is made up of three partial walls, separated to allow entrances and exits. Each wall has a bottom sliding panel that is raised to move furniture in and out. Christopher LaPorte's sound design and composition are, as always, perfectly suited to the action.

Akerley is a Washington, DC, playwright and author of Theories of the Sun, which Sideshow produced in its Midwestern premiere in 2010.

Tyrant is being performed by Sideshow Theatre through June 29 at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont, at 7:30pm Thursday-Saturday and 3pm on Sunday. Tickets are $15-25 and can be purchased online or by calling 773-975-8150.


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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.
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