As of January 1, 2016, Gapers Block has ceased publication. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions over the past 12-plus years. 

TODAY

Wednesday, December 13

Gapers Block
Search

Gapers Block on Facebook Gapers Block on Flickr Gapers Block on Twitter The Gapers Block Tumblr


A/C
« Documentary Peeks Inside Ash's Magic Shop Going the Extra Mile: How Adrienne Lewis Casts Extras for NBC's "Chicago P.D." »

Theater Tue Jul 14 2015

Steppenwolf Tackles Faith and Suffering in Grand Concourse

GrandConcourse_Production02.jpg

Photo by Michael Brosilow.

With a title like Grand Concourse (named after the Bronx's largest thoroughfare), you might expect Steppenwolf's newest production to be massive in scope and scale. Instead, Heidi Schreck's (Nurse Jackie) brisk, funny play features a small cast in a tiny church soup kitchen, and an intimate look at the relativity of suffering and the versatility of love.

If that sounds heavy, don't worry. Schreck's light voice and director Yasen Peyankov's nimble pacing meld perfectly with this cast's sense of humor. And while the play tackles the role of spiritual faith in the 21st century, it does so without preaching.

Schreck's soup kitchen is run by Shelley (Mariann Mayberry), a middle-aged nun who's resorted to timing her prayers with a microwave in an attempt to mechanically restore her faith. Shelley is joined by Oscar (Victor Almanzar), a Dominican-American devoted to his off-stage girlfriend; and Frog (Tim Hopper), a charming homeless man who'll sell you a joke for a quarter.

The proverbial pot is stirred by the arrival of Emma (Brittany Uomoleale), a beautiful and seemingly naive 19-year-old volunteer. "She's cute," says Oscar, and at first Emma's effect on the soup kitchen is a positive one. Later, Oscar changes tack: "Okay, so you're crazy...I mean it's like, I'm gonna stay away, but you're still hot. You know, from way back here, from a distance."

It turns out Emma has more than a secret or two, and Frog's schizophrenia isn't the only instance of mental illness in the soup kitchen. As Shelley's crisis of faith and Oscar's integrity are tested by Emma, Schreck explores interesting questions about physical and mental suffering, and about love. Not romantic love, which the ancient Greeks called eros, but primarily the other three kinds of love they defined for us as agape, philia, and storge.

On the surface, Grand Concourse is a play about preparing and sharing food, but thematically it's still a story about sustenance, be it emotional, spiritual, or sociological. After a false Hollywood ending 20 minutes from the curtain, Schreck takes the story somewhere simultaneously darker and brighter in its revelations regarding human nature, revelations that the audience at Steppenwolf found controversial in an after-the-show discussion. But it's the final scenes of Grand Concourse that make it so heart-rending and unique, that add punctuation marks to everything that came before.

Joey Wade's scenic design is so realistic you can see grease on the kitchen's surfaces, and there seems to be a working microwave, sink, and well-stocked refrigerator. Giant stained-glass windows loom over the kitchen, their darkness a powerful contrast to the warm light below. The cast's prowess at chopping vegetables (thanks to credited "Knife Skills Tutor" Hans Mooser, a chef at The Chopping Block) adds an extra layer of realism and tension.

Brittany Uomoleale is magnetic and subtle as Emma, a role that could have been melodramatic, while Victor Almanzar emanates charm as Oscar. Reliable ensemble member Tim Hopper steals the scene whenever he's on stage as Frog, particularly during his rambling thoughts on mankind's role as predator, "snapping carrot bones" with our teeth and murdering leaves of lettuce despite their cries of pain. (Programming note: Hopper will be replaced by fellow ensemble member Francis Guinan as of August 11.)

But it's Mariann Mayberry's restrained performance as Shelley that will deservedly receive the most acclaim. She owns the play's most demanding role with such finesse as to appear natural and effortless, whether it's through comedy ("Jesus loves you but you're making it very difficult for him!") or muted fury.

Combined with Schreck's knack for dialogue and the gifts of the rest of the cast and crew, Mayberry delivers one of the summer's must-see performances. The New York Times called the original New York run "modest but likeable" last fall (as if the two adjectives were mutually exclusive), but ambition aside, the intersection of talent on display at Steppenwolf in Grand Concourse is genuinely impressive.

Grand Concourse continues at Steppenwolf Theatre Company, 1650 N. Halsted, through August 30, every day except Mondays. Tickets run from $15 to $62 and can be purchased online or via telephone at 312-335-1650.

 
GB store
GB store

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 »

Blogroll

ACRE
An Angry White Guy
Antena
AREA Chicago
ArchitectureChicago Plus
Arts Engagement Exchange
The Art Letter
Art or Idiocy?
Art Slant Chicago
Art Talk Chicago
Bad at Sports
Bite and Smile
Brian Dickie of COT
Bridgeport International
Carrie Secrist Gallery
Chainsaw Calligraphy
Chicago Art Blog
Chicago Art Department
Chicago Art Examiner
Chicago Art Journal
Chicago Artists Resource
Chicago Art Map
Chicago Art Review
Chicago Classical Music
Chicago Comedy Examiner
Chicago Cultural Center
Chicago Daily Views
Chicago Film Examiner
Chicago Film Archives
Chicago Gallery News
Chicago Uncommon
Collaboraction
Contemporary Art Space
Co-op Image Group
Co-Prosperity Sphere
Chicago Urban Art Society
Creative Control
Defibrillator
Devening Projects
Digressions
DIY Film
ebersmoore
The Exhibition Agency
The Flatiron Project
F newsmagazine
The Gallery Crawl...
Galerie F
The Gaudy God
Happy Dog Gallery
HollywoodChicago
Homeroom Chicago
I, Homunculus
Hyde Park Artcenter Blog
InCUBATE
Joyce Owens: Artist on Art
J-Pointe
Julius Caesar
Kasia Kay Gallery
Kavi Gupta Gallery
Rob Kozlowski
Lookingglass Theatre Blog
Lumpen Blog
Marquee
Mess Hall
N'DIGO
Neoteric Art
NewcityArt
NewcityFilm
NewcityStage
Not If But When
Noun and Verb
On Film
On the Make
Onstage
Peanut Gallery
Peregrine Program
Performink
The Poor Choices Show
Pop Up Art Loop
The Post Family
The Recycled Film
Reversible Eye
Rhona Hoffman Gallery
Roots & Culture Gallery
SAIC Blog
The Seen
Sharkforum
Sisterman Vintage
Site of Big Shoulders
Sixty Inches From Center
Soleil's To-Do's
Sometimes Store
Steppenwolf.blog
Stop Go Stop
Storefront Rebellion
TOC Blog
Theater for the Future
Theatre in Chicago
The Franklin
The Mission
The Theater Loop
Thomas Robertello Gallery
threewalls
Time Tells Tony Wight Gallery
Uncommon Photographers
The Unscene Chicago
The Visualist
Vocalo
Western Exhibitions
What's Going On?
What to Wear During an Orange Alert?
You, Me, Them, Everybody
Zg Gallery

GB store

 

Events


A/C on Flickr

Join the A/C Flickr Pool.



About A/C

A/C is the arts and culture section of Gapers Block, covering the many forms of expression on display in Chicago. More...
Please see our submission guidelines.

Editor: Nancy Bishop, nancy@gapersblock.com
A/C staff inbox: ac@gapersblock.com

Archives

 

A/C Flickr Pool
 Subscribe in a reader.

GB store

GB Store

GB Buttons $1.50

GB T-Shirt $12

I ✶ Chi T-Shirts $15